Friday, October 06, 2006

Chapter Eight - Jonathan Steele: Be honest: the west isn't sending troops to Darfur

Here's some excellent must-read commentary to leave at the top of this page during a short intermission. Bye for now. Back soon.

"Bush and Blair are raising false hopes among rebels and refugees, at the same time as blocking the best mechanism for peace," writes Jonathan Steele in Darfur, Oct 6, 2006, The Guardian. Copy in full:
A cruel hoax is being perpetrated on the desperate people of Darfur. With their constant demands for UN troops to go to Sudan's western region as the only way to protect civilians, George Bush and Tony Blair are raising hopes in a grossly irresponsible way. When reality dawns and new despair takes over, Washington and London will have to take the blame.

It is not just that the Khartoum government rejects the idea of UN troops. More important, Bush and Blair know that, even if Khartoum were to back down, they will not be sending US or British troops to replace the African Union (AU) force. Nor will other European governments. Why does this matter? Because hundreds of thousands of displaced villagers who sit in miserable camps across Darfur are under the impression that European soldiers will soon be riding over the hill to save them.

After spending hours talking to homeless families and their community leaders, I can report that the demand for the UN to send troops to Darfur is overwhelming. The Arab-dominated government in Khartoum has orchestrated demonstrations in the capital denouncing US and UK interventionism, and warning of "another Iraq". The Arab press hammers the same theme, which may well resonate among its readers.

In Darfur's camps, however, the mood is different. It explains why Jose Manuel Barroso, the European commission president on a trip here on Sunday, was not allowed to make the usual camp tour. No reason was given, but EU officials said they were sure it was to prevent him hearing pleas for a UN force.

If UN troops are sent here, where do you think they will come from, I asked everyone I met. "British, American, all the European countries," said Abdullah Hassan Karamidin, an elderly imam in a white knitted cap who sat with six other men in a clearing between their miserable homes in the Abu Shouk camp at El Fasher. What if the UN troops turned out to be from India, Bangladesh, or Turkey? "No, they can't solve our problem. They're like Arabs. Arabs can't protect us," the imam replied, while the others nodded in agreement.

In Zamzam camp, south of El Fasher, I came across four guerrilla fighters, unarmed but wearing trademark white scarves wrapped into their turbans. Two were festooned with small leather pouches, each carrying a verse from the Qur'an. The amulets they were wearing protected them from bullets, they said. The fighters belonged to a faction that signed a peace deal with the government in May, which allows them to protect the camp. They and most of the camp's inmates are from the Zaghawa tribe.

The rebels are known to fellow-Africans as "Tora Bora". My translator laughed at my surprise. "They don't like the phrase mujahideen because they are Muslims, not Islamists. But they know Tora Bora is a place of caves in Afghanistan where the Americans hunted local fighters and couldn't find them, just as the government here couldn't do."

One of the ex-rebels said: "The African Union troops only go along the main roads. If there's an incident, they do nothing except write it down. They're useless." Asked where the UN would get its troops from, he said: "Why not British or American?" His friend was one of the few people I found who was willing to have troops from India, Bangladesh or Turkey, "as long as they can protect people. If that's the case, we have no problem".

A group of community leaders sat under a tree. "We're in need, and we want UN troops," said Sheikh Ali Ishag Hamid. "They should come here even if the government refuses. The government cannot confront the UN." Where would the UN get its troops from? "Britain, America, Nato." And if they were from Asia? "We will only welcome Europeans," he insisted.

Bush and Blair should get the message. Unless they deliberately intend to disappoint Darfurians, it is time for honesty in place of grandstanding. Let's have some constructive nimbyism. Next time they thunder on about the need for UN troops, they should add the qualifier: "Of course, we won't be sending our own soldiers. Other countries will have to send theirs." The two leaders should also start looking for a compromise. Both sides have backed themselves into a corner. Sudan refuses to have a UN force. Washington insists there is no alternative. With three months until the AU force's mandate expires, common sense requires that this interval be used to negotiate a solution.

The first principle should be a security council commitment to extend the AU mandate indefinitely, until it is safe for the displaced to go home. Last month's brinkmanship, when it looked as if the AU would withdraw, leaving a security void, must not be repeated in December. The threat of a pullout creates new fears for traumatised people.

The second principle should be that the AU's contingents are transformed into a robust force from the demoralised units that have not been paid for the past two months. Western governments must fund more AU troops and better equipment, particularly helicopters and surveillance technology. At the moment the AU reacts slowly, if at all.

Darfur was hardly heard of when the UN's founding fathers drew up its charter in 1945. Unwittingly, they wrote seven paragraphs that offer the best mechanism for bridging the gap between Washington's and Khartoum's intransigence. Known as chapter eight, these allow the UN to subcontract peacekeeping to a regional organisation. Instead of the current wrangling over UN troops, why not let the UN give the AU a mandate for Darfur, while requesting that rich member governments, either western or Arab, fund a stronger AU-led force?

In Kosovo and Afghanistan, Nato took charge in a similar way, though under a different chapter and without the request that non-Nato members chip in. Nato, after all, is richer than the AU.

At the UN, senior officials are aware of chapter eight. Jan Pronk, the secretary general's special representative in Sudan, mentioned it in New York a fortnight ago. Sudanese leaders have hinted they would accept it. Shamefully, however, Washington and London are trying to suppress the idea. They reject any suggestion that UN resolution 1706 (which called for UN troops) might be superseded. It would let Khartoum off the hook, they say. But the real people on the hook are Darfur's 2 million displaced. They need quick international agreement on better protection, rather than the mischievous illusion that western troops are on the way.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

September 9th, 2006 by pavanreddy
The grip of the Majlis-e-ittehadul Muslimeen on the community remains strong, despite minor dents.
WITH A Member representing Hyderabad in the Lok Sabha, five members in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly, 40 corporators in Hyderabad and 95-plus members elected to various municipal bodies in Andhra Pradesh, the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen is one of the foremost representatives of the city’s Muslims and the most powerful Muslim party in India and one can see the partys strenghth if it goes to Hyderabads Old city everywhere u look u can see MIM written on walls ,lightpoles and buildings leaving aside flags and posters of its Leadership. The Majlis has brought lot of development to the Old part of the city even after it is said it hasnt done anything by its opponents who are mostly Ex Majlis workers.
The Majlis was formed in 1927 “for educational and social uplift of Muslims”. But it articulated the position that “the ruler and throne (Nizam) are symbols of the political and cultural rights of the Muslim community… (and) this status must continue forever”.
The Majlis pitted itself against the Andhra Mahasabha and the communists who questioned the feudal order that sustained the Nizam’s rule. It also bitterly opposed the Arya Samaj, which gave social and cultural expression to the aspirations of the urban Hindu population in the Hyderabad State of those days.
By the mid-1940s, the Majlis had come to represent a remarkably aggressive and violent face of Muslim communal politics as it organised the razakars (volunteers) to defend the “independence” of this “Muslim” State from merger with the Indian Union.
According to historians, over 1,50,000 such `volunteers’ were organised by the Majlis for the Nizam State’s defence but they are remembered for unleashing unparalleled violence against Hindu populations, the communists and all those who opposed the Nizam’s “go it alone” policy. It is estimated that during the height of the razakar `agitation’, over 30,000 people had taken shelter in the Secunderabad cantonment alone to protect themselves from these `volunteers’.
But the razakars could do little against the Indian Army and did not even put up a fight. Kasim Rizvi, the Majlis leader, was imprisoned and the organisation banned in 1948. Rizvi was released in 1957 on the undertaking that he would leave for Pakistan in 48 hours. Before he left though, Rizvi met some of the erstwhile activists of the Majlis and passed on the presidentship to Abdul Wahed Owaisi, a famous lawyer and an Islamic scholar who also was jailed for nearly 10 months after he took over the Majlis leadership as the then govt wanted to abolish the Majlis party but Owaisi refused to do so and was seen as a person who had financially supported the party when it was a bankrupt and weak one after the Police Action in Hyderabad State.
Owaisi is credited with having “re-written” the Majlis constitution according to the provisions of the Indian Constitution and “the realities of Muslim minority in independent India”, according to a former journalist, Chander Srivastava. For the first decade-and-a-half after this “reinvention”, the Majlis remained, at best, a marginal player in Hyderabad politics and even though every election saw a rise in its vote share, it could not win more than one Assembly seat.
The 1970s saw an upswing in Majlis’ political fortunes. In 1969, it won back its party headquarters, Dar-us-Salaam — a sprawling 4.5-acre compound in the heart of the New City. It also won compensation which was used to set up an ITI on the premises and a women’s degree college in Nizamabad town. In 1976, Salahuddin Owaisi took over the presidentship of the Majlis after his father’s demise.
This started an important phase in the history of the Majlis as it continued expanding its educational institutions,Hospitals,Banks, including the first Muslim minority Engineering College and Medical College. Courses in MBA, MCA ,Nursing, Pharmacy and other professional degrees followed and now a daily newspaper known as Etemaad Daily. The 1970s were also a watershed in Majlis’ history as after a long period of 31 years, Hyderabad witnessed large-scale communal rioting in 1979. The Majlis came to the forefront in “defending” Muslim life and property Majlis workers could be seen at these moments defending the properties of Muslims in the wake of riots and these workers were very hard even for the police to control them even now it is a known fact that there are nearly about 2500 units of strong members who only act if there is a seirous threat to the Owaisi family and these members are under the direct orders of the Owaisi family which leads the Majlis party leaving aside thousands of workers and informers throughout the State and even outside the country far away till America and the Gulf countries.
Salahuddin Owaisi, also known as “Salar-e-Millat” (commander of the community), has repeatedly alleged in his speeches that the Indian state has “abandoned” the Muslims to their fate. Therefore, “Muslims should stand on their own feet, rather than look to the State for help'’, he argues.
This policy has been an unambiguous success in leveraging the Majlis today to its position of being practically the “sole spokesman” of the Muslims in Hyderabad and its environs.
Voting figures show this clearly. From 58,000 votes in the 1962 Lok Sabha elections for the Hyderabad seat, Majlis votes rose to 1,12,000 in 1980. The clear articulation of this “stand on one’s feet” policy in education and `protection’ during riots doubled its vote-share by 1984. Salahuddin Owaisi won the seat for the first time, polling 2.22 lakh votes. This vote-share doubled in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections to over four lakhs.
The Majlis has since continued its hold on the Hyderabad seat winning about five-and-a-half lakh votes each time.
Despite remarkable economic prosperity and negligible communal violence in the past decade, the hold of the Majlis on the Muslims of Hyderabad remains, despite minor dents. And despite widespread allegations of Majlis leaders having “made money”, most ordinary Muslims continue to support them because, as one bank executive put it “they represent our issues clearly and unambiguously'’. An old Historian Bakhtiyar khan says the Owaisi family was a rich family even before entering Politics and he says he had seen the late Majlis leader Abdul Wahed Owaisi in an American Buick car at a time when rarely cars were seen on Hyderabad Roads and the family had strong relations with the ersthwhile Nizams of Hyderabad and the Paighs even now the family is considered to be one of the richest familes in Hyderabad.
A university teacher says that the Majlis helped Muslims live with dignity and security at a time when they were under attack and even took the fear out of them after the Police action and adds that he has seen Majlis leaders in the front at times confronting with the Police and the Govt.
Asaduddin Owaisi, the articulate UK educated barrister son of Salahuddin Owaisi and Former leader of the Majlis’ Legislature party and now an MP himself who has travelled across the globe meeting world leaders and organizatons and even in war zones compares the Majlis to the Black Power movement of America.
The Majlis that emerged after 1957 is a completely different entity from its pre-independence edition, he says adding that comparisons with that bloody past are “misleading and mischievous”. “That Majlis was fighting for state power, while we have no such ambitions or illusions”.
He stoutly defends the need for “an independent political voice” for the minorities, which is willing to defend them and project their issues “firmly”.
“How can an independent articulation of minority interests and aspirations be termed communal,” he asks and contests any definition of democracy which questions the loyalty of minorities if they assert their independent political identity. “We are a threat not only to the BJP and Hindu communalism, but also to Muslim extremism,” Asaduddin claims. “By providing a legitimate political vent for Muslims to voice their aspirations and fears, we are preventing the rise of political extremism and religious obscurantism when the community is under unprecedented attack from Hindu communalists and the state'’. He can be seen in his speeches speaking against terrorism in the Country and says if the time arises Majlis will stand side by side in defending the Nation