June 22, 2017

V0ICE 0F BAL0CH BATTLEFIELD UPDATE

["V0ICE 0F BAL0CH UPDATE"]
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MASHKEY:~
1'Mahiney Pehley Meshkey Ke Mukhtlif Elaqon Se Qabiz Army Ke Hathon Aghwa Hone Wale 4'Baloch Farzind,
{Dad Rahim S/o Ghulam Mohmad, Samad S/o Ibrahim, Mohmad Bux S/o Ibrahim & Asif S/o Jangi Khan} Aaj Baziyab Hokar Apne Ghar Pounch Gahe.!
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["V0ICE 0F BAL0CH LATEST"]
@HOSHIYAR@
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MASHKEY:~
Kandadi Ke Main Road Se Qabiz Army Ki 6'Gaadian Nokjo Ki Janib Rawana, Sangat Hoshiyar Rahen.!
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["MASHKEY/REP"]

["V0ICE 0F BAL0CH UPDATE"]
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KECH:~
Hoshab Damb Men Guzishta Roz Qabiz Army Ke Hathon Agwah Hone Wale {Shoqath S/o Ali Bux, Qadir Bux S/o Khudadad & Anwar S/o Khuda Bux} Aaj Hoshab Camp Se Baziyab Hokar Ghar Pouch Gahe.!
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["V0ICE 0F BAL0CH LATEST"]
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KECH~
Balgatar Sari'Metag Men Aaj Sham 7'Baje Ke Waqt Qabiz Pakistani Army Ki Qahim Water Supply Check Post Par Baloch Sarmacharon Ka Rocketon & Khudkar Hatiyaron Se Hamla, Halakaton Ki Itlaath.!
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["KECH/REP"]

Hind-Baloch Forum seminar: Local press coverage

How to stop China Maritime assertion

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Knowledge is power: Humboldt's educational vision resonates on 250th birthday


http://m.dw.com/en/knowledge-is-power-humboldts-educational-vision-resonates-on-250th-birthday/a-39363583


Considered the father of the modern university, Wilhelm von Humboldt revolutionized public education in Germany. But on his 250th birthday, how does Humboldt's legacy live on?

A cosmopolitan linguist, philosopher, statesman and writer in one, Wilhelm von Humboldt would today make a good German education minister.

He was fluent in the principal languages ​​of the old and new world, and lived through long periods of his busy life in the most important European cultural centers such as Paris, Rome, London, Vienna and Berlin. Even though he was sometimes in the shadow of his well-traveled brother Alexander, he was equally significant, especially for his pioneering work as an education reformer.

The road to enlightenment

Wilhelm von Humboldt's whole life was essentially an educational journey. After the early death of his father - who served as chamberlain to Frederick the Great - Humboldt had already received excellent education from private tutors that continued into his youth. His mother, born to prosperous Huguenot merchants, sought the best philosophers, reformist educators and polymaths to not only teach her sons the basics, but explain the world to them.

The young Wilhelm von Humboldt

The boys were quickly instilled with a fascination with research, intellectual curiosity and Prussian discipline - and would go on to achieve excellence in their professions.

Like his brother, Wilhelm had intensive contact with the great minds of his time, among them Schiller, Goethe, Fichte and Schleiermacher. They also closely studied the modern philosophy of Kant. Thanks to his family's wealth, the Humboldt brothers werefinancially independent and could freely pursue their personal interests.

Read: Berlin's Humboldt University plans to open Islamic theology institute

Wilhelm von Humboldt entered the Prussian state service in 1790 at the age of 23, but was bored and quickly resigned. He then married Karoline von Dacheröden, who regularly ran salons for poets, philosophers and politicians in the family home as they traveled Europe when Wilhelm later worked as a diplomat.

A highly educated art historian, Karoline was also an emancipated young woman who dared to to wear men's dress when horse riding because it was more practical. Wilhelm, on the other hand, spent time looking after his children at home, which went against the Prussian military ideal of masculinity at the time.

In Weimar in 1803, Wilhem von Humboldt and brother Alexander listen as Goethe (center) holds court

Early in the marriage, the couple undertook extensive journeys through France and Spain, some of them into inaccessible areas high in the Pyrenees where travelers at the time rarely strayed. They also journeyed with three children - together with their tutors, of course.

From diplomat to education reformer

In 1802, Wilhelm von Humboldt entered the Prussian civil service for the second time. On this occasion he was lucky enough to be sent to Rome as a diplomat. Together with Karoline, then a close friend of Schiller's wife Charlotte von Lengsfeld, he led a lavish social life in Rome among the liberal intelligentsia. Writers, scholars and famous artists such as the painter Angelika Kauffmann visited the Humboldt home, as did Wilhelm's brother Alexander.

But after Prussia was invaded by France in 1806, and the country was left bankrupt and its people starving, Wilhelm was summoned to Berlin in 1808 and appointed to the post of director of education.

School education in Prussia was rigid and anachronistic, with no separation between church and state. Curriculum was strict and women were denied access to education. But Humboldt soon ushered in a new age of education. Born of his humanistic educational ideals, in 1810 Humboldt  introduced a uniform three-level school system in Prussia from elementary through to high school. He abolished the "disastrous training pedagogy," as he called it.

Humboldt also invented the modern research university when, in 1811, he founded Berlin University (now Humboldt University). Promoting the latest teaching methodology, the university sees Prussia develop the most advanced educational system in Europe. 

Wilhelm von Humboldt's memorial in Berlin at the Humboldt University, which he founded in 1811 and where Einstein once studied

Utopian ideals

As he reformed an antiquated curriculum, Humboldt insisted that teachers and university professors should be an "advocate for the education of young people." Systematic learning and holistic education through art and music were just as important as mathematics to the training of the mind, according to Humboldt.

The ability to think critically would be more important than strict vocational training. "Knowledge is power and education is liberty," was Humboldt's credo.

When Wilhelm von Humboldt died in Berlin-Tegel on April 8, 1835, he left behind a powerful new school of thought. His ideal was to nurture educated, confident citizens, independent of their class or family background.

These educational ideals could serve as a model for present-day school and education policy in Germany. But regional political interests and packed curricula - which still have their origin in the strict Prussian administration - stand in the way. Humboldt's cosmopolitan, liberal-minded educational philosophy remains a utopian ideal in Germany

Indian response to Kulbhushan Jadhav confessional video

Response to a Query Regarding Pakistan’s releases pertaining to Mr. Kulbhushan Jadhav

In response to a query regarding the so-called confessional video of Mr. Kulbhushan Jadhav and a  press release by Pakistan in the matter today, the Official Spokesperson said:

The developments bring out once again the lack of transparency and farcical nature of proceedings against Mr. Jadhav on concocted charges, continued violation of his legal and consular rights and an attempt to introduce prejudice in the proceedings in the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Pakistan has never disclosed even to the ICJ Mr. Jadhav's purported appeal to a military tribunal in Pakistan and has effectively prevented his parents from pursuing the appeal  and the petition filed by Mr Jadhav's mother. The details and circumstances of the alleged mercy petition by Mr Jadhav are not clear and even the fact of its existence is doubtful, shrouded as the proceedings against Mr Jadhav have been in opacity.

The Government has once again demanded earlier this week Consular Access to Mr. Jadhav and reiterated his family’s request for visas.

Manufactured facts cannot alter the reality,  and do not detract from the fact that Pakistan is in violation of its international obligation to India and Mr. Jadhav.  We expect Pakistan to abide by the order of ICJ staying Mr. Jadhav’s execution and desist from attempting to influence the ICJ proceedings through false propaganda.

India is determined to pursue the matter in ICJ and is confident that justice will be done without being affected in any manner by these unwarranted and misleading steps taken by Pakistan."

New Delhi
22 June 2017

June 21, 2017

Countering China’s high-altitude land grab

https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/countering-chinas-high-altitude-land-grab/


22 Jun 2017|Brahma Chellaney

Bite by kilometer-size bite, China is eating away at India’s Himalayan borderlands. For decades, Asia’s two giants have fought a bulletless war for territory along their high-altitude border. Recently, though, China has become more assertive, underscoring the need for a new Indian containment strategy.

On average, China launches one stealth incursion into India every 24 hours. Kiren Rijiju, India’s Minister of State for Home Affairs, says the People’s Liberation Army is actively intruding into vacantborder space with the objective of occupying it. And according to a former top official with India’s Intelligence Bureau, India has lost nearly 2,000 square kilometers to PLA encroachments over the last decade.

The strategy underlying China’s actions is more remarkable than their scope. On land, like at sea, China uses civilian resources—herders, farmers, and grazers—as the tip of the spear. Once civilians settle on contested land, army troops gain control of the disputed area, paving the way for the establishment of more permanent encampments or observation posts. Similarly, in the South China Sea, China’s naval forces follow fishermen to carve out space for the reclamation of rocks or reefs. In both theaters, China has deployed no missiles, drones, or bullets to advance its objectives.

China’s non-violent terrestrial aggression has garnered less opposition than its blue-water ambition, which has been challenged by the United States and under international law (albeit with little effect). Indian leaders have at times even seemed to condone China’s actions. During a recent panel discussion in Russia, for example, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that although China and India are at odds over borders, it was remarkable that ‘in the last 40 years, not a single bullet has been fired because of [it].’ The Chinese foreign ministryCountering China’s high-altitude land grab responded by praising Modi’s ‘positive remarks.’

Moreover, Modi’s predecessor, Manmohan Singh, used to claim that, in their 5,000-year history, India and China fought only one war, in 1962. What this rose-tinted history failed to acknowledge was that China and India became neighbors only after China annexed the buffer Tibet in 1951.

Given India’s accommodating rhetoric, it is easy to view the country as a paper tiger. While Modi has used the phrase ‘inch toward miles‘ as the motto of India-China cooperation, the PLA has continued its cynical territorial aggrandizement by translating that slogan into incremental advance. After spending so many years on the defensive, India must retake the narrative.

The first order of business is to abandon the platitudes. Modi’s calls for border peace and tranquility might be sincere, but his tone has made India look like a meek enabler.

China’s fast-growing trade surplus with India, which has doubled to almost $60 billion on Modi’s watch, has increased Chinese President Xi Jinping’s territorial assertiveness. The absence of clarity about the frontier—China reneged on a 2001 promise to exchange maps with India—serves as cover for the PLA’s aggression, with China denying all incursions and claiming that its troops are operating on ‘Chinese land.’ But, by acquiescing on bilateral trade—the dumping of Chinese-made steel on the Indian market is just one of many examples—India has inadvertently helped foot the bill for the PLA’s encirclement strategy.

China’s financial regional leverage has grown dramatically in the past decade, as it has become almost all Asian economies’ largest trade and investment partner. In turn, many of the region’s developing countries have moved toward China on matters of regional security and transport connectivity. But, as Modi himself has stressed, there remains plenty of room for India to engage in Asia’s economic development. A more regionally integrated Indian economy would, by default, serve as a counterweight to China’s territorial expansion.

India should also beef up its border security forces to become a more formidable barrier to the PLA. India’s under-resourced Indo-Tibetan Border Police, under the command of the home ministry, is little more than a doorman. Training and equipping these units properly, and placing them under the command of the army, would signal to China that the days of an open door are over.

If the tables were turned, and Indian forces were attempting to chip away at Chinese territory, the PLA would surely respond with more than words. But in many cases, Indian border police patrolling the area don’t even carry weapons. With such a docile response, China has been able to do as it pleases along India’s northern frontier. China’s support of the Pakistani military, whose forces often fire at Indian troops along the disputed Kashmir frontier, should be viewed in this light.

The PLA began honing its ‘salami tactics’ in the Himalayas in the 1950s, when it sliced off the Switzerland-size Aksai Chin plateau. Later, China inflicted a humiliating defeat on India in the 1962 border war, securing peace, as a state mouthpiece crowed in 2012, on its own terms. Today, China pursues a ‘cabbage’ approach to borders, cutting off access to an adversary’s previously controlled territory and gradually surrounding it with multiple civilian and security layers.

Against this backdrop, the true sign of Himalayan peace will not be the holstering of guns, but rather the end of border incursions. India’s accommodating approach has failed to deter China. To halt further encroachments, India will need to bare its own teeth.

AUTHOR

Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, is the author of nine books, including Asian Juggernaut, Water: Asia’s New Battleground, and Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis. This article is presented in partnership with Project Syndicate © 2017. Image courtesy of Flickr

India's 'secret machinery' to push its NSG bid


Centre's 'secret machinery' to push its NSG bid

By Indrani Bagchi, TNN | Updated: Jun 20, 2017, 08.25 PM IST

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NEW DELHI: With the NSG plenary approaching this week, India is much more circumspect about its lobbying efforts after last year's high decibel disaster. 

But behind the scenes, quiet efforts are on to keep the Indian interest alive with other members of the NSG. MEA secretaries have been engaging with ambassadors of key countries like Brazil to push the Indian case. 

Last week, new Korean President Moon Jae-in sent his special envoy Dongchea Chung to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Korea is the outgoing chair of NSG, and the issue featured in the conversation, though both sides are tight-lipped about it. 

Meanwhile, the incoming chair, Switzerland, has said it continues to support India's candidature. Pierre-Alain Eltschinger, spokesperson of the Swiss foreign ministry told TOI, "We support India's application for participation in the NSG and acknowledge India's support to global non-proliferation efforts. We are of the view that it would contribute to strengthening global non-proliferation efforts if all countries having relevant nuclear technology and being suppliers of such technology were to become NSG members." 

However, a sign that there will be little movement this week came from Beijing, where the foreign ministry spokesperson said there was "no change" in China's position on non-NPT members in the NSG. "On the issue of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), I can tell you China's stance on the accession of new members into NSG has not changed," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said. 

In previous years, China was reluctant to be left isolated in multilateral settings. Now with greater power, China cares less for such niceties, if they go against China's national position. 

India has asked Russia to intercede with China on India's behalf, but so far there are no indications that this has borne fruit. Until last year, India depended on the US to do the heavy lifting on its behalf. 

The Trump administration has not articulated any position on this, but Richard Stratford, an old hand with nuclear matters vis-a-vis India, is currently the acting assistant secretary of state in charge. In 2011, Stratford first broached the subject of India's entry into NSG by circulating a "non-paper" for members to chew on, where he tried to work around the NPT criteria demand. But it's not clear he has any clear political direction this time and no one is burning up phone lines in Washington as in 2008. 

After the last NSG plenary, the South Korean chair Song Young-wan appointed former Argentinian diplomat Rafael Mariano Grossi to work out a template for inducting non-NPT members after consultation with the various members, particularly the ones who had had issues with the procedure. 

In December, this process came to a close, with a Grossi draft that contained a checklist of criteria including on separation of civil and military facilities, IAEA safeguards, commitment not use transfers for military purposes, commitment on no nuclear test, support CTBT, and that India would not stop other non-NPT members like Pakistan if they fulfilled the conditions. 

India would have little trouble with these criteria, but would not go beyond the commitment made by former foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee in 2008. On CTBT, India maintains its position that it is "committed to a voluntary, unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing" as was articulated after the 1998 tests and affirmed by Mukherjee in 2008. 

India has recently quibbled with the word "criteria", with foreign minister Sushma Swaraj saying, "we prefer that we are judged not on criteria but on our credentials." The difference is minuscule. India is seeking to burnish those credentials by ramping up its civilian nuclear capacity, adding 10 new 700 MW reactors with domestic industry playing a big role. 

In his answers to TOI, Eltschinger emphasised the "non-discriminatory" nature of the exercise, a nod to the Chinese official position, promising to play a "neutral, transparent and inclusive" role. "Such a membership should be based on common, objective and non-discriminatory commitments with respect to nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear disarmament and peaceful use of nuclear energy." 

Meanwhile, PM Modi worked on Germany and Spain during his recent European tour and even dropped a quiet word in Xi Jinping's ear in Astana. In 2016, the Chinese had objected to the energetic lobbying at the top level, saying that wasn't "their way". Countries like the Netherlands, also on India's side, have been working on holdouts like Ireland and Austria. 

Last year, India managed to get into MTCR by stealth diplomacy. This year, it appears to be trying it out for the NSG, though with little chances of success this time around. It was to dampen expectations that Swaraj said: "sometime, somewhere, we will overcome." 

(This article was originally published in The Times of India

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Iran, Russia, and the Taliban: Reassessing the Future of the Afghan State

21 Jun 2017

By Amin Tarzi for Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI)

What impact is the Islamic State–Khorasan Province (ISKP) having on the internationalization of the conflict in Afghanistan? Second, how is it impacting the calculations of Iran and Russia vis-à-vis the Taliban? And finally, will it trigger a proxy war much like the bad old days of the mid-1990s? In this article, Amin Tarzi grapples with these questions and more.

This article was originally published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) on 14 June 2017.

The first combat zone utilization of the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) device by the U.S. forces in Afghanistan (USFOR-A) on 13 April 2017 brought the Islamic State–Khorasan Province (ISKP) to the headlines. ISKP emerged in Afghanistan and Pakistan in early 2015 after individuals and groups of militants pledged their allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS. This ISIS affiliate became operational after only a few months. While the ISKP represents a danger to the stability of Afghanistan and Pakistan and to the wider region including India and Central Asia, the outfit has become a vehicle to legitimization of the growing internationalization of the wider Afghan conflict, particularly in changing the calculus of Iran and Russia vis-à-vis the Taliban, and it has the potential of becoming a tool for proxy warfare in Afghanistan evocative of the mid-1990s.

ISKP and the Taliban: Taking Different Paths

Since its emergence in the mid-1990s, the Taliban sought international legitimacy, unlike the self-identified Islamic State. The initial proclamations of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate were mostly Afghan-centric. However, with the cementing of their ties with al-Qaeda after capturing Kabul in 1996, their views took on a more pan-Islamist outlook.1 Retrospectively, the strategies of the Taliban and those of al-Qaeda differed fundamentally, as the former wanted to become a national movement and be recognized by the international community as such, while the latter wanted to keep Afghanistan in a perpetual state of anarchy, utilizing it as a base for waging global jihad. In a 2012 study on Taliban’s attitudes towards reconciliation, most respondents agreed that al-Qaeda was responsible for derailing the Taliban’s initial aim of establishing an Islamic state in Afghanistan.2 Currently, the majority of the Taliban has returned to the founding Afghanistan-centric principles of the movement with an arguably less religiously zealous message, calling on Muslims to avoid extremism in religion with the goal of becoming a legitimate force in the political arena of the country as well as in the international calculations on Afghanistan. Perhaps learning from their initial mistakes, the reemerging Taliban has tried to speak for the totality of Afghanistan, including providing assurances that they will respect the rights of the Shi‘a and other minorities within the country. Nevertheless, the Taliban remains a violent insurgency and is very keen not only on retaining its monopoly over this violence, but also on controlling and managing it to help calibrate the reactions of both domestic and foreign actors.3

The emergence of ISKP occurred during a sensitive time for the Taliban, which had lost its elusive, but unifying founding leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, sometime in spring 2013. While the movement managed to keep a lid on Mullah Omar’s demise until it was officially revealed two years later by the Afghan government, the Taliban had to deal with internal fractures due to the absence of their undisputed leader in a time when major decisions needed to be made on whether and how to make peace with the Afghan government; to open dialogue with foreign countries; and to shape relations with their host Pakistan in addition to decisions on military matters and expanding their areas of operation. Following the confirmation of Mullah Omar’s passing, Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Mansur, became the new amir al-muminin (commander of the faithful), but disagreements remained among top members of the movement over leadership positions. The leadership experienced another setback in May 2016 when the United States conducted an airstrike, which killed Mansur, who subsequently was replaced by his deputy, Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, a senior cleric and former senior member of Supreme Court under Taliban rule.

Taking advantage of the discontent over internal leadership struggles and rifts with their erstwhile allies, the Pakistani Taliban and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), ISKP began recruiting among the Taliban members. ISKP used the absence of and later the confirmation of the demise of Mullah Omar in its propaganda aimed at courting disgruntled members of the Taliban. In these efforts, ISKP argued that Mullah Omar no longer was the legitimate leader of the Islamic community or emirate. The Pakistani Taliban and IMU were increasingly at odds with the Taliban due to the latter’s refusal to conduct and support operations inside Pakistan. Due to the unreliability of the date of Mullah Omar’s death and the fluid nature of Taliban membership, it is difficult to provide reliable statistics on the number of hardcore Taliban members who turned to ISKP. The most significant switching of sides occurred around January 2015 in the heartland of the Taliban when Abd al-Rauf Khadim setup a cell with a several hundred former Taliban fighters in Kajaki district of Helmand province. Khadim was a former commander of the Taliban. According to Afghan analyst Borhan Osman, after being released from the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2007, he rose to prominence, becoming the second in command within the Taliban’s military establishment. He later fell from grace partly because of his pan-Islamist views. Khadim’s reach also extended beyond his native Kajaki to neighboring districts of Musa Qala, Nawzad, and Baghran, threatening key Taliban strongholds. Within weeks of Khadim’s appointment as the deputy governor of ISKP, he was killed in an airstrike attributed to the United States, much to the Taliban’s relief.4 Since Khadim’s demise, no one of his stature has switched sides from the Taliban to ISKP.

The main arena of Taliban-ISKP military confrontations began in the southeastern districts of Nangarhar Province in 2015 where ISKP began and continues to have a presence. Beyond the confrontations in Nangarhar, the Taliban also started campaigns against ISKP affiliates and supporters elsewhere in Afghanistan with notable success. In November 2015, the Taliban gained a decisive victory in the southern Afghan province of Zabul against IMU, ISKP’s main Uzbek affiliate. The Taliban also began opposing the mainly Uzbek Jundallah, an IMU splinter group operating in northeastern Afghanistan in proximity to Tajikistan.5 These victories were a two-pronged blessing for the Taliban. First, the Taliban stopped a major local rival from gaining a foothold in the country and reversed the brief territorial gains made by Jundallah in northeastern Afghanistan. Second, they were propaganda boons for the Taliban in Central Asian, Chinese, and Russian circles where the Uzbek groups are regarded as a serious threat to the security and stability of Central Asian states, and by extension, Russia as well as China’s Xinjiang Province. For the key regional players (Iran, Russia, and China), the Taliban’s victories against ISKP were proving useful to their strategic designs on the region.

Iran’s Jekyll and Hyde Relationship with the Taliban

Iran’s longstanding policy for Afghanistan has been to prevent the full stabilization of a unitary Afghanistan as long as the United States supports Kabul. At the same time, Iran simultaneously has sought to prevent a total collapse of order in its eastern neighbor. In Tehran’s Jekyll-and-Hyde gameplay in Afghanistan, the Taliban has been regarded as Iran’s staunch enemies, yet as useful allies to oppose USFOR-A (and prior to that, some members of the broader NATO-led coalition). With the advent of ISKP, the stakes for Tehran are higher and so is the utility of the Taliban as useful tools to counter the radical Sunni movement bringing Iran closer in partnership with Russia. Concurrently, Tehran will continue its steadfast policy of denying a victory to the Western plans for the rehabilitation of the Afghan state.

In its initial campaign to gain control of Afghanistan in the 1990s, the Taliban, at times, targeted Shi‘a due to their religious affiliation and not just because of their refusal to submit to Taliban rule. As the movement gained more authority, its anti-sectarian tendencies diminished, but never ceased. Currently, the Taliban, in spite of its alliances with militant jihadist outfits with anti-sectarian doctrines, has by-and-large stayed away from sectarianism and has called on the Shi‘a to join the Taliban movement as an Islamic—rather than just Sunni—national liberation front. There are no credible statistics on the number of Shi‘a among the Taliban ranks, and these numbers ought to be small given the low level of support for the Taliban in the predominantly Shi‘i regions of Afghanistan. The overarching policy of the movement has been to remain aloof on sectarian issues. While the Taliban’s change of policy on sectarianism is undertaken primarily for domestic reasons, the inclusiveness of the movement’s message has made the Taliban more publically palatable in Iran, as the comments of Iran’s ambassador to Kabul, Muhammad Reza Bahrami, in December 2016 reveal. Bahrami confirmed that Iran has “communication with Taliban but not ties” and that the purpose of that communication is to gain “intelligence information.”6 Eighteen months prior, he is on record denying any contacts between his country and the Taliban while adding that in “Iran’s security strategy, there is no interpretation in connection with terrorist groups and any connection with these groups are [sic] against” his country.7

The strengthening bonds with Shi‘i Iran and the Taliban challenges ISKP and the broader Sunni Arab-dominated IS community. With the potential growth of discontent by non-Afghans and Afghan Salafists within ISKP’s ranks for the current Taliban leadership’s Shi‘i -tolerant or Shi‘i -friendly policies, there are dangers that the hallmark anti-sectarianism of IS could be mobilized to further push Afghanistan’s war towards a more sectarian conflict. Such a move could potentially reignite the regional proxy war in Afghanistan with realigned alliances and newcomers as well as increase the threat emanating from the ungoverned regions of Afghanistan to global security. Moreover, if the Afghan government’s control over its territory deteriorates further, Iran could come to see the Taliban as their least threatening option, which would bring the complicating Iranian voice—regardless of Tehran’s direct participation—into the on-again, off-again peace negotiations with the Taliban. The United States has publically acknowledged Tehran’s backing of the Taliban as well as Iran’s multidimensional relationship with the Afghan government.

The first manifestation of the Taliban’s strategy of inclusivity occurred in July 2016. ISKP claimed responsibility for an attack on a predominately Shi‘i demonstration, resulting in the death of 80 individuals demonstrating their reach into Kabul. In response to Taliban condemnation, ISKP issued a fatwa claiming that the Shi‘a were undisputedly infidels, adding that any Sunni religious scholar who rejects this understanding and the permissibility of their killing is himself an apostate. In October 2016, two attackers targeted a popular shrine during Ashura—the commemoration of death of Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammed who is considered by the Shi‘a as their third imam, killing 19 people.8 The Taliban condemned ISKP’s attacks, referring to the Shi‘a as their “brothers.”9 The Taliban’s response shows how the group has evolved since its emergence in the 1990s.

This tension between the two groups could be exploited. The majority of Afghans, including the Taliban, thus far have tried to show a unified front against ISKP attacks specifically targeting the Shi‘a. Additionally, part of the Taliban’s current sectarian policies can be traced to their warming relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Russia: An Unlikely Partner

Another player in this complex security environment not to be ignored is Russia. In their operations against IMU and their overall opposition to IS-inspired or -backed groups, the Taliban has found a sympathetic ear in Moscow, potentially inducing the re-internationalization of the Afghan conflict. Taliban successes against ISKP and IMU prompted Zamir Kabulov, Russia’s special envoy to Afghanistan, to state that “Taliban interests objectively coincide with ours.”10The internationalization of the Afghan conflict is reminiscent of the 1990s proxy wars supported by India, Iran, and Russia on one side and Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and, to certain point, the United States on the other—albeit two decades ago, the Taliban was the main challenge for India, Iran, and Russia triangle. To the discomfort of Kabul and New Delhi, the Russians, with Iranian and Chinese support, have opened a dialogue with the Taliban. Russia, along with Iran, China, and Pakistan (without the participation of Afghanistan and India), held a meeting in Moscow in November 2016 to discuss countermeasures to the threats posed by the ISKP. After complaints by Afghanistan and India, another meeting in Moscow was organized two months later that included representatives from Afghanistan and India. While specific information of what the Moscow talks entailed is not available, the maneuverings are reminiscent of the support provided to various Afghan factions in the aftermath of the collapse of the communist government in Kabul in 1992.11 The latest of the Russia-led talks on Afghanistan were held on the same day the United States dropped the MOAB on the ISKP target in Achin District of Nangarhar. The U.S. reportedly refused a Russian invitation to participate in the talks. According to General John W. Nicholson, “Russia has overtly lent legitimacy to the Taliban,” and he added that Moscow, basing their position “not on facts,” believes the Taliban is only engaged against ISKP and not the Afghan government.12

An Afghan National Army Mi-17 helicopter flies over the Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif

More recently, after the Taliban attacked the headquarters of the Afghan National Army’s (ANA) 209th Corps based in Mazar-e-Sharif on 22 April killing more than 140 ANA soldiers, the United States increased it criticism of Russia’s support of the Taliban, including hints that Moscow was supplying small arms to the Taliban, which Secretary of Defense James Mattis said was “violation of international law” and something that the U.S. would “have to confront.”13

Russia’s involvement in Afghanistan as a political supporter of dialogue between Kabul and the Taliban, if coordinated with other stakeholders, including the United States, would add to the legitimacy and chances of a successful political outcome to the insurgency in Afghanistan. But Moscow’s military support of the Taliban and promotion of parallel political processes would only complicate the already fragile state of affairs inside Afghanistan and has the great potential of opening greater opportunities for groups such as ISKP or other terrorist or insurgent outfits to grow in strength at the expense of the Afghan government. While Russia has genuine concerns with the growth of pan-Islamist jihadist organizations such as ISKP, its romancing of the Taliban may seem to be part of the ongoing and expanding competition with the United States. The withdrawal or removal of foreign forces from Afghanistan is the Taliban’s paramount demand for accepting a peaceful resolution to their insurgency. As in the case in Syria, the Kremlin’s long-term goal is to push the United States out of Afghanistan, while in the short term, Russia hopes to make U.S. deployment and stabilization policies in the country more difficult.

New Alliances and Configurations Create a Cloudy Future

The variety of groups and policies engaged in Afghanistan once again potentially serves to undermine peace and stability in Afghanistan. There is a risk to the continued legitimacy of the Afghan government and an incentive for the Taliban ranks to split in order to accommodate or to take advantage of these groups of potential supporters. Such a scenario would also open more opportunities for ISKP or a future rendition, not only inside Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also across Central Asia and in India—particularly in Kashmir.

Iran has been a constant player in Afghanistan since the 1978 Soviet-backed communist coup d’état, and for the most part, Tehran’s policies and actions have been unilateral and uncoordinated with regional actors since the demise of the Taliban in 2001. The current support provided to the Taliban is, as in the case in Syria, coordinated with Russia despite overall strategic differences between the two countries’ long-term priorities. These new alignments in Afghanistan have Russia and Iran at the lead with China and Pakistan less vocally involved in pushing for a reconciliation process between the Afghan government and the Taliban. With the exception of China, the other three are lending support to the Taliban, including military support. The wildcard in this pursuit is Pakistan, the longtime backer and host of the Taliban. As echoed in early 2017 by the new commander of USFOR-A, General Nicholson, “the insurgents cannot be defeated while they enjoy external sanctuary and support . . . in Pakistan.”14 As the Taliban fosters closer ties with Russia and Iran, ostensibly due to their opposition to ISKP, its submissiveness to Islamabad’s directives should be expected to decrease. The question to consider is whether a united Taliban with more freedom to make political decisions will emerge to engage seriously in peace negotiations with the Afghan government or whether ISKP will morph into a savvier spoiler role and create new alternatives to the Taliban, prolonging the instability in Afghanistan and the region.

In 2008, while serving as Russia’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov reportedly said that the U.S. and its allies have repeated all of the Soviet mistakes there, adding, “Now they are making mistakes of their own, ones for which we do not own the copyright.”15 It would be interesting to ask Ambassador Kabulov whether Russia would own the copyright to its reemergence into the Afghan scene.

Notes

1 For example see, Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, 2nd ed., (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), 133-140.

2 Michael Semple et al., “Taliban Perspectives on Reconciliation” Briefing Paper, Royal United Services Institute, September 2012, 5-7.

3 Vanda Felbab-Brown, “Blood and Faith in Afghanistan: A June 2016 Update,” Brookings Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence, 17.

4 Borhan Osman, “The Shadows of ‘Islamic State’ in Afghanistan: What threat does it hold?” Afghanistan Analysts Network, 12 February 2015.

5 Obaid Ali, “The 2016 Insurgency in the North: Raising the Daesh flag (although not for long),” Afghanistan Analysts Network, 15 July 2016.

6 “Iran Officially Confirms Having Communication with Taliban in Afghanistan,” Ariana News, 9 December 2016.

7 “Iranian Ambassador Disputes Claims of Tehran Supporting Taliban,” Tolo News, 17 June 2015.

8 Casey Garret Johnson, “The Rise and Stall of the Islamic State in Afghanistan,” United States Institute of Peace, Special Report,” 13; Borhan Osman, “With an Active Cell in Kabul, ISKP Tries to Bring Sectarianism to the Afghan War,” Afghanistan Analysts Network, 19 October 2016.

9 Osman, “Active Cell.”

10 Javid Ahmad, “Russia and the Taliban Make Amends,” Foreign Affairs, 31 January 2016.

11 Suhasini Haidar, “India to join Moscow meet on Afghanistan,” The Hindu, 15 February 2017.

12 “DoD press briefing by Gen. Nicholson in the Pentagon Briefing Room,” 2 December 2016.

13 Gordon Lubold and Habib Khan Totakhil, “U.S. Says Russia Arming Taliban,” Wall Street Journal, 25 April 2017.

14 Statement for the Record by General John W. Nicholson, Commander, U.S. Forces—Afghanistan before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the Situation in Afghanistan, Washington, 9 February 2017, 11.

15 Peter Tomsen, The Wars of Afghanistan: Messianic Terrorism, Tribal Conflicts, and the Failures of Great Powers (New York: Public Affairs, 2011), 201.

About the Author

Amin Tarzi is a Senior Fellow with the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Program on the Middle East, and the Director of Middle East Studies at the Marine Corps University (MCU) in Quantico, Virginia.

China Focus: Maritime silk road fosters "blue partnerships"

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2017-06/21/c_136384304.htm


Source: Xinhua| 2017-06-21 22:03:09|Editor: Mengjie

BEIJING, June 21 (Xinhua) -- Chinese authorities Tuesday released a vision for the top-down design for advancing maritime cooperation among countries along the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, according to Wang Hong, head of the State Oceanic Administration (SOA).

The "Vision for Maritime Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative" states that China is willing to work closely with countries along the Road, engage in all-dimensional and broad-scoped maritime cooperation, build open and inclusive cooperation platforms, and establish a constructive and pragmatic Blue Partnership to forge a "blue engine" for sustainable development.

The priorities of the vision feature green development, ocean-based prosperity, maritime security, innovative growth, and collaborative governance. The vision also includes plans for three ocean-based "blue economic passages" that will connect Asia with Africa, Oceania, Europe and beyond.

This was the first time the Chinese government has systematically proposed a blueprint for advancing maritime cooperation among Belt and Road countries, Wang said.

Since the Chinese government issued the framework on jointly building the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road in March 2015, remarkable achievements have been made in the countries along the route, he said.

Wang said the vision is a programmatic document that promotes the implementation of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in the field of coasts and oceans.

It is a commitment to promoting employment, reducing poverty, and protecting and sustainably using maritime resources, Wang said.

He was echoed by Zhuang Guotu of Xiamen University, who said that maritime economy, especially port logistics, is an important aspect for deepening cooperation between China and other countries along the Road.

Over 60 percent of bilateral trade among ASEAN countries depends on port logistics. Routes involving Belt and Road countries dominate major routes in the provinces of Fujian and Guangdong, and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Zhuang said.

"As exchanges and cooperation in trade, investment and tourism increase between China and other countries along the Road, it has been an irresistible trend to expand cooperation in port industry, ocean shipping, logistics, informatization, and human resources," said Zhuang.

As the maritime administrative authority of the Chinese government, the SOA will focus on promoting the vision in Belt and Road countries and stipulating more detailed policies and plans, Wang said.

Their different interests and needs will be respected.

The SOA will hold forums in the second half of this year to promote communication and exchanges in the plan-making process for maritime economy development and ocean space, as well as park design. Training on capacity building will be held to form more projects and promote the blue partnership mechanism.

Wang said more maritime public services and products will be provided to strengthen cooperation in maritime disaster prevention and mitigation. The building of the tsunami warning center in the South China Sea will be promoted.

Providing financial support is also among the tasks. The Export-Import Bank of China and the Bank of China will facilitate enterprises with businesses related to ocean to "go global" by providing financial means such as buyer's credit

The New Saudi Heir Is a Dangerous Man

MIDDLE EAST

Prince Mohammed bin Salman is too inexperienced and too hotheaded for the fraught situation in the Middle East.

By 

Leonid Bershidsky

31

June 21, 2017, 10:41 PM GMT+5:30

The new crown prince.

 Photographer: Fayez Nureldine/AFP -- Getty Images

The abrupt change in Saudi Arabia's line of royal succession will probably help maintain the House of Saud's sway over its 31 million people, 70 percent of which are under 30. It is, however, a dangerous move in the context of a new Big Game unfolding in the Middle East, which involves the U.S. and Russia as well as local players. 

QuickTakeSaudi Arabia's Strains

King Salman named  his 31-year-old son, Mohammed bin Salman, as the new crown prince. This is the second succession reshuffle in which the young heir -- and favorite son of the king -- gained influence. In the last two years, MbS, as the new crown prince is often called, was put in charge of Saudi Arabia's two most important portfolios -- defense and the oil industry. He made the diplomatic rounds last month, visiting President Donald Trump in Washington and President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. 

King Salman, 81, clearly seeks a generational change in leadership and perhaps a little less religious fundamentalism. MbS has been working on that, although in the limited way of someone who was trained as a lawyer in Riyad, not in a Western capital. He has, for example, stripped the religious police of the power to arrest people. He's also set up an Entertainment Authority that has been organizing (segregated) concerts and talking about bringing back cinemas; it has even held a comic book convention at which men and women reportedly danced in the same big hall. Top clerics have been up in arms, but presumably, young people like it. 

MbS also has a plan to reform the Saudi economy and society, called Vision 2030, which sets specific targets for the percentage of population that will exercise regularly and promises to diversify the country's economy away from oil. Whether it can be done by decree in a country whether two-thirds of the workforce is state-employed remains to be seen, but these are the kinds of reforms that appear both to bring the medieval kingdom closer to the modern world and to prop up the royal dynasty's power. 

So far, however, Mohammed bin Salman has been responsible for a more aggressive Saudi stance in regional affairs, to which he has sacrificed the country's previous policy of trying to hold on to oil market share. In 2015, when MbS initiated the Saudi attack on the Houthi rebels in Yemen -- whom Saudi Arabia regards as Iranian proxies -- U.S. support for its anti-ISIS coalition partner was lukewarm. The military operation came as the Saudis were trying to strangle the U.S. shale oil industry by pumping crude at top speed and offering discounts to customers. In that and other ways, the Saudis had made clear they were against President Barack Obama's decision to weaken sanctions against Iran in exchange for promises to curb its nuclear program.

The Yemen operation hasn't gone well. The Houthis are still in control of the capital, Sana'a, peace is nowhere in sight, medical facilities have been destroyed and there's a constant threat of famine. Though the Saudis are still involved, their lack of military success must have shown them the importance of always acting in concert with the U.S.

MbS pushed through a reversal of the oil policy, which has helped U.S. frackers get back on their feet. In combination with other recent moves, such as the grand announcement of a $100 billion deal to purchase U.S. weapons (which may or may not exist in reality), this has helped rebuild relations with the U.S., or rather with the Trump administration and the Iran hawks within it. Without U.S. support, even expressed in Trump's tweets, the Saudi-initiated boycott of Qatar, ostensibly for financing terrorists but in fact for maintaining a relationship with Iran, would have looked like even more of an ill-considered adventure.

The new crown prince is trying to use Trump's backing to mount an attack against perceived Iranian inroads in the Arab world. This policy in and of itself is fraught with the risk of military conflicts, but it is also forcing Putin's hand in aligning Russia to a greater extent with Iran. 

Putin has been trying to make nice with all the Middle Eastern players. Putin needs the investment Gulf states can provide for his own top-down plan to wean Russia off its oil dependence. But he also needs the support of Iranian and Iranian-backed ground troops in Syria, where he's trying to avoid putting boots on the ground in his effort to save President Bashar Al-Assad. 

Putin's warming relationship with Saudi Arabian royals is more superficial than the ties with Iran. Russia ostensibly is Saudi Arabia's ally in its oil production cuts, though it has mostly supported the verbal interventions, not any meaningful output restrictions. Investment projects are under discussion, though nothing major has materialized yet. Russia is also trying to mediate the Yemen conflict -- something potentially valuable to the Saudis and their allies in the United Arab Emirates, who want out of the dead-end war -- but then, Russia has its own interest in Yemen, where it wants to berth its warships. Put on a scale, none of this outweighs the direct military alliance with Iran in Syria.

The reinvigorated U.S.-Saudi alliance is getting tougher on Assad and on Iran's attempts to project influence. The recent shooting down of a Syrian Air Force plane by U.S. forces is a manifestation of the growing tension, and Russia's vehement reaction to it is predictable escalation. Much as Putin wants to avoid finding himself firmly on Iran's side, a few similar incidents could inexorably push him in that direction. 

To keep the volatile situation from blowing up, Saudi Arabia needs a leader who is able to keep a balance between the U.S. and Russia. King Salman and former crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef understood the challenge. Prince Mohammed bin Salman seems to be swinging heavily toward Trump, however, as a way to gain support for his stepped up anti-Iran efforts.

Besides, both the Yemen operation and the oil reversal have been rather unsuccessful, betraying the prince's inexperience. That can be dangerous at the intersection of so many interests. The Middle East needs fewer, not more hotheads if its conflicts are to be defused rather than deepened.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Leonid Bershidsky at lbershidsky@bloomberg.net

64 Years Later, CIA Finally Releases Details of Iranian Coup


Foreignpolicy.com

New documents reveal how the CIA attempted to call off the failing coup — only to be salvaged at the last minute by an insubordinate spy.

1 DAY AGO

CATEGORIES: REPORTBethany Allen-Ebrahimian

Declassified documents released last week shed light on the Central Intelligence Agency’s central role in the 1953 coup that brought down Iranian Prime Minister Muhammad Mossadegh, fueling a surge of nationalism which culminated in the 1979 Iranian Revolution and poisoning U.S.-Iran relations into the 21st century.

The approximately 1,000 pages of documents also reveal for the first time the details of how the CIA attempted to call off the failing coup — only to be salvaged at the last minute by an insubordinate spy on the ground.

Known as Operation Ajax, the CIA plot was ultimately about oil. Western firms had for decades controlled the region’s oil wealth, whether Arabian-American Oil Company in Saudi Arabia, or the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in Iran. When the U.S. firm in Saudi Arabia bowed to pressure in late 1950 and agreed to share oil revenues evenly with Riyadh, the British concession in Iran came under intense pressure to follow suit. But London adamantly refused.

So in early 1951, amid great popular acclaim, Mossadegh nationalized Iran’s oil industry. A fuming United Kingdom began conspiring with U.S. intelligence services to overthrow Mossadegh and restore the monarchy under the shah. (Though some in the U.S. State Department, the newly released cables show, blamed British intransigence for the tensions and sought to work with Mossadegh.)

The coup attempt began on August 15 but was swiftly thwarted. Mossadegh made dozens of arrests. Gen. Fazlollah Zahedi, a top conspirator, went into hiding, and the shah fled the country.

The CIA, believing the coup to have failed, called it off.

“Operation has been tried and failed and we should not participate in any operation against Mossadegh which could be traced back to US,” CIA headquarters wrote to its station chief in Iran in a newly declassified cable sent on Aug. 18, 1953. “Operations against Mossadegh should be discontinued.”

That is the cable which Kermit Roosevelt, top CIA officer in Iran, purportedly and famously ignored, according to Malcolm Byrne, who directs the U.S.-Iran Relations Project at the National Security Archive at George Washington University.

At least “one guy was in the room with Kermit Roosevelt when he got this cable,” Byrne told Foreign Policy. “[Roosevelt] said no — we’re not done here.” It was already known that Roosevelt had not carried out an order from Langley to cease and desist. But the cable itself and its contents were not previously published.

The consequences of his decision were momentous. The next day, on August 19, 1953, with the aid of “rented” crowds widely believed to have been arranged with CIA assistance, the coup succeeded. Iran’s nationalist hero was jailed, the monarchy restored under the Western-friendly shah, and Anglo-Iranian oil — renamed British Petroleum — tried to get its fields back. (But didn’t really: Despite the coup, nationalist pushback against a return to foreign control of oil was too much, leaving BP and other majors to share Iran’s oil wealth with Tehran.)

Operation Ajax has long been a bogeyman for conservatives in Iran — but also for liberals. The coup fanned the flames of anti-Western sentiment, which reached a crescendo in 1979 with the U.S. hostage crisis, the final overthrow of the shah, and the creation of the Islamic Republic to counter the “Great Satan.”

The coup alienated liberals in Iran as well. Mossadegh is widely considered to be the closest thing Iran has ever had to a democratic leader. He openly championed democratic values and hoped to establish a democracy in Iran. The elected parliament selected him as prime minister, a position he used to reduce the power of the shah, thus bringing Iran closer in line with the political traditions that had developed in Europe. But any further democratic development was stymied on Aug. 19.

The U.S government long denied involvement in the coup. The State Department first released coup-related documents in 1989, but edited out any reference to CIA involvement. Public outrage coaxed a government promise to release a more complete edition, and some material came out in 2013. Two years later, the full installment of declassified material was scheduled — but might have interfered with Iran nuclear talks and were delayed again, Byrne said. They were finally released last week, though numerous original CIA telegrams from that period are known to have disappeared or been destroyed long ago.

Byrne said that the long delay is due to several factors. Intelligence services are always concerned about protecting “sources and methods,” said Byrne, meaning the secret spycraft that enables them to operate on the ground. The CIA also needed to protect its relationship with British intelligence, which may have wished some of the material remain safeguarded.

Beyond final proof of CIA involvement, there’s another very interesting takeaway in the documents, said Abbas Milani, a professor of Iranian studies at Stanford University: New details on the true political leanings of Ayatollah Abol-Ghasem Kashani, a cleric and leading political figure in the 1950s.

In the Islamic Republic, clerics are always the good guys. Kashani has long been seen as one of the heroes of nationalism during that period. As recently as January of this year, Iran’s supreme leader praised Kashani’s role in the nationalization of oil.

Kashani’s eventual split from Mossadegh is widely known. Religious leaders in the country feared the growing power of the communist Tudeh Party, and believed that Mossadegh was too weak to save the country from the socialist threat.

But the newly released documents show that Kashani wasn’t just opposed to Mossadegh — he was also in close communication with the Americans throughout the period leading up to the coup, and he actually appears to have requested financial assistance from the United States, though there is no record of him receiving any money. His request was not previously known.

On the make-or-break day of Aug. 19, “Kashani was critical,” said Milani. “On that day Kashani’s forces were out in full force to defeat Mossadegh.”

In search of happy Jewish Story in India

http://www.jewishmag.com/162mag/jews_of_india/jews_of_india.htm

In Search of the (happy) Jewish Story – in India

By Irene Shaland

Growing” into India

I dreamt of India for years. As my husband Alex and I planned our trip last year, we both began to see India as the place in space and time where one comes for self-discovery and personal growth. The truth, not told you by travel agents, is that you have to know deep down why you are coming to India.

If you do, you are bound to discover the most refined beauty and the deepest spirituality. You will start seeing India as not merely a country but a subcontinent or rather a universe. Travelling through that universe, you gradually learn - like peeling the onion, layer after layer – some very important truths about people and history and myths they create. If you don’t, you will be overwhelmed by heat and smells, crowds and beggars, street dogs and cows, and noise and dirt.

We started our trip with a specific agenda. Curious about inlaid marble art of Taj Mahal and love sculptures of Khajuraho, we came to India to see the temples and palaces. But something unexpected and wonderful happened. It was the tiny Jewish community of India that turned out to be the most amazing discovery and transformed our trip into a spiritual journey instead.

When we returned, many of our friends were surprised to hear: that: “Jews – in India? How on earth did they ever get there?” But they did. And they have been living in their Indian homeland -- in freedom and prosperity -- for well over 2500 years.

Where did the Indian Jews come from?

The story about the Indian Jewish community is not widely known, and here it is. This community consists of three distinctive groups: the Cochin Jews, the Bene Israel, and the Baghdadi. Each group has their own story to tell.

 
Though Paradesi Synagogue of Cochin was built in the 16th century by "foreigners" ("paradesi") it stands as a symbol of the 2,500 year-old Jewish community.

The Cochin Jews are considered the oldest, continuously living Jewish community in the world. They began arriving in waves from Judea, 2500 years ago, on the Malabar Coast of India and settled as traders near the town of Cochin in what is now the southernmost India’s state of Kerala. The first wave probably arrived in 562 BC following the destruction of the First Temple. The second wave likely came in 70 CE after the destruction of the Second Temple. The late 15thcentury saw the arrival of the third wave: Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain. Refugees escaping prosecution by the colonial Portuguese Inquisition in Goa, India, followed them.

The Cochin Jews have always enjoyed special protection by the local rulers. As early as 392 CE (though some scholars maintain that this event happened much later, in the 11th century), the Hindu Raja (king) issued his permission for Jews to live there freely. He documented his decree on ancient copper plates, which are now kept in the Holy Ark of the Cochin Synagogue.

The Cochin Jews speak Judeo-Malayalam, a hybrid of Hebrew and the language of the state of Kerala. Only a few families are currently living in Cochin because most members of the once large community moved to Israel.

The Bene Israel Jews arrived 2100 years ago from the Kingdom of Judea and settled in what is now the state of Maharashtra. The original group - either traders or refugees from the Romans – was shipwrecked and the survivors, seven men and seven women, were thrown on the Konkan coast, not far from today’s Mumbai (Bombay). With no possessions and unable to speak the language, they joined the cast of oil-pressers. Ironically, they were nicknamed the “Saturday oil pressers” because they abstained from working on Shabbat.

The Bene Israel Jews speak Hindi and Marathi, the languages of the Maharashtra state. Once thriving and populous, the Bene Israel group now accounts for about 3500 to 4000 people. Most of them live in Mumbai, and only a few families live in Calcutta and Delhi. The majority of the Bene Israel, which is ten times their population in India, moved to Israel.

The Baghdadi Jews arrived in India about 280 years ago. The name is somewhat misleading. Not all were exclusively of Iraqi origin; many came from Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and other Arab countries. They settled in Rangoon, Calcutta, and Bombay, and because they were rich and educated, they quickly became the wealthiest community. Also called Mizrachi (Eastern) Jews, they turned their new home cities into cosmopolitan, thriving entrepreneurial centers. Some became prominent politicians like the Governor of Goa, Jacob PVSM; others turned to philanthropy and built libraries and hospitals. The Baghdadi Jews speak Hindi, Marathi, and Bengali, the languages of the Maharashtra and Bengal states.

Whether they speak Hindi, Judeo-Malayalam or Marathi, none of these languages has a word for anti-Semitism! Nevertheless, after 1948, when India gained independence from Great Britain and after the birth of the State of Israel, most of the India’s Jews, the Baghdadi, Bene Israel, and the Cochin, left their Indian homeland. They moved out because after the partition of 1948, Indian Jews found themselves in a different country, one that was burning with violence. As the tiniest of small minorities, they could easily envision being crushed between the conflicting forces of Hindu nationalism and Muslim separatism. So, they left behind more than a 2000-year history of freedom and prosperity and began their mass exodus to the new state of Israel where they now constitute about 1% of the total population. Some chose to immigrate to the UK or the US.

Okay, our friends would say, then who is left? With so few Jews in a 1.2-billion-people Hindu-Muslim country, where would you find any Jewish-related sites today? Where would you meet the Jews themselves? Instead of a simple answer, let me take you on an interesting journey.

Jewish pilgrimage in India: in search of places, people and stories

Delhi/Agra

Synagogue near the tomb of a Muslim emperor

In Delhi, most tourists are encouraged to see the Emperor Humayan’s Tomb, which is the World Heritage Site, and is considered to be an architectural precursor to the Taj Mahal. Near by is a tiny, one-room building that houses the best-kept secret in India’s capital, the Judah Hyam SynagogueiHere is where we arranged to meet with Ezekiel Isaac Malekar.

Ezekiel Isaac Malekar of Delhi

Mr. Malekar is a prominent Delhi attorney. He is also a Jewish community leader, Rabbi, Cantor, writer, and Hebrew scholar. If you were to see him on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, you would perceive him to be a Columbia University professor. A Bene Israel Jew, his native language is Hindi, and in his perfect British English, he told us about the tiny, but closely tied Jewish community of Delhi. One of the oldest Jewish communities in the world (Jews have been living in Delhi for over 2000 years), it now numbers a little over 40 people or 10 families. So the synagogue also serves the needs of expatriates working in Delhi, Israeli diplomats, and Jewish tourists. When we discussed the complexity of the Jewish identity in the Hindu-Muslim culture, the subject of Mr. Malekar’s many studies, he said: “As a Jew, I have Israel in my heart, but as an Indian – India is in my blood. This is my homeland.”

After leaving the synagogue, we continued our exploration of Delhi’s Jewish history, in - of all places - a mosque.

Jewish atheist’s shrine in a mosque

Jami Masjid of Delhi is the largest mosque in Asia, build by Shah Jahan of Taj Mahal’s fame. It is an irony of history that both the Shah and the mosque have a curious Jewish connection. Visitors and worshipers alike enter the mosque through the grand royal entrance. At the right-hand side portal is a Muslim saint’s tomb. It is dedicated to a …Jew. His name was Sarmad and he was from a Persian-speaking, Armenian Jewish merchant family. Sometime in the 1630s, Sarmad arrived in the courts of Shah Jahan in Delhi and Agra and became close to both the Shah and his oldest son, the heir presumptive. Sarmad had an interesting career: He was a Jew who turned from Muslim to Hindu and then to atheist. He discovered a homosexual love, and as a result abandoned his wealth and turned ascetic, wandering through the imperial courts as a naked fakir. A brilliant linguist, Sarmad translated the Torah into Persian. He also ridiculed all major religions of his time but was very popular as both a poet and a philosopher. Aurangzeb, an evil son of Shah Jahan, who killed his oldest brothers and imprisoned his father in order to get the throne, never forgave Sarmad for his friendship with his father and his brother. In 1661, he had Sarmad arrested and beheaded for his heretical poetry. Then Sarmad’s final and typical Indian transformation happened: he became venerated as a great Sufi, an Islamic mystic, and was buried in a shrine in Jami Masjid where the anniversary of his death is commemorated annually in a festival.

 
Author talks to Mr. Ezekiel Isaac Malekar, a prominent Delhi attorney and a Jewish community leader, Rabbi, Cantor, writer, and Hebrew scholar

India and Holocaust

There was another, much more recent Jewish story that we heard while in Delhi. It was told by Ezekiel Malekar when he learned that my grandmother’s family perished in Poland during the Holocaust. It goes like this: In the beginning of the World War II, a ship with 1200 Polish Jewish orphans and some adult guardians was not allowed to dock in Britain. However, it was sponsored by a Baghdadi Jewish philanthropist, and ended up in Bombay. But there again, the British authorities would not grant them entry without permission from London, so the Maharajah (great king) of Jamnagar, in an India state of Gujarat, accepted them as his personal guests. There, the refugees were well cared for until the war ended. In 1989, the surviving members of the group along with their children and grandchildren, returned to Gujarat from the US and Israel, and dedicated a memorial to their safe haven, India’s state of Gujarat. The same group returned in the year 2000 when Gujarat was badly affected by a natural disaster, and the group worked to rebuild two villages. About ten years ago Ezekiel Malekar wanted to publish an account of that unparalleled chapter in the Holocaust history and contacted the Maharaja’s family for comments. Maharajas’ son responded that his deceased father would not have wanted any publicity because the Maharajah thought of the Polish refugees as his own brothers and sisters and treated them as such. The story of India as a shelter for Jews during the Holocaust is not commonly known, but what a very Indian story it is. ii

Not just Delhi, but Mumbai as well proved to be a collection of surprising Jewish stories and sites. Would you ever think of India’s financial and movie capital as the city of the eight synagogues?

Mumbai

 
Mumbai: Inside the Kenesseth Eliyahoo Synagogue. The Synagogue is located in the famous Colaba district where many of the wealthiest Jewish families used to live.

Jews settled in Mumbai (Bombay) in the 18thcentury: first Baghdadi arrived in 1730s and then Bene Israel began migrating from the countryside into the city in the 1740s. Today, Mumbai has the largest Jewish community in India: 3500 to 4000 people, most of whom are the Bene Israel. We visited two of the city’s eight synagogues: Kenesseth Eliyahoo and Magen David. Both were built by the Sassons, the wealthiest family of the Baghdadi Jews. The elegant blue structure of the Mogen David Synagogueiii was erected by David Sasson in 1861. Hanna and Eliyahoo were waiting for us inside.

Hanna and Eliyahoo of Mumbai

Hanna Shapurkar and Eliyahoo Benjamin showed us the imposing Magen David Synagogue. Hanna is an art historian and a tour guide. She is petite, vivacious, and outspoken. We talked about our families and the food we like to cook for the holidays. “Yeeeak,” she grimaced when I tell her about my usual holiday brisket: “Beef!” Hanna says that though she is Jewish, she would never eat meat of a cow, a holy animal for the Hindus. Her family cooks “mutton” for Rosh Hashanah. We also talked about Jewish education in India and importance of the JCC as a unifying center for the young Jews of Mumbai. Like Ezekiel Malekar of Delhi, Hanna is a Bene Israel Jew.

 
Inside the Mogen David Synagogue: Mr. Eliyahoo Benjamin, a synagogue caretaker (left) and Hanna Shapukar, a tour guide (right), proudly show the author around the synagogue. Mr. Benjamin is a Baghdadi Jew and Hanna is a Bene Israel.

Eliyahoo Benjamin is this synagogue’s caretaker. He proudly told us about the 150-year-old history of his synagogue. At one time, his congregation did not accept the Bene Israel. “They were thought to be too dark-skinned, not pure Jewish in blood,” he says, But now, when so few are left, the differences are forgotten and they often pray together, especially during the holidays. Eliyahoo is a Baghdadi Jew. His and Hannah’s first language is Marathi.

Muslim youths of Mumbai defending the shul

The Magen David Synagogue is now in the middle of the Muslim neighborhood. Hanna and Eliyahoo told us, that during one of the Hindu-Muslim clashes, the street youngsters wanted to make sure that no one harmed the synagogue. So, the group of Muslim boys joined their hands and formed a protective wall across the building’s gates. This is the house of God, they said.

We also visited another great Mumbai synagogue called Kenesseth Eliyahooiv; it is located in the famous Colaba district, not far from major city landmarks like the Taj Mahal Hotel and the Gates of India. And this is where Hannah tells us about the Indian Jewish philanthropy.

Jewish philanthropy

Colaba, an affluent area in the center of Mumbai, is where most of the richest members of the Baghdadi community lived, including the Sassons, whose ancestor David Sasson fled Iran in the early 1800s. He and his eight sons created an international commercial empire and became one of the wealthiest families in India. They also created something that never existed in India before: philanthropy. The Sassons built synagogues of course, but also schools and hospitals, kosher shops, and leper asylums. They built important Mumbai landmarks too: the elegant Flora Fountain and the Venetian Gothic-style David Sasson Library. After visiting the Kenesseth Eliyahoo Synagogue, we went to the Sasson’s library’s imposing reading room, absorbed its colonial splendor, and reflected upon the impact the Jews made into so many world cultures.

But in order to meet the oldest Jewish community in the world, we had to leave the cosmopolitan Mumbai and fly to the south of the country, a town of Cochin.

Cochin

One-street Jew Town and the foreigners’ shul

The oldest continuously living Jewish community in the world dates back 2500 years and consists now of a few families living in the Jew Town part of the port city of Cochin in the southernmost state of India called Kerala. The Jew Town now is just one long north-south street bustling with shops and boutiques, some of which have signs like “A.J. Taylor’s Shop.” The street is calledSynagogue Lane and this is where we go to meet Mrs. Salem.

Reema Salem

Reema lived all her life on the Synagogue Lane. She looks a lot like my own Mom, tiny and pale, an elegant lady in her eighties. She and I talk about Canada, where her children and grandchildren live, and Cochin, which she says she would never leave because this is her real home; this is where she is surrounded by her many friends, both Muslims and Christians. The Salems, Reema’s husband’s family, were among the oldest families of Cochin, tracing their ancestry to the first arrivals from the Kingdom of Judea 2500 years ago. Reema herself came from the Paradesi or the “foreigners,” the Sephardim running away from the persecution in Spain and Portugal in the late 15th-early 16th centuries. Both Reema’s and her husband’s family are the Cochin Jews. Their native language is Judeo-Malayalam.

I bought a book from Reema that her husband's father, Abraham Barak Sale wrote about the 450-year-old Cochin Synagogue. I remember seeing its model displayed in the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv. Then Reema showed us where her street ends and the synagogue stands. The synagogue has the most remarkable Clock Tower with different faces. The clock facing the street displays Roman numerals for merchants, the one facing the synagogue has Hebrew letters, and the side facing the harbor has Indian numerals. The “foreigners,” the Spanish Sephardim (Reema’s ancestors) built the synagogue in 1568. The name Paradesi means “foreign.”

The Paradesi Synagogue is the most popular site in Cochin. Most of the tourists are Indians. The synagogue structure is unique and resembles Kerala Hindu temples, which are very different from the other Hindu temples throughout the subcontinent. The red-tiled roof covers two of the synagogue’s whitewashed buildings, and the entrance is a plain wooden door leading to a treeless courtyard. The caretaker, Mr. K. J. Joy, tells us that the courtyard is used for Simhat Torah procession just like Hindu temple courtyards are used for their celebrations. We were asked to remove our shoes, just like anyone should when entering a Hindu temple. Here we see the most colorful of interiors: blue tiles from China cover the floor (every one of them is different); silver and brass chandeliers from Belgium; and a multitude of oil lamps of every possible color. The Holy Ark, a work of art, made by the Kerala wood carvers, houses the famous copper plates, upon which is written the Raja’s guarantee of all freedoms for the Cochin Jews. The Ark is covered by a beautiful curtain. Mr. Joy told us that the curtain is made from a ceremonial dress, called mundu, that Cochin Jewish women make for their weddings or when their six-year-old son reads from the Haftorah.

No longer do they have a Rabbi, but a few remaining congregants continue to pray together every Shabbat and on holidays. The synagogue is adjacent to the Krishna Temple. Mr. Joy told us that one might hear the chanting from the Temple during the prayers at the synagogue. This could be a manifestation, I think, of uniquely Indian harmony: two ancient civilizations, with their languages and religions blending together in peace.

Our final visit in Cochin was to the grave of an old sage.

 
Cochin: the Ancient Jewish Saint's Grave

Everybody in Cochin prays to a Jewish saint

The ancient cemetery that was in that part of town for many centuries did not survive. Small houses surround the only remaining grave memorial that is honored by many symbols brought by Muslims, Hindu and Christians. The people of India are the most pious and tolerant, we are told. They come to pray, bring their grievances, and ask for favors from an ancient Jewish saint, who they say has divine powers. The sign reads in Hebrew: “…the abundance of the light of his wisdom (“Torah”) shines on all communities…let his soul be in the bundle of the living (תנצב"ה), his rights will protect us, Amen (זיע"א)…” (Translated by Hanoch Ben-Yami, Ph.D., Philosophy Professor at the Central European University, Budapest, Hungary, 2011)

Delhi, Mumbai, and Cochin were along our Jewish pilgrimage route. All our newly made friends are members of the tiniest among the smallest Indian minorities -- the Jews of India. They are the least known among the Diaspora and arguably are the most interesting.

These new friends, our US friends, continue asking “are they Indian or Jewish?”

Who do they think they really are?

The truth about the Jews of India is that they are both: fully Jewish and, at the same time, fully Indian. How did they manage that? I found the best answer in the writing of Nathan Katz, the world’s leading authority on the Jewish communities in India and a pioneer of the Indo-Judaic studiesv.

Dr. Katz maintains that Indian Jews formed their historic identity based on myths and legends which they continue to tell about themselves. These stories relate events that may not be purely factual, but they serve to organize people’s perceptions into meaningful experiences. Just like many of us who may talk about World Wars I and II as pivotal events in our family histories, the Cochin and the Bene Israel Jews talk about their arrival to India over 2000 years ago, as though these events are still fresh in their memory. And they are.

The Cochin Jews’ ancestors might be traders or the refugees from the invaders who destroyed the Temple, either the First or the Second. The first Bene Israel might be running away from the Romans, or they might be people of commerce. And, they might be neither. As far as I know, nothing supports any of these stories, but at the same time, nothing contradicts them. Actual facts are not really relevant when we deal with identity; it is the thousands-year-old narrative, the stories people tell about themselves over many generations, which create that identity. “Peoples’ historical self-understanding shapes their identity more than mere history,” says Katz. Because the person you are now depends on whom you think you were – very long ago.

What can we learn from the Jews of India?

As for me, their stories prompted me to think of how my own Jewish identity was formed: “Aggressors, murderers, Zhidy parshivue (wretched kikes)!” It was the Six-Day War in Israel, and in Soviet Russia two little girls, my friend and I, were desperately trying to shrink, to become invisible, when crossing the courtyard of our development. Our hearts were pierced by angry stares and shrieks of those, who just-yesterday, were kind neighbors. In the forty years that followed, my husband and I travelled the world, remaining ever-attuned to the Jewish story that seemed to be an endless chain of persecutions, humiliations, mass murders: from century to century, from country to country. But when we came to India, we uncovered an entirely different chapter in Jewish history, the happiest of Jewish stories ever told. As Katz states, the tiniest of India’s communities managed to live happily in freedom while preserving their religious and cultural identity without either rejecting or being overwhelmed by the large society they lived in. Why did that happen? Because of the acceptance and tolerance of Hindu? Because of creativity of the Jews themselves who created their own myths of origin while managing to adopt local customs?

The Indo-Jewish stories might lead us to think of something very important for many a Diaspora Jew: acculturation versus assimilation.

For many Jews, like my family and me, who immigrated to the US from the socialist countries, acculturation – understood as becoming part of the society while retaining one’s own religious and historical identity – was never an option. The loss of that identity as the pre-requisite to acceptance or assimilation was our only way. Being Jewish in the old country was an obstacle to overcome, a stamp in your passport preventing you from achieving your full potential. In the new country, all we ever wanted was to mutate from “immigrants” to “true Americans,” whatever that meant. Few were able -- or willing -- to find their religious identity.

But is it true only for the former Soviet Jewish immigrants? Numerous recent books and studies lament either the disappearance of the American Jewry or the decline of strength of Jewish identity.vi

No Indian Jew would ever be able to relate to that issue.

Our trip to India gave us more cultural and spiritual treasures than we could have ever expected. It affirmed our original belief: India indeed proved to be the place for self-discovery and personal growth -- in a way that could not be matched by any other country. I kindly challenge you to prove it for yourself.

The author expresses her deep gratitude to Mr. Raj Singh whose talent, patience and great knowledge of the region, have made our explorations possible. Mr. Singh’s Chicago-based company is “Exotic Journeys:” http://www.exoticjourneys.com/, 333 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago IL 60601; (312) 475-0655

NOTES:

i Judah Hyam Synagogue: http://delhishul.com/, 2 Humayan Road, New Delhi 110003; phone 91- 981- 831-7674. They have services every Friday: 7:00 PM in the summer, 6:30 PM in the winter.

ii India and Holocaust: After we returned home, I was able to locate an extraordinary study published in Delhi in 1999, now out of print: Jewish Exile in India: 1933-1945, edited by Anil Bhatti and Johannes H. Voigt.

iii Mogen David Synagogue:http://www.jacobsassoon.org/synagogues.html; 340, Sir J.J. Road, BycullaMumbai, 400008.

iv Kenesseth Eliyahoo Synagogue:http://www.jacobsassoon.org/synagogues.html; 55, Dr. V.B. Gandhi Marg, Fort Mumbai, 400 023; phone: 91-22-22831502.

v Books by Professor Nathan Katz that became our gateway to understanding the Jews of India: The Last Jews of Cochin: Jewish Identity in Hindu India, University of South Carolina Press, 1993 and Who are the Jews of India? University of California Press, 2000.

vi Among the books analyzing the decline of strength of Jewish identity: Steven M. Cohen’s A Tale of Two Jewries: The “Inconvenient Truth” for American Jews, 2006 and The Vanishing American Jew by Alan M. Dershowitz, 1997.