Friday, December 19


What's the motivation here?

"Safaat had been in Malaysian custody since December 2001, when he was arrested because of his alleged involvement with Jemaah Islamiah, a radical South Asian terror group closely linked with Al Qaeda. But two weeks ago, Malaysia's interior minister, Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar, announced that Sufaat and five other detained Islamic militants were being freed because "they are no longer a threat and will no longer pose a threat to public order." Albar added that Sufaat "has been rehabilitated and can return to society."" (emphasis mine)

Apparently the Malaysian government's legal authority to hold him has expired. Is the Malaysian government (with all due respect) so law abiding, or can it not charge him with something else or find a loophole in the system that would allow them to hold him back? Can you rehabilitate terrorists? I would love for that to happen, what is it possible?

Tuesday, December 16

Arms control person of the year

Vote for the 2008 Arms Control Person of the year for their contributions to the efforts at arms control over the last year. You can view the nominations and vote here.

Last year's winners were U.S. Congressmen Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.) and David Hobson (R-Ohio).

Rickshaw reforms

A welcome move. But will it be effective?

And more on rickshaw reforms in Pune here and here.

Saturday, December 13

The pirates and us

We sure can act fast on the high seas! Maybe we should move all our commandos and emergency response personnel there so that they can reach places on time.

Thursday, December 11

Pyaar ke side effects

Dear Sitaram Yechury,

You deserve a prize!

But just so that you know, terrorists came to Indian shores long before the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal was conceived. Long before India was considered by the U.S. to be a "strategic ally."

Another thing, Mr. Yechury. Avoid contradictory thoughts in the same speech. "He opposed any move to "curb the rights" of the states by enacting a federal investigative agency....There is a need to create a new security architecture in the country...Yechury said." You further point out that "It is not the inadequacy of any law that caused the Mumbai terror attacks. If needed we can correct the loopholes in the present laws."

Well. Inadequacy of counter-terrorism laws, inadequacy of border protection laws, inadequacy of anti-corruption laws (to name a few) caused the Mumbai attacks. And the many more before it too. Also I don't understand how the rights of states will be curbed through a new agency. It will be a new law. You can write it such that any possibility of "curbing rights" will be eliminated. In fact you can plug the loopholes in the system as a whole. It is a fresh new opportunity, you see.

Sacrilegious as the thought may be for you, we could in fact use some help from countries like U.S. and Israel. As disastrous as their "war on terror" has been, it is true that the U.S. has been able to avoid any terrorist attacks on its soil after 9/11 through strict laws. And Israel has one of the best intelligence agencies in the world.

Of course you deserve credit for recognizing that India has been exposed to "new dangers" due to the nuclear deal. What kind, is a matter for another letter. I don't want to confuse you.

Manasi Kakatkar

(Additional reading: India announces security overhaul.)

Tuesday, December 9

Playing the victim again

It was a pleasure reading Asif Ali Zardari's piece in the NYT. He sympathizes with India. Says he understands the terror on a very personal level. He then calls upon the U.S. and India to join hands with Pakistan and help it, and (of course) give it money to cope with the situation. Nothing new about it really.

But I did think Zardari was being 'courageous' at certain times...

"These militants did not arise from whole cloth. Pakistan was an ally of the West throughout the cold war. The world worked to exploit religion against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan by empowering the most fanatic extremists as an instrument of destruction of a superpower. The strategy worked, but its legacy was the creation of an extremist militia with its own dynamic.

Pakistan continues to pay the price: the legacy of dictatorship, the fatigue of fanaticism, the dismemberment of civil society and the destruction of our democratic infrastructure. The resulting poverty continues to fuel the extremists and has created a culture of grievance and victimhood."

He conveniently shrugs off Pakistan's responsibility and shifts the blame completely to the U.S. While I agree that the U.S.' Cold War politics is to blame for the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, Iran and Pakistan, it is not singularly at fault. Pakistan is equally, if not more to blame for its current condition. Zardari seems to be conveniently forgetting how Pakistan started its terrorist activities in Kashmir in the 1970's. It was Pakistan's independent India policy at the time, not some Cold War consequence.

Zardari further pleads, "Pakistan’s fledgling democracy needs help from the rest of the world...The world must act to strengthen Pakistan’s economy and democracy, help us build civil society and provide us with the law enforcement and counterterrorism capacities that will enable us to fight the terrorists effectively."

In short, 'look at us, we are so innocent, poor, victimized, wrongly targeted....' For God's sake! How long is Pakistan going to play the same cards? And how long is the world going to play along? Pakistan's civil government, as far as understand, is impotent when its comes to handling the army and militant activities in the country. It is highly symbolic, a mere facade for the Western world to be forced and even blackmailed into pumping money into a failing state. Afghanistan and Iraq were disastrous, and looking back at the last eight years I would not advocate raiding Pakistan. But stricter action is necessary. Maybe terming it a state-sponsor of terrorism would be a good start.

A state-sponsor of terrorism tag from the U.S. would bring strict sanctions including ban on arms-related exports, controls on exports of dual-use items, prohibitions on economic assistance and ban on Defense Department contracts of more than $100,000 among other things. In short a complete end to all U.S.-Pakistan cooperation since their relations are based precisely on such military and "economic" assistance.

It would have repercussions. The military would have greater reason to rule, claiming that the "democratically" elected government is incapable of governing the people. The militants/terrorists organizations would have a stronger argument for recruitment. Possibly greater backlash in Kashmir and Afghanistan. But at the same time it would cut off at least some supply lines. (I assume that the Pakistani army receiving arms is as good as militants receiving them.) The economy would most definitely collapse. And it would be a failed state in the true sense.

But Pakistan's transgressions are too big to be overlooked any more. There needs to be a punishment. There needs to be some accountability. If someone can come up with an efficient plan to punish the army and government without harming the common people, I would support them whole-heartedly. But till then we cannot afford to, and we should neither forgive nor forget.

Update: All terror roads lead to Pakistan, says US report.

Indian terrorism by the numbers.

Monday, December 8

The art of teasing

As I read this piece in the New York Times this morning, I kept nodding my head in agreement. I remembered all the times I have teased my siblings, mother, friends, even colleagues. The times my two year old nephew mimics and teases his dad, my dad. It brings a smile, creates a bond.

"In seeking to protect our children from bullying and aggression, we risk depriving them of a most remarkable form of social exchange. In teasing, we learn to use our voices, bodies and faces, and to read those of others — the raw materials of emotional intelligence and the moral imagination. We learn the wisdom of laughing at ourselves, and not taking the self too seriously. We learn boundaries between danger and safety, right and wrong, friend and foe, male and female, what is serious and what is not. We transform the many conflicts of social living into entertaining dramas."

The author, Dacher Keltner says what my husband tells me each time he teases and I get upset - "To tease is to woo wisely." According to my husband, the fact that you tease someone implies that you are devoting comparatively greater attention to the person, his qualities, quirks, and habits. You are thinking of him/her. It implies recognition, interest, concern, comfort, a certain amount of love for the person. Teasing is a reflection of love. It's time we learnt to love it again.

Thursday, December 4

A non-profit news media industry?

Since the Nov. 26 attacks in Mumbai I, like many others, have been flooded with emails of petitions, protests, need to take action and the like. The bottom-line being enough is enough. While it is good to see such outrage and demand for action from people within and outside India, I am not very hopeful about what will actually come out of it.

A lot of anger has been directed at the Indian media, and its insensitivity in handling the attacks. One email that particularly struck me said that the Indian media should be turned into a non-profit industry. In the words of the author of the email, "...that at least news media should be compulsorily made non-profit and if they do report any profits, all of these should be donated to some orphanage or old age home or something of that sort." The rationale being that the current sensationalizing and TRP greed is due to the inherent profit-making nature of the industry, and if they are turned into a non-profit industry it would bring in accountability.

I have heard only few a more ridiculous argument before. For one, just because an organization is non-profit does mean it is responsible, accountable or sensitive. In fact, I would argue that taking away profit would take away any incentive the media has to improve its standards. Not to mention that after years of being one of the most financially deprived workforce, we are finally seeing journalists making some money. With the amount of work that goes in, they deserve to.

Secondly, were it not for the (outrageous) reporting, I doubt how many of those "coming together and joining hands" would have been motivated to do it. India has been under constant terrorist attacks from Pakistan for decades now. No one got so worked up about them before. A few murmurs here and there, and things were back to routine. I believe the constant images of destruction and terror, the 24 hour updates of deaths and fear impacted us differently. It made a difference in how we looked at it, how we felt about it, what we thought we should do about it.

While the Indian media needs to get its act together and set some standards, it is irresponsible to demands things like turning it into a non-profit, and asking the Information Ministry to dictate terms to it. India is a democracy, a free country with the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, and the government is not supposed to be dictating terms. They can ask them to display better sensitivity, criticise, issue temporary ordinances for security reasons, but not dictate. The right of expression was curtailed during the Emergency, and I don't believe anyone wants a repeat of those years. They weren't exactly the best years for Indian democracy.

The said email also made another request. "Also do forward this to people you think would agree and do something. Please do not forward to those you do not expect to react, like we need people to." The less said about this, the better.

Tuesday, November 25

Shanipar yenar?

Nothing, not even Chintoo or Calvin and Hobbes has ever amused me so much. Everything was fine until...

"Dubbed "common man's radio taxi", the pilot project, first of its kind in the country, equipping auto rickshaws with GPS-based systems is being launched by the Urban Development Ministry in Pune on November 29."

And it did not just end here. The news continues.

"They (drivers) will also be given special training to deal with passengers."

Really!! have they even ever seen, let alone talked to a rickshawala in Pune ?! For all we know someone will have the audacity to give them special training in driving. Civilization as we know it will cease to exist. Such decisions cannot be taken hastily...afterall the security of the realms is at stake. We cannot let it happen! Puneri asmita is at stake here people. Raj Thackery was right. Those northies are trying to destroy our culture, our way of living. They should go back to their 'north' and teach their rickshawalas how to deal with passangers. What business do they have teaching us anything. We are Oxford of the East. We teach people. People don't teach us. Definitely not the northies.

We have to do something.

(Getty images)

Tuesday, November 18

It's raining pirates!

"Pirates capture Saudi oil tanker."

"Hong Kong grain ship hijacked by pirates."

"Danish oil ship briefly seized off Nigeria."

Recycling habits

Reading this article in the NYT about a six cent charge on plastic bags, made me think once again of how environment friendly we in India have been. Baring the air, noise and water pollution issues due to vehicle and factory emissions, there are numerous ways in which I think we are more environment friendly than the western countries. Of course it does not mean that we are necessarily environment conscious or aware of our green duties. We have a long way to go. The reason may be financial inability or lack of other resources, but the habits have been comparatively green.

The case being made in the NYT story is about using reusable bags for shopping. We have been doing it for years now. Who can forget the ubiquitous floral-print-sometimes-homemade-five-rupee grocery bag. To be found in the most shocking pinks and greens, mostly made from leftover cloth. Many of these would come with an attached pocket to fold the bag into, so that it fits in your purse/pocket. Imagine my surprise when I saw the same bag (maybe made of a better cloth) being sold for $10 in the Skymall magazines you find on flights. I had to feel smug.

And then there are other things like using only cloth napkins and hand towels in kitchens and bathrooms. (I know some consider kitchen towels unhygienic, but to me it is but BS.) No paper towels or bathroom tissues. Steel plates, spoons and forks in restaurants, even in the local fast food joints. Using a bucket of water for bathing, rather than a shower. Drying clothes on a clothesline. And the like.

What is sad though is that with increasing prosperity and in a case of blindly aping the west, environmentally damaging habits are being acquired under the guise of modernity. Paper towels and bathroom tissues have started showing up in houses. Reusable grocery bags are disappearing with bigger grocery stores behaving like Giants or Shoppers. Disposable cutlery is conspicuous in houses. (I know it saves time and energy.)

Instead of partaking in environmentally damaging habits for the wrong reasons, it would do us good to be proud of and continue with some of the old practices. Neither do we have the infrastructure to manage it, nor can we afford large landfills full of plastic, and clogged drainage systems and rivers. Our industrial emission standards are hardly enviable. If we could help ease the burden through everyday activities and habits (that we grew up with), while lawmakers figure out when and how to implement better standards it would go a long way in helping our country's green image.

Disclaimer: My observations are based solely on cities like Pune, Mumbai, Banglore etc. All habits might not stand a rigourous scientfic test for environment friendlyness, but they make common sense.

Friday, November 14


We are finally on the moon now :)

Thursday, November 6

Reflecting on elections

Ashutosh’s experience with volunteering for Obama made me think again of what this campaign said to me - the conspicuous absence of middle class and student participation in elections in India. I don't remember any of my peers or colleagues that I genuinely respected campaigning for any party or candidate. I always carried an image of the mawali kinds campaigning in jeeps and motorbikes, and an important reason why I never thought about participating actively. It is a stereotype and not a completely honest representation, but that is the image I still carry when I think of Indian elections.

Because I was always interested in politics and elections excited me, I could have been easily recruited into campaigning for someone. But no one appealed to my rationality as a voter. No one every tried to convince me of their worth such that I could then plausibly pass it on to others. There was no way I could rationalize and argue for any one candidate with sincerity and conviction. I never felt that any one candidate deserved so much of my time and energy. Every candidate and party had in fact insulted my intelligence.

As against that, watching the campaign here I knew I could have gone out and volunteered for Obama. When the thought first struck me, I was ashamed and guilty. I thought maybe the guilt was because my thoughts were a betrayal of my country. But it was more than that. The guilt was because I had not participated enough in the democratic process in my own country. I had, like millions others merely voted. I had not demanded answers to real questions. I had laughed and brushed away the political rhetoric, and voted on lines my family had for a long time. As a student of politics and democracy, I had not thought long enough about why I was voting for whoever it was. As a journalist I had merely been a passive observer.

While nothing can replace my love and respect for my country, being here and witnessing this election has made me respect the US as a nation. Maybe it is because it’s the election season or maybe because I am in DC, but the respect accorded to rationality and voter intelligence has left me stunned. I have said earlier that the campaigns were not perfect and had their share of mud-slinging and irrationality. I am critical of the US’ foreign policy and attitude. They carry a lot of blame for the kind of world we live in today, from the threats of nuclear war to the economic crisis. But the world wouldn’t have been what it is today without the US, for the better or worse.

Talking to some friends I have heard an argument that the parliamentary form of democracy with hundreds of parties makes it difficult to have a campaign like in the US. My problem with this argument is that I am not merely asking for formal debates. I am asking for a rational discussion and argument from candidates and parties about why I should vote for them. It has nothing to do with the structure of how these policies and rationales are conveyed. It has to do with explaining them in the first place. The party manifestos are meant to describe how a party will govern the country. But I have never known people to actually have access to and read election manifestos to make a decision. But they do turn up at rallies, which is where the policies of the candidate and parties could be discussed. There are interviews and press conferences. There are the 24 hour news channels hungry for news and information. I see no reason why they would not lap up candidates’ policy explanations if they are offered to them.

How and why a person ultimately votes is his personal choice. The people we trust our lives with could at least make an effort to ensure that the reason is rational.

Good news or bad?

India's private sector defense industry is seeking higher FDI investments. [link]

Tuesday, November 4

Election fever

It is election day here in the United States, and the excitement is contagious. In a way I am relieved like many others that campaigning is finally over. I don't remember witnessing such long campaigns in any of the Indian elections in the recent past. And unfortunately neither are they as informative as the US campaigns have been.

I said this during an election event at my School and felt guilty that I was criticizing my country's democracy. When in fact I have the utmost respect for it, and the people who helped create it. But it is true that elections in India lack the informed discussion and deliberation that can be seen here. Most of the 'debates' end up being mere political rhetoric and highly abusive too. Not that American politics is devoid of such ills, but there is significant intelligent discussion missing in India. I think of it as an insult to the intelligence of the Indian voters.

Unlike in the US, Indians enjoy discussing politics. Right from the rickshaw-wala to your boss, everyone talks to everyone about politics. Everyone has a opinion. And everyone thinks it is their right and duty to express it. It is only the politicians, the candidates we would actually vote for, who are scared of discussing it. If the candidates were to engage in serious policy discussions with the Indian voters, policy and political accountability would acquire new meaning.

It would be interesting to see Advani discuss real economic policy with Manmohan Singh, instead of the Ram mandir and Ram setu. It would be good to see the marxists parties explaining to people why having fewer industries is good for them, and actually making sense. I am sure I would stop and think before I vote if I know what would really happen, and not just an utopia. The election manifestos do provide information, but how much is practical and implementable. How much is real policy making. We have seen everyone criticise each other's policy, but never putting forth a really thought-out policy that would force me to vote for a particular party. We vote on regional, linguistic, caste lines. How many times do we vote based on policies being proposed?

With the kind of media coverage that elections get, I would expect the same media to force intelligent discussion during elections. And it is very much possible. Elections give the media a new leverage and power, that they lack during normal times. It can destroy a candidate's chances if it wants to. I would like to see the media take a proactive step and demanding real policy discussion from our candidates during the next elections. If we demand it, we will get good candidates. We can force people with real potential to stand for elections and win. We can vote out the many felons that Lok Sabha houses. In a democracy we deserve the government we get, because we vote for it. If we think we deserve better we need to demand the best.

Monday, November 3

BJP, a terrorist organization?

At least that is what Mr Digvijay Singh seems to be hinting at.

"Blast happen whenever BJP is in trouble: Congress."

Question for TOI

I have a question for the Times of India reporters/subs/editors... How and why does it matter when reporting a rape if the alleged abuser was a dalit?!?!?

For one rape and murder are heinous crimes in themselves and should be sufficient premises for carrying the story. Furthermore the person concerned is a tenth standard student, which adds to the 'news value' of the incident. Why then do you need to add that 'dalit' to the sentence? Can it not be reported merely as an inhumane act?

Friday, October 31

The fundamental Right to Education

I have always been fascinated by the sight of the homeless in the United States reading books. And unfortunately the same image came to mind in an Indian context upon reading that the Union Cabinet has cleared the Right to Education bill. It will be introduced in the Parliament this December. If the bill is passed, it would make education a fundamental right in India and the government would be required to provide free education for children between the ages of six to fourteen. Interestingly, even private schools would have to reserve 25 percent of their seats for poor children in the neighborhood for which the Center shall reimburse.

Though the 86th amendment to the Constitution declared education to be a fundamental right, no policy is in place to enforce it. The Constitution also originally required the government to ensure free and compulsory education for all children till the age of 14 years within ten years of adopting the Constitution. The Right to Education bill will finally fulfill that constitutional commitment 47 years after that deadline.

As momentous as the news appears, it would also be a crucial test of Indian politics and policymakers. Ensuring this right would require huge investments in primary education in terms of money and manpower. According to certain estimates it would cost Rs. 12,000 cr annually to implement this policy. With growth rate at almost eight percent this should be a feasible task. But that is only the cost of actually sending all those kids to school. Other costs like bringing the kids to schools through awareness programs, the process of student and teacher recruitment would also need to be considered as recurring costs. The infrastructural investment would be significant, given that the current infrastructure is insufficient to cater to those registered in schools at present.

Implementing the policy would be no easy task. It would require tremendous political will, and even greater grass-root involvement; parental awareness, and strict verification methods. Politically attractive efforts of this magnitude can easily fall into neglect once the initial tide of excitement has passed. It is not letting that excitement die away that would make the policy work.

Apart from the logistical difficulties in implementation, the quality of education is also a matter of concern. Even countries like the US cannot boost of quality primary education for all, and have to come up with policies like No Child Left Behind from time to time. It would be a waste of opportunity if we only stick to the numbers and overlook the quality.

Assuming that most of the children sought to be educated under this policy belong to the less fortunate sections of society, and have a greater chance of dropping out, I think it would be necessary to create a modified curriculum such that basic skills in language and mathematics are developed. While by language I mean the ability to read, write and comprehend efficiently, mathematics refers to basic arithmetic and accounting so that they are able to understand and conduct their own transactions without being cheated by employers. Again I assume that most of these children will stop education at the prescribed 14 years of age and enter the workforce. For those that display scholarship, it would be helpful to provide assistance for further education.

While India has invested significantly in higher education and produces some of the best brains in the world, primary education has been neglected. The new policy would mandate investment in this sector which is essential to sustain out economic growth. It would be interesting to see if there is any private sector participation.

I hope that the bill goes through the Parliament and education becomes a fundamental right in the real sense. And not just a photo-op for NRIs with romanticised visions of India.

Thursday, October 30

Implicit association

Nicholas Kristof has an interesting op-ed in the New York Times about people's perception of "foreign" based on skin color. He talks of a study at the Harvard University where the researchers tried to capture the subjects' implicit association when it comes to Obama and his being "fully American." And apparently even avid Obama supporters revealed through the implicit association test that they perceived Obama as more foreign than even Tony Blair.

I went ahead and took the test here and the results did not surprise me. For one I said so in the initial personal information page. With due respect to the researchers and the modellers of this test, I am not sure how this thing worked especially after they had asked me specific questions in the initial questionnaire. Were the test results exclusive of the answers in the questionnaire? Another thing that bothered me was that each time I pressed the wrong key, it showed me that I had done that and I could correct it. I would like to assume that the wrong answer was taken as an indication of my implicit association. If not, then I did not understand the test properly.

Though I took the second test too, the way their result was displayed made it difficult to interpret and compare to the first test.

Anyways the first test results are that I have a "moderate automatic preference for" white people over black, and for Obama over McCain. You go ahead and test your automatic preference.

Monday, October 27

Why I like NYT features

I always enjoy reading the New York Times. They have some of the best op-eds and features you could find in a newspaper. This one today about the man who could spoil your renovation plans is one of them. Not only is Mr. Glass himself very interesting and Newyorkery (my coinage. Look at his picture and you will know what it means), but also in a way a weird example of how one stranger (strictly belonging to the group of 'unelected' strangers) can have so much control over your decisions.

"He has no secretary or associates, no decorations on the wall. For that matter, his office has no Web site, e-mail address or even a computer — especially odd for a modern architect. Mr. Glass, who is 73, does have a telephone, but is rueful about it...
...Thousands of
Manhattan’s most elite co-op dwellers do not break a wall or move a sink without Mr. Glass’s approval."

Saturday, October 25

The Robert Barnett story

A wonderful story!

"In person, Barnett is extremely affable, but he wields that affability as a weapon against any interviewer gauche enough to suggest that working both sides of the political street – and all the angles of a deal – risks at least the appearance of conflict of interest."

Thursday, October 23

From sea to the moon

The Times of India has a very interesting story on the humble beginnings of India's space program. [link]

"Fisherfolk of the village, emotionally attached to the place, particularly the St Mary Magadelene's Church had to be convinced to give up the place. The task fell on a former bishop of Thiruvananthapuram. During a Sunday congregation, he spoke to the villagers about the advantages of a space programme. He then asked if they had any objections if the village was handed over to the space department. The villagers paused only a while, and chorused, "Amen", indicating that they were ready to give up their village. "

Catch 22

Two of United States worst enemies have expressed their preferences for the next US president. While Iran prefers Obama, Al Qaeda should prefer McCain. This puts the United States in a difficult position. The Republican campaign has already accused Obama of "palling around with terrorists." Now he is officially friend-apparent of Iran and Ahmedinejad. And even McCain is being recommended by friends of terrorists for President. So no matter who gets to the White House, 'terrorists' and enemies of the United States win!

Update: The endorsement from hell.

Wednesday, October 22

Aitya gharat gharoba?

It raises suspicious when so many Pakistanis go missing in India. My first reaction was the same as the TOI story, it could be a way of infiltration. If so, then the security apparatus in India needs to examine the situation carefully and identify the missing people as soon as possible. This, I think, is important especially in the current environment of insecurity. Official infiltration figures are low, but terrorist activities within India have not gone down. Instead they have spread far beyond the disputed Kashmir region. While these missing persons may have no relation to any terrorising elements, it would be in our interest to have verified it.

But once we keep aside all prejudices and security concerns it is possible to think of alternative reasons for the missing people. In the worst case scenario, many of them might have died while in India. On a more positive note, it is possible that considering the dire economic and political situation Pakistan is in, many of these people simply decided to stay back and make a living in India. With our shared past and physical attributes it is easy to live relatively unnoticed. India does not have very stringent centrally organized rules and procedures for hiring. It is up to the employer to verify and be satisfied of the person he is employing. No national record or database is generated for each person being employed. This I think makes it very easy for illegal immigrants to get work in India. Places like Mumbai absorb hundreds of new workers daily and I do not see a way of identifying the Pakistanis overstaying their visa limits.

It could be either or, or even both. In any case it important to take notice and necessary action. If they are infiltrators the course of action would be fairly straightforward. However, if it is for economic reasons our policymakers could have a good opportunity staring at them. It could be a chance to take a step towards improving relations (specifically economic relations) between the two countries, just like the opening of trade across the LOC is. Security concerns exist and I do not argue that they should be overlooked for symbolic gestures of goodwill and some economic gains. Yet, trust building requires such everyday economic contacts. Increasing the costs of fighting a war, or harming the other country can decrease the likelihood of increased tensions between the two countries.

Only time will tell if the missing Pakistanis bore good news or bad.

Thursday, October 16

Stories in ACT

I have two pieces in the November 2008 issue of Arms Control Today. The first one discusses the 2008 session of the Conference on Disarmament. The second piece looks at potential candidates for Director-General of the IAEA.

Tuesday, October 14

The One

It is good to know that I am not alone in my admiration for Shivraj Patil. And unlike my passive admiration, the Central Association of Private Security Industry and the Association of Private Detectives and Investigators is vocal. It has readily conferred upon Patil the Rashtriya Suraksha Naik award.

Deservedly so. Terror incidents in India have gone down (from 36,000 to 25,000) in the last four and half years, as compared to the years of the NDA rule. So have the causalities in terror incidents by a massive 5000 (from 11000 to 6000.)

"This only goes to prove that the situation had improved and not worsened", said Patil who was conferred the Rashtriya Suraksha Naik award at the conference. [Link]

All you 'power hungry' people know is to criticise. The government has its constraints. It is beyond it's power to do more than what it is doing. It cannot change laws, appoint new people, set up more police stations. That's your job. So stop complaining and start 'policing.'

"Pointing to the limited constraint of manpower, he said there were just 14,000 police stations to guard around 6.5 lakh towns, villages and cities. He suggested adoption of old system of policing whereby the kotwal and police patel collected intelligence and shared with the authorities."

Big deal if the recent spate of attacks in major cities, including the one in Kanpur today, have created an environment of fear incomparable to anytime in my recent memory. Those measly low intensity bombs killed only couple of people here and there. The bomb squads found only a few live bombs spread across the cities' trees, bikes or malls. It did not kill anyone. The alleged culprits are only homegrown "mujaheddin," not the Pakistanis or Osama bin Laden.

What matters is the big picture. NDA - 11,000: UPA - 6,000. NDA - 36,000: UPA - 25,000. UPA wins!!!!!!

Friday, October 10

Russian or US?

The New York Times reports about possible connection of a Russian scientist in providing nuclear assistance to Iran. This comes as part of the IAEA's investigations into Iran's nuclear program. While the IAEA is quoted as clearing the Russian government of any involvement, the Arms Control Wonk by bringing up the Merlin operation accuses the United States government of assisting Iran. Jeffery ponders about the possibility of the Russian scientist in the IAEA investigations and the one that the CIA sent out being one and the same.

I was completely unaware of the Merlin operation, but was not particularly surprised that the CIA attempted it. The CIA, with support from Clinton, planned to send Iran on a wild goose chase by giving it the wrong blueprints for a nuclear bomb in 2000. The purpose of the operation was to estimate where Iran was in its nuclear program, how close was it to getting a nuclear bomb. However, the Russian scientist or the agent recognized the flaw in design and put in a note for the Iranians to contact him to locate it. Maybe it really is the same Russian scientist the IAEA is talking about.

Reading these stories I was worried about how many times the United States has done this before and where. The motives might be good, but was there sufficient understanding and discussion about the consequences? Or did Clinton go into this like Bush went into Iraq?

What's wrong with Putin?

He is going bonkers. First judo and now a tiger!

Thursday, October 9

The 'other' story

Yesterday the TOI fooled me with this headline. And today did the same. Only this time it has changed the entire story. Both the Times and IBN carry precisely the same headline "Maharashtra to legalize live-in relationships." However, while the TOI talks about it in terms of the 'other woman' in a polygamous relationship, IBN makes no reference to it and interprets it as a live-in relationship as in Salaam Namaste. If both reports are talking of the same cabinet decision, I see no reason why such confusion should exist. If anyone has the real story, I would like to see it.

However, no matter what the real interpretation is, it is a bold move. Going by the IBN interpretation, it is a welcome step that recognizes the reality of 21C India. It tells me that the government is thinking ahead where we are sure to see an increase in the incidence of live-in relationships. And legal recognition would go a long way in making things easier for the people involved and also lead to social acceptance of such couples. It indicates a desire to move beyond the flawed "Indians don't do this" mentality. And I am really surprised and happy that the government should be the first one to do it.

And that is precisely why I think the IBN interpretation is wrong. I think the state is legalizing the status of the 'other woman.' I am not sure I want to be happy about it as (from a Hindu law perspective) it promotes polygamy. And even with my limited understanding of the way law functions, it contradicts the monogamous idea within the Hindu marriage law. (I am open to being enlightened upon this apparent contradiction.)

As for other religions that allow for polygamous relationships, it is a welcome step. The plight of the 'other woman' is no secret, and some form of legal protection against the whims and fancies of men is long due. 'Other woman' generally has a very derogatory connotation, and such affairs tend to be clandestine. However, these women do bear/raise children and support their men like most other wives. But they also face social humiliation for being the 'other'. Respect both from society and the man is not always generous, to say the least.

While I do not advocate polygamy, given that it is a fact of life, I think we should welcome this decision. Ignoring it or refusing to recognize it will not make infidelity and polygamy go away. It is in the interest of society and human/women's rights that actions be taken to remedy the ills of such behavior. It is important not only for the women concerned, but also the children who have to suffer for their parents actions. I don't think this decision will encourage polygamous relationships, but rather should marginally discourage it. The decision makes it legally expensive (alimony, child support ) to have an extramarital and/or polygamous relationship which should ideally dissuade people from it.

Of course all this comes after the media has finally decided what the real decision is.

Thursday, April 24

Not just X, Y

For all these years we have known that the child's sex is determined by the X, Y chromosomes. But now a new report suggests that dietary habits may have something to do with it too. While this may help explain demographics in some countries, I fear it could be misused.

We all know those anti-sex determination or anti-female infanticide ads on Doordarshan. The doctor would always show the couple a chart and explain how the father is responsible for the female child and not the woman. The intention being to stop people blaming and harassing the daughter-in-law for having daughters. However, we know that not everyone gets the message and women continue to suffer for having girls. And in spite of sex-determination laws female fetus abortions continue.

Though the new study may need more scrutiny before it becomes a 'fact', the sheer mention of it should be enough for such people to blame the woman again. Of course another extreme could be that people modify diets in the hope to have a girl child. But I do hope that the study helps to increase awareness about eating habits, and study demographic patterns rather than to serve the interests of anti-girl-child monsters.

Thursday, April 10

Overemphasizing intent

Here is James Acton* talking at the New America Foundation on Iran's nuclear intentions and the IAEA.

It is a long talk but he makes some very interesting, and to some extent obvious points that a lot of debate on Iran has overlooked. Acton begins of by explaining how the purpose and legal obligation of the IAEA is not to analyze the 'intent' of a violating country. However, the IAEA reports on Iran tend to be looked at with a view to finding an answer to the question of Iran's intention behind violating the safeguards.

With the larger non-proliferation regime enforcement view he says that we are sending out a wrong message to future violators by harping upon the motive factor. The violating state should be punished for 'what' it has done and not 'why' it did so. Irrespective of good or bad intent the violator should be punished. By concentrating on the motive the signal being sent out is that if you violate with good intent, you can be excused. The deterrence value is diminished in the process. I think this is an important aspect to be considered given that it is almost impossible to prove 'intent' with 100 percent confidence or even beyond reasonable doubt.

*"James Acton is a lecturer at the Centre for Science and Security Studies in the Department of War Studies at King's College London. He holds a PhD in theoretical physics from Cambridge University's Cavendish Laboratory."

Wednesday, April 9

Drudge does it again

The Drudge Report has been a good substitute for the morning tea-time newspaper for me. However, there are times when he leaves me flabbergasted by his word twisting that can turn a whole story upside down. If you do not read the story and are to go by his headlines, you are sure to have a whole different picture of some situations.

Like today the banner headline runs, "Dems want Iraqis to pay up: With oil." My first reaction was 'height zhali!' And then I made up the story as anyone does upon reading a headline. My story ran something like this,

In wake of the increasing oil prices and sacrifices made by US soldiers in Iraq, the Democrats want the Iraqi government to provide subsidized oil to the US as payment.

And it turned out to be this,

"Democrats plan to push legislation this spring that would force the Iraqi government to spend its own surplus in oil revenues to rebuild the country, sparing US dollars."

Tuesday, April 8

Another FP list

I love the FP lists and have linked them before. This one today on the world's worst religious leaders is equally interesting. It is striking that it lists only five names especially when not all of them are 'religious leaders' in the sense that the Pope is. And even he sometimes makes comments that can be termed 'religious' and 'hateful'.

"Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

That it was taken out of context and without an understanding of the Byzantine Emperor's situation did not stop it from creating an uproar.

So back to the FP list. The Joseph Kony guy is a Commander of the Lord's Resistance Army. Just because the word Lord appears does not make him a religious leader. And look at that quote, it sounds more superstitious than religious.

"[The spirits] speak to me. They load through me. They will tell us what is going to happen. They say ‘You, Mr. Joseph, tell your people that the enemy is planning to come and attack.’ They will come like dreaming; they will tell us everything.

I wonder what other commander of forces on a "crusade" makes 'religious' comments?

Pak Nuke plant accident

This is interesting.

"The government claims Khushab produces electricity. Last year, the Washington-based Institute of Science for International Security said the plant has three reactors, including two that were still under construction last June. It cited satellite photos of the sprawling site that is under military control.
The development of the reactor and other nuclear-related activities ''imply'' that Pakistan has decided to ''increase significantly its production of plutonium for nuclear weapons,'' the institute said in a report analyzing the images."

Monday, March 24

Bhutan's transition to democracy

Bhutan held its National Assembly elections this Monday completing the transition to democracy as announced in 2005. The secluded hermit kingdom with a very young king would now be a constitutional monarchy.

However, the transition has not been smooth with bomb blasts preceding the elections in January and February; and protests and demands for return by the refugees living in Nepal. Bhutan has consistently refused to take them back though it agreed that some of them had a right to return. These exiles are unwanted in Nepal, Bhutan and India. India is said have chased them away every time they tried to enter, probably due to their large numbers (approx. 105,000 in Nepal alone), and experience with the Bangladeshi refugees. However, Nepalis and Bhutanese are otherwise allowed unrestricted access into India.

While Bhutan has showed commitment to its transition to democracy it might be bumpy road ahead.
  1. It is a very small country almost sandwiched between China and India. The recent protests in Tibet, and the resulting Chinese reaction in the days to come could have a spill over effect into the country given its vulnerability, and Buddhist majority.
  2. The high levels of unemployment and poverty; proximity to Nepal, North-East India and the security tensions there; unrestricted movement of people between it and India; and poor security capability could turn it into a safe haven for terrorists.
  3. It could now come under greater scrutiny from human rights organizations, especially when dealing with the Nepali exiles. The issue would also have to be resolved in time to avoid further possibly violent protests and unrest.
  4. Being new to the system could provide ample opportunity for corruption along the way to institutionalizing democracy.
One can only hope that the promise shown by these elections will be delivered, and a peaceful democracy will flourish in the lap of the Himalayas.

Thursday, March 20

Of DST and Iran

Even the novelty of daylight saving time (DST) did not make me look it up the two times I lost an hour in Spring. I had come to accept it as just another of the US 'time' things like the many time zones, and I hardly thought of it beyond the time required to change my watch. However, when the term appeared in an article about Iran I was surprised and promptly looked it up. As one of his many erratic decisions, Ahmadinejad abolished the use of daylight saving in 2006. However, the Iranian parliament has voted to reintroduce the system that shall come into effect at the midnight of Thursday-Friday.

Today approximately 70 countries use DST. It was surprising to know that even we tried experimenting with it during war times. According to the MSN Encarta the idea was first introduced by Benjamin Franklin in an essay in 1784, and later seriously taken up by a British builder in 1907. The logic behind using this system during World War I was the need to conserve fuel needed to produce electricity. Taking advantage of the extra sunlight in the morning means there is lesser need for electric lightening in the evening, thereby saving energy. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 gives US its current system of daylight saving time.

Tuesday, March 18

Terrorism analysis and forecasting software

With terrorism always on our minds it might be of interest that UMD researchers have come up with a new "artificial intelligence software that uses data about past behavior of terror groups in order to learn rules about the probability of an organization, community, or person taking certain actions in different situations." Details and audio here.

Monday, March 10

Age old wisdom

Foreign Policy has an interesting list of the world's ten oldest leaders and our Prime Minister ranks 9th on that list. But the real interesting part of the list is where the countries stand on the Failed State Index published by FP. Half of the countries including India are termed as 'borderline', while three are 'in danger' and two 'critical'. While few would want to disagree with what we say of old people, 'a person of wisdom is the person of years', it surely adds to my doubts about their ability as leaders.

Wednesday, February 27


Many of my friends and acquaintances have been getting married lately. Nothing surprising as most of them are in their mid- or late-twenties, and it is their "age" to get married. What is surprising though is how many of those girls are changing their names. The most recent one being a friend from college who changed her entire name, first, middle and last! I am no bra-burning feminist, but I cannot seem to empathize or even understand why someone would do that today.

In earlier days the reasons were simple, it is tradition to change the bride's name and you do it. No questions asked. Then when you did ask questions there were other reasons to do it - you did not want to hurt anyone's feelings, family pressure, you hated your name and could not wait to change it, romantic notions of submerging your identity with the husband's, not really caring what your name was etc. However, in today's situation I see no reason or incentive for anyone to change their entire identity. If you really hate your name that much, I shall make an exception.

Most of the girls I know and am talking of are independent, educated and working, with established identities. With marriage nothing of that changes, you still (majority of the times) continue to work, have your opinions etc. To me changing my name is giving up my identity. When my sister got married I was worried if they would want to change her name. No matter how 'modern' in outlook they were, or how unique my sister's name is. I was concerned. But not once did I assume that my sister would voluntarily want to change her entire name. She took up her husband's name but her first name is still the same.

The whole point of this rant is trying to figure out what the incentive is to change their entire name. Changing the last name does not bother me as much, as I know there are too many social issues, pressures and tradition that exists even today. It is changing the first name that really bothers me. I have been thinking about it for long enough and I am at my wits end. Expect for hating your own name, and coercion I cannot think of anything. And in the cases that I know of coercion is definitely not the reason. And the former is also doubtful. So why? Why do girls chose to change their entire name after marriage even today?

Violation or failure?

The choice of words can make a huge difference. This was reiterated again this morning when I was reading a paper on Iran. The author stressed that Iran's non-disclosure of certain nuclear reactors was a "failure" and not a "violation" of IAEA guidelines. By interpreting it as a "violation" gives the situation a different meaning (i.e. the US interpretation), when it is a "failure" on Iran's part. The distinction being made was important because so far all my readings on Iran have always conveyed a "violation" thereby affecting my interpretation and views about the issue. I agree that there is a minor distinction between the two terms, but the connotational distinction makes a big difference to the conclusion. A "violation" seems to justify sanctions, whereas "failure" makes it sound disproportional to the offense.

Saturday, February 23

An undeserving candidate

Sri Lanka's return to war pains me immensely. I do not believe that any people deserve as prolonged a struggle as the Sri Lankan people have been subject to. From what I have seen and experienced of Sri Lanka, I think that they are a normal hardworking population that can achieve great heights if given the opportunity. It is a shame to let a country as beautiful as that to be left to be destroyed by some leaders who cannot patch-up their differences.

I have some extremely fond memories of the place and people, and hope that the fighting ends soon and for good.

(A backwater lagoon in Sri Lanka)

(A beautiful stream along an everyday road.)

(A taste of Sri Lankan cuisine.)

(A view of the Indian Ocean.)

(A beach in Sri Lanka; they all are breathtakingly beautiful.)


Considering that I was not particularly excited about Five Point Someone, I am really surprised at the amount of traffic it generates for my blog. Every week I have at least two people visit my blog looking for an online version of the book. And these people are spread all over the place, the most recent one being Spain.

On a different note, a referral that surprised and brought a smile was this.

Friday, February 22

"Movies that lulled you to sleep"

Today IBNLive carries a slide-show of ten most boring movies of all times. And I am surprised by some of the names on the list viz. The English Patient (10th), Remains of the Day (7th), A Beautiful Mind (5th), and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (3rd). I have not seen the remaining six and cannot comment upon them. But these four films could easily make to my favorite films list.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind according to me is a beautifully made film with an original storyline that is engrossing. I could have never imagined Jim Carrey doing what he did in this one. I have seen it twice and not once did it bore me. The English Patient I watched late at night, and still did not fall asleep. Ralph Fiennes is amazing in the film. (I can see why he could have been chosen to play Voldemort in Harry Potter.) Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson make Remains of the Day a truly wonderful experience. As for A Beautiful Mind, I really don't understand. What surprises me the most is that half of these are award winning films! Agreed that not all nominations and awards are deserving, but about these four I have no doubt. It really makes me wonder who, and how many people vote at these polls that churn out top tens.

Thursday, February 21

A reason to test

The US has finally shot down its disabled spy satellite.

Over the last few days there has been a lot of discussion about the real motive behind the decision to shoot it down. Many, including Russia argued that shooting down the spy satellite was a pretext for the US to test its anti-satellite (ASAT) capabilities. While this was consistently denied by Washington, there is enough reason to believe otherwise. Nukes of Hazard had two interesting and indept posts (here and here) discussing why shooting the satellite was not a good policy decision, and how US history belies its claims of innocent intentions. The Arms Control Wonk also carried some number crunching by Tim Gulden of the risk from the debris of the satellite.

Robert Gates' reaction to the shooting down does not leave a very good taste for me either. While what he says is true and it would be good to see China and US cooperate, Bush's missile defense policy continues to make me uncomfortable. China and Russia recently proposed a pact limiting anti-satellite weapons which the Bush government is opposed to. The concern over space debris is also not to be overlooked. When China shot down its aging weather satellite last year the international community criticized it for creating space debris and also testing ASAT capabilities. Now China is doing the same in reacting to the US. With these two countries laying the foundations, no country with capability need pay heed to any criticism and go searching for pretexts to test.

Wednesday, February 20

Now that's something!

An amazing 'pati' popped out of an obscure photograph today,

"Amhi 1by 2 karat nahi, vicharu naye."

Tuesday, February 19

Lessons in deterrence

I don't believe I am saying this, but a 'mangalsutra' actually has deterrence value!? Over the last six months of wearing one I have sensed how the previous 'gazes' abruptly stop at the neck. But what made me write this is when someone not only stopped at the neck, but also put on an extremely guilty face and walked away almost ashamed! All this makes no sense given the fact that back home a 'mangalsutra' does not stop people from ogling. So what's different here?

Monday, February 18


Very interesting.

Not another review

A lot of time and space has already been devoted to the review and discussion of Jodha Akbar, and there is nothing different for me to add to it. Overall my verdict of the film is the same as most others, its too long and slow; you should watch it to see Hrithik and Rai look beautiful, and admire the jewelry. With that I shall spare you another account of the film and simply make a few observations and comments.

I am not a Hrithik or Rai fan, and so the entire purpose of watching the film was reassuring myself that Ashutosh Gowarikar is not turning into a Sanjay Leela Bhansali. And though for a large part he has not, there are scenes where I was disappointed. SLB is a good filmmaker and I did like his Khamoshi and Black, but he does things which I did not want the maker of Lagan and Swades to do. And yet in one particular scene I couldn't help say aloud that he is doing a SLB. The shot where Hrithik and Rai are sword fighting and yards of beautiful red material fall upon her and she struggles with was just like that part in Devdas when she fights a bug or thing in her bed as SRK watches from the sides. You don't do such things after Swades and Lagan.

The film is about Jodha Abkar and should have been restricted to it. However, AG is tempted to say a lot of things, preach, and the final product is more an 'Akbar' than a 'Jodha Akbar'. He would have done much better limiting himself to the love story. All the wooing, coochie-kooing would have seemed better then. Currently it seems more like AG was not satisfied with Hrithik playing a lovestruck king, and wanted to show him off in all other ways possible. And of course the foreplay song where you can sense the temptation to show a kiss being restrained. It did not leave a good taste, and neither did it do justice to the song.

Another thing that AG could have avoided was the Amitabh voice-over. It was too predictable and overdone. He could have used a fresh voice, Om Puri would have been good. Or even Raza Murad. Maybe it is all the media, but Amitabh did seem to be around watching and waiting to pounce on Hrithik and Rai. Atleast a different voice would have spared us that feeling.

I guess the overall film is ok and I would not discourage you from feasting your eyes on the lavish sets and costumes, and the beautiful Jodha Akbar. But go in with a lot of popcorn and soda, you will need it to keep yourself seated.