Oct 23, 2006

To China With Love

Stratfor’s take on the Sri Lanka-US military exercises scheduled for the last week of October (since postponed link via Jaffna) is very different from the perceived notion of the United States wanting to surround India strategically. According to them it is a message to China to keep off from the Indian Ocean area because it “belongs” to India and USA.

…the site of the maneuvers [between the U.S. Marine Corps and the Sri Lankan navy] -- off the southern beaches of Hambantoa, where China is planning to build modern harbor facilities -- shows that India likely signed off on this venture as a way to signal to China that the Indian Ocean is U.S.-Indian territory.

Whatever Washington's reasons for the exercises, the maneuvers could not happen without India's permission. Though New Delhi is not nearly the geopolitical powerhouse that Washington is, the United States has anointed India as its junior partner in the Indian Ocean. The United States -- and other members of the Sri Lankan Donors Group, which assists with post-tsunami rebuilding and brokers peace talks -- traditionally consults with India on all decisions related to Colombo.

It is precisely this interest in regional pre-eminence that led India to give the go-ahead for U.S. forces to participate in a major training exercise geared toward fighting the Tamil insurgency. After all, India cannot risk offending its own sizable Tamil minority if there is not a substantial reward involved. In this case, the reward is the chance to send a targeted message to one particular country with the U.S.-Sri Lankan exercises: China.


…. The United States, with Indian assistance, intends to maintain the Indian Ocean as its own strategic waterway. China's intrusion into the area by building ports at Gwadar in Pakistan, in Myanmar and now possibly in Bangladesh irks New Delhi. Thus, it is no coincidence that the exact area of the U.S.-Sri Lankan exercises is Hambantota, the very harbor that China announced it would begin developing for Colombo in 2005.

Chinese President Hu Jintao's upcoming visit, during India's National Day, will give both sides a chance to mend some fences, but the U.S. Marine Corps exercises reveal a deeper geopolitical reality: The United States and India will not tolerate Chinese expansion, especially into the Indian Ocean.[Stratfor]

Oct 20, 2006

Stratfor's Fourth Quarter Forecast for South Asia

Our third-quarter forecast for South Asia was almost entirely accurate. Many of the core issues laid out in that forecast will continue to play out in the coming quarter. In what we described as the "Washington Effect," India and Pakistan during the third quarter largely formulated their foreign policies based on the Bush administration's priorities. Once more, South Asia's relevance in the global arena will reflect U.S. interests.

The fourth quarter begins in the intense build-up to the November U.S. congressional elections. U.S. President George W. Bush is promoting his Republican base with a clear focus on national security issues and is ramping up efforts to capture another high-value al Qaeda target to help ensure Republicans' hold on both chambers of Congress. We state in the third-quarter forecast that the Bush administration would deliver an ultimatum to Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf: Cooperate with U.S. forces and provide the necessary human intelligence to launch a successful operation and take out a key al Qaeda figure, or be left to face growing domestic opposition alone.

It appears that the Bush administration's negotiations with Pakistan are well under way. Musharraf recently announced an agreement with tribal leaders in North Waziristan to help boost his image at home after coming under severe criticism for having Pakistani security forces kill a major rebel leader. In spite of widespread concerns that the deal would create a sanctuary for Taliban militants, the United States has gone out of its way to praise Musharraf for his cooperation in the war on terrorism. Islamabad and Washington's behavior reveal that the two governments have reached an agreement to allow Musharraf to regain popularity at home in exchange for providing intelligence and greater access for U.S. forces in the region. There is a strong chance that the United States will be able to claim the capture or killing of another high-value al Qaeda target in the fourth quarter.

As in the past, a major U.S. operation on Pakistani soil would undoubtedly compromise Musharraf's domestic standing. The Pakistani president will be forced to confront intensifying opposition claims that he has sold out the country's territorial integrity to Washington. Though Musharraf is bound to run into some rough patches this quarter, he will maintain his hold over the country, mainly because of the various opposition groups' inability to overcome their own differences.

Major challenges remain for NATO forces in Afghanistan. NATO's September request for reinforcements highlights the tenacity of a resurgent Taliban. A security crisis already exists in the country, and fighting will intensify as both sides try to consolidate gains as winter approaches. Meanwhile, suicide attacks have grown more frequent and more effective; they will not decrease, even as winter sets in. Nevertheless, the Taliban is in no position to topple the government, and ultimately, the stalemate with NATO will continue.

India will begin the quarter by appearing more cooperative in reinvigorating peace talks with Pakistan, but New Delhi has little intent to move the talks forward significantly. Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) is very likely to carry out another attack in a major Indian city this quarter. Following the July Mumbai railway bombings, Indian security forces have dealt with an alarmingly high number of bomb hoaxes. Though many of these are pranks, LeT has likely staged several dry runs to time Indian security forces' responses at intended targets. Setting up numerous bomb hoaxes also allows the Kashmiri militants to confuse or distract Indian security forces. The cities of Mumbai, New Delhi and Bangalore are prime targets for such an attack. Another militant attack would prompt retaliatory attacks carried out by fundamentalist Hindu groups against Muslim targets. Should LeT carry out another bombing, relations between New Delhi and Islamabad will be strained, but an attack would not result in a substantial shift in the governments' positions or actions toward each other.

India's main struggle this quarter will be maintaining momentum on a major civilian nuclear deal that it has been trying to cement for more than a year. We correctly stated in the last quarter that the U.S.-Indian civilian nuclear agreement would not gain any real traction before the U.S. congressional elections. With time and room to maneuver on the nuclear deal, New Delhi, as we forecast, test-launched its long-range Agni III ballistic missile without fearing significant backlash from the United States over nuclear proliferation concerns.

The nuclear deal will not move forward in the fourth quarter either. With the U.S. Congress preoccupied with the November elections, a Senate vote on the deal will not be a priority. The deal could come up for discussion in a lame-duck session in November, but any final decision will not take place until after a new congressional session begins in January 2007. Should North Korea decide to ramp up its nuclear threat early in the quarter, the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal will be paralyzed. Meanwhile, India and the United States will continue to woo recalcitrant members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, whose support will ultimately be necessary for the deal to be approved internationally.

Domestic issues will take up most of India's attention this quarter. With the nuclear deal in limbo, the ruling Congress Party once again will take up the issue of implementing a caste-based quota system for Indian universities. New Delhi's stalling on the issue has given anti-quota protesters more time to plan their demonstrations. When the quota issue was first introduced to the Indian public four months ago, students and professionals from medical, engineering and management schools poured into the streets across India to join demonstrations, many of which turned violent and ended up paralyzing business operations in major Indian cities. When the Indian Parliament takes up the issue again toward the end of this quarter, more protests can be expected throughout the country.

India will also be keeping a close eye on its war-ravaged neighbor in the south, where the Sri Lankan government has been pursuing an aggressive offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to divide the northern and eastern Tamil strongholds. As we stated in our last forecast, violence between Colombo and the Tigers steadily escalated as the Sri Lankan government continued pursuing its strategy of allowing the breakaway Karuna faction to target Tiger militants. India came under growing pressure from its own Tamil population to intervene in the crisis, as we predicted, and even publicly said it would no longer provide military assistance to Colombo. Beaten down by the military offensive, the rebel group will entertain the idea of peace talks in Oslo to buy time to recuperate from its losses and pressure Colombo to put the brakes on its military campaign. The Tigers will drag their feet in the peace talks, and hostilities will restart once the Tigers feel they are back in a position of strength. In other words, the civil war is far from over despite talk of negotiations.

Our third-quarter forecast for Nepal was on track. Negotiations between the Nepalese government and Maoists progressed, but a great deal of distrust remains between the two parties. The Parliament majority's insistence on retaining a role for the monarch and hesitance to incorporate Maoist cadres in the armed forces will likely lead to another Maoist standoff in the form of mass public demonstrations this quarter. These street protests will have a paralyzing effect on the country's economy, but the Maoists will not return to insurgent tactics this quarter. Meanwhile, the royalists in the government who have remained loyal to King Gyanendra will attempt to fuel distrust between the Maoists and the government by leaking stories of arms deliveries to the Royal Nepalese army to the press.

Another hot spot in South Asia this quarter will be Bangladesh. A 14-party opposition alliance led by former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is expected to stage mass protests against current Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia over the latter's refusal to implement electoral reforms ahead of the January elections. The riots will be marked with violence and will intensify in the run-up to the elections.[Stratfor]

Oct 16, 2006

Whose Pride?

Gujarat's or India's?

munaf and irfan

munaf and irfan

In yesterday’s cricket match between India and England if it were not for Munaf and Irfan’s deadly disciplined bowling we would have been chasing a bigger total and with the pitch playing bad towards the end, the chase would have been very difficult.

I especially loved the way Munaf kept to his line and length. To someone who has the fastest arm in India and touted as our answer to the Lees and Akhtars of this world, it must be tough to cut down on pace and stick to line and length which incidentally is already paying him good dividends.

It is good he realised it early in his career unlike Javagal Srinath who only decided to cut down on pace towards the end of his career. If I recall correctly this move of his - sticking to line and length - gave him more wickets than sheer pace. I was disappointed when Srinath suddenly announced his retirement. I really felt he had some more years of cricket in him. Anyways let bygones be bygones and let us look toward a bright future for the bowling department of our cricket team with Munaf, Irfan, Sreeshanth and others.

Related Link: An article from "Himal" on the communal situation in Gujarat today.

Secret of Pakistan's Fast Bowling Prowess

Two Pakistan speedsters on Monday tested positive for doping. Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif failed an internal PCB dope test. Both players, according to the PCB, have been asked to return to Pakistan.

The tests were conducted by the Pakistani Cricket Board and come just before the ICC tests, which were to be done through random sampling of players.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) in collaboration with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has also introduced dope test in the ICC Champions Trophy.

Two players from each of the ten participating teams were to be selected at random and subjected to dope tests by the World Anti Doping Agency officials during the Champions Trophy being played in India.

This is the first time a dope test has been introduced by the ICC in Champions Trophy. Though it was done on a trial basis during the last World Cup in South Africa, officially this is being done for the first time at the top level.

Test samples would be sent to the nearest WADA-accredited lab in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. There is no WADA accredited laboratory in India.

Oct 11, 2006

India, Myanmar and Realpolitiks

If there is one place our foreign policy is paying some dividends then it is in Myanmar.

According to news reports India and Myanmar have agreed to help each other with their respective dilemmas.

According to reports India has accepted Myanmar's request for military hardware and software in return for Myanmar’s full cooperation in flushing out Indian insurgent groups operating from its soil.

India, keeping its side of the bargain, has begun/will be giving Myanmar 105-mm Indian field guns, an unspecified number of retired T-55 tanks, armoured personal carriers, 105-mm light artillery guns, mortars and the indigenous advanced light helicopters at concessional rates.

Earlier in August this year, our Navy transferred two BN-2 'Defender' Islander maritime surveillance aircraft and deck-based air-defence guns and varied surveillance equipment to Myanmar. In the past we had given them 75/24 Howitzers.

Now with the cease-fire off, the Indian Army is planning a big operation against ULFA and other NE terrorist groups in early-October and security along the northeast borders has been stepped up.

As part of the bargain, Myanmar has to flush out the North East terrorist groups like ULFA, UNLF, NSCN (K), etc which have bases in the thick Myanmarese jungles. The Indian and Myanmarese armies will conduct "coordinated operations" along the 1,643-km Indo-Myanmar border. An intelligence-sharing pact has also been signed.

NDTV reported that after India supplied 98 truckloads of arms and ammunition last month, Myanmar started fulfilling its side of the bargain and has started cracking down on camps run by NSCN (K) and ULFA in Myanmar’s north.

One good thing about India’s involvement in Myanmar is that we are playing some realpolitiks – ignoring the concerns of the West - in order to counter the deep strategic inroads made by China and Pakistan into Myanmar. With the Chinese and the Pakistanis very much present there, helping the Myanmar junta militarily and economically, we had no other option other than to ditch the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

With such attention showered on it by its contesting neighbours, Myanmar will be tempted to playoff one against the other and here we should be on our guard. For a country that is (in)famous for bolting the stable after the horses have fled that is a big if.

BTW, an IMF report has found that increased gas exports by Myanmar are boosting its economic growth so much so that it will end this fiscal in 2007 with 7% GDP growth! That’s better than the forecast for Uncle Sam's FATWAT Pakistan which is somewhere in six percent. And let us not forget the Americans and the Europeans have imposed economic sanctions on Myanmar coz this Junta is of no particular use to them. But that hasn’t stopped Uncle Sam’s boys from doing business with the Myanmar Junta.

Oct 6, 2006

A - Z on Dirty Bombs

This is a must read piece on Dirty Bombs from Stratfor.

Since the 9/11 attacks catapulted al Qaeda to the top of the evil-doers' list in the United States, one constant question has remained: What is al Qaeda planning now? High among the public's fears, fanned by certain events widely reported in the media, is that the jihadist network or another like-minded group or individual will unleash a radiological dispersion device (RDD), commonly referred to as a "dirty bomb," on U.S. soil.

Among the events that heightened this public interest in RDDs early on was the intense media coverage of the May 2002 apprehension of so-called al Qaeda "dirty bomber " Jose Padilla. Since 9/11, the public awareness of RDDs -- and interest in attacks that might utilize them -- has ebbed and flowed in cycles that often, though not always, are initiated by incidents or statements that get a great deal of media coverage. After the initial excitement dies down, the awareness and concern gradually falls -- until the next incident.

We now find ourselves in one of those periods of heightened awareness, this one spurred by Internet rumors of al Qaeda operatives and materials coming into the United States via Mexican smuggling routes for the purpose of creating an "American Hiroshima." Meanwhile, an audio statement was released Sept. 28 by al Qaeda leader in Iraq Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, who called for scientists to join his group's efforts against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq, advising them that the large U.S. bases there are good places to "test your unconventional weapons, whether chemical or 'dirty' as they call them."

Considering the ease with which an RDD can be manufactured, it is only a matter of time before one is employed. In fact, it is quite surprising that one has not been successfully used already. Certainly, the time is ripe to discuss what RDDs are and are not -- and to consider the mostly likely results of such an attack.

Dirty Bombs are RDDs

An RDD, simply, is a device that disperses radiation. Depending on the motives of those involved in planning the incident, such a device could be a low-key weapon that surreptitiously releases aerosolized radioactive material, dumps out a finely powdered radioactive material or dissolves the radioactive material into water. It would be intended to slowly expose as many people as possible to the radiation. However, unless large amounts of a very strong radioactive material are used, the effects of such an exposure are more likely to be long-term rather than sudden and dramatic: people dying of cancer rather than acute radiation poisoning.

By its very nature, however, this kind of RDD will not generate immediate panic or the type of press coverage coveted by most terrorists. Therefore, they more likely will opt for a RDD that delivers a more "spectacular" punch -- a dirty bomb, in other words. The opposite of a surreptitious device, a dirty bomb is intended to immediately cause panic and mass hysteria.

A dirty bomb is simply a RDD made of a traditional improvised explosive device (IED) with a radiological "kicker" added. In a dirty bomb attack, radioactive material not only is dispersed, but the dispersal is accomplished in an obvious manner, and the explosion immediately alerts the victims and authorities that an attack has taken place. The attackers hope notice of their attack will cause mass panic.

Effects of a Dirty Bomb

Perhaps the biggest misconception about dirty bombs -- and there are many -- has to do with their effects. Although radioactive material is utilized in constructing them, they are not nuclear or atomic weapons. They do not produce a nuclear chain reaction and, therefore, the employment of such a device will not produce an "American Hiroshima." In fact, there can be a wide range of effects produced by a dirty bomb depending on the size of the IED and the amount and type of radioactive material involved. Environmental factors such as terrain, weather conditions and population density would also play an important role in determining the effects of such a device.

Generally, a dirty bomb that uses a large quantity of highly dangerous radioactive material such as plutonium-238 or cesium-137 will produce more (and stronger) contamination than a device that uses less material or material that is not as radioactive. However, the most highly radioactive materials are the hardest to obtain and the most difficult to work with. Some materials are so dangerous that even suicide bombers would die before they could use one if they were not properly shielded. For example, in September 1999, two Chechen militants who attempted to steal highly radioactive materials from a chemical plant in the Chechen capital of Grozny were incapacitated after carrying the container for only a few minutes each; one reportedly died.

There are, however, many more-common, less-dangerous materials, such as americium-241 or strontium-90, that would be easier to obtain and work with. It is therefore widely believed that terrorists wanting to construct a dirty bomb would be more likely to use one of them.

According to experts from organizations such as the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, unless a large quantity of a very highly radioactive material is used, not many people will be immediately killed by the radiation released by a dirty bomb. Rather, the initial casualties will be a result of the explosive effects of the IED, just as they would be in a conventional IED attack without a radiological component. While exposure to very strong sources of radiation at close range could cause fatalities, a dirty bomb by design disperses its radiation over a larger area. Therefore, most of the deaths caused by the radiation in a dirty bomb will most likely be from causes like cancer that will take years to develop. Most people who quickly leave the area contaminated by the dirty bomb will have minimum exposure to radioactivity and should not suffer permanent health consequences.

Keep in mind, however, that a dirty bomb is intended to cause a panic -- and the explosion of such a device in a heavily populated urban area could very well result in a panic that could kill more people than the IED or the radiation it disperses.

It should also be noted that the radiological effects of a dirty bomb will be larger than the killing radius of the IED itself, and will persist for far longer. The explosion from a conventional IED is over in an instant, but radiation from a RDD can persist for decades. While the radiation level may not be strong enough to affect people who are exposed briefly in the initial explosion, the radiation will persist in the contaminated area and the cumulative effects of such radiation could prove very hazardous. (Here again, the area contaminated will depend on the type and quantity of the radioactive material used. Materials in a fine powdered form are easier to disperse than solid blocks of material and some radioactive materials possess a far longer half-life than others.) Due to this contamination, it will be necessary to evacuate people from the contaminated area in many, if not most, cases involving a dirty bomb. People will need to stay out of the area until it can be decontaminated, a process that can be lengthy and expensive.

Therefore, while a dirty bomb is not truly a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) like a nuclear device, many authorities refer to them as "weapons of mass disruption" or "weapons of mass dislocation" because of the fact that they temporarily render the contaminated areas uninhabitable. The vast expense of decontaminating a large, densely populated area, such as a section of Manhattan or Washington, would also make a dirty bomb a type of economic weapon.

The Actors

Due to the ease of constructing a dirty bomb -- which is really just an IED plus a source of radioactivity -- such a device could be employed by almost any terrorist actor ranging from a "lone-wolf" domestic terrorist to a transnational militant organization such as al Qaeda. However, when considering that the effects of such a device are more likely to be symbolic and economic, the equation begins to shift toward the al Qaeda side, as symbolic targets that harm the U.S. economy are dead in the center of the jihadist network's targeting sweet spot. Al Qaeda also has a history of planning to use such weapons.

In his recent statements about using dirty bombs against U.S. bases in Iraq, al-Muhajer did not present a novel idea. Many in the jihadist universe have a strong fascination with WMDs, and many jihadist Web sites, such as chat rooms and online magazines, regularly post information on how to produce chemical agents, biological toxins, RDDs and even improvised nuclear weapons. Some posts provide instructions on where to obtain radioactive material and, in cases where it cannot be obtained, even purport to provide instruction on how to extract radioactive material from commercial materials, such as distilling radium from luminescent industrial paint.

More specifically to al Qaeda, evidence uncovered in Afghanistan following the U.S. invasion demonstrated that the group was actively pursuing a WMD program that included research on chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological weapons. Based on this evidence, and information obtained from the interrogations of captured high-level al Qaeda members, U.S. intelligence agencies have specifically and repeatedly warned since late 2001 that al Qaeda intends to produce and employ a RDD. When these reports surface, the flow cycle of public concern over RDDs begins anew.

Despite the simplicity of manufacturing dirty bombs, however, they are not often used, possibly due at least in part to their ineffectiveness. Governments such as that of Iraq that experimented with dirty bombs for military purposes abandoned them because they were not effective enough to be militarily significant as a weapon or provide much of a deterrent.

Perhaps the group that has used or attempted to use RDDs the most is the Chechen militants. In November 1995, Chechen militants under commander Shamil Basayev placed a small quantity of cesium-137 in Moscow's Izmailovsky Park. Rather than disperse the material, however, the Chechens used the material as a psychological weapon by directing a television news crew to the location and thus creating a media storm. The material in this incident was thought to have been obtained from a nuclear waste or isotope storage facility in Grozny.

In December 1998, the pro-Russian Chechen Security Service announced it had found a dirty bomb consisting of a land mine combined with radioactive materials next to a railway line. It is believed that Chechen militants planted the device.

The Bottom Line

Analytically, based upon the ease of manufacture and the jihadist interest in dirty bombs, it is only a matter of time before jihadists employ one. Since the contamination created by such a device can be long-lasting, more rational international actors probably would prefer to detonate such a device against a target that is outside of their own country. In other words, they would lean toward attacking a target within the United States or United Kingdom rather than the U.S. or British Embassy in their home country.

Since it is not likely to produce mass casualties, a dirty bomb attack would likely be directed against a highly symbolic target, such as one representing the economy or government, and designed to cause the maximum amount of disruption at the target site. Therefore, it is not out of the question to imagine such an attack aimed at Wall Street or the Pentagon. The bomb would not destroy these sites, but would deny access to them for as long as it takes to clean up the sites.

Due to the history of RDD threats, the U.S. government has invested a great deal of money in radiation detection equipment, and has strategically located that equipment along the border at ports of entry and near critical sites. If the rumors of radioactive materials being smuggled over the Mexican border are true, the terrorists would want to detonate the device in a city close to the border out of fear that this network of detection systems would allow the material to be detected and seized by U.S. authorities before it could be employed.

The Importance of Contingency Plans

The possibility of an RDD attack underscores the importance of having personal contingency plans. This is especially important for those who live or work near one of these potential targets. In the case of a dirty bomb attack, it will be important to stay calm. Panic, as we have said, could potentially kill more people than the dirty bomb itself. The best countermeasure against irrational panic is education. People who understand the capabilities and limitations of dirty bombs are less likely to panic than those who do not.

People caught in close proximity to the detonation site, then, should avoid breathing in the dust as much as possible and then calmly leave the area, paying attention to the instructions given to them by authorities. If possible, they also should bathe and change clothes as soon as possible, and implement their personal or family emergency plan. People not in the immediate vicinity of the dirty bomb should seek shelter where they are -- making sure to close windows and doors and turn off air conditioners -- unless they are instructed to go elsewhere.

However, should communication from the authorities break down or the authorities not provide instruction, the three most important things to remember about protecting oneself from radiation are time, distance and shielding. That means minimizing the time of exposure, maximizing the distance between the person and the radiation source and maximizing the amount of shielding between the person and the radiation source.[Stratfor]

Oct 2, 2006

Ticket to Mecca and Medina

It all started in the Muslim community with the rise of BJP to power in the North Indian states and later at the center. With communal bitterness very much in the air at that point of time, some crazy Mullahs – especially of Uttar Pradesh - started spreading canard by issuing fatwas that the oral polio vaccine administered to children was part of the government’s population control scheme particularly targeted at the Muslims. In Muslim dominated areas, posters were put up telling the people that the polio vaccine is part of an underhanded campaign to sterilise Muslim children and lower the Muslim birth rate. The semiliterate, illiterate and the ignorant of the community were easily influenced and many of them withheld their children from getting vaccinated.

So what happened? Muslim children stated getting affected with polio virus. Living in unhygienic areas with poor waste disposal and no access to clean water, transmission of the virus became very easy among the Muslim poor. And with people in such areas defecating in the open, as they don’t have access to lavatory, fecal-oral transmission of the virus became very easy. Polio usually infects children through drinking water contaminated with the excreta of the polio affected.

The governments changed but the distrust didn’t go away. The administrations didn’t give up and tried every trick in the book to drive home the importance of polio vaccination. Even celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan were roped in. It seemed like getting the desired results and India was on the verge of eliminating polio last year, when only 66 cases were reported, down from 1600 in 2002. This year, however, things have gone horribly wrong with the polio eradication drive - 338 cases have been reported already with 70% of those infected with polio are Muslim.

It seems the very old reasons are in play again in the Muslim community. This time the villain is not the present Muslim friendly Indian or the state governments, but the West. According to some Mullahs it is a Western plot to reduce the Muslim birth rate! So none of the present government’s initiatives to drive home the truth are having any effect because Mullahs’ fatwa is always the gospel truth for most of them. Even the health workers are beaten up and denied entry in Muslim dominated areas.

If the damage done by fatwas issued by neurotic Mullahs was not enough, the Urdu press - expected to be an upholder of truth - is busy fueling these rumours by publishing utter crap like “polio immunisation would lead to brain tumor and cancer”!

With such determined effort in the Muslim community- with neurotic Mullahs and the Urdu press joining forces - to keep their children from vaccination, the Indian and the state govts definitely have an uphill task.

But there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Saudi Arabia has decided to receive only polio-free pilgrims and has made it mandatory for Haj travellers below 15 years of age from all polio-infected countries to provide proof of immunisation. Without this certificate Muslims cannot enter Saudi Arabia to perform Haj. Now, for every Muslim it is mandatory to perform Haj at least once in their lifetime. So - at least for their own spiritual good - it is time responsible Indian Muslims took up the task of driving home the positive aspects of immunisation. The blunt message from the land of Mecca and Medina for the faithful is: you aren’t welcome if you aren’t immunised.