Archive for May, 2009

Course Correction

May 27, 2009

Following the horrific Mumbai terror attacks (around 200 dead and several hundred injured), that was staged by Pakistani based extremists, the Indian public and government reacted with concern and conviction tempered with caution – the hallmarks of a civilized society that was going to ensure justice was served while at the same time not bent on the blind and barbaric bombardment of the whole of Pakistan. The lone surviving Pakistani gunman was put on trial and India has demanded Pakistani cooperation in closing down the operations of the militant extremists.

Following a few rocket attacks from Gaza that killed three Israeli civilians and a soldier and damaged a couple of buildings, the Israeli Defense Forces, at the command of the Israeli regime, launched an all out aerial bombardment of Gaza followed by a ground assault with tanks and armored vehicles. At the end of the Israeli rampage, the resulting Palestinian death toll was around two thousand civilians killed (including many children and women) and widespread destruction of hundreds of buildings, major infrastructure, utilities, schools and hospitals. The Israeli government also blockaded Gaza preventing food supplies and medical aid for several days. The Palestinians in Gaza are still facing dire economic and medical hardship due to the unrelenting pressure from the rightwing Israeli government. More than thirty one Palestinian children (at last count) had been killed by additional IDF aerial missile strikes. Palestinians continue to be forcibly ejected from their homes in Jerusalem while Israeli settlements continually expand into Palestinian lands.

In this context, a couple of Mahatma Gandhi’s quotes are very appropriate: “Peace will not come out of a clash of arms but out of justice lived and done by unarmed nations in the face of odds.” and “The Roots of Violence: …Politics without principles”.

The United Nations, human rights organizations, peace groups (including Israeli peace groups) and many Jewish intellectuals around the world have all condemned the draconian Israeli response and labeled the invasion, extended blockade and continual occupation of Palestine as war crimes.

India was a long time supporter of the rights of the Palestinians and the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat inaugurated one of the first Palestinian embassies in New Delhi. Mr. Arafat had a good political and personal rapport with the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and he relayed intelligence reports to Rajiv Gandhi that someone was planning to assassinate him months before the assassination. Mr. Arafat attended the state funerals of both Mrs. Indira Gandhi (following her assassination) and Rajiv Gandhi (after his assassination).

Fast forward to the present day, as the UPA government of India took delivery of its first Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) plane, as part of a deal with Israel worth more than US$1 billion based on official estimates. According to new reports “The delivery is seen as part of India’s quest for air dominance over arch rival Pakistan as well as a milestone in growing military ties with Israel…The planes will also provide a deterrent to any threat from China on India’s eastern frontier, defense officials say”.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are currently theatres of conflict with external influences and some local elements fighting for control. Kashmir (both Pakistan and Indian regions) has experienced the destabilizing effects of the spillover from the Afghan and Pakistani wars. Over the past few decades, India has maintained a military presence of around two hundred and fifty thousand soldiers in Indian administered Kashmir to control the insurgency and external divisive influences. Thousands of soldiers have died and many more have been wounded. Some soldiers have been affected by the stress and become demoralized.

Faced with economic desperation, many Bengalis have crossed the Bangladesh border into India seeking a better existence and their arrival has led to tension and violence among the local inhabitants of several Northeastern states.

Out of a total population of around 1.1 billion people, the Muslims in India are the largest minority (nearly 13.5 % of the total) accounting for close to 140 million persons. This makes India home to the third largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia and Pakistan. India is also the country with the largest Muslim minority in the world.

India is bordered by Pakistan (population of nearly 173 million comprising almost 168 million Muslims) and Bangladesh (population of nearly 154 million comprising almost 128 million Muslims). If Afghanistan (the other Muslim South Asian state) is also factored in (population nearly 33 million), this means almost half of the Muslims in the world live in South Asia.

India also has historical ties to Muslim countries in the Middle East, where many Indians earn a living and their earnings have contributed to the development of the economies of several Indian states. Indian and Asian Muslims outside South Asia have historical bonds extending for more than a thousand years in the past. Muslims have made significant contributions in many facets of Indian culture and the benevolent rule of the Muslim Moguls lasted for a longer period and predated British colonial rule.

Considering all the historical, religious, social and political implications, the UPA government has taken an erroneous decision to purchase AWACS from Israel and this is further compounded by the news, as reported in The Hindu, that Defense Minister A.K. Anthony opted for additional arms purchases from Israel over those developed indigenously by India’s own Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO).

In a recent speech the BJP leader, Mr. Arun Jaitley, has estimated that the government of India spends around Rs.45,000 crores (roughly 9.5 billion US dollars) annually on combating terrorism. According to AFP news service, Israel replaced France in 2007 as India’s second-largest arms supplier after Russia and is likely to grab the number one slot through a vast array of defense agreements it has already signed with New Delhi. The huge amount spent on anti-terrorism with the billions of dollars spent on defense purchases from Israel, which is almost universally criticized for atrocities against Palestinian civilians, is staggering when it is taken into account that India is still a developing country in many respects.

Despite sustained high GDP growth in India, a World Bank report has exposed the hype surrounding India’s success after liberalization. The World Bank report provides new estimates stating that not only is India home to roughly one-third of all the poor in the world, it has a higher proportion of its population living on less than $ 2 a day than even sub-Saharan Africa.

In addition, the policy that Gandhi (Mohandas Karamchand – the one Gandhi of truly iconic stature) advocated of “Be Indian, Buy Indian” has been consigned to the waste bin.

The longstanding moral principles that India pursued as a leader of the non-aligned movement have become tarnished by the government of India’s buying Israeli arms.

To reduce the risk of a repetition of external terrorism like the Mumbai massacre, the government of India needs to follow the following course of action:

1. Cancel all arms purchases with Israel and lead an international coalition to boycott all Israeli products until Israeli war crimes in Palestine and Lebanon are tried by the judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague and the long overdue state of Palestine becomes a reality.

2. Strengthen the strong ties with Arab countries and forge stronger ties with the Muslim countries in Asia. That will go a long way towards preventing disaffected elements in those countries from perceiving India as inimical to their way of existence.

3. Reduce the troop strength and scale back the operations in various Indian states and redirect the savings towards improving the welfare of the military service personnel.

4. Freeze all defense purchases of billion dollar sophisticated weapon systems and all other unnecessary offensive ballistic programs.

5. Cut back on the exorbitant spending for anti-terrorism and monitoring of citizens currently in effect – a lot of the money is wasted on bureaucratic oversight.

6. Spend the savings from anti-terrorism and defense cutbacks on improving the lives of lower segments of society and minorities (including Muslims). A prospering minority community is the best deterrent against external misguided militants searching for disaffected citizens to assist them in creating havoc.

7. Allow self-rule for all regional conflict areas. The onus to dissipate any violence or protests will fall on the shoulders of the local politicians and the central government will not have to spend time, money or resources in unfamiliar terrain.

8. India needs to ensure that South Asian countries all work towards the peaceful development of the region and do not engage in the aggressive and ruthless campaigns like the Sri Lankan regime waged against Tamil civilians. Nearly a hundred thousand Tamils have died over three decades and nearly three hundred thousand Tamils have become refugees in their own land. A separate state of Eilam should be promoted to ensure that the atrocities against Tamils are ended for good and Sri Lankan leaders must be held liable for war crimes.

9. China is not a threat to India – it is decades ahead in terms of development and is focusing its attention on expanding its influence around the world. India needs to let China, USA, European Union and other prosperous nations take care of aid to third world countries outside South Asia.

10. India should focus all its development aid on South Asian countries. Charity begins at home and as the World Bank has noted in its report many of the poorest persons in the world reside in South Asia.

Security is neither obtained by building walls with watchtowers bristling with weaponry, sensors, alarms and continuous monitoring nor for that matter by purchasing overpriced AWACS planes from immoral regimes. The best security is to be surrounded by prospering neighbors.

The Indian public and the Indian government need to press for war crimes charges against Israel and Sri Lanka thereby sending a strong message that aggression and genocide will not go unpunished.

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Minding of the Meet

May 21, 2009

I attended a “soft skills” seminar some years ago. The purpose of the seminar was to reduce confusion and any potential disagreements by being aware of and making concessions for differing viewpoints. All attendees were asked to describe what various chronological terms meant to them personally and to assign a percentage to each of the terms. The instructor provided an explanation saying that the term “sometimes” might mean 20% to some persons and 40% to others. That seemed logical enough. The instructor then asked us to provide a percentage to the term “always” and most of the attendees automatically assigned the term a value of 100% while some assigned values ranging from 10% to 40%. After a spirited debate, the instructor ended the discussion by noting that “always” could mean 100% of the time to some persons and 40% of the time to others. After many years of trying to understand the concept of “Always is 40% of the time to some persons”, the meaning became obvious thanks to being an observer to events in India.

“The trains always arrive on time” is applicable to some nations (Japan, Germany, etc.-always is taken to mean 100% of the time). In India everything is relative (with apologies to Einstein and not in any way alluding to the quasi-national and regional political dynasties in charge). “The trains always arrive on time” is a broad guideline which may not be enforced all the time (always in this case is less than 100% and might even be 40% at times). This same laissez-faire philosophy pervades many other areas.

Taxis and auto rickshaws are always supposed to run based on the automated meters – this rule is almost always followed in the breach rather than in the observance. The fares will always (as in 100% of the time) fluctuate based on the time of day, the state of the weather and whether the driver is in an amenable and amicable frame of mind.

Quite a number of smaller local businesses may state that they always deliver on their promises and signed agreements – always in this case is always less than 100% and more likely 40%). The same small businesses will always (as in 100% of the time) demand and receive full payment from the customers – in this case the customers are not always right but always left in the lurch having fulfilled their side of the bargain.

The common rule that customers should always wait in queues is always (as in 95%) of the time disregarded – many persons understand the concept of queues to mean parallel queues (crowding shoulder to shoulder in solidarity) rather than serial queues (waiting at arms length in solitary). The customer service representatives should be commended for their patience and prowess in handling the multiple insistent and irritating interjections and interruptions when they are supposedly always (as in almost never) handling one customer at a time.

With the ordinary citizens having to face so many inconsistencies and uncertainties on a daily basis in almost every public and private transaction, it is a wonder that the vast majority of them are always (as in 90% of the time) so grounded. It might be a defensive reaction to living in a chaotic environment not conducive to punctuality and discipline, that most persons have adopted passivity and detachment to get them through the barriers and roadblocks en route to their destinations and dreams. While everything may always function (40% of the time), the enlightened philosophy will keep everyone balanced and focused on their quests in an uncertain world and that is a good thing always (100% of the time).

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Belief Relief

May 9, 2009

Two of the smaller member states of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), are Sri Lanka and Bhutan.  Sri Lanka and Bhutan are both majority Buddhist nations.  Most of the ethnic Sinhalese people in Sri Lanka are followers of Theravada Buddhism.  A majority of the Bhutanese are followers of Vajrayana Buddhism.  However, the similarities end there as Sri Lanka and Bhutan offer two very different visions for society.    


The Sri Lankan government of President Rajapakse has adopted the worst practices of the genocidal Israeli regime.  The Sri Lankan government has received arms shipments, including weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) like mines and cluster bombs, from Israel.  The Sri Lankan government has employed the same reprehensible tactics that the Israeli regime has ruthlessly and illegally used in committing war crimes against Palestinian civilians.  The Sri Lankan air force, like the Israeli Defense Forces, has conducted numerous air strikes on civilian populations in the Tamil ethnic minority area of Eilam.  The Sri Lankan regime has destroyed infrastructure (hospitals, bridges, utilities, homes, etc) and killed thousands of fleeing Tamil civilians, ostensibly to free the Tamil ethnic minority from the grip of terrorists.  This is a variation on “fighting fire with fire” and can be termed “fighting terror by terrorizing”.  Tens of thousands of ethnic Sri Lankan Tamils have been displaced, wounded and crowded into makeshift refugee camps.  The erroneous and morally indefensible methods of the Sri Lankan regime will backfire and ultimately result in the formation of a Tamil state of Eilam.  Sri Lanka is a Buddhist state that has turned its back on the Buddhist principles of peace and non-violence. 


The Bhutanese government has transformed itself from an absolute monarchy into a constitutional monarchy with the active consent of the former monarch, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck.  King Jigme Singye Wangchuck coined the term “Gross National Happiness” which is a reference to the Buddhist notion that the ultimate purpose of life is inner happiness.  Bhutan’s former ruler felt the responsibility to define development in terms of happiness of its people was more relevant and important than the economic indicator “Gross National Product”.  Pursuant to aligning with the philosophy of “Gross National Happiness” and to preserve Bhutan’s pristine nature and unique culture, the Bhutanese government has limited tourism, mass media and foreign investment.  The Bhutanese want to be a model society where all citizens enjoy a quality of life based on respect for nature and culture, rather than consumption and production of materials.  Bhutan is a Buddhist state that has inculcated the Buddhist philosophy into daily existence. 


As the largest nation in SAARC, India is also the land where Buddhism originated.  India has a moral obligation to condemn, constrain and convict genocidal regimes like Israel and Sri Lanka for war crimes.  Consequently, India needs to assert its influence to prevent the atrocities against Tamil civilians by the Rajapakse regime (a government that only pays lip service to Buddhism).  India should also felicitate and assist the Bhutanese government in its lofty aims of living a moral existence based on Buddhist ideals.   


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