Friday, April 29, 2005

Rumors About Bin Laden's Death

Via Israeli website Debka:

An announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death appears Friday in one of his close aides’ most credible Web sites. It has sparked a storm of controversy in al Qaeda circles, some of whom claim notice is false.

Signed by the Pen of Jihad Warriors, the site provides no information on circumstances of death, only asks: Where are those who break out of borders? Where are the lamenters? Where are those who throw themselves from the tops of towers and skyscrapers? Where are the heart-rending cries?

Egyptian bin Laden adherent, Yasser Sari, calls notice a lie and promises new videotape soon in which leader announces end of al Qaeda truce in Europe. Other followers credit the announcement as “authentic and Islamic.”

Via Stratfor (subscription recommended):

A statement posted April 28 on a jihadist Web site said there are reports that Osama bin Laden has died. However, the message went on to say that he is still alive but could die soon and that Muslims should prepare for his death. Furthermore, the al Qaeda chief is expected to appear soon in a new videotape to be aired by an Arabic news channel. Bin Laden is likely hiding out in Pakistan's northwestern tribal belt, which has seen a great deal of movement by Pakistani and U.S. troops in recent weeks. Fearing that he could be captured soon, bin Laden probably will give his right-hand man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, even more air time than he has received so far.

Indian Golfer Bests Vijay Singh

Here's a cool newsflash. Arjun Atwal leads the field, including hall of famer Vijay Singh, after the second round of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

Now, this is pure jazz to Indian ears! Hope Mr. Atwal can keep up the great show.

Finally, Some Good News From Bangladesh

Via BBC, Fall in Bangladesh acid attacks .

Even our strong opposition to the death penalty cannot dilute our cheer on this development.

Theme Park OK, Fashion Show Not?

Via BBC, World's first Hindu theme park proposed on the banks of the mighty Ganges. Via Rediff, VHP flays mantra at US fashion show.


Squabble Among White Hats

In response to our post, My Country, Always Wrong?, challenging anti-nationalist (not anti-national) attitudes of Indian liberals, Dilip makes a strong retort. Game on!

First, a summary of Dilip's argument. He rejects chauvinism masquerading as patriotism. If India's project is self-evidently superior (our claim) then, he wonders, isn't it strong enough to withstand valid criticism? He dismisses our fear that liberals' India-bashing is driving Indians into the open political arms of cultural bigots. Finally, he suggests that real patriotism is about calling our nation to the greater things she is capable of.

We too reject chauvinism and bigotry (of all kinds, everywhere) -- indeed, we've written against it with some passion. See Shiv Sena Shoots Off Its Loony Mouth, Lynching of Books, Chaos in Bangladesh, Shame: Taslima Nasreen Revisited, Indian Beheaded in Saudi Arabia, The Arrack of Ostriches, Azadi Begins at Home, Blogger Freedom in Iran, Pogrom in Gujarat, and on and on and on.

But, rejecting blind obeisance to whatever our flag is should surely not blind us to the facts over which the flag flies.

We know India's political system is superior to our neighbors'. We can either minimize this out of exaggerated modesty or, as we advocate, we should assert our political values of freedom and tolerance all across our neighborhood by persuasion where possible, and by force where necessary. For liberals, such assertiveness is anathema, even though this is precisely, what Dilip calls, the greater things India is capable of.

Instead, liberals want to sue for "peace" with neighborhood dictators and chauvinists. Because free India has sometimes erred in its conduct, liberals make an equivalence with our infinitely worse foes. Equating India with the gutter of our neighborhood surely will leave us all filthy. We want to raise our neighbors to political modernity; liberals seek to pull us down in their mire. Who, then, among us calls India to the greater things it's capable of?

Does India have failings? Of course, it does -- and yes, our freedoms to criticize are essential for India to relentlessly erase these failings. We don't believe in smothering political ideas just because we happen to detest them to our core (see Narendra Modi). Criticism of India's failures versus its highest ideals isn't subversion; rejecting the factual superiority of the Indian project, that enables such criticism, is.

As to whether such criticism has led millions of Indians into the willing arms of cultural bigots, we must again point to facts. Apart from Indian-on-Indian bigotry, these political forces have few other ideas to offer. Yet, they were given the keys to Delhi, and to (the supposedly cosmopolitan & maximum) Mumbai, and to industrial Gujarat, and even the Hindi heartland. Surely Dilip, being a hands-on journalist, has read and heard the rhetoric that made this possible. Cultural bigots won in the past, and will again, by successfully painting secular liberals as a threat to India -- and millions lapped this up.

Now, Dilip has the luxury of writing off such people for being easily seduced by bigotry. We don't. These people are the millions of Indians who vote and elect our governments. We have to persuade them by making credible arguments that simultaneously allay their fears and uphold India's superior values. Absent this, as liberals tend to do, we end up debating meaningless abstractions in our cushy lives where riots never happen. This is why Indian secularism has taken the blows it has taken in recent years.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Would Be Comic If It Weren't So Tragic

Rezwan links to this ridiculous press release from Odhikar, supposedly a Bangladeshi human-rights organization. In this, Odhikar attributes all manner of evil to India.

Before assailing its foolish assertions, lets first mock its inability to perform basic spell-check. Here's a direct quote:

Seventy six people were killed by BSF and Indkan miscreants fvom 1 January, 2004 to 31 December 2004. During same period,/35 people were knjured, 9 were arrested and 73 were abducted while 5 incidents of snatching took place by BSF.

Now, lets look at Odhikar's claims. Check out this gem:

The gravest situation developed in the border areas during push-in attempts of BSF. Bangla speaking minority Indian citizens were brought in from various provinces of India by BSF in the Indo-Bangladesh border. Branding them as illegal Bangladeshis, BSF tried to push these people inside Bangladesh territory through various parts of the border areas. This has created tense and inhuman situation. Among these groups, majority were female and children whom BSF positioned in front of push-in groups as shield against resistance from Bangladesh border force BDR. Push-in attempts were made at the dead of night, early morning and in cold weather. The fateless Indian people caught stranded in the no-man's land in between weapons of border security forces of two neighbouring countries without food and water for long time. In most of the instances, BDR pushed these people back into Indian territory but they were not allowed to move from border areas by Indian BSF. Most of these people belong to low-income group and were forced to live in inhuman condition in border areas. Odhikar thinks that attempt of push-in of Bangla speaking Indian citizens might cause large scale border conflict anytime between the two neighbouring countries.

Per Odhikar, it isn't Bangladeshi migrants who are invading India by the millions, rather it's India that is attempting ethnic-cleansing on Indian Bengalis. Oh boy!!

After you've picked up your gaping jaw off the floor, click here to see what might one day happen if India were to ignore this unacceptable Bangladeshi mass migration -- just visualize the linked billboard by replacing Los Angeles and Mexico with Calcutta and Bangladesh respectively. (link via Michelle Malkin).

If India doesn't address this menace now, Odhikar's worst fears may indeed come true. This situation might turn into a large scale border conflict between the two neighboring countries -- if this happens, one thing is certain: it won't turn out good for Bangladesh.

The Global War On Offensive Odor!

Via Drudge Report: Houston Bans Offensive Odor in Libraries.

Via Amit Varma: India Campaigns Against Offensive Odor in Cabs.

Good News in the War on Terror

Via Times of India, it appears that terrorists in Kashmir are running short on money & supplies.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Shiv Sena Shoots Off Its Loony Mouth

Sometimes one just has to shake one's head in bewilderment at the neanderthal attitudes of some Indians.

Update: Over at India Uncut, Amit correctly laments the stunning polling support for Shiv Sena's outrageous views.

My Country, Always Wrong?

If Indian liberals were to have a theme song, my country, always wrong would be its name.

Because, in many ways, we too are liberal -- albeit mugged by reality -- this sob-song of our co-travelers on India's road to secular modernity is enormously frustrating.

Sure, India is fallible -- but it's a nation unlike any other in our extended region. Our people are justifiably proud of our freedoms -- these freedoms make our system unique and superior to our neighbors'.

Liberals don't quite see it this way. They hissingly question even factual assertions of our superior freedoms, and demand we dilute our nationalist pride by recalling occasional Indian failings.

Indian liberals thus construct a parade of horribles and cherry-pick a few egregious examples of Indian lapses to diminish the self-evident superiority of the Indian project (vs. those of our neighbors) -- this is a profoundly subversive act. [Note: The italicized words are taken from the conservative dissent in a US Supreme Court ruling from earlier today; the language is terrific, and it applies well in the context of our post.]

Fortunately, most Indians can see through this subterfuge. They remain patriots at heart and their politics embraces nationalism. They are, however, puzzled by the constant drip-drip of India-bashing by our liberals who strain to find nuggets of good in our awful enemies, while dismissing the entire ocean of our nation's greatness.

This suicidal liberal attitude discredits liberalism itself. Consequently, India's instinctively nationalist heart turns away and, in desperation, opens itself even to faux-nationalist evangelism of India's cultural bigots.

If we are to sustain a secular, modern, and tolerant public space in India, our fellow liberals need to re-assess their constant India-bashing. If they don't feel comfortable making this sacrifice, well, then they should consider relinquishing, to secular-nationalists, their self-seized mantle of being secularism's defenders. Absent this, liberals risk tainting secularism by their association -- this would be a horrible tragedy.

As they might say in American, Indian liberal dogma don't hunt no more!

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Standing With Our Soldiers

We just read a Dilip D'Souza blogpost, Rashomon on the border, where he makes the following offensive argument:

So I know Indians, outraged by this incident, who are calling for a strong military response against Bangladesh. They rail against the pusillanimity of a country that would be pushed around by a minnow like Bangladesh. Even if there was provocation, they say, Bangladesh cannot do this to an Indian soldier. That country seems to think it is India's equal, and our response should be so overwhelming as to rid them of such grandiose pretensions.

And I'm left to wonder, why is it that the way we consider incidents like this must be coloured by our national loyalties? Why must we believe our own country's version of events, even if it has holes, over the other's? (Then again, the other country's version also has holes).

Is it so hard to accept that when you have a tense border, you're going to have incidents like this one, and that's really why it happened? That if we want no more futile deaths like these, the real answer is for both countries to learn to live like neighbours, which they never have managed?

As our readers know, this blog has taken precisely the position Mr. D'Souza condemns. The following is our response to his argument.

The reason for Indians to stand with our soldiers -- and their version of what happened -- is that they stand vigil on the border, placing their lives at stake, so that we can live the free lives (a rarity in our hemisphere) that we lead.

Liberals seemingly revel in taking potshots at our boys -- just to make abstract points. It's all well & good to talk about the nature of truth, ala Rashomon, in smoke-filled parties and consequence-less blogs, but we're talking here about real Indians who've been tortured and killed -- so we can have these parties and blogs.

Mr. D'Souza is free to make an equivalence between the soldier who died protecting us, and the foreigners who care little about our interests; he should go right ahead. Afterall, he lives in a free country where such obscenity too is protected speech.

As for this blog, that takes the unabashedly hardline Indian view but, like others with similar views, mourns even the Bangladeshi dead -- a point Mr. D'Souza conveniently omitted in his post, the life of an Indian soldier matters a heck of a lot more than the lives of those who he has died protecting our freedoms from. If we do not stand with our boys when they're under fire, in the trenches, who will? Arundhati Roy? Noam Chomsky? Khaleda Zia?

Any other attitude insults the memory of our amar jawans. That we cannot let happen.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Christian Science Monitor: Exquisite Timing, NOT

See this CSM article on the glory of Indian Railways published the same day as, what Nitin calls, the world's largest terrorist network has killed more people.

A brief aside to acknowledge Patrix's concern about Indian blogosphere's linking patterns. Some of this likely has to do with the prolificacy and consistency of various bloggers. This is to say, if a blogger writes a lot and well, one can always find a good post on his/her blog to link to -- for adding color to a story the linking blogger might independently have interest in. At least, this is clearly the case in our linking preferences.

On the rail accident story, for example, of all those blogs we read daily, including Nerve Endings Firing Away, only The Acorn (who we link to a great deal) has (predictably) written about it, and written well. Therefore, the link.

Nevertheless, Patrix makes a good point -- perhaps one resolution could be for blog readers to alert the blogger (via comments, for example) of other bloggers with interesting takes on the topic at hand. This will likely make the bloggers in question click through to these other blogs, thereby discovering more great writing they simply weren't aware of.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Christian Science Monitor: Lazy Writing, Bigoted Thought

The ordinarily terrific Christian Science Monitor has run this terrible editorial today on the Indo-Pak "peace" process.

There's nothing particularly notable about this editorial. Similar thought, seemingly everywhere, has drowned out sensible thinking in recent days. There is, however, a profoundly illiterate and deeply offensive section in the editorial that merits being called out for what it is, lazy and bigoted.

India can't let this moment slip, nor just string Pakistan along. It must make trust-building concessions, such as on a proposed dam that would restrict water flow to Pakistan. Largely Hindu India must eventually be flexible in redefining the status of largely Muslim Kashmir.

Shame on you, CSM for such bigotry. What makes you think that religious affiliation determines a people's nationality? You may wish to re-read US' own constitution to comprehend why India, that shares similar values, cannot accept your absurd suggestion. We hope an apology is forthcoming.

Mahesh Bhatt: Terrible Writing, Foolish Thought

Check out this gem from the Pakistani newspaper, Dawn.

He had tasted death - I could see that. It's not what he said, but how he said what he said that demolished my preconceived notions about him. I was watching President Musharraf interacting with Indian editors at a breakfast meeting on television, while oscillating between dread and hope.

"We need to find solutions for our problems now," he said, or words to that effect. "We need to do so now because tomorrow, India and Pakistan will be there, but Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pervez Musharraf may not be... and these unresolved problems will resurface... we owe this to posterity."

His words touched me and broke through my self-imposed barricade of suspicion. The prism of the past through which my blinked vision was being filtered just dissolved. Suddenly this image that we all have of a blood-thirsty general out to destroy India evaporated.

Dictatorship of Relativism

So, the new pope, Benedict XVI, promises to save the world from the "dictatorship of relativism", perhaps by introducing the democracy of absolutism. Oh, I forgot, the last elections already saved the US. Bush and the Pope will make good friends.

Independent of your viewpoint, it's always fascinating to see cunning linguists develop new "weapons" in the war of words. Pro-choice or Pro-life, Death-tax or Estate-tax, Coalition of the willing or Coalition of the co-erced, the unfaithful and the infidels, the Axis of Evil, political and religious leaders have mastered them all. (Click here for more).

If you want to get away from it all, check out this amusing program written by MIT students, just for laughs, that randomly juxtaposes words, albeit grammatically correctly, to "maximize amusement rather than coherence".

Put The UN Out Of Its Misery, Please

First, a confession. We detest the UN system -- the simultaneous mirth and rage its naive, therefore dangerous, idealism evokes in us cannot be overstated.

UN is where all nations come together, as equals, for world peace. Yeah, right. Rampant corruption is more like the UN's slice of brie. And standing up for the sovereign rights of miserable dictators like Saddam Hussain, and cretinesque dictaorships like Pakistan seeking "self-determination" for another nation's people. Give us a break.

The UN is socialist in its design -- therefore deeply flawed, even immoral. Even if we set aside its corruption and ineffectiveness, the UN's funding and expenditures, in theory, are based on that evil idea "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need".

Evil? Is that not too harsh?

A system that eliminates positive incentives that impel people and nations, no matter what their station in life, to quit complaining, chin-up, and bootstrap out of their present misery is surely evil. For UN to sustain itself, human misery has to stay in place (as it has remained even after half a century of UN benevolence -- it's even arguable that in parts of the world today people live more miserable lives than any of their ancestors have ever lived). Thanks a lot, UN.

Idealists among us have tasked the UN to attack human misery, thereby committing organizational hara-kiri (what, afterall, is the UN's value in a post-misery world?). Anyone who knows bureaucracies knows this ain't gonna' happen.

So, here's a suggestion. Once the upcoming, so-called reform is through, and India is predictably denied the Security Council seat it so (pathetically) covets, it should quit whining, chin-up, and bootstrap itself out of the UN.

Imagine the aftershocks. A billion people democracy disawows a corrupt and unrepresentative UN. WOW! Now that's an act of demonstrated power and confidence.

The world's going to have to deal with India, UN or no UN. In the high-noon shoot-out between the immoral East River bureaucracy and the moral Indian democracy, guess who'll come out ahead. By showing leadership and confidence, India would have made the first great-power splash of the 21st century -- believe us, there are many other nations who will then follow India's lead and that will, finally, thankfully end this blue-helmet charade we call the UN.

You want to be a great power, India -- here it is, a whopper of an opportunity. Put the UN out of its misery, please.

HIV in India

Among even the most voluble Indians, who write and talk incessantly about national security issues, there exists a deafening silence about India's HIV near-epidemic.

Embarrassment and denial abound in our officialdom (as today's BBC story illustrates) -- consequently, our populace remains woefully ill-informed about the threat to them as individuals, and to the strategic security of their State. Our media too is light on the subject -- perhaps the Indian blogosphere can act more responsibly in bringing out the brutal Indian reality about the subject.

In this context, it's useful to read Nicholas Eberstadt's alarming 2002 essay that appeared in Foreign Affairs magazine. Once one absorbs the implications of Mr. Eberstadt's model, one cannot but place the HIV problem at the same level as issues like Pakistan, China, Security Council, Missiles Defense, and Terrorism.

In January 2004, we attended a party in Delhi honoring a visiting CSIS taskforce investigating HIV in India. In addition to Mr. Eberstadt's essay, the taskforce's report is also worth reading.

In our interaction with members of the taskforce, among other things we observed that India's apathy to this disease matches America's own similar apathy in the '80s, when the disease was assumed localized only in certain high-risk populations. Nothing could be farther from the truth -- the full realization of this came to America only after the basketball hyperstar Magic Johnson revealed he had the virus.

Mr. Johnson was hardly part of the "high-risk" populations everyone assumed the disease was localized in. He was a virile super-athlete, and if he was vulnerable, who was safe?

So, we observed to the taskforce, while we hope no one comes down with this horrible affliction, India needs our own Magic Johnson -- a national idol (a cricketer perhaps, or a Bollywood star) who publicly reveals his/her battle with the virus. This requires courage, of course, and a heroic commitment to the nation's well-being.

We await such a genuine Indian hero.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Demise of Brokerage Parties?

Recently, we wrote about the Bihar-like Corruption in Canada.

In today's New York Times, Canada-native David Frum (author of the brilliant but now-notorious words "axis of evil") writes about the Canadian Liberal Party's scandal. The following passage, referencing India's own Congress Party, caught our eye (hat tip: Instapundit):

Unlike their supposed analogues, the Democrats in the United States or Great Britain's Labor Party, Canada's Liberals are not a party built around certain policies and principles. They are instead what political scientists call a brokerage party, similar to the old Italian Christian Democrats or India's Congress Party: a political entity without fixed principles or policies that exploits the power of the central state to bribe or bully incompatible constituencies to join together to share the spoils of government.

As countries modernize, they tend to leave brokerage parties behind. Very belatedly, that moment of maturity may now be arriving in Canada. Americans may lose their illusions about my native country; Canadians will gain true multiparty democracy and accountability in government. It's an exchange that is long past due.

We suspect that India is unlikely to leave Congress Party behind -- unless there emerges a robust, viable secular-right alternative to the cultural bigotry that masquerades as right-wing politics in India today.

Murder on the Bangladesh Border

The stupefying torture and murder of a BSF officer by his counterparts in Bangladesh's BDR requires a tough stance by India.

By tough we mean, India should demand that the BDR killers be extradited to India where they should be tried for murder.

Now, there are conflicting stories (well described here and here) about the violence. There are also Bangladeshi civilians dead, who we mourn.

BUT, no matter what the underlying cause, Bangladesh does not have the authority to kidnap, torture, and kill an Indian soldier. For such transgression, the piper must be paid and India should make a harsh example of the Bangladeshi perpetrators.

Can we even imagine what might happen if dependent North Korea killed a Chinese soldier, or Mexico killed an American border patrol agent? Why India is taking this outrage lying down, mystifies us.

We have much goodwill for the people of Bangladesh, whose dysfunctional and pathetic Government is eroding the very foundations of their State. Dhaka now seems to think itself a geo-political equal to New Delhi, and if not equal at least the same as Pakistan in terms of trouble-making capacity versus India. Dhaka should be promptly disabused of this delusion.

Our hardline message to Bangladesh: quit messing with India or there'd be a heavy price to pay, sooner or later. Don't mistake India's current era of strategic softness as a lasting phenomenon -- the pendulum will swing back in time, and when it does, look out.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Soul Train To Pakistan

Nobel-laureate Toni Morrison's lyrical solo, Jazz, songfully defines practitioners of the artform thus:

Blues man. Black and bluesman. Blacktherefore blue man.
Everybody knows your name.

Black. Blue. Black & Blue. Black therefore Blue. That's Jazz -- where the memory of a once-chained people still lives. It is this memory that keeps the music real, and makes it profoundly important in America's pantheon of innovation.

James Baldwin once said: Music is our witness, and our ally. The beat is the confession which recognizes, changes and conquers time. Then, history becomes a garment we can wear and share, and not a cloak in which to hide; and time becomes a friend.

He's right of course, but not just about music -- literature and art and cinema and building are all born of our society and politics. Through them, we hold a mirror to our broken world and ensure that we never forget.

This is why we're often puzzled at the discordance between India's politics and our culture. For example, where partition's aftermath remains an oozing political trauma for us, C-grade cinema apart, our high culture (such as it is) remains largely oblivious to this. To the extent there is such expression, our cricket&bollywood-obsessed youth are likely illiterate in it. How many of them do we think have read Bhishma Sahni or Khushwant Singh?

Instead of folding our shattered land's memory into innovative music and cutting words, we've drowned it in hollow applause of the forgetful at Feroze Shah Kotla. This is a shame because --absent enduring cultural means of memory -- once our parents' generation is gone, we'll no longer remember the betrayal of partition. If that happens, our art will stand in the dock.

What a sad day that'd be for our generation, that -- for ringtones and pipelines -- deliberately forgot the trauma of our parents.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Musharraf, Stay Home

Indian bloggers are united in protesting Musharraf's upcoming visit to Delhi, ostensibly to watch a cricket match. Please join our protest by displaying the graphic above on your own blogs by clicking here. Also, please drop a note, via comments, if you're joining our protest.

Our kudos to Nitin, Shanti, varnam, Sandeep, Jagadish, India Defence, Niket Kaisare, Patrix, Akash, Quizman, Vulturo, Rojnamcha, Communism Watch,, Marwadi, Suren, Transport Phenomena, Null Pointer, Rajagopal, and everyone else involved in this important campaign.

Corruption in Canada

The best hour of news we watch on TV these days is by CBC from Canada.

The hot topic: apparently the reigning Liberals paid off hundreds of millions to advertising agencies in Quebec for the purpose of promoting federalism in that restive francophone province. As it turns out, the money was then re-routed to Liberal party coffers in ways that pay homage to the mafia!

It seems it ain't merely dusty Bihar where lawlessness happens, it happens in beautiful Montréal too.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

What Is Asia?

The Christian Science Monitor has run an editorial asking Asia to define its identity in terms of Europe-style continental unity. This is a counter-point to the deep scepticism we have expressed on the notion of "Asian solidarity" -- specifically as it relates to India.

Worth a read.

Lynching of Books

"And yet on the other hand unless warinesse be us'd, as good almost kill a Man as kill a good Book; who kills a Man kills a reasonable creature, Gods Image, but hee who destroyes a good Booke, kills reason it selfe, kills the Image of God, as it were in the eye."— John Milton, Areopagitica, 1644

BBC reports on a horrible act of arson in Imphal where rioters have torched the central library, destroying 145,000 books in the process. The arsonists want the Mayek script to replace Bengali script in the state.

This is not the first time such brutality to culture has been seen in India. This speaks to our failed collective understanding of what culture is and how it's kept alive. When our Governments too get in the act of scarlet-lettering provocative books and expression, why is it surprising that cultural neanderthals among our people follow suit?

In the pell-mell of our mediocre lives, we're making tinder of our heritage and our values. When all our civillization crumbles into ash, we'll wonder why we didn't protest sooner the beastly manner of our present discourse and the ugly emptiness of our contemporary expression.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Dhiren Bharot Indicted

Dhiren Bharot (aka Abu Eisa al Hindi) the author of this vile anti-India book, has been indicted today by U.S. authorities on terrorism related charges.

Mr. Bharot, a British citizen, is a Hindu convert to radical Islam who fought alongside Pakistan-sponsored terrorists in Kashmir.

This comes on the heels of the February 2005 indictment of Lashkar-e-Taiba linked American Ahmed Omar Abu Ali for plotting, with Al Qaeda, an assasination attempt on President Bush.

Because the Kashmir jihad has gone global, and now threatens the West, it's no longer viable for Pakistani dictators. No wonder they're suing for a tactical "peace" with India. Regretably, instead of pushing its advantage and extracting accountability for the innocent dead from Pakistani terror sponsors, India is extending them a warm welcome. This is a singular disgrace.

Stratfor on India-China Accords

Stratfor (subscription highly recommended) comments today on Mr. Wen's India trip. The following are interesting sections worth reading:

Two strategic partnerships were struck Monday -- one between Russia and Germany, another between China and India.

Beijing is seeking new sources of technology, greater leverage in South Asia and along the energy trade routes, secure borders and a regional geopolitical ally -- particularly one the size of India. New Delhi wants access to the Chinese markets, a level of economic integration to stem the competition between the two populous giants, a redefinition of China's relationship with Pakistan and a large ally among the developing nations.

In the case of a waning Russia and a reawakening Germany --- or a rising-but-shaky China and an emerging India -- the relationships may be no easier to define. Russia and China still view themselves as the greater of the powers, yet their respective needs for Berlin and New Delhi give the emerging powers leverage in setting the tone of the partnerships. There are no equal partners, and this will continue to be a point of friction as long as each of the "strategic partners" views its own interests and goals as superior to those of its partner.

In politics, as in marriage, this is easy to overcome in the early stages: No real serious differences crop up, and any pre-existing conditions can be glossed over until later. But that later will inevitably come -- India will challenge China's relationship with Pakistan or Beijing will question India's ties with Japan. Germany will challenge Russia's energy deals with European competitors, or Moscow will intervene and seek to reshape German investments in Russia. And in all cases, the United States will seek to use its leverage and influence in efforts to put these partnerships asunder.

It is only when real challenges and frictions emerge that the true depth and scope of the strategic partnerships will be seen. But unless one nation is willing to overlook its own interests in favor of another's in order to foster the partnership, these will, in the end, turn out to be fair-weather friendships. Until then, a confluence of interests will drive the relationships, and -- in the interest of harmony -- difficult issues will go on the back burner. But divorce will remain an option.

Nixing Security Council Expansion

Visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has extended support to India's Security Council Dreams. At the same time, he has strongly questioned similar claims by Japan.

In China, meanwhile, Government-sanctioned rioters have been tormenting Japanese interests. (Update: After we wrote this, a friend alerted us to this website that alleges all manner of evil acts perpetrated by the Imperial Japanese Army during WWII. It's definitely worth a click-through.)

Notwithstanding the likely validity of Chinese allegations, the timing of this choreography is hardly coincidental -- it's likely designed to prevent the development of a pro-West Indo-Japanese axis competing with Chinese geo-political interests. Therefore, as we argued recently, India should view China's tactical warmth with a cynical eye.

On the specific matter of Security Council reform, we've long believed that there will be no near-term expansion to the Council. Why? Because, as this Indian Express op-ed argued, there is no free lunch in power politics -- nations do not become influential by their pathetic lobbying for power; rather, power is demostrated by forcibly grabbing it. Also, like in the mafia, Godfathers don't cede power just because supplicants make nice to them; they cede power only when all hell breaks loose.

Well, last we checked, all hell's neither broken loose yet, nor will it even if the Security Council expansion is deferred. Ergo, it shall be deferred. Q.E.D.

The mechanism to achieve this appears simple enough. U.S. will not accept any expansion that excludes Japan. China will veto any expansion that includes Japan. U.S. will protest China's veto, but will be secretly thrilled since this blocks any possible expansion. That's game, set, and match, folks.

Given this, what possibly does China lose by extending support to India's (not-going-to-happen) Security Council dreams? We sincerely hope Mr. Wen hasn't recieved any favors in return for this zero-value gesture.

Incidentally, if India wants to demonstrate real power, it needs to assert itself by humbling a major rival. Hmmm, who could we possibly have in mind?

Monday, April 11, 2005

iPOD Has Finally Jumped The Shark

Even President Bush has one now; this is surely the end of this fad!

(Does Manmohan Singh have one? Dr. Kalaam? Wen Jiabao? Dalai Lama?)

Our own iPod (of 2003 vintage, before it was on every armband, we proudly note) is henceforth officially retired. Our new electronic device of choice is our high definition "Lust in the Heart" television. (Watching the Masters this weekend on HD was like physically being in ethereal Augusta -- for golf fans there is no greater reward!!)

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Because Kashmir Is Not Khan El Khalili

Just the other day, a bomb exploded at Cairo's famed Khan el Khalili bazaar. Three people were killed.

To most people, this explosion was merely one more firecracker in our era of terror. Because, this writer has bargained for trinkets in Khan el Khalili, this felt personal. We had the same feeling on 9/11, when we eye-witnessed the towers being slammed and snuffed out. Again, because the towers were our friends where other friends worked, this was personal.

By personal, we mean it felt like someone had tried to kill us. It's difficult to forget the personal.

That which is not personal, is abstract. When we see on TV Beslan's dead children, or Bali's dead tourists, or Beirut's dead politicians, or bombs in Madrid's Atocha station and Tel Aviv's Mike's Place, the killing is a senseless abstraction to all of us who've never been in these places. When the TV cameras are gone, so is our concern.

Isn't the same dynamic playing out on Kashmir? Most Indians haven't been there, haven't lived the same terror and, dare we say it, are even tired of Kashmir. They want to move on to bigger and better things -- to power, prosperity, and "peace".

Because, notwithstanding all our boastful jingoism, Kashmir is an abstraction for most Indians, most don't care how it's settled, as long as it's settled. So, we have the astonishing spectacle of Tom Friedman arguing that the 2002 near-war was averted not by General Powell, but by (the uber-outsourcer) General Electric (presumably via Bangalore), we have Indian liberals talking up realpolitik (which, if memory serves right, was liberal bĂȘte noir Henry Kissinger's technique), and we have Muslim conservatives, using arguments typical of liberals who they otherwise despise, asking their nation to wage "peace" with the tyrants of Pakistan.

For us, the minority Indians not drunk on this cool-aid of faux "peace", these are terrifying times. We are witnessing the full frontal emasculation of our national character. We are hearing the surrender song from our million hypocrisies now. India is, alas, showing the world that, with trinkets of outsourcing and trade, it will run even from its moral battles.

It's like Lord Krishna's advice to a cowering Arjun -- to not fare well, but fare forward -- has gone to waste.

Tom Friedman is regretfully right. Indians are happily being bribed by the likes of General Electric to abandon the memory of dead compatriots and dying principles, to wage "peace" with an unreformed dictator of an illegitimate government of a near-failed narco-nuclear-terror state. In return for this abject surrender, we will receive, what our friend Amit calls, free movement of goods and people, normalcy, and compromise.

We're economic libertarians ourselves but, Amit, free trade is surely not about trading death for dollars. This is exactly what India is now on course to doing.

Congratulations, India. Because Kashmir is not personal to most of you as Khan el Khalili is to us, you're free to play poker with your abstract dead, and call it realpolitik. Don't pay us few "useless" spoilsports much attention -- we'll stay back to mop up the blood on the floor that you'd prefer not to acknowledge as you swipe your fancy new credit cards at the mall.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The Problem With Engaging Musharraf

In his terrific blog India Uncut, Amit disagrees with Indian blogosphere's Musharraf protest.

He argues that engagement with Musharraf is good because it represents a positive-sum game. Because peace brings prosperity, so the theory goes, what's the harm in trying for peace? He also draws up the Israel-Palestine example, where clearly jaw-jaw is better than war-war.

Amit's is an important argument shared by many Indians -- indeed our Government itself. It deserves a serious -- not emotional -- response.

First, the comparison to Israel-Palestine is plainly wrong on facts -- indeed, doing so parrots the Pakistani argument. Lets consider just two points:

Palestine was legitimately wrested by Israel, from Jordan and Egypt, in war initiated by the latter two. Before this "occupation" began, there was no independent state of Palestine -- this is not to say there weren't Arab residents of Palestine staking a claim for their own state.

Unlike Kashmiris, who are Indians, occupied Palestinans do not carry any citizenship at all. Kashmiris, therefore, have rights and significant freedom; Palestinians have very little. If Kashmir were to lose India, Kashmiri freedoms will shrink; the same can hardly be said for Palestine. This is a major difference, is it not?

Also, unlike Kashmiris, whose lands have been protected by the Indian state, Palestinians have lost land to Israeli settlers for decades. This too is a major difference, is it not?

The other point about forging a win-win equation with Pakistan merits some consideration. This blog has forcefully confronted this idea in the past. In one of our earlier posts here, we wrote the following (this represents what Amit seeks -- a coldly rational understanding of the situation at hand):

India’s people are understandably tired of war in Kashmir. They yearn for peace and the consequent prosperity. But peace and prosperity through terrorist appeasement are surely illusions. How soon before the Pakistan comes back for a mile, having taken an inch? What if terrorism is resumed? What will India do then? Cry foul and wave around the settlement signed by the untrustworthy General Musharraf?

India’s elite hopes its statesmanship on Kashmir will lead it into bodies like the Security Council and G8, therefore to power and riches. But since when are seats at high tables available for purchase in the currency of weakness? Besides, power and riches are prerequisites to joining these clubs – these clubs are not avenues to power and riches.

Security Council and G8 members matter not because of their membership in these bodies. In fact, it is the Council that derives influence from its permanent members whose own power comes from having humbled their adversaries. Likewise, the G8 derives influence from its members who are prosperous in their own right.

Where does this leave India? With an appeased terror state as peace partner who, past experience suggests, is hardly trustworthy and, if a miracle happens, ersatz membership in global bodies that neither provides power nor riches. Some prize this is.

We see no reason to back off this argument now. As we recently noted, we can always count on Pakistan to validate our hawkish points whenever it is part of the equation. As example, see today's attack on Kashmir bus passengers .

Ghost Wars Wins Pulitzer Prize

In December 2004, we wrote about Steve Coll's Ghost Wars, a terrific book about CIA in Afghanistan.

Mr. Coll has just been awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in the non-fiction category for this book. The award is well-earned.

Speaking of books, we note with deep sorrow the passing of Nobel laureate Saul Bellow. We've regrettably only read his astonishing book Ravelstein, but now will seek out his other classics too.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

How Indian Cricket Crowds Out All Else

BBC reports that Mahendra Dhoni, who was shaping up to be a solid football goal-keeper, was re-directed by his coach to play cricket.

Sure this turned out great for cricket, but what about the loss to Indian football? How many other kids have been similarly re-directed from other sports to cricket, yet have not risen to the exalted heights Mr. Dhoni has? What if they'd stayed true to their real passions -- there's at least a chance they could've risen like the Fijian Vijay Singh did in golf (do read his awsome story).

Indian Cricket has regrettably become poison to all other useful pursuits. It's even damaging our diplomacy.

Chaos in Bangladesh

Nazli Kibria's LA Times article on the chaos in her native Bangladesh is a must-read (hat tip Rezwan). She writes:

What prevails today in Bangladesh is a climate of impunity for terrorists, fostered by the apathy of the government and its repeated claims that there is no terrorism problem. And so those who wish to hurl grenades at members of the opposition or to bomb secular cultural events or to club to death progressive writers and intellectuals may do so without fear of prosecution. Music festivals, movie theaters and even a Valentine's Day reception have all been the scenes of recent attacks.

We are reminded of this Alexander Pope verse (from Dunciad) that inspired the title of a Nirad Chadhuri classic:

Lo! thy dread Empire, Chaos! is restored;
Light dies before thy uncreating word:
Thy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall;
And universal Darkness buries All.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Ivan Cardinal Dias

Mumbai's Ivan Cardinal Dias is being mentioned in the media as a long-shot papabili -- one who could be Pope.

Not being Catholic ourselves, we don't know much about Cardinal Dias. From what little we've read, he appears very conservative on social issues -- in this, he is similar to Pope John Paul II. As Indians ponder if one of our own might become Pope, we think it useful to at least get a sense for how he thinks.

(Indians should also carefully understand the political implications of such a development; the Catholic Church is clearly a mighty political force -- as Polish communists found out. Indians need to clearly understand what an evangelist Indian Pope might imply for our extremely delicate secular balance. This is a complex matter which we'll take up at another time.)

It isn't our place to critique or applaud the Cardinal's views, we only seek to report on them. Consider, his social views from a 2003 speech he made in Rome at a conference on depression, as reported by National Catholic Reporter:

Cardinal Ivan Dias of Mumbai (Bombay), India, delivered the conference’s final talk. Careful readers will have noted that he is on the list of “top 10” papal candidates.

Dias’ paper was titled, “Towards a Pastoral Care of Christian Faith and Trust in Life.” He emphasized use of the Bible, openness to the movements of the Holy Spirit, and the sacraments as keys to a pastoral strategy for depressed persons.

Dias offered examples of this pastoral care, which also help illustrate his attitude towards the hot-button issues of abortion and homosexuality.

“It is an open secret that hidden and unforgiven sins easily lead a person to be depressed,” Dias said. He told the story of a priest who was counseling a depressed woman. The priest bluntly asked if she had had an abortion. After initial anger, she said yes.

“The priest led her step by step to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation,” Dias said. “Then he helped her to accept the child she had rejected, to love it and even to give it a name. At every step the lady became calmer and at the end was all smiles at the thought of meeting her baby one day.”

Similarly, Dias said he knew a priest who had worked with three homosexual and lesbian couples.

“For many years they had been trying to get rid of their inordinate attachments through professional counseling and through the confessional, but in vain,” Dias said. “Their problem was leading them not to death of the body, but more seriously to that of the soul. You will be glad to learn that all three cases were cured completely of their unnatural tendencies.”

Dias urged greater effort in helping those who suffer from depression. “Pastoral care for the depressed is a must today. It must enter every home, parish, community, diocese and society at large,” he said.

Gyanendra, Almost Ready To Blink

Stratfor (subscription recommended) has the following to say about Nepal:

Former Nepalese Prime Minister and Nepalese Congress Party President Girija Prasad Koirala was released from house arrest April 1 after he and hundreds of other political activists were jailed during King Gyanendra's royal takeover in February. Gyanendra is clearly using this gesture as an overture to India in hopes that New Delhi will resume military assistance in the king's fight against the Maoist insurgency in Nepal. New Delhi, however, will keep to its hard-line stance against the king's power grab until Nepal's state of emergency expires at the end of April -- when India can afford to offer some degree of legitimacy to the Hindu kingdom.

India is not in a rush to resume military aid to Nepal, however, and plans to teach the king a lesson by sticking to its hard-line stance and refusing to legitimize the royal government until democracy is restored in the kingdom. When Kathmandu's emergency rule expires at the end of April, India will expect the king to bend to international and domestic pressure and bring back multi-party democracy rather than risk isolating Nepal even further by toying with the constitution and extending emergency rule by six months. India then could champion itself as the regional superpower with the capability to police the subcontinent at the upcoming South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit, thus overriding Pakistan's recent attempts to project regional influence.

Time is not on Gyanendra's side. Unable to fully rely on Pakistan's assistance, he faces a Maoist insurgency that is far from resolution and an increasingly untenable domestic opposition, now that democratic parties in Nepal have found common cause to resist the royal government with the Maoists. Considering the costs and benefits of extending emergency rule, the king is more likely to seek India's support by restoring democracy in Nepal.

Wen in Delhi

Wen Jiabao visits Delhi this week amidst much fawning and big talk.

This blog has long warned against breathless tango with the dictators of Beijing. They may be our geographical neighbours, but cannot be any more different that who we are.

Mr. Vajpayee once said, nations can choose friends, but not neighbours. True, BUT are we not living now in a world that's ever smaller (or, as Tom Friedman argues, flatter)? If so, shouldn't our definition of neighbourhood be widened beyond mere Asia?

Our maps are misleading. It may be that China is physically next door but, given the extent of our connectivity with the US, when we reach out and touch someone, they are more likely to be American than Chinese, or East Asians. This is not to say we shouldn't look to expand our trade relationships; this is simply to say East Asia should be viewed as a trade partner no different than, say, East Africa -- i.e., physical proximity shouldn't make East Asia any more interesting to us than distant lands.

Frankly, Indians have as much in common with East Asians as we do with Eskimos -- lets not, therefore, get carried away by woolly ideas of "Asian" solidarity; we should instead reserve our scorn for the political illiberalism and corruption that dominates Asia (ex-India and Japan). Lets not forget that East Asia has long regarded India with amusement and contempt -- they think our democracy is silly, broken, and naive. If suddenly, they are courting us, its not because they've changed their minds about our "lesser" status, its just that they want to prevent an Indo-US alignment in the heart of Asia.

There is too much discussion about Asia pooling its resources to check American influence in the region. Lesser Asian nations may, for fear of the dragon, accept this notion, India must not. These ideas are designed to project China as the regional hegemon -- neither Japan nor India can accept this; we need to leverage America to check this Chinese gambit.

So, while we welcome Mr. Wen, our warmth remains reserved for fellow democrats in the West and in Japan.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Strobe Talbott's "Engaging India"

On this rainy, mournful New York weekend, we settled in to read Strobe Talbott's excellent book on his post-Pokharan dialogue with Jaswant Singh.

We learnt one new thing, and confirmed two others.

For long, we've poured scorn on Mr. Singh (and Mr. Vajpayee) for having blinked before the 1999 Kandahar hijackers. While we still think releasing terrorists from Indian prisons was a terrible idea (we should've threatened Pakistan instead), at least we now have a better sense for why the BJP blinked. Apparently, al Qaeda was planning to blow up the hijacked plane in mid-air on New Years day as their spectacular millennial calling card.

We also confirmed the following:

One, in dealing with the US, patience is key. Because our interests (largely) coincide and because, given our similar values, Americans (by and large) think well of India, they might play hardball but eventually will allow themselves to be persuaded to our point-of-view -- via well-made arguments and professionalism.

Two, we can always count on the self-destructive instincts of Pakistani elite. Even if, on occasion, India blindsides our allies, as long as Pakistan is provoked into joining the equation (which is not very hard at all!), we come out smelling like roses!!

A minor point in this context is that even though Pakistani diplomats appear more polished and are seemingly better accented than their Indian counterparts, behind-the-scenes our guys and gals are organized, professional, and always well-prepared, while Pakistanis have no clue what they're doing. Ergo, for foreign interlocutors, dealing with Indians is a constructive (even pleasant) experience, while dealing with Pakistanis is a nightmare.

Here's raising a toast to our guys and gals in the South Block!!

Friday, April 01, 2005

Friday Musings

A giant is dying in the Vatican as we speak. He reminds us of an ideological time -- where nations and their people bet everything on ideas, and for all the realpolitik that went on, ultimately it was great ideas that prevailed over other great ideas.

We are in lesser times now. All we get to fight is the spineless evil of Al Qaeda. No wonder even thoughtful people argue that great power rivalries are over, that this is time for constructive engagement -- even with ideological enemies.

We can understand lesser nations living by this confused and promiscuous credo of our lesser time. But, for great nations (like India), this should be a time to assert national character.

First, lets examine the dance floor. Here everyone's dancing with everyone else, committing to no one at all. Consider:

America opposes dictatorship -- except in China and Pakistan. To China it readily sells its debt, to Pakistan its gunpowder. China lusts for Taiwan who dances with America whose steady partner Europe, in turn, flirts with the dragon. India courts China and Iran and Burma and Hugo Chavez, rousing American jealousy. America courts a hard-to-get India to check China and Iran and Burma and Hugo Chavez. Russia frolics with Iran and Europe and India and China while America steals Ukraine and Georgia and maybe more -- America's President can still see into the Russian President's soul. Japan locks lip with America, waltzes with New Delhi, and marks time with China.

Is this chaos really Francis Fukuyama's famous and triumphant end of History? Is this why, in our post-ideological time, (Kautilyan?) realpolitik has replaced conviction?

Or has it? Does the global group-grope we described above really constitute rational (and legitimate) preservation of self-interest? Or, does it instead reflect a deep anxiety about our future -- what darkness is en route, who will lead and who will wilt, and most important, will the global order survive as we know it?

We think it's the latter. Because nations (even hyperpowers) do not know the shape of the future, they do not know how to place their bets. Accordingly, as any gambler would do, they place small bets with everybody.

We are not very fond of realpolitik (except as a short-term, tactical maneuver), see From Morality to Pragmatism: A Pendulum Swung Too Far. Our politics are rooted, and seek purpose, in moral ideology. To us, the confusion of our times is unnecessary and unbecoming -- afterall, even if we can't see the future to align our "pragmatic" bets, we still have our national character to guide our choices of friends and enemies.

To dramatize this point, we recall Hal Holbrook's words in the film Wall Street: Man looks in the abyss, there's nothing staring back at him. At that moment, man finds his character. And that is what keeps him out of the abyss.

The same's surely true for nations. At this abysmal moment of geo-political confusion and promiscuity, our national characters are surely on test. Hopefully, India can find its character, make the right commitments, and stand tall when there is light again.

This means, at least, three things:

One, our friends must be those with whom we share abiding, democratic values (e.g., US, Japan, Israel, UK, Australia); not those who we guess might bring us short-term gain (not that we really can know who this latter set is)

Two, if our confused allies (e.g., US) place tactical bets (e.g., F-16 sales) with our ideological enemies (e.g., Pakistan), we shouldn't be frustrated; these bets hold little meaning and will just as easily reverse when the fog begins to clear -- conversely, we should not exult when someone sweet-talks us about forging a "Strategic Partnership"

Three, whenever the fog clears and the music stops, not every nation will have a chair; only those who have the national character to keep their heads when all about them are losing theirs, will come out ahead -- this is how India can finally breakthrough as a great power


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