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Bouquets and Brickbats: 2008 in Review

We’re fast approaching the end of 2008, and it is customary to a look back at the year. 2008 was the year of rebates and debates, of bailouts and sellouts. In 2008, pigs accessorized with lipstick, surges worked, several people participated in waterboarding (some albeit involuntarily), and the fundamentals of our economy were deemed to be strong. Natural disasters claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in Cuba, China and Myanmar. Businesses around the world collapsed and unemployment rates in industrialized nations crossed 6% for the first time in decades. In India, the lady from Rome did little the ease the miseries of the common man, and the Home Minister, like Nero, played the fiddle while the country burned.

Thankfully, there were the few welcome moments that diverted everyone’s attention from the forgettable events that have consumed us in 2008. The Beijing games were one of the better Olympics in recent memory; that China was able to undertake and successfully execute such a massive project should be an inspiration to other developing nations. Barack Obama’s election in the United States means that there will be responsible leadership at home, and consensus driven decision making when it comes to America’s foreign policies.

But without further ado, here now are the “bouquets”….

Bouquets

Hemant Karkare, Maj. Sandeep Unnikrishnan, other martyers who laid down their lives to defend India in the face of a series of unprecedented assaults. The “Do Nothing” government did, well, nothing to provide the equipment, training and funding necessary to counter the enemy. If the National Security Guards were able to flush out the terrorists in three days, it wasn’t because of the government’s involvement, it was despite the government’s involvement. This UPA administration has the blood of 160 citizens on its hands.

Somnath Chatterjee for standing up to the despicable tactics of Prakash Karat and his band of merry Commies and executing his duties as Speaker of the Lok Sabha. The scheming Left has shown yet again that it puts Party diktat and anti-Americanism over the rule of law and the country’s democratic process. With the nail firmly entrenched in the coffin of relevance, the CPI(M) can go back to being the trivial jokers they always were, and the nation will be better for it.

The Faceless, Nameless Gulf Laborer who is sandwiched between several devils and deep seas, but continues to toil for his family in conditions of virtual slavery. His day involves at least 12 hours of finger to bone work building extravagant skyscrapers and artificial islands, under the wrath of an unsparing sun. He is a victim of immoral agents in the subcontinent, construction companies in the Gulf, and their patrons in the palaces of Dubai, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, and Doha. He lives in total squalor, shares accommodation with several other construction workers, and remits 60% of his income back to his family in Nizamabad or Haripur, if he should be so lucky as to be paid his wages once in seven months.

The Fab Four of Indian Cricket — Ganguly and Kumble hung up their spurs in 2008, each a true champion in his own right. Ganguly will be remembered as the man who gave Indian cricket its swagger, and Kumble as the workhorse who ground many an opponent to the dust. Although a forgettable year for Rahul Dravid, felicitations are due for becoming only the third Indian batsman to have aggregated 10,000 runs in Test cricket. Speaking of great aggregators, a tip of the hat to Sachin Tendulkar as well, who, by becoming the highest run scorer in Test cricket history, owns just about every batting record there is in Test and One Day cricket.

Sam Manekshaw and Baba Amte, RIP This year’s Vijay Divas (December 16) had special meaning as India lost a true Son of the Soil in Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw. Thirty seven years ago, this bahadur orchestrated the dismemberment of the Pakistan Army and liberated Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) from the clutches of cowards who engaged in state sponsored genocide against Bengalis. Another great Son of Bharata was laid to rest this year — Baba Amte, whose social service and fight against leprosy lead to the establishment of several rehabilitation ashrams in the country, at a time when those afflicted with the disease were ostracized by society.

Madhavan Nair, Mylaswamy Annadurai, and ISRO Thirty-three years after Aryabhata, and twenty-four years after Rakesh Sharma became the first Indian to travel in space, ISRO successfully launched India’s first lunar probe, Chandrayaan-1, on a shoe string budget ($80 million).

Other honorable mentions: Indian Premier League (I know purists called it a farce and a bastardization of cricket, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite being a fan of the Bangalore Royal Challengers); Muntadar al-Zaidi (of “Shoegate” fame — say what you will, Peyton Manning couldn’t have thrown better spirals); Katie Couric (for flat out owning the train wreck that is and was Sarah Palin).

Brickbats

And now for the not-so-fabulous. This year has been very ordinary, by every standard, so shortlisting the most truly repugnant characters was not an easy task.

Corporate Executives, Investment Banks, Realtors, Richard Fuld, Bernie Madoff, et al: How the mighty have fallen…and have dragged us down with them in the process. As I write this, B-Mad, who swindled the world off of $50 billion, is cooling it at his crib — yes, he’s under “house arrest”. That seems a little extreme…why don’t they just give him $100 billion from the bail-out money and send him on an all expenses paid vacation to Maui. It’ll do him some good…help him take his mind off the little “pickle” he’s in.

Prakash Karat and the Red Army Prakash Karat is the kind of guy who could give the Bush Administration lessons on being incompetent. The CPI(M) has never done anything, couldn’t do anything even if it wanted to, and has never been right on anything. Yet, the chest thumping campaign since 2005 would have you believe that they lead the UPA coalition. Brinda Karat is so annoying, her bindi looks like bullseye. Two states that they do have power in — Kerala and West Bengal — are suffering from chronic mismanagement. Kerala’s State Domestic Product relies mostly on remittances from NRIs in the Middle East, while trade unionism has run Kolkata’s once strong public sector economy to the ground.

United Progressive Alliance Where do I begin? From the veritable Dick Cheney-like Party leader, to a comatose Prime Minister, to five years of vision and leadership deficit, to pandering to the Communist agenda, to a fundamental mismanagement of the nation’s security apparatus, this UPA government has run my country to the ditch. No one cares about India any more. It’s always about brown-nosing to some community or the other, or some regional political party or the other. Why can’t a nation of one billion produce leaders that have better scruples than Sonia Gandhi, Advani and Mayawati?

Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga Unfortunately, moral bankruptcy among leaders in the developing world isn’t the exception, its the norm. When Kibaki and Odinga tussled, the political vacuum created a free-for-all in Kenya that resulted in about 2,000 deaths and the displacement of about 250,000 people. Human Rights Watch blamed Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party for targeting Kikuyus in the Rift Valley, including killing 30 unarmed civilians at a church. With the power-sharing agreement, which made Odinga the Prime Minister of Kenya, and Kibaki the President, all seems to be well in Nairobi. Things aren’t so well though for the hundreds of thousands of Kenyans who still remain without shelter or food.

Indian Media: Just how the Indian media manages to churn out third rate programming day after day is beyond me. In between the 10 minute commercial breaks, the twenty seconds of actual “news” programming is fraught with newscasters who can’t read or speak English. Why every news report must sound like a trailer for The Matrix, I don’t know. The sensationalism, the shrill pitches, the purposeful misrepresentation of facts, the chest-thumping nationalist rhetoric…the media claims it’s watching over India’s politicians…but who’s watching over the media? The Sardesais, the Goswamis, the Dutts, India’s media universe is replete with a satanic herd of yellow journalists. They are “newsmakers” in the most literal sense — the just make stuff up as they go along.

Arundhati Roy This storybook writer fancies her ability to break down and analyze “root causes” of many of India’s problems. In the wake of the Gujarat riots, she extended a heartrending apology, that wasn’t hers to tender, to “victims” who hadn’t actually been victimized. And now she wrote this swill, a 5,300 word blathering piece of an essay, where she blames everyone and anyone for the Mumbai attacks, except of course, the 10 terrorists and their sponsors in Pakistan. She even takes issue with everyone’s favorite (“news anchor”, “journalist”; insert noun here, I’m not quite sure what he does on Times Now) Arnab Goswami, for calling her “disgusting” on air. She calls this an “incitement” and a “threat”. Of course, Arundhati is not one to personally attack anyone herself. She wouldn’t have, for example, called Ramachandra Guha a “stalker” for merely pointing out that her analysis of the Sardar Sarovar dam issue was unoriginal. Would she? In 1997, Roy said “I had two options — writing or madness”. Well, Arundhati, this 5,300-word equestrian excrement of an article may have spared your sanity, but you haven’t made any such accommodation for the poor bastards that are subjected to it.

Rapid Fire: Raj Thackeray and his ilk (where were you when your city needed you most?); Russia (military interference in Georgia, economic muscle flexing against Ukraine…Big Red is back); AR Antulay (what a waste of space); and Robert Mugabe (who won’t be satisfied until he squeezes every last pumping drop of life out of the Zimbabweans) .

Filed under: 11/25/2008, anil kumble, Barack Obama, black cat, bouquets and brickbats, Congress I, India, isro, Mumbai Terrorist Attack, National Security Guard, saurav ganguly, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

We Are Also Victims of Terror

“We’re also victims of terror”.  This phrase has come to be used quite liberally by Pakistani leaders (civilian and military), usually in response to an incident on foreign soil that invariably involves their citizens.  It has always surprised me that our leaders and media have never called them out on this bogus statement.  At best, the statement is an unintentional gaffe.  At worst, it’s a calculated oversimplification, regurgitated with the intention to mislead.

Terrorism is a very broad term, and one that has been made popular by the Bush Administration to almost always mean Islamic terrorism, perpetrated against the West or Western targets.  Therefore, the 9/11 and 7/7 attackers in New York City and London were “terrorists”, while those that attacked Mumbai last month, were merely “gunmen” or “militants”.  Theoneste Bagosora’s people, who butchered 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda in the worst genocide the world has seen in decades, were Hutu “militia”.

“The Mumbai attacks were directed not only at India but also at Pakistan’s new democratic government and the peace process with India that we have initiated. Supporters of authoritarianism in Pakistan and non-state actors with a vested interest in perpetuating conflict do not want change in Pakistan to take root.”

– Asif Ali Zardari, “The Terrorists Want to Destroy Pakistan, Too“, New York Times (12/8/2008)

Even the term “Islamic terrorism” is a very broad generalization.  It is precisely the obscurity of this term that allows Pakistan the convenience of hiding their incompetence and/or connivance with the ruse that they are victimized by the same groups.  This, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth.  In terms of pan-Islamic interests, Al Qaeda is the most significant organization that Pakistan today battles in NWFP.  Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar were trained and equipped by the CIA and the ISI to fight against the “Godless” Soviets.  When the Soviets withdrew, they turned around and bit the hands that fed, as it were.  Pakistan today fights the Taleban and Al Qaeda, not because they have ideological differences with them, but because they were forcefully dragged into the “War on Terror”.    It is interesting though that in the many tapes that he has released to Al Jazeera, bin Laden has rarely ever mentioned Kashmir or India.  This isn’t because he doesn’t have anything against India (he clearly does) , but because his immediate priorities are different.

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Bacha Khan, aka Frontier Gandhi

Khan Abdul Ghaffar "Bacha" Khan, aka "Frontier Gandhi"

In Baluchistan, FATA, and NWFP, a region that boasts of colonial-era heroes such as Bacha Khan (“Frontier Gandhi”), the theater of violence is limited in scope to the aspirations of the tribes and ethnicities in the region. They do not think of themselves in being part of a pan-Islamic struggle against the “infidels”, but as good Waziris and Baluchis fighting for autonomy to preserve their way of life.   For them, the tribe is more important than the concept of the nation, which they dismiss as a western concoction.  Therefore, those suspected of masterminding the assassination of Benazir Bhutto (e.g., Baitullah Mehsud) were motivated by a perceived threat to their way of life by a liberal, decidedly pro-western politician.  Despite the gradual radical Islamization of these regions, there is no direct threat to India emanating from the various tribes and groups.

However, there are two types of terror groups in heartland Pakistan — those who seek to act in Pakistan, and those who seek to use Pakistan as a base to act elsewhere. The fight to act in the heartland is along inter-ethnic (Shias vs. Sunnis, Pashtuns vs. Sindhis, Sindhis vs. Mohajirs, etc.) and anti-government lines, and includes terror organizations such as Lashkar-e-Omar and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.  The Mariott bombings in Islamabad in September 2008, were, by many accounts, perpetrated by terrorists opposed to the political process of Pakistan.  Other radical actors, such as the Ghazi brothers who held out in the Lal Masjid in 2007, fought for a more fundamental implementation of Islam in Pakistan, and were against Parvez Musharraf’s quasi-western “enlightened moderation” policies.  Although JeM’s Maulana Masood Azhar is said to have delivered speeches at the Lal Masjid, the interests of Pakistan’s new adversaries in the heartland, again, are confined to the politics of Pakistan.

Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI), and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) are different.  That they enjoy the protection of the ISI and elements of the Pakistani army highlights the impotence of the country’s civilian leadership.  JeM’s objectives include the liberation of Kashmir and its subsequent incorporation into the dominion of Pakistan.  Its leader, Maulana Masood Azhar, was languishing in an Indian jail before he was set free by India in exchange for the lives of Indian civilians aboard Indian Airlines flight 814, which was hijacked to Kandahar by JeM in 1999.  To show gratitude for his release, Azhar sent his thugs around in 2001 to attack the Indian Parliament.  Similarly, LeT’s objectives are clear — the liberation of Kashmir (a goal closely aligned to Pakistan’s own objectives), and the Islamization of South Asia (i.e., wiping out Hinduism).  Indeed, the group’s founder, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, appears to have no quarrels with the State of Pakistan, and considers himself a patriotic Pakistani — a very different view indeed from the other terror groups that denounce political division as a western idea, and see themselves as warriors of the Muslim brotherhood.

In summary, yes, Pakistan, you are a victim of terror, but, no, it isn’t the same kind of terror, and it isn’t being perpetrated by the same terrorists. Seven years ago, you called the people who attacked India “freedom fighters”.  You offered them “diplomatic” and “moral” support.  So let’s be clear: the people that attacked Mumbai, attacked Mumbai — not Karachi.  They attacked India, not Pakistan.  And while Asif Ali Zardari paints his nation as a victim on the international stage, Lashkar’s aiders and abettors, citizens of his country, under the protection of the very agencies that he supposedly oversees,  are busy plotting their next big bloody assault on India.

Filed under: 11/25/2008, 25/11/2008, 9/11, Al Qaeda, America, asif ali zardari, Ghazi Brothers, India, Indian Army, isi, Jaish-e-Mohammed, jem, Kashmir, Lal Masjid Attack, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Laskhar-e-Toiba, let, Maulana Fazlullah, Mumbai, Mumbai Terrorist Attack, november 25, NWFP, Obama, Pakistan, pakistan army, Swat, Terrorism, Uncategorized, zardari, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

12 Easy Steps to Destroy India: A Handguide

Well really, there’s just 1 easy step to destroy India: have the UPA government hire R Vaidyanathan as chief strategist in the fight against terrorism. He will swiftly ensure that the anarchy in Afghanistan and NW Pakistan will spread like cancer to eastern Pakistan, and then eventually to all of India as well. Vaidyanathan wrote 8 things India Inc, govt must do against Pakistan“, a masterfully crafted economic and strategic treatise, and followed that up with “12 steps to shock-and-awe Pakistan’s economy” the very next day, apparently in response to overwhelming feedback to the first article. Nothing will ensure India’s discombobulation faster than the implementation of some of his plans.
Vaidyanathan’s proposed assaults on Pakistan’s economy include the following gems:

Identify the major export items of Pakistan (like Basmati rice, carpets, etc) and provide zero export tax or even subsidise them for export from India. Hurt Pakistan on the export front.

Create assets to print/distribute their currency widely inside their country. To some extent, Telgi types can be used to outsource this activity. Or just drop their notes in remote areas.

I fail to see how this is going to make matters better. In fact, there is a very distinct possibility that things could get much worse. It is a fact that terrorist organizations like LeT and Al Qaeda prey on frustrated, impoverished, disenfranchised youth for recruitment. By his own admission, Ajmal Amir, the lone surviving terrorist from the Mumbai attacks, was a laborer and a petty thief before being recruited by the Lashkar. There is a history of young men living under conditions of unemployment, poverty and helplessness turning to terrorism. It’s no surprise that most of the 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia (one of the world’s fastest growing unemployment rates, at 12%) and Yemen (unemployment rate of 35%). I bring this up because India’s economic muscle is very real, and can inflict substantial damage on Pakistan’s economy. Nothing will please the Lashkar more, since hordes of Ajmal Amirs will be lining up outside their recruitment offices in Muridke, in much the same way that Indians line up to work for Infosys or Wipro.

But wait, it gets better. Vaidyanathan continues…

We should realise that a united Pakistan is a grave threat to the existence of India. Hence, we should do everything possible to break up Pakistan into several units. This is required to be done not only for our interest, but for world peace.

Not only for our interest, but for world peace? How very benignant of him. Pakistan as a federation is already teetering on the brink of collapse. There is already a struggle going on in Baluchistan. In Swat, Pakistani forces are fighting the Taliban against the imposition of a parallel Sharia law. South Waziristan has unilaterally declared independence, which the government in Islamabad has tacitly accepted. The “real” Pakistan now exists only in Sindh and Punjab, and even in Sindh there are several secessionist movements.

If Pakistan as a federation falls, the whole area from Helmand province in Afghanistan to Wagah will be in a state of anarchy. This is a humanitarian disaster waiting to happen, and India will be ill equipped to handle the influx of refugees from this region. Worse, once in India and bereft of any viable employment opportunities, many of these refugees may turn to theft and militancy. One only has to look at the Afghan refugee crisis in Pakistan to get a sense of what to expect, if it were to occur in India. Secondly, and more importantly, Pakistan is a nuclear weapons state. The threat of rouge Army officers, and/or ISI agents in cahoots with their Al Qaeda, LeT and JeM buddies launching attacks on India with those weapons is very real. To ward off such a possibility, Indian troops, along with US and NATO forces will be forced to enter into mainland Pakistan in search of the weapons, where our troops will get summarily slaughtered in close combat situations à la the US in Iraq. It takes only five minutes for a nuke from Pakistan to hit India. How soon can India’s forces track down and decommission Pakistan’s warheads?

India has already shown, post-Kargil, that it does not have the appetite to go after Pakistan unilaterally.  Indeed, off-late, India’s strategy vis-a-vis Pakistan appears to be to make the United States do its bidding in Pakistan — a bungling miscalculation, since the US itself is tied down by its own compulsions in the Afghan-Pakistan border.  India has not articulated a credible strategy towards Pakistan.  Relying on the US somewhat to use its influence on Pakistan is fine, as long as it is only part of a coherent, multidimensional strategy that India, as a soverign, independent nation adapts, taking into consideration its own national interests.  Flexing India’s economic muscle is also fine, as a means to an end — the end being the ultimate termination of anti-India militant forces in Paksitan, and not the capitulation of the state of Pakistan itself, as proposed by Vaidyanathan.

India must make it clear to Pakistan that it has multiple non-military arsenal in its inventory that it can use to bleed Pakistan, in the same way that Pakistan, implicitly or explicitly, aims to hurt India.  For example, India should make it clear that it is willing to violate the Indus Water Treaty, and severely or completely choke the westward flow of the Chenab, dealing a blow to Pakistan’s agricultural output for domestic consumption and external trade.  Similarly, India should be able to affect a de facto deep water import blockade of the port of Karachi, ostensibly with an intent to ward off pirate activity from the Horn of Africa. A substantial volume of import trade with Pakistan, will then need to originate from or be routed to the Arabian Penninsula, from smaller ports in Muscat or Sharjah; smaller trade volumes means increased per-unit costs of imports.

If in the future, India is to be the global force that many are predicting it to be, then Pakistan’s stability will be vital to the fulfillment of that prophecy. An unstable Pakistan will mean an unstable India. Rather than seeking to destroy and disintegrate Pakistan, India must work to ensure that its voice is heard in Pakistan.  India’s sphere of infleuence must effectively include, not exclude Pakistan.  Any carrot-and-stick policy that India adopts with regards to Pakistan must show our neighbor that its interest lie in working with, rather than against India.  The benefits in working with India must be conspicious and very apparent, as must the consequences of attempts to destablize India.  To this end, where necessary, India should be willing and able to unilaterally use non-military tools at its disposal to punish Pakistan.  However, a constant, ineffectual, quasi-military, adversarial posturing with Pakistan, such as the one currently in favor in New Delhi, will leave India muddled in the internal quagmires of South Asia, and unable to break free from its shackles to project power and influence beyond this impoverished and chaotic region.

Filed under: 11/25/2008, 9/11, Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, Congress I, economics, helmand, India, Indian Army, isi, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Laskhar-e-Toiba, let, Mumbai, Mumbai Terrorist Attack, november 25, nuclear weapons, nukes, Pakistan, pakistan army, Saudi Arabia, Terrorism, Wagah, Yemen, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By-two Kaapi (Twitter)

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