Category Archives: South Asia(n)

Back from India

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We are back from India. Chennai for bro-in-law’s wedding and then some time in  Kerala to relax. I don’t post personal pics so no wedding images to share. But here are a few pics of the place where we stayed in Samudra Beach (including one above), a pic of Kovalam Beach and a couple lobster pics.

[Lobster, Kerala style: coconut milk, curry leaf, etc.]

[Kovalam Beach]

[Lobster, American style: grilled with lemon butter]

Wednesday News Items

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Things are getting busy around here. The end of the semester is always that way. Here a few news items to point your attention to:

It appears the Mumbai terrorists had some logistical support from a U.S. citizen. David Headley, the son of Pakistani diplomat, “changed his name from Daood Gilani in 2006 so he could hide his Muslim and Pakistani identity and slip more easily into his American businessman cover story while scoping out targets.”  He also served as a DEA informant after getting busted for importing two kilograms of heroin from Pakistan. Read more here, here and here.

Continuing on the counter-terrorism theme, a senior al-Qaeda leader was killed in Pakistan by a Predator drone strike. Abdirizaq Abdi Saleh aka Saleh al-Somali was the number three leader of al-Qaeda after Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Nice shooting!

In other South Asian news, the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh is in turmoil due to recent decision by the national government to allow part of the territory to secede and form the new state of Telangana.

In Cuba, a U.S. contractor who was “distributing cell phones, laptops and other communications devices”  has been detained by the authorities. Sylvia Longmire reports, “[t] uunidentified contractor works for Development Alternatives Inc., a development group based in Bethesda, Maryland.” Who, or what, is Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI)? According to their website:

DAI has worked in 150 developing and transition countries, providing comprehensive development solutions in areas including crisis mitigation and recovery, democratic governance and public sector management, agriculture and agribusiness, private sector development and financial services, economics and trade, HIV/AIDS, avian influenza control, and water and natural resources management. Clients include international development agencies, international lending institutions, private corporations and philanthropies, and host-country governments.

More updates will be provided as more information is available.

Moving to the United States, district judge Nina Gershon has decided in favor of poverty pimps community organization, ACORN, by ruling the Congress acted in an unconstitutional manner in singling out the group. I’m not an expert in Constitutional Law, but I know it is the function of the legislative branch, not the judiciary, to decide how our tax dollars are spent. More here and here.

My last item is from NYC where our resident Nehru suited infantile leftist Charles Barron has struck again. This time at a City University of New York groundbreaking he was not invited to (h/t Gothamist):

After getting into a public squabble with a CUNY trustee at a groundbreaking event on Tuesday, City Councilman Charles Barron wants him out. According to the Daily News, the controversial Council member told an audience at Medgar Evers College (a CUNY school), “The Board of Trustees has to change… This is a racist, rednecked right-winger who’s sitting on the Board of Trustees. Make sure you write a letter and say he must be removed.”

This fool wants to be president of the NYC city council.

Grading Obama’s Afghanistan Speech: Surge or Exit Strategy?

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[Backup is on the way...]

I listened to President Obama’s speech on Afghanistan at West Point and it was not entirely encouraging. His reluctant admission that more troops are needed was welcome but I am concerned he is not supportive of an effective counterinsurgency program as was approved by President George W. Bush during the “surge” in Iraq.

Perhaps a better way of putting it is I am puzzled whether his speech argued in favor of letting facts on the ground determine the length of American involvement or whether he is committed to removing American troops in eighteen months. I was left thinking he was trying to say too many different things to too many different audiences at the same time.

As I tell my students before they give their oral presentations, “always be aware of your audience.” In their case determining the audience is easy. They are doing the presentation for me, in order to receive a grade, as well as their colleagues, in order to edify–but not confuse–them.

President Obama finds himself in a far more difficult situation. He has multiple audiences he needs to appeal to. Making matters worse, what one group wants to hear is often in opposition to another group.

The most obvious audience is that of the West Point cadets and experienced officer corps. If I were grading Obama regarding his appeal to this audience it would be a D. The primary reason is he never once mentioned victory as an outcome of his strategy. Why does this matter? Put yourself in the mindset of an officer who has (or will soon have) enlisted soldiers under his command. One question that would likely spring to mind is, “if my commander in chief is not convinced victory is possible, what do I tell my troops?” That is not a situation an officer wants to find himself in, to say the least.

Another audience are the legislators, activists and partisans of the president’s political party. As the health care debate has shown, Democrats are not united on much of anything. Regarding military action, one the one hand, most Blue Dog Democrats support a strong military and the use of force. But the wing of the Democratic Party that was largely responsible for the president’s victory are the progressives. Most of them want the troops home yesterday. The president’s speech contained some tough talk regarding Al Qaeda and the Taliban for the Blue Dogs and a clear timetable for the progressives. Or, was that a clear timetable? What was that mention of “facts on the ground” all about? Isn’t that what President Bush said time and time again when asked when we would withdrawal from Iraq? Obama did better with Democrats but not great, C-range territory.

The final audience to consider are Republicans, the political opposition. They do not seem very pleased with the president’s speech either. Some dismissed his strategy out of hand before he even gave his speech while others have been railing against him for taking so long to get his act together. Many wanted–but did not expect–Obama to commit to the 60,000 troops that General McChrystal asked for. They were also perturbed by his references to torture and shutting down Gitmo. So he gets another D.

Final Grade: D+

Setting aside how he did with these audiences, just a few words about my own perspective. First, I am not as critical as some that Obama took a while to put his Afghanistan plan together. Yet I agree that it is was too long, especially for someone who made a more effective Afghanistan strategy a centerpiece of his presidential campaign. Progressives seem to have forgotten about that. Second, I concur it is important to let President Karzai know we are not going to be there forever. But did President Obama have to announce the timetable to the entire world? Couldn’t he have done this more diplomatically? Third, the political cheap shots were a disappointment. So how did he do for this audience of one? I give him a C-.

Read More:

Full transcript of the president’s speech here.

Clive Crook at the Atlantic found the speech contradictory:

Obama tried to have it both ways: he gave the generals another 30,000 soldiers, almost as many as they had asked for, but told the country (and anybody else who might have been listening) that disengagement would begin in just 18 months.

At its center, in other words, the speech contradicted itself. You cannot argue, as he tried to, that (a) this is a war America must win to safeguard its own security, and (b) whether the US is winning or not, the troops will start to come home in 2011. If they can start to come home in 18 months regardless, why not start to bring them home now?

That was not the only contradiction. We are against “nation building” (again). But as well as creating the country’s own security forces out of next to nothing, we want a civilian surge to build capacity and foster development. Run that by me once more.

Fred Barnes at the Weekly Standard found it disapopinting:

I had hoped Obama would declare that nothing will deter him, as commander-in-chief, from prevailing in Afghanistan. But it turns out a lot of things might deter him. He listed a few of them: the cost of the war, its length (if more than 18 months from January 2010), the failure of Afghans to step up to the task sufficiently. He hedged.

Americans and our allies were looking for more, I believe. To have rallied the country and the world, Obama needed to indicate he would lead a fight to win in Afghanistan, with the help of allies if possible, but with the armed forces of the U.S. alone if necessary. He didn’t say anything like that. He didn’t come close.

While Joan Walsh over at Slate has this to say:

At the moment he needed all of his persuasive powers, Obama gave the worst major speech of his presidency. I admit: I expected to be, even wanted to be, carried away a bit by Obama’s trademark rhetorical magic. But I wasn’t, not even a little. I found the speech rushed, sing-songy and perfunctory, delivered by rote. I despise the right-wing Obama-Teleprompter taunts, but even I wanted to say, Look at your audience, not the damn Teleprompter, Mr. President. Obama looked haggard, his eyes deeper set, and I believe this decision pained him. But I’m not sure even he believes it’s the right decision.

Remembering the Mumbai Attacks: The Lessons Learned One Year Later

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One year ago today (November 26) Mumbai, India experienced its worst terrorist attack. Ten jihadists with small arms and grenades killed over 173 people and wounded over 308. They managed to hold the police and armed forces at bay until November 29.

While there have been some changes made in the hopes of preventing another attack, Karan Singh Tyagi laments:

Sadly, not much has changed. A year down the line no individual has been held accountable or punished for such a heinous act. It was only yesterday that the Pakistan Anti-Terrorism Court formally charged seven suspects, including Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, with planning and helping execute the Mumbai attacks. It is better late than never, but one only hopes that this indictment will be taken to its logical conclusion without any further delay.

In India itself, the trial of Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone jihadi captured alive, has been turned into a prolonged circus that is serving no one. Kasab initially pleaded not guilty, but later, on July 20th, admitted his guilt. The court accepted his plea and placed the confessional statement on record, but dubbed the admission of guilt as a partial admission and let the trial proceed.

By all reckoning, Kasab’s is an open and shut case. So why not get on with it and reach the inevitable end? I am not suggesting kangaroo courts and summary trials, but delays like this don’t translate into justice. It is especially distressing to see such problems continue to emerge after the discomforting maze of the Indian judicial system was so badly exposed to the whole world when the Trial Court took thirteen years to bring down curtains to the 1993 Bombay Bomb Blast case.

Kasab claims he was recruited for the attacks by an Islamist faction in Pakistan. The government of Pakistan initially denied he was Pakistani but they were forced to admit his citizenship as more and more evidence emerged about how and where the plot was hatched. Rhys Blakely reports (July 21, 2009):

Kasab said he had decided to confess and face a possible death sentence in India after learning that Pakistan intended to prosecute five men accused of being linked to the attacks. “I have heard that Pakistan has now admitted I am Pakistani. My wish is to end the trial and for you to punish me,” he told the judge. He had previously pleaded not guilty to 86 offences, including murder and waging war against India, claiming that a confession had been beaten out of him.

Yesterday, however, he detailed how the Mumbai strike had been masterminded by Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, a senior member of the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist faction.

A recent AP story disclosed Italian police arrested two Pakistani men involved in financing aspects of the operation:

The day before the attacks began on Nov. 26 they allegedly sent money using a stolen identity to a U.S. company to activate Internet phone accounts used by the attackers and their handlers, said Stefano Fonsi, the head of anti-terror police in Brescia.

The transfer was just $229 but gave the attackers five lines over the Internet, which are difficult to trace and allowed militants to keep in touch even during the rampage, Mr. Fonsi said.

Italian police began the probe in December after being alerted by the FBI and Indian police about the transfer, Mr. Fonsi said…

The two suspects in Brescia, identified in a police statement as 60-year-old Mohammad Yaqub Janjua and 31-year-old Aamer Yaqub Janjua, are accused of aiding and abetting international terrorism as well as illegal financial activity. Their agency, which operated on the Western Union money transfer network, was seized by police.

Transferring funds using the identity of other people was a common practice at the Madina Trading agency in Brescia, and the Italian probe broke up a ring of people who used the system, Mr. Fonsi said.

Two more Pakistanis were arrested in Saturday’s raids for allegedly committing fraud, money laundering and other crimes through the masked transfers, but they were not linked to the Mumbai attacks. A fifth Pakistani man escaped arrest and was still being sought.

An additional 12 people were flagged to prosecutors for possible investigation but were not arrested, Mr. Fonsi said.

Just by using the stolen identity, the suspects had transferred some €400,000 ($590,000) between 2006 and 2008 to various countries. The network also used its contacts in Pakistan to help illegal immigrants enter Italy, Mr. Fonsi said.

What are the lessons we can learn from the Mumbai terrorist attacks? The first is recognizing the mayhem and destruction that can be accomplished with hand-held weapons. Bombs or other high explosives are not necessary. This was sadly made apparent by Major Malik Hasan’s recent rampage at Fort Hood. The second is realizing the extent of the global connections and networks established by these jihdists rather than narrowly focusing on South Asia. The third lesson regards the wisdom of trying people responsible for warlike acts in civilian courtrooms. While our system of jurisprudence is not as labyrinthine as the Indian courts, the delays in Kasab’s case are what we can likely expect in the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other Gitmo detainees.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of those killed and wounded in the Mumbai terrorist attacks. Remember what happened on this day one year ago.

Pakistan Taliban Leader Eliminated?

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baitullah-mehsud-mahsud

Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of Pakistani Taliban (Tehreek-e-Taliban) responsible for a wave of suicide attacks across Pakistan, was killed in a missile strike fired by a CIA Predator drone according to Pakistani officials. Mehsud, one of Pakistan’s most wanted terrorists, was widely regarded the mastermind of the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

The U.S. considered Mehsud less of a priority than Taliban operatives active in Afghanistan but nevertheless placed a $5 million bounty on his head back in March. CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies increased their efforts against Mehsud because they were concerned of the increasing brazenness of his attacks and the possibility that the Pakistani Taliban could destabilize Pakistan, a country considered integral to the U.S. war against Islamist extremists.

The U.S. has not confirmed that Mehsud was killed. American officials are conducting an investigation, including DNA tests, to see if the individual killed in the missile strike was indeed Mehsud. Pakistan and U.S. officials have confirmed that Mehsud’s second wife was killed in the blast.

Added (08/07):

U.S. counterintelligence official claims it is increasingly likely that Mehsud was killed

Pakistan Taliban confirm Mehsud is dead

[Drone airstrike video]

Rudresh Mahanthappa

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I am reluctant to say anything positive about The New Yorker but I had never heard of saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa prior to reading this article by Gary Giddens. Here is an excerpt:

Jazz musicians have two fundamental goals: creating music that keeps listeners wondering what’s next, and finding a novel context within which to explore old truths. (There are no new truths.) Whenever a musician achieves this synthesis, usually after years of apprenticeship and exploration, a rumble echoes through the jazz world.

Such a rumble was heard last fall, when the thirty-seven-year-old alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa released an astonishing album, “Kinsmen,” on a small New York-based label (Pi), quickly followed by another no less astonishing, “Apti,” on a small Minnesota-based label (Innova). The breakthrough had been a long time coming, and, curiously enough, it justifies ethnic assumptions that Mahanthappa had for much of his career been working to escape.

Later in the article Giddens discusses Mahanthappa’s exploration of the South Indian Carnatic musical tradition. This made things even more interesting. So much of the Indian music we hear in the West is from Northern India. Needless to say I found myself wanting to listen to some of his tunes after reading the article. If you are interested, he has a My Space page and a website.

Live at UMASS with the master of Carnatic saxophone Kadri Gopalnath and the rest of the “Kinsmen” crew: