Sowing dragon’s teeth in Europe

Published April 26, 2022
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

PRESIDENT Zelensky was commenting on the commonly held belief that neo-Nazis lurked in the body politic of Ukraine and even ran powerful militias in the country, including the one apparently fighting in Mariupol, the strategic city surrounded by Russian troops. He pointed to the fact that he was a Jew, the implication being that he wouldn’t be president of a country if it were swarming with anti-Semitic sentiments.

By Zelensky’s logic, there should be no threat to Indian democracy from the current crop of right-wing rulers since there are Muslim governors and ministers flourishing in the regime.

Be that as it may, the West is arming Ukrainian fighters to the teeth with lethal weaponry to thwart the Russian invasion. In doing so, it is wilfully overlooking, by force of habit, the risk in the bargain.

Read: First part of US military aid arrives in Ukraine

Not for the first time, the West is sowing dragon’s teeth, only this time in the heart of Europe, to raise a right-wing force as it once did in Afghanistan. If the US-supplied Stinger missiles did the job in Afghanistan to defeat the Soviet military might, powerful anti-tank missiles and other sophisticated hardware are said to have stalled the Russian advance in Ukraine. Still, the weapons are being placed into the hands of not only the regular military, which is said to be using them effectively; they have also been recklessly given to dubious militias — all skilled fighters, mind you — but who are known to harbour toxic notions about Ukrainian nationhood against the one Mr Zelensky publicly supports.

The destruction of Libya and Syria with Western weapons handed to frighteningly regressive militias is only a more recent memory.

On the other side of the fence, the Iranian campaign against the Shah was a relatively unarmed movement, albeit driven by a range of militant groups. The pro-Soviet Tudeh Party had men in key positions within the Iranian military apparatus, though they were unable to use their positions in the chaos of the revolution. The groups did link up in the common purpose to topple the Shah, but fell apart when the deed was done. As the Iranian clerics took hold of the revolution, secular but mutually bickering groups, ranging from the liberal centrists to the far left, were systematically decimated.

The West is arming Ukrainian fighters to the teeth with lethal weaponry to thwart the Russian invasion.

Similar examples abound elsewhere. But this is about Europe itself. This is the region that was on edge the other day with its heart in its mouth as a far right challenger looked close to taking the French presidency away from the centrist and more Nato-friendly Emmanuel Macron. Three European countries appealed in signed articles to voters in France to reject Marine Le Pen, and their call seems to have been heeded. (It shows that countries can intervene in each other’s elections legitimately, as Hillary Clinton would have noticed.)

The option of shepherding voters from a harmful electoral choice may not exist with heavily armed and motivated militias in the heart of Europe. Another offshoot of the bruising war is that analysts are beginning to miss the work done by the late Princess Diana, who led a global but scarcely heeded campaign against the use of landmines. We haven’t been able to clear the menace in Afghanistan or Cambodia, for example, and we have plunged into a looming disaster in Europe.

While all this is forbidding on its own, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson decided to announce in New Delhi that the Ukraine war could stretch to the end of next year. He was in Kyiv with Zelensky before arriving in India. But how could he divine the Russian mind? The reported subsequent visit of two top-ranking US officials to Kyiv would seem to endorse their ally’s perspective.

What could have given the British premier his insight — hopeful for him and tragic for Ukraine — into the duration of the war, including the time it would end, and what could it be amounting to? Would the end coincide with the onset of the presidential primaries in the US? Currently, British elections are scheduled within three months of the US presidential race, if Johnson survives the brewing ‘Partygate’ scam. The other possibility is the expectation that the sanctions on Russia would begin to bite.

Amid the intensifying moves to put more sophisticated arms in the global market, the Caravan magazine carried a disturbing analysis potentially impacting India as it would Europe. The report noted that in 1947, the districts that had larger concentrations of combat veterans from World War II, saw battle-hardened men systematically organising campaigns to persuade members of the other religious communities to leave.

Read: Afghanistan harnesses anti-Taliban militias as insurgency spreads

“The most violent ethnic cleansing occurred when members of the majority community had gained combat experience as soldiers and the minority community was unorganised.” The report was quoting from the works of Steven Wilkinson and Saumitra Jha from their 2012 study Does Combat experience foster Organizational Skill? Evidence from Ethnic Cleansing during the Partition of India.

“An additional month of combat experience was associated with 1.1 percentage greater reduction in the minority population due to killing, conversion or migration — equivalent to 17,000 people per district,” according to the findings of the paper. The authors clarified though that this did not automatically mean that all veterans were involved in such violence.

How could that be worrying for India? The Caravan said the research pointed to worrying implications for the Indian government’s newly proposed plan for the Tour of Duty system in army recruitment.

According to the report, this plan proposes inducting and training a number of men on short services duration of about a couple of years. The proposal has not found favour with the army so far, mainly for financial reasons. If it did, the forbidding reality of combat veterans aiding an existing paramilitary force, which the RSS is usually described as, could be a force multiplier in India’s rapid distancing from its fabled secular democracy.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

jawednaqvi@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2022

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