“The sole survivor”

The shadow wars waged between Pakistan and India in Afghanistan as recounted by William Dalrymple.

As I have noted before, the wars will end when the elites decide that enough is enough. Let us hope that they have the wisdom to step up to the plate (together) sooner rather than later.

At six o’clock in the morning of February
26, 2010, Major Mitali Madhumita was awakened by the ringing of her
mobile phone. Mitali, a 35-year-old Indian army officer from Orissa, had
been in Kabul less than a year. Fluent in Dari, the most widely spoken
language in Afghanistan, she was there to teach English to the first
women officer cadets to be recruited to the Afghan National Army.

It was a sensitive posting, not so much because of gender issues as
political ones: India’s regional rival, Pakistan, was extremely touchy
about India providing military assistance to the government in
Afghanistan and had made it very clear that it regarded the presence of
any Indian troops or military trainers there as an unacceptable
provocation. For this reason everyone on the small Indian army English
Language Training Team, including Mitali, and all the Indian army
doctors and nurses staffing the new Indira Gandhi Kabul Children’s
Hospital, had been sent to Afghanistan unarmed, and in civilian dress.
They were being put up not in an army barracks, or at the Indian
Embassy, but in a series of small, discreet guest houses dotted around
the city’s diplomatic quarter.  

The phone call was from a girlfriend of Mitali’s who
worked for Air India at Kabul airport. Breathless, she said she had just
heard that two of the Indian guest houses, the Park and the Hamid, were
under attack by militants. 
As the only woman on her team, Mitali had
been staying in separate lodgings about two miles away from the rest of
her colleagues, who were all in the Hamid. Within seconds, Mitali was
pulling on her clothes, along with the hijab she was required to wear,
and running, alone and unarmed, through the empty morning streets of
Kabul toward the Hamid. 
“I just thought they might need my help,” she told me recently in New Delhi. 
As she dashed past the Indian Embassy, Mitali was
recognized by one of the guards from diplomatic security who shouted to
her to stop. The area around the guest houses was mayhem, he told her.
She should not go on alone. She must return immediately to her lodgings
and stay there.
“I don’t require your permission to rescue my
colleagues,” Mitali shouted back, and kept on running. When she passed
the presidential compound, she was stopped again, this time at gunpoint,
by an Afghan army security check post. Five minutes later she had
charmed one of the guards into giving her a lift in his jeep. Soon they
could hear bursts of automatic weapons, single shots from rifles and
loud grenade blasts. 
 “As we neared the area under attack I jumped out of the jeep and ran
straight into the ruins of what had been the Hamid guesthouse. It was
first light, but because of all the dust and smoke, visibility was very
low and it was difficult to see anything. The front portion of the
guesthouse was completely destroyed—there was just a huge crater.
Everything had been reduced to rubble.
A car bomb had rammed the front
gate and leveled the front of the compound. Three militants then
appeared and began firing at anyone still alive. I just said, ‘Oh my
God,’ and ran inside. 
“I found my way in the smoke to the area at the back
where my colleagues had been staying. Here the walls were standing but
it was open to the sky—the blast had completely removed the roof, which
was lying in chunks all over the floor. There was cross-firing going on
all around me, and the militants were throwing Chinese incendiary
grenades. Afghan troops had taken up positions at the top of the Park
Residence across the road and were firing back. I couldn’t see the
militants, but they were hiding somewhere around me.
“As quietly as I could, I called for my
colleagues and went to where their rooms had been, but I couldn’t find
them anywhere. I searched through the debris and before long started
pulling out bodies. A man loomed out of the gloom and I shouted to him
to identify himself. But he wasn’t a terrorist—he was the information
officer from our embassy and he began helping me. Together we managed to
get several injured people out of the rubble and into safety. 
“Then we heard a terrible blast. We later learned
that Major Jyotin Singh had tackled a suicide bomber, and by holding him
from behind had prevented him entering the Park Residence. The bomber
was forced to blow himself up outside. Jyotin had saved the lives of all
the medical team inside.
“But the only one of my colleagues who hadn’t been killed on the spot,
Major Nitesh Roy, died of his 40% burns in hospital three days later. I
was the only one of my team who came back alive.”



The Begums of Bhopal (new edition)

Bhopal was ruled by Nawabs and Begums stretching as far back as 1723 (dynasty founded by Nawab Dost Muhammad Khan Bahadur) [ref. wiki]. When India became independent Begum Sajida Sultan
(1915 – 1995)
was the last titular Begum of Bhopal until
1971 when India abolished royal entitlements. Upon the demise of Begum Sajida in 1995, the title was left
to her oldest daughter Nawabzadi Saleha Sultan Begum Sahiba, Bhopal
being a matriarchy.

File:Begum sajida sultan.jpg 

There are no more Begums, instead we have the cardholders of the Indian Muslim Women’s League (BMMA) who are meeting in Bhopal and developing strategies that will strive to preserve the secular, democratic nature of the Indian Republic. As the times change, it is fitting that people (and systems) change as well- common people coming together to shape the future of their fellow citizens as opposed to blindly following the dictates of a (not always) benign monarch.

….      Women leaders and volunteers of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan
(BMMA) have urged women belonging to the minority community to come
together with men to safeguard democracy and secularism in the country.

In a clear indication
that it does not want members of the minority community to vote for the
BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, the press release said the BJP was propping up a prime ministerial candidate with a tainted record of deaths of innocents in Gujarat in 2002.

“There have been several riots across the country in the last two
years. All this really points to the potential return of communalism to
the centre-stage of Indian politics. It also indicates the fragility of
communal peace and the continuing communalisation of mind-sets and
sections of society.   The development bandwagon cannot continue in the
face of poverty, injustice and communal violence taking place in
different parts of the country,” said the press release. 



Pakistan and India: divided by a common culture

The aam aadmi on both sides of the border will mostly agree with the sentiments expressed by the author (but the elites will not). The cultural (and many other) bonds that are still intact have to be placed alongside the antipathy generated by the hot/cold war that has been going on for the last 67 years. To tell the truth, apart from the Balkans, there are probably few other examples that match the hostilities generated by the British partitions of India, Palestine, Cyprus, and Ireland. Finally, the mixed emotions about Indian movies are relevant for an Indian (middle-class) audience as well.

The only place where I disagree with the author (and this comes back from Zachary’s earlier note of a Pakistani and Indian muslim friendship) is that Pakistanis (and by extension the global media) automatically assume that Indians culture is primarily (even exclusively) Hindu, or even more alarmingly a muslim culture polluted by Hindu sentiments. In contrast I would imagine (perhaps wrongly) that  muslims in Kanpur and Karachi will be able to find a significant amount of overlap in their culture and world-views- to take one specific example, Indian muslims are jut as strongly anti-zionist as their brothers across the Ummah.

The reason I am pessimistic about even a cold peace is because the ideological differences are so hot and stark. Peace will come only when the elites will have had enough of war, that is for sure.

As India and Pakistan struggle to resolve their political differences
presently, there is an India/Pakistan-related struggle going on inside
me too.

My inner instincts tell me that a big part of my cultural heritage
relates to India. However, Pakistani ideologues and even some close
relatives tell me that it is unpatriotic to assert any cultural
attachment with India due to Pakistan’s political differences with that
country. Is it possible for a Pakistani to separate cultural and
political issues and simultaneously maintain cultural affinity but
political differences with India?

One must first analyse the
extent of similarity between Indian and Pakistani cultures. Culture
refers to societal ideas, customs and social behaviours and encapsulates
the domains of art, dress, language, food, family structures, religious
practices, festivals, traditions, values etc. There is admittedly
enormous cultural diversity within both countries and sweeping
comparisons between the two cultures are inappropriate.

it is also true that there is large similarity in the cultures of
Pakistan’s eastern regions (Sindh, Punjab and Azad Kashmir) and India’s
northern and western regions along most cultural aspects mentioned
above, eg art and dress. While Pakistanis living in the country’s
western regions obviously have more cultural linkages with Pakistan’s
western neighbours (eg Afghanistan), Pakistan’s eastern regions host the
bulk of the population. Thus, for the majority of Pakistanis, the large
cultural overlap with India is undeniable.

Religion obviously is
the main realm of exception to this cultural similarity
and since it
influences many traditions, there are differences too between Indian and
Pakistani cultures. Additionally, over the last three decades,
middle-class cultural values in the two countries have become more

Parts of the Pakistani middle class have unfortunately
become more conservative, xenophobic and intolerant. Conversely, the
Indian middle class has become more liberal and Westernised. This,
positively, has meant greater tolerance for diversity but also,
negatively, greater focus on materialism within Indian society in
contrast to the high degree of frugality that Indian middle classes
practiced traditionally.

The most visible manifestation of this
increasing difference in values is in movies and the media. Indian
movies are now increasingly exploring themes, eg in movies such as
Bombay Talkies, which can barely be mentioned even in liberal Pakistani
newspapers. On the negative side, it means that it is often difficult
now to watch Indian movies with family.

religious differences, I and a lot of other expatriate Pakistanis that I
know usually find it easier to relate with expatriate Indians due to
the strong linguistic and cultural linkages than with Muslims or
non-Muslims from Africa, the Middle East and Far East. Given these
cultural similarities, it does not make sense to disown such a large
part of one’s cultural legacy, especially one to which Muslims
contributed so much over the centuries before Partition. 

Trying to
disown such a large part of one’s cultural legacy can only have
negative repercussions for the individual and collective national
psyche. One must have the self-confidence and a sense of balance to be
able to assert cultural similarities with India without feeling ashamed,
guilty or unpatriotic.

Thus, over the last few decades, India has
arguably become the second largest exporter of culture (through the
export of its movies, music, food, etc) in the world after the US. I
must admit that whenever I see such Indian cultural artefacts being
appreciated globally, in places as diverse as Addis Ababa, Vietnam and
Israel, I cannot help feeling some sense of pride and personal
connection too.

Yet Indian movies portray Islam with respect and often on an
equal footing with Hinduism. In contrast, it is rare to see Pakistani
movies showing respect and positivity towards Hinduism. However,
when it comes to Pakistan, Indian movies are largely silent or portray
Pakistan negatively even though Pakistan is probably the biggest market
for them after India.



A few quick easy tips to a better and healthier life

I have noticed that in the West (or the Western way of living), we’ve acquired some fairly dangerous habits that when built up aren’t necessarily good for us. I do most of these however unfortunately I don’t have an Asian toilet.

  • Sit or Squat in the Toilet. I can’t emphasise how much better it is to squat in the toilet than it is to sit. In fact in the gym, the Squat is called the “King of the Exercises” and therefore to squat regularly is not only good for the bowels but also good as a general work out. Also while toilet hygiene is a separate matter on a like for like basis squatting is far cleaner because there is no contact (as opposed to sitting in a public toilet).

“You have a muscle that’s connected to your pelvis that in a sitting position cinches closed your colon and stops you from going completely and quickly, as you should do. In the squatting position this muscle is relaxed and you can go and your colon is straightened, which enables you to go quickly and much more completely,” Codling told ReutersSit or Squat? New Toilet Design Encompasses Best of Both Worlds [VIDEO]

  • Toilet paper vs. Lota. Continuing the East and West clash of civilisations in the toilet; it’s fairly self-evident that water washing is more hygienic than tissues. If you spill sticky liquid on a table you have to use wet tissues, which seems to me the best solution of them all. Of course technology again is helping as with the below.

“Paper just distributes the problem,” said Lenora Campos, a spokeswoman for Georgia-based Toto USA. Toto, the Japanese company that pioneered the modern electronic toilet seat, has sold 34 million of them globally. “We wash most things with water and wouldn’t dream of wiping a dish or anything else with a piece of paper and calling it clean. So why should personal hygiene be any different?” Home trends: High tech toilets may wash away need for toilet paper

I know this this is not common practice, but it is actually quite important! Fluoride, one of the active ingredients in toothpaste, doesn’t spend much time in contact when your teeth when you are brushing. Thus, it is crucial to let it work after you have already brushed your teeth. According to dentist Dr. Phil Stemmer, from The Fresh Breath Centre in London, “Rinsing washes away the protective flouride coating left by the toothpaste, which would otherwise add hours of protection.” If you are thirsty drink a glass of water before brushing your teeth!
Anytime you take a shower — especially a hot one — with soap and a scrubbing device like a washcloth or a loofah, you’re undermining the integrity of your skin’s horny layer. The soap and the hot water dissolve the lipids in the skin and scrubbing only hastens the process. The more showers you take, the more frequently this damage takes place and the less time your skin has to repair itself through natural oil production. What’s more, the horny layer of your skin can be sloughed off by scrubbing, exposing the delicate skin cells beneath. The result of showering too frequently is generally dry, irritated and cracked skin.
Another problem related to showering too often is the use of a towel to dry off. While rubbing yourself dry with a towel is common practice, it’s also a damaging one for your skin. Air drying is the optimal way to dry off following a shower, but if you don’t have time to wait for evaporation or don’t like tracking bathwater throughout your house, you can still use a towel. Just make sure it’s a soft one and use a gentle patting motion to absorb water.
  • Shower with Freezing Water. I’ve started to do this and it’s an amazing way to take on a life-changing habit that is beneficial to your hygiene, immunity, skin, metabolism and testosterone. You can google it but here are 7 reasons for showering with cold water.
  • If you want to stay fit just go on chewing your food. We’ve forgotten how to enjoy flavours in the rise of the Fast food culture but now I chew at least 10 times a bit and on Saturday night after a 12hour fast (we are in the Baha’i fasts at the moment up to Naw Ruz) I only had 2 pizza slices & a meat samosa. That’s roughly 400-800 calories after 12 hours of not eating. Here is (another) 7 Reasons why Chewing food is important for you.
  • This particular point is less empirical but I tend to take Aloe Vera (benefits are here), am looking at acupuncture, eating with chopsticks for East Asian foods and try hands for South Asian food (obviously I make sure my hands are thoroughly clean). Also because I chew thoroughly I tend to be more relaxed about what I eat because my portions are so much less. I don’t drink or smoke or do drugs (I don’t use a razor) but I’ll finish off here.

BJP grabs the first seat (West Bengal)

The General Elections 2014 (GE2014) starts with the first result as of today. The BJP and the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha have re-affirmed their ties. Thus the Darjeeling seat will remain with the NDA for the 2014 cycle. In 2009 Jaswant Singh was the winner (51.5%).   In return BJP (if it comes to power) will promise to look into creating State #30- Gorkhaland (currently part of West Bengal). The sticking point (as with the Andhra Pradesh/Telengana division) has been the allotment of Siliguri (the principal town in North Bengal). BJP may decide to act this time (and Congress may help as a quid pro quo), since Telengana division (and allotment of Hyderabad to Telengana) could not have happened without BJPs support.  As a result, Mamata will be facing a loss of up to 3 Lok Sabha seats but she will have a free run in the rest of Bengal. The central govt will also be freed up to strike (North Bengal focused) boundary/river water sharing agreements with Bangladesh (these talks are at a dead-end because of Didi). It is win-win for everybody!!!   BJP
president Rajnath Singh wrote in Twitter, “Gorkha Janamukthi Morcha
(GJM) president Shri Bimal Gurung has decided to support the BJP in
coming Lok Sabha polls. I welcome his decision.”  

Rohildev Nattukallingal wins big with FIN

The 23 year old boy from Malappuram makes it big on the world stage (youngest speaker so far at the World Mobile Congress). Congratulations sir!!!

Remember those people talking animatedly to themselves in public who
you used to give a wide berth to before you realized that they weren’t
crazy, just the first users of a new Bluetooth technology with wireless
devices tucked behind their ears?

Well, get ready for the next
wave of people acting strange publicly, gesturing and waving their
fingers in your face, with colorful rings around their thumbs. Because
they’re coming, and those rings are the newest addition to the “internet
of things” — wearable technology that promises to change the world. The
rings, called Fins, make your entire palm a gesture interface with
which you can control multiple connected devices.



Racism is more foolish than bad

Yes, this is indeed a time of crisis, it is still astounding how a responsible politician (home minister no less) can not comprehend the foolishness of his words.  

Will the immigration officers (who may now lose their jobs over this) have the guts to tell him that it is possible to hold a white-man’s visa, yet appear asian? Perhaps Malaysia has a no-naturalization policy for differently-skinned (whites, browns and blacks) people? That may help explain (but not excuse) things a bit.

interior minister said two passengers who used stolen passports to
board a Malaysia Airlines plane that went missing with 239 people aboard
had “Asian facial features”, according to a report.

Fears of a terror attack have surfaced after
it was revealed that at least two passengers boarded the plane with
stolen passports — one from Italy and one from Austria. The passport
owners have been found to be safe.

“I am still puzzled how come (immigration officers) cannot think: an
Italian and Austrian but with Asian facial features,” Home Minister
Zahid Hamidi was quoted as saying late Sunday by Malaysia’s national
news agency Bernama.

“We will conduct an internal probe, particularly on the officers who
were on duty at the KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport)
immigration counter during flight MH370,” Zahid said.



“Taliban” ban in Legoland

While in India debate is raging about how hardline groups can (preemptively) force pusillanimous publishers to withdraw  books, in Britain things seemed to have taken an even darker turn, whereby a “fun day for muslims” has been preemptively banned due to threat of violence.

I would blame loud and proud members of both British Islamists and British Firsters for this turn of affairs, whereby threat of violence can be used to get your way. The protagonist on the Islamist side is Haitham al-Haddad who gets off while making offensive statements about Jews, gays and also about the permissibility of Female Genital Mutilation (in brief: some versions are sunnah or proper).

In response you have Richrd Littlejohn referring to the muslim group visit as a “Jolly Jihadi Boy’s Outing” One would argue that payback (at a personal level and only as speech) is fair-play but certainly not as wholesale intimidation of groups. With every such incident the vicious circle keeps getting twisted into a tighter knot.

Far-right extremists gloated with images of Lego Taliban figures after a Muslim fun day at Legoland was cancelled. The images formed part of an outpouring of glee, spearheaded by EDL
splinter group Casuals United,
which greeted news a fun day for Muslim
families at the theme park in Windsor been pulled, following a campaign
of threats and intimidation against it. Opponents of the event – dubbed “halal entertainment” by organisers –
posted jihadi fighter versions of the much loved children’s figures on
social media. 
They are grasping heavy weaponry and have grenades
strapped to them. 

The cancelled event was planned by the Muslim Research and
Development Foundation and was controversial because its leader, Haitham
al-Haddad, has a history of anti-Semitic comments. Anti-Muslim tweets
and threats of violence on social media forced the decision,
which was
made in consultation with Thames Valley police.

Legoland said it was “appalled” at pulling the plug on the event.  Police are investigating a number of offensive messages. A spokesperson for the theme park said: “These alone have led us to
conclude that we can no longer guarantee the happy fun family event
which was envisaged, or the safety of our guests and employees on that
– which is always our number one priority. 



A glimpse of Pakistan and her castes.

FAB story #2: Imad Uddin Ahmed from Lahore, Pakistan, writes:

Until I moved to Pakistan for a few years after
graduating from college in California, I wouldn’t say that I
saw my Indian or Indian diaspora friends as anything other than fellow South
Asians – brown brothers and sisters who had similar tastes and values, but who
supported the wrong cricket team and prayed in a different way. 

In Pakistan, I inquired and discovered what caste
my Hindu ancestors belonged to, having been asked by a colleague on my first
day at work (at a women’s rights NGO!) 

In Pakistan, I learned the South Asian prejudices
that South Asian beauty was predicated on a light skin-tone and, for men, sharp
features and height. I learnt too that these features were associated with
higher caste Indians and with Muslims – descendants of invaders were regarded
as more beautiful than the indigenous people who had constructed the Indus’
most ancient civilisations. Why, then, the likes of Shiv Sena only target
Muslims in India as foreigners (many of whose ancestors were Hindu), seems a
bit arbitrary. It was in Pakistan that I learnt how, in spite of inhabiting an
Islamic republic, Pakistanis carried forth their un-Islamic caste prejudices,
and that these prejudices allowed many of us to feel superior. By learning how
somewhat physically different we were from many Indians, I also learnt how
similar our mentalities were to my image of them. 

For all the prejudices I ridiculed, I started
subconsciously imbibing them, and my recent friendships with Indians and Hindus
have been coloured by them. Where I previously had yearned for dark and lovely
South Asian girls, I started favouring the light-skinned ones, and I’ve enjoyed
teasing Brahmin girls I’ve dated that they had lost their caste. (Apparently
for fear of losing hers, one of my ancestors refused to share the crockery her
son had used, let alone hug him, once he had converted to Islam.) I now guess
(to myself) a person’s caste by considering their surname and looks, and try to
figure out whether their life choices (profession, partner, extra-curricular
activities) have been affected by it. 

Hussein (name changed to protect privacy) was the
first Indian friend I had made since I had started living in Pakistan. We
connected through blogging while I was in Lahore and he was in Mumbai. 

We were initially drawn to each other by a
fascination with each other’s otherness. He wanted to know what Pakistan was
like, his thirst having been whet by a book called Husband of a Fanatic about
my (and Amitava Kumar’s) relatives in Pakistan, and about Hindu extremism in
India. I had never known a Muslim Indian, and wanted to know whether he felt
marginalised, what his daily struggles were and which cricket team he
supported. (I myself failed Norman Tebbit’s test of being a true Brit for
failing to support England.)

When we finally became friends in the UK, he shared
with me Tehelka’s coverage of the 2002 Gujarat riots, and then details of his
own tragic loss in those riots.

Despite seeing an indecent proportion of his
compatriots support the man responsible for inciting those riots, he tells me
that he is glad that his grandparents didn’t cross the border – I understand
his view: whereas in India, you aren’t safe being a Muslim, in Pakistan you
aren’t safe being the wrong type of Muslim. Pakistan and India aren’t too

About the author: Imaduddin Ahmed is a Pakistani
and British Public Private Partnerships financial transactions advisor in
Rwanda. He has blogged as ‘The Lost Pakistani’ for GQ India and co-authored
with Kapil Komireddi ‘Pakistan, rebranded’ for The Boston Globe, as well as
opinion editorials and comment pieces for the global edition of The New York
Times, Internationale Politik, The Guardian, The East African, The Friday Times
of Pakistan and New Strait Times.

Photo credit: Asim Rafiqui


A very brave, wise man speaks his mind

Kamal Siddiqui, editor The Express Tribune. A proud son of Pakistan.

Over the past six months, our media group has been attacked thrice.
In the first instance, two employees were injured. In the most recent
attack, which took place on a DSNG van of Express News in
January, three staffers were shot dead. The TTP took responsibility for
the last attack. We still have no clue about the other two.

While it is difficult to work under such circumstances, it is not
impossible. But as an editor, one has to be cautious about what appears
in print or online, more so for the safety of our staff.

While we have a duty to inform our readers, we also have a duty to
our colleagues to not put them in unnecessary danger. Being part of the
Coalition for Ethical Journalism, I have repeated time and again to
colleagues that no news story is worth the death of a journalist.

Stories cannot be killed. But people can.

After the attacks, we looked at our policy on the comment and opinion
pieces. On some occasions, we felt contributors went overboard. We did
not stop reporting on militant outfits. We did not censor incidents. We
are in the business of journalism, we know what our readers want.
some reason, many  have accused us of cowing down. I ask these armchair
analysts to come and spend a day in the field, like my staff do, and
then tell us what to do. 

Working in the media in Pakistan is a fine balancing act these days.
We are one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists. The
public’s expectations have to be balanced with those of different
players, some of whom are extremely sensitive on how we portray them.

We have worked hard to report on the real Pakistan. As an editor, I am
of the firm belief that Pakistan’s main issues are not what the prime
minister or president said that day but health, education, population,
poverty and yes, polio.
We have consistently written about the plight of
religious minorities, marginalised communities, crimes against women
and on subjects as varied as human rights and poor governance.

I concede that the space for our media is receding. But Pakistan
still has one of the most vibrant media in the Muslim world.
It is an
irony that under the dictatorship under Gen Zia-ul Haq, journalists were
routinely threatened and in some instances incarcerated by authorities.
Now that we are comparatively freer, we are still under threat and
adhere to self censorship as the state has stepped aside and non-state
players are threatening us.

It is somewhat misleading to assume that only the ‘liberal’ media in
Pakistan is under threat. All media houses are affected. What
disappoints me today is that the state has in some ways abdicated its
role of protecting the media. And if that is not enough, some media
houses are playing petty. Instead of rallying behind us when we were
attacked, the largest media house in Pakistan and its allies instead
chose not to run the story. That for me is the bigger tragedy.