Published : Mar 04, 2000 00:00 IST

Behind New Delhi's decision to take an extremely hard line on all issues pertaining to Pakistan may well be the calculation that a Pakistan ruled by Islamic extremists and a deepening conflict in Kashmir would help RSS build a National Security State of the Hindu Right.


NOW that General Pervez Musharraf has emerged as the "Chief Executive" in Pakistan, it would be useful to find out why and under whose prompting, in those first few confusing days of the Kargil operation, Defence Minister George Fernandes went out of his way to certify that neither the Nawaz Sharif Government nor the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was involved in the operation and that it was exclusively a design of the Pakistan Army.

As if on cue, Musharraf's close-up photograph suddenly appeared on the cover of a national weekly with the provocative caption "Know Your Enemy". The Defence Minister's statement was soon to be dismissed as extravagant, much as an earlier statement by hi m that China was India's real enemy was also dismissed once as a personal idiosyncrasy. A certain indelible image had been created, however, with deliberate precision. The current Indian policy towards Pakistan receives such support from most of the libe ral media today thanks to this image of Musharraf as an Islamicist fanatic who single-handedly authored Kargil and then staged a coup, to hide his sins, against an elected Prime Minister of Pakistan who had given us the Lahore Declaration (1999).

The first thing to be said about General Musharraf's takeover of October 12, 1999 is that it was not a coup but a counter-coup. All available accounts seem to suggest that it was a reluctant takeover. Musharraf seems to have anticipated that something de cisive was afoot and had prepared his military forces for the eventuality, but it was a reactive strategy and therefore unclear as to what would come next. Even the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) 1999 that sought to give the action some legitimac y retroactively came a day later. Real coup-makers normally carry such things in their hip pockets.

The drama began on September 20, 1999 when the United States State Department issued an unusual warning against a coup in Pakistan. Between that date and Musharraf's takeover, the head of the ISI, Lt-Gen. Ziauddin, and Sharif's brother Shahbaz who was al so the Governor of Punjab, visited Washington for almost a week (Ziauddin was actually reported to have been a guest of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), at Langley, just outside Washington.) The American press later reported that the visitors infor med their hosts of the action that was soon to be taken against Musharraf. The hosts are not known to have demurred.

Sharif had earlier fired another Chief of the Army Staff, Jehangir Karamat, an officer of great propriety. At least a modicum of protocol had been then observed. Karamat therefore chose to obey civilian authority and left. Morale in the Army plummeted ne vertheless, since that dismissal was part of a series of actions which included the sacking of the President and storming of the Supreme Court by goons loyal to Sharif, ouster of the Chief Justice, and exoneration of the goons by that same Supreme Court. Sharif had wanted to appoint Ziauddin, not Musharraf, in place of Karamat even then. Prevented by opinion of the corps commanders at the time, he then prepared a coup against the new Chief of Staff. In the event, the military brass stood behind their ch ief because they saw it as an attack not just on Musharraf's position but on the unity of the army itself, and because they perceive the army as the last remaining institution in the country to give it some semblance of coherence.

That a showdown was imminent had become clear by October 8 when Musharraf sacked the Quetta Corps commander, Tariq Parvez, for holding an unauthorised meeting with Sharif. It also became clear soon after the coup and counter-coup that Sharif was actually trying to split the army, when it was found that he intended to dismiss not only Musharraf but also some other corps commanders, such as Lt-Gen. Mahmud Ahmed whom Musharraf later chose to replace Ziauddin at the ISI. It was in this context, then, that t wo days after the coup and the counter-coup Justice (retd.) Fakhruddin G. Ibrahim, one of the very few judges who had refused to take an oath of office under the martial law of Zia-ul-Haq, welcomed the PCO, promulgated by Gen. Musharraf, as having been m ade inevitable by Sharif's attempt to split the army, and as one that was preserving civil law, civil liberties and so on. It is not clear whether the Sharif-Ziauddin combine, had they succeeded, would have allowed even the degree of civil liberties that still exist in Musharraf's Pakistan.

On October 17, five days after the conspiratorial attempt to sack Musharraf, Ardeshir Cowasjee, a determinedly outspoken critic of the Pakistani rulers, wrote in Dawn: "Nawaz planned a coup. On October 11, to maintain secrecy and cover his tracks, he and his co-conspirators - Inter-Services maestro Lt-Gen. Ziauddin, Supreme Court stormer Mushtaq Tahirkheli, information wizard Mushahid Hussain, PTV boss Parvez Rashid, won-over journalist-turned speech writer Nazir Naji - flew to Abu Dhabi to final ise the coup programme."

We know the rest of the story: the diversion of the aircraft, the attempted arrest and probable assassination of the Chief of Staff, troops loyal to the ISI chief surrounding PTV and spilling on to the streets of Islamabad, and so on. Towards the end of his column, Cowasjee said of Musharraf: "He is a man who opposes the belief that the preservation or gaining of any territory is worth the nuclear destruction of even one city. We and the world should now feel safer knowing the nuclear button is in his h ands rather than those of unpredictable, untrustworthy, unthinking politicians such as 'democrats' Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif."

It is also instructive to recall the column of Ayaz Mir in the same newspaper two days earlier, on October 15. Mir is now one of the most outspoken and virtually abusive critics of Musharraf on the grounds that the Army Chief has overstayed his welcome. Indeed, as early as October 22 he was to observe:"the army action should have fitted the provocation and not exceeded it as it obviously has done." Barely three days after the coup and the counter-coup, though, he had written: "The army's hand was forced . If it had not done what it did it would have stood condemned before the bar of history." He also went on to say: "... the Sharifs, as their internal difficulties mounted, had started clinging to America's coat-tails, in the process becoming the greates t lackeys of the Americans that we have ever had... No wonder the Americans seem unhappy with the coup. This is not what they were banking on."

We still do not know as to what had been worked out at Langley that the Americans "were banking on". It is reasonable to surmise, though, that when the State Department warned against a coup in Pakistan some three weeks before it happened, it was somethi ng of a veiled instruction to Musharraf to go quietly into the night, making way for the trusted ISI chief to take over military command. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) cut-offs and the strong-arm American condemnations that came later were alread y implicit in that instruction. The instruction came, however, in a situation where the Pakistan Army has been getting very little hardware from the U.S. for a decade or more, and it is likely that a section of the Pakistan Army is growing increasingly d isenchanted with the Americans on that score as well. This comes out vividly, for example, in Tariq Ali's article in The Guardian of October 14 where he quotes an army general as saying "Pakistan was the condom that Americans wanted to enter Afgha nistan. We have served our purpose and they think we can just be flushed down the toilet". This rage is something that Indian policy-makers need to take into account, as we ourselves nurse the ardent wish to become such a "condom".

ALL this is important to recall at a time when the BJP-led Government is whipping up mass hysteria. The Indian people are routinely treated to the most lurid accounts of the ISI being active in every nook and corner of India, but no one pauses to think t hat Musharraf's counter-coup was designed precisely to prevent an ISI chief from taking command of the army itself, in a covert operation shared with the most corrupt politician Pakistan has ever known, whom too we now remember neither for Chaghai nor fo r Kargil but, nostalgically, for the exhibitionism of the "bus diplomacy".

We contrive to believe that Musharraf's absence at Wagah when Vajpayee alighted from his bus was an act of hostility, but we are not willing to listen to him when he tells The Hindu (January 17, 1999) that uniformed men have no place alongside the civilian Prime Minister on occasions of that kind, and that the three Chiefs of Staff did meet the Indian Prime Minister as soon as the latter arrived in Lahore. We continue to portray Musharraf, in the footsteps of George Fernandes, as the sole "archit ect of Kargil", to such an extent that both the German and American envoys in Pakistan have had to go on record saying that that is simply not the case; Sharif was no less responsible than his Chief of the Army Staff. As for the Lahore Declaration, Musha rraf has made no bones about the fact that the Service chiefs had some reservations. What is becoming clear now is that senior civil servants in Pakistan were also opposed to diplomacy being turned into a TV show, and that the final wording was decided u pon at the very last minute when Brajesh Mishra pressed Sharif and the latter responded by pressing his own team of experts. (K.K. Katyal, The Hindu, February 21, 2000). It somewhat boggles the mind that an event as spectacular as the Indian Prime Minister showing up in Lahore to signal a "historic" turn in relations between the two countries was staged with no prior understanding as to what they were going to commit themselves to. Abdul Sattar, a retired senior diplomat and the present Foreign M inister of Pakistan, stated the view of his senior colleagues succinctly when he said that Sharif was as impulsive in Lahore as in Kargil, and as impulsive in going into Kargil as in getting out of it.

The Indian Government deals with monarchs and dictators around the world but scuttles the meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) on the ground that Pakistan has a military government, thus deliberately letting go of a cha nce, as Musharraf was to point out to Karan Thapar on Doordarshan, for the two heads of government to meet informally, without preconditions or a prior agenda. But when Musharraf says that Kashmir cannot be avoided in any serious discussion because it is the only real dispute while all else are, as he puts it, easily resolvable "irritants", we see in it not a re-statement of Pakistan's historical position but a new hardening and we demand that any future talks be unconditional. We only have to look up t he hard-hitting speeches that Sartaj Aziz, the then Foreign Minister of Pakistan, delivered on the eve of Vajpayee's visit to see that Musharraf is simply re-stating something that has been said all along, even as that "bus diplomacy" was being choreogra phed on television.

We say that Musharraf's emphasis on Kashmir hardens the Pakistani position. Vajpayee feels free, however, to announce - and then go on repeating - that the only thing to discuss is the modality for the return of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) to India. As some commentators have pertinently asked: is this what Vajpayee told Sharif? Or, is Indian policy on this key issue just drifting from one extreme to the next? This demand for unconditional talks from Pakistan, while India puts forth an impossible con dition, we do not see as the hardest of all hardening. By contrast, Musharraf in his Doordarshan interview had the sense to say that he could offer no final solutions because that is precisely what needs to be discussed. Our irrepressible Defence Ministe r meanwhile announces a fresh new "doctrine" of "limited war" and the BJP's loyal ally in Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah, spells out what that means:"War might bring friendship", he says. "After destruction there is always construction. Maybe the next war will see India taking Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and then there will be no Kashmir problem." (India Today, February 7, 2000). No wonder that Farooq Abdullah stood next to Vajpayee at Jalandhar when the latter threatened a pre-emptive nuclear strike and announced that India would not talk to Pakistan until after PoK has been returned.

IN this reckless atmosphere, then, the word "democracy" is brandished as a fetish. The same Americans who can ruin the lives of millions of Iraqis in order to restore the retrograde Kuwaiti monarchy to its previous splendour can brandish this fetish when ever it suits them, while Indian rulers and media managers simply ape this habit because it suits them too. The new Vajpayee Government in India and the Musharraf regime in Pakistan emerged more or less simultaneously. In one case, we have a non-elected "Chief Executive" who is no less democratic than the elected head of government whom he replaced. In the other case, we have a coalition headed by a political party which is itself only a front of a semi-secret organisation whose fraternity of fronts rem ind one of the Nazis. Who is to say which of these regimes is worse, for the respective countries and for our two fraternal peoples together?

Sharif got his 80 per cent majority with barely a 25 per cent voter turnout and proceeded to wreck every major institution in civil society that came his way. It was in his time and in response to his Islamicist demagoguery that the Supreme Court of Paki stan committed the outrage of admitting a petition which asked for the unseating of a sitting judge of that same Court on the ground that he was a non-Muslim. As some Pakistani journalists pointed out, two of the only three Supreme Court judges who have had a decent record of unassailable integrity in the whole wretched history of that country have been non-Muslims. Did Sharif have the guts to get up and say so when a sitting judge was sought to be removed for not being a Muslim? With such men Vajpayee can happily do business, but when Sharif himself fell out with the Chief Justice, he sent goons to attack the Supreme Court and had the attackers garlanded by his partymen, on the lawns of the Court itself. Whose democracy, then, and how, and for whom?

Our newspapers portray Musharraf as a "fundamentalist", a catch-all designation which means nothing. In the American lexicon, which we have inherited, Osama bin Laden, a product of the CIA who has turned anti-American, is a fundamentalist, but the Saudi monarchy and religious establishment, whom bin Laden opposes, are not. Every account of Musharraf that we possess, formally and informally, portrays him as being a liberal Muslim; he is said to enjoy his whiskey in private and he publicly declares Kemal Ataturk, an enemy of "fundamentalism", as his hero. The chief of the Jamaat-e-Islami denounces him and he calls upon religious leaders to come forward and rescue Pakistani Islam from bigotry. Najam Sethi, who was framed by the Pakistani High Commissioner in India, upon instructions from Sharif and his gang, has said in Friday Times that among all the men of authority - some three dozen of them - to whom the infamous letter about him was sent, Musharraf was the only one who asked to see a copy of his actual speech and then refused to let the Pakistan Army Intelligence categorise Sethi a spy. Who, in this macabre world, is the "democrat": the elected Prime Minister who frames an innocent journalist, or the Chief of the Army Staff who refuses to su bscribe to the frame-up?

Compare this with India, where the leading lights of the Government - Vajpayee, Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi - as well as their would-be successors - Pramod Mahajan, Govindacharya, Uma Bharati - are all members of the RSS. Musharraf has yet done no damage to Pakistani civil society that compares with the stunning amalgamation of the police force and the RSS that is afoot here under the BJP dispensation. It is possible that Musharraf shall want to restrain outfits such as the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba but will be too weak to do so; that remains to be seen. But what also remains to be seen, in the fairly near future, in our own case, is whether or not we shall have a veritable Gestapo, in every sense of that historic acronym, when members of a communal-fascist or ganisation that stands above the government as its "soul" and guide shall appear on the doors of citizens in police uniform. Pakistan never had sturdy democratic institutions, we did. Many on that side of the border are trying to build some (institutions ), we are destroying ours. No members of the Islamicist Right sit in the present Pakistani Cabinet; members of the Hindu Right are at the helm of affairs in our country. Nor is it at all clear why being a member of the armed forces, in the case of Mushar raf, is said to be so much worse than being members of the RSS, which all the key rulers of India today are.

Musharraf is no saviour. The record since October 12 suggests that he is a man of liberal intentions, weak will, considerable love of power, and no vision for what his country should become. As soon as he took over, the Indian Government and the liberal media here started to single him out as a spokesman for the jehadi groups, specifically of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba. That is unlikely. Sharif's own cynical Islamism was much more dangerous. It is also the case, however, that large sections of the Pakistan's arm y are too closely identified with those groups and Musharraf shall probably not defy them; if pushed too far, he may be just pragmatic enough even to join them for his own survival. He speaks grandly of why he will not give up power until he has set thin gs right, but all he talks about is punishing the defaulters on bank loans and streamlining the district-level administration. Noble enough, but not enough in times of danger. The advisers he has chosen are safe and dim. There is a drift, and the danger in drifting in hard times is that one gets overpowered by superior forces. In Pakistan, there would appear to be two: the Islamicist Right in civilian life, and the more determined Generals - probably very much to his Right. This may well be a time of tr ansition - not to the sturdy civil society which the decent citizens of Pakistan are striving for but to the bigotry of the Far Right.

The present writer is hardly the only one saying so. Numerous liberals and progressive Pakistanis have said much the same, loudly enough for this to appear on the front pages of our national media. Why does the Indian Government not adopt a policy that r esponds to this fact? Indian national interest requires that we not help create a situation where the Far Right takes over in Pakistan. Towards that end, India must deal with Musharraf not as a General but as the only leader that country currently has, j ust as Pakistan must deal with Vajpayee as the Prime Minister of India regardless of his life-long RSS credentials.

Why has India then adopted a posture where we insist that nothing but bilateral talks would solve the problem but also insist that we shall not talk until after Pakistan returns what we call PoK and they call "Azad Kashmir"? Why is the Indian Defence Min ister expounding a doctrine of "limited war" directly in relation to Pakistan, if not to hold out the threat that India now reserves the right to send its troops across the Line of Control (LoC)? And why is Vajpayee so keen to deploy his characteristical ly cynical double-speak where he says in one breath that Indian nuclear policy abjures the right of the first strike and says, in the very next breath, that India is "not going to wait"?

THESE men are neither inexperienced nor dim-witted. Where, then, lies the method in this madness? First, our rulers are yet to overcome the delirium caused by the Pokhran lunacy. Never in the past 50 years have threats of actual use of nuclear weapons be en traded so frequently and irresponsibly as during the less than two years since this delirium first set in. Second, we are more or less intoxicated now on the prospect of a "strategic relationship" with the U.S., hoping that the messiah shall bring har d cash and help us bully our neighbours, quite forgetting that the plight that Pakistan is in today is in considerable measure a product of the "strategic relationship" that Pakistan used to have with that same country. We wish to be where Pakistan was u ntil quite recently, unmindful of the fact that in consequence of this change of roles we shall one day be where Pakistan is today. The hope in India, before the rise of the RSS to power, was that Pakistan, authoritarian at home and a U.S. client in fore ign relations, shall one day follow in the footsteps of a non-aligned and democratic India; the result of the RSS coming to power is that India is following in the footsteps of Pakistan, authoritarian at home and begging the sole superpower for a smile a nd a wink.

Third, though, behind this show of cockiness there is also a real panic. Even in the dead of winter the insurgents have struck with great impunity at any target in Kashmir or Jammu that they have chosen; what will happen when summer comes? Shall we know how to control that much bigger insurgency, if it really materialises, when we have not known how to control this more limited one? The panic, combined with the intoxication on the prospect of hosting Clinton, expresses itself in the swagger, the rhetori c, the threat of crossing the LoC, teaching Pakistan a lesson, dropping a nuclear bomb if necessary.

Fourth, the bluster is meant to conceal the reality of extraordinary diplomatic isolation on the core question of Kashmir which we are unwilling to acknowledge. The Western countries, upon whom we have come to rely so exclusively, do not approve of Pakis tan's sponsorship of terrorism or its deployment of its own troops beyond the LoC. Those same powers, though, regard Kashmir as a "disputed territory" and, even more significantly, are not willing to brand all Pakistani involvement in Kashmir as "terrori sm". They wish to restrain Pakistan in some important ways but they also want India to respond; hence the emphasis on "bilateral talks" but also, as high up as Clinton himself, the offer to "mediate" - "if asked". Has the mediation actually begun, and is that why the Indian Government is protesting its innocence so very much? We do not really know, for example, the actual extent of the Talbott-Jaswant talks, ten rounds of them, mostly in a "third" country. The line between "mediation" and "consultation" is always thin until high-profile "mediation", based on extensive prior "consultation", really begins.

This problem is compounded by India's even greater isolation in the very environment in which Pakistan lives and where India once had much greater presence and influence, namely the so-called "Islamic World". When that world was dominated by anti-imperia list radical nationalism of Nasserist vintage, non-aligned India spoke to them in a shared language while Pakistan did not. That not-so-distant past we have thoroughly abandoned, so Arab nationalists are now bewildered as to what happened to their Indian friends. On the other hand, India elects not to claim the status within the so-called "Islamic world" that it well could. India has the third largest Muslim population in the world, larger than Pakistan's, and could justifiably demand, if it were also w illing properly to live up, to a status in the world of Islam that was commensurate with that fact. Unfortunately, the idea that India is really a "Hindu" country with a Muslim "minority" is now so deeply ingrained in the Indian political elite that no o ne is capable of credibly making the claim that India has an important place in the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC). This utter inability, which immediately translates into unwillingness, to represent the Indian Muslims on the platforms of the w orld as their authentic representatives then means that no one abroad is willing to recognise India's rightful place in the OIC. The Indian state finds it difficult enough to represent the generality of Indian Muslims at home (except its own clients amon g them). It does not even try to represent them abroad, except in such politically inconsequential matters as arranging for the pilgrimage to Mecca. Pakistan does live within its own environment and could speak to us through intermediaries, from Iran to Egypt to Turkey to Algeria, not to speak of the Palestinians, but we now have very little relationship with that world and we think it beneath our dignity to deal with such riff-raff, so that "mediation" for us always means "Americans". Our delusions of grandeur conceal from us how isolated we actually are in the world of Asia, and therefore in the world of small and medium-scale powers in the world that we, objectively, share with Pakistan.

THE preceding discussion does not even include China, a traditional friend of Pakistan. Could we ever dream of using China's good offices for "secret diplomacy" that belligerent opponents in times of danger so desperately need? China undoubtedly has the kind of clout with Pakistan to guarantee any understanding that Pakistan gives, but we ourselves do not have that kind of relationship with the one major (nuclear) power that lives within our own environment. And we cannot. Against whom is this "strategi c partnership" of India with the U.S. being forged? Why is India conducting naval exercises with France? Why are Indian naval ships showing up in U.S. waters? Is India now getting ready to be the Asian junior partner of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisa tion (NATO), much as Pakistan, as a member both of the Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO) and the South East Asian Treaty Organisation (SEATO), was once expected to guarantee U.S. interests from Turkey to the Philippines? Who is the enemy in Asia, for N ATO, but then also for India?

The real method behind New Delhi's move to a hard line on all issues pertaining to Pakistan may actually lie elsewhere: in the calculation that a Pakistan ruled by Islamic extremists would in fact help the RSS build the kind of a National Security State of the Hindu Right that it aims to do and to emerge as the U.S.' great ally in the containment of "fundamentalism" - implicitly a counterweight against China as well. Full-scale Islamisation of Pakistan is thus expected to make the saffronisation of Indi a that much easier. Jehadi groups becoming the official paramilitary units of the state in Pakistan would help further justify the integration of the Indian police forces with the RSS and the emergence of the Bajrang Dal as the Patriotic Youth of India, so certified by the state itself.

Foreign policy thus emerges yet again as an extension of domestic policy and the new-found bellicosity is directly related to a new political offensive at home, underwritten by the comfortable margin that the BJP-led Government commands in Parliament, th e supine character of its allies and the utter disarray in all sections of the Opposition. Starting with Gujarat, BJP-ruled States are being turned into laboratories of what India may look like as the Parivar extends its grip on the land. In West Bengal, the erstwhile secular Mamata Banerjee has become the agent for expansion of the RSS throughout the State. In Kerala, the RSS is on a rampage of selective murder. From Varanasi to Kanpur to Bhopal, the terror squads of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal are out to intimidate teenagers and film-makers and political opponents alike. Having re-made the cultural and educational organisations of the state in its own image, the ruling party uses the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR ) to suppress volumes assembled by two of the country's leading historians which were already in advanced stages of printing at the Oxford University Press. As soon as an archaeological expedition finds remains of Hindu and Jain temples in Sikri, the new head of the ICHR, B.R. Grover, declares, as reported in The Indian Express, that Aurangzeb was behind the destruction; never mind that many of the finds date back to the 4th and 5th centuries.

The Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Ram Prakash Gupta, openly says that he will not obstruct the impending construction of the temple in Ayodhya. By contrast, when the President speaks up to restrain the attacks on the Constitution which he is duty-boun d to defend, the organs of the ruling party itself attack him for being anti-BJP and soft on the Congress. The group that has been appointed to review the Constitution, against the wishes of the Opposition though with no objection from BJP's own allies, includes individuals who have no expertise in constitutional law. There is no white paper, no guidelines or charter of reference, no sanction by Parliament itself, even though Parliament alone is empowered to amend the Constitution. The executive branch does on constitutional matters as it wishes. On the foreign policy front, we are being treated to the extraordinary spectacle of regular sessions of strategic talks between the Foreign Minister and U.S. officials with no public accountability, in Parliam ent or outside, as to the contents of these talks.

The radical shift in our posture towards Pakistan is part of this larger pattern. The "limited war" doctrine of George Fernandes is the other side of the gangs of self-appointed defenders of Indian culture at home. The demand that Pakistan return the PoK before we shall sit down to talk is to declare that we intend not to resolve but to intensify the conflict, so as to institutionalise a permanent war psychosis which can be used to constitute a right-wing consensus at home. As the RSS chief declares tha t the release of three prisoners in exchange for the Kandahar hostages was a sign of "Hindu weakness", the Prime Minister feels constrained to brandish nuclear weapons as if these were mere equivalents of the trishuls in the Bajrang Dal's arsenals. This particular government is not even five months old, and it is already becoming difficult to say just where this politics of violence, hysteria and spectacle is taking the country. Our polity is in any case not in much better shape than Pakistan's.

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