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Archive | February, 2011

Oscar night levity: Fluoridation

Did Colonel Qaddafi get his inspiration from General Ripper?

In Col. Qaddafi’s rambling address to his nation and the world (Youtube — 1, 2, 3), he accused Osama bin Laden of plotting against Libya and blamed the protests on the street on the country’s youth who he said had been drugged via “hallucinatory pills in their drinks, their milk, their Nescafe.”

The good Colonel has been a staunch, lifelong opponent of the “decadence of Western culture” (mostly when it works against him). So on this Oscar Awards night, I find it odd that he might have drawn inspiration for that fiery speech from a Hollywood production.

In Dr. Strangelove, General Ripper orders his nuclear-armed B-52s to attack Russia, seals his base, cuts communication with the Pentagon and orders his troops to open fire on anyone approaching his base. In the backdrop of a pitched battle between base forces and U.S. army troops, Gen. Ripper expounds on his theory about fluoridation and the “purity and essence of natural fluids” to a visibly frightened Group Captain Mandrake.

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Filtered Café

The government’s proposed legislation on cyber cafés is misplaced.

At the outset, thanks to both @PRSLegislative and @_R_Srikanth for alerting me to a draft legislation put forward by the Department of Information Technology (DIT) on governing the workings of cyber cafés in India.  The government has published the draft legislation and sought feedback from citizens, by February 28, 2011.  A copy of the draft legislation is available here.

PRSLegislative summarizes the legislation thus:

The draft regulations requires every cyber café to have a license and give internet access to people after they prove their identity to the satisfaction of the cyber café.  The cyber cafés are required to maintain the logs of users and of websites accessed by users. Cyber cafés are also required to ensure that their service is not utilised by people for any illegal activity or for viewing pornography.  There are requirements on the physical layout of the cyber café — for example, they need to prominently display a board stating that users may not view pornography. [PRSLegislative]

There are several issues with the government’s proposal, of which some are articulated below (those concerned about the proposed legislation are encouraged to respond to DIT directly via the email address provided in  PRSLegislative’s blog):

The first question that such a proposed legislation raises is one of objectives.  I.e., what does the government hope to achieve by seeing the implementation of the security provisions in the proposed legislation?  If the idea is essentially one pertaining to national security — i.e., denying vulnerable systems or networks to individuals who can use them to aid in plotting against the nation, then some security prescriptions outlined appear incongrous to this objective (more on them later).

Second, while the government’s desire to establish the identity of individuals using the café’s wireless network can certainly be appreciated, the proposed legislation does not account for the fact that individuals visiting cyber cafés may just as easily use their own laptops — either within the premises of the cyber café, or in its vicinity (with or without the permission or knowledge of the owners, depending on how wireless access points are set up).

Third, unless the government is reasonably sure that none of India’s 81 million Internet users access “obscene” material or pornography within the confines of their homes, or that the government fully expects to track, identify and fully prosecute everyone that does, expecting cyber cafés to warn or to otherwise deter accessing whatever the government may consider “obscene” (not defined) is beyond ridiculous.

The question of whether or not a democratic government should have the right to dictate to its citizens, under whose consent it governs, as to what they can or cannot see is another issue (for the record, no it shouldn’t). Again, the question here is about objectives.  If this is about national security, then this particular provision conflicts with the overall objective of the proposed legislation.

Next, how does the government plan to monitor cyber cafés to ensure they comply with the required standards?  The Cyber Café Association of India itself has a membership of 180,000 cyber cafés and 40,000 Internet kiosks. It is safe to assume that the entire population of cyber cafés in India is considerably larger.  Unless the government has adequate financial and manpower resources to regularly ensure compliance, the legislation becomes meaningless.

Further, whenever physical or logical security requirements are mandated, there are costs associated with them.  These will have to be borne by the cyber cafés (who will need to invest time and money in installing and monitoring services) and by the government (to ensure that standards are being adhered to).  Additionally, cyber cafés will need to obtain a license (unsure if these are different from the licenses that cyber cafés are already required to obtain), which, no doubt, will have costs associated with it, which eventually will be passed on to their patrons.

The whole point of security, however, is that it must be an enabler, not a deterrent to business.  Some of the provisions articulated in the proposed legislation are indeed laudable (the intent to protect minors, deter terrorists and their collaborators, etc.), however, when taken as a whole, the proposed legilation will have a negative impact on cyber cafés in India.  Especially if the government is unclear about the raison d’être for this legislation and doesn’t really have any desire or ability to enforce the provisions of the legislation.

It will be an example of a clueless GoI chasing its own tail, and unfortunately, not for the first time.


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Phasing out India’s MiGs

Who’s in charge of holding the Defense Minister accountable?

Addressing members of the Rajya Sabha, AK Antony claimed that the process to phase out India’s MiGs would begin in 2014 and would be complete by 2017:

“We have got a clear-cut plan to replace them. By 2017, the entire MiG series will be replaced in a phased manner, that is from 2014 onwards,” said defence minister A K Antony in Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.

In the years ahead, India’s frontline combat fighters will have 270 Russian Sukhoi-30MKIs already being inducted for around $12 billion, the 126 new medium multi-role combat aircraft to be acquired in the $10.4 billion MMRCA project and the 250 to 300 fifth-generation fighter aircraft to be built with Russia in the gigantic $35 billion project.

Antony, on his part, assured Parliament that large-scale induction of Sukhoi-30MKIs, LCA and MMRCA would take place within the next few years, while acknowledging such an exercise could not take place in the past due to “historical reasons”. [The Times of India]

The perceptive among us no doubt realize that 2014 is three years — or 36 months — away.  Mr. Antony is claiming that within the next 36 months, he will begin phasing-out IAF’s aging MiG’s with 126 combat aircraft from an as-yet-undetermined vendor.  Even if we are to believe that the MMRCA deal will be concluded this year, there is no reason to suggest that the process from agreement-to-induction can be accomplished within the span of 3 years.

Mr. Antony also expects the IAF to begin replacing MiG-21s with Tejas LCAs (conceptualized 30 years ago) by the end of 2013. The fact that the indigenously developed Kaveri engine expected to power Tejas has been a disaster, and is, by his own admission, still “under development” (after 20 years) hasn’t damned his spirits apparently.

Even if we are to go by Mr. Antony’s word, the most optimistic assessments put an FGFA induction to the latter-half of 2017.  It is far from clear what HAL’s role will be in the development of the Indian version of the FGFA (and indeed, whether or not this will actually be the joint-development project with Sukhoi that India seems to portraying it to be), suffice to say that discussions are at a very early stage and inordinate delays are only to be expected, given our history of defense acquisitions from Russia. (Indeed, delivery and cost overruns of our previous big-ticket deal with Sukhoi were the subject of comment in a CAG audit report issued in 2000).

Given these facts, the answers provided by the Defense Minister did not strike anyone — not our MPs, and certainly not Mr. Antony himself — as odd and unrealistic.  Not one question on the answers provided by Mr. Antony was raised.  After all, in accordance with tradition in India, we do not interrogate our leaders.

So much for accountability.

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Urdunama: Raymond Davis

It has surfaced that Raymond Davis, the U.S. citizen arrested in Lahore for killing two Pakistanis, is actually a CIA contractor who provided security to agency stations in Pakistan.  This will further complicate matters between the U.S. and Pakistan on the status of Mr. Davis.

The shrillness and rhetoric in Pakistan’s Urdu press, which has led a campaign for capital punishment for Mr. Davis since his capture, will only grow.  As an example, Roznama Ausaf’s February 22 editorial challenges the U.S. to make good on threats from some quarters in D.C. to withhold military and non-military aid to Pakistan if Mr. Davis is not released.  An excerpt of the editorial follows:

America will continue its “carrot and stick” policy with Pakistan.  It will try to bribe its way out of its current predicament.  But does it not realize that a country of 170 million people with one the finest armed forces in the world cannot be bought?  The U.S. will probably increase the amount of money it is willing to pay to seek the release of Raymond Davis.  Mr. Davis’ importance to the U.S is apparent given the lengths to which they are prepared to go to secure his release.  No doubt, he was part of a larger U.S. conspiracy against Pakistan.

The U.S. may also threaten to withdraw military and non-military aid to Pakistan.  However, if they do follow through on this threat, what do they think will happen to Pakistan’s military operations in FATA?  Does the U.S. realize what impact a Pakistani withdrawal from FATA will have on its war in Afghanistan?

This isn’t the first time that Pakistan would have had to face sanctions from the U.S.  Each time the U.S. has punished us with economic and military sanctions, Pakistan has responded — by becoming a nuclear power, by upgrading our missile technology, and by strengthening our armed forces.   Let the U.S. be under no illusions that once that “safety valve” that Pakistan has kept secure in the tribal regions is open, the U.S. will not be able to deal with the repercussions, even after spending another trillion dollars.

It is therefore advisable that the U.S. come clean about all its activities in Pakistan, ask for forgiveness, and allow Raymond Davis to suffer the consequences of his actions.   Times have changed. [روزنامہ اوصاف]

An approximate Hindi translation of Ausaf’s editorial can be accessed here (thanks @SundeepDougal).  Also follow my monthly review of Urdu and Arabic news media in Pragati.

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