Musings

Good Taliban, Bad Taliban, Nice Taliban, Shoo Taliban

…And now, a Tolerant, Secular, Gender-Sensitive Taliban?

Everything seems to have changed. Nothing has changed.

Watching Taliban take over the last few remaining bits of Afghanistan, and the live footage of tens of thousands of terrified Afghans still trying to flee the country (some killing themselves or getting killed in the process), brings to mind the identical scenes from 1989-90 when Taliban first swept to power and began their Reign of Horror in Afghanistan – under the benign watch of Pakistan and the US.

Remember: Taliban is a creation of the USA and its then-stooge, Pakistan.

Remember:  Osama bin Laden was a creation of the USA and its then-stooge, Pakistan.

It’s a good time to remember these things. It’s very important never to forget these facts.

We must not waste energy screeching ‘foul’ at USA or US President Joe Biden or his GI Joes for ‘abandoning’ Afghanistan.

Because, for the USA, its entire involvement in Afghanistan , Iraq and other regions of Central Asia and the Middle East from the 1980s till 2021 has been nothing more, nothing less, than a long-term  project aimed at securing the USA’s long-term energy security: specifically, USA’s command and control over the region’s vast oil and natural gas reserves.

After all, in statecraft there is no ‘morality’; there is no ‘good or ‘bad’, there is only Supreme National Interest.

And Taliban, Jihad, Osama bin Laden, the 9/11 attacks, the ‘War on Terror’, Hamid Karzai, Zalmay Khalilzad, Saddam Hussein…all these have been just actors and components and phases of this wonderful American-led project that has spanned several US Presidencies, both Democratic and Republican: from Reagan to Biden.  

This is a project that never ends.

Bear with me, O tolerant Reader, as I dust off and present two of a few articles I’d written on this theme for Indian Express from nearly two decades ago.   I do hope they jog thy memories as they did mine, and help discern hazy outlines of the unchanging truth from the ephemeral peta-tonnes of post-truths, half-truths and plain lies that now fill our media and numb our minds.

Free kick to Unocal!

[Indian Express: June 17th , 2002]

Saeed Naqvi’s criticism of India’s apathy and lack of vision in dealing with the post-Taliban Afghanistan (‘Mindsets with Manacles’, IE June 14) is timely, because Hamid Karzai’s coming to power has deep implications for India’s economy and long-term security.

If the USSR invaded Afghanistan in the 1980s to secure a strategic gateway on to the Arabian Sea, the US-backed mujahideen war to evict the Soviets was driven by the Americans’ desire to wrest control of the vast reserves of oil and gas in the (then-Soviet) Central Asian nations.

There were two fronts to the US campaign. On the one hand, the CIA and Pakistan’s ISI set up a vast operation to recruit, arm and train Islamic radicals from all over the world to fight a jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Simultaneously, the $ 6 billion American oil company, Unocal, drew up plans for a giant pipeline that would transport LNG from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan to Pakistan, and thence, to Southeast Asian markets by sea.

Throughout the war-torn 1990s, then, Unocal busily lobbied with various ethnic factions in Afghanistan to secure its proposed pipeline. In 1995, it strongly backed the Taliban regime. Its efforts were openly endorsed by Robin Raphel, then US assistant secretary of state (South Asia), and by Tom Simmons, then US ambassador to Pakistan, who encouraged the Pakistan prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, to grant Unocal exclusive transit rights for oil and gas across Pakistan.

One of Unocal’s most able executives in Afghanistan during this period was Hamid Karzai.

On February 8 this year, Pakistan’s General Musharraf and Karzai agreed on a $ 10 million deal confirming the pipeline arrangement.

There is another strange and murky twist to the Unocal tale. The company is closely associated with Saudi oil giant Delta; and Delta is closely linked to Turki bin Faisal, who until 2001, had headed Saudi Arabia’s intelligence service Istakhbarat.

 In the early 1990s, Faisal promoted the image of Taliban as ‘liberators’ to the US, thus endorsing Unocal’s stand. But Faisal did much more (as recorded by Pakistan journalist Ahmed Rashid in his book, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia).

At the urgings of Pakistan’s ISI, Turki bin Faisal provided a ‘royal prince’ to inspire and lead the Saudi contingent of mujahideen in Afghanistan

This ‘prince’ was none other than Osama bin Laden.

In the absence of any credible alternative, Hamid Karzai has now been chosen by the Loya Jirga as leader of Afghanistan for the next two years. Hopefully his election will bring a measure of unity and peace to the shattered peoples of Afghanistan. But his ascension to power also means that the US has finally have achieved the goal it has sought since the early 1990s — absolute control over Central Asian oil reserves.

A victory soaked in children’s blood

[Indian Express: Apr 22, 2003]

Iraq’s tragedy is symbolized by the fate of 12-year-old Ali Ismael Abbas. A Coalition missile strike killed Ali’s mother and father, sheared off his arms and destroyed his home. Ali has now been shifted to a hospital in Kuwait; there is talk of his being sent to the UK for advanced medical treatment. Surely this innocent child deserves the best care and assistance to start life anew.

But there are a thousand other Iraqi children like Ali: maimed, orphaned, homeless, nameless. What did they have to do with issues such as the removal of Saddam Hussein, weapons of mass destruction, or terrorism, issues cited by the US and UK to justify the Coalition campaign?

The military strikes are all but over. The Coalition forces have not captured Saddam or any key figures of his regime (unless an estranged ‘half-brother’ falls under the category). They have not found any WMD. The only ‘terrorist’ they have found is an ageing Palestinian who hijacked an Italian airliner 19 years ago, and against whom even Israel dropped all charges long ago. As for liberating the Iraqis, the irony is that the Coalition faced far fiercer resistance in Basra populated mainly by Shias, who were brutally oppressed by Saddam’s Sunni-dominated Ba’ath regime, than they did in Baghdad or even Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit.

So what has the Coalition campaign achieved?

The plain truth is, the US has secured its long-term strategic interests by paving the way for the installation of a regime that will allow it control over Iraq’s vast oil reserves.

In an energy-starved world, control over energy resources is the key to global dominance. Iraq has proven reserves of 115 billion barrels of oil (compared to Russia’s 49 billion and the Caspian states’ 15 billion barrels).

Significantly, US President Bush has appointed Zalmay Khalilzad as his special envoy to Iraq.

Khalilzad was earlier special envoy to Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan and both Karzai and Khalilzad were key advisors to US oil giant Unocal. Karzai’s installation in Afghanistan has enabled US oil majors to finalize plans to access Turkmenistan’s oil resources via a trans-Afghanistan pipeline to Pakistan. With control over Iraq’s oil resources, the US has in effect acquired a stranglehold over two-thirds of the world’s proven oil reserves. America will now use energy costs to wield global economic influence.

Today, the US and UK media strive to project their forces as saviours providing drinking water, medical assistance and electricity to Iraqis. Conveniently overlooked is the fact that the water and power infrastructure was destroyed in the first place by Coalition air strikes. Like little Ali, surely the Iraqi people need all the help they can get. But they know and the world knows that the Coalition campaign was never about saving the Iraqi people; it was about their oil.

[P.S.: Spare a thought – though perhaps little sympathy – for the Pakistani establishment: with Taliban at their gates, and no USA any more to turn to for dollars or for refuge in the short-term, they will soon learn the bitter truth of the old maxim: “Sow the wind, and thou shalt reap the whirlwind.” Of course, there’s always China...]

General ravings, Potshots

Scientific Rigor Mortis

“Never try to walk across a river just because published data informs you that it has an average depth of four feet.”

—Martin Friedman

I have just gone through this learned study titled “Three New Estimates of India’s All-Cause Excess Mortality during theCOVID-19 Pandemic” by USA-based Abhishek Anand, Justin Sandefur, and Arvind Subramanian. (It is a free download at Centre for Global Development: https://www.cgdev.org/publication/three-new-estimates-indias-all-cause-excess-mortality-during-covid-19-pandemic )

I extend my fervent thanks to the authors for this entertaining study. I do believe it is hilarious enough to make a coronavirus cackle in delight.

I say this in all seriousness and sobriety, and with all my authority as a science scholar of international disrepute from the prestigious North Eastern Hill University, who has plumbed unique and unparalleled depths of non-achievement in the most obscure and abstruse disciplines.

The Introduction to the study begins with a most earnest declaration: “We want to emphasize that we are not estimating Covid-caused deaths as CPHS has no information on cause of death. Rather, we focus on all-cause mortality, and estimate excess mortality from the onset of the pandemic relative to a pre-pandemic baseline, adjusting for seasonality.” [emphasis mine]

Alas, the study proceeds to do exactly what it declares it does not aim to do. It estimates Covid-caused deaths in India.

In fact, it concludes that while India’s official Covid death count as of end-June 2021 was 400,000, the actual death toll ( ‘excess deaths’) in India are between 3.4 million and 4.9 million.

To put it plainly, the study concludes that India is hiding dead bodies. Millions of dead bodies.

How does the study arrive at this conclusion?

Well…

For its first estimate, the study blithely extrapolates death data from just seven Indian states to the whole of India to estimate under-counted deaths or what it calls ‘excess deaths’.  In other words, the study decides that the averages of death data from Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh must be applied to the whole of India— comprising 28 states and 8 Union Territories—to figure the actual ‘excess deaths’ in India. And it arrives at the estimate of 3.4 million excess deaths.

For the second estimate, the study applies “international estimates of age-specific infection fatality rates (IFR)” to India.  To translate this gobbledygook into English:  the study assumes that because the infection fatality rate (IFR) is incredibly high in USA, EU countries and so on, then that incredibly high fatality rate must be the norm that India must obey too. And so, it blithely extrapolates IFR from USA, EU and other high-Covid-fatality nations to India to estimate around 4 million excess deaths.

For the third estimate, the study analyses data from the Consumer Pyramid Household Survey (CPHS). With admirable candour, the study admits that “There is reason for caution when relying on the CPHS for mortality estimates though. While CPHS has become a critical source of timely information on labour market and consumption trends, especially in the absence of timely and reliable official data, its representativeness has recently been questioned.” But that admission has not prevented the authors from relying on CPHS data to accuse India of hiding an  estimated 4.9 million excess deaths.

 In a nutshell – a very old and shriveled peanut shell – this study rests on the three very shaky pillars of incoherence, irrelevancy, and plain immaturity , reinforced with a strong foundation of meaninglessness.  

The kindest thing I can say about this study is that what it lacks in scientific rigor, it more than compensates with deep-set rigor mortis.

In passing: I wonder why the learned authors did not apply their IFR-based logic to the People’s Republic of China where the Covid-19 virus was actually born (or created), and whose Covid-related data is rather questionable to put it mildly? 

Especially when China, with a population of 1401,000,000 (give or take a few million Uighurs and Tibetans), officially reports a mere 4636 deaths out of a minuscule 92,364 cases – thus finding itself placed at 103rd  position in the Worldometer’s country list —below countries such as Montenegro at position 100 (pop. 628,150; total cases 100,755; deaths 1623) and Cyprus at position 102 (pop. 1,216,583; total cases 93,247; deaths 391)?

I place below a simple table, with an accompanying graphic, that I hope will inspire Abhishek Anand, Justin Sandefur, and Arvind Subramanian to take a long and very hard look at China’s Covid-19 data and assess the People’s Republic’s ‘excess deaths’ with the rigorous rigor mortis they’ve applied to India.  Please note that I have renamed the ‘serial number’ column as ‘Rank of Shame’ to mirror the spirit of this Olympics season and the spirit of Abhisekh et al.’s study: ((all data from Worldometer as on 22 July 2021, 1000 hours IST) :

Rank of ShameCountryTotal casesTotal deathsPopulation
1USA35,146,476625,808333,045,503
2India31,256,839419,0211,394,272,063
3Brazil19,474,489545,690214,149,270
..and many many countries later…   
100Montenegro100,8021624628,150
102Cyprus94,2613941,216,607
103China92,41446361,439,323,776
Spot the Odd Man Out?

In conclusion, I am grateful to the authors of this study for underlining two extraordinary and enduring Laws of Credibility that are adopted instinctively by vast swathes of Indian academia and Indian media.

Law 1. Scholars, especially Indian-born scholars, are far more capable of discerning ‘facts’ and analysing ‘data’ on India when they are sitting 11,000 kilometers away from India, than if they based themselves in India and did hard data gathering and field work in India.

Law 2. The credibility and worth of any academic research focused on India is directly proportional to the distance of the researchers from India; and the credibility and worth of the research increases exponentially if the researchers are located in a generally Westward direction from India.

Jai Hind. Hail Comrade Xi.

Musings, Potshots

To Comrade Xi Jingping of China, with Love

Dear Comrade Xi,

How are you? I am well.

How is the weather in Beijing? It is quite sultry here in Delhi, with a lot of mosquitoes.

I hope you are not troubled by mosquitoes in Beijing? But then, considering the Great Scientific Leaps Forward achieved in China under your glorious and lifelong Supreme Leadership, I am sure Chinese virologists from Wuhan will have developed variants of the bats of Yunnan that will eat any mosquitoes that dare disturb your equanimity.

Comrade Xi, I am so happy that you have called on your Chinese officials to “create a “trustworthy, lovable and respectable image for China…and to improve the way China tells stories to the global audience”.  Indeed, China is getting a lot of abuse and bad media coverage across the world about this terrible coronavirus Covid-19; the abuse continues even after that foul-mouthed Donald Trump of USA was kicked out of US presidential office. 

Oh! Comrade Xi, I used to feel so very sad for you and for China whenever I heard ex-US President Trump abuse you last year. I used to tell my friends: “Ah! If only Trump had been Chinese! He could have immediately been sponsored by the Chinese government for a Re-Education Program under Short-Term Plan in some convenient Province—say, Uighur— and without doubt Trump would have emerged a better, quieter, more gentle and tolerant man, for such is the wisdom and benign humaneness that marks all educational and re-educational institutions of learning and unlearning under the leadership of Comrade Xi.”

But apologies for digressing, dear Comrade Xi. My main purpose in writing is to tell you that I fully endorse and whole-heartedly support your call on your officials to present a better image of China and to tell better stories of China to the world.

In this regard I am proud to declare that I am a regular reader of The Global Times, which is aptly described as being a Mighty and Virile Organ of the People’s Republic of China.  Not only do I read Global Times, respected Comrade: I also contribute an occasional Letter to the GT Editor, and it is with delight that I present my latest letter below. You will note that it was published barely a day before your ringing call for improving China’s image. I trust my letter will encourage and inspire Chinese officialdom to take one small step forward in their Long March that lies ahead.

In conclusion, dear Comrade Xi, may I narrate, very briefly, this magnificent old Chinese folk tale that has so much relevance and import for China’s image in the world, and indeed for the future of China and the world:

There once was a fine young nobleman from the kingdom of Chu, who set forth on a journey across the country. Upon a day the nobleman reached the bank of a wide river, whereupon he engaged a boatman to row him across to the far shore.

As they were crossing the river, the nobleman accidentally dropped his sword into the water. Displaying great intelligence and swiftness of thought, the nobleman at once drew his dagger and made a notch-mark on the side of the boat where he’d seen the sword go overboard. As soon as the boat reached the far shore, the nobleman plunged into the shallows and scrabbled around in the muddy waters beneath the notch-mark, looking for his sword…

May I respectfully and sincerely suggest, dear Comrade Xi, that China’s diplomats, other government officials, and in particular the senior officials and cadres of the People’s Liberation Army, draw inspiration and lessons from this folk tale as they obey your call and embark on their quest to locate and restore China’s lost respect and honour?

Strength to the People’s Republic of China! Jai Hind!

General ravings, Musings, Potshots

People’s Daily goes Viral

I’m very fickle in my loyalty to media – as  I explained ad nauseum (puke puke) in one or more earlier posts. The simple reason is that I don’t trust any media house—Indian or international—to present me with the simple unbiased truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I believe that all media sources have hidden agendas…and hidden jhandas that together bear all hues of the political spectrum.

The more fiercely any media channel or website proclaims its own integrity, the more clearly I recall the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

The louder he talked of his honour, the faster we counted our spoons

Yet I must know what’s REALLY going on in the country, in the world. As I’m sure you do, too.

I still trust my own common sense and ability enough to separate Truth from the Great Ocean of Media Ghoda Gobar  in which we all wallow. And so, rather than find and revel in stagnant, parochial tide pools filled with the kind of Ghoda Gobar that I would LIKE to believe is the Truth, I just commend my soul to the One and dive into the great and noisome Ocean itself, with two parallel strategies that have kept me afloat for…well…at least 15 days at a time:

  • I feed randomly on about 5–6 sources of ‘news’ each day, trying to cover the entire Left–Right political spectrum, Indian and international.
  • I switch loyalties as often and as unpredictably as I can.

Example: From February to April, my primary news feeds were Indian Express, The Wire, Republic TV, Rajya Sabha TV, CNN, Wion, and NewsLaundry.

Since May 5th or so, I’ve abandoned all but Indian Express and Rajya Sabha TV. Now I also chew awhile on DD Northeast Channel, Times Now, The Quint, Fox News, and People’s Daily (from People’s Republic of China).

It’s fun. Often, it’s hilarious. You have to try it to discover how highly renowned, greatly  adulated journalists, reporters and affiliated experts and academia the world over are manufacturing incredibly different, equally compelling narratives out of the same ‘Truths’ and ‘Facts’ and ‘Realities’ that each of them claims ’exclusively’ to have unearthed, and presents most convincingly for our education and enlightenment.

I’m getting particularly attached to the People’s Daily. True, the mountains of praise it showers on the glorious leadership and vision of President  Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party would make even the most well-seasoned Family-toadies of Indian National Congress gnash their rodentine teeth in envy. Yet, there’s something refreshing in its simple language, its directness, its unabashed upholding of Chinese interests…and particularly,  its corrosive articles on the USA and its leader President Trump in these Covid19-ravaged times..

Here are a few recent extracts from this wonderful e-paper:

Fourth question to American politicians: Why not fix your sick and twisted mind first?

[May 11]

…While rational voices in the international community have acknowledged China’s efforts and contributions to the fight against the epidemic, the U.S. has continued to defame and slander China, revealing its sick and twisted mind…

Despite having no professional background or practical experience, some U.S. officials have brazenly made irresponsible and ridiculous remarks amid the outbreak, such as recommending the injection of disinfectants into the human body to fight the coronavirus…

China leads vaccine R&D, no need to steal

[May 12: ‘Global Times’]

China’s Foreign Ministry and experts have slammed rumors hyped by the US side that Chinese hackers and spies are trying to steal their research materials for COVID-19 vaccine and drug development…

US could only harm existing cooperation mechanisms by making such ridiculous accusations against China, Lü Xiang, a research fellow on US studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, told the Global Times on Monday. China is fully able to research and develop COVID-19 vaccines independently. If the US claims China is stealing its data, then the US needs to prove that it has achieved more progress than China, said Lü, otherwise, why would China be interested in it?

Lü said the epidemic situation in China has been generally brought under control, and daily life and economic activities are returning to normal. Meanwhile, the US has more than 1.3 million infections and the number continues to increase.

We are not the ones who desperately need the vaccine, they are,” Lü said.

 Fallacious U.S. targeting of China over COVID-19 groundless: experts

[May 18]

…From a legal perspective, the pandemic is a global public health issue, and there is no such a thing as “state responsibility” of the first country to report cases, experts said, adding that AIDS was first reported in the United States in the 1980s and has spread across the world since then, but the global community has never asked the United States to be held accountable…

 

Peoples Daily Mirth

 

The People’s Daily provides mirth, and much-needed balance to both CNN and Fox News, even as Covid19 does its Tandava across the world.

I’m a die-hard fan…at least for now. As with Covid19, a fortnight’s usually the maximum time before fatigue and other warning symptoms of infection appear…