Browncast: Indic Modernity

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Another Browncast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

This episode was recorded a month ago, but we had some delay in uploading it, our apologies to Vineet. Vineet is very active on social media and runs the Indic explorer channel on Youtube. Please do check it out for interesting stuff on India. In this episode Mukunda Raghavan and I talk to Vineet about Indic modernity. What is it? what is it likely to become? and so on..

Abhinav Prakash: How Savarkar and the RSS won

A previous discussion on this topic with Kushal Mehra of the Carvaka podcast:

Sacred Texts and Jewish-Muslim Relations

From Dr Hamid Hussain

This is part of a series of my work on Jewish-Muslim relations encompassing a wide canvas of similarities in scripture, rituals, Arabic & Hebrew language, mysticism, literature, coexistence in historical context and conflict in recent times. It has been a fascinating journey tracing the sibling rivalry of Isac and Ishmael.

Hamid

Jewish Muslim Relations – Sacred Texts – The Torah and the Quran

“Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”

                                               Anne Lamott

The Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and the Quran are two sacred texts considered revelation from God by Judaism and Islam respectively.  Both sacred texts are considered foundational stones of faith.  Tanakh is acronym for Torah (five books of Moses called Khumash in Hebrew), Navi’im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings). The Torah is called sefer (book) and the Quran um al kitab (mother of books).  Both texts share several commonalities in terms of themes, narratives, and ethical teachings and are at the same time quite different.  One can pick any side depending on what one is trying to convey.  In the inter-faith interactions, participants stress commonalities sometimes exaggerating the similarities or trying to find common ground where none exists. On the other hand, polemics with aim of denouncing the other side can give a long list of differences between two texts. Continue reading Sacred Texts and Jewish-Muslim Relations

Capsule Review: How to Love in Sanskrit

A very nice collection of short Sanskrit poems (and a few short prose pieces) about love, longing, separation, etc. The originals are all in in the footnotes, so those who know sanskrit can comment on the translation. Translations are generally very contemporary (even cell phones make an appearance), but the originals are available if you want to see how they have captured (or failed to capture) the essence of the original. Since I do not know sanskrit, I cannot comment on that, but the collection is a lot of fun and worth a read. As india rises, so will the market for such works (which is a good thing).
Check it out.

available on Kindle. 

Original in devnagri is here

Random samples:

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An Electoral Earthquake in Pakistan

As everybody knows by now, Pakistan held a general election on February 8th and the results (such as they are, rigging is still going on as we write, so not all the results are here) are a shock for the army and the parties it had roped in to remove their own creation (Imran Khan).

Imran Khan was brought into power in 2018 as part of a longstanding army project to get rid of bothersome civilian politicians. To arrange that victory the army had used its various levers (pliant judges, ISI pressure, pliant media etc) to remove Mian Nawaz Sharif from power and when the numbers still seemed uncertain after the voting, they delayed results and arranged “positive results”. But Imran Khan proved a disaster at governance and by 2021 the army chief (Bajwa) had lost faith in Khan and in typical army fashion now “arranged” a vote of no confidence against Khan. Somewhat to their surprise, Khan refused to go gentle into that good night and launched a campaign of defiance. Since Bajwa himself was playing double games (probably in the hope of getting another extension as army chief) and was a rank incompetent in any case, the entire saga was shambolic even by Pak army standards. Khan was especially successful in turning the army’s own mildly jihadi paknationalist narrative against them. And he MUST get credit for having the guts to do so. It is not like it was not available to other parties, but outside of fringe leftist or Islamist groups, no major party ever dared to attack the pak army as traitors and american agents. Khan had no such hesitation, he made it the main plank of his resistance, and it worked, spectacularly. He also had the benefit of Bajwa’s rank incompetence and all round goofiness and the terrible economic performance of the coalition the army had put together to overthrow him was the icing on the cake.

When the army finally arrested Khan, his supporters tried to incite a coup against the new army chief (Hafiz Asim Munir) and may have had the sympathy of a couple of senior generals, but the attempt failed and when you go at the king, you best not miss.. once they missed, Hafiz was able to launch a massive crackdown against the PTI and it seemed like they had no future left. But continuing economic crisis meant the public remained unhappy and the caretaker regime’s blatant authoritarian and undemocratic maneuvers REALLY turned off the new educated youth, who were more idealistic than their elders; every unfair means used against Khan increased his support in that demographic.

I have never been a fan of Khan sahib but even I could see that PTI is more popular than anyone in the establishment camp. And being in the establishment camp really hurt the PMLN, who had themselves been victims of establishment shenanigans in the past but now sacrificed their anti-establishment narrative for a short chance to rule followed by establishment support in the election. That proved to be a game changer. Their lethargic campaign and mixed and confused messaging added to their woes. Still, many people (including yours truly) thought that all the pre-poll rigging by the army and the fact that PTI had been denied the chance to run as a single party would be enough to squeeze out a PMLN win (though I also thought the army prefers a hung parliament, so they wont let them win big either). But paradoxically the state’s oppression of PTI removed all the opportunists and charlatans the army itself had gifted to them in 2018 and the young idealists who were left proved up to the task. They managed to get a candidate on almost every seat (running as independents as the party was kept out of the running via undemocratic means) and they managed to use social media to let their voters know who the candidate is in every constituency. This is a major achievement and they deserve FULL credit for doing that. 

Come election day, the establishment allowed mostly free and fair voting. Somehow their own assessment was that this will produce a fractured mandate with PMLN in the lead, but still dependent on them for arranging turncoats and supporters for them to make it to the magic number. They allowed PTI to run all their independents (probably feeling that too much in the hands of PMLN will not be good for them either) (I say “let them run” because considering the undemocratic means at their disposal, they COULD have done more to suppress these people, it was not beyond their abilities) and waited for the voting to end.

The voters then delivered their verdict. PTI having no “ground game” proved irrelevant. The common people of Pakistan (at least in the “Pakistani” zones of Punjab and KPK) came out in droves to “vote out the scoundrels” and there was a PTI  landslide in KPK and in many parts of Punjab. They may even have had a lot support in Karachi, but turnout was lower and (maybe with some rigging) they did not do as well there. They did not make a dent in rural Sindh (where sindhi identity is still strong and Sindhis know that PPP is the only Sindhi party in the game) and there has not been a real election in Balochistan for decades. STill, in most of Pakistan the “independent” candidates put up by the PTI won in large numbers. Having miscalculated and now with massive egg on their face, the establishment was forced to go back to its old shenanigans and they have delayed results on many constituencies, clearly trying to alter the result in close races (eg, i know for a fact that young lawyer Taimur Malik of the PTI upset ex-prime minister Yusuf Gilani in Multan, but that seat’s result was delayed and then announced in Gilani’s favor).

But even after this post-poll rigging, it is now clear that PTI has won KPK by a landslide and has won about half the seats in Punjab. That makes them the biggest single “party” but of course on paper they are not one party, they are 125 independent MNAs (members of the national assembly). That means there is still the possibility (really, probability) that the establishment will cobble together a coalition of some favored parties plus whatever independents they can buy or cajole. Ideally the army would like to make lemonade from the lemons they have gathered together, creating some kind of “national unity govt” that is run by GHQ from behind the scenes, but more likely they will end up with a useless and fractured govt and it will not last too long. Pakistan will have another election within two years (or less), or it will have a military coup. Same old, same old. And all other crises are still bubbling along. “Militancy”, separatist insurgency, economic crisis, poor governance. The show must go on.

Just to be clear, if you think like a democrat the obvious solution is to let PTI constitute its MNAs into one party and let them form governments where they can. But keep in mind that we are talking about Pakistan, where the army has ruled for decades, directly or indirectly, so this is more or less a pipe dream.  The country is run by the army and the apparatus of the Raj (now rusted and decayed, but still the machinery that actually runs the country) and ALL parties are badly compromised. PTI itself runs on vibes and has no serious economic or foreign policy plan (if Khan stays in prison they could conceivably find a competent leader to run the govt but they are a personality based party and will not be able to keep khan on the side.. if they are in power, they have to have Khan in power and khan is an incompetent goof at that job, though one must give him credit for taking a clear stand and fighting back. And of course, FULL CREDIT to the young guns of the PTI who mananged, under very adverse circumstances, to fight back and win. A job well done. Young people in Pakistan are sick of the terrible governance and all the unfair means used by the establishment. They have spoken out against it in this election. Unfortunately, this is pakistan, so Allah will not give us any unalloyed good. Young uns are idealistic and are rejecting the authoritarian and oppressive establishment, but ideologically they are all over the place, the default narrative is PMA-level paknationalist (which is why they are extra angry now, because they think big bad America has kicked out their hero, who was trying to do the Islamic Paknationalist thing and was stopped by anti-islam and anti-pakistan forces). They have done a great thing on February 8th, but all the other realities remain unchanged.
It is what it is. 

If you want to see my pre-election thoughts, i did a podcast:

 

My podcast when Imran Khan was arrested is here: https://www.brownpundits.com/2023/05/11/pakistan-crisis-the-arrest-of-imran-khan/

My article from 2011 about Imran Khan (I never liked him in politics).

Seat position per Dawn.com as I write this (a bit misleading because they are not showing many independents as PTI when they really are):

Browncast: Election Time in Pakistan

Another Browncast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

I talk to Maneesh Taneja about the upcoming elections and the general situation in Pakistan. It is really just a general gup shup, but we do touch on Imran Khan’s latest conviction (for marrying his new wife before the sharia required waiting period had expired) at the end of the interview 🙂

By the way, this is the section of the Indian Penal Code (Thank you Macaulay) that was used to punish Imran Khan:

Section 496 in The Indian Penal Code, 1860

496. Marriage ceremony fraudulently gone through without lawful marriage.—

Whoever, dishonestly or with a fraudulent intention, goes through the ceremony of being married, knowing that he is not thereby lawfully married, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.

 

Imran Khan vs Gen Asim Munir: Who will checkmate the other? - THE NEW INDIAN

Israel’s Missile Defense

From Dr Hamid Hussain.

19 November 2023

Conversations about Israeli missile defense, its role in bigger picture of conflict & US assistance in this field resulted in this summary for those interested in the subject.

Hamid

 Protective Umbrella – Israel’s Missile Defense System

Hamid Hussain

“The quality of our lives depends not on whether or not we have conflicts, but on how we respond to them.”
Thomas Crum

Israel has a multi-layered missile defense system to counter rockets, artillery, missiles, and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Israel‘s national missile defense program is called Homa (Hebrew for Fortress Wall). Homa is a layered, active defense system. The bottom layer is Iron Dome that intercepts short-range surface-to-surface rockets, middle layer is David’s Sling that intercepts short to medium and medium to long range surface-to-surface missiles and upper layer is Arrow-2 (upper-atmospheric) that intercepts medium to long range missiles and Arrow-3 (exo-atmospheric) that intercepts long-range missiles.  Israel also has 4-6 Patriot batteries (known in Israel by Hebrew name Yahalom meaning diamond), Israel’s Missile Defense Organization (IMDO), established in 1991 is responsible for the development, management and improvement of Israel’s active defense systems including radars, command and control systems, network connectivity, launchers, and interceptors.

Peace treaties with neighboring Egypt and Jordan improved Israel’s defense. Initial threat perception consisted of medium and long-range missiles from hostile states especially Iraq, Iran, and Syria. In 1998, the first Arrow-2 system was transferred to the Israeli Air Force (IAF) to counter this threat. In 2000s, use of small range rockets by Hezbollah and Hamas created a new challenge as long-range Arrow-2 system was not effective against these small projectiles. After the 2006, Israel-Hezbollah war, research, and development to counter this new challenge resulted in development of Iron Dome system with intercept range of 2.5 to 43 miles. Iron Dome became operational in March 2011 and within few days intercepted a Grad rocket fired from the Gaza Strip at the Israeli city of Ashkelon.

Iron Dome system has three components. The Multi Mission Radar (MMR) detects the rocket’s routes and sends the information to the command-and-control center that analyzes the trajectory of rockets and their estimated landing area. If the landing area of the rocket is uninhabited, no action is taken. If the landing area is a military structure or civilian inhabited area, then command and control unit send the order to launcher to fire interceptor missile that explodes close to the rocket to disintegrate it and avoid damage from large debris. Currently, Israel has ten Iron Dome batteries deployed throughout the country, and each battery is designed to defend a sixty square mile populated area. Each battery has three to four launchers loaded with up to 20 Tamir interceptors per launcher for a total of 60-80 interceptors per battery. Each Iron Dome battery costs about $100 million and the cost of each Tamir interceptor missile is $40’000. Continue reading Israel’s Missile Defense

The Day After (the Gaza war).. From Dr Hamid Hussain

This piece is based on my presentation to a private group looking beyond the kinetic operations of current Middle East crisis.

The Day After

Hamid Hussain

“As a rule, there are no military solutions to political problems. Solutions are always combined. The use of military force is both part of policy and a pursuance of policy.”  

Major General Yoav Har-Evan; Head of Israel Defense Forces Operations Directorate

On 07 October 2023, Hamas launched a devastating attack on Israeli towns close to Gaza border killing over fourteen hundred Israeli soldiers and civilians including women and children.  Israelis were shocked at the stunning intelligence and military failure as well as the unprecedented carnage.  It was a forgone conclusion that Israel will react with the unprecedented vengeance. Hamas was surprised by poor response of Israeli security forces and went on a killing spree and even brought back over two hundred Israelis as hostages. This unexpected success may prove to be the end of Hamas as an organized political and military entity. Jury is still out on whether this incident will jump start a moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process or prove to be a fatal blow to two state solution.

Israel unleashed its fire power without any restraints and after two weeks of bombing, Gaza looks like a post-apocalyptic zombie land.  Of the nine thousand dead, half are children and that is a new blood-soaked record for the Middel East that is used to carnage. Israel started ground operation from the north while at the same time cutting off Gaza into half by surrounding Gaza City.  The first step is to gain control of the above ground battlefield and then think about what to do with the underground battlefield.  It looks that their goal is to finish Hamas fighters in northern half and blowing up underground tunnels before launching similar exercise in the south with the goal of completing high velocity kinetic operations in six to eight weeks. There is no intention of going in the tunnels to fight Hamas fighters as it entails high casualties. For Hamas fighters there are only two options.  One is to drop weapon and mingle in the civilian population and live to fight another day or fight to death with no quarter given or asked. Presence of Israeli hostages in the tunnels poses another challenge as using smoke, chemicals, or water to flood the tunnels means certain death of hostages along with Hamas fighters.

The free pass given to Israel by United States and European Union (EU) has an expiration date as large-scale civilian carnage cannot be ignored. Large scale protests in United States and European cities are putting pressure on the governments to allow humanitarian pauses if not a ceasefire.  This also unleashed anti-Jewish sentiments and violent acts against Jews all over the world. Modern conflict is not limited only to the battlefield but beamed in real time to the living rooms of a global audience and public opinion becomes an extension of the conflict. Israel cannot ignore public relations disaster despite a united nation at home and support from US and western governments.

Gaza is a densely populated area where 2.3 million Gazans live in a territory that is about thirty miles long and ten miles wide.  Out of 1.1 million Gazans living north of Gaza City, 800’000 have moved to south after incursion of Israeli troops.  Israel will allow several hours windows for civilian evacuation route along the main north-south Gaza highway from north to south and then reverse it when operations start in south. However, the small geographic size and very high population density puts limits to such exercise, and more than a half million Gazans will be in the middle of the inferno at any given time.  Israel will also allow intermittent humanitarian convoys into Gaza from Egypt and coordinate with Jordan for even airdrop of humanitarian supplies.  These measures are essential for public relations. Civilian casualties have probably peaked in the first phase, and it is estimated that it will be markedly reduced in the second phase. However, large scale damage is already done with a new generation of Palestinians filled with anger and hatred that will unleash the next round.

Kinetic operations are the easy part and will be completed in few weeks with less than few dozen dozen fatal Israeli casualties. In view of unprecedented carnage of Israel citizens, society is willing to absorb military casualties as high as about a thousand. War is a business of uncertainty and unexpected events not even initiated by the adversary can change the course. In 1997, midair collision of two Israeli transport helicopters killed 73 soldiers. This national trauma generated a groundswell of anti-war sentiment in Israeli society that resulted in Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon.

Heavy work will be required when kinetic operations are completed as there is no clear path ahead. In view of un-precedented Israeli carnage, Israel entered the conflict without serious debate about exit strategy.  Kinetic operations had to be initiated quickly mainly to restore morale of Israeli public.  All other considerations took the back seat. Continue reading The Day After (the Gaza war).. From Dr Hamid Hussain

Iran and Hezbollah; Likely Options (from Dr Hamid Hussain)

a few days old, but looks like his assessment was correct:

09 November 2023

Previous piece about the day after of current crisis generated many questions and one question was asked about potential widening of theatre especially Iran/Hezbollah role.

My response below;

I short and medium term, Hezbollah, Iran, Israel & USA have no interest in expanding the conflict. Operationally, Israel can not conduct a northern front large scale operation at this stage. Major factor is that Israel has used large stocks of Tamir missiles of Iron Dome interceptors and major threat from Hezbollah is its expanded rockets arsenal. To give an example of cost ratio, average cost of long-range rocket used by Hamas and Hezbollah is $300-400 while each Tamir interceptor missile of Iron Dome costs $40’000. Of 500’000 mobilized troops, 60% on Southern front in Gaza and 40% in West Bank and Israeli cities with large Arab population to keep lid on restive Palestinians. Expanded northern front will require mobilization of additional reserves putting more strain on already stretched economy. In addition, over 200’000 Israelis are displaced from southern and northern border areas. All this points to Israel’s preference to focus on south and keep all other fronts quiet. This does not mean that Israel’s hands are completely tied. Hamas rocket threats are markedly reduced by ground operation in Gaza, ten Israeli Iron Dome batteries with two batteries from US currently in transit although whole inventory of Tamir interceptor missiles in US inventory have reached Israel that can tackle Hezbollah rocket threat although interception rate may not be over 98% in view of heavy barrage. (US army has no role for Iron Dome as it cannot be integrated into American anti-missile system. They never requested it but Congress as a favor to Israel approved $373 and told Pentagon to buy it. Pentagon complied but parked it at Joint Air Force Base in Washington as it had no use of the system ). Air Force though not a perfect instrument to tackle rocket threat can be used to keep heads of Hezbollah down in Lebanon. In my view, northern front will remain quiet unless a major unintentional mishap occurs on either side.

US armada is a signal only for Iran/Hezbollah (you don’t need a nuclear submarine and aircraft carrier for action against Hamas fighters in a tunnel) and Hezbollah and Iran have no wish to commit suicide. Small rockets from Lebanon to keep area warm but no action to start a fire. Iran is very happy with this situation and ayatollahs are savoring the return on their investment.

US and Iran in back room negotiations to keep things limited to Hamas. Iran promising to keep Hezbollah and other proxies in Iraq and Yemen on a tight leash and promise of getting some hostages especially with US and European passports get released in return for US not doing anything about the $ 6 billion in escrow account in Qatar that was put there recently after last round of prisoner swap deal between Tehran and Washington.

I’m working on a piece about role of regional players. It is all Byzantine deals and nothing about peace or morality. I’m aware of UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan quietly supporting the effort to completely demolish the spoiler Hamas this time ( they expected the same in 2006 that Israel will demolish Hezbollah). Their only condition is to keep casualties low and allow pauses for humanitarian efforts (Jordan airdrop, UAE planning a field hospital in Gaza) so that their angry streets don’t cause domestic problems.

Iran’s general strategy is to keep small fires in the ring around Israel so that it cannot concentrate efforts to directly threaten Iran especially attack on nuclear facilities.  Hamas is one piece of the puzzle and other two are Hezbollah and some activity on Syrian front where Israeli air force busy in interdicting weapon shipments and attack storage facilities in Syria.

Tehran was already diversifying the portfolio by increasing support to Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Gaza and some towns of West Bank (PIJ head Ziad Nakhle is parked in Damascus). Hamas has served their purpose to keep Israel busy enough so that they do not fully concentrate on a major action against Tehran. October 7 crossed a certain threshold as far as Israel is concerned. In long term, it depends how Israeli strategic community comes out of this crisis. It is a game changer and much bigger than Yom Kippur trauma of 1973. In October 1973, Israeli strategic calculation changed to making peace with Egypt. October 2023 may do the same to make peace with Palestinians but I don’t have hope for that outcome. More likely strategic decision will be that Iran is the root cause of Israel pain and historian may record this conflict as first Israeli-Iranian war. The project will be to bring down the very regime of ayatollahs and Iranian response will be to shift to West Bank and possibly Arab citizens of Israel to start the fire in Israel’s backyard that is ripe for such efforts. Israel’s efforts will mirror image that of Iran and concentrated in Iraqi Kurdistan and Azerbaijan that already serve as major bases for Israeli operations against Iran.

“History tells us that it gets worse before it gets better”.        Iraqi Shia seminary student

Regards,

Hamid

The Israeli Defense Forces (by Dr Hamid Hussain)

Dr Hamid Hussain, a well known and well respected military historian happened to be working on a piece about the IDF when Oct 7 happened. Here is his updated piece.

23 October 2023

Last few months, I have been working on different facets of Israeli & Palestinian societies.  I had just completed a piece about transformation of IDF but 07 October events necessitated addition of this seismic event; the aftershocks of which will be felt for a while. Despite horrific violence, unfortunately for students of history and conflict, it is just continuation of human activity since killing of Abel by Cain. Nothing is inevitable in history.  It is our actions that shape the history.

In times of extreme pain on each side and anger, frustration and outright hatred of partisans and onlookers is not conducive for a meaningful conversation.  That will probably occur later. It is a sterile review of military dimension devoid of any emotional or moral judgements.

“Only the dead have seen the end of war”.  Plato

Hamid

Change Before You Have to – Transformation of Israeli Defense Forces

Hamid Hussain

“History doesn’t stop. By the time we build capabilities from our vision against terror armies, we will be facing a new challenge because the enemy adapts.”

Israeli army Brigadier General Eran Ortal, February 2023

Continue reading The Israeli Defense Forces (by Dr Hamid Hussain)

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