At a stopover in Jalandhar Monday on his way to New Delhi for meetings with Indian officials, Afghan President Hamid Karzai was presented with an honorary doctorate from what claims to be India's largest private university. Indian President Pranab Mukherjee conferred the degree on Karzai, making him an honorary alumnus of Lovely Professional University -- a school that bills itself as "a world-renowned center for the creation and dissemination of knowledge."
LPU was founded by the late Shri Baldev Raj Mittal, who earned his fortune as chairman of the Lovely Group, which began as a distributor of traditional Indian sweets before delving into scooters and automobiles.
As for Karzai, who did his undergraduate and graduate studies at Simla University in India in the late 1970s and early 80s, he will add the award to an already long list of honorary degrees. In 2003, his alma mater presented him with an honorary doctorate in literature, to go with the master's degree in international relations and political science he earned two decades earlier. Karzai has also received honorary degrees from Boston University, Georgetown University, the University of Nebraska, and, just last year, Japan's Sports Science University of Nippon.
According to some quick Googling, it is the first time Karzai has been associated with the words "lovely professional," however.
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Last time we checked in with Pakistan's falcon population, we reported on the surprising, feel-good story of how the Taliban have saved the fearsome birds in the tribal areas by fueling violence that has scared off poachers. Now there's a new wrinkle when it comes to the status of falcons in this troubled region.
On Monday, Indian security forces recovered a dead falcon that had been outfitted with a camera and an antenna (see photo above) near the fort city of Jaisalmer. According to Agence France-Presse, the wired bird has spooked Indian military officials, who say that while it may just be the work of hunters, "the possibility of it being an espionage attempt from Pakistan cannot be ruled out at this stage."
So, is Pakistan turning its great falcon glut into a low-tech drone fleet as part of its ongoing confrontation with India? Fueling suspicions in this case is the fact that the bird was recovered in an area used by the Indian military for war games. As recently as April 2012, India massed 50,000 troops in the area for joint exercises between its army and air force. A falcon would seem like the perfect countermeasure, no?
As it happens, this isn't the first time Indian authorities have insinuated that Pakistan is enlisting avian henchmen to spy on its nemesis to the south. In 2010, Indian authorities placed under armed guard a pigeon suspected of delivering messages across the border. The pigeon, police said, may have been on a "special mission of spying."
Could this also be part of a regional trend of using feathered friends to outwit high-tech aerial defenses? In 2011, Saudi authorities detained a vulture on charges that it was spying on behalf of Israel after learning that it bore a tag reading, "Tel Aviv University." And while officials eventually cleared the bird -- named R65, for its identification code -- on charges of espionage, is it too much to hope that, somewhere in the Pakistani hinterlands, an army of falcons-turned-surveillance drones is gathering strength?
Stay safe out there, feathered friends.
Two nuclear-armed countries conducted missile tests this past week -- and neither of them was North Korea. Instead, the missile launches came from nuclear rivals India and Pakistan.
Last Sunday, India fired a medium-range, nuclear-capable Agni-II missile. The missile, which has a range of over 1,200 miles, was launched successfully from Wheeler Island in the Bay of Bengal. Then, on Wednesday, Pakistan tested its own Hatf-IV/Shaheen-I missile. Pakistani officials said the missile successfully hit its target at sea, and demonstrates the country's ability to deliver a nuclear payload with a range of more than 500 miles.
The dueling missile tests aren't cause for alarm, though, says Shuja Nawaz, director of the Atlantic Council's South Asia Center. "These tests are frequent with Islamabad and New Delhi keeping each other informed," he told FP. "Both governments have lowered the rhetoric recently. Pakistan is pausing for elections. So expect no officially sponsored crises."
"Missile tests by India and Pakistan are relatively routine and frequent," added Gary Samore, a former Obama administration WMD czar and now executive director for research at Harvard's Belfer Center. "We don't pay much attention to them." So we can all breathe easy -- for today at least.
In India, elephants are revered as the living incarnation of the Hindu god Ganesh -- but that doesn't mean Indians want the huge animals showing up at voting booths. State elections are slated to take place across the country this year, and the Hindu reports today that 68 polling stations are thought to be "vulnerable for elephant attacks."
To address the proble, the country's election commission has enlisted the help of the Forest Department, whose buses will cart election staff to "areas where man-elephant conflict is rampant" -- mainly polling stations in Alur, Arkalgud, and Sakleshpur. The department will also teach officials and police officers the "dos and don'ts" of avoiding an elephant encounter in the region.
The Forest Department has been protecting poll-goers in this manner ever since the big mammals began disrupting elections in the 1990s. In April 2009, for instance, the department sent guards to the northeastern region of Meghalaya to protect voters after a rampaging elephant killed four people there the month before, according to the Times of India. The guards were armed with "self defense weapons" -- drums, cymbals and even some elephants of their own.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy has spent the past three days in India on his first state visit to the country. Before heading to New Delhi, though, he floated an odd -- and more than a little ambitious -- idea.
"I am hoping BRICS would one day become E-BRICS where E stands for Egypt," he told India's The Hindu in an interview in Cairo published this week.
It's a bold proposal. The Kremlin has acknowledged the comments but didn't seem particularly enthused about the idea, and it's unclear whether Morsy broached the subject in his meetings with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The BRICS -- that's Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa -- are an economic alliance of top-tier rising powers, the crème de la crème of the developing world. Egypt? Not so much.
Let's put this in perspective. The average GDP of the BRICS countries in 2011 (in current U.S. dollars, according to the World Bank) was $2.78 trillion dollars. Egypt? $230 billion. The country's development isn't exactly in high gear, either. The instability of the revolution has dealt a blow to Egypt's economy, and its estimated growth rate for 2012 is a meager 2 percent, which places it behind four of five BRICS countries. Even as Morsy was meeting with Singh, he was sharing the front page of Egyptian dailies with the news that BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Hyundai are planning to withdraw from the Egyptian market as new customs laws take effect.
Morsy knows this, and clarified that he hopes "the E-BRICS would emerge when we start moving the economy." So it's something of a longer-term goal. Perhaps Morsy might consider one of these starter coalitions instead? Then again, the MIKT (Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey) countries, which are moving beyond "emerging market" territory, have an average GDP of $973 billion, so it might still be a stretch. In the same interview with The Hindu, Morsy expressed a desire to be more active in the Non-Aligned Movement. It's probably a good place to start; the NAM is far less discriminatory.
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In light of the recent brutal gang rape on Dec. 16, which led to the death of a 23-year-old medical student in India, there have been substantial criticisms of the government for not doing enough to protect women. Protestors say they will continue till they are satisfied that real action is being taken.
But in demanding action, the protesters should keep in mind the people who they're appealing to. According to a recent report, a shockingly high number of members of India's national parliament (MPs) and members of state-level legislative assemblies (MLAs) have actually been accused themselves of crimes against women, including rape.
The Association for Democratic Reforms (an affiliate of the Indian Institute of Management) compiled the report, using the affidavits filed by candidates as part of their nomination papers that are submitted to India's Electoral Commission. In other words, this was all public information at the time these members were elected.
According to the report, in the past five years:
These were hardly the only crimes listed in the report. Other included: assault, murder (one man had 8 charges of attempted murder), defiling a place of worship, promoting enmity between different groups, rioting and dacoity (banditry). Many of these crimes also included violence against women.
The Association for Democratic Reforms has advocated that "cases against MPs and MLAs should be fast tracked and decided upon in a time based manner." This presumably would be similar to the recently inaugurated fast track rape courts created to deter tragic incidents like Dec. 16. Though, in typical fashion, police were late to submit evidence on time (something about difficulty in using a thumb drive).
But with so many accused rapists in government, it's little wonder that it has taken so long for rape to be taken seriously as a problem.
Photo by NARINDER NANU/AFP/GettyImages
After trouble in the South and East China Seas, Chinese fisherman have caused new waves in the Indian Ocean. On Aug. 5, Sri Lanka's Navy captured two Chinese fishing trawlers off the eastern coast of Arugambay in the Indian Ocean on charges of illegally entering sovereign waters. The 37 crew members, including two Sri Lankan nationals, were escorted by the Eastern Naval Command to Trincomalee Harbor where they were turned over to local police "for legal action."
China Daily's initial coverage of the arrests has been noticeably less dramatic than its typical response to maritime disputes. Early reports cited the Chinese embassy's urging of "Sri Lankan authorities to handle the issue in accordance with the law, sort out the truth and release the Chinese fisherman as soon as possible."
In a bizarre twist, Chinese state news service Xinhua later announced the fisherman's release, blaming the disturbance on a miscommunication and claiming locals had confused "Sri Lankan vessels as Chinese ones, due to the old Chinese logo on the body of the ship." Sri Lankan Navy officials initially denied that report, telling Reuters, that the fishermen would "appear in court tomorrow," but Xinhua seems to have predicted the inevitable and the crew was released to Chinese Embassy early this morning.
The incident comes as China looks to improve relations with the island nation. Strategically located in the northern Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka has been courted by the United States, India and China as a commercial and military foothold since the government defeated rebel group Tamil Tigers in 2009, ending a 25-year civil war and restoring the island as a viable trade partner. The Chinese government has funneled hundreds of millions into infrastructure projects in recent years, financing a variety of projects including a new airport and a heavily flawed power station. Though China watchers have speculated that Beijing intends to transform Sri Lanka's Hambantota port into a naval base, President Mahinda Rajapaksa laughed off the rumors and insists he remains committed to the nation's historical non-alignment.
Oprah Winfrey's special program on India drew the ire of several Indian media outlets on July 21, who called the show "myopic, unaware, ignorant and gauche." The program was featured in the "Oprah's Next Chapter" series, which has the long-time talk show star traipsing around outside the studio for "enlightening conversations with newsmakers, celebrities, thought leaders and real-life families."
Her foray in India aired in the United States in April but premiered in India this weekend. The two-episode special featured a trip to some Mumbai slums, the Jaipur Literature Festival and the glitzy homes of Bollywood stars.
Winfrey was criticized for reinforcing exotic and backward stereotypes of India, particularly when she commented that she heard that Indians "still" eat with their hands. "I don't know what people in America are eating their hot dogs, pizzas and tacos with but perhaps Oprah's home has evolved cutlery for all that," commented Rajyasree Sen, a columnist on Firstpost, an online Indian newspaper.
Rituparna Chatterjee, a blogger on the CNN-IBN website, slammed Oprah's comment, saying: "Using our hands to eat is a well established tradition and a fact none of us are ashamed of. Our economic distinction has nothing to do with it... You should know that."
Winfrey's interviews with slum-dwellers in Mumbai also provoked backlash. Sen notes:
And the slum is where Oprah's 'oh-my-god-how wonderfully-pathetically-quaint-to-be-so-poor' avatar stepped out in full glory...She asked the children how they could live in such a "tiny" room and actually wanted to know, "Don't you feel it's too cramped?" She also asked the six-year-olds whether they were happy. Which must have made them wonder why they shouldn't be. She then interrogated the father about whether he was happy and satisfied. He got teary-eyed and said that he wished he could earn more and provide for a more comfortable life for his children. After making him weep in front of his family, Oprah said that she knows how awful it is for children to see their father weep. She did look for a shower head in the toilet and seem amazed to hear they bathed with a bucket. And she marveled at how all their clothes fit onto a small shelf. She pointedly avoided any mention of the massive LCD TV which adorned their wall. That would have killed the sob story."
The OWN has not commented on the attacks from Indian media, but Winfrey had remarked earlier that the trip to India was "her greatest life experience." Looks like the feeling wasn't mutual.
While the United States has only recently made tentative efforts to engage with Myanmar, India has, controversially, had decent relations with the country's government for quite some time. Human rights activists criticized Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's meeting with Than Shwe in 2012, calling it "unbecoming" for a democracy to welcome the Burmese military ruler.
At a time when relations are being renewed between Myanmar and the West, there's been a flurry of recent activity along India's 1,019-mile northeastern border with the country. The seven states of northeastern India are currently at their lowest period of insurgent violence in decades, and the shift in relations with their neighbor across the border could have enormous socio-economic implications for India, China and Southeast Asia.
On Feb. 22, India's foreign minister met with Myanmar's construction minister in New Delhi to speak about expanding both aviation and highway transportation between the two countries. The bridge in question would pass through the Naga region, inhabited by the tribal Naga people in the hilly district of Tamenglong in Manipur. For months, the United Naga Council -- an organization based in northeastern India -- had resisted such developments.
According to Samrat of the New York Times, several old routes cross the border between northeastern India and Myanmar. Some, like the World War II Stilwell Road, built under the U.S. Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell, had become "ghost roads," used mainly by Naga and Kachin insurgents to transport weapons and drugs, chiefly poppies to make and smuggle heroin across the border. But these roads have gradually returned to relatively law-abiding uses. Nonetheless, Indian officials claim Burmese authorities do not actively work to curb the flow of drugs and weapons into India.
In 1991, India's central government implemented a ‘‘Look East Policy'' to forge closer ties with the country's eastern neighbors. Critics say that Indian officials have made little attempt to put the policy into practice, but now the government is clearly looking to pick up the pace. During its many years of self-imposed isolation, Myanmar's only major economic partner was China, giving Beijing a strategic advantage in a nation that borders five countries.
Gay sex is a touchy subject in India. A 148-year-old colonial law, overturned by the Delhi high court in 2009, deemed same-sex relationships as "unnatural offenses". For over a century, Indians have been wrestling with what's considered "natural" versus "unnatural" by the government, and after a recent slip of the tongue by Senior Supreme Court Advocate PP Malhotra, the confusion is understandable.
Conservative groups have asked India's Supreme Court to overturn the Delhi court's decision and on Thursday, Malhotra, who gives legal positions on behalf of the government told the justices that gay sex should be banned as it is "highly immoral and against social order and there is high chance of spreading of diseases through such acts." India should not succumb to Western sexual practices, Malhotra's said, and those who do should be subject to imprisonment. (Under the previous legislation homosexual acts received up to a 10-year prison sentence).
Coming from a highly-ranked government official, the statements provoked an uproar. But the home ministry quickly denied that any request calling for a new homosexuality ban had been made, said that it would not challenge the 2009 decision, and issued a statement saying that the ministry "has not taken any position on homosexuality." Television reports later suggested that Mahotra was confused and was referring to an older government opinion.
After the judgment decriminalizing homosexuality was delivered by the Deli High Court in 2009, the cabinet decided that "the government may not appeal against the judgment to the Supreme Court." The Guardian reports that, "While actual criminal prosecutions are few, the law has been used frequently to harass people."
The Supreme Court's next hearing, which will take place on Feb. 28, will decide the fate of the 2009 judgment, and, inevitably, the fates of those whose lives the law has impacted. Hopefully, the Home Office can figure out its opinion on the subject by then.
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India's rising economic stature has brought millions of its citizens into the ranks of the middle class. It seems another boom is on for some of Mumbai's poorest residents as a result of a large spike in real estate prices.
The New York Times' India Ink blog had a story today about the sudden paper wealth that has come to many of the residents of the Dharavi, Mumbai, Asia's largest slum. Dharavi, featured in the 2009 Oscar winning film, Slumdog Millionaire, came into the global spotlight following the film's critical and commercial success. The last areas of growth within Mumbai now lie within Dharavi, which was built on a former mangrove swamp. The article detailed the unique set of circumstances facing the residents:
Her 200-square-foot shanty, in Rajiv Gandhi Nagar, in the Dharavi neighborhood of Mumbai, has faulty electrical lines, no water supply and a non existent sewage system. Still, Ms. Vaidya's house is her most prized possession. "If I decide to sell it, it will fetch me more than Rs 10 lakh" rupees, or about $24,000, she estimates, based on the offers she has been getting.
Ms. Vaidya isn't alone. Many of Mumbai's slum dwellers, some 60 percent of the city's 21 million people, are living in hovels that suddenly command high prices.
"Shanties as small as 120 square feet, located on the 90 Foot Road that is perpendicular to the Bandra Kurla Link Road, are as expensive as $93,000," says Dinesh Prabhu, who owns a construction company and has conducted an extensive survey of Dharavi real-estate prices. The 90 Foot Road has commercial outlets spilling out onto the streets, frequent cattle blockages, and old worn-out buildings just behind the shanties.
The National Geographic covered a story several years ago about life in the slum, including its complex economy which featured recycling, liquor distilling and plastic production. A new conflict is brewing between the government and private companies, who are attempting to redevelop the highly lucrative land, and residents who see it as a threat to their way of life. Further threats from scam artists and shady real state agents selling fake identification papers will only serve to complicate the situation further.
In the past, India's poorest have faced neglect from corrupt officials, and shoddy state planning which has failed to alleviate the gripping poverty in their lives. Efforts such as the National Identification Scheme, run by Nandan Nilekani, to give agency to the poorest may be the solution to creating wealth and improving the lives of millions.
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She's young, stylish, sharp and pretty, and Indians are falling for her. Yep, it seems that Pakistan's new 34-year-old foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, has accomplished what years of tense diplomacy haven't been able to -- create some genuine goodwill between the two constantly sparring nations. In her first official visit today to India since taking over the foreign ministry last week, Khar met with her Indian counterpart, S.M. Krishna. The two agreed to boost security, trade, transportation, travel, and cultural links between the countries -- in what analysts called some of the most productive talks between the two sides since Pakistani militants killed 166 people in Mumbai three years ago. But it's her youth and glamour that are credited with creating a "fresh start atmosphere." She later met with India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
But who really cares what happened behind closed doors. More importantly: she got high marks for wearing Roberto Cavalli sunglasses, classic pearl and diamond jewelry, a blue designer dress, and toting an Hermes Birkin bag. And thus ladies and gentleman, a glamour icon is born. We give it three months before Vogue comes calling... wait, maybe two.
Indian papers and news programs today gushed over Khar, praising her beauty and style. The Times of India headlined their front page story: "Pak Puts On Its Best Face." The Navbharat Times said the country was "sweating over model-like minister." The Mail Today said she had brought a "Glam touch to Indo-Pak talks" and asked, "Who says politicians can't be chic?" These are not the usual superlatives Pakistani diplomats are used to getting in the Indian press.
Of course, not everything was picture perfect. The Indian press did attack her for meeting with a Kashmiri separatist group later in the day.
But overall, it was hard not to sense the generational shift as Khar spoke about "a new generation of Indians and Pakistanis [who] will see a relationship that will hopefully be much different from the one that has been experienced in the last two decades" after meeting with the Indian foreign minister who -- through no fault of his own, save for his misfortune of being born 79 years ago -- did totally look like her grandfather.
As Seema Goswami, a leading Indian social commentator, put it, "She's incredibly young pretty, glamorous and has no fear of appearing flash. She wore pearls when she arrived and diamonds for the talks. We're so obsessed with her designer bag and clothes that we forget she first held talks with the Hurriyat [Kashmiri separatists]. She could be Pakistan's new weapon of mass destruction."
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The fallout from this weekend's Chinese bullet train crash -- in which 39 people died when a train was immobilized after being struck by lightning on a bridge, then rammed by another train from behind, derailing several cars -- continued today. The government fired three senior railway officials and is reviewing safety on the country's four-year-old high-speed rail system. While there was justifiable anger at Chinese officials for trying to keep details of the accident out of the public, China's rail safety is far better than that of its fellow emerging economy -- India.
Journalist Lloyd Lofthouse, compared the numbers going back to 2007 for India, China, and the United States. He found that out of the 177 rail accidents during that period, 20 percent of them actually occurred in the United States, 15 percent occurred in India, and only 4 percent occurred in China. But the death toll in India was far greater.
In the period Lofthouse reviewed, 66 people were killed in U.S. train accidents, about 141 in Chinese accidents, and "hundreds" in Indian rail accidents.
Last year alone, there were at least 17 crashes in India. And, in the past month, three incidents killed more than 100 people. According to Bloomberg News:
In the early hours of July 7, 38 people were killed and at least as many injured when a train collided with a bus carrying members of a wedding party at an unmanned level crossing in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. Then, on July 10, at least 68 people were killed and more than 250 injured when 15 bogies of the Howrah-Kalka Mail careered off the tracks, again in Uttar Pradesh, while the train was travelling at more than 60 miles per hour. That evening, six coaches of the Guwahati-Puri Express derailed in Assam after a bomb was set off on the tracks, injuring more than 100 people.
India has one of the largest railway system in the world, carrying about 19 million passengers every day on about 7,000 trains. It's called the "lifeline to the nation." Unfortunately, that often means trains are jam packed.
Given the spate of recent crashes, anger has mounted against the government-run system. Newspapers have editorialized about the system's persistent safety failures and "systemic decay."
The Deccan Chronicle, an Indian paper, said the increasingly accident-prone system could be blamed on the addition of "more trains on nearly every route, mainly to suit the whims or political compulsions of railway ministers, and raising their speed without commensurate upgrading of tracks and other equipment needed to bear the extra load." The Times of India wrote that the railway authority "failed to meet targets it had set for itself in the corporate safety plan ... indicating the low priority it gave to passenger safety." According to the Indian Express, "There is a real danger that the frequency of train accidents in India might soon desensitize people as ‘yet another' instance of what has become thoughtlessly, mind-numbingly commonplace."
Part of the problem is politicians have tried to keep fares as low as possible to keep voters happy, which has turned the system into a "financial disaster," according to the Indian Express, meaning trains are old and not properly cared for -- a deadly combination.
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The classic American ‘donut-loving cop' stereotype is not so funny in India. Five overweight police officers collapsed during a short parade in Mumbai earlier this year due to an unfortunate heat and pot-belly combo. City commissioner Arup Patnaik was humiliated and demanded that all policemen trim their waistlines or risk enduring a sort of extreme weight loss boot camp that few police officers pass.
The National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) in Kerala recently conducted a survey and found over 50 percent of police officers were either overweight or obese. Obesity has become one of the leading causes of death even though half of all Indian children suffer from malnourishment, reports VOA. The police chief of the western state of Rajasthan voiced his dismay over obesity in the police force:
"A fat potbellied man in uniform is a sight nobody appreciates."
Just over the border, overweight Nepali officers also face intense scrutiny. Last year, the police force pledged to institute annual health tests alongside personal fitness regimes for every officer in the force of 56,000. Bigyan Raj Sharma, a spokesman for the police force in Kathmandu, threatened overweight police officials, saying:
"Officers who fail will be barred from promotion and transferred to less well-paying posts."
An anti-obesity clinic is in the works for a police hospital in Mumbai and it seems India's officers have no choice but to slim down -- or face the wrath of their mothers. Yes, the new weight-loss campaign includes the wives and mothers of male officers to ensure that they are sticking to their diets by supporting healthier eating habits. Say bye-bye to mango lassis and hello to Atkins.
PUNIT PARANJPE/AFP/Getty Images
As defense analysts focus on escalating tensions in the South China Sea, recent events in Nepal confirm that China's geopolitical influence is growing in South Asia as well. From a report yesterday by the AP:
Nepalese authorities prevented exiled Tibetans from celebrating their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama's birthday on Wednesday over concerns that gatherings would turn anti-Chinese.…
Nepal says it cannot allow protests on its soil against any friendly nations, including China.
Police guarded the Chinese Embassy and its visa office in Katmandu against any protests, and areas populated by Tibetans were put under heavy security.
Authorities earlier said they would allow celebrations inside monasteries provided there are no banners or slogans against China.
PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images
Is the end nigh for Indian tech support? A British telecommunications company is moving one of its call centers from Mumbai to Burnley, 21 miles north of Manchester, to cut costs. New Call Telecom chief executive Nigel Eastwood explains the decision:
Salaries in India aren't that cheap any more. Add to that the costs of us flying out there, hotels and software, and the costs are at an absolute parity.
In the UK we will pay workers the minimum wage. Given the current economic environment, we will get good "sticky" employees who will also receive bonuses linked to performance.
With rents as low as £4 per square foot, prices for commercial real estate in Burnley are reportedly on par with those in Mumbai. Residential prices are similarly affordable; data from the property website Mouseprice indicates that four of the five most affordable streets in England and Wales are located in Burnley, a former mill town struggling with high unemployment. Meanwhile, salaries in the IT outsourcing industry in India are set to rise 11.9 percent in the upcoming year, and some business process outsourcing leaders in India have already admitted that, with unemployment high throughout the West, India's competitive advantage in call centers is shrinking.
Eastwood also notes that using British staff should make call handling more efficient as well, because British customers will find compatriots easier to understand. Although the rest of the world may beg to differ on that one.
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Last week, I had the opportunity to moderate a panel titled "The World Economy in the Next Ten Years," sponsored by the Chazen Institute at Columbia Business School. The discussion, a whirlwind tour of the world economic system, was great fun -- and provided useful economic evidence to back up Foreign Policy's own Nov. 30 event, which focused on the political "rise of the rest." The Chazen Institute has posted the videos of each speaker online, but let me give a quick rundown of what caught my attention as the most important and attention-grabbing points of the discussion.
FP contributor Arvind Panagariya reminded the audience that -- despite the debate over whether India or China will be Asia's preeminent economic giant - India is still an extremely poor country. It currently ranks in 165th place in the GDP per capita among countries worldwide, just above Mongolia and below countries such as Iraq and the Republic of Congo. But that's about to change rapidly: India could grow at a 10 percent clip over the next 15 years. This rapid growth means that, by 2025, the combined size of the Chinese and Indian economies could equal the U.S. economy.
Shang-Jin Wei, the director of the Chazen Institute, argued that China's unique demography might hold the key to the country maintaining its torrid growth rates for the next decade. He pointed out that there are now 115 men in China for every 100 women, meaning that approximately one out of every nine Chinese men is unable to find a spouse (excluding the possibility of gay marriage or polygamy, presumably). He proposed that this competition for China's scarce supply of brides encouraged men to accumulating the wealth necessary to attract a mate. That's not just pop sociology: Wei cited data that showed workers in regions with skewed sex ratios were more likely to take dangerous or unpleasant jobs, and more likely to launch privately owned businesses.
But while the future is rosy in South and East Asia, it looks less bright in Europe. Charles Calomiris, a professor of financial institutions at Columbia University, predicted that the current economic crisis would cause "the end of the Eurozone as we know it." He painted a scenario where Europe's weak economies, starting with Greece, were unable to repair their dismal fiscal situation without abandoning the euro.
John Coatsworth, the dean of Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), discussed Latin America, which he suggested was essentially poised to split in two. The South American countries, which have successfully diversified their trading partners by establishing new relationships in Europe and Asia, would witness "the retreat of American leverage and capacity" to the levels that existed in the late 1800s. These countries, he argued, will enjoy rapid growth and exhibit growing independence from the United States on the international stage. Meanwhile, the countries of Central America and the Caribbean would be unable to break from their dependency on the United States -- and consequently experience slower growth rates as the U.S. economy limps along.
A front-page story in Pakistan's The News today reports that new WikiLeaks cables have confirmed what reads like a laundry list of Pakistani suspicions and grievances against India:
A cable from US Embassy in Islamabad leaked by whistle-blower website WikiLeaks disclosed that there were enough evidences of Indian involvement in Waziristan and other tribal areas of Pakistan as well as Balochistan.[...]
An earlier cable ruled out any direct or indirect involvement of ISI in 26/11 under Pasha's command while Mumbai's dossier, based on prime accused Ajmal Kasab's confessional statement was termed funny and "shockingly immature."
WikiLeaks revealed that a cable sent from a US mission in India termed former Indian Army chief General Deepak Kapoor as an incompetent combat leader and rather a geek.
His war doctrine, suggesting eliminating China and Pakistan in a simultaneous war front was termed as "much far from reality." Another cable indicates that General Kapoor was dubbed as a general who was least bothered about security challenges to the country but was more concerned about making personal assets and strengthening his own cult in the army. The cable also suggested that a tug-of-war between Kapoor and the current Indian Army chief had divided the Indian Army into two groups. [...]
An earlier cable described Indian Army involved in gross human rights violations in Indian-held Kashmir while some Lt Gen HS Panag, the then GOC-in-Chief of the Northern Command of the Indian Army, was equated with General Milosevic of Bosnia with regard to butchering Muslims through war crimes.
The only problem is that none of these cables appear to be real. The Guardian, which has full access to the unreleased WikiLeaks cables, can't find any of them. The story, which ran in four Pakistani newspapers, isn't bylined and was credited only to Online Agency, an Islamabad-based pro-army news service.
It's actually surprising this hasn't happened yet. The vast majority of the cables are still unreleased, but the newspapers which have access to them have often reported on some of the more salacious details before the original cables are actually available. (Take for instance, the famous "Batman and Robin" description of Putin and Medvedev, which appeared in newspapers days before the actual cable was available).
So, it's pretty easy to just make up cables to serve your political agenda. If the Pakistani forgers had been more sophisticated they would have invented quotes or even mocked up fake cables rather than just paraphrasing. This, in my opinion, is an argument for just releasing the full archive now rather than trickling them out at the newspapers' pace. It will be a lot easier to fact check false claims if we no longer have to rely on the Guardian as WikiLeaks' gatekeeper.
On another note, while the Pakistani revelations seem cartoonish, it wouldn't be surprising if some damaging cables from New Delhi are coming soon. In working to improve the political and economic relationship with India, both the Bush and Obama administrations have papered over a number of unpleasant facts, from India's tacit support to the Burmese military junta to still rampant governmental corruption. I'm guessing the embassy staff in New Delhi has probably been a lot blunter.
The WikiLeaks revelations about Pakistan mostly just confirmed how both governments not-so-privately already feel about each other. In the case of U.S.-India relations, there's a lot more to lose.
FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images
The Indian Home Ministry has given Delhi police the go-ahead to arrest bestselling novelist andactivist Arundhati Roy on charges of sedition. The charges relate to a recent event at which Roy appeared with Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelan. Roy has issued a statement in response to the news:
This morning’s papers say that I may be arrested on charges of sedition for what I have said at recent public meetings on Kashmir. I said what millions of people here say every day. I said what I, as well as other commentators have written and said for years. Anybody who cares to read the transcripts of my speeches will see that they were fundamentally a call for justice. I spoke about justice for the people of Kashmir who live under one of the most brutal military occupations in the world; for Kashmiri Pandits who live out the tragedy of having been driven out of their homeland; for Dalit soldiers killed in Kashmir whose graves I visited on garbage heaps in their villages in Cuddalore; for the Indian poor who pay the price of this occupation in material ways and who are now learning to live in the terror of what is becoming a police state.
Nobody seems to have accused Roy of actual ties to militant groups, and I would certainly hope that the police -- who have not yet acted on the Home Minsitry's recommendation -- would think twice about arresting one of the country's most internationally famous novelists for voicing an opinion, no matter how controversial. The comparisons with recent events in China are too easy to draw.
Dear Pakistani military officers Maj. Ali Sameer and Maj. Iqbal: You may want to delay that long-planned vacation to London. You see, Interpol has just issued warrants for your arrest over your alleged roles in the November 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Interpol's action will further affirm many analysts' suspicion that the Pakistani military played a crucial role in planning the deadly attacks, which resulted in the deaths of 175 people. But to be clear, this isn't proof positive that the two Pakistani officers were involved: Interpol issued what is known as a red warrant, which calls for the "provisional arrest" of an individual based on another country's investigation.
In this case, a New Delhi court is calling for their arrest based on evidence Indian investigators gathered from their inquiry into the network of David Coleman Headley, a U.S. citizen who pleaded guilty to involvement in the attacks in March. The Indians are claiming that Maj. Iqbal was Headley's Pakistani handler when he traveled to India to scout out potential targets for a terrorist attack. This may or may not be true, but the arrest warrants are not based on anything other than the allegations of Indian investigators, which have long suspected Pakistan of complicity in the attacks.
With those caveats firmly in place, there does appear to be some agreement from the United States that Pakistani officers played a role in the attacks. As FP contributor Simon Henderson recently pointed out, the sole footnote in Bob Woodward's Obama's Wars noted that the CIA received "reliable intelligence" that the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence, the country's main spy agency, were involved in training the militants who went on to wreak havoc in Mumbai.
LORENZO TUGNOLI/AFP/Getty Images
The Hindustan Times reports that Pakistan's ambassador to the United States thinks that Indian military activity in the Himalayas may have contributed to his country's recent catastrophic floods:
In an unusual remark, Pakistan's Ambassador in Washington Hussain Haqqani has said that one of the reasons for recent devastating floods in his country could be human activity on the heavily-militarised Siachen glacier. Haqqani told the American lawmakers that snowmelt pattern on the glacier was changing over the past few years, because of intense military activities and scientists in his country were studying whether this was adding to warming factor leading to bizarre climatic changes. Besides, the activity on the glacier, Haqqani said other contributing reasons for unprecedented rains in his country could be greenhouse gas emissions.
I would imagine that the troops on Siachen are probably a drop in the bucket of the larger climate factors causing the floods, but Haqqani is probably right to worry about a connection between climate change and his country's security.
Update: Haqqani has responded to FP, saying the remark was taken out of context:
"The Hindustan Times picked on half a sentence in a detailed briefing that focused on the possible relationship between climate disruption and Pakistan's floods. I referred to militarization of the Siachen Glacier only in response to a question about glacier melting and only in the context of the possible connection between human activity and enhanced glacier melting."
ANNIRUDHA MOOKERJEE/AFP/Getty Images
As if the pressure was not mounting enough on India's mismanagement of the upcoming Commonwealth Games -- highlighted recently by a FP photo essay -- CNN uncovers fresh evidence that child labor is being extensively used to "beautify" and build for the games.
Knowledge and reports of the practice have been documented from early on this year, but the Indian government is apparently not completely aware of what is going on at its own construction sites. According to the CNN article,
"The [government] minister... went on to say that ‘she had wished' somebody would have come and told her of the allegations."
Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
In an inspired bit of YouTube surfing, Gawker has assembled a compilation of military recruitment commercials from around the world. There are a few clunkers -- three minutes is an awful long time to watch a Russian paratrooper sort of rapping in front of an obstacle course -- and I have my doubts that this Japanese ad is not an elaborate sophomoric hoax, but on the whole they make for pretty fascinating viewing.
Watching these as an American, the most immediately noticeable thing is how little time most of the ads spend overtly appealing to patriotism. There's Estonia, which does it cheekily, and Lebanon, which does it with a slow-motion sentimentality that would be cloying under other circumstances but is actually quite poignant in the context of a country that is eternally trying to keep things together. France and India, meanwhile, both hearken back to the U.S. military ads of the pre-9/11 era, in which we mostly see the life-advancing stuff that enlistment is supposed to get you, with a minimum of actual warfighting. (A career in the Indian army evidently prepares you for a lifetime of golfing and competitive diving.)
The Ukrainian army opts for an admirably straightforward "you'll get girls" approach. Singapore features a naval vessel transforming into a giant robot, presumably developed to contain the same giant lava monsters that have long plagued the U.S. Marines. Britain's jarring entry -- which a student of post-colonialism would have a field day with -- looks like it was directed by Fernando Meirelles. (This kind of "I dare you" approach to recruiting must work in the U.K. -- back in the '90s, when the U.S. Army was mostly promoting itself as a way to pay for college, the Brits ran magazine ads showing a Royal Marine eating worms as part of a survival training course.)
But the real winner here, I think, is Sweden, which is promoting military service to young women as a means of avoiding working as an au pair for awful Americans:
PATRICK LIN/AFP/Getty Images
Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuyo Okada is in India this week holding talks on civilian nuclear cooperation, but he is also pushing for a clause to attempt to limit India's future nuclear weapons tests:
Before leaving for his two-day visit to India, Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said any civilian nuclear deal between the two countries needed a clause to define how Tokyo would respond to any nuclear test by New Delhi.
"Japan will have no option but to suspend our cooperation" in the event of a nuclear test by India, Okada told a news conference in New Delhi
The two countries launched talks in June on signing an atomic civilian cooperation agreement which will allow Tokyo to export nuclear power generation technology and related equipment to energy-hungry India.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan's government has been criticized at home for negotiating the deal with India, which developed nuclear weapons outside the framework of the global non-proliferation treaty. Japan's Mainichi Shimbun editorializes:
Cooperation with any country like India on atomic energy could make the NPT a dead letter and give Iran and other countries that are suspected of developing nuclear weapons even though they are parties to the treaty an excuse to develop nuclear arms.... [I]n negotiating with India, Japan should assert its position as the only country that has suffered from nuclear devastation.
India seems unlikely to agree to further pledges against nuclear testing, beyond those it has already made. As a member of the international nuclear-suppliers group, Japan finally overcame years of resistance in 2008 when it agreed to a waiver that allowed India to receive nucelar assistance despite its non-NPT status. Japan's willingness to cooperate on nuclear energy with India is a pretty good indication of how China's military and economic rise has changed the equation for its neighbors.
Members of India's parliament will see their salary more than tripled in the coming weeks, bringing their annual income to a high of $12,854 a year. But for some lawmakers, evidently, that's still not enough:
The Lok Sabha [the lower house of parliament] was adjourned as several MPs protested against the rise, which they said was inadequate.
The members had demanded their pay be raised to at least 80,000 rupees [a month], which is what senior bureaucrats are paid.
Translation: what the MPs really wanted was a pay hike of 500 percent, not 313.
I guess that makes sense, because India's economy is just swimming along, now. But wait, you say. Aren't we're talking about a country whose per-capita income still hovers at around $1,000 a year? And where over 10 percent of the country is out of a job, and more than 40 percent live on less than $1.25 a day?
Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
Indian-U.S. relations are going to be pretty important for the foreseeable future. I'd imagine, then, that implicitly threatening the victims of the Bhopal Union Carbide (now owned by Dow Chemical) disaster of 1984 to be quiet or else isn't a very smart thing.
Apparently deputy National Security Adviser Mike Froman didn't get that memo.
India's Planning Commission deputy chairman sent Froman an e-mail requesting U.S. assistance in securing a loan from the World Bank. Froman replied that he'd look into it, and then proceded to lose all common sense:
While I've got you, we are hearing a lot of noise about the Dow Chemical issue. I trust that you are monitoring it carefully... I am not familiar with all the details, but I think we want to avoid developments which put a chilling effect on our investment relationship.
In case, like Froman, you're not familiar with the details of Bhopal, 25 years ago, a large amount of methyl isocyanate leaked from the plant and spread over the city, killing at least 3,000 immediately and contributing to the deaths of approximately 25,000 more. Local journalists had repeatedly warned that the plant suffered from lax safety regulations to no avail. Birth defects, cancers, growth deficiency, and other health issues are abnormally high in the affected area.
Finally last June employees of the plant received punishment. Local Indian managers were convicted, but received what were perceived as little more than slaps on the wrist. Campaigners have demanded Union Carbide -- including then chairman Warren Anderson -- itself be reprimanded, but no action has been forthcoming. Amnesty International called the convictions "too little, too late."
Making Froman's e-mail even more asinine, his threat wasn't even credible. Regardless of further actions taken against Dow Chemical, the U.S. is going to invest a lot of money into India for both geopolitical and economic reasons -- making Froman's message one that really should have stayed in his drafts folder.
Due to a combination of high unemployment levels that have decreased U.S. wages and increased salaries in India's outsourcing sector, the head of India's largest business process outsourcing company told the Financial Times that American call center workers are becoming just as cheap their Indian counterparts:
Pramod Bhasin, the chief executive of Genpact, said his company expected to treble its workforce in the US over the next two years, from about 1,500 employees now.
"We need to be very aware [of what's available] as people [in the US] are open to working at home and working at lower salaries than they were used to," said Mr Bhasin. "We can hire some seasoned executives with experience in the US for less money."
So does that mean that when I talk to "Jason" about my broken hard-drive, his name will actually be Jason? Not necessarily. FT goes on to say that another Indian IT outsourcing company has begun recruiting workers in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa and has plans to make half of their 110,000 workers non-Indians.
FINDLAY KEMBER/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, has concluded that India is no longer the primary threat to the country's security. Displacing New Delhi for the title are Islamist militias operating in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province:
A recent internal assessment of security by the Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan's powerful military spy agency, determined that for the first time in 63 years it expects a majority of threats to come from Islamist militants, according to a senior ISI officer.
The assessment, a regular review of national security, allocates a two-thirds likelihood of a major threat to the state coming from militants rather than from India or elsewhere. It is the first time since the two countries gained independence from Britain in 1947 that India hasn't been viewed as the top threat.
In the words of Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University, the report is nothing short of "earth-shattering." To be clear, the ISI's findings aren't yet supported among members of the Pakistani military, or in the higher reaches of government. But keep your eye on this.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
Want to have a lighter complexion in your Facebook profile picture? Now, there's an app for that, too! Vaseline India has recently launched a new Facebook application which allows users to digitally lighten their "online" skin. Recent reports have stated that the app is only available in India -- but anyone with a Facebook account can use it! Score.
And, the Vaseline Men Facebook page also offers helpful advice like this:
"Style Tip: Don't shave for a day or two and let the stubble grow in rakishly. Combine this with sunglasses to look utterly mysterious, rakish and thoroughly attractive."
Jokes aside, skin-lightening -- an unfortunate vestige of colonialism -- is a worldwide trend. The industry for whitening creams and lotions is booming in Kenya, Nigeria, the Caribbean, and particularly in India where the market expands nearly 18 percent a year and the politics of skin color are especially troubling.
A spokesman for Vaseline in India claimed the app is a "culturally relevant and engaging way for Indian men to interact with this product." Ethics, anyone?
A court case in India might could give a whole new meaning to the phrase "masters of the universe":
Can Hindu deities have demat accounts to enable them transact in shares and debentures on the stock market?
The Bombay High Court will decide the issue after a religious trust filed a petition challenging the decision of National Securities Depository Ltd (NSDL) to refuse it permission for opening demat accounts in the names of five Hindu deities.
The deities of the Sangli-based trust "Ganpati Panchayatam Sansthan" are Lord Ganesh, Chintamaneshwardev, Chintamaneshwaridevi, Suryanarayandev and Laxminarayandev. The trust, belonging to the Patwardhan family, the erstwhile royals of Sangli, had obtained PAN cards in the names of deities in 2008.
In Inida, a "demat account" is one in which shares are held in electronic form rather than in certificates, which seems appropriate for metaphysical beings. If Lord Ganesh and co. do win their case, I know the perfect banker for them.
Hat tip: Marginal Revolution
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