Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Indian Premier League most likely goes to South Africa

Maybe the name should be changed to that of the NRI Premiere League now; given that more NRI's will now be watching the match live at the ground rather than Indians. Last year, the Indian Premier League (after initial criticism of the high costs involved), turned into a spectacular crowd fest, with huge audience participation. The T-20 cricket tournament was a huge TV success, to the extent that movie makers were reluctant to release movies in the same time frame. So, when the cricket tournament was planned for the second run this year, there was a wide spread anticipation that the tournament would be even bigger and more spectacular this year.
And then the attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers in Pakistan, the neighboring country where attacks by militants are common. The attack was the first manifestation that radical elements were starting to attack the popular game of cricket; the first reaction was to lay out the differences between India and Pakistan in term of security and to emphasize that playing of the game was safe in India. One does not want the perception that the security situation in India is so bad that the Government cannot ensure security for international sportspersons. After all, the Commonwealth Games are planned for 2010, and security is one of the critical points.
However, it soon became clear that the Government did not really care about this logic; the argument that was becoming clear was that holding the IPL in India would not lend anything positive to the Government; however, if any security incident happened during this duration, the BJP would pounce upon the incident as another symptom of the Government being soft on terror; so the apparent simpler option was to get various Congress states to announce that they could not arrange for the proper security of the event. Here is an extract from an article that criticizes the action by the Government of India (link to article):

In the course of just one successful season, IPL had become one of the biggest global brands, comparable to Wimbledon and the football World Cup. An outpouring of meanness drove the Nano plant out of West Bengal. Last week, P Chidambaram donned the mantle of Mamata Banerjee and forced IPL out of India. Like Mamata, who felt that Ratan Tata could be browbeaten because he was a hostage to money already invested in Singur, North Block proceeded on the assumption that the IPL was a helpless captive. And just as Tata had to cut his losses and resist blackmail politics, Lalit Modi inveigled IPL out of a desperate situation with a daredevil flight to South Africa.
It is more than a little curious that the IPL faced resistance only from the Congress-ruled states. It was the firm no from Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Delhi that finally clinched the issue in favour of South Africa. In Delhi, where policing is under the direct purview of the Centre, even chief minister Sheila Dikshit was in favour of hosting matches. Yet, the police chief informed her and Delhi Cricket Association president Arun Jaitley that no permission would be forthcoming before, during and after the polling. As far as the Centre was concerned, IPL could go to hell.

There are multiple reasons why the Congress could have done this. The Congress is not particularly happy with Sharad Pawar, and even less so with Lalit Modi, and would have thought that the IPL would have to be postponed; however, the move to take the IPL out of the country was not something that the Congress liked either. So when the IPL move out of India was announced on security considerations, the Government criticized the move as trying to play politics with sports, and so on. Strange objection, given that the reason that the IPL could not be held as per schedule was that the games were supposed to be clashing with elections and that no forces could be spared for the games (the country cannot arrange for enough security to cover an event such as IPL when the elections are going on ? What happens if something serious take place on the Pakistan border ? Where will the required forces be found then ?)

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:45 AM    

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sending a drunk pillion rider to jail

For some time now, the Mumbai police has been waging an intense campaign against drunk driving, including the use of jail time (anywhere from 1 day to multiple days) as part of the measures against drunk driving. This had surprised many people since observing traffic laws (including road safety laws such as not drinking and driving) is a common problem that India faces, and not too many states had done serious prosecution of such cases (contrast this with the measures taken in states such as Singapore and the United States where you better not be caught drinking and driving). The high number of cases of accidents and fatalities where drunk driving is a factor are incredible; it is absolutely necessary that such campaigns continue.
Here is a case in Mumbai where the police prosecuted a drunk motorcyclist as well as the pillion rider for the crime of drunk driving and got them sent to simple custody for a period of 7 days. This punishment is the longest period of punishment for the crime of drunk driving so far in Mumbai, and the terms of the punishment were also enhanced due to a fine as well as the driving license of the motorcyclist being suspended for a period of 6 months (link to article):

A Girgaum metropolitan court on Monday sentenced a pillion rider to seven days' imprisonment for abetting drunk driving. This is the longest sentence awarded in such cases so far. "The biker too got the same punishment. Both were in an inebriated state,'' an official said. The drunken duo, Abdul Karim and Kadir Shaikh, was also asked to pay a fine of Rs 2,000. The driving licence of Karim, who was riding the bike, has been suspended for six months by the court. The two will now have to cool their heels in the Byculla jail for a week.
Tests showed 245 mg of liquor in Karim's blood and 83 mg of liquor in Shaikh's blood. Shaikh was booked under Section 188 of the Motor Vehicles Act,'' a policeman said. "We argued in court that Shaikh had not stopped Karim from riding the bike despite being aware that the latter was drunk and could cause an accident,'' sub-inspector P K Naik of Tardeo traffic division said. Abetting drunk driving attracts the same punishment as the offence of drunk driving (Section 185 of the Motor Vehicles Act). No lawyer represented the duo in court.

Drunk driving not is a menace to society because of the danger to others, but also threatens the drunk drivers themselves; who can forget the cases in Delhi where many young adults have been needlessly killed when their cars (being driven by drunk people) have crashed at high speeds. The nation can ill afford these losses.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:38 AM    

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A lot of tension in Pakistan

Pakistan is again in the middle of incredible political turmoil, something that the country thought it had escaped from after the previous election that brought Zardari and the Pakistan Peoples Party to power. Zardari has made a strong pitch for keeping his powers strong and unchallenged, by trying to crush the movement led by Sharif against the Government. The issues are politically inter-locked and very complex.
This movement was precipitated by the judgment by the Pakistani Supreme Court that ruled the Sharif brothers ineligible to stand for elections, a judgment that deals a death blow to the political ambitions of Nawaz Sharif and which he is blaming on influence by the Zardari Government. The latest reports from Pakistan are that Nawaz Sharif has been placed under house arrest for 3 days in an attempt to quell the movement and stop the campaign. The political paralysis can cause the Pakistani Government to take its eye off the major problems that face Pakistan.
- Pakistan is facing an incredible movement by the terrorists and Islamic fanatics to take over increasingly large sections of the country and bring these regions under their influence. This is a violent campaign that is very brutal, and which the army and the political leadership are unwilling to fully face (and supposedly because the army is unwilling to abandon the religious warriors, seeing them as an instrument that can help shape the strategic aims of Pakistan in Afghanistan and Kashmir). The takeover by the Taliban of the Swat valley is still unfolding before the international community, and everybody is still shocked.
- After the latest terror attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team, Pakistan is now thoroughly dubbed as a very unsafe place, and all sort of tourism and foreign interest is now off.
- The traditional tensions between the 3 power centers, the Army Chief, the President and the Prime Minister are again escalating. Gilani, the Prime Minister, is trying to make political space for himself by aligning with the interests of the army and moving away from Zardari. Army chief Kayani in turn is starting to make his pressure public now, with increasing reports about warning the politicians to settle things down
- The tussle between Zardari and Sharif is the biggest problem. These 2 had made an uneasy truce and alliance when they wanted to bring down General Musharraf, but then separated soon after (and they have a long history of animosity - Zardari after all spent about a decade in jail during Sharif's rule)
- The US and other western countries want the country to be focused on fighting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, and have a great deal of influence and are not wanting in exercising authority. Hence, constant use of missiles from drones that attack inside Pakistan even though it is unpopular in Pakistan, and using their influence to try to arrange political deals inside Pakistan (to the extent that no politician can be truly anti-American and be a strong leader)
In these times, this tension between Zardari and Nawaz Sharif is a truly dangerous escalation of the political conflict, and one that can only lead to a worsening of the situation.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:53 PM    

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The evolution of a Mumbai terrorist

The Mumbai terror attacks of 11/26 were a major shock for the world. Every nation fears the prospect of armed terrorists attacking civilians, and here were these 10 well armed terrorists who held the armed forces of a nation at bay for 3 days. How do you protect against terrorists who emerge from the night (from a vast coast), disperse swiftly into the night to their various pre-planned destinations, and attack civilians at will with automatic weapons and grenades. No matter what the security level, there is a more than even chance that some of them will evade detection and managed to attack. Today this happened in India, but given the ease by which the attackers managed to enter, and with some local support, the scenario is replicable to many countries which are on the cross-hairs of global terrorism.
If you read this article in TIME magazine (and I recommend reading the article), you will realize how easy it was for this youth in Pakistan to become a terrorist; there are institutions present everywhere that will feed a disgruntled person and make him feel valuable, and will then guide him on the path of taking up guns and willing to become a suicide terrorist, somebody who has no qualms about killing innocent people.

It was in Rawalpindi that Mohammad Amir Ajmal Qasab, the surviving gunman from the terrorist massacre that claimed 165 lives in Mumbai last November, took his first step toward infamy. In 2007 he visited a market stall run by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), an Islamist extremist group that has been blamed for the Mumbai attacks, among others. Understand Qasab's story and you begin to understand why young men throw in their lot with Islamic extremists, why Pakistan may be the most dangerous country in the world.
In 1990, Muslims in Kashmir — the Himalayan territory that India and Pakistan have been arguing and fighting over since 1948 — rose up against Indian rule, and the mujahedin soon found a new cause. The Pakistani military used the jihadi movement, hoping that guerrilla warfare would destabilize its enemy India where conventional warfare failed. Jihadi groups in Pakistan collected donations for Kashmir. Young men signed up for training camps, where they concentrated on physical fitness and learned how to use weapons. Jihad wasn't just a diversion from ordinary life; it was a rite of passage.

When you read the article, it makes it seem so easy. Here is a person who has rebelled away from his family, fled to a city. He comes into contact with a militant group while trying to learn how to live a life of crime, and is sufficiently brain-washed and impressed that he will go in for arms training and learn how to be a terrorist. This is sufficiently scary, but when you combine this story with how it seems so easy for this to happen, how arms training happens right under the umbrella of the state and the army in Pakistan, and you start to realize the dangers. What is to stop such a similar incident happening in a country like Great Britain which has a radicalized minority among its Muslim population, and it is easy enough to plan such an attack.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 12:49 PM    

Monday, March 02, 2009

Turmoil in Bangladesh after Border Guards kill their own officers

The last week has seen a major upheaval in Bangladesh, that too just a couple of months after the long-awaited transition back to civilian rule. After years of army rule, finally elections were held, and Sheikh Hasina won comfortably over her rival Begum Khaleda Zia. However, it was expected that since the powerful army did not like either Sheikh Hasina or Begum Zia (holding them to be corrupt, and essentially not good rulers), Sheikh Hasina would have to contend with a powerful force not fully under her control.
However, it was difficult to believe the events of the past week. In Bangladesh, the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) has always been seen as having a much lower status than the army. This includes having its officers drawn from the army (including the head of the BDR). Also, being a paramilitary, it has been seen as having a much lower status than the regular army, and seemingly less monetary benefits (including lower pay, no chance to go for higher paying United Nations missions abroad, and so on). At some point, when the Border Guards were having a conference, a group of Border Guards were looking to have a discussion with their officers (on deputation from the army), and the discussion did not go at all well.
Reports indicate that the group of Border Guards grouped the officers together, and then shot most of them (and bayonetted many of them after shooting them). This was certainly not something that their officers would have expected to happen to them in any way; the end result is a cleanup of the officers of the Border Guards. After killing many of the officers (and in many cases, their families who were staying in the headquarters of the Border Guards), the dead were quickly put in mass graves or floated down sewers. The decimation was complete, with the top leadership of the Guards gone, and almost 130-140 officers killed over a period of 1-2 days (link):

The Bangladesh army has launched a manhunt for border guards who mutinied at their headquarters in Dhaka last week, killing about 140 army officers. The government issued arrest warrants for "1,000 guardsmen and accomplices". The mutiny by the Bangladesh Rifles apparently began as a row over pay.
The charges include conspiracy to kill officers and civilians, using weapons and explosives, creating panic, looting and trying to hide bodies.
The BBC's Mark Dummett, in Dhaka, says the fugitive border guards can expect little mercy from the army, which has now been ordered to fan out across Bangladesh to apprehend them. About 180 officers were present at the BDR annual meeting when the mutiny broke out - only 33 are known to have survived. The bodies of 70 officers have been discovered so far, many of them mutilated after being shot.

No army in the world would take such an incident lightly, and certainly not in countries where the army believes that it is one of the influential sections in the country. It would have been a test for the newly elected Prime Minister to hold back an army that must have straining at the leash to attack the border guards who killed so many of their officers. However, if that had happened, it would have undermined the civilian leadership, and led to a huge amount of bloodshed without the chance of a formal trial.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:09 AM