At the start of the day, I was almost sure I was going to write about how the world doesn’t seem like a place that I’m proud to be in.
China, a communist nation, seeks to achieve a nuclear deal with Pakistan, a military dictatorship, which has a proven record of having proliferated nuclear weapons technology.
A group of eight Indian men were attacked violently in what appears to be a racist crime against Indians, not a common occurrence in recent times. But the media headlines in India and the Indian blogosphere continue to be obsessed with whether one Indian, once accused of a crime and now acquitted, gets a visa or not. Controversial racist slurs against Indian celebrities paid to act in shows abroad get wider attention in India than actual racist violence against innocent Indians in a foreign country.
It is at such times, that I feel the world is hopeless. It is not a place where I would be proud to be living. These are the times when I yearn for meaning; I’m yearning for sense, to make it all meaningful, somehow.
My mind becomes very unquiet. That’s when, like rays of sunlight in a darkened room, comes news like this.
NASA Audio Video History on the Web
I used to watch Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series on Doordarshan during the 1980s. I read Cosmos and many other books that increased my fascination of astronomy. I constructed my own homemade telescope in my school days, getting Rs. 75 from my father, and using paper calendar rolls for the tubes. I used it to watch the craters on the Moon and the satellites of Saturn.
With select friends, I used to marvel at the NASA Apollo and Russian Sputnik launches. It was not until 1997 however, that I was able to watch the real action. I used to monitor the Mars Pathfinder’s movement across the Martian landscape with bated breath and indescribable excitement. Every movement of the Pathfinder against a rock, crater, or soil sample was relayed by NASA over the web, and we were enthralled by it all.
For all such aficionados, there is great news. Decades of NASA photos and videos are coming to the web!
The space agency and the Internet Archive said Tuesday that they plan to scan and archive more than 12 million NASA photographs and 100,000 hours of film and video footage for free access online, under an exclusive five-year agreement. As part of the deal, the Internet Archive will host the media album on a new Web site, Nasaimages.org.
Free Home Planetarium: Google Earth is now Google Universe!
This is absolutely wild. I used to have a DOS 3.1 based program in the late 1908s, that depicted the stars in the sky above your actual location, depending on your latitude and longitude. Now, it’s for free. Google Earth has now launched Google Sky! I think it puts the Earth in perspective!
How fascinating and unbelievably true?! Imagine, you can now traverse 100 million stars and 200 million galaxies from your desktop! I’ve spent numerous hours teaching friends, colleagues, and relatives, about the constellations and galaxies, and nebulae during cloudy skies. Imagine being able to do it using your net-connected-PC! Teach your children using Google Sky about astronomy. They might one day become Sunita Williams!
It’s often said that Google Earth and Google Maps took Cartography to the masses. TechCrunch says “Google Sky could well do the same for Astronomy.”
I do not know if this is going to bring Astronomy to the masses. There was once a time, when it was also often said, that looking at the heavens brings mankind closer, as he realizes he’s just a speck of dust on an insignificant planet, on an ordinary sized star in one corner of not just his galaxy, but completely irrelevant as far as the universe is concerned. There was a time when this thought did bring men together, either in the spirit of fear, or in the spirit of science. I don’t know if this is going to mean anything at all in today’s world.
In fact, I’m inclined to think quite the opposite. Rather than studying the stars, mankind will be more interested in how the stars positions affect his or her chances of making it with that other person, how his or her chances with this particular career lie, and so on. Will astrologers use Google Earth to pinpoint horoscopes? Is this going to be the modern panchang or Vedic calendar?
I’m sorry this is a long post. My point is, when such news about such great initiatives by human beings come along, I feel hopeful about this world again. That there are some people who understand what it all means. And then I’m proud to be living in this world again! I’m not sure if anyone will understand what I mean, so I guess I may be writing just for myself.
Images Credit Myself (of objects seen by naked eye myself)
For once, I am not going to say much myself, except that I haven’t subscribed to the notion that America is an imperialist superpower out to rule the world. That is, at least not yet. There are disturbing signs emerging that support such a notion, and that’s what this post is about.
When I read about Obama saying that if he were President of the United States, he wouldn’t hesitate invading Pakistan (if Musharraf didn’t act on ‘actionable intelligence’), I was alarmed, to put it mildly. I have written in the past about why the US should not invade Pakistan.
So I was pondering a post in response to Obama’s speech, when I came upon this excellent blog post, by Chapati Mystery.
I need not say anything further. It is a long read, but I assure you, well worth your time if you’re interested in these topics.
Second, I have always advocated for democracy in Pakistan. I assumed that the American standpoint would be the same. Thanks to Desi Italiana, I discovered this NYT article, and realized that that’s not completely true either.
I’ve decided to hold off on the notion of global imperialism, but must confess that there is ample evidence of imperialism in multiple situations. Sigh.
Following a statement by the US intelligence chief that he believes Bin Laden is alive and hiding in Pakistan, come fears that the White House may actually consider raiding the Pakistan tribal areas to try to capture Bin Laden. Some opinions interpret the homeland security adviser’s remarks as an open admission that the American military has already staged attacks against Al Qaeda within Pakistan. Still others think that invading Pakistan, not Iraq, is an opportunity lost.
The real military options available to the US are all unpalatable, however:
When asked how the United States would respond if Al Qaeda were to plot a successful attack on the United States from the tribal areas, the answer from one intelligence officials was direct: “We’d go in and flatten it.”
But the US is facing a major dilemma:
“There can be no wait-and-see approach by the US in terms of Pakistan, but neither can there be any unilateral action like a covert operation against these areas,” says Karl Inderfurth, a former assistant secretary of State for South Asian affairs. “That would be the kiss of death for any broad move against the extremists, and it would inflame the already strong anti-American feelings in the country.”
So, what should the US do? While I am the staunchest supporter of the ‘war on terror’, I think (like many others) that it has gone terribly wrong. One of the reasons Al Qaeda is gaining ground is that the US strategy is alienating all Muslims:
Americans who think that all Muslims hate the United States may be surprised to hear that many Muslims believe they have it precisely backward. Our questionnaires showed that Muslims worldwide viewed Islamophobia in the West as the No. 1 threat they faced. Many Muslims told us that the Western media depict them as terrorists or likens them to Nazis.
The above article, “Bush still doesn’t get it“, is an excellent read “galvanized by the need to help Americans better comprehend the Muslim world”. Yet another op-ed from the Baltimore Sun echoes this view:
Al-Qaeda is not simply an outlaw organization that can be put “on the run.” Rather, it is part of a broad, religion-based social movement that has deep support in elements of the Muslim world. If al-Qaeda can be isolated and deprived of public support, it will wither and die. If not, it will continue to be a resilient franchise capable of regeneration, growth and ultimately additional strikes inside the United States.
Point 1: US needs to be more sensitive to Islamic aspirations, and project a vision for the future that embraces moderate Islamism. It can do many more different things in Pakistan, like helping revamp education (a dear thing to many Muslims), rather than simply pouring billions of dollars in aid for the army, which the people of Pakistan say is ultimately used against them.
Second, a civil war or extremist surge across Pakistan would be worse than not capturing Bin Laden. This has to be prevented at all costs. And the only political process that can help avert that is democracy. However, after six years of supporting Musharraf’s dictatorship, there are sensitivities involved that need to be balanced. But supporting the roots of democracy would likely pay off:
More broadly, however, the US must work – fast – to pressure Musharraf into opening up Pakistan’s political system and tapping into its shallow but existing democratic roots, experts say. “Musharraf simply won’t be able to mount an effective campaign against the extremists without broad civilian support,” says Cohen. And for that, he adds, the military leader will have to move to a system of power- sharing that encompasses Pakistan’s political parties.
Point 2: Urgently pursue all diplomatic efforts to broaden the political support for the war against extremism in Pakistan. Chacko from Indian Mutiny even exhorts India to take up the cause.
Why am I writing this? There are many reasons why America should not invade Pakistan. This blog post by Eric Margolis, who has actually spent time in these tribal areas of Pakistan, offers a realistic on-the-ground picture and reasons why America’s invasion of this territory would be a catastrophic mistake. I can only add that it would completely destabilize the entire region. India cannot afford the risk of civil war or an extremist Pakistan. We cannot afford Pakistan turning into Iraq Version 2.0.
I’m a staunch supporter of the India US Nuclear Deal and have defended it in the past. (If you’re new to my blog, do read my response to the Forbes article that was disparaging and caustic about India’s intentions because of the protests against the USS Nimitz docking in Chennai).
Well, after two long years since announcing the strategic partnership agreement over nuclear cooperation, the United States and India have managed to work out the minutiae of the 123 implementation agreement. This is a landmark moment in the history of India. I know its not done yet, and that we’ve a long way to go, but I think the major hurdles have been crossed, and I’m optimistic that it’s now just a matter of time.
I was following this story on a minute-by-minute basis on the Internet, observing the tone and expression of the varied news stories being published online. What I would like to point out here is how divergent the stories, and especially the headlines, were, among the different web sites.
The Indian news sites – NDTV, Indian Express, The Hindu, etc., broke the positive news first. When I started monitoring, neither the Washington Post, nor the New York Times had any update. Then Washington Post broke the positive news first.
Since the last few days when the talks were extended beyond schedule, a number of varied interpretations were made regarding the possible outcome. Mostly, the international as well as domestic Indian and US media covered the story with headlines like “struggling”, “talks extended”, and so on, but there are very notable exceptions. Note that even if the content of the news article was the same, the headlines were different. And headlines are where I think the editorial emphasis makes the whole difference. Even as I write:
The Gulf Times headline says: “Officials break logjam in N-talks, pact elusive”. Excuse me?
The Indian Muslims web site says: “U.S., India remain divided on controversial nuclear deal”.
The People’s Daily Online from China says: “US expects no breakthrough from nuclear talks with India”.
And the Associated Press of Pakistan goes one step further: “US – India talks on nuclear deal fail – WSJ”. As if not to be blamed for attributing reporting of the failure to itself, it includes the Wall Street Journal in the headline, where the WSJ actually said no such thing.
Muslim and Chinese – these were the only web sites I found that had negative headlines while the talks were still in progress. Why is this the case? I wish it were not so. Why weren’t there any negative news headlines from the mainstream US or Indian news sites? But sadly, that’s the case. And do we need any more proof of how editors manipulate headlines to attract maximum readership?
While India may be an attractive low-cost outsourcing destination, it is also an attractive destination for locusts!
The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization has warned of a locust threat in India and Pakistan:
Recent heavy rainfall in Pakistan and western India has created ‘unusually favorable breeding conditions’ for locusts until October along both sides of the Indo-Pakistan border and in coastal areas of western Pakistan, the Rome-based organization said today in an e-mailed press release.
This potentially dangerous situation should be closely monitored in both countries, the FAO said.
Desert locusts, migratory grasshoppers that often travel in vast swarms at speeds of up to 150 kilometers a day, can eat their own weight in food per day, according to the FAO. A small part of an average swarm is capable of eating as much food a day as approximately 2,500 people and can destroy vast amounts of farm land.
India and Pakistan are organizing field teams, equipment and resources to fight the swarms in the Indian states of Rajasthan and Gujarat as well as in adjacent areas of the Cholistan and Tharparkar deserts in Pakistan, the FAO said.
FAO desert specialists regularly train officers of India’s Locust Warning Organization in Rajasthan. The training involves:
- Estimating locust numbers
- Using GPS to identify location and help control operations
- Marking infected areas
- Detect breeding areas
For a real world example of such a training session, check this diary.
Britain’s knighthood to the author Salman Rushdie contributes to insulting Islam and may lead to terrorism, a Pakistani minister has said. The minister in question is none other than Zia-ul-Haq’s son, a well-known hardliner.
“Such actions are the root cause of terrorism”, Religious Affairs Minister Ejaz-ul-Haq told parliament.
The minister later said he had not meant to condone or incite terrorism but ‘stress its origins’.
This means: Freedom of Expression + Creativity => Terrorism. Heard anything as absurd or ethically deplorable lately?
From the Guardian:
Pakistani lawmakers passed a government-backed resolution Monday demanding Britain withdraw the knighthood awarded to author Salman Rushdie, condemning the honor as an insult to the religious sentiments of Muslims.
In the eastern city of Multan, hard-line Muslim students burned effigies of Queen Elizabeth II and Rushdie. About 100 students carrying banners condemning the author also chanted, “Kill Him! Kill Him!”
“The ‘sir’ title from Britain for blasphemer Salman Rushdie has hurt the sentiments of the Muslims across the world. Every religion should be respected. I demand the British government immediately withdraw the title as it is creating religious hatred,” Niazi told the National Assembly.
Lawmakers voted unanimously for the resolution although one opposition member, Khwaja Asif, said it exposed a contradiction in the government’s policy as an ally of Britain in the international war on terrorism.
Iran on Sunday also condemned the knighthood for Rushdie.
The British High Commission in Islamabad defended the decision to honor Rushdie – one of the most prominent novelists of the late 20th century whose 13 books have won numerous awards, including the Booker Prize for “Midnight’s Children” in 1981.
“Sir Salman’s honor is richly deserved and the reasons for it are self-explanatory,” said spokesman Aidan Liddle.
Irfan Husain writes in Pakistan’s Daily Times:
The entire furore over the Satanic Verses nearly twenty years ago can be seen as the beginning of the growing divide between the West and the Muslim world. The violent reaction among some Muslims over a work of fiction culminated in a fatwa by Imam Khomeni. This forced Rushdie into hiding for a decade, and confirmed the stereotype of Muslims as being intolerant.
Since then, things have only got worse. Growing militancy among a post-fatwa generation has seen rioting and violence over the slightest ‘western’ provocation. Mobs pour into the streets at the incitement of extremist clerics. Governments in the Muslim world deflect criticism of their incompetence and corruption by encouraging extremism.
The week started with strong-voiced op-eds in the WSJ, NYT, & Chicago Tribune about Musharraf’s predicament and what the US should do about it.
New York Times says “But nobody takes General Musharraf’s democratic claims seriously anymore, except for the Bush administration, which has put itself in the embarrassing position of propping up the Muslim world’s most powerful military dictator as an essential ally in its half-baked campaign to promote democracy throughout the Muslim world. Washington needs to disentangle America, quickly, from the general’s damaging embrace.”
Chicago Tribune is down-to-earth: “Pakistan’s six-decade history as a sovereign nation has been dominated by military coups and multiple rewritings of its constitution. Democracy has been little more than a rumor based on a myth based on a fairy tale.”
Acknowledgment: I got the above stories from the excellent blog by the best-selling author of “Pakistan’s Drift Into Extremism”, Hassan Abbas.
Meanwhile, striking when the iron is getting hotter, Nawaz Sharif opens himself up with Shekhar Gupta in Walk The Talk on NDTV 24×7. Some quotes:
- Vajpayee thought I had stabbed him in the back. He did not know I myself was stabbed in the back by Musharraf.
- Well, our generals have been trying to scare our own people more than the enemy.
- For the 60 years of Pakistan’s history:
27 years were democracies ruled by 15 to 17 prime ministers
33 years were dictatorships ruled by 3 or 4 Pakistani generals
- Even Musharraf’s close confidants, his corps commanders and two chiefs of the armed forces, the Chief of Air Staff, and the Chief of Naval Staff, were not aware of the Kargil adventure.
Interestingly, an article on Newindpress.com about the same show, reveals some more than what’s published online in the Indian Express site: I won’t accept any Indo-Pak deal, says Nawaz Sharif.
“Frankly, I don’t recognise Mr Musharraf as the legitimate president of Pakistan. I don’t recognise Mr Musharraf’s government as the legitimate government. He is guilty of subverting the Constitution…So if I accept this document, or a treaty that Mr Musharraf signs with India, then it amounts to giving recognition to Mr Musharraf. Or legitimising his government. So there is a principle involved. For me, it is very difficult to compromise on that principle.For a resolution of the Kashmir issue, Sharif hoped that India would be a bit more patient, wait for democracy to be installed in Pakistan again. When told that India can’t wait forever, he said, “What is the hurry? Why is India so impatient…Democracy is coming back to Pakistan, it is always good that two democracies talk to each other, rather than a democracy talking to dictatorship.”
Hmmm. I must say the hope of talking with a democratic Pakistan over Kashmir is indeed a better picture than the grim situation of talking with a communist dictatorial China over Arunachal Pradesh. However, international diplomatic relationships cannot be purely based on hope.
The answer to the question “Is Musharraf’s government in Pakistan legitimate?” is not given by India or any other foreign country. Even if the world’s superpower decides otherwise, it doesn’t win (see WSJ op-ed by Max Boot). It is an answer that can only be given by Pakistan’s people. If they choose to let him rule as a dictator, his government is ‘legitimate’ – in that it is a government recognized by majority of international countries and the UN. This also means that foreign countries can legitimately sell weapons to his government, World Bank can legitimately fund projects in Pakistan, and so on (if they choose to, of course).
If the people of Pakistan do not want Musharraf’s rule, and this leads to protests, and full-blown civil war, then the question of legitimacy arises, as it did in so many countries (Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, Chile, etc.) where dictatorships were overthrown by its people. If the extent of civil war in a country is so severe as to significantly destabilize it, then it follows that other international countries cannot make any ‘legitimate’ deals with its unstable and illegitimate government. Any such deals are likely to be viewed with suspicion and scrutinized in the international community.
While there are strong voices about democracy rising in Pakistan, it is still just a beginning. Musharraf is still ensconced in power, though his days may be numbered. There is nothing illegitimate about India making any deals with Pakistan’s Musharraf government as long as he’s not ousted.