October 21, 2021

Category - Articles

The Limits of Power: Lessons from Afghanistan

Helicopters carrying U.S. Army soldiers from the 1-320 Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, take off from Combat Outpost Terra Nova as the soldiers head home following a 10-month deployment in the Arghandab Valley north of Kandahar April 23, 2011. REUTERS/Bob Strong (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: MILITARY POLITICS IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Perhaps no other international geo-political event has been covered in such great detail and in such depth by all sections of the Indian media as the unfolding events in Afghanistan. In the shrill cacophony of trying to be the first off the block in delivering news, the day to day minutiae of events has led to the blurring of the larger global landscape and the impact therein.

Foreign interventions today carry greater risks than in earlier times, largely due to the fact that the uni-polar world order is gradually giving way to multiple power centres. Though the US still retains pole position, the push back now from other parts of the globe is far more consistent and firm, as China too, the next emerging superpower is finding to its cost. In addition, intervention operations now carry with them much greater risk from transparency and exposure than earlier times, especially as multiple media outlets exist which cover all shades of political opinion. The advent of the smart phone has also contributed to this phenomenon, as it has enabled every individual who possesses a mobile device to be a potential reporter at the scene of action. Ubiquitous flow of information now covers all shades of opinion, which militates against shaping the narrative towards any particular line of thought. This space is the new battleground, which too has to be won, over and above the physical war. Perceptions shape the idea of what constitutes victory and defeat, though in actuality, the immediacy of the event may obscure what the long-term implications could be.

The manner in which the US and NATO forces left Afghanistan certainly made for extremely negative media bytes. But the battleground had been ceded to the Taliban long before these forces left Afghanistan. Post the September 11, 2001, attacks by the al Qaeda on US soil, the Taliban was quickly unseated from power by a lightning US offensive; but the Taliban leadership simply moved to Pakistan, where it was provided sustenance and support. The US and NATO forces continued to fight the war on terror in Afghanistan, when the centre of gravity had clearly shifted to Pakistan. It was thus an unwinnable war, as it was being fought in the wrong country, which made it impossible to seal and enclose the area of conflict. The Soviet Union made the same mistake when it carried out intervention operations in Afghanistan in December 1979, and then had to make an ignominious exit ten years later, in February 1989.

The US, which had intervened in Afghanistan to avenge the September 2001 terrorist attacks on its soil, lost track of the ball and shifted its focus to Iraq in March 2003, before it could stabilise Afghanistan. A divided focus ultimately led to adverse consequences on both fronts. With the US public getting weary of these endless wars, which appeared unwinnable, the US decided to pull out from Afghanistan. Here, it made the strategic error of making a deal with the Taliban, in Doha in February 2020. As the elected government of Afghanistan was not a party to the deal, the US effectively gave legitimacy to the Afghan Taliban, and undermined the authority and prestige of the Afghan government.

The Afghan army crumbled without much resistance, which surprised all military professionals, including this author. In terms of size and equipment, the government forces were better placed than the Taliban, so the collapse points to weaknesses in the higher political and military leadership, which lost the psychological battle before the first bullet had been fired. Kabul surrendered on 15 August without resistance, which led to a rather chaotic withdrawal of all foreign military personnel who were still in Afghanistan as well as personnel of many countries, including India, which closed their embassies and withdrew their staff.

But the fact remains that the US still had the power to carry out the evacuation and kept control of the Kabul airfield till completion of the evacuation process, despite the Taliban having taken over. No other country could have exhibited such will and resolve, which indicates that the US is still the only country in the world which has this global reach. With the US having exited and left a power vacuum, both China and Russia are reluctant to step in. And this despite the fact that China has land connectivity to Afghanistan through the Wakhan corridor and the Russians through the Central Asian Republics which were part of the erstwhile Soviet Union!

The Taliban has announced an interim government on 8 September, but the resistance movement in Panjshir Valley is still ongoing and is likely to gather steam and spread to other parts of Afghanistan in the coming months and years. The women of Afghanistan are also not taking the Taliban diktats lying down and are protesting all over the country. In all likelihood, Afghanistan will be mired in internal instability for quite some time. The jubilation by Pakistan, China, Iran and Russia on the withdrawal of US troops has already started giving way to voices of alarm, especially as food scarcity hits Afghanistan with the potential of leading to a huge humanitarian crisis. Individual nations lack the capacity to influence events in Afghanistan, indicating the limits of power even of the powerful and rich countries and the need for cooperative action to resolve crisis situations.

For India too, there are lessons to be learnt from the events in Afghanistan. While for the US, the lesson that emerges is the limits of power play, for India it is important to pitch our response on our strengths and not underplay the hand. Indian diplomacy is already at work, shoring up a world response to the events in Afghanistan. But it would be good to look at the source of the trouble, which is Pakistan, and impose pressure and penalties on that state for errant behaviour. As a start, it would be worth considering espousing a doctrine of deterrence, clearly stating that the movement of terrorists or drones from across India’s border with Pakistan would be considered an act of war and responded to accordingly. Pakistan needs to be put on notice, soonest. While an over-reach of power capabilities leads to unintended negative consequences, not playing up to one’s capacity and capability too has penalties, and makes a recalcitrant neighbour take chances that it would otherwise desist from.

Developments in Jammu & Kashmir: A Kaleidoscopic Viewpoint

For the seventh consecutive time, I had the unique opportunity to be a part of the 10th Young Thinkers Meet, 2021 organized by the India Foundation. This time it was in Jammu & Kashmir. It was an ideal location for the spirit of Nationalism. My mixed emotions of curiosity, anxiety and excitement led me to participate with full enthusiasm.

In these 3 days during the conference, I came to know Jammu and Kashmir under a magnifying glass. Different perspectives of administrator, political leader, security official as well as, a perspective of local Kashmiri gave a kaleidoscopic viewpoint for the entire region.

Jammu and Kashmir is undoubtedly blessed with beauty. Due to its history, the people of Jammu and Kashmir have been witness to conflicting situations throughout their generations. The tranquillity brought by the terrains of Himalaya had seldom effect over ordinary life of Kashmiri in few areas and that is a reason that the society is valiant. They have seen unimaginable situations causing deep emotional, financial and social Impacts, that are going to last longer than we can think. They are closer to the realities of life and find peace in their faith.

After listening to different vantage points on Kashmir, I caution that we don't draw inferences for the entire community by few strain incidents. They have witnessed circumstances that can shake the very existence of humanity and hence the identity of Kashmiris cannot be placed in one jacket. It would be perhaps a mistake when quick judgements are made about them without knowing the intent behind it. High dependence on the media and certain sections of people may result in misconceptions.

Amidst all the internal discontent amongst the People of Jammu, POJK, Ladakh and Kashmiri Pandits, the warmth and love they have for the nation is unmatchable. The same spirit of togetherness I felt, even while visiting Dal Lake and Pahalgam. Their smile brings a sense of belongingness even as a first-time visitor.

Undoubtedly, it has extreme potential for development and can compete with other states with zeal after the abrogation of Article 370. Now, the people have held their hopes on change and development. The pains of history will soon be cured with new changes in the region.

My initial scepticism was resolved after interaction with all facets of the state factors including locals and I fairly confess that my perception of the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir and its people has changed drastically. 

Amongst the lush green trees, the grey stories of houses need to be dealt with utmost sensitivity and compassion. Let us embrace their sentiments and sincerely acknowledge them as fellow Bhartiya, a duty we should abide by as citizens of the nation.

Pitamaha Purandaradasa: Premier Pedagogical Proponent of Carnatic Music

The community of Carnatic music of South India has forever been indebted to the revered Vageeyakara (Lyricist, Poet, Singer) - Shri. Purandaradasa, the chief founding proponent of Carnatic music. Purandaradasa was a philosopher from the Vaishnava Tradition that flourished during the Vijayanagar empire. He came to be honoured as the Pitamaha - Grandsire of Carnatic Music, whose compositions and systematisation of the lyrical science are invaluable landmarks and an everlasting heritage of South India. 

There is a galaxy of composers who appeared during different time periods, however, it’s customary to know about them in terms of what is called the Trinity period which was also the Golden period of Carnatic music.

The Trinity also known as the 3 jewels of Carnatic Music:

Shyama Shastri: 1762 -1827

Thyagaraja: 1776 - 1847

Muthuswamy Dikshitar: 1775 -1835

Saint Thyagaraja, one of the Trinity icons has praised Purandaradasa in his composition Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam.

Shri Purandaradasa (1484 - 1564) belonged to the pre trinity period and is believed to be the incarnation of the celestial Sage Narada.

From millionaire - miser to a saint - singer

Born as Srinivasa Nayaka to rich parents Varadappa Nayaka and Leelavathi, in Thirthahalli Taluk of Shimoga district, Karnataka; young Srinivasa received a good education and acquired proficiency in music, Samskritam & Kannada. Although he inherited his father’s business of pawning and trading in precious stones, he was known as a miser who would not give a paisa to anyone! His opulence and his prosperous business earned him the name “Navakoti Narayana” (owner of 9 Crores).

A miraculous incident transformed the money-centric, stingy Srinivasa into the kindest mendicant and an exemplary scholar musician who would significantly shape the Bhakti movement (Sampradaya) of South India.

One day, an elderly Brahmin man who wished to perform the sacred thread ceremony (upanayanam) for his son approached Srinivasa’s wife Saraswati for money, having been mocked and turned away by Srinivasa before. She was a devout woman who took pity on the old man and gave him her valuable nose-ring. This man who was none other than Lord Vishnu himself in disguise went back to Srinivasa, to sell the nose-ring for money. Srinivasa who was sharp and shrewd recognized the nose ring, locked it in a jewel box in his shop, hurried home in anger, anxious to ask his wife whether the nose- ring was hers!

In fear of her husband finding out about her charity, Saraswati decided to end her life. When she was about to drink the cup, she had filled with poison, she noticed the nose ring in it! Awestruck and teary-eyed at the miracle she rushed to Srinivasa and confessed everything that had happened. When Srinivasa rushed back to the shop with the nose-ring and opened the jewel box, it was empty! And the Brahmin had already vanished.

Srinivasa was deeply moved and soul stirred by the incident. That very day he gave away all his riches and belongings, every penny to the needy and from “Navakoti Narayana” he became a Haridasa (servant of Lord Hari) taking to the life of a wandering minstrel.

He became a student of Shri Vyasathirtha (one of the foremost Gurus of Madhava’s philosophy in the Dvaita Sampradaya, and also the Rajaguru of Vijayanagara kingdom), who bestowed upon him the new name Purandara Dasa.

Sangeeta Pitamaha Purandaradasa - Contributions & Pedagogical foundations

Purandaradasa travelled the length and breadth of the Vijayanagara empire composing and singing songs that were endearing to the people.

His wife Saraswathi who used to live a luxurious life earlier, readily accepted this way of life and accompanied him lovingly along with their children. Her nobility and generosity that caused him the transformation made him compose a song on her -

AdaddellA oLatE Ayitu

(Whatever happened was for the best)

In this song, he blesses his pious wife by saying

henDati santati sAviravAgali….

(May her tribe increase & austerities flourish)

Signing his songs with the pen name (ankitanama) Purandara Vitthala, he is said to have composed around 4.75,000 songs that added great meaning and vibrancy to the literary landscape of the Kannada language. Unfortunately, only a few are available now.

Besides explaining devotional and philosophical concepts, Purandaradasa’s songs also had elements of colloquial language and folk tunes that made it easy even for a common man to understand. These songs advocated social reforms such as equality between men and women, the spirit of humanity, abolishing casteism & untouchability, the joy of surrender to the Supreme; and also educating people about the cultural history and greatness of the land.

He identified around 84 ragas such as Kalyani, Varali, Todi, Bhairavi, Saveri that are sung by musicians across the globe. He systematized the method of teaching Carnatic music.

He introduced the raga Mayamalavagowla as the basic scale of melody for beginners and designed a series of graded lessons such as alankaras, daatu varasaigal, geetams, swaravalis, janta swaras, lakshana, geetas, prabandhas, ugabhogas and kritis practiced diligently even today.

Purandara Dasa had great influence on Hindustani music. Swami Haridas, the teacher of the renowned Hindustani musician Tansen, was Purandara Dasa’s disciple. Legendary composers and virtuosos like Bhimsen Joshi, Madhav Gudi and Basavaraj Rajguru have chosen to sing Purandaradasa’s compositions with great fervour.

Purandaradasa was a visionary whose songs and pedagogy permeated the entire Carnatic lyrical tradition, and continues to be emulated through generations. Such great masters have uplifted mankind and presented music in a whole new way for the world to remember forever.

Open pillared mantapa on the banks of River Tungabhadra where Purandaradasa composed songs on Lord Vittala