Saturday, September 15

The curious case of Somalia and Belgium

I do not suppose you have heard of the fact that Belgium is still without a government after the elections in June 2007? The country is split between the northern Flemish bit and the southern Wallonia bit.

The Dutch Flemish do not like to pay money to their poorer French cousins in the south. I did not know myself till my friend, Professor Christian DeCock told me about this happy state of affairs.

We see the same kind of behaviour in Italy where the richer Northern Italian bit hates the indolent, public sector dependent, no tax paying south.

But going back to Belgium, remember the quote by Charles de Gaulle? "a country which is said to be invented by the British to piss off the French". But the curious thing is, that nothing really matters to the ordinary populace, they are working away nicely.

Now turn your thoughts to Somalia, a country blighted by war, riots, terrorism, religious fundamentalism, drugs, piracy, you name it. It does not have a government for the past decade or more. By all measures, it is not a state.

So how do you explain the following facts and figures from this site?

If the expectation was that Somalia would plunge into an abyss of chaos, what is the reality? A number of recent studies address this question, including one by economist Peter Leeson drawing on statistical data from the United Nations Development Project, World Bank, CIA, and World Health Organization. Comparing the last five years under the central government (1985–1990) with the most recent five years of anarchy (2000–2005), Leeson finds these welfare changes:
* Life expectancy increased from 46 to 48.5 years. This is a poor expectancy as compared with developed countries. But in any measurement of welfare, what is important to observe is not where a population stands at a given time, but what is the trend. Is the trend positive, or is it the reverse?
* Number of one-year-olds fully immunized against measles rose from 30 to 40 percent.
* Number of physicians per 100,000 population rose from 3.4 to 4.
* Number of infants with low birth weight fell from 16 per thousand to 0.3 — almost none.
* Infant mortality per 1,000 births fell from 152 to 114.9.
* Maternal mortality per 100,000 births fell from 1,600 to 1,100.
* Percent of population with access to sanitation rose from 18 to 26.
* Percent of population with access to at least one health facility rose from 28 to 54.8.
* Percent of population in extreme poverty (i.e., less than $1 per day) fell from 60 to 43.2.
* Radios per thousand population rose from 4 to 98.5.
* Telephones per thousand population rose from 1.9 to 14.9.
* TVs per 1,000 population rose from 1.2 to 3.7.
* Fatalities due to measles fell from 8,000 to 5,600.

Curious, no? so this is possible one strand of thought to those who think about rewinding the colonial boundaries. Very interesting essay at and would suggest you read the full thing. Not that removal of the government will make sure that it becomes a garden of Eden, but hey, its not that bad!

Here's another ironical question for you, if the United Nations is so eager to establish a government in Somalia, why is it not it doing anything for Belgium? 


All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!

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The Marriage of General Musharaff and Benazir Bhutto is announced (Photo enclosed)

Here is the press photo


Somebody had a great sense of Photoshop humour. When will we learn not to meddle in other countries?

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Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?

Of course I am joking and also referring to old Thomas Becket but it just shows how far away the current Archbishop of Canterbury is from basic common sense.

Guess what?  now he is fulminating against the parents who push their children to do well. And oh?? the parents who push children are as the same people who push children into feral gangs.

I presume the alternative for them is to find and develop in their own space. I quote

In an interview published today, Dr Rowan Williams said: "Children live crowded lives. We're not making their lives easy by pressurising them, whether it's the claustrophobia of gang culture or the claustrophobia of intense achievement in middle class areas."
Children were not given the opportunity to grow up at their own pace, said Dr Williams. "What is lacking in children's lives is space. They are pressed into a testing culture, or even into a gang culture; they are bullied and manipulated until they fit in, they never have any time to develop in their own space," he told the Daily Telegraph.

We have already explored that when children are faced with pushes and high expectations, they reduce anti-social behaviour and can do well.

I am seriously not surprised that he is becoming more and more irrelevant in this day and age if this is the kind of drivel he is pushing out. And perhaps he should resign in favour of somebody who is a parent and knows the value of families, parents and pushing children to do their best.

Remember, children are not a vase to be filled but a fire to be lit. To light fires, you need to bring firewood close together, and then set fire to the wood. You do not have a fire if you just let firewood lie scattered around.

All this to be taken with a grain of Piquant Salt!

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Firefighters save donkey trapped in well

Awww, poor Homar, see this Yahoo story.


UNDERWOOD, Minn. - A donkey is happily eating grass again after falling down a dry, abandoned well and being freed in an intensive rescue effort. It appeared that the animal wandered away from its farm and onto some boards covering the well, which broke, said Bruce Huseth, fire chief in this western Minnesota town.


Firefighters quickly realized that the animal, which belongs to farmer Warren Gundberg, couldn't just be pulled from the abandoned well on Bryan Nelson's land.

So they started pulling away earth with a tractor and dismantling the well block by block Thursday. Once one wall had been taken apart, firefighters put a harness around the donkey and guided it out with a rope.

"Whatever it takes," Nelson said as he watched his well come down. "I love animals, and I'm just glad it's OK."

Gundberg admonished the animal after the rescue: "I bet you'll think twice about doing that again. If you would have stayed home you wouldn't be in this trouble."

Huseth said that he has rescued cows that have fallen through ice, but that the donkey was a first.

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Sweden has its own Salman Rushdie

As a typical Pavlovian response, Al Qaeda has now decided to place a bounty on the poor old Swedish Columnist who dared to make a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad.

"We are calling for the assassination of cartoonist Lars Vilks who dared insult our Prophet, peace be upon him, and we announce a reward during this generous month of Ramadan of US$100,000 (?72,000) for the one who kills this criminal,"

As I wrote before, this is turning into a howling clownish idiocy of the first order.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

ATM's - going back to basics

Wickedly funny! Who says that you cannot have an ATM in a 3rd world country?

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Update to the Northern Rock Story - a very British bank run

The Financial Times calls it a very british bank run, where people have been queueing up politely to take out their money from Northern Rock according to my previous story.

I agree, I would take my money out as well, bloody incompetent bank.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Friday, September 14

Another great idea on the control of inflation - lets just not call it inflation

Here's another great idea, when inflation is so bad that even the banknotes are groaning under the weight of the zero's, take an executive decision to just rename the banknote. Viola, no more inflation.

Sometimes I think President Ahmadinejad went to the same school of economics as the other great economic thinker and statesman, President Robert Mugabe.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Ambassadors were appointed because technology wasnt present

An interesting report came out about how the British diplomats in China hated the telegraph because it constrained their independence. Also, the Chinese hated it as it was supposed to violate their sovereignty. Quite a curious and interesting factoid, dont you think?

So do we still need Ambassadors in the Court of Saint James? Or would just the internet connection and phone and video camera suffice?

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

British Diplomacy and the Telegraph in Nineteenth-Century China
Author: Ariane Knuesel
DOI: 10.1080/09592290701540249
Publication Frequency: 4 issues per year
Published in: journal Diplomacy & Statecraft, Volume 18, Issue 3 September 2007 , pages 517 - 537

Until the 1870s British officials in China often acted without the Foreign Office's official consent because they could only communicate with London via mail. In the 1870s telegraph lines connected China to Europe. The Chinese government initially opposed foreign telegraph lines arguing that they undermined Chinese authority. British diplomats in China were also wary of the telegraph because it allowed the Foreign Office to intervene more quickly. From the 1880s the telegraph was increasingly used as an instrument of imperialism in China. The Boxer Rebellion in 1900 showed how important the telegraph had become as means of communication.

The Great US Government pronounces on religious freedom around the world

US Secretary of State Condolezza Rice has released the U.S. Department of State's Annual Report on International Religious Freedom. Here's the report in question.

Personally speaking, the summary is far too self-righteous for my taste. Do not like that language at all. The difference between this drivel and USA's actions is far too much for my taste (such as the US opposition to funding for abortion as a measure of family planning, that's clearly imposing American religious beliefs on others). But this report has repercussions and it behoves us to review it.

That said, the report singles out Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan for particular concern. These are the real bad boys, apparently. But there are other countries, such as Israel, India, Russia, Vietnam Venezeula, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Maldives, etc. who are also of slightly less concern.

So what's going to happen after all this self righteous, pontificating, blithering drivel has been sent to the US Congress?

Zero, Nada, nothing.

Update: check out this post from Egypt.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Citizens without a country, a language without speakers and a God without worshippers

So what happens to people who lose their country to war or nature like Spiegel is reporting about Tuvalu. If the islands disappear, they can go join another state and replace their passports, like with Australia. But we are talking only few people here. Think about Bangladesh, whose 75% land area is only 6 feet above sea level. If the sea levels rise, then? Where will all those hundreds of millions of people go? What will they do?

But I was a bit of a ruminative mood. Its like languages, when people stop speaking it, it dies. The only place where it lives is in dusty libraries and museums and research laboratories, on mp3 files and old wax cylinders. It is extinct. Its as dead as the Norwegian blue parrot. Only fit for people watching the scratchings or marks on the walls like we do with the Sumerian clay tablets or Egyptian hieroglyphics?

But here's a tough question, when the worshippers of a god die out, what happens to the God? where does she/he/it go? Do they fade away? Do they go fight with another God? or do they end up like languages? graven dusty images in glass cases of museums? Like museums? How about Horus? Or Baal?

Given the current kerfuffle over Lord Ram in India, Allah/Christ in rest of the world, Yawveh in Israel and Buddha in Pakistan, what happens if their worshippers do not worship them any more?

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

If true, the guarantee against a Taliban armed with a nuclear weapon is NOT a comprehensive one!

This is a note from B Raman, an ex-spook in the Indian external intelligence service. If this is indeed the case, then the sole guarantee against the country turning taliban and using the nuclear weapons and missiles, the Pakistani Army, has worms inside. I would be afraid, very afraid not.

It is not that far fetched, quite a lot of the tens of assassination attempts on General Musharraf were actually generated inside and by the army corps. So the rumour that it was an Pushtoon Army officer itself is quite possible and probable.

The fact that all that stands between us and nuclear armed fundamentalists is a rather decrepit, corrupt and dictatorial army is deeply worrying. I had a message "never have only option" dinned into me. The fact that the only other option to protect the Pakistani nuclear missile/bombs is Nawaz Sharif/Benazir Bhutto or physically go in to own the country is too troublesome to even consider.

But this is spook talk, be wary of taking this for granted.

Pakistan's newest threat: Army officer turns suicide bomber

B Raman | September 14, 2007 | 12:17 IST

According to reliable sources in the local police, a Pashtun army officer belonging to the elite Special Services Group, whose younger sister was reportedly among the 300 girls killed during the Pakistan Army's commando raid on the Lal Masjid in Islamabad between July 10 and 13, blew himself up during dinner at the SSG's headquarters mess at Tarbela Ghazi, 100 km south of Islamabad, on the night of September 13, killing 19 other officers.

The incident coincided with United States Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte's visit to Kabul and Islamabad for talks with leaders and officials of the two governments.

According to the same sources, the Pashtun army officer belonged to South Waziristan, but Tarbela Ghazi is not located in the tribal belt. The SSG, to which General Pervez Musharraf belonged, was specially trained by the US Special Forces for covert operations and for counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency duties.

The usually well-informed News of Pakistan reported as follows on September 14: 'The area where the incident occurred is the headquarters of the Special Services Group also known as SSG and Special Operation Task Force of the Pakistan Army. Sources said the blast was so powerful that it destroyed the Officers Mess. There are also reports that a company known as Karar of the SSG based in the area had taken part in the operation on Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa in Islamabad where hundreds of religious students, including religious school administrator, Maulana Abdur Rashid Ghazi, were killed. ...There were rumours that CIA personnel were also present in the area where the blast occurred.'

According to the police sources, a training team of the Central Intelligence Agency and a team of technical intelligence personnel of the US National Security Agency were also stationed at Tarbela Ghazi. The NSA personnel were reportedly running a monitoring station to intercept communications of Al Qaeda and the neo-Taliban.

While there are no reports of any American casualties, there have been rumours that the NSA's monitoring station was badly damaged. It is not clear whether it was damaged by the impact of the explosion inside the officers' mess or by a separate explosion.

Pakistani army sources initially projected the incident as due to the explosion of a cooking gas cylinder. Subsequently, they said it was caused by a remote-controlled improvised explosive device and then that it was caused by an unidentified suicide bomber, who drove a vehicle filled with explosives into the mess at dinner time.

They have not so far admitted that it was actually caused by a Pashtun officer of the SSG itself and not an outsider. No other details are available so far.

The daring attack came two days after another attack of suicide terrorism in which at least 17 people, including three security forces personnel, were killed and 16 others injured when a 15-year-old Mehsud suicide bomber blew himself up in a passenger van at Bannu Adda in Dera Ismail Khan district of the North-West Frontier Province on September 11.

The Pakistan army has not been able to re-establish its writ over South and North Waziristan, where the Mehsuds and the Uzbeks supporting them have been holding in custody 240 members of the security forces captured by them and have been repeatedly attacking posts of the army and the Frontier Corps. Repeated use of helicopter gunships by the army has not had any impact on the various sub-tribes of Pashtuns, who have been attacking the security forces almost daily.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street is losing her marbles

The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street, the venerable Central Bank of England, the Bank of England, announced today that it is going to bail out Northern Rock, a big building society in England (a morgage lender), who apparently got into trouble as it could not fund its liabilities.

So all this high faluting lecturing about the fact that the current situation was all just a mispricing of risk, central banks shouldnt bail out bad lenders and this creates moral hazard was just bunk then? Here's what the Independent says and I quote

His letter to the chairman of the Commons Treasury Committee was as lucid an explanation and analysis of the crisis that has engulfed the banking system over the past two months as you are likely to see, but that doesn't necessarily mean his conclusion – which loosely translated into plain English reads, "Sod off, you are not getting a penny" – is the right one.

What happened 2 days afterwards? the Old Lady is busy shovelling out money just to save this mortgage lender who had some very risk investments. And dont give me that guff about markets not lending each other. What rot, they are lending each other but only to people who have managed their risk. Not to risky people.

And if others are refusing to lend to Northern Rock, why is the Old Lady taking MY tax money and giving it to these bad risk managers?

Central Bank's reputations rely on a firm hand on the tiller. The Old Lady, after a series of major incompetent issues, such as the BCCI case, has managed to recover and has established a reputation of good sound macro-economic management. Now look at it, I think the chaps inside there are a bunch of blithering idiots.

Actually, I have a very good idea that this was political pressure, and if that was indeed the case, then they are even more contemptible.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Banks told not to use beautiful women to attract new customers, ugly ones are ok

Very amusing! :) Check out this story about Nigerian Banks.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Now this is bravery above and beyond the call of duty!

Poor banker! check this out, imagine taking a call from the throne room!

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

The State of European Muslims

Check this recent latest and greatest pronouncement from the grad poo-bah's of the Great European Project. A spectacularly important sounding title

Directorate General Internal Policies of the Union
Policy Department Structural and Cohesion Policies

This report presents the current stakes concerning the Muslim presence in Europe. It adresses four main areas: organizational processes underway within Muslim communities; the questions of education and leadership; the juridical profiles and political management of Muslim’s; cohabitation as a decision to live together. Based on the findings of the study, proposals are made.

I sometime get angry when I read this kind of report, because sure as hell, this is the thin edge of the wedge which pushes into this gigantic furball of government action which never achieves anything. Europe has been having minorities for the past six thousand years.

It has managed to successfully integrate minorities, it has managed to commit genocide on minorities, and it has also managed to produce the Renaissance, Enlightenment and most of the world's intellectual ideas ranging from human rights to economic rights to what have you and all without the dead hand fo the state.

Think about the USA, despite 9/11, they have a better muslim integration story, despite the same kind of huge variation of muslim communities, histories and cultures. And yes, they do have an imperial background as well from Palestine, Lebanon, Philippines, etc.

But reading these recommendations immediately makes me suspect these Parliamentarians, who will come up with some typically heavy handed stuff which will make the situation worse.

See this recommendation: Only about a third out of 15 million Muslims have, so to speak, made their self-reference to the Islamic faith active. In the current state of affairs nothing allows us to say that this portion will or will not become larger. It is certain that the popular desire for Islamic religion has remained strong, and has indeed grown stronger during the last thirty years, but it is not at all certain that this will continue.

I mean, you dont know what's happening with respect to their active faith but if the EU does go bumbling into this sensitive situation, it will raise the bar and push many into the fundamentalist camp.

Here's another one, Islam is undergoing a transformation process from an immigrants’ religion into a religion that by full right is part of the European reality. This process should be accompanied, in legal terms, by appropriate actions that will allow Muslim communities to fully integrate themselves into the European model of relations between States and religions.

In other words, they want to have a nice document, with some quango's overseeing the process, nicely arranged into nice tower blocks, nicely slotted into a bureacrat's dream population classification system.

HOW STUPID!, do not do anything of that sort, let the Muslims be, do not get involved, they are human beings and they are perfectly able to establish themselves as a minority and as Europeans. Its this pandering to the silly element (See my post on Tarek Ramadan) and the bureacratic element which causes issues and will invariably lead to another genocide. See here for my previous view on what a government can do for its minorities. But if these reports are what will be done by the governments, then heaven help us.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

You have heard of a room full of books, this is a room made of books

Now this is the perfect furniture for my ideal dream home! :)
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More war games planned in Asia showing that the centre of gravity is definitely shifting

After the recent success of the very large SCO war games, it was the turn of the five nation naval war games in the Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean. Now India has announced that it will be holding multiple war games with other countries, ranging from China, South Africa to Russia. Quite a broad based effort and something which tells me that India is not putting all its eggs into one basket simply for ideological reasons but is much more pragmatic about this all.

I wonder if the good comrades in India would protest against this insult to the sovereignty of India? Clowns, I tell you, clowns indeed.

Also see this blog, very good analysis on counter terrorism, military, history, etc.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Thursday, September 13

Anniversary of V2

This Monday evening, I was rushing to catch my flight to Amsterdam in London as I was getting late. As usual, once I reached the airport, huffing, puffing, panting and having ulcers the size and numbers of a bunch of Loire grapes, I find that the flight has been delayed.

So I was bumbling around the airport shop and was flipping through Flight International or one of those magazines which showed a plane on top. I whistled involuntarily when I saw a picture of a Raptor with all its ironmongery, ammunition and missiles laid out in front, and this chap with a strong German - Swiss accent looked over and said,"difficult to believe that it has been almost 70 years since that the V2 missile hit London and we have steadily improved our methods of killing."

I said to him, well, we are doing a bit better on the killing front by laser guided missiles, reduced payload, better target selection... He looked at the picture and said something totally bizarre, "I wonder what would have happened if my father had shot those bastards instead of worrying about girls", then turned to me and said, "he was a guard at Peenemunde " and then he walked off to go to catch the Zurich flight.

I forgot about it totally but typically, I remembered it on Wednesday late night at 2 AM when I crawled into the hotel bed. I call it the BD Bed Law. You will remember something to do outside the bed as soon as you have pulled the duvet/blanket over you and settled down to sleep. Well, went back to the laptop and went to check on it. As it so happens, September 8, 1944 was the first date on which a German V2 missile hit London. The first ballistic missile launch in anger.

Did you know more people (20,000) were killed in the making of the rockets than at the receiving end (7,000)? These were the slaves, workers etc. etc. who built the pens, the factory, the launch site, etc. This does NOT include the number of German and other workers and PoW's killed by the Allied bombing of Peenemunde. More than 3100 V2's were fired.

Did you know that the main clincher for the Allies to know that Peenemunde was important was when a petrol coupon report showed that Peenemunde was rated as a high priority military station over and above many stations which were previously known to be important?

So how does it feel to be protected by missiles in the UK, USA, China, Iran, India, USSR, and all countries which have ballistic missiles, all which can be traced back to these V2 missiles, their scientists and knowledge? These fascist Nazi history behind our protection? What would have happened if that German soldier had turned his sub-machine gun on some of the big chaps like Werner van Braun ? It wouldn't have stopped the development of ballistic missiles but it could have delayed it. But it would have definitely impacted space exploration. Curious counter-factual rumination there.

Well, Happy Birthday, V2.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Tuesday, September 11

The probability that the Americans are going to do a Beiruit has suddenly shot up

I am sitting here in the hotel room in Amsterdam and seeing the dark, dim and dingy weather reflected on the TV screen where General Petraeus is doing his second day of reporting the the US Congress. Perhaps the weather has translated into my mood.

And I was really disappointed, both sides of the story showed pathetic judgement and based upon the report, they have now made it clear that the American Beiruit syndrome is now much more probable.

What does that mean? Well, from about 2008 onwards, as soon as a relatively large accident happens, such as the loss of say a 100 US soldiers, the Americans will pull out, lock, stock and the 2000 million smoking barrels like they did after the Beiruit bombing in a matter of 2-3 months. And they will leave behind another Lebanon. The probability of this happening is now quite high, there is no political will to stay the course and sort Iraq out. Another brilliant strategic and tactical move on part of the Americans (both parties). And this will bleed and bleed and bleed.

Oh! what a mess, what a mess!

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

when domestic laws cross boundaries - A race to the top anybody?

Extra-territoriality of laws is one thing that is guaranteed to get some people very wound up. In other words, how dare laws not passed by the country's elected representatives impact the country, its citizens and its businesses? Whether its the United Nations, the World Trade Organisation, the European Commission, International Criminal Court or what have you. I previously talked about how a US court had asked Iran to pay damages to US citizens. Now that's extra-territoriality in practise. Remember when the Sarbanes Oxley Law started impacting European Businesses or when American laws meant that British citizens were extradited to USA despite committing no crime under British Law? Remember how NY Mayor Giuliani and Mayor Bloomberg fulminate against the city tax evaders amongst the UN delegations? That's extra-territoriality!, Or when London Mayor splutters against the US Ambassador for not paying his beloved congestion charges because the US thinks the congestion charges are extra-territorial laws. So on and so forth. Generally, countries try to avoid doing this, it needlessly gets people upset and the eventual benefits are not worth it.

But the EU is different. It is pushing for standards above and beyond what national European parliaments have agreed to. I would like to draw an attention to how the EU's soft power is established through these standards. I point to MiFID, REACH, ICC and IFRS as four standards that are now global or are getting global respectability. This is, in turn causing national governments to lose power. Let us take each example. MiFID (Markets in Financial Instruments Directive) is a European wide standard for investor protection, information transparency, pricing and quoting of advice and financial instruments, reporting of transactions, etc. This, very simply speaking, will standardise the behaviour of all investment firms across the EU and is really quite path breaking in nature. It also allows for a British investment firm to work in Athens and anywhere else seamlessly (well, near enough). Guess what? European investment banks who have to cater for MiFID are now considered to be at the top of the investor protection league. The quality mark. So the Japanese, Australian and other Asian and Latin American branches are actually telling their customers that they dont just satisfy Japanese protection requirements, but go for the gold standard called as MiFID!. So here we are, it’s almost like a slap in the face of the local financial regulator like the FSA in Japan, which states that it doesnt really care as much about investors as that of EU!

Or take ICC for another example, if EU had not pushed hard and made sure that all EU members had signed up, this possibly first extension of criminal laws on an international level would never had come up. What it does mean that unilateral action is going to slowly get more difficult, also war crimes are even more difficult. Take the previous blog post of IFRS, again, the fact that the EU has adopted it means that it has become the global standard and firms love it. Or the fact that California Governor is wanting to sign up to European standards for environmental legislation. Or how about the EU REACH protocol, which is for the safety of chemicals. At this moment, Wall Mart is trying to ask its suppliers to avoid 3-4 chemicals which have been identified by REACH. Now all this is causing some of the American firms and American government quite a lot of angst because if a state the size of California and a company the size of Wall Mart go outside American law and standards to adopt European standards, then it is indeed a slap on the face.

This is the flip side of the race to the bottom, where while on one hand, you have tax arbitrage (countries compete with trying to have the lowest tax rates!) and people accuse them of having a race to the bottom, regulation can be a race to the top. Curious, no?

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Happy Second Birthday IFRS

Now I know what I am, a boring old banker, and this post will make you think that I am even more boring. But spare a thought of the challenge I am going to face on this post. I am going to try to make accountancy simpler and sexier (ok, so I am exaggerating a bit on the sexy side!). It is now two years that Europe rolled out the International Financial Reporting Standard or IFRS for short. I can already see your eyes glazing rapidly and you are heading towards the back button. But if you are courageous enough, there is a reason why I am talking about this anniversary and this is because this standard is going to impact every person on the globe. I am also dangerously simplifying this very complex matter and for those accountants out there, please do not mind me making huge jumps and missing bits and possibly even making large mistakes.

Before IFRS, each country out there had their own standards for accountancy. So the national and company accounts were extremely national, very very difficult to compare across countries and finally were rarely having the same objective. To take an example, the accountancy standards of Germany were oriented towards the tax authorities, that of France towards the national economics and statistics authorities, the USA for the local state and multiple federal agencies and UK for the investor. So how does it matter? Well, the idea of why it matters comes from the fact that the cost of capital for British and American firms has been up to 10% lower compared to an equivalent German or French firm. So if you were a firm who wanted to incorporate a business and start making widgets, guess where you would do it? There is a large industry in Germany which helps local German firms to incorporate in the UK for the better tax and corporate laws.

But the EU being the EU, it pushed and prodded for a single tax law. Two years after it was mandated, we can say that the implementation and rollout has been a cautious good. Now one can understand accounts across EU (by and large), provided you appreciate the fact that the IFRS meant that the annual account reports are much longer and there are still country level differences. There are also quite a lot of challenges, exclusions (why are you surprised? this is the EU we are talking about, one of their motto's is: never let anything good pass by without missing a chance to bugger around with it) with the standard but by and large, it is good. Also ameasure of success is that almost 100 countries have now signed up to apply this IFRS standard, and most importantly, even the USA is now talking about getting the US GAAP lined up to the IFRS standard.

But why is this important for you and I? Well, at end of the day, every person on this planet works on the basis of assets, directly or indirectly. Whether you are a child or an adult or a pensioner, you will be working with assets. If you are a child, you are working with pencils and footballs, if you are an adult, you are talking about machines and salary and houses, if you are a pensioner, you are talking about pensions, savings on haircuts and health care. In other words, assets. Intangible and tangible "stuff" which helps life along. Now these assets need to be measured and managed. Given the increased mobility of labour and capital across the world, the impact of global aspects on global assets, the valuation of these assets is vital.

So the fact that Chile is adopting IFRS will mean that an electric motor repairman in Assam India will be impacted (no cracks about the butterfly chaos theory effect please!). Chile is one of the biggest exporters of copper, the pricing of copper and the accountancy of Chilean copper firms has a direct impact on copper traded on the world markets which has an impact on the price of copper in India which has an impact on the cost of copper wires which has an impact on the cost of re-wiring a burnt out electric motor in Assam, India. His earnings are therefore, very indirectly, linked to the accountancy standard in Chile. So the fact that these national accountancy standards are going to be internationally standardised means that the cost of assets will come down a wee bit, the cost of raising capital will come down a wee bit (as the global complexity reduces, the risk reduces and thus the price reduces) and generally it is a good thing. Did that make it simple? or would you prefer if I talked about the wiring in the under-wired bra of your partner? (I know, I am pushing it to make accountancy simpler!)

Happy Birthday IFRS! (terrible two's?)

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Sunday, September 9

Leading militant in split with Islamists in the UK

This is a very interesting step. I will reflect on this further and most probably write a full length
essay on this.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Rethink leads Briton to break with group Blair wanted to ban after 7 July

Peter Beaumont
Sunday September 9, 2007
The Observer

One of the most senior members of the controversial Islamist Hizb ut-Tahrir movement, the group which Tony Blair pledged to ban after the 7 July bombings, has dramatically defected.

Maajid Nawaz, a Briton who was jailed in Egypt for four years in 2002 and allegedly tortured after being accused of reviving a banned political group and plotting to overthrow the government, says that he no longer agrees with the movement's attempts to transform Islam into a narrow political ideology.

The departure of Nawaz, whose reasons for quitting have been posted on Hizb ut-Tahrir's British website, has already inspired a furious debate within the group. Although he left two months ago, he has only now made his decision public, and will be interviewed later this week on BBC2's Newsnight programme.

According to Nawaz, who joined the movement when he was 16, he reconsidered his membership during his imprisonment. Insisting he had not abandoned his opposition to the conduct of Arab leaderships or his opposition to the Iraq war, he added that he could no longer agree with its thinking.

Nawaz's defection is a major blow to the movement. Despite being only 29, he was recognised globally for his work in founding new groups abroad.

Equally important is likely to be his reason for leaving Hizb ut-Tahrir, a closely argued rejection based on a revisiting of the key legal argument that has been deployed by Islamists - including al-Qaeda - that Arab governments operating under non-Islamic (kufr) law should be removed.

He added, however: 'I do not wish my critical voice to be exploited to support the call for proscribing Hizb ut-Tahrir. Rather, those that are well versed in both party ideology and traditional Islamic sciences are sufficiently equipped and duty-bound to redress the phenomenon of politically inspired theological interpretations.

'I would also state that my political stance against the tragic invasion of Iraq remains unchanged. Furthermore, these words should not be taken to mean that I support the brutal policies of the Muslim world's dictators. Rather, political engagement is the civic duty of all who are able. Finally, I impress upon all people that Islam today is not in need of a politically inspired modernist reformation, which is actually the cause of our current crisis, rather a counter-reformation and a return to its true essence by Muslims insisting that their religion is not used merely to serve narrow political agendas.

'I spent much of my time as a political prisoner evaluating and studying Islam. It became clear to me that rather than being the sole vanguard that represents an Islam that even Muslim jurists have misunderstood, Hizb ut-Tahrir is inspired by a political ideology.'

While some of the responses to his move yesterday were abusive, some welcomed the debate. 'He has an argument,' commented one senior member. 'He appears to back [it] with texts/evidences. So let a discussion develop, a discussion free from useless feeble statements.'

Indian Muslims, a great site

Here is a great site by Indian Muslims. I strongly recommend the site! There IS more to Indian Muslims than just those in the news for all the wrong reasons.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Germany struggles to understand why ordinary German boys will convert to Islam and become terrorists

We have had similar issues in NL and UK. See here for a previous discussion on the NL situation. Here is a report on the German situation.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Germany struggles with 'why?' of home-grown militants
Sun Sep 9, 2007 11:21AM EDT

By Erik Kirschbaum

BERLIN (Reuters) - They grew up as middle-class Germans with the ordinary names Fritz and Daniel. They had by and large sound family backgrounds and attended good schools. They even once played American football and basketball.

But somewhere along the line -- according to a portrait of the two Germans that has emerged in local media reports since their arrest -- Fritz Gelowicz and Daniel Schneider went off the usual track and became Islamist militants.

Their alleged plan to launch massive bomb attacks on U.S. targets in Germany was foiled by police on Tuesday. They were arrested along with a Turkish man raised in Germany, Adem Yilmaz, and police said they had enough material to make bombs with a force equal to 550 kilograms of TNT.

Allegations of their plot have stunned Germany, a country largely spared the violence from Islamist militants that has hit the United States, Britain and Spain.

It has been hard for Germans to fathom why anyone raised in their prosperous country might choose to follow the path of Mohammed Atta, a radical Arab student who lived inconspicuously as a student in Hamburg before leading the 9/11 hijacked plane attacks on the United States in 2001.

"A country is struggling to understand why -- and Germans are asking themselves if they could have possibly known what was happening," wrote Der Tagesspiegel on Sunday.


Gelowicz, who prosecutors have said headed the German cell, had earlier demonstrated his leadership skills as the quarterback of an American football club team called the Neu-Ulm Barracudas, according to Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

Gelowicz, 28, excelled in the U.S. sport that is played in only scattered parts of a country where soccer dominates. He made it into Bavaria's 1995 all-state team.

Born in Munich, Gelowicz moved to Ulm as a child and his parents separated when he was 15.

"About 10 years ago I found out Fritz had let himself be circumcised," his father Manfred was quoted telling Focus magazine on Sunday. "At that time I didn't think he was Muslim. I thought it was all something he would just grow out of."

Gelowicz is believed to have converted to Islam as a teenager and began calling himself Abdullah Gelowicz.

Gelowicz studied industrial engineering at the technical university in Neu-Ulm but dropped out shortly before finishing in 2004. Newspapers said he had been a good student.


Schneider, who turned 22 in custody on Sunday, was once a standout basketball player in his hometown. He later trained as munitions expert as a recruit in the German army.

"Daniel was a talented young player and scored an average of 25 points a game," Bild am Sonntag quoted a former coach as saying.

He dropped out of high school a year before graduating because he did not want to be taught by women any more, according to the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. He converted to Islam at the age of 19 in 2003.

After military service, he studied the Koran in Pakistan before returning to his home town of Herrensohr in February 2007, der Tagesspiegel said.

Yilmaz, 28, was born in Turkey. He moved to Germany as a youth with his parents. He grew up in Langen, a town in Hessen, and after finishing school received state unemployment support. He had worked as a ticket inspector on local buses at one point.

"He was completely normal, a nice boy," said Horst Boenig, head of the KSV Langen sports club where Yilmaz worked out.

I wonder if the British Immigration chaps have picked up on this?

Now if one in five sperm donor's are from outside the UK, surely this is immigration by stealth? If you think about it, who knows what kind of genes or nationality are coming through!! Denmark is ok, but USA? that's like immigration central, the originator country of the phrase, melting pot.

I am sure the people who track, trap and debate this kind of issue here in the UK like Migration Watch should incorporate this as another dimensions.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

One in five UK sperm donors is from overseas

By Marie Woolf, Political Editor

Published: 09 September 2007

Britain's sperm donor shortage is so acute that one in five donors is from overseas, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

Documents show that the Government's decision to remove anonymity from sperm donors has led to a sharp drop in the number of men willing to donate.

This has led to the "bulk" import of sperm coming from overseas, primarily the US and Denmark.

Some counties, such as Lancashire and Northumberland, now have no sperm donors at all, while Cornwall and Shropshire each rely on one active donor to provide semen for women with fertility problems.

Many fertility clinics have had to close their insemination services altogether, forcing women to turn to the internet to find donors.

The Liberal Democrat MP and former doctor Evan Harris said that ending anonymity was a "disaster" and meant many women would be unable to have children.

Anthony C. Zinni still doesnt get it

Anthony C. Zinni, a retired Marine General, was the Commander of the Central Command (which contains most of the fuzzy wuzzies in the Middle East) few years ago. This is what he writes about not standing by OUR MAN in Pakistan! A fundamental misreading of the facts is what Zinni is guilty of. Its like saying, do as I say, not what i do.

General Zinni, he may be YOUR man but he isnt PAKISTAN's man. When will you realise that backing dictators is simply storing up trouble? You know what this means? It is like getting thugs to force people to vote for you. Would you do that in Podunk USA? If not, then why are you supporting a dictator and a thug?

And no, 9/11 does not justify it. How come India and UK and rest of the democratic world offer unconditional help against the terrorists despite them being democracies?

Musharraf isnt your ally, he is your personal friend. Pakistan, the country is USA's ally. And the country deserves USA's help in democracy. So stand by Pakistan, not stand by your tin pot dictator.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Stand by Our Man in Pakistan

By Anthony C. Zinni

Sunday, September 9, 2007; Page B04

As the turn of the millennium drew closer in December 1999, Jordanian officials uncovered a terrorist plan to attack U.S. tourists visiting Middle Eastern sites during the New Year holidays. They arrested the suspects and gained valuable intelligence on their plans and leadership. Washington went on red alert, fearing further plots.

At the time, I was commander of the U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for the Middle East. Senior State Department officials asked me to contact Pakistan's ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, to see whether he would conduct operations to seize the leaders of an al-Qaeda cell in Pakistan who had been identified by the terrorists now in Jordanian hands. Musharraf agreed, and his forces captured the jihadists. I was asked to contact him again to inquire whether U.S. interrogators could have access to those arrested. He said yes. Three more requests were made, and each time he agreed.

I asked the U.S. officials using me as a conduit whether, as a result of Musharraf's cooperation, we could improve our ties with his government and military. The answer was a flat no. I told Musharraf that I felt bad about this lack of appreciation and lack of understanding of the strategic importance of our nations' relationship. "I don't want anything for this," he replied. "I did it because it was the right thing to do."

That story sticks out in my mind these days, as it becomes increasingly fashionable to bash the embattled Musharraf. There's no such thing as a perfect ally, of course. But he was steadfast during the millennium crisis, and after Sept. 11, 2001, the United States was fortunate to have a leader in Pakistan who was willing to take on the fight against terrorism. We may criticize some of his undemocratic governing decisions and his failure to prevent al-Qaeda's leadership from gaining a foothold in the volatile border area with Afghanistan. But we should acknowledge the price the Pakistani military has paid in this battle and recognize the political courage it took for Musharraf to wage it at all, despite its unpopularity with the many Pakistanis who think that the fight against terrorism is not their struggle and despite the vast array of political, social and security problems his government faces.

I am disappointed that our media and our political leaders make little or no mention of the numbers of Pakistani troops killed or wounded in this war. Their casualties exceed those of any coalition army, including America's, fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda in South Asia. The cost of Pakistan's military operations has also hobbled the country's economy. Moreover, for two decades, the Pakistanis were left to cope with hundreds of thousands of refugees after the 1980s jihad to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan -- the first Afghan war for which Washington sought their support. The aftermath of that war left many Pakistanis justifiably wary of supporting another conflict that could once again leave them holding the bag.

After 9/11, the United States seemed to rediscover the importance of its relationship with Pakistan, one that many of us had long thought should have been better handled. Unfortunately, before 2001, the U.S.-Pakistani relationship was strained at best -- the result of the poorly thought-out series of sanctions we imposed after India and Pakistan's 1998 nuclear tests and of the residual Pakistani bitterness over the mess we left behind in Afghanistan after we drove out the Soviets in 1989. The sanctions, including the U.S. refusal to deliver aircraft that Islamabad had paid for or to return its money, still loom large in the memory of many officers in the ranks.

When Musharraf took over as head of the Pakistani military in 1998, I visited him for several days in Islamabad. I had learned to greatly respect the professionalism of the Pakistani military when I saw their gallantry firsthand during my service in Somalia; as CENTCOM commander, I came to appreciate the need for a strong military-to-military relationship to help ensure stability in the volatile region of South Asia.

Musharraf, like his predecessors, wanted to preserve the thin thread of the U.S.-Pakistani military relationship, even if it was based only on our personal friendship. This view wasn't shared by all of Musharraf's commanders or Pakistan's political leaders, but we both thought it was important that the connection -- the only real, useful link between our governments -- be closely maintained. Our bond was not entirely popular on the U.S. side either. I was allowed to maintain it, but only over many objections and reservations.

But when Musharraf took control of the government in a 1999 coup, I was told to break off all ties with him. He called me right after he assumed power to explain the events that had led to the takeover and to underscore his determination to bring "democracy in substance and not just in form."

Allies are supposed to be partners, not paragons. We will find ourselves in trouble if we insist that our allies do everything we ask, measure up totally to our concepts of how their societies should function and make no demands of us. Look at the NATO forces in Afghanistan, just across the border from Pakistan; are all of those troops, from 37 countries, fighting with the same commitment as Pakistan's forces are? Has U.S. support for the Pakistani military truly been enough to help it operate in the extremely difficult border environment where U.S. politicians urge it to confront al-Qaeda? Has America's relationship with Pakistan yielded sufficient benefits to persuade the skeptical Pakistani public to support mutual efforts to counter Islamic extremists?

All of us could have been smarter in handling the conflict with Osama bin Laden and his ilk from the start, and we need to continuously review and improve our efforts. I recently visited Pakistan again and had an opportunity to discuss the threat with Musharraf. I was impressed with his focus on improving border-control methods, training border-security forces and improving border-security cooperation with Afghanistan. It was clear that he is committed to doing his part to control a notoriously leaky frontier. It was also clear that the United States needs to offer far more support and coordination to let Pakistan and Afghanistan make this all work.

Both nations should avoid attacking each other and learn to appreciate the efforts and sacrifices that each has made in the struggle against their common foe. Careless, irresponsible statements can damage fragile alliances and erode cooperation and trust. They serve only to encourage our mutual enemies in al-Qaeda and the Taliban, who will use them for their own gain. Pakistan and Afghanistan must embark upon a more constructive dialogue. And I could say something similar about the U.S. debate about Pakistan. Unless we do better, we will continue to lose allies as a result of reckless, alienating comments that amount to short-term domestic political posturing and hurt U.S. security interests in the long run.

Anthony C. Zinni, a retired Marine general,

is the former commander in chief of U.S. Central Command. He is a distinguished military fellow at the World Security Institute.

Farmer suicides, agriculture, farm prices, WTO, Doha Round and the whole stinking mess

I wrote earlier about agriculture and how difficult it is for food price rises for the poor here. I also wrote earlier (which I cant find the reference to right now!!!) about why I am not open to an agriculture round in the WTO Doha round. This will hit the poor farmers much more and the poor countries do not have a safety net like Europe and USA do.

But even so, take a look at this report about Indian farmers. These points HAVE to be considered and are vital. Ignoring these can be dangerous and bad for the economy and democracy.

A PErSPECTIVE: Rural Affairs Editor of The Hindu P. Sainath delivering a lecture on ‘Farm Crisis: Why have over one lakh farmers killed themselves in the last decade’ watched by Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee in New Delhi on Thursday.

NEW DELHI: The crisis in the farm sector is a national one and not restricted to some States. The suicides are just the symptom not the disease, said Magsaysay awardee and Rural Affairs Editor of The Hindu P. Sainath while deliverin g a lecture on ‘Farm Crisis; Why have over one lakh farmers killed themselves in the last decade?’ in Parliament House.

Reeling out chilling statistics which revealed how India remained a land of poverty amidst plenty, Mr. Sainath said India had the fourth highest number of dollar-billionaires in the world; behind only the United States, Germany and Russia. “But, we are 126th in human development. This means that it is better to be a poor person in Botswana or the occupied territories of Palestine, both of which show superior human development indicators than India.”

Though India was an emerging tiger economy, life expectancy here was lower than in Bolivia — the poorest country of Latin America — Kazakhstan and Mongolia. India may have 100,000 dollar millionaires but 800 million in this country existed on less than Rs. 20 a day as per government data, he said, adding that “there is no such thing as Indian reality, there are Indian realities.”

Another contrast he brought out pertained to foodgrains intake. The last 15 years – which saw unprecedented prosperity among the rich – witnessed a decline in foodgrains intake. Quoting from the atlas of food security of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, he said in 1997-2002, India added more newly hungry millions than the rest of the world taken together.

“Hunger grew at a time when it declined in Ethiopia. A new restaurant opens every day in some city of this country but the average rural family is consuming 100 kg less than it did 10-15 years ago because that is the food availability situation.”

Mr. Sainath regretted the slow pace of tenancy reforms in the country. According to him, land reforms had been carried out properly by only a handful of States.

“It seems appalling to me that we can clear an SEZ in six months but we cannot do land reforms in 60 years across this country!”

He drew the attention of Parliamentarians to the growing expenditure on health as India now had the sixth most privatised health system in the world.

Another alarming phenomenon, he said, was the closure of as many as 3,500 banks in the rural areas — without which there would have been no Green Revolution in the first place — between 1993 and 2002. Ironically enough, while banks have systematically withdrawn from credit for the rural areas, they are increasingly wooing the upper middle classes.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

multi vendor sourcing, a short comment

I saw this note on Linked in:

Multi-sourcing for a large application

I have worked with outsourced/Captive models for some years now. I am entering uncharted waters with Multi-sourcing. Both vendors are outsourced partners. I have read literature about multi-sourcing at an organizational level and it's advantages.

My multi-sourcing is in the context of the same application. Current team size is about 50 resources. Anyone out there with experience of this situation. I would like to hear about your success/pain-points and hope to learn from them.

And I dashed off some quick thoughts here, they arent edited or cleaned up, but you will get the idea! :)

Its a pain, but it is worth it. You will see an increase in management time, and be ready to have a very good PMO structure. Invest in some very good change management folks. Let your bosses know that some structural investments in MIS, request processing etc. need to be made, dont let your firm get tied up to the vendor provided MIS, request processing, reporting aspec. If you do, then you lose the benefit of multi-sourcing and makes it difficult to switch. Every change in contract, review and add another condition, how difficult would it be to switch to another vendor and who will pay for that?

Make sure everything is extremely transparent, dont let the vendors browbeat you about commercial confidence, the rates bit aside, there is nothing confidential. Make sure all the vendors are meeting you and your PMO team on a daily/weekly basis, following the model "get all the thieves around one table".

Build in innovation frameworks and have a competition between vendors, that will allow you to reduce (but not avoid) obselesence...

best of luck!

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

A book review - Longitudes and Attitudes - Thomas Friedman

I started writing columns and essays in 2003 when my friend and editor twisted my ear and threatened grievous bodily harm if I didn’t write something. Despite protestations that I didn’t know the first thing about writing (not that I know any more now!!!) she got me wittering on about it. So off I went to do a bit of research on what makes a good columnist and since then Thomas Friedman has been top of the list for me, yahoo and google alerts.

I was further convinced that he is a good libertarian and centrist when he would change his opinions, he would try to make sense of both sides of the story, he would show passion and he would be independent of the howling mobs on both sides of the story. So I am a big fan of his writing. As it so happens, one of the proudest moments of my writing life was when somebody accused me of being a "Thomas Friedman". The person was meaning it pejoratively and in an accusing manner, but that didn’t matter. So you are warned, I am already biased!

His previous book that I read, The World is Flat, is also something that took the world by storm. It was the FT / Goldman Sachs Business book of the year and really opened many people’s eyes to how globalisation is currently in play. But this book, Longitudes and Attitudes – ISBN: 0141015217), exploring the world before and after September 11 is a different animal totally.

This book is a series of selected columns from 2000 till just after the Iraq Invasion of 2003. It is a very interesting view of how an American got stunned by the 9/11 attack, their “virginity”, “innocence” torn away, saw the world, how they tried to make sense of it. And you could see all the (almost raw) emotions in print, the bewilderment, the anger, the worry, the angst, the pain, the sorrow, the feelings of a father to his daughter and family, his fury at the Jihadi’s, his pity, everything on open display. And you can see the feelings develop and change over the 3-4 years, before and after the 9/11 event.

Take for example the Iraq War. The overwhelming feeling that I get from reading the columns is that he thinks it was morally right to remove Saddam but he was extremely nervous and critical of the Bush Administration’s incompetence in raising the coalition, getting the international support, the absence of planning for the post Saddam era, the feelings of people on the ground in USA, Europe, Arab lands and India. And whether you like or hate this idea, he is a great writer. And read him to understand how opinions are formed.

As an essayist, another very interesting quality that Thomas has, is to manage to fit in simple concepts, give good structured arguments, back it up with history and personal experience and end with a recommendation/suggestion, and mostly all in 800-900 words. And his introductions are brilliant, simply great; they pull you into the column.

The main criticism I would have is that he missed a trick by not taking the letters to the NY Times editor and feedback on his columns into his book. I realise that it would have taken more time to make the book, and would have been tougher, but I think the balance is lost; this is purely Thomas Friedman’s opinion journey over 4-5 years. If he had managed to incorporate the letters and feedback, it would have made for a far richer book.

Still, whether you are an essayist, journalist, interested in politics, whether left or right, green or brown, this is a good book to read. Hey, its perfect as a bathroom book, those bite sized columns are just perfect! J Happy reading.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

A book review - God's Terrorists - Charles Allen

An interesting review of this book by Bhupesh Bhandari of the Business Standard. It has gone into my Amazon wishlist! :) As it so happens, my next essay will be on the 1857 war of independence / Great Mutiny.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Blasts from the past

Bhupesh Bhandari / New Delhi September 06, 2007

Till the Taliban were driven out of Kabul, Afghanistan was recognised as the Islamic world’s most prolific jehad factory, exporting terror to every corner of the globe. It is widely believed that Osama bin Laden is still directing Al Qaeda operatives from his base somewhere in Afghanistan or the tribal areas of Pakistan.
The region has been wild and untamed for centuries. The Pathans and Afghans are at peace only when at war with each other, the old saying goes. Neither the British nor the Soviets could keep them under their control for long. Before them, the Sikhs had extended their rule to Peshawar and beyond. But their rule over the territory, more often than not, was tenuous.
A lesser known fact of history is that the area was a springboard for jehadis right through the 19th century. These men fought the firinghees to make India once again Dar-ul-Islam. There might be no Al Qaeda operative in India right now, but those men all came from India and were led by Indian religious figures. For the British, they were the first crop of Islamic terrorists. They called themselves God’s soldiers. One man’s terrorist even at that time was the other man’s freedom fighter.
Old India hand Charles Allen (his great-grandfather, Charles Allen, started The Pioneer on January 1, 1865) gives a new spin to Islamic terrorism with his latest book, God’s Terrorists. The roots of modern jehad, says he, lie in these men who fought the British forces in the North-West and Afghanistan.
Their leaders, drawn from Patna and Delhi, were followers of the Wahhabi school, which had originated in West Asia in the previous century. The soldiers came from Bengal. All of them were bound together by the cult of militant Islam espoused by Wahhabism.
Elaborate supply chains were set up between Bengal and the Sitana mountains in Afghanistan, where these jehadis found safe sanctuary. Most of the time, they got support from the locals, who still have the tradition of never turning away a guest.
For a long time, the British just had a vague idea about these jehadis. (The Great Game too was just a notion till Rudyard Kipling blew the cover in The Pioneer.) Perhaps the first evidence of militant Wahhabism was in the early 1830s, when Titu Mir organised his co-religionists against the British. Mir had travelled to West Asia and was taken in by Wahhabism. But his struggle was short-lived. He was caught and hanged by the British.
Even during the 1857 sepoy mutiny or what Indian nationalists call the first war of independence, Allen says some British officials were suspicious that it was being fuelled in Patna by a bunch of religious leaders. Accordingly, they were taken into custody. Yet, rivalry amongst officials of the East India Company ensured that these men were set free shortly.
There is sufficient evidence to suggest that these men were at work in Delhi during the 1857 mutiny. It is well known that some religious fanatics had camped in and around Delhi during those days, fighting the British forces. Though most of the participants in the revolt were high-caste Hindus, these men fought alongside them.
The full extent of the operations came to light only after Lord Mayo, the Viceroy, was murdered by a jehadi in 1872. He had promised to crush the Wahhabi movement once and for all and this had drawn the ire of the jehadis. The British might have been able to put a lid on their activities for some time, but the phenomenon raised its head once again 100 years later.
Allen says that the current crop of terrorists has the same DNA as these men. To begin with, they were terrorists and not Indian nationalists. He says these men were not fighting to liberate India. Instead, they were fighting for Islam, to restore it to the glory it had commanded before the British set foot on Indian soil. Their angst was directed against the Christians for defiling their land and interfering in their religious practices. Most important, they all fought like men possessed.
The theological schools which taught Wahhabism at that time became the breeding ground for the Taliban a century later. It is a well-known fact that most madrassas in Pakistan along its border with Afghanistan were offshoots of these schools, most notably the Deoband madrassa close to Delhi. The militant Islam taught by these schools was in full display during the Taliban rule in Afghanistan.
Together with the Al Qaeda, the Taliban became the most dangerous terror force the world has ever known. One was tightly-knit and local, the other loose in organisation but global in its reach.
Packed with impeccable research, Allen’s book gives a good view of the roots of militant Islam in the region. God’s Terrorists compares favourably with his earlier bestsellers like Soldier Sahibs, Duel in the Snows and A Mountain in Tibet.