The wellspring of corruption

Writing in Cricinfo this morning, Harsha Bhogle makes a point that plugs straight into something a cricketer and a friend told me last night.

Why do I play this game?

If the answer is that you want to excel at the one thing that you are good at, that you want to find the limits of your ability, that you relish the challenge of a competition, that you get goose pimples putting on your country’s colours and walking out to the expectations of your countrymen, you will pursue those goals and take whatever reward you get. Invariably it will be handsome.

If the answer is that you want to earn a good living as quickly as you can, that you want to bask in the comforts of the material pleasures that your talent delivers to you, you will take whatever financial inducement comes your way. Inevitably it will be tainted, inevitably the dessert will be laced.

It is our choices that tell us who we are.

But these choices can be influenced; sometimes, and I hope never, young players can be coerced into walking down a specific path. And so it comes down to the air they breathe when their minds are still fragile. It could be the air of excellence that drives a young man to newer heights of achievement. Or it could be the putrid air of greed that could infect him and snuff a career out before it has had time to blossom.

The point is well taken — like any other seed, corruption needs fertile ground in which to spout, to flourish. [While on that, read Tariq Ali] And the saddest part of the ongoing corruption saga is that all conversation is about rooting out the individual plant, never about clearing up the soil itself.

That is the point my cricketer friend made last night, while we were discussing the recent developments. I was arguing for ‘zero tolerance’ in practice, not merely in words. I’ll paraphrase his reply, from my notes:

Great! “Zero tolerance” — sounds wonderful. So let’s look at how you’ve applied this principle in real life, in recent times. The ‘commissioner’ of the most cash-rich cricket tournament in the world has been accused of corruption to the tune of dozens, hundreds of millions. And — nothing. Yesterday he was holidaying in the Bahamas, today he is enjoying life in London, tomorrow he will fly in a private jet bought with money earned from the sweat of cricketers to some other playground of the super rich. The second in command of the BCCI has been publicly accused of deeds ranging from manipulating his own acquiring of a franchise, to fixing auctions, to fixing umpires to favor the interests of his side. And — nothing. He denies it, throws mud at his accuser, remains in his post. The then president of the BCCI has been accused of, even proven to have, undisclosed interests in various franchises; he has been accused of actively working to manipulate the results of franchise auctions. And? He is now the head of the ICC.

This, the cricketer said, is the atmosphere in which the game is played in India today; this is the example we set the young and the upcoming: that corruption comes with benefits, but it does not carry a price tag.

He has a point. In any corporate environment, if there is an accusation of corruption, the first official act is to suspend the concerned person from his post. That is not a proclamation of guilt, but merely a routine part of the investigative process. If I am accused of finagling the books and siphoning money off from the editorial budget, say, and you leave me at my post while my guilt is being probed, I can use that time to hide all traces of my malfeasance. That is why the company’s first act will be to suspend me pending investigation. [Read Kamran Abbasi on why the suspension of Butt, Asif and Amir is right, why that does not conflict with the presumption of innocence that is the right of every human being; this is also why the ridiculous posturing of the likes of Wajid Shamsul Hasan will do more harm than good.]

Yet, in recent times, every single top official in the administration has been accused of corruption to varying degrees — and every single one of them remains in his post [with the exception of the ‘commissioner/suspended’ — and that suspension was not so much the result of a genuine desire to probe the charges, as it was a manifestation of the internal power politics within the board].

This [my friend said] is the example you are setting for the young, impressionable players. They see a bunch of officials who have never sweated it out on the field of play, never put their skills on the line, making untold millions from the sport and getting away with it. And yet you think that they, themselves, will have the moral fibre to resist all opportunities to make a fast buck. That sounds realistic to you?

That is the “putrid air of greed” Harsha is talking about. It is the “putrid air” that Indian [and Pakistani] cricket has breathed from the early nineties on, through successive administrations, each of which has proved to be more corrupt than the last. So I agree with my friend — the real surprise is not that a few are corrupt, but that so many others are not.

There is another way of looking at this issue. Money, not talent, dictates whether we get admission to a school or college of our choice; money, not ability, dictates whether we get a job as a policeman, a jurist, a doctor, an engineer, whatever. So, if I have to bribe my way into a cop’s uniform, why is it surprising if I use that uniform to cloak my own corruption? Surely I didn’t spend all that money to get that post simply so I could uphold law and order? That bribe was an investment; now that I’ve gotten what I wanted, I need to make that investment pay dividends. [Society accepts, or at least does not actively question, this practice — what the hell, a judge, no less, who was accused of large scale corruption was ‘punished’ by being made chief justice of a state high court. This bloke is going to uphold the law?!]

From that point of view, consider this: corruption in cricket begins not at the international, but at the regional, level. It is no secret that state-level selectors take money to pick players for the representative side — so if I, as a player, make that investment, what do you suppose I’m going to do once I make the cut? [A tangential point — it is these same state selectors who in time become members of the national selection committee — which, as far as they are concerned, widens their window of opportunity].

I’m not merely theorizing, here, that corruption exists at that level and that corruption, defying the laws of physics, then trickles up: have we forgotten this already? Some of the most senior players of the national team accused the selection committee of their home state of widespread corruption. What was the outcome? A politician who is also head of the state selection committee flat out said there was no such thing. The long-time head of that state association, arguably the most mismanaged in Indian cricket, “assured” that the “complaints would be considered” [ironically, this gent, who has been in his post for aeons,  is one of three members of the disciplinary committee that will hear charges of corruption against Lalit Modi].

Accusations surface, noise is made, nothing further is ever done — and in time, we forget. Change venue, rinse, repeat, and there you have the story of India’s dysfunctional cricket administration. Seriously — what fools are we, that we expect honesty and integrity to flourish in this soil?

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A bite out of the bum

A few minutes after Sachin Tendulkar and Ishant Sharma walked off the field taking advantage of the offer of ‘bad light’, an Indian batsman [what with ads taking up half the screen and a giant graphic occupying most of the remaining real estate, I couldn’t make out who] walked out towards the practice area for a bit of a knock. At the same time, Shakib Al-Hasan, with a wry grin on his face and with his eyes slitted against the glare of the evening sun, walked slowly out of the park.

Technology is good – but where in the manual is it written that a light meter should replace common sense?

An hour or more had already been lost in the morning; surely the umpires could have used their minds, and their eyes, to figure that the light was more than good enough for play to continue rather than bank on that silly little gadget? An ICC that wants Test cricket to survive doesn’t do much for that cause when it encourages its officials to abandon play on such laughable pretexts. Surely umpires need to rely on the naked eye, not the light meter, to tell them when conditions are dangerous for play to continue — the meter can merely confirm the evidence of their own senses, not replace it.

As to the play itself, Bangladesh coach Jaimie Siddons was way off the mark when he said Sehwag’s comments about the toothlessness of the Bangla bowling attack could “bite him on the bum in a few years time” – it only took 12 hours.

The way the game unfolded notwithstanding, I’m personally convinced that Shakib Al-Hasan’s ploy of asking India to bat first was a defensive measure. The home team was not, IMHO, betting the bank on its bowlers as much as it was shielding its batsmen from the task of facing India’s 3-seam attack on a wicket with some juice in it [conditions, in fact, that prompted Sehwag to comment at the toss that he would have chosen to bowl, had he called the coin right].

Motivations don’t show up on scoreboards, though – only results do. And Shakib and his men did themselves proud on a day when the vaunted Indian batting lineup was reduced to rubble by a bowling lineup packed not with stars but with a bunch of disciplined youngsters who stuck to their briefs and throughout, remained unfazed by the reputations of the opposition.

India seemed to have fallen victim to its own press. The “world’s number one Test side” apparently forgot that all it really takes is one good ball or one bad shot – and as it turned out, there was enough quality bowling from Bangladesh and silly cricket from the batsmen to make for a disastrous post-lunch session [a missed catch off Tendulkar at 16 being the difference between disastrous and fatal].

Sehwag and Gambhir looked – as they always do – capable of decimating the opposition. But once the stand-in captain got out, playing a push-drive without his usual authority and giving the ball just enough air for Tamim Iqbal at a shortish cover to hang on to, the wheels came off in totally unexpected fashion.

Gambhir flailed at a ball too wide for the square drive that is his bread and butter shot; Dravid got a high quality delivery from Shahadat – yorker-length, late curve through the air and perfectly pitched; VVS looked patchy; Yuvraj Singh [whose franchise recently relieved him of his captaincy so he could ‘concentrate on his batting’] has, except for the first innings he played after his return to the ranks, sleep-walked through his batting assignments and continued to do so in this innings…

If not for Tendulkar’s ability to lock himself into a world of his making and play his own game irrespective, India’s embarrassment could have been monumental – and due credit for that goes to skipper Shakib.

Prior to the game, Shakib set expectations low when he said his goal was a draw in the first Test, but there was nothing defensive about his captaincy on the day. Except against Sehwag once the opener had the bit between his teeth, the field placings remained consistently aggressive and always calculated to give his bowlers the chance to attack; his rotation of the bowling resources was fairly thoughtful, and he was consistently good in the way he harnessed his pace and spin options to optimum effect.

The highlight for me was his bowling to Sehwag in the post-lunch session, when he repeatedly foxed the Indian captain with subtle variations of flight, line, length and direction, eventually forcing the tentative miscue. Not too many spinners can boast of having tied Sehwag up and forced him to play the get out shot — Shakib, despite being hit for a first ball four, made the dismissal look almost inevitable. VVS, too, is a master of the art of playing spin but on the day, the Bangladesh captain made him look a rank amateur, tormenting the stylist with almost every one of the 17 balls he bowled to him before finally claiming his wicket when Laxman, a modern master of playing inside out, got bat and legs into an awful tangle and yielded a simple stumping chance.

Shakib led the bowling effort with 25 overs of sustained cunning. The Bangla captain comes across as someone clearly aware of his bowling limitations and willing to work within the limitations of his own craft; his marathon spell of 25 unchanged overs proved decisive in pushing India to the wall.

Equally notable was young Shahadat Hussain, who bowled in sharp, hostile bursts. The tall young lad, who served notice that he was one to watch a couple of years ago with a 6-for-27 spell against South Africa, has the height and smooth run up of a genuine pace bowler; his slightly open-chested delivery allows him to get the natural angle away from right handers and to use the rare one coming in as a surprise weapon — vide the lovely late-inswinging yorker to castle Dravid.

The image of the day for me was Shahadat’s celebration after the fall of Dinesh Karthik’s wicket — the youngster raced down the pitch and, when in proximity to the departing batsman, put his finger to his lips in a ‘talk less, play more’ gesture that the team, and its stand-in captain, surely begged for with the dismissive remarks of yesterday.

Hopefully, the message of that gesture — and of the scoreboard, which reads an underwhelming 213/8 in just 63 overs — has gotten across. Had fog and bad light not delayed the start of play and the umpires not abruptly truncated it with a little under half an hour yet to go, India could have suffered the huge embarrassment of being bowled out inside a day’s play by a team ranked 8 places below it.

What a missed opportunity, sirji

New year. New city. New job. Same old cricket – these last couple of years, the Indian and Sri Lankan cricketers seem to spend more time with each other than with their respective spouses/squeezes.

Then again, who needs to start the year/decade with a crib about the scheduling? So I’ll start with a mild crib about the Board’s priorities instead.

In between the moving from Bombay to Bangalore, the settling down at the Yahoo office, the official induction process and the unofficial getting to know the city, I managed to catch parts of some fascinating cricket – Test cricket, glory be, that provided a far more compelling spectacle than these 50 over hit-abouts we seem to overindulge in.

The good news on that front is that India’s board appears to have taken captain MS Dhoni’s request to schedule more Tests with a measure of seriousness [MS seems to speak a language intelligible to the Board – shortly after his public strictures on the need for a bowling coach, the board has lined one up], and gotten the South African board to ditch some ODIs and play two Tests instead [now if the board could do the same with Australia, cutting the ODI schedule down from seven to say three and factor in some Tests, it would really deserve a rousing cheer].

The program versus the Proteas, which Neo Sports is already billing as the battle for number one and as the ‘World Championship of Cricket’, saves a year that otherwise would have featured Tests against only Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

Given all that I had on my plate in recent weeks, I haven’t done much browsing/reading – but a news item in the Times of India’s Bangalore edition dated January 8 did catch my eye.

The Karnataka State Cricket Association apparently requested the BCCI to permit Rahul Dravid to play for/lead the state team in the upcoming Ranji final against Mumbai. Since the game gets over a mere two days before the start of the first Test against Bangladesh, Vijay Mallya reportedly offered to fly Dravid over to Chittagong in a private jet.

The BCCI nixed the idea without – in true board style – assigning any reasons. Apparently the honchos believe that it is more important for Dravid to get an hour of net practice than full-on match practice in the final of the board’s premier domestic competition.

Pity. It is very rare that marquee Ranji games don’t compete for attention with the national team – I’d have thought the board would have wanted to grab the chance to allow both Karnataka and Mumbai to field full strength teams, play up the championship clash, and get the fans involved.

Would have been a nice start to the year – but never mind, we have a rare treat ahead this Wednesday, when India plays Sri Lanka.

Again.

What an idea, sirji.

PostScript: To all those who asked, in comments and mails — Bangalore is treating me just fine, thanks. Was off the map thanks to a combination of a screw-up with my cell phone connection, some delays in getting my cell and laptop set up at this end, and way too much on my plate thanks to the induction process, and generally finding my feet in the new workplace.

Blogging will likely remain desultory this week, since I’ll be away a good bit of the time getting my new home set up once the packers get my Bombay stuff down here Tuesday/Wednesday.

PPS: Will be away from desk, and net, for the rest of the day, and back here tomorrow morning.

The ‘psychological advantage’

As I walked in to office this morning, a young lady reporter on one of the TV news channels was doing a ‘spot report’ as part of the channel’s preview of the game, later today, between India and Australia at Mohali.

She seemed very taken with the notion of ‘psychological advantage’, to the point where in course of a typically breathless one minute monologue she repeated it thrice. The track has some grass on it apparently and Mohali ‘traditionally’ supports pace and bounce, but India has the ‘psychological advantage’. Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag are doubtful starters and India will miss them, not simply because of their experience and ability but because of the ‘psychological advantage’.

TV anchor: Gambhir and Sehwag are doubtful starters, and that could be a big blow for India as it seeks to build on the psychological advantage of having a 2-1 lead.

Reporter: Yes, Gambhir and Sehwag are doubtful, and that is a blow not just because of the experience they bring to the side but also because India wants to maintain its psychological advantage.

TV anchor: Yes, India has a 2-1 lead but the injuries to Sehwag and Gambhir are crucial as they could cost India the psychological advantage.

And so it went, back and forth…

And then, thanks to Cricinfo’s surfer, I found this piece where Greg Baum is extremely critical of the Aussie touring party for gaming the Indian media.

THAT was a bit of a wrong-‘un that the Australian cricket team sent down to the media in India this week. You can read about it in coach Tim Nielsen’s blog on the Cricket Australia website. ”The boys tried to have a bit of fun with the media day,” he writes. ”As I’m sure you can imagine with so many interviews you tend to get asked the same question over and over and we had a bit of a competition running to see who could work the most sporting cliches into one answer.”

There’s also the one about their ”concern for the image of the game” and a ”need to give something back”. Something, but nothing that was truly meant, not anything from the heart. The message from Australia’s cricketers to their supporters is simple: don’t take anything we say seriously, because we don’t.

…”Walking out from the press conference with Rick [Ponting], we left about 70 cameras and another 150 journalists, which I find amazing every time we are exposed to it,” writes Nielsen. ”Although when you consider how many people are over here in India that follow the sport. I suppose it’s fair enough.”

But not so fair enough, evidently, as to dignify questions with anything other than the pretence of considered and worthwhile answers. Not so fair enough not to put on a charade. Whatever Australia was up to that day, it just wasn’t cricket. Ho, ho, titter, titter, slap thighs.

Far from feeling shame about this tawdry exercise, Australia’s cricketers boasted about it, via their coach’s blog.

The offending paragraph has since been deleted from Tim Nielsen’s blog, Baum tells us.

Whether such behaviour is apt for a team that is increasingly so enamored of the riches of Indian cricket that when its stars are not making money in our proliferating leagues, it has plans to play India home or away every year for the conceivable future is a question for the Australian captain, its media, and its board to consider.

Hopefully, we won’t now witness a paroxysm of righteous indignation from our own media people – the fault, dear Brutus, lies with us.

Amit Varma is fond of telling this story dating back to when he was covering India’s tour of Pakistan. Virender Sehwag appeared before the media, and almost immediately confronted this question: ‘Aapke is century aur pichle century main kya farak tha?’ Sehwag being who he is, responded with the straightest of faces: ‘Bas kuch thees run ka farak tha’.

That’s the kind of inanity that characterizes our ‘press conferences’. The point should be clear: if the touring Aussies are treating our media with contempt, it is because we deserve it — if we insist on asking the most inane of questions, we shouldn’t be surprised if we get canned, cliché-ridden answers.The irony is, these responses are then carried verbatim, with breathless commentary on television and/or hyperbole in print.

The surprising aspect of this affair is not the Australians gamed us – it is that we didn’t know we were being gamed, and that is as eloquent a comment on the state of the cricket media as any.

Begging the question

Take Out The Trash day

Take Out The Trash day

The above is the reaction of my friend and colleague Uttam Ghosh to this story:

The Indian capital will be made beggar free in the run up to next year’s Commonwealth Games, the authorities said on Tuesday while launching two mobile courts to prosecute beggars.

To begin with, citizens who spot beggars can reach the mobile courts through a control room. The courts will reach the spot and take away the beggars, Delhi Social Welfare Minister Mangat Ram Singhal said in New Delhi.

Go away and hide!

Go away and hide!

Make no mistake, this is one determined minister. “Before the 2010 Commonwealth Games,” he says, “we want to finish the problem of beggary from Delhi.” How? By depositing them elsewhere — the suburbs, jails, wherever — as Uttam pertinently suggests?

Garibi Hatao — hamare nazron se seems to be the reworked slogan of the Indian National Congress-Indira.

Elsewhere, P Chidambaram and Sheela Dixit are concerned about New Delhi’s chronic bad behavior.

Delhi’s Chief Minister, Shiela Dixit, readily agreed and said plans are afoot to teach Delhi folks to be “more caring and sharing.” She indicated that a Beijing-style program of civic education, like the one rolled out before last year’s Olympics, would be launched soon.

What fun! Delhi to go to charm school, where La Dixit will play Ms Manners. [Speaking of going to school — this story also on beggars supports my lifelong contention that studying is a waste of time and effort].

Ironically, China was concerned not so much with the behavior of its own citizens as with that of the foreign tourists — but we clearly have our priorities right. Just to be helpful, however, I’ll throw up this link to how foreigners should behave in India — the earlier the better, since some of these moves require long hours of practice. Like, so:

The acceptable way to beckon someone is to hold your hand out, palm downward, and make a scooping motion with fingers.

What baffles me is, why is all this dependent on the Games? One section of the national capital begging while the much larger section behaves like boors is not, apparently, a concern — the problem is someone else catching us at it.

It is interesting that Dixit is looking to China for examples — though clearly, not every Chinese example needs to be rigorously followed; besides, Maneka Gandhi and her son Varun, currently in political ICU, might get a fresh whiff of the oxygen of ‘issues’.

Meanwhile, to return to priorities — I’m sure P Chidambaram will want to take a cue from the Chinese, and ban terrorists for the duration of the Games.

In the run up to the Beijing Games, the world’s media was preoccupied with China’s ‘repressive measures’ [A very small sampling from LA Times, Guardian, US News and dozens more if you do even a cursory search]. Heck, never mind the foreign media, even the Indian press was very upset:

At the same time, Beijing has largely ignored foreign opinion on its human rights records and continued its repression of free of speech, even as it has run a successful Olympics. China’s harsh rule in Tibet has been downplayed, political dissidents locked up, beggars pushed out of Beijing, and journalists covering protests roughed-up.

From that article, more tips for Ms Dixit [And a bonus tip applicable also to this blog]:

Beijing became obsessed by image in the lead-up to the games. Anything unsightly was deemed offensive. Neighbourhood food stalls were covered up by roadside barriers showing pictures of ancient Chinese-style curved rooftops or Olympics motifs.

We will doubtless do all this and more. In fact, we already are, per this story in Open magazine [scroll down]. Here’s the WTF passage from that story on how Delhi will use bamboo screens to keep poverty out of the public gaze:

“We thought of putting up cloth, vinyl or even natural screens like bushes in front of slums. Then we thought, why not bamboo?” says Rakesh Mehta, chief secretary, Delhi. As of now, authorities are sourcing the lathi bamboo from Rajasthan, but talks are also on with the Mizoram and Assam governments.

“We are enlisting the help of National Mission on Bamboo Technology and Trade Development in order to find out whether the varieties from Mizoram would be able to survive in Delhi’s climate or not,” says KK Sharma, principal secretary, PWD Delhi.

That’s more thought and effort — and money — going into hiding poverty than ever went into alleviating it. While on which, I really really loved the ‘bushes’ idea. Take a leaf from Macbeth, do — get the slum dwellers and beggars to squat in front of the unsightly huts; Delhi turned Dunsinane. Solves two problems in one shot, by hiding the slums and their unsightly inhabitants in one shot.

The irony is that China claimed then, and India will claim tomorrow, that this is being done so the foreign visitors can see the ‘true face’ of the country — much like a woman hiding zits and other blemishes under an inch of pancake when the prospective groom comes ‘girl seeing’.

Note the fullness of the swing

Note the fullness of the swing

You will meanwhile be delighted to know that preparations for the Games are in “full swing“. Suresh Kalmadi says so [What does Randhir Singh know?]. Sheela Dixit the schoolmarm for charm says so. So how could it not be so, when Brij Mohan is working his butt off?

Talking of how well work is progressing, did you know that the Municipal Corporation of Delhi has stopped work on doing up footpaths, upgrading streetlights etc because of the Games. The Comptroller and Auditor General can’t stop laughing about it. [Search the PDF for Commonwealth Games to jump to the relevant bit].

So work is happening, through commission or omission. Hence ignore, please, the alarmist idiot Commonwealth Games Federation president Michael Fennell and his SOS to the PMO; equally, ignore those panicked idiots the PMO and its calls for an ‘urgent review’. Add to the ignore list carping editorials like this one, and new minted magazines like Open that are out to make a name for rabble-rousing. While on rabble-rousing, trust those perennially rabid folk at Tehelka to add fuel to this needless fire.

As Sports Minister MS Gill so pertinently pointed out:

As you know, I took charge as sports minister last year in April [Editor’s note: But your party-led government was in office the four preceding years, no?] . There were a lot of delays, work had not started on several projects and various things needed to be tied up. But let’s not talk of the past… the fights, the blame game. The decision to hold the Games was taken by the NDA government and was duly endorsed by the UPA government. We are going to ensure that work is completed on time. That’s what I’m fighting for.

As Gill says, forget the past, forget the blame game. Take heart. Shed pessimism. And any time optimism flags, keep this image firmly in mind and you’ll be okay:

In fact, Sheila and I are holding hands and marching forward. We are two sides of the same coin.

If the image of two sides of the same coin holding hands and marching forward doesn’t inspire you with the belief that all will be well that ends, well or ill, then maybe these images below [lots more here] will:

Hard at work by night....

Hard at work by night....

”]”]….”]Hard at work by day....

Bait and switch

Am I the only one growing progressively tired of this Kashmir-Afghanistan bait and switch? [From Foreign Policy, the latest in a long line of examples].

Boiled down, the argument goes thus: Islamabad is unable to bring the full might of its armed forces to bear on the war on terrorism in the SWAT region and on its western border with Afghanistan.

Why? Because it is ‘forced’ to concentrate a sizable chunk of its army on its eastern border, to counter the ‘threat’ it faces from India.

Ergo, runs the argument, if India and Pakistan resolve the Kashmir ‘dispute’ [with the US helping], Pakistan will be in a position to shift the bulk of its army into the terrorist hot zone on its western side. Ergo, too, India needs to go the extra mile to urgently resolve the ‘dispute’.

Very useful, for Pakistan to throw its hands up and excuse its less than 100 per cent participation in the ‘war on terror’ even as it seeks ever more funding to prosecute that ‘war’.

Also, very flawed.

Here’s the question that is not being asked and answered: What exactly is the ‘threat’ Pakistan faces on its eastern border, that requires it to station a large section of its army on that front?

No one responds, because the question is never asked. If it were, the answer would be, none.

There is no conceivable prospect, there never has been, that India will unilaterally invade Pakistan; with a notional mushroom cloud looming over the region in the event of conflict, that prospect is even less foreseeable now.

So, again, what ‘threat’ does Islamabad face to its east? None.

Why then does Islamabad feel the need to concentrate its army on our shared border? The honest answer is, to protect it from the consequences of the actions of its own principals.

The only time there has been talk of war was when terrorists based, trained, and equipped in Pakistan attacked India’s Parliament and more recently Mumbai, to name just two incendiary actions.

Equally, consider two recent news stories: (1) Intelligence sources speak of a build up of terrorists on the Pakistan side of the LoC and (2) Pakistan troops have been shelling Indian border positions. Taken together, the two clearly spell infiltration.

Clearly, the Pakistan army is concentrated on the eastern border to (a) make mischief and (b) protect Islamabad from the consequences of that mischief, and of the doings of its ‘non-state actors’. ‘Solving’ Kashmir [assuming the weak Asif Ali Zardari can sell any kind of solution to the people] has nothing to do with it — unless you buy the Musharraf argument that those who blast a bloody trail across India are actually ‘indigenous freedom fighters’ looking to overthrow the ‘Indian yoke’.

Stop using the ‘strategy’ of terrorism to bleed India and you have no reason to fear it, and to post your troops to ‘counter’ the ‘threat’. Simple, no?

From the Foreign Policy article:

It is quite striking that framers of the metrics have avoided the merest mention of Pakistan-India relations as a factor in understanding which way the wind is blowing in Pakistan’s security environment. While the Obama administration has every right to wish that Pakistan delink its rivalry with India in the Kashmir region from its policy towards Afghanistan (and consequently in Federally Administered Tribal Areas), one cannot ignore the prevailing ground realities. Rather than continuing to evade the relevance of the India factor to AfPak theater, the Obama administration must energetically facilitate and monitor the India-Pakistan peace process (which is lately showing some signs of life courtesy resumption of back channel diplomacy).

Actually, the reason the framers of the metrics avoided mentioning Pakistan-India relations is that they are not taken in by Islamabad’s bait-and-switch; they recognize that a ‘resolution’ of Kashmir has nothing to do with operations in the Af-Pak theater; they understand that Islamabad is merely using this as a fig leaf to cover its inaction or, at best, limited action taken under duress. [As Dubya would say, fool me once…]

In passing, there is one way to ensure the total breakdown of any India-Pakistan dialog — and that is for the Obama administration to be seen to ‘energetically facilitate and monitor’ the process. There is not much the various sections of Indian polity agree on, but they are unanimous on this: that they will vigorously reject any attempt by any third party, no matter how friendly, to inject itself into this issue.

While on the ‘war in terror’ and Pakistan’s role therein, here’s the NYT.

American officials say they believe that the Taliban leadership in Pakistan still gets support from parts of the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s military spy service. The ISI has been the Taliban’s off-again-on-again benefactor for more than a decade, and some of its senior officials see Mullah Omar as a valuable asset should the United States leave Afghanistan and the Taliban regain power.

Beggars, choosers

Back when he was in the final leg of his campaign for the White House, Barack Obama put forward as one of the differentiators between his candidacy and that of Senator John McCain the fact that he alone was talking of the perils of Pakistan.

There was the statement that he would follow al Qaeda to the gates of hell. Then the even more famous statement that the Bush administration had been lavishing money on Islamabad, with no accountability, no strings attached — and that Pakistan was using that money to prepare for war with India.

The Bush administration added to the fun. Its officials found massive misuse of US funds; they found too that much of aid meant for anti-terrorism efforts were being diverted towards beefing up Islamabad’s anti-India arsenal. So what did the Bushies do? They went ah fuck it, why give Islamabad the trouble of double-entry bookkeeping — let’s just make the damn thing official and divert ‘anti-terror’ funds sanctioned by Congress to Islamabad’s real goal.

Obama, of course, wasn’t having any of this:

So Obama the candidate defined the problem: Pakistan is misusing US aid. Obama the President has now hit on the perfect solution: give more aid. [There is a huge difference, as Obama-ites will point out: Bush was just giving money; the Obama administration is pursuing an Af-Pak strategy. Not the same thing at all.]

Thus, somewhere in the corridors of the Capitol, a bill authored by Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar is wending its way through the process, and will sooner, not later, reach the desk of President Barack Obama for his signature.

The bill, which provides for US aid to Pakistan to the tune of $1.5 billion each year for five years, was the brainchild of then Senator, now Vice President, Joe Biden acting in tandem with Lugar — for which a grateful Pakistan named the two lawmakers for the civilian award Hilal-i-Pakistan [Kerry missed out at the time because he was junior to Biden on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; he is now its chair, so he can look forward to getting his gong soon].

While this bill was being prepared in the House and Senate committees, Congressman Howard Berman among others warned of the danger of handing over large sums of money without attaching conditions relating to how it could be spent — concerns that were bulldozed out of the way by Kerry and Lugar, with the Obama White House throwing its clout behind the two Senators and getting Berman to remove the bulk of the conditions he had sought to impose in the House version of the bill.

An administration has changed, but nothing much else has. Pervez Musharraf routinely bluffed the US by pointing at Pakistan’s imminent economic collapse and arguing that if the US did not pony up, Islamabad would not be able to prosecute the war on terror. Musharraf is gone, Mr Ten Percent Zardari [who rewards jokes at his expense with a 14 year prison sentence] is in power, but the tactic remains the same: through a spate of opeds, Zardari repeatedly argues that (a) Pakistan is the greatest victim of terrorism; (b) The terrorists were actually created by the West, read US, as part of its anti-Soviet policy and (c) It is therefore up to the West to now open its purse strings and come to the aid of the party [Opeds in the New York Times, the Washington Post, WashPost again,  and the Wall Street Journal, as exemplars].

What to say? Actually, Bush said it best, in a speech in Nashville in 2002 that has since made it to the list of top of Dubya’s pops:

“There’s an old saying in Tennessee—I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee—that says, fool me once, shame on—shame on you. Fool me—you can’t get fooled again.”

Here, watch — the thing is best savored direct from the horse’s mouth:

Turns out, you can get fooled again. And again. Question though is, is ‘fooled’ the right word to use when successive administrations know exactly what is happening, but chose to play blind? Bush’s officials spoke of massive misuse of
funds, but the Bush administration went ahead and provided more funds. Obama spoke of misuse of funds, but is going ahead to provide more funds.

Which is fine — your money, your idiocy [yeah, at some point India will pay a price for all this, but we’ll just have to cross that bridge when we come to it]. Musharraf last week admitted to  misuse of US funds [before he admitted that he had never made that admission].

The Harpoon

The Harpoon

Shortly before Musharraf spun like a top, the New York Times reported that Islamabad had made illegal modifications to the Harpoon missile to expand its anti-India offensive capability.

The administration’s response, and that of the current and future Hilal-i-Pakistans [or is that Hilals-i-Pakistan] has been hilarious in the extreme.

Aides to Kerry and Lugar told my friend and colleague Aziz Haniffa that the two Senators were “studying the report” relating to the Harpoon modification and “waiting for the investigation to be completed”. But, added the aides, they did not expect that the revelations would prompt any changes in the Kerry-Lugar aid bill.

Err — so you are ‘studying’ it why?

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly for his part redefined the parameters of ‘disingenuous’. “We’ve seen these reports in The New York Times,” he said. “We take the possibility of any potential of any violations of obligations entered into pursuant to the Arms Control Act — we take these allegations very seriously.”

Oh good. And you did what? “We have engaged the government of Pakistan at the highest levels. We recently negotiated an agreement in principle to establish mutually agreed inspections to address possible modifications to any arms that we’ve transferred, and we’ve notified Congress of potential violations of obligations entered in pursuant to the Arms Control Act to ensure that key leaders are provided information on US efforts to address them.”

Eh? The Arms Control Act mandates that you cannot change or modify in any way arms that have been provided by, or purchased from, the US. Penalties include the immediate stoppage of all further military aid to the concerned nation. The Harpoon modification is a fact verified not by the NYT but by the government itself. So why is that not game over?

Kelly was asked about the Musharraf statement. His response was a classic: “Musharraf is a private citizen,” the State Department mouthpiece said, in a supreme WTF moment. Really? Kelly likely doesn’t read the reports the Congressional Research Service puts out. Like this one — on Pakistan’s arms purchases during the tenure of Pinocchio Pervez.

One face of AQ Khan

One face of AQ Khan

In what is rapidly becoming the book of revelations, the latest is the Simon Henderson article in the Sunday Times yesterday. The media in India has been going nuts-r-us over the ‘revelation’ that AQ Khan’s nuclear blackmarket was overseen by Pakistan’s government and military establishment. As revelations go, this one doesn’t go a long way. Despite devoting extensive space in his self-serving memoir, In The Line of Fire, to advancing the claim that Khan was operating on his own and that the state apparatus was not complicit, no one believed Musharraf then.

India at the time went ‘I told you so’ and pointed out to the US that it had been warning of Khan’s activities and Islamabad’s complicity for years now. The Bush administration’s response was tut, tut, Khan’s been a naughty boy, but chill on Pakistan, it is our ‘foremost ally’ in the war on terror, didn’t you know?

For me, the real revelation in the Henderson article is not the Khan letter

Alt-image

Alt-image

itself, but the story of attempts to suppress it [Incidentally, Henderson has much to say of the West’s attempts to suppress the letter; I wish he’d tell us why it’s taken him two years to read a four page letter and tell its story]. Extended clip:

It could be a scene from a film. On a winter’s evening, around 8pm, in a quiet suburban street in Amsterdam, a group of cars draw up. Agents of the Dutch intelligence service, the AIVD, accompanied by uniformed police, ring the bell and knock on the door of one of the houses. The occupants, an elderly couple and their unmarried daughter, are slow to come to the door. The bell-ringing becomes more insistent, the knocks sharper. When the door opens, the agents request entry but are clearly not going to take no for an answer.

The year was 2004. The raid went unreported but was part of the worldwide sweep against associates of Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani scientist and “father of the Islamic bomb”, who had just been accused of selling nuclear secrets to Libya, Iran and North Korea. The house belonged to one of his brothers, a retired Pakistani International Airlines manager, who lived there with his wife and daughter. The two secret agents asked the daughter for a letter she had recently received from abroad. Upstairs in her bedroom, she pulled it from a drawer. It was unopened. The agents grabbed it and told her to put on a coat and come with them.

The daughter, Kausar Khan, was taken to the local police station, although, contrary to usual practice, she was neither signed in nor signed out. The Dutch agents wanted to know why she had not opened the letter and whether she knew what was in it. She didn’t; she had merely been asked to look after it. Inside the envelope was a copy of a letter that Pakistan did not want to reach the West. The feared Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had found the letter when they searched Dr AQ Khan’s home in Islamabad. He had also passed a copy on to his daughter Dina to take to her home in London, as rumours of Khan’s “proliferation” — jargon for the dissemination of nuclear secrets — swept the world. The Pakistani ISI were furious. “Now you have got your daughter involved,” they reportedly said. “So far we have left your family alone, but don’t expect any leniency now.”

Dr Khan collapsed in sobs. Under pressure, he agreed to telephone Dina in London and ordered her to destroy the documents. He used three languages: Urdu, English and Dutch. It was code for her to obey his instructions. Dina dutifully destroyed the letter. That left the copy that was confiscated by the Dutch intelligence service in Amsterdam. I know there is at least one other copy: mine.

And later, the payoff:

It was not rocket science to work out a plausible explanation for the Dutch seizure. Bloggers will probably err on the side of more imaginative conspiracy theories, but the truth is probably simpler. After the September 11 attacks, the West in general, and the United States in particular, had to work with Pakistan to counter Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda in neighbouring Afghanistan. That meant that they had to work with President Musharraf, even though he was no democrat. As part of the bargain, Pakistan’s nuclear sins also needed to be placed to one side.

In other words the US, which pays lip service to the ideal of nuclear non-proliferation, was fine with covering up a nuclear proliferation operation of potentially catastrophic consequences as long as its ‘war on terror’ was not affected.

So, nine years and unnumbered billions of dollars later, where are we on that war? Here. Here. And here.

In passing, a good book on the subject of the nuclear blackmarket and Pakistan’s official role in it is Deception: Pakistan, the United States and the Global Nuclear Weapons Conspiracy, by Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark.