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Afghanistan War: The West's 'Fatal Mistakes'

After seven long years in which it seemed a sideshow to the bigger conflict in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan has reached a critical point. The US must now choose how far it will become further embroiled in a messy conflict which affects its relations with Pakistan, India and the wider Middle East including Iran. At a moment when the world is convulsed by the worst economic disaster since 1929, Washington will have to decide if it really wants to invest time, money, military and political resources in beating back the ragged bands of Taliban who increasingly control southern Afghanistan.

At the end of last year, the White House was talking about repeating what was deemed to have been the success of the "surge" in Iraq. Some 30,000 extra US troops were sent to Iraq pursuing more aggressive tactics and the Sunni Arab insurgency seemed to wind down soon after. But the real turning point in Iraq was probably the defeat of the Sunni Arabs by the Shia. Nothing of this sort is likely to undermine the Taliban in Afghanistan just as their guerrilla attacks are inflicting more casualties than ever.

For a long time, the Afghan war seemed confined to one country. But in the past year there has been cross-infection between a whole series of crises, from the insurgency in Indian-administered Kashmir to the Islamic fundamentalist takeover of the Swat valley west of Islamabad. The political temperature has been rising and the seriousness of what was happening was only slowly appreciated in Washington.

President Bush pretended that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was a threat to the rest of the world. His successor has to deal with a crisis in which India and Pakistan, both nuclear powers, are confronting each other. The dilemmas of Iraq seem to diminish by comparison.

The crisis in Afghanistan has been a slow-motion disaster. This was not the case in Iraq where guerrilla warfare against the US occupation erupted within weeks of the American occupation. In 2001 the Taliban appeared to have been swiftly and decisively defeated in a campaign in which the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance advanced with the support of the US air force directed by small teams of American special forces on the ground. The Taliban vanished from their frontline positions and fled Kabul and Kandahar without a fight.

Prior to the conflict, critics of American intervention had warned that Afghanistan was a notorious graveyard for foreign armies. They recalled that it was in the Kabul Gorge just east of the capital that an army of British and Indian soldiers were slaughtered by Afghan tribesmen in 1842. North of Kabul in the Panjshir valley there is visible evidence of the fate of another foreign invader. Local farmers have incorporated the rusty carcasses of old Soviet tanks, destroyed in ambushes in the 1980s and too heavy to move, into the stone walls which enclose their fields.

These dire warnings seemed to have been almost embarrassingly wrong-footed as the Taliban's rule fell apart in 2001. The aim of closing down al-Qa'ida training camps was easily accomplished. In fact it was all too easy. The critics had not been wrong in saying that Afghanistan is a land full of nasty surprises though this only slowly became apparent. But the hubris generated by swift success in 2001 led the Americans and the British thoughtlessly to linger in Afghanistan without any coherent policy or military and political aims.

In the British case the very purpose of its forces being in Afghanistan changed by the year. At one time in 2006 they seemed to be there as reconstruction teams who were not expected to fire a shot. At other moments British soldiers were portrayed as frontline fighters in the war against Islamic fundamentalist terror. Fire-fights in the bleak villages of southern Afghanistan were directly linked to defending the streets of London.

There was a fecklessness about the whole venture on the American and British side. Not surprisingly other Nato allies wondered what exactly they were getting into in sending their troops to Afghanistan. Comparisons with Iraq can be misleading but intervention in both countries never had overwhelming or even majority political support at home. Casualties were not particularly heavy compared to many other wars, but Iraqi or Afghan guerrillas are able to inflict casualties which are politically unsustainable for the American or British governments.

It is astonishing that only now the US is finally producing a policy for Afghanistan which is in keeping with the real nature of the imbroglio into which Mr Bush plunged in 2001 and floundered for seven years afterwards. The 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre was carried out by members of al-Qa'ida orchestrated from camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But the Bush administration used the attacks to justify the neo-con agenda of war with Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein and vocal hostility towards Iran and Syria as members of the "axis of evil".

The main US ally in its war on terror was going to be Pakistan under General Pervez Musharraf, though it was an open secret that it was the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI, which had fostered the Taliban and established it in power in Kabul. So long as it had the covert backing of the ISI, the Taliban was never going to be truly defeated. "A year after 9/11 it was clear to many Pakistanis," writes Ahmed Rashid in his book Descent Into Chaos, "that Musharraf's support of the US-led war in Afghanistan was not the promised strategic U-turn that would end the army's long-standing support for Islamic extremists but rather a short-term tactical move to appease the United States and off-set India's hegemony." The reality on the ground was that the Taliban was the foster-child of the ISI. General Musharraf was prepared to join in an unenergetic pursuit of Arab members of al-Qa'ida in Pakistan. But the main objectives of the Pakistani army's traditional policy were never abandoned. These were to resist India, support the Muslims of Kashmir, protect the Pakistani nuclear weapons and seek to establish a pro-Pakistani government in Kabul.

From the beginning, the army saw the Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government as an enemy of Pakistan. Once the US decided to invade Iraq in 2003 General Musharraf concluded Washington was none too serious about its war on terror and the Taliban could be quietly revived. By 2006 the insurgency was back in business.

The Bush administration was not alone in its misunderstanding of what was happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The media also played an important role in misleading the world about what had happened in Afghanistan in 2001. Television cameras had shown US missiles illuminating the night sky over Kabul as they exploded in government offices or among the frontline bunkers. In reality there was little fighting. The Taliban were experienced enough fighters not to wait to be bombed. Their trenches were mostly empty. Assisted on their way by large bribes to individual warlords by the CIA most Taliban units vanished. They had probably been told by their Pakistani advisers that they should wait to fight another day.

I followed the retreating Taliban from Kabul to Kandahar waiting for them to make a stand. They never did. In the ancient city of Ghazni the Taliban simply switched sides, the only serious disputes in which six Taliban were killed, were over whether or not they should hand over government cars to the incoming administration. The Taliban had an armoured unit in Ghazni which had been heavily bombed but again there were almost no military casualties because Taliban fighters had sensibly abandoned their vehicles as soon as they realised they were going to come under air attack.

In Kandahar itself the Taliban had disappeared but they had not gone very far. Some were across the Pakistani border in Quetta and others had just returned to their villages. When I asked in one village if I could meet former Taliban commanders they said it might take as long as an hour to assemble them in the village guest house because some of them lived in outlying farms.

They were confident men who did not sound as if they expected to be out of power for ever. The villagers' objection to the Taliban was primarily to their rigorously enforced ban on growing opium poppies. As soon as the first American bombs fell, local farmers explained they had ploughed up their fields and planted poppies "on the grounds that the Taliban would have other things on their minds to think about than enforcing the poppy ban". They said their crops had failed because of a series of droughts and this was the only way they could pay off the money-lenders.

The Taliban were unpopular all over Afghanistan. They had never had support outside the Pushtun, the community to which 40 per cent of Afghans belong. The Tajiks, who make up a quarter of the population, were the backbone of the opposition Northern Alliance together with the Uzbeks, who make up a further 6 per cent. The Hazaras of central Afghanistan constitute a further 18 per cent of Afghans and had been savagely persecuted as Shia Muslims by the fundamentalist-Sunni Taliban.

In the aftermath of the fall of the Taliban there was hope all over Afghanistan that life might be about to get better. Reporting of the country usually dwells on violence rather than deprivation but it is one of the poorest countries in the world. The UNDP rates it as 174th out of 178 countries in the 2007-08 world poverty index. There were some positive developments after 2001 but by no means enough. "Even after almost seven years of reconstruction and development assistance, a large percentage of the population suffer from shortages of housing, clean water, and electricity, and cannot afford the rising price of food," according to a report by the Centre for the Study of Global Governance in London.

"Afghan women face the highest rates of illiteracy and maternal mortality in the world and unemployment still hovers around 40-70 per cent with few prospects available." Despite numerous pledges of international aid only $15bn of $39bn originally pledged has been disbursed according to an Oxfam/Acbar report last year. Out of this, 40 per cent goes back to the donor countries in the form of company profits and consultants' salaries.

Afghanistan is an economic wreck ravaged by war since 1980. The problems are immense whoever is handling them, whether the US, the Afghan government or aid agencies. Aside from corruption and incompetence even the most efficient government would have difficulty satisfying these needs. Iraq, the victim of 30 years of war and sanctions, at least had a tradition of central government. But in Afghanistan the government of Hamid Karzai has limited authority outside Kabul. Instead power has remained in the hands of warlords and militia leaders, detested by ordinary Afghans, who batten on the population. The Taliban's rise to power in the 1990s came about partly because they seemed an alternative to the warlords but in practice their success was often the result of co-opting them or buying their services. The US and the Karzai government pursued a similar policy after 2001 so the power of the warlords was never really broken.

The strength of the Taliban is in large part a reflection of the weakness of the government. This has enabled the Taliban to set up a parallel administration in many areas, meting out its own justice. The group also benefited from the ill-thought-out approach of the US-led foreign forces. For instance destruction of the opium poppy crop, which accounts for 52 per cent of the country's GDP, has for long been an American policy. But Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, this week dismissed this scheme as "wasteful and inefficient" and said that the $800m spent on eradicating the poppies would have been better spent if it was given to Afghan farmers. "It has not hurt the Taliban one iota," declared Mr Holbrooke. Other sources say the Taliban had even welcomed the US eradication programme because it alienated farmers and drove up the price of their opium stocks.

The US troop surge in Afghanistan can probably prevent further erosion of the Afghan government's position if enough troops are deployed and money spent. But there are limits to what the US can do. The Taliban is never going to be defeated so long as it has its bases in the Pushtun belt inside north-western Pakistan. Nor is it likely that the Pakistani military will act against the Taliban so long as it sees them as one of its few allies against India. American drone attacks on Taliban and al-Qa'ida within Pakistan may kill some leaders but further anger ordinary Pakistanis. The ISI may not directly control the insurgency in Afghanistan but it can determine its intensity. This in turn gives Pakistan leverage over the US to prevent the Americans going too far in supporting India.

One of the main achievements of the surge in Iraq was that it gave the US public the impression that a victory had been won which in turn allowed the Americans to agree to withdraw their forces. President Bush was able to sign a Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government at the end of last year which included a timetable for a US pull-out which Washington had furiously rejected in the past.

The surge may play a similar role in Afghanistan. One of the main reasons for keeping American and British forces there is because it would be humiliating to withdraw. But the role of foreign military forces has always been ambivalent. They prop up the Karzai government but they also de-legitimise it as a puppet administration. Their use of firepower, originally designed for use against the Soviet army, against mud-brick compounds in Afghan villages means an inevitable flow of civilian casualties and builds support for the Taliban. And despite all these efforts Mr Obama says military victory is not feasible. The Americans are finding, as the British did in the 19th century and the Russians in the 20th, that the effort of keeping an army in Afghanistan is not really worth it.

The men who will shape Afghanistan:

Richard Holbrooke

President Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan is emerging as a key figure in the new administration's foreign policy. Came to world prominence under Bill Clinton's presidency when he brokered talks that led to the Dayton peace accords between the warring factions in former Yugoslavia.

Mohamed Omar

The Taliban's supreme leader, there's nothing moderate about Omar. He is believed to be hiding out close to Quetta in Pakistan. Nonetheless, he has reportedly given the green light for representatives of his "Quetta Shura" or council to take part in Saudi-sponsored peace talks.

General David Petraeus

He rose to become America's most admired soldier after executing the surge in Iraq. Since October, the man described by some as future presidential material has been in charge of Central Command, a theatre that takes in the Middle East as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Abdul Salam Zaeef

The former Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan until late 2001, Zaeef made headlines recently for browsing the internet on his iPhone. He spent more than three years in Guantanamo, but now lives in Kabul and is seen as a go-between for moderate Taliban and the Afghan government.

Peter Galbraith

Former US ambassador to Croatia and close ally of Richard Holbrooke. Has been assigned a UN key post in Afghanistan, which reinforces American influence over the UN's operation there as the new Obama strategy is unveiled. Mr Galbraith, son of the economist JK, will oversee the "civilian surge" which will accompany additional troop numbers.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar

Famed Jihadi commander in charge of Hezb-i-Islami, Hekmatyar's people have indicated to Kabul and the international community that they are willing to negotiate. Distinct from the Taliban, Hekmatyar was one of the anti-Soviet commanders backed by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and sidelined when the Taliban swept to power.

Advani challenges PM to TV debate

SEPPA, Arunachal Pradesh: Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani Thursday challenged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to a live television debate ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, like in the US, and also described Manmohan Singh as the weakest political head the country has ever seen. "Let the prime minister come for a live TV debate for which I am ready. This is the practice prevalent in the US during elections," Advani told an election rally in Sepa in East Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh bordering China. The BJP's prime ministerial candidate also termed Manmohan Singh as the weakest prime minister India has ever seen. "I have never seen a prime minister who has to take orders from the party high command to do anything for the country. Without Sonia Gandhi's approval, nothing moves in the government," Advani said at a modest gathering. The BJP leader also challenged Manmohan Singh to contest parliamentary elections instead of taking the Rajya Sabha route. "Singh will be more acceptable to the people of India if he decides to fight the elections and go to the Lok Sabha," Advani said. Manmohan Singh is a member of Rajya Sabha from Assam. Earlier, Advani addressed two election rallies in Assam where he lashed out at the Congress party for what he termed its failure to tackle infiltration from Bangladesh which has posed a threat to the country's internal security. Advani's remarks come two days after Manmohan Singh challenged the BJP leader's ability to rule India, saying his only contribution to "national welfare" was his role in the 1992 demolition of the Babri mosque. Advani had on Tuesday termed Manmohan Singh a "weak" prime minister.

March of India's big parties halted

IF INDIA had a televised pre-election debate for its prime ministerial aspirants, the organisers would have trouble deciding how many lecterns to put out.
At least 12 politicians have been touted as potential prime ministers, but others could yet materialise.
For more than a decade, India's two major parties — the Indian National Congress and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party — have been unable to combat the gradual fragmentation of Indian politics.
A clutch of smaller parties with local, caste-based and religious agendas are likely to win a large proportion of seats, denying either major party a mandate in next month's poll. A frenzied and unpredictable round of horse trading will probably determine the shape of the new government.
"This election will deliver a fractured mandate," says G. V. L. Narasimha Rao, a political analyst and BJP adviser.
While the 76-year-old incumbent, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from the Congress party, and 81-year-old BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani are still considered front runners to lead any governing coalition, other contenders could emerge.
Vidhu Verma, a politics professor at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, says the uncertainty is a sign of the declining influence of Congress and the BJP. "Neither have much of a chance of winning a clear majority, so the regional parties might try to negotiate an alliance where they bargain for their leader to be prime minister," he said.
Heading the colourful field of alternative prime ministers is the controversial "untouchable" leader Kumari Mayawati. From the low caste or "dalit" community, Ms Mayawati is Chief Minister of India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, and has made no secret of her ambition for the top job.
Other contenders are drawn from strong regional parties. They include Sharad Pawar, currently the Agriculture Minister and chairman of India's peak cricket body, the BCCI; Jayalalithaa Jayaram, a former film star and chief minister of Tamil Nadu in southern India; H. D. Deve Gowda, who was prime minister in a short-lived coalition of left-wing and regional parties in the 1990s; and M. Chandrababu Naidu, a former chief minister of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.
Earlier this month an alliance called the "Third Front" was launched. It includes India's communists and a collection of regional parties, but is yet to sort out its leadership or develop a coherent platform.
At the last election in 2004, smaller parties won about 260 seats in India's 543-seat lower house — nearly double the tally of Congress.
Sonia Gandhi, Congress leader and matriarch of the Gandhi political dynasty, cobbled together a coalition called the United Progressive Alliance that has ruled for five years.
The alliance has unravelled in the lead-up to the election, but Congress hopes their partners will return after the poll.
Despite its crumbling alliances, Congress this week confirmed Dr Singh as its candidate for prime minister and attempted to win votes by promising cheap rice or wheat to the poor.
The BJP is also struggling to deliver a coherent political message as it tries to preserve its Hindu nationalist identity while presenting a moderate image.
In a curious twist, an outburst by Varun Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi's nephew, has created trouble for the BJP. Varun Gandhi, who deserted Congress and is standing as a BJP candidate, is accused of making inflammatory anti-Muslim statements in a recent speech, undermining the party's efforts to tone down its Hindu nationalism.
Abhay Kumar Dubey, from Delhi's Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, says the Varun Gandhi controversy will make it more difficult for the BJP to forge post-election alliances. "The whole situation is always in flux — that is the interesting thing about Indian elections. Nothing is fixed or predetermined."

Murder of an Indian CEO

On September 21 last year, the day before he was clubbed to death, Lalit Kishore Chaudhary was on the telephone to his local business association, complaining about flooding. Late monsoon rains had exposed the inadequacy of the half-built infrastructure of Greater Noida, an industrial zone on the eastern edge of Delhi, across the Yamuna river from the capital’s centre. Without proper drainage, the wide roads had become waterlogged and, in some places, impassable.
Chaudhary, chief executive of Graziano Trasmissioni India, knew he had far bigger things to worry about than the state of the roads. His factory, producing components for auto makers around the world, was in turmoil, its industrial relations on a knife edge following dismissals and disciplinary action. His management team felt besieged by political forces beyond the factory gates they did not fully understand.
Before the water had drained from the roads, the 47-year-old executive was dead, his skull smashed in by a hammer. The chain of events that led to Chaudhary’s murder is heavily disputed and six months later still the subject of a police investigation.

According to the company and the police, on the morning of September 22, a crowd gathered outside the gates of the Graziano factory in Gautam Buddha, Nagar district. Many were former employees sacked in the preceding months due to disciplinary problems; they were seeking a meeting with management to agree a return to work. But unlike previous gatherings of protesters, the mood quickly turned hostile. The crowd overpowered the factory’s frightened security guards and used a truck to force their way into the plant. Local police were nowhere to be seen, leaving senior management to face the 200 protesters alone.
“It was a violent outburst. It wasn’t very well planned; there was no planning of the murder of the chief executive,” says Surendra Kumar Verma, the local police chief. “The protesters were there to agitate, and the violent mob mentality took hold.”
Early reports suggested Chaudhary was knocked down in the yard as he tried to pacify his assailants. But his company, which is based in Italy and owned by the Swiss industrial group Oerlikon, tells another story. In this version, rioters armed with metal bars and hammers roamed through the factory on a terrifying hunt for the bosses. “He tried to escape the mob by locking himself into one of the offices,” a company spokesman said. “The locked door was broken. He tried to escape again by jumping out of the window and was beaten to death at the very point he landed.” Oerlikon said the riot was “calculated and planned as part of an effort to destroy the relationship between the company and the employees”.
Another senior manager and one of Chaudhary’s closest colleagues, speaking anonymously, describes how he hid under a desk in fear for his life as the mob rampaged through the factory. He is sure that, had he not done so, he would also have been clubbed to death.
Five Italian employees of Graziano who were visiting the factory at the time of the attack also escaped. Had they become victims of the mob, a senior Italian diplomat argues, the incident would have blown up into an international incident. As it is, it is difficult to imagine now the gruesome events that took place just off the wide, dusty streets of Gautam Buddha. Pedestrians don’t know where the Graziano factory stands, let alone what happened there six months earlier.
. . .
By all accounts, Chaudhary was a quiet, diligent man who kept to himself. Business associates say he was dedicated to his job and to his family. They all agree that he was not a belligerent manager, bristling for a fight with labour unions, though some say he became close to local gangsters, or goondas. “He was a nice guy,” remembers one colleague. The chief executive commuted about 30 minutes every day to work. He came from Haryana, a state neighbouring Delhi, and was a graduate of the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur. His widow, Ratna, is a reader at Delhi University’s physics department.
For almost a decade under Chaudhary’s leadership, the Graziano factory ran smoothly. The Italian company was part of a wave of overseas groups drawn to India by the country’s engineering skills and low pay rates. Graziano had been lured to Noida by government offers of land grants and generous tax breaks for foreign investors bringing industrial jobs.
The growth of the auto-parts industry in India is a showcase for the country’s integration in the global economy. India’s strong engineering skills have helped it become a low-cost outsourcing hub for auto companies from the US, Europe and Japan. Analysts estimate that sourcing parts from India is up to 20 per cent cheaper for US carmakers than buying home-grown products, and as much as 50 per cent cheaper for their European counterparts.
Things started to go wrong at the Graziano factory in December 2007. A series of disputes broke out involving the suspension, lockout and dismissal of workers and trainees. The violent confrontation that led to Chaudhary’s murder followed the dismissal of 200 workers in July last year and subsequent efforts to bring some of them back. But those involved say that trouble had long been simmering over the company’s use of contract workers, terms of employment and union representation inside the factory. “The problems were deep-rooted there,” says Rajesh Tyagi, convenor of the Graziano Workers Solidarity Forum and a lawyer at the Supreme Court. He wrote a report cataloguing the steps towards confrontation, based on the testimony of two workers. “For workers, there was a long-term battle against the management,” he says.

People close to the company say that issues such as where workers were dropped off by a bus after their shift, drinking taps said to be too close to the toilets and the quality of the food in the canteen helped inflame an already charged atmosphere. Others say unions, often affiliated with political parties including the communists, radicalised workers and, in some cases, tried to blackmail the company by backing employee protests.
The company has complained that it was besieged by “self-proclaimed” workers’ representatives. “We had some people who became union leaders of a portion of our employees,” said a company spokesman. “They were very extreme, very radical.” An Indian executive at the company says the workers had aligned themselves with the All India Trade Union Congress, the Centre of Indian Trade Unions and Hind Mazdoor Sabha, a left-leaning trade union centre. “We kept on getting letters of complaint [about terms of employment]. There was ever-diminishing production as people created a nuisance inside the plant. We were spending the maximum amount of time in dispute procedures and not on production.” He says the company is still being harassed with letters of complaint by unions.
In the highly factional world of local union politics in India, violence is a frequent feature and enforcement of the rules patchy at best. “Some of the union leaders repeatedly attempted … to impede the operations in Noida with activities illegal under Indian as well as international law,” Graziano said in a statement. But Santosh Roy, the national secretary of the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) and author of another report on the dispute at Graziano, contests this. He says employees were made to work 14-hour shifts for meagre wages and that even during the past three months the “company was not allowing some workers to go home”. “The management didn’t allow unions. If there was a union, [the chief executive] wouldn’t have been killed.”
Workers and management had signed a three-year wage pact in January 2008 and had agreed to mediation by the district labour commissioner, but this had not prevented a strike in May over apprentices and shifts, followed in July by vandalism and dharna, or hunger strikes. As relations deteriorated, the company tried to rid itself of protesters by firing them – a move it later tried to reverse in negotiation with local authorities. Relations between workers and management were deteriorating so quickly by this point that the Italian government became involved, warning the state government of Uttar Pradesh, led by Kumari Mayawati, India’s most powerful low-caste leader, that Graziano was under threat. Nothing happened.
he situation was further inflamed by disputes over land. To bring foreign companies to Noida, the government of Uttar Pradesh, one of the poorest states in India, had made agricultural land available for factories. The scheme had stoked local resentment among dispossessed farm labourers. “Steadily, the government is taking farmers’ land and now youths are unemployed,” says Aditya Ghildiyal, president of the Greater Noida Industries Association, and who works at the New Holland tractor plant next door to Graziano. “The money given for the sale of land runs out.”
Comparisons have been drawn, mainly by union leaders, with a more high-profile dispute about plans by Tata Motors to open a car plant in West Bengal – a factory that would have produced the Nano, a flagship of India’s technical advances. Farmers, backed by Trinamool Congress, at the time in opposition, laid siege to the proposed site. Activists staged protests demanding that the government return 400 acres of land to farmers who had not accepted compensation for their relocation. Tata finally gave in and moved the project to the western state of Gujarat.
. . .
Following Chaudhary’s murder, police arrested 136 people in connection with the rioting at the plant. Graziano Workers’ Solidarity Forum, a group of lawyers, academics and unionists formed in the days after the killing, has been campaigning for the release of some of those people. Its version of events that day is in stark contrast to the company’s. The group says that workers whom Graziano had earlier suspended were called to the factory two-by-two to make a formal apology for their conduct. If they showed contrition, they were offered reinstatement. While the apologies were being heard, a scuffle broke out, the group says. A shot was fired by a security guard and a tense stand-off broke into open conflict. Once the fighting had subsided, Chaudhary was found among the 34 injured. He was rushed to hospital but efforts to revive him proved useless.
The report by the AICCTU is even more damning of the company. “On the day of the incident, police remained absent at the behest of the Graziano authorities, who planned to get the leading elements of the agitation beaten up after getting them inside the factory premises on the pretext of talks,” says the report. “While the workers’ delegation was inside and being assaulted, one worker ran out to the gates and told those assembled outside that their comrades within were being beaten. Then, workers stormed in and the confrontation took place which resulted in the CEO getting killed.”
The police deny that there were gun shots, but say that if the company was attempting to extract apologies from its former workers, it should have had better security in place. The company, meanwhile, described early reports of the events surrounding Chaudhary’s killing as “completely misleading”. Graziano’s senior management in Italy said it did not agree with reports issued by the unions or the Graziano Workers’ Solidarity Forum. It said workers’ leaders had taken as a pretext a company decision not to employ five trainees at the end of their probation to start strikes and other actions that led to the injury of employees and damage to equipment. The company responded with dismissals and a lock-out. It said the ”horrible acts” of September 22 by “a huge mob” had come without any warning.

The AICCTU report, compiled by Roy, portrays the Graziano factory as a prison camp, where workers were intimidated and abused by a hated security company called Awake. The report alleges that of the 1,200 employees, only 500 had regular, full-time posts – the rest were on contracts. Regular workers were paid Rs3,200 (£44) a month for a 12-hour day; contract workers received Rs2,200 (£31) a month.
The Graziano Workers’ Solidarity Forum accuses the company of “super-exploitation of the labour of poor workers”. In a timeline published on several websites, the group describes a tough management regime that harassed workers and forced them to accept low-paid contract work. In one striking episode, it claims that the Graziano management switched off the cooling system on the factory floor to punish workers. “The employers did everything in their control to curb the protest of workers, from suspension to lock-out to outright intimidation,” it alleges.
And yet the group says the workers did not take up arms in revenge for working conditions. In a letter to the labour ministry, it accuses rival business interests of orchestrating the attack that led to Chaudhary’s death.
Others seem to agree – although the identity of those said to be responsible is never clear. “It’s very sad that this is what happened,” says Aditya Ghildiyal at the Greater Noida Industries Association. “From the industrial point of view, there must be the hand of outsiders. Companies coming out here have stopped because of what the newspapers are saying about what happened to the Italian company’s chief executive.”
. . .
Shocking though it was, the murder of Chaudhary was hardly an isolated incident in the area. In a 48-hour period in January, police reported a rape, kidnap, shooting and stabbing. Even the police acknowledge that Noida’s reputation for lawlessness is deserved. “Sometimes we are ahead of the criminals, at other times they are [ahead of us],” lamented Uttar Pradesh police superintendent Ashok Kumar Tripathi. Criminal gangs come on raids from the nearby town. Kidnapping is common. Farmers who have lost their land turn to stealing to support themselves.
“Rents are very cheap because the safety and security is so bad,” says Ghildiyal at the local business association. “In Greater Noida there is no police protection. The street lighting is bad. There are electricity shortages. Thugs come around. The police are not trained for industrial security.” Within days of the Graziano attack, another chief executive, this time the head of a US software company, Expedien eSolutions, had to fight off three assailants who were trying to hijack his car.
Industrial protests are also commonplace, and sometimes lead to violence. In 2004, an attack by workers on Jaypee Greens, a property developer, led to one death. About 125 workers and 10 police were injured when employees at a now-deserted factory owned by Daewoo, the Korean industrial group, marched on the company office. Hindon Rubber wound up its operations last year after employee protests.
Nor are violent workplace confrontations confined to Noida: one of the most serious protests took place on the other side of Delhi, in another fast-developing satellite city, Gurgaon. There, clashes between workers and police at Honda’s motorcycle and scooter plant in July 2005 saw 3,000 workers march on the factory. About 400 people were arrested, of whom 63 were jailed. In Graziano’s case, several days passed before police rounded up and charged people in connection with the rioting. According to staff at the factory and members of the business community, some of those involved remain at large and are active in local politics. The plant, they say, is still under threat. “Again [the unions] are trying to create problems for us [with complaints],” says one manager.
Rome, meanwhile, called the events leading up to Chaudhary’s death “totally incomprehensible and unjustifiable”, and pressed New Delhi to issue “words of reassurance” and to put in place security measures that would restore a “climate of confidence”. The reaction from Indian politicians was more equivocal. Oscar Fernandes, the then labour minister (he resigned this month) and a confidant of Sonia Gandhi, the president of the ruling Congress Party, was forced to apologise for remarks in which he appeared to defend the actions of the rioters and criticise the company for using contract workers (a practice the company doesn’t deny). The attack “should serve as a warning for management”, he said.
Following his remarks, Kamal Nath, the commerce and industry minister and India’s chief trade negotiator, tried to calm frayed tempers among international investors. Describing the violence as a “stray occurrence”, Nath argued it was “completely at variance with the Indian culture and tradition of peace”.
And yet Fernandes was not alone; his words betrayed a deep-seated distrust of foreign capital that lurks behind India’s seemingly enthusiastic transformation from a largely agrarian economy to a more industrial one.
. . .
Today, the Graziano plant is under heavy guard; its Swiss owner has only just appointed a replacement for Chaudhary – Vivek Prakash, a veteran of the motor industry. Outside the sheet-metal gates, security guards with shotguns eye passers-by and workers reporting for duty. The factory has all the attributes you would find in a European counterpart, boasts Marcello Lamberto, Graziano Trasmissioni’s worldwide chief executive – except the wage structure.
The incident continues to perplex Graziano’s executives, who acknowledge that the investment made in the plant makes it almost impossible to pull out. It closed for just a few days after the murder; three months later, production had returned to 75 per cent of capacity. But the scars run deeper than those numbers might suggest. And efforts to ensure a cooling-off since the attack have been hampered by agitation from Europe: Indian workers and their representatives have received messages of support from far-left groups in Italy.
The mood at other companies in Noida is glum. “Big companies have taken their own security measures,” says Aditya Ghildiyal at the local business association. “They have put up CCTV systems, they now have two entry barriers and they are checking under cars with mirrors.”
Ghildiyal continues: “There’s more focus on the elections [in April and May] right now. Industries are taking extra security measures. There’s an increase of kidnappings for ransom before elections. The reason is that money needs to be spent on politicians’ election campaigns. Parties need funds at this time. This is something industrialists are worried about. Some are not even picking up the phone.”
Justice in India, meanwhile, arrives slowly, and sometimes not at all. Of the 136 people arrested, 72 who were charged with minor offences have been released, but 64 – those facing charges of murder or attempted murder – remain in Dasna jail in Ghaziabad. They recently had their application for bail rejected. In the worst cases, where the charges stick, a jail sentence might only be for five to 10 years. And it remains unclear who exactly struck the fatal blows.
“When a mob is involved, no one gets penalised,” says Ghildiyal. “Things subside. Nothing happens. After a number of years, they will be set free. Yes. Someone has been killed. But you can’t justify holding them for so long.”

Amar Singh to act in a Bollywood film

New Delhi, Mar 24 (ANI): Samajwadi Party (SP) General Secretary Amar Singh will get a chance to act as the Home Minister in the forthcoming Bollywood film ‘Charge Sheet’, which is to be directed by Dev Anand.
‘It’s my privilege that Dev Saab asked me for this favour and I simply agreed to it. Till date, I haven’t become any Minister and I never wanted to become one. In fact, I never thought of becoming the Home Minister. So no matter whether it’s just in the film, ‘ said Amar Singh.
The 85-year-old Bollywood veteran approached the 53-year-old Amar Singh with a role considering him suitable for the character. He said that the role revolves around politics.
‘Amar Singh is playing the role of Home Minister. It would be correct if a Home Minister would do politics. Because I knew him as a friend, he was easily accessible to me and I approached him,’ said Dev Anand.
A part of the film will be shot at Amar Singh’s official residence at Lodhi Estate after the elections. (ANI)