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Education / 10.12.2008

After Mumbai, the raw emotions underlying relations between India and Pakistan are on public display. It is not a pretty picture. What can one make of it? India-Pakistan relations can be analyzed at two levels: the political and the psychological. At the political level, the argument is simple and familiar. It is argued that governing groups in the two countries have vested interests, to differing degrees, in maintaining the status quo and therefore a breakthrough is unlikely unless some dramatic change occurs in either the external environment or the cost-benefit calculus of the key players. Just the boldness of one leader or the sincerity of another is not sufficient to overcome the deep-rooted vested interests. Kargil goes a long way to support this argument. However, can a political position exist in a vacuum? Can it be completely out of tune with the underlying psychology of the people?...

Politics / 07.12.2008

Here we are at the beginning of life beyond Mumbai. We have expressed our feelings, described the situation, analyzed the problem, prescribed a response, and articulated a vision for the future. We have come out of this gut-wrenching process changed. A fundamental truth has dawned upon us. Today, in this twenty-first century, in this global village, it makes little sense to be Hindu or Muslim, Sikh or Buddhist, Catholic or Protestant, Black or White. What matters only is whether you are for terrorism or against terrorism. If we make a false choice here, Hindus and Muslims along with all the others would go up in a ball of smoke. There are attributes of individuals that unite them in a common humanity and those that divide them into quarreling tribes. Terrorists can strike because we are divided; terrorists will thrive if we are divided yet again. There is a personal...

Politics / 06.12.2008

We have stood up and we have been counted. And despite all the caveats and all the filters, there are still many more non-terrorists than there are terrorists. So, how do we translate these numbers into the strength we need to STOP TERRORISM NOW? Isn’t it obvious? We have to recognize each other. Then we have to reach out and hold each other by the hand. We have to project a resolve so impregnable that a terrorist would think many times before he or she would hurl himself or herself against it. And we have to work together to drain the swamps that feed the fevered causes of terrorism in our homes. All this cannot be done in a day and yet we do not have too many days to lose. We need to begin small and have a plan to get big fast. Here is the contribution of...

Politics / 05.12.2008

There is a huge wave of anger, frustration, and fear welling up in South Asia. Will this wave peter out only to arise again after the next incident of terrorism? Will it spiral out of control, plunging our region into further chaos and doing even more damage than terrorism alone could have achieved? Or will it be channeled into a force that would move us to a better and more secure future? To some extent the outcome will depend on what we, the citizens of South Asia, do or do not do today. Let me propose a two-step agenda: turning in and reaching out. In this post I will elaborate the first of the two steps. We have to begin by asking ourselves a simple question: Are we against terrorism or not? If we are, we have to be against terrorism wherever it exists, not just across the borders...

India / 04.12.2008

Continued from Hinduism – 3: Interaction with Muslims This series of posts has a limited objective – to understand the nature and impacts of the historical interactions of Hinduism with Muslims and Britons. In order to make our point we took the incursions of Mahmud of Ghazna around 1000 AD as an adequate starting point. However, this created the impression that the first Muslims in India came as raiders. This is an incorrect impression and in fact there is an extensive prior history of peaceful contact. Although this history is not directly related to the objective of this series, it is important to document it in order to avoid misunderstandings. Arab, Greek and Jew contact with the Malabar Coast of India had long existed on account of trade in spices and other articles and became predominant in the post-Roman period. Thus Arab contact with India pre-dates Islam....

Politics / 29.11.2008

Making South Asia safe from the kind of terrorist attacks that have hurt Mumbai and Islamabad calls for an intelligent response from South Asian citizens. The first step is to understand the nature of terrorism. At a very broad level, we can identify two types of terrorism. The first is the terrorism practiced by relatively small, marginalized groups that wish to achieve some utopian vision of society. The classic exemplars of this type were the Red Brigade in Italy and the Baader-Meinhof group in Germany. Both emerged in the 1970s led by alienated students and professors radicalized by the brutalities of the Vietnam War and supported by the client states of the USSR in the context of the Cold War. The second type is the terrorism practiced by large groups that have lost hope in having their voices heard by the political process. At one point or...

India / 28.11.2008

Mumbai is big but not as big as New York. 11/26 is huge but not as huge as 9/11. India is powerful but not as powerful as America.  What does this set of propositions tell us about how we should respond to 11/26 in Mumbai? Think it over. There are two choices. We can root out terrorists or we can root out terrorism. They are not the same. Powerful America responded to 9/11 in New York by vowing to root out terrorists. Pledging to get Osama bin Laden, dead or alive, it launched the War on Terror. Seven years later, there are more terrorists than ever before, more Americans have died than in 9/11, the number of innocent victims has been lost count of, the entire world is in turmoil, and the economic and financial...

Ghalib / 24.11.2008

Only Ghalib could pack so much meaning in a mere ten words: saltanat dast bah dast aaii hai jam-e mai khaatim-e Jamshed nahiiN the kingship has come from hand to hand the glass of wine; the seal of Jamshed is not Even the well-known Ghalib scholars have pondered over the many possible meanings as mentioned in A Desertful of Roses and in our companion blog Mehr-e-Niimroz. In this post, we use the verse as a mirror to reflect on the state of governance in South Asia today. Ghalib has tossed three balls in the air for us to ponder – the metaphors of kingship, the glass of wine, and the seal of Jamshed. If we translate dast bah dast as hand to hand, an interpretation would be that both kingship and the glass of wine are passed from hand to hand while the seal of Jamshed belongs to Jamshed alone. But it would...

Religion / 16.11.2008

The loss of religious faith (or deviation from the true path) is amongst the commonly cited reasons for the absence of economic or social progress in Pakistan. Is this another easy answer, a gross simplification of a complex reality, or does it capture some aspect of our predicament? There are two components of this claim: faith and progress. Taken separately, they are relatively unproblematic. Most people consider progress to be good and a laudable goal for both individuals and societies. Faith is a matter of individual choice exercised freely. It is the link between faith and progress that is controversial and in need of examination. I doubt if even diehard believers would suggest a one-to-one correspondence between the two because that would result in odd contradictions and unacceptable conclusions. Western countries are all more developed than Pakistan. Does that mean that their citizens are all more religiously...