Getting under the skin of news

Daood “Headley” Gilani: How to graduate in terror from Pakistan

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How much time does it take for the Pakistani army and Lashkar-e-Taiba to turn an ordinary drug dealer into a terrorist? Because of the confession of Daood Sayed Gilani, aka David Coleman Headley, to planning the Mumbai attacks, we can answer that question with some degree of certainty. Gilani’s confession was recorded at the United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, this month.

(BTW, could somebody please enlighten me why Indian media insists on referring to this despicable Jihadist as David Coleman Headley, which is a fake name he assumed with the specific intention of hiding his Pakistani parenthood and deceiving the Indians? Is it that the Indian media takes particular pleasure in being deceived?)

1. A short, three-week, introductory course on the merits of waging Jihad. Gilani underwent this course around February 2002. I assume he passed with flying colours.

2. Another short, three-week introductory course on the key skills required to wage Jihad, including the use of weapons and grenades. Gilani took this in August 2002.

3. A three-month course in, among other things, close combat tactics, use of weapons and grenades and survival skills. Gilani passed this in or around April 2003.

4. A three-week course in counter-surveillance. Gilani did this in August 2003.

5. Another three-month course in combat and tactical training, to complete the education. Gilani passed the course with distinction, I assume, around December 2003.

In all, therefore, it took the Pakistani army and Lashkar-e-Taiba eight months and one week to turn an ordinary drug dealer with a Pakistani parent and familiarity with Pakistani culture into a competent terrorist who can do scouting work, identify and map terror destinations and so on. Not bad!

According to the confession, “Beginning no later than in or about late 2005 and through on or about October 3,2009, at Chicago and elsewhere within and witout the jurisdiction of the United States, the defendant conspired with Lashkar members A, B, C and D, and others, to commit acts outside the United States that would constitute the offense of murder and maiming…. in connection with attacks carried out by Laskhar in India.” The “others” that Gilani conspired with includes a serving officer of the Pakistani army according to records already available.

Now who was heading the Pakistani intelligence service, ISI (and by extension, its poodle, the Lashkar-e-Taiba), and the Pakistani army during much of this period while this terror attack was being put in place? Who but Pervez Kayani, the current chief of the Pakistani army.

And where is Kayani this week?

He is currently in the US, for a “strategic dialogue” with the United States that would include US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US, Admiral Mike Mullen. In the words of Richard Holbrooke, US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, this will mark “a major intensification” of US partnership with Pakistan.

Kayani and his compatriots are seeking $35 billion in assistance from the US during this strategic dialogue. NewsMonk recommends that they add another billion or two for expanding its “education infrastructure” as well. With Obama as the US president, they might just get it.

Written by NewsMonk

March 21, 2010 at 8:04 am

Does Manmohan Singh really say this??

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“Our Prime Minister sees India-US relationship as ‘an essay in mutual comprehension‘ ”

– Indian Foreign Secretary, Nirupama Rao, delivering a lecture at the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington DC, on March 15th.

The trouble is, this is not the first time the Prime Minister has used this particularly striking phrase.

The first reported use of the phrase by the prime minister was in September 2004, in relation to Pakistan, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal (WSJ). Here’s the exchange:

“WSJ:You are meeting later this week with President Musharraf of Pakistan. What are you thinking that meeting will produce and what are your objectives with Pakistan?

Prime Minister Singh: As far as meeting President Musharraf is concerned, it’s an essay in mutual comprehension. This will be the first time I will have a serious meeting with President Musharraf.”

Honestly, I like that answer. Well put, I would say, considering that anybody’s comprehension abilities would have been stretched by the sudden transformation of the mastermind of Kargil into a peace-seeker!

Now consider this: the Prime Minister uses the same phrase to describe his talks with China as well! This was during his visit to Bejining in January 2008. According to India Abroad News Service (IANS), he described his informal dinner with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao as – hold your breath – ‘an essay in mutual comprehension“! This is the actual wording in the IANS report: “But when he chose to describe his informal dinner chat Sunday evening with Premier Wen Jiabao as an ‘essay in mutual comprehension’, it set the stage for his next two days of official talks with the Chinese leadership…”

It is not a pretty sight to see the erudite prime minister of India describing relations with two different countries as “essays in comprehension,” but mistakes happen. Still, I thought it is impossible that he could have used that phrase to describe relations with three countries, not just two! So, I thought, Nirupama Rao must have got it wrong. She must have vaguely remembered the phrase, and mistakenly thought that the prime minister used it in connection with the United States.

But no, the prime minister did use the very same phrase in connection with the United States. In a post dated January 2, 2006 on the official site of the Prime Ministers Office, it says: “Noting that Indo-US relations had never been so good, Dr. Singh hoped that the visit of the students of Business universities of the United States (would be) an essay in mutual comprehension (that)would be mutually beneficial and good for the future.”

Now we are getting closer to a solution. In this quote, Manmohan Singh is not really referring to India-US relationship, but to the India trip of a group Columbia, Wharton and Stanford students. So Nirupama obviously got it wrong.

Not so fast. It seems Manmohan Singh is in the habit of seeing ‘an essay in mutual comprehension’ almost everywhere. See this post, again from the website of the Prime Minister’s Office: “Maintaining a fine and healthy balance between the aspirations of individual federating units and the obligations of the federation itself has been an essay in mutual comprehension. It has been an essay in persuasion and, above all, an essay in nation building.”

That’s a whole lot of essays! And I am losing comprehension altogether!! No wonder with so much comprehending to do, the government is not accomplishing as much as it might!

I am going to apply to the Prime Minister’s Office to be the new speechwriter. I think you should too!

Written by NewsMonk

March 19, 2010 at 9:58 am

Posted in Foreign Policy

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Barack Obama: Fascinated by enemies, bored by friends

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It has been a year and two months since Barack Obama took over as the President of the United States.  As he struggles to put his mark on the world, with the weight of a premature Nobel Prize on his slim shoulders, the impression is gaining ground that Obama is soft and gives in to his enemies too quickly. An article in the last issue of Foreign Policy went ahead and warned that unless he changed course, Obama might end up like Jimmy Carter – forcing Carter to write a rejoinder objecting vehemently to the comparison!!

We believe that this diagnosis of Obama is wrong.

The affliction the US president suffers from is not softness, but a  kind of intellectual addiction that makes him value his enemies far more than his friends. He likes the high that engagement with his enemies gives him; and dislikes the boredom of dealing with friends. As a black, he would rather focus on winning the whites over, rather than getting the blacks behind him. The blacks will be with him anyways, the whites need to be convinced and brought around.

There is no denying that this is strong logic; and logic that paid off spectacularly in the last US presidential elections. The blacks stood like a rock behind him, while a majority of whites succumbed to his charms.

Whether this logic works as well in running the government is yet to be seen.  Obama’s repeated attempts to bring at least some conservatives around to his side have been a spectacular failure. In fact, conservative attacks on Obama are more severe than they were on his democratic predecessors. On the other hand, Obama’s readiness to sacrifice liberal principles, such as public option in healthcare, at the altar of bipartisanship has made his liberal base less enthusiastic about him. This double-whammy – of the inability to bring conservatives around and the ability to turn off supporters – has crashed Obama’s popularity ratings in the US to the mid-forties now, from high sixties at the beginning of his term.

But we are not concerned with Obama’s domestic popularity; we are concerned with how his approach will work in the international arena, what the implications are for India and, therefore, what should our approach be to the Obama administration.  Here’s a list of early indications of how the world is dealing with Obama.


UNITED KINGDOM: The ‘special relationship’ between the US and UK has taken multiple hits ever since Obama came to power and the British are beginning to be less sensitiive to what the US says. For example, in August last year, Britain released the Libyan convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing ostensibly on compassionate grounds, but more believably on commercial grounds – more business deals from the Gaddafi regime in return for a free bomber. Obama called the release “a mistake” and termed it “highly objectionable”, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said “it was absolutely wrong.” This came after a series of diplomatic incidents and ‘slights”, including Obama presenting the Queen with an iPod, and the prime minister with DVDs! The Obama administration has junked the use of the word ‘special relationship’ in favour of ‘special partnership’ – probably because ‘special relationship’ carries implied racial connotations alluding to the Anglo-Saxon heritage of the two countries, while special partnership implies no such thing. Read the section called “current status”.

ISRAEL: In the most striking display of defiance by any Isreali prime minister,  Benjamin Netanyahu snubbed visiting US vice-president Joe Biden by announcing plans to build 1,600 additional houses in occupied East Jerusalem. This was an unprecedented public rebuke to the US which has been asking Israel to put a freeze on new settlements.

The Guardian: Bibi’s snub to Biden

The New York Times: Clinton rebukes Israel

JAPAN: Over in the Asia-Pacific, US-Japan relations are its lowest ebb since World War 11, as Japan adjusts to a rising China and becomes less subservient to the US.

The Guardian:Japan begins to shake off US foreign policy influence

The Far Eastern Economic Review: The looming crisis in US-Japan relations


IRAN: Obama’s efforts to find a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear ambitions are no nearer than they were a year ago. The Iranians have repeatedly rebuffed compromise solutions put forward by the US through multilateral agencies.

CHINA: The general perception is China has become more more emboldened and demanding in its relationship with the US, despite Obama’s respectful kowtow to Chinese sensitivities during his visit to that country recently

The Washington Post: Newly powerful China defies western nations
The New York Times: Will China listen?

The conclusion is fairly clear.  Obama’s attempt to reach compromises and deals with his enemies is not getting anywhere yet. Perhaps because when they look at him, what they see is a weak President who can be taken advantage of, not an intellectually active, fair-minded President with whom they can make deals. They may be wrong, but perception is often what shapes reality.

On other other hand, Obama’s allies and potential allies are beginning to suspect that they can’t really depend on him. They worry that Obama will throw them under the bus if he thinks he can cut a deal with his enemies. The message that goes to the allies and potential allies, therefore, is simple: don’t count on the US; protect your own backside.

For India, what this means is this. Right now, unless Obama changes course – and he is a leader with a high learnability quotient – there is zero advantage in being a potential or real US ally. That would just bore the heck out of the Obama administration. If India wants to protect its interests it will have to be firm and direct in dealing with the US. More important, it will need to develop real and credible diplomatic alternatives to make its discussions with the US productive.

If you keep this in the background, this story in The Telegraph by K.P. Nayar yesterday would fall in place. According to Nayar, Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao is about to serve notice on the Obama administration not to take India for granted.

Written by NewsMonk

March 18, 2010 at 2:02 am

Posted in Foreign Policy

In defense of Mayawati, her statues, garlands and assets

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Let us be frank. Mainstream media and their urban, middle class customers don’t really like Mayawati. It may be her haircut, or it may be her dress, but she doesn’t measure up. It just feels like she must be, ought to be, and surely is, bad news for good governance. There’s nothing personal about this. They didn’t like her mentor, Kanshi Ram, either, or the party they created from scratch 25 years ago, the Bahujan Samaj Party. Just too casteist!

Mayawati may be the popularly elected chief minister of the largest state in the country, Uttar Pradesh, and the youngest chief minister of any gender to rule Uttar Pradesh ever, but somehow, all that doesn’t help.

She may be the unquestioned leader of the third largest party in the country, but that is not of much consequence either. (Her party pulled in over 6% of the votes in the last general elections, compared to 19 for the BJP, 28 for the Congress and only 4 for the CPI (M) which took the fourth place).

In terms of sheer gravitas and respect, Sonia Gandhi, Sushma Swaraj, Sheila Dikshit, J. Jayalalithaa, Mamta Banerjee or even Brinda Karat rank higher than Maywati. Just watch more carefully the next time TV news anchors introduce, refer to or interview any of them.

If you ask political opinion makers why Mayawati gets differential treatment, you will get three answers:

Because she builds too many statues!

She gets garlands made of rupees and diamonds on her birthdays!

And she has declared assets worth Rs 54 crore!

Let’s take them one by one. It’s true, Mayawati is indeed creating a number of memorials and parks in her state in honour of Dalit heroes like Ambedkar, Kanshiram and herself. Why is that surprising? The assumption of full power by Mayawati and her party is a remarkable turning point in the history of democratic India – when one-fifth of the Indian population, marginalized in a brutal manner for centuries, nay millennia, found its own political voice. And if Mayawati and her supporters want to mark that turning point by installing memorials and creating parks in honour of their heroes, is that too difficult to understand?

Or could it be that the establishment just doesn’t like the names on the statues that she is putting up? Names that are very different from those on the 44 statues – 44, no less!! – that exist in Luknow already? The existing statues are for heroes such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose, Chandra Shekhar Azaad, Maha Rana Pratap, Rani Laxmi Bai, Rabindranath Tagore…. How is it that this list is woefully short of Dalits? And how is it that nobody questioned the need to put these up?

To put the question in Mayawati’s own words: “What’s wrong if I install my own statues together with those of my party icons whose contribution as great social reformers remained unrecognised for decades because of the sick caste bias of those who were in power?”

Precisely. And what exactly is it that makes the national media go into a tizzy when Mayawati spends less than one per cent of the state’s annual budget to create some of the most beautiful and aesthetic public spaces that have ever been built in independent India? How appropriate that it took a Dalit woman chief minister to create uplifting, ennobling public spaces for the first time since the British left! And Mayawati knows what she is doing: “I firmly believe that those who are unable to create history are always pushed into oblivion. That is why it was important to leave such imprints that will stay for all times to come.”

Now to objection numbers 2 and 3: Mayawati gets garlands of notes and diamonds on her birthdays, and she has declared assets worth Rs 54 crore. Neither of these is an illegal activity in itself. I do not know to what extent Mayawati’s government is corrupt or not corrupt. Anecdotal evidence in Uttar Pradesh – the state where I live – suggests that her government is a tad better than the previous governments belonging to the Samajwadi Party, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress. In any case, there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest Mayawati is quantitatively or qualitatively more corrupt than other politicians of our time. So this can’t account for the put downs, the slights and the unmistakable disdain with which the media and the urban middle class treats Mayawati. What precisely is the explanation, then?

If I were Mayawati, I would already know the answer.

Written by NewsMonk

March 16, 2010 at 1:17 am

Posted in Indian Politics

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How to save the Women’s Reservation Bill

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It is now clear that the Congress will not be able to push through the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Lok Sabha as the Yadav Trinity (Mulayam Singh, Laloo and Sharad) has whipped out the Muslim card (Women’s bill comes up against the Purdah, March 12). The Congress cannot afford to lose the Muslim vote in Bihar or Uttar Pradesh and hence the bill is truly stuck.

There is a way, though, that it can salvage the bill – and create a better piece of legislation than the one that was passed in the Rajya Sabha. And that is to make it legally binding on political parties to ensure that one-third of their candidates are women. This suggestion has been made by various academics earlier, but as it stands, it is not fool-proof. For a political party can get around it by simply inflating the number of seats it contests and then allotting unwinnable seats to women.

NewsMonk is happy to suggest a solution to this problem: Not only do political parties have to ensure that one-third of their candidates are women, they also have to ensure that one-third of the constituencies that they represent today are allocated to women.

There are many reasons why this is a better option than the current bill. For example, the biggest problem with the current bill is the principle of rotation – in every election, one-third of the seats selected through a lottery system are reserved for women. These seats become unreserved in the next election, when another set of one-third seats are again selected through a lottery system and reserved for women.

What this means is that in every election, one-third of the seats will be newly reserved and another one-third seats will be newly de-reserved, leading to a situation where a majority of existing representatives know for sure that they will not be re-elected in the next election. This cuts at at the root of representative democracy by taking away any incentive for a majority of representatives to serve their constituency well. It also introduces a high-degree of uncertainty and volatility into the system, through the lottery process.

The new mechanism depends on no lottery and involves no rotation. Therefore, it takes away the arbitrariness and preserves the representative character of the system, while ensuring that women get a fair representation.

The Yadav Trinity has already said that they are open to reservations for women that are implemented through parties, so that is a commitment that can be built upon.

The trouble is, even though this solution will achieve the objective of women’s representation, it will lessen its political attractiveness to the Congress. Leaving the selection of constituencies from where women are fielded open to the political parties will allow them more elbow room. This would make it easier for those parties who are in a strong position to protect their turf, while making it more difficult for weaker parties such as the Congress (in Bihar and UP) to make gains. But what option does the Congress have, other than putting the bill in cold storage?

M.J.Akbar: Good intentions cannot justify bad delivery

Women’s reservation: another approach

Written by NewsMonk

March 14, 2010 at 11:45 pm

Karzai leaves Pakistani establishment disappointed

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Two days after Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s high-profile visit to Pakistan and his red-carpet welcome (almost the entire cabinet went to the airport to receive him), it is clear that the visit didn’t go as well as the Pakistanis expected.

As the Americans worry about how to settle with the Taliban and exit Afghanistan, the generals in Pakistan who have nurtured and sheltered the Taliban have come to believe that they are in a commanding position to dictate terms to the Afghanistan government. Karzai, however, doesn’t seem to have followed their script.

The Afghan president didn’t accept the Pakistani army’s ‘generous’ offer to train the Afghan army, he insisted on Pakistan handing over captured top Taliban leaders including Mullah Baradar to Afghanistan, and he hinted that the arrest of these leaders in Pakistan may have been intended to derail their peace talks with him. Karzai clearly parried a question by journalists whether he was in contact with Mullah Baradar before his arrest.

Hardline daily The Nation headlined its editorial on Karzai’s visit ‘Banalities Galore’ and wrote: “The joint declaration summing up the outcome of the visit, during which the Afghan President met his Pakistani counterpart, the Prime Minister and the military chief, hardly contains anything of substance; only vague banalities consisting of traditional expressions of brotherhood and friendship, commitments from both sides to strengthen the existing relations and plans, which from the very details, are destined to remain on paper.”

The highly respected daily, Dawn, headlined its report on Karzai’s meeting with journalists in Islamabad ‘Karzai Changes Tone, not Tune’ and said: “But despite his exceedingly positive tone and tenor, President Karzai found it impossible to change his tune entirely. “I don’t know if with these arrests the Quetta Shura has become dysfunctional. This will be proven in time,” he said. “On the Taliban and their stay in Pakistan, it’s now of course a fact that they were here and that’s why they (Mullah Baradar and others) are being rounded up from here on which you have heard our opinion before, many times, in very clear words”.”

What this means for India is this: there are strong incentives for the Afghans, the Americans, the British, the Russians and the Iranians to ensure that the post-settlement government in Afghanistan is not a stooge of the Pakistani generals. In fact, everyone other than Pakistan are on the same page on this. The objective of Indian foreign policy from hereon should be to make sure that a fully representative and independent Afghan government becomes a reality once the Americans leave.

Written by NewsMonk

March 14, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Look now – Saudi Arabia ‘interlocutes’ between India and Pakistan

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Remember the media flutter that Minister of State for External Affairs, Shashi Tharoor, caused when he said in Riyadh two weeks ago that Saudi Arabia could be a “valuable interlocutor” between India and Pakistan? Ignorant media interpreted interlocutor to mean mediator and went into ‘BREAKING NEWS” mode, while Shashi clarified that interlocutor is just “someone you speak to, nothing more.”

If that left you scratching your head about what really Tharoor expected the Saudis to do, you might find the answer here.

According to reports in the Pakistani media on Sunday, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has been invited by his Saudi counterpart to Riyadh, with the intention of taking him into confidence about the recent visit by Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, to Saudi Arabia.

The daily, Dawn, said Qureshi would go to Saudi Arabia on April 3rd and quoted him as saying: “If a friend like Saudi Arabia comes forward for mediation between Pakistan and India, we will go ahead without hesitation.”

There you go, that word “mediation” again!

But when asked about India seeking a Saudi role in resolving differences with Pakistan, Qureshi said he thought India might not have sought it because it always discouraged “third-party involvement”.

Does that mean third-party involvement is different from mediation?

If all this left you more confused than before, let me try again to clarify:

Interlocutor: Someone you talk to. Such as Saudi King Abdulla Bin Abdul Aziz, when he has tea and biscuits with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and talks about the weather in the Gulf, the price of oil and the level of cross-border terrorism. Also covers the said King or his foreign minister when he sits down with Qureshi and discusses the weather, the state of falconry in general, good places for hunting Bustard in Pakistan, and the Kashmir issue.

Third-party Involvement: If the Saudi King or Foreign Minister now sits down with the Indian Prime Minister or foreign minister and discusses the discussion he had with Qureshi on falconry, Kashmir and terrorism, that would be third party involvement.

Mediation: If the Saudi foreign minister were to sit down and have tea with Qureshi AND his Indian counterpart, and discuss terrorism and Kashmir, that would be a full-blown case of mediation.

Let us know if you still need help!

Written by NewsMonk

March 14, 2010 at 11:56 am