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Articles on India, Afghanistan & Israel......
by Saima Alvi
22 July 2002 13:34 UTC
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1. Militants seek Muslim-free India 
*Burhan Wazir reports from Gujarat on an explosion of
violence, nationalism and Nazi-style politics and its
result: 2,000 killed and 100,000 homeless

Observer Worldview 

Sunday July 21, 2002
The Observer 

At the elegantly simple home of Mahatma Gandhi in
Ahmedabad, the bustling capital of Gujarat state, a
museum eulogises his contribution to the founding of
India. Gandhi's clothes, books, journals and
photographs line the walls. Outside in the freshly
watered gardens the mango trees are in full bloom. One
journal contains Gandhi's simple denunciation of
violence: 'The science of war leads one to
dictatorship. The science of non-violence alone can
lead one to a pure democracy.' 
More than 50 years after his death at the hands of a
nationalist militant, Gandhi would find India
unrecognisable. In the past five months his home state
has been stunned by religious violence that shows few
signs of fading. 

India's worst religious violence since the 1947
partition was sparked at the end of February when 57
Hindu pilgrims were killed in the alleged torching of
a train carriage by Muslim militants in Godhra. Hindu
militants sought a swift revenge. 

Since then, massacres by Hindu gangs have become
commonplace. In five months, more than 2,000 Muslims
have been killed and more than 100,000 displaced,
congregating in squalid camps around Gujarat. 

The state is in turmoil. On Friday, only hours after
the state's top elected official, Chief Minister
Narendra Modi, resigned and dissolved the legislative
assembly to seek a fresh mandate, at least two people
were killed and eight others injured when police
opened fire to disperse rioting mobs. In recent months
Mohdi had come under attack for his delayed response
to the killings. His resignation was eclipsed,
however, on Thursday when 70-year-old Muslim scientist
Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, an unrepentant nationalist and
the father of India's nuclear missile programme, was
elected to the largely ceremonial role of President. 

The violence has been linked to the rise of extremist
Hindu groups such as the Association of National
Volunteers, or the RSS - a khaki-clad nationalist
paramilitary sect formed in the Twenties - and its
offspring, the World Hindu Council, or the VHP. 

Gujarat is one of the few states in India controlled
by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. The state has
been described as a 'laboratory for Hindu fascism'.
Since rising to power in the mid-Nineties, the BJP has
aggressively pursued a pro-Hindu agenda. 

It has also backed the construction of a temple in
Ayodhya, where Hindu nationalists destroyed a mosque
in 1992. Several members of the present Cabinet,
including the Indian Deputy Prime Minister, L.K.
Advani, were present at the demolition. 

The RSS and the World Hindu Council, described locally
as 'Saffron Warriors', have one clear aim: Hindu
expansion by mass conversion. The militants believe
that India was once an empire of 75 countries
stretching from Cambodia to Iran. 

They have introduced textbooks that convey former
Hindu glories, and they propagate the myth of an India
under siege from native Islamic militants. The RSS
also lobbies to reintroduce the traditional names of
cities like Mumbai, until recently Bombay. 

'The situation is getting out of control,' says Arvind
Sisodia, vice-president of the VHP in Gujarat. A
passionate advocate of the Hindutva or 'global Hindu
conscious ness', Sisodia is a middle-class worker at
the Life Insurance Corporation of India. 

'In Gujarat, the Muslims own all the shops; they are
involved in illegal trade,' says Sisodia. 'And Muslim
boys steal our Hindu girls and marry them. So the
situation is unbearable.' 

In the days after the first killings in Gujarat, the
VHP distributed leaflets asking Hindus to pledge a
boycott of Muslims - including refusing to be taught
by Muslim teachers and ensuring sisters and daughters
did not fall into 'the love-trap of Muslim boys'. 

'It is up to all Hindus to make sure that we restore
India to dominance,' says Sisodia. 'Hinduism was once
the dominant faith. Muslims have to learn to adapt.
Otherwise, it will be dangerous for them. We don't
want them here.' 

A few days after the deaths at Godhra, on a humid
morning in an inner-city enclave of Ahmedabad, around
20 men marched up to the Indian flag and offered the
Nazi salute. This was a training camp, or shakha, run
by the RSS. There are about 40,000 camps scattered
throughout India and informal ones abroad for

The men, many of them in their thirties, are
middle-class professionals - employees of Ahmedabad's
bustling industrial community. India's middle classes
are the keenest recruits to the RSS - drawn by fears
of Islamic terrorism and of Westernisation amid a
crumbling national economy. 

In a fashionable Ahmedabad gated community lives Vijay
Chauthaiwale, a microbiologist. Over lunch, with the
World Cup playing on a satellite channel behind him,
he explained his attraction to the RSS: 'We are a very
modern family,' he said, 'but I feel that the more we
move towards the West, the more likely we are to lose
our Hindu values. 

'Gandhi would not have understood,' he said. 'He was
an old-fashioned man with old-fashioned ideas. No one
believes those things any more. The world has changed.
And for Hindus to survive, we have to protect our
culture and our way of life.' 

For middle-class families such as Chauthaiwale's, the
Indian secular experiment has proved disastrous. The
country's Muslim population - now 11 per cent - is
seen as a primary threat. 'Where do the allegiances of
the Muslims lie?' asked Kaushik Mehta, general
secretary of the VHP in Gujarat. 

He pointed to an enclave of Ahmedabad dubbed
'mini-Pakistan' for its madrassahs, or Islamic
schools. 'We can't allow such places to exist. They
train terrorists. Muslims have to integrate. If they
refuse to, we'll be forced to make them. Or they can

For the 100,000 Muslims in squalid camps around
Gujarat there is no such escape. In nearby Pakistan,
India's Muslims are viewed as traitors who betrayed
Pakistan after partition. And now the Muslim camps are
being shut down, casting their occupants into the
streets and into the hands of Hindu extremists. 

Most are fearful of returning to their villages. 'They
can't go back because they face death threats,' said
Father Cedric Prakash, director of Prashant, a human
rights group in Ahmedabad. 'The fanatics have all the

More violence seems inevitable. At the end of
February, Anjum Bana escaped her village in Panderwala
with her six-week-old daughter. As Hindu militants
torched the village, she hid in the forest. 'There was
nothing to eat or drink for three days,' she said. 'I
could hear people shouting RSS slogans all around me.
And my child was dying. I know I can't go back.' 

The hawkish former Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narinder
Mohdi, however, is unconvinced. In the early days of
the rioting, as the body count escalated, Mohdi
famously said Gujarat's Hindus had shown 'remarkable
restraint'. Shortly before resigning on Friday, he
said: 'There is no problem with people returning back
home. If they don't want to go, they should be forced
back. They have to go back.' 

In a shabby camp in a graveyard in Ahmedabad,
residents have taken to organising a night-time watch.
'They know that once we are on the streets we are
vulnerable. I can't understand it. I have lived with
Hindu neighbours for 40 years, and there have never
been any problems. Now those same neighbours have
turned on me. And no one will look after us.' 

 Burhan Wazir presents 'Unreported World: Saffron
Warriors' on Channel 4 on Saturday at 7.40 pm. 


2. West pays warlords to stay in line 

*Key Afghan commanders are being bribed with British
and US money to ensure their loyalty to the new

Afghanistan - Observer special 

Jason Burke and Peter Beaumont
Sunday July 21, 2002
The Observer 

Britain and the United States are secretly
distributing huge sums of money to persuade Afghan
warlords not to rebel against their country's new
The Observer has learnt that 'bin bags' full of US
dollars have been flown into Afghanistan, sometimes on
RAF planes, to be given to key regional power brokers
who could cause trouble for Prime Minister Hamid
Karzai's administration. 

Gul Agha Sherzai, the governor of the southern
province of Kandahar, Hazrat Ali, a commander in the
eastern province of Nangahar, and several others have
been 'bought off' with millions of dollars in deals
brokered by US and British intelligence. 

Many of the commanders benefiting from the operation
have been involved in opium production, drug smuggling
on a massive scale and widespread human-rights abuses.

Without the hand-outs, Western intelligence agencies
fear Afghanistan could collapse into anarchy, allowing
Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist group and former
Taliban elements to regroup. 

Foreign Office sources in London confirmed last week
they were aware money was being 'circulated' to key
Afghan warlords to persuade them to support the
government. 'It is certainly true that money has been
distributed - it is the way things work in this part
of the world - but no British money [is being
distributed],' the source said. 

'In any case, you do not buy warlords in Afghanistan:
you "rent" them for a period. The Russians discovered
this to their cost. They would buy off a warlord and
after a while he would come back and tell them: "My
men won't wear this arrangement any more. You will
have to give me more money, or we will have to go back
to attacking you".' 

However, The Observer has been told by reliable
sources in Afghanistan and Pakistan that some UK money
is being distributed, although most of it is American.

Relief workers in Afghanistan have criticised the
hand-outs because they come when funds for emergency
help and reconstruction projects in the war-damaged
country are running low. Cash for roadbuilding,
irrigation and power projects is unlikely even to
reach Afghanistan before 2003, and only 3 billion of
the estimated 10bn needed to rebuild the nation has
so far been pledged. 

Previous attempts to buy the loyalty of warlords have
met mixed results. During the battle of Tora Bora in
April, local commanders were paid huge sums to send
their own troops into the mountainous cave complexes
where bin Laden was thought to be hiding. The warlords
involved in this operation, including Hazrat Ali,
accuse each other of taking bribes from bin Laden to
allow him to escape. 

In Paktia province, the Americans paid Pacha Khan
Zardran, a local commander who seized control of the
eastern city of Khost last November, an estimated
$400,000 to train and equip fighters to patrol the
border with Pakistan. Since then, however, the
government in Kabul has installed its own governor and
forced Khan into the mountains, from where his troops
have been shelling civilian areas in a bid to
destabilise the new regime. 

'You are playing with fire and pandering to the worst
elements in Afghan culture and society,' said one
Pakistan-based Western diplomat. 'Afghanistan would be
better served by expanding peacekeeping forces or more
aid for ordinary people.' 

Many Afghans in Khost blame the rising tension on the
US. Paying the warlords for their services has
triggered clashes among groups eager to win patronage
from the Americans. In some areas commanders have been
told they will receive a top-of-the-range $40,000
pick-up truck - a local status symbol - if they can
prove they have killed Taliban or al-Qaeda elements. 

There are believed to be about 300 hardcore al-Qaeda
fighters still active, almost all in western Pakistan.
Bin Laden, whom most Afghan, Pakistani and Western
intelligence sources believe is still alive, is
thought to be hiding among the Pashtun tribes along
the border. 


3. Why Israel's 'seruvniks' say enough is enough 

The laywer representing Israeli conscripts who refuse
to serve beyond the 1967 ceasefire lines explains why
a growing number of soldiers are disobeying orders, in
order to protect the basic values on which Israel was

Observer Worldview 

Michael Sfard
Sunday May 19, 2002 

It is said that in the first few years of the Israeli
occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, no one
seriously thought of holding on to these territories
forever. It was at the time widely assumed, that these
newly conquered lands were to be handed back to the
Arabs as part of a peace agreement. I don't remember
those days. 
I was raised in a different Israel. In my Israel the
small fundamentalist group of Jewish settlers has
always enjoyed more political power than their
relative share in the Israeli population. In my Israel
both left-wing and right-wing governments enabled the
colonialisation of these occupied Palestinian lands.
My Israel paid, and is still paying, a heavy moral
price for ruling another nation by the force of the
sword. My Israel, built on the founding values of
humanism, pluralism and democracy is being lost.

Three months ago an unprecedented petition by reserve
soldiers was published in the Israeli press. The
signatories declared their intention to refuse to
serve the Israeli occupation and disobey any order to
go, as soldiers, beyond the 1967 ceasefire lines. The
number of signatories (known as 'seruvniks' for the
Hebrew word 'seruv' - refusal) has increased rapidly
from 50 in the first petition to 462 as of today.
Though refusal in Israel was not uncommon, the scale
of this petition is a novelty. Most of the signatories
are hardened combat officers and soldiers, and all of
them served many years in the occupied territories.
Since the launch of the petition, about forty of those
who have endorsed the petition have been sent to
military prisons as a result of their refusal. 

Almost all of the 462 who have signed, among them
myself, are between twenty-five and thirty-five years
old. None of us can remember a non-occupying Israel.
Each and every signatory of the petition has
individually reached the decision to spurn the state's
demand that they will employ immoral and inhumane
means of control over civilian population. And yet, I
was amazed to discover how similar our stories are.
How identical our personal transitions from being
"good" and obedient soldiers to what our Attorney
General described as "dangerous outlaws" have been.

As the legal adviser to many seruvniks - and someone
who was incarcerated for three weeks for refusing to
serve in the Hebron area a few years ago - I have had
the privilege of escorting many of my fellow
signatories from receipt of their call up papers,
through the trial and, finally, visiting them in
prison. Given their biographies, the act of refusal
was by no means a natural decision. Rather, it was
rather the product of a personal crisis, born out of
moral agonies and a sense of deep concern for our
country's future.

One might expect to hear horrifying stories of
atrocities that the objectors witnessed before making
their decision to no longer take part in the system.
The truth of the matter is that most of the
conscientious objectors reached their decision simply
from experiencing "everyday" life in the occupied

The occupation corrupted Israeli culture, it eroded
our code of ethics, and it even contaminated the
Hebrew language. In the name of the fight against the
murderous and unforgivable terror that struck Israeli
cities and towns, we grew accustomed to manning
check-points in which thousands of Palestinians are
being detained for hours and humiliated by young
soldiers. We grew accustomed to pointing our rifles at
children and women. We became tolerant to large-scale
demolition of houses ('surface uncovering' in military
jargon). Finally, we accepted a state-sponsored policy
of assassinations, neatly labelled by Israeli
spokesmen as "focused prevention". We learned how to
distinguish between roads for settlers (Jews) and
roads for 'locals' (Palestinians), and we were asked
to implement discriminatory laws for the sake of the
illegal settlements that have trapped our country in
an endless messianic war. A war which the vast
majority of Israelis never wanted.

As soldiers who witnessed, first-hand, the corrosive
effect of the occupation on ordinary Israelis and
Palestinians we could no longer bear its destructive
implications for what we were raised to believe were
Israeli values - respect for human life and dignity.
The occupation chiselled out unequal relations between
Palestinians and Israelis. It planted in many a seed
of racism against Arabs.

Under such circumstances, hundreds of officers and
soldiers who were always in the forefront of IDF's
most prestigious units, who were used to risking their
lives for the security of the State of Israel, began
questioning both the morality of our presence in the
occupied territories and the myth of its necessity.
People who have no legal background grew to
acknowledge that the command that sends them beyond
the borders of democracy to rule another people
inherently produces systematic human rights abuses and
is therefore neither democratic nor legal. 

Entering a village and arresting every male above the
age of 14 for up to 18 days, as was done in the recent
incursion to the West Bank, is inhuman, even if the
mission is to find terrorists. Stopping an ambulance
that carries a sick man or a pregnant woman is immoral
even if you suspect that it also carries hidden
weapons. And that is the tragedy of serving in the
occupied territories: one cannot go there without
detaining suspected ambulances and treating children
in a manner that results in more hatred. The soldiers
are placed in an impossible situation, coerced by the
occupation's reality to act immorally. 

As a lawyer I am allowed to visit these prisoners of
conscience. Some arrive in prison filled with pride.
Others are shocked by their own deed, and try to
explain themselves to their families and friends in
long telephone conversations. In prison, most of them
discover how angry they are. Angry at the settlers
that tangled us in a never-ending war. Indignant at
the governments of Israel that enabled them to do so.
Vexed at the Israeli Defence Force, which arrogantly
took for granted that we would carry out any order. 

The seruvniks come from the backbone of Israeli
society. They were always seen by themselves and by
others, as Israelis from the mainstream of our civic
life. "I took seriously the values I was brought up on
in this country", they tell me. We must now ask
ourselves whether this was always simply rhetoric, or
whether Israel has fundamentally changed. As
seruvniks, we have chosen to speak out. To silence our
voice would be to marginalise further the basic values
upon which our country was founded.

 Michael Sfard is a lawyer practising human rights
and criminal law in Tel-Aviv. You can read the
seruvniks' petition - Courage to refuse - here, and
you can write to the author of this piece at


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