Aggression dripping from every pore of the body
That which is exceptional must be saved
— Harishchandra Pandey in Hindi poem Sher Bachao (Abhiyan)
It is time to test the loyalty of the toadies of the neocon wolves in liberators’ sheepskins. So, the imperial overlord wants its dues, and all the colonies seem to be more than willing to oblige. Governments in South Asia are jostling to rush their jawans to “stabilise” Iraq and release their master’s forces for ‘regime change’ duties elsewhere in the region, perhaps Iran.
Colin Powell merely hinted that the imperial powers might need some foot soldiers in dangerous areas of the occupied territories in West Asia. His wish made Bangladeshi generals salivate. Ever since the restoration of civilian rule, the Dhaka brass is loath to let any opportunity of overseas sentry duty pass.
In Nepal, the greed for guard duty is so strong that when a proposal was put up in the cabinet recently to consider the American request, it seems no one even cared to point out the perils of aligning with an army of occupation. Of late, the Royal Nepal Army has earned a name for itself in peacekeeping duties for the United Nations. But its history of fighting for imperial powers goes back far. Even though its country was never a formal colony, doing duty for imperialists is a tradition with the Nepali soldiery.
The first Rana, Jang Bahadur, led the Gorkha contingent that helped the East India Company suppress the ‘sepoy mutiny’ of 1857 in Awadh. Chandra Shumshere backed England with man and money in the first world war. Baber Shumshere led the Nepali troops to Afghanistan to aid the British in the battle at Waziristan. Juddha Shumshere put eight battalions of his fiercest fighters at the disposal of Allied commanders right at the outset of the second world war.
These rulers were handsomely rewarded for their services. Jang Bahadur got the opportunity to ransack Lucknow and an additional gift of some land from the territory of the vanquished Nawab of Awadh (the ‘naya muluk’). Chandra preferred cash – he settled for an annual payment of one million rupees to be paid in perpetuity.
After the second world war, the award was doubled. The vulgar Rana palaces of Kathmandu valley – now curiously being restored as heritage sites – are built largely from the blood money of Gorkha soldiers sent abroad to die for the benefit of their feudal lords. The promptness in sending its serfs to serve foreign masters is an inalienable part of the character of the Kathmandu ruling class.
It is not just Bangladeshi and Nepali ruling elites that are dying to do the imperial bidding in Iraq, however. Even the “nuclear powers” of South Asia seem to be ready to dance to the tunes of Don Rumsfeld.
The most damning indictment of “two great self-respecting republics” of South Asia has come from Dawn columnist Ayaz Amir – he has likened the poses of General Pervez Musharraf and “lohpurush” (iron man) LK Advani to “the dance of the courtesans”.
In the afterglow of his Camp David performance, General Musharraf told ABC channel on 26 June that he has agreed, in principle, to send troops to Iraq. But he wished for the fig leaf of the United Nations, the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) or the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Pakistani civil society does not seem to favour sending troops to fight Muslims in a Muslim country. And, Musharraf is slowly but surely falling prey to the “Gorbachev effect” – wildly feted in the West for actions intensely hated at home.
Barring firebrands such as P Sainath and Praful Bidwai, most “opinion leaders” of Bharat mahaan are waving the star spangled banner, with saffron flags firmly in place as backdrop. The New Delhi elite seems ready to ignore the sensibilities of Indian Muslims, dump the ideology of national sovereignty and forget about morality in its foreign policy – all for the sake of crumbs from the table of imperial plunder. Sensing the hunger of his guest, Tony Blair met Advani, the Indian deputy prime minister, in London. Subsequently, he announced in the House of Commons that “19 or 20 countries” may join the peacekeeping operations in Iraq. My guess is that at least 4 or 5 of those servile countries will be from South Asia.
Patrol duty in and around Basra and Baghdad is anything but peacekeeping. If the experience of British forces over the last few months is anything to go by, the mission in Mesopotamia is more likely to be counterinsurgency operations in a newly acquired colony. No wonder, the US Marines desperately want to subcontract the dirty work. This is one outsourcing no trade union in the United States will complain about. Hence, the intensive body shopping by the errand persons of the Pentagon.
The proclivity of the American propaganda machine to “sex up” information even while being extremely frugal with the facts is not unknown to Tony Blair, but he must have felt its full force when UN Secretary General Kofi Annan categorically denied all media rumours about the UN role in Iraq. After his talks with the British prime minister in London on 26 June, the day General Musharraf was looking for a UN fig leaf on ABC, Annan said in no uncertain terms, “Until the [Security] Council gives us a new mandate, we are not really talking of a UN force, and I doubt that we will have the capacity to take over that responsibility at this stage”. He pointed out that it was the responsibility of the “occupying powers” to provide security to the Iraqi people. With Annan unwilling to supply encouragement, Musharraf must look for another fig leaf, and Advani needs to fortify his justifications before ordering Indian troops to join the guard duty of the new empire in Mesopotamia.
The SAGUFA uniform
It is obviously time to get serious about this peacekeeping-slash-occupation duty at the regional level, since we all so seem to want it. One matter to discuss should be what uniform a South Asian force would wear while serving on the doab of the Euphrates and the Tigris. As South Asian countries respond to the bidding of Uncle Sam, it would make sense to stitch a new uniform (suitable for imperial guard duty) rather than go for a borrowed langoti of the UN (or OIC or GCC) flag. A completely South Asian outfit inspired by our shared culture of serving colonial masters with rare distinction would probably inspire more confidence (in the occupying powers, if not the Iraqi populace).
There can be no better agenda for the SAARC foreign secretary-level meeting on 9-10 July in rain-drenched Kathmandu. After all, harping on the non-existent regional trade ad nauseum is not leading SAFTA or SAPTA anywhere. All peacekeeping forces and occupying forces must have acronyms (ref UNGOMAP, UNMOGIP, UNTSO, UNIFIL, ONUC), so that should be the first order of business. Participants of the planned Kathmandu conclave have the requisite clout in their respective countries to carry through an innovative scheme such as the formation of a South Asian Guerrilla Unified Force for Action in the Gulf, SAGUFA for short.
After General Musharraf, foreign secretary Riaz Khokar is the second most important person in Pakistan – refer to how he upstaged Premier Jamali in the selection of Islamabad’s envoy to New Delhi. All through Musharraf’s tour of duty (of pledging his continued obedience to the neocon cabal) in the US and the UK, it was the careful Khokar who accompanied the general, not his straightforward boss, foreign minister, Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri. If Khokar pledges his support to the formation of SAGUFA, the all-powerful Rawalpindi generals are sure to nurture the project as their own baby.
Secretary Kanwal Sibal too has enough influence with his Bhartiya Janata Party minister that if he were convinced of it, SAGUFA would go ahead, new uniform and all. In the ‘steel frame’ system of New Delhi, babus do not just have a say in policy formulation; they formulate national policies. Even though they seldom do anything more than nod ‘yes, minister’ in public, their political masters know who wields the danda. The timing of the Kathmandu meeting is perfect. There can be no better atmosphere to arrive at a consensus about SAGUFA than now – an army-friendly begum is at the helm in Dhaka, Nepal is under the direct rule of its supreme-commander-in-chief monarch, and hawkish President Kumaratunga is the civilian head of Sri Lanka’s armed forces. The de facto host, former foreign secretary Narendra Bikram Shah, is an apparatchik holdover from the Panchayat era, who has been able to do the undoable thus far – come to a resolution of the Bhutanese refugees by essentially rendering them stateless at the behest of Thimpu.
With the foreign secretaries making the pitch, the others are sure to fall in line and we are as good as home on SAGUFA. Funds for the new outfit, you say? That would be the least of its problems. An advance for promised guard duty in Iraq should not be too hard to manage. Counterinsurgency operations there cost the American treasury over USD three billion every month. That is exactly the sum George Bush has promised his man in Islamabad – spread over the next five years and attached with some very stout strings – for handing over the entire Afghanistan border to the American occupation forces headquartered in Kabul. Hiring the services of SAGUFA is sure to come much cheaper.
However, the foreign secretaries of the South Asian countries must put one condition on the deployment of SAGUFA – they must insist that the combined troops of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka will head for Baghdad via Rangoon. Whenever a unified South Asian command becomes a reality, its first duty must be to free Burma from the clutches of the abominable generals.
SAGUFA can then develop other agendas for, once started, the fund-raising must be constant so that our jawans continue to earn per diem and hardship allowances. An important assignment for the new regional legion could perhaps be supervision of the US presidential elections next year. Only a combined force of all South Asian countries can ensure that no chads are left hanging in the 2004 elections to haunt the world for the four years after it.