Saturday, January 31, 2009

India and Pakistan at Davos 2009

The economic growth numbers and the rising stock markets during 2004-2007 persuaded many investors to buy into the Bollywood style "Shining India" hype made in Mumbai. However, now that the growth has slowed and the Mumbai stock market is returning back down to earth, the passive consumer of India's well-cultivated image as "peaceful, stable and prospering" investment destination is beginning to scrutinize the reality behind the hype.

Many are surprised to learn from the National Counter-terrorism Center (NCTC) in Washington that the death toll from terrorist attacks in India between January 2004 and March 2007 was 3,674, second only to that in Iraq. (In the same period, 1,000 died as a result of such attacks in Pakistan, the "most dangerous place on earth" according to the Economist, Newsweek and other vendors of geopolitical insight.) The recent Hong Kong-based Political & Economic Risk Consultancy Ltd. has rated India as the riskiest of 14 Asian countries, not including Pakistan and Afghanistan, it analyzed for 2009. Add to that the abject poverty, the continuing and multiple large-scale insurgencies and the lax corporate governance, and you have reasons to worry about the "emerging superpower" called India.

As part of its well orchestrated hype with the assistance of friendly western media, India has effectively used the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland as a showcase for its new image as an exciting and dynamic place in the throes of change, a must destination for international investment. In Davos, the Indians have thrown the best parties, laid on the most stimulating discussions and, generally, they have been impossible to overlook. That has added to a flood of international publicity, most of it flattering.

But this year, the shine's off, according to Time magazine. The worldwide economic crisis has refocused the attention of the 2,000 plus delegates in Davos on critical issues of financial stability and governance, in which India is only a peripheral player. India's growth is still relatively strong, but no longer stellar. Exports are down, as is the rupee. Outsourcing and foreign direct investment are out of fashion. Security is suddenly a pressing issue after the Nov. terrorist attacks in Mumbai. And worst of all, the country is now plagued by a huge corporate scandal, at outsourcing firm Satyam, that has fairly or not put a dent in the reputation of India Inc.

According to various media reports, the lavish parties and the elaborate sessions put on by Indians have attracted sparse attendance. Here's an excerpt from Time magazine describing Indian presence at Davos 2009:

There are two obvious signs of this change in Davos. First is the social scene, which the Indians dominated ever since 2006, when several companies bandied together to launch a marketing assault that included handing out iPods to all delegates, flying in the country's best chefs and plastering "India Everywhere" posters around the Swiss mountain town. This year, the Indian parties so far have been conspicuously empty. I went to a Wipro cocktail at the Hotel Europe last night hosted by chairman Azim Premji that attracted no more than 20 people in the hour I spent there. Premji was a charming host, although he moved on quickly after I asked him whether the Satyam scandal was affecting Wipro. Another party thrown by the auto firm Bajaj didn't pull a big crowd either, I was told by a couple who dropped by.

More seriously, this morning, Deutsche Bank hosted a breakfast about India that featured an all-star cast of speakers, including Montek Singh Ahluwalia, a key government planning official, and industry titans Anand Mahindra, who runs an industrial empire and telecoms magnate Sunil Bharti Mittal. Instead of the self-confident message of the past three years -"We are the new global force to be reckoned with" - the tone was a lot more muted. India's still a great place with a great future, they said, but it has some important issues to work through in the short term. Anshu Jain, the London-based head of Deutsche Bank's global markets division who chaired the meeting, summed it up aptly when he said, "It felt like India was all the rage. The question now is whether the pendulum has now swung the other way."

As for India's neighbor Pakistan, there is even more focus on "terror" and continuing talk of doom and gloom. “I assure you and I assure the house that I will never ever allow my soil, Pakistani soil to be used for terror activities,” Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said at the World Economic Forum. In spite of the negative attention, Mr. Gilani did try and court foreign businesses and investors to come to Pakistan.

“Investing in Pakistan is investing in future,” the Prime Minister said while addressing a lunch he hosted for the leading businessmen here on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum. Gilani said Pakistan’s sound fundamentals offered the investors an opportunity to explore the country’s economic potential in diverse fields. He emphasized the need for more foreign investment coming into Pakistan and benefit from its investor-friendly economic policies. He said Pakistan’s liberal economic regime with zero import duty on raw material provided equal opportunities for the local and foreign businessmen. He said Pakistan was though confronting with a number of challenges including economic crisis, however the democratic government was struggling to improve the situation.

“Despite all the challenges, economy continues to be buoyant and vibrant in Pakistan,” the Prime Minister said, adding the country’s mineral and work-force resources had the great potential to be fully tapped.

Gilani said the government had converged its focus upon the development of agriculture sector to utilize it particularly during the recession phase. “It will be just a matter of time that Pakistan will become a regional hub of economic activity,” the Prime Minister told his audience. He said the improved economic plan for civil aviation, customs and logistics would substantially enhance the country’s trade activities. The Prime Minister said Pakistan had the capacity to join hands with partners in food security, being a major food producer and the fourth largest milk producer in the world.

Gilani said the government was taking a number of strategic measures, and mentioned increased trade with Afghanistan and improved regional mechanism with the SAARC countries. He said a deep seaport at Gwadar had been established for greater economic activity among the Central Asian and Asian states.

He said the government was using the trade policy prudently by pursuing growth. “Our economic strategy rests on strengthening the trade dividends and ensuring a business-friendly environment in the country,” he said.

Prime Minister Gilani said in WTO context, Pakistan would support substantial reduction on tariffs in the developing countries.

There are reports that the Pakistani prime minister's lunch was not particularly well attended. Prime Minister's critics are of the view that Gilani's visit was an expensive public relations exercise during which he met very few international leaders or spoke to the international media that was willing to talk to him. It's not clear how much planning and preparation was made prior to the prime minister's arrival in Switzerland. The lack of Pakistan's private sector participation at the forum is also troubling.

Regardless of the results of this year's Davos forum, it is important for both India and Pakistan to continue to participate and project their nations in the best possible light. With their large populations and significant growth potential, the South Asian nations must not let up in their efforts to bring peace and prosperity to their impoverished people.

Here's a video of Prime Minister Gilani at the Davos 2009 Summit:

Here's a video of Montek Singh Ahluwalia at Davos 2009:

Related Links:

Musharraf at Davos 2008

Mumbai's Economic Impact

Satyam Scandal Hurts Confidence in India

Jinnah's Pakistan Booms Amidst Doom and Gloom

An Expensive Trip to Davos

Friday, January 30, 2009

Obama Backtracks on Kashmir

After repeatedly emphasizing that Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan is inextricably linked to Afghanistan crisis, President Barack Obama has begun to backtrack on the need for resolving Kashmir.

The clearest signal yet of this change of heart came this week when Kashmir was dropped from special envoy Richard Holbrooke's mandate under pressure from Indian lobby in Washington. According to Washington Post, India managed to "prune the portfolio of the Obama administration's top envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard C. Holbrooke -- basically eliminating the contested region of Kashmir from his job description".

In run-up to the last US presidential elections and until recently, it was widely known that Obama believes the situation in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan. “The most important thing we’re going to have to do with respect to Afghanistan, is actually deal with Pakistan,” Obama said in an interview on October 30 with MSNBC. “And we’ve got work with the newly elected government there in a coherent way that says, terrorism is now a threat to you. Extremism is a threat to you. We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they can stay focused not on India, but on the situation with those militants.”

Obama reiterated his emphasis on Kashmir in a December 7 interview on NBC's Meet The Press. He said, " I've said before, we can't continue to look at Afghanistan in isolation. We have to see it as a part of a regional problem that includes Pakistan, includes India, includes Kashmir, includes Iran. And part of the kind of foreign policy I want to shape is one in which we have tough, direct diplomacy combined with more effective military operations, focused on what is the number one threat against U.S. interests and U.S. lives. And that's al-Qaeda and, and, and their various affiliates, and we are going to go after them fiercely in the years to come."

The deletion is seen as a significant diplomatic concession to India that reflects increasingly warm ties between the country and the United States, according to South Asia analysts.

Indian diplomats, worried about Holbrooke's tough-as-nails reputation, wanted to keep him away from Kashmir, according to several Indian officials and Indian news media reports. Holbrooke is nicknamed "the Bulldozer" for arm-twisting warring leaders to the negotiating table as he hammered out the 1995 Dayton peace accords that ended the war in Bosnia, a peace that has stuck. The Indians are quite happy to see this "Bulldozer" riding roughshod over Pakistan.

Recalling her meeting with Holbrooke and Richard Perle in Kazakhstan, Pakistani analyst Shireen Mazari wrote recently that she "was surprised by the similarity of views they both held towards the Muslim world in general, and towards what the U.S. was doing post-9/11 in Afghanistan. Also, if we remember that Holbrooke was Hillary Clinton's senior policy adviser, we will understand where he is really coming from. After all, Hillary Clinton supported the Iraq war until it became unpopular in the U.S.!"

Mazari further added, "Again, it was Holbrooke ( who happens to be Jewish-American), as the U.S. ambassador at the UN, who arranged for Israel to be admitted into a regional grouping of Western European and other nations–to allow Israel access to membership of crucial committees and other privileges. Interestingly, Scott Ritter, a UN Weapons' Inspector in Iraq (1991-1998), has recalled how, in a television discussion in October 2001, Holbrooke had rejected any form of diplomacy in Afghanistan and had favored only military action. Hardly the sort of man who will be open to the sensitivities of Pakistan!"

"I think it is time for us -- having fobbed off Holbrooke -- to sit quietly and ask where are we and how do we manage the situation," said C. Raja Mohan, an Indian strategic analyst who served on India's national security advisory board in 2006.

"Intellectually, it is impossible to disentangle these problems (Afghanistan and Kashmir) from each other," said Daniel Markey, a South Asia expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. "The smartest thing is to work on this behind the scenes."

Time Magazine reports that the Obama Administration is not going to buy India's line that the U.S. should butt out of Kashmir. The President himself plainly believes there's a role for the U.S. to play.However, it's not clear how the US would play such a role.

The fact that Obama has already begun to show serious weakness in his dealings with India does not augur well for the success of any back-channel negotiations. If anything, it'll just mean more pressure on Pakistan to essentially agree to whatever terms are dictated by India through Holbrooke, the "Bulldozer".

In an earlier post, I had expressed the hope that Obama and his allies will show tough love to India and Israel, the kind of tough love that makes two of America's best friends see what is truly in their own best interest. The latest news about Obama's attitude suggests that my hope was misplaced. As far as India and Israel are concerned, we are likely to see a lot of diplomatic activity but no real fundamental shifts from the failed Bush policies of coddling Israel and India. The early indications are that Obama's "change" will only be skin-deep when it comes to changing the course of events in South Asia and the Middle East. On the contrary, Afghanistan and Pakistan will likely become Obama's Indochina, far worse than Bush's Iraq.

Here are two videos to explain Kashmir. The first is on the Obama vision of solving the Kashmir issue. The second is a comprehensive video on the origins of Kashmir dispute and the positions of various parties as presented by Pakistani Peace Activist Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy:

Related Links:

Obama's South Asia Policy

Military Occupation of Kashmir

Bruce Riedel Interview

Clues to Obama's South Asia Policy

Teaching Facts Versus Reasoning

International math and science test results have consistently shown for over a decade that Asian students from China, Japan, Singapore and Korea perform better than American students. In spite of such results, the US continues to excel in scientific and technological innovation as measured by the number of Nobel prizes and number of international patent filings. Most of the recent breakthrough innovations have come from the United States. Six of the top ten highest ranked universities are in the United States. There is only one Silicon Valley in the world and it is in the United States. This valley represents more of a state of mind rather than a physical place. Why is it? Do Americans focus more on scientific reasoning than facts and content? Is there greater focus on rote learning in Asia? Do Americans foster more creativity and greater exploration? Does freedom of expression in America encourage more questioning and better reasoning? Though it does not clearly answer these questions, a new study recently done at Ohio State University tries to shed some light on the question of learning facts versus reason. Here is a report of this study:

Newswise — A study of college freshmen in the United States and in China found that Chinese students know more science facts than their American counterparts -- but both groups are nearly identical when it comes to their ability to do scientific reasoning.

Neither group is especially skilled at reasoning, however, and the study suggests that educators must go beyond teaching science facts if they hope to boost students’ reasoning ability.

Researchers tested nearly 6,000 students majoring in science and engineering at seven universities -- four in the United States and three in China. Chinese students greatly outperformed American students on factual knowledge of physics -- averaging 90 percent on one test, versus the American students’ 50 percent, for example.

But in a test of science reasoning, both groups averaged around 75 percent -- not a very high score, especially for students hoping to major in science or engineering.

The research appears in the January 30, 2009 issue of the journal Science.

Lei Bao, associate professor of physics at Ohio State University and lead author of the study, said that the finding defies conventional wisdom, which holds that teaching science facts will improve students’ reasoning ability.

“Our study shows that, contrary to what many people would expect, even when students are rigorously taught the facts, they don’t necessarily develop the reasoning skills they need to succeed,” Bao said. “Because students need both knowledge and reasoning, we need to explore teaching methods that target both.”

Bao directs Ohio State’s Physics Education Research Group, which is developing new strategies for teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. For this study, he and his colleagues across the United States and in China decided to compare students from both countries, because the educational systems are so different.

In the United States, only one-third of students take a year-long physics course before they graduate from high school. The rest only study physics within general science courses. Curricula vary widely from school to school, and students can choose among elective courses.

In China, however, every student in every school follows exactly the same curriculum, which includes five years of continuous physics classes from grades 8 through 12. All students must perform well on a national exam if they hope to enter college, and the exam contains advanced physics problems.

“Each system has its strengths and weaknesses,” Bao said. “In China, schools emphasize a very extensive learning of STEM content knowledge, while in the United States, science courses are more flexible, with simpler content but with a high emphasis on scientific methods. We need to think of a new strategy, perhaps one that blends the best of both worlds.”

The students who participated in the study were all incoming freshmen who had just enrolled in a calculus-based introductory physics course. They took three multiple-choice tests: two which tested knowledge of physics concepts, and one which tested scientific reasoning.

The first test, the Force Concept Inventory, measures students’ basic knowledge of mechanics -- the action of forces on objects. Most Chinese students scored close to 90 percent, while the American scores varied widely from 25-75 percent, with an average of 50.

The second test, the Brief Electricity and Magnetism Assessment, measures students’ understanding of electric forces, circuits, and magnetism, which are often considered to be more abstract concepts and more difficult to learn than mechanics. Here Chinese students averaged close to 70 percent while American students averaged around 25 percent -- a little better than if they had simply picked their multiple-choice answers randomly.

The third test, the Lawson Classroom Test of Scientific Reasoning, measures science skills beyond the facts. Students are asked to evaluate scientific hypotheses, and reason out solutions using skills such as proportional reasoning, control of variables, probability reasoning, correlation reasoning, and hypothetical-deductive reasoning. Both American and Chinese students averaged a 75 percent score.

Bao explained that STEM students need to excel at scientific reasoning in order to handle open-ended real-world tasks in their future careers in science and engineering.

Ohio State graduate student and study co-author Jing Han echoed that sentiment. “To do my own research, I need to be able to plan what I’m going to investigate and how to do it. I can’t just ask my professor or look up the answer in a book,” she said.

“These skills are especially important today, when we are determined to build a society with a sustainable edge in science and technology in a fast-evolving global environment,” Bao said.

He quickly added that reasoning is a good skill for everyone to possess -- not just scientists and engineers.

“The general public also needs good reasoning skills in order to correctly interpret scientific findings and think rationally,” he said.

How to boost scientific reasoning? Bao points to inquiry-based learning, where students work in groups, question teachers and design their own investigations. This teaching technique is growing in popularity worldwide.

Ohio State is exploring inquiry-based learning in its physics classes. Here students use hand-held electronic devices called clickers to answer multiple-choice questions during lectures. They work together to answer questions, and professors use the clicker interaction to guide student learning towards a more investigative style. The department is also adopting an inquiry-based curriculum for undergraduate physics courses.

Bao and Han’s coauthors on the study included Jing Wang, Qing Liu and Lin Ding of Ohio State; Tianfan Cai and Yufeng Wang of Beijing Jiaotong University; Kathy Koenig of Wright State University; Kai Fang of Tongji University; Lili Cui of the University of Maryland at Baltimore County; Ying Luo of Beijing Normal University; and Lieming Li and Nianle Wu of Tsinghua University.

This research was supported by the Department of Physics at Ohio State.

Related Links:

Can Scientific Reasoning Be Taught?

HEC University Ranking Controversy in Pakistan

Re-Imagining Pakistan

Improving Higher Education in Pakistan

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Turkey's Erdogan Blasts Israel at Davos

“When it comes to killing, you know well how to kill,” Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan told Shimon Peres, the President of Israel at a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland today. “Mr. Peres, you are older than me,” he said. “Your voice comes out in a very high tone. And the high tone of your voice has to do with a guilty conscience. My voice, however, will not come out in the same tone', Erdogan added before walking out of the stage. Leaving the conference, Mr. Erdogan said, “And so Davos is over for me from now on.”

Mr. Erdogan was dismayed at the applause for Mr. Peres by the Israeli supporters at Davos. "I find it very sad that people applaud what you said," Erdogan said. "You killed people. And I think that it is very wrong."

"You kill people," Erdogan told the 85-year-old Israeli leader. "I remember the children who died on beaches. I remember two former prime ministers who said they felt very happy when they were able to enter Palestine on tanks."

"I did not target at all in any way the Israeli people, President Peres, or the Jewish people," Erdogan told a news conference afterward.

"I am a prime minister, a leader who has specifically expressly stated that anti-Semitism is a crime against humanity," he said.

In a news conference immediately after the panel discussion, Mr. Erdogan said he was particularly upset with the Washington Post's David Ignatius, the Jewish-American moderator, who he said had failed to direct a balanced and impartial panel, according to the New York Times.

Other panelists included UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Amr Moussa, the Arab League’s secretary general, joining Mr. Peres and Mr. Erdogan. Participants said Mr. Peres was mostly alone in defending Israel’s role in Gaza, and for that reason he was given the final 25 minutes to speak.

Upon his return to his home country, the Turkish leader was greeted by a jubilant crowd of more than 5,000 supporters, many waving Turkish and Palestinian flags, who flooded Istanbul's airport when his plane touched down about 2 a.m. Friday, Istanbul time.

This incident should be a wake-up call to the Israelis. After all, secular and "moderate" Turkey has been one of the few countries in its neighborhood having friendly relations with Israel.

Israel has been on the defensive as the reports of alleged war crimes have been trickling out of Israel since its recent Gaza offensive.

In one reported incident in Zeitoun, Gaza on January 4, where the frightened members of an extended family were hiding from Israeli bombardment and ground assault as Attiyah, 46, (husband) and Zinad Samouni, 35, (wife) mother of eight children opened the door, the Israeli soldiers in cold blood shot Attiyah dead and then went on a rampage to massacre the other members of the Samouni clan in this small hiding place.

“So far dozens of bodies, mostly women, children and elderly, have been recovered, almost all from the same extended family. The 48th corpse – horribly decomposed – was found on Monday but there are fears others lie under the rubble and soil churned up by Israeli armoured vehicles,” reported Tim Butcher of The Daily Telegraph of London. Navi Pillay, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights has already called for war crimes investigations against Israel for the massacre that took place in Zeitoun on January 4th and 5th.

Doctors at Al-Shifa hospital reported seeing unusual burns on their victims that most likely came from the use of white phosphorus against civilian targets in Gaza. The phosphorus burns get worse when water is poured on them, something the Palestinian doctors observed. Israel denies using phosphorous shells against people in Gaza, but at the same time Israel says it is investigating the allegations. Israeli government has announced the formation of a special legal team to defend Israeli soldiers against potential war crimes charges stemming from the recent three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip.

MSNBC cable channel is reporting that the Israeli move reflects growing concerns in Israel that officers could be subject to international prosecution for the large number of civilian deaths in Gaza, despite the army's claims that Hamas militants caused the casualties by staging attacks from residential areas.

The reported war crimes allegations against Israel must not be allowed to go un-investigated. Any attempt by Israel and its allies to resist independent investigations will be seen as cover up. If the investigations show evidence that war crimes have been committed, the Israeli soldiers and those who ordered this war must be brought to justice in an international criminal court. The US, UN and Europeans must pursue this process honestly with the same vigor as they did with the perpetrators in Germany, Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

Here's a video of Prime Minister Erdogan speaking at Davos:

Here's a video about Israeli behavior in Zeitun, Gaza:

Related Links:

Transcript of Prime Minister Erdogan's Remarks at Davos

Israel's Gaza Attack is Criminal, Not Defensive

Gaza Killings-A spectator Sport for Israelis

Gandhi Opposed Creation of Israel

With the growing admiration of Israel in India and the rapid growth of US-Israel-India axis, it is important to remember that India's founding fathers, Mohandas K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, were opposed to the creation of the state of Israel in the 1930s and 1940s. In fact, India voted against the admission of Israel into the United Nation in May 1949. The developments over the last two decades speak volumes about the rise of Gandhi-Nehru-hating radical right-wing Hindu groups in India, and their power to manipulate the Indian national agenda. The US "war on terror" has provided a convenient cover for the Hindu bigots in India to pursue their dream of cleansing India of "aliens" and "invaders".

Here is a letter Mahatma Gandhi wrote in 1938, when Hitler was ruling Germany, and the clouds of Word War II were gathering over Europe. Gandhi's letter shows his great sense of right and wrong:

Several letters have been received by me asking me to declare my views about the Arab-Jew question in Palestine and the persecution of the Jews in Germany. It is not without hesitation that I venture to offer my views on this very difficult question.

My sympathies are all with the Jews. I have known them intimately in South Africa. Some of them became life-long companions. Through these friends I came to learn much of their age-long persecution. They have been the untouchables of Christianity. The parallel between their treatment by Christians and the treatment of untouchables by Hindus is very close. Religious sanction has been invoked in both cases for the justification of the inhuman treatment meted out to them. Apart from the friendships, therefore, there is the more common universal reason for my sympathy for the Jews.

But my sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice. The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me. The sanction for it is sought in the Bible and the tenacity with which the Jews have hankered after return to Palestine. Why should they not, like other peoples of the earth, make that country their home where they are born and where they earn their livelihood?

Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs. What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct. The mandates have no sanction but that of the last war. Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home.

The nobler course would be to insist on a just treatment of the Jews wherever they are born and bred. The Jews born in France are French in precisely the same sense that Christians born in France are French. If the Jews have no home but Palestine, will they relish the idea of being forced to leave the other parts of the world in which they are settled? Or do they want a double home where they can remain at will? This cry for the national home affords a colorable justification for the German expulsion of the Jews.

But the German persecution of the Jews seems to have no parallel in history. The tyrants of old never went so mad as Hitler seems to have gone. And he is doing it with religious zeal. For he is propounding a new religion of exclusive and militant nationalism in the name of which many inhumanity becomes an act of humanity to be rewarded here and hereafter. The crime of an obviously mad but intrepid youth is being visited upon his whole race with unbelievable ferocity. If there ever could be a justifiable war in the name of and for humanity, a war against Germany, to prevent the wanton persecution of a whole race, would be completely justified. But I do not believe in any war. A discussion of the pros and cons of such a war is therefore outside my horizon or province.

But if there can be no war against Germany, even for such a crime as is being committed against the Jews, surely there can be no alliance with Germany. How can there be alliance between a nation which claims to stand for justice and democracy and one which is the declared enemy of both? Or is England drifting towards armed dictatorship and all it means?

Germany is showing to the world how efficiently violence can be worked when it is not hampered by any hypocrisy or weakness masquerading as humanitarianism. It is also showing how hideous, terrible and terrifying it looks in its nakedness.

Can the Jews resist this organized and shameless persecution? Is there a way to preserve their self-respect, and not to feel helpless, neglected and forlorn? I submit there is. No person who has faith in a living God need feel helpless or forlorn. Jehovah of the Jews is a God more personal than the God of the Christians, the Musalmans or the Hindus, though, as a matter of fact in essence, He is common to all the one without a second and beyond description. But as the Jews attribute personality to God and believe that He rules every action of theirs, they ought not to feel helpless. If I were a Jew and were born in Germany and earned my livelihood there, I would claim Germany as my home even as the tallest gentile German may, and challenge him to shoot me or cast me in the dungeon; I would refuse to be expelled or to submit to discriminating treatment . And for doing this, I should not wait for the fellow Jews to join me in civil resistance but would have confidence that in the end the rest are bound to follow my example. If one Jew or all the Jews were to accept the prescription here offered, he or they cannot be worse off than now. And suffering voluntarily undergone will bring them an inner strength and joy which no number of resolutions of sympathy passed in the world outside Germany can. Indeed, even if Britain, France and America were to declare hostilities against Germany, they can bring no inner joy, no inner strength. The calculated violence of Hitler may even result in a general massacre of the Jews by way of his first answer to the declaration of such hostilities. But if the Jewish mind could be prepared for voluntary suffering, even the massacre I have imagined could be turned into a day of thanksgiving and joy that Jehovah had wrought deliverance of the race even at the hands of the tyrant. For to the god fearing, death has no terror. It is a joyful sleep to be followed by a waking that would be all the more refreshing for the long sleep.

It is hardly necessary for me to point out that it is easier for the Jews than for the Czechs to follow my prescription. And they have in the Indian satyagraha campaign in South Africa an exact parallel. There the Indians occupied precisely the same place that the Jews occupy in Germany. The persecution had also a religious tinge. President Kruger used to say that the white Christians were the chosen of God and Indians were inferior beings created to serve the whites. A fundamental clause in the Transvaal constitution was that there should be no equality between the whites and colored races including Asia tics. There too the Indians were consigned to ghettos described as locations. The other disabilities were almost of the same type as those of the Jews in Germany. The Indians, a mere handful, resorted to satyagraha without any backing from the world outside or the Indian Government. Indeed the British officials tried to dissuade the satyagrahis (soldiers of non-violence) from their contemplated step. World opinion and the Indian Government came to their aid after eight years of fighting. And that too was by way of diplomatic pressure not of a threat of war.

But the Jews of Germany can offer satyagraha under infinitely better auspices than Indians of South Africa. The Jews are a compact, homogeneous community in Germany. they are far more gifted than the Indians of South Africa. And they have organized world opinion behind them. I am convinced that if someone with courage and vision can arise among them to lead them in nonviolent action, the winter of their despair can in the twinkling of an eye be turned into the summer of hope. And what has today become a degrading man-hunt can be turned in to a calm and determined stand offered by unarmed men and women possessing the strength of suffering given to them by Jehovah. It will be then a truly religious resistance offered against the godless fury of dehumanized man. The German Jews will score a lasting victory over the German gentiles in the sense that they will have converted that latter to an appreciation of human dignity. They will have rendered service to fellow-Germans and proved their title to be the real Germans as against those who are today dragging, however unknowingly, the German name into the mire.

And now a word to the Jews in Palestine. I have no doubt that they are going about it the wrong way. The Palestine of the Biblical conception is not geographical tract. It is in their hearts. But if they must look to the Palestine of geography as their national home, it is wrong to enter it under the shadow of the British gun. A religious act cannot be performed with the aid of the bayonet or the bomb. They can settle in Palestine only by the goodwill of the Arabs. They should seek to convert the Arab heart. The same God rules the Arab heart, who rules the Jewish heart. They can offer satyagraha in front of the Arabs and offer themselves to be shot or thrown in to the Dead Sea without raising a little finger against them. They will find the world opinion in the their favor in their religious aspiration. There are hundreds of ways of reasoning with the Arabs, if they will only discard the help of the British bayonet. As it is, they are co-sharers with the British in despoiling a people who have done no wrong to them.

I am not defending the Arab excesses. I wish they had chosen the way of non-violence in resisting what they rightly regarded as an unwarrantable encroachment upon their country. But according to the accepted canons of right and wrong, nothing can be said against the Arab resistance in the face of overwhelming odds.

Let the Jews who claim to be the chosen race prove their title by choosing the way of non-violence for vindicating their position on earth. Every country is their home including Palestine, not by aggression but by loving service. A Jewish friend has sent me a book called The Jewish Contribution to Civilization by Cecil Roth. It gives a record of what the Jews have done to enrich the word's Literature, art, music, drama, science, medicine, agriculture, etc. Given the will, the Jews can refuse to be treated as the outcast of the West, to be despised or patronized. He can command the attention and respect of the world by being man, the chosen creation of God, instead of being man who is fast sinking to the brute and forsaken by God. They can add to their many contributions the surpassing contribution of non-violent action.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Hallibuton Offers $559m to Settle Corruption Charges

Halliburton is the latest in a string of Western companies settling charges or paying fines in connection with bribing foreign officials to get contracts. The company has agreed to pay $559 million to the U.S. to settle charges that one of its former units, Kellog, Brown and Root, bribed Nigerian officials during the construction of a gas plant, according to media reports.

The case under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act against Kellogg, Brown & Root engineering unit stems from the construction of a giant liquefied natural gas plant on the Nigerian coast near Port Harcourt from 1996 through the mid-2000s. KBR was part of a consortium that built the facility, which at the time was the largest industrial investment ever made in Africa. Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney was the CEO of Halliburton during this period. Mr. Cheney is not named in the Justice Department charges and there is no evidence Mr. Cheney knew of the bribes.

The $559m payment would be the largest paid by a U.S. company in a bribery investigation, eclipsing the previous record $44 million fine in 2007 against U.S. oil-field services firm Baker Hughes Inc. for improper payments in Kazakhstan. In December, German industrial conglomerate Siemens AG agreed to pay $800 million in U.S. fines to settle bribery investigations involving alleged payments to government officials around the world to win infrastructure contracts. As part of the settlement, Siemens didn't admit to bribery allegations but it admitted to having had inadequate controls and keeping improper accounts.

There is a lot of anecdotal evidence of widespread corruption in many parts of the world. The rarity of the formal charges or convictions indicates that the behavior of large multinationals in their dealings with corrupt politicians and officials in many Asian and African countries has received only scant attention. There have been serious allegations and at least preliminary evidence to suggest that illegal payments were made to Bhutto-Zardari controlled fronts by companies in France, Switzerland and Poland. There was some action pursued in Switzerland at the request of Pakistani Government under Pervez Musharraf. However, France and Poland have not pursued the charges of corruption involving their companies in Pakistan. The only explanation being offered is that foreign corruption laws did not exist in France prior to the year 2000.

There are currently laws on the books in the West such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) in the United States. Almost all ethics classes taught in the Western management schools and company training courses cover this topic. However, the question is whether these laws are really enforced and how often are the companies held accountable? Or do they simply rely on the foreign governments to report misbehavior? It would be a fantasy to expect the officials and politicians on the receiving end to report incidents of bribery as they are the main beneficiaries. But I think the German, French, US, British and other governments of developed nations who claim higher moral positions should be cracking down on these reprehensible practices just to enforce their own laws and live up to their own higher standards. While it may be argued and it is like putting the shoe on the wrong foot, I see it as the only hope we have of containing such widespread corruption in developing nations that is robbing their people blind.

Related Links:

Bhutto Convicted in Switzerland

Corruption in Pakistan

Transparency International Survey 2007

Is Siemens Guilty?

Zardari Corruption Probe

Obama Reaches Out to the Muslim World

“My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy,” President Barack Obama told Al Arabiya’s Hisham Melhem in an interview broadcast Tuesday morning.

In his inaugural speech a week ago, here's what Mr. Obama told the Islamic world, "To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."

By choosing to grant his first media interview as president to Al-Arabiya, an Arabic news channel that caters to mostly Muslim audiences in the Middle East, Obama is sending a clear signal that he wants to engage with Muslims. By talking with Al-Arabiya rather than Al-Jazeera, Obama is also signaling that he wants to reach out to Muslims on his own terms. It is well known that the US sees the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya as "moderate" (read: more friendly), and preferable for America over its more popular competitor, the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera. It is a reminder of the Bush administration's preference for Fox News over its competitors during the last eight years. Al-Jazeera continues to enjoy much higher ratings in the Middle East and the rest of the Muslim world than Al-Arabiya, according to The Nation. The Nation says that, after years of a near-monopoly in the televised Arab media, Al Jazeera has inspired several imitators throughout the Arab world. The only competitor that has come close is Al Arabiya. Jazeera still holds a majority market share, a remarkable accomplishment after more than ten years. And Jazeera has forced the Arab governments to at least consider the possible media consequences of their actions, something that would have been unthinkable before Al-Jazeera’s 1996 launch.

Here's the full text of the interview:


Map Room

5:46 P.M. EST

Q Mr. President, thank you for this opportunity, we really appreciate it.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much.

Q Sir, you just met with your personal envoy to the Middle East, Senator Mitchell. Obviously, his first task is to consolidate the cease-fire. But beyond that you've been saying that you want to pursue actively and aggressively peacemaking between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Tell us a little bit about how do you see your personal role, because, you know, if the President of the United States is not involved, nothing happens -- as the history of peacemaking shows. Will you be proposing ideas, pitching proposals, parameters, as one of your predecessors did? Or just urging the parties to come up with their own resolutions, as your immediate predecessor did?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think the most important thing is for the United States to get engaged right away. And George Mitchell is somebody of enormous stature. He is one of the few people who have international experience brokering peace deals.

And so what I told him is start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating -- in the past on some of these issues -- and we don't always know all the factors that are involved. So let's listen. He's going to be speaking to all the major parties involved. And he will then report back to me. From there we will formulate a specific response.

Ultimately, we cannot tell either the Israelis or the Palestinians what's best for them. They're going to have to make some decisions. But I do believe that the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people. And that instead, it's time to return to the negotiating table.

And it's going to be difficult, it's going to take time. I don't want to prejudge many of these issues, and I want to make sure that expectations are not raised so that we think that this is going to be resolved in a few months. But if we start the steady progress on these issues, I'm absolutely confident that the United States -- working in tandem with the European Union, with Russia, with all the Arab states in the region -- I'm absolutely certain that we can make significant progress.

Q You've been saying essentially that we should not look at these issues -- like the Palestinian-Israeli track and separation from the border region -- you've been talking about a kind of holistic approach to the region. Are we expecting a different paradigm in the sense that in the past one of the critiques -- at least from the Arab side, the Muslim side -- is that everything the Americans always tested with the Israelis, if it works. Now there is an Arab peace plan, there is a regional aspect to it. And you've indicated that. Would there be any shift, a paradigm shift?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, here's what I think is important. Look at the proposal that was put forth by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia --

Q Right.

THE PRESIDENT: I might not agree with every aspect of the proposal, but it took great courage --

Q Absolutely.

THE PRESIDENT: -- to put forward something that is as significant as that. I think that there are ideas across the region of how we might pursue peace.

I do think that it is impossible for us to think only in terms of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and not think in terms of what's happening with Syria or Iran or Lebanon or Afghanistan and Pakistan. These things are interrelated. And what I've said, and I think Hillary Clinton has expressed this in her confirmation, is that if we are looking at the region as a whole and communicating a message to the Arab world and the Muslim world, that we are ready to initiate a new partnership based on mutual respect and mutual interest, then I think that we can make significant progress.

Now, Israel is a strong ally of the United States. They will not stop being a strong ally of the United States. And I will continue to believe that Israel's security is paramount. But I also believe that there are Israelis who recognize that it is important to achieve peace. They will be willing to make sacrifices if the time is appropriate and if there is serious partnership on the other side.

And so what we want to do is to listen, set aside some of the preconceptions that have existed and have built up over the last several years. And I think if we do that, then there's a possibility at least of achieving some breakthroughs.

Q I want to ask you about the broader Muslim world, but let me -- one final thing about the Palestinian-Israeli theater. There are many Palestinians and Israelis who are very frustrated now with the current conditions and they are losing hope, they are disillusioned, and they believe that time is running out on the two-state solution because -- mainly because of the settlement activities in Palestinian-occupied territories. Will it still be possible to see a Palestinian state -- and you know the contours of it -- within the first Obama administration?

THE PRESIDENT: I think it is possible for us to see a Palestinian state -- I'm not going to put a time frame on it -- that is contiguous, that allows freedom of movement for its people, that allows for trade with other countries, that allows the creation of businesses and commerce so that people have a better life.

And, look, I think anybody who has studied the region recognizes that the situation for the ordinary Palestinian in many cases has not improved. And the bottom line in all these talks and all these conversations is, is a child in the Palestinian Territories going to be better off? Do they have a future for themselves? And is the child in Israel going to feel confident about his or her safety and security? And if we can keep our focus on making their lives better and look forward, and not simply think about all the conflicts and tragedies of the past, then I think that we have an opportunity to make real progress.

But it is not going to be easy, and that's why we've got George Mitchell going there. This is somebody with extraordinary patience as well as extraordinary skill, and that's what's going to be necessary.

Q Absolutely. Let me take a broader look at the whole region. You are planning to address the Muslim world in your first 100 days from a Muslim capital. And everybody is speculating about the capital. (Laughter.) If you have anything further, that would be great.

How concerned are you -- because, let me tell you, honestly, when I see certain things about America -- in some parts, I don't want to exaggerate -- there is a demonization of America.

THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely.

Q It's become like a new religion, and like a new religion it has new converts -- like a new religion has its own high priests.


Q It's only a religious text.


Q And in the last -- since 9/11 and because of Iraq, that alienation is wider between the Americans and -- and in generations past, the United States was held high. It was the only Western power with no colonial legacy.


Q How concerned are you and -- because people sense that you have a different political discourse. And I think, judging by (inaudible) and Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden and all these, you know -- a chorus --

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I noticed this. They seem nervous.

Q They seem very nervous, exactly. Now, tell me why they should be more nervous?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that when you look at the rhetoric that they've been using against me before I even took office --

Q I know, I know.

THE PRESIDENT: -- what that tells me is that their ideas are bankrupt. There's no actions that they've taken that say a child in the Muslim world is getting a better education because of them, or has better health care because of them.

In my inauguration speech, I spoke about: You will be judged on what you've built, not what you've destroyed. And what they've been doing is destroying things. And over time, I think the Muslim world has recognized that that path is leading no place, except more death and destruction.

Now, my job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world, that the language we use has to be a language of respect. I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries.

Q The largest one.

THE PRESIDENT: The largest one, Indonesia. And so what I want to communicate is the fact that in all my travels throughout the Muslim world, what I've come to understand is that regardless of your faith -- and America is a country of Muslims, Jews, Christians, non-believers -- regardless of your faith, people all have certain common hopes and common dreams.

And my job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives. My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy. We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect. But if you look at the track record, as you say, America was not born as a colonial power, and that the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there's no reason why we can't restore that. And that I think is going to be an important task.

But ultimately, people are going to judge me not by my words but by my actions and my administration's actions. And I think that what you will see over the next several years is that I'm not going to agree with everything that some Muslim leader may say, or what's on a television station in the Arab world -- but I think that what you'll see is somebody who is listening, who is respectful, and who is trying to promote the interests not just of the United States, but also ordinary people who right now are suffering from poverty and a lack of opportunity. I want to make sure that I'm speaking to them, as well.

Q Tell me, time is running out, any decision on from where you will be visiting the Muslim world?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm not going to break the news right here.

Q Afghanistan?

THE PRESIDENT: But maybe next time. But it is something that is going to be important. I want people to recognize, though, that we are going to be making a series of initiatives. Sending George Mitchell to the Middle East is fulfilling my campaign promise that we're not going to wait until the end of my administration to deal with Palestinian and Israeli peace, we're going to start now. It may take a long time to do, but we're going to do it now. We're going to follow through on our commitment for me to address the Muslim world from a Muslim capital. We are going to follow through on many of my commitments to do a more effective job of reaching out, listening, as well as speaking to the Muslim world.

And you're going to see me following through with dealing with a drawdown of troops in Iraq, so that Iraqis can start taking more responsibility. And finally, I think you've already seen a commitment, in terms of closing Guantanamo, and making clear that even as we are decisive in going after terrorist organizations that would kill innocent civilians, that we're going to do so on our terms, and we're going to do so respecting the rule of law that I think makes America great.

Q President Bush framed the war on terror conceptually in a way that was very broad, "war on terror," and used sometimes certain terminology that the many people -- Islamic fascism. You've always framed it in a different way, specifically against one group called al Qaeda and their collaborators. And is this one way of --

THE PRESIDENT: I think that you're making a very important point. And that is that the language we use matters. And what we need to understand is, is that there are extremist organizations -- whether Muslim or any other faith in the past -- that will use faith as a justification for violence. We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith's name.

And so you will I think see our administration be very clear in distinguishing between organizations like al Qaeda -- that espouse violence, espouse terror and act on it -- and people who may disagree with my administration and certain actions, or may have a particular viewpoint in terms of how their countries should develop. We can have legitimate disagreements but still be respectful. I cannot respect terrorist organizations that would kill innocent civilians and we will hunt them down.

But to the broader Muslim world what we are going to be offering is a hand of friendship.

Q Can I end with a question on Iran and Iraq then quickly?

THE PRESIDENT: It's up to the team --

MR. GIBBS: You have 30 seconds. (Laughter.)

Q Will the United States ever live with a nuclear Iran? And if not, how far are you going in the direction of preventing it?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, I said during the campaign that it is very important for us to make sure that we are using all the tools of U.S. power, including diplomacy, in our relationship with Iran.

Now, the Iranian people are a great people, and Persian civilization is a great civilization. Iran has acted in ways that's not conducive to peace and prosperity in the region: their threats against Israel; their pursuit of a nuclear weapon which could potentially set off an arms race in the region that would make everybody less safe; their support of terrorist organizations in the past -- none of these things have been helpful.

But I do think that it is important for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are, but where there are potential avenues for progress. And we will over the next several months be laying out our general framework and approach. And as I said during my inauguration speech, if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us.

Q Shall we leave Iraq next interview, or just --

MR. GIBBS: Yes, let's -- we're past, and I got to get him back to dinner with his wife.

Q Sir, I really appreciate it.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much.

Q Thanks a lot.

THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate it.

Q Thank you.


END 6:03 P.M. EST

Here's a video of the Obama Interview:

Is Pakistan Emulating Saudi Arabia?

Since late 1970s when General Zia-ul-Haq seized power and began imposing his version of the strict Shariah law, first as a Martial Law Administrator and later as self-appointed president, there has been a distinct shift in how many Pakistanis view themselves. The general, and the identity shift he inspired, received massive backing by the US government and the CIA in the form of money, weapons and total political support in the joint US-Pakistani efforts to defeat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. After the withdrawal of the Soviet forces from Afghanistan, Pakistan's identity shift has continued. Is Pakistan becoming more like Wahabi Saudi Arabia and moving away from its South Asian cultural roots that developed under the Sufi saints, Mughal emperors and British colonial influences? In the following piece, Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, a professor at Islamabad's Quaid-e-Azam University, argues that "a stern, unyielding version of Islam is replacing the kinder, gentler Islam of the Sufis in Pakistan".

The common belief in Pakistan is that Islamic radicalism is a problem only in FATA, and that madrassas are the only institutions serving as jihad factories. This is a serious misconception. Extremism is breeding at a ferocious rate in public and private schools within Pakistan’s towns and cities. Left unchallenged, this education will produce a generation incapable of co-existing with anyone except strictly their own kind. The mindset it creates may eventually lead to Pakistan’s demise as a nation state.

For 20 years or more, a few of us have been desperately sending out SOS messages, warning of terrible times to come. In fact, I am surprised at how rapidly these dire predictions have come true.

A full-scale war is being fought in FATA, Swat and other “wild” areas of Pakistan, resulting in thousands of deaths. It is only a matter of time before this fighting shifts to Peshawar and Islamabad (which has already been a witness to the Lal Masjid episode) and engulfs Lahore and Karachi as well. The suicide bomber and the masked abductor have crippled Pakistan’s urban life and shattered its national economy.

Soldiers, policemen, factory and hospital workers, mourners at funerals and ordinary people praying in mosques have all been reduced to globs of flesh and fragments of bones. But, perhaps paradoxically, in spite of the fact that the dead bodies and shattered lives are almost all Muslim ones, few Pakistanis speak out against these atrocities. Nor do they approve of the army operation against the cruel perpetrators of these acts because they believe that they are Islamic warriors fighting for Islam and against American occupation. Political leaders like Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan have no words of solace for those who have suffered at the hands of Islamic extremists. Their tears are reserved exclusively for the victims of Predator drones, even if they are those who committed grave crimes against their own people. Terrorism, by definition, is an act only the Americans can commit.

What explains Pakistan’s collective masochism? To understand this, one needs to study the drastic social and cultural transformations that have rendered this country so completely different from what it was in earlier times.

For three decades, deep tectonic forces have been silently tearing Pakistan away from the Indian subcontinent and driving it towards the Arabian peninsula. This continental drift is not physical but cultural, driven by a belief that Pakistan must exchange its South Asian identity for an Arab-Muslim one. Grain by grain, the desert sands of Saudi Arabia are replacing the rich soil that had nurtured a magnificent Muslim culture in India for a thousand years. This culture produced Mughul architecture, the Taj Mahal, the poetry of Asadullah Khan Ghalib, and much more. Now a stern, unyielding version of Islam (Wahhabism) is replacing the kinder, gentler Islam of the Sufis and saints who had walked on this land for hundreds of years.

This change is by design. Twenty-five years ago, the Pakistani state used Islam as an instrument of state policy. Prayers in government departments were deemed compulsory, floggings were carried out publicly, punishments were meted out to those who did not fast in Ramadan, selection for academic posts in universities required that the candidate demonstrate a knowledge of Islamic teachings and jihad was declared essential for every Muslim. Today, government intervention is no longer needed because of a spontaneous groundswell of Islamic zeal. The notion of an Islamic state – still in an amorphous and diffused form – is more popular now than ever before as people look desperately for miracles to rescue a failing state.

Villages have changed drastically; this transformation has been driven, in part, by Pakistani workers returning from Arab countries. Many village mosques are now giant madrassas that propagate hard-line Salafi and Deobandi beliefs through oversized loudspeakers. They are bitterly opposed to Barelvis, Shias and other sects, who they do not regard as Muslims. The Punjabis, who were far more liberal towards women than the Pukhtuns, are now beginning to take a line resembling that of the Taliban. Hanafi law has begun to prevail over tradition and civil law, as is evident from the recent decisions of the Lahore High Court.

In Pakistan’s lower-middle and middle classes lurks a grim and humourless Saudi-inspired revivalist movement that frowns on any and every expression of joy and pleasure. Lacking any positive connection to culture and knowledge, it seeks to eliminate “corruption” by regulating cultural life and seizing control of the education system.

“Classical music is on its last legs in Pakistan; the sarangi and vichitraveena are completely dead,” laments Mohammad Shehzad, a music aficionado. Indeed, teaching music in public universities is violently opposed by students of the Islami Jamaat-e-Talaba at Punjab University. So the university has been forced to hold its music classes elsewhere. Religious fundamentalists consider music haram or un-Islamic. Kathak dancing, once popular with the Muslim elite of India, has few teachers left. Pakistan produces no feature films of any consequence. Nevertheless, the Pakistani elite, disconnected from the rest of the population, live their lives in comfort through their vicarious proximity to the West. Alcoholism is a chronic problem of the super rich of Lahore – a curious irony for this deeply religious country.

Islamisation of the state and the polity was supposed to have been in the interest of the ruling class – a classic strategy for preserving it from the wrath of the working class. But the amazing success of the state is turning out to be its own undoing. Today, it is under attack from religious militants, and rival Islamic groups battle each other with heavy weapons. Ironically, the same army – whose men were recruited under the banner of jihad, and which saw itself as the fighting arm of Islam – today stands accused of betrayal and is almost daily targeted by Islamist suicide bombers.

Pakistan’s self-inflicted suffering comes from an education system that, like Saudi Arabia’s system, provides an ideological foundation for violence and future jihadists. It demands that Islam be understood as a complete code of life, and creates in the mind of a school-going child a sense of siege and embattlement by stressing that Islam is under threat everywhere.

On the previous page, the reader can view the government-approved curriculum. This is the basic road map for transmitting values and knowledge to the young. By an act of parliament passed in 1976, all government and private schools (except for O-level schools) are required to follow this curriculum. It was prepared by the curriculum wing of the federal ministry of education, government of Pakistan. It sounds like a blueprint for a religious fascist state.

Alongside are scanned pictures from an illustrated primer for the Urdu alphabet. The masthead states that it has been prepared by Iqra Publishers, Rawalpindi, along “Islamic lines.” Although not an officially approved textbook, it is being used currently by some regular schools, as well as madrassas associated with the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), an Islamic political party that had allied itself with General Musharraf. These picture scans have been taken from a child’s book, hence the scribbles.

The world of the Pakistani schoolchild remained largely unchanged, even after September 11, 2001, the event that led to Pakistan’s timely desertion of the Taliban and the slackening of the Kashmir jihad. Indeed, for all his hypocritical talk of “enlightened moderation,” General Musharraf’s educational curriculum was far from enlightening. It was a slightly toned down version of the curriculum that existed under Nawaz Sharif which, in turn, was identical to that under Benazir Bhutto who had inherited it from General Zia-ul-Haq. Fearful of taking on the powerful religious forces, every incumbent government has refused to take a position on the curriculum and thus quietly allowed young minds to be moulded by fanatics. What may happen a generation later has always been a secondary issue for a government challenged on so many fronts.

The promotion of militarism in Pakistan’s so-called “secular” public schools, colleges and universities had a profound effect upon young minds. Militant jihad became part of the culture on college and university campuses. Armed groups flourished, they invited students for jihad in Kashmir and Afghanistan, set up offices throughout the country, collected funds at Friday prayers and declared a war which knew no borders. Pre-9/11, my university was ablaze with posters inviting students to participate in the Kashmir jihad. Post-2001, this ceased to be done openly.

Still, the primary vehicle for Saudi-ising Pakistan’s education has been the madrassa. In earlier times, these had turned out the occasional Islamic scholar, using a curriculum that essentially dates back to the 11th century, with only minor subsequent revisions. But their principal function had been to produce imams and muezzins for mosques, and those who eked out an existence as ‘maulvi sahibs’ teaching children to read the Quran.

The Afghan jihad changed everything. During the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, madrassas provided the US-Saudi-Pakistani alliance the cannon fodder they needed to fight a holy war. The Americans and Saudis, helped by a more-than-willing General Zia, funded new madrassas across the length and breadth of Pakistan. A detailed picture of the current situation is not available. But according to the national education census, which the ministry of education released in 2006, Punjab has 5,459 madrassas followed by the NWFP with 2,843; Sindh has 1,935; the Federally Administrated Northern Areas (FANA), 1,193; Balochistan, 769; Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), 586; the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA), 135; and the Islamabad capital territory, 77. The ministry estimates that 1.5 million students are acquiring religious education in the 13,000 madrassas.

These figures appear to be way off the mark. Commonly quoted figures range between 18,000 and 22,000 madrassas. The number of students could be correspondingly larger. The free boarding and lodging plus provision of books to the students, is a key part of their appeal. Additionally, parents across the country desire that their children be “disciplined” and given a thorough Islamic education. The madrassas serve this purpose, too, exceedingly well.

Madrassas have deeply impacted the urban environment. Until a few years ago, Islamabad was a quiet, orderly, modern city different from the rest of Pakistan. Also, it had largely been the abode of Pakistan’s elite and foreign diplomats. But the rapid transformation of its demography brought with it hundreds of mosques with multi-barrelled audio-cannons mounted on minarets, as well as scores of madrassas illegally constructed in what used to be public parks and green areas. Now, tens of thousands of their students, sporting little prayer caps, dutifully chant the Quran all day. In the evenings they swarm the city, making women minus the hijab increasingly nervous.

Total segregation of the sexes is a central goal of the Islamists, the consequences of which have been catastrophic. For example, on April 9, 2006, 21 women and eight children were crushed to death and scores injured in a stampede inside a three-storey madrassa in Karachi, where a large number of women were attending a weekly congregation. Male rescuers, who arrived in ambulances, were prevented from moving the injured women to hospitals.

One cannot dismiss this incident as being just one of a kind. In fact, soon after the October 2005 earthquake, as I walked through the destroyed city of Balakot, a student of the Frontier Medical College described to me how he and his male colleagues were stopped by religious elders from digging out injured girl students from under the rubble of their school building. This action was similar to that of Saudi Arabia’s ubiquitous religious ‘mutaween’ (police) who, in March 2002, had stopped school girls from leaving a blazing building because they were not wearing their abayas – a long robe worn in Saudi Arabia. In a rare departure from the norm, Saudi newspapers had blamed and criticised the mutaween for letting 15 girls burn to death.

The Saudi-isation of a once-vibrant Pakistani culture continues at a relentless pace. The drive to segregate is now also being found among educated women. Vigorous proselytisers carrying this message, such as Mrs Farhat Hashmi, have been catapulted to the heights of fame and fortune. Their success is evident. Two decades back, the fully veiled student was a rarity on Pakistani university and college campuses. The abaya was an unknown word in Urdu. Today, some shops across the country specialise in abayas. At colleges and universities across Pakistan, the female student is seeking the anonymity of the burqa. And in some parts of the country she seems to outnumber her sisters who still “dare” to show their faces.

I have observed the veil profoundly affect habits and attitudes. Many of my veiled female students have largely become silent note-takers, are increasingly timid and seem less inclined to ask questions or take part in discussions. They lack the confidence of a young university student.

While social conservatism does not necessarily lead to violent extremism, it does shorten the distance. The socially conservative are more easily convinced that Muslims are being demonised by the rest of the world. The real problem, they say, is the plight of the Palestinians, the decadent and discriminatory West, the Jews, the Christians, the Hindus, the Kashmir issue, the Bush doctrine – the list runs on. They vehemently deny that those committing terrorist acts are Muslims, and if presented with incontrovertible evidence, say it is a mere reaction to oppression.

The immediate future does not appear hopeful: increasing numbers of mullahs are creating cults around themselves and seizing control of the minds of worshippers. In the tribal areas, a string of new Islamist leaders have suddenly emerged: Baitullah Mehsud, Maulana Fazlullah and Mangal Bagh. Poverty, deprivation, lack of justice and extreme differences of wealth provide the perfect environment for these demagogues to recruit people to their cause. Their gruesome acts of terror are still being perceived by large numbers of Pakistanis merely as a war against imperialist America. This could not be further from the truth.

In the long term, we will have to see how the larger political battle works out between those Pakistanis who want an Islamic theocratic state and those who want a modern Islamic republic. It may yet be possible to roll back those Islamist laws and institutions that have corroded Pakistani society for over 30 years and to defeat its hate-driven holy warriors. There is no chance of instant success; perhaps things may have to get worse before they get better. But, in the long term, I am convinced that the forces of irrationality will cancel themselves out because they act at random whereas reason pulls only in one direction. History leads us to believe that reason will triumph over unreason, and the evolution of the humans into a higher and better species will continue. Using ways that we cannot currently anticipate, they will somehow overcome their primal impulses of territoriality, tribalism, religiosity and nationalism. But, for now, this must be just a matter of faith.

Source: Newsline

Related Links:

Pervez Hoodbhoy on Mumbai

Improving Higher Education in Pakistan

Kashmir Holds Key to Peace in South Asia

FATA Face-off Fears

Monday, January 26, 2009

Radical Hindu Government in Israeli Exile?

NEW DELHI // The alleged conspirators of a series of fatal blasts in Maharashtra state last year had plans to create a Hindu state and approach Israel, Nepal and Maoist groups for help, state police have claimed in a charge sheet filed with a Mumbai court.

Police claim Abhinav Bharat, the Hindu radical group blamed for the blasts, which killed seven and wounded more than 100 in Malegaon, had designed a flag and written a constitution and was preparing to form a parallel Hindu government in exile operating out of Israel.

“To form this ‘Hindu rashtra [state]’, they were prepared to approach the Israeli government for support, but largely wanted to attract like-minded people into their organisation. From our investigations, we have come to learn that some of the accused had met King Gyanendra of Nepal twice to seek his help,” K P Raguvanshi, the additional director general of Maharashtra police, told a press conference in Mumbai last week.

Police claim that the prime suspect in the Malegaon blast case, Lt Col Prasad Purohit, an officer in the Indian army, confessed during his interrogation that he sought Israel’s help to create a Hindu nation as he believed the constitution of India was incapable of dealing with “Islamic militancy”.

The main source of evidence against Lt Col Purohit is a recorded conversation allegedly between him and a co-conspirator, Dayanand Pandey, found on Mr Pandey’s laptop.

“I have contacted Israel. One of our captains has been to Israel, eliciting a very positive response from their side. They have asked us to show them something on the ground because we have just shown them everything on paper right now. They said wait and watch for six months,” Lt Col Purohit is quoted as saying in the recording and on the charge sheet.

“We had asked for four things: continuous and uninterrupted supply of equipment and training; secondly, to allow us to start our office with a saffron flag in Tel Aviv; thirdly, political asylum; and finally, to support our cause in the United Nations that a Hindu nation is born.”

The accused mastermind met Nepal’s former king, Gyanendra, and several Maoist leaders in 2006 and 2007, the charges read, based on the recorded conversation.

“I had proposed and the king had accepted that 20 of my men will be given officer training every six months. In a year I will get 40 people and 200 of my men will train for soldiers,” Lt Col Purohit is heard saying.

“You being an independent nation ask for AK-47s from the Czech Republic and we will pay for the ammunition. The king had accepted the proposal. Just imagine if that happens.”

Mr Pandey and Lt Col Purohit along with the other members also discussed how they “were hoping that Cambodia, Nepal, Thailand, Bhutan, Japan and Korea become one Hindu nation”, at a meeting said to have been held on Jan 26 2008.

Besides Lt Col Purohit and Mr Pandey, police arrested nine men. Three people are at large. The arrests were made after police traced a motorcycle used in the blasts to one of the men.

In 2006, 36 people were killed in a bomb blast near a mosque in Malegaon, a town nearly 290km north-east of Mumbai. Police had blamed Simi, the Students Islamic Movement of India, for the attacks. Malegaon has long been the scene of violent clashes between Hindus and Muslims, who make up 75 per cent of the impoverished town’s half a million residents.

Police said the Hindu group wanted to frame Simi for the blasts.

Police are also investigating whether Abhinav Bharat played a role in the bombing of the India-Pakistan friendship train, the Samjhauta Express, in 2007 in Panipat, India. More than 70 people died in the blasts, most of them Pakistanis. The Indian government had blamed Lashkar-i-Taiba and Jaish-i-Mohammad for the blasts.

The police claim that the 60kg of RDX explosive used in the train blasts came from Lt Col Purohit while he was posted in a military intelligence unit in Kashmir.

Police are also investigating the possible role of a Delhi-based doctor, many army officers and Himani Savarkar, a niece of Mohandas Gandhi’s assassin, Nathuram Godse. A witness has told police that he, along with 15 members including Ms Savarkar, attended a meeting in Bhopal where they discussed bombing a site in Malegaon. Police have now made Ms Savarkar a witness in the case.

The investigations into the blasts were dealt a blow after the death in the Mumbai terrorist attacks in November of Hemant Karkare, who was head of Mumbai’s antiterrorist squad. Many people, including a federal minority affairs minister, demanded an inquiry in to the circumstances that led to Karkare’s death, alleging a right-wing Hindu group might have been behind it.

“Basically this is much more rooted in the society. Lt Col Purohit is just the face which has been exposed. The case is almost closed after the filing of the charge sheet. It’s obvious they were not working in isolation,” said Maroof Raza, an expert on security-related issues.

Although some radical Hindu groups are alleged to have been involved in terrorist attacks in India since 2006, their terrorism links became public only in October with the arrest of Lt Col Purohit and his supporters.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu nationalist party, alleges that the arrests and accusations of the existence of a radical Hindu right-wing network, are politically motivated.

“We have to wait and watch how the investigations are carried forward and how much justice is delivered. Major political parties like BJP, Shiv Sena and other right-wing parties are supporting the accused and if BJP comes to power the course of the case may change,” Mr Raza said.

Source: The National Newspaper, UAE

Related Links:

The 21st Century Challenges For Resurgent India

What Irked Purohit?

Hindu Rashtra ideology was driving force for Malegaon conspirators

The Rise and Rise of Mangalore's Taliban

Malegaon Files

Hindu Nationalists Gang Up on Musharraf at Stanford

Can India "Do a Lebanon" in Pakistan?

Priest Survivor: Hindu Radicals are Terrorists

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Israeli TV Puts Human Face on Gaza Tragedy

I was shocked to read several Western media reports that the Gaza killings had become a spectator sport for many Israelis who brought their binoculars and lawn chairs to the hill tops surrounding Gaza. Many of them cheered the fireballs and explosions occurring in Gaza in front of their eyes. Dr. Aboul Aish's tragedy, who lost his three daughters in an Israeli strike, puts a human voice and face on the immense tragic suffering of ordinary Palestinians. The fact that some Israelis showed care and concern and acted to help this particular victim helps renew my faith in our common humanity.

Here's a video clip of Dr. Aboul Aish's suffering, as shown on Israeli TV:

Related Links:

Pictorial Review of Young Gaza Victims

Israel's Gaza Attack is Criminal, Not Defensive

Is Obama True Friend of Israel?