Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Pontiff's Plea

Agence France Press reported Pope Benedict XVI's regret yesterday that "the great importance paid to conjugal love in modern societies" did not result in a willingness to have more children. He lamented the difficulty "to perceive and understand the value of the appeal to collaborate with God in the procreation of human life". The Pope added that "the fundamental vocation of the family is to be the first and the principal place to welcome new life" and urged the introduction of "legislative conditions favorable to family life".

I presume he meant that Governments offer stipends and tax breaks to young couples having more children. Such policies have failed in Europe, Israel and Japan to date. Educated women tend to prefer fewer children regardless of the financial inducements. The Pontiff's observations were in light of statistics that previously devout Catholic societies such as France, Italy, Portugal and Spain have the lowest birth rates in the world today.

Each individual is entitled to his or her opinion. The Pope, Hindu nationalists in India, Buddhist activists in Sri Lanka, Jewish fundamentalists in Israel and ethnic Chinese activists in Singapore share similar views on the need to beget more children. In each of these examples, there is an unstated subliminal fear of Islam's reported high birth rates, not realizing that the educated, regardless of religion, tend to opt for fewer children. Empowered women rarely desire repeated pregnancies.

The world is already over-populated. One forgets the plight of thousands of abandoned children left in orphanages through out the world. Is it not more important to meet their needs and those of destitute families before urging the faithful "to go forth and multiply"?

There is light at the end of the tunnel. Unmarried and gay couples in England and Wales gained adoption rights under a land mark new law that came into force yesterday offering hope to thousands of abandoned children.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Surely The Prime Minister Jests

Via Pakistan's Daily Dawn, Kuldip Nayar reports on his recent meeting with Dr. Manmohan Singh and National Security Adviser M K Naraynan:

WHEN I met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his security adviser, M.K. Narayanan, barely 24 hours before the Bangalore shootout, they were worried about terrorist attacks in the country because such were the intelligence reports. Narayanan was more specific and said that the target could be Bangalore or Hyderabad because the two cities had come to symbolize India’s high technology and fast growth.

Narayanan had no doubt that there was a nexus between the terrorists from Bangladesh and the ISI of Pakistan. They were spreading in the country and looking for soft targets. “It is a serious situation,” he said. He had been vainly requesting top Pakistani and Bangladesh officials to stop terrorism in India.

The prime minister said that despite the promise by President General Pervez Musharraf to him last August not to allow cross-border terrorism, it had not stopped. The training camps were intact and the apparatus of terrorism had not been dismantled in any way. Narayanan said that the infiltration had increased and that cross-border terrorism was “higher than before.”

There was anguish in the prime minister’s voice when he said that he was prepared to talk to Pakistan on any subject, Kashmir or whatever else, and try to find a solution but what could he do in the face of unabated cross-border terrorism? “I still have faith in General Musharraf and hope he will do something to stop it,” said the prime minister.

We are struck by Mr. Narayanan's comment that he's been "requesting" Pakistan & Bangladesh to stop terrorism in India. Hello? Isn't that his responsibility? Also, why does he think that making polite requests of terrorist patrons will help resolve the issue?!

Dr. Singh's "anguish" over terrorism and his "faith" in General Musharraf is even more puzzling.

What world is our leadership living in?! Hopefully there's more to Indian security than making "requests" and having "faith"?

Mr. Vajpayee's Legacy

Yesterday, we quipped "good riddance" upon learning of Mr. Vajpayee's retirement from elective politics. In our judgment, his legacy is cowardice -- in Kandahar, after Dec 13, 2001 and, worst of all, during the Gujarat pogrom.

Many -- especially our co-travelers on India's political right -- will consider him more charitably. This is a mistake and it's important that this flawed and fawning impression not emerge as history's verdict on his legacy.

Our critique of Mr. Vajpayee is bitter-sweet. Many years ago, when we are a child growing up in Delhi, he was our Member of Parliament. He even handed us a prize of some sort at a community event -- that was an exhilarating and indelible moment for a child, being our first, personal, brush with political power. Later, he was MP from Lucknow -- a city we have our roots in. Many of our extended family are part of the sangh parivar -- hence, strong supporters of Mr. Vajpayee.

Notwithstanding all this, the fact remains that Mr. Vajpayee tried to make virtue of his sphinx-like utterings -- and of the long silences that interrupted his vocalization. This was a very clever tactic that did get him the keys to Delhi's kingdom -- but, in the end, could not stabilize the tremble in his knees.

Indian Express' lead editorial shares our negative assessment. The newspaper, in effect, says that Mr. Vajpayee could have been a contender but, alas, was anything but. Just consider how he chose to end his long -- way too long -- political career.

By naming Pramod Mahajan as the man best suited to play the role of Lakshman -- ie, the next leader of the party -- Vajpayee has not only complicated matters for the prospective president, he has also devalued the party's decision-making process and exposed the sharp differences which have marked it. That the party chose not to comment on the remarks of its most important functionary is proof enough of the sourness of the apple it has been given.

This lack of finesse in a man who has successfully led an unwieldy coalition of 25-odd parties may surprise some. Yet, in many ways, the obfuscation is entirely characteristic of the former prime minister, who has been known to change his stance completely on issues of crucial importance -- even within the space of a few short weeks. Indeed, the big blot on his record as prime minister -- his inability to take a principled stand when confronted with the 2001 (sic) Gujarat riots -- arose from this flaw. Instead of holding Narendra Modi to the principle of raj dharma, he chose to almost condone the Gujarat mayhem publicly just a few days later. The mark of a great political leader is to prove statesmanly in difficult times. By that reckoning, Vajpayee didn't quite make the mark.

Gender Progress At IITs

Via Times of India, Anjali Joseph reports: 'Women at IIT an endangered species'

This is unfortunately not news, except for this quote from an IIT Mumbai student:

"There are 34 girls and over 500 boys in our year," says first year civil engineering student Vidushi Jain.

Well, Vidushi -- if it helps at all, you live in times of great advance. When this blogger was at IIT, his class of 250 or so had all of 2 women!!

Worse Than Crocodile Tears

Indian Express' lead editorial today is remarkable for its anti-terror toughness one typically only finds only on blogs.

A political-policy approach that started from killing an anti-terrorist law (Pota) because of pamphleteering, is now dangerously close to being seen as one that kills the anti-terror spirit because of pusillanimity. If the Congress thinks this doesn’t matter because it can always accuse the BJP of communalising terrorism, it must understand voters won’t be thrilled either with a party that seems to communalise the fight against terrorism. And whom do voters see as the government’s face on security issues? Shivraj Patil. The strikingly ineffective figure Patil cuts when representing official security policy suggests he would rather just nicely ask the terrorists to go away. Ministers, mind you, have to go away when they are asked.

Perhaps this is a welcome sign that sensible Indians are finally getting fed up with their government's soft attitude on terror. Incidentally, this includes our unacceptable "peace" talks with monsters across the western frontier where all this terror emanates. Hopefully, those who demand toughness on terror will also encourage the government to walk away from the ridiculous discussions with the illegitimate dictator in Islamabad.

On the other hand, it's sadly true that the same enraged Indians will soon cheer, by the hundreds of millions, their heroes playing cricket matches in the epicenter of global terrorism -- where the killers of our people come from.

BCCI should be boycotting these matches, our players should be refusing to play, and our citizens should be switching off live telecasts. None of this will happen, of course, because our outrage is infinitely more artificial than crocodile tears.

Nothing could be more disgraceful. No wonder we get the pathetic governments we deserve.

Thursday, December 29, 2005


Via BBC, Vajpayee to retire from politics

Good riddance.


Via Hindustan Times, read Barkha Dutt on secularism. Great writing and profound insight.

In my growing years, like many of my friends, I wore my scepticism like a badge of honour. On the sun-bathed lawns of St. Stephen’s College, we embraced rebellion, and as we got ready for our march to modernity, our freshly acquired liberalism had no space for petty denominations of identity — caste, region, religion. We belonged to a larger truth, a bigger India. The irony never struck us at the time — in a college Christian by birth, we believed that we needed to be pagan to be progressive.

It was only many years later, when journalism turned my simple ideas on their head, that I realised that agnostics like myself could only end up on the losing side of the battle for secularism. We had ended up misreading the signposts — in our firm walk away from religion, we had somehow lost our way, and ended up pretty far from culture as well, in a country where the two are inextricably woven together.

Link courtesy: Mangs


We highly recommend The Last Child, a terrific documentary about the global effort to eradicate polio.

One key learning is that while India is close to ending the disease, owing to all manner of rumor and superstition many people are still scared to have their kids immunized.

What truly threw us is the fact that many in rural minority communities -- in our home state of UP, for instance -- feel that the polio vaccine is part of a majority conspiracy to make their kids impotent. The documentary actually shows people running away when health-care volunteers come by to offer free inoculation.

This situation is unconscionable -- a result of our poisoned inter-faith relations. Innocent kids end up carrying the consequent burden for the rest of their lives. How can this be acceptable in 21st century India?

This is one more reminder why we need to overcome our valid frustrations with India's imperfect secularism and keep working towards a truly secular society, where communities are able to trust one another and innocent kids are no longer paralyzed because their parents irrationally think the majority community is trying to impose population control on them.

Azad Baluchistan?

Pakistan continues to sponsor acts of terrorism in India. The bomb blasts in New Delhi in October and today's incidents in Bangalore only confirm that. India will now need to resume its earlier policy of supporting Baluchi and Sindhi nationalists in Pakistan as an effective counter to that country's Punjabi dominated military establishment.

There has been significant unrest in Baluchistan in recent months unreported in the international media. Baluchistan, a province of 134,050 square miles, has a population of 7 million. It constitutes 43% of the land area of Pakistan. The British colonial authorities had annexed Baluchistan in 1887. Jinnah coerced the Khan of Kalat to accede to the Pakistani union in 1947. There have been four armed revolts in Baluchistan since then. The first guerilla campaign was in 1948 and did not last long. Its significance however lay in Afghanistan's territorial claim to Baluchistan. The second rebellion occurred in 1964. The third uprising took place in 1974. 15,000 Baluchis fought 80,000 Pakistani troops. 10,000 people had died in that insurrection that ended with the rise to power of General Zia-ul-Haq.

The fourth and as yet low key revolt spear-headed by the Baluchistan Liberation Army started with attacks on the gas fields of Sui in January, 2005 where 15 Pakistani military personnel were killed. The unrest had been triggered by the military-mullah nexus underpinning General Musharraf's power base, one that had alienated the traditional tribal leadership and the emerging urban middle class in Baluchistan. The Pakistani authorities immediately moved in the military to quell the unrest.

There were rocket attacks on a military camp on December 14, 2005. An attack on a military helicopter the very next day injured one Pakistani army general. The Pakistani military launched helicopter air attacks on two Baluchi training camps on December 22. The rebels in turn fired rockets on three military garrisons in retaliation. There were attacks on rail lines, oil and gas fields and on government buildings. The Pakistani army killed 20 Baluch tribesmen and injured 80 on December 24, 2005 in Dera Bugti, the hotbed of the Baluchi insurgency. Rebels blew up a small stretch of the gas pipeline of Sui on December 27. There was also a complete anti-Government shut down in Baluchistan on that day. Reports suggest that 200 people have been killed in the crackdown on Baluchi separatists in recent weeks. There were protests in the North West Frontier Province today on the proposed Kalabagh dam which would deprive Baluchistan and Sindh of much needed Indus water while submerging a wide tracts of land in the NWFP.

India should capitalize on this and openly support the cause for Baluchi independence. It might inadvertently have the support of both Afghanistan and Iran in this regard. It is time to neutralize the threat from Islamabad once and for all, American interests to the contrary notwithstanding. As one Baluchi elder had remarked "I have been a Baloch for several centuries, a Muslim for 1,400 years but a Pakistani for just 58 years". Baluchistan in open revolt would make the case for unrest in Sindh all the more feasible. Tit for tat.

Encircled With Chaos

We understand the dictators in Beijing worry about being encircled by strong democracies.

American allies Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Australia, Mongolia, and India are all China's neighbors, checking its aspiration to emerge as the unrivalled Asian power.

This is good strategy with long historical precedence.

Of course, China is not sitting there silent. Its out-of-the-box counter-strategy is truly fascinating.

Instead of encircling its rivals with strong powers, it's trying to hem them in with chaos.

Consider India. Our neighborhood is a study in political anarchy. Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Maldives, and Burma are all burning.

Consider South Korea and Japan. Their neighbors in Pyongyang are anything but predictable.

In most of these cases, there's a Chinese footprint behind the anarchy.

Which is worse? Being encircled by strength or by chaos?


Via Indian Express, Terror hits Bangalore, target is IISc

Nitin calls it Bangalore's Pearl Harbour

Stratfor comments:

In a sense, who did this is less important for the international system than that it was done. Bangalore has been a pivot of international technical development and outsourcing and, with an increasingly turbulent China, a relatively safe haven. One attack does not change this fact by any means. But continuing uncertainty as to whether there might be more attacks would begin to erode the global sense of comfort with Bangalore. The Indians have to nail this down, at least figuring out who did it.

Cheap cars packed with people, relatively few casualties in spite of apparently random fire, dud grenades, no one sending faxes taking credit -- none of this makes sense. And it makes defending against the threat difficult.

We mourn Professor Puri of IIT Delhi who tragically lost his life in this cowardly attack.

Is it not time for India to finally stop treating these attacks as "crimes" -- complete with (as Bangalore Guy shows) fumbled police investigations and trials for foot-soldiers of terror?

We know where these attacks are masterminded and we know who funds and plans these. India would be far better off decapitating the heads of these monstrous terrorist organizations.

We don't know if India has an Israel-like capability -- or even the spine -- to kill or capture evil terrorists abroad. Perhaps its finally time to create such a capability and go after the terrorist monsters Hafeez Syed and Masood Azhar personally.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Outrage In Malaysia

Malaysia gives man Muslim burial, ignoring widow's wishes : Reuters

Muslim burial for Malaysian hero : BBC

M Moorthy, 36, was a Hindu when he became a national hero in 1997 as a member of the first Malaysian expedition to conquer Mount Everest.

But when he died a week ago family supporters and state Islamic officials jostled one another at the mortuary as each tried to claim his body.

An Islamic Sharia court subsequently upheld a claim by his former colleagues in the army that he had become a Muslim last year.

However his family, who want him to have a Hindu funeral, were not allowed to appear before the court to dispute his conversion because they are not Muslims.

Shame on you, Malaysia. You have a long way to go before you can be considered a peer of the secular democracies of the world.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Smashmouth In Serendip

Nitin feels -- based on his reading of Sri Lankan bloggers -- that some form of federalism will resolve the Sri Lankan civil war. As always, we take his perspective very seriously.

However, our reading of William McGowan's Only Man is Vile: The Tragedy of Sri Lanka leaves us far less sanguine. The core dispute there is too large a volcano for the tiny paradise to absorb.

We are, therefore, not interested in the resolution of the civil war, per se. Why attempt the impossible?

India's interest there is much clearer -- and more achievable. We want Pirbhakaran dragged into an Indian court and made to answer for murdering an Indian Prime Minister. If he's man enough to swallow his cyanide pill instead of hiding behind his child soldiers, we'll take that too.

This is about one man, not about the Tamil people nor about peace in Sri Lanka.

Our 80s intervention failed precisely because our objectives were not clear -- we didn't know who the enemy was and were not clear on what our end-game was. Consequently, we became convenient punching bags for political extremists on all sides -- while we absorbed vicious losses.

Indians recoil from military intervention now because they believe it to be a repeat of the 80s. It is emphatically not -- indeed, we too believe India shouldn't become an arbiter of an impossible civil war. Rather, India should fight there for its own narrow interests. Defined in these terms -- with a clear definition of victory, i.e. Pirbhakaran in a cage -- Indians, including a vast majority of Tamils, will support the war. Let's not forget, Pirbhakaran embarrassed Indian Tamils by having Rajiv Gandhi killed in Chennai. Surely, their memory is still quite fresh.

For Vaiko to suggest that Indian Tamils will favor the terrorist LTTE over their own troops is extremely offensive and patronizing to the former. This is akin to questioning their patriotism -- indeed, just as offensive as questioning the loyalty of Indian Muslims during our Pakistan wars.

Vaiko threatens that Tamil Nadu will become Kashmir if India were to move against the interests of Sri Lankan Tamils. First, LTTE's interests are not Tamil interests -- in fact, in our judgment, they are exactly the opposite. Second, last we checked, Tamil Nadu is aspiring to emerge a better Bangalore -- if Vaiko wants to turn Tamil prosperity into the ashes of insurgency, well, good luck to him in keeping the loyalty of his own people. We credit the Tamil, among whom we've lived, with far greater intelligence than Vaiko apparently does.

New Delhi really needs to quit worrying about non-issues like Vaiko and begin flexing its muscles for a smashmouth intervention into Serendip. That it likely won't is a disgrace that right-minded Indians should not accept without aggressive protest.

Random Thoughts on the North East

India's resource-rich North East reminds me of the North Caucasus. This arc of instability can be explained not only in terms of the inept handling of multiple insurgencies but also in the context of a fragile neighborhood. The region lies south of China's restive Tibet region (471,700 square miles), east of the fast unraveling Nepal and west of Burma's fractured polity. Bangladesh to its south is not exactly stable either.

This region is a faultline prone to instability. There has been insufficient investment. Illicit immigration from neighboring states has not helped demographic equations. Cross-border terrorism continues to foment instability. The military has its hands tied and the multiple insurrections recur periodically. The Government is unable to stem the intermittent episodes of violence.

New Delhi has no credible policy to deal with the root causes of the conflict. Increased instability in the North East, the continued rise of a radical fundamentalism in Bangladesh and the collapse of the Nepalese administration will bleed India. The Government needs to address problems before they strike. Alas, it is incapable of doing so.

Arunachal Pradesh (32,000 square miles), Mizoram (8,134 square miles) and Meghalaya are perhaps the only enclaves of stability in an otherwise turbulent region.

But then, China still claims Arunachal Pradesh as its own. Naga rebels have endeavored to forment unrest among their as yet un-Christianized co-tribals in that state. A Mizo insurrection, supported by China and Pakistan, in the 1960s, was resolved in the 1980s by Rajiv Gandhi conceding a large degree of autonomy to the state and an explicit recognition of the role of the Church. 85% of the population is now Christian and 10% Buddhist. The Buddhists, however, allege that they are persecuted. Meghalaya remains tranquil for now.

The rest of the region however is precariously poised. The oil rich state of Assam has an area of 30,452 square miles. The mutually opposing Assamese, Bodo and Karbi nationalisms have been at odds with each other since the 1980s. The influx of immigrants has led to an added degree of complexity in the fragile demographic balance. The indigenous tribal population in neighboring Tripura has been reduced to 30% given the Bengali influx.

Nagaland, a state of 6,366 square miles, has been in revolt since the 1950s. The Nagas and Kukis continue their divergent secessionist campaigns. The medieval principality of Manipur is a state of 8,628 square miles. 40% of the population is Naga and 50% is Meithei. Two insurgencies with opposing demands persist, one that will split Manipur at the expense of the Meithei.

The extended neighborhood is no better. Impoverished fractured Nepal boils in a simmering Maoist cauldron. What is of concern is the Maoist corridor linking Nepal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. Bhutan is likely to face future unrest in its southern districts given the restive Nepali minority there.

Burma in turn is a land of multiple war lords presiding over landlocked ethnic enclaves and the drug trade. The tribal Kachins, Chins, Shans, Karens and other groups in Burma have been in open revolt against military-ruled Rangoon since independence. Meanwhile, the Buddhist Chakmas in the neighboring Chittagong hill tracts (5,093 square miles) in Bangladesh remain restive. The rise in religious extremism in that country poses a security threat.

This is indeed a bewildering picture. But the situation is not beyond redemption. For one, the tribal enclaves are all landlocked regions in need of access to the sea and free trade. The bureaucrats in New Delhi need to think pluralism, multi-layered devolution, investment and private enterprise. Mizoram offers a model. There is a need to buy over the rebels. A free trade area linking Nepal, Bhutan, Eastern UP, Bihar, India's North East and Burma under Indian sponsorship will help all concerned. Tibet will need to be inducted at an appropriate time. This will stabilize the extended region and reinforce the shared civilizational inheritance.

New Delhi will need to focus on Nepal and Burma. Its Gurkha regiment should help restore stability in Nepal. It should continue to strengthen military and economic links with Rangoon. Oil rich but landlocked Assam will then once again prosper at the cross roads of trade.

A Desolation Called Peace

Via Reuters, Suspected rebel attack kills 10 Sri Lankan soldiers

The terrorist in striped fatigues is baiting Colombo -- and New Delhi, where Mahinda Rajapakse is visiting -- to go to war. He is betting that Colombo is not strong enough, and Delhi not willing enough, to rise to his challenge.

It's finally time for India to brutally surprise the killer of our former Prime Minister.

Our bitter experience in the 80s shapes India's view of Sri Lanka. This is a mistake. Then, we did not have as much at stake -- we were fighting for another people and our forces had their hands tied behind their backs.

Since then, an Indian leader has been killed and we need to extract justice by hunting down Pirbhakaran. If we go to war now, there will be no limits on what our soldiers can unleash. The notion that a ragtag terrorist group can withstand a withering Indian assault -- motivated by a burning sense of vengeance -- is untenable.

So, let's go to war. Let's end this LTTE nonsense in our backyard. Let's assert our power and authority. Let's make an example out of the striped terrorists. Let's show all other mischief-makers in our sphere of influence what happens when India is finally fed up and ready to spill blood.

Let's finally show some spine and unleash hell on monsters who've long had it coming. Let's make a desolation in Tiger-land, then call it peace -- if that's what it takes.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Despicable Bigotry, If True

Via New York Post, some Muslim employees in Egypt's U.S. embassy being investigated for routinely denying visas to Coptic Christians

If true, such bigotry by these US embassy employees is truly mind-numbing -- and inexcusable.

(Link courtesy: National Review Online)


Via Hindustan Times, India, Pakistan discussing Kashmir self-rule

This is sacrilege.

We've strongly opposed any discussion of Kashmiri autonomy. See also, No Autonomy For Kashmir -- Redux.

Update: Who needs self-governance? at The Acorn.

India: Constitution: Schools, Caste and Religion

The Supreme Court ruled in August, 2005 that the Government lacked the constitutional prerogative to enforce caste-based reservations or interfere in the fee structure of private unaided educational institutions. The Congress-led administration tabled legislation this month to circumvent this ruling. Parliament passed the 104th Amendment to the Constitution on December 22, 2005, allowing the Government to enforce caste-based reservations and influence the fee structure in private universities and schools. The Amendment exempts religious and linguistic minority schools from its purview. Article 30(1) of the Constitution had given such schools freedom to pursue their own policies. This discrepancy has adverse implications.

The scheduled castes, the scheduled tribes and the "backward" castes are Indians like any other citizen. The new legislation is an opportunity for hitherto marginalized caste groups to have improved access to education. The challenge, however, would be to limit the policy of reservations to a time-bound schedule.

The caveat exempting religious minority educational institutions from the purview of the 104th Amendment is disturbing. For one, it segments educational policy according to religious affiliation. Christian educational institutions had thrived in independent India given the freedom afforded to them by Article 30 (1) of India's constitution. This is in contrast to most Asian countries. Hindu schools are denied this autonomy. 8 in 10 Christians in India belong to the scheduled caste, scheduled tribe and "backward" caste groups. And yet the student intake in Christian schools does not reflect this social dynamic. The predominantly upper-caste church hierarchy, the largely non-Dalit priesthood and the Christian denominational schools have not addressed Dalit interests. The network of church schools in the North East and Jharkhand are not bound to ensure reservations for scheduled tribe students either. This is clearly an injustice.

While the Nehruvian mandate safeguards religious minority schools from Government interference, it inadvertently leads to a policy of "separate but equal". The Government can dictate student admissions, fee structure and curriculum in Hindu denominational schools. It can not do so with regards to Christian and Muslim schools although many of these schools receive subsidized state grants. A policy of apartheid in the educational realm militates against the basic structure of the Indian constitution.

The only sustainable solution would be to ensure that all schools are subject to uniform policies of accreditation, caste inclusiveness and gender equity regardless of religious affiliation. The Government can start by reviewing the performance of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions. Failure to do so would lead to acrimonious referrals to the Supreme Court by irate petitioners. And the entire edifice of the 104th Amendment might then be over-turned.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Tough Talk In Washington

We caught yesterday, on C-SPAN, foreign secretary Shyam Saran discussing Indo-US relations at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace.

Quite a tough talker Mr. Saran is.

We must say that his performance did not appear intended to win friends and influence people. Rather, it was a very muscular presentation of India's perspective.

This leaves us a bit concerned.

If India's top diplomat is anything but diplomatic, either this reflects a conscious decision to engage in blunt talk or is the routine manner in which South Block practices its art these days. Neither seems sensible to us.

Washington is a tough place to get things done in the best of times -- with President Bush having difficulty with his own domestic agenda these days, it's not clear how much political capital he has to burn on getting the India nuclear deal. This means India needs to be especially careful on who it ticks off inside the beltway.

Hopefully, our sour impression is overdone and Mr. Saran succeeds in his mission.


Via the National Review, military historian Victor Davis Hanson explains why -- regretfully -- there isn't a robust constituency for Arab democracy in America.

This is lamentable because democracy in Arabia is the only way to ensure global security.

Mr. Hanson writes:

In short, the promotion of democracy has been an orphan policy, without any parentage of past support or present special interests. It proved to be easily caricatured all at once as naïve by the right and imperialistic on the left. Thus on the war The American Conservative is now almost indistinguishable from the Nation.

Only by understanding this labyrinth of competing interests can we see why the most successful election in Middle East history, birthed by the United States, gained almost no immediate thanks or praise, here or abroad.

We don’t need Peoria or even a struggling Eastern European democracy, just the foundations for something that can allow Muslims to follow the lead of those who participate in government in India, Malaysia, or Turkey and accept the rule of law — and don’t strap on bombs to kill Americans with either government help or hurrahs from a disenfranchised mob. And we see results already right before our eyes. After all, there are really only two countries in the Middle East where thousands fight each day against Islamic terrorists who threaten their newly-won freedom — the legitimate governments in Kabul and Baghdad.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Ruby Takes The Cake

'Tis the season to be jolly ...

Although this blogger abstains himself, in the spirit of the party season, we have a libation to recommend for the more revelrous of our readers. From the august pages of The New York Times, here is Reserve Ruby Red (which -- as one discovers -- is expensive but extremely valuable!). Happy merrymaking, everybody -- but don't forget the designated driver.

George Santiago, a 23-year-old nightclub promoter, wanted to impress Danielle DiCantz, 22, whom he had met at a club, on their first date. So on a recent Thursday night he took her to Reserve, a lounge and dance club that is a favorite of the trend-setting crowd here.

To break the ice, Mr. Santiago ordered a $350 bottle of Dom Pérignon. After they had swilled the Champagne dry, Mr. Santiago returned to the bar. This time he ordered her an exotic concoction called the Reserve Ruby Red.

Served in a traditional martini glass, the cocktail is made with super-premium Grey Goose L'Orange vodka, Hypnotiq liqueur, orange and pomegranate juices and topped off with Dom Pérignon. The coup de grâce: a one-carat ruby affixed to the stirrer. And the bar tab for a Ruby Red? An eye-popping $950.

Was she impressed?

"It was the best 950 bucks I ever spent," Mr. Santiago said. "Let's put it that way."

(Photo courtesy: University of Wisconsin)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

War Ain't Picnic

Our co-blogger Pragmatic asks if America's recent troubles in Iraq are really not a case of Neocons being mugged by reality?

He points to many mistakes in how the war has been run. We concede some -- indeed, have ourselves called this a "good war botched" -- object to a few, but that is neither here nor there.

Lets focus on the big picture. When nations are born, it hurts. There are no epidurals for such geopolitical labor.

Consider India. Our nationalism was over a hundred years in the making, and when freedom came -- a million died and over ten times as many were made homeless in their own motherland. Does this latter misery negate the magic of our freedom? Surely not.

Consider America. Its taken a revolutionary war, a vicious civil war, and a civil ferment spanning multiple centuries to -- still not fully -- realize the magical promise of its founding.

We've asked Iraq to do a great deal in a short time. A lot of politics and much vengeance is yet to be worked out there -- and, speaking of reality, much of it will involve bloodshed, it always does. This is not avoidable -- but, once exhausted, these very passions -- then mellowed -- will infuse a robust democracy in the heart of Arabia.

America could have fallen back into the desert and let the civil war play out in Iraqi cities. Instead, it chose to risk its own blood to keep a lid on the violence -- to keep it on a slow burn. The latter process is messy -- from the American perspective anyway -- but more humane. Credit should be given where credit is due.

When history books are written, this era will be called the great democratization of Arabia. The bloodshed will be a footnote -- or gist for literature. When one thinks of 1947, one first thinks of Indian independence -- only then the losses we also took. When one thinks of 1776, one first thinks of American liberation -- only then the losses the revolution took.

That's the bottom line. This is why the neoconservatives fight. Our goals are noble and our victory never in doubt.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Neocons being mugged by reality?

This blog has been a supporter of neo-conservative approach to foriegn policy. This author shares the core idea, perhaps with lesser intensity than our co-bloggers, that powerful democracies must deal firmly and aggressively with threats from ill-behaved, non-democratic forces, even if unilaterally. We are concerned about the dangers of unchecked unilateralism, but have faith in democracies to check and balance themselves.

Be that as it may, this post has a different objective. We wonder if a good idea is being done a disservice by the poor execution of the Bush administration. In other words, we wonder if the neocons, who love to claim that they are liberals mugged by reality, are being mugged by reality all over again?

The reality has been far too many errors of omission and commission. The stretching of truth on WMD in Iraq, the persecution of Ambassador Wilson, the poor planning before, during and after the invasion, the complete lack of understanding of Iraqi culture and politics, the premature de-baathification of Iraqi forces, insufficient troops on the ground, the indiscriminate collateral damage, the torture scandals, the vilification of patriotic dissenters, the blatant manipulation of the media, all compounded by an inarticulate president who cannot stray beyond the soundbite, the list goes on and on...

The consequence of this reality is the declining public support inside America, reduced credibility outside America, worldwide suspicion of US motives, fewer friends and emboldened enemies. This may yet lead to a wholesale rejection of neoconservative ideas. Good ideas with poor execution can cause the idea to be discredited. Here in silicon valley, this is like good startup ideas (e.g. online groceries) with poor execution (e.g. Webvan), an idea now thriving in Web 2.0.

We haven't lost sight of the silver lining - of democracy flowering in the Arabian desert - an incredible miracle indeed! Yet, we also acknowledge the severe mugging neocons are taking at the hands of reality.

Latin America's Long March Backwards

While the world's been fixated on Asia (East, West, and the sub-continent), anti-US Left is Looming Large in Latin America. (Link courtesy: Belmont Club)

This is likely the most fascinating geopolitical development in the new millennium. It implies that the neo-liberal consensus on free markets remains highly vulnerable to populist retrogression. If this political trend expands its geographic footprint (recall that the 1998 Asian currency crisis was linked to economic trouble in South America), we are all in for a world of hurt.

Looks like the US has, inadvertently, dropped the ball in its own backyard.

The Extinct Royal Bengal Tiger?

David Orr of the Telegraph Newspaper in London had an interesting piece yesterday on the Indian Tiger. The national census of tigers is scheduled for next month. However, a recent survey by the non-profit "Wildlife Trust of India" revealed that there were few or no tigers left in at least six of the country's main reserves. While the Government estimates a tiger population of 3,500 tigers in India, the unofficial survey revealed that the figure might be as low as 1,500. Namdapha in Arunachal Pradesh had a tiger population of 61 in 2002. This has declined to just one today. 32 Royal Bengal Tigers were reported in Buxa in West Bengal in 1997. None is thought to remain today. The tiger has now disappeared from reserves in Chhattisgarh, Mizoram and Rajasthan.

It is projected that the tigers would be completely wiped out in ten years given the current rate of decline. I hope that this will not be the case. The decline in the tiger population is attributed to increased poaching to meet the highly lucrative demand for tiger skins, teeth and bones in China and Tibet. Belinda Wright of the Wildlife Protection Society of India highlighted the complete denial on the part of the Government which seems incapable to address the issue.

The Cheetah was indigenous to India. It became extinct in the Indian subcontinent in the last century. Timely action is needed to ensure that the Royal Bengal Tiger does not meet the same fate. The Indian elephant - also known as the Asian elephant - is dwindling in numbers as well.

India should breed tigers in captivity as in Thailand. There needs to be a carefully thought out program to then reintroduce tigers into the wild. The precedent exists in Africa. Perhaps the same could be done with regards to the Cheetah. The Government needs to set up a wild life crime bureau. The maximum penalty needs to be imposed on poachers. A 20 year prison sentence would be appropriate given that the endangered Royal Bengal Tiger is a national heritage. May be its time to fire India's wild life authorities and recruit international experts better equipped to advice the Government. It is indeed a shameful and pathetic record in wild life conservation.

Idiocy Watch

Dawn's Jawed Naqvi has the India-bashing beat at his newspaper. Much of what he writes is to be seen and dismissed in that context.

But sometimes, he goes too far into the realm of idiocy.

His latest column Indian cricket’s caste act is a case in point. Read it if you seek a good laugh!

The Welfare State and the Arthashastra

Kautilya authored the Arthashastra - a Sanskrit literary classic on statecraft - in the 3rd century BCE. I refer to L.N. Rangarajan, "Kautilya: The Arthashastra: Edited, Rearranged, Translated and Introduced"; Delhi: Penguin Publication, 1992.

The Arthashastra highlighted public administration, economic prosperity, social welfare, diplomacy and military readiness as essential ingredients of a successful state. A capable ruler had to focus on these five elements. I will limit myself to the subject of public welfare here. This 2,200 year old Sanskrit document defined welfare as "the increase in economic activity, the protection of livelihood, the protection of vulnerable segments of society, consumer protection, the prevention of the harassment of citizens, and the welfare of prisoners and labor". Kautilya begins his text by mentioning that "In the happiness of his subjects, rests the ruler's own happiness, in their welfare lies his welfare, whatever pleases him he shall not consider as good but whatever pleases his subjects he shall consider as good." Kautilya proceeds to define the ideal ruler as one "who is ever active in promoting the welfare of the people, and who endears himself by enriching them and doing good to them".

The vast empire founded by Chandragupta Maurya in 321 BCE was administered by an efficient bureaucracy, had a good communications network and came under the control of a strong ruler. Kautilya was the King's chief advisor and strategist. The Arthashastra provided a public ethos to unify hitherto small political units, weld divergent groups into a broader cohesive identity and transcend diverse racial groups. The emphasis on the common weal was intended to cement a diverse and pluralist population. This explains the continued relevance of several administrative principles enunciated in the classical text. The Sanskrit document influenced political theory and traditional statecraft in India and Hinduized classical South East Asia down the centuries.

The references to the welfare state in the Arthashastra are vast and I will confine the discussion to the prevention of harassment, the welfare of public servants and the welfare of prisoners. Kautilya begins by enumerating public harassment to include village officials who extort, heads of departments who are corrupt, judges who solicit bribes, counterfeiters, traders who cheat the public and military personnel who go on rampage. The Arthashastra suggests mechanisms to enable the public to routinely register their complaints, to investigate them and provide compensation where justified. Punishments for corrupt officials and traders are enumerated.

The Arthashastra defines the vulnerable segment of the population to include "minors, the aged, the sick, the disabled, the insane, the drunken, Brahmins and ascetics". The vulnerable segments "are to enjoy priority of audience before the king, maintenance at state expense, free travel on ferries and given special consideration by judges". Kautilya provides for the protection of women servants from exploitation, harsh punishment for rape, and the protection of commercial sex workers against physical injury and exploitation. Village elders were to hold the property of orphans in trust and look after them. The state had the obligation to maintain destitute children, the aged, childless women and the helpless. The Arthashastra emphasizes that "when an enemy fort was attacked, non-combatants, those who surrender and the frightened were not to be harmed".

In the section on the rights of prisoners, the Arthashastra emphasizes the need for "separate prisons for men and women, the provision of adequate halls, water wells, bathrooms and latrines, protecting prisoners from fire hazards and poisonous insects, and safeguarding the rights of prisoners to their daily activities such as eating, sleeping and exercise". Kautilya restricts warders from torturing prisoners and prescribes severe punishments for the rape of female prisoners. He advocates the periodic release of prisoners on general amnesty.

The Arthashastra recommends that "Those officials who do not eat up the state's wealth but increase it in a just manner and are loyally devoted to the state shall be made permanent in service". He adds that "an official who accomplishes a task as ordered or better shall be honored with a promotion and rewards." "The state is to provide for the family of a government servant who died on duty".

Many of these precepts are modern in outlook and resonate with a contemporary audience. It is important to note however that this represented theory and the ideal. The actual practice of statecraft through the centuries did not necessarily meet these high standards. Moreover, several principles are irrelevant today. However, the text continues to provide an archetype of political thought that defined Hindu political theory, much like Plato's Republic did in Europe. There are other chapters on trade, public finance and economic enterprise. But that discussion later.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Death Of Common Sense

Via Times of India, UPA govt plans job quota in private sector

The government is considering amending the constitution to allow for this outrageous intrusion into private commercial activity. If this were to occur, our constitution will no longer be one about freedom for Indians.

It's one thing -- a good thing -- for private sector firms to voluntarily seek out opportunities for Indians of all backgrounds, it's quite another -- indeed infinitely different -- to dictate to them their HR policy.

Shame on the government for even considering this ridiculous notion.

Blog Mela

Do check out The PRM Bharateeya Blog Mela, Vol 3 hosted by Saket.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Annals Of Intelligence

Via The Independent, MI5 ruled London bombers 'not threat'

This just shows how difficult it is to defend liberal societies whose enemies find it ridiculously easy to blend in. If trapping these monsters -- before they mow down innocent people -- requires minor sacrifices of civil liberties, why are so many liberals this exercised?

Isn't being able to live the greatest civil liberty of all? Why is the terrorist threat to that right being minimized versus imperceptible dilutions of individual liberties by the state?

Pankaj Mishra's Warped World

Because we consider ourselves secular nationalists, we are intrigued -- no, confused -- by Amit's endorsement of Pankaj Mishra (who we've taken issue with before).

Writing in The New York Times, Mr. Mishra suggests that America's war on terror is somehow in the same league as the horrors of nazism and communism. Indeed, to Mr. Mishra, the greater threat is not from the nihilistic extremism of Islamists, but from those who are trying to protect modernity against barbarism. In his warped world, the minor transgressions of secular democracies trying to defend themselves are worse than the mind-numbing outrages of religious fanatics trying to kill us all. Why? Because, nazism and communism happened to be secular too. Perhaps Mr. Mishra needs to be educated on who defeated both those evil forces and saved us all from unbearable tyranny. Or perhaps he needs IQ injections.

The destructive potential of modern nationalism should not surprise us. Traditional religion hardly played a role in the unprecedented violence of the 20th century, which was largely caused by secular ideologies - Nazism and Communism. Secular nationalism has been known to impose intellectual conformity and suppress dissent even in advanced democratic societies. In America, it was at least partly the fear of being perceived as unpatriotic that held back the freest news media in the world from rigorously questioning the official justification for and conduct of the war in Iraq.

As for traditional religion, outside Saudi Arabia and Iran and Afghanistan under the Taliban it has rarely enjoyed the kind of overwhelming state power that modern nationalism has known. Then why reflexively blame religion for the growth of intolerance and violence?

Incidentally, this is written in the context of the Orhan Pamuk case in Turkey -- a situation that relates to a tyranny suppressing freedom of expression (we've ourselves condemned this here). In Mr. Mishra's view, non-democratic Turkey's misconduct is good reason to beat up on democracies like US & India. Here is an interesting paradox -- Mr. Pamuk, Mr. Mishra's essay subject, contradicts Mr. Mishra (and Amit) by pointing to religious nationalists in India as those suppressing free expression; he does not blame our secular state.

Read more about what Mr. Mishra has to say about India to know how much he despises our nation:

In all these countries, a growing middle class turned a blind eye to, or even actively supported, the suppression of ethnic minorities in the name of national unity. In democratic India, up to 70,000 people have died in Kashmir in a violent insurgency that the Indian news media have yet to honestly reckon with. In Russian Chechnya, civilians and journalists have been as much victims as Islamic rebels. And such is the power of Chinese nationalism that even most dissident intellectuals in the West feel that Tibet and Xinjiang are part of their motherland.

In one ridiculous lumping together, liberal India has been equated to illiberal Russia and China. Hello?

All this is so outrageous as to defy comprehension. Amit, do reconsider your endorsement of this poppycock -- please.


Via Reuters, India adding troops on Bangladesh border

India is deploying thousands of new troops on its frontier with Bangladesh and setting up hundreds of more border posts to check illegal migration and movement of armed militants, a top official said.

New Delhi decided to bolster its eastern border defences in September to crack down on militants moving in from Bangladesh, although Dhaka denies anti-India elements are using its soil.

An excellent development.

Sepia Mutiny

We've never been very impressed by Sepia Mutiny -- a popular blog that wears its racial identity on its sleeve.

Many years ago, having just arrived in the US for graduate studies, we ran into a Pakistani-American colleague whose near-first conversation with us alluded to our mutual "brownness". The whole idea of affiliation based on the color of our skin was absurd to us -- and offensive -- but as we've learnt, this is apparently OK among the bloggers of Sepia Mutiny.

Quite startling, even if the idea is likely benign in intent.

The problem with racial identification -- even if benign -- is the underlying thought process which can lead people to absurd and outrageous conclusions.

These thoughts are triggered by the latest Sepia Mutiny outrage where they compare the uber- conservative lawyer John Yoo (whose legal interpretations helped the Bush administration push the envelop on coercive interrogations) with liberal Amrit Singh (whose legal advocacy on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union has been about challenging these tactics in court). Sample this -- deeply offensive -- Sepia Mutiny thought construction:

John Yoo, professor of law at my alma mater, UC Berkeley, became infamous last year for writing a memo justifying torture by the CIA.

At first glance, Yoo might seem an unthinking political soldier willing to write whatever tissue-thin legal justifications his superiors order. But what if he’s sincere in his belief that torture, locking people up without charge and domestic spying by the NSA is legitimate rather than prima facia illegal and unconstitutional?

I get the sense that East Asian Americans tend to be socially conservative and more pro-law and order (vs. civil rights and privacy) than the mainstream. It’s the whole idea that Asian-Americans are ‘natural conservatives.’ Does this jive with your take, or are Yoo’s views an individual aberration?

So, here the blogger takes the liberty to abstract from one man's views, that he disagrees with, to ascribe political views to an entire race of people -- helpfully characterizing such views as not being "mainstream" and, in the best case, being an "aberration". He is thus imposing on an entire people his personal disgust with Mr. Yoo's ideas. Just imagine the outrage -- with Sepia Mutiny at its vanguard -- if an Anglo-Saxon writer had similarly characterized Indians based on the views of an individual Indian conservative? For some inexplicable reason, similar bigotry by others is considered acceptable.

We are neo-conservatives ourselves -- Sepia Mutiny likely will consider us an aberration (!) given our "brownness" -- yet happen to strongly oppose (see here and here) the consequences of legal views like those held by Mr. Yoo. What deeply offends us, however, is the even more sinister racial perspective of Sepia Mutiny. It's one thing to have political disagreement and debate -- it's quite another to stretch it into the racial realm.

Sepia Mutiny -- if it has any decency -- ought to apologize for this post.

Update: The blogger in question has amended his post, changing his racial point to one about generational differences among immigrants. We're sorry to say that -- notwithstanding his giving up on the original, clearly obnoxious racial point -- he's not apologized for his error; rather he hopes that his edits to his post will resolve the matter.

Race Riots in Sydney

Three nights of racial violence in eight suburbs of Sydney had prompted the state legislature of New South Wales to reconvene in an emergency session on Thursday in order to pass extraordinary legislation giving police sweeping powers to deal with the riots. These were the worst racial riots to hit Australia in decades and resulted in the tightest security clampdown witnessed in Sydney since the 2000 Olympics.

The reported attack by Lebanese youth on two white lifeguards - the epitome of white Australian beach culture - in a Sydney beach led to a retaliation by 5,000 white youth on Arabs in the Cronulla beach last Sunday. Screaming white youth kicked and punched men of Middle Eastern origin and ripped off the head scarves of Muslim women. This provoked a retaliation by Middle Eastern youth who proceeded to shatter store fronts with baseball bats, smash cars, hurl rocks at police and burn the Australian flag later that evening. White men were stabbed. Australia was stunned at the three nights of racial violence. A church hall, next to an Islamic center, was set on fire while shots were fired at a Christmas carol service at a primary school. Cardinal George Pell condemned the last incident as "apparently motivated by religious intolerance". These in turn fueled isolated attacks on Arabs across Australia. The police , which is now on high alert, has clamped down anticipating a possible re-eruption of race riots this weekend.

The race riots has prompted renewed criticism of Australia's multi-cultural immigration policy. Australia has a population of 20 million, approximately a third of whom are of Anglo-Saxon heritage. 4% have a Chinese or Vietnamese background. Middle Eastern and other Muslims account for 1.5%. Indians account for 1%. The country has witnessed a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment with the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, the Bali Bombings in 2002 that resulted in the death of 88 Australians, a series of gang rapes of white women involving Pakistani and Lebanese men in 2002, and last month's clampdown on Islamacist cells in Melbourne and Sydney pre-empting what was thought to be a major terror attack aimed at Australian civilian targets. The bombings in Bali by Islamic fundamentalists were intended to kill Australian tourists. The recent incidents have tarnished Australia's reputation as a bastion of tolerance and racial integration. As Kuranda Seyit, of the Forum of Australian-Islamic Relations, put it "There is racism running deeply in the Australian psyche. Its been simmering for years".

Friday, December 16, 2005

No Kidding

Via Hindustan Times, India, China to remain rivals: Study

What would we do without such startlingly insightful studies?!!!

India Shining

Via BBC, The Saga Of Guriya Khatoon

Very cool!

India Dimming

Via Hindustan Times, LS to discuss Ganguly's exclusion

This is getting grotesquely embarrassing now.


Via AP, Morgan Freeman: The Concept Of A Month Dedicated To Black History Is "Ridiculous"

The legendary African-American actor says he believes the labels "black" and "white" are an obstacle to beating racism.

"I am going to stop calling you a white man and I'm going to ask you to stop calling me a black man," he says.

He's precisely right. And the same concept applies to all manner of other divisive identities that are humanity's baggage.

In modern India, regardless of how it has come about, caste is one such identity. Regretfully, the manner the Indian state has chosen to erase the burden of caste reinforces it every day.

On a more personal level, to the extent individual Indians consider their caste identities irrelevant in our 21st century context, why do we still carry around our traditional surnames -- which are clear caste signifiers -- instead of inventing more neutral expressions of our valid familial identities?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Opium For The Masses

We've previously lamented cricket's insane popularity in India.

This is why we were amused by this Outlook story: Left leaders flay dropping of Ganguly from Indian squad.

What's the left doing meddling in cricket, a profoundly bourgeois sport -- the opium for Indians, as it were?!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Persian Idiot

Via BBC, Iranian leader denies Holocaust

Don't the good people of Iran deserve better than these fools for leaders?

The Bloody Hands Of Democracy

Amit links to the rich American debate on how terrorists (not covered by Geneva Accords -- nor deserving such protections) ought to be interrogated. He believes (and we agree) that the only way to ensure these monsters will not be tortured -- torture being inconsistent with democratic values -- is to significantly raise the price of torture.

This, of course, is a typically great American debate. We are interested in its Indian counterpart.

Does anyone, for example, know what standards the Indian Army & RAW have to abide by in their treatment of detainees? Are they forbidden from inflicting cruel and degrading punishments? If torture is prohibited to them, how is torture defined?

Further, should we not consider extending the scope of these restrictions on the civilian police too? Afterall, our police does much worse things routinely to detainees than the degrading antics of some loony American soldiers in Abu Ghraib -- or the discomforts meted out to the monstrous Khalid Sheikh Mohammad.

How about the Indian blogosphere shining a mirror on the sometimes bloody hands of our own democracy?

Monday, December 12, 2005

Gambling In Casablanca

Via India Uncut, we learn of a sting operation on Indian MPs taking bribes for questions on the floor of the parliament.

As politicians scurry to condemn the guilty and express high-minded platitudes, they remind us of Captain Renault in Casablanca: I'm shocked, shocked that gambling is going on in here!!!

Freedom of Expression

The Turkish tyranny is trying Orhan Pamuk for his politically-incorrect views on the Armenian genocide.

Mr. Pamuk, writing in The New Yorker, finds such antipathy to free expression not just in Turkey, but all around the world (including in India). Progress has brought the developing world a defensive rancor -- seeking to bulldoze free voices into submission. The new Right's borrowing of the stalinist-leftist idea of speech suppression is reprehensible -- true nationalists should stay clear of this.

Here is Mr. Pamuk in his very important essay:

In recent years, we have witnessed the astounding economic rise of India and China, and in both these countries we have also seen the rapid expansion of the middle class, though I do not think we shall truly understand the people who have been part of this transformation until we have seen their private lives reflected in novels. Whatever you call these new elites -- the non-Western bourgeoisie or the enriched bureaucracy -- they, like the Westernizing elites in my own country, feel compelled to follow two separate and seemingly incompatible lines of action in order to legitimatize their newly acquired wealth and power. First, they must justify the rapid rise in their fortunes by assuming the idiom and the attitudes of the West; having created a demand for such knowledge, they then take it upon themselves to tutor their countrymen. When the people berate them for ignoring tradition, they respond by brandishing a virulent and intolerant nationalism. The disputes that a Flaubert-like outside observer might call bizarreries may simply be the clashes between these political and economic programs and the cultural aspirations they engender. On the one hand, there is the rush to join the global economy; on the other, the angry nationalism that sees true democracy and freedom of thought as Western inventions.

V. S. Naipaul was one of the first writers to describe the private lives of the ruthless, murderous non-Western ruling elites of the post-colonial era. Last May, in Korea, when I met the great Japanese writer Kenzaburo Oe, I heard that he, too, had been attacked by nationalist extremists after stating that the ugly crimes committed by his country's armies during the invasions of Korea and China should be openly discussed in Tokyo. The intolerance shown by the Russian state toward the Chechens and other minorities and civil-rights groups, the attacks on freedom of expression by Hindu nationalists in India, and China's discreet ethnic cleansing of the Uighurs all are nourished by the same contradictions.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

East Asia Summit

The leaders of the ten member-states of ASEAN meet in Kuala Lumpur on Monday and Tuesday this week. The East Asia Summit will then be inaugurated in a landmark event on Wednesday. This first ever summit will convene the heads of government of ASEAN, Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. The East Asia Summit is viewed by many as a precursor to a 16 nation economic bloc that would embrace half the world's population and many of the most vibrant economies in the world. A new regional architecture appears to be in the offing. This potential free trade area already rivals the North Atlantic region as an economic growth pole.

Japan, China, India and South Korea are the four largest economies in the continent. ASEAN was keen that India participate in the East Asia Summit in part to neutralize China. India had also lobbyied for its inclusion in the deliberations.

I hope that this elite association would lead to increased ties in cinema, culture, communications, environmental protection, journalism, science and sports as well to compete with the vibrant North Atlantic region. In so doing, it would contribute to a global civilizational efflorescence. This would help make the 21st century a cosmopolitan, pulsating and dynamic one. For starters, India will need to ensure that the mistakes of SAARC, with its looming failed states, are not repeated. The membership of the emerging ASEAN-East Asia-India bloc ought to be restricted for now. All luck to Manmohan Singh as he participates in this crucial summit of considerable importance.

Cambodian History 101

The history of Cambodia offers insights into a vibrant, vigorous and cosmopolitan South East Asian civilization that selectively adopted Indic concepts on its own terms for its own purposes. The Indianized Khmers were once the foremost power in mainland South East Asia. Hinduism and Buddhism flourished in a symbiotic fashion. The Khmer empire included the southern half of what is today Vietnam and stretched to the borders of Burma and Malaysia. I am intrigued at the interplay of Cambodia and India in classical times. I will simplify and shorten the historical narrative to provide a hint of the grandeur of Khmer tradition.

The early kingdoms of Funan, Chenla and Champa in Indo-China in the first millennium of the common era were the precursors of the Khmer empire. The Cambodians adopted Indic traditions in the 1st century CE via the mercantile settlements that arose on the coastline of what is today South Vietnam. These ports were situated on the lucrative trade routes between India and China. The Hinduized Kingdom of Funan, reportedly established by the Brahmin Kaundinya, dominated Indo-China between the 1th and the 6th centuries CE. The Saivite, Vaishnavite and Buddhist traditions thrived. With the decline of the port of Funan, the Khmer moved up the Mekong river to establish the Kingdom of Chenla. This led to the development of wet rice agriculture where autocratic kings legitimized their rule through hierarchic social concepts borrowed from India. Jayavarman II unified the Khmer in 802 CE forming the Angkor Empire. He declared himself the Devaraja or God King and embarked on a campaign of military expansion. A succession of strong kings followed until the 1200s CE. This led to huge investments in a hydraulic civilization, a massive program of temple construction unparalleled in Asia and sheer military activity. Periods of tumult alternated with successful efforts at empire building and increased overseas trade.

The Khmer were a people stimulated, enlightened and disciplined by the adoption of Indic concepts, developing fast, picking up new ways and new ideas from the people they traded with and conquered. It was a time of civilizational efflorescence where the Sanskritic and the Kampuchean re-defined the other. The ruling dynasties were Hinduized while Sanskritic concepts governed administration. Cambodia adopted Indic traditions of administration, aesthetics, architecture, calendar, court ceremony, economy, jurisprudence, literature, religion, statecraft and theater. The Khmers conquered neighboring states and profoundly influenced them. Theirs was a centralized hydraulic civilization where the King's control over water resources and the rice surplus led to extensive long distance trade and commercial prosperity. Successive kings invested their monetary surplus in a huge and expensive campaign of construction, one that was legitimized by Brahmanic ritual.

For example, the temple of Banteay Srei, dedicated to Shiva and constructed in 967 CE by a courtier to King Jayavarman V, is noted for its intricate three dimensional stone carvings depicting scenes from the Mahabharata and Ramayana. Suryavarman, a devotee of Vishnu, in turn commissioned the construction of Angkor Wat in 1112 CE in honor of Vishnu. This is the largest religious edifice in the world. The artistic workmanship is unparalleled with scenes from the battle of Kurukshetra, the Battle of Lanka, the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, and the Battle between the gods and the demons carved in fine detail on its wall panels. The stupendous temple towers dominate the surrounding countryside flanked by paddy fields, palmyra palms and banyan trees. In 1181 CE, Jayavarman VII adopted Mahayana Buddhism and commissioned the construction of the Bayon in the city of Angkor Thom dedicated to Avalokiteshwara.

The Khmer empire had reached its zenith in the 12th century CE. It dominated mainland South East Asia. However, the agricultural economy was subject to strain with deforestation due to increased rice cultivation, the consequent silting of the man-made water ways and the need for increased maintenance of the complex irrigation system by a centralized bureaucracy. The military campaigns, the expensive program of construction and huge public works contributed to a fiscal deficit. The peasant population had become exhausted with the turbulence of conflict. The elaborate court ceremony had exhausted its capacity to provide meaning to a tired people. The Khmer populace gradually adopted the simplicity of Theravada (Hinayana) or southern Buddhism in the 13th century. Cambodia was transformed into a Theravada Buddhist kingdom thereafter. This happened to coincide with a period of decline.

The Vietnamese in the east and the Thai thenceforth annexed large swathes of Kampuchean territory. The Thai took over the present North East Thailand and Laos. The Vietnamese expanded their kingdom to include what it today the southern half of Vietnam. The much reduced Khmers became pawns in a Thai-Vietnamese chess game. Thailand grew powerful with its own adoption of Theravada Buddhism in the 13th century. It incorporated Khmer classicism wholesale into its historical fabric where the Khmer imprint on Thai high traditions is discernible. Cambodia itself was eclipsed into a relative backwater, a situation from which it has unfortunately not emerged to this date. It continues to be overshadowed by its two more powerful neighbors whose policies helped define its sad history in the 1970s and 1980s.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Bombs in Bangladesh

Bangladesh has been hit by a wave of terrorist bombings attributed to Islamic fundamentalist organizations. This is likely to impact upon the security of India given the porous border between the two countries. The rise of religious extremism might affect Burma and Thailand as well. The upsurge in militant Islam took place with the onset of the Khaleda Zia-led administration in 2001. Two Islamist parties, i.e. the Jama'at-e-Islami and Islami Oikya Jote, are part of the administration. They are represented in the cabinet and have helped to shield fundamentalist activists from police scrutiny. They had previously opposed the secession of Bangladesh from Pakistan and had collaborated with the Pakistani armed forces that had killed 1.5 million East Bengalis in 1971.

Bangladesh is a somewhat secular country that takes pride in its Bengali cultural inheritance despite a Muslim majority of 88%. This composite historical heritage is now under siege. The terrorist attacks have been directed at the opposition Awami League, judges, lawyers, journalists, developmentalist NGOs and theaters. In short, the secular intellectual space has been subject to attack. The intent is to transform Bangladesh, an impoverished country of 152 million people crammed into 55,600 square miles, into a rigid Islamic state on the lines of the Taleban. Another objective is to replace the colonial era legal code with the Shari'ah. This explains the repeated attacks on the legal profession.

An attack on an Awami League rally killed 25 people in August, 2004. The former Minister of Finance in the earlier Awami League Government was murdered in January, 2005. There were bomb attacks on Grameen Bank and BRAC, the two largest Bangladeshi NGOs in February, 2005. 459 near simultaneous bomb explosions took place in 63 of Bangladesh's 64 districts on August 17, 2005. Targets included the Prime Minister's office, police headquarters and the Supreme Court. The parallels with Bali, Chechnya, Delhi, London, Madrid and New York in terms of the simultaneous explosions were discernible. Another politician was killed in October, 2005. Two judges were murdered in November, 2005. There was an attempt on the life of a third judge. There were simultaneous bomb blasts on three court houses in November. Another suicide bomb attack took place this week. 30 persons have been killed in the past three weeks due to terrorist attacks.

The foremost terrorist group in Bangladesh is the Jama'at-ul Mujahideen. This has its base in the Dinajpur and Rajshahi districts adjoining India. It is reported to have a full-time cadre of 10,000 and a part-time cadre of 100,000. It is suspected to have 2,000 suicide bombers on stand-by. The organization describes itself as the "soldiers of Allah" who intend to enforce the Shari'ah and fight "the anti-Islam forces that have brought women out of their homes". The group allegedly has training camps in 57 of the country's 64 districts. The presence of Islamist parties in the cabinet has provided a conducive environment for the increase in fundamentalist activity. Whereas there were just 1,500 registered Madrassahs in 1970, there are 8,000 registered Madrassas today. This excludes the tens of thousands of unregistered religious seminaries financed by Islamic charities based in Bahrain, Kuwait, Sa'udi Arabia and the UAE. These factors explain the rise in fundamentalist extremism.

India had previously complained of a steady stream of illicit immigrants from Bangladesh, one that has reportedly changed the demographic composition of Assam and West Bengal since the 1970s. It will now need to take note of increased Islamic extremism in Bangladesh, expedite the ongoing construction of the 2,500 mile fence separating the two countries and control the flow of illicit immigration. The consequences would otherwise be disastrous.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Positively Miraculous

Via Indian Express, Experts divided, new IITs plan put on hold

How else can this blessed -- and entirely unexpected -- development be explained?!

US Public Opinion On Great Power Peers

American Enterprise Institute cites an interesting Harris Interactive poll of American attitudes towards peer great powers:

A Harris Interactive poll taken in mid-October found much more concern among Americans about China than about India, Russia or Japan.

Forty-five percent said it was in the best interests of the U.S. for Russia to grow and prosper; 31 percent said we should be concerned about them. Respondents were split on those questions when asked about India: 39 percent and 35 percent, respectively.

But when asked about China, only 24 percent said we should want China to grow and prosper, compared to 58 percent who said we should be concerned about that prospect.

In another question, 70 percent said China would be a superpower in 10 years. By contrast, 41 percent felt that way about Japan, 20 percent felt so about India and 15 percent believed that about Russia.

And the poll found that a majority--52 percent--were “extremely” or “very” concerned about China becoming stronger than the U.S. militarily in 10 years. Another 21 percent said they were concerned about the prospect, while 27 percent said they were “somewhat” or “not at all” concerned.

In the meantime, an Oct. 12-13 Pew Research Center poll found that 16 percent described China as an adversary, 45 percent as a serious problem but not an adversary, and 30 percent as not much of a problem. Those numbers have been pretty consistent in eight other askings of the question since 1997.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Idiocy Watch

Via NDTV, India must sign NPT: Norway

Yeah, right. Someone please tell these European non-entities to mind their own darn business. And, while they are at it, they may wish to read the following, then reconsider their foolish condescension:

Via Reuters, US looks to India as new global ally

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Journalistic Tampering in Iraq

This aggressively pro-Iraq war blogger joins Christopher Hitchens' denunciation of US planting favorable stories in Iraqi media:

It is, anyway, not so much a matter of fooling people as of insulting them. The prostitute journalist is a familiar and well-understood figure in the Middle East, and Saddam Hussein's regime made lavish use of the buyability of the regional press. Now we, too, have hired that clapped-out old floozy, Miss Rosie Scenario, and sent her whoring through the streets. If there was one single thing that gave a certain grandeur to the change of regime in Baghdad, it was the reopening of the free press (with the Communist Party's paper the first one back on the streets just after the statue fell) and the profusion of satellite dishes, radio stations, and TV programs. There were some crass exceptions—Paul Bremer's decision to close Muqtada Sadr's paper being one of the stupidest and most calamitous decisions—but in general it was something to be proud of. Now any fool is entitled to say that a free Iraqi paper is a mouthpiece, and any killer is licensed to allege that a free Iraqi reporter is a mercenary. A fine day's work. Someone should be fired for it.

Donald Rumsfeld should be fired -- well, he ought to have been fired a long time back, but better late than never.

A Nightmarish Stress-Dream

Johann Hari vigorously attacks Harold Pinter being awarded the Nobel Prize for literature:

The Nobel Peace Prize died in 1973, when Henry Kissinger – one of the great mass murderers of our time – became a beaming recipient. This Saturday, the Nobel Prize for Literature will join its sister-prize in absurdity when Harold Pinter collects his award by video-link.

Harold Pinter has one literary accomplishment: he imported the surrealism of Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco and Luis Bunel into the staid English theatre ... At their best, his plays are like a nightmarish stress-dream: unbearably primal, raw expressions of menace and fear, whose meaning is always just beyond our grasp.

But with Samuel Beckett, you always know there is an elaborate existentialist philosophy underneath the darkness and chaos. With Pinter, if you turn on the light and switch off the atmospherics, you find… nothing, except a few commonplace insights: Torture is Bad and Resistance is Good ... Pinter’s staccato sinisterness does not illustrate a point; it distracts the audience from the fact his point is so banal.

But the more important case against Pinter’s Nobel is political ... Pinter himself says, “I suspect the [Nobel committee] must have taken my political activities into consideration since they are very much part of my work,” and he’s right: his Nobel Prize citation explicitly states that he is being rewarded because his work “uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and force entry into oppression’s closed rooms.”

The tragedy of Pinter’s politics is that he takes a desirable political value – hatred of war, or distrust for his own government – and absolutizes it. It is good to hate war, but to take this so far that you will not resist Hitler and Stalin is absurd. It is good to oppose the crimes of your own government – but to take this so far that you end up serving on the Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic is bizarre.

So when there was ethnic cleansing two days’ drive from Auschwitz, Pinter’s response was to defend the aggressor and attack the victims. While much of the left – decent people like Peter Tatchell, Michael Foot and Susan Sontag – were calling for democratic countries to arm the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) to defend the ethnic Albanians from racist murder, Pinter described the KLA as “a bandit organisation” that was “actually” responsible for the ethnic cleansing in the region. Watching the trial, Pinter said admiringly, “Milosevic is giving them a run for their money.” He now says his position is that Slobodan should be released until “the real criminals”, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, join him in the dock.

Human Rights Watch – and others who know something about the Balkans – have responded to Pinter’s position with horror. Its director, Richard Dicker, says, “This is not victors’ justice – this is justice for the victims of horrific crimes. Slobodan Milosvic was at the top of the chain of command of military and security forces that wrought mayhem in Kosovo in early 1999.”

Unless there is a new Nobel Prize for rage-induced incoherence, Harold Pinter’s shouting should not be beamed into Stockholm this weekend.

(Hat tip Andrew Sullivan)


Via Stratfor:

The Dec. 5-7 Russia-India summit will reveal strategic trust between the two countries that runs deeper than the cooperation either shares with China and deeper than U.S.-Indian collaboration. This will result in very close cooperation on defense and space matters, including unparalleled military and dual-use technology sharing. The most technically advanced and sensitive projects to be boosted by the summit will be the joint development of a fifth-generation fighter and the creation of the space-based Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS) -- originally an exclusively Russian project that India will join as a lead partner. GLONASS will become an alternative to the U.S.-based Global Positioning System, and thus will signal Moscow and New Delhi's coming independence from Washington in a field key to any nation's security.

With these and other highly sensitive deals in discussion at the summit, India and Russia are poised to help each other greatly on the road to becoming strong world powers. Strategically, this relationship probably will become a long-term concern not only for China but also for the United States. Even with all the advances in U.S.-Indian relations recently, the level of collaboration and mutual trust on strategic matters between Washington and New Delhi is nothing compared to that between New Delhi and Moscow. Furthermore, the GLONASS project likely will be a thorn in Washington's side. The world depends on the United States' GPS system in terms of military and civilian space applications. GLONASS will render both Russia and India independent of the United States in this crucial area -- and powers independent of the United States can do many things others cannot.

Overall, Washington's major concern is that major Eurasian powers will form close strategic relations that might threaten U.S. hegemony in the future, no matter what relations the United States has with such countries now. In fact, Eurasia's major powers can threaten the United States only if they are aligned. Thus, Washington's prime geostrategic goal has been -- and will continue to be -- working to keep such alliances from forming, even if the near-term goals of those alliances are not directed against Washington (such as the Russo-Indian partnership). The United States' concern is not with current intentions, but with the potential for Eurasian giants to challenge the United States in the future if they choose.


Via Times of India, Saudi orders 'gouging' of Indian's eye

The ruler of this barbarous nation is to be India's honored guest during Republic Day celebrations. What a disgrace.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Monday Morning Comedy

Via Gargi, here's what Pakistani highschoolers are studying!!!

One can't make this up.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Zia Ul Haq

Pakistan's Daily Times leads today with this editorial: Another clue into General Zia’s death

This is provoked by a Barbara Crossette (ex-NYT South Asia correspondent) piece in the World Policy Journal, Who Killed Zia?, in which a former US Ambassador to India fingers Israel.

Diplomats don't speculate idly. Their leaks have purposes. (Just ask Natwar Singh!!)

Whose purpose is served by this grenade tossed on the eve of the OIC summit in Makkah? How does this impact the recent warming between Israel and Pakistan?

In this wilderness of mirrors, all reflections have ghosts.

Or, as Kundera puts it so well in The Art of the Novel, not a single absolute truth but a welter of contradictory truths ... to have as one's only certainty the wisdom of uncertainty.

A Nocturnal Portrait Of The World

Courtesy: NASA (click here for larger, better defined, picture)


We are unabashed admirers of American neoconservatives. We are, like them, liberals mugged by reality -- strong idealists with a clear vision for the world.

Here we take stock of the progress of aggressive neoconservatism.

Unlike realists, who believe in deploying national power for self-sustenance, neoconservatives believe in deploying national power as a force for good. "Good" is not an abstract construct -- we believe in the absolute goodness of harmonized freedom and equality. Both must co-exist for the good of the world.

Thus, we reject, for example, unchecked freedom to clerics and despots for suppressing equality of those they lead. Likewise, we reject "equality-based" political tyrannies that suppress freedoms of their citizens (e.g., Marxism).

For realists, values and interests are independent things. For neoconservatives, values are a sub-set of national interests.

All this came together in America's post-9/11 attitude to the world. It saw itself an unrivalled power challenged by radical extremists who offered a vision sans freedom and equality. Both Osama and Saddam personified this challenge.

America decided to use its national power as a force for good by attacking those who threatened its values, hence its interests. This was a test of whether America had sufficient power to enforce standards of good conduct across the world. If America, with all its might, could not pull this off, then neoconservatism would have a problem -- not a conceptual problem, but a problem of means.

Regretfully, it must be said now, that things have not gone the neoconservative way -- our way. An impatient American public and a myopic global opinion have turned against the war. In other words, we neoconservatives have a problem.

We fervently hope Washington does not cut and run -- as some are arguing. That would be a horrendous mistake. We also hope people not see America's difficulties in implementing its neoconservative vision as the negation of neoconservatism itself.

Still, its clear that if America hasn't been able to enforce its noble will in small Iraq, India cannot expect to do the same, with similar tactics, in its massive neighborhood. This does not mean our advocacy for enforcing political modernity on our neighbors is mistaken; all it says is that we'll need coalitions of the willing to achieve our ends. We need a strong capability and experience in building such coalitions.

India's partnership with US and UK to isolate the Nepalese tyrant is a terrific case in point. We need to build similar coalitions for advancing our values in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Burma.

We hope Indians do not see the Iraq matter as a crutch to advocate "dealing with the devil" realism. The thing to remember here is that 9/11 was a clear consequence of historical American realism. Realism may be a short-term pacifier, but it's also a long-term landmine.

Bottom line, these may be trying times for neconservatives, but that only means we need to re-affirm our resolve and re-assess our tactics. This does not mean that we cut and run back to the darkness of political realism. We hope India becomes increasingly neo-conservative aligned, but having learnt from the Iraq experience, pushes forward with better tactics and greater success.

The Indian Navy

Agence France Presse covered the news conference convened by the commander of the 137 ship Indian Navy yesterday. Admiral Prakash stated that the "Indian Ocean is now the highway along which over a quarter of the world's trade and energy requirements move. The Asia-Pacific region holds immense promise for political, economic and military cooperation and the vital role maritime forces play in this regard makes the Indian Navy a key component of the nation's foreign policy. India aspires to a certain position in the world and so we must have a navy commensurate to our needs".

The Admiral announced plans to acquire military hardware that would give the navy increased clout in the strategic energy corridors of the Indian Ocean. India is currently working on a complex project to link up its warships and submarines via satellite. This might entail a dedicated satellite for the purpose. India is also working on establishing a triad of land, air and sea launch platforms for its missile-based nuclear weapons systems. India finalized a US$ 2.1 billion deal to acquire six French Scorpene submarines. It intends to procure three destroyer-class warships from Russia. It plans to purchase 30 long range helicopters and is currently negotiating to lease two anti-submarine P-3 Orion aircraft from the United States. The Navy is awaiting delivery of a refurbished Russian aircraft carrier and an Illushyn-76 aircraft reconfigured for maritime surveillance. It hopes to commission work on an indigenously built aircraft carrier as well. The Navy has already commissioned the indigenous construction of 27 war ships while the procurement of another 36 ships is on the cards.

India had deployed its warships to help devastated Indonesia, Maldives and Sri Lanka during the December, 2004 tsunami. This was in addition to naval relief operations in the far flung Andaman archipelago. Prakash had described this as a "defining moment as people could perceive the speed with which we could react". India had rejected western offers of relief aid during the tsunami.

Indian ships currently need 18 to 24 hours to travel from the east to the west coasts. The Sethusamudram canal project is intended in part to reduce ship travel time and consolidate India's southern flank. Two earlier posts - one on India's alternate sea lanes and another on the Antarctic - might be relevant in light of yesterday's news conference.


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