Jul 272004

……. is somewhere between US$500 and US$ 2500 in occupied Iraq. Yes, I know that power was “handed” over, but as long as the US Armed forces remain on Iraqi soil, with the kind of mandate that they have – Iraq will remain occupied.

In one of the most numbing articles I have read in a long time, foreign correspondent James Meek describes, in The Guardian, the situation on the ground. The promo for the article – reads like something out of a Woody Allen farce, except that it is not funny.

The rebels attack because the marines are there. The marines are there because the rebels attack. In an extraordinary dispatch, foreign correspondent of the year James Meek describes life in a Catch-22 world where a human life is valued at $500, the mercury rarely falls below 40 and the daily carnage goes largely unreported

Meek acts as a fly on the wall. He starts the report with negotiations between US army lawyers and bereaved families for compenation for Iraqis killed by mistake. (oops my trigger finger slipped)
He describes the interaction

“Coalition forces regret the loss of your brother,” said the lawyer. His name was Captain Jonathan Vaughn. “We understand it is a great loss to your family. We wish to offer something to you by way of sympathy and sorrow to help your family to rebuild after the loss of your brother. My commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Buhel, has authorised me to pay you $500 as sympathy for your loss. We understand that it is not enough money and nothing can replace the loss to your family. We wish that this small gift will help in some way. Much of the money that we had previously, the coalition forces have transferred to your government to help rebuild. We wish the best for you and your family and your country as you do rebuild. Thank you very much.”

He adds that:

The marines don’t like to call it blood money, but it is money paid for human blood spilled. A lot of blood, Iraqi and American, has been spilled in Karmah and Fallujah, in the heart of rebel country. The marines in this area have paid out roughly $3.5m in compensation for damage, death and injury since April. The money is paid at the local marine commanders’ discretion, and since it comes from the same funds that buy fresh food or air conditioners for the commanders’ troops, and since it is possible that at least some of the Iraqi casualties were part of the armed resistance to the American presence, the incentive to pay out is not great. There is a limit of $2,500 per death but now the marines are paying much less.

While I am still willing to believe that the US administration went in with good intentions, there is something tragically wrong in the way they are going about it. It seems like a jittery, jumpy and incompetent army that is so terrified that it will kiill anyone to stay safe, and will pay to wash blood off its paperwork.

You end up feeling for the American soldier, someone who I really believe has got a raw deal out of this whole sad affair. There is an amazing quote from a young Captain,

“It’s a snake eating its tail,” said Captain Clark that evening. “We are here to help the people but it’s difficult. If we left, would the IEDs go away? I think they would stop targeting us and start targeting the local authorities. It would be just another regime that ruled by intimidation and fear. If I didn’t believe in the mission, it would be like Columbus not believing in Copernicus.”

But, the fact remains that the mission was terribly compromised right from the beginng. the moment Bush and Blair began the war against the WMD, and then tried to pass it off as the war on terror. An army badly trained for keeping peace, a population that is jumpy about losing soldiers, and a occupied territory where fundamentalism is rearing its ugly head – sounds like a receipe for a horror film.

Finally, if it was my family – my father, my brothers, my sister or my mother that was accidently shot by the occupying force, I wouldn’t want USD 500, I would want someone’s head – prefrebly after i had hacked it off the body myself. And I am a pacifist., atleast I believed I was

Jul 242004

I was surprised to hear that there was something called the World Stupidity Awards, but not really surpised that George W Bush won.

Everytime I see him in action, I thank God for being born an Indian and being blessed with an intelligent political leadership:). And everyone who knows me will know that I think that Indian politicians are at the bottom of the IQ pile – slightly below mentally retarded hedgehogs.

Bush incidentally tied with Blair for the first place for the Stupidest Man in the World, won the stupidest Government of the year and the Stupidest Statement of the year for the statement “Mission Accomplished”.

Saddam Hussein won the Lifetime Achievement Award for Stupidity and Fox News won the “Media Outlet Which Has Made the Greatest Contribution to Furthering Ignorance Worldwide”

The event was organised by the Main Organization Revealing Obvious Numbskulls (MORON).

Jun 202004

…. (if you kill one of ours, we will kill four of yours) – or something very close to that – were the immortal lines spoken in the film Sholay.

The scene is stark – Ahmed (Sachin) on his way to town for a job has been murdered by Gabbar Singh and gang in cold blood. Gabbar (Amjad Khan) has demanded the heads of Jay (Amitabh Bachchan) and Veeru (Dharmendra). 4 villains ride in to the appointed spot where Jai and Veeru are playing possum. They shoot the 4 dead and send their bodies back to Gabbar with a note – tum hamara ek marega, to hum tumhara char marega..

Today’s Saudi Raid on the Al Qaeda terrorists reminded me of that scene. Except for one difference – the village in Sholay did not throw up Gabbar and his gang. Saudi Arabia has created, nurtured and unleashed both Wahabi Fundamentalism and the Al Qaeda on the rest of the world.

It is also ironic that a day after an unarmed, civillian – Paul Johnson – is murdered – the Saudi Military miraculously figures out where to go to get the bad guys. Even Bollywood can come up with better scripts than that.

With news coming in that large chunks of the Saudi military being subverted by the Al Qaeda, and abetting the murder by decapitation of American Paul Johnson, it seems that the Saudi terror chickens are coming home to roost.

For long the Saudi funded groups have been fostering hate through out Asia and much of the Muslim world. Recent unrest in countries like Indonesia, Bangladesh and Pakistan have been fostered by Wahabi madarassas that provide cannon fodder for the Al Qaeda. The saddest part is that before they turned their sights on westerners, they have been spreading the same kind of terror amongst ordinary Muslims. Indian soldiers have come home in body bags because of the Saudi Policy.

The Saudi’s have to take a long hard look at what they have become – and possibly start some measures of allowing basic freedom in that part of the world. This does not necessarily mean Democracy. It could simply be the freedom to express your views without being sent to the concentration camp.

Jun 102004

Had Ronald Reagan not died, he would have enjoyed reading his obituaries. Much of it has been at two extremes. Those on the left who villify him and those on the right who deify him. But, to be fair, compared to the current crop of international leaders, Reagan was definitely a giant. Blair plus Bush will not equal a Reagan.

Having said that, this is the same Reagan who screwed Nicaragua. who propped up the Taliban. Who intervened disastrously in Lebanon. who oversaw the trading of drugs for arms so that both the Contras and the Iranians are happy.

So it was very refreshing reading one of my favourite coloumnists Sidney Blumenthal on the Reagan Legacy. Especially interesting was the comment that it was the abandoning of an extreme right wing agenda and the going back to negotiation that rescued his presidency.

Now, George W Bush eulogises Reagan as his example. Bush has his own doctrine, a Manichean battle with evildoers, and an army of neoconservatives to lend complex rationalisations to his simplifications. Yet Reagan was saved by the wholesale firing of the neoconservatives, the rejection of conservative dogma and a deliberate strategy to transcend his old typecasting. It is why he rose above his ruin, and rides, even in death, into the sunset of a happy Hollywood ending.

I actually must say that i liked Reagan – despite his policies. Compared to Thatcher he seemed like a crinkley old grandfather – who was from a different era. I dont’ remember him attracting the same kind of virtriol that a Bush does. But maybe, that’s because it was a bigger world then – no net – and no means for the vitriol to get around

Jun 032004

In A Plea for Enlightened Moderation, President Musharaff – no less makes an impassioned plea – for, well, enlightened moderation. He says:

The world has become an extremely dangerous place. The devastating power of plastic explosives, combined with high-tech remote-controlled devices, as well as a proliferation of suicide bombers, has created a lethal force that is all but impossible to counter.

All of us in Mumbai remember the Mumbai blasts – where ordinary citizens of all faiths perished. Its’ perpetrators are sitting comfortable in Karachi and other Pakistani cities – maybe handing them over for trial would be an extension of his philosophy of enlightened moderation.

General Musharaf reveals

My idea for untangling this knot is Enlightened Moderation, which I think is a win for all — for both the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds. It is a two-pronged strategy. The first part is for the Muslim world to shun militancy and extremism and adopt the path of socioeconomic uplift. The second is for the West, and the United States in particular, to seek to resolve all political disputes with justice and to aid in the socioeconomic betterment of the deprived Muslim world.

Societies will shun militancy if Governments no longer make it convinient for violence to flourish in the state. One can no longer call for a Jihad in Kashmir or a Karachi against people who aren’t like you. Be those Hindu Pandits orMuslim Mohajirs. Pontificating on the ideal state and practising it, are really two different things.

For socio economic upliftment all sections of the society – especially women – have to have equal opportunities for education. Once they have acquired education, then employment has to be generated. for that industry has to exist. For industry, economics and society to flourish there needs to be a guarantee of basic rights and freedoms. Power is something that rulers of Islamic States have to devlolve back to the people – How many of you have the moral courage and the love of your nation to give up power.

Most of what General Musharaf says makes sense – and i hope for a change – it is the statesman looking to leave an enduring mark in history talking, not a conniving politician out playing to the gallery. The world can do with Good News, and if General Musharaf is even partly serious about what he has written about – he deserves full support.