Foreign Policy: Killing the Messenger

Sedition, a charge that is obsolete in most democratic societies, is often employed to squelch dissenting voices in totalitarian cultures. So it’s disquieting when there are boisterous calls to use it to curb politically unpalatable opinions in a liberal democracy like India. This is exactly what happened last week after Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy told a convention of political activists and Kashmiri separatists in New Delhi that “Kashmir has never been an integral part of India.” It was, she said, a “historical fact.”

Roy’s comments sparked national outrage. Almost immediately, flag-waving patriots began baying for her blood. India’s opposition Bharatiya Janata Party demanded that she be arrested for inciting “disaffection” against the government. It was a “perfect case of sedition,” the Hindu nationalist party contended.

The Indian government agreed, and found her statement “bordering sedition.” Roy, undeterred, doubled down, responding in a written statement that “I spoke about justice for the people of Kashmir who live under one of the most brutal military occupations in the world.” Kashmiris, she wrote, “live in the terror of what is becoming a police state.” In the end, the government flinched, announcing that it would not press charges against her — perhaps realizing that prosecuting Roy would put the authorities in the untenable proposition of having to slap the same charge on millions of Kashmiris who have long asserted that their citizenship is a matter of dispute.

In fact, Roy and her civil-society critics alike have little bearing on the Kashmir dispute, the unresolved colonial legacy of a territory claimed by both India and Pakistan. But the reaction to her remarks is symptomatic of how the majority in India, divorced from realities on the ground in Kashmir, refuses to acknowledge the growing anti-India sentiment in the contested territory, a sentiment that is stoking the embers of separatism to a degree unseen in years.

Azaadi — “freedom” in Urdu and the cri de coeur of Kashmiris — is bewildering to most Indians, and more often than not provokes an aggressively nationalistic response. “What is the meaning of azaadi?” people here ask. Kashmiris have the right to democratically elect their own government; the Indian constitution accords the Himalayan state a “special status”; the territory receives more monetary assistance from New Delhi than any other Indian state. And yet this “spoiled” and “pampered” lot — in the words of one right-wing Hindu organization — wants to break away from us?

Such attitudes only hardened this summer, as the region was convulsed by violent anti-India protests that by many accounts were far worse than the onset of the armed Islamist insurgency in 1989. The Kashmiri “Intifada” was triggered in early June by the killing of a 17-year-old Kashmiri student by Indian security personnel. The ensuing violence claimed 110 lives.

The apathy and indifference of Indians towards Kashmiris’ grievances has deepened despair throughout the Kashmir valley. Material inducements and a modicum of political representation cannot heal Kashmir’s existential scars, much less expunge the spirit of azaadi. Kashmir has its own government, but it is just as directly controlled by New Delhi as the army, paramilitary forces, and intelligence agencies that have descended upon the state. Democratic spaces have shrunk over the last two decades. India guarantees free speech to its citizens, but curbs all varieties of political dissent in Kashmir. Protesters in many corners of India throw stones, but only in Kashmir do the authorities respond with live ammunition.

Azaadi, for many in Kashmir, does not really mean a call to break away from India. For some, it represents a collective demand for a slew of smaller freedoms: freedom to express their dissatisfaction, freedom from the daily interdictions of security forces, and freedom from fear. What really arouses anti-India sentiments is the gargantuan security presence in the valley; over the last two decades, Kashmir has become a garrison state. There are nearly 700,000 Indian security personnel stationed in the region — one for every 20 Kashmiris, one of the highest soldier-to-civilian ratios in the world. Armed with automatic rifles, they occupy schools, hospitals, shopping centers, temples, mosques, cafes, and playgrounds. Looking out from behind their gun turrets and sandbags, they constantly remind Kashmir of its status as a suspect territory. It’s precisely for this reason that most Kashmiris call their homeland maqbooza –– or occupied Kashmir.

India’s security concerns, of course, are legitimate. Infiltration of militants from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is still a major worry. But the armed insurgency has waned steadily since it began two decades ago: According to official estimates, there are less than 500 militants currently active in Kashmir, a far cry from the 10,000-plus in the first years of the insurgency. “How many troops are needed to combat 500 militants?” one Kashmiri observer asked me on a recent trip to the valley. “10,000? 100,000? Certainly not 700,000. The army is here not to control militants, but the entire population. In that sense, every Kashmiri is a militant.” 

The immense imbalance between soldiers and civilians has encouraged the army’s pernicious practice of extra-judicial killings, known locally as “fake encounters.” Innocent civilians are gunned down and posthumously determined to be militants by officers in pursuit of medals and promotions — the sort of activity that Roy was referring to when she said that Kashmir has turned into a “brutal military occupation.” Such incidents have hardened Kashmir’s antipathy to Indian rule — so much so that on my recent visit to the state, one Kashmiri father told me,When my three year old son sees an army soldier his immediate reflex is to pick up a stone.”

The most recent wave of anti-India rage was led not by Pakistan-sponsored militants, but by Kashmir’s homegrown youth — most of them teenagers — who hurled stones at Indian security personnel while zealously shouting independence slogans. They took to the streets in defiance of stern curfews and even shoot-on-sight orders. I vividly remember seeing one young stone-thrower standing perilously close to a military bunker, thumping his chest. “Come shoot me,” he dared the soldiers.

To defuse the crisis, New Delhi recently announced an eight-point Kashmir “peace package” consisting of financial grants to schools and payments to the families of those killed in the recent violence, among other things. The government also appointed a three-member panel of mediators to reach out to various alienated sections of the Kashmiri population. The package is well-intentioned, and the interlocutors are eminent members of civil society, but both gestures are essentially toothless. Their mandate does not include assessing militarization and military governance, without which the suffering and outrage of Kashmiris will not go away.

Still, if Roy was right in insisting that India needs to stop stifling Kashmir, her criticism of the government gives too little credit to the complicated geopolitical forces at play in the neighborhood. Kashmir shares its borders with Pakistan and China, both nuclear armed countries, and an unstable Afghanistan; Indian concerns about the balkanization of the Indian state were it to lose Kashmir are not paranoid delusions. But India cannot muzzle her voice — and that of Kashmiris — if it is to call itself a real democracy.

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Foreign Policy Magazine PhotoJournal: Intifada in Kashmir

Kashmiri Muslim protesters are engulfed in tear gas during a clash with Indian police in Srinagar on Sept. 14. In September, the Indian government announced an eight-point “peace package” to defuse the conflict, but such measures have thus far been ineffective.


Indian police stand guard outside a school as students look from down from the school building in Srinagar on Sept. 27. It is common for soldiers and police to patrol and be stationed inside schoools, temples, mosques, and shopping centers in Kashmir.


“Azadi”= Freedom.

A Kashmiri woman walks past graffiti that during curfew hours in Srinagar on Oct. 19. At this stage in the conflict, military curfews are often in place for all but a few hours a week.

Kashmiri protestors shout anti-Indian slogans during a protest in Srinagar on Sept. 10. As the Indian security presence in Kashmir has persisted and Indian public opinion has hardened over the long-running situtation, the Kashmiri resistence has begun to be compared to the Palestinian Intifada by many observers.


A Kashmiri man stands outside during a curfew in Srinagar on Sept. 20.

Kashmiri relatives and friends of Sheikh Yasir, who was fatally wounded on Aug. 31, mourn at his funeral in Srinagar on Sept. 17.

Indian paramilitary troops patrol on a street during a curfew in Srinagar on Sept. 20.

Al Jazeera Report: Taliban is heavily recruiting in Karachi (Pakistan’s most populated and wealthy port city)

Though US drone strikes on Taliban targets in northwest Pakistan have become routine, the group continues to have a presence in the country’s south. Several members of the Pakistani Taliban have been arrested in the southern port city of Karachi.

However, despite the crackdowns, the Taliban continues to use the city as a hub for funding and recruitment. Amir Latif, from the Online News Network in Karachi, told Al Jazeera that the Taliban are hiding in Karachi.

“It’s very true they are in here. Karachi is the commercial hub of Pakistan. They can get finance from many resources; direct funding from their supporters here as well as through illegal funding from outside,” he said. “However, it is impossible for the Taliban to capture land here or establish their own government in line with the tribal regions [like Waziristan and Swat Valley].”

But there are those who disagree – the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party, which represents Urdu-speakers, allege the Taliban have set up base in the mountains round the city.

Pashtuns who live there deny that – for them such allegations are aimed at countering the mass migration of Pashtuns who have been escaping the violence in northwest tribal regions

BBC: American Scientiest developing a “dream catcher”

A US researcher has said he plans to electronically record and interpret dreams. Writing in the journal Nature, researchers said they have developed a system capable of recording higher-level brain activity. “We would like to read people’s dreams,” says the lead scientist Dr Moran Cerf.

The aim is not to interlope, but to extend our understanding of how and why people dream. For centuries, people have been fascinated by dreams and what they might mean; in ancient Egypt for example, they were thought to be messages from the gods.

More recently, dream analysis has been used by psychologists as a tool to understand the unconscious mind. But the only way to interpret dreams was to ask people about the subject of their dreams after they had woken up. The eventual aim of Dr Cerf’s project is to develop a system that would enable psychologists to corroborate people’s recollections of their dream with an electronic visualisation of their brain activity.

“There’s no clear answer as to why humans dream,” according to Dr Cerf. “And one of the questions we would like to answer is when do we actually create this dream?”

Dr Cerf makes his bold claim based on an initial study that he says suggests that the activity of individual brain cells, or neurons, are associated with specific objects or concepts. He found, for example, that when a volunteer was thinking of Marilyn Monroe, a particular neuron lit up.

By showing volunteers a series of images, Dr Cerf and his colleagues were able to identify neurons for a wide range of objects and concepts – which they used to build up a database for each patient. These included Bill and Hilary Clinton, the Eiffel Tower and celebrities.

So by observing which brain cell lit up and when, Dr Cerf says he was effectively able to “read the subjects’ minds”.

Dream catcher

He admits that there is a very long way to go before this simple observation can be translated into a device to record dreams – a “dream catcher”. But he thinks it is a possibility – and he said he would like to try. The next stage is to monitor the brain activity of the volunteers when they are sleeping.

The researchers will only be able to identify images or concepts that correlate with those stored on their database. But this data base could in theory be built up – by for example monitoring neuronal activity while the volunteer is watching a film.

Dr Roderick Oner, a clinical psychologist and dream expert, believes that while this kind of limited visualisation might be of academic interest, it will not really help in the interpretation of dreams or be of use in therapy. “For that you need the entire complex dream narrative,” he said.

Translating thoughts

“It would be wonderful to read people’s minds where they cannot communicate, such as people in comas,” said Dr Cerf.

There have been attempts to create machine interfaces before that aim to translate thoughts into instructions to control computers or machines. But in the main these have tried to tap into areas of the brain involved in controlling movement. Dr Cerf’s system monitors higher level areas of the brain and can potentially identify abstract concepts.

“We can sail with our imaginations and think about all the things we could do if we had access to a person’s brain and basically visualise their thoughts. “For example, instead of just having to write an email you could just think it. Or another futuristic application would be to think a flow of information and have it written in front of your eyes.”

BBC: War Torn Countries are More Corrupt


War-torn states are still seen as being the most corrupt in the world, according to a new report from Transparency International.

The Berlin-based watchdog monitors perceived corruption and has published its annual report, based on a poll of businesses and people in 178 nations. The worst country is Somalia, followed by Burma, Afghanistan and Iraq. Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore tie for top place as the world’s least corrupt countries, with the UK 20th.

‘Good governance needed’

Transparency International was founded in 1993 and is a non-governmental organisation that monitors corporate and political corruption. In its latest report, Russia is rated as among the worst for corruption, in 154th place. And Italy, down in 67th spot, now comes below Rwanda. Meanwhile, emerging economic powerhouse China is in 78th place.

It is the poor and vulnerable who suffer the consequences of corruption, Transparency International found. Hence, more should be done to enforce existing rules and laws, according to Huguette Labelle, chair of Transparency International.

“These results signal that significantly greater efforts must go into strengthening governance across the globe,” she said. “With the livelihoods of so many at stake, governments’ commitments to anti-corruption, transparency and accountability must speak through their actions.

“Good governance is an essential part of the solution to the global policy challenges governments face today.” Chile and Uruguay are rated the least-corrupt countries in Latin America. In the Middle East, the best placed is Qatar. Top-rated African nation is Botswana, in 33rd place.

Transparency International concludes that some countries have become more corrupt in the past year, particularly the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy and the US. Despite falling down the list, perhaps because of corruption revealed by the financial crash, the US still comes near the top at number 22.

FP Magazine: Blood on Our Hands

In early March 2006, Donald Rumsfeld called a Pentagon news conference to declare Iraq peaceful — and to say that U.S. reporters in Baghdad were liars for reporting otherwise. Contrary to the jumble of “exaggerated” reporting from Baghdad, the then-secretary of defense said at the Washington press briefing, Iraq was experiencing no such thing as the explosion of sectarian violence that myself and many of my fellow journalists in Baghdad were covering in the aftermath of a fateful February 2006 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra.

 Certainly, some Iraqis were trying to incite civil war, Rumsfeld acknowledged. But Iraq’s own security forces had “taken the lead in controlling the situation,” he insisted, and quick action by the Shiite-led government had “a calming effect.” Rumsfeld also made clear at the time that U.S. officials were fighting another kind of war over Iraq — the battle for U.S. opinion. The “misreporting” on the death toll was driving down U.S. support for the war, the defense secretary complained.

Four years on, however, WikiLeaks’ release of contemporary troop logs raises serious questions about who, exactly, was doing the lying. One of the few absolute revelations from the Wikileaks documents is the extent to which Rumsfeld, then-U.S. commander Gen. George Casey, and others had access to ample information from unimpeachable sources — their own troops on the ground in Iraq — regarding how badly events had turned in Iraq by 2006, but nonetheless denied a surge in killing to reporters and the U.S. public.

“The country is not awash in sectarian violence,” Casey told one U.S. television network in the wake of the Samarra bombing. And talk of Iraq sliding into civil war? “I don’t see it happening, certainly anytime in the near term,” Casey said.

But in hundreds of terse log entries from the field — now made public by WikiLeaks — U.S. troops documented more comprehensively than we reporters could ever have hoped the explosion of retaliatory killings, kidnappings, tortures, mosque attacks, and open street fighting. The reports streamed in the hours and days after the bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samarra enraged Iraq’s Shiite militias. What we reported then has now been confirmed: The bombing transformed Iraq’s building sectarian violence into something even darker.

In one of scores of entries recording U.S. troops coming upon handcuffed, tortured bodies on Feb. 22, 2006, and in the days after, a U.S. officer recounted happening upon fighters as they threw bodies from a car. The commander was in time to note how fresh the corpses were: “BODIES WERE SHOT IN THE FACE AND BODIES WERE STILL WARM,” he wrote.  

In fact, U.S. soldiers in Iraq saw and heard the eruption of civil war in Iraq from the first minutes. According to one of the tense, redacted log entries logging the moment of the mosque bombing, “AT ___ 0701C FEB ___, THERE WERE 2X AUDIBLE EXPLOSIONS THAT WERE REPORTED FROM A MOUNTED PATROL … THE ROOF OF THE GOLDEN MOSQUE HAD COLLAPSED.”

By the afternoon of Feb. 22, 2006, U.S. soldiers in Baghdad, Basra, Diyala, and around central Iraq were recording dozens of retaliatory attacks with grenade launchers and small arms on mosques, and the outbreak of tense, angry demonstrations countrywide. (The log entries below are a sampling; pages of more such log entries for Feb. 22 and the days after can be found on www.wikileaks.org. An article I wrote for the Daily Beast gives a shorter version of the log entries.)

Not always comprehendingly, U.S. soldiers noted the massing protesters often were the armed and black-clad fighters of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s feared Mahdi Army militia.

One report read:

 ___ INSURGENTS ARE PREPARING THEMSELVES FOR AN ENCOUNTER WITH ___ MILITIA IN //:___//. THE ___ INSURGENTS BELIEVE ___ MILITIA FROM BALAD //:___// AND BAGHDAD ARE HEADING TOWARDS ___ TO ENGAGE ___ IN RETALIATION FOR THE BOMBING OF THE GOLDEN MOSQUE //:___// IN ___. THE ___ INSURGENTS FROM AREAS NEAR ___ ARE EQUIPPING THEMSELVES AND HEADING TOWARDS THE ___ TO ENTER ___, NFI…”

The reports persisted, enough that the military seems to have given them a distinct heading, “Golden Mosque.”

In the streets of Iraq’s capital, open fighting erupted between Shiite fighters — known as the Mahdi Army, or Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM) –and Sunni men of the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party. Soon, troops were reporting bodies in the streets of Baghdad. Without necessarily seeking them out, U.S. troops were coming across dozens of them. Half pages and full pages of such finds made their way into the logs, in numbing repetition:

# UNK 2006-02-24 18:00:00

MURDER, MND-SE, 1 CASUALTIES

5X AIF WEARING BLACK UNIFORMS AND OPERATING A ___ CAB WHITE ___ KIDNAPPED ___ IN THE ___ AREA OF ___ BASRAH. . ‘___ BODY WAS FOUND SHOT IN THE ___ 0730C FEB ___. REMAINS TAKEN TO LOCAL MORGUE.…

# UNK 2006-02-24 18:00:00

MURDER, MND-BAGHDAD, 2 CASUALTIES

2X UNIDENTIFIED MALE BODIES WERE FOUND SHOT. THEY WERE APPROXIMATELY -___ YEARS OLD.…

-24 18:00:00

MURDER, 0, 2 CASUALTIES

2X BODIES WERE FOUND IN DIYALA PROVINCE BY MNF. THEY WERE TAKEN TO THE LOCAL IPS IN THE AREA. BOTH WERE EMPLOYEES OF THE ELECTRIC DEPARTMENT OF ___. THEIR NAMES ARE ___ AND ___.…

Read on at http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/10/25/Blood_on_Our_Hands

NY Times Editorial- An Indefensible Defense


It can be hard to distinguish between the Bush administration and the Obama administration when it comes to detainee policy. A case the Supreme Court agreed last week to hear, Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, is one of those occasions.

It turns on a principle held sacrosanct since the country’s early days: the government cannot arrest you without evidence that you committed a crime. An exception is the material witness law, which allows the government to keep a witness from fleeing before testifying about an alleged crime by somebody else.

These principles were horribly twisted when John Ashcroft was President George W. Bush’s attorney general. The Justice Department held a former college football player in brutal conditions on the pretext that he was a material witness in a case in which he was never called to testify and which fell apart at trial. The Bush administration’s behavior was disturbing, and so is the Obama administration’s forceful defense of this outrageous practice of using a statute intended for one purpose for something very different. Judge Milan Smith Jr. of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals called it “repugnant to the Constitution.”

The Justice Department arrested Abdullah al-Kidd, known as Lavoni Kidd when he was a star football player at the University of Idaho, at Dulles airport in March 2003 before he boarded a plane to Saudi Arabia, where he was going to work on his doctorate in Islamic studies. For over two weeks, he was treated like an enemy of the state — shackled, held in high-security cells lit 24 hours a day, and sometimes humiliated by strip searches. When Mr. Kidd was released, he was ordered to live with his wife and in-laws, restrict his travels and report to a probation officer. The restrictions lasted 15 months.

The government said Mr. Kidd was a material witness against Sami Omar Hussayen, who was tried for supporting an Islamic group that the government said “sought to recruit others to engage in acts of violence and terrorism.” A jury acquitted Mr. Hussayen on some charges and didn’t reach a verdict on others. Mr. Kidd was not called to testify. Nor was he ever charged with a crime.

Mr. Kidd sued Mr. Ashcroft personally, saying he unlawfully used the material witness statute as a pretext. The former attorney general asserted that he had immunity. In the ruling now being reviewed by the Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit found that he did not.

To qualify for absolute immunity, the appeals court said, Mr. Ashcroft had to be prosecuting Mr. Kidd, not investigating him. When the purpose is “to investigate or pre-emptively detain a suspect,” at most a prosecutor is entitled to qualified immunity. Mr. Ashcroft didn’t qualify even for that because Mr. Kidd made a plausible case that it was the attorney general’s own strategy that led to misuse of the material witness statute.

The word “plausible” is key. In 2009, by a vote of 5 to 4, the Supreme Court sided with Mr. Ashcroft and others in a lawsuit, because the complaint against them was too vague and the allegations were not plausible. The government hasn’t challenged the plausibility of the core allegations in the current case.

Prosecutorial immunity is intended to let prosecutors enforce the law without fear of being held personally liable. Protecting that legitimate aim did not require the administration to defend the indefensible. In forcefully defending the material witness statute on grounds that curtailing it would severely limit its usefulness, it is defending the law as a basis for detention. That leaves the disturbing impression that the administration is trying to preserve the option of abusing the statute again.