Friday, December 01, 2006

The UN Secretary General and Secretariat

IT is not the Soviet Union, or indeed any other big powers who need the United Nations for their protection; it is all the others. In this sense, the organisation is first of all their organisation," said Dag Hammarskjöld, the greatest of all the U.N. Secretaries-General, a few weeks before he died. He sought to make the organisation "a dynamic instrument" rather than "a static conference machinery".

His tenure in office (1953-61) saw the world body playing an effective role in Suez, Hungary, Lebanon, Laos and the Congo, where he met his death.

The U.N. Charter, drawn up at the San Francisco Conference in 1945, was based on the unity of the P-5 (the five permanent members of the Security Council). The latter fell apart before the year ended. The U.S. bypassed the Security Council, which was paralysed by the Soviet Union's veto, and activated the General Assembly, where the U.S. had a dependable majority, to serve its ends during the Cold War. By the 1990s, the Third World acquired a majority there and acted as recklessly on occasion. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the U.S. as the sole superpower made the majority in the General Assembly more submissive to the U.S.' pressures and the Secretary-General all the more careful not to antagonise it.

This book is one of the first in the "Global Institution Series". Its author, Prof. Leon Gordenker of Princeton University, has written extensively on the U.N. This monograph reflects his mastery of the subject by its conciseness, clarity and incisiveness.

It makes a timely appearance in a year in which a new Secretary-General has been elected.

The office of the U.N. Secretary-General grew only to be stunted in its growth. Men like Kurt Waldheim and Boutros Boutros-Ghali did little to enhance its prestige. A careful study of Kofi Annan's record is very necessary.

The author discusses the evolution of the office, the role of the Secretary-General as head of the Secretariat, his duties as "world constable" and his potentialities and limitations. "Although he has been allowed or asked to furnish analytical advice to the Security Council, he never has had the staff facilities, the diplomatic networks, the intelligence services of governments even in the second or third power rank. Nor did pleas for better arrangements get much sympathy from governments that masked their suspicion of international organisation with claims of sanctity or their own financial penury. Even when the Security Council mandated field missions operated with military personnel, the Secretary-General had only the slenderest staff for military advice."

The Secretary-General is compelled to be sensitive to the enormous egos of American Senators. They determine the flow of funds to the U.N., though the U.S. is bound by the Charter to pay up its dues.

"Whether the United States has fully accepted the notion of an international civil service is open to doubt. A continuing stream of opinion in the Congress opposes giving what it regards as special privileges to American nationals, such as diplomatic immunity, while on U.N. business. This stream has broadened at times to make sure that financial contributions to the United Nations include accounting for the precise use of American funds. It has also resulted in congressional decisions that reduced the United Nations to the verge of bankruptcy. This obviously has impaired the authority of the Secretary-General. Similarly, the United States for many years closely monitored appointments to the Secretariat, giving advice that would be costly to ignore."

It remains to be seen how the office evolves in the days to come, under the newly elected Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

By A.G. Noorani


Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Last Mughal: A Story of Bahadur Shah Zafar

This is not a novel of crime fiction. Though it has plenty of intrigue, murder, mayhem, blood and gore, it is a work of serious scholarship of a horrendous episode in Indo-British relationships based on hitherto untapped archival material gathering dust in India, Pakistan, England and Burma. It shows the way history should be written: not as a catalogue of dry-as-dust kings, battles and treaties but to bring the past to the present, put life back in characters long dead and gone and make the reader feel he is living among them, sharing their joys, sorrows and apprehensions. Those who have read the City of Djinns and the White Mughals must have sensed that only William Dalrymple could have written The Last Mughal. Though a white Scotsman, he has no racial prejudices against browns or blacks: if anything, he is biased against his own people and in favour of those they wronged. It makes great reading.

The rebellion of 1857 lasted only a few months—from May to September 1857—but it shook the whole of India like a severe earthquake, taking a toll of thousands of lives.

Its epicentre was Delhi, the capital of the Mughal empire founded by Babar in 1526. By the time it struck, the empire had shrunk to a few square miles around the city. As the adage went: Sultanat Shah Alam az Dilli ta Palam—the kingdom of Shah Alam extends from Delhi to Palam. By the time the last of the emperors ascended the throne, it had shrunk further and was confined to Red Fort; his subjects comprised his vast harem of begums, concubines, their offspring, maidservants and manservants, most of them living in hovels without much to eat. The fort was guarded by an English officer; the so-called emperor received a living allowance from the British Resident and had little to do with governance. He spent his time composing poetry, practising calligraphy, watching his elephants being bathed in the Yamuna, and praying. Once in a while, he rode on his favourite elephant to the royal mosque, Jama Masjid, amid bursts of fireworks, or visited his wife's relations in the city. What he most looked forward to was holding poetic symposia (mushairas) in the Red Fort or in Delhi College outside Ajmeri Gate where his latest composition was read out first, followed by recitals of other poets, both Indian and European. The mushairas usually ended with recitals by masters like poet laureate Zauq and the greatest of them all, Mirza Asadullah Ghalib, in the early hours of the morning. As Ghalib put it, the candle burns brightest before it flickers and dies out.

A few decades before the outbreak, relations between Indians and Britons were reasonably amicable. Quite a few Britishers acquired Indian customs and styles of living, spoke Persian and Urdu; some married native women. Sir David Ochterlony had 13 bibis in his harem, James Skinner (Sikander Sahib) had 14. Besides building St James Church at Kashmere Gate, Colonel Skinner built a mosque for his Muslim wives and a temple for the Hindus. They wore Indian clothes, ate Indian food and smoked hookahs. It was one-way matrimonial traffic. Nubile English girls who came to India were not willing to share their nuptial beds with rival wives. But there was the Kashmiri dancing girl Farzana Zebunnissa who converted to Catholicism, cohabited with whites and carved out a principality of her own and became Begum Samru of Sardana near Meerut.

Relations between whites and natives began to sour with the aggressive evangelical zeal of clerics who attempted to convert Indians to Christianity. The Christian missionaries were confronted by jehadi elements from madrassas who looked down on both Christians and Hindus as infidels. However, the English topped the jehadis' hate list.

Read more about the book here.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Jamia Millia Islamia: Partners in Freedom

THE Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi is an authentic offshoot of India's freedom movement. In September 1920, as part of its programme of non-cooperation with the British rulers, the Indian National Congress resolved at the historic Calcutta session under Gandhi's leadership on a boycott of educational institutions "owned, aided or controlled by Government" and for "the establishment of national schools and colleges". Maulana Mohammed Ali and Maulana Shaukat Ali supported this resolution.

In less than four months were born the Kashi Vidyapith, the Gujarat Vidyapith, the Bengal National University and the National Muslim University of Aligarh as a revolt against its parent, the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). It became the Jamia Millia Islamia and was established on October 29, 1920, on the campus of the AMU. Hakim Ajmal Khan was its first Chancellor (Amir-e-Jamia), Maulana Mohammed Ali, the first Vice-Chancellor (Shaikh-ul-Jamia).

Among the first to be enrolled was a promising student at the AMU, Zakir Hussain, who became its Vice-Chancellor and put on the Jamia the impress of his personality. He returned to the AMU in 1957 as its Vice-Chancellor and became President of India in 1967.

The Jamia's present Vice-Chancellor, the distinguished historian Professor Mushirul Hasan, and his able colleague Rakshanda Jalil, Media Coordinator at the Jamia, collaborated to produce a history of this fine institution in a well researched book that draws on the archives and is illustrated profusely with photographs that evoke a great past.

Precisely because Dr. Zakir Hussain was close to Gandhi and Nehru, Jinnah vetoed his membership of the Interim Government at the centre in 1946, using unbecoming language.

It is a measure of Zakir Hussain's reputation and tact that he was able to secure Jinnah's presence at the Jamia's Silver Jubilee Celebrations on November 17, 1946, just as the country was being torn apart. Jinnah came with his sister Fatima and his right hand man Liaquat Ali Khan. Also present on the dais were Nehru, Maulana Azad and Rajaji.

Zakir Hussain delivered one of the best speeches of his career. He traced the history of the Jamia, the travails it had to undergo and said in a moving oration:

"You, gentlemen, are the stars of the political firmament. You have a secure place in the hearts of millions of people. Taking advantage of your presence here, I wish to submit in great sorrow a few words for your consideration on behalf of the educational workers. The fire of hatred is fast spreading which makes it seem mad to tend to the garden of education. This fire is burning in a noble and humane land. How will the flowers of nobility and sensibility grow in its midst? How will we be able to improve human standards which lie today at a level far lower than that of the beasts? How shall we produce new servants devoted to the cause of education? How can you protect humanity in a world of animals? ... . An Indian poet has remarked that every child who comes to this world brings along the message that God has not yet lost faith in man. But have our countrymen so completely lost faith in themselves that they wish to crush these innocent buds before they blossom?

"For God's sake sit together and extinguish this fire of hatred. This is not the time to ask who is responsible for it and what is its cause. The fire is raging. Please extinguish it. For God's sake do not allow the very foundations of civilised life in this country to be destroyed."

There were moist eyes when he concluded. Among those who were seen wiping their tears was his friend, Nehru. This is a superb record of a great national institution whose credo is very relevant to our times.

By A.G. Noorani


'Culture Means A Mix Of Things From Other Sources'

'And my town, Istanbul, was this kind of mix. Istanbul, in fact, and my work, is a testimony to the fact that East and West combine cultural gracefully, or sometimes in an anarchic way, came together, and that is what we should search for'

The following is a telephone interview with Orhan Pamuk immediately following the announcement of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature, October 12, 2006. The interviewer is Adam Smith, Editor-in-Chief of

Orhan Pamuk: Hello.

Adam Smith: Hello, may I speak to Orhan Pamuk please? Hello?

Orhan Pamuk: Hello.

Adam Smith: Hello, may I speak to Orhan Pamuk please?

Orhan Pamuk: Speaking.

Adam Smith: Oh, my name is Adam Smith and I'm calling from the official website of the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm.

Orhan Pamuk: Yes.

Adam Smith: We have a tradition of recording very short conversations with new Laureates immediately after the announcements.

Orhan Pamuk: OK.

Adam Smith: So, first of all, many, many congratulations on being awarded ...

Orhan Pamuk: Oh, thank you very much. It's such a great honour.

Adam Smith: I gather you're in New York. What were you doing when you received the news?

Orhan Pamuk: Oh, I was sleeping, and thinking that, in a hour, probably they will announce the Nobel Prize, and then someone would maybe tell me who won it. And then I'm thinking, so what am I going to do, what's today's work? And I'm a little bit sleepy. And then the phone call, and then I'm "Oh, it's already half past seven". You know, this is New York and I don't know the light, so I don't feel pretty ... And I answered, and they said I won the Nobel Prize.

Adam Smith: That's an extraordinary phone call to receive. There was an enormous cheer went up at the press conference when they announced the prize.

Orhan Pamuk: Really, of course, that's great, I'm very happy to hear this. This is great.

Adam Smith: We've recorded it on the website so you can, when finally you get off the phone you can go and relive the moment.

Orhan Pamuk: And also I saw so many journalists you know, wanted me to have it, so I'm pleased about that. I'm very pleased about all these details. Thank you very much, sir.

Adam Smith: You're the first ever Turkish writer to be awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature. Does that give the award a special significance for you?

Orhan Pamuk: Well, unfortunately, that makes the thing very precious in Turkey, which is good for Turkey of course, getting this prize, but makes it more extra sensitive and political and it somehow tends to make it as a sort of a burden.

Adam Smith: Yes, because it's been quite a public year for you.

Orhan Pamuk: Yes.

Adam Smith: So I imagine this will add to that. The citation for the award refers particularly to your "quest for the melancholic soul of (your) native city", and there's an extremely long tradition of writing about Istanbul, and in praise of Istanbul. Could you describe briefly what it is about the city that has acted as such a strong draw for people's imagination over the years?

Orhan Pamuk: Well, it was at the edge of Europe, but different. So it was the closest ‘other'. And it was really both close and, in a way, other. Mysterious, strange, uncompromising and totally un-European in ways, although in its spirit there was such a great place for Europe [words unclear].

Adam Smith: And referring to the phrase "melancholic soul", how would you describe Istanbul to those who've never seen it?

Orhan Pamuk: I would say that it's one of the early modern cities where modernity decayed earlier than expected.

For the complete interview, read here.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan

A resurgent Asia is now emerging as the global pivot. With the world's fastest-growing markets, fastest-rising military expenditures and most-serious hotspots. Asia holds the key to the future global order. Underpinning its renaissance, Asia has become the world's economic locomotive, even as its arts, fashion and cuisine regain international recognition. Yet, with interstate competition sharpening, Asia faces complex security, energy and developmental challenges in an era of globalization, including how to move beyond historical legacies and tap its dynamism for greater prosperity and well-being. The colossal shift in global geopolitics presents new opportunities to Asia and tests its ability to assume a bigger role in international relations.

This book examines the ascent of Asia by focusing on its three main powers - China, India and Japan. A qualitative recording of power in an Asia characterized by tectonic shifts in challenging strategic stability and affecting equations between these powers. How the China-Japan, China-India and Japan-India equations evolve in the coming years will have a crucial bearing on Asian and global security. Constituting a strategic triangle, these powers are Asia's largest economies. Their interests are getting so intertwined that the pursuit of unilateral solutions by any one of them will disturb the peaceful environment on which their continued economic growth and security depend.

The author analyses the global ramifications of the emerging Chinese colossus. He also highlights the fact that Japan’s quiet, undeclared transition from pacifism to a ‘normal’ state will help shape the future of Asian and global geopolitics. Even as it has reinvigorated its military ties with the United States. Japan is beginning to rethink its security and international role. The third major Asian player, India, is coming of age by displaying greater realism in economic and foreign policies and moving towards geopolitical pragmatism. India now recognizes that it can wield international power only by building up its economic and military strength.

By Brahma Chellaney
HarperCollins Publishers, India
Publication: 2006


Saturday, October 21, 2006

The One Percent Doctrine: An Intelligence Abuse

If there's a one per cent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping Al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response... It's not about our analysis, or finding a preponderance of evidence... . It's about our response. - The Cheney Doctrine

COOPERATE, or you will be bombed back to the Stone Age." This was the sum and substance of an alleged threat by the then U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) Director in the months following 9/11. This sensational revelation was made by Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf during a recent interview over CBS, the reputed American television network.

Speaking at a press conference the next day at the White House in the presence of President George W. Bush, the General refused to expatiate on this, saying that he was restrained by an agreement to maintain silence with his publisher Simon & Schuster. (Musharaff's memoirs In the Line of Fire released on September 25 confirms this charge against the U.S.)

Reacting to this allegation, Bush said with a straight face that he was surprised at the strong language which one of his deputies had allegedly used. Interestingly, he did not upbraid Armitage, nor did he take the position that Armitage could not have made such insensitive remarks. Whatever be the justification for the threat hurled by a superpower at a lesser power in a moment of extreme stress and anguish, objectively viewed, if true, this arm-twisting bordered on insolence and arrogance of the most objectionable kind.

That this was the cavalier fashion in which the White House formulated all major post-9/11 decisions is the theme that runs right through Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind's absorbing work The One Per Cent Doctrine. The book has evoked a mixed response, but on the whole it has attracted wide attention among those who support the current U.S. administration as well as those who are bitterly opposed to it. While the former brand it as a tissue of lies, the others look upon it as yet another confirmation, if one is needed, of how Bush and his coterie have made a mess of the post-9/11 opportunities to neutralise Osama bin Laden.

The merits of the U.S. decision to invade Iraq for its alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) are being questioned to this day by friends and foes alike of President Bush the world over. Domestically, opposition to this war has waxed and waned. Beneath this, there is a lot of scepticism on whether this involvement in an unwinnable war was in the best interests of the U.S. and its allies. What was the rationale behind hitting at Saddam Hussein is the question that dominates the debate. Was it really to dispossess Saddam of his WMD or was it aimed at taking control of the oilfields in the region?

Suskind is categorical that marching into Iraq was the outcome of an American urge to tell the rest of the world that it was not demoralised by the decisive blow that Al Qaeda had dealt it and that it could still retaliate in a theatre of its choice. Also, President Bush's contrived rhetoric - something in the vein of what is attributed to Armitage - is intended "to show that there is no fear, or doubt... . At least not in his mind."

Suskind denounces this stance vehemently, and surprisingly draws from Mahatma Gandhi to amplify the point: ("Manliness consists not in bluff, bravado or lordliness. It consists in daring to do the right and facing consequences whether it is in matters social, political or other.") This appropriate quotation should gladden every Indian reader, at a time when many decision-makers in our own country are known to care little for the Mahatma or what he stood for. If not for anything else, at least for performing the laudable task of re-emphasising the relevance of the Father of the Nation to our times, Suskind deserves to be read by us in India with some seriousness.

The commonly held belief that crystallised itself in the months following 9/11 was that President Bush was being led up the garden path by a neo-conservative coterie headed by Vice-President Dick Cheney and including, among others, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The latter two had a long friendship dating back to President Gerald Ford's time. Suskind reports that they had collaborated in many dubious past ventures, including the sidelining of Henry Kissinger and the installation of George W. Bush Sr. as the chief of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Suskind's focus is now on Cheney - how he became the focal point for all decisions and how he exploited the President's impatience with details and urge to act on impulse rather than on independent analysis and deliberation. Here and there `Rummie' also comes for some not-so-flattering scrutiny for his effort to prop up the Pentagon's intelligence-collection prowess by exposing the CIA's own failings and vulnerabilities. He was credited with the highly hilarious statement: "Every CIA success is a DoD failure." In India too, there have been turf wars between the Intelligence Bureau/Research and Analysis Wing on the one hand and Army Intelligence on the other.

In the days following 9/11 there was not only chaos within the White House but supreme fear of another wave of attacks, something that was reported by CIA Director George Tenet as most probable. Cheney seemed to thrive on the uncertainties of the time. His bona fides were not suspect, and he was every inch a patriot, but with some megalomaniac traits. He seemed to believe that it was his divine right to take charge of the situation, especially because the nation could otherwise head for disaster. It looked as if he had virtually taken control of access to the President.

Undoubtedly, it was he who decided on what his boss needed to know, a situation that had obviously received sanction from the latter. He lorded over the CIA with its Director kowtowing to him.

It was during a meeting in November 2001 that the CIA referred to Cheney a reported meeting between bin Laden and two Pakistani officials who had sold nuclear technology to Libya and bin Laden. This was an uncorroborated report that, because of its huge importance to global security, warranted attention but not to jumping to conclusions. Cheney was stirred and took the position that the troubled times they were living in did not brook delay. One could not lose precious time demanding proof. Presumptions of probabilities were enough to act. This was perhaps faultless logic at a time of great national danger.

This is how the celebrated Cheney doctrine was born, and thereafter everyone, including the mighty CIA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had willy nilly to fall in line. Intelligence did not shape policy, but it had to be tailored to what had already been made.

Suskind's diagnosis of the scene may look naively simple. But the circumstances in which Tenet was shown the door later - because a beleaguered White House managed successfully to circulate the impression that it had been misled by intelligence into believing that Iraq had WMD - engender in one a strong belief that Suskind was possibly correct when he said that intelligence agencies were being dictated to. Suskind is widely known to have had the right sources - one of which was probably Tenet himself - who spoke to him at length while writing The One Per Cent Doctrine.

Cheney and his cohorts seemed hell bent on keeping the CIA and the FBI on their toes by feeding them with bits and pieces of dubious information that they had received from their untested sources.

One questionable and controversial character was Ahmed Chalabi, an Iraqi dissident and a friend of the neo-conservative gang in the U.S. Chalabi by all accounts was feeding Rumsfeld with information that was suspect and which did not excite the CIA.

President Bush himself did not rate Chalabi highly and wanted his administration to distance itself from him. This did not, however, happen for quite a while, notwithstanding the CIA's strong reservations about Chalabi. This was one clear instance of how the coterie could defy and also get the better of one from whom it derived its strength.

Another accusation is that Cheney's team was unabashed in its efforts to cherry-pick information received from the CIA to suit its own ends. The tactic was to use intelligence reports selectively, cull out portions that suited its own perceptions and ignore the other parts that ran counter to its own pre-conceived notions. Another ploy was to send the CIA information received from some source or the other for verification, and if the CIA did not find it to be true, keep on asking it to check and cross-check until it found something that seemed to support the coterie's case.

One such instance was the reported meeting of one 9/11 hijacker, Mohammed Atta, and Iraqi intelligence. Picked up by Cheney, the report said the meeting took place in Prague five months before the 9/11 attack. When CIA Director Tenet subjected this to considerable scrutiny, there was nothing to suggest that the report was true. Cheney was not exactly pleased that the CIA had found his source to be unreliable, although he did not make an issue of it.

Suskind is no doubt hypercritical of the White House's misuse of the intelligence machinery. Efforts to wrest from the CIA in particular reports that would suit the administration were not all that subtle. President Bush seemed to be acting by the proxy that Dick Cheney had readily agreed to become. But then would this coterie have succeeded if it did not have a pliable civil service?

Tenet was by all accounts a highly rated operative known for his integrity and professionalism. Then why did he become an unquestioning ally of an administration that was steamrolling things? Suskind provides the answer. Tenet, who was appointed by the Democrats, was retained by Bush (presumably under the advice of his father). He was also not fired after the 9/11 debacle, something that raised quite a few eyebrows.

More than this, whenever the CIA was under the direct line of attack from the Democrats, Bush went to Tenet's support in the strongest possible language. ("The nation is at war. We need to encourage Congress to frankly leave the man alone. Tenet is doing a good job. And if he's not, blame me, not him.") Here was therefore a CIA Director living on borrowed time, and whatever be his mettle his survival depended on his loyalty to the Chief Executive. So, if he appeared complicit one could not blame him.

It was an entirely different matter that Tenet had to leave abruptly in June 2004, ostensibly for "personal reasons" but more probably for allegedly misleading the administration on the WMD issue. The popular surmise was that he was being made a scapegoat for the failures of the coterie that was somehow trying to justify the action in Iraq. This was a sad end to a distinguished career. But then, life in high places is very insecure.

Suskind writes with remarkable clarity. There are some who berate him for taking liberties with facts. I do not know how far they are right. Whatever be the truth, The One Per Cent Doctrine gives more than a glimpse of the processes that render policy-making an intricate adventure. To both honest and not-so-honest leaders, the path to decisions can be tricky and craggy. Some survive and march gallantly and some stumble never to recover.

This absorbing work (The One Percent Doctrine by Ron Suskind, Simon & Schuster, London 2006) has attracted wide attention among both the supporters and the opponents of the current U.S. administration.

Reviewed by R.K. RAGHAVAN