Modi & Trudeau

I had seen a picture of the Trudeaus by the Taj but then the wife did mention to me that there wasn’t any picture of Modi with them. A quick google search:

No PM Modi Hugs For Justin Trudeau. This Is Why

It gets worse. The beautiful, photogenic Trudeaus went to see the Taj Mahal in Agra, where they were welcomed not by the provincial chief minister, not even a junior minister, but by district officials. Still, the Trudeaus managed to make memorable visuals at India’s famous mausoleum of love. Modi often likes to take visiting dignitaries to Ahmedabad in Gujarat, his home state. Many good visuals have been produced in Gujarat with Modi showing world leaders around Mahatma Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram or just taking them around the city. But the Trudeaus had to go alone to Gujarat, where they wore ethnic Indian clothes to visit a Hindu temple and Gandhi’s abode.

There seems to be no end to the Indian snubbing of the Canadians, even as the Trudeaus are trying their best to disarm the Indians with a charm offensive.

Why is India being so rude to Trudeau? Answer: It has to do with the Sikhs.

India has often accused Canada of sheltering Sikh separatists. Sikhs in Canada form a voting bloc for Trudeau, so much so that he even attended a Khalsa Day parade organized by a radical Gurudwara, or Sikh temple, in Toronto. Some Sikh Gurudwaras in Canada have also barred the entry of Indian diplomats.


Black Panther

Amazing movie; even the wife (she likes science and I like sci-fi) was impressed!

Throwing in a controversial question: why do Black people have such better PR over brown people?

Does being a model minority make us ever so (slightly) boring?

Either way #wakanda4ever. As an interesting aside I used to live next to Wakanda (in Uganda) for a little while.

Shashi Tharoor on Kashmir

My wife sent me this link, exultant in how her fellow countryman triumphed in this particular Indo-Pak exchange. I know better than to disagree with her though I’m quite ambivalent on the K-issue.

The whole Indo-Pak issue seems interminable especially when the future of the world has shifted over to the technocratic West Coast.

Off-topic words that start with C tends to be quite powerful (it prefigured heavily in Vidhi’s life) but that’s just my bias after seeing Shashi rhapsodise about how India forged a national consensus out of different castes, creeds, colours, costumes, customs & cuisines (he could have added communities but who’s counting).

Other c-words that have a descriptive/identitarian nature; countries, counties, creatures, cretins..

1947-48 Kashmir War

Extracts from Major Amin’s history of the 1947-48 war.

THE 1947-48 Kashmir War

Major Agha Humayun Amin

The war of lost opportunities 
History is made by those who seize fleeting opportunities in the critical time span in any particular situation and relentlessly execute their plans without second thoughts, subduing inner fears, overcoming procrastination and vacillation, and above all by those who are propelled by the burning desire to defeat the enemy rather than any half hearted judiciousness and timidity. Ninety years of loyalism and too much of constitutionalism had however made the Muslims of 1947 slow in taking the initiative and too much obsessed with consequences of every situation.This attitude was excellent as long as the British were the rulers, but not for a crisis situation, in which geography, time and space, alignment of communications and weather temporarily favoured Pakistan, in case initiative and boldness was exercised and simple but audacious plans were executed in the shortest possible time!

Today, it is fashionable to blame the Indians, Mountbatten, Gracey etc as far as the 1947-48 War is concerned. A dispassionate study of the events of 1947-48 clearly proves that victory was closer in 1947 than ever again as far as the Pakistan Army was concerned. Opportunities were lost because very few people who mattered at any level apart from Mr Jinnah, Brigadier Akbar Khan and some  others were really interested in doing anything!
Continue reading “1947-48 Kashmir War”

Operation Grand Slam (1965 War)

The following is a long extract from Major Amin’s book on the India-Pakistan wars. Other extracts will be posted later. Since this is a very long chapter, I have highlighed and italicized certain sections that the reader can jump to and get the basic story, without bothering with the details. Of course, anyone interested in the details can read the whole thing. 


By Major Agha Humayun Amin


1965 was an eventful year in Indo-Pak history. The Pakistani military ruler Ayub emerged victorious in the Presidential elections held in January 1965 amidst allegations of rigging. This factor created a desire in Ayub to improve his political image by a limited gain in the realm of foreign relations. He got an opportunity to do so in April 1965 over a minor border dispute with India in the Rann of Kutch area. The Pakistan Army dominated the skirmishes in the Rann area as a result of which a climate of overconfidence was created in the Pakistani military and political establishment.7

In May 1965 following the jubilation in Pakistan because of the Rann affair Ayub became keen to launch the proposed “Operation Gibraltar”: a proposed plan to launch guerrillas into Indian held Kashmir with the objective of creating a popular uprising, finally forcing India to, abandon Kashmir. Ayub  went to Murree on 13 May 1965 to attend a briefing on the conduct of Operation Gibraltar.8 We will not go into the controversy surrounding this plan, which is basically an exercise in futility, and mud slinging initiated by some self-styled experts, motivated largely by personal rivalry and ulterior biases, since the prime aim of this article is to discuss the military significance of Operation Grand Slam and its connection with “Operation Gibraltar”. In this briefing Ayub “examined”  the “Operation Gibraltar” plan prepared by Major General Akhtar Malik, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 12 Division. The 12 Division was responsible for the defence of the entire border of Pakistan occupied Kashmir from Ladakh in the north till Chamb near the internationally recognised border to the south. It was during this briefing that Ayub suggested that the 12 Division should also capture Akhnur.9 This attack was codenamed “Operation Grand Slam”. General Musa, the then C in C  Army and Altaf Gauhar the then Information Secretary and Ayub’s close confidant, the two principal defenders of Ayub have not given any explanation about what exactly was the strategic rationale of “Grand Slam” and what was its proposed timing in relation to “Operation Gibraltar”. We will discuss this aspect in detail in the last portion of this article. Continue reading “Operation Grand Slam (1965 War)”

Was There a Sugar Conspiracy?

Well, not really. Not a conspiracy of the sort you can take to court. A balanced and well researched look back at the nutrition wars and recent talk of a “sugar conspiracy” in this article in Science.

Was there ever really a “sugar conspiracy”?

Their conclusion:

Historical investigations of “merchants of doubt” have been invaluable in showing that scientific uncertainty is sometimes the product of deliberate acts of deception. Such studies underscore the essential insight that the existing evidence base is powerfully shaped by social forces and political choices, and that had decisions unfolded differently, our areas of knowledge (such as genomics) and blind spots (such as obesity prevention or gun violence) would be shifted. But ahistorical accounts thwart our ability to critically evaluate the often long and zigzag process of scientific conjecture and refutation. They provide spurious cover for changes to policy by suggesting that old ideas are illegitimate. And, they advance a false impression that doing the “right” kind of science will somehow avert the messy business of making policy based on incomplete evidence, public values, and democratic politics

The core of the problem is the willingness to jump in and give “expert” advice when the evidence is so limited (for any advice); but then again, demand for advice was so strong, it was bound to be fulfilled, just as demand for finding a “conspiracy” (fat conspiracy, sugar conspiracy, whatever) is so strong. These things probably arise from deep features of human cognition and social interaction.. anyway, I think this is a balanced article, but maybe not harsh enough about the limitations of nutrition advice and the damage done by experts offering advice where the science is not yet settled..

I absolutely love the Moghals

Reading the comments on various BP threads made me aware of an animated conversation between these two little people in my head. Perhaps it is a new revelation from the archangels. In any case, I am merely reporting it as faithfully as possible for the benefit of future generations:

BS = Bad Slapstik
GS = Good Slapstik

GS: I absolutely love the Moghals, man!

BS: You mean Shah Jahan, who got his elder brothers Khosrau Mirza and Shahriyar murdered? Followed by his dear son Aurangzeb, who imprisoned him and in turn murdered all his brothers, had his henchmen decapitate Dara Shikoh in front of Dara’s son and then sent the head off to his imprisoned father?

GS: <admonishing tone> Don’t forget, those were pre-modern times and you are not supposed to judge their morality by your standards.

BS: Why not? What’s special about my standards of morality?

GS: Who cares, man! Don’t drag me into this philosophy-shilosophy yaar. They are just .. different standards. And it’s fashionable to not judge and be all wishy-washy .. ok? And they did good too, right? .. like the Taj. <humming jo wada kiya voh nibhana padega..>

BS: In that case, let me put in a good word for dear Adolf, the builder of German autobahns and great protector of animal rights. Heil..

GS: Err…

BS: What?

GS: Maybe don’t take it too far with Adolf. Trust me, he’s a little, umm, inconvenient .. if nothing else for the fact that his silly actions led to European Jews, unwanted in Europe, moving to Palestine. And they founded Israel – bad Apartheid state!

BS: Ok, so Israel is bad. Nasty Western crusader has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

GS: Yeah, you’re getting there..

BS: Yeah, just like that evil place Pakistan. Formed by ethnic cleansing of locals. And if once wasn’t enough, twice!

GS: Ouch! Humphh! Nooo .. those “population re-adjustment” activities happened a long time ago. Cannot judge the poor Pakistan govt by today’s standards, right?

BS: But surely Israel was founded as lon..

GS: Yes, yes. But they are still building walls. And murdering poor unarmed Palestinian Muslims. Ban Israel! Down with the Zionist entity!!

BS: What about Taliban, terrorism, Hafiz Saeed, Osama..

GS: Bog-standard Zionist and Hindu propaganda, mate. Painting resistance fighters as “terrorists”. Made up term – only states can be terrorists, except ones which foster terrorists, err, I mean freedom fighters.

BS: Umm, so Pakistan is a nice & safe Lebensraum for India’s Muslims away from Hindu state terror, except of course Bengali Muslims who peacefully opted out and now play nice and friendly cricket matches with Pakistan.

GS: Good, good.. but maybe don’t use that German term though .. makes my BP shoot up.

BS: Ok, sure. Nice and fluffy! I geddit! And you know what, maybe you are right. I see the kumbaya now. On hindsight, I’ve just started loving the Moghals too.

GS: yes, yes .. great paragons for us all .. well done!

Two Videos in Urdu (both having problems with the language)

It so happens that I happened to see the following two videos around the same time.

    1. Pakistani journalist (he seems to be an ISPR/Pak army favorite) Wajahat Khan (aka Waj Bro) has a message for Imran Khan. It is quite hilarious, but this particular post is about his ability to speak Urdu, which is clearly rather limited. He would probably do a better job in English (and he has to rely on English a lot in this video). This is fairly typical of the children of our current elite (not necessarily of the older generation). Check it out

2. The other video appears to be from closer to the other end of the socio-economic spectrum. In this case I have no clue who the speaker is (she states she is from Kasur, and she mentions at one point that she has been “pushed into prostitution”, I have no idea what the back story is) but clearly she is not from the elite class. The thing I am focused on in this post is that while her Urdu is in fact much better than Waj Bro’s Urdu, it is also quite clearly not her mother tongue. One gets the impression she would have done better in Punjabi.

My point today has nothing to do with the politics of each video (and in the case of the second one, I have no clue who she is and what the back story is, we all know cases where the story behind the video turned out to be quite different from what is immediately apparent),  I just wanted to ask what people think about the language issue in Pakistan.

Urdu is the national language and is (supposedly, ideally?) the main language of everyday use, high culture and education. But seems in trouble at both ends:

      1. My anecdotal observation is that the children of the elite cannot speak it well (OK, most are better than Waj bro, but not by much) and are almost completely unaware of (and un-interested in) its high culture (all that great poetry, etc). Their everyday language is mostly English, Urdu being used to converse (at a very basic level) with “the lower classes”;  servants, drivers and so on. Is this impression correct? what will be the long term outcome of this trend? (not a rhetorical question, I am genuinely curious and not sure about the answers, not even sure that my anecdotal observation is completely representative of the super-elite or how far it extends beyond that elite).
      2. At the other end, the “common people” of Pakistan mostly were not born into an Urdu speaking culture. The language of their forefathers is (in almost all cases except middle class and above migrants from North India) not Urdu. The languages of these people used to be Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto, Balochi and so on. Today, as Pakistanis, they learn Urdu in School and via the mass media and (imperfectly, but frequently, especially in Punjab) from their recently Urduized parents. Actually it seems that many (most? some?) Sindhis, Baloch and Pakhtoons are still speaking their own languages at home, but in the case of Punjabis, it is increasingly common for them to speak Urdu at home (for example, my siblings and I started out speaking Punjabi and then switched to Urdu and stayed with that). And there is no such things as learning in Punjabi or even learning Punjabi as a language at school. You can see the result in the video above. The lady in question is not doing a bad job (she even manages to throw in fragments of a verse and an Arabic quote), but she would clearly be more comfortable in Punjabi. Her children will almost certainly be more comfortable in Urdu, but what level of Urdu? Waj Bro level?

You can see where I am going. The language issue in Pakistan. Which is connected with culture, with nationalism, with modernity. What do people see as the future? (again, not a rhetorical question, I am genuinely curious to know what people think is the current situation, and where it is likely to go).

Evolution of societies: A Perspective

It is hard to try to understand evolution of societies, there are many factors, all the way from geography to genetics to culture, language,religion. so feel free to disagree to this.

I would try to place 4 factors to see the differences between societies.

1.Diversity of thought/ideas, freedom for disagreement

2. Scaling, reinforcement or social conformity, the ability to bring large numbers of people to act or to have greater cohesion . Asabiya would fall into this category

3. incentive system,law & order.

4. external factors,threat of other groups,geography.

Of course, for even these ideas, we could go further back to ask why did these traits evolve in some places and not in others and so on. However, I do value these first 3 factors as they are what would constitute internal engine for societies to modulate themselves. The fourth being external threats and how that interaction plays out.

My view is to look at what societies can possibly do of their human resources. It makes sense to talk from the point of view of agency , of what can one possibly do to transform a society at a reference point A to another reference point B. Much as basic physics is study of dynamics of matter over time, basic social sciences should be about dynamics of societies over time as well.

What kinds of interventions can transform societies from a reference point A to reference point B. And is it reversible?

From the point of view of political agents of these societies, all they can possibly do is to either change their ideas about some views, bring conformity in large numbers of people,change incentive system, law & order.

Now that we have these in place, we can look at evolution of societies. Here Christianity began under the influence of polytheists, it gained institutions from Romans in the west, its common law, its ideas in science, philosophy, politics, all of these ideas were mined in due course of time, before that though it also brought conformity.

So Christianity had traits of diversity of ideas embedded in its early history, it also had better incentive system in place, copyright laws, patent laws , institutions of learning, these I believe brought them a decisive advantage. For it provided them a certain kind of knowledge of future possibilities for change in both society ,economy, sciences, one weaving into another and this was helped by profit motive and recognition/fame. Newton and Leibniz famously fought for credit, Galileo apparently sued his student. I am not sure of earlier periods where preeminent scientists and thinkers of a culture were suing each other for having stolen each others work , literary or scientific/mathematical/technological works.

These were given a fillip with peace of Westphalia, due to religious wars in Europe, the scale of violence and lack of outright victory of one group over the other side meant that christian conformity of one sect came to an end. This religious pluralism inside Christianity perhaps gave about a period of relative peace which helped bring the age of enlightenment in Europe into being as the old truths were now being replaced with new ideas of nature. Descartes,Newton,Hobbes,Locke were some of the people who published their works in the period. The total sum of interactions, publications, ideas and most importantly the incentive system propelled the society from the old and into the new and the bold . Also the beginnings of colonial expansion was perhaps enough incentive for religious peace in Europe and exploration outside for profit .There were other fish to fry.

I think the wars of religion placed a very important role, it meant Europe now had to simply accept heresy(Protestantism). While other societies had some of these traits, the totality of all these traits were not there, is not there even now in many societies.

Imagine the Catholics winning out decisively against protestants , then perhaps it would have the strength to decisively close the new avenues of research as a potential threat for formation of new heresies. Again, the position of dominant power could have changed this. Or if say the threat of Islam was felt very strongly in Europe, would they have then been willing to value rationalism over faith?. Here I am invoking the 4th factor of external threat. The questions that must matter are what factors can tilt societies from one mode of development to another?.  How must those internal and external incentives be tweaked, how does the internal structure of society align with this?. Is there too much diversity that society essentially is fragmented?. Or is the conformity to dogmas has a momentum that it cannot allow for freedom of speech?.

And if one were to value the peace of Westphalia as having played an important role in change of Christianity, One suspects the initiative of reform inside Islam, when plurality is not accepted within Islam itself,to expect them to be tolerable of other religious people seems strange.

A replication of what happened in Europe would entail them confronted by futility of war of social conquest within themselves first,to confront the cognitive dissonance of finding oneself in fruitless violence among themselves. I am not confident that cognitive dissonance can be elicited if Muslims were at war with non Muslims though. And what would the cost be for them to abandon excessive zealotry.

While India had religious pluralism, it didnt have universities, development in science, the printing press, incentive system for literature or sciences /technology.

Islam did not for various reasons including geography either have this pluralism or the incentive system. One Idea I have picked up from the following article on consciousness is the idea of counterfactual depth.

If action depends upon inference, then systems must be able to make inferences about the consequences of their actions. You can’t pick what to do unless you can make a guess about the probable outcome. However, there’s an important twist here. A creature cannot infer the consequences of its actions unless it possesses a model of its future. It needs to know what to expect if it does this as opposed to that. For example, I need to know (or subconsciously model) how my sensations will change if I look to the left, to the right or, indeed, close my eyes. But the sensory evidence for the consequences of an action is not available until it is executed, thanks to the relentless forward movement of time.

As a result of the arrow of time, systems that can grasp the impact of their future actions must necessarily have a temporal thickness. They must have internal models of themselves and the world that allow them to make predictions about things that have not and might not actually happen. Such models can be thicker and thinner, deeper or shallower, depending on how far forward they predict, as well as how far back they postdict, that is, whether they can capture how things might have ended up if they had acted differently. Systems with deeper temporal structures will be better at inferring the counterfactual consequences of their actions. The neuroscientist Anil Seth calls this counterfactual depth.

So if a system has a thick temporal model, what actions will it infer or select? The answer is simple: it will minimise the expected surprise following an action. The proof follows by reductio ad absurdum from what we already know: existence itself entails minimising surprise and self-evidencing. How do systems minimise expected surprises, in practice? First, they act in order to reduce uncertainties, that is, to avoid possible surprises in the future (such as being cold, hungry or dead). Nearly all our behaviour can be understood in terms of such uncertainty-minimising drives – from the reflexive withdrawal from noxious stimuli (such as dropping a hot plate) to epistemic foraging for salient visual information when watching television or driving. Second, the actions of such systems upon the world appear to be endowed with a purpose, which is the purpose of minimising not-yet-actual, but possible, surprises.

We might call this kind of system an agent or a self: something that engages in proactive, purposeful inference about its own future, based on a thick model of time.”

So, the age of enlightenment brought about a new consciousness in Europe, A kind of counterfactual depth unlike other among others. What all these developments did is increase progressive agnosticism. To entertain ideas different from one’s own is to for a moment engage in cognitive dissonance leading to certain kind of agnosticism by stealth. Progress therefore has been thorough this agnosticism by stealth reinforced many times over by mercantilism. To Imagine is to change. However, asabiya is also important, one cannot become agnostic to the point that societies become internally divided and are unable to bring the scale of numbers and pressure to bring about a transformation.