9 July 2013

***** If you want to read the Pakistan's OBL Raid Dossier please click on the following link :

2013-0754.pdf         Pakistan Bin Laden Raid Dossier     

Optimising the Potential of Special Forces

Issue Vol. 28.2 Apr-Jun 2013 | Date : 08 Jul , 2013

Compact deadly sub unit

In India, the lack of strategic culture, more on account of keeping the military out from strategic military decision making, has led the hierarchy to believe that conventional forces coupled with nuclear clout can deter us from irregular threats. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Pakistan, though conventionally inferior, has been successfully playing her ‘thousand cuts policy’ knowing full well that India has failed to develop the required deterrent. It is our inability to find a cure to this Achilles’ heel, that has led China, which was hitherto using Pakistan as proxy to wage irregular war on India, now directly aids and supports insurgent and terrorist outfits inside India.

A lackadaisical approach to internal security and failure to coordinate a response has been the bane of the problem in India.

The last conventional war was fought between Russia and Georgia in 2005. In the case of India, the last conventional war or rather conflict was in 1999 in the Kargil region though Musharraf wanted the world to believe that so-called freedom fighters were fighting the Indian Army and not Pakistani regulars (Northern Light Infantry and SSG). Over the last two decades, conflict has increased exponentially with regular armies fighting irregulars or between irregulars, latter more so because of sectarian reasons rather than ideology. In India, irregular forces have been confronting the security sector. In a rogue neighbour like Pakistan, the term ‘non-state actors’ is a misnomer. The notorious exploits of the ISI have led the Deputy NSA to call upon the international community to label it a ‘terrorist organisation’.

In India, the lack of strategic culture, more on account of keeping the military out from strategic military decision making, has led the hierarchy to believe that conventional forces coupled with nuclear clout can deter us from irregular threats. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Pakistan, though conventionally inferior, has been successfully playing her ‘thousand cuts policy’ knowing full well that India has failed to develop the required deterrent. It is our inability to find a cure to this Achilles’ heel, that has led China, which was hitherto using Pakistan as proxy to wage irregular war on India, now directly aids and supports insurgent and terrorist outfits inside India.

Battlefield India

A lackadaisical approach to internal security and failure to coordinate a response that includes external factors has been the bane of the problem in India. This is further aggravated by lack of governance, inadequate laws and lack of implementing existing laws on account of vote-bank politics. Mismanagement of social change has increased strife. We continue to retain the label of ‘soft state’ with actions like permitting Hurriyat to meet Pakistani visitors inside the Pakistani embassy, granting visas to Hurriyat to seek blessings of Hafiz Saeed in Pakistan and politicians shunning bureaucratic advice to not invite Rehman Malik and to not entertain Raja Pervaiz Ashraf visiting Ajmer privately. Incidentally, in a book authored by Sheikh Mujibur Rehman prior to the formation of Bangladesh, he wrote, “Because Eastern Pakistan must have sufficient land for expansion Eastern Pakistan must include Assam to be financially and economically strong.”

In a rogue neighbour like Pakistan, the term ‘non-state actors’ is a misnomer.

Ironically, our politicians permitted the take-over of Assam by illegal Bangladeshi migrants (facilitating their Indian citizenship) through the infamous 1983 Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) (IMDT) Act till it was struck down by the Supreme Court of India in 2005, but not before Assam was reduced to a Hindu minority state. Today, the MHA has banned no less than 35 terrorist organisations in India, though there are many more that need banning, like the Kerala headquartered Popular Front of India (PFI). Lack of an Internal Security Strategy, governance and aforesaid factors have provided an enormous asymmetric battlefield to our adversaries anchored around the Maoist insurgency, and China and Pakistan would be foolish not to exploit it.

Based on the 1960’s advice of China, Pakistan has raised anti-India jihadi forces and inducted armed modules pan-India that were identified in some ten states including Assam, West Bengal and Kerala in 1992-1993. SIMI started sending cadres to Pakistan for training with the mujahedeen, Taliban and Al-Qaeda and established linkages with radical organisations in Bangladesh for terrorist training. In recent years, Pakistan’s ISI had organised nucleus Maoist training in mines/IEDs/explosives with LTTE that is extracting a heavy price through CRPF cadres being killed and maimed. China backs the Maoist insurgency in India. Not only is China providing sophisticated weapons and communication equipment to the Maoists but over past several months, has provided arms manufacturing facilities to Maoists within India and to Kachen rebels in Myanmar. The Indian Mujahideen (IM) is the creation of Pakistan and the latter’s involvement in various terrorist acts including the recent Hyderabad blasts is unmistakable. The LeT has been hobnobbing with the Maoists and both LeT and Al Qaeda have established roots in Kerala and are deeply linked with the PFI.

India must also focus on the Chinese ‘String of Pearls’ surrounding us being reinforced by radical Islamic terrorism, particularly in Bangladesh and Maldives as it will fuel our internal security situation further. India has been talking of a cold start strategy for many years but Bangladesh too was practicing cold start during the BNP regime headed by Khaleda Zia through annual exercises racing for the Siliguri Corridor. That is the reason why China and Pakistan are trying their level best to integrate and boost insurgencies within India. It is no secret that the BNP-led government in Bangladesh has always been pro China and Pakistan. It is supported by terrorist organisations including Jamat-e-Islami and Ahle Hadith Andolan that are viciously anti-India and are funded by Saudi Arabia in a major way.

China’s newfound interest in Maldives may advertently or inadvertently help spur anti-India sentiments in Maldives.

The cold start by Bangladesh independently is little threat but when viewed in conjunction with China’s designs for Doklam Plateau in Bhutan, the state of Arunachal Pradesh and the strategic footprints already made in Northern Nepal, the threat magnifies. In Maldives, the advent of radicalism and anti-India perceptions have been building since 2005 when the youth started going for training under the LeT in Pakistan, drugs started flowing in and signs of radicalisation became visible on the streets. It did cause alarm bells in the Maldives National Defence Forces (MNDF) but nevertheless radicalism is on the rise. In a country where, as per 2008 estimates, there were 70,000 foreign employees and some 33,000 illegal immigrants, the presence of Al Qaeda and LeT in Maldives cannot be ruled out, as would be their links with their operatives and PFI in Kerala. This poses a major threat to soft targets in South India. Additionally, China’s newfound interest in Maldives may advertently or inadvertently help spur anti-India sentiments there.


Operation ‘Parakaram’ should have been proof enough that conventional power by itself is no panacea to irregular threats. During Parakram, Musharraf kept taunting India to cross the LoC and upped his nuclear sabre rattling. India’s inability to establish an irregular deterrent has led Pakistan to high levels of arrogance and obduracy in continuing terrorist attacks in India. During live TV debates in the aftermath of the recent grotesque incident of the beheading of an Indian soldier and the blasts in Hyderabad some former Pakistani military officers displayed conceit – even challenging India to launch its Strike Corps. It is not that our intelligence agencies have been lacking in advice. Maloy K Dhar, former Joint Director IB wrote in his book ‘Open Secrets – India’s Intelligence Unveiled’ thus, “I continued to advocate for an aggressive and proactive counter and forward intelligence thrust against Pakistan. My voice was rarely heard and mostly ignored…The Pakistani establishment is a geo-political bully. The best response to blunt such a bully is to take the war inside his home. India has allowed itself to be blackmailed by Pakistan even before it went nuclear. The sabre rattling of ‘coercive diplomacy’, which is nothing but sterile military power, cannot convince the Islamist Pakistani establishment that India can take the border skirmishes inside their homes and hit at the very roots of the jaundiced Islamist groups.”

Religious passion over self-respect?

Jul 09, 2013 

Beyond Saturday’s landslide victory for the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) in Gazipur’s mayoral poll lies a deeper dilemma of identity. The drama of Bangladesh’s battling begums and the run of Islamist wins in five municipal elections also highlights an artificially contrived conflict of language and religion for Muslims in both Bengals.

I recall a somewhat unorthodox Kolkata wedding where a Muslim boy was marrying a Hindu girl, both unquestionably locals. When a guest asked if the groom was Bengali, an elderly female replied “No, he’s…” and was about to say “… Muslim” when the youth himself cut in. “You’re quite right,” he said. “We’re not Bengali, we’re Persian!” He might have said Libyan or Turkish. Some Bengali Muslims, like the Congress’ late A. B. A. Ghani Khan Choudhury, are indeed of Afghan descent. But most are like the little Muslim boy in Nirad C. Chaudhuri’s memoirs who claimed his favourite fruit were dates — which he had never seen — because they came from West Asia.

Glamorous West Asia, Islam’s sacred land, also offers escape from the social complex of being a convert and encourages so many preposterous claims that the unwary outsider might imagine “Bengali Muslim” is a contradiction in terms. The Muslim League’s Mian Mumtaz Daultana described his pre-partition dilemma when “a Muslim in India did not really quite know whether he was basically a Muslim or an Indian”. Syed Shahabuddin, the career diplomat-turned-politician, gave the dilemma a further twist saying “Muslim Indian” was more accurate than the commonly used Indian Muslim. As this column has reminded readers before, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto argued mischievously in 1971 that “Muslim Bangla”, as he called erstwhile East Pakistan, had to be either Muslim or Bengali.

That absurd and unnecessary choice seemed to crop up again when Islam pitted itself against secularism in mayoral elections that could be a curtain raiser for Bangladesh’s general election that must be held within 90 days of the current Parliament ending on December 29. The BNP’s Begum Khaleda Zia loses no opportunity of accusing the Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, of being an anti-Islamic Indian pawn because she professes secularism. Hindus, who comprise 10 per cent of the population and helped Ms Hasina’s Awami League to sweep the polls in 2008 with a two-thirds parliamentary majority, are branded “fifth columnists”.

Ms Zia’s political vitriol overlooks the fact that orthodox Islam hardly condones women on the stump like her. Nor was her murdered husband, Ziaur Rahman, a doctrinaire fundamentalist, for all that he gave an Islamic colouring to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s secular Constitution. His populist gesture played as much to domestic voters as to oil-rich West Asian rulers while underlining his distance from India. Whatever his widow’s real beliefs, she wouldn’t have played the religious card if it didn’t have a powerful appeal for Bangladeshis. Exploiting religious credulity, she warns that the beat of Hindu drums would resound in mosques if Ms Hasina remains in office. Sooner or later, she says, the Awami League will turn mosques into temples.
Her political partner, the notorious Abdul Kader Siddiqui, “Tiger of Tangail”, was formerly India’s protégé but is now a militant opponent of everything India stands for. His claim to fame lay in organising a guerrilla force of some 10,000 Mukti Bahinis with Indian funds, weapons and training to fight the Pakistanis. Siddiqui’s forces entered in triumph with the Indian Army in December 1971. Soon afterwards, however, Indian troops arrested him when he personally and publicly bayoneted three unarmed Bihari prisoners accused of collaborating with the Pakistanis. The gory incident near the Dhaka stadium was filmed by foreign camera crews whom Siddiqui had invited in advance.

Now a burly white-bearded elder, he supports Ms Zia’s demand for Ms Hasina’s resignation, a caretaker regime to preside over the general election, dismantling of the International Crimes Tribunal trying 1971 collaborators and the introduction of Sharia law. The 13-point charter of their other ally, the Hefajat-e-Islam group, demands a stronger Islamic polity and abolition of Ms Hasina’s Women’s Development and Secular Education Policies.

The victory of BNP candidates by big margins in Khulna, Sylhet, Rajshahi, Barisal and now Gazipur suggests public endorsement of these aims. Naturally, local issues like corruption, deteriorating law and order and violence by the Awami League’s youth wing, the Chhatra Parishad, also played an important role in determining the outcome.

Politics in the time of tragedy

Jul 09, 2013 

Relief operations in Uttarakhand will be taken as benchmarks for the future. This will intensify as polls approach. Shameless politicking is back!

“Bhagwan aaye vardi mein (God appeared in uniform)”
— A Kedarnath pilgrim after being rescued by the Army 

The rescue phase of disaster management operations in the Kedarnath tragedy is officially over, though some remaining pockets of local inhabitants are still being reached. And, at the other extremity of India, almost as if on a well rehearsed cue, the mighty Brahmaputra in Assam has commenced its yearly ritual of flooding its valley. In the background of the Kedarnath calamity also loom the general election of 2014, where calamities and human misery will become pieces on the chessboard of electoral politics and the subject matter for bitter partisan rhetoric.

Relief operations in Uttarakhand will be taken as benchmarks for the future, and also as reference points for politicking in which the first salvos have already been fired by the Opposition, criticising the government efforts in Uttarakhand. This will undoubtedly intensify as national elections approach and campaigning intensifies. Shameless politicking is back again — amazing India at its very best!

The core of the reconstruction plans is the creation of a new temple town designed around a rebuilt Kedarnath Temple, a hugely emotive national cause across all parts of the country, with popular sentiments demanding commencement of the reconstruction at the earliest. But a word of caution may be in order — rebuilding Kedarnath will also involve a large component of socio-political religious sentiment, almost tailor-made in the present surcharged politico religious atmosphere to be exploited for electoral payoffs in 2014. This aspect was most recently demonstrated in a totally separate and unconnected issue, which is illustrative of the prevailing political environment in the country — the communal reactions deliberately whipped up in West Bengal against the Supreme Court ruling specifying dates for panchayat elections in that benighted state, which happened to overlap by a few days the period of observance of a religious festival. Meanwhile, the opening shots of the national elections to come in 2014 have already been fired, with political personalities visiting Kedarnath and offering to rebuild the shrine, while others, more ominously, attempt to resurrect the almost faded issue of the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya.

The summer ahead may well be long and hot and it may indeed not be totally far-fetched to speculate that Ram Mandir and Kedarnath could conceivably be reformatted and interlinked as part of some political game plan for 2014.

Against this background the Central government requires to be complimented for the eminently sensible and rational decision to extricate itself from a potential minefield and entrust the task of rebuilding the Kedarnath shrine to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), internationally reputed for its technological capabilities, amongst whose recent achievements is the successful renovation of the fabled Hindu temples of Angkor Vat in Cambodia. Technology and resources for rebuilding the Kedarnath shrine are all available within the country. This decision will help to preempt and defuse any incipient political controversies that may possibly arise or be sought to be created by political talk shows on the electronic media.

A worthy parallel can be seen in the reconstruction of the Somnath Temple immediately after Independence in 1947. Somnath ranks with Chittor, Panipat and Plassey in the historical context, as a symbol of India’s sacrifices in resisting foreign invaders and the turbulent ebb and flow of India’s medieval history. Rebuilding Somnath as a symbol of faith was perhaps even more evocative than Kedarnath will be. It is worth remembering that the reconstruction of Somnath had been driven almost entirely by the extraordinary personality and charisma of the legendary Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, India’s original “Iron Man” and in the opinion of many, the best Prime Minister India never had. It is equally relevant and indeed extraordinary to also recollect that the then Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, went to great lengths to disassociate himself from the reconstruction of Somnath and advised the then President of India,

IRNSS 1- A Step Towards an Indigenous Satellite Navigation System

The first of the proposed seven navigation satellites of the Indian Regional Navigational Satellite System (IRNSS), IRNSS-1, was successfully placed in initial orbit by PSLV- C22 (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle), on the night of 01-02 Jul 13. This is another well deserved achievement for ISRO as it takes the initial step towards joining the select group of nations having capability to launch and operate such a system.

Besides providing Position, Navigation and Timing services (PNT), the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) technology has spurred linked and dependent applications in myriad fields that have a direct bearing on the security and economic growth of nations. While GPS has become the synonym for GNSS, off late, the need to shift from the U.S. GPS system has been felt by most countries. This has been spurred by the fear of the collapse of multitude services, were the GPS to switch off/ degrade due to natural reasons or at the behest of the controlling state. (The GPS provides only degraded accuracy to civilian and non U.S. customers and the U.S. government also has the option of selectively degrading its accuracy whenever it deems fit). The disruption to the security and socio economic fields could be potentially catastrophic. While recognising this need, ISRO also realised that a global navigation system, like the GPS, would be expensive in terms of the number of satellites required and the requirement of a global network of ground based systems. It thus limited the scope of the programme to a regional network that could be supported by terrestrial stations on the Indian mainland.

The satellite, with a life span of around 10 years, would form part of the regional navigational system that would provide 24x7 terrestrial, aerial and marine navigation services, under all weather conditions, over the subcontinent. In the coming days, five orbit manoeuvres will be conducted from Master Control Facility to position the satellite in its Geosynchronous Orbit at 55 deg East longitude. While IRNSS1 would provide ISRO an opportunity to test performance parameters related to availability, accuracy and reliability of the upcoming system, the system would become operational only when all seven satellites are in place, the target timeline being 2015-16.

The fully operational system will have three segments viz.

Space segment – Out of the seven satellites, three will be placed in the geostationary equatorial orbit (i.e. they would be stationary with respect to the Earth) at a height of 36000 kms at 34° E, 83° E and 131.5° E longitudes over the equator. The other four (two pairs) will be placed in two geosynchronous orbits (an orbit around the Earth matching the Earth's rotation period)[1] inclined at 29 degree to the equator, crossing the equator at 55 degree East and 111 degree East. All the seven satellites will have continuous radio visibility with Indian control stations. Two spare satellites are also planned.

Ground segment. There will be an extensive ground segment consisting of control and ranging stations that would be responsible for controlling the IRNSS satellites and generating the navigation data. These stations would monitor all aspects of the satellites including their health, orbital positions and network integrity. The satellites would then be controlled by issue of radio commands by the Telemetry, Tracking and Command Systems (TT&C) stations. While the control stations are at Bangalore and Bhopal, about 15 other stations are spread across the country.

User segment. IRNSS would provide two basic services, the Standard Positioning Service (SPS) for common civilian users and as is available with GPS, a Restricted Service (RS) for special authorized users – military and other government clients, using encrypted signals. The system design allows for it to be compatible and inter operable with GPS and Galileo systems. ISRO releases say that the organisation has been working with industry to develop receivers for the IRNSS.

The IRNSS is expected to provide positional accuracies of 10m over Indian landmass and 20m over the Indian Ocean in a region centred around the country with a coverage extending up to 1,500 km from India between longitude 40° E to 140° E and between latitude ± 40°. The system can be augmented with local area augmentation for higher accuracy. ISRO Chairman, K Radhakrishnan, while lauding the successful launch of the satellite said that if necessary, the coverage area around India could be enhanced by adding four more satellites.

While various official commentaries are silent on the system's strategic and defence related aspects, it is already being construed that requirements related to missile targeting and its applicability to current and future military systems played an important part in the decision to establish an independent system. As Indian defence continues to upgrade its security hardware and software, it cannot be dependent on foreign systems that may be unreliable during conflict situations. For the Indian defence services, there would not be much change in the application and training as the system is similar to the GPS as far as the provision of PNT services is concerned. However, there is a need to involve the services during the designing and development of the user devices and interface to replace the existing GPS receivers.

The only other fully operational global navigation system besides GPS is GLONASS of Russia. Also in the advanced stages of implementation are other global systems - Galileo system of Europe (expected to be fully operational by 2019) and Beidou of China (expected to be fully operational by 2020). Japan has also planned a regional JAXA system for the Asia Pacific region and has already launched its first satellite. Besides the stated security related concerns, commercial aspects of such systems cannot be overlooked. Within a few years, the GPS industry has become a multibillion dollars worth worldwide service with linked benefits to the local manufacturing industry. Other nations have their eyes on a share of this ever expanding pie. However, they realise the difficulties in shifting existing users from the established American GPS systems and are hence targeting nascent markets with relatively lesser exposure to GPS. Europe wants Galileo to become its de-facto system and is also taking initiatives for its spread to Africa. Thailand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Laos and Brunei have already subscribed to the Chinese Beidou system. This is where ISRO would also face its biggest challenge and may require the Indian government, defence forces and industry to rally behind it.

India Enters New Era of Space Navigation

July 8, 2013

For many centuries the sun and stars position guided humans to navigate the sea and travel the land. Even today, migratory birds take help from the ‘sky’ in their long-distance flight. Subsequently, the magnetic compass and the sextant assisted travel. But the real revolution in navigational techniques happened during the sixties with the invention of the space navigational system by the US military, famously known as the Global Positioning System (GPS).

Almost after fifty years of the GPS, the Indian space agency ISRO is found making great strides in the navigational field. On July 1, 2013, ISRO successfully launched its first navigational satellite Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS-1A) into the geosynchronous orbit and plans to develop a constellation of seven satellites with a possible addition of four more satellites later. India is expected make IRNSS fully operational by 2015.

For any space navigational system to successfully undertake global operations it has to develop a constellation of a minimum of 24 to 26 satellites. However, India is developing a regional system with 7 to 11 satellites based on the region’s requirement. Normally, GPS satellites are positioned in the Medium Earth Orbit (MEO), around 20,000 km above the earth’s surface. The IRNSS, however, is unique as three satellites will be in the geostationary orbit (36,000 km above the earth’s surface) and four satellites in the inclined geosynchronous orbit.

The GPS is a Cold War creation. One of the basic purposes behind developing this system was to assist the US submarines to launch a missile attack on a target with minimum error. Now, the GPS is used in the civil aviation and shipping sector as well as in fields like geodesy, cartography, land and water resources management, etc. For many years the GPS remained mainly a military gizmo with limited civilian utility. It was only after May 2000, when the US turned off the Selective Availability Feature (intentional degradation of the GPS signal), that the GPS market grew rapidly, particularly in the transportation sector. Presently, various GPS features in the civilian domain are available with reasonable accuracy. Increase in the market volume also lead to lowering of prices both for hardware and software. During 2012, the volume of global navigation market exceeded 80 billion dollars. Interestingly, the defence market share is approximately only 2% of the entire volume.

Irrespective of a small volume, the GPS has critical defence utility. The volume of market in the defence sector should not be viewed in ‘isolation’ as an indicator of its defence utility. As such in the civilian area there are far too many customers globally while in the defence sector very few countries are the actual users of GPS technology. All modern day state-of-art defence equipments are dependent on space navigation technology. The GPS is important not only for the operations of military platforms like ships, aircrafts and tanks but also for accurate targets. The modern day war fighting concepts like network centric warfare are feasible only if the space based navigational aids are available.

The US does, however, allow for accessibility of the GPS facility mostly for civilian purposes but the quality of signal made available is always in a degraded profile. Such signal is of no use for military purposes. In the case of the IRNSS, the position accuracy is expected to be in range of 15 to 20 meters while the GPS provides a signal approximately with 36 meters accuracy.

IRNSS is expected to provide various applications which include terrestrial, aerial and maritime navigation; disaster management; assisting hikers and travellers; vehicle tracking and fleet management; and providing visual and voice navigation for drivers which can be also integrated with the mobile phones.

One of the biggest advantages of the IRNSS, once the system gets fully operational, is to reduce the dependency on the GPS. This would make India largely self-sufficient in navigational arena. Currently, India also uses the Russian system called Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS). ISRO has also developed a GPS supported geo-augmented navigation system (GAGAN) to assist the navigation of civilian air traffic over Indian airspace. It is expected that after both these systems become fully operational a potential synergy between IRNSS and GAGAN would evolve.

DNA exclusive: Leh Li! China intrudes, warns India in Hindi

Tuesday, Jul 9, 2013, 5:27 IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

The incident took place on June 17 when a Chinese patrol intruded into the Indian side and dismantled the cameras set up in Chumur near Daulat Beg Oldie.

A little over two weeks ago, Chinese troops intruded into the same areas in the Leh-Ladakh sector that had sparked off tensions in April and threatened the locals in Hindi. The troops even broke the high-resolution cameras that the Indian Army had set up in the area a month ago.

While the army headquarters is tight-lipped about the incident, the broken camera equipment was returned to an Indian Army patrol at a flag meeting on July 3 in Chusul area following furious negotiations between the two sides.

The incident took place on June 17 when a Chinese patrol intruded into the Indian side and dismantled the cameras set up in Chumur near Daulat Beg Oldie. Sources in the security establishment said the cameras had been put up after the Indian Army dismantled some of its structures following the resolution of the stand-off in April. While the army dismantled the tin sheds it had set up, it quietly set up high-resolution cameras to monitor any Chinese movement on their side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The Chinese patrol was proficient in Hindi and threatened locals, asking them to vacate the area, claiming it to be their own. The incident was reported to the government by Indian intelligence agencies and confirmed by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. It was, however, kept under wraps as the government did not want another international controversy while it was also battling the Uttarakhand floods.

Ironically, this flare up took place even as Union defence minister AK Antony was scheduled to travel to China for a bilateral visit this month.

Indian officials feel the repeated incursions are a result of an internal tussle between the Chinese PLA (People’s Liberation Army) and PLAN (People’s Liberation Army Navy). “There is a subtle power struggle going on within the Chinese leadership. This has resulted in the Chinese becoming aggressive in the South China Sea and the Leh-Ladakh sector, with leaders using the incidents to prove their supremacy in the party hierarchy,” a senior government analyst told dna. There is also a major difference of perception between Delhi and Beijing on where the LAC is. “The Chinese perception is very different from ours. So, every time they intrude, they insist it is their territory while we claim it is ours,” the analyst said.

The Indian Army has stopped patrolling the Chumur sector as part of a bilateral deal between Delhi and Beijing. However, the June 17 incident shows that the Chinese continue to be as aggressive as ever.

Birth of a girl and beyond

Sex ratio in the 0 to 6 age group continues to dog the planners. A model of coordinated effort between the village panchayats, religious bodies and chambers of commerce in Rajasthan and Uttarakhand has written a success story of improved sex ratio

Usha Rai 

It was with a quote from the Gurbani that Tejinderpal Singh Timma began his campaign against sex selection in Ganganagar district of Rajasthan. It goes as, "So kyon manda aakhiye, jit jamme rajaan." (Why degrade the one who gave birth to the kings). Secretary of the Chamber of Commerce in Ganganagar and President of the Gurudwara Committee of the district, Timma is a strong supporter of the district’s ‘Let Girls Be Born’ (LGBB) campaign of Plan India and Urmul Setu. LGBB is funded by Plan India, a national level NGO active in 12 districts spread across 6 states -- Bihar, Jharkhand, Delhi, UP, Uttarakhand and Rajasthan. Timma has been able to influence the large community of Sikhs and Punjabis by recalling this quote from Guru Nanak.
With focus on girl child’s survival and education from primary to professional level, that includes technical courses, especially in families that have only girls, this year alone the Chamber of Commerce and the local Gurudwara Committee have facilitated girls’ education through scholarships valued at Rs 3 crore in Ganganagar.

Khushi, the adopted girl with her proud mother Manjit Kaur 

They have succeeded in getting a quota of free seats for girls from poor families in courses like engineering, computer science, dentistry, MBA, B. Tech., nursing and others. This is in addition to the mass marriages they conduct for girls from poor families providing them basic household goods worth Rs 1lakh to Rs 2 lakh to start their new life. Simultaneously, the Lohri festival held at the harvest time where traditionally the birth of sons is hailed, was converted into Kanya Lohri, an occasion to celebrate the birth of girls.

A 2006 report on the falling child sex ratio stirred Timma’a conscience to take up the cudgels for the survival of girls. The first Kanya Lohri was held the same year to mark the birth of 101 girls. With the support of the president of the Chamber, Mr B D Jindal, a strategy was adopted to accord the girls a place of eminence in society. Now there is no looking back. Mothers receive a packet of sweets, a coconut and a shawl on the birth of a daughter. Subsequently, based on a list of 2500 families that had only girls, financial support was provided for their education from nursery to class 12.

Education and training

Slowly the programme widened to a shiksha (education) package for girls in higher education and vocational courses. There was such a clamour for financial support that a draw of lots had to be held to select the girls. This year there were 28,000 applications for the free education scheme.

Girls all the way: Celebration of Kanya Lohri in Ganganagar district, Rajasthan 

Though the LGBB project in Ganganagar and Sadhoshehar blocks of Ganganagar District, spearheaded by Urmul Setu started only in March 2011, it has already started showing results. Its panchayat coordinators work closely with Anganwadi workers, ASHAs (accredited social health activists) and ANMs to monitor pregnancies and discourage sex selection. The Pradhan and other elected representatives of the panchayat have extended their support to the project. Wall paintings in the panchayatghars promote their birth. Badhaipatras (letters of appreciation) and birth registration certificates are given at public functions to honour the girl child. From its own funds, the panchayat gives small gifts like wall hangings, clocks to these parents and a token cash of Rs 10 to Rs 50 to the girls. In the changing pro-girls culture, several women who have two or more daughters are no longer secretly terminating pregnancies. Instead, they are carrying the child and, if it happens to be a daughter or twin daughters and the parents think they cannot cope with another girl in the family, a new home is found for at least one baby girl. Nisha and Vikram Singh, the project and block coordinators respectively for the LGBB campaign in Ganganagar, led by example.

WHAT COMES AFTER GDP? - The simple road to happiness

Happy for a hundred little things 

Governments want economic growth. Statisticians measure it, and economists define it for them: it is growth in the gross domestic or national product (the difference is income from abroad, which for India is substantial thanks to the Indians working abroad and sending money to their waiting wives). This growth worship is, however, getting rather outdated. It started in the 1930s, after Colin Clark showed how to measure a country’s national income; he made the first estimates of Britain’s national income, to give a statistical backbone to John Maynard Keynes’s theory of income determination. It gathered strength after the world war, as capitalist countries vied to outdo the fast-growing Soviet Union. Now even poor countries like India know how to estimate GDP; rich countries have achieved levels of GDP that they can be satisfied with. 

One of them is Germany. For the last couple of months I have been living in the centre of Berlin. Every day I passed a shop which displayed some second-hand books, all priced at half a euro: that is as cheap as it can get. Thus I picked up a little book about the surprising number of French-sounding words in Berliner jargon. For example, when they take leave of you, Berliners say “Tschuess!” I had always thought that this was a dematerialized kiss. The French airkiss both your cheeks when they said goodbye; I thought the Berliners had turned this airkiss into a lilting greeting. But I was wrong; this chuce is Berlinerisch for a French adieu. Slightly over two centuries ago, Napoleon passed through Berlin with his million soldiers on the way to Russia. Before that, Prussia had kings of high culture, who spoke only French to their queens and courtiers. They could not do that to their hoi polloi, but even their German was laced with a generous dose of French. Chuce is a remnant of that affaire française. 

The books were a side business of a shop which sold second-hand goods, mainly clothes, given by religious people to the evangelical church (although it was Martin Luther, a German, who founded the Protestant church, the Germans do not call it that; they prefer to called it evangelisch). It also ran a restaurant, or more precisely, a soup kitchen. It was closed all day. Then in the late afternoon, hungry men began to hover near it. At six in the evening it opened its doors. For the next two hours it served a thick, meaty soup free. Germany is prosperous, and jobs are easy to get. But there are some people who cannot get jobs or manage somehow not to do one; they were served by the soup kitchen. 

The members of German parliament, however, felt that Germany was rich enough, and that it was time to start thinking about what came next; they appointed a parliamentary committee to answer the question. Its report is a model of systematic analysis. 

The committee distinguished between four types of indicators: of economic achievement and material welfare, quality of life, sustainability and resilience. It did not have much to say about resilience. It only distinguished between three types of crises calling for resilience: economic, natural, and epidemic. Its list of economic indicators would also be familiar: welfare as indicated by income, consumption and wealth per head, distribution of income and wealth, work force participation as indicated by unemployment, underemployment and long-term joblessness, economic insecurity as indicated by risks of poverty, unemployment, and fall in earnings or in pension, and distributive risks indicated by levels of taxes and social contributions. 

It made an elaborate list of aspects of quality of life: workplace quality as indicated by security of employment, chances of promotion, degree of consultation and job satisfaction; social inequality as indicated by inequality of income and wealth, and social mobility; health as indicated by infant mortality, adiposity (body mass index over 30), inoculations, lost years of life (deaths under the age of 65 or 70), depression, suicide rate, and availability of medical facilities; education in kindergartens, schools, colleges and occupational training; personal, political, economic and religious freedom; democracy and participation; environmental quality as indicated by open spaces and opportunities for physical activity nearby; work-life balance as indicated by hours of work and social contacts; personal security as indicated by crimes, vandalism, corruption and traffic accidents; gender equality in employment and incomes; and social integration of immigrants and handicapped people. 


Doubly hit Two events coincided to wreak havoc upon Kedar valley
Sorrow Avalanche
Geologists are not surprised by the scale of the Uttarakhand tragedy

White site: The Kedarnath shrine is located in such a place that, in winter, a single snowstorm can cause the accumulation of some two metres of snow and ice around it.

7 thousand cubic metres of snow can have an impact force of 85 tonnes/cubic metre

According to scientific estimates, the loss of human lives in what the Uttarakhand chief minister called a “Himalayan tsunami” could be as high as 25,000 or more. That would be no exaggeration, say geologists who have studied the Himalayan region and prepared plans to better protect the ecologically sensitive region and its people from disasters such as the one that struck on June 16.

Glaciologists of the Geological Survey of India (GSI) have studied Kedarnath and the surrounding areas in great detail. With his team, Deepak Srivastava, a former director of GSI and an eminent glaciologist, has explored the region. The reasons they offer for what happened and for the scale of the tragedy are not surprising: the number of visitors to the shrine and the tourists in the region has increased enormously, causing immense damage to the ecology. Ill-planned construction of hotels, ashrams, eateries and businesses has added to the depredation on nature.

“Since I know the terrain and have explored it many times, I can tell you that it’s no exaggeration that thousands of deaths have taken place,” says Ravi Chopra, an IITian and environment researchers at the People’s Science Institute, Dehradun. Cloudbursts and mountains have had a long association. But there are ways to protect the mountains while managing water flow from cloudbursts to minimise des­tr­uction. 

Kedarnath township is situated on a glacial outwash plain. Channels feeding the Mandakini originate from Chaurabari and companion glaciers and encircle the plain and meet below the township. The erosion by these streams has been such that it has cut through the water table in the upper part of the plain. Constant oozing of water has made the place marshy.

“Kedar was affected by two events: water held behind moraine broke free, and a landslide triggered a debris flow.”V.K. Joshi, ex-director, GSI 

Avalanches depend upon several factors, like the nature of the snow pack, physical and mechanical processes, slope conditions and the geomorphologic setting. The location of Kedarnath township is such that during the winters a single snowstorm can precipitate up to 2 metres of snow. The bowl-shaped reservoir that has a single opening at the top, behind Kedarnath, often creates a wind tunnel, raising cyclonic winds. Wind activity results in the formation of cornices and slabs, which can start extremely destructive wind-propelled avalanches. It was such an avalanche that had in the past uprooted a micro hydel project and damaged the Bharat Sewashram in the Kedar valley. Construction shouldn’t be allowed in the vicinity of the path of these avalanches, for buildings can funnel the wind and add to the damage.

Says Srivastava, “The upper reaches of the Mandakini valley are devoid of vegetation except alpine grass. In the valley around Garudchatti, there are rhododendron bushes and the area near Ghuinderpani has pine and birch trees. These barren slopes are not able to hold the avalanches and this part is most avalan­che-prone. Between the mora­inic ridge to the left and the wall of the valley runs a nullah. This provides a good barrier against avalanches to the left side of the valley. The right side, due to absence of any such barrier, is naturally not so safe. The terraces formed by these moraines are fairly wide and people are tempted to start construction on both sides. But the right side should be left untouched, as mentioned in my report. Moreover, the valley walls are very steep with flat portions at the heads that provide ample space for accumulation of snow. Generally such topographies do not generate regular avalanches, but if there is one it can be of a high order.”

In his report, Srivastava identified all of 28 possible avalanche zones. These were situated between altitudes of 3,800-4,000 meters. Each avalanche with a route length of 900 metres and average ice volume of 70,891 cubic metres can generate an impact pressure of 84.8 tonnes per cubic metre. To get an idea of what this means, it’s useful to know that an impact force of 10 tonnes per cubic metre can uproot trees, and that of 100 tonnes per cubic metre can rip out concrete structures. There can be no engineering solution against such geological hazards.

Post-2014 Afghanistan: Another King Upon an Ant Hill

Journal Article | July 5, 2013 - 2:30am


Apart from the standard set of tactical metrics, there is little resembling clear objectives that serve our direct foreign policy or domestic security interests in the current negotiations over Afghanistan post-2014. This is a continuum from the dearth of direction from US-NATO and Coalition Government’s to their Commanders following the end of first phase of the conflict at the end of 2001. While it is not unusual for modern day Governments to repeat the litany of historical mistakes it is unusual for the cycle to occur in such rapid succession. 

The policy of nation-building was attempted with little reflection on Afghanistan’s history with previous foreign occupying forces. With the exception of the introduction of Islam that began with the capture of Herat in 642AD, foreign powers have been unable to secure a social contract between a central Government in Kabul and the local village autonomy across the district heartland. Even then it took two–centuries to finally embed Islam within the cultural DNA of Afghanistan. Without establishing an enduring and legitimate political hegemony the remaining US-NATO forces after 2014 risk being left with the next elected Afghan President like a King asleep on an ant-hill.

The withdrawal strategy cannot be based on what could be referred to as the Charlie Wilson complex. That is, where we are filled with guilt to the cries of ‘abandoning Afghanistan’ over deciding not to spend billions more of taxpayer’s money on a hop-scotch of social development programs. It should not be because we want to change the depraved acts of barbarism. That is a cultural and moral war that is beyond Western Government’s international fiduciary duty and perhaps more suited to multi-lateral organisations. 

This paper attempts to provide a snap-shot of lessons from previous foreign force withdrawals and offers a number of potential objectives that could form the basis of a decision to maintain a US-NATO presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

A Brief History of Withdrawal

Alexander the Great faced fierce resistance in the Afghan tribal areas where he is said to have commented that Afghanistan is "easy to march into, hard to march out of.” (Robson, 2002) Alexander the Great also launched his own surge with what would have been regarded at the time as superior weaponry and military training, (Pressfield, 2009). Genghis Khan had to apply perhaps the most brutal tactics during his invasion around 1220, which could not be remotely acceptable today, in order to overcome the ferocious and obstinate tribal resistance. The British experienced a disaster as they withdrew at the end of the first Anglo-Afghan War 1839-1842. During their retreat over the mountain passes outside Kabul 4,500 British soldiers and 12,500 civilians died. This colossal humiliation was captured by Elizabeth Butler in her painting depicting Dr William Brydon the sole survivor on horseback, as he reached the British fought in Jalalabad.

During the second Anglo-Afghan War a young British soldier named Winston Churchill set off to prove himself in battle so that he could stand tall at the Dispatch Box in the House of Commons when he became a Member of Parliament. In 1898 Churchill wrote of British exploits in Afghanistan that, “Financially it is ruinous. Morally it is wicked. Militarily it is an open question, and politically it is a blunder.” Churchill’s battlefield experiences around the North West Frontier are contained in his book The Story of the Malakand Field Force, (Churchill, 1898). Purportedly both General David Petraeus and General Stanley McChrystal studied Churchill’s account of the pitch-battles in which he was involved and also his observations of Britain’s policy application amidst a deep seated tribal-religious, mindset and a chaos of influences. 

The Commander of Malakand Field Force at the time, COL. Bindon Blood (1842 – 1940), approached the rebellious tribes with similar tenacity to that applied by the U.S Marine Corp in Helmand. Both employed a systematically, intense, lethal application of force in the hope of forcing the Taliban to come to the negotiating table. While the US Marines, did not apply the ‘scorched-earth’ policy, burning and destroying entire villages, they did implement proactive and aggressive clearing operations that succeed in eliminating an enormous number of Taliban fighters from Helmand Province. Both COL. Blood and the US Marines became the strongest tribe.

Historian William Dalrymple’s stunning account of Afghanistan’s history, The Return of a King provides a far better narrative than I could ever hope to achieve (Dalrymple, 2012). Dalrymple describes the striking parallels between the current war and that of the 1840s. The same tribal rivalries exist and the same battles are being fought in the same places under the guise of new flags, new ideologies and new political puppeteers. The same cities are being garrisoned by foreign troops speaking the same languages, and they are being attacked from the same hills and high passes. Dalrymple describes how just like the leader of the Taliban Mullah Omar, the Amir of Afghanistan Dost Mohammad Khan in 1835 called for jihad against the outside forces, who had imposed themselves on Afghanistan, starting with the Sikhs who at that time had occupied Peshawar and Kandahar.

In 2010 I spent time working in Ghazni, where the battlespace owners were the Polish Command Task Force White Eagle, and often drove down to FOB Warrior in Gilan District. The FOB contained an old fort which had stood against the great-great-grandfathers of the same people who were constantly sending rockets in our direction. Just like today, the Afghan fighters in Ghazni had been inspired to jihad, at the time by Dost Mohammed. The Ghazis had a propensity for suicidal attacks, guerrilla tactics, debouched treatment of captives and the same habit of melting back into the villages and valleys they came from as soon as defeat was evident. It is difficult to understand how commanders and their political advisors in the current conflict become convinced that districts where they had previously experienced vicious fighting are now permanently transformed. Instead, it is more than likely they were witnessing the time-old-Afghan tactic of blending back into the human terrain, while the leadership may have been killed or fled back to Pakistan. Dealing and double-dealing, where money as much as the barrel of a gun seemed to be used as a weapon to hold alliances together. In Afghanistan I was told there are “good thieves and bad thieves and the bad thieves go to jail or get killed because they don’t steal enough for who they are stealing for.”

The Air Force’s Future May Be in Drones, But Its Generals Won’t Be

July 08, 2013

Air Force photo / TSgt Chad Chisholm
A staff sergeant guides an MQ-9 Reaper after it returns from a mission at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.

Ever since Predator drones appeared on the horizon in a big way shortly after 9/11, the Air Force has dismissed any suggestion that its core constituency of fighter pilots feels threatened by the unmanned aircraft.

That may, in fact, be true. But it’s hard to believe after reading this article in the latest Air & Space Power Journal, an official Air Force publication. The service’s focus on manned aircraft – and the way it has set up the rules for promoting drone operators – suggest that the Air Force actually has a shrinking interest in unmanned aircraft, according to author Lawrence Spinetta.

Lest you think Spinetta is some kind of aerial infidel, it’s worth noting that he

– is a graduate of the Air Force Academy.

– is now a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force.

– has a master’s in public policy from Harvard University.

– is an F-15 pilot, with 65 combat missions over Iraq and the Balkans.

– has a doctorate from the Air Force’s School of Advanced Air and Space Studies.

– has commanded remotely-piloted vehicles (aka drones).

– is now working on the Joint Staff at the Pentagon.

– is a certified public accountant.

Spinetta reviews a recent Air Force planning document and finds it wanting because its emphasis on buying the F-35 manned aircraft at high rates and for declaring the need for a so-called “sixth-generation” fighter a “must” following the planned buy of nearly 2,500 F-35s for $400 billion for the Air Force, Navy and Marines. “Tellingly,” he adds, “the plan makes no mention of RPAs [remotely-piloted aircraft] despite the promising record they have amassed over the last decade.”

He offers insight into the Air Force’s current thinking:

A study conducted in 2001 noted that fighter pilots held 67 percent of the four-star general officer positions and commanded 63 percent of all major commands, yet they comprise only 5.3 percent of the force…Since 2001 fighter pilots have largely consolidated their institutional hold on power…Fighter pilots disproportionately influence the vision, doctrine, budgeting, program priorities, and direction of the Air Force.

The Air Force, he is basically saying, is in danger of ignoring history by turning a blind eye toward the promise of unmanned aircraft by blocking the promotion of drone operators to senior command positions:

The establishment of new promotion paths to senior ranks constitutes an important, if not indispensable, prerequisite for shepherding innovative technology and new ways of fighting. Accordingly, the Air Force should break the RPA glass ceiling by (1) creating an RPA category for Command Screening Boards, (2) eliminating the recent manned-flight requirement for command selection, and (3) rebalancing the distribution of wing-command opportunities to break the power of vested interests.

Can Islam Be Reformed?

Daniel Pipes — July 2013

Islam currently represents a backward, aggressive, and violent force. Must it remain this way, or can it be reformed and become moderate, modern, and good-neighborly? Can Islamic authorities formulate an understanding of their religion that grants full rights to women and non-Muslims as well as freedom of conscience to Muslims, that accepts the basic principles of modern finance and jurisprudence, and that does not seek to impose Sharia law or establish a caliphate?

A growing body of analysts believe that no, the Muslim faith cannot do these things, that these features are inherent to Islam and immutably part of its makeup. Asked if she agrees with my formulation that “radical Islam is the problem, but moderate Islam is the solution,” the writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali replied: “He’s wrong. Sorry about that.” She and I stand in the same trench, fighting for the same goals and against the same opponents, but we disagree on this vital point.

My argument has two parts. First, the essentialist position of many analysts is wrong; and second, a reformed Islam can emerge.

Arguing Against Essentialism

To state that Islam can never change is to assert that the Koran and Hadith, which constitute the religion’s core, must always be understood in the same way. But to articulate this position is to reveal its error, for nothing human abides forever. Everything, including the reading of sacred texts, changes over time. Everything has a history. And everything has a future that will be unlike its past.

Only by failing to account for human nature and by ignoring more than a millennium of actual changes in the Koran’s interpretation can one claim that the Koran has been understood identically over time. Changes have applied in such matters as jihad, slavery, usury, the principle of “no compulsion in religion,” and the role of women. Moreover, the many important interpreters of Islam over the past 1,400 years—ash-Shafii, al-Ghazali, Ibn Taymiyyah, Rumi, Shah Waliullah, and Ruhollah Khomeini come to mind—disagreed deeply among themselves about the content of the message of Islam.

However central the Koran and Hadith may be, they are not the totality of the Muslim experience; the accumulated experience of Muslim peoples from Morocco to Indonesia and beyond matters no less. To dwell on Islam’s scriptures is akin to interpreting the United States solely through the lens of the Constitution; ignoring the country’s history would lead to a distorted understanding.

Put differently, medieval Muslim civilization excelled, and today’s Muslims lag behind in nearly every index of achievement. But if things can get worse, they can also get better. Likewise, in my own career, I witnessed Islamism rise from minimal beginnings when I entered the field in 1969 to the great powers it enjoys today; if Islamism can thus grow, it can also decline.

How might that happen?

The Medieval Synthesis

Key to Islam’s role in public life is Sharia and the many untenable demands it makes on Muslims. Running a government with the minimal taxes permitted by Sharia has proved to be unsustainable and how can one run a financial system without charging interest? A penal system that requires four men to view an adulterous act in flagrante delicto is impractical. Sharia’s prohibition on warfare against fellow Muslims is impossible for all to live up to; indeed, roughly three-quarters of all warfare waged by Muslims has been directed against other Muslims. Likewise, the insistence on perpetual jihad against non-Muslims demands too much.

To get around these and other unrealistic demands, premodern Muslims developed certain legal fig leaves that allowed for the relaxation of Islamic provisions without directly violating them. Jurists came up with hiyal (tricks) and other means by which the letter of the law could be fulfilled while negating its spirit. For example, various mechanisms were developed to live in harmony with non-Muslim states. There is also the double sale (bai al-inah) of an item, which permits the purchaser to pay a disguised form of interest. Wars against fellow Muslims were renamed jihad.

This compromise between Sharia and reality amounted to what I dubbed Islam’s “medieval synthesis” in my book In the Path of God (1983). This synthesis translated Islam from a body of abstract, infeasible demands into a workable system. In practical terms, it toned down Sharia and made the code of law operational. Sharia could now be sufficiently applied without Muslims being subjected to its more stringent demands. Kecia Ali, of Boston University, notes the dramatic contrast between formal and applied law in Marriage and Slavery in Early Islam, quoting other specialists:

One major way in which studies of law have proceeded has been to “compare doctrine with the actual practice of the court.” As one scholar discussing scriptural and legal texts notes, “Social patterns were in great contrast to the ‘official’ picture presented by these ‘formal’ sources.” Studies often juxtapose flexible and relatively fair court outcomes with an undifferentiated and sometimes harshly patriarchal textual tradition of jurisprudence. We are shown proof of “the flexibility within Islamic law that is often portrayed as stagnant and draconian.”

What is Islam?

By Jeff Jacoby | Globe Columnist 

July 07, 2013

FOR YEARS, terrible and violent crimes have been committed in the name of Islam. Does that mean Islam is inherently a religion of terrible violence?

The scholar Daniel Pipes has long argued that it is a mistake to attribute the evils committed by Muslim supremacists and jihadist killers to Islam itself, or to the text of the Koran and the hadith, the religion’s sacred scriptures. Like every great faith, Islam is what its adherents make of it. Today, many of those adherents are influenced by Islamism, the militant totalitarian version of Islam that emerged in the 20th century. The Islamist ascendancy is reflected in the savageries of Al Qaeda, the brutal misogyny of the Taliban, the apocalyptic hostility of the regime in Iran.

But just as the nightmare of the Third Reich was far from the totality of German culture and character, so Islam’s 1,400-year history is not encapsulated by the violent ugliness of the present moment. In other eras, Muslim society was known for its learning, tolerance, and moderation. “If things can get worse, they can also get better,” Pipes writes in the current issue of Commentary. As recently as 1969, when he began his career in Islamic and Middle Eastern studies, Islamist extremism was all but unknown in world affairs. “If Islamism can thus grow, it can also decline.”

Since 9/11, Pipes has summarized his approach to the threat from Islamist terror and oppression with the maxim “Radical Islam is the problem; moderate Islam is the solution.” Not everyone accepts such a distinction. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been widely held out as a model of moderate political Islam, has insisted that “Islam is Islam, and that’s it.

Many non-Muslims disagree with Pipes, too. The prominent Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who says the Koran should be banned in Holland, maintains that Islam and Islamism are “exactly the same” and that moderate Islam is “totally nonexistent.” Islam is not a religion like Christianity or Judaism, Wilders told me in a 2009 interview. “It’s an ideology that wants to dominate every aspect of society.”

It’s what Muslims make it.

To those who hold Wilders’s essentialist view, Islam’s teachings are immutable; the values promoted by the Koran and other Islamic scriptures are today what they have always been and always will be. By this argument, the backwardness, repression, and violent incitement against non-Muslims that hold sway in much of the contemporary Muslim world don’t reflect a particularly harsh and unenlightened interpretation of Islam — they are Islam.

Not true, asserts Pipes. “Only . . . by ignoring more than a millennium of actual changes in the Koran’s interpretation” — on topics ranging from jihad to the role of women to slavery — “can one claim that the Koran has been understood identically over time.” Take the Koran’s famous injunction (2:256) that “there be no compulsion in religion.” Is that a call for universal religious tolerance? Does it apply only to the various denominations within Islam? Was it limited only to non-Muslims in seventh-century Arabia? Is it to be understood as purely symbolic? Does it protect only non-Muslims who agree to live under Muslim rule? Was it overridden by a subsequent Koranic verse?

As Pipes and other scholars have shown, the correct elucidation of that phrase is: All of the above. There is no monolithic reading of that seemingly straightforward passage. Muslim authorities have variously given it completely incompatible interpretations.

Like all religions, Islam changes. And like all scripture, the meaning of the Koran’s text depends on its expounders. The words may be enduring, but the lessons drawn from them need not be. The Hebrew Bible and the New Testament also contain passages whose normative meanings changed as the faiths based on them evolved. Do Jesus’ words in Matthew — “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword” — mean that Christianity is not a religion of peace? The answer to that question is not the same today as it would have been during the Crusades or Europe’s wars of religion.