ARTICLES FROM THE SUNDAY GUARDIAN
Copyright. All rights reserved. Ram Jethmalani. 2017.
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his is an appeal to the respected President of the world's most powerful democracy, and through him, with all my affection and gratitude, to those numberless American men and women who stand for freedom in the world; who know no distinctions of colour, race, religion or creed; and who believe in a religion of love, humanity and justice. True to the tradition of my country, I believe that the world should be liberated from the perennial fear of violence, terrorism and war, possibly a nuclear war.
As an ordinary citizen of Bharat, that is India, I am proud to belong to a country which long before the dawn of Greek and Roman civilisations, had produced a mighty civilisation with enviable attainments that were exposed to the West only in the 1920s, after the excavations in MohenjoDaro and Harappa. In more recent history, India has produced thinkers and philosophers who can hold their own against the most outstanding in the world.
Mr President, apart from Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore's seminal contribution to world philosophy, you are doubtless familiar with Swami Vivekananda, India's greatest cultural ambassador, and his stellar performance at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago on 11 September 1893. An impressive young man, just around 30 years old, he was representing a religion that was almost 60 centuries old. He was nervous, never having spoken before such a large and august gathering before, and in his nervousness missed his turn to speak many times. When he finally started speaking, his opening salutation to his "Sisters and Brothers of America" produced a spontaneous and unanimous two-minute ovation and deafening applause. The essence of his speech was that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written in spite of resistance, "help and not fight," "assimilation and not destruction," "harmony and peace and not dissension". At Washington, he told his audience that religion is "not an outgrowth of fear; religion is joyous. It is the spontaneous outburst of the songs of birds and the beautiful sight of the morning. It is an expression of the spirit. It is from within; an expression of the free and noble spirit." Swami Vivekananda's profoundness illuminated the Parliament of Religions, the press was full of adulation, and he became an icon for America.
Mr President, permit me to introduce myself. I was the elected chairman of the Indian Bar during India's notorious Emergency of 1975, when thousands of eminent persons in India were imprisoned arbitrarily. For fearlessly attacking the evil dictator, a warrant was issued for my arrest, but the High Court restrained its execution. Our Supreme Court, unfortunately, let the nation down by declaring judicial impotence in the matter of protecting the liberty of citizens. I escaped from India, and I am the only one Indian who has been ever granted political asylum in your country. I have since been involved in clean politics and I am perhaps the oldest Member of Parliament. I am deeply indebted to your country for having provided me refuge and means of livelihood during my exile. Two of my children and their children are loyal citizens of your country. I have never forgotten my debt of gratitude to your country, and what I write here is also a manifestation of that sentiment.
Mr President, I am a most ardent admirer of your country, for its glorious Constitution, for its human rights regime and for its solid, indestructible democracy. I admire the practice of true secularism by your Christian majority society, free from dogma and prejudice. We in India are trying hard to strengthen ourselves into a unified, secular nation, undivided by differences of caste, creed or religion. The world knows the difficult challenges we face, and in this message, I will dwell only upon the most difficult one — the mayhem and murder let loose by religious fanatics who have no understanding of the greatness and core of the religion they claim to profess and practice. I am speaking of Islam and its great Prophet.
Mr President, what happened to the US on 11 September 2001 has happened to us in November 2008 and continues to bedevil us every day of our lives. We are grateful that it is mainly your effort that rescued our friend and neighbour Afghanistan from the stranglehold of the Taliban, the Haqqani Network and the Lashkar-e-Taiba, in league, of course, with Pakistan's Internal Services Intelligence (ISI). You rid the world of a monster called Osama bin Laden.
India has fully collaborated in this to the extent of its ability. Just a few days before Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited India to attend our new Prime Minister's oath taking ceremony, our consulate in Herat, was attacked by militants belonging to LeT. Incidentally, this was the eighth attack on the Indian mission in Afghanistan.
India has made huge investments in development projects in Afghanistan and is its fifth largest development partner. As recently as May 2013, the Afghan ambassador to India, Shaida M. Abdali suggested that the two countries must sit down and discuss the contours of security and defence co-operation. India is prepared for all this, but we are terribly disturbed by your decision to completely withdraw your forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2016, starting 2014. Mr President, you would not be unaware that your decision has been criticised, not only by your Republican opposition, but also by former military officers and civilian officials, who worked for years to support your strategy, which you are now determined to end.
Responsible people in Afghanistan have made no secret of the fact that the threat of insurgency by terrorists is by no means over, and without the presence of American troops and other Nato forces, they are inadequately prepared to safeguard their security.
Mr President, we do realise that some of your countrymen desire an end to US presence in Afghanistan. But a premature exit will be a great betrayal of the people of the civilised world whose inhabitants yearn for a peaceful existence. It is true that you have promised to leave 9,800 troops in Afghanistan, but even this number will be halved by the end of 2015. The rest will be deployed in Kabul and Baghram and they too will depart by the end of 2016.
We are not cowards and we are prepared to make the sacrifices expected of us. But we respectfully and sincerely suggest the following: Please leave, if you must, but only after the forces, which can be provided by Afghanistan, India and other Asian well wishers, are adequately prepared to face the menace without your presence. The departure schedule of your forces should be linked to a periodic assessment of the efficacy of the alternatives put in place after your decision is fully executed.
You would be aware, Mr President, that your Iraq experience might repeat itself. Did not sectarian violence return to that country after US withdrawal? Your announced plan, Mr President, is already creating new hope and opportunities for the Taliban and their supporters for regrouping and destroying Afghan independence and peace in surrounding Asian states. It is most unrealistic to assume that local security forces can develop the required skills for counter terrorism and intelligence gathering, military superiority or air power, after your departure.
Marine General James N. Mattis has already advised that US and Afghan military leaders would have preferred the American announcement to have been a bit more ambiguous. He has criticised what he considers is your telegram to the enemy that your forces would quit the combat. This highly experienced expert has clearly questioned the ability of the local forces to conduct counter terrorism operations from 2017. He has warned that there is a serious risk that Al Qaeda will repopulate Afghanistan and resume attacks against the United States and certainly against India's forces and the development partnership. Responsible members of the American Senate like James Inhofe have clearly warned that the US cannot afford to repeat the mistakes they committed in Iraq.
Mr President, our Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his recent trip to your country is known to have requested you on the same lines. Do not repeat the mistake of Iraq. The US withdrawal process from Afghanistan should be gradual and phased out, commensurate with Afghanistan government's capacity to fight the Taliban and prevent it from raising its head again. Renowned Pakistani journalist Ahmad Rashid has called your withdrawal plan "catastrophically wrong" and has predicted that it will almost certainly mean the relapse of Afghanistan into civil war and the emergence of groups even more extreme than the Taliban.
Lastly, Mr President, I'm sure you recognise that India is part of the solution and the Pakistan army is a part of the problem. Do not surrender to Pakistan's fiction of "good Taliban" and "Bad Taliban", the tragedy of which they themselves have experienced very recently. And surely, you are aware of the role of the "good Taliban" in the attacks on the Indian embassy in Kabul in 2008.
Harsh V. Pant, ends his highly readable book India's Afghan Muddle with a passage from Alexis de Tocqueville, the great French political thinker: "When the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness." He cautions our policymakers that India will certainly be surrounded by darkness if they do not learn from the past and shape a different future for Afghanistan, India and the region.
Mr President, de Tocqueville is very dear to both America and India. We must heed his words with great seriousness.