8 December 2012

Predator or angel?

Published on The Asian Age (http://www.asianage.com)

Predator or angel?
By editor
Created 4 Dec 2012
China’s dealings with the developing world varies as per the level of vigilance and political consciousness to preserve indigenous natural treasures in individual countries

Is China a comradely benefactor or a predatory exploiter of developing countries? This question has carried crucial import in world affairs ever since China’s relative heft and weight began expanding. It has divided peoples and governments across the Global South, with some viewing China as a welcome alternative to neo-colonial Western interventions, and others portraying it as a rapacious, resource-hungry beast that is denuding the natural wealth of poorer countries.

The debate is most advanced in Africa, where the consequences of China’s humungous investments in the infrastructure and extractive sectors are discussed day in and out. The US secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s thinly veiled accusation that China is operating a “new colonialism” in Africa, marked by a game of “take out natural resources, pay off leaders and leave”, has been rebutted by the Chinese government and its allies on the continent as Western propaganda to sow a rift among brotherly developing nations.

Both sides of the argument cite statistical and anecdotal evidence to buttress their positions, which are manifestations of contrasting comfort levels vis-à-vis the larger issue of whether China’s rise to superpower status is a boon or a bane. Western establishments and media houses commence their narratives with barely disguised cynicism about China’s motives and impact in Africa and Latin America, assuming that Beijing is sinister, selfish and ruthless in its foreign economic policies towards these regions. Pro-Chinese advocates, on the other hand, carry the banner of Beijing as a benign, peaceful and exceptional superpower that is freeing least developed countries (LDCs) from centuries of Western domination.

Leadership Transitions in the Second Artillery Force at the 18th Party Congress: Implications for Roles and Missions

Posted on Monday, May 7, 2012 by L.C. Russell Hsiao

By Mark Stokes and L.C. Russell Hsiao

Leaders in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) strategic strike force will be transitioning during the 18th Party Congress this coming Fall. While the focus of the China-watching community has largely been on the top-brass of the central party leadership, much less is openly discussed about the changing leaderships within the armed services – especially the military’s strategic strike force. Leadership positions within high-placed grades of the services are important indicators of future rank and seniority within the military hierarchy. Furthermore, the backgrounds of these new Second Artillery leaders may reflect upon the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Central Military Commission (CMC) priorities for Second Artillery as the PLA continues to modernize its military capabilities.

What is Second Artillery?

Since its formation, the Second Artillery’s central responsibility has been nuclear deterrence. Yet, as the strategic environment changed, Second Artillery’s mission has gradually expanded to become the CCP and CMC’s principal instrument for achieving strategic effects through direct targeting of enemy centers of gravity. The process may be seen as a gradual effort to streamline Second Artillery missions into future military operations. Operational firepower is distributed among six corps-level missile bases, a centralized base for storage and handling of nuclear warheads, and operational support brigades/regiments reporting directly to Second Artillery headquarters in Beijing. 

Anticipated Changes at the Top

At the most senior level, Second Artillery Commander and CMC member General Jing Zhiyuan (靖志远; b. 1944) is expected to retire later this year. Jing Zhiyuan rose through the ranks of Second Artillery’s 52 Base, the corps-level missile command operating in southeastern China, then had assignments with 53 Base in Kunming and 56 Base in Xining. He served as 52 Base Commander during the 1995-1996 missile tests off the coast of Taiwan. His assignment as CMC member in 2004 reflects the Second Artillery’s growing prominence in resource allocation debates at the most senior levels of the party. His replacement remains uncertain. One possible candidate is Lieutenant General (LTG) Wei Fenghe (魏凤和; b. 1954), who currently serves as PLA General Staff Department (GSD) Deputy Chief of General Staff. LTG Wei’s tenure in a Military Region-grade position, and likely promotion to full general this summer, could qualify him for CMC membership upon assignment as Second Artillery Commander (China Leadership Monitor, June 28, 2010; China Brief, July 22, 2010). 

STUNNING: The BEST wildlife photographs of the year!

Last updated on: December 7, 2012


We bring you the best pictures from Sanctuary Asia Wildlife Awards 2012. Text and Photographs courtesy Sanctuary Asia magazine.

Each year, Sanctuary Asia magazine recognises the best-in-the-field of wildlife conservation in an attempt to honour among others, the most talented wildlife photographers whose images underscore the increasing threat to living ecosystems and species.

First up we have this picture titled 'Mirrored Drongo' by Vinayak Parmar that won him the second prize.

An avid birder, the photographer observed the behaviour of this Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus, for several days at a lake located 30 km. from Jamnagar, Gujarat. He then set up his tripod in the tall grasses at the edge of the lake and kept shooting images for hours on end, until he managed to get the one he was waiting for. In Parmar's words: "I was lucky to press the shutter at the exact moment before the drongo actually skimmed the water. The concentration in its eyes, the position of its wings, its open gape poised to snap up an insect and, of course, that reflection, all worked in tandem to gift me my perfect shot." And so say all of us!

Have a stunning wildlife photograph to share? Click here to post a picture along with a description and we will carry the best images right here on Rediff.com and India Abroad.


Next up is this one called 'A Cloud of Pastors' by Ashvin Trivedi.

The coordinated aerobatic flocking display of birds has fascinated naturalists for centuries, and has often been compared to the shoaling conduct of fish. This incredibly graphic image reveals thousands of Rosy Starlings Sturnus roseus at daybreak at the Lakhota lake, Jamnagar, Gujarat. Ascending and descending in mesmerising waves, the large flock of birds, locally referred to as Vaiya, roost in public gardens in winter.

They migrate to eastern Europe when the April heat sets in, only to return again in August. Birds 'flock together' as protection from predation and their formations are determined by a combination of separation to avoid crowding individuals next to them; alignment, which prompts individuals to take their heading from birds on their left or right; and cohesion, which leads them to steer in the direction of birds in their immediate vicinity.

Have a stunning wildlife photograph to share? Click here to post a picture along with a description and we will carry the best images right here on Rediff.com and India Abroad.



Shot by Shyam Ghate, this photograph is titled 'Elephantine Restraint'.

This magical image captures elephant life in the Corbett National Park more effectively than the proverbial 'thousand words' ever could. The elephant Elephas maximus herd had paused hesitantly at the edge of the Ramganga river, unsure of whether to cross because of a vehicle stationed on the opposite bank.

On a quiet hand signal from the photographer, who was in a vehicle on the same bank as the elephants, quite a distance from the elephant herd, the well-meaning driver on the opposite bank began reversing. The tactic backfired. The herd, with babies in tow, got spooked. One young female, in all the confusion, began charging the photographer's jeep!

What you see here is an effort by a more experienced matriarch to restrain the frightened female, using her trunk and her bulk to keep her with the herd. The dust, the lighting, the adrenaline, all combined to win this image a joint third prize.

Have a stunning wildlife photograph to share? Click here to post a picture along with a description and we will carry the best images right here on Rediff.com and India Abroad.


Next, we have this stunning picture titled 'Leopard Slumber' by Sudhir Shivram that won him the first prize.

The photographer spotted this leopard Panthera pardus with its kill up on the branches of a tree, the evening before this image was captured.

Leopards across the world tend to drag their kills up trees to evade more powerful predators such as tigers, or packs of wild dogs.

The photographer managed to capture some frames and then returned the next day to find the graceful, and full-stomached feline on the same perch, basking in the warm glow of the morning sun.

Sanctuary's judges unanimously agreed that the mood, lighting and the 'moment' merited Sudhir Shivram's nomination as Sanctuary's Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012.

Postscript: The sated leopard rested on its towering perch for 12 hours before disappearing into its emerald abode in the Rajiv Gandhi National Park, Nagarahole, Karnataka.

Have a stunning wildlife photograph to share? Click here to post a picture along with a description and we will carry the best images right here on Rediff.com and India Abroad.



This one shot by Baiju Patil is titled 'The Enchanted Lake'.

The image puts technology, aesthetics and natural history on display in a dramatic fashion. The photographer used a very basic waterproof SLR pack to shoot this; his first‐ever underwater image.

As he waited for the right moment, he says, the icy waters of Pangong Tso (long, narrow, enchanted lake in Ladakh) almost caused hypothermia to set in. But after a 30‐minute wait, the Brown‐headed Gulls Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus obliged him with a head-on image. "My guide and the locals thought I had lost my mind," he said, "but it was the experience of a lifetime and more than worth the pain!"

Have a stunning wildlife photograph to share? Click here to post a picture along with a description and we will carry the best images right here on Rediff.com and India Abroad.


Next up is this image titled 'Young and Fearless' shot by a 14-year-old.

This young tigress Panthera Tigris was a fledgling hunter, and this was probably one of her first kills. However, the young predator's age belied her prowess. An enthralled Daanish Shastri, all of 14 years old, said she darted out at a nearby fawn with such speed that the chital nearer to his vehicle did not even realise she had launched an attack from the thicket to their left.

Chital Axis axis are among the primary prey of tigers, with hinds and fawns being more likely victims of predation than adult stags. In undisturbed, pristine forests, prey densities are generally higher and consequently predator populations are greater as well.


Have a stunning wildlife photograph to share? Click here to post a picture along with a description and we will carry the best images right here on Rediff.com and India Abroad.


Finally we have this amazing photograph, by Jagdeep Rajput aptly title 'Pegasus'.

This stunning image of a nilgai and a Sarus Crane spreading its wings instantly brought to mind the winged horse of Greek legend.

The nilgai Boselaphus tragocamelus is a commonly seen antelope in central and northern India, as well as parts of Pakistan and Nepal. A habitat generalist, it avoids dense forests, but occupies open grasslands and the wetlands that are favoured by the Sarus Crane Grus antigone, the world's tallest flying bird with wingspans that can exceed 2.5 m.

The story of this image involves a nilgai that approached a Sarus Crane nest in which an egg had been laid. The photographer captured the image in the Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur, at the instant the bird was chasing the antelope away!

Have a stunning wildlife photograph to share? Click here to post a picture along with a description and we will carry the best images right here on Rediff.com and India Abroad.

Countering Chinese Cyber Operations: Opportunities and Challenges for U.S. Interests


Chinese cyber espionage poses an advanced persistent threat to U.S. national and economic security. Groups operating from PRC territory are believed to be waging a coordinated cyber espionage campaign targeting U.S. government, industrial, and think tank computer networks. A dozen of these groups have been identified and linked with the PLA, and others connected with universities and information security enterprises. The largest and most active of these groups may operate from Beijing and Shanghai. Download full article

The Chinese People's Liberation Army Signals Intelligence and Cyber Reconnaissance Infrastructure

This study offers a tentative baseline for assessing the GSD Third Department, affiliated Technical Reconnaissance Bureaus (TRBs), and supporting research and development organizations. An examination of this organization, its role and function would provide a mosaic with which to better evaluate China‘s signal intelligence and cyber-infrastructure. The data points assembled by this monograph points to an expansive yet stovepiped organization responsible for various facets of technical reconnaissance, including collection of wireless line of sight communications, satellite communications, cyber surveillance, network traffic analysis, network security, encryption and decryption, translation, and political, military, and economic analysis.

Mark A. Stokes, Jenny Lin and L.C. Russell Hsiao (11/11/11)

China's Evolving Space Capabilities: Implications for U.S. Interests



 Over the next 10-15 years, China is likely to develop more advanced precision strike assets, integrated with persistent space-based surveillance, a single integrated air and space picture, and survivable communications architecture, which could enable greater confidence in contesting a broader range of sovereignty and territorial claims around China’s periphery. Such capabilities enable the PLA to conduct military operations at increasingly greater distances from Chinese shores, which may complicate U.S. freedom of action in the Asia-Pacific region.




Mark Stokes with Dean Cheng (4/26/2012) prepared for the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission

Special Operations Command Seeks Bigger Role in Conflict Prevention

11/29/2012
By Sandra I. Erwin


U.S. special operations forces are the nation’s most celebrated terrorist killers. But they also have underutilized skills that could help prevent wars, officials said. 

The war against al-Qaida and other Islamic extremist groups has become more complex since the 9/11 attacks, said Army Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, deputy commander of U.S. Special Operations Command. Navy SEAL raids and precision drone strikes alone will not be enough to defeat these enemies, he said.

“We have known for a long time that we are not going to kill our way to victory,” Mulholland said Nov. 28 at a Defense Strategies Institute conference, in Alexandria, Va.

What is needed, he said, are “preemptive efforts before the fight starts.”

Counterterrorism is “much broader than direct action,” he said. SOCOM Commander Adm. William McRaven is a strong believer in indirect methods of fighting terrorist groups, Mulholland said. 

McRaven would like to see special operations forces take on a larger role in the training of foreign allies — an activity known in military-speak as “building partner capacity.” Strengthening the internal security of friendly countries where al-Qaida and its affiliates are recruiting members would help counter these groups’ influence, and possibly prevent a wider conflict, SOCOM leaders believe. 

Army Special Forces, or Green Berets, have been deployed in these capacity-building roles for decades, but a more sustained effort is needed, said Mulholland. SOCOM’s skills and resources should help the United States stay “to the left of problems,” he said, instead of having to intervene later and put U.S. military forces in harm’s way.

Since McRaven took charge of SOCOM in 2011, he has sought to expand the command’s authorities in several areas, one of which is building partners’ capacity. The current process is “suboptimal,” Mulholland said, because it is rooted in the Cold War, when the world was bipolar. “We don’t believe it gives us what we need today to build capacity in areas of the world that matter,” he said. SOCOM would like more flexibility to establish long-term relationships with partners that are facing threats from al-Qaida and its affiliates, he said. “We lack the ability to deliver a program to a country that needs help. We’re looking for authorities to get at that challenge more meaningfully.”

Why al-Qaeda finds no recruits in India


By Andrew NorthBBC News, Mumbai and Delhi



India's 180 million Muslims remain one of its poorest communities

Habiba Ismail Khan can't forget the day her eldest son ventured out to get food and water.

Their Mumbai slum had been overcome by communal rioting, sparked by the destruction of the Babri Mosque by Hindu hardliners in faraway Ayodhya.

This week marks the 20th anniversary of that event, one of the biggest tests since independence of India's secular ideals.

After days trapped inside, the sounds and smells of killing around them, he made a dash for supplies.

"He was 18, the only earner," says Habiba. "My heart cries for him every day."

Caught by a Hindu mob he never had a chance.No headway

He was one of nearly 600 Muslims killed in the Mumbai riots, the bulk of the victims. At least 275 Hindus died too.

But far from being spontaneous, a government commission later concluded much of the violence was an organised pogrom by Hindu extremists.

Two decades later, Muslims remain a marginalised minority - although minority seems the wrong word for a group that numbers nearly 180 million, making India the third largest Muslim nation in the world after Indonesia and next-door Pakistan.

Yet while its neighbour is in constant turmoil because of Islamic extremism, it's striking how little it has emerged in India.

"Fundamentalism has not taken root here," says Vikram Sood, the former head of India's foreign intelligence service.
Habiba Ismail Khan's son was killed in religious riots

While there have been bombings claimed by indigenous groups such as the Indian Mujahideen, they have been few and far between and there is no sign it has significant support.

The biggest attacks in India involving Muslims have had clear evidence of Pakistani involvement.

Despite having 10% of the world's Muslims to recruit from, al-Qaeda has made no headway here.

And no Indian Muslim has gone to fight in Afghanistan with the Taliban. "Or even Kashmir," adds Sood.

Chinese Hackers Won't Quit, Google Executive Says

11/30/2012

By Yasmin Tadjdeh 


Charleston, S.C. — The military, the government, the private sector and private citizens are underprepared for growing cyberthreats, said a top Google executive.

"Security needs to be everybody's concern, and it needs to be much more pervasvive not only in the Defense Department or in the U.S. government, but frankly, the private sector and in the general population," said Vinton Cerf, Google's vice president and chief Internet evangelist.

The biggest security holes right now are in Internet browsers, Cerf said at the Sixth Annual C5ISR Government and Industry Partnership Summit in Charleston, S.C. on Nov. 28. Browsers such as Firefox, Safari and even Google's Chrome can be vulnerable to infected websites, and can sometimes store malware onto user's computers. 

"We really need to work on getting technologies in place that will protect those devices that are used by ordinary folk, as well as people who do special things for the government," said Cerf.

Cerf estimated that there are 3 billion Internet users including those who access it through computers and mobile devices. Of those, about 500 million come from China. There is an enormous investment in the Chinese Internet despite the efforts of its government to deny its citizen's access to certain elements of it, Cerf said. 

A Former Ambassador to Pakistan Speaks Out

Nov 20, 2012

America’s former ambassador to Pakistan talks about his battle with the CIA over drones. Tara McKelvey reports.

Cameron Munter, the former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, looked suntanned, but not rested, as he sat in a Foggy Bottom bar a few blocks from the State Department on a fall evening. He placed an Islamabad Golf baseball cap on the table, a souvenir from a decades-long career that had recently ended in a public flameout.

Former Ambassador Cameron Munter testified on Capitol Hill before the Senate Foreign Relations committee, Sept. 23, 2010. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP Photo)

This past May, it was announced that Munter would be leaving his post. At the time, a State Department spokesman said he had made “a personal decision” to step down. But a few weeks after the announcement, The New York Times—in an article about counterterrorism policy—quoted one of Munter’s colleagues saying the ambassador “didn’t realize his main job was to kill people.”

That didn’t sound like the man I had met several months earlier at a party in Washington—back then, he seemed to relish his job as ambassador. I wondered why Munter’s colleague had said that, and I also wanted to know why he had resigned. He agreed to meet me at a bar to tell his side of the story, explaining that the Times had been wrong about him. It made him sound like a softie, he said, a mischaracterization that he wanted to correct.

Munter—who grew up in Claremont, Calif.—was no stranger to geopolitical hot spots even before he took the Pakistan job. He had been ambassador to Serbia from 2007 to 2009 and later served as deputy chief of mission in Baghdad.

A few thoughts on Chemical Warfare

December 7, 2012 | Posted by dtrombly

Since the beginning of Syria’s roughly 20-month-long civil war, the question of whether or when the regime would turn to chemical warfare to ensure its survival has loomed large for Syrians and the wider world alike. Damascus maintains, by most estimates, prodigious stocks of blister agents and even advanced nerve agents that could inflict horrific results on civilians and soldiers alike. The recent military gains by rebels in the neighborhoods of Damascus and their increasingly potent air defense capabilities all speak to plausible motive. U.S. officials report preliminary steps towards readying, and exhortations to begin employing, chemical weapons as well.

We know relatively little about the regime’s mindset, or its military’s logistical or ethical readiness to follow out such horrific orders. Nevertheless, it is wrong to suggest Syria is the first regime to face an endgame with chemical weapons in its arsenal. If Assad’s regime’s death spiral involves poison gas, it would in fact be the first incident of its kind.

One of the first – if not the first – regimes to collapse with chemical weapons was Tsarist Russia. Even in its death throes, it did not deploy them, although Tukachevsky inflicted chemical warfare against the Tambov Rebellion before the end of the Russian Civil War. The Russian Revolution and Civil War demonstrated a recurrent pattern, although one with a very small sample size.

Embattled regimes, on their last legs, do not deploy their chemical arms. Germany, despite highly advanced CW capabilities, used them during the Holocaust but not on the battlefield, even as vastly superior Soviet forces were crushing the Third Reich. Nor did Japan, a country which used gas and biological weapons frequently against the Chinese early in the war, and whose soldiers frequently displayed suicidal levels of loyalty and commitment, employ gas against the Americans.

Solitudinem faciunt

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 26, 2012

I have been pondering a "decisive battles" post on the final months of what is known as Eelam War IV, the conclusion of the long conflict between the government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tiger rebels.

While the conflict itself is horrific, the engagements between the rebels and the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) are potentially of interest to citizens of the nations currently engaged in suppressing rebellions in the Middle East, which as of this writing includes the United States and its allies in Afghanistan and Israel in the occupied territories. 

I thought that a look at the tactics and techniques that made the government forces successful and defeated the rebels might be useful for U.S. citizens pondering their own government's course in its wars and its support for the wars of its allies.

What I found was very revealing, but not about military tactics or techniques, but about nightmare and horror.

First, in researching Eelam War IV I discovered that the conflict may well be the most poorly documented recent major war outside the Russian campaigns against the Chechen rebels. The government of Sri Lanka did an exceptionally good job of preventing outside observers from getting any but the most haphazard notion of what went on in northern Sri Lanka in late 2008 and 2009. 

For example, some sort of engagement at the village of Aanandapuram was fought in late March and early April, 2009. I had hoped to write up this engagement as the "decisive battle" for March 2013, given that it seems to have been the final act of the Tamil rebel forces as a conventional military outfit. But I quickly ran into the realization that providing any sort of militarily sensible account of the events of Aanandapuram was damn near impossible.

Egypt and Beyond: The Need for Patience

Posted By Stephen M. Walt 
December 7, 2012


What's going on in Egypt? The short answer is: precisely what we should have expected. What is happening is obviously disturbing, but it is also a completely predictable and probably protracted struggle for power. And unless the "Arab spring" is quite atypical, the political revolutions that began two years ago are going to take years to work out. 

To summarize a passage from my 1996 book Revolution and War: 

"Revolutions are usually (invariably?) characterized by violence. Even when the old regime collapses quickly, there is likely to be a violent struggle afterwards. The issues at stake are enormous, because the process of redefining a political community places everyone's future at risk. Until a new order is firmly established, no one is safe from exclusion and the temptation to use force to enhance one's position is difficult to resist. The possibility that winners will take all and losers will lose everything heightens the level of suspicion and insecurity. Fears of plots and conspiracies abound. Disagreements over specific policies can become life-or-death struggles . . . and achieving consensus on what new rules and institutions should govern the society is likely to be a difficult and prolonged process. In sum, revolutions are deadly serious contests for extremely high stakes." [pp. 20-21] 

The history of modern revolutions confirms this view. The American Revolution was comparatively benign (though it did involve both a war of independence and the persecution and expulsion of the defeated loyalists), but more than a decade passed from the signing of the original Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the ratification of the Constitution in 1788. The original Articles of Confederation (1783) proved wholly inadequate, and the fight over the new Constitutions was protracted and sometimes bitter. Nor should we forget that the Founding Fathers sometimes saw each other as near-treasonous, and disputes between different factions were even more contentious than the partisan wrangling we observe today. 

America’s Wolverine to Step Down

The Corner 

America’s Wolverine to Step Down
The one and only. 

On December 6, Defense Secretary Panetta nominated General Lloyd Austin to lead the Central Command that is responsible for operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan. This cuts short by several months the tenure of the current commander, General Jim Mattis, at CentCom headquarters in Tampa. The administration’s motivation was obvious: The social ties between Jill Kelley and the command, sparking the resignation of David Petraeus and the ongoing investigation of e-mails sent by General John Allen, the commander in Afghanistan. Mattis apparently had nothing to do with any of that, but the administration clearly wanted new leadership in Tampa that had no connections to the Kelley family or that social milieu. 

This image-burnishing comes at a steep geopolitical cost. Austin may not be confirmed by the Senate until March, and after that he will need months to get up to speed on the situation. In the meantime, despite the sudden announcement that he is leaving, Mattis will be managing military planning and operations related to Syria, Iran, Egypt, Afghanistan, and the rest of the Middle East. A bachelor who has traveled incessantly across the Middle East since his appointment in July of 2010, Mattis has built up a range and depth of contacts, along with a reputation as a leader you don’t want to face in battle. His ferocity on the attack has been widely chronicled. With the radio call sign of “Chaos” and the nickname “Mad Dog”, Mattis commanded Marine infantry in Afghanistan and Iraq and is the only four-star to have engaged in firefights at close range. The troops love him; he’s a wolverine when you turn him loose to fight. 

It would have been prudent to keep Mattis in command until the normal rotation next summer, particularly if the administration really fears an Israeli strike against Iran during this spring. His reputation and command style have inserted serious unease in the minds of Iranian and other foes of America. Mattis does not know how to play pattycake. 

The Gentle Colossus


By RAMACHANDRA GUHA | 1 December 2012

A magazine is a despotism or it is nothing. One man and one man alone must be responsibile for all its essential contents - HL Mencken 

THE BRITISH HISTORIAN EP THOMPSON once remarked that “India is not an important country, but perhaps the most important country for the future of the world. Here is a country that merits no one’s condescension. All the convergent influences of the world run through this society: Hindu, Moslem, Christian, secular; Stalinist, liberal, Maoist, democratic socialist, Gandhian. There is not a thought that is being thought in the West or East which is not active in some Indian mind.” 

Thompson may have been reading the Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), the Bombay journal where these thoughts and influences converge and meet. Rich in information and glowing with polemic, its pages are an index to the life of India. On subjects as varied (and important) as the economy, caste politics, religious violence, and human rights, the EPW has consistently provided the most authoritative, insightful, and widely cited reports and analyses. Among the journal’s contributors are scholars and journalists, but also activists and civil servants—and even some politicians. 

Like other such journals around the world, the EPW commands an influence far out of proportion to its circulation. It has shaped intellectual discussion in India, and had a profound impact on policy debates. Can one see it, then, as an Indian version of the esteemed New York weekly The Nation? There are some telling similarities. For one thing, both are appallingly bad looking. The well-loved columnist Calvin Trillin said of the Nation that it was “probably the only magazine in the country [that] if you make a Xerox of it, the Xerox looks a lot better than the original”. More substantively, they have a similar philosophy or credo—this, in the words of the former Nation editor Victor Navasky, being “to question the conventional wisdom, to be suspicious of all orthodoxies, to provide a home for dissent and dissenters, and to be corny about it, to hold forth a vision of a better world”. 

Newsmagazines are mostly written by a staff of experienced, full-time reporters. On the other hand, opinion journals draw much more on freelance contributors and university scholars. As the historian Christopher Lasch pointed out, with the onset of television and the dumbing down of the mass media, these journals had become “the only surviving media in which scholars can talk to each other. They give the intellectual community what little unity and coherence it retains.” That is true of The Nation; and even more so, one thinks, of the EPW. 

There is another way in which the profitable glossy is to be distinguished from the poorly circulated journal of opinion. In the words of the critic Dwight Macdonald, “a ‘little magazine’ is often more intensively read (and circulated) than the big commercial magazines, being a more individual expression and so appealing with a special force to individuals of like minds”. These journals are to be judged not by the bottom-line, but by their (often considerable) impact on shaping public policy and public debate and, beyond that even, by the love and loyalty of their readers. 

Book: Durbar

Book: Durbar 
Author: Tavleen Singh 
Publisher: Hachette 
Price: Rs 599 
Pages: 312 

A recurring theme in veteran journalist Tavleen Singh’s exceedingly readable Durbar is that the country has been let down by its rulers. Insulated from the harsh realities of the country by a cocoon of privilege, most politicians are out of touch with the real political, social and cultural problems of India, she argues. Singh traces the root cause of this phenomenon to dynastic politics, which has installed a ruling class, which looks to the West as a role model and is unfamiliar with India’s rich heritage. Rajiv Gandhi, for instance, despite his speeches against power brokers in the party, was influenced largely by his advisers into taking the wrong decisions. The precedent for dynastic politics was set by the Gandhis and has since been emulated by other parties and politicians. 

Singh gives us a peep into the darbari politics of the Gandhis in the Seventies and Eighties. She herself was part of the exclusive social circle in which Rajiv and Sonia once moved. The Gandhi coterie included Arun and Nina Singh, Suman and Manju Dubey, Romi Chopra, Ottavio and Maria Quattrocchi, Satish and Sterre Sharma and Mohan and Nimal Thadani. With her eye for detail and an incisive touch, Singh provides us some juicy nuggets. You get to know how the politically privileged conduct themselves in private. Politics was never discussed with the Gandhis during the Emergency. There is a riveting account of a dinner party conversation between Naveen Patnaik, now chief minister of Orissa, and Sonia Gandhi. Patnaik was not sure whether it was proper for him to mingle with Rajiv and Sonia since Indira Gandhi had put his father Biju Patnaik in jail but he finally decided that etiquette demanded he go across and say hello. Admiring Sonia’s dress, he asked if it was a Valentino. Sonia replied that it was stitched by her local darzi. 

At another party, Singh encountered Rukhsana Sultana, Sanjay’s infamous Emergency aide, dressed in chiffon and pearls and sporting elegant dark glasses. She boasted of her social work in the slums of old Delhi, introducing Muslim women to modern ideas like family planning. She claimed she was a role model for these women. A few week later, there were riots in the Walled City because of Sultana’s forcible sterilisation programme and Singh, herself, was nearly attacked by a mob since her sunglasses caused some people to mistake her for Rukshana. 

‘Sons of soil’ to guard China border in Sikkim

Ajay Banerjee
Tribune News Service 

New Delhi, December 7

India’s policy of integrating local soldiers or “sons of the soil” with the Indian Army in guarding the frontier with China will now be extended to Sikkim. This will complete an arch of locally recruited battalions to be integrated with the Army and stationed from Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir in the North to Arunachal Pradesh in the East.

The Cabinet Committee of Security, at a meeting last night, gave its nod to raising a battalion of “Sikkim Scouts” that will be tasked with guarding high passes and portions of the north-eastern part of Sikkim, besides keeping an eye on the routes of ingress. 

Safeguarding Frontier

* Cabinet nod to raising a battalion of ‘Sikkim Scouts’

* Will guard high passes, portions of north-eastern Sikkim 

* Will comprise 28 officers, 44 Junior Commissioned Officers and 862 jawans

* Will be raised by mid of 2015 

Initially, 28 officers, 44 Junior Commissioned Officers and 862 jawans will form the battalion. The raising of the battalion will cost the government Rs 32. 50 crore, while the annual recurring cost will be Rs 34.45 crore. The battalion will be ready and raised in 30 months i.e. mid of 2015.

It will take time to recruit and train boys from Sikkim to form the battalion of “sons of the soil”, said sources. 

The Chief Minister of Sikkim had asked the Defence Ministry to raise a battalion for Sikkim, as other Himalayan states already had battalions from their respective areas.

The Army has integrated battalions of locally recruited soldiers under “Ladakh Scouts” and “Arunachal Scouts” (two battalions each), “Kumaon Scouts”, “Garhwal Scouts” and “Dogra Scouts” (one battalion each). Battalions comprising locally recruited soldiers hold a strategic advantage. The local recruits have instinctive knowledge of their mountainous terrain, do not require skills training to survive in harsh climatic conditions and can gather information from local population easily.

Over 350 infantry battalions are stationed all over the country and are moved every few years to keep them abreast with different terrains and threat levels.

“Arunachal Scouts” was the last one to be raised. General JJ Singh (retd) had proposed it during his tenure as Army Chief and the Cabinet approved it in 2009. Its first battalion was raised in 2010. The second one was approved later. 

Unchecked Infiltration

Issue Courtesy: Uday India | Date : 08 Dec , 2012 


Muhammad Jamil Rehman, a trader, who had come to India to get his mother treated, was one of those, who preferred to stay back, for thorough health check-ups of his mother in India, where medical facilities are cheap and best in the Asian countries. “I am not willing to take any risk in my country, where medical aid is of very poor quality and not sustainable or proper for each and every diseases. It’s true that our Indian visas are valid for only next seven days but I have no way, I will go back to pavilion only after my mother’s treatment is over (in fact, until my mother becomes fit) not before that,” said Jamil. 

…in India, now-a-days, ‘infiltration’ is one of the most burning and sensitive problems. 

After he entered India through the International Border Check Post (IBCP) at Mahadipur under Malda district of West Bengal State he stayed in a lodge at district headquarters town, Malda. Even, he had spoken over telephone to his wife and child at Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, that in future he would come to India for anybody. 

It is a usual picture on India-Bangladesh international border, where each and everybody likes Muhammad Ashraful Rezzak, a Bangladeshi citizen with his family, is in a queue of 40 numbers to 50 numbers of people and is waiting for clearance to cross over to the Indian side for better treatment to his ailing wife, Rubina Biwi and daughter, Rukaiya Khatun. 

But practically, the Rezzak family always keeps in mind that India- Bangladesh international border is always a controversial border and sensitive with issues such as immigration, smuggling, aggressive religious fundamentalism, human trafficking and insurgency activities. Therefore, they neither want to stay for more days after completion of the treatment nor do they want to take any risk before the aforesaid international boundary is sealed for an indefinite time after or before any kind of violence that escalates on the above international boundary for the above reasons. Most of the time, the situation tells different stories. A good number of Bangladeshi citizens have stayed in India illegally in the name of better medical treatment. . Like Muhammad Rukun Zaman, resident of Rajsahi District of Bangladesh, who had come to Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, for the treatment of his son (who is 8-years old and is suffering from a respiratory problem) in a private hospital. They were forced to go back home in Bangladesh, as they found that their visa had expired. 

Fast and Furious


By RAHUL BHATIA | 1 December 2012 


WHEN A MASSIVE FIRE ERUPTED at Mantralaya, the headquarters of the Maharashtra state government in Mumbai, shortly before 3 pm on 21 June, national news channels interrupted their broadcasts with live coverage of the blaze. Producers at Times Now, which calls itself “India’s most-watched English news channel”, borrowed footage from a Hindi channel until their broadcast vans reached the place at 3.20 pm, and the channel’s reporters and cameramen began to record pictures and describe the scene. A jittery camera found frightened people inching away from blazing windows on a ledge high above. A man dressed in white, just out of reach of the firemen, swung down from an air conditioner’s holding cage, put one foot on an open window frame a floor below, and gingerly reached out to another window, a few feet away, with the toes of his other foot. Nothing but the ground lay beneath. His desperate bid to stay alive replayed every few minutes, looped on a split screen alongside live images of the spreading flames. 

Times Now, which is owned by Bennett, Coleman and Company Limited, publishers of the Times of India and the Economic Times, had earned a reputation for playing news fast and hard. On this occasion, the network was late to arrive at Mantralaya, but once the cameras were ready and footage streamed in to Times Now’s main bureau in central Mumbai, the operational machinery that set it apart from other channels came alive. Raw pictures of the fire arrived at the bureau’s “ingest room”, where two technicians were standing by. Under normal circumstances, footage is pushed through from here to the edit room; edited clips are conveyed onward to the output desk, and then launched into space from the production control room. For this event, the machine was primed to behave less like a conveyor belt and more like a catapult. Incoming footage was diverted straight to the production room, with words tacked on remotely as the digital footage streamed by. The entire chain of events, from recording to broadcast, took less than 30 seconds. This streamlined process was the primary reason editors and reporters said Times Now was unmatched in live coverage; as one former Times Now journalist told me, “There is no bureaucratic delay, as there is with other channels.” But nimbleness was only one reason why Times Now had consistently beaten its more established rivals in the ratings from late 2008 until early 2012. The frenetic coverage of the Mantralaya blaze demonstrated the channel’s other strength: a flair for creating drama. 

Reading the future in Mexico’s malls

Arun Kumar 
India may soon go the way of the Central American country where small stores have vanished from the city, agriculture has declined and unemployment is huge 

The driver of the taxi that took me from the airport to the hotel in Mexico city was a computer systems analyst. He was a cheerful English speaking man who talked about himself and his family’s woes in the hour it took to cover the 30 km. He wanted to know about the global economic crisis so that he could figure out why things were bad in Mexico for people like him. He complained about unemployment and his inability to get the right job without connections — a fate his children also face. He blamed the U.S. and its policies and corruption in society. This was a recurrent theme during my week-long stay in Mexico recently. 
Big malls 

The taxi passed through many commercial and residential areas but I saw no small shops. There were big malls, automobile dealers, petrol stations, restaurants, pharmacy stores and car repair shops. I wondered if the small stores were in the residential colonies. A friend who had been posted in the Indian Embassy in the mid-1980s had mentioned that there were fruit stores everywhere and one could make a meal of fruits in the evening but such shops were nowhere to be seen. I wondered if this was the future that awaited the Indian metropolises. 

The absence of small stores was perplexing but more intriguing was the serious unemployment, given that Mexico has been a part of NAFTA since 1994 and which brought in much foreign investment. Many factories have relocated from the U.S. to Northern Mexico to supply the U.S. and Canadian markets and so on. The city was bustling with cars. It is prosperous compared to India with a per capita income 10 times ours. There are layers of flyovers — one on top of the other — but there are traffic jams. During day time, it takes two to three hours to cover a distance that takes 25 minutes early in the morning. The public transport system consists of rail, buses and trams but people are stuck in traffic for a good part of their day. The city has to spread horizontally since it is built on landfill and there is a lot of water below the surface, and multi-storeyed buildings require expensive deep foundations. So, most buildings are one or two stories high, forcing the city of 25 million to spread out. 

Old timers remember that Mexico city had small stores until the mid-1980s. Only the organised sector stores survive now, like the Sanborn chain belonging to Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world. Sanborn has a unique model of a restaurant on the first floor and a gift shop, pharmacy and other such conveniences on the ground floor. The young I talked to did not remember seeing corner stores in residential colonies. 

Supreme Being


By SAMANTH SUBRAMANIAN | 1 December 2012 


ONE 

IN THE COLLECTIVE MEMORY of Times of India journalists, the notebooks loom large; no conversation about Samir Jain can be complete without mentioning them. If Jain, the vice-chairman of Bennett, Coleman & Company Limited and publisher of the Times of India, invites you into his office for a chat, you’re expected to carry a notebook, and you’re expected to take notes. “We all had our Samir Jain notebooks, and anxious managers outside his cabin would hand us new ones in case we’d forgotten ours,” said an editor who worked at the newspaper during the 1990s. “I even remember the type: Ajanta No. 3 notebooks, spiral-bound, in different colours.” 

New initiates into Jain’s meetings have made the mistake of decorating the pages of their notebooks with aimless doodles; old hands learn at least to scrawl down key words, lest they be quizzed the next day or the week after. It can be a chore; it can also be downright galling. After a cordial conversation in 1986, when Jain was still finding his feet around the paper, he pointedly told one editor, decades his senior: “It’s so nice discussing these matters with you. But when others come to see me, they bring a notebook. Maybe you should too.” In response, the editor told me, his voice still bearing embers of anger, “I said: ‘You may own the paper, but this is not tolerable.’ Then I came downstairs and wrote out my resignation letter.” 

Really diligent scribes can leave Jain’s office with aching wrists. In large gatherings elsewhere, Jain prefers to remain a passive observer, but in these little conclaves, he can talk, in mixed English and Hindi, for an hour or more at a time. He is nothing if not discursive; his homilies have ranged over editorial matters, brand-building and marketing, the nature of art, the psychology of his readers, sex, literature, and—most commonly—religion and spirituality. 

End the war on terror and save billions

By Fareed Zakaria, Published: December 7 

As we debate whether the two parties can ever come together and get things done, here’s something President Obama could probably do by himself that would be a signal accomplishment of his presidency: End the war on terror. Or, more realistically, start planning and preparing the country for phasing it out. 

For 11 years, the United States has been operating under emergency wartime powers granted under the 2001 “Authorization for Use of Military Force.” That is a longer period than the country spent fighting the Civil War, World War I and World War II combined. It grants the president and the federal government extraordinary authorities at home and abroad, effectively suspends civil liberties for anyone the government deems an enemy and keeps us on a permanent war footing in all kinds of ways. 

Now, for the first time since Sept. 11, 2001, an administration official has sketched a possible endpoint. 

In a thoughtful speech at the Oxford Union last week, Jeh Johnson, the outgoing general counsel for the Pentagon, recognized that “we cannot and should not expect al-Qaeda and its associated forces to all surrender, all lay down their weapons in an open field, or to sign a peace treaty with us. They are terrorist organizations. Nor can we capture or kill every last terrorist who claims an affiliation with al-Qaeda.”

But, he argued, “There will come a tipping point . . . at which so many of the leaders and operatives of al-Qaeda and its affiliates have been killed or captured, and the group is no longer able to attempt or launch a strategic attack against the United States, such that al-Qaeda as we know it, the organization that our Congress authorized the military to pursue in 2001, has been effectively destroyed.” At that point, “our efforts should no longer be considered an armed conflict.”

Phasing out or modifying these emergency powers should be something that would appeal to both left and right. James Madison, father of the Constitution, was clear on the topic. “Of all the enemies to public liberty,” he wrote, “war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes. . . . No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”