Sunday, 31 January 2010

Imran Khan – Fundamentalist, Racist and Stupid!

I planned to write about Imran Khan as soon as I read this Dawn article by Nadeem F. Paracha a few days ago, but changed my mind soon after.

Now I’ve changed my mind once more and have decided to write about Imran’s most recent exploit after all.

When I followed cricket (until around the age of 18) I used to be an Imran fan. Even after I lost interest in cricket, I continued to follow Imran’s career as he got involved in philanthropy, got married to Jemima Khan, entered politics and later got divorced. My admiration for Imran dwindled rapidly once he started to veer towards the religious right in politics.

Though I never thought Imran was particularly clever, I didn’t think he could be so stupid. Displaying his derision towards Africans and dark-skinned Pakistanis during a debate, Imran has for all practical purposes shot himself in his international foot. I just can’t see him travelling overseas and receiving a decent reception anywhere ever again.

However, I am not shocked by Imran’s racism per se. This is because attitudes such as those displayed by Imran are very common among Asians as I have explained in one of my previous posts. However, the elite among Asians are usually good at hiding their prejudices. Unlike Imran.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Indians Attacked in Australia – Please tell me why?

Over the last few months, there have been so many reports of Indians being attacked in various parts of Australia. On the face of it, these attacks seem to be racist, though I am not sure the Indian media is right in painting the Australian Police as racist. The Mail Today has gone to the extent of equating Victoria State’s Police with the Klu Klux Klan.

The Australian Police are undoubtedly guilty of incompetence or even complacency, but calling them racist is not fair. The Indian media is definitely guilty of aggravating the tension. For example, this Economic Times headline (Aussies celebrate R-Day by racially assaulting 2 Indians) does nothing to cool down tempers.

I have a fundamental question regarding these attacks – Why are Indians being targeted and not other South Asians? The logic behind my question is this. If a racist man (or possibly a woman) in Australia hates Indians and decides to randomly attack an ‘Indian-looking’ individual(s), there is a very good chance that the victim might turn out to be a Pakistani or a Sri Lankan or a Bangladeshi. However, all reports seem to indicate that the victims are all Indians, though I did read that a pub in Melbourne turned away a mixed group of Indians and Nepalis.

Unless the attackers have identified their victims in advance and ascertained their nationality, there is no way random racist attacks can successfully target Indians in Australia. Yes, in Australia, Indians easily outnumber other South Asians, but for the 260,000 odd Indians in Australia, there are around 70,000 Sri Lankans, around 20,000 Pakistanis and around 15,000 Bangladeshis. How come one never hears of other South Asians being attacked in Australia?

Is there a possibility that there is any one or any group or any country behind these attacks? Who could possibly profit from aggravating Indo-Aussie relations?

On a different note, many of the victims seem to be students who are working late nights and long hours. More importantly, these students don’t seem to be leading ‘student lives’. It is very obvious that many Indian students in Australia are there to earn money rather than a degree. This is not much different from the situation in the UK where so many people arrive on student visas - to work. Here’s an interesting BBC Report on this.

In the UK, students are allowed to work 20 hours a week. However, many students work much longer hours. There are many who come to the UK on student visas, not attend classes and work full-time. When such ‘students’ get exploited or fail to find work, whose fault is it? In my opinion, it is primarily the ‘student’s fault.’ However, some blame should also be placed at the door of the various British High Commission offices in India which issue British visas to such students. I mean, how can you justify issuing a student visa to one who barely speaks English? Should the Indian government do something about it? I think it should at the very least crack down on immigration consultants in India who collect huge fees and send immigrants to the UK on student visas after promising them that they will get jobs as soon as they land in the UK.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Telangana Today, Rayalaseema Tomorrow, President’s Rule Anyone?

Before I start pontificating, let me make a confession. Until the recent debate (or controversy if you will) over Telangana arose, I had a vague idea of what and where Telangana is. I knew that Andhra, Telangana and Rayalaseema comprise the state of Andhra Pradesh, but didn’t know much beyond that. For the benefit of those who are in a similar situation, let me briefly summarise what I learned about these places after my recent research.

Telangana used to be a part of the princely state of Hyderabad which had Telugu, Kannada and Marathi speaking territories. Ruled by a Nizam, Hyderabad was one of the most powerful princely states within the sub-continent when the British ruled most of South Asia. The Nizam was a descendant of the Mughals’ viceroy for the Deccan, who broke away after Aurangazeb’s death to found a separate kingdom, which was one of the wealthiest in the world. Like many of Indian princes who owed allegiance to the British, the Nizams accumulated great personal wealth, though the region they administered was among the most backward in India. After India got independence, the Nizam chose to remain independent, despite popular support for a merger with India. In September 1948, the Indian army launched Operation Polo that forcibly integrated Hyderabad with the rest of India.

From 1948 to 1952, Hyderabad was administered by a central civil servant. In 1952, the State of Hyderabad had democratic elections to the State Legislative assembly.

Andhra and Rayalaseema were part of Madras Presidency, which at its zenith included even Ceylon (1793-1798). The Madras Presidency was a creation of the British that had, for administrative convenience, most of South India under it. Madras Presidency ruled by the British was much better administered and its people much better off than Nizam-ruled Hyderabad. In 1956 when the Madras presidency was broken up on linguistic grounds, Andra and Rayalaseema were merged with the Telangana region of Hyderabad to form the Telugu state of Andhra Pradesh.

The State of Andhra Pradesh had eight coastal Andhra districts in the north-east, four Rayalaseema districts in the south and nine Telanaga districts in the north-west and the French ruled district of Yanam. (I am unsure of the number of districts in each chunk since different sources attribute slightly different numbers). Yanam had been liberated from French rule only in 1954. The common factor of this region was Telugu. Costal Andhra was the most developed within this region and Telangana the least developed. In 1963, the Union Territory of Pondicherry was created and Yanam was transferred to it.

The demand for a separate state of Telangana is a long standing one and arose almost immediately after the State of Andhra Pradesh came into being. Since coastal Andhra was the wealthiest and most developed region, its inhabitants cornered most jobs in the whole state, including in Telangana and Rayalaseema. There has always been a feeling of discrimination or lack of sufficient affirmative action programmes for Telangana. The movement for Telangana is in that sense not much different from the movements that gave rise to states such as Jharkhand, Uttaranchal and Chattisgarh.

Though not as vociferous as the demand for Telangana, the people of Rayalaseema, which is less developed than coastal Andhra, have a similar demand for a state of their own. If Telangana is created, the demand for a separate state carved out of the four districts that comprise Rayalaseema is bound to get more stringent.

Demand for a separate state within the Indian federation always follows a now-familiar pattern. A region within a state is underdeveloped. Its native people don’t get much out of the common pot. That region ranks lower than the rest of the state in education and other social development indices. They people have lost faith in the state administration. What’s the way out of this? To create a new state, of course. This demand is almost always led by local elites who are very likely to corner power if the demand for a new state is met.

As we have seen in the case of states like Jharkand, creation of a new state does not solve the problem. Usually, the newly empowered local elites start another round of exploitation. Because the newly ‘liberated’ population is trusting (at least initially) and not very educated, the new elites get away with murder for a while.

What’s the way out of this conundrum? I feel that any group of people within India should have the right to form a state of their own, if there is popular support for such a state. India’s biggest strength is its democracy and no group should be prevented from creating a new administrative unit it they feel such creation would serve their interests better. However, in my opinion, once such a demand is met, elections should not be held immediately. Hold on! Yes, I am aware that India is a democracy and periodic elections are the life blood of any democracy. However, in order to prevent local elites from continuing the mal-administration which gave rise to the demand for a separate state in the first place, the Central government should impose President’s rule in the newly created state for at least ten years. This will prevent local elites from starting a campaign for new states if they are solely motivated by lucre.

Democracy is great and wonderful, but preparation for democracy is essential if the benefits of democracy are to be enjoyed. Do give in to the demand for Telangana and similar demands like Gorkhaland, but this must be on condition that such newly created states will be administered by Central Government bureaucrats for ten years.

Request: If you note any factual error in this article, please let me know.

Special thanks to Wikipedia, since I have relied on it much more than I normally do

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Have western democracies become too civilised to win in Afghanistan and Iraq?

The term 'guerrilla' is derived from the Spanish word for war – 'Guerra'. A guerrilla is one who resorts to asymmetric warfare to beat an enemy who is superior in terms of weaponry, technology and (sometimes) manpower. It goes without saying that guerrillas break all rules of warfare. They carry out hit and run attacks. They kill civilians. They provoke the enemy into mass retaliation and retribution resulting in civilian casualties, which works as a recruiting agent for the guerrillas.

Guerrilla warfare is nothing new. Jewish partisans have used it against the Romans. Hungarian fighters have used it against the all-conquering Mongols. Rumanians under Count Dracula carried out hit and run raids against the Ottoman Turks. The Scots led by Robert Bruce used it against the English. The Marathas under Shivaji and his successors used it against the Mughals. The Boers used commando raids against the British in South Africa. Chinese communists under Mao Zedong used it successfully to capture power in China after the Japanese were evicted during the Second World War. The Vietnamese used it even more successfully against the Americans and the Afghans and other Arab Mujahideen used it against the Soviets. Now, they continue to do so against the Americans and other coalition forces.

Some guerrilla movements have been successful whilst others have failed. Spanish partisans were rather successful against Napoleon’s Grande Armée. The American freedom fighters beat the British in the American war of Independence using guerrilla tactics. The Marathas had a certain degree of success against the Mughals after which they developed a large standing army. The Boers failed against the British, despite some initial successes. The Brits beat a communist insurgency in Malaysia, but the Americans failed to beat a similar movement in Vietnam.

The most recent example of a guerrilla movement being comprehensively defeated can be found in Sri Lanka. The LTTE originated as a guerrilla movement, though it evolved a standing army towards its own. However, despite having an air force and heavy artillery, it was in spirit a guerrilla movement. The final phase of the Sri Lankan civil war, sometimes referred to as Eelam War IV, started in July 2006. This phase went entirely in favour of the Sri Lankan government. The LTTE was decimated and in May 2009, its top leadership was encircled and wiped out at a place called Vellamullivaaikkaal in the Mullaitheevu district of Northern Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan army has been accused of (rightly in my opinion) callously ignoring civilian casualties as they crushed the LTTE. Of course, the LTTE was equally if not more callous in using civilians as human shields, but it cannot be denied that the Sri Lankan government was just as ruthless and nasty as the LTTE.

In South Africa, the British resorted to not only scorched earth tactics to defeat the Boers, they even interned many Boer civilians in concentration camps, resulting in the deaths of thousands. The British had a much better human rights record in the Malay campaign, where the communist insurgents where almost entirely ethnic Chinese and did not have the support of the native Malays. The British relocated many thousands of villagers who lived in isolated communities to guarded camps, in a move reminiscent of the concentration camps for the Boers, but the camps in Malaysia where much more humanely organised. The insurgents didn’t have much external support. The conflict in Korea kept the Chinese occupied. The Malayan insurgency is a rare example of a rather successful hearts and minds campaign by a large power.

It is not just the British who have successfully defeated guerillas. Towards the end of the 19th century, the Americans have crushed a large scale guerrilla movement in a forgotten war in the Philippines. The Americans acquired Philippines from Spain after the end of their war with Spain in 1898. The Filipinos had been carrying on guerrilla war against Spain and were on the verge of victory when this transfer to the US occurred. Despite initial promises, the Americans had no intention of allowing Philippines to be free. The Filipino army started to fight the Americans and from 1898 to 1902, a brutal civil war raged. The Americans used ruthless tactics and a scorched earth policy to beat the Filipinos who continued to offer sporadic resistance till 1913.

When the Americans took on the Vietnamese, they were relatively more ‘civilised’, aberrations like My Lai notwithstanding. It is possible to argue that, being relatively civilised is a weakness when fighting a guerrilla war and they lost on account of that. The Filipino rebels did not have the sort of support which the Vietnamese received from China and the Soviet Union. If they had the support of a superpower, they would have performed better, but would they have won against an enemy, who in keeping with the values of those days, did not give a damn about civilian casualties in an oriental land?

Here’s an interesting article on CNN comparing the Philippine War with the current situation in Afghanistan.

Though the CNN article does not say so in so many words, the implication is clear. To win in Afghanistan, the Americans must be willing to use brutal tactics, something which can’t be institutionally carried out by any western nation in this present age.

The Americans and other coalition forces have been accused of large scale civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, in this path breaking article, Irfan Husain explain how almost all deaths caused by drone attacks are of militants and how the common man in Pakistan actually welcomes American raids on the Pakistani Taliban.

Of course, no one can accuse the US, Brits and other coalition countries of saintly conduct in Afghanistan and Iraq. Guantanamo and incidents like the murder of Baha Mousa or the Al-Mahmudiyah killings attest to that. However, it cannot be denied that the coalition troops’ conduct of war is at much higher standard than ever followed by nation-states in similar asymmetric warfare scenarios in the past.

Fifty years ago, in a situation like this, the Americans would have installed puppet dictators in Afghanistan and Iraq and helped them kill off their enemies one by one. In a sense, Saddam was such a western proxy, until he went afoul of them. This was more or less what the Soviets were trying to do in Afghanistan and they would have got away with it, if it hadn’t been for such overwhelming American support for the Mujahideen. Now, the Taliban and the Al Qaeda don’t have the support of a superpower. However, there are few signs that that Americans are winning. In January 2010 alone, there have been 27 casualties among coalition forces in Afghanistan. My question is, have western democracies become too civilised to win the war in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province?

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

A Rival For Singapore?

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

In the UK, public documents are transferred to the National Archives 30 years after they were created under the 30 years rule. Once transferred to the National Archives, they are available to the public.

Recently, many of Margaret Thatcher’s papers reached the National archives and they have revealed a hitherto-unknown facet of Mrs. T. Apparently Mrs. T had a racist streak in her. Despite a lot of public posturing, Mrs. T didn’t like the idea of letting refugees from Vietnam into the UK. You can read all about it in this report.

What struck me in this report was the reason why the proposal for the UK and Australia to jointly buy an Indonesian or Philippine island and settle the Vietnamese refugees there, finally fell through. Apparently Lee Kuan Yu of Singapore feared that such a settlement might become a rival entrepreneurial city. And so he successfully blocked Mrs. T’s proposal.

How right was Lee Kuan Yu! Yes, there’s nothing more precious or powerful than human spirit and aspiration and who would have it in greater abundance than a fleeing refugee from Vietnam? The USA was built by refugees (both economic and political) from all over the world. Yes, they did use slave labour, but then so did so many other countries in Europe and the middle-east. Now there is a growing trend in the developed world to take in only the smartest and richest and the most posh. These countries, which includes the UK, ought to do a reality check. There’s no way these posh migrants can compete with a genuine refugee from a war-torn country who has to rebuild from scratch!