December 21, 2014

Indian-American Verma Sworn In As US Ambassador to India

 Lalit K Jha | Washington | Dec 20, 2014

 Richard Rahul Verma, who quietly played a key role in the Congressional passage of the civil nuclear deal and a strong advocate of deepening Indo-US ties, has been sworn in as the US Ambassador to New Delhi, becoming the first ever Indian-American to hold the post.

 46-year-old was sworn in by Secretary of State John Kerry at the State department here.

 Verma is scheduled to arrive in India ahead of Kerry's visit to Delhi next month. US President Barack Obama will arrive in late January to attend the Republic Day Parade on January 26 as the Chief Guest.

 He was confirmed by the Senate by a voice vote last week.

 Verma, who quietly played an important role in the Congressional passage of civil nuclear deal with India, had advocated for strong Indo-US ties when in the administration and recently started "India 2020" project at Centre for American Progress -- a top American-think tank.

 He will replace Nancy Powell, who resigned in March after a damaging row over the treatment of diplomat Devyani Khobragade over visa fraud charges.

 The US Embassy in New Delhi is currently headed by a charge d'affaires, Kathleen Stephens.

 Verma's association with Obama goes back to 2008 when he worked on presidential debate preparations for the then Illinois senator.

 He served as Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs under Hillary Clinton from 2009 to 2011, and was a senior counselor at law firm Steptoe & Johnson as well as the Albright Stonebridge Group.

 "Known as a talented leader and manager, he is recognized for his many years of experience working on high-level policy in the federal government, in the private sector and with non-governmental organizations, especially on matters relating to the affairs of South Asia and India, including political-military relations," according to his profile on the State Department website.

 His knowledge and ability to set the agenda will enable him to strengthen bilateral relations with India, a pivotal nation of critical global importance to the US, it said.

 His parents came to the US in the early 1960s.

 "It is a day of celebration for Indian Americans," said Dr Sampat Shivangi, national president of Indian American Forum for Political Education.

 "Verma deserves this worthy appointment due to his dedication and well deserved respect he commands from President Obama and entire US Congress and the nation," said Shivangi, one of the few Indian-Americans invited to attend the swearing in ceremony at the State Department yesterday.

Sinking oil: Saudi Schadenfreude

Sinking oil: Saudi Schadenfreude

Saturday, 20 December 2014 | Rohit Pattnaik | in Oped

Using lowering oil prices as a tool, the Saudis are seeking to arm-twist Russia and Iran for their support of Bashar Assad's regime in the Syrian conflict

Daily Pioneer: Leading News paper 

Many oil exporting states across the globe that had built their budgets on visions of perennially high oil prices are beginning to press the panic button as oil prices continue to remain well below the fiscal break-even for many of these countries. Many Governments in oil exporting countries will face a difficult time in financing the populist programmes that they need to maintain public support, hence there will be pressure from many OPEC members to curtail production to arrest the decline of oil prices.

In the game of oil roulette, the Saudis are unlikely to cut oil production for the simple fact that in the 1980s when they cut production as part of the OPEC cartel, they lost a huge portion of their market share, without affecting global oil prices. It is the past precedent that has probably resulted in less confidence that production cuts by the Saudis, the largest oil exporter in OPEC, would have a desired impact. With global demand slowing, it is highly unlikely that OPEC could cut production for the near-term.

There are reports that Saudi Arabia and OPEC are trying to squeeze US Shale oil producers who require higher prices to remain competitive vis-a-vis conventional producers out of the market. New exploration techniques have allowed America to surpass all but Saudi Arabia in crude oil production. Lower prices put the viability of higher cost oil wells in jeopardy and many weaker firms are likely to stop production or even exit. Such a ploy could be foolhardy and boomerang badly on OPEC as recent report has emerged that with greater technological prowess, US Shale oil production for many producers is likely to remain viable at $50 per barrel.

Saudi Arabia and its oil exporting West Asian allies differ from other global producers in the cost of extraction for many of their wells, which is low even at current prices, meaning that they will be able to produce profitability at current or even lower prices. It is estimated that Saudi Arabia needs oil prices at $99 for break-even, but it has a $750 billion reserve along with non-existent debt. The Saudi budget is laden with big infrastructure projects which could be cut if necessary. It is clear that it can weather low oil prices and wait for new market dynamics to emerge. Iran and Iraq, according to an IMF report, need oil prices over $100 per barrel to balance their budgets. Iran has been facing declining production on account of sanctions and so declining oil prices impacts it more.

Previously, high oil prices ensured that the Arab monarchies were fortunate in keeping at bay the political turmoil that affected many of the countries in North Africa and West Asia by increasing public spending significantly. Although it has significant reserves, Saudi Arabia will be keeping a close eye to prevent any social spillover due to low oil prices in neighbouring Bahrain. Any financial difficulties notably among its dynastic neighbours could lead to political instability across the region. While currently all appear to be in good financial health, the strain of low oil prices could begin to emerge in a year and as the Arab Spring events demonstrated, a small problem could easily turn into a significant trouble for the political system. A further decline in crude prices could have global ramifications, though it is Venezuela and not any West Asian nation that could be impacted first.

Aware of the instability that low oil prices mean for the region, the recently held Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) meet also sought to underline greater unity among the Arab monarchies amid the emergence of ISIS and other jehadi organisations coupled with the impact of declining oil prices on national budgets. A decline in public spending could erode support for the Government and give ISIS more opportunities for growth in a region racked by extremism.

Despite the decline in oil prices, the Saudi-led GCC will extend political and monetary support to stabilise Egypt and Libya, two countries that are threatened by Islamists. It is highly likely that the GCC will become increasingly involved if the security situation in Egypt and Libya deteriorates further. Air strikes conducted by UAE against forces allied to the extremist Fajr Libya, which is opposed to the al Thinni government, are an indicator. In a significant move the GCC has announced the formation of a regional police force and naval force. The GCC security meet also highlighted state meddling in the GCC by neighbouring powers such as Iran and Turkey, which clearly is likely to ratchet up tension in a highly combustible environment. Even a meeting of the Saudi Crown Prince and the Iranian President to settle a host of issues ranging from oil prices to the fight against ISIS did not achieve much, due to Saudi distrust of Iran's nuclear ambition.

In a law of unintended consequences, the declining oil prices have given Saudi Arabia some leverage in the shadow jousting between itself and Iran across West Asia, even as both battle a common foe — ISIS. Beneath the veneer of fighting ISIS, there appears to be a game of supremacy between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the region. After the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iranian power has been on the ascendancy across West Asia. The Arab states across West Asia have been watching warily Iran's nuclear ambition, its control over Iraq, its alliance with Syria and its leverage over Hamas and Hezbollah. Saudi actions in ensuring low oil prices have meant that Iran will take an economic hit as it currently remains under sanctions. Using lower oil prices as a tool, the Saudis are seeking to arm-twist Russia and Iran for their support of Bashar al-Assad's regime in the Syrian conflict. While Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies armed many of the Syrian rebels, Iran and to a minor extent Russia, by providing weapons and funding, have kept Assad in power. It is clear that the Saudis are perfectly content to see Iran and Russia struggle domestically on account of declining oil prices. Saudi Arabia would prefer the current status quo, in which it has gained greater leverage rather than do a course correction, by cutting oil production and aim to raise crude price.

Lower oil prices are likely to have significant ramification across West Asia as it means that GCC will have to take on greater responsibility to ensure that the fiscal woes of the weaker monarchies does not lead to political instability. Declining oil prices are unlikely to lead to a divergence in Iranian policies, but careful calibration between Saudi and Iran could ensure that jehadis do not gain traction as national budgets are pruned across the region, even as both play Weiqi in the region.

(The writer is a commentator on West Asia)

December 17, 2014

Viewing Russia From the Inside

Geopolitical Weekly
December 16, 2014 | 09:02 GMT   Print    Text Size  



By George Friedman

Last week I flew into Moscow, arriving at 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 8. It gets dark in Moscow around that time, and the sun doesn't rise until about 10 a.m. at this time of the year — the so-called Black Days versus White Nights. For anyone used to life closer to the equator, this is unsettling. It is the first sign that you are not only in a foreign country, which I am used to, but also in a foreign environment. Yet as we drove toward downtown Moscow, well over an hour away, the traffic, the road work, were all commonplace. Moscow has three airports, and we flew into the farthest one from downtown, Domodedovo — the primary international airport. There is endless renovation going on in Moscow, and while it holds up traffic, it indicates that prosperity continues, at least in the capital.

Our host met us and we quickly went to work getting a sense of each other and talking about the events of the day. He had spent a great deal of time in the United States and was far more familiar with the nuances of American life than I was with Russian. In that he was the perfect host, translating his country to me, always with the spin of a Russian patriot, which he surely was. We talked as we drove into Moscow, managing to dive deep into the subject.

From him, and from conversations with Russian experts on most of the regions of the world — students at the Institute of International Relations — and with a handful of what I took to be ordinary citizens (not employed by government agencies engaged in managing Russia's foreign and economic affairs), I gained a sense of Russia's concerns. The concerns are what you might expect. The emphasis and order of those concerns were not.

Russians' Economic Expectations

I thought the economic problems of Russia would be foremost on people's minds. The plunge of the ruble, the decline in oil prices, a general slowdown in the economy and the effect of Western sanctions all appear in the West to be hammering the Russian economy. Yet this was not the conversation I was having. The decline in the ruble has affected foreign travel plans, but the public has only recently begun feeling the real impact of these factors, particularly through inflation.

But there was another reason given for the relative calm over the financial situation, and it came not only from government officials but also from private individuals and should be considered very seriously. The Russians pointed out that economic shambles was the norm for Russia, and prosperity the exception. There is always the expectation that prosperity will end and the normal constrictions of Russian poverty return.

The Russians suffered terribly during the 1990s under Boris Yeltsin but also under previous governments stretching back to the czars. In spite of this, several pointed out, they had won the wars they needed to win and had managed to live lives worth living. The golden age of the previous 10 years was coming to an end. That was to be expected, and it would be endured. The government officials meant this as a warning, and I do not think it was a bluff. The pivot of the conversation was about sanctions, and the intent was to show that they would not cause Russia to change its policy toward Ukraine.

Russians' strength is that they can endure things that would break other nations. It was also pointed out that they tend to support the government regardless of competence when Russia feels threatened. Therefore, the Russians argued, no one should expect that sanctions, no matter how harsh, would cause Moscow to capitulate. Instead the Russians would respond with their own sanctions, which were not specified but which I assume would mean seizing the assets of Western companies in Russia and curtailing agricultural imports from Europe. There was no talk of cutting off natural gas supplies to Europe.

If this is so, then the Americans and Europeans are deluding themselves on the effects of sanctions. In general, I personally have little confidence in the use of sanctions. That being said, the Russians gave me another prism to look through. Sanctions reflect European and American thresholds of pain. They are designed to cause pain that the West could not withstand. Applied to others, the effects may vary.

My sense is that the Russians were serious. It would explain why the increased sanctions, plus oil price drops, economic downturns and the rest simply have not caused the erosion of confidence that would be expected. Reliable polling numbers show that President Vladimir Putin is still enormously popular. Whether he remains popular as the decline sets in, and whether the elite being hurt financially are equally sanguine, is another matter. But for me the most important lesson I might have learned in Russia — "might" being the operative term — is that Russians don't respond to economic pressure as Westerners do, and that the idea made famous in a presidential campaign slogan, "It's the economy, stupid," may not apply the same way in Russia.

The Ukrainian Issue

There was much more toughness on Ukraine. There is acceptance that events in Ukraine were a reversal for Russia and resentment that the Obama administration mounted what Russians regard as a propaganda campaign to try to make it appear that Russia was the aggressor. Two points were regularly made. The first was that Crimea was historically part of Russia and that it was already dominated by the Russian military under treaty. There was no invasion but merely the assertion of reality. Second, there was heated insistence that eastern Ukraine is populated by Russians and that as in other countries, those Russians must be given a high degree of autonomy. One scholar pointed to the Canadian model and Quebec to show that the West normally has no problem with regional autonomy for ethnically different regions but is shocked that the Russians might want to practice a form of regionalism commonplace in the West.

The case of Kosovo is extremely important to the Russians both because they feel that their wishes were disregarded there and because it set a precedent. Years after the fall of the Serbian government that had threatened the Albanians in Kosovo, the West granted Kosovo independence. The Russians argued that the borders were redrawn although no danger to Kosovo existed. Russia didn't want it to happen, but the West did it because it could. In the Russian view, having redrawn the map of Serbia, the West has no right to object to redrawing the map of Ukraine.

I try not to be drawn into matters of right and wrong, not because I don't believe there is a difference but because history is rarely decided by moral principles. I have understood the Russians' view of Ukraine as a necessary strategic buffer and the idea that without it they would face a significant threat, if not now, then someday. They point to Napoleon and Hitler as examples of enemies defeated by depth.

I tried to provide a strategic American perspective. The United States has spent the past century pursuing a single objective: avoiding the rise of any single hegemon that might be able to exploit Western European technology and capital and Russian resources and manpower. The United States intervened in World War I in 1917 to block German hegemony, and again in World War II. In the Cold War the goal was to prevent Russian hegemony. U.S. strategic policy has been consistent for a century.

The United States has been conditioned to be cautious of any rising hegemon. In this case the fear of a resurgent Russia is a recollection of the Cold War, but not an unreasonable one. As some pointed out to me, economic weakness has rarely meant military weakness or political disunity. I agreed with them on this and pointed out that this is precisely why the United States has a legitimate fear of Russia in Ukraine. If Russia manages to reassert its power in Ukraine, then what will come next? Russia has military and political power that could begin to impinge on Europe. Therefore, it is not irrational for the United States, and at least some European countries, to want to assert their power in Ukraine.

When I laid out this argument to a very senior official from the Russian Foreign Ministry, he basically said he had no idea what I was trying to say. While I think he fully understood the geopolitical imperatives guiding Russia in Ukraine, to him the centurylong imperatives guiding the United States are far too vast to apply to the Ukrainian issue. It is not a question of him only seeing his side of the issue. Rather, it is that for Russia, Ukraine is an immediate issue, and the picture I draw of American strategy is so abstract that it doesn't seem to connect with the immediate reality. There is an automatic American response to what it sees as Russian assertiveness; however, the Russians feel they have been far from offensive and have been on the defense. For the official, American fears of Russian hegemony were simply too far-fetched to contemplate.

In other gatherings, with the senior staff of the Institute of International Relations, I tried a different tack, trying to explain that the Russians had embarrassed U.S. President Barack Obama in Syria. Obama had not wanted to attack when poison gas was used in Syria because it was militarily difficult and because if he toppled Syrian President Bashar al Assad, it would leave Sunni jihadists in charge of the country. The United States and Russia had identical interests, I asserted, and the Russian attempt to embarrass the president by making it appear that Putin had forced him to back down triggered the U.S. response in Ukraine. Frankly, I thought my geopolitical explanation was a lot more coherent than this argument, but I tried it out. The discussion was over lunch, but my time was spent explaining and arguing, not eating. I found that I could hold my own geopolitically but that they had mastered the intricacies of the Obama administration in ways I never will.

The Future for Russia and the West

The more important question was what will come next. The obvious question is whether the Ukrainian crisis will spread to the Baltics, Moldova or the Caucasus. I raised this with the Foreign Ministry official. He was emphatic, making the point several times that this crisis would not spread. I took that to mean that there would be no Russian riots in the Baltics, no unrest in Moldova and no military action in the Caucasus. I think he was sincere. The Russians are stretched as it is. They must deal with Ukraine, and they must cope with the existing sanctions, however much they can endure economic problems. The West has the resources to deal with multiple crises. Russia needs to contain this crisis in Ukraine.

The Russians will settle for a degree of autonomy for Russians within parts of eastern Ukraine. How much autonomy, I do not know. They need a significant gesture to protect their interests and to affirm their significance. Their point that regional autonomy exists in many countries is persuasive. But history is about power, and the West is using its power to press Russia hard. But obviously, nothing is more dangerous than wounding a bear. Killing him is better, but killing Russia has not proved easy.

I came away with two senses. One was that Putin was more secure than I thought. In the scheme of things, that does not mean much. Presidents come and go. But it is a reminder that things that would bring down a Western leader may leave a Russian leader untouched. Second, the Russians do not plan a campaign of aggression. Here I am more troubled — not because they want to invade anyone, but because nations frequently are not aware of what is about to happen, and they might react in ways that will surprise them. That is the most dangerous thing about the situation. It is not what is intended, which seems genuinely benign. What is dangerous is the action that is unanticipated, both by others and by Russia.

At the same time, my general analysis remains intact. Whatever Russia might do elsewhere, Ukraine is of fundamental strategic importance to Russia. Even if the east received a degree of autonomy, Russia would remain deeply concerned about the relationship of the rest of Ukraine to the West. As difficult as this is for Westerners to fathom, Russian history is a tale of buffers. Buffer states save Russia from Western invaders. Russia wants an arrangement that leaves Ukraine at least neutral.

For the United States, any rising power in Eurasia triggers an automatic response born of a century of history. As difficult as it is for Russians to understand, nearly half a century of a Cold War left the United States hypersensitive to the possible re-emergence of Russia. The United States spent the past century blocking the unification of Europe under a single, hostile power. What Russia intends and what America fears are very different things.

The United States and Europe have trouble understanding Russia's fears. Russia has trouble understanding particularly American fears. The fears of both are real and legitimate. This is not a matter of misunderstanding between countries but of incompatible imperatives. All of the good will in the world — and there is precious little of that — cannot solve the problem of two major countries that are compelled to protect their interests and in doing so must make the other feel threatened. I learned much in my visit. I did not learn how to solve this problem, save that at the very least each must understand the fears of the other, even if they can't calm them.

Read more: Viewing Russia From the Inside | Stratfor
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December 15, 2014

India-Russia ties need regular nurturing

  AP File Photo. 

India-Russia ties need regular nurturing

Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to India has served to reaffirm bilateral bonds between the two countries. Beyond the positive rhetoric – New Delhi assured Putin that Moscow will remain its foremost partner – a string of agreements in the energy, defence and economic sectors were signed which serve to arrest the downward slide in bilateral relations.  They unveiled a "Druzhba-Dosti" vision statement that will guide their engagement over the coming decade and pledged to triple trade in this period. Twenty agreements were signed, including one worth US$10 billion that will provide India with Russian crude oil. The two sides are also eyeing an expansion of civilian nuclear energy cooperation; Russia will build a dozen more nuclear reactors in India over the next 20 years.
It has agreed to assemble 400 twin-engined helicopters in India. Transfer of technology and local manufacture of components and spares is on the anvil. This will take forward India's bid to indigenise production of military hardware.

The India-Russia relationship has been troubled in recent years. Moscow is miffed at India's growing proximity to the US and fears losing ground to Washington in India's defence market although it accounts for 70 per cent of India's defence purchases. Delhi is uneasy with Russia's recent defence pact with Pakistan. It was amidst this atmosphere of suspicion that Putin's visit took place. Hopefully, the two sides used the opportunity to clarify doubts.
Some maturity is needed. Both countries need to understand that the other can explore options with different partners. While deals go some way in assuaging apprehensions, depending on summits alone to tackle issues is not the best way to build a relationship.

Diplomats in the two countries should be defusing problems before they turn serious. The two sides need to discard the 'benign neglect' approach that defined their engagement over the past decade to adopt one that sees them nurturing the relationship on a regular basis. Only this can keep their time-tested friendship alive.

At a time when the US and the EU are seeking to isolate Russia on the Crimean question by crippling its economy through unilateral sanctions, Putin's successful visit to India has riled the Americans, who are no doubt envious of the expanding India-Russia nuclear cooperation.
 The US shrill disapproval of India doing business with Moscow is in poor taste. India and Russia are sovereign countries. Who they chose to engage, how and when is for them to determine and decide, not for the US to dictate. India needs to tell the Americans this clearly.

December 01, 2014

The Modi Doctrine for the Indo-Pacific Maritime Region

India's PM has wasted no time pursuing a new maritime doctrine in the Indian Ocean and beyond.

By Patrick M. Cronin and Darshana M. Baruah

December 02, 2014

The Modi Doctrine for the Indo-Pacific Maritime RegionOnly six months into his tenure, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is breathing new life into the concept of Indo-Pacific security. Indeed, it is not too early to describe the key elements of an emerging "Modi Doctrine" focused on the vigorous pursuit of political influence through greater maritime power. Acutely aware that India's development is best advanced across the sea lanes of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the prime minister is embarking on a course of intensified engagement with other regional maritime powers.





The Modi Doctrine for the Indo-Pacific Maritime Region
India's PM has wasted no time pursuing a new maritime doctrine in the Indian Ocean and beyond.


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If the Modi Doctrine persists, then about a quarter century of "looking East" is truly set to be followed by a long-term period of "acting East." Heightened security cooperation with Japan, Australia, and the United States are three prime indicators of the new doctrine. Strengthening existing security ties with Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and deepening cooperation with islands in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean are other factors underpinning this doctrine.

Eighty-eight months ago, in August 2007, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe underscored the rising significance and linkages between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Abe told the Indian Parliament that the rising "confluence of the two seas" would draw together Asia's two wealthiest democracies. Three months ago, while visiting Abe in Tokyo, Prime Minister Modi took steps to operationalize a "special strategic global partnership." He  talked of "vikas vaad" (peaceful development) and "vistar vaad" (expansionism) characteristics of nations in the 21st century, noting that nations engaging in vikas vaad lead to development.  In perhaps a thinly veiled reference to China's maritime coercion he pointed out that some countries are still stuck in the "18th century" mindset, engaging in "encroachments" of other's territory.

Burgeoning Indian-Japanese security cooperation is one reason to believe that the Look East policy is genuinely now the Act East policy. The two countries are now fully committed to the joint production of a large, four-engine amphibious aircraft, the ShinMaywa US-2. This is critical departure for both countries. For Japan, the US-2 would mark the first major sale of military hardware overseas since the end of the Second World War. In fact, Japan is reportedly mulling over a new government-financing agency to ensure that money does not hold back the implementation of its recently relaxed export guidelines.

Meanwhile, for India, joint production will diversify and boost India's defense industry, while also adding significant maritime domain awareness and response capacity. Up to 18 short-takeoff-and-landing planes will help patrol a 7,500-kilometer coastline and deliver troops to the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, the Nicobar Islands in the eastern Indian Ocean, and the Lakshwadeep Islands off the southwest coast.

Modi is also taking a less cautious and more self-confident approach to security relations with Australia. Operationalizing what amounts to a thickening network of intra-Asian security ties, Modi and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott have announced a new  framework for enhanced security cooperation. Addressing the Parliament in Canberra last month, Modi called for doubling down on maritime cooperation. He said that Australia and India share "a natural partnership," are both dependent on the oceans as "lifelines," and harbor growing concern about "access and security."

Maritime security and cooperation are nothing new for these two countries with access to the Indian Ocean. Last February, Australia was one of 17 navies participating in the 20-year-old Milan naval exercises off the Andaman Islands. But seven years have passed since India and Australia conducted bilateral naval maneuvers as part of the annual Malabar exercise featuring the United States and India. During the first visit to Australia by an Indian prime minister in nearly 30 years (Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited in 1986), the two leaders pledged to rectify the lapse in bilateral naval cooperation both in the form of more frequent exercises but also closer policy coordination. Modi and Abbott also suggested greater support for regional capacity building among smaller island nations, from Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, to Fiji and other South Pacific islands. It helps that Australia is currently chairing both the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) and the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA).

Modi's evolving doctrine in the Indo-Pacific is also being largely encouraged by regional institutions seeking a greater security role from New Delhi. In the east, the rhetoric has been that India so far has failed to play its role of a security provider in the region. However, with the new government under Narendra Modi, there appears to be a significant shift in Delhi's attitude and willingness to collaborate with regional players in the security domain. Apart from ASEAN, countries from the Indian Ocean Rim Association grouping, too, are looking at India to shoulder more of the traditional and non-traditional security responsibilities of the region and take on more of a leadership role. In this regard, India also recently held the first  Indian Ocean Dialogue under the realm of IORA at the port city of Cochin in the Arabian Sea.

Meanwhile, Modi has also revived U.S.-Indian relations. After a successful visit to the United States two months ago, he will host U.S. President Barack Obama as a special guest for Indian Republic Day on January 26, marking the 55th anniversary since the signing of the Indian Constitution. Bilateral relations have come a long way since the end of the Cold War, when India first announced its Look East policy, but often the vision of close relations has faltered from inflated expectations. This time around, there is reason to believe the bilateral vision is more firmly rooted in realistic national interests of both countries. Officials are optimistic that the relationship can include co-development and co-production of defense projects, something that would provide the bilateral relationship with serious ballast.

Basing the Indo-American relationship on a clear understanding of India's own goals is at the heart of recommendations made in an important forthcoming RAND study, Look East, Cross Black Waters, by Jonah Blank, Jennifer D. P. Moroney, Angel Rabasa, and Bonny Lin. The authors focus on practical areas of cooperation, including building up greater support in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and cooperation over the Andaman and Nicobar Islands west of the Strait of Malacca. Those areas are priorities for the Modi government, too. With an eye toward growing maritime interests across the Indo-Pacific, in 2001 India created the joint Andaman and Nicobar Command. The Andaman and Nicobar Command is the country's only tri-service command rotating between the Army, Navy and the Air force. That command now includes 15 ships, two Navy sea bases, four air force and naval air bases and an army brigade.

Although neglected for far too long, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands have been a crucial factor in India's maritime strategy. Its strategic location in the Indian Ocean puts India at an advantageous position in the changing geopolitics of the region. Known as India's strategic outpost, the islands are central to India's engagements with regional navies and can emerge as the focal point of New Delhi's evolving Indo-Pacific doctrine.

India's strategic community and defense forces alike have called for strengthening the Andaman and Nicobar islands to realize its potential to serve as the center for capacity building and knowledge sharing on issues across the Indian Ocean. Former Indian ambassador  Hemant Krishan Singh has advocated developing the Andaman and Nicobar Islands as a "regional hub" for the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting plus initiatives on maritime security and HADR cooperation. With support from regional players such as Japan and the United States, the islands can emerge as a strong focal point for addressing issues in the Indo-Pacific. It is more pertinent than ever for India to look toward its untapped, strategically located islands.

The "Modi Doctrine" also reflects a significant China factor. Strengthening ties with Colombo and other islands in the Indian Ocean and vigorously pursuing the Maritime Silk Road initiative underlines Beijing's expanding presence in the Indian Ocean. The docking of Chinese submarines in Sri Lankan ports is highly contentious, a concern New Delhi has voiced without any hesitation. At the 2014 "Galle Dialogue" in Sri Lanka, Indian National Security Advisor  Ajit Doval emphasized the need to keep the Indian Ocean a zone of peace in order to maintain stability in the region. Reflecting on India's concerns over the Chinese submarines in the islands, he called on "great powers not to allow escalation and expansion of military presence in the Indian Ocean."

New Delhi is realizing the need to play a prominent role in the regional security architecture and Modi's Indo-Pacific doctrine seems to be shaping the discourse precisely. India is showing a strong interest under Modi in diversifying India's arms suppliers while at the same time bolstering India's indigenous defense industry. The month after Modi took office, the United States supplemented previous missile sales to India by announcing that it would deliver Harpoon missiles to be deployed on India's four active but aging Shishumar class diesel-electric submarines. With the Pentagon looking at expanding its arms cooperation with more allies and partners, it will be interesting to see whether the president's visit in late January opens up new promises of defense industrial cooperation.

India is also enhancing its role with ASEAN, with which India plans to have $100 billion in two-way trade by the end of 2015 and double that in 2020.  In defense, during a visit to Vietnam in late October, Modi announced that India will quickly implement a $100 million defense credit line to Vietnam, which would enable Hanoi to acquire four offshore naval patrol vessels to improve Vietnam's surveillance and maritime domain awareness.  The prime minister has also been voicing India's concerns over the tensions in the South China Sea.  While India has always maintained that freedom of navigation through international waters is crucial, New Delhi usually refrains from making a direct comment on disputes outside of its territories.  What is of significance is Modi's choice of platforms in bringing up the issue. He first mentioned it in his joint statement with Obama, then with his  Vietnamese counterpart during his trip to Vietnam and at his maiden presence at the  East Asia Summit and the India-ASEAN summit in 2014. His call for a binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea reflected a willingness to assure India's friends and key players in the region that India may finally be ready to take on the role of a security provider that the region demands. Although it appears that India is quickly shedding its "nonalignment" policy, it is unlikely that India will venture far out of its principles on alliances with other nations, especially in the security domain. The Indian Navy was auspiciously completing its annual Singapore-Indian maritime Bilateral Exercise (SIMBEX) when Modi assumed office in late May, and the decade-old strategic partnership with Indonesia would seem likely to take off now that Indonesia's new leader, President Joko Widodo is similarly embarked on a maritime strategy.

In addition to stronger security relations with Japan, Australia, the United States, and ASEAN, India is signaling a desire to play a more active role in the geographically important island nations of the region, especially in the South Pacific.

Significantly, after leaving Australia, Modi made a rare visit to Fiji.  The coup-afflicted island country of about 850,000 hosted Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1981, at a time when the  treatment of ethnic Indians was a growing concern. But consecutive visits by Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping last month attest to the fact that Fiji is no longer removed from mounting geopolitical competition.

Delhi has watched China intensify relations with Fiji. Although China and Fiji will mark 40 years of diplomatic relations next year, China only established an embassy in Suva in 2001. Since seizing power in 2006 and then shedding his uniform to win office via the ballot box, former Commodore and now Prime Minister "Frank" Bainimarama has brought Fiji into closer economic and security alignment with China.  That trend allowed Xi to proclaim "a natural kinship" with the island late last month. More tangibly, China signed five Memorandum of Understandings with Fiji and agreed to inject some $11.4 million of aid into Fiji, which is almost midway between Chinese seaports and Lima, Peru.

If Fiji has played the China card, China is playing the South Pacific card. In August, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) hospital ship Peace Ark made a goodwill visit to Fiji and four other South Pacific nations. While in Suva, Xi met with 7 of 12 Pacific Island nation leaders whose geography affords useful vantage points for gathering intelligence and monitoring space activity. It turns out Pacific islands are well located to keep taps on U.S. military operations in Guam and the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands. And much of the competition is in cyber and outer space, making critical underwater fiber optic cables more important, as well as the need for tracking outer space activity.

India cannot match China's largesse, but even so Modi  announced a new $1 million adaptation fund to provide technical assistance, a $75 million credit line for Fiji, an increase in funding for island communities, visa on arrival for the island nations, and a Pan Pacific Islands Project to support telemedicine and online education.

But for all these bilateral and multilateral maritime moves, India is heavily focused on strengthening its own capacity for maritime security.  Long a global hub of information technology, India now appears intent on leveraging its IT prowess for strategic and operational maritime security.

India recently switched on operations of a Very Low Frequency (VLF) transmitting station at the Indian Naval Station Kattaboman in Tamil Nadu off the southern tip of India. The VLF transmitter enables more secure fleet communications, especially with Indian submarines. Although India currently operates only a single nuclear submarine leased from Russia, it is preparing to commission an indigenously developed, 6,000 ton nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine some time in 2015. India is expected to build at least three Arihant-class boats, which may carry K-4 submarine-launched ballistic missiles with a range of about 2,200 miles.

The recent sixth anniversary of the  "26/11" Mumbai terror attacks, which involved terrorists hijacking an Indian fishing boat to infiltrate the major port city in western India, was remembered with a major exercise involving 30 ships submarines and craft of the Indian Navy, Indian Air Force, and Coast Guard, as well as various civilian agencies. But more striking still was the inauguration of an Information Management and Analysis Center (IMAC) at Gurgaon for tracking ships in India's territorial waters and throughout the Indian Ocean.

The IMAC is a maritime intelligence fusion facility, involving not just the Navy and the Coast Guard but also coastal states and other governmental agencies, where data from coastal, air, and space surveillance systems will be persistently monitored and prominently displayed on huge screens. Tens of thousands of platforms can be tracked every day, and the IMAC is apparently set to become under Modi a hub of India's larger National Command Control Communication and Intelligence Network. In announcing the IMAC on the November 26 anniversary, Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar said India must have "zero tolerance" for terrorist attacks; but at the same time the ambitious maritime domain awareness system made clear Modi's interest in flexing India's regional maritime muscle.

One of India's top strategic thinkers, Dr. C. Raja Mohan, a Distinguished Fellow and Head of Strategic Studies at the Observer Research Foundation, explained the essence of Modi's strategic thinking at a recent conference we attended in New Delhi. The prime minister is ready to return India to its natural sphere of influence and become the next security provider in the Indo-Pacific region, Dr. Mohan argues. Now that roughly half of India's economy is tied to global markets, India's seaward expansion is logical and inexorable. India has never been as dependent on maritime security as it is today and is likely to become tomorrow. While nuclear deterrence prevents major interstate war on land, India's future hinges on exploiting free seas and the ability to shape the balance of power hinges on the Indian Navy. In short, contends Mohan, the Modi Doctrine, if there is one, is to pursue strategic influence — through a growing maritime orientation, shaping the Indo-Pacific regional balance of power, reclaiming a lost sphere of influence, and becoming an active participant in regional institutions.

Strategic patience is always prudent in forecasting the rise of India. Yet the present momentum behind Modi and his embryonic maritime doctrine for the Indo-Pacific region appears to be gaining steam.

There are, however, major challenges that have to be met in order to keep up with Modi's diplomatic pace. While it is easy to declare that India's "Look East" policy is now "Act East," implementation and coordination of the same within India's diplomatic levels is a major challenge. For India to establish its credibility and project its new maritime doctrine, the prime minister will have to ensure that his ministries deliver on his policies. There is definitely a greater political will within this government to play a more active security role in the region, which is being pursued through engagements and collaborations with key players. Modi should now look toward forging multilateral engagements in region with countries such as Japan, Indonesia, Australia and the U.S.

Former U.S.  Secretary of State John Jay wrote in 1900 that the Mediterranean Ocean was the ocean of the past, the Atlantic Ocean the ocean of the present, and the Pacific Ocean the ocean of the future. If Modi's self-confident new policy has its intended impact, then Jay's prophetic pronouncement will need to be amended to reflect the growing power across the Indo-Pacific Oceans.

Dr. Patrick M. Cronin is Senior Director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, D.C.  Darshana M. Baruah is Junior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.

November 09, 2014





The "News", the Pakistani daily, has reported on August 3,2009, that the Barack Obama Administration has decided to appoint Robin Raphel, who was a Counselor for Political Affairs in the US Embassy in New Delhi from 1991 to 1993 and subsequently became the Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs in the Bill Clinton Administration, as a member of the team of Richard Holbrooke, the Special Representative to the Af-Pak region.

2.According to the paper, she will be based in Pakistan and will co-ordinate the implementation of the plan for non-military assistance to Pakistan. She is expected to arrive in Pakistan on August 14,2009. Her bio-data as taken from the Wikipedia is annexed.

3. During her posting in the US Embassy in New Delhi, she was actively interacting with the various anti-India groups in Jammu & Kashmir and it was reportedly on her advice that the Hurriyat, as an umbrella organization of these groups, became very active.

4.After Bill Clinton assumed office as the President in January,1993, she joined the State Department as the Assistant Secretary of State in charge of South Asian Affairs under Warren Christopher, who was the Secretary of State. It used to be said that she knew the Clintons from her younger days and this gave her easy access to the President despite her junior position in the State Department. She exploited this to prevent Pakistan being declared as a State sponsor of terrorism after the Mumbai blasts of March,1993.

5. It was during her tenure as the Assistant Secretary of State that the Clinton Administration declared Jammu & Kashmir as a "disputed territory" and started calling for the resolution of the dispute between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir issue in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiri people. This refrain has once again been taken up by the Obama Administration.

6. Towards the end of 1993 , during a non-attributable discussion with some Indian journalists in Washington DC she reportedly defended this formulation and contended that the US considered the Kashmiri territory transferred by Pakistan to China in 1963 when Ayub Khan was the President also as disputed territory, whose future was yet to be decided.

7. The "Times of India" prominently carried this story on the front page without identifying the official of the State Department who had talked to the Indian journalists on the Kashmir issue. Enquiries made by the Government of India identified the official as Robin Raphel.

8. It was during her stewardship of the South Asian Affairs portfolio in the State Department that the Taliban under Mulla Mohammad Omar came into existence in 1994 with the joint support of the Pakistan and US Governments. The Taliban was prepared to support the construction of an oil and gas pipeline by UNOCAL, an American oil company, from Turkmenistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan and she had met Mulla Mohammad Omar in this connection. This period also saw Osama bin Laden shift from Khartoum to Jalalabad in 1996 without any objection from the US. The Taliban later shifted him to Kandahar.

9. Even after she left the State Department and joined the faculty of the National Defence University, she reportedly maintained active contacts with anti-India elements in J&K.

10. The "News" has correctly described her as "one known to be Pakistan's friend".

11.She is.

12. The text of the "News" report is also annexed. (3-8-2009)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )



Robin L. Raphel is a career diplomat who served as Ambassador to Tunisia and Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs during the Clinton administration. In this capacity she managed U.S. relations with the newly formed Taliban government in Afghanistan. She also served as a member of the Iraq Reconstruction Team during the Bush administration.

She began her career as a lecturer in history at Damavand College in Tehran, Iran. She first worked for the United States Government as an economic analyst for the CIA from 1973 to 1975. She then moved to Islamabad, Pakistan where she worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development as an economic/financial analyst. She then joined the State Department.

Upon her return to Washington, DC in 1978, Ambassador Raphel worked in the Office of Investment Affairs in the Economic and Business Bureau; on the Israel Desk; Staff Aide for the Assistant Secretary for the Near East and South Asian Affairs Bureau; and as Special Assistant to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs. In 1984 she was assigned to the U.S. Embassy in London where she covered Middle East, South Asia and East Asia, and Africa.

She served as Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria (1988-1991), and at the U.S.Embassy in New Delhi (1991-1993). In August 1993, she was named the first Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs. She retired
from the State Department in 2005 after 30 years of service.

Ambassador Raphel received a B.A. in history and economics from the University of Washington. She pursued graduate studies in history at Cambridge University and earned an M.A. in economics from the University of Maryland. Her foreign languages are French and Urdu. She was at one time married to the late ambassador Arnold Lewis Raphel, but they divorced prior to his death in 1988.

She is currently the Senior Vice President at Cassidy & Associates, a firm that works on consultancy in international relations. She was responsible for the lobbying for Pakistan in the State Department and the firm had a $1.2 million contract with the Govt of Pakistan. This contract was withdrawn by the firm due to the martial law in Pakistan. ( My comment: Not martial law, but the state of emergency)



Robin Raphel gets key job in Pakistan

Monday, August 03, 2009
By Qudssia Akhlaque

ISLAMABAD: The Obama administration in an astute move has decided to appoint former US assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, Robin Raphel, an old South Asia hand and one known to be Pakistan's friend, as coordinator for non-military assistance to Pakistan, it was learnt.

Appointed as a key member of Obama's Pakistan team, Ambassador Raphel's mandate will be to coordinate the effort to determine, in consultation with the Pakistani authorities, how best to allocate the increased US funding for non-military assistance, informed diplomatic sources in Washington and Islamabad told The News.

Raphel will be a new member of the US special envoy Richard Holbrooke's expanding team and she will be based in Pakistan.

Holbrooke was appointed Special Representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan by the Obama administration in January to coordinate US government's efforts in the region. Raphel will be reporting to Holbrooke in Washington, and at Islamabad to the US ambassador. A formal announcement about her appointment is expected shortly.

In her new position she is expected to cohesively carry together the different strands of non-military US engagement with Pakistan — economic, development, political and civilian security. Ambassador Raphel will be "also overseeing the ramp up of US civilian assistance effort in anticipation of the final passage of the Kerry-Lugar Bill 2009," an insider explained.

The passage of the Kerry-Lugar bill means approval of tripling of civilian US aid to Pakistan to about $1.5 billion per annum for each of the next five years in a key part of a strategy to combat extremism with economic and social development. The $1.5 billion in annual funding includes money for schools, judicial system, parliament and law-enforcement agencies in Pakistan.

As Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs during the Clinton administration in the 90s, Raphel had a similar role within the region. She particularly played an important part in managing US relations with the newly formed Taliban government in Afghanistan.

Ambassador Robin Raphel is currently the senior vice-president of a Washington-based lobbying consulting firm Cassidy & Associates that provides counselling to multinational corporations, foreign countries and other organisations to advocate their US-based interests in Washington, and US corporations to meet business challenges abroad.

Raphel will be coming here on August 14 for initially a couple of weeks for consultations with the top political leadership after which she will go back to Washington, sources told The News. She will then return around mid September and be stationed here for one whole year.

This is not the first time that Raphel will be based in Pakistan. In mid 70s she was here in Islamabad working as an Economic and financial analyst for the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

Ambassador Robin Raphel is generally considered to be very sympathetic towards Pakistan and enjoys goodwill in the country's civilian as well as military circles. Even after her retirement from the State Department in 2005 after 30 years of service, Ambassador Raphel has been in touch with Pakistan through participation in seminars and conferences.

More recently she was responsible for lobbying for Pakistan in the State Department and her firm had a $1.2 million contract with the government of Pakistan. However, this contract was abruptly terminated by the firm following the declaration of emergency rule in Pakistan by President Gen (retd.) Pervez Musharraf on Nov 3, 2007.

India ‘link’ to Raphel fall


India 'link' to Raphel fall
Robin Raphel 

New Delhi, Nov. 8: A tip from Indian soil which shed new light on how US diplomat Robin Raphel empowered the Taliban may have hastened her downfall in Washington.

Accounts from Raisina Hill, the seat of government in New Delhi and from Chanakyapuri, the capital's diplomatic enclave, however, indicated that India's official apparatus was not involved in the tip. The US embassy was behind relaying the information, albeit in the course of routine transmission of material.

The long-running counter-intelligence probe of Raphel, who began her American civil service career with the CIA, appears to have taken a critical turn when Hamid Mir, executive editor of Pakistan's Geo TV, made credible revelations about her nearly two-decade-old support for the Taliban to senior editorial staff of The Indian Express in the third week of October.

Mir, along with Shafqat Mahmood, a leader of Imran Khan's Tehrik-e-Insaf, said in the course of an exchange on India-Pakistan relations with the editors in New Delhi that Raphel had weighed heavily on then Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 1995 to throw Islamabad's weight behind the Taliban. At that time, the world viewed the Taliban as a curiosity and it was mistaken by many countries as a nascent student movement for reforming Afghanistan and getting rid of its endemic corruption and warlordism.

Raphel was then the assistant secretary of state for South Asia, a new entity created with much fanfare in the state department. A middle-ranking diplomat at the US embassy in Chankayapuri, Raphel was catapulted to head the new bureau over several others her senior because she was an "FoB," Friend of Bill.

Like Strobe Talbott, another FoB who became deputy secretary of state as a political appointee, Bill Clinton brought in a number of his old friends from his Oxford and London years into his administration. Of all of them, Raphel is the one who did maximum damage to America, albeit in retrospect.

She had no excuse for confusing the Taliban for an innocent student movement. She was already an expert on Pakistan and had her resourceful CIA experience behind her. Raphel's husband (they were divorced by then) gave up his life travelling with General Zia-ul-Haq on their fatal flight in Bahawalpur in 1988.

Here is what Mir said on the record in the third week of October: "The Taliban movement emerged in Afghanistan in 1994. In 1995, I was travelling with then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to the US. Bhutto met ambassador Robin Raphel in New York. We came to know that Raphel had asked Bhutto to announce her support to the Taliban. It was very disturbing. I wrote in my column from New York that here is the first elected woman Prime Minister in the whole Muslim world, the Taliban are imposing a ban on girls' education (in Afghanistan) and she had been asked by Robin Raphel, another woman, to announce her support for the Taliban."

Benazir did not take kindly to Mir and other journalists getting wind of what had transpired at the meeting with Raphel and she was even less kindly to Mir for writing a column revealing Raphel's advice.

Here is Mir again in his own words: "When we were coming (back home) from New York, the Prime Minister met me on the plane and said, 'You are criticising me'. I replied, 'Yes, this is democracy, I don't like the Taliban and you are supporting the Taliban at the behest of Raphel'. So she instructed her interior minister to brief me why the Taliban are good for Pakistan."

A few days passed. "The interior minister organised a briefing for me and Nusrat Javed, a colleague, and explained that we (Pakistan) were using the Taliban as the 'pipeline police'. We wanted a gas pipeline from Uzbekistan to Pakistan and there was nobody who could protect it because the government in Kabul, the Northern Alliance, was supported by the Indians and the Iranians and they might destroy the gas pipeline."

Now Mir demanded his price for changing course. "I said OK, I would like to meet Mullah Omar (the Taliban chief). The interior minister said 'OK'. I met Mullah Omar in Kandahar…. I was astonished he was not aware Raphel was American."

With Mir's talk of the pipeline stake, there may be wheels within wheels in the raid on Raphel by the FBI. Not that the investigating agencies did not know. But Mir's account is confirmation of what the FBI may have long suspected.

Three days after Mir spoke to the editors in New Delhi, Raphel lost her security clearance. This week's developments, including the sealing of her state department office and a search of her residence, are a follow-up to the revocation of her security clearance.

US embassies across the world routinely send to the state department material such as Mir's statements that are in the public domain. Sometimes, as in Raphel's case, they have rare and unexpected consequences.

It was well-known in South Block in the 1990s, the period under review, that the Americans were willing to overlook ideological anathema, including Islamic extremism, for the sake of energy and mineral resources in Central Asia and Afghanistan.

Those who approached India as lobbyists on behalf of US oil companies during those years include some big names: Condoleezza Rice, who later became US national security adviser and secretary of state; and Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan American who was later US ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq, and whom the US unsuccessfully tried to foist on Kabul as President in succession to Hamid Karzai.

When the Taliban took power in Kabul in December 1996, Raphel was the assistant secretary of state in charge of South Asia. At her persuasion, the US extended recognition to the Taliban, only to withdraw it 10 minutes later.

Even though Raphel left her post a year after the Taliban takeover of Kabul, the US continued her policy of mollycoddling the Taliban, nurturing a monster that would devour the US in association with al Qaida on September 11, 2001.

That policy was abandoned only in August 1998 after two US embassies in east Africa were bombed by terrorists.

During the George W. Bush and Barack Obama years, Raphel held the purse strings to US aid to Pakistan and she shuttled between Islamabad and Washington, residing alternately in both of her favourite cities.

It is not known if the latest FBI probe covers the huge amount of money she disbursed and whether it went into the hands of those who are a threat to America, like the Taliban.

November 08, 2014

Robin Raphael’s illicit links with Taliban and Pakistan lobbyists


The US authorities have initiated inquiry against former US Diplomat Robin Raphel, who has been known for her expertise on Central Asia, including Pakistan and Afghanistan, for her alleged involvement with various extremist groups. Interestingly, in her entire 30 years of career with the US State Department, no one could make it out about her alleged interests. It is reportedly said that she has close connections with various Taliban factions. She presently serves as coordinator for non-military assistance to Pakistan, carrying on the work of the late Richard Holbrooke, whose AfPak team she joined in 2009.

Raphel was instrumental in orchestrating the decision of the State Department to open up diplomatic relations with the Taliban shortly after its takeover of Kabul. A second major policy directive that she  advocated and developed during her tenure was engagement with the Taliban. Her positions raised scorns at many occasions. Some reports however suggest that she had business interests with the Pakistan lobby in US.


According to recent news reports, Raphel's State Department office and home was searched and sealed. However, it's still unclear the investigations were directed towards. The officials said it is an ongoing investigation and no charges have been filed as yet, the reports further added.

Meanwhile, as reported, at the time of the raid, Raphel, was an adviser on Pakistan under a limited, renewable contract to the State Department's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, where she administered nonmilitary aid and economic grants, CNN report said.
Robin Raphel – a former assistant secretary of state for South Asia and ambassador to Tunisia, spent much of her career working on Pakistan and South Asia. News that she was mainly working as a lobbyist came to the fore when the Indian Express published in November 2009 report said-

"The US decision to appoint Robin Raphel as coordinator for non-military aid to Pakistan has run into controversy over conflict of interest with latest disclosures from a lobbying firm where she worked earlier clearly stating that she had been an active lobbyist for Pakistan until a few days before her appointment."

The News, a Pakistani daily also carried a similar report titled, New lobbyist hired in DC as Kerry-Lugar row rages. The article says-

"The new company hired is Cassidy & Associates, one of the biggest lobbying firms in Washington in which Robin Raphael, the newly appointed coordinator of all aid to Pakistan, was a key partner until she got her new job recently."

Sources suggest, Robin Raphel once referred Pakistan as a "model, modern, moderate Muslim State." The report further quotes an official of Cassidy saying that the firm had been hired by the Pakistan Embassy for $700,000 a year plus expenses which can run into thousands of dollars, as seen in the past.

The Pakistan media report was also an indicator of how Raphel misused her powers and office for business interests and had also succeeded in hoodwinking and manipulate US authorities State Department norms to gain positions, as the Indian Express report stated. If proven, it is criminal to maneuver the nation's strategic policies that helped her get financial and business benefits and influence many lives of innocent people negatively.

Her State Department biography says she began her career as a CIA analyst before serving in the Foreign Service for 30 years. Robin Raphel retired from the State Department in 2005, but returned in 2009 to work as an advisor to the late Richard Holbrooke, appointed by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the first special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Besides this,  Robin Raphel was seen in New Delhi as a catalyst for Washington "trafficking with India's enemies" as she was more in line with Sikh and Kashmiri seperatist

November 06, 2014

Shia Islam, Imam Ali, Najaf, Karbala and Moharrum

Gajendra singh

Islam and its influence, for good or bad is not going to go away any time soon.


The arid deserts of Arabia might have been 'Jahiliya' before the revelations of Islam  but the people right up to Morocco on the Atlantic coast in North Africa and Iraq, Persia, Khorasan and Central Asia up to the border of China had long religious and cultural streams and very well developed and complex religious traditions and beliefs.


Therefore Islam became varied, complex and evolved as have other religions. The pristine austere Arab Islam of the first four Caliphs, to which the Jihadis and others hark back to, has been changed ,uplifted ,evolved ,enriched and made  more beautiful and humanistic through interaction with cultural and religious base of various lands conquered by Islam, most of them had highly cultured civilizations.


The Byzantine civilisation in Syria and Damascus ( which also introduced the desert Arabs to veils, used by the high society Byzantine ladies), Persian civilisation in North Iraq , Persia and Central Asia, with their religions like Nestorian Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Shamanism etc contributed to the evolution and flowering of Islam in its various sects and forms. 


Both Persia and Central Asia had resisted Islamisation by force and accepted a version akin to their own culture and civilization.  Most of Central Asia, the subcontinent, certainly South East Asia was won over for Islam by humanistic Sufi saints with beliefs similar to that of the Absolute Reality of Brahman i.e. union of self with God (in South Asia) and Buddhist Nirvana (in Central Asia and elsewhere) and traders and not so much by military victories or Jihad and sword .This perception is sold and enhanced by militaristic Muslim and western historians. Wahabis and other orthodox Muslims have been strongly opposed to Sufi Islam throughout history.


Unfortunately, in spite of a millennia and half of Jihads and Crusades, Christian West and others take Islam as monolithic and Muslims as barbarians, especially because of some of the medieval customs and barbaric punishments in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries. (As if starving half a million Iraqi children by Western embargo is not barbaric. US Presidents always talk of action against Iraq to protect their children and future generations! ) Muslims are equally ill informed about Christianity. Even Sunnis about Shias, Twelvers, Ismailis, Alevis, Alawites, Druzes and others. Qadianis and Ahmediyas are persecuted in Pakistan. Each has misperceptions about the other. As have various Christians sects about each other and Muslims. These misperceptions are exaggerated and exploited by politicians who use religion to acquire power and then to hold on to it.


In Saudi Arabia, home and focal point of Islam, behind the oil financed glitter, its polity remains medieval with its barbaric punishments against all contemporary human norms. In Iran, the focal point of Shia Islam, Iranians are more creative and constructive and barring some incongruities like Chador etc give education to its women and freedom to work and drive cars etc . Sooner than later, after the end of stranglehold of Mullahs, who had ensconced themselves by force into positions of power in spite of Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran could be an example to other Muslims.  On the other hand, ruling oligarchy of Saudi princes' life style, which according to Wahabi believers, who even took over the Mecca mosque in 1979, is at variance with the Wahabi percepts of Islam. This is a curious amalgam of two opposites united for sheer power sharing. But how long will it last! 


Let us begin with Muharram, Tazias and other Ashura rituals.


The Mourning of Muharram, or Muharram Observances, is a set of rituals associated with Shia Islam, which takes place in Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar. Many of the events associated with the ritual take place in congregation halls known as Hussainia.


The event marks the anniversary of the Battle of Karbala when Imam Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, and a Shia Imam, was killed by the forces of the second Umayyad caliph Yazid I at Karbala. Family members, accompanying Hussein ibn Ali, were killed or subjected to humiliation. The commemoration of the event during yearly mourning season, from first of Muharram to twentieth of Safar with Ashura comprising the focal date, serves to define Shia communal identity. At present, Muharram Observances are carried out in countries with noteworthy Shia population, including Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Lebanon, India, and Bahrain.


 The words Azadari (عزاداری) which mean mourning and lamentation; and Majalis-e Aza have been exclusively used in connection with the remembrance ceremonies for the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. Majalis-e Aza, also known as Aza-e Husayn, includes mourning congregations, lamentations, matam and all such actions which express the emotions of grief and above all, repulsion against what Yazid stood for.


According to Shia sources, The Azadari of Muharram was started by the family of Muhammad (the Ahl-ul-Bayt) after the death of Muhammad's grandson Husayn ibn Ali at the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD. Following the battle of Karbala, Muhammad's granddaughter Zaynab bint Ali and sister of Husayn, began mourning for the fallen and making speeches against Husayn ibn Ali's opponents: Ibn Ziyad and Yazid I. News of Husayn ibn Ali's death was also spread by Imam Zain-ul-Abideen, who succeeded Husayn as the Shia Imam, via sermons and speeches throughout Iraq, Syria and Hejaz.


Zainab and Zain-ul-Abideen informed the people that Yazid had martyred Imam Husayn and seventy-two of his companions including his six month old son Ali Asghar, and that their women and children were taken as prisoners to Syria. When word of mourning reached Yazid he decided to release the captive women and children from the prison in Damascus, out of fear of public revolt against his rule. He sent for Zain-ul-Abideen, informed him of the impending release and asked if he wished for anything further. Zain-ul-Abideen said he would consult with Zainab. She asked Yazid to provide a place where the people could mourn for Imam Husayn and others of Muhammad's household. A house was provided, and here Zaynab binte Ali held the first Majlis-e Aza of Husayn and started the Mourning of Muharram.


The mourning and commemoration for Husayn ibn Ali originated in Iraq, as this is where Husayn was martyred. However, they were held in Iran as early as the twelfth century, when both Sunnis and Shias participated in them. In the Safavid period, the annual mourning ceremonies for Imam Hosayn, combined with the ritual cursing of his enemies, acquired the status of a national institution. Expressions of grief such as sine-zani (beating the chest), zangir-zani (beating oneself with chains), and tage-zani or Qama Zani also known as Tatbeer (hitting oneself with swords or knives) emerged as common features of the proliferating mourning-processions (dasta-gardani). Mourning for the martyred Imam also takes place in assemblies held in buildings erected especially for the purpose, known either as Hussainia or takia, as well as in mosques and private houses.


In Lucknow, India, the Muharram processions and rituals are known as Azadari. The processions, including the Chup Tazia, have been observed since the sixteenth century or earlier, when Lucknow was capital of the state of Awadh. Many Shia also tend to embark on a pilgrimage to the Imam Husayn Shrine in Karbala itself, as it is one of the holiest places for Shias outside of Mecca and Medina. Up to one million pilgrims a year visit the city to observe the anniversary of Husayn ibn Ali's death.  The shrine is located opposite that of Abbas ibn Ali. One form of mourning is the theatrical re-enactment of the Battle of Karbala. In Iran this is called taziya or taziyeh. Theatrical groups that specialize in taziya are called taziya groups. Taziyas were popular through the Qajar dynasty until the early twentieth century, but the re-enactments slowly declined until they were mostly abandoned in the large cities by the early 1940s. Nonetheless, taziyas continued to exist in Iran on a smaller scale especially in more rural and traditional areas. Reza Shah, the first of the Pahlavi dynasty, had outlawed taziyas. Despite some attempts since 1979, Muharram processions and various forms of the rawza khani are still more common.


 In South Asia where dramatic commemorations are less significant, ta'zīya came to refer specifically to the miniature mausoleums used in processions held in Muharram. It all started from the fact that the great distance of India from Karbala prevented Indian Shi'is being buried near the tomb of Imam Husayn or making frequent pilgrimages(ziyarat) to the tomb. This is the reason why Indian Shi'is established local karbalas on the subcontinent by bringing soil from Karbala and sprinkling it on lots designated as future cemeteries. Once the karbalas were established on the subcontinent, the next step was to bring Husayn's tomb-shrine to India. This was established by building replicas of Husayn's mausoleum called ta'zīya to be carried in Muharram processions. Thousands of ta'zīyas in various shapes and sizes are fashioned every year for the months of mourning of Muharram and Safar; and are carried in processions and may be buried at the end of Ashura or Arbain.


 Though besides Sunnis several Shias do not know that it is a protest and invitation to people to come and listen to mourners as to what happened in Karbala. It is believed by some non-Shias that Hussain's journey to Karbala was to claim his Imamat over the people of Kufa who had written letters inviting him to Kufa whereas per Shia's belief Husain knew he was to be killed there. He undertook this journey to deny his approval or Bay'at to Yazid becoming caliph because he considered Yazid to be a danger to the Muslim Ummah and a threat to Islam. His sacrifice and revolution were to preserve Islam and his Grandfather's Ummah against the innovation, hypocrisy, wickedness as well as the attempts to destroy and alter Islam and the quest for worldly pleasures and worldly gains by Yazid and his people. It was a matter of right and wrong, just and unjust and Hussain chose what is just, despite the consequences.                    

History of Najaf

The history, myths and legends surrounding Najaf are as old as time .It is believed that Prophet Abraham who migrated from Ur in Iraq to Palestine via Harran (Turkey) once came to the village at Najaf with Prophet Isaac. When local people wanted them to settle down there, Abraham agreed, but only if the valley behind the village were sold for cultivation. When Prophet Isaac said that the land was neither fit for farming nor grazing, Abraham assured him that in future it would have a tomb and a shrine, and 70,000 people would gain entrance to Paradise and be able to intercede for many others. That prediction has come true with the tomb and shrine of Imam Ali erected there. Imam Ali once said about the valley, now the second largest cemetery in the world and a resting place for millions of Muslims, and called the Valley of Peace (Wadi-as-Salaam);

"This Valley of Peace is part of Heaven and that there is not a single one of the believers in the world, whether he dies in the East or West, but his soul will come to this Paradise to rest. As there is nothing hidden in this world from my eyes." Imam Ali then added, "I see all the believers seated here in groups and talking with one another."

According to another tradition, there was a mountain at Najaf, on which a son of Noah, refusing to get into the Ark, climbed up to see how high the water would rise. A revelation came to the mountain, "Do you undertake to protect this son of mine from punishment?" Lo, the mountain crumbled into pieces and Noah's son was drowned. In its place appeared a large river, but after a few years it dried up, so it is also called "Nay-Jaff", meaning, and "the dried river." Many Shiite also believe that Adam, the first Biblical man, is also buried at the mosque

Imam Ali was stabbed to death while praying at a mosque in Kufa. Following his instructions for the burial place, his followers tied the body to a camel and let it roam in the desert until it finally rested 11 kms north-east of Kufa, in Najaf, 60 kms south of Baghdad. But there are some who doubt if Ali's remains are really there as some traditions suggest that he was buried in Kufa and others that he was buried at Medina. Nevertheless, the vast majority of Shi'ites accept Najaf as Imam Ali's burial place and this is most important.

The first building was constructed by the Abbassid Caliph, Harun al Rashid. How he found this place is also another interesting tradition. More buildings were added later on a but some were destroyed too by anti- Shiite Sunnis. Under orders of anti Shi'ite Caliph Al Mutawakkil the Shrine was ploughed over in 850, but after his death a temporary Shrine was erected.

But it was the Shiite Buyid ruler ad –Dawla who constructed the first major Shrine building at Najaf in 979, which lasted till 1354. However, the current structure and buildings were built by Iran's Shiite Safavid Shah Safi in about 1635. It was Nadir Shah who got the dome gilded. The Wahhabis burnt down the dome in 1801 and Ottoman Najib Pasha attacked it 1843. But Sunni Ottoman Sultans, always at war with Shiite Safavids of Iran, gave considerable autonomy to Shiite enclaves of Najaf, Kufa and Kerbala.

When the sun shines on the golden tiles of the Shrine, its dome appears splendidly luminous, making it a glorious sight to behold. The mausoleum consists of one large central dome which stands out of a square-shaped ornate structure with two minarets. The predominant colour of' the exterior is gold, bright shining gold and the entire exterior of the mausoleum is inlaid with a mosaic pattern of light powder blue, white marble, gold again with an occasional splash of Middle East rust. Millions from all over the world flock to the shrine to pay their respects, to offer salutations and pray to Allah and seek Imam Ali's intercession. The author was very moved by the sense of piety, serenity and peace in the Shrine when he visited it in 1977. It is the same feeling in most religious shrines.

Najaf, an Islamic center

Over a millennia, Najaf has become the residence of many teachers, and many seminaries and colleges were established here, making it a major center for scientific, literary and theological studies for the Islamic world. A collection of many rare Islamic relics and precious gifts by rulers can be viewed here. Construction of Hindiyya canal in 1803 ushered in prosperity for the city. Pilgrim trade and that connected with bringing of dead bodies for burial made Najaf prosperous. The recent battles between as-Sadr's al- Mahdi militia and US troops also hurt pilgrim and burial trade. Control over Najaf brings prestige and wealth.

Four senior Grand Ayatollahs constitute the Religious Institution (al-Hawzah al-`Ilmiyyah) in Najaf, the pre-eminent seminary center for the training of Shiite clergymen. Before the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, it was the most important center of study for Shiite religious leaders. Following Saddam Hussein's oppression in 1980s and the expulsion of senior clerics, many shifted to Qum in Iran, which took over the religious leadership of the Shiites. In 1999, the Iraqi Shiite leader, Ayatollah Mohammad Sadiq al-Sadr, Moqtda's father was assassinated in Najaf, sparking clashes between the Shiites and the Iraqi government.

During his exile from Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini lived here (1964-78) prior to the 1979 revolution in Iran. Qum's pre-eminence is only since last 1979, while Najaf has a millennium long leadership. In mid-2003 the seminary in Qum hosted between 40,000 and 50,000 clergy, while the number in Najaf was about 2,000, down from 10,000 before the Ba'athist repression .The situation is changing.

There is a major difference between Najaf and Qum's concept of the Velayat-e-Faqih.  According to the latter it is a God given authority to the top religious leader to oversee secular affairs and as the infallible Imam, like Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as the highest religious authority of the world's Shiites. The Najaf School does not interpret the Velayat-e-Faqih as meaning a direct intervention of clerics in politics. He should be a supervisor and adviser. So, Ali Sistani in Iraq refuses to wield temporal power but Moqtda's views are closer to that of Ayatollah Khomeini.

Caliphate of Imam Ali and Schism in Islam

In the Muslim community (Ummah) of over a billion faithfuls spread all over the world nearly 12 % are Shiites. Majority of Shiites are Twelvers – believers in 12 Imams (like Iran), but there are others too, like the Ismailis (of Agha Khans, Mohammed Ali Jinnah), from whom emerged the "Assassins" in early 2nd millennium, Alevis in Turkey, ruling Alawite regime in Syria, and Hezbollah and Amal in Lebanon and some very extremist groups. Nearly 60% of Iraqis are Shiites, the rest are mostly Sunnis.

The Shiites emerged out of seeds of disunity in the embryonic Muslim Ummah which were sown as soon as Prophet Mohammed lay dead in Medina. While his cousin and son in law Ali and the family were preparing the body for the burial, another clan of the Quraysh tribe elected Abu Bakr as the first Caliph- Prophet's deputy, countering the claims of Ansars of Medina, who had welcomed the Prophet during his Hijra .Abu Bakr's supporters said that he was closer to Mohammed, one of the very first converts to Islam and was from Mecca's Quraysh tribe. His daughter A'isha was wedded to the Prophet.

According to Shiites, Prophet Mohammed had given enough indications for Ali to be his successor and cite many hadiths in support of this claim. The Prophet had lived with his uncle Abu Talib, Ali's father and Mohammed's only child Fatimah was married to Ali .Ali also became Muslim before Abu Bakr and was perhaps his most trusted and the closest companion, even though he was about 3 decades younger than the Prophet.

Ali's election as the Caliph would have denied the chance to the older generation of power brokers, so they played politics and got their way. Ali was overlooked twice with Omar and Uthman succeeding Abu Bakr in cleverly planned successions to keep Ali out. As a result Ali mostly kept himself away and aloof.

Following the murder of Uthman, Ali was invited by the Muslims of Medina to accept the caliphate; reluctant, he agreed only after long hesitation. His brief reign was marked by difficulties of inheriting corrupt state of affairs, where the Quran and the traditions of Mohammed were neglected .Ali based his rule on the Islamic ideals of social justice and equality which clashed with the interests of the Quraysh aristocracy of Mecca grown rich through the Muslim conquests. A rebellion was instigated against him .Ali was victorious in many wars, but was forced into a trap of arbitration. He was assassinated by a Kharijite and Mu'awiya of the Umayyads established the dynasty at Damascus.

Ali was a devout Muslim with an outstanding reputation for justice, unlike Othman or the Umayyad dynasty that followed him, mired in nepotism with worldly and autocratic ways. Many Muslims feel this way about the Umayyad Caliphs except for Omar II. To many it was a betrayal of the Quran, which insists that the first duty of Muslims is to create a just and equal society.

Those opposed to Umayyads called themselves the Shia't-Ali (Ali's partisans) and developed a doctrine of piety and protest, refusing to accept the Umayyad caliphs, and regarded Ali's descendants as the true leaders of the Muslim community. This schism became an unbridgeable chasm and remains so, when in 680, Shiites of Kufa called for the rule by Ali's second son Hussein and invited him. Hussein set out for Iraq with a small band of relatives and followers (72 armed men and women and children) in the belief that the spectacle of the Prophet's family, marching to confront the Caliph, would remind the regime of its social responsibility.

But Umayyad Caliph Yazid dispatched his army, which slaughtered Hussein and most of his followers on the plain of Karbala with Imam Hussein being the last to die, holding his infant son in his arms. This event is now commemorated as Muharram.  For Shiites that tragedy symbolizes the chronic injustice that pervades human life. Shiite Islam provides spiritual solace and shelter for the poorest and the deprived among the Muslims, as in as- Sadr city near to Baghdad. In almost all Sunni majority countries Shiites are ill treated and persecuted.

Imagery and this passion informed Khomeini's Iranian revolution, which many experienced as a re-enactment of Karbala - with the Shah Reza Pehlavi cast as a latter day Yazid. The recent attempts to attack Shiites in Iraq by US forces with support from puppet Allawi regime would fit into that imagery.

There is no agreement among Muslims on the Caliphs. Shiites do not recognise the first three and in many places curse them. For them Ali is the first rightful Caliph and Imam. For Sunnis, Imam is only a prayer leader and could be any one. But for the Shiites, he is a spiritual leader with the divine spark and juris-consult (Vilayet-el-Faqih) .The sacred Islamic law Sharia enacted under different situations and times has many schools among Sunnis, who unlike the Shiites have closed ijtihad, independent reasoning in Islamic Law to meet new situations .The Shiites Iranians (Aryans) perhaps created the office of Imam (like Shankracharya among Indo –Aryan Brahmins) as only an Arab from the Quraysh tribe could become a Caliph. Later when Turks, who came as slaves / warriors to Arab lands, captured power by the sword, raised a minor office of the Sultan to a powerful one, protector by now of a powerles! S Caliph. Then Ottoman Sultans appropriated the title of Caliph for themselves.

After the first dynastic Umayyad caliphate based in Damascus ended, another branch of Quraysh tribe, Abbasids took over and shifted to Iraq in 750, but after making false promises of installing the Prophet's family as the Caliph. Muslim Ummah's unity under the Sunni Caliph was finally broken when Fatimids anointed their own Caliph first in Tunisia, then in Egypt in 10th century. So an Umayyad prince in Cordoba too declared himself the third Caliph.

Muslims now gather under the umbrella of Organisation of Islamic Conferences (OIC), constituted after the 1969 fire in Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

Evolution of Shiism:

We should be clear about two things.  Firstly, political Shi'ism which indicates a belief that members of the Hashim clan in the Quraysh tribe are the people most worthy of holding political authority in the Islamic community, but no belief in any particular religious position for the family.  As for religious Shi'ism, it is about the belief that some particular members of the house of Hashim were in receipt of divine inspiration and are thus the channel of God's guidance to men whether or not they hold any defacto political authority. This was augmented by the Iranians who believe in the tradition that the mother of fourth Imam Zaynul- Abdin was Shahrbanu, the daughter of Yazdigird, the last Sasanian King of Iran.

From the very beginning all the Shiite Imams, descendants of Ali, every single one was imprisoned, exiled or executed or poisoned by the Caliphs, who could not tolerate an alternative centre to their rule. So by 8th century, most Shiites held aloof from politics and concentrated on the mystical interpretation of scripture. Says Karen Armstrong" Long before western philosophers called for the separation of church and state, Shias had privatised faith, convinced that it was impossible to integrate the religious imperative with the grim world of politics that seemed murderously antagonistic to it. --

"The separation of religion and politics remains deeply embedded in the Shia psyche. It springs not simply from malaise, but from a divine discontent with the state of the Muslim community. Even in Iran, which became a Shia country in the early 16th century, the ulama (the religious scholars) refused public office, adopted an oppositional stance to the state, and formed an alternative establishment that - implicitly or explicitly - challenged the shahs on behalf of the people."

The picture of early Shi'ism was created (as not much is available from records) from the point of view of Twelver Shiite, ignoring the Ismalis, Mutazilites or orthodox Sunnis.  Modern scholars believe that this picture was retrospectively imposed over the facts by historians of 3rd and 4th Islamic century for doctrinal reasons.

It is only after 6th Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (died 765) that there is any firm evidence that any kind of religious leadership was being claimed for Twelver Imams. He was a well-known and influential figure in the Islamic world. Several of his students later became prominent jurists and traditionalists even among non-Shi'ite Muslims. Jafar as-Sadiq did not make an open claim to religious leadership, but his circle of students evidently looked to him as Imam, some including leading figures such as Abu'l-Khattab, who held beliefs of a ghuluww (extremist) nature regarding him, indicating that as-Sadiq was a focus of religious speculation and leadership in his own time.

Evolution of Islam into Shiite and other forms:

The number of ghulat groups, increased dramatically especially in Kufa during as-Sadiq's lifetime. It is therefore useful to consider the origin of the ghulat. When the Arabs arrived in the Fertile Crescent, they encountered ancient civilisations with sophisticated religious systems. Iraq was already the centre of intense religious ferment with the ancient Babylonian religious systems, Zoroastrianism, Mazdaism, Manichaeism, Judaism and various forms of Christianity contributing to a kaleidoscope of religious view points, debate and speculation. Islam by comparison was as yet simple and undeveloped. And with the Prophet already dead, there was no one to whom the Muslims could turn for an authoritative ruling on sophisticated religious speculations being posed by the ancient civilisations. There arose a ferment of discussion around some of the concepts introduced by these older religions and philosophical systems.

In the initial years the Arabs lived in their military camp cities and avoided intermingling with the native population and disturbing religious speculations but as more of the native population embraced Islam, such discussions increased. In this spiritual and religious ferment ideas were injected into the Muslim community and intensively discussed by people interested in such matters which could be considered by the majority of Muslims heterodox concepts and called ghulat or extremists.            

Among the ideas injected were such concepts as tanasukh (transmigration of souls), ghayba (occultation), raj'a (return), hulul (descent of the Spirit of God into man), imama (Imamate, divinely-inspired leadership and guidance), tashbih (anthropomorphism with respect to God), tafwid (delegation of God's powers to other than God), and bada (alteration in God's will). But the ghulat needed a priest-god figure onto which to project their ideas of hulul, ghayba, etc., a role admirably suited to the persona of' Ali.

While the ghulat adopted Ali and his family as the embodiment of their religious speculation the Shi'ite of'Ali always looked on the ghulat with a certain amount of suspicion. However, the martyrdom of Hussein and the pathos of this event gave the family of Ali a cultic significance. It bestowed on Shiites, earlier primarily a political party, a thrust into a religious orientation directing it firmly towards the ghulat, and giving the ghulat milieu a hero-martyr and a priestly family with which they could associate much of their speculations.

Mosque and tombs

The word mosque itself derives from the Arabic masjid, "a place where one prostrates one's self (in front of God)." In earliest times any place could be used for private prayer with correct direction (qiblah, originally Jerusalem, but soon after Mecca). The collective prayer on Fridays, with a collective swearing of allegiance to the community's leadership also strengthens common bonds among all members of the Ummah.

According to some experts, the Quran does not utter a word for or against the representation of living things. But from about the middle of the 8th century a prohibition was formally stated .It became a standard feature of Islamic thought, even though the form in which it was expressed varied from absolute to partial. It has been suggested that Islam developed this attitude when it came into contact with other cultures and it was felt that the dreaded idol worship might return. The Qur'an (Sura ix, 31) prohibits the veneration of holy men and saints. In early Islam there was no special embellishment of funerary sites; 'the tombs of the rich and poor are! alike'. But the human desire to venerate and by many to be venerated is too old and deep rooted. The first changes occurred through veneration of the tombs of holy persons.

It appears that the construction of commemorative buildings over certain burial places began in the late 9th and 10th centuries especially over those of Shi'ite saints. Then over the tombs, mostly in Iran and Central Asia, of rulers of marginal or semi-independent regions, who often followed non-Sunni beliefs? T hey were to project status symbols of secular power and were rather ambitious .In contrast, the tombs of holy men were simpler – which went towards satisfying the devotional needs of the population. Generally complex ensembles grew up around the tombs of many saints, like that of the mystic Sufi poet Jalal ud-Din Rumi, in Konya, or of Bayazid, in Bistam (1313).

Therefore the earliest surviving tombs belong to Shi'ite persona; the shrine of Fatima, sister of the Imam 'Ali ar-Rida at Qum, and that of the Imam Ali in Najaf. The earliest rulers' tombs are of 'Abbasid Caliphs al-Muntasir (in Samarra in 862), al-Mu'tazz and al-Mohtadi (built as a domed square building enclosed in an octagonal ambulatory) and are better preserved. A feature of royalty mausoleums was its concentration, like the Timurid Shah-i Zinda ensemble in Samarqand of 14th and 15th centuries or the Mamluk tombs of Cairo.

Mausoleums were also built to commemorate Biblical persons, companions of the Prophet and scholars, popular heroes and ghazis (fighters for the Faith). From 12th century secular mauso­leums proliferated all over the world, in Egypt and Central Asia, northern and north-eastern Iran and Anatolia, and also in India and North Africa. They continue to be built, both for spiritual and secular leaders e.g., Firdausi, Avicenna, Umar Khayya m, the late Agha Khan and the poet-philosopher Iqbal, and particularly im­posing structures for Riza Shah Pahlavl, Ataturk and Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

The mausoleum of the Samanids in Bukhara, commonly referred to as the Tomb of Isma'il, was constructed before 943 and consists of a square structure with a large central dome and four small corner ones set over a gallery. Especially noteworthy is the use of bricks to create different pat­terns in its various parts.

Then of course there are the famous imperial Moghul mausoleums, of Humayun (d. 1556) in Delhi, built of red sandstone and white marble; and the marvel in marble, the Taj Mahal, built in Agra by Emperor Shah Jehan for his favourite queen Mumtaz Mahal. The mausoleum of Akbar (d. 1605) is at Sikandra, and of his son Jehangir (d1627) near Lahore. The word mausoleum comes from the structure built in Asia Minor (Bodrum -Western Turkey) for an Asian ruler, Mausolus by his Queen, around the time Alexander the Great passed that way.

Influence of Buddhism on Islam and veneration of holy men;

Throughout history, there was natural interaction through migration and conquest, travel and trade, between the Fertile Crescent, Asia Minor, Persia, Khorasan and Central Asia and Hindustan. Alexander the Macedonian went up to Bukhara and then North West Hindustan. Earlier some Indo- Aryan tribes like Mitannis had migrated from Eurasian steppes and ruled in upper Mesopotamia.  Then the Arab armies marched north east and conquered areas up to the steppes. Then the Turkish tribes marched from eastern Asian steppes to Persia! and Turkey (and the Indian sub-continent). Then came Chengiz Khan and the Mongol hordes.

Culturally, linguistically, ethnically and spiritually there is no area in the world that has so much in common as that formed by the regions connecting the river basins of Euphrates, Tigris; Amu and Syr Darya: Indus and the Ganges. This is an area with a continuous history and cradle of most civilizations and religions; Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, Judaism and Christianity and Islam and their variations. The intermingling of Semitic, Indo-Iranian and Ural- Altaic languages with local languages produced a mosaic of new languages and tongues.

Influence of Buddhism in Central Asia perhaps started from the time of Greek King Menander in Bactria. During the rule of Kushana Emperor Kanishka (who was converted to Buddhism) from Peshawar, not only traders but also religious teachers moved freely throughout his Empire which then encompassed today's Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Xinjiang, Pakistan and Northern India and laid the foundations for the spread of Buddhism. Earlier Asoka had undertaken energetic steps to spread the Dhamma, but his efforts were more successful in South East Asia and Ceylon. Buddhism was taken to Central Asia either directly or via Tibet or Eastern Turkestan (Xinjiang) where wit! h little competition, it was easily accepted . But it was not so in Sogdiana and around it, where Zoroastrians were well entrenched, later came followers of Manichaeism and Nestorian Christians. Conquerors (and traders) spread their religions, but they were also influenced by the cultures and the creeds of the ruled.

To begin within Buddhism symbols represented Buddha and Tantras. Sculpture representing Buddha in human form is a Greek contribution through Gandhara art from Afghanistan. Starting from Bactria, Buddhism evolved the concept of Bodhhisatva Maitreya as incarnations for attaining Nirvana and return to guide and help the laity. This universal and secular religion found favour with Central Asian Turks and Mongols (also Uighurs in Xinjiang) when it reached there.

Influence of Viharas and Stupas on darghas and khankahs in Central Asia

Excavations have revealed Viharas and Stupas all over eastern Turkistan, up to Bukhara and into Turkmenistan. To begin with, Stupas were built to keep sacred relics (of Buddha and some of his disciples) although Buddha himself was against such practices. Later Stupas became associated with the symbols of remains of saints and cemeteries. The respect and veneration is based more on Aryan belief in Brahman or the Reality (Universal Soul) and Atman (individual Soul) with the saints having achieved the Union with the Reality. Prophet Mohammed had underlined that God and man are different. (Christians have still not resolved this dilemma fully). Miracles and veneration of dead persons are denounced in Quran (Sura XI, 31).

Stupas started as simple structures, as in Sanchi in Central India (1st or 2nd Cent BC) with a semi-spherical dome for the remains, fenced by a wall and 4 entrances and a Chhatri (umbrella symbolising the Lord and the Sovereign). Later a raised square platform was added under the dome with the structures then becoming more complex and sophisticated, adorned with sculptures like Bamiyan Buddhas and paintings (some times in caves i.e. in Ajanta and Barhaut in India). Viharas are monasteries with cells constructed around a court yard, with Stupa in the middle, for monks to stay during the heavy Indian monsoon rains. Normally the monks were not to attach themselves to any fixed place.

With the spread of Buddhism Central Asians including Turks and Mongols adopted and assimilated phrases from Buddhism i.e. Sanskrit and Pali words like Nirvana =Nirvana (Nibanna), Dhamma =Dharma, Cindan =Chandan (sandalwood), used for funerary ceremony, Aratna =Ratan, Stup =Stupa, Mandal= Mandala, Chakra= Chakra, Bodhistava =Bodhistav, Bakshi (accountant)=Bhikku /Bhikshu (because a Bhikshu once did accounts for the Mongols) etc.

An excavation in 1930s at Moghoki Attar mosque in Bukhara, perhaps the oldest surviving mosque in Central Asia, revealed under it ruins of a Zoroastrian temple destroyed by Arabs and an earlier Buddhist temple beneath it. The name Bukhara itself perhaps derives from Vihara. (Tashkent could be from Tashkhund; region of stones in Sanskrit). There are many ruins of Viharas and Stupas in Termez on Amu Darya (Uzbekistan), Merv (Turkmenistan), Afrasiab (Samarkand), Khojand etc in Ferghana valley and around Lake Issik Kul in Kyrgyzstan .Of course in Eastern Turkistan (and Tibet) apart from the ruins, many thousand old Buddhist manuscripts (300 pages found in Merv too) and books were recovered. Buddhist paintings have also been found in Afrasiab and elsewhere in Central Asia. It is not a simple coincidence that after Islam's arrival all these places became centres of Sufi Islam. From Stupas and Viharas have perh! aps emerged sacred tombs, khankahs, darghas and madarsas.

Tombs were not popular in Arab heartland around Saudi Arabia. But the Persian, Turkish, Asian and African, even Berber Muslims accepted Pirs, Calandars, Sheikhs, Babas, Dervishes and others and their tombs became places of worship. Freedom loving eclectic nomads and others resisted Arab warriors in Sogdiana and Central Asia and their still austere Islam. It was only the modified, personalised and spiritual Islam of Persian Samanids based in Bukhara (Ismail's tomb looks like a simple Stupa) that was first accepted by Turks and others in Central Asia .To Islam had been added strands of local religions and beliefs .It is this form of Islam that was spread in India mostly by Sufi saints, but also by forced conversions or inducements.

Sufism developed fully by 12th century by which time Arab Islam had been modified and enriched by streams from Persian, Central Asian and other religions, beliefs and philosophies .It was in the heartland of Arab Islam ie Baghdad and Allepo, where Sufis saints Al Hajj (for insisting " Ana Al-haq "-I am the Truth) and Suhrawardi were martyred. Because of Sunni hostility tombs were erected much after the martyrdom of Imam Ali and Imam Hussein in Najaf and Karbala. The Wahhabis, Salafis remain deadly opposed to Sufism.

The major Sufi Tariqas had central Asian origin or influence i.e., Qadiriyas, Nakshabandis (many current Turkish leaders are its adherents), Rumi's dervishes, Bektashis, the patron saint of non-Turkish (mostly Slav), non- Muslim born Janissary corps and top Administrators of the Ottoman Empire based on devshirme system. Turkey's Shia Alevis' faith (majority from Turkmen Oghuz tribes) has strands from Christian, Shaman and other beliefs.

Intermingling of beliefs and faiths;

Human wish to comprehend and experience the Reality is as old as the natural talent to transcend beyond oneself, until this faculty was dimmed by technological afflictions. There are glimpses of it in earliest Aryan writings like Vedas and Avestan, even among Greek philosophers like Orpheus, Pythagoras, Socrates and others .So the environment and tools existed before formal religions evolved or were revealed.

Buddha himself went through the whole gamut of experiments and meditations including Jain like austerities, Hindu systems before attaining Nirvana. And his path and method of meditation were modified in east India, Tibet, China and Japan. If Buddhism influenced the evolution of Sufi Islam then Buddhism itself was influenced earlier by other religions and practices.

Indo-Iranian religion Mithraism flowered between the 2nd and 4th centuries in the Roman world and became very popular among the Roman aristocracy, military leaders and soldiers, traders and slaves with powerful patrons among Roman emperors, like Commodus, Septimium Severus, Caraculla and others. Diocletian built a temple for Mithra near Vienna on Danube as "the Protector of the Empire". He was the god of Light and Sun, contract, loyalty and justice. Celebrations for Mithra's birthday on December 25, the sun's solstice, was so popular in the Asia that Christmas had to be shifted to this day from January 6 to make it acceptable among the masses. Christianity also took over many of the rituals and symbols of Mithraism, like baptism, resurrection and prayers to honor the Sun.

India's Sikh religion also known as gurmat, the teachings of the guru, founded by guru Nanak (1469-1539), combines many elements of Hinduism and Islam. Guru Nanak believed that one could come close to the God through meditation and devotion .God is the true guru and his divine word has come to the humanity through the 10 historical gurus. Their sacred scripture Adi Granth is also called "Guru Granth Saheb ". The Sikh temples are known as gurdwaras, Guru's door. Many Shi'ites Ghulat groups believe that Ali and the Imams are doors to God. When the Sunni Moghul emperors persecuted the Sikhs and their gurus, Sikh religion took to militancy and those who died for the panth ( gurus' path) became martyrs.

Human beings have evolved many paths to the Reality ie various Yoga systems; Tibetan, Zen, Vipassana and other Buddhist Margs, Jewish Kabbalah, Christian Hesychasm, Gurdjief way, Sufi Tariqas and Transcendental Meditation (TM) in modern times for spiritually challenged materialists. The masses accept what the saints and holy men they trust teach them.

(K Gajendra Singh, served as Indian Ambassador to Turkey and Azerbaijan in 1992-96. Prior to that, he served as ambassador to Jordan (during the 1990-91 Gulf war), Romania and Senegal.  He is currently chairman of the Foundation for Indo-Turkic Studies.