Thursday, June 27, 2002

I Pledge Allegiance....

Do I like the ruling? Yes... of course I do. I think there is way too much reference to a GOD for a society that claims not to be secular, but to not allow religion and government to mix. Todays Washington Post Story on the ruling with regards to the pledge indicates that the 1954 Congressional insertion of the phrase "under God" into the pledge may violate the constitutional separation between church and state. Bush is quoted as saying, "There is a universal God, in my opinion. The Almighty is, obviously, an important part of my life, but a very important part of the life of our country. And that's why the ruling of the court was out of step with the traditions and history of America." Despite this view, the law suggests that there should be a separation of Church and State. I cannot wait to hear what the Christian Coalition and the Religious right have to say about this. I know that the most liberal of us reside on the Coasts and that the hearltand may be for a more religious country, but American democracy is supposed to be representative, and if there are those in this country who believe in something other than a GOD, or don't believe in God, then no more will they have to be isolated or be the minority. Typical with this administration, Bush said yesterday that the administration would challenge the ruling.

Here is a link to one of the first articles I wrote (April 2001) with regards to separation of church and state in America. "Frying Religion"

More India-Pakistan
I have been spending lots of time recently at the National Archives, so I just yesterday saw the interviews with Musharraf and Vajpayee conducted by the Washington Post. There is also an interview with the English Independent as well. I am really curious what the two of these guys are up to. For example, Musharraf, in this interview, now says that he never promised to stop infiltrations permanently. He says there is a "freedom struggle" going on in Kashmir. He is right, or rather, he was right. There was a legitimate freedom struggle in the early 1990's, and India must come up with a satisfactory political solution to fulfill its obligations to its people. Vajpayee on the other hand is talking about free and fair elections in Jammu and Kashmir state, and, in addition, economic development strategies for the state. This seems to be unsatisfactory for Musharraf, b/c it seems the Pakistani position (at least for Musharraf) is that since Kashmir is "disputed" elections should not happen there. Seeing Vajpayee's interview, shows that India is willing to engage in dialogue, but not as a quid pro quo for the temporary stopping of incursions. There seems to be the beginnings of an article here. Nevertheless, the interviews are a must read to get a better perspective on the whole thing.

Tuesday, June 25, 2002

Racial Profiling

The following is an account of Rajeev Sethi, "the celebrated Indian designer who created the Silk Road structures for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival" who was recently detained while trying to do research for a structure for the festival at the Pentagon's 9/11 memorial. It just seems overt almost, that in this new climate, Americans are almost inherently prejudiced against males of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent, maybe to the point where our government should just admit that if you are brown, we will suspect you of something. This might be an exaggeration, but as the expression goes, "the proof is in the pudding," and Sethi is just one example of this suspicion. (Just think about all the people of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent who have been taken off, or not allowed to board airplanes, the murders of Sikhs, etc. ).

More Calls for the VHP to be Banned
Here is a link to the Times of India story suggesting that now religious leaders in India want the VHP to be banned. I am just curious, what has taken so long?

Friday, June 21, 2002


Just added the commenting feature to the blog. I haven't had much time to figure the whole thing out just yet, but I wanted to register with YACCS while I had a chance. The look will change shortly.

Bombay Dreams

Andrew Lloyd Webber's first foray into South Asian Drama, Bombay Dreams seems to be getting a "qualified" thumbs up by many of the reviewers thus far. To be sure, all the reviews that I have read have been extremely positive with regards to A.R. Rahman's score (referred to in one reiew as the Mozart from Madras) and the choreography of Bollywood regular Farah Khan. The critics however seem to be most dismayed with the actual writing of the show by Meera Syal. Unfortunately, living in Washington D.C., has not afforded me the opportunity to see the play yet, but the first chance I get, I will be there.

Here are some reviews:
Bombay Nights and Westend Dreams from the Guardian
First Night Review from the Times online
Ovation for 'brilliant' Bombay Dreams from the BBC online
Bombay Dreams Receives Mixed Reaction from the Indian Express

Thursday, June 20, 2002

India-Pakistan Crisis and its effect on the Diaspora

What is very interesting about the South Asian Diaspora, or any diaspora that has strong ties with its homeland, is how homeland politics can effect relations. The Cuban-American diaspora is a great example of how Cuban politics can effect the community that reside mainly in Miami (or Cuba North as some say) . But, for South Asia, it is always an interesting issue, especially for the Western media, when tensions between India and Pakistan come to the brink. This past winter, when things were getting heated between India and Pakistan, the Washington Post did a story on the relations between Indians and Pakistanis in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Following up on this story, Washington Business Forward Magazine did a story on how tensions could effect the high tech sector comprised of so many South Asians. The article, which is well written, was researched back in February and March, and I guess as a result of the current rising of tensions, is now being printed. I think Josh Kurlantzick does a good job at laying out all the issues, although I am biased because Josh talked to me while doing research for the story. (Yeah, I had to do a little self promotion). I also like how he so fittingly mixes the game of Cricket into the mix.

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Much Ado About Nothing

I have been unsure as to whether I should comment on this Time Magazine controversey regarding the story on Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee. Despite not wanting to ad to the ranting, I will anyway.

So a Time Magazine columnist wrote a negative story on Vajpayee, I think we all should get over it. Vajpayee is a public figure, and if Alex Perry wants to report that Vajpayee is Asleep at the Wheel, then, as a journalist, he should be allowed. Organized burning of the magazine, I think, is a bit over the top.

"He drank heavily in his prime and still enjoys a nightly whiskey or two at 74. India's leader takes painkillers for his knees (which were replaced due to arthritis) and has trouble with his bladder, liver and his one remaining kidney. A taste for fried food and fatty sweets plays havoc with his cholesterol. He takes a three-hour snooze every afternoon on doctor's orders and is given to interminable silences, indecipherable ramblings and, not infrequently, falling asleep in meetings. Atal Behari Vajpayee, then, would be an unusual candidate to control a nuclear arsenal. But for four years the Indian Prime Minister's grandfatherly hands have held the subcontinent back from tumbling into war."

Sure, I think Perry's language is sensational, maybe even alarmist, but if he and his fact checkers believe the story is accurate, than, the whole tussle that the BJP, LK Advani, and anyone else who is wasting print on it is absurd.In fact, by paying the story so much attention, all the people who are outraged are actually helping Time out. I personally used to be a subscriber of the magazine, but realized that I would never renew my subscription after they chose Rudolph Guiliani as the person of the year, more for political reasons, than journalistic. Sure Guiliani influenced New York, and even America at some level, but the man, who for good or bad (that is Time's supposed criteria), affected the world the most was obviously Osama Bin Laden. I did end up seeing India Today'sperson of the year, and even they didn't sell out...they chose Osama.

Back to my point, Perry can write whatever he wants, if Vajpayee or anyone else doesn't like it, sure write about it like the editor of the Indian Pioneer Chandan Mitra, complain to the magazine, but to make such a "to do" about it at high levels of the Indian government, just increases its relevance.

Thursday, June 13, 2002

Immigrants and the Prom
Great article in yesterday's New York Times discussing Immigrants and The Prom. I am glad, that finally there is recognition of the differences in culture that make it difficult for immigrant parents to allow their children to participate in events that are percevied as typically "American." Sure, things like the prom seem harmless, but to the immigrant it is the unkown, or maybe the unfamiliar that is dangerous. Parents like the mother of Nowrin Khana , whether or not they should, think about the possible ramifications back home of their children participating. While this is something that must be overcome, it is no matter, still aprt of the mindset. What is so great about stories like this one is that it lets immigrants, especially those not in places like New York City, know that they are not alone in having to face issues such as these.

"Each day of being an American is an improvisation; each custom calls for examination. Here, even the choice of prom music — American R&B, Hindi hip-hop or salsa — calls for negotiation among cultures."

I think it also show that immigrants, especially those from South Asia, are growing in numbers, which inherently makes it easier for these immigrants to adjust. Susan Sachs, the author of the article suggests some correlation between Bollywood's increasing Westernization to the increasing opennes in the South Asian-immigrants mindset with regards to things like the prom, although I am not too convinced.

"In recent years, imported popular culture, like the Bollywood films that are wildly popular with South Asian immigrants, has helped push the boundaries of acceptable teenage behavior for immigrants.

"I'm stunned when I see Indian films these days," said Annetta Seecharran, the executive director of the South Asian Youth Action group in Queens. "They're totally westernized. They totally embrace the idea of dating and partying. It wasn't anything like that in my day."

Emboldened by those images and the strength of greater numbers, she said, teenagers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh seem better able to reconcile their identities. Many adopt American rituals like the senior prom as their own cultural right."

India-Pakistan Walking Away from the Brink...for now

There were two editorials today with regards to the India-Pakistan easing of tensions. Michael Igantius in the Washington Post credits the easing of tensions to good U.S. diplomacy. While I agree in part, good diplomacy, high level visits, and strong langauge to both India and Pakistan were beneficial, really good diplomacy would entail that tensions would not again rise. In my estimate, I can see tension rising again, oh in September or October when Musharraff decides he is unable to stop militants from entering across the Line of Control. Ignatius calls the crisis an ethnic one, "The ethnic roots of this crisis remain -- in a Muslim Kashmir that is ruled by a Hindu-controlled India." I tend to disagree, and think of it more as a political issue. It wasn't so much that the Muslims cannot live under Hindu rule, but that central to the Indian state is the ideal of secularism. If Kashmir was to go because it was a Muslim majority state, then other states too might have grounds for secession. Same with Pakistan as its identity is based on being a home for the Muslims of India. Pakistan too has its share of secessionary movements, and well, the fact that Bangladesh exists already disproves Paksitan's claims that it should control all of Kashmir on that basis. The best solution is for the two coutnries to accept the current Line of Control as the International Border. Another great line from Ignatius reads:

"Musharraf, in particular, deserves credit. For my money, he is the most courageous and visionary leader on the world scene today. What Musharraf decided was that, in the end, India and Pakistan were fighting a common enemy in the remnants of al Qaeda and the Taliban that had infiltrated Kashmir. This common enemy was responsible for last December's bombing of the Indian parliament, just as it was responsible for recent bombings of a church in Islamabad and a French group in Karachi. The same common enemy threatened two countries that were on the brink of war.

That insight made all the other diplomatic moves possible. What's more, I'm told by one of Musharraf's close military advisers that the Pakistani president concluded that elements of his own intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, were in part responsible for the rising wave of terrorism that was afflicting both Pakistan and India.

Musharraf recognized that the ISI had helped the Taliban (and its al Qaeda allies) take power in Afghanistan during the 1990s, a decade of political weakness and corruption in Pakistan. After they were driven from power in Afghanistan last fall by the United States, the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters drifted south and east -- into Pakistan and Kashmir -- where they posed a mortal threat to the subcontinent."

I would first tell Ignatius, that I will take his money. Musharraf, who I think has been great for Pakistan, is courageous. But to think that he is being rewarded for stopping State sponsored terror is quite disconcerting. Also, I think it is slighlty naive to think that he [Musharraf] just now realized that the ISI was involved in terror in Kashmir and with Al-Qaeda. Musharraf was instrumental in allowing these groups to operate until September 11. After all he led by example, he led the charge during the 1999 Kargil war. I guess editorial writers don't need to know too much about their topics before they begin to pontificate on them.

Surprisingly, on the other hand, was Nicholas Kristoff's editorial in the New York Times as he does the right thing andcalls everyone out, all the players, for acting foolish in South Asia.

"Everybody here is behaving irresponsibly. Both India and Pakistan are cavalierly playing with nuclear fire and brutalizing the Kashmiris they claim to be championing, while the Bush administration intervenes tardily to defuse crises rather than taking the initiative to prevent them from occurring in the first place. If a new August 1914 is to be definitively averted, President Bush must show continuing interest in the region when it is hot and also when it is not. But judging from his lack of engagement in countries not in the headlines, I wouldn't bet that he will."

Kristoff is right on. Nuclear blackmail by the Pakistanis just scares the world, while the Indians carelessly waste millions of dollars trying to flex conventional force muscle. The United States, concerned only with ITS war on terror, only gets involved when war is imminent, but only to diffuse crises, rather than defuse tensions. While the world is becoming smaller, it seems that the American self interest is still the motivator for all policy direction. I don't know if I am saying this too much, but what happens next time, when the insurgents cross the LOC again, and India cannot take Pakistan's word at face value. What about other issues affecting South Asia, what about HIV/AIDS, economic development, education, literacy? Stability levels could increase in both India and Pakistan if nations will start selling books and vaccines and boycott the sales of military equipment. (yeah that is naive thinking).

Monday, June 10, 2002

South or Southeast

My posts will be short this week because it is the last week of my summer class, and my final paper/presentation are due. This post in particular seems ridiculous to me, but I have to do it. Al Kamen's Washington Post column set me off.

"Southeast Asia Fashion: Cold Shoulders

The bitter dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir may be affecting logistics on the Sunday morning talk shows. Last week, all manner of contortions were undertaken so Fox News anchor Brit Hume could interview the local ambassadors from the two countries.

First the two ambassadors apparently eschewed using the same green room. Then, after Pakistan's ambassador, Maleeha Lodhi, was interviewed, she was taken out one way and the Indian ambassador, Lalit Mansing, was brought in through another door."

What is happening to fact checkers--it used to be that geographic regions were described properly and names were spelled correctly. In his column today he described India and Pakistan as being part of Southeast Asia. According to the United States government India and Pakistan are both part of SOUTH Asia. Mr. Kamen is not alone in his mischaracterization, so in order to set the record straight, i hope this post is valuable. In addition, the Indian Ambassador to the United States' last name is spelled Mansingh. This wasn't a typo because it is misspelled all of four times in the article. All one really has to do to find this is go to the Embassy website.

Saturday, June 08, 2002

Krishna Lila

I just reviewed a fantastic album by DJ Cheb i Sabbah entitled Krishna Lila. The review is posted on The Satya Circle, and the album can be purchased on the six degrees website, or amazon or barnes and nobles, etc. The cool thing about Sabbah is his ability to keep the tradition of the classical music intact, while still adding some modern electronic touches to the sounds. It also serves as a really good introduction to those unfamiliar with bhajans to hear them, as well as introducing those who listen to bhajans to the newer electronic musical styles.

Thursday, June 06, 2002

Kashmir-Terrorism-Political Repression

Todays Washington Post Editorial dealt with Kashmir (not that this is surprising) but in essence they suggested that the onus of the Kashmir problem be put on India, i.e. the reason that terrorism occurs in Kashmir is a result of the lack of political freedom offerred to the Kashmiri's. I am the first to agree that India has been too heavy handed with dealing with the Kashmiri's, and that an indigenous uprising is of course natural. I mean, if people are not offerred any way to voice their grievances, this will usually lead to violence.

"But the United States and other outside powers will find this crisis difficult to manage if they overlook the fact that underlying India's nominal casus belli -- terrorist attacks sponsored by Pakistan -- is a deeper substantive problem, concerning governance of Kashmir, that has been obscured and distorted by the vocabulary of 9/11."

My contention with the editorial is that the Post forgets that for the past ten years or so, the indigenous freedom movement has been completely hijacked by Pakistan sponsored Jehadi's, not to put pressure on the Indian government to give Kashmiris more political options, but solely so that international pressure will rise on India to allow Pakistan a forum to plead for Kashmir. Rather, Pakistan quite brilliantly co-opted the insurgency to use as an instrument to forward their goals with regards to Kashmir. It was a brilliant tactical move as it achieved exactly what the Pakistanis wanted and what the Indians didn't, the internationalization of the Kashmir dispute. Then of course, the September 11 attacks occurred.

The editorial does go on and discuss Vajpayee's attempts to work towards a political solution, but the damage is done. The editorial again places Kashmir in the same tone as Palestine, and the two places are completely different.

"Eighteen months ago, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee began an admirable effort to address the conflict politically, declaring a unilateral cease-fire, proposing negotiations with Kashmiri separatist groups and agreeing to discuss the issue at a summit meeting with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. The summit, however, did not go well, and the cease-fire failed. The Bush administration's subsequent definition of terrorism as a global evil seems to have encouraged Mr. Vajpayee to aspire to a goal that would have been out of reach before 9/11: forcing an end to Pakistan's support for the Kashmiri resistance without addressing the underlying political issues."

I am not sure anyone in the punditry really get it. Columnists/Pundits talk about a plebiscite, third party intervention, nuclear war, terrorism. But I don't know if any of those are correct. The obvious things seem to remain the same. Vajpayee's BJP has showed that if the violence slows, then talks and cease-fires are forthcoming. Without the cessation of cross-border insurgencies, the Indians (the people, not the government) will not be willing to let the situation continue as is. That is Vajpayee's concern as well, he has to try and keep his party in power, and war is often a great way to do it.

Musharraf on the other side of the border too has domestic political concerns. He has no real legitimacy. Sure he had a referendum, one which no state gives much credibility towards. So then, how is he domestically able to stop support of the Jehadi's. Kashmir is a Pakistani cause, not just because of the Islamic element to it, but, I think, the rivalry with India keeps them going, much like India's rivalry with the Chinese, or the West keeps them going.

Cessation of Cross-Border Terrorism= Indian willingness to move away from the brink of war= chances for talks= a greater political forum= more dialogue= peace in Kashmir. That is my naive formula.

Wednesday, June 05, 2002

The Onions Take on the South Asia Crisis

I love the Onion's take on South Asia. This is my favorite line, "If it does come down to a full-scale war, I'm siding with whichever country makes that awesome puffy bread." I bet if India and Pakistan could fight over who should take credit for naan, they probably would.

Tuesday, June 04, 2002

South Asia on my Mind

Well I have returned from the Windy City all full from eating too much deep dish pizza.

While being on vacation makes it hard to have time to actually follow exactly what is happening, I tried my hardest to remain apprised of current events. Before I left however, I was able to catch William Safire’s New York Times column of May 30, 2002. I think Safire is usually a brilliant columnist, but he dropped the ball on this one. He might want to read up a little more on South Asia, or just the history of the Kashmir dispute before trying to offer some helpful policy pointers to whoever [in the policy community] reads his column.

“1. Lean harder on Pakistan to assert internal sovereignty by warring on the terrorists, not wasting manpower by posturing against India's army. Sweeten this with non-military aid and trade openings from the European Union as well as the U.S.
2. Lean on India to agree to talks with Pakistan about Kashmir after Al Qaeda is rooted out and terror attacks cease from the Pakistani side of the Line of Control that splits Kashmir.
3. Start pushing the concept of "de facto autonomy" in divided Kashmir, as most of its residents want, without upsetting the current claims of sovereignty by both India and Pakistan. Both sides will deride this as a non-starter, but the object of such a temporary solution is to non-start a war. “

First of all, there can be no quid pro quo given to the Pakistanis for doing something they said they were going to do in September 2001 and again in January 2002. It has been six month after the fact, and I think George Bush was pretty clear when he said, “You are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” It seems, for some interesting reason, that Pakistan has been able to tread the gray area in that statement. What remains unclear is what else the U.S. is willing to do other than put tremendous diplomatic pressure on the Pakistani government to stop their transgressions? As long as U.S. interests lie in Afghanistan, the U.S. will not be able to realistically play “honest broker” in mediating this dispute. It is clear however, that diplomatic pressure has indeed worked on the Indians, at least for the time being anyway. My prediction remains that if indications suggest that insurgents are still crossing the border in September, than that is when the Indians will begin a conventional war.

And on the thrid point, I highly doubt giving de-facto autonomy to Kashmir could be done without upsetting either the Indians or the Pakistanis. Besides, who would do it, the U.S., the UN? Neither India nor Pakistan wants Kashmir to be autonomous, so that, I think won't happen.

The Washington Post Gets it On South Asia

Finally, someone taking a broader, and better look at the South Asia crisis. I really enjoyed William Arkin's column today. I think he contextualizes the crisis very well, especially this last part, a point that I have been trying to make, but don't think that I have accomplished it this well.

"But the truth is that as the U.S. has become more and more mono-focused on its terrorism war, Pakistan's linchpin position has conferred upon it not only freedom to operate but legitimate nuclear status.
The real issue isn't nuclear war but U.S. priorities. Which is more important for America? That Pakistan is given respect and deference as the host of U.S. forces continuing to fight in Afghanistan? Or that it is host to the worst international terrorist forces in the world, forces that continue to not only grow, but seem happy to fight "over" Kashmir and take advantage of two flawed and weakened states for an even larger destructive cause?"

I also like that someone is playing down the danger of nuclear war in South Asia. Yes, India and Pakistan are composed of mostly brown skinned, primarily non-white, non-Christian people. However, they are not stupid, and do indeed have some safeguards set up.

I am also linking to a transcript of Don Rumsfeld with Washington Post discussing the South Asia Crisis.

And finally, I would like to thank both Sathish Ramakrishnan and Suman Palit for their very kind words on DESIBLOG. I am glad that some people are actually reading.