Monday, May 30, 2011

Second of two on Pakistan

Dhruva Jaishankar in The Indian Express:

Finally, there are those elements that Washington continues to give credence to, or at least leave unquestioned: Pakistan’s insecurities are legitimately propelled by fears of encirclement, India’s growing resource base, its nuclear weapons programme, and its reported “Cold Start” doctrine, thus adequately justify Pakistan’s inordinate military spending, greater investments in its nuclear and missile programmes, and support for terror groups targeting India and Afghanistan. That lasting peace between India and Pakistan and the settlement of the Kashmir dispute to Pakistan’s satisfaction will almost entirely eliminate its insecurities. That the army remains the only secular institution in Pakistan that “works” and is therefore deserving of support. And that Pakistan’s top military and intelligence officials bear little or no responsibility for the actions of their subordinates and affiliates, a claim even less credible given revelations from the ongoing trial of Tahawwur Rana and the testimony of David Coleman Headley. The erroneous conclusion drawn by the Obama administration from such questionable assumptions is that demonstrations of Indian magnanimity will allow Pakistan’s misguided, but not necessarily malevolent, security forces to reallocate resources towards improving the country’s security and economy. 
Responding to Pakistan’s narrative requires an important cognitive leap, one that most in Washington are still reluctant to take: Pakistan’s purported obsessions and insecurities are self-inflicted, created and consistently advanced to serve important private interests, almost always to the detriment of the country and its people. This applies equally to all the challenges commonly associated with Pakistan, be it the military’s political preponderance, the proliferation of nuclear technology and materials, the cultivation and use of terrorist proxies against both adversaries and nominal allies, the growing radicalisation of the body politic, and periodic India-Pakistan crises. There is also little clarity regarding Pakistani pleas for a long-term strategic relationship, which it professes to desire as a symbol of legitimacy, but also works to undermine through its transactional demands and poorly concealed enthusiasm for a hasty US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

First of two on Pakistan

Sushant Shareen writes in Tehelka: (excerpt, but read the whole thing)

PAKISTAN IS not so much a victim of terrorism as it is a victim of the stupendous success of the indoctrination programme that has replaced the innate pragmatism of the people. Islamism doubles up as nationalism and validates substantially, if not entirely, the concept of Islamofascism. It is this phenomenon that leads a newspaper owner, who is an ideal candidate for a lunatic asylum but in today’s Pakistan is a leading flagbearer of the ‘ideology of Pakistan’, to demand a nuclear strike on India because after a nuclear exchange Pakistan will be able to progress like Japan did after Hiroshima! It is this thinking that leads a top general under Pervez Musharraf, and a man who at one point was touted as a possible successor to Musharraf, to advocate firing “a nuclear warning shot in the Bay of Bengal, across India, demonstrating our circular range capacity” in order to send the message that “you don’t mess with a nuclear power and get away with it”. It is this thinking that makes a former information minister declare that “Pakistan has made nuclear weapons not to keep them in the cupboard but to use them against its enemies”. It is this mindset that makes the so-called ‘civil society’ — news anchors, lawyers, activists — defend the action of the assassin of Punjab governor, Salman Taseer. And it is precisely this mindset that prevents the Pakistan army (its ranks filled with the oxymoronic ‘moderate Taliban’) from ending its double-game in the war on terror. 
Today, it is not the nukes that protect Pakistan but Pakistan that protects its nukes. 
This then is the terrible reality of Pakistan. Unfortunately, just as the Pakistanis are in denial, so too are the Indians, or at least the Indian establishment, about the ground reality in Pakistan. India’s Pakistan policy (if at all there is such a thing) is predicated on interactions with what is a fringe group of liberal, moderate, modern, and sensible Pakistanis who are excellent advocates of their country but whose words don’t count for anything in terms of setting their country’s policy or direction. This is a class that doesn’t number more than a couple of thousand.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Water on the Moon

The New York Times reports that apart from the surface water detected by NASA and Indian space probes,
Now, scientists analyzing tiny fragments of hardened lava from long-ago lunar eruptions report that the fragments contain about as much water as similar magmas on Earth, meaning there is plenty of water inside the Moon too.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Einstein, Feynman, Hopper visit AT&T Labs

Famed Scientists Richard Feynman, Grace Hopper and Albert Eistein explore AT&T Labs during a mid-2011 visit.

Originally presented as part of the 2011 AT&T Cyber Security Conference. A complete replay of this video, as well as a live panel session including the scientists and AT&T Chief Security Officer Ed Amoroso, will be available at

Thursday, May 19, 2011

India and Organic Farming

This is a post in 3 parts.

My point is that we in India seem to recognize the value of our old practices and traditions only when it is blessed by westerners.   Far better that we record our old practices and traditions while they are still extant, and then go through them looking for value, than to lose them altogether, except for fragments recorded by Westerners, because we consider them to be superstition, unscientific, etc., etc.

An illustration of this point follows:

1. For context, I'm reproducing part of one of my posts from January 2009:

Fruitless Fall : The Collapse of the Honey Bee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis

Rowan Jacobsen examines the recently emerged phenomenon of Colony Collapse Disorder - the mysterious death of honey bee hives, almost all over the world. Science has unable to pin it on any one cause; so there may be a systemic problem and a combination of stresses on honey bees may have crossed a threshold. This is a scientific whodunit narrated in a very engaging style. I'm ordering my own copy as I return this to the library. I strongly recommend it, five stars out of five.

2. I point you to an excerpt of Rowan Jacobsen's book that I had posted previously, about Kirk Webster, a beekeeper in Vermont.   It is not necessary to read this to understand the third point, except that Webster's bees do not suffer from colony collapse disorder.

3. Another excerpt from the book:

Central to Webster's worldview was the work of Sir Albert Howard, the father of the organic farming movement.  Howard, Britain's imperial economic botanist in India in the early 1900s, studied the farming practices of India's peasants and wrote two books based on his observations: An Agricultural Testament and The Soil and Health.   He was knighted for his work in 1935.


PS: Now in the years to come,  we will take organic farming as a western innovation, and seek to transplant it back to India, when it arose from traditional knowledge in India in the first place.  How much better to instead study, validate or invalidate our practices and then educate the farmer accordingly.  Why is imported knowledge given a place of privilege?  The same argument holds for Ayurveda.   The problem is that most of  past knowledge is in a million mouldering manuscripts that won't last a generation, or in the heads of people whose children scorn their knowledge, and so it won't last a generation either.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Richard Clarke on Pakistan

Richard Clarke on Pakistan: They are such pathological liars they even don't know when they are lying any more.

At the very end of this clip from Bill Maher's show:

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

OBL cartoons

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Perkovich on Pakistan

In the NY Times, George Perkovich writes that

...aid combined with these other U.S. policies clearly has not changed the Pakistani military’s obsession with contesting India. There is nothing India or the United States can realistically do that will change this self-destructive obsession because the problem is India’s existence itself.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Prof. Walter Russell Mead on US-Pakistan relations

This is a must-read.

We are going to have to get tough.  The Pakistani security establishment lives to a very large degree in what, to American eyes, looks like a dangerous and delusional imaginary world.  As I’ve written before, Americans (and virtually everyone else in the world who looks at this question) sees Pakistan locked into a profoundly dysfunctional combination of misguided security ideas and comprehensive domestic failure.  Pakistani strategists embrace these seemingly destructive policies out of some very deeply-held beliefs and in response to what they see as existential questions of national identity and cohesion.  They will not be lightly diverted from this long-established and cherished course, however suicidal, and as is often the case with people whose goals are unrealistic, they are accustomed to very high risk strategies and brinkmanship.  Defeat after defeat by India, progressive deterioration of the domestic security climate and the utter collapse of political morality in what passes for the governing class in Pakistan have not forced a reevaluation.  Charm and appeals to sweet reason by American officials and emissaries won’t do it either.  Neither will humanitarian aid: the suffering of ordinary Pakistanis has little impact on the elite, and in the short to medium term public opinion in Pakistan is so anti-American and so politically marginal that we could die of old age waiting for spending however generous to change our image in Pakistan enough to change the politics of the relationship.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

MJ Akbar on Pakistan's Army

Worth a read.

One story is too priceless to be ignored. Former Afghanistan intelligence chief A. Saleh recalls that when, four years ago, he told Musharraf that Osama was hiding in or around Abbotabad, Musharraf exploded, "Am I President of the Republic of Banana?"

Monday, May 02, 2011

A Sigh of Relief

We were sitting in the left side of the plane; but the winds were from the south west. So our flight from Dallas approached the Newark airport from the north, and I was treated to a view of the magnificent Manhattan skyline.  I shed my usual tear at the absence of the Twin Towers.

At home, I had had left the radio on, as a thief-deterrent.  As we entered the house, I heard President Obama saying that Osama Bin Laden had been killed.  I normally don't think of any death as an occasion for celebration; but as much joy as is possible on hearing that someone has been killed, I felt.    I think that  the world (a large part of it, anyway) heaves a sigh of relief that such a useless but dangerous man is no more.