Saturday, November 29, 2008

Conversation between ISI chief and Indian Intel

Everybody and their uncle in India seems to be of the opinion that this attack was orchestrated by elements in Pakistan.

Now what exactly is our Prime Minister expecting the ISI official being summoned, earlier its chief and now one of his deputies, to say?

"Yeah, we are aware of what happened in Mumbai the other day. We have definitive intelligence about who did it, where they live in Pakistan and their sources of funding. Heck, we paid for the whole shebang, we should know!

Hear what, do what I say, get somebody to arrest me first of all for being a key member of the core team that approved this mission. Next, take this list of all key bank accounts from which money was paid, and while we are at it, this other list of all people who were involved, oh, lemme scratch our Prime Minister's name of course, and their landline, mobile & satellite phone numbers and addresses.

Oh hang on, that list that dropped off, thats the list of the next 10 operations planned for execution over the next 5 years, for which planning and training is underway in various parts of our country. Surely you don't need that yet. Even if you do, I can't disclose that information. Not part of the list of items I am supposed to assist you with.

Now if you will permit, I have to get on a teleconference with Osama, Dawood and some Lashkar folks. Its our weekly project update call so can't miss it. In case you have any further questions, contact Javed Miandad, our Strategic Head of Irritating Tactics."

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Dawn of darkness

Over the past 3 days, I have experienced a series of emotions ranging from rage to sheer hopelessness in an unending loop and I am sure that most, if not all, Indians have gone through the same hence I will not write much about it. We all know it, we feel the same way and that is that.

However, what does concern me is the rather strange and distinctly unique aspects of both the original act of terror and the response to it. Sitting here in Trinidad, I have tried to stay in touch with the news back home and seem to be unable to see the picture being portrayed on national/international television media as well as over the internet. There are lots and lots of questions and I am trying to just list them all in no particular order of preference.

Firstly, how can this be percieved or clubbed as a logical next step to the series of blasts that have kept rocking India regularly over the recent past? This was not a motley group of cowards wrapping up ammonium nitrate into packets with glass shards and planting them at various locations around town before detonating them from afar and enjoying the fun, knowing fully well that they are very unlikely to be apprehended in the near future. This was a organized team of highly-skilled and trained operatives, using sophisticated gadgetry and stake-out techniques, working on a planned basis, determined to achieve their objective of drawing maximum global attention and causing maximum collateral damage.


It is being claimed that these militants were trained for about 3 months, probably somewhere in PoK, for this operation. But this duration does not make sense at all. This level of sophisticated weaponry and planning cannot be imbibed in 3 months, nor can you display this level of calm and precise behaviour straight out of training. They must have had more systematic training and participated in live situations, maybe smaller in magnitude.

We are also told that they set sail from Karachi, came close to Indian waters near Mumbai, hijacked an Indian fishing trawler Kuber and killed its crew before sailing towards Sassoon Dock. Are we to believe that a Pakistani vessel could approach Indian waters, rendezvous with an Indian vessel, then a crew transfer could happen, and the first vessel be left abandoned and no Indian security agency, coast guard or navy, would notice?

A boat laden with ammunition sails straight into Mumbai harbour, docks next to the Gateway, its occupants all alight with heavy wargear and move towards their targets, and no security agency has a clue? Is this the level of security/patrolling we have on our maritime borders? If this were to be true, why did Pakistan even bother with all the trouble trying to take Kargil when they could have taken Mumbai?

Why were the terrorists trying to prove that they were Indian citizens? Their accents were dead give-aways to their origins, but yet their speeches sounded prepared and committed to memory in a hurry, as a result of which the dialogue delivery was abysmal. In an operation of this level of sophistication, why was this device left to be at such an amateur level? Surely if the intention was to confuse anybody, these guys could have easily been trained on the right accent within 2-3 weeks at the most, call center companies do it all the time.

How did the ATS chief, another senior official, and the 'encounter specialist' get killed almost simultaneously? It was not like all 3 succumbed to a grenade blast or something. Never, ever in the history of any such shootout or stand-off have we ever seen more than one senior police official die, if any. Not at the parliament, not at Akshardham, not in the Jamia shootout, not at Lokhandwala, not in the fiercest battles on Mumbai streets during gangwar days, not anywhere else that I can remember.

And yet, here we have 3 police officials, and the most elite ones at that, dying on the same day, in the same place. Surely they were not too reckless to expose themselves to firing without taking the right precautions? Media reports suggest that Karkare died of bullets, shot at his chest. But online video sharing sites are full of his last video showing him donning a bullet-proof vest minutes before he died!

How many MPs died in the parliament standoff? How many people died at Akshardham? Weren't most hostages rescued? How many hostages were rescued in Mumbai? Lets not confuse matters here. If some people had locked themselves into a room or were hiding somewhere to avoid being killed by the terrorists, and our forces managed to reach them and get them out, thats not strictly rescuing hostages because they were not hostages in the first place ! A hostage is defined as "a person or entity which is held by a captor". These people were caught in the cross-fire and were in a difficult and traumatic situation no doubt, but they weren't held hostage by the terrorists who were more interested in singling out US and UK citizens and killing them.

I am not saying that our forces did not do a great job in getting these people out, of course they did. But I have not heard of a lot of hostages, defined as people actually held by somebody, being rescued. By that parameter, this has not been a very successful operation. About 200 NSG commandoes, a fair chunk of Marcos, ATS officials, Army troops and many more policemen were thrown into this operation, to neutralize the threat posed by about 10 terrorists and rescue hostages taken by them.

Yet 60 hours later, we had 2 NSG commandoes dead, apart from the ATS officers, most terrorists dead (atleast 3 have escaped?) and the buildings heavily damaged. This could still have been considered a a fair result in the circumstances if it was not for the fact that not one hostage survived. This is a massive failure that should not be ignored and forgotten.

One of the reasons being touted for the delay and the loss of lives is that the terrorists were well versed with the lay of the land while the NSG commandoes were literally working blind. Aren't we kidding ourselves here? In this era of AutoCAD, the flagship hotel of the country, owned by the Tatas, does not have a detailed floorplan saved on any computer in the world? There is no such document filed with the municipal corporation (required for regulatory reasons), development authority (required for construction and modification permissions), fire department (required for health and safety reasons) or any other government entity? Surely the terrorists could not have gotten better documentation than all these combined?

There are reports that the plane carrying the commandoes from Delhi was held up at the airport for some 'VIP' who wanted to travel to Mumbai on the same plane. How was this allowed to happen? While the name of this Very Idiotic Person has not been revealed, there is every reason to believe that it was our brilliant Home Minister Mr. Shivraj Patil. The man who could land in Mumbai and tell the media that 'by the time I landed in Mumbai, the terrorists had fled from the VT station...' , as if he could have caught them by their ear, and wrung their earlobes until they begged for mercy, promising to do their homework properly next time, is not above these shenanigans at the cost of countless lives and national safety, is he?

As if this was not enough, once the NSG commandoes start their operations and initiate their first assault on the building by being airdropped on to the roof and climbing down the walls using ropes, using hand signals to communicate with each other, after all secrecy and the surprise element are paramount, we have the rather horrifying sight of a television channel beaming the visuals of the same live and even trying to explain the whole operation in great detail ! I have never had a very high opinion of most India TV journalists, but surely they are sane enough to realise when to keep their blabbermouths shut? Surely, surely, they have a ticking brain somewhere in their cranium?

The security forces involved in the operation were probably feeling left out by now so we saw the operations heads of all the different agencies shooting from their hips talking all kinds of crap, in total deviance with each other. How difficult was it to agree to one of them being the spokesperson for all entities to ensure consistent, correct and relevant information was released to the world media while sensitive information was suppressed until it was safe to release it?

The farce continues even more. Our Prime Minister cannot think of any other response to this situation but to address the nation and condemn the act. Thats it? Nothing else? Would any other world leader not have taken any decisive action?

Oh no, I must retract. Apparently the honourable Prime Minister mentioned that this attack has links stretching back to Pakistan. Fair enough, thats not exactly surprising to anybody on this earth, is it? So what do you do, you demand that the head of ISI, Pakistan's intelligence agency, be sent to India to provide inputs into the investigation of the attacks.

This is farcical to the extreme and would be funny if the context was not so dastardly. Firstly, where does the Prime Minister of one country get off by demanding that the intelligence chief of another sovereign nation be sent to India to assist in an investigation? Why should Pakistan's premier not ask India's PM to mind his own business?

Then the Pakistan premier joins the goof-up brigade by agreeing to this summon. Needless to say, his army chief brooks no nonsense and refuses to let it happen. Resultantly, both the premiers have egg on their faces and no resolution in sight.

To summarise,
Another act by the Indian Mujahideen in another name? No
Yet another random terrorist strike, like many others before? No
Well-planned response by Indian forces? No
Quick and decisive action taken? No
Minimal collateral damange? No
Effective control of news disseminated? No
Rumours squashed quickly and decisively? No
Likely to lead to preventive action in future? No

At this point, I cannot make much sense out of all this, but could this just be a big farce played upon the nation, and even the world, to keep its attention diverted while something on a much larger scale, way more dastardly and painful, is being set in motion by sinister forces?

Have Osama, Dawood, Lashkar and the ISI joined hands?

Is this the dawn of a dark era of fear of terrorism in India?

I hope, rather pray, not.

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Unbelievable

This is simply astounding. Almost too incredible to be true.

"In May 3, 2005, in France, a man called an emergency hot line for missing and exploited children. He frantically explained that he was a tourist passing through Orthez, near the western Pyrenees, and that at the train station he had encountered a fifteen-year-old boy who was alone, and terrified. Another hot line received a similar call, and the boy eventually arrived, by himself, at a local government child-welfare office. Slender and short, with pale skin and trembling hands, he wore a muffler around much of his face and had a baseball cap pulled over his eyes. He had no money and carried little more than a cell phone and an I.D., which said that his name was Francisco Hernandez Fernandez and that he was born on December 13, 1989, in Cáceres, Spain. Initially, he barely spoke, but after some prodding he revealed that his parents and younger brother had been killed in a car accident. The crash left him in a coma for several weeks and, upon recovering, he was sent to live with an uncle, who abused him. Finally, he fled to France, where his mother had grown up.

French authorities placed Francisco at the St. Vincent de Paul shelter in the nearby city of Pau. A state-run institution that housed about thirty-five boys and girls, most of whom had been either removed from dysfunctional families or abandoned, the shelter was in an old stone building with peeling white wooden shutters; on the roof was a statue of St. Vincent protecting a child in the folds of his gown. Francisco was given a single room, and he seemed relieved to be able to wash and change in private: his head and body, he explained, were covered in burns and scars from the car accident. He was enrolled at the Collège Jean Monnet, a local secondary school that had four hundred or so students, mostly from tough neighborhoods, and that had a reputation for violence. Although students were forbidden to wear hats, the principal at the time, Claire Chadourne, made an exception for Francisco, who said that he feared being teased about his scars. Like many of the social workers and teachers who dealt with Francisco, Chadourne, who had been an educator for more than thirty years, felt protective toward him. With his baggy pants and his cell phone dangling from a cord around his neck, he looked like a typical teen-ager, but he seemed deeply traumatized. He never changed his clothes in front of the other students in gym class, and resisted being subjected to a medical exam. He spoke softly, with his head bowed, and recoiled if anyone tried to touch him.

Gradually, Francisco began hanging out with other kids at recess and participating in class. Since he had enrolled so late in the school year, his literature teacher asked another student, Rafael Pessoa De Almeida, to help him with his coursework. Before long, Francisco was helping Rafael. “This guy can learn like lightning,” Rafael recalls thinking.

One day after school, Rafael asked Francisco if he wanted to go ice-skating, and the two became friends, playing video games and sharing school gossip. Rafael sometimes picked on his younger brother, and Francisco, recalling that he used to mistreat his own sibling, advised, “Make sure you love your brother and stay close.”

At one point, Rafael borrowed Francisco’s cell phone; to his surprise, its address book and call log were protected by security codes. When Rafael returned the phone, Francisco displayed a photograph on its screen of a young boy who looked just like Francisco. “That’s my brother,” he said.

Francisco was soon one of the most popular kids in school, dazzling classmates with his knowledge of music and arcane slang—he even knew American idioms—and moving effortlessly between rival cliques. “The students loved him,” a teacher recalls. “He had this aura about him, this charisma.”

During tryouts for a talent show, the music teacher asked Francisco if he was interested in performing. He handed her a CD to play, then walked to the end of the room and tilted his hat flamboyantly, waiting for the music to start. As Michael Jackson’s song “Unbreakable” filled the room, Francisco started to dance like the pop star, twisting his limbs and lip-synching the words “You can’t believe it, you can’t conceive it / And you can’t touch me, ’cause I’m untouchable.” Everyone in the room watched in awe. “He didn’t just look like Michael Jackson,” the music teacher subsequently recalled. “He was Michael Jackson.”
Later, in computer class, Francisco showed Rafael an Internet image of a small reptile with a slithery tongue.

“What is it?” Rafael asked.
“A chameleon,” Francisco replied.

On June 8th, an administrator rushed into the principal’s office. She said that she had been watching a television program the other night about one of the world’s most infamous impostors: Frédéric Bourdin, a thirty-year-old Frenchman who serially impersonated children. “I swear to God, Bourdin looks exactly like Francisco Hernandez Fernandez,” the administrator said.

Chadourne was incredulous: thirty would make Francisco older than some of her teachers. She did a quick Internet search for “Frédéric Bourdin.” Hundreds of news items came up about the “king of impostors” and the “master of new identities,” who, like Peter Pan, “didn’t want to grow up.” A photograph of Bourdin closely resembled Francisco—there was the same formidable chin, the same gap between the front teeth.

Chadourne called the police..... "

Read the rest here

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Saturday, November 08, 2008

An unforgettable memory

I had not posted about this because Surabhi had done a terrific job of her own but re-reading her post after so long, I figured I should link to it.

Highly recommended reading for the choice of words and the flowing commentary.

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The end of an era

I remember my first glimpse of a cricket match on Television way back in 1988, the day we bought our first, and till date the only, TV and brought it home. While the Yagi Antenna was being hoisted and the picture setup, the delightfully colored images, showing a group of white-clothed men going about their business of playing out a test match draw, kept turning grainy, black-n-white, wavy again and again.

Dull and drab though it was, it started my love affair with cricket that effectively carried me, and millions of my generation, right through teenage, adolescence and early youth. Anything else could go wrong in our lives, but as long as our idols, our Gods, were present on the screen and doing what they did best, we weren't really concerned.

It mattered little that they did not really win a lot of the matches they played. Just the fact that we could see them on screen, celebrating the odd occasions of joy, apparently having fun, and then trotting off the field of play after a hard day at work, was enough to make us happy, and wonderously, even proud of them.

And then, Sachin arrived.

Kapil was good, Azhar was nice and Siddhu was fun but Sachin was God. That signature act of bravery against the then fearsome Pak pace attack was to become the hallmark that defined, and created the legend called Sachin Tendulkar.

A few years later, Anil Kumble arrived to rather universal scorn and ridicule for his unorthodoz action, high speed and lack of discernible spin. I must admit it was rather fun to compare his bowling speed with the pacers, rather journeyman trundlers, that we used to have in our team in those days. And it would prove to be a source of great mirth to realise that some of his quicker ones were faster than the typical Venkatesh Prasad delivery. The wickets, of course, kept coming and very soon, an entire nation was converted.

And the first signs of a pantheon of legends emerged with the debut of Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid. This was an event which would have gone relatively unnoticed but for the fact that Ganguly made a hundred and Dravid came close. Allegations of Ganguly having got Dravid out deliberately seemed to be on the minds of almost half the country.

49 years after 1947, India had been divided again. You were either a Ganguly or Dravid fan. You couldn't have twin nationalities and there were frequent skirmishes.

Azhar faded out and Laxman arrived, relatively unnoticed and the phalanx of warriors was complete.And since then, it has been our steady, and uninterrupted dose of cricketing heroine, that we have remained addicted to.

There have been the occasional highs, Shoaib's mauling in the world cup, Warne's frequent dismantling, England's annihilation - aided by Kambli, Raju and Rajesh Chauhan, the Hero Cup semi-final, and the inevitable lows - the world cup final loss to Australia, the 1996 semi-final loss, the final frontier breaking down.

But the addiction has continued and developed. Tendulkar changed from a hungry aggressor to a ruthless accumulator, Dravid became slightly more adventurous, Ganguly became a statesman and Laxman moved even more in the background and yet increased his efficiency, becoming the proverbial shepherd of the Indian tail-end lambs.

But suddenly, a frightening prospect has emerged. Kumble is gone, Dada is on his way, Dravid looks likely to follow suit, VVS cant be around for much longer and even Tendulkar cannot defy the laws of nature for too long.

Its all nice and good that Sehwag, Zaheer, Ishant, Harbhajan, Yuvraj, Rohit and Gambhir have formed the nucleus of a solid cricket team under Dhoni. But they are not the icons that the ones mentioned earlier were.

Cricket will never be the same after these legends have gone. Switching on the telly to watch a match after they are gone will be well-nigh impossible. Living a life, only slightly less so.

Thank you fellas ! You provided the much-needed succour from the vagaries of life to us millions who saw in you the hopes of a nation come to fruition. You were the emblems of achievement that every trier aspires to, the living proof that grit and determination can take you to heights that mere mortals cannot even think about. You have set a standard that is going to be bloody hard to achieve, let alone surpass.

And then there is matter of the grave injustice done to Ajit Agarkar, simply the best all-rounder ever to have never played to his true potential in the history of the game.

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