30-Dec-2007

Wake Up

Wake up our foreign policy est., 'cos the world is changing:
New Delhi needs to think hard about the shifting templates of the Middle East’s geopolitics. All indications are that Russia and China anticipated, months ahead, the inevitable collapse of the U.S.’ containment policy toward Iran. How such wisdom eluded our government, remains a question mark. If the U.S decides now to march towards a constructive engagement of Iran — which seems likely — where does that leave the UPA government? The latter must first unscramble the omelette.

That is to say, it must rapidly deconstruct what it precipitated under American pressure — and then try to rebuild. Not an easy task.

The LNG deal with Tehran negotiated by the National Democratic Alliance government has all but perished following the UPA government’s somersault under American pressure at the International Atomic Energy Agency over the Iran issue. No one talks anymore about our grandiose plans of a “north-south” transportation corridor via Iran. The gas pipeline project languished while the government used one lame excuse after another to drag its feet.

The State Bank of India’s curb on normal trade with Iran is completely illogical. Evidently, Washington pressured us. While doing so, the Bush administration kept us in the dark about the NIE sailing into view. Now, what sort of a “strategic partnership” with the U.S. — and what sort of a “friendly” President in the White House — are we talking about? Washington took our government’s naiveté for granted.

It is plain common sense that India has a congruence of interests with Russia and China in optimally exploring the primacy that Iran places on Asia for its energy exports. That is why the Iran pipeline becomes crucial. That is precisely why Washington wants to stifle the project. The spectre that haunts Washington is the emergence of an Asian energy club involving Russia, Iran, China, and India. The U.S. apprehends that such an Asian grouping — first proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2003 — will disrupt its strategy of global domination. Through its lukewarm attitude towards the Iran pipeline, the UPA government has tacitly collaborated with the U.S. global strategy.

Profit-Making PSU?!

From The Hindu. KSRTC gets an award for
the successful delivery of “multiple end results” ranging from quality customer care, environment protection and fuel conservation to better overall use of available resources, transforming a typically cash-constrained transportation PSU into a viable business entity, thereby becoming a role model for other State PSUs.
But PSU''s are not supposed to be viable business entities! Loss-making, draining the public exchequer, yes. Profit-making, no. That's what I was led to believe.

On Moha

The Pejawar Mutt head:
He also said that going abroad was not ‘impure’, but dhanamoha and videshamoha were bad.
What does he have to say about rajakiyamoha I wonder. He may not consider it bad, seeing how he does not mind dipping his pure toes in the murky swamp of rajkiya, especially of the right-wing kind. See here and here.

Conversions

From DH:
The VHP’s action is a violation of the constitution which recognises the right of every citizen to practise any religion he chooses. It is not for the VHP to decide whether citizens have the right to convert or not. It is a matter of concern that the government has failed to take stern action against the VHP when its activists rape, kill and loot people belonging to other faiths.
Of course, the constitution is for suckers.

In The Beginning Was Money

And the money was given to the ISI (via wired):
A very broad pattern was established in which the CIA subcontracted the anti-Soviet jihad to ISI. Pakistani intelligene is a division of the Pakistani army and not organized as a civilian intelligence service. ISI is generally commanded by a two-star general, and its cadres are drawn from the officer corps of the Pakistan army.

They are organized in clandestine regional bureaus. The Afghan Bureau became the instrument of the anti-Soviet jihad. These were often Pashtuns, who had language and local identity and were seconded to the Bureau for long periods of time.

Why did the CIA turn over its political program in the jihad to ISI? Partly the Agency was scarred by its experience in Vietnam, and there was a sense of no more "hearts and minds" for us. We’ll let the Pakistanis figure out who the winners and losers are politically. If they have a complicated regional agenda that is even more Islamist than we would like, so be it. We will focus on the main adversary, the Soviet Union. We won’t try to tell the Pakistanis how to run politics in the region.”

That established a pattern in which the United States and the Saudis together turned over enormous sums of money to ISI and said, “You pick the winners.” ISI chose Hekmatyar as their primary winner, and Hekmatyar, in turn, created a nexus in which al Qaeda thrived by the end of the 1980s.
And the we in the region suffer while the country that started it all goes on.

29-Dec-2007

Brave Indeed

Imran Khan:
“She was far bolder and braver than most men I know....She had to come back, she was a brave lady — one thing she was not was timid".

But Will It Happen?

Juan Cole lists some steps that Bush must insist on in tackling the crisis in Pakistan:
In order to get through this crisis, Bush must insist that the Pakistani Supreme Court, summarily dismissed and placed under house arrest by Musharraf, be reinstated. The PPP must be allowed to elect a successor to Ms. Bhutto without the interference of the military. Early elections must be held, and the country must return to civilian rule. Pakistan's population is, contrary to the impression of many pundits in the United States, mostly moderate and uninterested in the Taliban form of Islam. But if the United States and "democracy" become associated in their minds with military dictatorship, arbitrary dismissal of judges, and political instability, they may turn to other kinds of politics, far less favorable to the United States. Musharraf may hope that the Pakistani military will stand with him even if the vast majority of people turn against him. It is a forlorn hope, and a dangerous one, as the shah of Iran discovered in 1978-79. '
But will Bush do it?

28-Dec-2007

Let's Give It Up For Panditji

I'm sure we'll soon start hearing praise for our own leaders who ensured a secular state was put in place and India did not go the Pakistan way - you know, Nehru mainly and others. But I'm not holding my breath. Because, when I put it to my friend - who is, if I may put it this way, anti-pseudo-secularist, or to put it in another way, is pseudo-nationalist - he said that only Vallabhai Patel is responsible. It must be true.

The Deathly Touch

Any thing the Bushman touches, goes wrong. Man, what a guy and what an administration!
The NYT reported that US Secretary of State Condi Rice tried to fix Musharraf's subsequent dwindling legitimacy by arranging for Benazir to return to Pakistan to run for prime minister, with Musharraf agreeing to resign from the military and become a civilian president. When the supreme court seemed likely to interfere with his remaining president, he arrested the justices, dismissed them, and replaced them with more pliant jurists. This move threatened to scuttle the Rice Plan, since Benazir now faced the prospect of serving a dictator as his grand vizier, rather than being a proper prime minister.

With Benazir's assassination, the Rice Plan is in tatters and Bush administration policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan is tottering.
Update: via Atrios
In terms of policy implications, this is reflective of a massive US foreign policy blunder, in that the Bush administration, in a monumentally stupid move, shoved Bhutto down the throat of Musharraf (and the rest of Pakistan) as a savior, despite her lack of broad popular support and general reputation as corrupt. In making someone who didn't necessarily have the ability to deliver the savior for democracy in Pakistan, we simultaneously set up our own policy to fail and offered Musharraf a return to (or continued) total power in the event that our little power-sharing arrangement didn't work. We also -- though not only us -- painted a big fat target on her back. Really a debacle all the way around.
Of course, "When you look into the General's eyes, and he says to you I'll take care of the Taliban and the extremists", you trust him. At least if you are Bush.

Flawed Politician

Courageous but flawed:
Benazir Bhutto was rather more complicit in encouraging and tolerating Pakistan’s many pathologies (Faustian bargains with the Islamists that included tolerating anti-woman laws, state sponsorship of cross-border terrorism in Kashmir, and self-enrichment — her husband was widely known within Pakistan as “Mr. 10 per cent” based on what people alleged was his share of any government contracts); while Mr. Sharif tried to curb some of them and made some effort at reconciliation with India.

The fascination with Ms Bhutto by the people and governments of the West remains a mystery. Perhaps it is due to her charisma and Western education. She certainly knows how to press the right buttons when speaking to Western audiences through the mass media. Clichés of female empowerment, democracy, poverty eradication, human rights and war against the terrorists trip readily enough off her tongue. But they are all at odds with the actual record of her rule as Prime Minister, not once but twice.

27-Dec-2007

Military-Industry-Democracy Complex

The US wants to sell us arms and get a pie of the $40 billion we give away to other countries currently. But they have to clothe the whole desire in the garb democracy:
"By reaching out to India, we have made the bet that the planet's future lies in pluralism, democracy and market economics," said Nicholas Burns, the State Department's No. 3 official, "rather than in intolerance, despotism and state planning," an apparent reference to communist-ruled China.
No, Mr Burns, you have made the bet that there is no way China is going to buy any arms from you, and that India, on the other hand, will quite possibly do so. Especially as you have so many levers to manoeuvre us into doing so. Russia at least talks only about friendship when it sells us its wares. No hypocritical statement linking everything to the chimera of democracy.

And look at this:
"A significant Indian defense purchase from the United States ... would be a great leap forward and signal a real commitment to long-term military partnership," he added in the November/December issue of the journal Foreign Affairs.
A real commitment won't do, we need to show them some moolah too.

23-Dec-2007

Modi's Win

Just back after a pleasure trip with friends. And I hear on the TV that Mr Modi's win signifies the return of development-based politics and of strong national security, and that Mr Modi is all set to move to Delhi.

Please not the politics of strong national security - a Bush in the US is more than enough for the world.

Heretic

Interesting thought from Atrios:
It's somewhat heretical to say, but I'm one of those who thinks that too many people go to college, though it may be individually rational for them to do so given the signaling nature of it. That is, going to college doesn't really transform people into better works for a lot of jobs, but employers require a college education because it's how people signal they aren't a "complete loser"* who couldn't even manage to graduate from college.

*To be clear, I don't think one needs to graduate from college to avoid loserdom. That's my whole point! It's just that in our society it's become an entrance ticket to a lot of careers even when the education you get in college isn't really training for those careers.
True here also - that lots of things learnt during college don't get used on the job, and there are lots of jobs that don't need a degree. Including IT, as this commenter notes:
i've only got one year as a drama major, and been cto for three companies. odd, isn't it? but i have been passed over for jobs at or below the level i was alredy doing because i lack a degree.
But we still need lots more of education in country, rather than less, at this point of time I guess.

Please Do Something

From NYT:
“China and India are closely studying South Korea as a trendsetter in Asia,” said Chung Woo-jin, a professor at Yonsei University in Seoul. “They are curious whether the same social and economic changes can occur in their countries as fast as they did in South Korea’s relatively small and densely populated society.”
Please complete your studies quickly and do something about it. If I remember correctly the ratio in some states is 685 to 1000.

The Way The Cookie Crumbles

From NY Times (via The Hindu):
In a 1963 essay for Ms. Rand’s newsletter, Mr. Greenspan dismissed as a “collectivist” myth the idea that businessmen, left to their own devices, “would attempt to sell unsafe food and drugs, fraudulent securities, and shoddy buildings.” On the contrary, he declared, “it is in the self-interest of every businessman to have a reputation for honest dealings and a quality product.”

It’s no wonder, then, that he brushed off warnings about deceptive lending practices, including those of Edward M. Gramlich, a member of the Federal Reserve board. In Mr. Greenspan’s world, predatory lending — like attempts to sell consumers poison toys and tainted seafood — just doesn’t happen.
...
Of course, now that it has all gone bad, people with ties to the financial industry are rethinking their belief in the perfection of free markets. Mr. Greenspan has come out in favor of, yes, a government bailout. “Cash is available,” he says — meaning taxpayer money — “and we should use that in larger amounts, as is necessary, to solve the problems of the stress of this.”


Laddoo

From The Hindu:
At the market square in Rajkot in Saurashtra, a Leuva Patel shopkeeper compared the Congress to the laggard who opened his mouth to yawn only to find someone had slipped a laddoo into it.
Nice imagery. Read the whole thing - build up the suspense for the day.

21-Dec-2007

FM News

From DH:
The FICCI radio forum, in the memorandum, has urged the government to allow six to eight minutes per hour of news & current affairs programming on the channels to reverse this trend.
The thin end of the wedge.

20-Dec-2007

More Money For Education

Good tidings. From DH:
“Education is an area of special focus in the 11th Plan. Education is our best hope for achieving inclusiveness and for spreading development to backward regions and marginalised groups,” Dr Singh said.
Dr Singh can say that again.

Food for thought:
Asserting that public education was indispensable, he said the deficiencies in basic education could not be met by the expansion of private schools, which “have not been able to play that role anywhere else in the history of the world.”
Of course, no self-respecting private school would go to even the least remote village.

19-Dec-2007

Today's House Special - Citibank

Ramesh Ramanathan in Mint (no link, this came in with the email).

THE CASE OF THE AMERICAN BANK, THE ABU DHABI LIFELINE AND THE INDIAN CEO


It's a potent recipe - take a household name in global financial markets, grill over the heat of a mortgage meltdown, marinate in the mystery sauce of middle-eastern money, and garnish with the spice of an Indian CEO. Each of these ingredients by itself would be sufficient for heated dinner-table debates among the cognoscenti, but taken collectively, this dish is hot.

 

  For the uninitiated in the cuisine of the financial markets: the bank – Citibank. The middle-eastern bailer-outer – the $ 850 billion Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) which took a $7.5 billion stake.The Indian CEO – Vikram Pandit.


The situation begs so many questions that I've clubbed them into four categories.

About the CEO

  • Why did Vikram Pandit take the job? What's the motivation for someone already worth  few hundred million dollars to step into a near-impossible situation?
  • What are the odds that he will succeed? (See the next question on mega-banks)

About institutions

  • Is a global full-service bank with businesses in investment banking, brokerage and   consumer products spread across hundreds of countries, actually possible to run as      a single entity, with sustainable value accretion to shareholders?
  • What's the role of governing boards? AIDA's investment does not give it a seat on       Citibank's board, but so what. There is an interesting story in the Wall Street Journal    about Robert Morgenthau, a US  public prosecutor who - in the 90s - pursued the        scandal around the collapse of BCIC, a Middle-   Eastern bank funded by the Abu Dhabi  Emir.  The report states, "Sheik Zayed called to inform the  State Department that, if  Mr. Morgenthau indicted anyone in the royal family over the scandal, he would pull his  billions out of the U.S." Can Citi's board of directors actually call the shots?
  • Even if independence of the board were possible, is this how we want capitalism to  work, that key  investors are separated from governance? How does this jell with the  argument for private equity funds  who use their stakes to drive organisational change?

About national interests

  • Does the Federal Reserve Bank have one more reason to feel nervous? Just a few weeks  ago, Chairman Ben Bernanke told the US Congress that he supports a code-of-conduct f or Sovereign Wealth Funds (SWFs) to promote transparency and accountability.  Very  little is known about ADIA - its website (www.adia.ae) is an electronic fortknox.  Will  the  Fed demand more disclosure, given that Citibank is a "too big to fail" institution linked  to systemic financial stability?
  • What's the likely political backlash, especially in an election year? The Dubai Port Trust  investment in several US ports was shot down by the US Congress, after criticism that  national interests were being sold out. Can this issue also mushroom into a political one? How will an Indian CEO answer these?
  • What are national interests anyway? Is Citibank really a US bank any more? How would we measure this – origin of deposits, domicile of shareholders, source of revenues?

About global markets and governments

  • What does the growth of SWFs mean for global financial governance? National regulators  are increasingly finding themselves hobbled by transnational flows, like using mosquito  nets to protect against the flu. The voices for a global regulatory regime are getting  louder.  But can this really work, given that political power – and hence true decision - making leverage - is created and harnessed only within national boundaries?
  • What is happening to the relationship between market economies and democracy? Over   the past two decades, the trend seemed inevitable – or at least was projected as such  that one would drive the other, and the sum of the two was good for things like liberty  and freedom. Francis Fukuyama wrote in  "The end of history" of the "universalisation of   Western liberal democracy as the final form of government." This hypothesis may come   under fire.  The UAE falls far short of acceptable global standards in democracy - it   doesn't even have adult franchise for its citizens. And yet it runs an investment fund  that gives it access to the crown jewels of the capitalist system, at the heart of the  mature  democracies of the world. Are we seeing a new order emerge?

 Citibank was often ahead of the pack in the banking industry. This time around, its actions are unleashing a torrent of questions that go well beyond the sector. It's too early to be talking of answers. Seems like this dish is going to be on the menu for some time to come.


18-Dec-2007

No, That's No Good Either

3 years late:
Shimla: Senior BJP leader L.K. Advani on Monday admitted that the party’s “India Shining” slogan during the 2004 Lok Sabha election was a “mistake.”

“India Shining slogan was a mistake. The better slogan would have been India Rising,” Mr. Advani, who was the Deputy Prime Minister during the NDA rule when the slogan was coined, said here.
Of course, regular readers of this blog will be aware that our editorial stand on this topic is that the latter slogan is also quite a washout.

16-Dec-2007

Politics & Facts

NR Narayana Murthy on fact-based decision-making (page 13):
Chennai: Infosys mentor N R Narayana Murthy on Saturday flayed politicians for taking “ego-centric” stand on several critical issues, including Indo-US nuclear deal, without properly studying the facts. “Most of our politicians do not have the details of the Indo-US nuclear deal. However, they are taking a stand”, he said speaking at a management seminar organised by the Great Lakes Institute of Management here on Saturday.

“When I ask them have you read the 123 agreement, please tell me what areas which you see are bad, very few of them are in a position to give facts. However, they have already taken a position,”

...Advising the students, he said, “please avoid taking decisions based on ego, based on perceptions and go for an analysis based on data and facts. In the end, everybody is happy.”
No one denies the merits of fact-based decision-making. And one respects NR Narayana Murthy immensely for doing what he has done with Infosys and for his 'High thinking and simple living', but there are some issues with the above formulation with respect to the nuclear deal.

1. The other party involved in this deal is not fact-based. It's record on Iraq, Iran, Kyoto/global warming, Pakistan - and all this in the very recent past that I remember - speak of a singular contempt for fact and a love of self-interest above everything else. Do we want to deal with such an entity without closing all loopholes in the agreement?

2. There are some salient facts quite apart from the text of the 123 agreement itself which should make one reject the deal.
  • The record of the UPA government in being pressurised by the US on account of the deal, into acting quite differently from how it would have normally is quite poor. The Iran vote, the IPI gas pipeline, removing explicitly pro-pipeline Mani Shankar Aiyer from the Petroleum Ministry, cooling off of relations with Russia - all these are examples.
  • The Hyde Act which everyone agrees is quite disagreeable, and the fact that there is no explicit clause which prevents the US from taking recourse to its domestic laws (e.g., the Hyde Act) to pull out of the 123 agreement - though such a clause is explicitly mentioned in the 123 agreement with China.
3. Politics and foreign policy cannot be entirely driven by fact. If it were, the West would not need to be dragged kicking and screaming to sign the Kyoto deal. Hundreds of thousands would not have lost their lives in Iraq. The courts would not be required to force, say, the Delhi government to make CNG compulsory in vehicles. I think that is why politics is called the art of the possible.

4. Forget politics, even some corporate policies are based on some vague thoughts without any basis in facts. Take for example, the matter of clothes in some IT based companies. Some of them require formal clothing on almost all days. This includes wearing of ties on certain days, which meets with lots of natural chaffing at the bit given the day-time temperatures in many Indian cities. Some companies going to the extent of advising their female employees not to forget to use dupattas! What are the possible reasons for such a policy?
  • Productivity? Google among other highly productive companies don't have formal clothing rules. In fact, I believe Googlers/googlies are allowed to bring their pets to the office!
  • Making favourable impressions on visiting clients? Has any fact-based study been made on whether clients give more weightage to clothes that their vendors' employees wear compared to the quality of deliverables. I've not heard of any such study.
  • Getting employees used to wearing formals and getting the tie-knot just right? But a training session (or sessions) before the employee flies to the land of formality would probably be just as effective - have any facts been gathered on the efficacy of the two methods?
Where are the facts on whos basis this policy exists?

5. Sometime ago, NR Narayana Murthy called for a road on piles to Electronics City in Bangalore to reduce commute times. The government jumped to it promptly and the road is coming up. I have not come across any facts about the cost of the road, what its benefits are compared to the costs, what alternatives were considered, how exactly it would help when the rest of the city is still jamming away like Jimi Hendrix, etc. What does one say about that?

Of course, one would also love to know how many of the deal's supporters have read the 123 agreement in full.

Freedom

...it's sights and sounds are so sweet:
"Each prisoner has in his cell a carpet measuring 1.2 m by 2.5 m. And they spend 23 hours a day sat on it, in silence. If they speak, they are chained to the ceiling for 20 minutes and black visors are put on them so they can't see and protectors are put on their ears so they can't hear. They are taken down to the basement once a week, in groups of five or six, to shower them. It's done to drive them crazy. I almost went crazy", recalls Corsetti. Apart from those normal cells, in the basement of the prison there are six isolation cells, plus two rooms for who the former soldier describes as "special guests".
...
And the cries, the smells, the sounds, they are with me all the time. It is something I can't take in. The cries of the prisoners calling for their relatives, their mother. I remember one who called for God, for Allah, all the time. I have those cries here, inside my head".
...
An important subject was that of psychological torture, administered by psychiatrists. "They tell them they are going to kill their children, rape their wives. And you see on their faces, in their eyes, the terror that that causes them. Because, of course, we know all about those people. We know the names of their children, where they live - we show them satellite photos of their houses. It is worse than any torture. That is not morally acceptable under any circumstances. Not even with the worst terrorist in the world"

On Pot

Would you believe this - growing pot to repay homeloans (via Atrios)!!!
Sheriff's Office narcotics detectives reported raiding three houses where hundreds of marijuana plants were being grown.
...
The investigation, which started 18 months ago, has led to a total of six raids at five addresses -- including the houses searched Thursday -- Carney said. Detectives have confiscated almost 2,000 plants, worth $2.4 million to $3.6 million on the street. The other houses are in South County and one has been busted twice by drug officers, Carney said.

The same group of people bought all the houses in 2005 and allegedly set up the grows, according to detectives. Investigators think the owners were using the marijuana grows to pay the mortgages on the homes.
And why is the country which has ganja as its biggest cash crop (via CR) so keen on Afghans destroying their opium? Talk about pot calling the kettle black.

Benazir-speak

Of course, when I say fair and free elections I mean elections that allow me to become PM. Just saying.

Go On, Get On With It

Nothing more to do here:
There may have been no overt violence in the last five years and both communities may repeatedly express a desire to look beyond 2002 and “get on with their lives”. But beneath the surface calm, the communal divide in Gujarati society has become much deeper; the polarisation of differing worldviews almost complete.

For the average Gujarati Hindu, the Muslim remains a figure of fear and loathing and will be tolerated only “if they behave themselves”.

Padma Desai (name changed), an educated and articulate Vadodara schoolteacher, is all praise for the “development” under Modi. But when we finally broach the subject of the Godhra aftermath, she says: “We all feel really bad about it. But frankly, something like that was needed to show the Muslims their place.”

It is a common sentiment. Taxi drivers in Ahmedabad will routinely tell you that it was impossible to enter Muslim areas before and no girl could walk safely on the streets at night for fear of the marauding Musalman. All that has changed because Modi “taught them a lesson”.

And that, more than the violence and the abysmal condition in the relief camps, is what hurts the ordinary Muslim most. “We can forget what happened after Godhra, but the BJP has convinced every Hindu that all Muslims are terrorists, goondas, pro-Pakistan. They have made Hindus view us with suspicion. Tell me madam, if there is an Indo-Pak war, do you think their bombs will spare us?” asks Abdul Qadir.

Climate Change

Why the hell don't we make enabling nuclear energy for India a pre-condition for us to take steps towards reducing emissions instead of bleating about it?

14-Dec-2007

Godmen And Indian Classes

Rahul Dravid (skip to page 12). And note the headline : Blessings Before Big Series!

What is it with these people - politicians, cricket stars, movie stars? Does popularity, fame and wealth addle the brain? Or do they become so insecure?

12-Dec-2007

From The Pens Of Babes & Sucklings

Is this what we would have in India if we allow radio news on private FM channels, foreign ownership of newspapers and FOX news?
I have now received three (3) student papers that discuss Iraq’s attack on the Twin Towers on 9/11. All three papers mention it as an aside to another point. I’ve had two papers on the virtue of forgiveness that argue that if we had just forgiven Iraq for the 9/11 attacks, we wouldn’t be at war right now. I just read a paper on the problem of evil which asked why God allowed “the Iraq’s” to attack us on 9/11. The thing that upsets me most here is that the the students don’t just believe that that Iraq was behind 9/11. This is a big fact in their minds, that leaps out at them, whenever they think about the state of the world.
Scary thought.

In Other Words

We don't have a clue is what this poll seems to be telling us!

11-Dec-2007

Is She Right?

Vidya Subrahmaniam seems to be saying here and here that Modi is not all on a sleeping beauty in Gujarat. She got the pulse of UP right, is she on to something again?

06-Dec-2007

Good Advice

Good advice
The latest NIE opens a path for the UPA government to once again step on the gas — by all accounts, negotiations on the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline project have reached the stage where a deal is fully within grasp, provided Dr. Singh is willing to invest the kind of political capital with the Iranians that he so readily deploys with the U.S. Two years ago, India scored a politically costly own goal to appease the Bush administration’s drive to sanction and isolate Iran. It is now time to repair the damage.
But will Dr Singh take off his blinkers and take it?

Bush's Brain

Bush thinking out aloud on the Saudi incident in which a rape-victim was sentenced to six months in jail :

"My first thoughts were these: What happens if this happened to my daughter? How would I react? And I would have been ... I would have been very emotional, of course.

"I'd have been angry at those who committed the crime. And I would be angry at a state that didn't support the victim.

Now we know why he didn't get emotional about, say, Abu Ghraib - he doesn't have any sons.

Kill Him, Kill Him!

Our peace-loving countrymen:
It was vintage Modi in his campaign speech at Mangrol: "Sonia Gandhi spoke of terrorism. But she has no right to talk of this. Till today, those who attacked Parliament haven't been sent to the gallows. Congress in Gujarat is raising its voice on the Sohrabuddin issue. But, it should explain to the people what should be done to a man who stored illegal arms and ammunition. You tell me, what should have been done to Sohrabuddin?"

The rally echoed with shouts of "Kill him, kill him." Modi responded with: "Well, that is it. Do I have to take Sonia Gandhi's permission to do this?"

01-Dec-2007

No Threat To Sovereignty, But

Sometimes, we need to act in a certain way to please you know who uphold certain important moral principles. Like acting against friends and leaving other friends without a clue.

30-Nov-2007

All's Well And God's In His Heaven

Mush sheds his military garb. Will lift emergency on Dec 16th. What more can one ask for? Democracy is safe in the land of the pure, Pakistan. Forget the last few weeks ever happened, that the rule of law was subverted, that judges were placed under arrest, that Mush got himself cleared to rule for five more years deviously and shamelessly. It is the ending that matters. He is clean now, by some magic process that evaded the observer's eye. Well, so it goes - up is down, black is white, pigs fly, and we get to read headlines like this: US backs out-of-uniform Musharraf and US hails Pakistan leader's pledge.

28-Nov-2007

SIMI

A dispassionate analysis of how SIMI turned to violence. Very informative.

...adding, why don't we get more of such analyses instead of generalizations about all Muslims being somehow predisposed to violence and terrorism and Islam being a religion that advocates jihad etc...

Breeding Violence

From DH:
But that was when I saw the wide, silent eyes of the families’ children as we screamed at their father — their hero, their protector — and wrested from him the reins of power inside his own house. And that’s when it started to dawn on me just what kind of effect our actions were having on the next generation.
And Times Now invited an Israeli commentator to discuss how to combat terror just after the UP bombings. Though another Indian expert did point out that Israel was a theocratic state that was using overwhelming military power - with consequent toll of civilians - to achieve its aims.

27-Nov-2007

Howard's Loss

Why Howard went:
The attempt to tarnish Mr. Rudd’s character caused no lasting damage to him, but scored three own goals for the coalition. First,it brought the most vulnerable part of the coalition’s record — truth in government (cue Iraq, weapons of mass destruction, reducing terrorist threat, asylum seekers in a leaky boat being turned away with no mercy and lots of lies, more lies with children overboard, the government backed AWB as the biggest defrauder in the U.N. oil-for-food scandal, election promises broken because they were non-core, leadership deal with deputy Peter Costello that was brushed aside, ministerial code of conduct that was abandoned because too many were having to resign) — front and centre in election year.
That matches exactly what I heard from someone from down during my cycling trip - he was sick of John Howard's lies. So it was a bit surreal to hear an analyst/correspondent on CNN dismissing Iraq as a factor, and attributing the defeat almost wholly to climate change policy! Thank god for The Hindu.

22-Nov-2007

The Line Between Sensible & Stupid

Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the US:
"He hasn't crossed the line. As a matter of fact, I don't think that he will cross any lines," Bush replied, according to an ABC transcript. ". . . We didn't necessarily agree with his decision to impose emergency rule, and . . . hopefully he'll get . . . rid of the rule. Today, I thought, was a pretty good signal, that he released thousands of people from jail."
Leading someone to ask:
"What exactly would it take for the president to conclude Musharraf has crossed the line? Suspend the constitution? Impose emergency law? Beat and jail his political opponents and human rights activists?" asked Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a presidential candidate.
Let's see, what would it take? The general not funneling the US government's aid money back to US defense companies?

A Bird In Hand

That is to say, the hard reality is that there is no TAP on the anvil in the near future as an alternative to the Iran pipeline project. Our Petroleum Ministry must ponder, “what next.”
Does Manmohan Singh wear spectacles or blinkers?

20-Nov-2007

Progress

From The Hindu:

The silver lining is that, even in Orissa, the traditional system of extortion seems to be finding it harder and harder to survive. In fact, contractors are not particularly happy with NREGA; vulnerable as it may be, the system has become more difficult for them to control. They are apprehensive of a possible tightening of the checks and balances, and have started fading away in some places (in almost half of the sample gram panchayats, there was no evidence of their involvement).

In some of the sample gram panchayats (notably in the Boudh District), corruption levels in NREGA are already much lower, by all accounts, than in earlier employment programmes such as SGRY and the National Food For Work Programme. Strict implementation of the transparency safeguards is the best way to accelerate this process of “phasing out” of the traditional system of corruption.

This story would be incomplete without a mention of the tremendous potential of NREGA in the survey areas. Where work was available, it was generally found that workers earned close to (and sometimes more than) the statutory minimum wage of Rs 70 per day, and that wages were paid within 15 days or so. This is an unprecedented opportunity for the rural poor, and there was evident appreciation of it among casual labourers and other disadvantaged sections of the population. Some of them even hoped that NREGA would enable them to avoid long-distance seasonal migration, with all its hardships.

Further, there is plenty of scope for productive NREGA works in this area, whether it is in the field of water conservation, rural connectivity, regeneration of forest land, or improvement of private agricultural land. The challenges involved in “making NREGA work” should always be seen in the light of these long-term possibilities, and their significance for the rural poor.

Of Roaches

The article “Cockroaches abandon their better instinct” (Nov. 17) makes a mention of the unique egalitarian system in cockroach societies. The fact that there is no social stratification as in some other insect societies caught my attention. On reading what Jose Halloy said about roach societies — that they are simple, egalitarian and democratic — I could not help thinking how much the description about these otherwise squalid creatures tells us.

We in India, who are struggling to overcome social stratification (in the form of the deep-rooted caste system), have a lot to learn from these lowly-rated, abominable insects that invite disgust from one and all. We stand much higher in the ecological hierarchy but we are no match for them in such a basic principle of living. Cockroaches are living in a self-made heaven but where are we?

18-Nov-2007

Dirty Powers

The US leads as is to be expected.

Why haven't they replaced all those polluting plants with nuclear plants?

Democracy

For energy-rich countries that don't toe the US line. Dictatorship and army rule for Pakistan. Who cares about Myanmar anyway?

Also, the US is calling for free and fair elections. At the same time:
“The Americans are nervous about not having Musharraf in charge of Pakistan,” an official in the Pakistani presidency said. “They were told that the situation is very, very fluid.”
How will that work I wonder.

And yes, doesn't Mush have them by the short hairs doesn't he.

10-Nov-2007

Our Turn Now

From The Hindu:
The Bharatiya Janata Party is eyeing the portfolios of Public Works and Power under the chief ministership of B.S. Yeddyurappa.
...
Mr. Gowda said the Janata Dal (Secular) had enjoyed the two portfolios in the first 20 months of the coalition governance and it was time that party left them for the BJP.
One hears that there are treasures not dreamed of in the wildest human dreams in the aforesaid departments. As no doubt Mr Deve Gowda's other son would be able to readily testify, having served as the Public Works Minister in the outgoing government.

That's The Way To Do It

In the wake of Musharraf's re-coup over the weekend, Condi Rice told reporters that the money we provide Pakistan really isn't to Musharraf or his government as it is to the people of Pakistan.

But it turns out that it really is to Musharraf. Spencer provides the details. But the upshot is that the great bulk of the more than $10 billion we've given to Pakistan since 9/11 has been in the form of unsupervised and unaudited cash transfers. We cut him a check and he can do with it whatever he wants. It's not tied to a specific US Agency or program; it's just cash to do with as he pleases.

How'd that song go? Money for nothing, your chicks for free...

Just What The Doctor Ordered?

Benazir Bhutto has been released from house arrest. Color me sceptical, but it is all going according to script. She is the only major opposition leader in the country and will reap the benefit of her "heroic fight" against the dictator. Of course, with this the declaration of the Emergency, which this astute political scientist (according to her husband) never apparently dreamed of, her backroom talks with Mush have "come to an end". But no sir, she still "hasn't yet declared herself completely out of the game with coming to terms with Musharraf.''

I see a slow progress towards the situation where she is the PM and Mush is the President. That funnily is what the "good friend" always wanted! And they have been on the case, urging Mush to do release her and "all political party members". ScrewForget the sundry Chief Justices and lawyers and others who have been arrested. They can rot. Truly, Mush has the Americans by the short hairs.

And it is indeed touching that the US is so concerned about the people of a messy third world country. From the Bloomberg link:
``The review of aid remains ongoing but the ultimate goal is not to punish the people of Pakistan; it's to help them get back on a path to democracy,'' White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe told reporters today in Crawford, Texas, where German Chancellor Angela Merkel is visiting Bush.
It goes to show that the US does have a soul and feelings for lowly humans who happen to live outside its borders. But wait! I remember in the very recent past, aid from all western nations spearheaded by the beacon of democracy was withdrawn from a place called Palestine I think. And their crime was that they elected a party called, if I remember correctly, Hamas, in fair and free elections. The poor sods! And then there was the case of many thousands of children, in another country, called Iraq (though my memory is not as good as it used to be) being forced to go withhout medicines and stuff. Again because the beacon of democracy thought it right to put in place tough sanctions against it because the crazy country's ruler wouldn't toe the US line.

PS
: Seems like I'm not the only one. Lots of cynics out there!

The King Can't Screw Up

No way. Unless it is some other country we're talking about.

05-Nov-2007

No Threat To Sovereignty, But

Just do as we tell you :
[Mr Kissinger] made it clear that Washington does not want India to lean towards Iran and seal any energy ties with that country as it has been facing international sanctions on account of its nuclear programme. Even the Bush administration is opposed to India pursuing the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project as it views Tehran as a “rogue state” that ought to be isolated.


02-Nov-2007

Man Of Letters

Deve Gowda. Nice job DH! He does shoot them off quite frequently doesn't he?

A Diversion

From the usual politics, US-bashing, and similar dreary stuff.

I did a mountain bike race and wrote about it briefly here. Hoping to write a bigger post here soon.

The results of the race are here.

01-Nov-2007

Married Forever

When you tie up with the US you remain tied up:
... Ankara is being made to realise that it simply cannot afford to have an independent foreign policy in its surrounding regions. The bottom line, as far as Washington is concerned, is Turkey forms part of the Western security system and the bondage is like a Catholic marriage — in perpetuity. As the new cold war gathers momentum, there is added urgency for Washington that Turkey should not remain a bystander, as in the Iraq invasion of 2003, if a U.S. military strike against Iran ensues.
As for Ramesh Thakur's hope
Maybe it [the US] will revert to being a benign hegemon with a change of administration in January 2009.
The chances of it being fulfilled seem slim. If the Republicans win, the chances are zero. And the Democratic frontrunner (as of now) is quite hawkish on the most immediate issue on which the benignness needs to be shown: Iran. And no one is talking of leaving Iraq either.

PS: What kind of a system is this 'democracy' when, in the most democratic country in the world, the politicians are ignoring the majority of their population's views so blatantly? As the TomDispatch link mentions, 72% of americans want their troops out of Iraq in 2 years, while no mainstream presidential candidate is guaranteeing that troops will be out by even 2013!

Silence On The Gas Deal

Why doesn't this get more time in the media? Why aren't people informed as to how we are allowing the US to pressure us? We are continuously harangued on the N-deal and how good it is on the other hand - why not show the other side of the coin? Iran has the world's second largest gas reserves - why should we allow a selfish bully to stop us from linking with it? All the talk about Iran developing nuclear weapons and all that is just cover for the US to sew up another oil and gas rich middle east country. Why should we support it?

12-Sep-2007

Indians, Africans Or Aliens

Couldn't help smiling as I read this article!
"If we do not balance off the Chinese with Indians, Africans or aliens, by 2050 China will annex Russia’s Siberia up to the Ural Mountains.”

Neat Lines

From The Hindu:
..the way in which the avatars of untrammelled capitalism quickly change their tune when the going gets rough.
Not as neat as the second quote from this post, but neat enough. Avatars of untrammelled capitalism ... peddlers of distilled male fantasies... Mmmm... Yummy!

17-Aug-2007

What Fun

Do the financial markets conjure up!
First, you take a bunch of shaky and risky subprime mortgages and repackage them into residential mortgage backed securities (RMBS); then you repackage these RMBS in different (equity, mezzanine, senior) tranches of cash CDOs that receive a misleading investment grade rating by the credit rating agencies; then you create synthetic CDOs out of the same underlying RMBS; then you create CDOs of CDOs (or squared CDOs) out of these CDOs; and then you create CDOs of CDOs of CDOs (or cubed CDOs) out of the same murky securities; then you stuff some of these RMBS and CDO tranches into SIV (structured investment vehicles) or into ABCP (Asset Backed Commercial Paper) or into money market funds. Then no wonder that eventually people panic and run - as they did yesterday – on an apparently “safe” money market fund such as Sentinel. That “toxic waste” of unpriceable and uncertain junk and zombie corpses is now emerging in the most unlikely places in the financial markets.

Second example: today any wealthy individual can take $1 million and go to a prime broker and leverage this amount three times; then the resulting $4 million ($1 equity and $3 debt) can be invested in a fund of funds that will in turn leverage these $4 millions three or four times and invest them in a hedge fund; then the hedge fund will take these funds and leverage them three or four times and buy some very junior tranche of a CDO that is itself levered nine or ten times. At the end of this credit chain, the initial $1 million of equity becomes a $100 million investment out of which $99 million is debt (leverage) and only $1 million is equity. So we got an overall leverage ratio of 100 to 1. Then, even a small 1% fall in the price of the final investment (CDO) wipes out the initial capital and creates a chain of margin calls that unravel this debt house of cards. This unraveling of a Minskian Ponzi credit scheme is exactly what is happening right now in financial markets.
Wow, truly is the US the land of opportunities!

Two Styles

It's getting difficult to take Rajdeep Sardesai seriously, on TV and especially in print. Especially when he writes like this.
The Left opposition to the Indo-US nuclear deal must again be seen as part of its attempt to impose its ideology on the country’s political agenda. This is not about the details of the 123 Agreement any longer, not even about a robust discussion on the country’s energy needs, this is simply now about the unseen “dangers” of forging a closer strategic relationship with the “Evil Empire” in Washington.
No, not "unseen" dangers - seen dangers of aligning with the evil empire. Instead of comparing the Left to a child that needs to grow up he should have seen that it is the US which is the selfish, petulant child with none of the innocence of childhood. The US is like a spoilt kid that will not stop till it gets what it wants - oil, markets for its military-industrial complex, geo-political power.. And it will be the same which ever party comes to power - Democratic or Republican.

All Rajdeep needs to do to know that it is not 'unseen' dangers is read this piece:
Consider the negotiations themselves. Right from the first day, or rather the eve of the first day, the government has been beset by bitter battles over the limits of what was acceptable to India and what was not. In Washington on July 17, 2005, the Department of Atomic Energy had to fight for the right to redraft a statement that the Ministry of External Affairs had already negotiated with the American side and which it considered final. It was only thanks to this eleventh hour internal battle that the strict reciprocity of U.S. and Indian commitments in the July statement was established. What happened that evening set a trend for the next two years. Invariably, these internal battles became more serious on the eve of difficult decisions: the anti-Iran vote at the IAEA in September 2005 (when a tightly argued note by Secretary Rajiv Sikri recommending abstention was overruled at the highest level); the contours of India’s separation plan in January and February 2006 (when some senior officials pushed for putting the fast breeder reactors into the safeguarded list); and the ‘right of return’ and reprocessing in the 123 talks — when the Government’s Apex Group on nuclear matters was forced, as recently as May 2007, to overrule a weak draft that the MEA thought was acceptable.

At every stage, the government was divided into those who felt it was easier to submit to U.S. pressure and those who argued India had nothing to lose from sticking to its principled positions. And it was not always that the latter prevailed. If a negotiating process that went through so many dubious twists and turns still managed to produce a reasonable 123 agreement, this was largely because India finally realised it pays to stick to one’s guns. But the country as a whole remains sceptical and the onus is on Dr. Singh to dispel this scepticism.

Now that is an article that relies on actual facts and presents evidence for its arguments. Much better Rajdeep sticks to TV- there the moment passes and one forgets.

25-Jul-2007

Guilty Unless Proved Innocent

kmp responds to the previous post:
Recklessness rather than intention!?

It means “Guilty unless proved innocent”
It does.

Also found some good rejoinders to Hasan Suroor's uncharacteristically illogical piece on The Hindu's Letters to the Editor:
Debate or denial

Hasan Suroor in the article “Debate or denial: the Muslim dilemma” (July 17) would like Muslims to stop blaming the west for the violence caused by the jihadists. He feels Muslims are in a state of denial. George Bush will agree with the author. While I strongly oppose Al-Qaeda, I cannot overlook the role of the west in the havoc caused in Muslim lands. Wise western leaders such as President Jimmy Carter had opposed any regime change in Muslim countries.

The example of Iran is too obvious where, in 1953, a duly elected Prime Minister, Mossadegh, was overthrown and later killed in a CIA coup. His crime: he opposed the Anglo Iran Oil Company paying more taxes in Britain, and much less royalty to Iran. The reaction eventually led to the theocratic revolution of Khomeini. Similarly Iraq was invaded in spite of worldwide protests and over 6 lakh civilians have died in the war so far. Yet there is hardly any reference to these horrors today. But an unexploded bomb in Glasgow can so disturb Mr. Suroor. Muslims do not need the west to run their own affairs. In particular, they must stop patronising autocratic Muslim rulers. Our true path is independent of both Osama bin Laden and George Bush.

J.S. Bandukwala,

Vadodara

* * *

I agree that the real challenge to Islamic society comes from the despotic regimes of most Muslim countries that are aided and abetted by the west.

Any sensitive person should be angered by the U.S. foreign policy, particularly in Iraq. Everyone cannot be expected to be a mute spectator while a handful of business interests orchestrate war and butchery under false pretexts. It is amply clear from Dr. Mohammed Haneef’s ordeal that the west has a fairly clear cut agenda — if you aren’t in the Salman Rushdie frame of mind you may as well be a terrorist. Terrorism is a natural by-product of the top heavy world order that doesn’t lend an ear to the weak and despairing.

Sanjay Ghosh,
New Delhi
Hasan Suroor's piece flies in the face of facts - all the major terrorist attacks recently (7/7, Madrid train bombings, and the recent UK attempts) are political and mostly in response to the Iraq war, the Palestinian problem, and in general western foreign policy. As for Mr Butt and other 'reformed' extremists, like Mr Suroor himself says:
Arguably, defectors are not the most reliable of people and there is, inevitably, an element of exaggeration in what they say about the organisation they have left and of their own role in it.
You could say that again Mr Suroor.

14-Jul-2007

War and Terror Cont'd

From The Hindu:
Material discovered in Ahmed’s computer shows that the United Kingdom-trained engineer followed campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine with great attention, and often discussed current events with others in Islamist chat rooms on the Internet.
And are the Aussie police for real:

Mohammed Haneef has been charged with providing "reckless support" to a terrorist organisation.

He is alleged to have provided a mobile phone SIM card to two of his second cousins, both detained in Britain.

...

"The specific allegation involves recklessness rather than intention," Federal Police Chief Mick Keelty said from the Australian capital, Canberra.

Recklessness rather than intention!?

09-Jul-2007

War and Terror

Kept away from the keyboard first by the Midnight Marathon and now by this. The desire exists - so many things happening out there - but somehow posting just doesn't happen.

Today I found two letters to the editor which I agree with:
Terrorism is to be condemned vehemently as it is a menace against humanity. But if one takes a look at the countries targeted for terror attacks, one can see a pattern. The Islamist terrorists target only the U.S. and its supporters. I worked in Jordan for a while and I have personally seen the plight of Palestinians who have been driven away from their homes. Their homes are just 50-100 km away from where they live but they cannot go there. The Glasgow incident is the result of such skewed policies of the west. Terrorism cannot be eliminated unless the world shows compassion for the sufferers.

N. Ramakrishnan , Richards Bay, South Africa.

True, most of the terrorist acts are perpetrated by young, misguided, hardcore members of a particular community. But it is also true that the majority belonging to the same community is law-abiding and is in no way responsible for the acts of the few. To tar an entire community with the same brush, therefore, is not only wrong but inhuman. The best ways of tackling terrorism are to strengthen and modernise our police forces and adhere strictly to the principle of secularism.

Baikadi Suryanarayana Rao, Bangalore

And it is irritating when people say that the 'misguided' youth 'misinterpreted' their religious teachings. Where does religion come into it? As far as I can see, the motivation is entirely political. The younger Bush and the older Blair declared a war on terror which somehow is a war solely against Islamic people. And these suicide bombers may be thinking that they are on the other side in this war.

30-Apr-2007

Proved Wrong

Once again! The first time was of course when the media reported that an on-field argument was about Ganguly refusing to open out of mortal fear. More recently it was Ganguly figuring prominently in a group of seniors holding the captain and the team hostage, when the outgoing coach actually had words of praise for the man.

How these rumours are actually planted and by whom is an interesting topic by itself. The media is part of the problem facing Indian cricket and not the solution.

29-Apr-2007

35,35,32....

~32,~26,26,~32,36,~30,24,37.

The ages of the Australian team in batting order of course.

Unscheduled Break

For the last few weeks. My broadband connection was messed up!

10-Apr-2007

Another (Re)viewpoint

kmp responds [Spoiler warning: plot details below]:
It is so true that as one moves from one “culture” to the other, if you still have links with the original (however feeble or indirect it may be) you become a “confused soul” (lack of better word in my vocabulary). And that leads me into another question: i.e. should it be a sweeping statement such as “Neither American nor Indian” or should it be (more consolable tone) of “being both American and Indian”
There's that too. Thinking it over, probably Mira Nair was trying to bring out the tensions between the two viewpoints in the movie. For example, during the first half - everything is breezing along and the Ganguly family has no doubts that it is American (except for Tabu, though she too adopts the host culture quite well). But in the second half, during the most personally testing moments following the death of the father /husband, the son Gogol and later Tabu, both seem to reject their adopted country. The son gives up his American girlfriend for almost no reason. Tabu finally leaves America for Calcutta.