Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Importance of Iraqi Victory at Ramadi

Iraq officially declared Ramadi ‘liberated’ from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorists yesterday. So, what is the importance of this development?

First and foremost, it is about phycology and morale. The Iraqi forces were utterly discredited in 2014 when the ISIS swept across large areas of Iraq including its second largest city Mosul. In May 2015, the Iraqi forces were once again humiliated by the fall of Ramadi, a city in the Sunni heartland and dangerously close to the capital of Iraq, Baghdad.

The recapture of Ramadi by the Iraqi forces was the result of a long campaign. The government forces cut off supply lines to the city, forcing most of the ISIS forces to leave. By the end, only around 400 fighters remained in the city. Nevertheless, this victory gives added confidence to the Iraqi forces in the battle against the ISIS.

Ramadi is also a city with strategic value. It occupies a highly strategic location on the Euphrates and the road west into Syria and Jordan. This has made it a hub for trade and traffic. Furthermore, it is the capital of the largest province in Iraq, Anbar. More importantly, it is a Sunni city, from where groups such as ISIS garnered significant support.

In this aspect, the liberation of Ramadi is also an indication of the changing political situation in the country. The former government of Nouri al-Maliki proved divisive and sectarian, making it easy for Sunni radical groups to attract support. The presence of Shia militant groups in Sunni areas irked the Sunnis and drew them away from the government. However, the current Iraqi government has been able to attract Sunni militant groups which helped it in the battle for Ramadi.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has vowed to defeat the ISIS in the country, following the success of the battle for Ramadi. While the final defeat of the ISIS could take years to achieve, Ramadi has given a fresh hope and an added credibility to the Iraqi forces in this long battle of attrition.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Hugo Chavez: “Por Ahora”

Venezuelans who went to sleep on February 3, 1992, woke up with the news of an extraordinary military coup on the next day. Only the conspirators knew the exact details. The government of Carlos Andres Perez knew something was up due to a ‘leak’. But that was all.

In reality, a group of military officers led by Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chavez had organized a military takeover of the Venezuelan regime. Chavez’s hero was “the liberator” Simon Bolivar and he hoped to realize Bolivar’s dream for South America.
Hugo Chavez (Agencia Brasil)

In the very late hours of February 3, the coup was launched and soon the conspirators had control of important places in the country, except Caracas. Partly due to the leak and party due to their own shortcomings, the coup failed in the capital. Carlos Andres Perez, who had fled from the presidential palace to avoid capture, appeared on television early morning on February 4, to declare that there had been a coup but things were now under control. As far as Caracas was concerned, he was correct.

Hugo Chavez knew that the coup would fail without the capture of the capital. He decided to surrender to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. If his followers did not surrender in the peripheries, it would have resulted in a bloodbath in which many loyal followers would die for nothing. The negotiations were conducted through the mediation of General Ramon Santeliz Ruiz, a friend of Chavez. After 7 a.m. Chavez surrendered in the face of threats of aerial bombardment of his positions.

By 10 a.m. he was at the ministry of defense with Santeliz and heard that some of his followers were surrendering after hearing the news of the failure. But Jesus Hernandez Urdaneta, who was leading the rebels in Maracay, was still not willing to give up. The military was contemplating an aerial bombardment on Maracay.

It was at this juncture that Hugo Chavez suggested that he would directly talk to his men in Maracay. Yet, the telephone lines were cut. Then he suggested the radio. By an extraordinary piece of luck, the military officers suggested television. Defense minister Ochoa Antich agreed and he checked with the president. Perez wanted Chavez to be handcuffed as a prisoner and also to write down what he would tell in advance. Chavez, a shrewd politician as well as a military man, would have none of it. He did not want to appear a defeated man, although he was utterly destroyed within his mind. With no time to lose, the military men agreed to his terms.

Chavez washed his face, put on the red paratrooper beret and straightened his uniform. He will appear with dignity in front of the television cameras and therefore, in front of his nation. He walked into a room full of reporters and for the next seventy two seconds, he spoke with dignity and clarity, in real military fashion.

“First of all, I want to say good morning to all the people of Venezuela. This Bolivarian message is directed to all the courageous soldiers who are in the paratrooper regiment in Aragua and the tank regiment in Valencia. Comrades: unfortunately, for now [por ahora] the objectives we set ourselves were not achieved in the capital city. That is, those of us here in Caracas did not seize power. Where you are, you performed very well, but now is the time to reflect. New opportunities will arise and the country has to head definitely towards a better future.

So, listen to what I have to say. Listen to the Comandante Chavez, who is sending you this message. Please, reflect and put down your arms, because in truth, the objectives that we set for ourselves at a national level are not within our grasp. Comrades, listen to this message of solidarity: I am grateful for your loyalty, for your courage, for your selfless generosity. Before the country and before you, I accept responsibility for this Bolivarian military movement. Thank you very much.”

The country was stunned. Here was the leader of the coup which had surprised them, appearing live on national television and accepting responsibility for the failure of the coup. Venezuelans had never seen a politician accept responsibility for something that went wrong in their country where many things were going wrong. Then, here appears a young military officer, accepting full responsibility for a failure.

Hugo Chavez was depressed as he has had to lead a fiasco and then had to ask for others to surrender. It was then as he says that Santeliz came to him, shook his hand and said, “That was great man, what you said!” Chavez replied, “What do you mean good, if I called for surrendering?” Santeliz replied, “You said, for now.” Chavez had uttered the two defining words of the speech without realizing it. These two words “Por Ahora!” would become an important slogan of Chavez in his later campaign for presidency. In December 1998, he was swept in at the presidential polls with 56.2% of the popular vote and he was sworn in on February 2, 1999, just two days before the seventh anniversary of the coup in which he had exploded into national politics. He set out in attempting to realize his dream of a new Venezuela based on the dreams of the old hero, Simon Bolivar. The rest, as they say, is history.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Mengistu Haile Mariam: No Famine Accepted in Acceptance Speech

Mengistu Haile Mariam, the leader of the Derg (Committee) which ruled Ethiopia from 1974 to 1991, and head of state during 1977-1991, is remembered for 'red terror' and even genocide. His speech in September 1984, at the Inauguration of the Workers Party of Ethiopia (WPE) was an instance of political hypocrisy at the highest level.

The revolution of 1974 which deposed the long serving Emperor Haile Sellassie I, was the result of public dissatisfaction intensified by a famine in the 1970s. The new military regime struggled to establish itself in the initial years. Mengistu rose to the prominence after eliminating his opponents within and without the Derg.

The Derg embraced Marxism-Leninism as the guiding principle and increasing aid was received from the Soviet bloc. To transform the feudal economy, among other things, land reforms were carried out. Land distribution was quite fairly done and was generally popular. But it created small plots of land which affected the productivity.

Peasants were organized into Peasant Associations and Peasant Collectives. However, collectivization never received wide support in the country. The National Farms established also were unproductive.

The peasants' incentive to produce suffered a heavy blow due to the policies of the powerful Agricultural Marketing Corporation (AMC). This was established to feed the country's cities and towns. The AMC determined a quota for associations, collectives and national farms and bought foodstuff below market prices. To prevent smuggling, AMC built road blocks at strategic points along the roads. The peasants were unwilling to sell the full quota to the AMC at low prices.

Meanwhile, mid-year rains failed in 1983, and a famine was projected for the following year. The regime was at the time preparing for the tenth anniversary of the 1974 revolution and the establishment of a new party, the WPE. Mengistu himself may have been unaware at this stage about the projections. But, he should have been well aware of the situation by late 1983 as the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC) leaked the information to foreign press against the will of the regime. However, the regime never accepted the reality and foreign aid was not forthcoming as a result.

Rains again failed in February 1984 and June-July 1984. By that time, the famine was becoming a hard reality. The government was unwilling to divert funds from the tenth anniversary celebrations to counter the famine. More than half of the country’s population was severely affected.

Despite this, the foreign dignitaries who arrived for the celebrations in September, saw a clean city and nothing of the horror engulfing the country. In the newly built Congress Hall, the WPE was called into being and a Politburo was elected. This in turn, elected Mengistu as the General Secretary of the Party, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and President of the Council of ministers.

His acceptance speech lasted for five and a half hours. Mengistu spoke on the achievements and the future of the revolution. Not even once, in this long speech, did he mention the famine. Even during his speech, thousands of Ethiopians died from starvation.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Jawaharlal Nehru: A Tryst with Destiny

It was the evening of August 14, 1947.

A nation of nearly 400 million people awaited its emergence from the clutches of colonial rule. Throughout the land, in cities and villages alike, these would be citizens anticipated the birth of their nation. In the capital Delhi, the Constitutional Assembly had gathered to witness the last act in the transfer of power.

As the clock moved slowly towards midnight, a slim elderly man dressed in a cream coloured achkhan (a long coat buttoned up to the neck) and a clean white khadi cap stood up. Flashbulbs illuminated the chamber, revealing the tense, fatigued face. It was to be temporary. As he spoke, he was to transform profoundly. His voice, low at the beginning, grew in volume as he continued his speech.

“Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny….” Thus, Jawaharlal Nehru began what was to be perhaps his most memorable speech. “……..and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially,” he continued. This was a reference to the agony of partition. As Nehru spoke, Pakistan was already an independent state, and he may have seen the agonies awaiting the peoples of both countries.

Nevertheless, there was reason to rejoice. “At the stroke of the midnight hour,” he went on, “when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take a pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.”

Then he paused, may be to give a moment for the audience to grasp the essence of his words. Nehru knew that his challenges were immense. He had to transform a very backward society to the modern world. He went on elaborating, describing the immense challenges that lay ahead.

“The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us. Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future?”

“……. That future is not one of ease or resting but of incessant striving so that we might fulfill the pledges we have so often taken and the one we shall take today. The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and decease and inequality of opportunity”

These were the evils of India. It was home for more than 350 million people, and the numbers were growing rapidly. India was not self sufficient in food and feeding this expanding population was a mammoth task. A large section of the population, the adivasis and harijans in particular and rural and urban poor in general, were marginalized from the society. More than 80% of the people were illiterate. The privileged few enjoyed luxurious lives while the vast majority of the populace languished in utter poverty and ignorance.

Then, Nehru referred to his mentor, the leader of the freedom movement in India, the Mahatma. “The ambition of the greatest man of our generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye. That may be beyond us but as long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over.”

Nehru once more stressed the importance of striving for the betterment of India and the world humanity. “And so we have to labour and to work and work hard to give reality to our dreams. Those dreams are for India, but they are also for the world, for all the nations and peoples are too
closely knit together today for anyone of them to imagine that it can live apart.

His concluding remarks Nehru asked the people of India to join in the adventure of India’s emergence out of poverty and ignorance. “Peace has been said to be indivisible; so is freedom, so is prosperity now, and so also is disaster in this one world that can no longer be split into isolated fragments. To the people of India, whose representatives we are, we appeal to join us with faith and confidence in this great adventure. This is no time for petty and destructive criticism, no time for ill-will or blaming others. We have to build the noble mansion of free India where all her children may dwell.”