Tolo News – Khalilzad Meets Ghani and Abdullah in advance of peace talks

The US peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, arrived in Kabul on Sunday to meet with Afghan leaders.

Kabul – Kabul Province – Afghanistan, 27 October 2019. This is the first time the US Special Envoy for Peace Zalmay Khalilzad has been in Kabul since the peace talks were halted by US President Trump in early September.

“The meeting focused on the achievement of a lasting peace in Afghanistan, and both sides called for the reduction of violence and ceasefire by the Taliban to begin inter-Afghan talks,” said CE Abdullah’s deputy spokesman Omid Maisam.

Khalilzad also met with former President Hamid Karzai and some other Afghan politicians.

The meeting focused on reaching a permanent ceasefire and concerns over delays in talks between Afghans, with the politicians calling on the US to resume talks with the Taliban.

The Afghan government has made assurances that a comprehensive delegation is prepared for the intra-Afghan talks, and considers the ceasefire to be one of the pre-conditions to start talks.

“We have consulted with political parties and with various people and the list has been made and includes individuals who will represent the Afghan people with dignity,” said President Ghani’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi.

Sources close to the peace talks say Khalilzad’s trip is also linked to the release of two US university professors in Kabul.

“Khalilzad’s trip has two parts, one I think is about the release of US university professors that Khalilzad talked to the Taliban about, and the second is about the talks between USA and Taliban that are likely to resume in the near future,” said Sayed Akbar Agha, a former Taliban commander.

Experts say that regional confidence-building in the peace process, and dialogue with the Afghan government over the resumption of peace talks with the Taliban, are the reasons for Khalilzad’s travel to Kabul.

“There is now serious distrust between the Taliban leadership and the USA leadership, and Mr Khalilzad’s travels to the countries involved is to restore that trust between the two sides again,” said Intazar Khadam, a peace researcher in Afghanistan.

Zalmay Khalilzad has also traveled to Belgium, France and Russia prior to his trip to Kabul, and has talked with Chinese, Russian and Pakistani representatives about the Afghan peace talks.

The Tribune – Diwali pollution: For first time this season, Delhi’s air quality plummets to ‘severe’

New Delhi – India, 28 October 2019. A layer of haze enveloped the national capital a day after Diwali as the city’s air quality on Monday plummeted to the “severe” category for the first time this season with a large number of revellers brazenly flouting the Supreme Court-enforced two-hour limit for bursting crackers.

Delhi’s apprehensions came true despite the top court’s order that only green firecrackers, which cause 30 per cent less pollution, can be manufactured and sold, and the Arvind Kejriwal government organising a mega laser show in an effort to dissuade people from bursting crackers.

According to the Ministry of Earth Sciences’ air quality monitor, SAFAR, levels of PM2.5, tiny particulate matter of diameter 2.5 or less than 2.5 microns that can enter deep into the lungs, reached as high as 735 at Delhi University.

Delhi’s overall air quality index (AQI) stood at 463 at 11.30 am, according to the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR).

The AQI at Pusa, Lodhi Road, Airport Terminal T3, Noida, Mathura Road, Ayanagar, IIT Delhi, Dhirpur, and Chandni Chowk was 480, 436, 460, 668, 413, 477, 483, 553 and 466, respectively.

However, according to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data, Delhi’s overall AQI stood at 348 at 11.30 am on Monday. It was 337 at 4 pm on Sunday.

SAFAR said an increase in the wind speed will help disperse pollutants and the pollution levels are expected to come down by evening.

It had earlier predicted that Delhi’s overall AQI would enter the “severe” category between 1 am and 6 am on Monday, primarily due to firecracker emissions, unfavourable weather and a significant spike in stubble burning.

An AQI between 0-50 is considered “good”, 51-100 “satisfactory”, 101-200 “moderate”, 201-300 “poor”, 301-400 “very poor”, and 401-500 “severe”. Above 500 is “severe-plus emergency” category.

The satellite towns of Ghaziabad (378), Greater Noida (364), Gurgaon (359) and Noida (375) recorded their AQI in the very poor category, according to CPCB data.

Ambala, Hisar and Kurukshetra in Haryana recorded their AQI at 370, 380, and 377, respectively. In Uttar Pradesh’ Muzaffarnagar, Moradbabad, Meerut, it was 414, 393 and 330.

The AQI in Punjab’s Patiala, Ludhiana, Jalandhar and Khanna stood at 334, 314, 321 and 301, respectively.

Last night, people reported violation of the Supreme Court-enforced two-hour window in Malviya Nagar, Lajpat Nagar, Kailash Hills, Burari, Jangpura, Shahdara, Laxmi Nagar, Mayur Vihar, Sarita Vihar, Hari Nagar, New Friends Colony, Hauz Khas, Gautam Nagar, Dwarka among others places.

Residents in Noida, Greater Noida, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad and Faridabad also reported extensive fireworks much beyond the timeframe.

People could also be seen bursting crackers before 8 PM, however, the intensity remained low.

After last year’s Diwali, Delhi’s AQI had crossed the 600-mark, which is 12 times the safe limit. The AQI post-Diwali was 367 in 2017 and 425 in 2016.

With Delhi’s air quality plummeting to dangerous levels around Diwali every year, the Supreme Court in 2018 banned polluting firecrackers and ordered that only green firecrackers, which is said to cause 30 per cent less pollution, can be manufactured and sold.

But the green pyrotechnics have failed to draw good response both from sellers and buyers, primarily due to lack of variety, limited stock and high prices.

The Delhi government had organised a four-day laser show from October 26 to encourage people not to burst crackers this Diwali and Chief Minister Kejriwal had said the move aims at encouraging a “community and pollution-free Diwali”.

Last year also, people continued to buy the conventional firecrackers and use them.

Antwerpen: Sint-Jacob – Centraal Station

17 October 2019

I walked back from Eilandje

Tram 24 to Silsburg that took me to Central Station

Centraal Station/Middenstatie
17 October 2019

Tram 24 to Silsburg

The Brussel – Amsterdam Intercity

We took a train to Brussel from here

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

The Express Tribune – Religious tourism: Punjab govt opens Sikh heritage sites to public

Asif Mehmood

Lahore – Panjab – Pakistan, 28 October 2019. The Punjab government has initiated religious tourism for Sikh pilgrims in the provincial capital. Visitors interested in history, archaeology and religious tourism were taken to visit the holy sites of the Sikh community which were, previously, remained secreted in the streets of the inner city.

The unique event started from the Fort Road Food Street where PRO to Punjab Governor Pawan Singh Arora briefed the participants about the event, followed by colourfully decorated rickshaw rides.

The official explained that the purpose of this tour was to bring the international community’s attention towards the heritage of the Sikh community, its holy sites and archaeological structures situated in the provincial capital.

“Usually, citizens, except the members of the Sikh community, are not allowed to visit the temples, which is a prime reason for the lack of awareness among the public about these holy places.”

“It is through these historical trips that we will be taking the visitors to the temples so that they could see the places and learn about the religious practices of the Sikh community,” he added. “These trips will also promote religious harmony and companionship among people of different faith groups.”

The tourists were first taken to visit the birthplace of Sikh community’s fourth religious leader Guru Ram Das, which is situated in the inner city of Chuna Mandi.

The official briefed the visitors about this worship place. Later, the visitors reached Dera Sahib Lahore, where the fifth Guru of the Sikh community Arjun Devji was martyred. Members of the Sikh community believe that Guru Arjun Devji drowned inside a well located there, which is a part of River Ravi.

Apart from this, the grave of Maharaja Ranjit Singh is also located at the site. Hina Umar, a participant of the religious tour, said that it was a very good initiative by the provincial government.

“Tourists will have the opportunity to know more about the heritage of the Sikh community,” she added. “As most of us know less about Sikhism and not much information is being taught in schools about the community and their culture, we have taken this tour to learn many new things about the community today.”

Another participant Shazia Fayyaz told The Express Tribune that the visitors came to know about this visit through a social media platform.

“Whenever we used to visit the Shahi Qila and Badshahi Mosque, we would often get curious about the Gurdwara. However, due to security reasons, we could not get an opportunity to explore the place of worship.”

“Today, our wish to visit the Gurdwara and learn more about the Sikh community has come true and we have made the most of this special occasion to know more about Sikh heritage,” she remarked.

The Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA) Marketing and Tourism Director Asif Zaheer, while talking to the media, said Prime Minister Imran Khan and Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar were promoting religious tourism in the country and this event was a result of their commitment.

“In the walled city of Lahore, there are many ancient buildings from the Sikh era, including Gurdwaras and holy places belonging to the community. We want to promote Sikh heritage through this city tour.” “We want to show the world how we have protected this heritage and kept it close to our hearts,” he added.

He further said that, initially, this religious tour would be held once a month. “About 60 people were included in today’s tour and if the number of visitors increases, we shall have this tour arranged twice a month.” Also, following the norm, tours to promote Muslim heritage, historic mosques and shrines will be initiated soon, he maintained. – Gandhi vs Mahatma – Gandhi’s racism: It’s time for the Mahatma to become a properly historical figure with all his flaws

I prefer a flawed Gandhi to his saintly effigy, just as I prefer the problematic figures of his political descendants Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.

Faisal Devji

Op/Ed, 28 October 2019. If the memory of Mahatma Gandhi lives on today, then it is mainly thanks to his enemies, who seem unable to forget him. The Mahatma’s followers, on the other hand, have turned him into a saint whose teachings can safely be ignored as the words of a superior being to be admired from afar.

Given the ritualistic respect offered to Gandhi in India, which is received with public indifference, it is puzzling why he remains so alive for his critics. Perhaps they are the only ones who continue to feel betrayed by Gandhi’s loss of sainthood.

For Indians, this betrayal is renewed with each new generation, as scholars and activists discover yet another of the Mahatma’s failings. During the 1980s in the wake of second-wave feminism in India, it was his treatment of women that came under the spotlight.

And in the 1990s, with the rise of caste politics in India, it was Gandhi’s views about untouchability that were questioned. In our own time, the worldwide focus on racism has unsurprisingly led him to be accused of this sin as well.

What is unprecedented about the condemnations of Gandhi’s racism, however, is that they are not limited to India but have become global, with statues of the Mahatma being attacked in South Africa and removed in Ghana.

I had a taste of this myself earlier this year, when I suggested on the Oxford and Colonialism Working Group email list that we might begin our efforts to make imperial history visible in the University by marking Gandhi’s visit there in 1931.

This would be followed by commemorations of other anti-colonial figures who had visited Oxford with conferences, rooms named in their honour, and plaques, for example.

Political naivete

I was opposed by a former student and fellow academic who had been active in the Rhodes Must Fall movement in Oxford, which sought to follow South Africa’s precedent by removing a statue of Cecil Rhodes from Oriel College. The movement was attacked in the press and finally failed once alumni and donors threatened to pull their donations from the college.

His was not the only critique, however. He was followed by another academic activist interested in caste issues who had been a student at Oxford, and then by a student from Birmingham who accused both Gandhi and Nehru of being anti-Sikh.

As this debate was going on, I received private messages of support from many others, who were perhaps uncomfortable with making their views about race known in public because they were white.

The only Oxford student who intervened in the debate, and the only Indian citizen to do so, pointed out how politically naïve it was for these critics in effect to make common cause with the most violent elements of India’s far right, who also accuse Gandhi of racism while celebrating his assassination. Gandhi, he pointed out, is no longer the enemy for progressives there.

Like other critics of Gandhi’s racism, those who commented on my proposal offered personal rather than properly historical analyses of it, thus falling into the very moralism they despise in Gandhi and revealing their frustrated desire for the saint he has failed to be.

I prefer a flawed Gandhi to his saintly effigy, just as I prefer the problematic figures of his political descendants Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, whose sexual and other lapses have not resulted in their statues being vandalised or names banned from commemoration.

Personality over politics

The Rhodes Must Fall activists who had complained about Oxford bowing to outside pressure were now the outsiders trying to prevent us from making colonial history visible in the University.

The academic who led the campaign to remove Gandhi’s statue from the University of Ghana had likewise focused on his personality rather than his politics, making moral virtue the benchmark for commemoration and thus establishing a competition in purity.

Should statues of the dictator Kwame Nkrumah be removed from Accra as well? And how might anti-colonialism be understood if such figures are all written out of its history?

South Africa plays an interesting role in terms of virtue signalling on university campuses and in liberal society in the West more generally. The fact that the Rhodes Must Fall movement in South Africa attacked African and Indian professors, eventually descending into violence, does not seem to worry the movement’s followers in Oxford.

South Africa’s belated independence represents an opportunity for the West to be on the right side of imperial history for the first time, by re-running the script of de-colonisation to condemn apartheid and celebrate the emergence of a “rainbow nation”. This means that finally white liberals can claim the virtue of anti-colonialism.

Yet such invocations of diversity also emerged out of the African colonies, whose administrators used the term “multi-racialism” to describe societies in which whites needed to hold the balance between Africans and Indians (and sometimes Arabs as well).

Seen as a source of both moral and political corruption, Indians – but not Europeans – were often (and sometimes still are) forbidden from owning agricultural land so as to protect Africans from their rapacity. Indians in Africa thus came to occupy the role of alien middlemen familiar in anti-Semitic discourse.

Anti-Indian rioters

But there is more to the story of Gandhi’s racism than such campus controversies. The global interest in the Mahatma’s moral failings has just as much to do with the dissolution of anti-colonial solidarity worldwide. The growth of India and China as economic and military powers has lifted them out of the old world order of Afro-Asian unity to compete for their own status vis-à-vis the West.

Gandhi would have been against this development of course, but he must nonetheless pay for it through loss of reputation, being the most famous representative of India and Indians globally.

Attacks on statues of Gandhi, therefore, are also attacks on Indian communities in places like South Africa, where his house and settlement at Phoenix were destroyed by anti-Indian rioters in 1986.

Such attacks on minorities also include the murderous violence against African migrants from neighbouring countries (which South Africa dominates economically in fulfilment of the aims of apartheid).

The arguments deployed against Indians by men such as the South African militant Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, continue to follow a classically anti-Semitic script in their depiction of an insular and exploitative community.
Credit: AFP

It is no coincidence that Julius Malema and his violent followers have selected Gandhi as a favourite target, even using a book written by two of the Mahatma’s critics in South Africa to support them. This volume, which has become the standard account of Gandhi’s racism, was published by Stanford University Press in a series for which I am an editor.

While disagreeing with its views on this issue, I had reviewed, approved and even endorsed it for describing the independent political activism of the Mahatma’s compatriots in South Africa.

Having been reduced to useful stooges for Malema’s movement, while at the same time being attacked by him for defending the very Indians they wanted to bring out from under Gandhi’s shadow, these authors will now have to rethink their politics.

Because Gandhi’s racism stands in for Indian racism in general across sub-Saharan Africa, with long-standing anti-Indian narratives there drawing on tropes that were once invoked by Idi Amin to expel tens of thousands of Indians from Uganda.

Caste and race

Brutal forms of racism undoubtedly exist in India, as any African student or businessperson there will attest. However, prejudiced as they may be, the Indian minorities in African countries cannot be accused of holding any real race power there, although, like the Jews, they are often charged with using financial inducements to exercise power surreptitiously.

In fact, Indian communities have been socially and legally discriminated against in a number of African countries, and occasionally they have even been forced to leave their homes.

Gandhi’s critics never link their accusations about his racism in South Africa with the present-day African context of racialised attacks on Indians.

Instead, the racial character of such attacks is often concealed under the fig-leaf of solidarity between Africans and low-caste or Dalit Indians, who serve as exceptions to the racist norm represented by the Mahatma and Indian minorities generally.

Comparisons between Dalits and African-Americans in particular go back to the “untouchable” leader Ambedkar himself, who was both the Mahatma’s contemporary and his enemy.

Apart from the questionable merits of using caste to think about race and vice versa, this revival of a black political rather than ethnic identity is as deeply nostalgic as the celebration of South Africa as a rainbow nation re-writing the script of decolonisation that other African nations can be seen to have betrayed.

In Britain, meanwhile, where it had been pioneered in the 1970s, the rise of Islamism and other religious forms of identity broke black politics by the end of the 1980s, ushering in new kinds of religious solidarity as well as new forms of discrimination such as Islamophobia.

Two charges have been levelled against Gandhi. The first is that he never spoke for the liberty of Africans or involved them in his movement, and the second is that he considered Africans to be inferior and sought to keep Indians separate from them. However, unless he was invited to do so, the Mahatma never spoke for any community of which he was not a member.

He conceived of non-violence as an exemplary rather than prescriptive practice, which would attract emulation to maintain an anarchistic social plurality. And of course, had he presumed to speak for Africans, it is certain that today he would be accused of patronising and appropriating their struggles, as indeed he often is by Dalit activists.

Legal compulsions

South Africa was a society whose racialised populations were treated differently by law. As a lawyer hired to defend Indian privileges, Gandhi was unable to challenge the legal system itself.

And the law ensured he could only defend these privileges by making sure Indians were not identified with Africans, as was the case with all non-white minorities throughout eastern and central Africa.

Although he likely approved of this separation personally, in line with his caste-defined ideas of plurality, Gandhi also insisted on treating wounded Zulus in the ambulance corps he led during the Bambatha Rebellion, with whom his political sympathies also lay.

When he was no longer serving as a lawyer, Gandhi’s derogatory comments about Africans ceased, and in his book Satyagraha in South Africa he contrasted Zulus favourably with Indians on every count.

Eventually, he would see African-Americans as the most hopeful agents of non-violence worldwide and would prove to be a significant influence on their struggle. Nonetheless, given their legal status as British subjects of the Raj, the Mahatma had to fight for his compatriots as Indians, since no such juridical or political subject as “South African” existed.

His demand was therefore an international rather than a South African one, and consisted in compelling India to uphold the status of her citizens across the British Empire.

Calling the Mahatma’s first satyagraha (passive resistance) a South African action, as he himself did, is, therefore, something of a misnomer, as it depended on the involvement of India, and therefore London, for traction. And expecting Gandhi to fight for the freedom of all South Africans is anachronistic.

South Africa was only one site of this struggle, with Gandhi interested in the status of Indians all over the British Empire, from Kenya to Mauritius to Guyana, Fiji and Trinidad. His movement became a global one when Gandhi sought to, and in fact succeeded in, abolishing indenture, which was the Indian successor to African slavery and supplied labour for much of the Empire.

Perhaps Gandhi was a racist, but we get no sense of this from his enemies, whose personalised arguments deprive his thought of integrity and ignore the many contexts in which he operated.

After all, even accusing Hitler of racism is a meaningless generality, since we can only understand Hitler’s violence by taking its intellectual justification and historical context into consideration as well. Instead of merely turning the saint into a sinner, then, it is time for the Mahatma to become a properly historical figure with all its flaws, for his friends as much as for his enemies.

Faisal Devji is Professor of Indian History and Director of the Asian Study Centre at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford.