Terrorism single biggest threat to S. Asia: Manmohan

3 08 2008

Terrorism single biggest threat to S. Asia: Manmohan Muralidhar Reddy and Sandeep Dikshit
Source : The hindu

‘Cannot afford to lose battle against the ideologies of hatred’

Stress on rapid integration along the lines of the ASEAN, says Prime Minister

Terrorism getting “institutionalised nurturing and support” in Pakistan: Hamid Karzai

COLOMBO: Terrorism was the dominant theme of speeches by the SAARC heads of state on the opening day of the summit here on Saturday. All the eight leaders were of the view that unless terrorism was defeated in all its forms and manifestations peace, progress and development of the region would be affected.

Regretting that South Asia had not moved as fast as one would have wished, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh identified terrorism as the “single biggest threat” to stability and progress. “We cannot afford to lose the battle against the ideologies of hatred, fanaticism and against all those who seek to destroy our social fabric,” said Dr. Singh, while pointing out that “we have only to see the rapid integration within Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its emergence as an important bloc in Asia to understand the opportunities that beckon.”

“Terrorists and extremists know no borders. The recent attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul and the serial blasts in Bangalore and Ahmedabad are gruesome reminders of the barbarity that still finds a place here in South Asia. We must act jointly and with determination to fight this scourge. We must defend the values of pluralism, peaceful coexistence and the rule of law,” he said.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who opened his address with an apology to India for the attack on its Indian embassy in Kabul, charged that terrorism was getting “institutionalised nurturing and support” in Pakistan.

“Wildfires of terrorism are spreading across the region,” he said, adding that “these terrorist attacks are a rapidly growing threat, not just to Afghanistan or India, but for the entire SAARC region.”

“No amount of outrage and condemnation can suffice to express the anger and frustration we all feel when faced with such mindless brutality and violence. In Pakistan, terrorism and its sanctuaries are gaining a deeper grip as demonstrated by the tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto.”

Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa highlighted the need to strengthen regional legal mechanisms and intensify intelligence sharing to boost South Asia’s collective prosperity, peace and stability. Sri Lanka had seen the benefits of such cooperation in combating terrorism and Mr. Rajapaksa hoped terrorism in the region would be wiped out sooner than anticipated.

Fangs of terrorism

“The deadly fangs of terrorism are spreading across the region. They threaten to disrupt peace and stability. We must combat this menace of terrorism across the broadest possible spectrum,” said the Head of Government and Chief Adviser of Bangladesh Fakhruddin Ahmed.

“Terrorism has perpetrated brutal attacks in every part of the world. We condemn the heinous terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, India and Pakistan in recent times, which caused unnecessary loss of valuable lives and property,” he added.

Bhutanese Prime Minister Lyonpo Jigmi Y. Thinley “unequivocally condemned these senseless and reprehensible acts of violence regardless of how sublime, noble and even desperate a cause may be.”

Pakistan joined other countries in condemning the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, with its Prime Minister, Makhdoom Raza Gilani, observing that terrorism had “shattered the entire value system of peoples and interferes with socio-economic development.”

Pointing out that Pakistan too had suffered from terrorism and lost the former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, in one such attack, Mr. Gilani said all countries need to fight terrorism “individually as well as collectively.”

He hoped the coming meetings of SAARC police chiefs and Home Ministers in Islamabad would focus on strengthening regional cooperation against terrorism.

Terror was the talking point

3 08 2008

Source: rediff.com

August 02, 2008 19:59 IST

The last time one woke this early for an assignment was to clear security at the White House on July 18, 2005. If you are not outside the Pearly Gates of the Western world by half past six, we were told, we could forget about being witnesses to history. There was no such incentive on Saturday morning so most of the press corps accompanying Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images] to the 15thy SAARC summit in Colombo chose to extend their residency in Noddy Land. The motley bunch who marched forth at 6.30 on a muggy morning was prepared to endure the comprehensive frisking and grilling by Sri Lankan security.

As it turned out, the checks were almost cursory. Sure, our identification was scanned to ensure that the information and photograph matched, sure cameras and laptops were x-rayed, but there was, I thought, a rather chalta hain air to the whole business. Cell phones were not scrutinised and the security personnel accepted our word for what the gizmos were. Maybe they had done all the background checks earlier, but having witnessed the non-penetrative security cover they had thrown over the seafront the previous evening and hearing colleagues’ stories about the probing searches at checkpoints, I felt kind of let down.

As I was when I spied the grand-sounding Bandaranaike Memorial International Convention Hall. Built in the style fancied by the socialists of the 1970s, it is a near clone of such structures in places like Hanoi. The innards are more Shanmukhananda Hall circa 1960s than Vigyan Bhavan. The entrance has a wall to wall painting of Sirimao Bandaranaike, the world’s first lady prime minister, with her brood, including Chandrika Kumaratunga in dual avatars, as teenager and president.

For the leaders attending the summit, it must have been a sobering experience to light the stamp and release the traditional SAARC stamp under the watchful gaze of Messrs Mao and Zhou. Now, there is one leader who would have appreciated the busts of Chinese Communism’s initial presiding deities, but the Maoist Prachanda could not be elected Nepal’s premier in time and had to forego what was apparently a trip he much desired. A summit whose primary priority is to fight terrorism launched in Mao’s shadow. What was Mahinda Rajapakse thinking?

The Sri Lankan president seemed pleased as fruit jelly during the inauguration. The gallery overlooking the main hall was filled with Colombo schoolchildren smartly dressed in their uniforms and local dignitaries who applauded enthusiastically every time their Big Chief spoke. For all his last gunfight at OK Corral image, Rajapakse is not a fire and brimstone speaker unlike his attractive predecessor or a present day Cassius like the wily J R Jayawardene who Indians remember for luring Rajiv Gandhi into the IPKF fiasco. His style is more patriarchal, his speech and manner reassuring his Sinhala flock that they have in him their saviour against the marauding LTTE [Images].

Summit inaugurals are notable not only for the direction they set for the discussions to follow, but for all the tone employed at the outset. Based on a random poll of Indian listeners at the venue, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, making his official debut at a SAARC summit, stole the show. He won Indian hearts early into his speech when he mourned the loss of Indian and Afghan lives in the July 7 bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul.

Just 26 days have passed since that horrific event, and already it has been overwhelmed by fresh murderous assaults on the way we Indians live. Only Karzai and Dr Singh referred to the Bangalore and Ahmedabad bombings though all the leaders save two — Maldives [Images] President Abdul Qayoom and caretaker Nepalese Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala — made specific references to terrorism in their speeches. For the octogenarian Koirala — who was missing for a large segment of the inaugural speeches, presumably receiving medical attention — it was a sorry hurrah. Choosing to ignore his prepared speech, Koirala spoke extempore, rambling at random, and providing reason why politicians must sometimes retire.

The next SAARC summit could have an intriguing new addition if Prachanda is elected prime minister. It is difficult to say if the Maoist will play by the rules or be combative and complicate SAARC’s current attempt to be a truly transformational grouping like ASEAN or the European Union. He will not be the only new face at the next event. The Maldives will have its first multi-party election in two months (what if the islands elect an Islamist party?); Bangladesh Chief Adviser Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed — who made a fine speech — says the long-delayed elections are scheduled for December. And, of course, the world’s largest democracy will also visit the hustings, some say as early as November.

Also making his debut at a SAARC summit was Yousuf Raza Gilani, who Pakistan Peoples Party patron Asif Zardari has chosen to be that country’s prime minister. Even though India-Pakistan relations are at its lowest ebb in four years, the body language between the two leaders before the inaugural didn’t seem hostile. Perhaps it is their non confrontational personalities, but the images beamed from the lamp lighting and stamp release ceremonies showed Gilani in pleasant chat mode with both Dr Singh and Karzai.

It must have been a difficult time thereafter for the Pakistan leader, whom Sri Lanka’s [Images] Rupvahini television channel chose to focus on every time a leader mentioned terrorism (who would have thought that even Bhutan would be affected by it? Its St Stephens-educated Prime Minister Jigme Thinley referred to terrorism’s impact on his Himalayan kingdom in his speech).

Gilani was the last leader to speak, over seven hours after the Indian media party had set out from their hotel. We were all anxious to hear if he would defend his country against charges of being a major sponsor of terrorism. The Pakistan prime minister dwelt on why South Asia must become the world’s granary, why it is important to preserve the environment, and improve people to people contact. The Afghan president — who has often blamed his eastern neighbour for his nation’s continuing troubles — shook his pencil in some irritation at Gilani’s reluctance to come to the point. Then, the reference came — in a flash of four sentences, of how Pakistan was the world’s biggest victim of terrorism and how it has cost ‘Shaheed Shehzadi’ Benazir Bhutto her life.

That was all.

Gilani, who came under sustained fire during last week’s visit to the US for the ISI’s links to terrorism, especially in Afghanistan, quickly moved on. One doesn’t recall what he said thereafter. We had lost interest.

Changing interpretations of early Indian history

30 06 2008

Changing interpretations of early Indian history

Upinder Singh

FROM: the hindu

History is not one but many stories; only a few of them have been written. The challenges to build on the advances so far are many.

The historiography of ancient and early medieval India reveals significant changes over time; these can be understood against the background of the political and intellectual contexts in which they emerged and flourished. The various ‘schools’ of history writing are often presented and understood in terms of one school making way for the other in a neat, forward progression. The reality is more complex. There was considerable variety within the schools; some of them co-existed in dialogue or conflict with one another, and there are examples of writings that go against the grain and do not fit into the dominant historiographical trends of their time.

Antiquarians’ domination

The 18th and 19th centuries were dominated by the writings of European scholars, referred to as Orientalists or Indologists, although they often described themselves as ‘antiquarians’. Many of them worked for the East India Company or the British Government of India. The founding of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1784 provided an institutional focus for scholars working in fields such as textual study, epigraphy, numismatics, and history. A major contribution of the Indologists lay in their efforts to collect, edit, and translate ancient texts. In this, they depended heavily on information provided by ‘native informants.’ Indology soon spread beyond the British empire and became a subject of study in European universities.

Apart from the study of ancient texts, the 19th century witnessed developments in epigraphy, numismatics, archaeology, and the study of art and architecture. The decipherment of Ashokan Brahmi and Kharoshthi scripts were breakthroughs. The analysis of coins contributed to the construction of a framework of political history. Officers of the Geological Survey discovered prehistoric stone tools and laid the basis of Indian prehistory. The Archaeological Survey of India, established in 1871, has over the decades made important contributions to unearthing and analysing the material remains of India’s past. The contributions and breakthroughs of the 18th and 19th centuries were rooted in a colonial context, and this is evident in certain features of Indological writing. The Brahmanical perspective of ancient Sanskrit texts was often uncritically taken as reflecting the Indian past. Social and religious institutions and traditions were critiqued from a Western viewpoint. Indian society was presented as static, and its political systems despotic, over the centuries. Race, religion, and ethnicity were confused with one another, and there was a tendency to exaggerate the impact of foreign influence on ancient India. This is when the classification of the Indian past into Hindu, Muslim, and British periods took root.

Indian scholars of the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century made major contributions to constructing a connected narrative of ancient India. These historians, who wrote against the background of an emergent, and later increasingly strong, national movement, are generally referred to as Nationalist historians. They wove together data from texts, inscriptions, coins, and other material remains to show the contours of the ancient Indian past. Contributions were made in the field of political history. South India was brought into the narrative and the study of regional polities progressed.

The nationalist tinge in these scholars’ writings can be seen in their insistence on the indigenous roots of cultural developments. It is reflected in their search for golden ages, which led to their exalting the age of the Vedas and the Gupta Empire. Non-monarchical polities were discovered and celebrated to counter the idea that India had never known anything but despotic rule. The periodisation of the Indian past into Hindu, Muslim, and British periods was, however, retained. It coalesced with a communal tendency to valorise the ‘Hindu period’ and to project the advent of the Turks and Islam as a calamity and tragedy.

The 1950s saw the emergence of Marxist historiography, which went on to play an influential role in the construction of the history of ancient and early medieval India. In the long run, the Marxist historians shifted the focus from an event-centred history dominated by political narrative to the delineation of social and economic structures and processes, especially those related to class stratification and agrarian relations. Marxist historiography contributed to uncovering the history of non-elite groups, some of which had suffered subordination and marginalisation.

While making these valuable interventions and contributions, Marxist writings often tended to work with unilinear historical models derived from Western historical and anthropological writings. Texts were sometimes read uncritically, with insufficient attention paid to their problematic chronology and peculiarities of genre. Archaeological data were included, but the basic framework of the historical narrative remained text-centric. Initially, the focus on class meant less attention to other bases of social stratification such as caste and gender. Religion and culture were sidelined, or mechanically presented as reflections of socio-economic structures.

Despite important differences, the major historiographical schools shared similarities. Certain tenets of these schools continue to thrive. Some of the fundamental premises and methods of Orientalist historiography still hold their ground, and histories of Third World countries such as India remain Eurocentric. Appeals to the ancient and early medieval past are often dictated by nationalist or communalist agendas. Marxist historiography continues to be an influential force in early Indian historiography.

A critical understanding of historiography, one that recognises the contributions and limitations of past and present ideological and theoretical frameworks, is essential to understanding where the history of ancient and early medieval India stands. However, the advances of the future are likely to be the result of questioning and thinking beyond the boundaries of existing historiographical positions and methodologies.

History is not one but many stories; only a few of them have been written. The challenges to build on the advances so far are many. Currently, there are two parallel images of ancient South Asia — one based on literary sources, the other on archaeology. Texts and archaeology generate different sorts of historical narratives and suggest different rhythms of cultural continuity, transition, and change. Historians generally use archaeological evidence selectively as a corroborative source when it matches hypotheses based on their interpretation of texts. Archaeologists have not adequately explored the historical implications of archaeological data. Correlations between literature and archaeology tend to be simplistic and devoid of reflection on methodology. We need to consider whether, given their inherent differences, textual and archaeological evidence can be integrated, or whether we should simply aim at juxtaposition.

The tradition of extracting supposedly self-evident ‘facts’ from literary sources needs to be replaced by an approach that is more sensitive to their genre, texture, and cadence. However, in view of the information and insights offered by rapidly growing archaeological data, historical narratives can no longer remain text-centric. A more sophisticated approach towards textual study has to be accompanied by an incorporation of archaeological evidence. This will lead to a more nuanced image of ancient India. It will reveal the complexities and diversities of cultural processes, and will incorporate the ordinary and everyday into our understanding of the ancient past.

Histories of early India should ideally represent the various regions and communities of the subcontinent in their diversity. However, while the heartlands of great empires and kingdoms are well represented, many regions are not. These have to be brought in. Bringing more people into history requires initiatives to uncover groups that have been subordinated and marginalised. This is not easy, given that a great proportion of the source material available to historians has been created by elite groups and reflects their ideas and interests. Nevertheless, the past of people who have been hidden from history has to be uncovered and written, and these histories must become an integral part of the narrative of the ancient Indian past. Explorations of gender, the family, and the household need to be pushed further and have to become part of larger social histories. Issues and institutions such as the family, class, varna, and jati need long-term perspectives, showing how the different bases of social identity intersected and changed over time.

India’s varied and complex cultural traditions need attention. While these continue to be the focus of research among scholars working in South Asian studies, religious studies, and art history departments abroad, they have in recent decades remained somewhat marginal to mainstream historical writing in India.

Need to enlarge debate

There is a close relationship between history and identity; the past has, therefore, always been contested terrain. In contemporary India, the ancient past is invoked in different ways in political discourse, including propaganda with chauvinistic or divisive agendas. There are debates over the state’s right to project and propagate certain interpretations of the past through school textbooks. Communities frequently take offence at things written about them in historians’ scholarly writings. In such a charged and intolerant atmosphere, there are several dangers — of the deliberate manipulation and distortion of the past to achieve political ends, of historical hypotheses being judged on the basis of their political implications rather than academic merit, and of historians being criticised for writing objective history. The need to define and enlarge a liberal academic space which nurtures level-headed dialogue and debate has perhaps never been greater.

(This article is excerpted from the Introduction of Upinder Singh’s forthcoming book, A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century, Pearson Longman, Rs. 3,500.)