Nov 30, 2006

Nov 29, 2006

Pakistan to NATO: Make Peace With the Devil

Senior Pakistani officials are urging Nato countries to accept the Taliban and work towards a new coalition government in Kabul that might exclude the Afghan president Hamid Karzai
Pakistan's foreign minister, Khurshid Kasuri, has said in private briefings to foreign ministers of some Nato member states that the Taliban are winning the war in Afghanistan and Nato is bound to fail. He has advised against sending more troops.

Western ministers have been stunned. "Kasuri is basically asking Nato to surrender and to negotiate with the Taliban," said one Western official who met the minister recently.

The remarks were made on the eve of Nato's critical summit in Latvia. Lt Gen David Richards, the British general and Nato's force commander in Afghanistan, and the Dutch ambassador Daan Everts, its chief diplomat there, have spent five days in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, urging the Pakistani military to do more to reign in the Taliban. But they have received mixed messages.

Mr Karzai has long insisted that the Taliban sanctuaries and logistics bases are in Pakistan while Gen James Jones, the Supreme Commander of Nato, told the US Congress in September that the Taliban leadership is headquartered in the Pakistani city of Quetta.
Lt Gen Ali Mohammed Jan Orakzai, governor of the volatile North West Frontier Province has stated publicly that the US, Britain and Nato have already failed in Afghanistan. "Either it is a lack of understanding or it is a lack of courage to admit their failures," he said recently.

Gen Orakzai insists that the Taliban represent the Pashtun population, Afghanistan's largest and Pakistan's second largest ethnic group, and they now lead a "national resistance" movement to throw out Western occupation forces, just as there is in Iraq.

But his comments have deeply angered many Pakistani and Afghan Pashtuns, who consider the Taliban as pariahs and a negation of Pashtun values. Gen Orakzai is the mastermind of "peace deals" between the army and the heavily Talibanised Pashtun tribes on the Pakistani side of the border, but these agreements have failed because they continue to allow the Taliban to attack Nato forces inside Afghanistan and leave the Taliban in place, free to run a mini-Islamic state.

Gen Orakzai is expected to urge the British Army to strike similar deals in Helmand province. Meanwhile aides to President Pervez Musharraf say he has virtually "given up" on Mr Karzai and is awaiting a change of face in Kabul before he offers more help.

Many Afghans fear that Pakistan is deliberately trying to undermine Mr Karzai and Nato's commitment to his government in an attempt to reinstall its Taliban proxies in Kabul – almost certainly leading to all-out civil war and possible partition of the country.

To progress in Riga, Nato will have to enlist US support to call Pakistan's bluff, put pressure on Islamabad to hand over the Taliban leadership and put more troops in to fight the insurgency while persuading Mr Karzai to become more pro-active.[Telegraph]

Target al-Zawahiri

Soon it will be a month since the Oct. 31 airstrike against a madrassa that killed 80 people in the Bajour FATA of Pakistan. The air strike was by the US with the objective of eliminating high-value al Qaeda target presumably deputy Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

With no videotaped messages coming from Al Zawahiri this time, speculation is rife that he may have been killed in the air strikes. Remember this is the guy who has a penchant to deliver videotaped messages to Al Jazeera offices in Pakistan periodically or whenever he or Osama was targeted. This delay in not hearing from the Al Qaeda top rung, has given rise to the speculation that Al Zawahiri has been killed or the strikes must have been very close to their hideout and must have sent shockwaves through Al Qaeda's operational security system, forcing Al-Zawahiri and others to go deeper underground. According to Stratfor going deeper underground means Al Qaeda top rung is ‘cocooned’ deep inside densely populated areas Pakistan’s NWFP.



[….]

Radio Silence

It could be that the Oct. 31 missile strike has created technical obstacles to issuing video-tapes, which would explain why there has not been much output from As-Sahab, al Qaeda's media production arm, since the madrassa was hit. But given that As-Sahab's production facilities are unlikely to be located in the remote tribal badlands straddling the Afghan-Pakistani border, technical difficulties are not likely the case.

The lack of a communiqué from al-Zawahiri is much more likely the result of a conscious decision to maintain radio silence because of a breach in al Qaeda's operational security net. In other words, al-Zawahiri has likely survived, and is trying to stay beneath the radar. The strike in Chingai, while it did not eliminate al-Zawahiri, must have come very close to doing so. Al Qaeda views the location and timing of the madrassa strike as a penetration of the movements and schedules of al Qaeda prime. From al Qaeda's point of view (and probably in point of fact), U.S. and/or Pakistani intelligence has come very close to one of its inner concentric security perimeters.

More significantly, al Qaeda at the time of the strike -- and this may still be the case -- did not know where this penetration had taken place. Therefore, it has brought its communications, especially its communication to the outside world, to a grinding halt. And it is going to maintain this posture until it identifies the security breach and seals it. This could be matter of weeks or of months. Once it is confident that it has re-established operational security, al Qaeda will resume releasing video communiqués.

Implications of the Madrassa Strike

Al Qaeda's move deeper underground shows that U.S. intelligence has come very close to triangulating the likely location of al Qaeda's global headquarters. Stratfor has said the districts of Dir, Malakand and Swat in Pakistan's NWFP are probably the areas in which al Qaeda's top leaders are hiding out. The Oct. 31 and Jan. 13 strikes were more or less in the same area, which borders both Dir and Malakand. This suggests that the Chingai-Damadola area is not just an al Qaeda rendezvous point but also a jihadist thoroughfare, especially since it is bordered to the east by Afghanistan's Kunar province, a hotbed of Taliban and al Qaeda activity.

Both strikes also indicate the problem U.S. forces face in conducting counterterrorism operations in Pakistan. While it is easy to engage in a land or air incursion a few miles into one of the seven agencies of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, it is much more difficult to do so in NWFP because it requires a much deeper incursion into more settled areas. This is something that Islamabad has yet to allow, and Washington continues to oblige.

The two airstrikes have provided U.S. intelligence with a wealth of information, which the United States can use to pinpoint not just the places frequented by al-Zawahiri and his associates but also his actual hideout, as well as other key al Qaeda facilities that probably lie much deeper in the NWFP. This poses a dilemma for al Qaeda, which does not have the luxury to simply shift from one location to another, and this would again explain the decision to go offline.

Al-Zawahiri's statement in the videotape issued after the first airstrike is actually quite telling: "Bush, do you know where I am? I am among the Muslim masses enjoying their care…." Al Qaeda's leaders are likely hiding very close to if not in a heavily populated area that is quite far from the Afghan-Pakistani border. This is actually the best defense the jihadists have in their arsenal; they believe it is unlikely that U.S. forces would conduct a strike so deep inside Pakistan and in an area so densely populated.

Ultimately, finding and hitting al Qaeda's top leaders depends not only on human intelligence but also on the willingness of the United States to accept the risks of carrying out strikes that can actually eliminate al-Zawahiri and bin Laden. The biggest risk, at this point, is the destabilization of the government of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.[Stratfor]

Nov 28, 2006

New Blogging Trends in India

This is from The Hindu:



According to an online survey of more than 1,000 MSN portal visitors in India, blogging is dominated by men, and blogs founded by business leaders make for the most enjoyable read, followed by those by politicians. This contrasts with the trend elsewhere, where blogging is evenly matched between the sexes and blogs by business leaders and politicians are far less popular than those by others.

A desire for self-improvement and personal development is found to be a key driver of India's blogosphere with a large majority of online users reading blogs to stay informed about world events. They enjoy reading about technology the most, followed closely by news and education. Elsewhere, technology content ranks low.

These findings suggest that blogging in India could become the "new fourth estate" with close to half the respondents believing that blogging content is as trustworthy as those of regular media outlets such as newspapers, radio and TV.

While growing in popularity in India, the blogging community is still nascent with only one-seventh of Net-users actively blogging. And more than half of all Net users were unaware altogether of blogs. India's blogosphere is heavily dominated by men — three quarters of its bloggers are male. It is also fuelled by young adults.[The Hindu]

Related Report:CNN-IBN (This one is more detailed)



Nov 26, 2006

India's Armed Forces: Ready for the Future?

Nitin points out that motivational levels in the Indian armed forces could fall if compulsory military service for every Indian is brought in. He is of the view that an army that is smaller, well-trained and highly motivated will be far effective than a huge mass of reluctant people forced to serve.

In this regard the Indian army’s GI Joe plan is worth noting.


The Indian Army wants to turn its soldiers into superheroes…

It has embarked on Project F-INSAS (Future Infantry Soldier as a System), which visualises the Indian soldier as the ultimate terminator — one with unprecedented lethality, mobility and survival skills.
Project F-INSAS will exploit advanced technologies to enhance the capabilities of individual soldiers, making them "multi-mission, multi-role war fighters".

[…]

The supersoldier will be equipped to fight by day and night, in all conditions and terrain. Modular weapon systems that can be re-configured - allowing an assault rifle, for instance, to be turned into a light machine gun - will equip them to meet changing mission requirements. Integrated sight systems will have thermal imagers, invisible laser aim pointers and a red dot sight.
…F-INSAS intends to make the Indian soldier a self-contained fighting machine. By 2012, the Army will field the first version of F-INSAS, based on available technology….

The supersoldier will sport some incredible accessories. Smart vests, for instance, will come with sensors to monitor vital signs like ECG, body temperature and heartbeat, and will allow pinpointing bullet injuries.

Sensors in the vest will provide online information to doctors about vital body signs. Combat helmets equipped with head-up display will provide a field of view equivalent to a 17-inch computer monitor right in front of the soldier's eyes.

Output from the soldier's personal computer - attached to his backpack frame - and other sensors will be shown on the display unit, which will be the interface with the other subsystems and the digital battlefield.

A futuristic radio subsystem will enable the soldier to transmit and receive voice messages and data, including streaming video. He will also get specially made boots to give some protection from landmines.[HT]

The Indian armed forces should not lag behind in adopting the latest military tactics and technologies that can minimise ones own casualties and inflict maximum damage on the enemy.

Right now technology is being used to fight urban terror attacks in Jammu and Kashmir and this is a welcome development.


The Indian army has digitally mapped both Srinagar and Jammu, installed secret high-resolution cameras at 32 vulnerable public places, and wired police squads with Global Positioning System (GPS) devices in both the cities.
With this new gadget will, among other advantages, enable the police to sit in Jammu and watch live on computer screens the goings-on hundreds of kilometers away in Srinagar or vice versa. This means converting a normal police control room into a command centre.
This new initiative will also help police identify suspects and increase transparency. Camera images will, for example, help establish the truth in cases where the police are accused of excesses in dealing with public protests.

When a militant attack is reported in any part of the two cities, the calls to the police control room will be answered by a call centre where trained police staff will take down information, trace the location of the nearest police cars and direct them to the site of the attack.

The mobile phones of officers will soon be wired into the GPS-based security grid…

Such systems common in the West are used to tackle crime and traffic violations. In J&K, they will be focused entirely on fighting militant attacks.[HT]

There is a lot of time to develop the futuristic soldier. Right now the Indian armed forces should take immediate steps to address more serious problem of shortfall in the armed forces strength.

In many parts of India the army is the only source of employment for many. In strife torn Jammu Kashmir it is that very despised Indian army the only source of employment for large number of people. This is the same in many other areas of India too. Because of this the infantry quota is always filled up.

It is the officers’ quota that has fallen back. It drastically needs new recruits to fill up the shortfall. The officer shortfall is 11,000 in the army, 5000 in the navy and 500 in the air force. This is serious matter and compulsory service is not the answer because an unmotivated force will be sitting duck for the enemy.

To fill up the shortfall, slickly made ads showcasing the extracurricular activities of the army is not just the answer when today’s youth – in a booming economy - has better options of safe and better paying jobs in other sectors. Apart from offering attractive compensation packages matching the best offered in the private sector, the pitfalls of having officer shortfall should be effectively communicated to young prospective candidates. For this the army should take the help of the best PR talent available. There is no guarantee that this will fill up the shortfall but the motivated ones will surely reduce the shortfall.

Sometime back to boost recruitments from Gujarat which has low levels of representation in the Indian army, the army came up with a weird plan of holding an exhibition in Gujarat where arms and ammunition seized from Islamist militants in JK and elsewhere in India. The timing of this exhibition was interesting – soon after the 2002 Gujarat riots when anti-Muslim, Hindu nationalist feelings were very high in Gujarat. I don’t know what success it had.

What size the Indian army should be is still debatable considering the future state of affairs. The present strength of 1.1 million makes the Indian army the second largest after China’s. A time will come when a strong and rapidly growing India will have to assert itself in the world and may have to sent troops to safeguard its interests in other parts of the world. Sooner or later our troops might see action in Afghanistan where we have vital interests. Just like China our hunt for black gold and other minerals could get nasty and then we will have no option but to call up on our troops to safeguard our interests.

We need a blue water navy to keep an ambitious China in check in the Indian Ocean. That means a Navy with at least three Aircraft carrier flotillas, a first-class submarine fleet plus the regular Naval flotilla.

Coastal security should be strengthened without delay, as there is definite threat to vital costal installations – onshore and offshore – from terrorists.

Another Fiji should not happen anywhere. Nowhere should Indian Diasporas be second-class citizens. In case it becomes inevitable in any part of the world, then the government of the day should not shy away from helping that Indian Diaspora by whatever means to achieve their stated goals.

All these scenarios call for a large armed force that is motivated and raring to go at all times.

Nov 23, 2006

Educating Indian Commies

The Indian Commies got the shock of their lives yesterday when their master from the land of the dragon, the Chinese President Hu Jintao advised them to adopt a "more pragmatic" approach, as this is the era of globalisation that provides immense scope for economic prosperity. In other words the Chinese President was telling the Indian commies exactly what late Deng Xiaoping taught the Chinese long back – to get rich is glorious!

The great master thus pontificated to the utter discomfort of his Indian slaves: “Globalisation provides scope for economic prosperity, and a "more pragmatic and positive approach" must be adopted by the Left to develop infrastructure and the economy”.

Red China had the good fortune to realise in the late 1970s that a socialist economy cannot and will not deliver its vast poor out of hunger and poverty. Red China’s slow and steady opening up of its economy has only been positive for the Chinese people. Now the results are so spectacular that the Chinese university students who once upon a time dreamt of a China free and democratic have today no time for such trivial issues. Their only concern is to get the next big job in the next big MNC setting up shop in China or already waiting for them. Today the Chinese are so confident about their future that that have virtually thrown that dreaded Mao out of their history books and today their history is about their future! The world has not failed to notice this. So much so that today Chinese nannies are increasingly the preferred ones in the West so tomorrow’s white kid is not left behind in a world that will be doing business in Mandarin.

The Indian Commie is not an idiot on the contrary he/she is a person with high intellect. This is why it baffles most of us why the Indian commie is still holding on to an ideology that has been dumped by every other major Communist country on this planet. The answer is because this country still has vast multitudes of utter poor and the Indian Commies have been able to sell some of these people an utopian dream of economic prosperity where all will be treated equal. Thankfully (or for worse) the average Indian values his caste more than anything else and still vote according to caste lines. The Indian Commies have been able to make an impact of any significance only in three states – West Bengal, Kerala, and Tripura. It is only in WB they have been in power continuously for the last thirty years. The major reason attributed for this is the land reforms undertaken by the Commies where land was distributed to the landless poor. Other than this the state of West Bengal under the Commies has no other significant achievements to showcase be it in social or economic fields.

India has been a democracy from its independence and the Indian commies like any other political party have to fight for its share of votes. No party can fight elections without adequate finances.

For the commies trade unions affiliated to them are their major sources of finances. Trade unions basically represent the organised workforce of a country and in India this is a minority when compared to the unorganised sector. The unionised labour force despite being a minority is able to negotiate better pays for themselves because of their collective bargaining power. All that Indian Commies want from these unions is a nice cut from what their collective bargaining power got them so that their retrograde political parties can live another day. They know where the moolah is and exactly because of this they are dead against privatisation and just wouldn’t allow labour reforms, which is so vital for India’s economic well being. Even without any labour reforms India is at 43rd position in the Global Competitive Index far ahead of autocratic China, which is at 54th place. So just imagine in what position would have been India if it had carried out labour reforms and didn’t slow/halt the economic/privatisation process.

Lately the Commies have realised what a cash rich cow the IT sector is and want their cut from this sector too. The only reason the IT sector has become what it is now, a cash rich cow, was because the Indian govt and the trade unions didn’t realise what happened in this sector. The non-interference gave the IT companies space to grow and when the govt realised the potential of this sector during the Y2K days, was wise enough not to interfere but stay out and facilitate its growth. Now the shameless Commies of India are salivating in their mouth dreaming about the moolah they can make out of this sector especially from the call center employees. Without an employee union affiliated to them no way can the Commies get their cut. In order to achieve this they have set up an union and have cajoled some hapless Calcutta based call centers to allow employee to join. I look forward to see how the Commies make moolah out of this sector with high attrition rates.

So it is clear that for their sheer survival the Commies of India are like that only – dead against reforms and privatisation. By the way this doesn’t mean that they are illiterate about capitalism. Just look at what West Bengal CM Buddhadev Bhattacharya is doing. He sometimes put the original dream team to shame.

Now the question is why was the Chinese President able to advise the Indian Commies to become capitalists. With having unlimited wealth because of Western style capitalism seasoned with local characteristics, in an autocratic country with a single party rule, day-to-day survival is not exactly a priority. As the Chinese govt gets out of more and more sectors and their forex reserves stockpiles, all that the Chinese Commies need to do for their survival is to take very good care of its armed forces and its party members on a priority basis. Their original support base of peasants and workers can very well be second priority or can go to hell.

Now we know why the Chinese Commies can afford to ‘advice’ their comrades in democratic countries.

Nov 20, 2006

Cartoon Speak: Chinese Reality

Courtesy: Indian Express

Nov 16, 2006

New Cricket Record in Batting

Boddepalli Manoj Kumar (left) and Mohd. Shaibaaz Tumbi (right)
Two awesome 13-year-old Hyderabadi boys have erased the highest batting partnership record that catapulted Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli into cricketing history. The best thing is that the record is staying in India but just moved next door to Andhra Pradesh from Maharashtra.


Two city [Hyderabad] lads created cricketing history piling up a stupendous 721-run partnership in 40 overs flat for St. Peter's School against St. Phillip's High School in the Hyderabad Cricket Association Inter-School (Under-13) cricket tournament at Parade Grounds on Wednesday.



Triple centuries by openers B. Manoj Kumar (320 not out, 127 balls, 46 x 4) and Md. Shaibaaz Tumbi (324 not out, 116 balls, 57 x 4) saw them race past the previous record of 664 runs scored by Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli for Shardashram School in Mumbai in 1987-88.

In fact, the boys scored in a single day unlike the famous duo, which took three days for the record partnership. "We feel nice to have broken Sachin and Kambli's record," the tired but jubilant 13-year-old, eighth standard students of the Old Bowenpally school exclaimed. [The Hindu]


More Reports from DNA, Indiatimes.com, Timesnow.tv

Some Memorable Indian Phrases

I stumbled upon this collection of memorable phrases from Indian advertisements and other fields. I am just listing the most memorable of them here. For the complete list please visit the link.

Dhoondhte reh jaaoge: A Surf Ultra ad line that became part of everyday terminology.

Jhakaass: Meaning very cool, was first used by Anil Kapoor in Joshilay (1989).

Kitne aadmi the: Probably the most popular line in Bollywood history, mouthed by the menacing Gabbar Singh in Sholay (1975) to his henchmen. Used indiscriminately in ads and promos.

Dho dala: Clinic All Clear's tagline to erase all traces of dandruff, also refers to wiping out an opponent, as in Dhoni ne dho dala.

Bindaas: A word that means blase, popularised by Stardust, and commonly used in conjunction with 'babe'.

Vaat lag gayi: The tapori phrase used across regions to indicate trouble. Brought into our homes by the affable gangster played by Sanjay Dutt in the unforgettable Munnabhai MBBS (2003).

Lambi race ka ghoda: First used by Davar Seth for Amitabh Bachchan in the 1975 classic, Deewar, the metaphor has stood the test of time.

Yeh dil maange more: The TV coverage of Captain Vikram Batra's use of this phrase during the 1999 Kargil war catapulted the Pepsi tagline into common parlance.

Naani yaad dila denge: Immortalised in Rajiv Gandhi's famous tirade against foreign powers, delivered at a rally at the Delhi Boat Club in 1989.

Bheja paka diya: Effectively expresses discomfort, also appeared in a 1999 india today feature.

Yeh andar ki baat hai: The Rupa underwear ad line that has gone beyond to denote corporate politics, secrecy and even hidden feelings.

Hawa nikal gayi: A 'tyre' specific situation that now stands for deflation of swollen egos.

Item number: Not just the movie staple, it is now stretched to connote the 'highlight' of the show-be it a guest lecture or even a presentation.

We are like this only: The dosa-chomping south Indian cowboy hero of the Channel V promos, Quick Gun Murugan launched himself, and this line into iconic status.

Funde mat jhad/Too much gyan: An excessive and irritating display of knowledge.

JLT: Just like that. University parlance of the 1990s that moved outside campuses.

Puppies: First used in a 1989 India Today feature, it is Delhi's desi contribution to the social lexicon and refers to the young prosperous urban Punjabi.

Lage raho: The Indian tribute to carry on with a distinctive tapori touch.Dobara mat poochhna: A phrase coined to convey an attitude in the Chlor-mint ad. Now used to express a certain kind of emotion, from irritability to unquestionability.

Mera Bharat mahan: Rajiv Gandhi's national integration campaign. Now referred to only in irony.

A Quick Gun Murugan Moment

I was almost Rolling On the Floor Laughing reading this post by Gaurav Sabnis titled "Pre-Emptive Strike". At the end of the post I said to myself: we (Indians anywhere) are like this only. And if it were not for his voracious blog reading, Gaurav Sabnis wouldn't have had his "quick gun Murugan" moment.

Nov 15, 2006

Maps of Pakistan

Here are two very interesting maps on Pakistan. The first one shows FATA region where Osama and Taliban are supposed to be hiding and operating from. The second map shows the ethnic composition of Pakitan. Note the Baloch and Pashtu population spilling out into Iran and Afghansitan.



Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Click on the map for full size.)

Related reading: CFR's article on the tribal areas of Pakistan.



Pakistan's Main Ethnic Composition
(Click on the Map for full size)

Stratfor on Lashkar-e-Taiba

I am posting a must read article by Fred Burton of Stratfor on Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in full. Of late the frequency of India related articles from Stratfor has increased. Just yesterday they had an article on the kidnapping of Adobe's India head's kid where they wrote "the incident could indicate a growing boldness by kidnappers in the country. In that case, kidnappings of foreign CEOs and their families could follow." If the people at Stratfor feel necessary to comment even on a high profile kidnapping in India then the signs for India is definitely not good.




LeT: Nebulous but Dangerous
By Fred Burton

In a slightly new twist on what is becoming an old tale, India's airports were placed on high alert this week after being threatened with terrorist attacks, and Pakistan's airports followed suit. One of the threats, which according to media reports was disclosed by the FBI, came in an email that discussed the possible hijackings of aircraft leaving India for the United States and Europe -- a situation that immediately brings to mind a plot, attributed to al Qaeda, that was disrupted by British authorities in August. Another threat was found in a letter, handwritten in the Tamil language and found by a janitor at Tiruchirapalli Airport, saying 10 suicide bombers would carry out attacks in airports in Tiruchirapalli, Madurai and Coimbatore in the southern Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

Though al Qaeda has never issued a specific warning, describing the location or methods to be used in a pending attack, these threats very well could be credible in a larger sense, when the recent history of terrorist strikes in India is taken into consideration. After all, the July 11 train bombings in Mumbai, which killed more than 200 people, were preceded, and followed, by a number of warnings and hoaxes directed against trains (though, intriguingly, all of those were against trains in places other than Mumbai). Such a spate of warnings can work very much to the advantage of a militant group: In "pinging the system," they can both gauge the responses of authorities (to determine where an actual strike might be most effective) and induce "alert fatigue," which weakens watchfulness and defense systems over time. Having observed this pattern previously in India, and given the large numbers of potential targets and actors, it would be difficult to argue that the threats received this week are not, on some level, credible -- though, following the Mumbai train pattern, it is likely an attack might come against an airport that was not mentioned in the alerts, or perhaps another target entirely.

New Delhi has no choice but to treat the threats as though they are legitimate, of course. The real question is how to trace the threats and potentially pre-empt a forthcoming attack -- which means identifying the group responsible.

The fact that the target set is, again, in the public transportation sector, and that multiple strikes were mentioned, would seem at first to fit the al Qaeda/jihadist pattern. However, the fact that the threat letter was written in Tamil -- indeed, the fact that a written warning was issued at all -- and that the targets named were in India, all signal that these threats did not emanate from Osama bin Laden's organization directly. Numerous other militant groups, including Kashmiri outfits and Naxalites, have carried out violent attacks in India and logically can be placed on the suspect list for these threats. However, if recent history is any indication, New Delhi likely will focus intensely on one group in particular: Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) (which translates as "Army of the Pure"), a Kashmiri militant group that has demonstrated an ability to strike deep within India.

In fact, New Delhi has spoken of the LeT as its bogeyman du jour since the December 2001 shooting attack at its Parliament building -- blaming it for a wide variety of attacks, including the July train bombings in Mumbai, that encompass a tremendous variety of tactics, targets and geographic locations.

The problem is that it has become almost as difficult to speak of the LeT as a cohesive group as it has to speak of al Qaeda, and for largely the same reasons. Both groups have been "disrupted" and driven underground, but the circumstances of their existence have not necessarily made them less dangerous. Strange as it may sound, they have become both more shadowy and more prominent simultaneously.

LeT: A Brief History

For terrorism purists, the mere mention of LeT's name is problematic: The organization, funded and trained by Pakistan, was labeled a terrorist group early in the U.S. war against jihadists, and it no longer claims responsibility for attacks in its own name. Instead, the LeT has splintered -- or actively attempted to create the impression that it has splintered -- into a number of smaller groups that appear to operate with great autonomy and to use a variety of names, likely in efforts to keep security authorities confused. (This fits with the pattern that al Qaeda used prior to, and shortly after, 9/11: denying responsibility for attacks and claiming them in the name of other groups. In recent years, of course, al Qaeda has bent the other direction -- sometimes claiming attacks that clearly were committed by other, regional actors, and at others allowing smaller groups to use the al Qaeda brand name -- as it sought to transform itself into a grassroots movement.) At any rate, the Indian government and press continue to keep the LeT name alive and to link the group to nearly every serious terrorist attack, threat and foiled plot in the subcontinent.

The LeT is believed to have been formed in 1990 in Afghanistan's Kunar province. Its presence in India's Jammu and Kashmir state was first recorded in 1993. The group's stated goal is to overthrow Indian rule over the contested Kashmir region, though some Indian sources claim the group has a wider agenda of uniting all Muslim-majority regions through South and Central Asia. Indian sources say the LeT has (like al Qaeda) named the United States and Israel as targets, alongside India, but the group has never been shown to have struck at U.S. or Israeli assets independently.

The group evolved as the military wing of Markaz Dawa wa al-Irshad (MDI), a radical Wahhabi organization founded by engineering professor (and later Islamist ideologue) Hafiz Mohammed Saeed. It found a natural sponsor in Pakistan. At one time, Pakistan openly ran militant training facilities on its side of the Line of Control through Kashmir, and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) played an active role in formulating the operations of groups that targeted India. The LeT, with funding and other assistance from the ISI, is believed to have carried out dozens of attacks -- using both firearms and explosives, in a number of different tactical scenarios -- against Indian targets over the years.

Those attacks culminated in the December 2001 attack at the Parliament building in New Delhi. At least up to that point, the LeT was thought to have a well-established and military-like structure, with Saeed as its "emir," or supreme commander. The top policymaking body included the emir and his deputies, a finance chief and others with executive functions, while authority at the field level was distributed from chief commander to divisional commanders, district commanders, battalion commanders and so forth.

The organization's physical infrastructure was said to be considerable: a 200-acre headquarters compound at Muridke (near Lahore) comprising a fish farm, a market, a hospital, madrassas and other facilities. The LeT operated several media mouthpieces -- a Web site and various monthly and weekly publications written in Urdu, Arabic and English. It also ran schools and health services (such as blood banks and mobile clinics) in Pakistan, with a network of branch offices to collect donations and provide other forms of support.

Point of Disruption

However comfortable and well-documented the leadership and decision-making processes may have been at one point, the LeT underwent a drastic change after the 2001 Parliament attack. In that strike -- which was similar to an assault at the Kashmir state assembly in Srinagar, just two months before -- gunmen wearing military fatigues, who apparently had used a fake identity sticker to get past security checkpoints, broke into the area before the government building while the legislative body was in session. One of the attackers, with explosives strapped to his body, blew himself up; the other four were killed in the protracted gun battle that ensued. Six policemen and a gardener also were killed.

Under pressure from the United States and Britain, both of which quickly labeled the LeT a terrorist organization, Islamabad reinvented its relationship with the organization. The ISI severed direct links with the group, which began to splinter into more autonomous groups operating under several names (Lashkar-e-Qahar, al-Arifeen, al-Mansoorain, Al-Nasireen and Al-Qanoon, for example). With the post-9/11 pressure from Washington and London, Islamabad had no choice but to act -- but it also needed to retain the geopolitical leverage against its nemesis, India, afforded by the militant groups. Thus, the Musharraf regime outlawed both the LeT and MDI but allowed an MDI successor organization, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, to exist as a "nonprofit" group that collects donations and engages in social, cultural and humanitarian activities. MDI founder Saeed is the leader of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, and the organization has taken over -- and expanded on -- many of the social services previously offered by LeT.

Though it is possible that special cells within the ISI still dispatch liaisons on occasion to have tea with "former" LeT operatives and "suggest" future operations, the net effect of the changes was to drive the militant organization underground and make its financial and organizational links to Islamabad much harder to trace. (The Musharraf government does, however, retain enough contact with LeT-linked figures to suit the political needs of the moment. For instance, to offset political pressure following the July 11 bombings, officials placed Saeed under house arrest in August -- only to free him again in mid-October.)

Like other Islamist militant groups, LeT is thought to fund its activities through a variety of sources, including charitable organizations scattered through the Muslim world and hawala exchanges. There have been suspicions that its networks spread into the West: In the United States, 11 men convicted on federal charges -- who have become known as the "Virginia Jihad Network" -- were thought to have trained in LeT camps in preparation for waging war against India. And several of the suspects arrested by British authorities following the Aug. 10 disruption of a plot involving transatlantic airline flights were Pakistani nationals thought to have ties to LeT.

The criminal underworld may provide significant sources of financing for the LeT as well. A prominent Indian mobster, Dawood Ibrahim, is believed to have planned the group's March 12, 1993, attacks in Mumbai. In those strikes -- which claimed 247 lives, making them the most deadly terrorist attacks in Indian history -- more than a dozen improvised explosive devices and grenades exploded at the city's stock exchange, several hotels, markets, an airport and other targets.

Tracing the Network
The LeT is widely networked. Members of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), along with sympathizers in Bangladesh and elsewhere, are believed to act as local guides and provide safe-houses for operatives deploying from Kashmir or Pakistan. Bangladesh -- where the government for the most part turns a blind eye to the activities of Islamist militant groups -- may well serve as a safe-haven. LeT operatives likely mask their meetings with authorities in Pakistan by routing their travel from India through Bangladesh or sneaking across the border to Nepal, and thence to Kashmir or other key locales.

LeT has shown a capability to strike far from Kashmir. Attacks have occurred in New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Varanasi, Kolkata, Gujarat and elsewhere.

Significantly, LeT's strategic goals overlap with those of al Qaeda in many ways, and the group shares al Qaeda's beliefs in a radical strain of Wahhabi/Salafi ideology. This makes the Kashmiri movement a useful vehicle for furthering the goals of the better-known jihadist organization -- if it can be properly harnessed.

This, of course, is where the organizational lines begin to grow blurry, to the point of being meaningless.

Bin Laden clearly has placed India in al Qaeda's targeting scopes, having espoused the cause of Kashmiri Muslims and referring in an April 2006 recording to the "Crusader-Zionist-Hindu war against Muslims." Moreover, the subcontinent is a strategic linchpin in the grand U.S. geopolitical strategy (used as a lever for containing China), and its economy has become linked to that of the United States in significant ways. From bin Laden's standpoint, the financial centers in cities like Mumbai and Bangalore constitute politically and economically meaningful targets, within convenient striking distance. Only days after the train bombings, al Qaeda claimed to have established itself in Jammu and Kashmir -- a claim the Indian government deemed credible -- and it is known to have been actively recruiting among Kashmiri groups formerly controlled by Islamabad.

But to say that the LeT is controlled by al Qaeda, or even learning most of its current tactics from it, might be going too far. To be fair, both groups seem to have learned from each other over time: LeT's use of government decals to slip past security in the 2001 Parliament attack, for example, far predates the use of similar tactics by al Qaeda cells in Saudi Arabia. The multiple target strikes in the 1993 Mumbai attacks also serve as a precedent.

Historically, the LeT has struck the same types of targets al Qaeda has chosen in its war against the United States: government sites, economic symbols (as signified by the Mumbai Stock Exchange hit) and transportation systems, as well as "soft targets" like cinemas and places of worship. However, unlike al Qaeda, the LeT and its successor groups thus far have shown little interest in striking directly at the West. Rather, they seem particularly focused on fighting India's Hindu majority, stirring up sectarian strife and reprisal attacks in hopes of producing high body counts and weakening the government in New Delhi.

Looking Ahead

Whether or not that focus will shift remains an open question, but it is possible that the recent threats to Indian airports are a sign of things to come.

The Muslim-Hindu attacks and counterattacks triggered by LeT are a significant issue for New Delhi, but thus far the violence has not reached a level that India -- with its vast geography and tremendous population -- is not able to absorb. The Western technology companies and other multinationals that have made India a strategic hub for business have not moved their operations elsewhere as a result of sectarian strife.

The July strikes in Mumbai left many feeling vulnerable, however. The city of 16 million is an important hub for the finance and shipping industries, and home to numerous foreign businesses. In light of the general poverty, putting high-tech or sophisticated security measures in place would be possible only for specific, critical locations, leaving a great deal of infrastructure vulnerable. Moreover, due to the economic linkages, the effects of such a shift would be felt in the United States, Britain and other countries the Islamists consider their enemies.

Raising a terror alert for critical infrastructure, such as airports, is one way of potentially maxing out Indian security forces, leaving other targets unprotected. It also could be a ploy to mask a terrorist group's true targets, or an alternative way of striking at the national economy. The economic impact from the 9/11 attacks, which shut down U.S. air travel for days, needs hardly to be mentioned in this respect. Whoever receives the blame -- or takes the credit -- for issuing threats and/or carrying out attacks, the fragments of LeT pose the same kind of danger to India as the group as a whole.

Obviously, it cannot be known whether a terrorist group will strike at an Indian airport, but given the large number of potential targets, and potential actors, we believe an attempt is more rather than less likely to be made. If and when that time comes, one thing is all but certain: Al Qaeda and LeT will be deemed responsible. No matter how disrupted the organizations may have become, perceptions linger that al Qaeda and LeT are powerful, cohesive actors in South Asia. And the longer that perception lingers, the more indistinguishable the two groups are becoming in the public mind.[Stratfor]


Nov 7, 2006

Interesting Maps

In this post I am posting some interesting maps I saved from Stratfor reports. As Indians the maps on the current status of Afghansitan and Sri Lanka will be of particular interest to us.











The Child In Us


Here is Amitabh Bachchan being - after posing for the group photograph - mobbed by autograph hunters who themselves are none other than fellow honourees. Looking at the photograph one thing is clear - one just don't know when the child in you will show up and that too in public.

Here is the report from the Hindu on the Delhi University special convocation where the Big B and other luminaries like Delhi CM Ms. Dikshit, cartoonist RK Laxman, scientist CNR Rao, etc were honoured.



It was doubtless a big day for Bachchan, but seemingly a still bigger day for the university. High on drama and excitement, the university abandoned some of its solemn conventions. Students turned into paparazzi — although the invitation had said no cell-phones were allowed — filming every move that Abhishek Bachchan, who arrived sporting a hair-band, made. They deployed their mobile-phones, standing on chairs. Faculty members and staff members were out in full force. And the media were out in large numbers...


Bachchan is known as a man of few words, but here, after getting his Doctor of Letters, he gave up his reticence and made a trip down memory lane. His booming baritone echoed through the freshly restored, gleaming yellow Old Vice Regal Lodge.



"The first question that came to my mind when I was told that I was getting this honour was: do I deserve it? Who would have thought that an average student, not extraordinary by any means, would be awarded such a homecoming," he said. Stating that this was an accolade he would cherish the most, Bachchan, who is 64, said he owed a lifelong debt to a university that taught him his principles and gave him an introduction to acting.



"The tall and imposing Frank Thakurdas gave me my first compliment,'' he said. "It goes without saying that nostalgia is palpable. I remember the time spent at the coffeehouse, at the bus stop outside Miranda House," he said to some hooting from the corner where students from the women's college were massed. "Yes, yes, always Miranda House,'' he finished.



While students sighed and clung to every word Bachchan uttered — apart from clapping at the mention of every film he acted from Saath Hindustani to Black as he was being introduced — many of the staff members let their hair down. "We are proud of the back gate and the bus-stop. We have to get him to come to the college now. You know he said Miranda House more times that Kirori Mal College [where he did BSc till 1962],'' gushed a Miranda House faculty member.


His presence added colour to what would otherwise have been a staid convocation, but the event appeared to have been overrun by elements of popular culture...[The Hindu]

Cartoon Speak: Stark Reality

Courtesy: Indian Express.

Nov 2, 2006

US Soldiers take to Kabaddi…

...and there goes our sure shot Olympic gold.

It was always our one sure shot gold medal whenever it became an Olympic sport and I was looking forward to it. Now that too will become a gamble if the world took to it (and there is no way it can become an Olympic sport if the world doesn’t take to it). Now especially after the Americans troops have taken a fascination for it and started playing them in their barracks too the chances of Kabaddi becoming a global sport is pretty good. After all as one of the commenters pointed out at “Sepia Mutiny” Kabaddi is American football minus the ball.





After a joint anti-terrorism exercise [Shatrujeet 2006, the counter-terrorism exercise in which a company of the Punjab Regiment's 21st Battalion and 2/4 Marine company of US Army] with the Indian Army at the Commando Training Centre here, US soldiers will take back not just experience of rigorous commando training but also a quintessentially Indian sport — kabaddi.


[….]


But in the process, while training for operations like cordon-and-search or storming a terrorist hideout, the US Marines picked up kabaddi and even rudimentary cricket.


Kabaddi fascinated them, one of the American platoon commanders, Lt Lee, said. “My troops are playing kabaddi in barracks too. They are impressed with the game and the agility of the Indian troops.”


The only hitch — as an Indian officer put it tongue-in-cheek — is that the Americans pronounce kabbadi as “cup of tea”. [DNA] (Link via Sepia Mutiny)