Thursday, December 18, 2008
Mir Samir and ascent of P500. After years when it was too dangerous to enter the mountains of Afghanistan, New Zealander Bob McKerrow and Englishmen Ian Clarke and Jon Tinker headed for Mir Samir in the Hindu Kush. McKerrow is head of the International Red Cross in Afghanistan and Clarke is a former Royal Marie, now head of the Halo Trust mine clearance organisation in Afghanistan. Tinker has worked in the country a number of times in the last seven years.The three climbers set out from Kabaul on September 23, 1994, acclimatizing near the Salang Pass before setting out for Parian in the upper Panjchir.
Acclimatizing near the Salang Pass. Bob McKerrow on ski. Photo: Bob McKerrow
There four horses were hired to carry food and equipment up the Chamar valley to base camp at 3,400 m.Clarke's skills were put to the test when the saw air-dropped scatterable anti-personnel mines.They established a high camp at 4,300 m on September 29.Because of the deep snow, the two Englishmen made slow progress the next day to bivouac at 4,900 meters on an unclimbed snow route on the southwest face of Mir Samir. On October 1 they made a summit attempt.but unseasonable deep snow turned the back at 5200 meters, soime 600 meters from the summit. While Clarke and Tinker were climbing Mir Samir, McKerrow climbed an unclimbed peak at approximately 5000 metres, a prominent feature when viewed from the Chamar Valley
Eric Newby on their attempt on Mir Samir in 1956. Here is an extract from his obituary in the New York Times, October 24, 2006
Fifty years ago, in the summer of 1956, Mr. Newby set out on the trip that would make him famous: a voyage by station wagon, foot and horseback to climb Mir Samir, a 20,000-foot peak in Nuristan, a wild region in northeastern Afghanistan. The fact that he had never climbed a mountain did not deter him in the slightest.
Mr. Newby chronicled the trip in “A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush,” published in Britain by Secker & Warburg in 1958 and in the United States by Doubleday the next year. As in all his work, the narrative was marked by genial self-effacement and overwhelming understatement.
Reviewing the book in The New York Times Book Review in 1959, William O. Douglas, a noted travel memoirist who by day was a justice of the United States Supreme Court, called the book “a chatty, humorous and perceptive account.”
He added: “Even the unsanitary hotel accommodations, the infected drinking water, the unpalatable food, the inevitable dysentery are lively, amusing, laughable episodes.”
Monday, December 15, 2008
Orogenic processes are still active as evidenced by seismic vibrations taking place in Af-ghanistan's mountains, in particular in the eastern part of the Hindu Kush and its foothills. Kabul lies in a most active seismic zone.
Due to a diversified geological structure Afghanistan is quite rich in mineral resources, which include deposits of uranium, crude oil, gas, iron ore, copper, chromium, zinc and lead, beryl, barite as well as gold, precious and semi-precious stones.
The relief of the high Afghan mountains is youthful; narrow valleys and steep, rugged peaks are there characteristic features; in many places the effect of glaciers is evident. To the west the mountains become lower and their slopes gentler, they often turn into plateaus with the surrounding peaks protruding above them. In a dry climate the steep peaks are well preserved, but the slopes are covered by the weathered rock. The valleys are often closed by alluvial cones, while numerous faults are clearly marked in the relief. Dunes of wandering sands have developed in the sand deserts (National Atlas of DR of Afghanistan)
For centuries Afghanistan has been known for its quality gemstones, particularly lapis lazuli. However in recent years, there have been significant finds of fine emeralds, tourmaline, kun-zite and very recently, rubies.
Emeralds come mainly from the Panjshir valley. Considerably quantities of blue, pink and green tourmaline, as well as significant amounts of kunzite and some aquamarine, have been taken from the pegmatites of the Nuristan region. Smaller quantities of fine ruby have been discovered in the Sarobi area. In addition, there have been small finds of garnet, amethyst, spinel and morganite.
An expert on Afghan Gems, Gary Bowersox, from Honolulu, Hawaii, believes the prospects for future production of emeralds and pegmatite gems, are excellent.
Most of the recently produced gems have come from the north-eastern part of Afghanistan, Badakhshan, Kunar, Laghman, Kabul and Nangahar provinces. In recent years the Hindu Kush and Karakoram range in Pakistan have yeilded spectacular finds of gemstones. These gem bearing regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan "are located in one of the most geologically dynamic regions of the world - at the juncture along which the Indo-Pakistan and Asian crustal plates collided to give rise to the Himalayas. The geology of this region is quite com-plex, and it has been investigated in detail only recently.These investigations indicate that the Hindu Kush area represents the western end of a succession on important gem-producing re-gions that stretch all along the Himalayas through Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, and into Burma. " A Status Report on gemstones From Afghanistan. by Gary Bowersox. Gems and Gemology Winter 1985 Due to the insecurity and remote of these sites in Afghanistan most of the gems are smuggled across the border into Pakistan's north-west frontier province.
The soils in the high mountains are desert-steppe or meadow-steppe; in the river valleys the
soils are alluvial or meadow-alluvial: Serozems and brown desert soils cover large portions of the country in the north and south; loess is also found in the north. The deserts are covered by sand and regs.
Afghanistan's vegitation is mostly that typical of semi-deserts and steppes. Ephemerid vegeta-tion grows in the sandy semi-deserts and halophilous vegetation is found in the salt semi-deserts. the most common trees on more humid soils are oaks, ashes, willows, poplars, planes and fruits trees in orcahrds. Forests of the Himalyan type, including evergreen oak woods, grow in the borderland between Afghanistan and pakistan (in Nuristan and Paktia) lying at an altitude up to 2400m above sea level. Pines, spruces and cedars grow at an altitude of 3500m. Alpine meadows extend above that level. The slopes of the Tirbandi Turkistan are covered by pistachio woods.
The fauna of Afghanistan is similar to that of Central Asia and the Mediterranean sub-kingdom of Palaeoarctica. Beast of prey, like the snow leopard, the brown bear, the wolf, the striped hyena, the jackal, the fox live in the mountains. Hoofed mammals are represented by Marco Polo sheep, the goitered gazelle and the ibex. Numerous species of birds, rodents, rep-tiles and amphibians have been recorded. There are also many insects
Afghanistan has mainly a dry, continental climate. The amplitude of temperature between day and night is very large. The great variety of terrain elevation results in different climatic types. Areas, such as north-eastern and central Afghanistan, lying over 2,400 m have long winters (over 6 months). at an altitude of 1300-2400m (eg the zone of Kabul) the climate is temperate or almost temperate, four seasons are clearly marked, and annual precipitation is up to 400mm.
The zone at an altitude between 900 and 1300m is characterized by hot summers and annual precipitation below 200 mm. In areas lying at an altitude below 900 m it is less than 100 mm and the climate is dry and hot. Some small portions in the country's east (Jalalabad, Xost) are influenced by south-eastern monsoons and the climate is subtropical. the highest temperature was recorded in Zaranj (51oC,) the lowest in Sharak (-52.2oC) The higest amount of precipi-tation (1212 mm) was noted on the station Salangi Samali, the lowest was measured in Zaranj (34 mm)
In 1996 when the author was working in Afghanistan, he noticed climate change was having an effect on Afghanistan's weather patterns. Here is a quote from the New York Times:
The arrival of spring each year melts the snow on the vast Hindu Kush mountain range, causing rivers to swell and burst their banks. But this year, the heavy rains have combined to produce the worst flooding for decades.
Afghanistan, torn by 17 years of civil war, has no functioning central Government, with parts of the country controlled by various warring Islamic factions. Deforestation, poor water management and over-grazing are blamed for the ecological problem.
"We are seeing provinces, which were once rich in forests, virtually stripped down to nothing," Mr. McKerrow said. "Grasses and alpine vegetation have been removed because people are either grazing or ploughing right up to the snowline."
"The whole Hindu-Kush is being denuded of forest cover," he added. "The mountains can no longer cope." Global warming, he said, had changed Afghanistan's weather patterns, producing unseasonal rain. In Badakshan, it has rained continuously for three months.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Hsuan Tsang was the last traveller to record Afghanistan before the coming of Islam. Up un-til his visit. "the cycle of invasion, expansion, and decline had been regular, as one empire succeeded another in the virile north, only to dissipate its resources of strength in the vast enervating plains of India," wrote Fraser-Tytler. However while Hsuan Tsang was writing about the peaceful Kabul valley, in the middle if the seventh century, Arabs carrying the new and zealous faith of Islam reached Persia and an-other group coming from Basra reached Sistan and soon took control of large part of Western and south Afghanistan and the ruling Sassanians suffered a major defeat in 642. However from the north came equally commited Turkish Moslems and conflict grew between the two races. The approached Kabul via Kandahar and Ghazni, where they fought zealous defenders, who put up brave resistance. However Kabul was stoutly defending itself from the Moslem invaders under the leadership of a Turkish King, known by many names including Kabul Shahi, Turki Shahi or the Ratbil Shahan. The King had been partly Hinduised and fought gallantly against the Moslem invaders, resisting so strongly that their epics are recorded in Islamic literature.Kabul, mountain fortress capital of the Hindu Kush, was finally captured in 664 after a full year of siege.This clash between Arabs and Turks wasn't settled until the middle of the eighth century under the Turkish General Abu Muslim who brought stability to the regions of the Hindu Kush. However in the next 100 years the combined influence of the Arabs and Turks succeeded in dominating the old faiths, particularly Bhuddism, except for that pocket of resistance in Kafirstan where their animist beliefs remained.A rather peaceful period followed under the Caliph Harun-al-Rashid (785-809) and his son Mamun who encouraged the arts and sciences flourished and Merv and Samarkand. There fol-lowed an unsettled period when the Saminids extended their influence across to India, but as their influence declined, Hinduism challenged the Moslem faith and appeared for the last time in the Kabul Valley. From the Kabul valley the ruler of the Punjab, Jaipal pushed his religious doctrine towards Ghazni, he met a rising Islamic dynasty which was to change the course of history. King or Sultan Mahmud. Although the Arab conquistadors had brought Is-lam to the Sind region of India some three hundred years before, it never spread.King Mahmud (Turk)of Ghazni was a strong leader and in words of Fraser Tytler, whose iconoclastic zeal was to carry fire and sword deep into Hindu India and to pave the way for the domination of his Islamic successors.But like so many rulers, on his death the dynasty faltered, and was taken over by the Turks. Then we see the short domination of the mountain people from south-east of Herat who established the House of Ghor and who dominated the twelfth century and their territory stretched well into India and ruled the much coverted Delhi.. At the beginning of the 13th century a new race came to Afghanistan from eastern shores of the Caspian Sea, they were the Khwarizm, a Turkish race.. They established a Kingdom in Bamian and from there ruled Kabul. This peaceful time didn't last long before the heart of central Asia was ripped out by Genghis Khan and his Mongol hoardes who came from the north of China and by 1218 AD reached Central Asia.
GENGHIS KHAN - An apostle of extremes.Ghengis Khan with 100,000 mounted mehad reached Balkh by 1220 destroying everything and everyone in their wake. Jalal-ad-Din, the son of Sultan Muhammad who ruled the Kha-warizm empire, from Ghazni, managed to unite many tribes from the area and decided to defend against the invading Mongols. He advanced to the confluence of the Panjshir and Ghorband Rivers where a bloody battle ensued against Genghis Khan and his army of 30,000 skilled horsemen. Imagine the scene, 30,000 wild mongol horsemen on one side of the Panjcher River lusting for blood and on the other a more civilised army recently brought together. The beginning of the 13th century saw sweeping changes in Central Asia - not to mention Russia - for this was the time of the great Mongol migration. Unlike the Scythians, Sarma-tians, Huns and Turks who preceded them, these barbarians who erupted from the far-off borders of Manchuria were of an entirely different race. Round-headed, yellow-skinned, with slanting eyes and high cheek-bones, they were related to the peoples of northern China and Korea, although they spoke a Turkic language. They were also indescribably dirty and malodorous, for water was something they regarded as too precious to be waster on personal hygiene. They were not a hirsute people, but so infested were they with lice that their chests ap-peared to be thickly covered in hair.The astonishing conquests of Ghenghis Khan swept aside several empires and innumerable petty kingdoms, and brought all countries from the Black Sea to the Yellow Sea under direct Mongol control by the end of the first quarter of the thirteenth century. The unstoppable Mongol tide continued under his successors. Baghdad fell in 1258, the Sung capital of Hang-chow on 1276. In Europe the Mongol empire-the largest in history-extended as far as Poland and Hungary, taking in most of Russia on the way.The Mongols had been completely unlettered but now, with the help of the astute, Eastern Turks, they set about writing their own language down, using the Uighur script. This fruitful collaboration, accom-panied by intermarriage, was in time to produce a new hybrid master race and a new world leader, Tamerlane, but in the meantime a Mongol emperor sat on the illustrious throne of China and entertained curios visitors from distant Europe. Kublai Khan, grandson of Ghenghis, had become the Great Khan, or Chief of all the Mongol clans, in 1260. Karakoram, in Mongolia, was the headquarters of the huge empire, to which all clan leaders were summoned periodically etc etc. p 12Chingis Khaan Ghengis Khan Kublai Khan (grandson of Gheghis Khan)In 1218 Ghneghis Khan invades transoxiana 1227 he dies in 1996 (Christchurch Press) 2 Jan 1996, said: While other media groups were naming their man of the year, the "Washington Post" was thinking big yesterday and going right for the "Man of the Millennium", And the winner is...Genghis Khan.the newspaper gave the nod to the 13th century Mongol conqueror as "an apostle of extremes..who embodies the half-civilised, half-savage duality of the human race."
MARCO POLO 1256-1324
When on his death bed, friends asked Marco to "correct the book by removing everything that was not actual fact. To which he replied that he had not told one-half of what he really had seen."Most of this is from The Travels of Marco Polo, translated by John Frampton. Editor.N.M. Penzer, MA FRGS, 1929, The Argonaut Press, London. Includes recent in-formation provided by Aurel Stein and Sven Hedin and others. Clears up earlier confusion on his route through Afghanistan.In 1299 a remarkable book was published in Italy that stirred much of Europe and aroused in-terest in the mysterious lands of the Orient. With the all encompassing title "The Description of the World", an enticing prologue written by an Italian writer Rustichello of Pisa, announced what the great Venetian traveller, Marco Polo, had done in the past quarter century."It must be known then that from the creation of Adam to the present day, no man, whether pagan, or Saracen, or Christian, or other, of whatever progeny or generation he may have been, ever saw or inquired into so many and such great things as Marco Polo.The book described Polo's travels covering 24 years and 20,000 miles (change to km). Young Marco was barely 15 years of age when he left Venice in 1271 with his father Niccolo and uncle Maffeo.Sailed from Venice to Turkey, and headed overland. Mt Araat, three Magi Tombs in Persia, oil near the Capsian Sea and comes via Tun and Kain in modern-day Khorasan province of Iran to Afghanistan Route through Afghanistan: Crosses from Persia in the Nemeksar ( Salt Namaskar's in Herat province) Herat, or some other place near or in the Paropamisus range Firuz-Kuh (Firozkohi)-Band-i-Turkestan - Maimana - Sapurgan (Shibarghan). From Sapurgan Polo went to Balc (Balkh), the "Baldach" of Frampton; thence to Dograna, the idetification of which is still uncertain...then to Kunduz andTalikan. Three days from Talikan to Kishm, and three more days from Kishm to Badakshan. Polo travels E.N.E. for 12 days to Vokhan (Wakhan), and thence another 3 days north-east to the plain of the great Pa-mir. The French text merely tell us that Polo found a fine river running through a plain, but Rasmusio also mention "a great lake." This could be either Lake Victoria or Lake Chakmak, but it is probably the former (see Stein, Innermost Asia, Vol II pp 858 et seq., also Ancient Khotan, Vol 1 pp. 30 et seq.; and Serindia, Vol 1. p 65. He now describes a twelve days' de-sert ride across the plain, followed by another 40 days of continuous desert tracts without any green thing to relieve the dreariness and monotony. To this country he gave the name of Bolor.In the Frampton Elizabethan translation of the Travels of Marco Polo he writes of great detail about the "Citie of Baldach", known now as Balkh, Sempergayme (aslo refrred to other writ-ers as Sapurgan, but is modern day Shibergan Thaychan, (Talikan), Ballafia, (Badashan, now modern day Badakhshan) Vochaym or Vokhayn(Wakhann) mountaine called Plauor, his first reference to the Pamir (check p 181)Gian Battista Ramusio published two versions of Marco Polos travels in 1550 and 1556, which was translated by Marsden in 1818, gives greater detail on Balashan, (Badakhshan)
The Mogul Empire (AD 1504-1747) Babur Zahiru'd- din Muhammad Babur Padshah Ghazi, popularly known as Babur, was the first of the Moghul rulers In his memoirs, ' Babu-Nama' which he wrote in Turki, he reveals his ex-tensive knowledge of the mountains of Central Asia, particularly Afghanistan.Barbur was born in Farghana in 1483 and was a descendent of Tamerlane's third son.. His bi-ographer describes his race as Turk and later refers to him being Uzbek -Turk . By the fif-teenth century both Turks and Mongols had been interrmixing for some time.He described his birth place thus:Farghana is situated in the fifth climate and at the limit of settled habitation. On the east it has Kashgar; on the west, Samarkand; on the south, the mountains of Badakshan border; on the north, though in former times there must have been towns such as Almaligh. Almatu and Yangi, which they write Taraz, at the present time all is desolate, no settled population what-ever remaining, because of the Mughuls and the Auzbegs. In June 1494 at the age of 12, Babur became the ruler of Farghana. For the next seven years he struggled to take the alluring city of Samarkand, Timur's former capital. .In 1500 at the age of 19 Babur took Samarkand and a year later loses through unreliable friends and ruthless op-ponents thwarted his desire to hold it long termDuring these apprenticeship years, he travelled extensively and these journeys equipped him for the arduous life ahead. In the opening section of his autobiography his reference points are mountains. "Farghana is a small country,... It is girt round by mountains except on the west..and refers to local mountains Bara Koh . He frequently refers to the his southern refer-ence points the mountains of Badakshan and later ... " In the mountains round Farghana are excellent summer-pastures (yilaq) In late August 1500, Babur left the town of Kesh and travels over one of the most difficult passes en route to AuratipaNext we were for going up the valley of the Kam torrent and over the Sara-taq pass (da-ban)...we entered a valley and made our way up it. On its steep and narrow roads and at its sharp and preciptitous saddles many horses and camels were left. Before we reached the Sara-taq pass we had (in 25m.) to make three or four night halts. A pass! and what a pass! Never was such a steep and narrow pass seen; never were traversed such ravines and preci-pices. Those dangerous narrows and sudden falls, those perilous heights and knife edge sad-dles, we got through with much difficulty and suffering, with countless hardships and miser-ies.In the summer of 1504 at the age of 22, Babur left his homeland hoping to join his uncle Husain Beg Baiqara, the ruler Herat the leading Asian city in art, literature, philosophy and religion. On leaving his homeland he describes that poignant moment."Those who. hoping in me, went with me into exile, were, small and great, between 2 and 300; they were almost on foot, had walking staves in their hands, brogues on their feet, and long coats on their shoulders. So destitute were we that we had but two tents (chadar) amongst us; my own used to be pitched for my mother, and they set an alachug at each stage for me to sit in."He crossed the Oxus in June and regained hope in Hisar country when he learns that the cow-ardly and aging ruler Khusrau Shah is losing control of his territory. Nearly all the followers of Khusrau Shah join Babur as he changes plans from visiting Herat and decides to head for Kabul.Babur makes his first crossing of the Hindu Kush in Autumn 1504 via the Qipchak (Cha-hardar) Pass from the Surkhab River and descended into the Ghorband Valley. He soon takes Kabul Typical is his section on Mountain Passes into Kabul:The country of Kabul is a fastness hard for foreign foe to make his way into.The Hindu Kush mountains, which separate Kabul from Balkh, Qunduz and Badakhshan, are crossed by seven roads. Three of these lead out of Panjshir, viz. Khawak, the uppermost Tul, the next lower, and Bazarak. Of the passes on them, the one on the Tul road is the best, but the road itself is rather the longest whence, seemingly, it is called Tul. Bazarak is the most di-rect; like the Tul, it leads over into Sar-i-rab; as it passes through Parandi, local people call its main pass, the Parandi. Another road leads up through Parwan; it has seven minor passes, known as Haft-bacha (Seven-younglings), between the main pass (Baj-gah). It is joinded at its main pass by two roads from Andar-ab, which go on to Parwan by it. This is a road full of dif-ficulties. Out of Ghur-bund, again, three roads lead over. The next one to Parwan, known as the Yang-yul pass (New-road), goes through Walian to Khinjan; next above this is the Qip-chaq road, crossing to where the water of Andar-ab meets meets the Surkh-ab (Qizil-su); this also is an excellent road; and the third leads over the Shibr-tu; those crossing by this in the heats take their way by Bamian and Saighan, but those crossing it in winter, go on by Ab-dara (Water valley). Shibr-tu excepted, all the Hindu-kush roads are closed for three or four months in winter, because no road through a vally-bottom is passable when the water are high. If any-one thinks to cross the Hindu-kush at that time, over the mountains instead of through a valley-bottom, is journey is hard indeed. The time to cross is the three of four au-tumn months when the snow is less and the water are low. Whether on mountains or in the valley-bottoms, Kafir highwaymen are not few.The road from Kabul into Khurasan passes through Qandahar, it is quite level without a pass.Four roads leads into Kabul from the Hindustan side; one by a rather low pass through the Khaibar mountains, another by way of Bangash, another by way of Naghr (var. Naghz), and another through Farmul;; the passes being low also in the three last-named.In his book Babur-Nama he describes with great details his favourite city Kabul, the moun-tains, routes and passes, flora, fauna, the ethic tribes. Of Kabul he says, " It has a very pleasant climate; if the world has another so pleasant, it is not known. Even in the heats, one cannot sleep at nights without a fur-coat. Although the snow in most places lies deep in winter, the cold is not excessive...."Baburs travels in the mountain are legendary. In May 1506 he set out to fight the Uzbeks in the north and goes via the Ghorband valley over the Shibr-tu Pass , then the pass of the Little-Dome (Gumbazak-kutal) through Saighan then over the Dandan-Shikan Pass and camped in the meadows of Kahmard. Bibaur then moves to Khurasan via the Ajar valley and crosses the upper Balkh river at Balkh-Ab. Camps awhile at Saf Hill to Gorziwan, Almar, Qaisar, Chechaktu. Morghab to the Bam Valley.After meeting various rulers in the region he travelled to Herat an enjoys the spectacle and splendid architecture created by his forebears. Although persuded to stay the winter in the Herat region, Babur decides to head back to Kabul because he was worried that some of his enemys might vtake the city in his absence. The winter came and heavy snow feel on the moungtains between Herat and Kabul. On Dec 24 1506, Babur left Herat and was soon con-fronted by a sheet of snow from Khwajagan and as he got near to Chachcharan, the snow was above the horses knees. The story becomes a mountain travellers nightmare. Chest deep snow, progress 2 miles a day, frostbitten hands and feet. Babur writes:" Much misery and hardship were endured in those few days, more than at any time of my life. In that stress I composed the following opening couplet:Is there one cruel turn of Fortune's wheel unseen of me ?Is there a pang, a grief my wounded heart has missed.For nearly w eek Babur and a his tough band of men stamped chest-deep snow down for 6 or 7 metres, before being exhausted. then the lead would change After 10 to 20 men had stamped the snow, the horses would be led. After a few steps the horse would sink up to the stirrups. After four days the got out of that depressing place and reached a large cave below the Zirrin Pass.In 1525, he left Kabul for India and from then on Delhi and Agra became his capitals. He never lost his love for Kabul and requested that on his death, he be buried there. He was bur-ied on the western slopes of the mountain called Sher-i- Darwaza.Later "In India, meanwhile, Babur's grandson - the Emperor Akbar- was bringing Mogul rule to its zenith. By the end of the sixteenth cebtury he had established a sound administrative framework, while peerless cities like Agra and fatepur Sikri claimed the artistic glories of his reign. Far away in London, however, the East India Company was founded in 1600, with profound implications for the future of the sub-comtinent.
Posted by Bob McKerrow at 3:39 AM
Saturday, December 6, 2008
Monday, December 1, 2008
I LIVED IN NEW DELHI FOR SIX YEARS AND GOT TO KNOW WILLIAM DALRYMPLE. OUR BOYS WERE IN THE SAME CLASS AT THE bRITISH SCHOOL. I HAVE FOLLOWED WILLIAM'S WRITING WITH GREAT INTEREST AND FEEL THIS ARTICLE PUBLISHED IN THE OBSERVER ON 30 NOVEMBER, ANSWERS A FEW QUESTIONS MANY OF US STILL HAVE ABOUT THE MUMBAI'S ATROCITIES.
The Observer, Sunday November 30 2008
Three weeks ago, in the Kashmiri capital of Srinagar, I met a young surgeon named Dr Iqbal Saleem. Iqbal described to me how on 11 August this year, Indian security forces entered the hospital where he was fighting to save the lives of unarmed civilian protesters who had been shot earlier that day by the Indian army. The operating theatre had been tear-gassed and the wards riddled with bullets, creating panic and injuring several of the nurses. Iqbal had trained at the Apollo hospital in Delhi and said he harboured no hatred against Hindus or Indians. But the incident had profoundly disgusted him and the unrepentant actions of the security forces, combined with the indifference of the Indian media, had convinced him that Kashmir needed its independence.
I thought back to this conversation last week, when news came in that the murderous attackers of Mumbai had brutally assaulted the city's hospitals in addition to the more obvious Islamist targets of five-star hotels, Jewish centres and cafes frequented by Americans and Brits. Since then, the links between the Mumbai attacks and the separatist struggle in Kashmir have become ever more explicit. There now seems to be a growing consensus that the operation is linked to the Pakistan-based jihadi outfit, Lashkar-e-Taiba, whose leader, Hafiz Muhammad Sayeed, operates openly from his base at Muridhke outside Lahore.
This probable Pakistani origin of the Mumbai attacks, and the links to Kashmir-focused jihadi groups, means that the horrific events have to be seen in the context of the wider disaster of Western policy in the region since 9/11. The abject failure of the Bush administration to woo the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan away from the Islamists and, instead, managing to convince many of them of the hostility of the West towards all Muslim aspirations, has now led to a gathering catastrophe in Afghanistan where the once-hated Taliban are now again at the gates of Kabul.
Meanwhile, the blowback from that Afghan conflict in Pakistan has meant that Asif Ali Zardari's government has now lost control of much of the North West Frontier Province, in addition to the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas, while religious and political extremism flourishes as never before.
Pakistan's most intractable problem remains the relationship of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) over the last 25 years with myriad jihadi groups. Once, the ISI believed that they could use jihadis for their own ends, but the Islamists have increasingly followed their own agendas, to the extent that they now feel capable of launching well-equipped and well-trained armies into Indian territory, as happened so dramatically in Mumbai.
Visiting Pakistan last week, it was clear that much of the north of the country was slipping out of government control. While it is unlikely that Zardari's government had any direct link to the Mumbai attacks, there is every reason to believe that its failure effectively to crack down on the country's jihadi network, and its equivocation with figures such as Hafiz Muhammad Syed, means that atrocities of the kind we saw last week are likely to continue.
India meanwhile continues to make matters worse by its ill-treatment of the people of Kashmir, which has handed to the jihadis an entire generation of educated, angry middle-class Muslims. One of the clean-shaven boys who attacked CST railway station - now named by the Indian media as Mohammad Ajmal Mohammad Amin Kasab, from Faridkot in the Pakistani Punjab - was wearing a Versace T-shirt. The other boys in the operation wore jeans and Nikes and were described by eyewitnesses as chikna or well-off. These were not poor, madrasah-educated Pakistanis from the villages, brainwashed by mullahs, but angry and well-educated, middle-class kids furious at the gross injustice they perceive being done to Muslims by Israel, the US, the UK and India in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kashmir respectively.
If Israel's treatment of the Palestinians is the most emotive issue for Muslims in the Middle East, then India's treatment of the people of Kashmir plays a similar role among South-Asian Muslims. At the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, the state should logically have gone to Pakistan. However, the pro-Indian sympathies of the state's Hindu Maharajah, as well as the Kashmiri origins of the Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, led to the state passing instead to India - on the condition that the Kashmiris retained a degree of autonomy.
Successive Indian governments, however, refused to honour their constitutional commitments to the state. The referendum, promised by Nehru at the UN, on whether the state would remain part of India, was never held. Following the shameless rigging of the 1987 local elections, Kashmiri leaders went underground. Soon after, bombings and assassination began, assisted by Pakistan's ISI which ramped up the conflict by sending over the border thousands of heavily armed jihadis.
India, meanwhile, responded with great brutality to the insurgency. Half-a-million Indian soldiers and paramilitaries were dispatched to garrison the valley. There were mass arrests and much violence against ordinary civilians, little of which was ever investigated, either by the government or the Indian media. Two torture centres were set up - Papa 1 and Papa 2 - into which large numbers of local people would 'disappear'. In all, some 70,000 people have now lost their lives in the conflict. India and Pakistan have fought three inconclusive wars over Kashmir, while a fourth mini-war came alarmingly close to igniting a nuclear exchange between the two countries in 1999. Now, after the Mumbai attacks, Kashmir looks likely to derail yet again the burgeoning peace process between India and Pakistan.
Kashmir continues to divide the establishment of Pakistan more than any other issue. Zardari might publicly announce that he doesn't want to let Kashmir get in the way of improved relations between India and Pakistan, but Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is officially banned, continues to function under the name of Jama'at al-Dawa, and Hafiz Muhammad Sayeed continues openly to incite strikes against Indian and Western targets. At one recent meeting, he proclaimed that 'Christians, Jews and Hindus are enemies of Islam' and added that it was the aim of the Lashkar to 'unfurl the green flag of Islam in Washington, Tel Aviv and New Delhi'.
Sayeed also proclaims that the former princely state of what he calls 'Hyderabad Deccan' is also a part of Pakistan, which may explain the claim of responsibility for the attacks by a previously unknown group named the Deccan Mujahideen. It is clear Sayeed appears to operate with a measure of patronage from the Pakistani establishment and the Zardari government recently cleared the purchase of a bulletproof Land Cruiser for him. When Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, was yesterday asked on Indian TV whether Pakistan would now arrest Sayeed, he dodged the question answering: 'We have to recognise that there are elements in every society that can act on their own.'
In the months ahead, we are likely to see a security crackdown in India and huge pressure applied to Pakistan to match its pro-Indian and pro-Western rhetoric with real action against the country's jihadi groups. But there is unlikely to be peace in South Asia until the demands of the Kashmiris are in some measure addressed and the swamp of grievance in Srinagar somehow drained. Until then, the Mumbai massacres may be a harbinger of more violence to come.
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