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.