Is China Telling the Truth About Plans to Weaponize Outer Space?

Following the communist mouthpiece of the People’s Republic of China, the country voiced its firm opposition to the weaponization of outer space and an arms race in outer space and its determination to attach importance to the steps for more transparency and confidence building on outer space. The statement came as Wang Qun, the Chinese ambassador for disarmament affairs, was speaking at the thematic debate on outer space at the First Committee of the UN General Assembly. The First Committee is in charge of disarmament and international security. “The Chinese government always firmly opposes to the weaponization of outer space and an arms race in outer space, and dedicates itself to efforts for maintaining peace and security in outer space,” Wang said.

However righteous and conscientious the Chinese stance on militarization of outer space may be, it is most rhetorical and declamatory in reality. The annual Pentagon report issued in 2006addresses the current and future military strategy of the People’s Republic of China. It takes a look at the current and probable future course of military-technological development on the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the tenets and probable development of Chinese grand strategy, security strategy, and military strategy, and of the military organizations and operational concepts, through the next 20 years. The report states, “In the next decade, Beijing most likely will field radar, ocean surveillance, and high-resolution photo-reconnaissance satellites. China will eventually deploy advanced imagery, reconnaissance, and Earth resource systems with military applications.”

After a three-year leap, the China was back to being its unapologetic self, rubbing imbecilic rationales in a half-hearted attempt to cover for its ambitious, out-of-the-world projects. On November 2009, calling militarization in the space and in air “a threat to the mankind,” Gen. Xu Qiliang said, addressing the media, that China must develop a strong force in the two arenas in order to face challenges of that threat. “Only power could protect peace. Superiority in space and in air would mean, to a certain extent, superiority over the land and the oceans,” said the general in an interview with Xinhua, 10 days ahead of 60th anniversary of the founding of the PLA air force. “As the air force of a peace-loving country, we must forge our swords and shields in order to protect peace. The Chinese people are a peace-loving people, and China is a responsible developing country which upholds a national defense policy that is defensive in nature,” he added, refuting allegations of being a competitive power rather than a defensive entity.

China aggressively accelerated the pace of its manned space program by developing a 17,000-pound man-tended military space laboratory which was planned for launch in 2011. The project is being led by the General Armaments Department of the PLA, and gives the Chinese two separate station development programs. Shenzhou 8 will be flown (in November 2011, unmanned, to test robotic docking systems. Subsequent missions will be manned to utilize the new pressurized module capabilities of the Tiangong outpost. But barring the technicalities, more importantly, China is openly acknowledging that the new Tiangong outpost will involve military space operations and technology development. Also the fact it has been given a number one numerical designation indicates that China may build more than one such military space laboratory in the coming years.

The Sino perspective towards space militarization is adamant and allegorical, like most of its national and foreign policy dictums. While China is worried about how U.S. space weaponization plans might affect the Chinese national security and geopolitical interests, it is being competitive and disregarding its own stance on space military control. To reiterate, the country cares much less about spatial waste than it cares about inventing ways to deplete the already cracking U.S. economy. The United States has legitimate concerns about its space assets, given that U.S. military operations, economy and society are increasingly dependent on space assets and such assets are inherently vulnerable to attacks from many different sources — China, mainly, being its top adversary. If China’s decisive concern was the environment and peace, as repeated time and again at the United Nations, it wouldn’t have potentially resorted to translating an opponent’s strategic layout as further excuse for self-empowerment (lethally).

Justifying the counteractive superposition, Hu Xiaodi, China’s ambassador for disarmament affairs asked, “With lethal weapons flying overhead in orbit and disrupting global strategic stability, why should people eliminate weapons of mass destruction or missiles on the ground?”

On that note, the judgment call lies on the UN and the much sought after United States to keep running the balancing act. 

Written for The Huffington Post

The US Halts Scholarship for Afghan Students: A Background and Future Check

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When the United States fences youth exchange programs with prospective countries, it is worrying. When the United States fences a youth exchange program with Afghanistan, it is unnerving. But this year, the U.S. has quietly suspended the popular youth exchange which brought hundreds of Afghan high school students to small communities in the U.S. beginning in 2004. The reason? Fear of a dark future in Afghanistan was prompting too many of the students to bail out of the program and seek asylum elsewhere.

Afghani students are fleeing. They are fleeing the States for the fear of taint and white stain. Following the unkempt stereotype of a geographical jargon, the US is a forbidden lexicon of a riddled, troubled Afghanistan. Fundamentally, this notion resides and is nurtured by basic cultural and practical differences.

Following the Talibanised Islamic bridle in and around the abuts of the nation, it is but an anticipated, general dogma. While the situation is supposed to be of similar contour in all Islamic states, the reality is quite the contrary. This disparate is directly consequential of lack of development, urbanisation, infrastructure, education and proper economics. Whereas other Islamic states have cunningly utilised foreign aids and the western nexus to block build a shape of self-sufficiency, Afghanistan has been and still is a continuous victim to spiralling, flourishing feudalism, provincial supremacy and an undemocratic doctrine.

The robust central governance continues to remain elusive to Afghanistan’s leaders. Entrenched local administrative procedures, based on authority from tribalism or local power brokers’ influence, continue to be resilient, while faith in the state is decreasing or is null.

Some of the very global economic forces that should, theoretically, overthrow the local political status quo are actually playing an important role in sustaining it. Afghanistan’s local power brokers are using new opportunities arising from global integration within existing traditional power structures to augment and entrench their power in ways previously unachievable. As Barnett Rubin notes astutely, “Tribalism in the modern world is more often a strategy of state control or social resistance than the culture of an autarchic, kinship-based world that no longer exists, if it ever did.” And in a very apologetic note to the escapee Afghani youths, the US is both facing the effect and the cause of a cringe-worthy Middle Eastern state of affairs, gambling with the future of thousands of clayey individuals — pushing them towards a radical end by default.

Embassy officials say they want to restart the YES program, but only if they can ensure students won’t jump the program to claim safe haven somewhere else. Whilst the statement is utterly considerate in its own way, it does rule out (deliberately or not) a few clauses that are inevitably attached to this phenomenon. To cite an example, NATO forces are leaving Afghanistan without ensuring absolute stability in the region. Central incompetence, reinforced by endemic corruption and ingrained tribal mores, have fomented a growing sense of confusion and impotence within the country’s institutions. The impacts may be such that women in Afghanistan will be homebound, opium economy will clog the tunnels of other frames of development, education will see stagnancy and foreign exchanges like that of the YES program will be reduced to an annoyance meant for the unpatriotic.

Reluctance to act effectively and timely by western intruders in Afghanistan has resulted into a diabolic groove and hampered the possibility of light and civilisation. And what can be more appropriate than to allude to the fraudulent elections of 2009 to show that the young democratic fields are salted with many of the despotic power structures that have characterized their landscape for centuries, and at this pace there are many more to come.

Written for The Huffington Post

90 years and high. How?

In a world that is dragooned by economic ascendancy and ranked by capitalism backwaters, it is hard to believe that theories like communism exist and exist to play. And if I am not mistaken, it has been horse riding a towering country with zero or minor falls for a whopping ninety years.

Last weekend, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) celebrated 90 years of its founding in Mainland China. Foreign Policy reports, “in an impressive propaganda effort, the CCP has sponsored concerts, shows, and exhibitions of revolutionary art, as well as “red games” and “red tourism” — all to drum up interest in communist hagiography. The CCP even purchased two handwritten letters by Karl Marx to mark the occasion.” Such pomp and such pageantry — surely not a Mahayana marvel of a Marxist miracle.

So, what could be the story behind China’s ceremonious economics, pan political agreement, and an ever-flourishing culture? The formula is simple. Ideology has been relegated to a distant second position. Instead, a sense of duty, excellence, cooperation and social elitism has taken its course.

Ask any Chinese honcho in the corporate sector about the superstructure of Karl Marx’s genius and they’ll present you with nothing more than a vague, muddy expression, or perhaps throw in a few words on class struggle and the bourgeoisie. The Guardian (UK) reported about the capitalism-communism collision in 2008, citing interesting outlooks to solve the Sino mystery. To quote:

Being a member of the party… is not a political choice but is about “contributing to China” — about “standing up and being counted”. So when the recent earthquake struck, Cathy (works in Wall Street and is an active communist party member) contacted other party members working for her investment bank and started raising relief funds. […..] And it is also about being part of the elite – and about networking. “Joining the party is very popular,” Cathy said. “If you got top marks then you definitely apply. So here all the top students are members … and a majority of the business school.”

To articulate, the Chinese success story has two major pillars.

For one, the CCP does not rely on central power holding. The party knows how extravagantly difficult it is to maintain a countrywide huddle of one political agenda and aye. Hence, spread the tentacles, make thee presence felt, go an extra mile to ensure participation from the civilian of the civilians. The schools idolise radical revolutionaries like Mao Zedong, and Tiananmen Square is, well, an extension of China’s Babri Masjid where everyone is at blur about the ignition.

Secondly, China shows that when it comes to economics, there is no dividing line between communism and capitalism. For years, we’ve assumed that capitalism and democracy fit hand in glove. We took it as an article of faith that you can’t have one without the other. That’s why a key element of American policy toward China has been to encourage free trade, direct investment, and open markets. As China becomes more prosperous and integrated into the global market — so American policy makers have thought — China will also become more democratic. But that dream obviously saw doomsday, as we, today, see a steady, spinal capitalist economy with an authoritarian government following dogmatic communist ideologues — modeled to suit the tastes of the Chinese disparity. But oh, disparity! It reminds me of what policy wonk Robert Reich said:

Communist, as in communal? Are you kidding? The gap between China’s rich and poor is turning into a chasm. China’s innovators, investors, and captains of industry are richly rewarded. They live in luxury housing developments whose streets are lined with McMansions. They feed in fancy restaurants, and relax in five-star hotels and resorts. China’s poor live in a different world. Mao Tse Tung would turn in his grave.

In China (if not elsewhere), communism is a totalitarian concept taught at law schools. It is an absolutist’s ritual for prospective sovereignty. It is imperative in the country that civil liberties be paralyzed, authorities can arrest and imprison people who threaten stability (as the party defines it), and there are no labor unions and not a single political power outside the communist party.

But no, China shows no regret or remorse whatsoever. A number of recent surveys indicate that after 30 years of capitalist reforms in China, private entrepreneurs are much more interested in running their enterprises and making money than demanding democracy. As long as the Communist Party continues the program of free market reforms and keeps the country stable, China’s new capitalist middle class seems to be content to go along with the current regime. And as far as the Manchurian achievement (worldwide) is concerned, it’s pure complacency. So hey, hail to your amour-propre and congratulations on the ninetieth. If all goes well, I’ll be right here in flesh and blood to type in about your glorious hundredth.

Written for The Huffington Post

One Laptop per Child – A doomed ambition for palsy India

I was reading a paper by the Harvard Kennedy School which focuses on the world’s most ambitious projects, their causes, outcomes, deficits et al. While the paper mainly revolved around environmental, infrastructural and scientific domains, there was one brief mention of a whopping educational pursuit that allegedly acquired its due success. Now with macro-budget projects success is an incongruous relative. But this certain program is said to have achieved heights of unexpected objectives despite anticipated shortcomings and is spreading like a virus.

The docket goes by the name One Laptop per Child (OLPC) program. The program has developed a radically new low cost laptop computer and aggressively promoted its plans to put the computer in the hands of hundreds of millions of children around the world, including the most impoverished nations. That said, if the critique of Sir Francis Bacon had a say on this, he would comment – “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.” Following suit, it should be mentioned that, the provision of individual laptops is a utopian vision for the children in the poorest countries, whose educational and social futures could be more effectively improved if the same investments were instead made on more sustainable and proven interventions. Middle- and high-income countries may have a stronger rationale for providing individual laptops to children, but will still want to eschew OLPC’s technocentric vision. This is because, when policy wonks will dive in to scrutinize the blueprint, the first thing that will strike them is, this program represents the latest in a long line of technologically chimerical development schemes that have unsuccessfully attempted to solve complex social problems with overly simplistic solutions.

In India, this program has been widely pursued more as an interactive exchange programme than the elsewhere ‘only education’ undertaking. While Satish Jha’s (President and CEO of the OLPC India Foundation) endeavours are highly commendable, considering the unending chase (of NGOs, governments, corporations and international bodies) for funds commenced – it should be duly noted that, as a functioning policy, the fuel to channelize resources which makes a difference in tender lives is not at the least adequate. Of course, Mr Jha is not at fault here. The creek lies in the basement.

The OLPC program represents a marriage of Negroponte’s (Founder – MIT Media Lab) digital utopianism and the constructionist learning theory of Seymour Papert, Negroponte’s long-time colleague at MIT. Their inference being, having several students share a computer is as inadvisable as having multiple students share a single pencil. Whereas this sort of idealism works fine in the cosiness of the MIT Action Labs and America’s affluence, the contours of the likes of the OLPC program hit an abrupt halt when faced with the many economic and social challenges of countries like India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Myanmar, etc.

Unlike Negroponte’s approach of simply handing computers to children and walking away, there needs to be integrated education improvement efforts. No one pondered over this, sadly. Without the basis of elementary education, a computer is as good as a pestle and mortar to children, with no utility other than the amusement of funny keys and a magic touchpad. Papert’s hypothesis also falters for a nation whose literacy rate is as good as the number of healthy eaters in Indonesia. He says, “In the end, [students] will teach themselves [how to use the laptop]. They’ll teach one another. There are many millions, tens of millions of people in the world who bought computers and learned how to use them without anybody teaching them. I have confidence in kids’ ability to learn.”

OLPC Program in Nigeria

This amplification of pre-existing differences through computer access stem from two main factors. First, students from high socioeconomic status backgrounds are more likely to have family members and peers who can support and guide them in learning more sophisticated new technologies. This kind of support is referred to as the social envelope of educational computing. In other words, it is not the computer itself that brings benefit, but rather the social and technical support that surrounds the computer that makes the difference. Second, students who already have strong language and literacy skills, as well as background knowledge on topics at hand, benefit most from unstructured learning environments. For underprivileged India, this is where the OLPC falters and the exercise becomes completely futile.

Constructionist theories require a proper skeleton to be built upon. But in the case of this country, there is only a carcass, or rather, nothing at all. There are important differences between a research-oriented development effort and a large-scale international campaign involving the production, distribution and use of millions of educational computers. For an effort of that sort to be successful, it requires an understanding of how to organize large-scale social improvement efforts involving technology and how best to support learning in diverse contexts. Racing ahead without this understanding can waste precious resources required for development and divert attention from more promising approaches to educational and social reform. Regrettably, there is no magic laptop that can solve the educational problems of the world’s poor. A genuine effort to curtail that will require the talents of a wide array of policymakers, practitioners, scholars and designers, including the kinds of technology innovators that have been drawn to OLPC.

Written for The Broadmind

Refuting Anatol Lieven’s assert of an unapologetic Pakistan

Anatol Lieven is a professor in the War Studies department of King’s College, London, and author of the book Pakistan: A Hard Country, among many other reputable holdings. His views on counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency feats are highly recognized; his journalistic exposure in Western and Central Asia makes him a credible commentator of the geographical volatility touching base there. However, Mr Lieven’s recent proclamations justifying, and somewhat defending, Pakistan’s appalling state of affairs bruises his tenacity and veracity as an analyst. (Anatol Lieven’s latest column & speech) Most of the attention paid to Pakistan in the past few weeks had to do with the obvious: powerful elements in the Pakistani national security establishment protecting bin Laden and helping him evade the colossal U.S. hunt for him. There are only few questions left in the open: was this protection campaign conducted with the knowledge and approval of all the political, military, and intelligence leaders, or of only some of them? Is Pakistan’s ineptitude a debatable element or should we ignore that factor completely? While Mr. Lieven has allotted his arguments augmenting the gullibility and incompetence of the Pakistani state, we will learn the answer to these questions in time, rebutting his thesis of inculpable radicalism and a suggestive alliance with the same.

 

To begin with, keeping the 2007 margin, Pakistan has seen twenty-three governments in the past sixty years, including: fourteen elected or appointed prime ministers, five interim governments and thirty-three years of military rule under four different leaders.23 Excluding the military and interim governments, the average life span of a politically elected government has been less than two years. If the five-year period of Bhutto is excluded, then the average span falls to 1.6 years. The tour d’horizon of the past sixty years of Pakistan’s economic history lends credence to the argument that interruptions to the orderly political process whereby elected governments were dismissed, forced to resign or overthrown accentuated the tendency of economic discretion. Without the clause of accountability, the Pakistani leadership deepened its already unfathomable grooves of socio-economic infrastructure – often attributed to the lack of a democratic set up and the continuous existence of politico-military regiments.

 

However, it would be wrong to say that Pakistan is financially bankrupt. As Stephen Cohen points out, the country’s vaults are graced by high levels of aid from the United States, military grants from China and subsidies from Saudi Arabia. But then, sensible utilization and governance is not Pakistan’s forte. For instance, when the supposed ‘arch enemy’ India, bid for nuclear capability – Pakistan couldn’t wait to but answer in the same coin. This objective was inevitably achieved by sacrificing domestic investment and social development, garnered by military arrogance and bilateral supremacy with the US and China.

 

The United States has given Pakistan billions and billions of dollars in military aid over the years. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, that aid was increased sharply, and depending on what we count in, has reached more than $10 billion over the past decade. There were two points of contention between the United States and Pakistan regarding this massive military aid. The United States wanted Pakistan to invest this money in augmenting its anti-terror capabilities: more and better equipped ground troops; more emphasis on small commando-type units; better gear for domestic surveillance; and more. The Pakistanis, on the other hand, wanted to use the money to augment their military capabilities against India. To do that, the they wanted to use the money to buy fighter planes, radar installations, missiles, ships, and submarines. The second point of contention: Pakistan cheated the United States in two ways. First, as is the practice in the country, much of that military aid ended up in the personal bank accounts of the country’s top political and military leaders. Second, using false accounting and forged reports, the Pakistani military, while telling the United States it was using (what was left of) the money to buy counter-terrorism related gear, was in fact using the money to acquire equipment more suitable for an India-Pakistan conflict.

 

Time to ponder – what if instead of American forces looking only for bin Laden, we would have had an Indian commando group entering the country to decapitate the Pakistani political and military leadership as a prelude to an all-out Indian attack on Pakistan? Pakistan would be doomed before the game even began.

 

In the light of the same, advice to U.S. policymakers: It is time to reconsider the massive aid to Pakistan. Recall former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir’s comment regarding an especially egregious corruption scandal in Israel: “Just see how much public money could have been wasted yet — had it not been stolen.” With regard to Pakistan – ditto. Another advice: Strength is relative, not absolute. It is not enough to be strong. Better to be smart in what kinds of strength we accumulate, and what kinds of strength we deny our potential adversaries. Reference – China.

 

To pinpoint and postulate, Lieven says that the core Western policy with regard to Pakistan should revolve around protecting the state from an Islamist revolution – recognising the country’s resilience and employing it accordingly. The statement is made in vain and where his point falters can be reasoned with the very pulp the statehood of Pakistan came into being. The partition of the pan Indian empire didn’t materialise because Lord Mountbatten was fanciful of the idea of a separate Islamic state. The current geographical borders are primarily results of a full-fledged ‘Islamic Revolution’, the demand of a non-secular terra firma fathered by the machismo of identity egotism.

 

******

 

American journalist Nicholas Schmidle was in Karachi in May 2007, when the pro-Musharraf Muttahida Quami Movement staged a rally on the same day Chaudhry was to address a gathering of lawyers in the city. He witnessed riots that quickly spiraled into ethnic strife—the gathering was a microcosm of a nation plagued by ethnic tensions among its Baluchis, Pashtuns, Punjabis and Sindhis. Schmidle posits that the failure of the state security apparatus to quell the violence in Karachi was a deliberate attempt by Musharraf’s regime to further destabilize an ethnically-divided nation, thereby rebuffing any viable opposition. After being deported from Pakistan in January 2008, Schmidle returned seven months later on the eve of Musharraf’s resignation and the assumption of the presidency by Asif Ali Zardari, Benazir Bhutto’s widower. Shortly after his return to Pakistan, Schmidle was tailed by Pakistan’s various intelligence agencies. Pakistan’s clandestine agencies remain a formidable force domestically and regionally, in both intelligence-gathering and intimidation of potential adversaries and unwelcome Westerners. These agencies are ultimately subsumed under an army that remains the dominant player in Pakistan’s political life. For fear of his personal safety, Schmidle quickly left Pakistan again—a harrowing experience that signifies the Pakistani military’s resolve in preserving its powerful role within the state, illustrating that civilian-led governments have been of ephemeral importance during much of Pakistan’s sixty-three-year history.

 

That said, this definition of Pakistan will never make way to its history books a few decades from now – authenticating the very fact that its geopolitical smugness is proportionally relative to its adamant fallacies, flowered by a testament that scripts everything barring raison d’État.

Written for IBNLive

‘The Absent State’ an insight of national inaction (Book Review)

Contemporary journalists Neelesh Misra and Rahul Pandita, one fine day, decided to pursue the rigorous quest of reality. Travelled into the hearts of India’s battle zones, and dug out the vulnerability that stopped the revenue collectors from frequenting those places since, wait, Akbar’s reign. The remote corners of the country which yearn for some form of authority, official surveillance, or at least a frame of management are given lemons in lieu of democratic justice. When the authors ventured into these anonymous hamlets, the villagers mistook them for government officials, wanted their complaints heard – their names written down in ‘official’ logbooks.

The book covers the three primary political and administrative casualties – the Naxalite surge, the Valley of Denial (Kashmir insurgency), and, the Collapse of the North-East. The quintessence being – Insurgency as an excuse for misgovernance. The authors managed to stick to this core throughout. Not offering solutions, but being investigative around and about the inference line.

From the depths of Jharkhand to the dark of Chattisgarh – the authors took a crack at each of the imperilled firing lines and brought out the raw, pragmatic thread, leading from one truth to another. Seventeen years ago, on the morning on which Turiya Munda’s body was discovered hanging lifeless from the berry tree, numerous dreary realities were being enacted in other parts of the world. It was the 24th of July 1991 – on the other side of the globe, in room 118 at the office of the Texas Water Commission, government officials were bickering over minor sewage issues. In India, sporting the light blue turban that was to make fashion statements in the near future, Finance Minister Dr Manmohan Singh was getting ready to make his speech, a speech in which he would present an epochal Union Budget to a grey, despairing nation. In the midst of this lull, Turiya Munda decided to end his life with that single action, translating the grief of his poverty, his inability to educate his sons, into extinction.

'The Absent State' an insight of national inaction

He was the first man to die because he had not received wages under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), purported to be the world’s largest social security set-up. The deliberate void created by the successive elected governments is now filled by the Maoists. They run the show in areas like Dandakaranya – a sprawling, ‘liberated’ zone, extending over 100,000 square kilometres, incorporating parts of the states of Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, with a population of over 2 crore. No welfare schemes, no Nehruvian Five-Year Plan ever came within whistling distance of it. More than ninety-percent of the population was illiterate, until their introduction to the ideologies of Marxism and current. They came to know about Mao Zedong before they figured out the concept of alphabets. Yes, this was the scenario. A bleeding example of veracity compared to the Indian boom on display at global forums.

A close look at the placid waters of the 314-square-kilometre stretch of the Dal lake, one of the most magnificent and most photographed water bodies in the world, would reveal that the lake was rotting and shrinking despite the 240 crore spent on cleaning it. In Kashmir, the malfunction of the government had for years been masked behind the facade of a twenty-one year old insurgency. No militant had ever attacked a civic official or seized a dredger meant for cleaning the Dal Lake. It was Kashmir’s government that was struggling to meet ends, choking on administration.

The amount of money streaming in from the Centre is whopping, but the capacity to spend it and spend it well is something to ponder on. Militancy is another factor that supposedly, going by the account of the authors, brewed right under the nose of deficient governance. From the ousting of the Kashmiri Pandits to the desire for an independent Kashmir, the book covers it explicitly. It aptly points out how the man who killed scores of Pandits in the valley and declared it openly on television is roaming freely today. Some of them were murdered gruesomely in front of their children and the women of their household. A judge of an anti-terror court had remarked (about Bitta Karate – the Pandit slaughter): The court is aware of the fact that the allegations levelled against the accused are of a serious nature and carry a punishment of death or life imprisonment, but the fact is that the prosecution has shown total disinterest in arguing the case, which is in complete violation of the Article 21 of the Constitution.

Although it is a state deeply divided on the basis of regional aspirations, Jammu and Kashmir has a few milestones of pride, which are also probably the bulwark of its future. Multiculturalism and religious tolerance have survived in the valley – and this does not include loonies like Syed Ali Shah Geelani. The context represents the general populace of Kashmir, the Madrassa teachers, the shop-owners, the vegetable vendors at the corner of the streets. In the postscript, the authors take a dig at India’s youngest chief minister, Omar Abdullah, attacking his stand as a pseudo driver of events, presenting him as a figurative character, capable of and handling nothing.

There is a parallel government running because people are not getting what they want – says the subtext of Part Three – The Collapse of the North-East. To quote the man named Peter, who candidly gave his version for the condition of governance in Manipur: Governments in Manipur are run by two opposition parties – the government itself and the underground. All government contracts are issued by the Underground – government officials are just rubber stamps.

The greatest drawback of the North-East is its crippled infrastructure. Other factors include unfenced borders with Myanmar, Bangladesh, inapproachability and economic blockade. The state-heads are accused of collaborating with militants for furthering their own personal agenda. I.K. Gujral and Atal Behari Vajpayee tried to break the nexus between the bodies of power and those of the militants, but without fruitful results. The state, evidently, is not only absent, but truncated and rusted to its roots. But given all the research and thorough surveys conducted by the authors, what largely disappoints in Part Three is the complete ignorance of Assam and its affairs. The crux of the North East mêlée – a perennial gurgle of political instabilities and rabid insurgencies.

While the book gives a purely journalistic insight and blunt images of national inaction, it has been, I am afraid, partly partisan by not revealing the entirety of the resolutions taken up in the Centre. The content is more exploratory than analytical. ‘The Valley of Denial’ took off fine until this inquisitive assertion – could India be blamed for responding to the campaign of terror with terror of its own, a ruthless state response backed by half a million people, which had been unable to crush the militancy or Pakistan’s support for it but had instead routed the lives of thousands of innocent people? Many such suggestive accusations follow as the pages go by, some baseless, some hypothetical. But the highlight of the book is in its portrayal of the rash reality, the inflamed state of affairs that leads to or precedes from the fungus of corruption, absolute negligence and internal disregard.

This book is highly recommended for its sincerity towards the voice of the muted, for the inner foul that shrouds our peripheral glory, for the bravado of the authors who took the nerve-whacking journey and turned it into a directory of India’s other existence.

One piece of advice that would come handy while reading the book: Keep the brain and the heart in their respective places. A merger would prove costly for perception.

Book: The Absent State; Author: Neelesh Misra and Rahul Pandita; Hachette India: Rs. 495

Written for IBNLive

The Chinese Warp

“China and Pakistan are good neighbours, friends, partners and brothers’’ – Jiang Yu, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson.

The outpour of sympathies from the Chinese block for Pakistan’s alleged vulnerability (and of course the benignant outlook) after Osama Bin Laden’s death prominently defines China’s geopolitical interests within and outlining Pakistan’s boundary. Going by history, China is basically a nation governed by manipulative instincts and power tactics. From reforms led by force than social reconstruction to impounding martial laws on the democratic dividends of the country, China has done it all in its quest for puissance.

As we very well know, the media bodies in China are an extension of the CPC wing inside the government – and in spite of the foreign ministry’s official statement claiming Bin Laden’s death as a ‘milestone’ in the history of counter-terrorism – the state-run media has issued a sustained series of reports to downplay the event and focus on Pakistan’s ‘sacrifices’ in the war on terror.

Ishaan Tharoor, in his piece in the TIMEWorld, deduces the China-Pak equation post Washington’s open trust deficit stint with Pakistan.

“China sees in Pakistan a pivotal proxy for its geo-political expansion into South and West Asia — most notably, the Chinese were allowed to build a multibillion dollar sea port at Gwadar in Pakistani Baluchistan. For Pakistan, the Chinese alternative is a useful chip to have in hand when trying to seek leverage with Washington. China has been instrumental over the years in the development of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. Gilani’s trip later this week to China will further thrash out the terms of a civilian nuclear energy deal China agreed with the Pakistanis last year. After the U.S. under the Bush administration signed a controversial nuclear energy pact with India, the Pakistanis clamored for their own dispensation from Washington, but that never came — a decision that makes sense given Pakistan’s instability, but which still irks many in the country, including its Prime Minister.”

China’s borders are easier to invade than to defend. The long coastline is open to invasion from the sea. At sea, Chinese claims abut or overlap with some of the land-bordering neighbours, and South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The inland borders are mostly mountainous and cold, difficult to garrison, and populated by minority tribes of doubtful loyalty to the central government. China has more different political units as immediate neighbours than any other country except Russia. On land, China shares borders with fourteen states -Russia, North Korea, Vietnam, Myanmar (Burma), India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and four states of Central Asia. Extremely apparent why China is threatened by its immediate neighbours and desires a pawn for its security benefits. Hence, what can be easier than taming a physically susceptible state like that of Pakistan and posing it as a shield to nurture an uninterrupted domestic proliferation.

To quote Ishaan Tharoor again

“It’s hard to deny that an improved Pakistani economy and a stabler political situation would please all the country’s neighbors and the U.S. to boot. But there have been few indications from the Chinese that they’re willing to act in concert with the U.S. to improve rule of law, encourage political reforms and help strengthen civilian institutions in Pakistan.”

While it is a very important pointer noted by Mr. Tharoor, the Chinese foreign policy should be kept handy. Not everything China does is reflective of Mao Zedong’s stairway to power – it knows how to act in accordance with the global temperature and swiftly adjusts itself to political fluctuations.

Chinese foreign policy favours “multi-polarity,” by which China means that other countries should resist efforts by the United States to dominate the international system. Yet in many aspects Chinese foreign policy interests overlap with those of the U.S. as sited in the quote. For example, China has cooperated with the U.S. in seeking peace on the Korean peninsula. Like American foreign policy, Chinese foreign policy seeks to create a favourable environment for economic growth. China favours stable world markets, opposes trading blocs, and works to improve its own access to developed-country markets.

Thus so long as the international system is America-dominated, China takes an ambivalent posture. One of its top foreign policy priorities is to maintain sufficient economic and military strength to deter and if necessary defeat invasion or the threat of invasion. Paradoxically, however, such self-strengthening requires close economic ties with the West. From the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 until his death in 1976, Chinese Communist Party chief Mao Zedong experimented with self-reliant methods for developing China without significant contact with the West, but these failed. Hence the “open-door policy” of the reformer, Deng Xiaoping (in power, 1978-1997). The dilemma for China is that the Western powers are both the main source of its technology and markets and a major source of capital, yet at the same time the potential enemies against whom China is preparing to defend itself should relations turn bad.

Written for The Broadmind

Pakistan: An Absent State

The late Al-Qaeda chief’s hideout was a $1-million mansion in Abbottabad in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan, not a menial cave on the rugged terrains of the Afghanistan border. But tracking the recent brouhaha, what exactly was Pakistan’s involvement in operation Geronimo? Clearly the manoeuvre was no more than a US surgical raid with US Apache attack choppers, US Navy commandos and the CIA. Pakistan has acknowledged Osama bin Laden had a “support system” in the country, but asserted that the government was unaware of his presence on its soil. But then that is diplomatic doublespeak. Let’s dig further.

What did Pakistan do?

Osama bin Laden’s Bilal town residence is barely 2 hours from Islamabad by road, just 35 miles outside the capital, in a sprawling upscale neighbourhood in Abbottabad, home to retired army officials. Going by logistics and Pakistan’s vested interest in cropping its defence machinery in favour of extremist policies, it only makes sense that bin Laden would settle for something more sophisticated than a pothole amid arid mountains and acacias – in a secure, safe environment, the national military academy just down the road, neighbours who mind their own business, great person to person courier service. To quote the unfortunate architect who claims to have been hired to design the mansion, who identifies himself as Bill – “On paper it was beautiful; a large entry court around a two story water feature, Italianate with Etruscan entablatures and friezes from the 13th Century Portuguese renaissance. The client was apparently a local farmer who made a killing on defaulting on $500 Kiva loans. I worked through a 3rd party based in Geneva who called himself Seamus. I was paid for conceptual design up front, then Seamus and my plans ran off – never to be heard from again. Later, through the grapevine on Archinect I read that my design had been obtained by a local concrete contractor in Islamabad who was hired to complete the drawings and construct the project in 3 months time for someone else; apparently the farmer decided to use some of his fortune to open a liquor store in Rosemead, CA. Anyways, fearing the worst, and wanting to salvage something for my portfolio, I tried to contact the local contractor to have my name removed from the plans, but apparently they Value Engineered out the telephone/cable TV/internet option in my concept… That wonderful 12 seat theatre… all those plans shot to hell. Anyways, I can’t comment at all on the accommodations – I was never extended a courtesy night stay for the designer. I suppose it’s for the best.”

A house like that right under the nose of the military – so much for secrecy. And Pakistan fears retaliation from its in-house militant faction. Understandable, actually. It takes audacity to see its citizenry share intelligence with the US concerning the most wanted man on Earth, while guarding the country’s best kept secrets under the diplomatic seal. It takes even more spinal strength to strip away the fact that Pakistan nurtures militants and takes part in counter-terrorism initiatives at the same time.

All that Pakistan didn’t care for

The presence of Bin Laden in Pakistan, something Pakistani officials have long dismissed, goes to the heart of the lack of trust that Washington has felt over the last 10 years. For nearly a decade, the US has paid Pakistan $1 billion a year for counterterrorism operations. The chief aim was to kill or capture Bin Laden, going by the US interest. To fortify that objective Pakistan was supplied with the best possible perks tagged under the category of national security, humanitarian relief, etcetera. An outcome was expected after the overdose of strategic bias, extended commercialism and a suitable atmosphere for the existence of an imploding statehood like Pakistan.

Al-Qaeda operative UmarPatek, an Indonesian involved in the Bali bombings in 2002, was captured at a house in Abbottabad in February, where he was protected by an Al-Qaeda courier who worked as a clerk at the city’s post office. Almost a decade after, the death of Bin Laden in such a place led to fresh recriminations from the West and from its immediate neighbours,triggering the see through when it comes to choosing between Pakistan’s complicity and incompetency. In instance of the country’s media efforts to cover up for its damaging governance – prominent TV anchor with GEO TV went on air to rubbish the initial reports of Osama Bin Laden’s death. Following the confirmation of his death from the White House and western media outlets, the Pakistani media were unsure how to treat the story. Diving into the confusion all around, Javed Chaudhury, a journalist with Express News, called Osama a shaheed (martyr).

What’s the verdict?

Not denying the sensible response, thousands of Pakistanis did come out synchronously rejoicing the death of the ‘Villain’, but many more have maintained silence throughout, with intrusions from Islamist outfits like Hafiz Saeed’sJamaatudDawa and JamiatUlema-i-Islam-Nazaryati mourning for the ‘leader’ in Osama Bin Laden. Most political leaders termed it a victory for the country, stretching its inertness and bringing into spotlight the malpractice of props allotted significantly for defence practice. The manner in which the US planned and killed Osama tells an awful lot about US-Pak ties. The fact that the Pakistani government has remained silent for so long suggests that it is in shock, and trying to figure out what to do next. The challenge for Pakistan’s top crust now is to respond calculatedly to the West and not indulge in hasty reactions. But given the very peculiar situation in Pakistan – where a bulky section of the population considers the US a bigger evil than the Al Qaeda – it suits pro-American elements in the politico-military establishment to play down their role in the knowledge of Osama’s whereabouts.

Written for IBNLive

With the power vested in you

I didn’t know Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros personally. Nor did I jump on the Libyan Armageddon to understand the stretch of what is going on there. But like many others who didn’t know them or hardly know about their work, my heart is wrenched at the thought of their premature demise – the repugnant truth of the war zone. Barring Hetherington and Hondros, there are at least 18 journalists missing or detained, and their fate is, well, uncertain right now. I will not ponder on the monotone of the brutality of the battlefield, the Unnecessary called War. That has been done by scholars and philosophers time and over again. But, sincere contemplation is needed when it comes to our understanding of the necessity of information – or as my journalist friend Alex Lobov puts it ‘the ridiculous nature of our market economy & superficial society where journalists who put themselves in the line of fire so that we get to know what’s going on.’

Conceptualizing the absurdities of the market economy is a wide-spread practice – eliminating the remote determinants of life, death, provisionals is just another. The basic structure follows this route – create a value chain, point towards a target audience, go to unfathomable lengths to capture the attention of that target audience. Media content and services are proliferating at such a rapid rate that the volume of log-material is essentially unlimited, but that of new variants of issues are at a massive dearth. Therefore, the ‘urgent’ call for risky pursuits and do-whatever-it-takes to dig for feeds.

The widening gap between limitless media and limited attention means it is harder for any offering to attract significant public attention. In the early 1970s, Nobel laureate Herbert Simon described this growing disparity as a ”poverty of attention”. Commentators from many disciplines now view attention as a prerequisite for the exercise of economic or social influence. The general fraternity assumption is that, the real scarce commodity will always be human attention and that attracting that attention will be the necessary precondition of social change. It is this lust for change and rearrangement of the social order that gets zealous journalists going and repeatedly plunging into known peril. Tim Hetherington was in Libya to continue his ongoing multimedia project to highlight humanitarian issues at this time of war and conflict, supposed to bring about a structural change in the Middle Eastern geometry. Verifies the hypothesis – less known facts, even less area of coverage, hence, strikes the chord of uniquity in rarity.

Now to reflect on informative journalism – it is important (very), but at the same time picture partial and discriminatory. As Walter Lippmann, the American essayist wrote in his seminal work “Public Opinion”, newspapers do not try to keep an eye on all mankind. By its nature, news is selective, dependent on editors’ as well as readers’ tastes.

Democracy and journalism are not synonymous either. There was no journalism in ancient Greece. British journalism evolved under a constitutional monarchy. American journalism, operating under a monarchical, colonial power, preceded American democracy. But as Michael Schudson has observed in his excellent book Why Democracies need an Unlovable Press, “Where there is democracy, or where there are forces prepared to bring it about, journalism can provide a number of different services to help establish or sustain representative government.”

Albeit, should such depths of journalism be pursued even if there’s a possibility of being bombarded by a rocket-propelled grenade (in analogy to Hetherington)? Decide with a counterpoint. The essential argument here is that informative journalism enables the citizenry to have indirect contact with people of power or institutions of the state, to better understand how society works, both to their advantage and to their disadvantage. It matters not simply because it is a manifestation of dissent and direct cognizance but because it is an expression of plurality – alternative views and newer fronts of understanding that would lead to individual thinking and not desirous impositions of standardized outlook.

Unlike established professions of law, medicine or accounting any standard of journalistic competency must be centred on practice rather than theory.

For this reason calling a journalist a professional would require a peculiar taxonomy to define a profession. Furthermore, relegating journalists to the realm of professionals is undesirable because it implies limitations that diminish the important role they play in society. Thus the debate is not in the favour of role play by the media but an unrestrained approach of working towards an achievement meant to trumpet its status as a social science – not merely an outpost for narrow vocationalism and a churn-house of information.

These are the best of times and the worst of times if one happens to be a journalist. The best, because the job has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to report, analyse and comment on the most serious happenings since the advent of communicatives. The worst of times, because the business is suffering from the cyclical shock of a deep recession and the skeletal change driven by the internet revolution. To pull up from that the necessity is to reinvent the model of journalism, sticking to the core ingredient of representing all that is not represented and thinking over newer ways to boost media economics other than using news puffery and running behind cannons to get a bestselling front-page. Lord Northcliffe, the British publishing magnate and owner of the Times and Daily Mail, among many other titles, once declared that “news is what somebody, somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising.” Take it as a hint of a new curriculum from the excess of the yellow press – make it an exercise of social evolution rather than stereotyping it as an institutional establishment – paving the way for a new archetype, redefining the word ‘important’.

(The illustrative here is not meant to give aspiring mass media students a perspective on their future life, or a career defining course of action – but a weigh of priorities in a world which thrives on feral sensationalism. Do your bit, make a difference.)

Written for IBNLive

Anna Hazare and the misguided measures

When I thought Anna Hazare was on the edge of absurdity, there came the Government of India, swinging its bag of colloquy, diving into an arbitrary negotiation and ending the constitutional modus operandi. Kapil Sibal indulging into ‘talks’ with Hazare’s accomplices and struggling to find consensus goes on to prove how the ‘elected representatives’ of the government itself are no more a believer in the system of the law than the ‘outraged’ citizenry who have no idea what the Jan Lokpal Bill is all about (except that it meets anti-corruption demands, perhaps). Governance and public administration has never seen such shades of cringe worthy precedence; fitting in ease to be held ransom by a galore of activists and weakening the entire concept of central authority and legislature.

However, amidst all this inanity, it is to be noted that the necessity of stronger laws and modified institutions is a top priority. Stringent action towards the process of administrative bridling is an urgent concern. Corruption and lack of appropriate preventive measures are eating into a system which should have enough credibility to shoulder a nation of 1.2 billion. Albeit, baiting the proposition of self-governance and direct democracy is not going to solve the issue of corruption. It will, moreover, create unwanted lawlessness and land in the stagnancy of subordination. As is already observed – the civil society wanting Anna Hazare to be granted undeviated access and power in the Lokpal panel confirms the naïveté with which the ‘people power’ justifies the remedy of a crisis already causing much struggle in the bureaucratic chain.

Their demand is mostly inspired by the notion called ideological illusion. Trying to create a parallel between Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement and that of inserting puritan reforms confirms the misguided principles with which the aam janta is led today.

The Greeks tried to create a pure democracy and the results were disastrous. The Athenians basically undermined the government organised under Hercules and set the stage for their own defeat and conquest in so doing. I can see the same process taking shape here in India and quite frankly it frightens me. The real problem is that many (or most) people think that India is a democracy when it isn’t. India is a democratically elected republic based upon law and the constitution. That’s a far cry from a democracy.

Lending sovereign ears to the civil society and holding accounts of liability is the foremost task of a reasonable government – a democratic republic – but not at the cost of annihilating the power structure and aligning with a subsidiary whose knowledge of the inside-system is as good as the ones outside it. As Shashi Tharoor replied to one of his twitter followers on the Anna Hazare brouhaha – “then elect different ones (political representatives). But till you do, elected MPs represent the people. It’s undemocratic for the unelected to impose their views.”

A democracy as deduced by the populace who, all for active activism aiming to infiltrate into a course called governance, are presuming that a majority decision will be fair. I believe it was Benjamin Franklin who observed that Democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner. And mistakenly so, the entire concept of administration is falling apart courtesy footloose activist thriving largely on polity, a nation’s mass hodgepodging the very ideas of jingoism and rationality and the oblivious government shambling through its log of scams and unattended primacy.

Written for IBNLive