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A world of anomalies

By Ashok Mitra
July 18, 2005 13:20 IST
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The highest in the land has confirmed it, we have entered into a strategic partnership with the United States of America; the objective is to crush "international terrorism". Things are now happening fast. American immigration officers have moved into Indian ports -- or are about to do so -- to supervise our own regular customs surveillance of outgoing merchandise to the US.

This needs some explaining. The US administration is worried no end. Terrorists are not only smuggling drugs and other contraband into the US, they are also bent on sneaking in destructive devices and matérial needed to put together such devices. All imported merchandise are of course checked and scrutinised by immigration personnel at US ports of entry. That apparently is not enough in this post-9/11 era. There must be, American authorities think, a system of double-checking; foreign ports from where goods are shipped to the US should in addition have arrangements for scrutiny of such goods by US immigration staff.

The Americans have been hawking around the proposal to foreign governments. After some cajoling, the Government of India, it is understood, has agreed to fall in. American immigration officials are henceforth going to oversee customs operations at our ports to ensure that our own officials do not falter on their job and no objectionable matter gets despatched to the US from India.

The naïve ones, or those prone to nurturing vacuous patriotic sentiments, may feel this to be both an anomaly and an encroachment on our sovereignty. One or two among them may even enquire whether we are prepared to offer the same prerogatives to immigration officers from the 175-odd other members of the United Nations. That would be a silly question to ask. We have not entered into a strategic partnership with any of these other constituents of the UN. None of these other countries also happens to be anywhere nearly as rich or as militarily powerful as the US is. Our fixation about export-driven growth, and the fact the US takes in the largest chunk of our exports, are of course further considerations to be taken into account.

The induction of US immigration officers is, however, only a curtain-raiser. The fight against "global terrorism" involves other, far more serious, commitments. The Central Intelligence Agency, of course, operates in our country in a clandestine manner, and it does not bother to have the approval of our government for its presence.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is, however, a more forthright institution. It has been applying pressure on New Delhi to be allowed to open offices at several centres in India. It is still hazy whether our government has already caved in and accorded this permission. But the FBI knows what its mission is in India and what it expects the government of India to do towards the fulfilment of this mission.

If the war against "international terrorism" is to be one hundred per cent successful, those conspiring against the US on Indian soil must be nabbed. The FBI itself will do the nabbing. The US supreme court has given the verdict that those who are captured in this manner by the US agents on foreign soil and are charged with waging war against the US could be shipped to American territory to stand trial, or, not even to stand trial, to be detained indefinitely.

The court has chosen to describe such people arrested by the FBI or the CIA as "irregular combatants"; never mind which nationality or nationalities they belong to, this category of detainees can, in the view of the supreme court, be indefinitely held without trial by the US authorities.

The implications of American administrative and judicial decisions are far-reaching. According to the US authorities, the FBI or any other official agency of the US has the right to arrest a citizen of any country from anywhere in the world, transport him or her to a territory under the jurisdiction of the US, and hold him or her there without trial.

The fight against "international terrorism", the world is being told, justifies such draconian measures. And since we are in a strategic partnership with the US to fight "global terror", the US administration expects our government to extend the fullest cooperation to the FBI and similar other agencies to track down "irregular combatants" and hand them over.

There should be no scope of any misunderstanding here. If the FBI suspects an Indian citizen to be guilty of "international terror", it may, on its own initiative, arrest this Indian citizen on Indian soil and ship him or her to, for instance, the American military base at Guantanamo in Cuba, to be kept at the celebrated maximum security prison there.

Given New Delhi's strategic partnership with the US, the Americans would demand our acquiescence in the entire operation. The so-called due processes of Indian law -- or international law, for that matter -- must be kept in abeyance. If the captured Indian citizen is subjected to inhuman torture at Guantanamo by the American Gestapo, the Government of India must remain unprotesting.

So the posting of US immigration officers in Mumbai, Kochi and elsewhere is only the thin end of the wedge. There is, besides, a bread-and-butter side of the problem. The prosperity the Indian middle class is currently enjoying is on account of the call centres conducted here on behalf of multinational corporations presided over by the US tycoons.

As practical-minded people, we must not, we will be told, mind if, every now and then, a few Indian nationals, suspected of involvement with Osama bin Laden or some other equally despicable character, are identified by the FBI or the CIA as an "irregular combatant" over whom only the American law of the jungle would prevail. After all, we have to choose in life; if we want a comfortable living, we must forget such things as habeas corpus and the International Charter of Human Rights.

It may be, in the beginning, a bit difficult to be reconciled with an anomaly of this nature: an Indian citizen being picked up from Indian territory by a foreign government agency and despatched to a far-away destination, with neither our government nor our legal system in a position to intervene. We are, however, expected to go through the learning curve and accustom ourselves to keep quiet.

Anomaly-fetishists among us might not be totally calmed. Is not Guantanamo a part of Cuba, and was not Cuba liberated way back in 1959, when Fidel Castro and his revolutionary comrades drove out the American stooge, Fulgencio Batista, from the island? How is it then that the Americans are still retaining a military base at Guantanamo? British hegemony has ceased over Hong Kong and Portuguese domination over Macau, both territories have returned to China's suzerainty. Similarly, India has got back Chandernagore from France and wrested Goa, Daman and Diu from Portugal. How come then the Americans not only cling to Guantanamo, but actually dare to set up their torture chambers in that location?

Doubters have to be told that the US is sui generis. The ordinary laws of nature do not apply in its case, and for reasons that are obvious even to the most dim-witted.

If anomaly-fetishists are at the same time historically-minded, they might know that, during the golden age of gun boat diplomacy crafted by President Teddy Roosevelt, the then Cuban regime was bullied into signing an agreement with the US government in terms of which Guantanamo, along with its bay, was handed over to the US for perpetuity.

A revolution is all right but, according to the logic of the world's biggest military and economic power, it cannot invalidate a deed signed for perpetuity. Poor Fidel Castro does not have the armed strength to liberate Guantanamo and put an end to all the evil deeds currently being perpetrated there. Should he attempt to do so, the mighty US would make mincemeat of Cuba's socialist experiment.

You must never, never question anomalies created by the world's mighty.

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Ashok Mitra