Friday, March 20, 2009

Mission Kashmir

Kashmir – the world’s most dangerous place. Kashmir – where three nuclear powers that have already fought four wars against each other in the past 60 years come together. It is the root of the India-Pakistan strife and a magnet for international terrorists. Since the partition and subsequent independence of the subcontinent from British rule, the region has hardly known any peace. Although terrorism was a newer phenomenon of the 1980s, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, and American beneficence in the form of billions of dollars of unaccounted for weaponry poured into the region, Kashmir was at the forefront of Indian and Pakistani planning and operations during wars.

Leaving aside the history of the conflict for now, the fact remains that the majority of the state is under Indian occupation, while Pakistan has annexed part of the area under their control and crated Azad Kashmir in a small strip of the remaining land. And the question remains to be answered, what about Kashmir? Why should they want to be with either Pakistan or India? Instead of regurgitating standard answers fed to either side, let us look at this closely and realistically.

Proposal One: Status quo

Kashmir has been a flashpoint between India and Pakistan for more than 50 years. Currently, the Line of Control – named so after the Simla Accords in 1972 – divides the region in two, with one part administered by India and one by Pakistan. India would like to formalise this status quo and make it the accepted international boundary. But Pakistan and Kashmiri activists reject this plan because they both want greater control over the region. Although India claims that the entire state is part of India, it has been prepared to accept the Line of Control as the international border, with some possible modifications. Both the US and the UK have also favoured turning the Line of Control into an internationally-recognised frontier. But Pakistan has consistently refused to accept the Line of Control as the border since the predominantly Muslim Kashmir Valley would remain as part of India. Formalising the status quo also does not take account of the aspirations of those Kashmiris who have been fighting since 1989 for independence for the whole or part of the state.

If it were to work, hypothetically, this would be the most face-saving solution. The wishes of the Kashmiris would perhaps be disregarded, but let us revisit that point a little later. Both India and Pakistan get to retain what they have fought for and held on to these past sixty years. This is perhaps also politically the most acceptable on all sides.

Proposal Two: Kashmir goes to Pakistan

Pakistan has consistently favoured this as the best solution to the dispute. In view of the state's majority Muslim population, it believes that it would vote to become part of Pakistan. However a single plebiscite held in a region which comprises peoples that are culturally, religiously and ethnically diverse, would create disaffected minorities. The Hindus of Jammu, and the Buddhists of Ladakh have never shown any desire to join Pakistan and would protest at the outcome. In 1947 India and Pakistan agreed that the allegiance of the state of Jammu and Kashmir would be decided by a plebiscite. Had the majority voted in favour of Pakistan, the whole state would have become part of Pakistan. This no longer seems to be an option.

A plebiscite offering the choice of union with Pakistan or India also does not take into account the movement for independence which has been supported by political and militant activists since 1989. India has long since rejected the idea of a plebiscite as a means of settling the Kashmir issue. Instead the government argues that the people have exercised their right of self-determination by participating in elections within the state. However the demand for a plebiscite to be held, as recommended by the Governor-General of India, Lord Mountbatten in 1947, and endorsed by the United Nations Security Council, is still considered by some as a way of letting Kashmiris exercise their right of self-determination.

This is a far-fetched idea. There is nothing for India to gain in this and everything to lose. It is simply unacceptable to the Indian people, and any Government that agrees to this proposal will be ostracised in Indian politics for decades to come. This solution is militarily also improbable. Barring nuclear weapons (in which both sides will annihilate ach other and this discussion will be moot), India retains a conventional superiority and strategic position in Kashmir. If it came to blows, Pakistan’s risks are disproportionately higher than its improbable gains. This was highlighted in 1999 during the Kargil incident.

Proposal Three: Kashmir is integrated fully into India

Such a solution would be unlikely to bring stability to the region as the Muslim inhabitants of Pakistani-administered Jammu and Kashmir, including the Northern Areas, have never shown any desire to become part of India. In 1947, the Maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir agreed to the state becoming part of India. India and Pakistan then agreed to hold a plebiscite to confirm which country Kashmir's citizens wanted to join. The Indian Government believed that the majority population, under the charismatic leadership of Sheikh Abdullah, would vote to join India, with its secular constitution, rather than Muslim Pakistan. If the plebiscite had been held and the majority had voted in favour of India, Pakistan would have had to relinquish control of the Northern Areas and the narrow strip of Jammu and Kashmir which it occupied militarily in 1947-8. As stated earlier, India has long since rejected the idea of holding a single plebiscite as a means of determining the fate of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, arguing that the people made their choice by participating in elections within the state.

Another argument for this is simply the economic prosperity India can offer that Pakistan cannot. Or that Pakistan is Islamic and more (potentially…and presently) restrictive than India. However, Indians do not consider what Kashmiris live through everyday. They suppose that Kashmiris are as Indian as anyone from Uttar Pradesh or Rajasthan and therein lays the problem. The fact of the matter is that many Kashmiris do not see the benevolence in Indian rule. Human rights violations abound, and the state has seen none of the stability, peace, or prosperity they would supposedly enjoy under Indian rule.

The newspapers abound with stories of Indian Army and Police atrocities – rapes, shootings, targeted killings, arbitrary detention, random curfews, and shoot on sight orders are the order of the day for the Indian citizens of Kashmir. And last year, hundreds of unidentified graves – believed to contain victims of unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other abuses – have been found in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir. Amnesty International has urged the Indian government to launch urgent investigations into the mass graves, which are thought to contain the remains of victims of human rights abuses in the context of the armed conflict that has raged in the region since 1989.

The findings appear in the report Facts under Ground, issued on 29 March by the Srinagar-based Association of the Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP). The report details the existence of multiple graves which, because of their proximity to Pakistan controlled-areas, are in areas not accessible without the specific permission of the security forces. Since 2006, the graves of at least 940 people are reported to have been discovered in 18 villages in Uri district alone. The Indian army has claimed that those found buried were armed rebels and "foreign militants" killed lawfully in armed encounters with military forces. However, the report recounts testimonies from local villagers saying that most buried were local residents hailing from the state. The report also alleges that more than 8,000 persons have gone missing in Jammu and Kashmir since 1989. The Indian authorities put the figure at less than 4.000, claiming that most of these went to Pakistan to join armed opposition groups. In 2006, a state police report confirmed the deaths in custody of 331 persons, and also 111 enforced disappearances following detention since 1989.

Unlawful killings, enforced disappearances and torture are violations of both international human rights law and international humanitarian law, set out in treaties to which India is a state party. They also constitute international crimes.

The nationalist critique of this argument is obvious – they would make use of a counterfactual that life would be far worse for these people had they been under Pakistani administration, or they would argue that these complaining Muslims are free to leave for Pakistan and have been since August 14, 1947. Some of them might even try and change the topic by bringing up human rights violations in other countries even in times of peace, such as Saudi Arabia. The fact of the matter is, all these arguments are hollow. The first point is a counterfactual, meaning it cannot be proved either way. If a settlement had been made and Kashmir partitioned or given in toto to either India or Pakistan, the situation would have been stable if the other side did not press the issue. It does not change the fact that living conditions are appalling in Jammu and Kashmir. The argument that the people are free to leave is not even an argument; it is a tantrum of a spoilt child who has not been given a thorough beating once in a while. Why should these people vacate their lands to satisfy some politicians from India or from Pakistan? They have been there longer than the Indian state has been. The third point, that of distraction, is also silly – if India claims to be better than these other places, should they not act like it? If some place is worse, some other place is better – what of it? How does this make your Bharat mahan?

A smarter argument would be that Jammu & Kashmir is a war zone – in a state of war, excesses are committed by all sides. It is unfortunate, but the state cannot be judged by the standards of peace time. Outside active war zones (and Srinagar doesn't fit that description any longer) the main city in Indian-administered Kashmir is one of the most heavily militarised places I've ever seen. Hardly a great advert for Indian democracy. Every 50 metres or so, on every main street, stand several men (or very occasionally women) armed with assault rifles and – more often than not – big sticks. There are undeclared curfews and a blanket of security across the city. Half a million army and police personnel keep watch over Kashmir, and Srinagar has more than its fair share.

In Lal Chowk, Srinagar's central market square, the reality of life is that one day the market is closed, and the next day it is open, playing havoc with traders’ lives. Down in the old town, the Jama Masjid, Srinagar's finest mosque, is one of the symbols of Kashmiri identity. On Friday at noon it should be packed with worshippers coming to pray. But it too is totally deserted. The magnificent wooden and brass doors which open into the courtyard of the mosque are padlocked shut - there have been no Friday prayers here for six weeks. In the surrounding streets the Indian security forces have enforced a total shut down.

Is there actually a threat which might justify all this extraordinary security? The nature of the separatist campaign has been changing, moving away from armed insurgency towards other forms of protest like street campaigns. But occasional shootings do occur, claiming the lives of the unaware, or simply the unlucky. There is undoubtedly a terrorist presence in the city as well, with Lashkar-e-Taiba militants frequently being capturd or killed. The Lashkar was originally formed to kick India out of Kashmir. So how do Kashmiris feel about them now?

Khurram Parvez, a human rights activist, has a personal interest in the subject. He was badly injured when his vehicle hit a landmine in 2004. "The authorities told me Lashkar-e-Taiba had planted the mine," he says. "That's why I went to talk to them. They were seen by many people,” he says, “as an organisation which was fighting the Indian occupation in any way it could. But if they have done what has happened in Mumbai, it has already affected the popularity of Lashkar-e-Taiba in Kashmir. Because people somehow think that if Lashkar-e-Taiba is responsible for killing innocent people like this, then they can't fight for anyone's rights, anyone's freedom. Because they are people who do not believe in any freedom."

Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, one of the main leaders of the peaceful campaign for Kashmiri independence agrees that Lashkar-e-Taiba and the accusations it faces over the Mumbai attacks have done Kashmir no favours. "Definitely it has cast a negative shadow over the Kashmir issue," he says. "It gives leverage to those who want to link Kashmir with international terrorism and extremism. The fact is that Kashmir is a political problem, and we have to find a political solution to it." But for separatists like Mirwaiz Omar Farooq that doesn't include fighting elections under the Indian constitution. "For years we had lots of problems here," says another man. "But the problems are now between two countries. Not here in Kashmir."

Proposal Four: Kashmir becomes independent

The difficulty of adopting this as a potential solution is that it requires India and Pakistan to give up territory, which they are not willing to do. Any plebiscite or referendum likely to result in a majority vote for independence would therefore probably be opposed by both India and Pakistan. It would also be rejected by the inhabitants of the state who are content with their status as part of the countries to which they already owe allegiance. An independent Jammu and Kashmir might also set in motion the demand for independence by other states in both India and Pakistan and lead to a "Balkanisation" of the region.

In the 1960s, following discussions between India and Pakistan over Jammu and Kashmir, a group of Kashmiris demanded that the entire state should become independent as it was prior to the Maharajah's accession to India in 1947. The movement for independence of the entire state is mainly supported by Kashmiris who inhabit the more populous Kashmir Valley and who would like both India and Pakistan to vacate the areas they are occupying. They base their claim on the fact that the state was formerly an independent princely state, is geographically larger than at least 68 countries of the United Nations, and more populous than 90. This movement is not supported by India or Pakistan, both of which would lose territory. And in view of the likely regional instability, an independent Kashmir is not supported by the international community either.

An independent Kashmir could be created from the Kashmir Valley - currently under Indian administration - and the narrow strip of land which Pakistan calls Azad Jammu and Kashmir. This would leave the strategically important regions of the Northern Areas and Ladakh, bordering China, under the control of Pakistan and India respectively. However both India and Pakistan would be unlikely to enter into discussions which would have this scenario as a possible outcome.

If, as the result of a regional plebiscite, which offered the option of independence, the majority of the inhabitants of the Kashmir Valley chose independence and the majority of the inhabitants of Pakistani-administered Jammu and Kashmir, (excluding the Northern Areas) also chose independence, a smaller, independent Kashmir could be created by administratively joining these two areas together. This would leave the predominantly Muslim Northern Areas as part of Pakistan and Buddhist Ladakh and majority Hindu Jammu as part of India, with the possibility that some Muslim districts of Jammu might also opt to join the independent state. Although Pakistan has demanded a change in the status of the Kashmir Valley, it depends on water from the Mangla Reservoir in Pakistani-administered Jammu and Kashmir and would be unlikely to permit loss of control of the region. India is still committed to retaining the Kashmir Valley as part of the Indian Union and has refused to consider holding a plebiscite in any part of the state.

An independent Kashmir Valley has been considered by some as the best solution because it would address the grievances of those who have been fighting against the Indian Government since the insurgency began in 1989. But critics say that, without external assistance, the region would not be economically viable. With an approximate land mass of 1,800 square miles (80 miles long, 20 to 25 miles wide) it is much larger than Monaco and Liechtenstein – but only one-tenth of the size of Bhutan. Whether or not the rest of the state retained its current political affiliations, many Kashmiris therefore believe that the valley could be viable in its own right. In terms of livelihood, the valley could sustain itself through tourism, handicrafts and agriculture.

But an independent Kashmir Valley would also need to retain good relations with its neighbours in order to survive economically. Not only is the region landlocked, but it is snowbound during winter. An independent Kashmir Valley would have the advantage of giving neither Pakistan nor India a victory out of their longstanding dispute. But although Pakistan might favour the creation of an independent Kashmir Valley, India would be unlikely to agree to the loss of territory involved. Autonomy of the same region under the Indian Union is also an option; Pakistan is more likely to request a 'joint protectorate' in order to share in safeguarding the Kashmir valley's political integrity and economic development.

Ultimately, neither India nor Pakistan would be willing to see this through. The region is economically unviable, and in an effort to keep India and Pakistan out of its affairs, an independent Kashmir may cosy up to China. India will certainly not allow this, and Pakistan, for all its cosy ties with China, worries about the giant whose bed it has crawled into. Chinese control of Pakistani markets is a destabilising factor for many of the smaller industries, and with the West increasingly sceptical about Pakistan’s professions of combating terrorism, Pakistan has no choice but to allow the Yellow Giant preferential access to key sectors of its economy.

The question remains for the Indians, if they wish to woo the Kashmiris away from their separatism, what must they do? Admittedly, with Pakistan right across the porous border, it is a tall order to provide peace and prosperity, but some measures must be taken to at least prevent the indiscipline in the Army. Perhaps more troops on the border would make cross-border terrorism more difficult. Either way, unless India can pull a rabbit out of its turban, the Indian case before Kashmiri eyes will only suffer. Because, as MK Gandhi said, what difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Operation Cast Lead

On December 27, 2008, Israeli forces commenced Operation Cast Lead. The operation was a military incursion into the Gaza strip to root out Hamas training camps, rocket launching facilities, and hopefully, its infrastructure. A fragile six-month truce between Hamas and Israel expired on December 19, 2008.

On December 13, Israel had announced that it was in favor of extending the cease-fire, provided Hamas adhered to the conditions. Exactly one week later, on December 20, Hamas officially announced that it would not extend the cease-fire which had expired on December 19. It cited the Israeli border blockade as the primary reason and resumed shelling of the western Negev (Israel said that it had begun to ease the blockade, but reimposed it when Hamas failed to end all rocket fire and weapons smuggling.) On December 24, more than 60 Palestinian mortar shells and Katyusha and Qassam rockets hit the Negev. Hamas code-named the rocket attacks "Operation Oil Stain" and claimed that it fired 87 rockets and mortar rounds at Israel that day.

The next day, after Israel had "wrapped up preparations for a broad offensive," Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert delivered a final warning in an interview with the Arabic language satellite channel al-Arabiya. He said "I am telling them now, it may be the last minute, I'm telling them stop it. We are stronger."On Friday, December 26, Israel reopened five border crossings between Israel and Gaza to supply fuel for Gaza's main power plant and to provide about 100 truck loads of humanitarian aid, including grain and other goods. That same day, militants fired approximately a dozen rockets and mortar shells from Gaza at Israel, one accidentally striking a northern Gaza house, killing two Palestinian sisters and wounding a third. According to Israeli defense officials, its subsequent December 27 offensive took Hamas by surprise, thereby increasing militant casualties.

A year’s worth of intelligence went into Cast Lead. On D-Day, at 11:30 a.m., more than 50 fighter jets and attack helicopters swept into Gazan airspace and dropped more than 100 bombs on 50 targets. The planes reported "alpha hits," Israeli Air Force (IAF) lingo for direct hits on the targets, which included Hamas bases, training camps, headquarters and offices. Thirty minutes later, a second wave of 60 jets and helicopters struck at 60 targets, including underground Kassam launchers - placed inside bunkers and missile silos - that had been fitted with timers. Their locations were discovered in an intensive intelligence operation. The goal: to strike at Hamas' ability to fire rockets into Israel.

More than 170 targets were hit by IAF aircraft throughout the day. At least 230 Gazans were killed and over 780 were wounded, according to Palestinian sources. Officials said at least 15 civilians were among the dead. The IDF released a list of some of the targets hit: the Hamas headquarters and training camp in Tel Zatar; the "Palestinian Prisoner Tower" in Gaza City that was turned into a Hamas operations center and armory; the Hamas police academy, which was bombed during a graduation ceremony, killing 70-80 people; training camps in southern and central Gaza; the former office of Yasser Arafat in Gaza City that is now used by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh; and the Izzadin Kassam Brigades headquarters in the northern Gaza Strip. Throughout the initial stages of the air operation, the IDF Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration transmitted messages to civilians in Gaza to stay away from Kassam launch sites and Hamas buildings and infrastructure. Hamas responded by intensifying its rocket and mortar attacks against targets in Israel throughout the conflict, hitting previously untargeted cities as Beersheba and Ashdod.

On January 3, 2009, ground troops, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), moved in to support the IAF and mop up any residual resistance. Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire on January 18, followed quickly by a shattered Hamas. It is estimated that approximately 1,200 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died in the conflict. The number of combatant and non-combatant casualties is a subject of ongoing contention, with Palestinian Ministry of Health claims running as high as 5,300. Casualty figures have been difficult to verify independently due to the limited amount of journalists allowed in Gaza during the conflict, although the United Nations and Western journals such as the Italian Corriere della Sera concurred with Israeli figures. In the days following the ceasefire, the BBC reported that more than 400,000 Gazans were left without running water. The BBC further reported that 4000 homes had been ruined, leaving tens of thousands of people homeless. By March 2, the world community had pledged $4.5 billion to the rebuilding of Gaza, the US under the new President Barack Obama contributing $900 million.

A blow-by-blow account of the entire operation can be found HERE.

The conflict reminded us of the many questions we have not answered about the Middle Eastern question for the past 60+ years, as if we could forget. Cleaving to the matter at hand, the case was simply a matter of retaliation against Hamas’ nonstop barrage of rockets into Israel. The year 2008 saw the greatest number of rockets and mortar shells (3,750) fired into Israel despite the six-month truce (during which about 360 rockets were fired into Israel by Hamas). December 2008 alone saw about 700 projectiles being fired into Israel. With increased range of the rockets, now about 40 kms, about a million Israelis came into range of the missiles. In an attempt to disrupt this rain of rockets upon Israeli cities, in an effort to destroy the stockpiles of Hams’ rockets, in order to cripple Hamas for some time to come, Operation Cast Lead was executed.

Some academics have tried to mount the defence of the Palestinians by pointing to the disproportionate ratio of casualties. This is utter nonsense, for that means that George Washington was in the wrong when he crossed the Delaware and attacked the Hessians on Christmas morning, 1776. It means that American forces were the wrong-doers from D-Day until VE-Day because their casualties were much lower than Nazi ones. The number of casualties does not determine anything. Besides, the argument does not take into account that the Hamas were not trying to keep Israeli casualties to a minimum!

Israel has been attacked from all sides for committing war crimes. Although this is doubtful in that Israel was not carrying out an operation of eradication, there were some problems with the use of munitions during the campaign. White phosphorous, for example, can be used only to give off smoke to cover troop movements and at night for incandescence. The Hague Conventions (NOT Geneva!) ban use of the substance in civilian areas. Although Israel initially denied using white phosphorous, it later came to light that they had indeed done so. The Israeli Government has promised an investigation for which they should be pressured by the international community.

Another reason Israel has come under fire for human rights violations is because of their careless demarcation of combat zones and civilian areas. Critics of Israel have argued that by taking the war into the Gaza Strip, an area so densely packed with civilians – women and children – it was inevitable that there would be civilian casualties. The Gaza Strip is about 360 square kilometres in area and is home to about 1.4 million people. Israel’s carelessness, it has been argued, is proof that beneath the official rhetoric, the stated aim of the Jewish State is to eradicate or dislocate the Palestinian people from the region.

This seems to be more conspiracy theory than fact. If Israel wanted to genuinely make Palestinians leave the area, it would not be that difficult. Nor would it be difficult to kill them all. Israel controls the water, food, and transport into the Gaza Strip. At their whim, they can close off the place and destroy its inhabitants. Within days, the lack of food would weaken them to a point where resistance would become suicidal. This has not happened for two reasons. First, the international outrage would be incredible, enough to break Israel. Second, to want to do so supposes a particularly sinister and evil streak within Israelis, for which there is no evidence. Israel acts as any nation in a state of war does – emotions are overflowing and a survival instinct kicks in. There is always a tendency to shoot first and ask questions later during war. Some such incidents may have occurred, for which there should be redress. To extract from this anything more diabolical is quite unconvincing.

The crux of the issue of human rights violations, however, is how Israel pursued its war aims into the midst of heavily populated civilian areas. This, unfortunately, is the face of modern warfare. Rarely do two nations face each other squarely in a field of battle, as they did even in World War I, and limit the hostilities to those areas. Modern warfare, as seen during World War II and ever since, knows no boundaries. Armies have always retained the right of chase to the detriment of civilians on both sides. In a guerilla war like the one being waged in Palestine, this is even more so. Combatants hide amongst the populace to elude the uniformed and usually stronger foe. They hide their weapons in hospitals, schools, and places of worship so that any attempt to destroy or capture their arsenal becomes an immediate propaganda victory for them. This has been seen in countless places, the Golden Temple in Amritsar (1984) and the Charar-e-Sharif in Srinagar (1995) being only two of the most famous examples. The Geneva Convention states that anyone holding a weapon in a conflict zone is a combatant. In the days when the Convention was written (after the Battle of Solferino, 1859), it was assumed that only two nation-states would go to war against each other, and the idea of civilians picking up weapons and cities being fields of battle had not been fully embraced yet. In this sense, it can be argued that since Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people, it is not a ‘High Contracting Party’ and therefore not eligible to draw upon the rights and privileges of the Convention. Be that as it may, even if we were to accept Hamas as a ‘High Contracting Party,’ in the same way the definition of ‘combatant’ has been broadened to mean anyone carrying weapons within the zone of combat, the definition of ‘zone of combat’ should also be broadened to include any place where active fighting and the storage of means to carry out the fighting exists. Thus, if terrorists were to hide in a school, the onus is on them to ensure that the children are not harmed, not their pursuers. By hiding themselves or their weapons in schools and hospitals, they become the first to violate the conventions of war. Once this door has been opened, despite all the caution that might be exhibited by the side in pursuit, things are bound to get ugly.

The deliberate targeting of civilians is in and of itself a war crime, and as are Hamas attacks from within civilian areas and civilian structures, whether it be an apartment building, a mosque or a hospital, in order to be immune from a response from Israel. The BBC reported on January 5 that witnesses and analysts confirm that Hamas fires rockets from within populated civilian areas, and all sides agree that the movement flagrantly violates international law by targeting civilians with its rockets. Amnesty International accused Palestinian gunmen of using Palestinian civilians as human shields. Israel argues that Hamas blurs the line between civilians and combatants, and is therefore responsible for civilian deaths in Gaza. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that "Hamas' use of human shields" and "operational use of heavily built-up and densely populated civilian areas" violates Article 8(2)(b)(xxiii) of the Rome Statute. This statute defines as a war crime the act of "Utilizing the presence of a civilian […] to render certain points, areas or military forces immune from military operations." It also defines Palestinian attacks as terrorist in nature, because they kill civilians in order to sow terror within the broader civilian population. This would violate the Geneva Convention's Laws of Armed Conflict. UN Humanitarian chief John Holmes stated that Hamas's rocket attacks on southern Israel violate international laws. In 2007, exiled Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal called recent rockets attacks on Israel "self-defense." Hamas leaders argue that rocket attacks on Israel are the only way to counter Israel's policies and operations, including artillery strikes. But Human Rights Watch has said that such justifications do not overcome the illegality of the attacks under international humanitarian law. On January 14 it was reported that Palestinian militants had also fired mortar shells containing phosphorus explosive into the Eshkol Regional Council area in Negev.

We have not yet addressed the fact of the Hamas using the turmoil to settle some of their own scores. Hamas has been accused of executing several Fatah members and Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel. Fatah officials in Ramallah reported Hamas executed at least 19 party members and more than 35 Palestinians. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights stated on January 31 that it had credible reports that Hamas operatives killed six members of Fatah and that another 35 were shot in the knees or beaten. The Hamas government in Gaza endorsed the killing of Israeli collaborators but denied allegations it had attacked members of Fatah during the conflict. A Hamas spokesperson said that the internal security service was instructed to track collaborators and hit them hard. If Israel really wanted to exterminate the Palestinians, it seems that all it really has to do is sit back and watch the Palestinians implode under the weight of their own contradictions.

Finally, a question I have always asked but have never received any answer to: why was the world quiet when Israel was shelled constantly by Hamas? Where are the rights of the Israeli people? Why does everyone come out when Israel defends itself, but never when Israel suffers an attack? If a bomb goes off in a crowded Tel Aviv market or disco, the world (some countries) will offer a minute of silence. If two Palestinians are killed by a Hellfire missile from an AH-64, there is an outrage and Israel is immediately depicted as the Nazis of the era. This hypocrisy sends the message to groups like Hamas that it is alright to continue their dastardly deeds. They can find refuge behind brainless academics, an illiterate international audience, and journalists who are looking for Pulitzers more than facts.

I have not gone down the rabbit hole and got into the debate over the creation of Israel because that is in itself another story. In brief, I have nothing against the two-state solution, but it must bear out the interests of both Israel and the Palestinians. If Palestine devolves into another Talibanised Afghanistan, it will serve no one’s purpose. But we must look at events on a case by case basis or we shall never make meaningful progress on the Middle Eastern question.

Monday, March 16, 2009

India's Long-Term Defence Strategy

India maintains, to date, the best defence system known to man. Sadly, it takes about two centuries to activate. Let me explain. Since 1757, Britain became the dominant power in the subcontinent. They thought they had colonised yet another backward race and would relieve the White Man’s Burden. Two hundred and fifty years since, English contains more and more words from Hindi, Urdu, and other subcontinental languages, curry has become a mainstay of English cuisine, and there are so many South Asians in the UK that some people call the capital city Londonistan, though not necessarily in the same context that Melanie Phillips talked about in her book by the same name. Christianity came to India, first in the second century and then again with cannons and gunpowder at the fag end of the fifteenth century. Islam entered India in the early eighth century and made India a home after the Second Battle of Tarain in 1192. Both these world religions came up against a solid wall when it came to proselytising in India. For a nation so easily conquered in battle, the mettle of the Indian people was such that both these religions are in a significant minority. Not only that, both were over time moulded to Indian needs – the caste system and multiple saints and other intervening deities entered the practices of Christians and Muslims in India. A few millennia ago, tribes from Central Asia migrated to India – not in some crude Aryan invasion theory, but steadily and gradually. Obviously, they had to displace or conquer local inhabitants, and this proved to be a minor hindrance. In what shouldn’t be a surprise by now, the records of these groups reveal a sea change in their lifestyles. People known hitherto for blood rituals, horse sacrifices, and other such behaviour, over a period of two to three centuries, transformed and evidence of such practices is relegated only to the stuff of myths and legends.

Today, India faces another crisis – a militarily and economically superior China in the northeast, and a nuclear-capable yet highly unstable, terrorist-sponsoring Pakistan in the northwest. Indian nationalists will proudly proclaim of their four successes against Pakistan (in 1948, 1965, 1971, and 1999), and try to pass off the China debacle solely on Nehru’s and Menon’s incompetence. However, the fact remains that there were and still are serious flaws in Indian defence planning. The problem is perhaps partially strategic, but it is more a question of materiel. But behind both of these lies the un-strategic Indian mind – for if the strategy were sound, the same people would not hesitate to provide for it either. India’s defence industry, though I am sure it can run circles around Togo’s, is in complete shambles and has been since independence contrary to what analysts have said.

Proof of this lies no further than India’s weapon systems procurement history. The Indian Navy was forced to go in for Israeli-made Barak missiles in 2006 because India’s highly touted Integrated Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) had failed to produce results. The Navy, waiting for the Trishul, eventually chose to purchase missiles from abroad because despite twenty-plus years in the making and declared successful by the manufacturers (Defence Research and Development Organisation – DRDO), it did not evoke confidence among senior Navy officials. First test firing of the Trishul took place in 1991, and the manufacturer declared test firings completed by 1998. The armed forces, however, rejected the missile, as not ready for service. So development continued, until 2003, when the project was cancelled. But the project, which has cost nearly $200 million so far, had political friends. Development was allowed to continue, even though neither the army nor the navy wanted it. Trishul’s range is approximately nine kilometres, and missile has suffered from reliability problems, particularly with its guidance system.

The IGMDP has failed in its other projects as well. Akash, another missile which was supposed to be inducted in the mid 1990s, was only recently purchased by the Indian Air Force (IAF). Agni I and Agni II, the mainstay of India’s rocket forces, have both been inducted into the Armed Forces with barely three tests each while other countries run over a hundred tests of new missile systems. The cost overruns in India’s missile development programme have been around Rs. 1,400 crores, and the promised projects are as of now 14 years behind schedule. Agni III, though test fired in 2008, has had only a 66% success rate so far. And we are yet to hear any news of the Surya Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM).

The Air Force is another story of decline. The sanctioned strength of the IAF is 45 squadrons, each squadron consisting of 18 planes. Due to crashes, hiring issues, and other problems, India has never fielded beyond 39.5 squadrons. Furthermore, other than a few state of the art Su-30 MKIs and MiG-29s, India still has a large number of MiG-21s. Admittedly, these have been refurbished (twice), but the basic capabilities of an air frame only deteriorate over time, not increase. The workhorses of the IAF have had the lion’s share of media attention too, for the plane has been plagued with a series of crashes over the years. In 2008, India was forced to announce a tender for the purchase of up to 240 Medium Multi-role Combat Aircraft (MMCRA) because of the delays in the production of India’s Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), the Tejas. Although an LCA will be no match for an advanced MMCRA (which is already being threatened by the next generation of places such as the Su-35 and the F-22), it can help plug in the gaps and provide reasonable support in the air and to ground troops.

Indigenous Indian armour is yet to make an appearance. The Army relies heavily upon Russian supplies of T-72s and T-90s. India’s main battle tanks had one been relatively advanced by world standards, but long delays in fielding the indigenous Arjun Main Battle Tank (MBT), combined with a successful Pakistani/Ukrainian program for its T-80UD Al-Khalid tanks, eroded India’s local advantage. The poor performance of T-72s in combat against modern main battle tanks could not have been comforting, either. In early October 2006, Indian announced that the Indian Army intended to produce nearly 1,000 T-90S ‘Bhishma’ main battle tanks in India by 2020. These would be bought in addition to the 310 T-90 MBTs already under contract from Russia. Later that month, news reports noted a follow-on contract for another 330 T-90S tank kits from Russia that would assembled in India. The modernized T-72 now known as the T-90 has reportedly encountered serious problems in Indian service, from issues with its Thales thermal imaging systems, to difficulties in hot weather, to low readiness rates. Meanwhile, negotiations with Russia over technology transfer issues had shelved the 1,000 tank indigenous production goal. The Arjun project has continued to fade, however, with the Indian Army announcing in July 2008 that production would be capped at just 124 tanks. As the final act in the battle for the core of India’s future tank force, recent reports indicate that the Russians have removed their technology transfer roadblocks, clearing the way for fully indigenous T-90S production in India.

As of December 2006, the 310 T-90S tanks imported from Russia under a February 2001 Rs. 3,625 crore contract are divided between the first lot of 124 T-90S tanks bought off-the-shelf, and 186 imported in knocked-down condition for assembly at the Heavy Vehicles Factory at Avadi. The goal was to begin progressive manufacture of the follow-on batch of 1,000 from 2007-2008 onward, working under the license production agreement associated with India’s 2001 order. The idea was to build upon and broaden India’s indigenous capabilities as the process moved forward. The purchase of 330 more ready-for-assembly T-90 kits later in October 2006 would appear to be a deviation from this strategy, but as of August 2008, production of the fully localized Indian tanks has not even begun yet at the Avadi Heavy Vehicles Factory. Jane’s believed that the order for the 330 sets of T-90S components was driven by chronic delays in the production schedule of the domestic Arjun MBT, and multi-year delays in T-72 modernization due to bureaucratic vacillation. Confirmation of the T-90’s status as India’s future tank has also faced operational difficulties, including the in-service difficulties. These include repeated heat-related malfunctions of the fire-control system’s key Thales Catherine thermal imaging (TI) camera, lack of cooling systems leading to uninhabitable temperatures over 60C degrees inside the tank, and reports that at least one armored regiment had an in-service rate of just 25% for its T-90s. The T-72s’ “Project Rhino” may eventually get started as well under the Army’s 2020 plans, adding reactive armor, electronics, sights, et. al. in collaboration with Israel, Poland and Russia. Persistent reports that many Indian T-72s lack effective IR-imagine equipment would appear to make such upgrades a priority item, but progress has been very slow.

Eventually, there is always the question of exports. Undoubtedly, the arms business is the most lucrative in the world. And given the true, savage instincts of hominids, the industry will be around for along time to come. The strongest argument critics of higher defence spending level against siphoning off money from development projects such as family planning and infrastructure is that an arms manufacturing capability is prohibitively expensive. That is most certainly true, for an arms industry requires, besides basic manufacturing plants, the ability to attract the best scientists and engineers and keeping them. It requires repeated testing and perfection to ensure the creation of a brand name. It requires highly sophisticated facilities for development and testing. This is subsidised usually subsidised by large orders from the Armed Forces, foreign as well as national. To aspire to an indigenous capability to provide weapons only for one’s own country in this day and age is utter nonsense.

Thus far, even India’s home-grown technology has not been entirely home-grown. In 1963, A.P.J Abdul Kalam, the man who would later go on to develop India’s Agni Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) system, spent four months in training in the United States. He visited NASA's Langley Research Centre in Virginia, where the U.S. Scout rocket was conceived, and the Wallops Island Flight Centre on the Virginia coast, where it was being tested. The United States also helped India build the Thumba Range, training Indian engineers in rocket launching and range operations. In November 1963, the United States launched a sounding rocket from the range, and since then until 1975, more than 350 U.S., French, Soviet, and British sounding rockets were fired from Thumba. In 1965, the United States sold to India the technical reports on the Scout’s design although it was technically considered classified under Munitions Control. The French had India build some of their rockets under license, allowing Indian engineers access to rocket design and liquid fuel propulsion technology. Similarly, West German aid flowed to India in the form of vital guidance systems in the mid-1970s. Even allowing for new technology being built on older systems, modern Indian weapons development programmes are hardly fully indigenous. Engines for the Tejas are not manufactured in India, and there is a long list of items that India imports from Western markets for its missile programmes.

What is quite amusing is the hubris India seems to have over the achievement of its Armed Forces. The only unqualified victory the Indians had in war was in 1971. Kargil was also a success, but the wars of 1948 and 1965 against Pakistan were more a matter of Pakistani ineptitude than Indian strategic brilliance. Besides, for a service that would need to be world-class if it is serious about defending India’s interests n the 21st century, should the Indian military really have such low standards as Pakistan for comparison? India will need o exert its might in the Indian Ocean from Somalia to Indonesia to protect its trade routes. Perhaps India may partake in a UN mission in the region substantially. India needs to balance China and awe Pakistan into inaction if it is to have a free hand in going about its other interests. For all this, we need more than the misty-eyed dreams of nationalists substituted for reality.

So in what form will Indian resistance manifest itself to Chinese occupation in 2250? Or dare we dream that it might just do so now?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Talibanisation of Hinduism

So there we have it at last – Hindu terrorists. In September 2008, three bombs attached to bicycles exploded in Malegaon, a small town in Nasik District, Maharashtra. At least 37 people died and over 125 were injured in what was clearly an attack on the Muslim community in the town - the bombs had detonated by a mosque just after Friday prayers. In a separate series of incidents in February 2009, in Bangalore, Mysore, Mangalore, and elsewhere, young women were attacked in public by the Shri Ram Sena or its equivalents. The charge? They were consorting with the opposite sex, consuming alcohol, inappropriately dressed (jeans, t-shirt), were outside the home for said purposes. In these two examples, we have proof of the ‘talibanisation’ of Hinduism. In the first example, Hindus lashed out against a non-Hindu religious group, and in the second example, “protectors” of Hindu culture turned on their own, threatening and inflicting physical punishment for what they deemed unacceptable behaviour.

Now let us compare and contrast this state of affairs with Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, or Saudi Arabia for that matter. In Afghanistan, women were kept at home, subject to acid attacks if they dared to not wear the burqa, and denied access to even schooling. In short, they were sex slaves for men, who traded them for political and other favours by giving them in marriage without regard to the age and personality of the suitor. In Saudi Arabia, a woman is not allowed to leave the house without her husband, father, or brother present (SOURCE: Jean Sasson’s Princess and Daughters of Arabia). Saudi Arabia ranks among the top nations where honour killings are prevalent, in the illustrious company of ‘Palestine’ and Pakistan. Female circumcision is not uncommon either. In the case of violent targeting of minority groups, or subjecting them to the laws of the dominant religion, we need not look elsewhere – the above-mentioned states implement draconian laws governing fasting, conversion, dress, consumables, and other things.

As far back as my memory serves me, these practices were seen as primitive and barbaric to say the least. However, in the last few months, they have risen in status that they are now worthy of being imported to Hinduism and India. At this point, it is fair to ask if anyone sees the difference between Islamic fundamentalists and terrorists and their Hindu brethren. In India, groups like the Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Shiv Sena, and others have repeatedly made a political issue out of religion and targeted Muslims, though to be fair, the Shiv Sena targets anyone who is not a Mumbaikar. Investigations into Malegaon threw up an entire array of unheard of names - Rashtriya Jagran Manch, Abhinav Bharat, and the Abhinav Bharat Sansthan. What is worse, these ragtag little wannabe terrorists were discovered to have had connections in the Indian Army, which supplied them with explosives. The rot, therefore, did not stop at a few bigots in a village but seeped all the way into the Army. The point of this is not to blame the Army but to take note of how pervasive these sentiments are nowadays in India and the powerful positions people with such bigoted views hold.

The argument is obvious – these criminals claim a tit-for-tat reciprocity that Muslim terrorists have also claimed against their targets in Israel, India, the United States, and Europe. Although I understand the anger that fuels such reaction – we all do…think about a place you hold to be holy being bombed – the problem with this response is that it always sinks to the lowest common denominator. If we sink to terrorism, then we are no better and it is at that point merely social Darwinism. Besides, given the huge numbers on both sides, if this behaviour is taken to its logical conclusion, the only end I can see is a genocide of epic proportions. And this goes against every civilizing instinct I have.

Looking at that other group, the voluntary army of protectors of Indian women’s virtues, the problem is not knowing what they stand for. They claim to stand for ‘Indian’ culture. Never mind that there was no such thing as India before 1947. Perhaps they stand for Hindu culture. In that case, did the brigands ask for religious identification before beating up random women? Because, by law, they cannot force all women to follow Hindu customs, for many may not be Hindu. Let that be for a minute. What is Hindu culture? Ask a Brahmin and ask a shudra and you will get two different answers. Or ask a Bengali and a Tamilian about dietary laws and we can say goodbye to another few hours lost in their debate. My point here is that we cannot even agree on what Hindu culture is – is it the same culture that built all the erotic temples all over the subcontinent and gave the world the sex manual? Of course, again, we are assuming Hindu culture remained static, never changing due to the influences of politics, philosophy, and other religions, even climate. Any study of the history of Hinduism and the six schools of thought that dominated it will easily show you how ridiculous a notion this is.

My arguments have been rational so far, not taking into account that these people are fundamentally irrational. What we need to recognize is that these people, whatever religion or other group they may belong to, are a cancer. It is only a truly secular society with a strong commitment to law that can survive this challenge of the times and remain civilized. Religion can have no place in politics, no matter the provocation – as the Chinese proverb says, it is hard to dismount a tiger. Right-wingers and conservatives can argue around economics, foreign policy, and other issues, but we should not in principle even hear out a candidate from a Party that wishes to harp on religious victimisation – those grievances must be settled by the law, and if not, there are mechanisms that will ensure redress. An impatient moment now and a vote for a religious bigot will mean endless trouble later. At first, things may go your way, but the wages of this shortcut are inevitably a society in which we are all cowering in the basement, fearful of hijackings, acid attacks, and bombs on trains.

In January 2009, even the Dalai Lama, a man given to peace to the point of not fomenting an armed revolution to save his own country, said that terrorism cannot be tackled by applying the principle of ahimsa because the minds of terrorists are closed. "It is difficult to deal with terrorism through non-violence," the Tibetan spiritual leader said delivering the Madhavrao Scindia Memorial Lecture in Delhi. He termed terrorism as the worst kind of violence which is not carried by a few mad people but by those who are very brilliant and educated. "They (terrorists) are very brilliant and educated...but a strong ill feeling is bred in them. Their minds are closed," the Dalai Lama said. He said the only way to tackle terrorism is through prevention. This prevention that can only be borne by an open and tolerant society, not moved by anger or hate but by law.

Of course, I can already feel the question being formed: What is the difference then between the violence of terrorism and the violence of anti-terrorism? Is it not merely a matter of perspective? The answer to that lies in a beautiful line from the Mahabharata: those prone to get drunk get drunk on knowledge, wealth, and good birth; but the same are triumphs of the strict.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Bombay Massacre

It is perhaps the politically correct thing to mutter cliches about the bravery of our fallen men-in-arms, how they died gallantly in service of their country, and what outstanding people they were. Those of you who know me will not be surprised if I refuse to do so. The police officers and soldiers who died did not wish to die – as the American General said, patriotism is about making the other dumb bastard die for his country.

Let us look at the Bombay tragedy and the Indian response closely. First, the complete and utter failure of intelligence needs to be recognised. Second, the lack of an intelligence service should be addressed. Third, we must consider that perhaps India deserves what happened, given the kind of leaders WE elected into office. Fourth, the media element – who in blazes covers security operations against terrorists LIVE?

I am fully aware that terrorism in its nature seeks to attack where unexpected and with indeterminate force. It is NOT possible to stop ALL terror attacks. That, however, should not be our excuse for not stopping any, or handling situations once they have been presented ineptly. Part of the blame goes to the great Congress Party for this debacle. Repealing POTA was perhaps among the most treasonous things it has done (along with socialism, the war with China in 1962, and the Mandal Commission). This hampered what little effort Indian police were capable of putting into counter terrorism. Secondly, India needs to wake up to a new beast – international terrorism. So far, we have fought limited battles over Kashmir with them, and the regular bomb blasts around the country aimed more at communal disharmony than destablising the entire nation. Of course, there are exceptions, but by and large, India’s terrorist problems have fallen under one umbrella - Pakistan. What we witnessed was a far more sophisticated form of terrorism whose roots go not just to Pakistan’s ISI but to al Qaeda. The meticulous planning surpasses anything the Pakistanis have yet done and the support, logistics, and supplies implicate a far more able adversary. India is now – in terrorist eyes – like any other Western power or Israel.

In the face of this new threat, it is worth mentioning that India does not have an espionage agency as most other nations do. The IB, RAW, CID, and other departments all fall under the jurisdiction of the Indian Police Service. There is no agency in India that conducts espionage and counter-espionage that is responsible only to the Prime Minister’s Office and Parliament. I am nt sure what his is an outgrowth of, but it certainly smacks of turf wars. It is a pity that protecting one’s turf and budget is more important than the country, but that is exactly the message that is being sent to the Indian people by the government bureaucracy. Unless this is rectified, we cannot expect better performance than what we have seen. India certainly has the technology to deploy spy satellites that keep an eye on our enemies’ moves, intercept their communications, and such – so why are we not doing it?

Later stories revealed unparalleled corruption and nepotism among the rank and file of the intelligence services. According to a DNA investigation, within days of taking over as R&AW chief, Chaturvedi ordered the agency to hire his own private flat in Noida, on Delhi’s outskirts, as a safe house. As R&AW chief, Chaturvedi has almost autonomous control of over the agency’s annual budget of over Rs. 1,000 crore. Sources spoken to by DNA said that R&AW may also have provided financial assistance to Chaturvedi’s son based in Europe from discretionary funds meant for intelligence operations, but no documentary evidence on this was available. However, other sources confirmed this allegation. Chaturvedi’s detractors also talk of the R&AW chief’s house being staffed by over two dozen agency personnel. Among them: staff to look after his dogs, two cooks, almost half a dozen telephone operators and four gardeners.

The Bombay Police were not far behind in claiming their share of the Government largesse. Senior ministers had repeatedly stressed that the force would be modernised and equipped with machines that would allow it to return terrorists' firepower. But most of those promises have remained on paper, even a cursory glance at the last few years' budgetary provisions reveal. Records show that the government has spent Rs 940 crore on "modernisation'' in the last eight years. But most of the money has been used for construction of new police stations, administrative buildings and buying luxury sedans for senior IPS officers. "We had adequate funds but never upgraded our firepower to tackle terror attacks. That was why we were helpless when terrorists attacked Mumbai,'' a senior IPS officer said, adding that 60% of the Rs 940 crore was spent on buildings and cars and very little on improving mobility or upgrading weapons and ammunition.

Officials say the home department's focus is on procuring luxury vehicles and accessories for top officers. Maharashtra has 22 additional DGPs and four DGPs. Every one has a luxury sedan. IGPs and SPs too have modern cars at their disposal and at least 20 such cars are at the disposal of the deputy CM himself. Some of them are used by him, the remaining are used by his staff. "Chinese-made beacons worth about Rs 30,000 had been fitted on many of these vehicles but could not be replaced after they stopped working as there was no warranty,'' an official added. Officials expected the home department to draft a plan to buy bullet-proof cars for officers in sensitive posts, replace age-old weapons and procure more bullet-proof jackets for personnel. But none of that has happened. "We have no ammunition for training State Reserve Police Force officials and so most SRPF constables have absolutely no experience of using rifles. They use it when they are summoned to tackle a mob or to control riots,'' the IPS officer said. A programme was drafted for getting AK-47s and replacing obsolete weapons two years ago but it was not followed up seriously. Maharashtra, as a result, is the only state in India where most cops embark on sensitive operations with old weapons. Ditto for bullet-proof jackets.

Coming more specifically to the events of the three horrific days, a huge part of the responsibility for the failure in Bombay must also be borne by the people of Bombay. They chose to send an actor (Govinda) unversed in the running of a state to Parliament and elect a criminal (Arun Gawli) to the state legislature. It is not in the least bit surprising to me that these characters have been found wanting in a time of crisis. Democracy gives us the right to be utterly stupid and the citizens of India proudly abuse this right. Today, when Mumbaikars (and Indians) look to the Maharashtra government in disappointment, let me remind them that they were the ones who chose to votes with their rears rather than their heads. An incident that really drives home my point is when Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister R R Patil kicked off a row when he said "such small incidents happen" with reference to terror attacks in Bombay. He said, scarce realising his faux pas, "bade shahron mein aise ek adh hadse hote rahte hain. Woh 5,000 logon ko marne aye the lekin humne kitna kum nuksan hone diya . (Such small incidents happen in big cities. They (terrorists) came to kill 5,000 people but we ensured minimal damage)"

The fourth and most fundamental failure was the media. Indian news anchors belong to that part of hell where stupidity and treason are both found. I have NEVER seen the media cover commando operations in progress live on national television. Any terrorist with a blackberry could have planned a response based on the feed from our own TV stations. Israel went so far as to condemn the Indian operation at Nariman Bhavan as premature and lacking. Although we are not privy to the logistical details of the NSG, I can guarantee you that one thing the Israelis were appalled by was our brain dead media. Not only was the camera coverage shockingly lacking in common sense but so was the audio commentary. I wasn’t sure whether to cry or to laugh when I heard journalists ask their cameramen the positions of the commandos and other such blatantly retarded questions. On the rare occasion the Indian media was not conspiring with the terrorists, they were busy with the usual clichés about bravery, honour, and sacrifice. Needless to say, they have reacted angrily to Israel’s criticism of Indian operations, perhaps because Israel was criticising their role more than our commandos.

Other bloggers have also lashed out at the Indian media for doing a "pathetic job". In his post entitled 'Pennies Prevail Over Prudence', blogger Veetrag called the media "irresponsible" and "sensational". "I am watching TV channels — NDTV, IBN-CNN, India TV, Sahara Samay, Star News and many others and have realised that none of them are doing their job properly," said Veetrag. Among the ineptness that the blogger complained about included the media's penchant for providing sensitive information, shooting close-ups of injured people instead of helping them, and their lack of sensitivity towards released hostages in the quest for headline news. "It's not even minutes that the lady has come out of such horrible situation and our reporter is asking silly questions... and pushing her to the point that she starts crying."

155 dead and 327 wounded - it was a high price to pay for the public and the Indian Government to awaken. I hope in G-d’s name that these questions I raised are being seriously looked into behind the closed doors of politicians, intelligence services, and private citizens. The end of the Cold War brought an uncertain world, and an unforgiving one at that. If this is how India continues to handle its challenges, we will be left talking only of the glories of Indian civilisation 5,000 years past, for there will be no new tales to recount.