Anniversary blues

Tomorrow, we mark the first anniversary of 26/11. Today is an anniversary too, did you know/notice [clearly, this particular anniversary has escaped the attention of those interlocutors, both within the country and outside, now touting the need for more dialogs, confidence building measures, and such]? This is what happened on November 25, 2008.

Meanwhile: In New Delhi, the Public Works Department planned to build bungalows for its ministers that would include, among other things, four garages [not a garage for four cars, note] and six quarters for domestic help [not quarters for six domestic help, note].

Also in New Delhi, while various Federal ministers wait – some of them in five star hotels – for alterations and upgrading of homes allotted to them, others occupy two bungalows at once.

Staying with Delhi for a beat longer, the United Progressive Alliance is rocked not by issues of the magnitude of the nuclear deal or statements relating to peace talks with Pakistan, but over the non-allocation of a bungalow to ally Trinamool Congress.

Elsewhere a former ally is up in arms because a leader who has been progressively decimated in successive elections has not been allotted a home befitting his ‘stature’ [Unlike another ‘leader’ who had started the year in hope that she would be, if not queen, at least a king-maker in Delhi, the aforesaid leader has no holiday home in conducive climes to hide out in].

The ruling Congress party – and its chairperson – made a virtue of austerity and ‘set an example’ for the rest of us spendthrifts [never mind that the point of the example is lost on us: Sonia Gandhi was travelling on party, not government, work; it would be the party that paid the bill, so why would I give a flying f**k whether she travelled economy or business, or bought a special plane just for the trip?]. Hopefully, the money saved by Sonia madam’s economy class flight ticket and Rahul baba’s much-publicized train travels will offset expenditures such as this small matter of Rs 100 crore to ‘repair and renovate’ official bungalows.

The Opposition should be opposing – but then… oh never mind.

Meanwhile in Mumbai: Home Minister P Chidambaram’s mea maxima culpa results most tangibly in the posting of some 30 CRPF jawans near the Taj Mahal Hotel, as part of his promise to beef up security in the one city that seems more than any other to have a large target prominently painted on it. Their residence address: the cobblestoned paving of the public space near the Gateway of India.

When news of this disgrace breaks in the media [video], the government reacts not with shame and an awareness of what is owed those whom we entrust with our security, but with embarrassment.

The jawans – all 30 of them – are hastily whisked out of sight in a fashion reminiscent of slum-clearance drives and, by way of adding gratuitous insult to injury, are reprimanded for daring to embarrass the government. Oh well – at least their new lodgings are near a public toilet; they no longer will have to use a police van for such basic private functions as changing their underwear, so perhaps we are making progress after all.

Excuse me, but I think I will spend this first anniversary of 26/11 following the cricket, while allowing the commemorative noise pollution to pass me by. Partly because tamasha as headline bait is not to my taste; partly because the bitter aftertaste of optimism remains strong.

A year ago, I had written this after the one-week-after rally at the Gateway. It was a particularly charged week, one replete with so many possibilities.

One friend asked me to help put together a national movement to turn the pressure on the government and keep it there until constructive, measurable action was taken to make this country safer for all of us.

Among other things, I was asked to help draft a manifesto that would in its final form be handed over to the government; the follow up, my friend said, would be weekly protest meetings outside Mantralaya – and an escalating national movement that would begin in New Delhi, Bangalore etc and then spread all over – designed to keep the pressure on, and to keep the issue alive in the minds of the public and the media.

Our trouble, my friend argued persuasively, is that when something happens we make some noise in the immediate aftermath, and then move on with our lives. Not this time, he vowed – we will unite, we will use every available tool at our disposal to hold the government’s feet to the fire and keep it there.

Catching fire from my friend’s spark, I worked late night on that draft manifesto, then spent hours nightly on email, trying – again at his insistence – to round up people who could help design and execute a web site that would serve as the home base of the nationwide protest movement [Incidentally, my apologies to the few dozen people who immediately volunteered their time, money and energy – and saw it all go for nothing].

On Thursday of week two, I called my friend, to confirm where the protest meeting would be. “Sorry, dude, I won’t be able to make it or take a hand in organizing it – have some urgent personal business to attend to,” he said. And that, as it turned out, was that.

Elsewhere, sundry groups organized the 26/11 version of the BJP’s famed chintan bhaitaks to ‘figure out what we do next’. Of the nearly half a dozen such that I attended, I most vividly remember one, hosted by a noted restaurateur/society couple. Two dozen people, representing every ‘society’ and ‘activist’ stereotype you can think of, attended; they sat in a circle in a very large hall and talked, appropriately enough, in circles, offering solutions that ranged from not voting in the next general elections [a suggestion I suspect all those who attended religiously followed, not that anyone noticed] to organizing a ‘Mumbai-to-Delhi march’ in a cavalcade of cars [No, don’t ask how you march in cars].

Oh well. The smoked salmon sandwiches served at the event were totally brilliant [not so much the tuna version – I suspect the tuna came out of a can; never quite the same as fresh tuna, as an attendee remarked].

Those two signposts — CRPF jawans crapping, peeing and bathing in the shadow of the Gateway and those divine smoked salmon sandwiches – perfectly bookend our response, as a government and as a society, to one of the worst terrorist attacks, worldwide, in recent memory.

The least we could do is avoid noise pollution, no? Especially when much of it is designed around commercial considerations: check out, for instance, Idea’s idea of donating all money made from calls in a one hour window to the police fund. And this thing that landed up in my mailbox just now, saying — no wait, the language is too good to paraphrase [and surely the least a media house can do is draft a decent press release?]:

India Pauses to unite at 8:58 P.M. on 26th Nov at Zee News Ltd.
New Delhi, November 25, 2009

As a tribute to the bravery of Indians, Zee News Ltd would create a Road
Block and pause transmission at 8:58 pm on November 26 for two minutes. All
channels under Zee News Ltd, with reach across the length and breadth of the
country and deep regional penetration, would come to a still. The roadblock
is an attempt by Zee News to acknowledge the undying spirit of Indians and
an appeal to stand up against terrorism and put “India First”.

In this endevour, Zee News had recently launched a special campaign under
the aegis of 26/11. Ab Aur Nahin’. It started with the objective of
highlighting the heroic stand and sacrifice of those bravehearts who lost
their lives. The iniciative also appealed to people to partner in the
mission to make India a terrorism free country.

This mission taken up by Zee News Ltd. initiative has received enormous
support from entire media fraternity. This will help spread the message of
uniting India for a peaceful country. Being a 360 degree marketing campaign
the word would be spread through Print, SMS, Radio & other interesting and
engaging web activities. Zee News has gained the support of various well
known personalities like Katrina Kaif, Kiran Bedi and Abhishek Bachchan in
its journey to fight against violence.

PS: On a totally unrelated note, the Indibloggies voting booth is now open. In a year where the single recurrent theme on my blog has been applications for leave of absence, I feel a bit false about asking for votes. But on the list of nominees are some outstanding blogs, including several that have time and again been linked to from here. Do vote; blogging in India is at that stage where it can use all the encouragement it can get.

When smoke gets in your eyes

Pakistan has an interesting way of dealing with terrorists.

First, it “means business”, but points out that action will “take time”. Then, it “arrests” him – or at least, “verbally” tells the culprit to stay put at his residence, No: 116E, Mohalla Johar in Lahore City in this instance. Verbally, too, the detainee is told there is no problem if he wants to lighten the tedium of such harsh incarceration by attending the occasional party.

During this time, various apologists make considerable noise about how the arrest du jour shows that Pakistan is taking severe action against terrorists.

And then, in a Hitchcockian twist, the detainee is released. [Déjà vu all over again – this is the second time Hafiz Saeed has been arrested and released after 26/11].

It is only following the release that we learn he wasn’t charged with terrorism-related offences after all [though during the ‘trial’, news reports presented a totally different picture – so now you know why these hearings are always held in-camera].

Saeed was merely charged with making speeches that could possibly incite violence [you know, like a Pakistani version of Varun Gandhi] and with trying to raise funds for what Islamabad says is a perfectly legitimate organization.

The word “legitimate” is used loosely here. Check this out, from the story of Saeed’s release:

He was also accused of appealing for funds for a banned group. Mr. Saeed currently leads Jamat-ud-Dawa, an Islamic charity widely viewed as a front for Lashkar-e-Tayeba.

His lawyer, A. K. Dogar, said he had argued that the government had not banned Jamat-ud-Dawa and therefore it was legal to solicit donations for it. “The court accepted my contention,” he was quoted by news media as saying outside the court.

An absolutely valid argument, and one with considerable legal force. The question it begs is: why did Pakistan not ban the Jamat?

Islamabad wanted to – or at least, it said so. It said, too, that it could not take action until the UN told it to [Why Islamabad required the United Nations to green light action against a terrorist outfit on its own soil is a question best left unasked].

“After the designation by the Indian government of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa under 1267, the (Pakistani) government upon receiving this instruction shall proscribe the JuD and take under (sic!) consequential action as required including the freezing of assets,” he [Pakistani ambassador to the United Nations Abdullah Hussain Haroon] said.

That was on December 10.

A day later, on December 11, the United Nations Security Council put it official seal on the contention of India and the United States that the Jamat-ud-Dawa is merely the Lashkar-e-Tayeba by another name [a deft bait and switch operation carried out in 2002 under the nose of then President Pervez Musharraf, when the UNSC named Lashkar-e-Tayeba a terrorist organization].

Even China, which had on three previous occasions blocked India’s bid to have the J-u-D proscribed, finally stopped objecting in the aftermath of the 26/11 attacks and voted in favor of putting J-u-D on the proscribed list. Pakistan certainly cannot claim it didn’t know about this, as the fact of the ban was no secret – in fact, within hours of the ban, a J-u-D leader reacted with a press statement that can be summed up in two terse words: F**k off.

So that’s the story: The J-u-D was proscribed in December. Pakistan said it would ban the J-u-D in December. Immediately after the UNSC resolution, Pakistan acted [Note that the word ‘act’ has more than one meaning]:

It placed Hafiz Saeed under house arrest, as the New York Times describes; it froze the J-u-D’s assets in true horse, stable door style, as the WSJ reported;  and if the outfit remained open for business, well…

Pakistan has made no secret of why it took these ‘stern’ actions.

Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar on Friday said the government acted against Jamaat-ud-Dawah in accordance with the United Nations Security Council resolution in order to prevent the country from being declared a terrorist state. “We are part of the international community and cannot afford confrontation with the whole world.”

Now, 10 months later and with the danger of being labeled a terrorist state averted, the courts say there is no problem with Hafiz Saeed proselytizing for the J-u-D because hey, the organization is not banned after all.

So what then were those proclamations of ‘action’ all about?

From the story of Saeed’s release:

India has given Pakistan evidence, based on its intelligence and the testimony of the sole surviving gunman, that it says showed that Mr. Saeed provided detailed instructions to the militants who carried out the attack. But Pakistan says there is not enough evidence to charge him.

Check out the highlighted bit. Without going into details, Home Minister P Chidambaram in an interview with Barkha Dutt discussed the nature of evidence India had built against Saeed.

Firstly we know when Kasab first met Hafiz  and where. We know what Hafiz Saeed told the trainees. We know at least a couple of places where the training took place. And that  Hafeez Saeed visited these camps. We know that it was Hafiz Saeed who gave names to buddy pairs. The final farewell call was made by Hafiz and Hafiz Saeed even tested Kasab and others on their training achievements. A terrorist actively, and demonstrably, involved in 26/11 testified that Hafiz Saeed played a role in prepping him and his mates for the attack. The testimony, and other details, has been passed on to Pakistan.

Further, the sole surviving terrorist involved in 26/11 testified to the meetings he and his team had with Saeed.

The dossier quotes from Kasab’s confessional statement before the Mumbai’s additional chief metropolitan magistrate in which he claims to have first met Hafiz Saeed in December 2007 at a 21-day training camp.

According to Kasab’s statement, he subsequently met Hafiz Saeed at other training sessions in Chelabandi, Sevai Nallah and a place called ‘Baitul Mujahideen’ where he ‘selected trainees and supervised their training’.

According to Kasab’s testimony, after the completion of training Hafiz Saeed formed five pairs of 10 fighters for carrying out attacks in Mumbai and gave the attackers operational instructions, including the hijacking of a boat and the timing of the attack.

He is said to have specified targets on a large screen in a ‘media control room at the training camp’.

Fahim Ansari, who was originally arrested on Feb 9 last year in connection with the Rampur camp attack case, also claimed in his statement that Hafiz Saeed had visited the training camp and exhorted the trainees to launch a ‘Jihad against India’.

It would be understandable – on a relative scale – if the courts had deemed that the evidence presented was not enough to convict Saeed. What is inexplicable is that the evidence is not even deemed enough to charge the man.

It’s a strange place, Pakistan. A land where you can get 14 years in jail if you make jokes about Mr Ten Percent President Asif Ali Zardari, but where you can walk free if you plot the killing of hundreds in a foreign land. [While on jokes, it is good to see that the sense of humor of the average Pakistani is not dead yet – check out this absolutely Onion-esque ‘news report’].

None of this should come as a surprise – the only truism about Pakistan’s “actions” against terrorists is that it is all smoke and mirrors. The state will act only when it has no other option; the action will last only as long as the perceived threat remains [vide Ahmed Mukthar’s honest, and disarmingly naïve, explanation cited earlier on why Islamabad acted against the J-u-D]; the moment the coast is clear, the terrorists will be freed either by the courts or by some other mysterious means.

Consider two recent incidents. On March 3, 2009 a suicide attack was launched on the Sri Lankan cricket team as the team bus approached the gates of Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium. And earlier this month, on October 10, armed gunmen stormed the holy of Pakistan’s holies – the heavily fortified military headquarters in Rawalpindi.

Pakistan says its military officials have arrested one Aqeel, aka Doctor Usman, who led the raid on the army HQ. Authorities say, further, that they believe Doctor Usman was likely linked to the attack against the Lankan cricket team.

I’m no lawyer, but I’ll defend this Doctor Usman for free – and guarantee to get him out. Here’s how:

On October 25, 2008, authorities ‘arrested’ four people in connection with the September 20, 2008 bombing of the Islamabad Marriott. One of them was Doctor Usman.

He could not have been part of the attack on the Lankan national team in March, because even five months later, on August 11, he was still in custody — it was on that date that the Anti-Terrorism Court completed its hearing into the Marriott bombing case.

And on September 22, 2009, the ATC rejected Doctor Usman’s plea for acquittal in that case.

Thus, your honor, my client could not have attacked the army GHQ last weekend even though he was actually captured on the premises, because he was demonstrably in ATC custody at the time. Or did someone fudge the books and let him out? If so, why is that person or persons not charged with complicity in the army HQ attack?

The problem with the smoke Islamabad keeps blowing in its farcical ‘war on terror’ is that it is increasingly getting into its own eyes.

Eye Browse

The fruits of random browsing. More random stuff on Twitter.

1. The secret of success: Marry Chris Evert. Oh and on the morning after, don’t forget to click on this link and update the scorecard.

2. What to  call this bunch, The Dirty Five Dozen? ISI offers the Taliban a new ‘get out of jail free’ card: enter India, cause mayhem. George Bush was right after all, when he repeatedly called Pakistan ‘a front line ally in the war on terror’ — without them there would be no terror, ergo no war.

While on Pakistan-related issues, the latest updates on Stratfor contains an analysis of the October 5 suicide bomb attack on the Islamabad office of the United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP).

Also, a TimesOnline story that sources army chaplains to say US troops in Afghanistan are rapidly losing heart, as the war completes eight years.

3. No wonder they call China the world’s manufacturing hub — they make anything there these days. Even virgins.

4. The guy in the lead image in this NYT story is wasted as a farmer. With aim like this

5. Maldives highlights global warming by holding an underwater cabinet meeting [Hat tip Titto Antony]. Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh nearly followed suit last week.

6. Introducing a group blog — and a story of how Kaminey became Kill Bill.

7. When you separate the contents of a daily newspaper into stories, ads and just plain rubbish, what do you get? This.

8. In the Independent, Emma Townshend interviews Richard Dawkins. And while on everyone’s favorite god-basher, a  delightful read by way of bonus [Link courtesy Atanu Dey]

9. Why does India find American ‘liberals’ harder to deal with than its conservatives? Bhanu Pratap Mehta examines the seeming paradox.

More, as and when…

Live and LeT die

Following on from yesterday’s post, doesn’t it gladden your heart that the war on terror continues to be fought with such vim?

Indian and Pakistani dossiers on the Mumbai investigations, copies of which were obtained by The New York Times, offer a detailed picture of the operations of a Lashkar network that spans Pakistan. It included four houses and two training camps here in this sprawling southern port city that were used to prepare the attacks.

One highly placed Lashkar militant said the Mumbai attackers were part of groups trained by former Pakistani military and intelligence officials at Lashkar camps. Others had direct knowledge that retired army and ISI officials trained Lashkar recruits as late as last year.

“Some people of the ISI knew about the plan and closed their eyes,” said one senior Lashkar operative in Karachi who said he had met some of the gunmen before they left for the Mumbai assault, though he did not know what their mission would be.

Majoring in suicide bombings

What the fuck can you say about this story except, what the fuck?!

Ten new terror training camps have been opened inside Pakistan since the November 2008 terror assault in Mumbai, India, which was launched from Pakistani soil.

The 10 additional camps raise the total number to 62, according to Indian intelligence agencies. The report, which was first noted in the Hindustan Times, was confirmed by US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal.

In passing, an alumnus of one such institution is in trouble in the US.