Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mumbai's Economic Impact

Hong Kong-based Political & Economic Risk Consultancy Ltd. has recently rated India as the riskiest of 14 Asian countries, not including Pakistan and Afghanistan, it analyzed for 2009. The Mumbai attacks are likely to worsen India's risk rating, especially if the attacks lead to hostilities with Pakistan and anti-Muslim riots in India. By targeting foreigners and the nation's commercial capital, the terrorists have struck at international links that have supported 9 percent average growth in the $1.3 trillion Indian economy for the past three years. The Mumbai events "couldn't happen at a worse time," Patrick Bennett, a strategist with Société Générale in Hong Kong, told the Wall Street Journal.

With the economic growth already slowing to a multi-year low rate of 7% and the national elections approaching in first half of 2009, these attacks have come at a particularly awkward time for the ruling Congress party. The opposition BJP's leader L.K. Advani has criticized the government's handling of terrorism as “non-serious approach”, according to the Press Trust of India. In response, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has replaced his home minister and vowed to get tough on a "neighboring country", an apparent reference to Pakistan.

Foreign investors have already pulled $13.5 billion out of the India's stock market so far this year, driving the benchmark Sensex index down 57% and hurting the rupee. Liquidity has dried up, economic growth is slowing and consumers and businesses are spending less money, according to Bloomberg.India faces a prolonged downturn that is already forcing companies to cut jobs. Its economy grew 7.6% in the July-September quarter, the slowest pace in almost four years, and down from a 9.3% expansion a year earlier, according to Wall Street Journal.

"There may not be some big countercyclical fiscal stimulus to address a cyclical downturn, but it could be more of a piecemeal approach," says Ramya Suryanarayan, economist at DBS bank in Singapore. The fiscal deficit is running "at between 7% and 8% of gross domestic product, and further expansionary policies will add to the stress."

Given the angry and vengeful public mood in India, it is likely that the hardliners will prevail, forcing significant policy changes that will affect the entire region for a long time to come. For beginners, the warlike Indian posture toward Pakistan will scare investors and tourists away from India. With the emboldened Hindu fundamentalist outfits gaining support, a more serious threat to the Indian economy could come from a repeat of Gujarat 2002 across the entire country. If India decides to "punish" Pakistan by invading it, it will be devastating for both India and Pakistan and set them back by decades as the business and consumer confidence plummets. The BPO and IT businesses will go to more stable regions of the world. Already, the gap between the Chinese and the Indian economies seems to be growing. China's stability under one-party government is more effective in sustaining high growth, Indian Finance Minister Chidambaram said in April of this year, adding "the distance between India and China is in fact increasing, not reducing because China's growth rate is faster." Sustained gap in economic growth between India and China could make India's economy more like Taiwan's in comparison with China's, in spite of India's big population.

India's image as a peaceful and stable nation has helped it build confidence of foreign investors and businesses to set up shops in India and fuel its economic growth. For example, Americans alone brought $13 billion in foreign direct investments in 2007 from large investors and Fortune 500 corporations to India, which helped create jobs and sustain the virtuous cycle of intellectual and economic development. If the actions of Indian politicians shatter this image of peace and stability, it will be very difficult to rebuild it.

Based on a quick review of India's current status and great potential, including its strengths and weaknesses, I strongly believe India can stay on the road to greatness it deserves with its rich heritage as one of the oldest civilizations on earth and the world's largest modern democracy. India's toughest challenge in the 21st century will continue to be in how well it negotiates the obstacles and potholes created by internal strife from growing religious and ethnic fanaticism, homegrown and international terrorism, ongoing regional insurgencies, and increasing economic disparities.

Related Links:

Mumbai Eyewitness Accounts

Mumbai's Slumdog Millionaire

Mumbai's Economic Impact

World Reacts in Horror

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mumbai's Slumdog Millionaire

Based on Simon Beaufoy's screenplay adapted from a Vikas Swarup's novel, Slumdog Millionaire is a well-made movie by a British director Danny Boyle. The early part of it reminds me of Dickens' Oliver Twist. But that impression quickly changes as the story develops into more than an orphan's treatment and the tyranny of class differences.

The story revolves around the lives of two slum-dwelling Muslim brothers who lose their mother at a very young age when she is struck and killed by Hindu fanatics in an attack on a sprawling Mumbai slum. The brothers grow up while traveling across India and return to Mumbai when Jamal Malik (played by Dev Patel) insists on finding his childhood friend Latika (played by Freida Pinto). Upon his return, Jamal finds a job serving tea at a call center where he gets a chance to become a contestant and ends up winning millions of rupees in a TV quiz show "Kaun Banega Crorepati". The quiz show host Prem Kumar (played by Anil Kapoor) repeatedly ridicules Jamal as an illiterate chaiwalla and tries to mislead him to give wrong answers in a private encounter. When Jamal continues to make progress toward the big prize of twenty million rupees, the host turns him into the police on suspicion of cheating.

The opening scenes show Jamal Malik being interrogated and tortured by Mumbai police to confess to cheating in an Indian TV quiz show based on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire". Its a story of survival of the two brothers Saleem and Jamal Malik. In explaining to the police inspector (played by Irfan Khan) on how he got the answers to the quiz questions, Jamal tells the story in flashbacks that takes the two brothers across India as they escape an Indian Fagin who takes in homeless kids, cripples them and forces them to beg on the streets of Mumbai for his own profit.

Slumdog Millionaire is a boy-meets-girl story. But it is far more than that. It's a story of how a poor young person can survive and be educated by living life traveling, even winning big quiz competitions, without formal schooling. A sort of Forrest Gump story set in India. At its core, it is a social commentary on the treatment of the poor and the minorities in India. For those curious about how it ends, it does have a happy ending.

Boyle and A.R. Rahman have included M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" from early on in production on the musical score, which appears along with an original track Rahman composed, "O...Saya," featuring Arulpragasam, daughter of a Tamil activist from Sri Lanka. M.I.A., who Rahman described as a "powerhouse" and Boyle hailed as "a gift" to the soundtrack gave brief film notes on some scenes to Boyle upon request during editing.

Talking about his experiences during production in Mumbai, Boyle described in an interview on NPR radio how thousands of people gathered every time he started shooting the film on the streets. Permits were delayed, then granted in the nick of time. "Large sacks of cash" funneled through the intermediaries did the trick each time.

The movie beautifully captures the lives of slum children of Mumbai in general, and the dangers and discrimination faced by Indian Muslims in particular. It is a movie worth watching at least once.

Here's a clip of the movie trailer:

Friday, November 28, 2008

World Reacts in Horror as Terror Strikes Mumbai

Sounds of gunshots and explosions accompanied chaotic scenes in Mumbai as the world media focused their attention on the tragic results of the terrorist attacks. While the scope and scale of the Mumbai attacks has taken India's internal security and intelligence establishment by surprise, there are conflicting reports about the numbers and identity of the attackers and how they were able to paralyze normal life in a major world metropolis. Hundreds are reportedly being held hostage. The terrible carnage has claimed more than one hundred lives, including Americans and Israelis, and several hundred have been injured. There are many who believe that such an attack wouldn't be possible without a strong homegrown element participating in the attacks.

While such acts of murder are completely unjustified, it is important to understand that the seeds for such support for terror can be found in the anger at America's "global war on terror". This "war" has provided a convenient cover to the Hindutva groups and to fiercely anti-Muslim elements within the Indian government apparatus to launch a concerted campaign of terror against Muslims. As expected, however, the finger of blame in India is being pointed at neighboring Pakistan. Pakistan, which has itself been at the receiving end of terror, has strongly condemned the attacks and offered to cooperate with the Indian government to track down the perpetrators of Mumbai.

The apparently slow and seemingly disorganized response to Mumbai attacks by the Indian authorities has come under criticism by British and Israeli officials, according to the British newspaper Telegraph. The paper quotes a senior British official as saying he was "surprised" by the Indian failure to regain control of the commercial capital almost two days after the attacks began. Israeli officials told the Jerusalem Post that India's refusal of its offer to send commandos had put the lives of a rabbi and his family in danger.

Here are some of the early world media reactions to the events in Mumbai:

Aryn Baker writes in Time Magazine: The disembodied voice was chilling in its rage. A gunman, holed up in Mumbai's Oberoi Trident hotel where some 40 people had been taken hostage, told an Indian news channel that the attacks were revenge for the persecution of Muslims in India. "We love this as our country but when our mothers and sisters were being killed, where was everybody?" he asked via telephone. No answer came. But then he probably wasn't expecting one.

The Wall Street Journal reports on the "insidious" nature of the attacks as follows: The scale and sophistication of the Mumbai attacks, as well as the choice of targets, however, appeared to point to a more insidious threat that the Indian government has been reluctant to acknowledge so far -- the potential involvement of extremists within the country's own Muslim community, which, at 150 million, is the world's third-largest after Indonesia and Pakistan. It is also one of India's most economically and politically disadvantaged minorities.

In addition to being disproportionately targeted in outbreaks of religious violence, they (Muslims) are severely underrepresented in the country's government bureaucracy, universities and security services. On literacy scores, young Indian Muslims now lag behind even the country's historically most disadvantaged group, the Dalits, or Hinduism's "untouchables."

Pakistani columnist and blogger Ahmed Quraishi says: As a Pakistani, I too find it intriguing that only days ago, for the first time, the reach and influence of indigenous Indian terror groups was being registered for the first time, with the arrest of two serving senior Indian army officers with links to Hindu terror groups involved in major terrorism acts; acts that were blamed on Muslims. And now suddenly we have a spectacular incident, too sophisticated for any foreigner to execute without massive facilitation and support base, where allegedly Muslim terrorists have left behind an ID card and a cell phone with a SIM card originating in a 'neighboring' country. How convenient. They should have checked better since they could have also found an ISI staff card on one of the dead terrorists. There are close to 100 groups in India, of all shades, fighting the Indian state and people, including Hindu terrorist groups. India should get its own house in order before blaming 'neighbors'. This coming from a country where close to 600 Christians were killed just a couple of months back by Hindu groups, and 2500 Indian Muslims were burned alive in the 21st century's first incident of genocide, in 2002 and where Kashmiri, Dalit, and other minority women are raped everyday as part of Hindu religious oppression.

Here's what Dr. Deepak Chopra told CNN: What we have seen in Mumbai has been brewing for a long time, and the war on terrorism and the attack on Iraq compounded the situation. What we call "collateral damage" and going after the wrong people actually turns moderates into extremists, and that inflammation then gets organized and appears as this disaster in Bombay. Now the worst thing that could happen is there's a backlash on the Muslims from the fundamental Hindus in India, which then will perpetuate the problem. Inflammation will create more inflammation.

Here's an excerpt from Tariq Ali's Counterpunch piece on Mumbai attacks: The Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, has insisted that the terrorists were based outside the country. The Indian media has echoed this line of argument with Pakistan (via the Lashkar-e-Taiba) and al-Qaeda listed as the usual suspects. But this is a meditated edifice of official India’s political imagination. Its function is to deny that the terrorists could be a homegrown variety, a product of the radicalization of young Indian Muslims who have finally given up on the indigenous political system. To accept this view would imply that the country’s political physicians need to heal themselves.

There is widespread and appropriately strong condemnation of the terrorists responsible for murder and mayhem in Mumbai. In Pakistan, US, Britain, Israel and the rest of the world, there is powerful outpouring of sympathy for the innocent victims. There is also a lot of speculation as to the causes and culprits of the expanding scope and scale of terror the world is witnessing. Such speculation will likely continue as the governments of the world grapple with the rising threat to civilians everywhere in the world. It's clear, though, that the use of military power alone as seen in America's "war on terror" will not succeed. There is an urgent need for all to acknowledge the failure of the current "global war on terror" to come up with a better strategy that relies on a broader set of tools and options to overcome the growing menace.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pittsburgh Pirates Sign Young Indian Cricketers

While the Indian Navy is going after the pirates in the Gulf of Aden, two Indian youngsters are joining the Pirates in the United States.

Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel are two 20-year-old pitchers with million dollar arms. Neither had picked up a baseball until earlier this year. Both have now signed free-agent contracts with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the prestigious five-times winners of the Major League Baseball World Series. They were the top finishers in “Million Dollar Arm,” an Indian reality TV show that searched for potential Major League Baseball talent in the country with millions playing cricket. They are believed to be the first athletes from India to sign professional sports contracts outside their country in a sport other than cricket. These contracts open up new and lucrative opportunities for South Asian cricketers beyond India's new cricket leagues.

The faster of the pair, Patel has clocked at 91-92 mph pitching speed, significantly slower than Pakistan's Shoaib Akhtar's 100.3 mph considered the world's fastest bowling speed in cricket. The pirates see a lot of potential in both Singh and Patel as successful pitchers for their team.

"This is really big news," said JB Bernstein, a promoter and marketing agent who created the "Million Dollar Arm" contest in India that brought attention to the Indian boys. "I think when the boys return to India, that's when it will really reach its crescendo."

Singh and Patel will soon return to India for a 10-day visit. They haven't seen their families since the beginning of May, when both moved to the U.S. to train under University of Southern California pitching coach Tom House.

The signing got special attention from the US ambassador to India and the ambassador called a press conference to talk about it. The Indian media are now covering the story and their return to India is expected to generate a lot of enthusiasm.

It all started with an idea from Bernstein to see what type of baseball talent could be found in India. He developed the idea for a contest for boys and men between the ages of 16 and 21. The parameters were simple: see who could throw a baseball faster than 85 mph and for strikes.

Patel and Singh were among more than 37,000 people to try out, and both quickly emerged as finalists. The winner of the contest was set to receive a $100,000 prize and the opportunity to train with House.

The American Baseball sports agents have long been sourcing talent from Cuba, Dominican Republic and Japan. The inclusion of Indian players appears to be a way to open the vast Indian market for US Major League Baseball. Indian MLB franchise teams could potentially significantly enlarge the current $6b revenue opportunity to the South Asian and international media market. The MLB World Series games have been shown live in many countries of the world, including India. In October of this year, the Major League Baseball International broadcast the Fall Classic in 13 languages to 229 countries and territories around the world.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Iftikhar Chaudhry Speaks to New York Bar

Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry is currently on a US visit for a speaking tour, including a visit to the Harvard Law School to receive their Medal of Freedom.

Here's the text of his Speech at the New York Bar Association
17 November 2008

It is a pleasure and an honor for me to be addressing the members of one of the largest Bar Associations in the world. I am extremely touched and moved by the honor that you have conferred upon me today. In actual fact this honor is being showered on the teeming millions of Pakistanis who have dared to stand for, , struggle for and dream for those values and principles which developed societies such as yours value , cherish and I am sure at times take for granted. I stand here as in solidarity of all those Pakistanis who continue to defy autocracy and repression and have risen against despotism, dictatorship, tyranny and injustice.

My learned friends, in an ideal world I should not be standing here today giving this speech. In an ideal world where all nations bow to the rule of law, for the Chief Justice of a Supreme Court to take a principled stand against subversion of the Constitution and to and to warn against the erosion of the Rule of Law and Independence of the Judiciary, should be the norm rather than the exception. It is extremely unfortunate for us as a nation to have to fight for and struggle for something which should be the birth right of every human being. Sir Winston Churchill's statement at the end of the war about his war torn country was a deliberated comment. He said that as long as the judiciary was independent and functioning then nothing was lost. And how true that observation was, because there is an irresistible bond between an independent judiciary and a nation's capacity to resist an adversary, whether internal or external.

In any war the most effective weapon is a population with enforceable rights. Such a nation has a stake in the system and will fight to protect it. The key word here is 'enforceable'. A nation who are promised rights, even if they are enshrined in a document as sacred as the Constitution, but are denied the enforcement of those rights, then for all practical purposes they remain deprived of those rights. A system that does not enforce and protect rights alienates the people. And what good is that judiciary that is remiss in guarding a Constitution given by the people to themselves? Without an independent judiciary people lose faith and commitment to their chosen Constitutional system. They become indifferent to its survival and soon
become apathetic, cynical and resigned. They then choose to follow those who challenge it, even those who oppose it with military force. And this then leads to the inevitable loss of crucial battles.

Ladies and gentlemen, no democracy can survive without an independent judiciary. No strong and stable Parliament can be constructed on the ruins of an independent judicial edifice. An independent judiciary is, in fact, the most significant protection available to Parliament. It covers the flanks of Parliament, resisting attacks from any adventurer in the wings. The entire argument that Parliament must prevail over justice and law is therefore flawed. There can be no democracy without law. Without an independent justice system even the best democratic system remains in jeopardy, and eventually degrades into lawlessness and anarchy.

My friends, we live in times of great peril and in times of great challenge to the human spirit of resilience. No battle in modern war or battles for peace can be won in lands that lack justice. Lack of justice produces economic and social inequities, which in turn churn out disaffected elements that will destroy the fabric of the one just world that is our shared goal. Only justice for all can beat terrorism and tyranny. Only an independent judiciary can checkmate extremism. Rule of law is the most effective obstacle to repression, oppression and all their offshoots. There is no doubt about the fact that Parliamentary sovereignty is sacred. But only the Constitution is supreme, and it is for the legitimately constituted courts to interpret the constitution. Parliament and Parliamentarians cannot be exempted from judicial scrutiny by installing a feeble and timid judiciary in the name of the sovereignty of Parliament. Both Parliament and the Executive must be restrained and kept within the boundaries of the rule of law.

My fellow jurists, permit me to emphasize one additional point. Just as an independent judiciary is vital to sustain democracy, the independence of the judiciary itself is dependent entirely on "independent judges". For a truly independent judiciary the judges must be independent and fearless. If judges are afraid of being arrested, of being manhandled, of being imprisoned along with their families, and that too because they had the courage to take a principled stand against a dictator and refused to be party to the mutilation of the Constitution, then we might as well forget about any judge ever being independent or fearless. If society turns a blind eye and condones the illegal acts of the dictator, then we might as well bury the hope of ever having free judges with free minds and a free conscience. Ladies and gentlemen, this is why Pakistan is going through a decisive and definitive moment in our history.

The Lawyers' Movement in Pakistan is a unique and historic struggle against all those forces which are trying to stifle the rule of law and are hacking away at the foundations of our judiciary. They are trying to suffocate and bury the concept of an independent judiciary once and for all, and once that happens then the very fabric of society is destroyed resulting in a domino effect, with all the other organs and pillars of the state falling one by one. This movement is being led by the young lawyers of Pakistan, who seek neither office nor power. For the last 18 months these champions of freedom have risked life and limb in the face of all odds. The lawyers' movement triggered a wave of patriotism and mixed emotions in the civil society of Pakistan – both of resentment against the forces working against the wellbeing of our beloved country, as well as the urge and desire to come out and do whatever they could within their capacity to assist the lawyers in achieving their goal. The media has also played a remarkable role, and in a country where nothing is free or independent, they have carved a place for themselves in history .There is no doubt about the fact that the media has attained the status of a fourth pillar of the state, and in the case of Pakistan, it has proved to be both powerful as well as bold and courageous.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am sure all of you are fully aware of the link between economic growth and an independent judiciary. Investment shies away from economies or countries that do not have an independent judiciary. There is a report in the June 5th 2008 edition of the Economist based on the findings of a commission on the legal empowerment of the poor released on 3rd June at the United Nations. It asserts that "one of the main reasons why so much of humanity remains mired in poverty is that it is outside the rule of law." Such economies are less productive and less attractive to capital. The term 'Legal Empowerment' is therefore likely to become a part of policy making vocabulary just as the term 'sustainable development has after it appeared in a similar report 3 decades ago. After all, what capital and investment, both domestic and foreign, primarily need is security. Inflation and rising prices are also part of the same phenomenon and revolve around the question of supply and demand. Without investment there can be no increase in production and opportunities of employment. Without increase in production, supplies cannot increase and meet the
demands of an increasing and more demanding population. Net employment decreases and unemployment goes up, resulting in more competition for the same number of jobs .As a result salaries and wages go down, purchasing power falls and prices go up because productive capacity and production does not rise. Inflation, unemployment and an increase in crimes are natural consequences. As the Economist says, it is now widely understood that a vibrant, independent and fearless mechanism for imparting justice is crucial to the health of the economy.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Bar, it is not the province of the courts to step into areas that are exclusively within the domain of the Executive or the Parliament. But, if these two institutions remain indifferent to the duties entrusted to them under the Constitution, or if they have acted contrary to the principles enshrined therein, or if their acts discriminate between the rich and the poor, or on religious, class, regional or ethnic grounds, then judges are called upon by the Constitution, their oath and their office to act. We do not seek to deprive any other Constitutional pillar of its authority or strength. In fact we seek to bolster and strengthen that authority. And above all, we owe it to the citizens of Pakistan to do our duty according to our original oath, the Constitution, the law and our conscience.

Parliament is no doubt supreme but the judiciary must be equally independent and authoritative. That is how the state and its institutions retain the confidence of the people. This is how nations develop and people prosper. People must not only have rights but MUST also have the means to enforce those rights. And that is only possible through an independent judiciary, comprising of independent judges. Nations with independent judges develop fast as they attract and maintain investment, whereas a weak and compliant judiciary may benefit some individuals, but it breaks the back
of the economy, the people and the country.

Finally, ladies and gentlemen, permit me to part with this ending note. In the months that remained incarcerated with my family at the house atop the Margalla Hills, I drew strength for the light that shined through the international brotherhood of all students and men and women of law who made common cause with the lawyers of Pakistan in shared ideal of establishing the supremacy of the Rule of Law. And to the American lawyers who attired themselves in black coats and marched on the streets of New York, Washington DC and many a towns and cities though out your land in support of the thousands of lawyers who marched thought the length and breadth of my land, I say thank you and remain certain that we shall overcome.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pakistani Children's Plight

As Pakistan and the world celebrate Universal Children's Day today, it is fair to ask how Pakistan's children are doing? A quick way to capture their plight is to quote a recent AP report in the aftermath of Baluchistan's earthquake. The report said: Children begged for food from trucks passing through Pakistan's quake zone as the death toll rose to 215 and survivors prepared for another frigid night camped out amid wrecked mountain villages.

MSNBC recently reported that the worsening economy in Pakistan is especially taking its toll on children, many of whom are being abandoned by their parents. The report highlighted the case of three mothers who could not afford to feed their children. "The three women came together to my center," Bilquis Edhi of Edhi Center said. "They asked me to please take their children; they could no longer feed them."

"The mothers were sobbing as they tried to leave the children and the children were crying clinging to their mothers," Edhi said. "It was heart wrenching to watch."

While the news of abandoned or begging children offers only a small anecdotal evidence of the sorry state of Pakistani children, the official data paints an equally grim picture. Ranked at 136 on a list of 177 countries, Pakistan's human development ranking remains very low. Particularly alarming is the low primary school enrollment for girls which stands at about 30% in rural areas, where the majority of Pakistanis live. In fact, the South Asia average of primary school enrollment is pulled down by Pakistan, the only country in all of Asia and the Pacific with the lowest primary enrollment rate of 68 per cent in 2005. This is 12 percentage points lower than that of Maldives, which, at 80 per cent, has the second lowest rate in Asia and the Pacific. Low primary enrollment rate and poor health of children in Pakistan raise serious concerns about the future of the nation in terms of the continuing impact of low human development on its economic, social and political well-being.

According to Asia Children's Rights report, about 8 million children, or 40 percent of the total population of children under the age of 5, suffer from malnutrition. About 63 percent of children between 6 months and 3 years have stunted growth and 42 percent are anemic or underweight. Poor nutrition leaves these children vulnerable to diseases. Pakistan is among the few countries of the world where Polio is still endemic. Poor conditions extend to the education sector as well. Over 23 million children in Pakistan have never been to school. The International Labor Organization data shows 3.3 million children, between the ages of 5 and 14 years in Pakistan, are forced to work rather than attend school. A quarter of a million of them work as domestic servants. The most recent United Nations Human Development Report indicates that the youth literacy rate in Pakistan is an abysmal 58 percent, among the lowest in the world. Sexual abuse is another problem. Homelessness of children is quite common. Over 10,000 children below the age of 15 live on the streets and sidewalks of Karachi alone. Many of them are forced to beg for survival. Most of these children say they left home because of domestic violence and family financial problems, according to Edhi Foundation which cares for some of them. According to a report by Amnesty International, there are more than 4,500 juvenile prisoners in Pakistani jails and 66 percent of them are being tried. Juvenile detainees are kept with adults, leaving them vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse.

The government efforts and UN and international help are necessary but the real success with children will require active participation of private Pakistani citizens of all classes in society. Pakistanis at home and abroad need to come together to light candles rather than curse darkness. Directly or indirectly, all people of conscience should help to alleviate the suffering of the children in Pakistan by volunteering or donating through philanthropic organizations such as Human Development Foundation, Hidaya Foundation, Edhi Foundation, Development in Literacy and other similar humanitarian outfits in Pakistan.

Related Links:

Universal Periodic Review of Pakistan 2007-8

Children of a Lesser God

United Nations Universal Children's Day

Plight of Pakistan's Abandoned Children

Nicholas Kristof of NY Times on Pakistan

Pakistan's Prison Children

The 21st Century Challenges of Resurgent India

The pre-British, early 19th century Moghul India, described as caste-ridden, feudalistic and unmodern, was economically ahead of the rest of the world,including Britain and the US, according to S. Gururmurthy, a popular Indian columnist. The Indian economy contributed 19 per cent of the world GDP in 1830, and 18 per cent of global trade, when the share of Britain was 8 per cent in production and 9 per cent in trade, and that of US, 2 per cent in production and 1 per cent in trade. India had hundreds of thousands of village schools and had a functional literacy rate of over 30 per cent. In contrast, when the British left, India’s share of world production and trade declined to less than 1 per cent and its literacy was down to 17 per cent. And yet, in 1947, India had large Sterling reserves, no foreign debt, and Indians still had an effective presence in such trade centers as Singapore, Hong Kong, Penang, Rangoon and Colombo.

For decades after independence, however, the Indian economy remained moribund. While Nehru's Congress party government made significant investments in higher education under Education Minister Maulana Azad by establishing institutions of higher learning such as IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology), the pervasive License Raj hampered the entrepreneurial spirit of India. Fortunately, that began to change with the reforms initiated in 1991 by then Indian prime minister P. V. Narasimha Rao and his finance minister Manmohan Singh (now prime minister) in response to a balance-of-payments crisis. These reforms limited the scope of the License Raj (investment, industrial and import licensing) and ended many public monopolies, allowing automatic approval of foreign direct investment in many sectors. Subsequent governments of both major parties sustained and extended the reform process and accelerated India's economic growth.

Early investments by Nehru administration are now beginning to pay dividends. India has a large pool of English speaking college graduates. The nation is second only to the United States in production of doctors, engineers, and PhDs. Many of the world's top CEOs and business leaders are alumni of India's prestigious institutes of technology and management. With the large presence of IIT graduates in places such as Silicon Valley, India has become a highly respected brand name as a source of top talent around the world. What began as the massive but temporary Y2K work for India around the turn of the century, the country has now become a preferred destination for high-tech and business process outsourcing from the United States and Europe.

The economic reforms in India have unleashed the talent and the energies of its people at home and abroad to help build its economy and restore its place in the world as a major force. Many entrepreneurs of Indian origin (NRIs) are now setting up shops in India to do heavy-duty research and development as well as some manufacturing. With them, they are bringing US foreign direct investments ($13b in 2007 and growing) from large investors and Fortune 500 corporations to their home country, which helps create jobs and sustain the virtuous cycle of intellectual and economic development. Last year, the Indian GDP grew 9% and it is expected to grow another 7% this year, in spite of the current global economic crisis.

A recent Indian government advertisement in Fortune magazine explains the reason why India's economy has remained relatively unscathed by the global economic crisis. It says: India has taken a generally conservative approach to globalization, moving slowly to open its markets to the rest of the world. Moreover, the domestic Indian market has remained strong. The ad quotes Ron somers, president of US-India Business Council, as saying, "India's internal market is so massive that it can sustain shocks better than many countries." The fact is that India's economy does not depend much on exports to the rest of the world. It is, therefore, relatively less connected to the problems in the developed world. In fact, it stands to benefit from a dramatic reduction in commodity prices, such as oil, due to the world-wide economic slowdown.

While the Indian advertisement and government leaders present a very rosy picture of India's prospects, it is important for Indians and others to understand that there are significant risks in India. For example, the extreme Hindu Nationalists are continuing to stir up trouble in many parts of India. According to All India Christian Council, the 2008 violence has affected 14 districts out of of 30 and 300 Villages in the Indian state of Orissa, 4,400 houses burnt, 50,000 homeless, 59 killed including at least 2 pastors, 10 priests/pastors/nuns injured, 18,000 men, women, children injured, 2 women gang-raped including a nun, 151 churches destroyed and 13 schools and colleges damaged. The violence targeted Christians in 310 villages, with 4,104 homes torched. More than 18,000 were injured and 50,000 displaced and homes continued to burn in many villages. Another report said that around 11,000 people are still living in refugee camps.

People like Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, BJP leader L.K. Advani and Gujarat Chief Minister Narender Modi represent the ugly underbelly of Indian democracy and a threat to India's secular constitution. Modi is currently in power in Gujarat, in spite of overwhelming evidence of his participation in 2002 anti-Muslim riots resulting in the massacre of thousands of Muslims. Mr. Advani has been held responsible for the destruction of Babri mosque and subsequent anti-Muslim riots. Mr. Thackeray is considered responsible for major anti-Muslim riots in Mumbai and continues to terrorize any one who disagrees with him.

The BBC reported yesterday on the "Hindu Terrorist" plot involving Indian military officers, a female priest and a little-known Hindu outfit called Abhinav Bharat (Young India).

The report said: It was in the aftermath of the 29 September bomb blast in the predominantly Muslim town of Malegaon in the western state of Maharashtra that the term "Hindu terrorism" or "saffron terrorism" came to be used widely. That was because the state police's Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) arrested 10 Hindus following the blasts and has said that it wants to arrest several more.

One of those detained was a female priest, Sadhwi Pragya Singh Thakur, aged 38, who has been accused by the ATS of being involved in the Malegaon blast. Her detention shocked members of the faith. So too did the arrest of a serving Indian army officer, Lt-Col Prasad Srikant Purohit, who the ATS says is the prime accused in the case.

According to an Indian writer Yoginder Sikand, some in India's Muslim minority have been radicalized by the actions of the Hindutva groups and their allies in the state and local governments. America's 'global war on terror' has provided a convenient cover to these Hindu groups and to fiercely anti-Muslim elements within the Indian state machinery to launch a concerted campaign of terror against Muslims. Large numbers of Muslims in various parts of India continue to languish in jails on trumped-up terror charges, suffering brutal torture as well as routine insults to their religion by police officials.

A rudimentary study of world history suggests that if the Indian political system can not find a way to marginalize and isolate Thackeray, Advani, Modi and other fanatics like them, India will continue to face threats to its secular constitution, its political stability, and its economic growth.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself has called the Maoist insurgency emanating from the state of Chhattisgarh the biggest internal security threat to India since independence. The Maoists, however, are confined to rural areas; their bold tactics haven't rattled Indian middle-class confidence in recent years as much as the bomb attacks in major cities have. These attacks are routinely blamed on Muslim militants. How long will Maoists remain confined to the rural areas will depend on the response of the Indian government to the insurgents who exploit huge and growing economic disparities in Indian society.

In 2006 a commission appointed by the government revealed that Muslims in India are worse educated and less likely to find employment than low-caste Hindus. Muslim isolation and despair is compounded by what B Raman, a hawkish security analyst, was moved after the most recent attacks to describe as the "inherent unfairness of the Indian criminal justice system".

According to Pankaj Mishra, the author of Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan and Beyond, the names of the politicians, businessmen, officials and policemen who colluded in the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat in 2002 are widely known. Some of them were caught on video, in a sting carried out last year by the weekly magazine Tehelka, proudly recalling how they murdered and raped Muslims. But, as Amnesty International pointed out in a recent report, justice continues to evade most victims and survivors of the violence. Tens of thousands still languish in refugee camps, too afraid to return to their homes.

Based on a quick review of India's current status and great potential, including its strengths and weaknesses, I strongly believe India is clearly on the road to greatness it deserves with its rich heritage as one of the oldest civilizations on earth and the world's largest modern democracy. India's challenge will continue to be in how well it negotiates the obstacles and potholes created by internal strife from growing religious and ethnic fanaticism, ongoing regional insurgencies, and increasing economic disparity.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Must Barack "Barry" Obama Give Up His Barackberry?

Will President-elect Barack Obama be allowed to keep his favorite Blackberry when he takes office on January 20, 2009? This question is being raised in Washington by those who see a conflict between the US law and the use of technology by a US president. The need to answer such a question did not arise because all of the US presidents to date have not been tech savvy. It is alleged that George W. Bush did have an email account prior to becoming president but he gave it up at the insistence of secret service. Pointing out the dangers of presidential isolation, Jonathan Alter of Newsweek puts it as follows: "Bush foolishly listened to the security people who made him give up his e-mail account in 2001. The result was that old friends suddenly found they had no way to get through to the president. More than a few watched in horror as he drove the country over the cliff."

Why the Conflict?
Variously described as Barackberry or Crackberry, president-elect Obama is reportedly addicted to the smart phone he uses for keeping in touch with his friends, supporters and campaign staff and to surf the Internet. The US law, however, imposes several restrictions on the communications of the president of the United States. In addition to email security, there is the Presidential Records Act, which puts all presidential correspondence in the official record and ultimately up for public review. A laptop might be permissible in the Oval office but it is still uncertain.

Inauspicious Start
If Mr. Obama does surrender his Blackberry, it will represent a rather inauspicious start for America's first "technology" president. Obama understands the difference that online networking technology made in raising record amount of $700m for his campaign, and energizing the young people to get involved as campaign organizers, workers and voters. He must continue to promote and use the online media to reach out to the American people and inspire them to bring real change in America. Obama campaign has talked about appointing a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to oversee US technology policy investments in the incoming Obama administration. The cabinet-level CTO’s mandate would be different from the lower level Cybersecurity czar appointed under the Bush Administration. Bush’s czar helped defend against cyber threats. Obama’s CTO, by contrast, would ensure government officials hold open meetings, broadcast live webcasts of those meetings, arrange President Obama's fireside chats online, and use blogging software, wikis and open comments to communicate policies with Americans, according to the plan. Such broad use of online media by the US government will benefit Silicon Valley high-tech businesses and encourage the use of technology by state and local governments in the US and other parts of the world.

Outreach via Technology
The use of technology will keep a lot of young people, who were energized by Obama, engaged in discussion and help solve major national issues. "Obama understood the intersection of demographics and technology and promised engagement and interaction," Don Tapscott, best-selling author and researcher, said in an interview recently. "But if he now says to young people, 'Thanks, now go passive for four years until my re-election,' there will be outrage. It will make the reaction of the 1960s generation look like kid stuff." The technology exists for Mr. Obama to improve government transparency and pursue the online relationships with his under-thirty supporters. However, Mr. Obama will have to make sure that people he surrounds himself with in the White House can take advantage of it and the laws are suitably amended to make the White House technology friendly.

Obama's Change Agenda
If Obama does manage to use the modern online technology and social media applications to maintain close contact with supporters just as he did during his highly effective campaign, he can potentially go over the heads of the established legacy media, the powerful Washington lobbyists and the obstructionist US Congressmen to energize and sustain support for his ambitious agenda of change.

Here is a video clip of Obama's speech on technology at Googleplex in Mountain View, CA:

Monday, November 17, 2008

Grand Sir Syed Day Mushaira in Silicon Valley

ye meraa chaman hai meraa chaman, maiN apne chaman kaa bulbul huuN
sarshaar-e-nigaah-e-nargis huuN, paa-bastaa-e-gesuu-sumbul huuN
ye meraa chaman hai meraa chaman, maiN apne chaman ka bulbul huuN

Prior to the start of the mushaira, the above Aligarh Muslim University Taraana (Anthem) was sung by the Aligarians clad in black sherwanis (long tunics) and white pajamas (trousers) along with a few others dressed in western style suits.

As in the prior years, Silicon Valley Aligharians celebrated Sir Syed Day with a Grand Mushaira (Urdu Poetry Recital) that attracted well-known South Asian Urdu poets along with the budding local talent. The well-established annual Mushaira tradition of Aligarh Muslim University Alumni Association brings together the Urdu literati and the Silicon Valley digerati in a one-of-a-kind gathering of Indians and Pakistanis in San Francisco Bay Area.

AMU Alumni Association is setting up an endowment fund for the university with donations from successful US Aligarians, various philanthropists and businesses to help their alma mater. The US-based alumni are currently providing scholarships worth over Rs. 1 million to needy students attending AMU in India.

The venue for this year's event was the Indian Community Center of Silicon Valley and the food was catered by the local Chandni restaurant owned by a Pakistani gentleman. The event remembers and recounts the great contributions made by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the founder of Aligarh Muslim University, toward the modern education of Muslims of South Asia.

Pakistan's well-known poet Himayat Ali Shair presided over the event and shared the stage with Popular Meeruthi from India, known for his unmatched humor delivered in his own unique style, along with Azhar Inayati (India), Shahnaz Noor (Pakistan), A. Abdullah (Washington DC), Nausha Asrar (Houston), Tashie Zaheer (Silicon Valley) and Mahnaz Naqvi (Silicon Valley). In spite of the presence of other better-known names and serious high-caliber poets who graced the stage, it was Popular Meeruthi who had a special appeal for the Silicon Valley audience that turned this serious literary mehfil briefly into a mazahiya mushaira.

Here are a few lines and a couple of audio clips and still images that I captured to share with you:

yad anay lagey chacha ghalib
ya ilahi yeh majraa kiya hai
taarta HuuN her aik ladki ko
warna ankhon kaa faida kiya hai

Popular Meeruthi

Find more videos like this on PakAlumni Worldwide: The Global Social Network

kab tak insay saya milta aakhir ped paray thay
apnay aagan mein hum per lagana bhool gaey

Tashee Zaheer

jo ho sakay to kabhi hamari mohabbatuuN ka shumar Karna
adawatuuN ka shumar karna shikayatuuN ka shumar karna

Mehnaz Naqvi

Find more videos like this on PakAlumni Worldwide: The Global Social Network

Friday, November 14, 2008

US Mortgage Fraud Funded Bollywood!

An Indian-American investor and producer of Bollywood movies has been convicted of mortgage fraud in the United States. How did he scam US banks and investors? How did US mortgage money end up funding Bollywood? To answer these questions, let's look at the broader story of US mortgage fraud and its impact on the international financial markets and the world economy.

The French stock market triggered worldwide shares selloff in August 2007 after BNP Paribas, the largest publicly traded bank in France, suspended investors’ ability to remove money from three funds that had invested in American mortgage securities. The bank said it had become temporarily unable to place a value on the funds, which have turned sour as increasing numbers of homeowners have defaulted on their loans.

The news came as a shock to many who mistakenly believed the damage from the US mortgage crisis was limited to the US financial markets. How did this happen? The answer lies in how the mortgage business has changed over the last decade. Until the 1980s, the mortgage lenders kept the loans on their own books and assumed full risk of default. The loan officers either knew the borrowers or checked them out carefully before approving the loans. All of this changed with the advent of securitization of debt that allowed the original lenders to offload their loans and pass the risk on to investors, including large foreign institutions such as BNP Paribas, who bought US mortgage-backed securities as investments. The rating agencies jumped into the opportunity to make money by giving AA and AAA investor grade ratings to some of the riskiest of securities backed at least partially by shaky or sub-prime mortgages issued to less credit-worthy, even fraudulent, customers. Others such as AIG created the appearance of lower risk to investors by issuing credit default swaps to ensure such securities.

Many of the subprime loans were issued to unsuspecting borrowers lured by dishonest mortgage brokers. These loans were based on false information such as exaggerated claims of income, inflated property appraisals, and given at very low teaser rates. Some of the borrowers knowingly took advantage of easy credit by falsifying information on their applications. Mortgages brokers and banks made enormous profits by issuing such mortgages which were then sold as securitized debt to investors. Needless to say, many of the borrowers started to default as soon as their rates and payments increased after the initial period of teaser rates.

Last month, I actually met a technician in Silicon Valley who came to do some work at my newly-purchased home. He asked me if I had bought my home through short sale or foreclosure. I said no. Then he proceeded to tell me that he had had two of his homes foreclosed recently. When I said I am sorry to hear that, he said it's no big deal. It turns out that he had borrowed 125% of the value on each of those homes at low teaser rates and pocketed the extra cash after paying for the homes. He rented the homes and then used the cash to buy two brand new cars and took a vacation. When the rates increased, he did not keep up with the payments and lost both homes. But he kept the cars, enjoyed his vacation and kept the leftover cash.

What this technician's story represents is only the tip of the huge mortgage default mess and massive investor losses. Yesterday's Washington Post reports that Vijay K. Taneja, a well-known Bollywood investor, has admitted to mortgage fraud in Virginia. Taneja pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Alexandria to a fraud enterprise that cost banks at least $33 million, the largest mortgage fraud case in Virginia in almost 20 years and among the largest nationally. Prosecutors said he created bogus mortgage loans, sold legitimate loans to more than one buyer and pocketed the proceeds of refinancings.

Taneja's recent movie, "Aap Ka Suroor" featuring Himesh Reshammiya, was released in June of this year. His concert "Incredibles" , featuring big Bollywood stars, toured the US earlier this year.

According to Washington Post, prosecutors told the judge that Taneja invested millions of his mortgage proceeds in Indian films and theatrical productions through one of his companies, Elite Entertainment, and that they are still trying to untangle the financial web. "He has millions of dollars unaccounted for," Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Learned said as he asked Hilton to order Taneja to be electronically monitored to ensure that he doesn't flee before sentencing. "There's so much money, and it's difficult to figure out where it all went."

The above two examples are just the beginning of the anecdotal evidence of fraudulent mortgages that are at least partly responsible for the international financial crisis we find ourselves in. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating 19 major corporate fraud cases related to the mortgage crisis. The targets of most of those investigations have not been disclosed. In addition, the F.B.I. has 1,380 small mortgage fraud investigations now open in field offices around the country, a sharp increase over previous years, according to FBI officials. Other culprits include inadequacy of the risk models, lack of regulation of financially engineered products, and the actions of the US rating agencies. The US origins and the global nature of the problem requires concerted international investigation of the current crisis to develop a new regulatory regime and enforcement mechanisms that cover financially-engineered products such as securitized debt and credit default swaps and better oversight of the rating agencies.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sonal Shah to Help Divide Obama's Victory Spoils

President-elect Barack Obama has picked Indian-American Sonal Shah, a University of Chicago graduate who heads Google’s philanthropic arm, as one of the top advisers to help him assemble his team. This announcement comes on the heels of the controversial appointment of Rahm Israel Emanuel as Obama's White House chief of staff.

There are well over a thousand government secretaries with various prefixes, including deputy, under, assistant, deputy assistant, and assistant deputy to appoint by the incoming Obama administration. On top of that, there are several thousand more political appointees, such as ambassadors and diplomats, who don’t have the word secretary in their title. This ritual, often called "dividing the spoils of victory", is carried out each time a new president takes office in Washington. As expected, the loyal campaign workers and supporters get the lion's share of the plum jobs. Readers of this blog can try their luck by applying for these most-sought-after jobs here.

The first thing the president-elect has to do is build a transition team to recruit and fill these positions. Obama's point man for the job is John Podesta, a Jewish-American from Chicago and former Clinton aide, assisted by a team of advisers. In addition to the Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, Sonal Shah will help Mr. Podesta in this task. Other members include Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett and Obama's Senate chief of staff Pete Rouse.

According to the Washingtonian, Podesta has the dubious distinction of having been ranked the third most powerful lobbyist. According to the newspaper, BP, whose "pipeline problems and refinery fires have created regulatory and public relations issues," has turned to Podesta, who "has quietly been guiding BP through congressional hearings."

The members of the advisory group will have considerable influence in selecting people to fill several thousand positions that will help define and implement US policy for the next four years.

According to Vijay Prashad, the George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History at Trinity College, Hartford, CT, Sonal Shah has been actively involved with India's right-wing Hindu organizations accused of Gujarat massacre of thousands of Muslims in 2002.

Here's what Mr. Prashad says about Sonal Shah's past: But there is a less typical side to the Shah story. Born in Gujarat, India, Shah came to the United States as a two-year old. Her father, a chemical engineer, first worked in New York before moving to Houston, and then moving away from his education toward the stock market. The Shahs remain active in Houston’s Indian community, not only in the ecumenical Gujarati Samaj (a society for people from Gujarat), but also in the far more cruel organizations of the Hindu Right, such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Overseas Friends of the BJP (the main political party of the Hindu Right) and the Ekal Vidyalaya. Shah’s parents, Ramesh and Kokila, not only work as volunteers for these outfits, but they also held positions of authority in them. Their daughter was not far behind. She was an active member of the VHPA, the U. S. branch of the most virulently fascistic outfit within India. The VHP’s head, Ashok Singhal, believes that his organization should “inculcate a fear psychosis among [India’s] Muslim community.” This was Shah’s boss. Till 2001, Shah was the National Coordinator of the VHPA.

In 2004, the BJP government in Gujarat honored Sonal Shah with the Pride of Gujarat (Gujarat Garima) award. Sonal Shah could not attend, but her brother Anand was there, to get the award from Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in the presence of the "venomous" Narendra Modi, according to Prashad.

Indian Muslims have not been the only victims of violence perpetrated by RSS and VHP. Christians have suffered, too. According to All India Christian Council, the 2008 violence affected in 14 districts out of of 30 and 300 Villages in the Indian state of Orissa, 4,400 houses burnt, 50,000 homeless, 59 killed including at least 2 pastors, 10 priests/pastors/nuns injured, 18,000 men, women, children injured, 2 women gang-raped including a nun, 151 churches destroyed and 13 schools and colleges damaged. The violence targeted Christians in 310 villages, with 4,104 homes torched. More than 18,000 were injured and 50,000 displaced and homes continued to burn in many villages. Another report said that around 11,000 people are still living in refugee camps.

A South Indian newspaper Deccan Herald is reporting that Sonal Shah has been invited by the RSS, another Hindu militant outfit, to a reception in her honor.

According to a report in Times of India, several Indian groups have protested the appointment of Sonal Shah in American President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team, claiming that she is closely associated with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. They warned against Hindutva “infiltration” into the power centers of the US society. The protesting groups include Indian Coalition Against Genocide, Indian American Coalition for Pluralism and Non Resident Indians for a Secular and Harmonious India.

Sonal Shah's brother Anand Shah has denied his sister's links with VHP or Gujarat riots of 2002. As a “coordinator” of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad America (VHPA), Anand claims Sonal Shah helped raise funds for victims of the 2001 earthquake in Gujarat. This denial seems hollow because Anand has not denied the specific allegations of Sonal's and his family's active participation as VHP activists in America before, during, and after the 2002 Gujarat riots widely blamed on Hindutva groups, including the VHP.

Rahm Emanuel's appointment as White of House Chief of Staff has also drawn widespread criticism from those who want real change. Emanuel, with close connections to AIPAC, was a leading supporter of Bush's Iraq invasion. In Congress, Emanuel has been a consistent and vocal pro-Israel hardliner, sometimes more so than President Bush. He has strongly reacted to the mildest of criticism of Israel. In June 2003, for example, he signed a letter criticizing Bush for being insufficiently supportive of Israel. "We were deeply dismayed to hear your criticism of Israel for fighting acts of terror," Emanuel, along with 33 other Democrats wrote to Bush. The letter said that Israel's policy of assassinating Palestinian political leaders "was clearly justified as an application of Israel's right to self-defense".

Emanuel's father, Dr. Benjamin Emanuel, was a member of the Irgun, a Jewish terrorist group responsible for many massacres of Palestinian villagers to drive them out of their homes in 1948. In an interview with Ma'ariv, Dr. Emanuel, said he was convinced that his son's appointment would be good for Israel. "Obviously he will influence the president to be pro-Israel," he was quoted as saying. "Why wouldn't he be? What is he, an Arab? He's not going to clean the floors of the White House." The Ma'ariv article also quoted Dr. Emanuel as saying that his son spends most summers visiting in Tel Aviv, and that he speaks Hebrew, but not fluently. Ma'ariv calls Emanuel "our man in the White House".

It is ironic that both Emanuel and Shah, with close ties to the far-right politics in Israel and India, have become part of the supposedly liberal elite assembled by the Obama campaign to pick the top political appointees in the incoming administration. This choice of people with extreme rather than mainstream records is clearly a disappointment to those of us looking for the change Mr. Obama has promised.

Given their questionable affiliations, the early appointments of Rahm Emanuel and Sonal Shah raise serious doubts about President-elect Obama's judgment and intentions. The people these advisers select to work in the incoming administration will likely not be helpful in developing an objective US policy in the Middle East and South Asia, two very critical regions of the world.

Ahmadinejad Congratulates Barack Obama

During his first press conference as president-elect, Obama was asked about Iranian President Ahmadinejad's letter of congratulations addressed to him. In response to the query about the letter, Mr. Obama said Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons was "unacceptable" and he would "respond appropriately" to the Iranian leader's letter. On Nov 3, just a day before the elections, there was a report of bipartisan plans for aggressive action against Iran in the beltway debate in New York Times. Carl Giacomo wrote in the beltway opinion column that "it is a frightening notion, but it is not just the trigger-happy Bush administration discussing — if only theoretically — the possibility of military action to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program". Obama's mandate to negotiate with Iran in the face of the Israeli opposition is likely to be the tested soon. Given the past experience of other US presidents' inability to stand up to the growing power of the Israeli lobby in the US, I am not too sanguine that Obama will succeed. If Obama does succumb to the Jewish lobby's pressure, his entire agenda of fixing the ailing economy, defeating the Taleban and improving the US image in the world would be scuttled.

Here's the translated text of the Iranian President's congratulatory letter to President-elect Barack H. Obama:

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Mr. Barack Obama
President-elect of the United States of America

I congratulate you on having gained the majority of the votes of those who took part in the election. As you know, the chances that God gives to his subjects pass swiftly. They can be used for the perfection of humanity and to the benefit of nations or, God forbid, to the detriment of nations.

I hope you will choose to honor the real interests of people and justice and equity over the insatiable appetites of the selfish minority. Use this chance to serve to the extent you can. And leave a good name behind for yourself.

People expect an immediate and clear response to the pressure for fundamental change in the American government's policies, both foreign and domestic. This is the desire of all the world's nations and of the American nation as well, and it should be the objective and basis of all your future government's programs and actions.
On the one hand, the American nation, which has spiritual inclinations, expects your government to focus its energy and will on serving the people; dealing with the current economic crisis; restoring the country's standing, morale and hope; eradicating poverty and discrimination; and renewing respect for individuals, their safety and their rights. It also expects policies that will strengthen the foundations of the family -- part of the teachings of the holy prophets, who are also revered in America.

On the other hand, the nations of the world expect an end to policies based on warmongering, invasion, bullying, trickery, the humiliation of other countries by the imposition of biased and unfair requirements, and a diplomatic approach that has bred hatred for America's leaders and undermined respect for its people. They want to see actions based on justice, respect for the rights of human beings and nations, friendship and non-intervention in the affairs of others. They want the American government to keep its interventions within its own country's borders.
In the sensitive Middle East region, in particular, the expectation is that the unjust actions of the past 60 years will give way to a policy encouraging full rights for all nations, especially the oppressed nations of Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The great civilization-building and justice-seeking nation of Iran would welcome major, fair and real changes, in policies and actions, especially in this region.

If steps are taken in the path of righteousness, toward the goal of carrying out the teachings of the holy prophets, it is hoped that almighty God will help and that the enormous damage done in the past will be somewhat diminished.
I ask the high God to grant all of humanity and all nations health and happiness, honor and prosperity, and to grant rulers and officials the ability to learn from the past and to use every chance to serve, to spread love and kindness, to eradicate oppression, to do justice and to follow the holy guidelines.

Mahmoud Ahmadiniejad

Here's the video clip of President-elect Obama's first press conference:

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Nader Questions Obama's Commitment to Change

Dear Senator Obama:

In your nearly two-year presidential campaign, the words "hope and change," "change and hope" have been your trademark declarations. Yet there is an asymmetry between those objectives and your political character that succumbs to contrary centers of power that want not "hope and change" but the continuation of the power-entrenched status quo.

Far more than Senator McCain, you have received enormous, unprecedented contributions from corporate interests, Wall Street interests and, most interestingly, big corporate law firm attorneys. Never before has a Democratic nominee for President achieved this supremacy over his Republican counterpart. Why, apart from your unconditional vote for the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, are these large corporate interests investing so much in Senator Obama? Could it be that in your state Senate record, your U.S. Senate record and your presidential campaign record (favoring nuclear power, coal plants, offshore oil drilling, corporate subsidies including the 1872 Mining Act and avoiding any comprehensive program to crack down on the corporate crime wave and the bloated, wasteful military budget, for example) you have shown that you are their man?

To advance change and hope, the presidential persona requires character, courage, integrity— not expediency, accommodation and short-range opportunism. Take, for example, your transformation from an articulate defender of Palestinian rights in Chicago before your run for the U.S. Senate to an acolyte, a dittoman for the hard-line AIPAC lobby, which bolsters the militaristic oppression, occupation, blockage, colonization and land-water seizures over the years of the Palestinian peoples and their shrunken territories in the West Bank and Gaza. Eric Alterman summarized numerous polls in a December 2007 issue of The Nation magazine showing that AIPAC policies are opposed by a majority of Jewish-Americans.

You know quite well that only when the U.S. Government supports the Israeli and Palestinian peace movements, that years ago worked out a detailed two-state solution (which is supported by a majority of Israelis and Palestinians), will there be a chance for a peaceful resolution of this 60-year plus conflict. Yet you align yourself with the hard-liners, so much so that in your infamous, demeaning speech to the AIPAC convention right after you gained the nomination of the Democratic Party, you supported an "undivided Jerusalem," and opposed negotiations with Hamas— the elected government in Gaza. Once again, you ignored the will of the Israeli people who, in a March 1, 2008 poll by the respected newspaper Haaretz, showed that 64% of Israelis favored "direct negotiations with Hamas." Siding with the AIPAC hard-liners is what one of the many leading Palestinians advocating dialogue and peace with the Israeli people was describing when he wrote "Anti-semitism today is the persecution of Palestinian society by the Israeli state."

During your visit to Israel this summer, you scheduled a mere 45 minutes of your time for Palestinians with no news conference, and no visit to Palestinian refugee camps that would have focused the media on the brutalization of the Palestinians. Your trip supported the illegal, cruel blockade of Gaza in defiance of international law and the United Nations charter. You focused on southern Israeli casualties which during the past year have totaled one civilian casualty to every 400 Palestinian casualties on the Gaza side. Instead of a statesmanship that decried all violence and its replacement with acceptance of the Arab League’s 2002 proposal to permit a viable Palestinian state within the 1967 borders in return for full economic and diplomatic relations between Arab countries and Israel, you played the role of a cheap politician, leaving the area and Palestinians with the feeling of much shock and little awe.

David Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator, described your trip succinctly: "There was almost a willful display of indifference to the fact that there are two narratives here. This could serve him well as a candidate, but not as a President."

Palestinian American commentator, Ali Abunimah, noted that Obama did not utter a single criticism of Israel, "of its relentless settlement and wall construction, of the closures that make life unlivable for millions of Palestinians. …Even the Bush administration recently criticized Israeli’s use of cluster bombs against Lebanese civilians [see for elaboration]. But Obama defended Israeli’s assault on Lebanon as an exercise of its ‘legitimate right to defend itself.’"

In numerous columns Gideon Levy, writing in Haaretz, strongly criticized the Israeli government’s assault on civilians in Gaza, including attacks on "the heart of a crowded refugee camp… with horrible bloodshed" in early 2008.

Israeli writer and peace advocate— Uri Avnery— described Obama’s appearance before AIPAC as one that "broke all records for obsequiousness and fawning, adding that Obama "is prepared to sacrifice the most basic American interests. After all, the US has a vital interest in achieving an Israeli-Palestinian peace that will allow it to find ways to the hearts of the Arab masses from Iraq to Morocco. Obama has harmed his image in the Muslim world and mortgaged his future— if and when he is elected president.," he said, adding, "Of one thing I am certain: Obama’s declarations at the AIPAC conference are very, very bad for peace. And what is bad for peace is bad for Israel, bad for the world and bad for the Palestinian people."

A further illustration of your deficiency of character is the way you turned your back on the Muslim-Americans in this country. You refused to send surrogates to speak to voters at their events. Having visited numerous churches and synagogues, you refused to visit a single Mosque in America. Even George W. Bush visited the Grand Mosque in Washington D.C. after 9/11 to express proper sentiments of tolerance before a frightened major religious group of innocents.

Although the New York Times published a major article on June 24, 2008 titled "Muslim Voters Detect a Snub from Obama" (by Andrea Elliott), citing examples of your aversion to these Americans who come from all walks of life, who serve in the armed forces and who work to live the American dream. Three days earlier the International Herald Tribune published an article by Roger Cohen titled "Why Obama Should Visit a Mosque." None of these comments and reports change your political bigotry against Muslim-Americans— even though your father was a Muslim from Kenya.

Perhaps nothing illustrated your utter lack of political courage or even the mildest version of this trait than your surrendering to demands of the hard-liners to prohibit former president Jimmy Carter from speaking at the Democratic National Convention. This is a tradition for former presidents and one accorded in prime time to Bill Clinton this year.

Here was a President who negotiated peace between Israel and Egypt, but his recent book pressing the dominant Israeli superpower to avoid Apartheid of the Palestinians and make peace was all that it took to sideline him. Instead of an important address to the nation by Jimmy Carter on this critical international problem, he was relegated to a stroll across the stage to "tumultuous applause," following a showing of a film about the Carter Center’s post-Katrina work. Shame on you, Barack Obama!

But then your shameful behavior has extended to many other areas of American life. (See the factual analysis by my running mate, Matt Gonzalez, on You have turned your back on the 100-million poor Americans composed of poor whites, African-Americans, and Latinos. You always mention helping the "middle class" but you omit, repeatedly, mention of the "poor" in America.

Should you be elected President, it must be more than an unprecedented upward career move following a brilliantly unprincipled campaign that spoke "change" yet demonstrated actual obeisance to the concentration power of the "corporate supremacists." It must be about shifting the power from the few to the many. It must be a White House presided over by a black man who does not turn his back on the downtrodden here and abroad but challenges the forces of greed, dictatorial control of labor, consumers and taxpayers, and the militarization of foreign policy. It must be a White House that is transforming of American politics— opening it up to the public funding of elections (through voluntary approaches)— and allowing smaller candidates to have a chance to be heard on debates and in the fullness of their now restricted civil liberties. Call it a competitive democracy.

Your presidential campaign again and again has demonstrated cowardly stands. "Hope" some say springs eternal." But not when "reality" consumes it daily.

Ralph Nader

Here's a video clip of Nader talking after Obama's historic victory:

NEDUET Progress Report 2008

Is NED Making Progress?

Is NED University making progress to deal with the challenges of the 21st century? Is it competitive within Pakistan with other institutions of higher learning? How have NED University administration and faculty responded to the institution's low ranking by the HEC? How are the NED alumni faring in the real world? These are some of questions I explored at the NED Alumni Convention 2008 recently held at Hartford, CT.

As part of my effort to get answers, I participated in panel discussions at the Convention and followed up with Dr. Shamsul Haq, Mr. Jawaid Saeedi and others. I also drew upon my personal experience with NED alumni in Silicon Valley, CA.

Research Efforts at NEDUET:

According to Dr. Farooq Rafiqi, the Dean of Civil Engineering who was a panelist at the Convention, NED Civil Engineering Department has been engaged in US government funded research projects and published research on earthquake disaster mitigation. Dr. Rafiqi also mentioned collaboration with UC Berkeley on some of the work being done at NEDUET's Cowasjee Earthquake Study Center.

Building of Faculty:

Dr. Shamsul Haq talked about how NED is trying to build a faculty to support expanded graduate programs and research. There are currently 50 PhDs on NED faculty and 50 more are expected to return from universities overseas in the next three years.

Petroleum Engineering Department:

According to NED Alumnus Jawaid Saeedi, Development Manager at Schlumberger in Texas, the PE Department within the faculty of Civil Engineering will graduate its first batch in December 2008.

Mr. Saeedi believes that NEDUET has started with the right input from various experts. The members of the Advisory Board are capable of providing support to the department. This support could be in the form of establishing scholarships, chair(s) and funding for post-graduate education.

With Professor Dr Khalid Aziz of Stanford University, a well known international expert in the area of Petroleum Engineering education, on the Advisory Board NED University PE department has the best resource. NEDUET does definitely lack the faculty members who could implement the proposed curriculum in its entirety. As an example one of the premier PE departments is in Istanbul Technical University. It has 11 PE PhD's on their faculty. Mr. Saeedi suggests that NED should use more industry resources to teach the required courses.

Mr. Saeedi said that the department has provided field trips and seminars over the first four years of its existence. However, it needs to do much more in this area to stay up on the latest cutting-edge technology. That was one of the reasons Saeedi has proposed regular video conferences from North America. If a video conference is not possible, a NetMeeting session would be a good alternative to get NED alumni and other PE experts involved in improving education at the PE department.

Dr. Shamsul Haq indicated that the PE department has good collaboration with petroleum industry in Pakistan, particularly Pakistan Petroleum Limited which has established a PPL chair at the university.

HEC Ranking:

Dr. Shamsul Haq talked about the HEC ranking process which relied on inaccurate and unaudited information provided by the institutions. In the case of NED, Dr. Haq said NEDUET took the position that the HEC as the funding body should not be ranking universities. NEDUET, therefore, did not respond to the HEC request for data. HEC used its own, unconfirmed data to assess NED's ranking. NEDUET disagrees with both the data used and the resulting ranking.

Issues at NEDUET:

Dr. Haq acknowledged that there are some issues in terms of faculty leadership and performance that have dogged some departments. Lack of initiative and absence of serious commitment have let the administration and students down and resulted in departures of faculty members. Dr. Haq did not elaborate on the specifics. However, he did indicate that serious alumni involvement and guidance can help alleviate some of these issues in the future.

NED Alumni Successes:

Looking at the worlds of high-technology, engineering, finance, journalism, writing, sports, music, politics or business, you will find NEDians making their mark. Among the sports personalities, you will find famous names such as cricketers Saeed Anwar and Rashid Latif, Asian games swimming medalist Asif Kausar, and national hockey player Hasan Sardar. Among the published authors we have Dr. Naveed Sherwani with a book on chip design and Imran Qureshi with a book on Cisco Internetworking, Ali Hasan Cemendtaur with several books to his credit, just to name a few. In the world of music and entertainment, you know and love NEDians Mohammad Ali Shehki, Ali Haider and actor Mazhar Ali who have made their presence felt. In the world of finance you have a recognizable NEDian Zakir Mahmood as the CEO of Habib Bank, one of the largest banks in Pakistan and Mohammad Aboobaker, former Intel executive and venture capitalist in Silicon Valley. In academia, we have Professor Ali Minai at University of Cincinnati, Dr. Jamshed Jami Shah at Arizona State University and Dr. Khalid Razzaqi at Illinois State and many more. It may come as a surprise to some of you that Arif Mansuri, the managing editor of Pakistan Link, is an NEDian.

Last year, several young NEDians made their names as successful entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. Of particular note are Raghib Hussain of Cavium which recently went public on NASDAQ, Naveed Sherwani of Open Silicon which is likely to go public soon, Rehan Jalil of Wichorus, a high-profile mobile WiMax start-up that has raised tens of millions of dollars in VC funding. These are just a few names from a long list of very successful NEDian businesses and executives found in the Valley.

Other NED Alumni have had major impact in shaping this high-tech valley through their contributions at well known local companies such as Cisco Systems, Intel and Sun. Whether it is Intel CPUs, VIA chipsets, Sun Servers, Cavium Security processors, Cisco routers, Diebold or NCR ATMs, you will find NED Alumni fingerprints in creating these products and systems. So many of the advances in Chipset technology and Network Security Processors can be attributed to VIA and VP-Net; both these companies were co-founded by NEDians, Idris Kothari and Saeed Kazmi. Some of the VPNet alumni started Cavium. Earlier, Saeed, Idris and Zoaib Rangwalla served on the advisory board of another high-flying company called Exodus. Zoaib served as their first CFO. More recently, Idris and Saeed have a new company called Vertical Systems in the area of hospitality computing. In the field of manufacturing, there is NexLogic, founded by Zulki Khan, an NEDian. In the field of systems and software, away from the semiconductor tradition of Silicon Valley and highly successful without any venture funding, is Infonox (founded by Dr. Safwan Shah, an NEDian). Infonox is a market and technology leader in the delivery of complex financial services on Kiosks, ATM’s and other point of service devices. Each of these companies can boast of many fortune 500 customers and millions of users. Cumulatively, these companies and products have added economic value worth billions of dollars.

Alumni Relations:

Dr. Shamsul Haq said NEDUET is building an alumni network to improve contact and relationship with its alumni. He encouraged all alumni to register at the NED website.

Future Direction:

After four annual conventions of NED alumni in US and closer contact with NEDUET faculty and administration, the time is now right to begin a collaboration process between NEDians in North America and the NED University in Karachi. The first step is to sign up with NED Alumni Network and follow that up with specific, concrete proposals such as sponsoring lecture series, funding chairs at NEDUET, regular visits by alumni to offer seminars in their respective fields and arranging industry-academia links for NED University to work on specific projects or research.