The aftermath

The ISI has leaked to the media the name of a CIA agent stationed in Pakistan as some sort of childish retaliation to American forces violating the sovereignty of their country. Apparently, the fact that the world’s most wanted terrorist was hiding in their country in a large villa opposite a military base isn’t bothersome enough for them. They are way more worried about how US helicopters entered their country undetected, and executed a surgical mission to kill a man who was responsible for the death of many Americans directly and indirectly responsible for bankrupting the country by leading them into two wars.

What I don’t get in this whole scenario is why America keeps funding Pakistan so much when it is seems that the Pakistani army and intelligence are definitely incompetent, and/or quite likely that there are some bad apples in the ISI.

Who cares? Let them cry foul and throw a tantrum. When they want to buy weapons to arm themselves against India, they’ll know whom to kiss up to. Cui bono is an important question to be asked in political debates. It basically means to whose benefit? It is in Pakistan’s financial interest and political expediency to foster terrorism within their borders. Keeping militants happy in their country ensures the death of a few Indians every year and guarantees the flow of cash from Uncle Sam to stem terrorism as it were.

The sovereignty of Pakistan is a tricky question. In a civilized world, it shouldn’t be legal for agents from one country to enter another and commit murder. Surely there’s something wrong with that. It would have been a different thing if CIA agents in disguise had entered the compound and killed bin Laden in some guerrilla way and quietly exited the country without a trace. Kinda like how Mossad runs things. The Obama administration needed a nice victory. No one would say that they killed bin Laden to increase polling numbers but publicizing this as an American effort and painting red, white and blue all over the news does reek of opportunism.

On the other hand, had this been a special OPs kind of operation, the Pakistani intelligence or army would’ve taken credit for this, further obfuscating their role in the war against terrorism. It must have been a dicey situation.

Now we have another question to answer. Did the enhanced interrogation techniques authorized by the Bush administration directly or indirectly lead to this operation? If it did, is it still fair for a democratic civilized nation to torture people for information, whether it is reliable or not?

There is some evidence to say that important information obtained about bin Laden’s courier was a product of torture, but the people who were waterboarded the most like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, produced very little usable information at best. They also misled the investigation more. This leads credence to what was said by Nice Guy Eddie in Reservoir Dogs, “If you f**king beat this prick long enough, he’ll tell you he started the goddamn Chicago fire, now that don’t necessarily make it f**king so!”

It is expedient, and not just politically, to do whatever measures seem necessary to protect innocent people. I just end up thinking that in that zeal, we might turn into the very people we are fighting against. We must draw a line. There are some things that civilized people just won’t do. Something as barbaric as torture should be one of them.

I think it is best summed up by Tommy Vietor, the spokesman for the National Security Council, “The bottom line is this: If we had some kind of smoking-gun intelligence from waterboarding in 2003, we would have taken out Osama bin Laden in 2003.”

Birthers aborted?

The White House finally made public the long form birth certificate of Barack Obama. This whole non-issue has been stirred by a lot of people on the Republican side suggesting that the president wasn’t born in Hawaii but in Kenya. There was never any truth to these allegations, and there was an implied tone of racism there. I can’t imagine a white president being asked to prove his citizenship by birth.

Article II, Section I, Clause V of the US Constitution says, “No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.” So, if Barack Obama had indeed been born outside the US, he would be automatically disqualified for the office he currently holds. Hence the whole controversy. It has been discussed that the original reason this clause was put in the constitution was to prevent a member of the British royal family from becoming president and then turning the country over to the very same imperialists it was fought and obtained from. Makes sense right? Except when it tends to discriminate against naturalized citizens who might otherwise be extremely qualified for the post. That of course, is a topic that deserves its own post.

Courtesy: Jerry Breen (newbreen.com)

IMHO, it’s quite sad that some of the people who’ve been clamoring for more liberty and less taxation have chosen to align themselves with the nuts who believe that the president wasn’t born in the US. If anything, it takes away from any morality that existed in their political stand. Of all the people who’ve taken on this ridiculous project of questioning the president’s birthplace, Donald Trump has been the most disappointing but not very surprising. He actually had fueled a lot of this controversy by pandering to the ‘birthers’. He even apparently released his own birth certificate in a tongue-in-cheek way. Now that the president has released the long form of his birth certificate, Trump has the gall to take credit for helping settle the issue. My opinion of Trump’s arrogance is better expressed by Mr. Jim Mitchell. In any case, people who attack the president on policy and question his methods of resolving the debt and jobs crisis were being drowned out by this incessant yapping from a faction of the right. I must admit that I too was wondering why Obama doesn’t release the long form of his birth certificate for all this time. I thought of some good reasons:

  • Apparently, the state of Hawaii doesn’t release long forms often
  • Obama didn’t want to dignify this non-issue by reacting to it
  • Obama wanted the birthers (and the Republican candidates who align themselves with the birthers) to collect enough rope so he could hang them at the right time
All of the above could be reasons for his hitherto silence. If it is the third reason (which would be serious realpolitik by the way!), perhaps Obama would have been helped by waiting a little longer. Trump seemed like he was gonna take this issue further, and cutting him to size would have been better if done closer to the beginning of the 2012 campaign.
Either way, hope this issue is settled now, and we can focus on real stuff.

Proportional responses

Whenever I write on a serious issue, I usually start by quoting an article written by a better writer and paraphrasing some of it before segueing into my own thoughts on the subject. What can I say, I’m a slave to routine: Here is the article by Kanchan Gupta on a topic that most people are passionate about, as it involves life and death. Our lives and the deaths of those who will not sit still until they decimate us.

Let me preface by saying that terrorism is never and can never be justifiable. Nothing, no kind of torture or enslavement, or infringement of any right whatever, gives one the right to kill innocent people. We have reached a point in evolution where we must be above killing someone’s loved ones to motivate or deter them. This, seems so obvious right?

What we face today is something no one has imagined before. Sure, the developed and developing world has faced threats to its life from various organizations before. The Nazis, the imperialist British juggernaut, and various separatist revolutions of individual nations come to mind. Many of such threats involved people who believed they were martyring themselves for a cause, for freedom, for independence or a life without persecution.

The extremist Muslim fundamentalist threat we face today is completely new. Before I go further, let me clarify some words and their meanings.

  • Fundamentalism refers to a belief in a strict adherence to specific set of theological doctrines typically in reaction against what are perceived as modern heresies of secularism
  • Extremism is a term used to describe the actions or ideologies of individuals or groups outside the perceived political center of a society; or otherwise claimed to violate common moral standards.

Both definitions are from Wikipedia, so you’re free to criticize their correctness, but I am including them here to indicate what I mean when I use these words.

Kanchan Gupta starts with exploring the meaning of targeted killing, and how legitimate they are. He swats like a fly the argument of apparent immorality of killing a terrorist by saying, “…since terrorism is neither morally right nor a legal expression of dissent…” Very well said. I would like to elaborate on this point more.

We cannot go eye for an eye against Islamic extremists. They believe they are in a cosmic war between good and evil, and their book tells them they’re on the good side. As Reza Aslan says (I don’t agree with him on most points, but I do on this one), “We cannot legitimize this viewpoint. We are not going to out-fanaticize these fanatics.”

That is what I say to all those who tell me that the correct response to Islamic terrorism is to go there and rampantly kill their civilians, show the wrath of the world, show what happens when the civilized world gets uncivilized. It won’t work. It might make us feel good, assuage our outrage when we see television footage of some Arab village getting blown up as our wounds of 9/11, 7/11, 26/11 are still raw. In reality, all it will do is motivate the ones remaining against us even further.

Let’s not forget that this is not a group willing to give its life for the betterment of the remaining members alone: it is a group that believes that they will be honored in the afterlife for every non-believer they kill. So, they aren’t just willing to die for their cause, they’re eager to.

We cannot use fear to motivate them; they have none. They want to die and take with them as many of us as possible. There is only one way to truly control this problem. Treat it as an infestation.

Taking a leaf out of Israel’s book

As and when terrorist groups are formed, we must find ways to kill their leaders. This will prevent them getting organized. Kanchan Gupta cites the example of the assassination of a Hamas leader in the end of his article. It is widely believed to be a Mossad operation (as intelligence agencies go, they are probably the best). The agents entered Dubai 24 hours before the leader reached there to make an arms deal. They checked into the room opposite his, choked him when they got the opportunity, and left the country that very afternoon. Amazing.

Remember Operation Wrath of God? A Palestinian terrorist outfit called Black September had killed 11 Israeli athletes after hijacking their plane. The Israeli Prime Minister had apparently said, “Send forth the boys.” A small group of agents were sent out to kill key leaders of the group. David Kimche, the former deputy head of Mossad said, “The aim was not so much revenge but mainly to make them [the militant Palestinians] frightened. We wanted to make them look over their shoulders and feel that we are upon them. And therefore we tried not to do things by just shooting a guy in the street – that’s easy … fairly.” The idea was to kill them in places where they felt most secure. What makes this approach brilliant is the clinical nature of it. There was a reason for every action. This wasn’t murder motivated by revenge or an animal desire for blood, but a surgical move based on cause and effect. They wanted to kill certain people, important people, the absence of whom would set a terrorist organization back and hence reduce the danger from them.

India Vs. The government of Pakistan

No one really doubts that our northwestern neighbor is sympathetic to the terrorists’ interests. The ISI has been linked to many groups responsible for acts of terrorism in India.

I titled this post based on an episode of The West Wing I had seen a long time ago. The newly elected Democrat president is required to authorize an American response to an act of Syrian terrorism. The president (in the show) is supposed to be a democrat and hence is afraid of being perceived as soft-on-terrorism, which is compounded by the fact that one of the American casualties was his own personal physician (who had a small baby at home). Martin Sheen, who plays the president, says, “Let the word go forth, from this time and place, gentlemen – you kill an American, any American, we don’t come back with a proportional response. We come back with total disaster!” Of course, in the show, he actually cools down and decides to adopt a proportional response, realizing that his earlier outrage was more personal than presidential.

We all go through that cycle. When the 26-11 happened, I wanted the Indian government to bomb Pakistan just like the US started bombing Afghanistan after 9-11. That was my belligerent knee-jerk response. After sobering up a little, and with more clear thinking, I realized that if we don’t maintain a clear distinction between us and those groups based on what we won’t stoop to no matter what, we will soon end up blurring the line between good and evil. Under no circumstances should we formulate a war plan that revolves around killing civilians. It is not worth it. It is a Pyrrhic victory at best and will germinate more terrorism at worst.

The youth

When Ahmadinejad visited Columbia University in 2007, the President of the university, Lee Bollinger, in his introduction, flamed the man so much that pundits predicted that it would end up endearing him to the youth of Iran. The young students and adults of Iran were impressionable, and introducing them to social liberalism would have been a much better idea, as it would have helped them distance themselves from the Islamic rule of the Shah and Ahmadinejad. Instead, the president of Columbia University, as well as a lot of the American people, insulted Ahmadinejad categorically and ended up insulting the pride of every Iranian. That is sooo not the way to approach this.

I bet the youth of these countries are interested in free speech, the right to do what one wants as long as he is not encroaching on others, the rights of women, the right not to be cruelly and unusually punished. We can engage them in friendly dialogue and develop lasting harmonious relationships with them. Of course, this is hard when you’re bombing their families to hell and back.

Conclusion

Islamic terrorism is unlike any enemy encountered before. They cannot be intimidated, or blackmailed. The only way to control them is to keep trimming their groups. The militant groups need to be spied upon more efficiently, and their leaders need to be neutralized as soon as possible. If they elect new leaders, they should be sanctioned promptly. As Dumbledore said to Harry about Voldemort in The Philosopher’s Stone, “[W]hile you may only have delayed his return to power, it will merely take someone else who is prepared to fight what seems a losing battle next time – and if he is delayed again, and again, why, he may never return to power.”

This only seems like a losing battle. If every member of society put his two cents each time, and keeps doing so, we might be able to get a world as peaceful as possible.

DISCLAIMERS:

  1. While I think this goes without saying, let me make extremely clear the pain I feel for most of the Muslims in this world, who, like the rest of us, want peace more than anything else, and are unnecessary maligned by the few who use this religion to do harm. I apologize to any and all such non-violent Muslims for any affront they might have felt while reading this post.
  2. I must also make it clear that while all the evidence I have seen leads me to believe that the establishment in Pakistan is sympathetic to terrorism, I don’t believe for one moment that the entire population of Pakistan supports it. I am sure most of Pakistan is like most of India: people who want to go to work, make their money, enjoy their life, and mean something to the people who mean something to them.

 

 

PhD comprehensive exams

Hi, all

Here I am hiding behind the tag of PhD comprehensive exams to justify my lack of posting on this blog. I thought today (as I was taking a break from studying), that I should share my preparation experience.

To the uninitiated, most PhD programs require the student to pass one or more exams called the comprehensive exams (comprehensives or comps for short). Some universities also call this the qualifiers (quals for short). Either way, once you’re done with these exams, you’re considered a doctoral candidate in most universities. In  my particular university, the comps come in two waves:

  1. Part A/B: This involves theoretical and applicative questions from every course taught to the students in my program. Every course! Whether you took it or not. As long as that course is being taught, you can expect questions from it. There will be some questions out-of-portion as well, mainly testing whether you can apply your knowledge and think on your feet.
  2. Part C/D: This is taken the next semester if you pass A/B. That is a big ‘if’ by the way. In this exam, they give you a research article and ask you to critique it. You must understand the article, question the research motives and methods, attack the rationality of the conclusions drawn from available data, and suggest ways of carrying the research forward. Of course, all this happens if you’re lucky. If you’re unlucky, they give you a part of the article, or sometimes just data that look like they were ripped off someone’s excel sheet. Then they ask you questions that require you to explore the ambit of your subject, all in one sitting session. That’s just Part C. In Part D, you are given some bottleneck questions in your subject and expected to solve them. Again, the idea is that they’re testing your approach to a problem, not so much the solution itself.

phdcomics.com

I would love to question the wisdom of testing a student’s qualification for a PhD program three years into his PhD program, but something tells me that’s not how the world works. Written qualifiers/comps tire me a lot, simply because while doing research, we completely lose touch with the idea of physically putting pen to paper. Many colleges have take-home quals which solves this problem, as the answer mostly needs to be typed not written.

In my school, each professor in the department puts in his questions, and the committee chooses ten of them. Of those, we need to do six. Of those, we need to pass five. Sounds easy right?

This reminds me of a biology professor I had in 11th standard who said that in older times, when the topper used to score 60%, all a good student had to do was to study hard and write a good paper. In today’s 99% times, a student needs to probe the psychology of the professor to determine what he wants from the question. Amen to that! From what I’ve heard, one needs to read a question and then decode whose question it is from the language and style. Then, one needs to tailor the answer to the proclivities of that person.

The trouble comes when one professor sets the question and another one grades it. Professors are of various types. Some like succinct answers and penalize you for making them read more than they have to. Others prefer you err on the side of caution lengthwise.

There is a luck factor associated with any exam. This factor seems to play the biggest role in the engineering exams at the University of Mumbai, as a friend of mine found to his dismay. His paper was cleared after re-evaluation, but no one can repay him for the months of depression, disbelief and ignominy. Of course, the people who knew him, used this negative result as a referendum on Mumbai University exam methods than his prowess in electronic engineering. My comps exam has a luck factor too: students who’ve spent months reading and reading for an exam can choke at the final moment like the South African cricket team. No matter how well one prepares, D-Day has it’s own plans.

My next blog post is definitely going to be after the exam (Nov 10th). Hopefully, it is on a positive note.

The French Burqa Ban – My take

“I was a fan of Nicholas Sarkozy, but what he’s pushing for now is reprehensible,” said a friend – a Muslim who chooses to wear the head scarf. We tend to banter on religion, and for a religious person, she’s a good sport. My jibes and taunts are often well received, and now and then, when one remark steps innocently over the line, I am gently but curtly reminded of the distance we should maintain for an argument not to turn personal.

The French ban on the veil is famous, and has polarized the public. Let us exclude the opinions of devout Muslims from this analysis, for they can hardly be expected to be disinterested in this issue.

I myself find the burqa to be an abomination: a image of imprisonment that we should have evolved out of by now. Political correctness aside, Islam and women’s rights have always seemed like oil and water to me, but that’s a topic that requires a blog of its own.

Today, the issue is of liberty. People often view the Western (developed) world as a land of plenty, where the basic conditions are good enough, and hence our laws can favor the rights of the individual over the rights of the population as a whole. The idea of a government telling us what not to do is an indirect way for everyone else to control us – for a majority to determine what is good or necessary.

There are many reasonable arguments for this ban. Most people connect the overt religiosity of many Muslims to a refusal to assimilation. Wherever they go, they are Muslims first. Hence the wearing of the burqa is regarded as a slippery slope to madrassas proliferating and even to imposing Sharia law among the Muslim diaspora. Our bogeyman is the honor rape/murder that is a product of a conveniently literal interpretation of the Qur’an. There is no proof linking madrassas directly with terrorism. They do produce fundamentalists, but no one has proof of them breeding terrorists. Hence, I am not thoroughly convinced that the slope between legalizing the burqa and the festering of terrorism is slippery enough to ban such an important civil liberty. Frisk them as much as you want at airports, and select them for additional screening, but such a huge step is not warranted now.

Imagine a woman who wears salwar-kameez exclusively, and is forced by law to wear skirts. She would view this as violating her modesty. She would either wear the skirt grudgingly, or leave the country that legislates her wardrobe, or, worst of all, never leave the house; a giant leap in the backward direction. A woman who’s used to wearing the burqa all her adult life (regardless of whether she was brainwashed into doing so), would be even more skittish about showing her body to other men. Of course, there are various groups arguing that any woman who’s wearing a burqa is doing so out of compulsion or out of some kind of Stockholm-syndrome to a victimizing religion. Based on whatever I have read on this subject, and the arguments of Muslim women who’ve chosen to wear the burqa, I would agree. This doesn’t seem like complete free will.

However mean this might sound, emancipating Muslim women is not my problem, and I certainly don’t want the government to spend taxpayer money on researching which woman is acting out of her free will and which one has been brainwashed. Let the privately funded NGO’s do all that. I would even volunteer my services.

Forcing a Muslim woman to shed her religious attire is violating her free expression and the freedom of religion. Readers of this blog know what I think about religion. Freedom of expression, no matter what the expression, is sacrosanct to me, and curbing it using the might of the law needs more justification. The ban on the veil is unconstitutional, and does not behoove a free country.

I apologize for the offense any woman has felt while reading this post.

P.S: This topic was on my mind for a long time, but I decided to write a post on it only after reading this fine post by Greatbong. His arguments are different from mine, but we both seem to agree that the ban violates freedom.

The better ‘one-third’

Courtesy: manjunathsinge.com

I have been commenting on various blogs for the past few days steadfastly opposing the bill to reserve one third of parliament seats for the fairer sex. I guess I was taking a sledgeghammer approach to a subject that does require some fine observation. So, here is my nuanced opinion. As such, I oppose reservation of any kind, and it annoys me to no end that people can get to certain positions through shunt-pathways that others simply have no access to. Also, I do believe that corruption in politics is widespread, and highly profitable. It doesn’t matter whether the perpetrator is a man or a woman.

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Sach is his greatness

FYI: This is not a post on the 200* by the great man. For that, you should read Munna Mobile and Greatbong. They have put it better than I ever could. This is merely an answer to a question that was put to me yesterday. So here goes:

Having woken up early to watch the match (NY time zone is not exactly conducive to d/n games in India), I was ecstatic (albeit blighted by a headache) in college where I happened upon a classmate. A discussion on the match ensued. She remarked (or rather questioned), “I wish I could have watched Sachin cross that milestone. Why is my luck so bad?” (or something to that effect)

Courtesy: Cricinfo.com

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Pakistan, politics and cricket

The recent snub of the Pakistani cricket players by IPL teams was unbelievable and believable at the same time. I remember as a young cricket fan listening to my father complain that we should not play cricket with Pakistan while they’re condoning the terrorist activities against India. I, of course, was so young and myopic that all I cared about was watching Wasim, Waqar, Saqlain and their ilk in action.

Over the years, as I (hopefully) got wiser, and as terrorist activities meted out against India by groups enjoying the sympathy of the Pakistani government have got more frequent, I saw more clearly into what my father had said.

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