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Urdunama: Intelligence Failure

Pakistan’s military and political leadership is scrambling to explain how Osama bin Laden came to be living in a house in Abbottabad, 60 miles from Islamabad, as well as trying to assuage people’s concerns about the military and intelligence apparatus’ inability to detect or challenge the U.S.’s so-called breach of sovereignty.

Under attack from all corners, Pakistan is attempting to fall back on “allies” not named America.  While Prime Minister Gilani eulogized Pakistan’s ties to China in a manner most poetic, Pakistan dispatched Interior Minister Rehman Malik to Saudi Arabia for consultations.  In the seaport city of Jeddah, Mr. Malik spoke to al-Arabiya, in an interview charged with rhetoric and unseemly comparisons.  Below is an excerpt from Daily Pak:

Rehman Malik, in speaking with an Arabic newspaper said that Osama bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan was an intelligence failure, in the same way that 9/11 was a failure of U.S. intelligence agencies.  But this doesn’t mean that Pakistan’s intelligence agencies harbor terrorists.  Mr. Malik said that there would not be any calls for resignation of anyone from the political or military establishments, just as no one from U.S.’s political or military establishment resigned as a result of 9/11.  To those accusing Pakistan of connivance, Mr. Malik asks, who created Osama bin Laden?  Who used bin Laden against the Russians in Afghanistan?

He said that Pakistan had never allowed Osama bin Laden to come to Pakistan.  Mr. Malik also stated that the essence of the problem was the lack of trust between Pakistan and the U.S.  In response to another question, Mr. Malik said that if India attempted any operations against Pakistan, it would be given a befitting reply to its misadventure. [روزنامہ پاکستان]


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Float a political party, Mr. Hazare!

Yadha Praja, Tatha Rajya!

Mr. Hazare’s protests at Jantar Mantar and the subsequent caving in of a supine government have set a dangerous precedent.  A lakshman rekha was crossed, but the transgression was roundly praised by our citizens, the government and the opposition.  During his hunger strike, Mr. Hazare ensured that the “movement” remained insulated from India’s political class.  A line was being drawn in the sand.  We were told that this was a movement by “civil society.” The implication there being that politicians weren’t of the society.  In some of my interactions, I’ve been told by citizens that the politicians did not represent them.

So I inquire — these politicians just sort of descended from the heavens and onto their respective thrones in New Delhi, did they?

Today, the most corrupt and incompetent government in this country’s history holds office at a time when political apathy among citizens is at an all time high.  When cases of mismanagement and malgovernance are highlighted — most tellingly after 26/11 — the first reaction of our citizens is to disengage from governance, when they should have been re-engaging. Shamefully, after innumerable candle-light vigils and endless poetry, 60% of Mumbai didn’t bother to turn up to cast their votes in the general elections held five months after the most heinous crime was orchestrated against the city’s citizens.  In India today, we vote on reality shows, not general elections.

Mr. Hazare may have succeeded in inducing a raucous, but misguided group of individuals into joining his movement, but what does that really mean in the context of the world’s largest democracy? In an interview, Mr. Hazare stated that he didn’t even think he could save his security deposit, let alone win, if he contested elections. And they say he represents India!  Further, Mr. Hazare seemed to blame the likelihood of his loss on bribes offered to voters by potential political opponents in exchange for their votes.

But for this concatenation of circumstances to materialize, there has to be an equal and opposite bribe accepted for every bribe offered.  And if India’s voters — members of our “civil society” — are themselves willing participants in the institution of political graft, then why is Mr. Hazare’s rage directed entirely at India’s political establishment? Does our civil society bear no responsibility?  Our ancient texts tell us — yadha raja, tatha praja (as a leader, so his people).  But in our representative democracy, our country and its leaders are of the people.  Yadha praja, tatha rajya!

Mr. Hazare’s credentials as an “anti-corruption crusader” are known to all.  But the most important education he can impart to India’s restless populace is that sustainable change for the better can only be the product of engagement — not disengagement — with the governance of the country.  Participating in electing India’s representatives is a part, but not the full extent, of this engagement.  Building and empowering institutions that make a democracy work requires patience, perseverance, and above all, a belief in the system of government that we have chosen for ourselves.

To that end, we must call upon Mr. Hazare to engage in the governance of the country by floating a political party (or joining one, if he believes that the barriers to entry are prohibitive).  Mr. Hazare must give India’s electorate the benefit of deciding for itself whether or not and to what extent it believes in his message.  If what his followers say is indeed true — that he “represents” India — it should follow that he will be able to address the many social and economic ills that plague India when he is empowered with the people’s mandate.

But attempting to hijack legislative due process by inserting himself into the equation without representation undermines our way of life.  And those of us that believe in the sanctity of our democratic republic must unabashedly stand up to voice our opposition to it, even as we haul up this government’s ambivalence towards corruption and malgovernance.

Related reading: Nitin Pai: Against Lok Pal and the politics of hunger strikes; Amba Salelkar: The Jan Lokpal Bill: Good intentions and the road to hell; Indian Express editorial: Rs 100, a sari, a bottle.


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Rocking the Casbah

Social mobilization and the role of the Internet in the Middle East

In the midst of massive street protests, Egypt’s National Democratic Party (NDP) decided to pull the plug on about 3,500 border gateway protocol (BGP) routes to Egypt, thereby cutting off the country from the Internet.  A significant step, because much of the mobilization for the disobedience movement occurred through social networking platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

My colleague at the Takshashila Institution, Srijith, writes on the importance of importance of an open, unfiltered Internet to any democratic setup.

For reasons beyond merely Egypt’s ability to control information flow, this blog had previously articulated why Egypt will not go the way of Tunisia.  Even as Cairo simmers, The Filter Coffee stands by that argument.  But the Egyptian experience raises interesting questions on the role of the Internet as a tool to mobilize and sustain social movements in the Middle East, more so the Arabian Peninsula. It also raises questions about the scope for a Tunisia-style social upheaval in the Peninsula.

Consider this excerpt from Bogon Monitoring (via Vyūha)

Yesterday there were 2903 Egyptian networks, originated from 52  ISP’s. Transit was provided via 45 unique isp’s. Today at 2am UTC, the numbers look quite different, there were only 327 Egyptian networks left on the Internet. These were originated 26 by ISP’s.So 88% of the Egyptian networks is unreachable! [BGPmon]

Social upheavals are few and far between in the Peninsula.  Certainly, no precedence exists in the modern history of the states that form the GCC of any such upheaval.  There have been occasional bouts of unrest in Bahrain, but those are largely on sectarian grounds.

So hypothetically, if social, political and economic circumstances in any country in the Peninsula came to mirror those Egypt or Tunisia, could a popular uprising even be mobilized?  The NDP was able to render 50% of Egypt’s ISPs (some, presumably, privately-owned) inoperable in a relatively short span of time.  In the Gulf, of course, there are but a handful of ISPs in each country, and even that is a charitable numeration.

The UAE, for example, has 5 (1 major, 4 minor) ISPs.  These are either wholly-owned by the regimes or operate at their will.  As telecommunications companies, these operators also provide a variety of other services — cable TV, telephone and mobile communication.  If there is the slightest probability of a popular mobilization in the Gulf, it is almost certain than there will be a virtual information blackout.  Western governments will, of course, pressure these regimes to restore communication, but only to a point, for they too understand the implications of instability in that part of the world.

Therefore, if social media is to be  a vehicle for the democratization of the Middle East through social movements, what hope does it give those who romanticize of a “liberated” Middle East?  The answer should worry such proponents.

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Introducing The Filter Coffee

The Filter Coffee is a new blog on The Indian National Interest (INI) focusing on Indian foreign policy, strategic affairs, defense and governance.  The blog, in its previous incarnation on WordPress.com, has existed for over a year and a half.  This move to INI is part of a progression which allows for a collaboration and exchange of ideas with like-minded bloggers via a common platform.

In an October, 2009 blogpost, I wrote:

The Filter Coffee has long held the position that discussion on the defense of India needs to move away from think tanks and into our living rooms. It is only then that true accountability can be demanded, both from the system, riddled as it is with bureaucratic inefficiency and corruption, and from the media, who today get a free pass on peddling half-truths and sweeping generalizations on an unsuspecting public.

Indeed, the focus of this blog shall remain dedicated to raising awareness of issues relating to foreign policy, defense, strategic affairs and governance so that India’s citizens can demand the accountability they deserve from their elected representatives on the pursuit of India’s national interests.

Navigating the intricacies and nuances of issues of such complexity is an education by itself.  I am delighted to welcome readers, old and new, to share this educational experience with me and with all those who share similar interests.

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