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Tariq Ali Speaks

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  • Sukla Sen
    Himal South Asian January 2006 INTERVIEW WITH TARIQ ALI Tariq Ali, editor of the New Left Review, is a leading intellectual and a veteran political activist. A
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 31, 2006
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      Himal South Asian
      January 2006

      INTERVIEW WITH TARIQ ALI


      Tariq Ali, editor of the New Left Review, is a leading
      intellectual and
      a veteran political activist. A forceful critic of
      imperialism,
      religious fundamentalism and, in recent times, the
      'war on terror', Ali
      has consistently sought to expose structures of power
      and dominance. He
      has written over a dozen books including, Can Pakistan
      survive, The
      Nehrus and the Gandhis, Pakistan: Military rule or
      people’s power, The
      Clash of Fundamentalism, Bush in Babylon: The
      Recolonisation of Iraq.

      The grandson of a prominent politician of Punjab, Ali
      became interested
      in public issues early in life. Banned from
      participating in student
      politics in 1960s by the Pakistani military
      dictatorship, he moved to
      Britain to study politics, philosophy and economics at
      Oxford. His
      interest in political activism grew and, in 1965, he
      was elected the
      president of the Oxford University Students' Union.
      Three years later,
      Ali led a massive protest march in central London to
      oppose the
      American
      intervention in Vietnam.

      With his continuing opposition to ‘global
      imperialism,’ Ali remains the
      most prominent figure of the anti-war movement in
      Britain. He is the
      vice-president of the Stop the War Coalition, whose
      call for protests
      prior to the Iraq invasion saw more than one and half
      million people on
      the streets of London. This was the biggest
      demonstration in the
      history
      of Britain.

      Ali’s recent book Rough Music:
      Blair/Bombs/Baghdad/London/Terror was
      written in response to the political crisis in Britain
      following the
      Iraq war and the July terror attacks in London. With
      three of the four
      bombers of Pakistani descent, Britain's 1.6 million
      Muslims, of which
      two-thirds are of Southasian origin, have increasingly
      become the focus
      of political discourse - their loyalties under the
      scanner, their
      rights
      curbed.

      Tariq Ali spoke to Subindra Bogati at his London
      residence about a
      range
      of issues including repercussions of the London
      bombings, the Iraq war
      and resistance, Iran, and the Kashmir issue.

      Persons of Pakistani descent are believed to have been
      involved in the
      carnage. What will be the repercussion on Islam and
      Muslims of
      Southasian origin?
      Well, I don’t think the London bombing has too much to
      do with Islam.
      They were carried out by young Muslims. As one of the
      suspects who was
      arrested in Italy confessed, when they were thinking
      about actions like
      this, they were not reading the Holy Quran or theology
      but were
      watching
      the tapes of what Americans had done to the Iraqi town
      of Fallujah. And
      they were watching the deaths of innocents in Iraq
      brought about by the
      result of the British and American occupation in Iraq.
      That is what
      motivated them.

      Everyone knows the London bombings were a direct
      result of Blair’s
      decision to go to war in Iraq. Blair’s re-election in
      Britain made
      these
      young people completely desperate and crazy. They
      carried out this act
      of senseless carnage to show their anger and ended up
      taking the lives
      of many innocent civilians as well as their own.

      After 9/11 and London bombings, some Western
      commentators and scholars
      are arguing that Islam as a religion is
      fundamentalist.
      The notion that there is a problem within Islam, I
      find unacceptable.
      The real problem is with groups that US worked with,
      bred and cared
      for,
      and broke with after the first Gulf War. Of course, I
      totally disagree
      with Osama Bin Laden and others like him. You have to
      study what they
      say. And what they say is their fight with United
      States began after
      America sent troops to occupy Saudi Arabia after the
      Gulf War. That is
      when the problem began. So, it is a political problem.
      They use Islamic
      theology and Islamic teachings as a mask to fulfill
      their political
      aims.

      How will the violent and non-violent resistance in
      Iraq affect the
      future of the US occupation?
      First and foremost, it is the armed resistance that
      has made the
      occupation untenable. If there had been no resistance
      to the occupation
      of a sovereign independent Arab country, the West
      would have got a big
      victory and probably gone on to invade other
      countries, or used the
      occupation of Iraq as a pressure mechanism to bring
      about regime change
      elsewhere. That has failed. Then, you have growing
      political resistance
      by trade unionists, by ordinary people who don’t like
      the occupation
      and
      who also want to bring an end to the violence.

      People in the Western media talk about a specific
      situation where Shias
      and Sunnis are trying to divide Iraq into narrow
      religious ethnic
      groups. But it is important to remember that the Shia
      community in
      Iraq,
      which is very large and comprises 60 to 65 per cent of
      the population,
      has always been divided politically. They don’t agree
      with each other.
      One faction of the Shias is manipulated by Tehran and
      does their
      bidding, while you have other large groups of Shias
      who are
      independent-minded and call themselves Iraqi
      nationalists. In my
      opinion, once foreign troops are withdrawn, we will be
      able to gauge
      the
      strength of different factions of Iraq is.

      My big fear is that the Kurdish tribal leaders will
      sell themselves
      out,
      which they have done so often in the past. Iraqi
      Kurdistan would then,
      effectively become an Israeli-American protectorate
      used as a base to
      exercise and exert pressure in the region.

      There is a fear that if the troops are withdrawn,
      there will be a civil
      war in Iraq.
      I don’t accept this. The foreign troops are creating
      these conditions.
      The longer they stay, the worse the situation will
      become.

      Would you speculate that the US is gearing up for an
      assault on Iran?
      I don’t think the US can invade Iran and if it does it
      would suffer a
      big defeat. Firstly, the Iranian army is not like the
      Iraqi army, which
      was weakened by years of sanctions. It has got a
      strong fighting force.
      Secondly, an American invasion of Iran would stir up
      Iranian
      nationalism
      and even the people who are at the moment
      depoliticised would find this
      unacceptable. Thirdly, the US simply doesn’t have
      enough troops on the
      ground to invade a second country because volunteers
      to the American
      army have completely dried up. If they want to invade
      another country,
      they will have to introduce conscription, something
      that will be
      unacceptable to the people of the United States.
      Fourthly, I doubt the
      US Congress would go along with another war.

      All the US can do in Iran is a surgical bombing strike
      against the
      Iranian nuclear reactor. And that would stir up
      further anger across
      the
      region, for people will see the double standards - why
      is Israel
      allowed
      to have nuclear weapons but not Iran?

      There is an additional point. Without Iranian support,
      the US could not
      have occupied Afghanistan and Iraq. The Iranian
      mullahs did not oppose
      the US intervention in the region. Their people in
      Iraq and Afghanistan
      collaborated with the Americans.
      So, an invasion of Iran would surely unscramble Iraq
      and Afghanistan.

      How have you taken the Indian vote in the IAEA against
      Iran?
      I think the Indian political and business elite, or
      important sections
      of it, is on its knees before the American empire. We
      know there are
      differences within the Indian government. Natwar Singh
      has been sacked
      because he is the one hostile to the Iraq war; he was
      the one who was
      in
      favor of Iran. Manmohan Singh is a weak political
      leader and in thrall
      of Western financial institutions.

      The fact that India is going in this direction is
      extremely disturbing
      because it could play such a big role with its
      independence. It is very
      unfortunate that the Americans think they can use
      India and Southasia
      as
      a region against China when the need arises. In my
      opinion, all the
      Southasian countries should refuse to play this role,
      one that has been
      played by Pakistan for most of its existence. When
      India starts to do
      this as well, one feels a deep sense of shame.

      Do you buy the argument that identity is playing an
      important role in
      making Southasia a troubled zone?
      I don’t think it is a question of identity. I think it
      is essentially a
      question of big political errors and how to come to
      terms with them. We
      see the unfinished business of the partition of India.
      That is what
      Kashmir is. We have to try and find a way of solving
      this problem in a
      way that is in the interest of Kashmiris. I don’t
      really care what
      Delhi
      or Islamabad think. We must seek what the Kashmiri
      people want. Do they
      have the right to determine their own future or not,
      that is the
      question. No one cares about them and this is the most
      ignored struggle
      in the world.

      What can be a peaceful and negotiated settlement to
      the Kashmir issue?
      The solution to Kashmir is a unified autonomous
      Kashmir. They don’t
      want
      their own army or anything like that. They don’t want
      to be an
      independent state. They just want to be left alone.
      The best way is to
      leave them alone within the framework of a Southasian
      union, with
      Pakistan and India as guarantors of autonomy, and
      China too if
      necessary. One has to think in these broad terms and
      outgrow the
      situation created in 1997.

      It is said that the Kashmir issue is being hijacked by
      a jehadi agenda.
      I don’t think so. The jehadis were basically armed and
      funded by the
      Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). When they
      want to stop the
      tap, the funds and arms will stop. They can stop the
      whole thing and we
      have seen this happening when they tried it.

      Jehadi Islamists are created by states. Without the
      support of a state,
      they cannot exist. The Saudi state supported them,
      then the Pakistani
      state supported them in Afghanistan and in Kashmir,
      and the American
      state supported them in Afghanistan.

      India has got a long-term strategy, which is to
      incorporate Kashmir and
      make it a part of India against the will of the
      population. India must
      stop behaving like a colonial power in Kashmir and the
      brutality,
      rapes,
      and killings must end. The Pakistanis have no
      long-term strategy at all
      - all they think about is their own interest not that
      of Kashmiris.
      Kashmiris do not want to be pawns of either New Delhi
      or Islamabad.
      This
      became very clear yet again after the recent
      earthquake. When people of
      both sides try to meet each other, the Pakistani
      troops opened fire on
      them.

      The recently held SAARC summit in Dhaka agreed to
      include China as an
      observer. There are discussions about including China
      in SAARC while
      Afghanistan has already been made a full-fledged
      member. What is your
      opinion on this?
      Including China in a Southasian union is foolish.
      China is also a state
      power. There is a Chinese commonwealth, which includes
      Taiwan and all
      these places. You can trade with them; a strong
      Southasian union of
      course would be friendly with China. A link between
      Southasian Union
      and
      China would create the largest economic entity in the
      world. So, I am
      in
      favor of that but I think we should not fall in the
      trap of European
      Union which has overly expanded itself to an extent
      that it has become
      irrelevant as a politically entity. I would like the
      Southasian union
      to
      be not just an economic union but also a political
      entity acting in the
      interest of people of Southasia. As far as Afghanistan
      is concerned, it
      should, of course, be part of SAARC, provided it is
      not occupied by
      foreign troops. So, certainly Afghanistan, but China
      no.

      How do you see the Southasia of the future?
      I have been arguing for some time now that what we
      need in Southasia is
      a Southasian union, based loosely on the model of the
      European Union.
      Such a union should include free movement across
      borders, free trade
      with each other, cultural contacts and a Commission of
      Southasia. This
      centralised Commission, where views of all countries
      are reflected
      through their representatives, would then deal with
      other parts of the
      world as a collective unit in the interest of
      Southasia. This union
      will
      include India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal
      and possibly
      Burma
      if it wanted to.

      It would be possible to solve the two intractable
      problems of Southasia
      - Kashmir and the Tamil region in Sri Lanka - within
      the Southasian
      union in a manner that would not challenge the
      sovereignty of each
      country but would nonetheless create a larger entity
      in the region.
      Within this framework, Kashmir and the Tamil region
      could be given
      their
      autonomy, guaranteed by all the powers of the
      Southasian union.

      This is also in the interest of the business elites of
      the region
      because what they want is peace leading to prosperity.
      But it is
      something that is prevented from happening by strong
      vested interests
      in
      all the countries. In Pakistan, for example, if the
      army agreed to
      this,
      it would reduce its own power because the first
      fallout of such a
      framework would be a reduction in the scale of
      military expenditures, a
      reduction in their crazy spending on nuclear weapons,
      and the creation
      of a society in which something is done for the poor.

      When I was in Pakistan recently following the
      earthquake, it was
      completely impossible for me to understand the nature
      of the regime
      which can’t rush to the help of its people even though
      it wants to. In
      other words, Pakistan has never created the social
      infrastructure in
      ordinary times to help the poor. So, how could we
      expect to do this in
      times of crisis? It can be done and it would be easy
      to do it, in my
      opinion, by creating a framework of a Southasian Union
      where countries
      reduce or cut down on military expenditures and invest
      resources
      elsewhere.





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