Chandrashekhar Athavale
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Athavale. This book should not be downloaded or printed
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Mr. Chandrashekhar Athavale.
Mr. Chandrashekhar Athavale
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To my departed father
About This Book
I am happy to present to the readers, 'Looking Glass World,'
my second e-book of essays. All the articles included in this
book were published earlier in my blog 'Akshardhool' earlier.
The writings included here, really speaking, are my views and
observations, about happenings in other countries as seen from
India. Essentially, these are like mirror images, sometimes
distorted by the deficiencies of the mirror. Hence the name;
Looking Glass World.
The articles in this book are about many subjects, history,
strategic relationships between countries, archaeological
treasures and geography. It is a mixture without any common
thread, still of great interest to me. I sincerely hope that readers
would excuse me for lack of coherence or a common thread in
the book.
My first book, Excess Baggage, was received well on the
internet. I hope that this book also would follow the footsteps
of its sibling.
Pune, India
2nd August 2013
Chandrashekhar Athavale
1. A Road too far 1
2. The House smells rotten eggs 5
3. The great game part II 9
4. Poisoning Bangladesh 14
5. New game in the east 19
6. Enter the Dragon 24
7. Pickaxe and Shovel war 30
8. Robbing Peter to pay Paul 36
9. The strongest takes all 42
10. ABC of mobile phone banking 54
11. String of Pearls: a paranoidal illusion 59
12. Guarding the oil silk route 70
13. Its raining goodies in Myanmar 80
14. Significance of soft power 89
15. Red flag up for Bangladesh, India 99
16. Flooding Pakistan 104
17. The Sahara Crocodiles 113
18. Bleeding borderlands of Pakistan 117
19. Looking east further and deeper 125
20. The Apsaras of Angkor 131
21. And quiet flows the Irrawaddy 139
22. 1143 year old printed book-Diamond Sutra 144
23. Kabul Museum recovers 150
24. Too Little; Too late 153
25. A Museum of the Heartbroken 159
26. Flowers bloom from a 32000 year old fruit 163
27. Tea Caravan trails of Tibet 166
28. Just for a bar of chocolate 170
29. Wrestlers of Koh Ker 176
30. Story of the Bactrian Gold 183
A Road too far!
In the beginning of the
year 2009, a bit strange
news was published by the
Indian media. According to
this particular news, Mr
Hamid Karzai , the
president of Afghanistan
and Mr. Pranab Mukharji,
the then External Affairs
Minister, Government of India, had jointly inaugurated a 218
Km long road from Delaram ( Capital of Nimroj Province in
Afghanistan) to Zaranj , a town on the border between Iran and
Afghanistan. The road was entirely constructed with funds
provided by India to the tune of US$150 million and was built
completely by Indian engineers with materials imported from
India. On the face of it, I wondered, as to why, a road between
Afghanistan and Iran was built by India, with funds provided
entirely by Indian Government.
This really made me curious and I searched the net for any
possible references. I did find quite a few and realized that the
plan to construct this road was in fact a fantastic strategic move
in International Politics. A major road network, called
Necklace road, has been constructed in Afghanistan, linking all
major cities from Herat to Kandahar-Kabul-Mazar-i-Sharif.
The city of Delaram, is located on this road between Herat and
Kandahar. This new link road built by India, effectively
connects city of Zaranj, located on Iranian border, with all
major cities in Afghanistan.
City of Zaranj, happens to be just North off, and that too not
very far, from Chabahar, a brand new Port developed by Iran
in Indian Ocean. In fact, Iran has already constructed a bridge,
across Helmand River flowing near Zaranj, and a road from
there to Chabahar Port.
In reality, building this link road, was a major challenge for
India. Some 300 workers and Engineers of Border Roads
Organization had to put in very hard work to complete this
work. Due to continuous terrorist activities of ‘Taliban’,
providing security for this work force, was a very tough task
and was effectively done by about 400 Jawans of Indo-Tibet
Border Police. According to Brig. P.K.Sehgal, Director of this
project, they could effectively work for only 4 to 5 hours every
day because of continuous dust storms and temperatures
reaching 55 degrees Celsius. The water required for the works
and the workers had to be transported from long distances. As
expected, because of denial by Pakistan, all machinery and
materials for the project had to be transported from India to the
Port of Bandar-i-Abbas in Iran and from there by road over a
long distance to work site.
Why this road is so important? Afghanistan is a land locked
country. Which means that all trade has to be carried through
some other country? Due to very hilly terrain in North, most of
the goods move back and forth from Afghanistan through
Karachi port in Pakistan by Peshawar – Khyber pass – Kabul
route. Pakistan creates infinite number of hurdles in this
movement of goods, like not allowing the goods to move from
Karachi under some pretext or other. There is substantial
pilferage of goods, which find their way to Peshawar market.
Pakistan can also create instant shortages of essential
commodities in Afghanistan.
This new road now directly provides an easier and shorter
alternative to Pakistan route. For India, this route is of
paramount importance because in the first place, since Pakistan
refuses to allow any Indian goods to pass through on the way
to Afghanistan and secondly this can become the entry point
for trade with Central Asian states.
A Tripartite agreement was signed between India, Iran and
Afghanistan in 2003. According to this agreement, India
agreed to help with Technology and Funds for development of
Chabahar port and adjoining road network. Iran has offered the
Chabahar port to India for trade with Afghanistan and Central
Asian states at concessional rates. Iran gets free use of
Delaram-Zaranj road for trade with Central Asia. At Chabahar
port, Afghanistan exporters get 90% discount on port fees and
50% reduction in warehouse charges. Afghan truck operators
have been given full access on roads in Iran. It is interesting to
note that Pakistan already has been forced to reduce port
charges at Karachi, due to competition. In fact, this is a win-
win situation for all.
Iran has since declared the Chabahar port as free trade area,
making things even easier for concerned parties. Another
interesting aspect of Chabahar port is, it’s vicinity to Gwadar
port, being developed by Pakistan with help from China.
Chabahar port is located just west of Gwadar port. Planners in
Pakistan are already talking of possible preference by shipping
lines to Chabahar, because of Baloochi unrest in Pakistan.
For India, this is a landmark event, as trade with Afghanistan
and central Asia no longer depends on whims of Pakistan and
can grow to any extent. All this has become possible because
of great foresight shown by Indian Government and terrific
work by Border Roads Organization. My hats off to those
strategic planners in the Government and also to workers of
BRO and ITBF who unfortunately lost ten of their personnel in
this hazardous job.
10 July 2009
The House smells rotten eggs!
Just imagine, that you have purchased a brand new apartment
or a house with a big loan from a bank. You have thrown a
grand house warming party, where you invited all your friends
and well-wishers. You move into the house after that, hoping
to have a wonderful time in the house with your family. After
few days, you are horrified to find that the house smells of
rotten eggs all the time. Presuming that the smell must be
coming from the fresh coat of paint, you use fresheners,
deodorants and essence sticks. But to no avail, the smell
refuses to go. After few more days, you notice that all your
family members are having some or other problem with
breathing. Some have body rash. Then you suddenly find out
that the new aircon you have installed, has already started
What would you do? You would feel aggravated, get
frustrated, and blame your misfortune. Finally, you would
decide to sell off the house with extreme reluctance. Then you
find out that all the new houses built recently, have the same
problems and no one really wants to buy them. This is not an
imaginary scenario. In U.S.A., houses recently built in as many
as 23 states, are facing this problem. The problem has become
so serious now that U.S.Congress has appointed a 14-member
committee, to look into the grievances of the house owners.
A member of this committee has found out that the dwellers in
these houses are not only suffering from diseases like
Bronchitis and Pneumonia but also the pregnant mothers from
such houses, are being advised by Doctors to move out.

This committee has already received grievances from as many
as 820 house owners. About 2000 legal suites against builders
and suppliers, are pending in various courts in U.S. Just in the
state of Florida, there are at least 400 such houses and it is
estimated that the repairs may cost around US$ 40 million.
What exactly is the root of the problem? Houses in US and
Europe are not constructed the way we do it in India. The
construction usually starts with foundation ditches. Large
wooden columns are erected in these ditches along with
concrete. A wooden structure is built around these foundation
columns. To construct the walls, ply board sheets are nailed
from outside first. Next to these, Gypsum drywalls or sheets
made from compressing the mineral Gypsum, are fixed. After
completion of plumbing and wiring, ply board sheets are again
nailed from inside to complete the walls. The Gypsum
drywalls, fixed between the wooden boards, inside the walls,
appear to be the real cause of the problem.
Until four or five years ago, these Gypsum sheets used to be
made in the USA. To reduce costs, builders started importing
such sheets from China. It is observed that these china made
Gypsum drywalls, slowly release sulphur dioxide gas, in the
house. This gas smells like rotten eggs, and is extremely
corrosive. This is creating problems for plumbing and wiring
as well, which are laid next to these sheets. It is not that major
problems have been observed for the first time with a Chinese
product. Serious problems were detected earlier with Infant
formula, toothpastes and pet foods. These problems were
solved by taking the products off the stores shelves. However,
6.2 million Gypsum sheets have been imported in the US from
China and these have been fixed inside the house walls.
Corrective action in this case therefore, is not very simple.
It is estimated, that at least 20 Gypsum drywall manufacturers
in China, may be making these smelly Gypsum drywalls.
Mineral Gypsum for these manufacturers, comes mainly from
Luneng mine in Shandong province of China.
This mineral Gypsum, has a high percentage of sulphur in it.
Lack of any quality controls means, that there is no way by
which, the importers can ensure, that the manufacturers are
removing the sulphur traces, from the mineral before use.
Congressional committee, Chinese manufacturers, Government
of China is now discussing to find out who is to blame. Who
shall pay compensation? It is hoped that some way may be
found out in near future.
However, for those thousands of house owners and their family
members, who, instead of enjoying their new house, have been
subjected to physical hardships, medical hazards and mental
torture and agony, who would compensate them?
21 August 2009
The Great Game –Part II
After an interval of about fifteen months, last week an attempt
was made again, to bomb the Indian Embassy in Kabul,
Afghanistan. A similar effort, made in July 2008, had caused
much damage to the consulate property and Fifty Eight Indian
and Afghani personnel had lost their lives. Learning a lesson
from that bombing, the outer wall of the embassy was well
fortified along the perimeter. As a result, last week’s attack,
only caused some minor damage to the outer wall and two
ITBF security guards had minor injuries. Unfortunately, many
Afghani citizens standing outside the embassy, lost their lives.
In an exactly similar manner to the previous bombing attempt,
a Talibani outfit immediately accepted the responsibility for
this gruesome attack. Earlier in July 2008, the Afghan
Government had squarely blamed the Pakistan Intelligence
organization ISI, as the main perpetuator for the bombing. For
this recent attempt too, Pakistani ISI is believed to be the main
suspect, even though Taliban have accepted the responsibility.
This raises the question as to why the Indian Embassy is being
targeted for these bombings. Whatever may be the motive of
the attackers, innocent Afghan citizens are made to bear the
brunt of this deadly and heinous act.
All throughout eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, England
and Russia, then the most dominant European powers, had
tried to establish their hegemony over Indian Sub Continent.
English succeeded in getting to India because of their Sea
Power. However, the Russians never really gave up for a long
time. They clearly aimed to dislodge the British from India.
They had dominated the entire Central Asia and had brought
their Cossacks, right up to the Afghanistan Borders.
Meanwhile British, now firmly entrenched in India, had
already fought three Afghan wars and had managed to have
very friendly relationship with that country. Both these
countries were fully aware that control over Afghanistan, was
the key to their final victory. Finally, Russians realized that it
would be impossible for them to control Afghanistan against
such strong English influence in that country. England and
Russia finally signed a truce, limiting their spheres of
influences, Russia in Central Asia and British in India. They
agreed to keep Afghanistan as the buffer zone between their
empires. Many historians call the maneuvers, which went on
for two centuries, as ‘The Great Game’.
India after independence, inherited the good and cordial
relationship developed by British with Afghanistan and
continued to nurture the same until 1979. In that year, Russians
invaded Afghanistan as a cold war move. The move was
widely criticized by the international community. However for
some obligatory reasons (which have been kept secret), India
supported this invasion and continued supporting it until the
Russians were forced to leave the country. In this period,
India’ good will in Afghanistan touched rock bottom. This
perhaps turned out to be the worst strategic error on part of
Pakistan took full advantage of this strategic blunder by India.
A new religion based cadre of fundamentalist Afghanis, was
nurtured and helped by Pakistan. They were provided with
arms obtained from United States. These Taliban fighters,
slowly took over entire southern Afghanistan, driving the
Russians out.
Afghanistan is a landlocked country. For access to Sea Ports,
it has always been heavily depended on Pakistan. Afghanistan
also had no manufacturing industries of its own. For all these
reasons and a very friendly Taliban Government in Seat,
Pakistan became the most valued alley of Afghanistan.
Pakistan also was the only country, which had recognized
Taliban rule. Things became so much in Pakistan’s favour, that
many Pakistani officials started considering Afghanistan as
part of Pakistan. On the other side, India’s relationship with
Taliban took a down turn after an Indian aircraft was abducted
and was allowed to land in Kandahar. It somehow kept a small
stake in Afghanistan alive by supporting the forces of Northern
Alliance, which controlled a small northern part of
India got a break in 2001, when Northern Alliance forces,
aided by United States managed to defeat Taliban and took
over the country. This time India acted promptly, and with
good strategic planning, took effective steps to improve her
status in Afghanistan. It opened two new consulates in Herat
and Mazhar-e-Sharif and reopened two others in Kandahar and
Jalalabad, which had been shut since 1979. India also became
one of Kabul’s leading donors by pledging $1.2bn on helping
rebuild the country’s shattered infrastructure. Funds have been
committed for education, health, power and
telecommunications. There has also been money in the form of
food aid and help to strengthen governance. India is building
the country’s new parliament building, erecting power
transmission lines in the north, and building more than 200km
(125 miles) of roads. It is digging tube wells in six provinces,
running sanitation projects and medical missions, and working
on lighting up 100 villages using solar energy. India has also
given at least three Airbus planes to Afghanistan’s ailing
national airline. Several thousand Indians are engaged in
development work.
In January, India completed building the 218km Zaranj-
Delaram highway in south-west Afghanistan near the Iranian
border. This road virtually ended Afghanistan’s complete
dependence on Pakistan for access to Sea Ports.
In May, an India-made
power transmission line to
Kabul and a sub-station
were opened, bringing 24-
hour electricity to the
capital for the first time in
17 years. The new
parliament building in
Kabul and a new dam in
Herat should be ready by next year. India has made full use of
Bollywood films and Indian T.V. Serials, which in any case are
extremely popular in Afghanistan, to improve her soft power in
that country besides Scholarships awarded to Afghani students
for studying in Indian Universities. As a result, bilateral trade
between two countries has grown rapidly, reaching to more
than $358m in 2007-2008.
Pakistan has been extremely suspicious and uneasy about
increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan. After consulates in
Herat and Kandahar were reopened, it claimed that India is
interfering in Pakistan’s Balochistan province through these
consulates. Afghanistan rejected this claim. Pakistan feels that
India is taking over Afghanistan and President Karzai is know-
towing to India, as he was educated in India. She also finds her
own influence, dwindling at an alarming rate.
It therefore appears that the Pakistan Intelligence organization
ISI along with Taliban are plotting to create trouble for Indian
ambitions in Afghanistan. Local Taliban are blamed for
attacking and kidnapping Indians in the country. There have
been explosions and grenade attacks on the Indian consulates
in Herat and Jalalabad. In January 2008, two Indian and 11
Afghan security personnel were killed and several injured in an
attack on the Zaranj-Delaram road. In November 2005, a driver
with India’s state-run Border Roads Organization was
abducted and killed by the Taliban, while working on the road.
The attacks on Kabul consulate in 2008 and 2009 should be
considered on this background.
It becomes apparent that similar to the Great Game played by
British and Russians in Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries,
Pakistan and India are trying a new Great Game Part II with
Afghanistan remaining the prize, to be won. In the continuous
flip-flop of this game, India seems to have an upper hand now.
Things could change dramatically, if in future, Taliban
recaptures power in Afghanistan. The Great Game part II
would have then taken another U-turn.
16 October 2009
Poisoning Bangladesh
Bangladesh is one of the richest countries of the world in
Water resources. Per capita availability of water is perhaps
highest in that country. It has a major river system of the world
consisting of Brahmaputra river and many large subsidiary
rivers like Padma. In addition the country gets bountiful rain
fall for almost six to eight months of the year.
Bangladesh river systems literally pour billions of liters of
water in the country. Yet all this water seems to be harming
this poor country instead of being beneficial to its people and
economy. Every year the rivers carry enormous amounts of
flood waters to Bangladesh. The coastal regions face
continuous dangers of Cyclones and Typhoons. These tend to
flood the coastal areas damaging crops and potable water
sources. With so much water everywhere, no one would
believe, that the poor citizens of this country, face drinking
water shortages round the year. To control river flood waters,
man made water ponds are traditionally built everywhere in
this country. Whenever rivers are flooded, these ponds absorb
the extra water.
Since last few years, it has been found that the people who
drink this pond water tend to get sick and suffer from strange
diseases. Symptoms include violent stomach pains and
vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions and cramps. A large dose can
kill outright, Continuous long term use can lead to cancer of
the bladder, kidney, lung or skin. In some cases symptoms
appear, in the form of skin lesions. The symptoms clearly
showed that the pond water was contaminated. An detailed
chemical analysis was carried out and the results explained the
wide spread diseases. The pond water had much higher
percentage of element Arsenic than the safe level of 50
micrograms per liter. This analysis proved that the poor people
of Bangladesh were slowly being poisoned. This poisoning has
become so wide spread now, that out of the population of 140
million, 25 millions are in direct danger zone. In the history of
the world, this is the first time when such huge mass of
humanity is in danger of getting poisoned.
Scientists trying to find out the reason of this presence of
Arsenic in pond water, have found out the real reason only
now. Up to year 1970, Bangladeshi farmers and villagers have
been drinking this pond water. A survey by UNESCO and
WHO found that these ponds were contaminated with
microorganisms, which spread permanent epidemics of
diarrhea and cholera.
It was suggested that the people should not drink contaminated
pond water and should drink sub soil water pumped out from
bore wells. UNESCO and WHO again decided to dig millions
of well throughout the country to provide safe drinking water
to at least 80% of the people. Eight million such bore wells
were dug. The sub soil water being pumped out, now appears
to be the real culprit of Arsenic poisoning.
Earth’s crust always contains Arsenic metal up-to level of 2
milligrams per kilogram of crust. This Arsenic can combine
with oxygen and other such reactive element to form water
soluble Arsenic compounds. Waters of major rivers can carry
these compounds in the water and ultimately deposit these
along with mud on the river deltas. River systems of
Bangladesh have been doing exactly this for millions of years
making Bangladesh soil rich in these compounds. These
compounds again dissolve in sub soil water and when its is
pumped out, the the arsenic salts along with water, flow down
to the flood control ponds and contaminate the water. High
percentage of contamination in the pond water has been caused
by years of sub soil water pumping.
Research is being carried out now to device filters which can
filter out the Arsenic contaminations. Meanwhile poor folks
from Bangladesh face the threat of getting poisoned as they
have no other choice but to drink pond water on daily basis.
19 November 2009
New game in the east
A news item that appeared in newspapers reports about
successful negotiations between India and Myanmar regarding
joint coordinated military operations in North-East and
Myanmar, to flush out Indian extremist fugitives hiding in the
dense jungles of Myanmar. The news item says further that the
Security forces of India and Myanmar will conduct coordinated
operations in their respective territories in the next two-three
months. The objective of the operation is that no militant can
escape to the other side after facing heat in one side. The
security forces of both India and Myanmar will also intensify
their vigil along the border to check smuggling of arms,
narcotic drugs and other goods.
What is noteworthy is the comment of Indian union home
secretary that Myanmar assured India to address all of India’s
security concerns and promised to carry forward the cordial
relations between the two countries. By itself, the news item
has no great significance except for friendly action between
two neighbouring countries. However this agreement should
be seen against the backdrop of a news item which appeared in
August 2009 mentioning successful action of Myanmar’s
military. According to this report, Myanmar military had
overwhelmed and disarmed the Kokang rebel group, triggering
an exodus of more than 37,000 refugees into China, prompting
an unusual outburst of anger from Beijing. To realize the
significance of this, we may have to look at the ground realities
in North-West Myanmar.
On a map, Northern Myanmar looks like a wedge inserted
between India’s Northeastern states and Yunnan province of
China. Just across the Chinese border,Myanmar’s autonomous
state of Kokang is located. The population of this state, with an
area of about 10000 square kilometers, is mostly of Chinese
origin with a large percentage of Chinese Migrants. Kokang
has its own regional army. Kokang army in alliance with four
other ethnic armed groups, had signed a truce with Myanmar
military in 1989.
Historically, diplomatic relations between Myanmar and china
were never exactly friendly. However with Military takeover
of Myanmar in 1962, things began to change. China backed
Myanmar following the bloody suppression of pro-democracy
protests in 1988, and has continued to stand by the generals
and sell them arms in the face of sweeping international
sanctions. Relationship between China and Myanmar basically
is a marriage of convenience. The Burmese rely on China for
money and armaments, and China uses its position at the U.N.
Security Council to protect Burma to some extent, in return for
which China gets access to the country’s natural resources and
gets a voice in ASEAN, of which Myanmar is a member since
The Kokang autonomous region with 90% people of Chinese
origin naturally flourished as relationship between these two
countries blossomed. It became a major trade route between
these two countries with highway from Laogai on the Yunnan
border to Lashlo, which is the capital of Shan state in
Myanmar, seen overloaded with Chinese trucks bringing in a
range of consumer and other goods.
This trade however is controlled entirely by traders of Chinese
origin or by Chinese who have migrated to Myanmar. The
bilateral trade has grown in 2008 to about $2.63 billion. In late
October, China’s CNPC started building a crude oil port in
Myanmar, part of a pipeline project. Logically it was expected
that Myanmar would give unquestioning support to China in
all international matters.
All this bonhomie between China and Myanmar obviously has
been a great concern for India. In fact fear was expressed in
India that China is trying to encircle India. It appeared that
another strategic game was developing on the eastern border of
India and China had already gained an upper hand.
This region also happens to be the hotbed of opium trade. In
fact, drugs flow easily from Myanmar into China, fueling an
AIDS epidemic in Yunnan, driven by the sharing of dirty
needles, as well as prostitution. In last August, a visit of a
police party of 30 officers, gone to investigate drugs trafficking
from a local arms factory in Kokang region, developed into a
major fight between Myanmar’s armed forces and the pro
Chinese Kokang army. This resulted into a huge outflow of
Chinese migrants and people of Chinese origin to Nansen
district in Yunnan. About 37000 Chinese fled Kokang.
Chinese Government responded with outbursts of anger against
Myanmar. This brought up again profound suspicion of China
in Myanmar, which dates back to before independence from
the British in 1948, in spite of Beijing’s overt support to it in
the past 20 years or so.
Myanmar Generals are vehemently anti communist and are
suspicious of banned Communist party of Burma. Most of
them have fought in the anti-communist/anti-Beijing
operations in the 1950s and 1960s. In these operations, Chinese
soldiers wore Burmese Communist military uniform and had
participated in actual battles against the Burmese armed forces.
It’s difficult to conceive a change of heart on behalf of the
Burmese generals toward Beijing.
The agreement between India and Myanmar must be seen in
this light. After a while, India seems to have a winning hand.
Yet it is obvious that Myanmar’s wily Generals are aware of
this New Game in the east and see that being friendly to India
is an important counterweight to China. Myanmar’s foreign
relations always reflect that the Generals are constantly playing
one off the other. It must be agreed that it is a very simple but
effective strategy, to keep everyone coming after you.
With Myanmar Generals being willful partners in this game,
India has really no choice but to play the game.
25 January 2010
Enter The Dragon
I had never before heard of
Trishuli river in Nepal.
Apparently, it is a very
popular river for white
water rafting with foreign
tourists visiting that
country. The river has
patches of extremely fast
flowing water or rapids and
I believe that it is a great fun to ride the river in rubber boats or
rafts. Trishuli river flows in North-South direction, just to
north of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, and later joins the
Kali or Budhi Gandki river.
Like many rivers flowing into North India, Trishuli river also
originates from Tibet. In Tibet, this river is called Gyirong or
Kyirong River. It crosses into Nepal near a small hamlet called
‘Resuo’ There is a small check-post erected by Chinese
military at the border on a small existing trading track along
the river. One can enter into Nepal from Tibet by crossing a
small steel wire suspension bridge. After entering Nepal,
nearest road-head is at Syabrubesi village, at a distance of
about seventeen kilometers from the border.
Historically, Tibet and Nepal have fought many wars. The
trading track along narrow Trishuli river gorge, always had
provided an easy access to Nepal for Tibetan invaders . This
border outpost has been therefore always well protected. The
ruins of an old fort called ‘Rasua Garhi’ still exist not very far
from ‘Resuo’ Check-post. No one except Nepali citizens
inhabiting in this area, are allowed to go near the border or
cross it. Nearest town from this border in Tibet is also named
after the river and is also called as Gyirong. The inhabitants of
this area have been traditionally going to Gyirong town in
Tibet for buying all their provisions.
The days of popularity of Trishuli river, as a well known white
water rafting center, seem to be coming to an end. Construction
of a highway between border check-post at ‘Resuo’ to Road-
head at Syabrubesi village is fast nearing completion. As per
agreement between Governments of Nepal and China, this 17
kilometer long stretch of highway in Nepal Territory, is being
built by Chinese construction workers. The cost of this work is
being borne by China. The terrain here is so jagged and
inaccessible that major blasting and rock removing work is
needed. One can see such blasting and excavating work going
on this patch of road. It is expected that the Chinese would
have to spend about US$ 20 million to complete just this 17
kilometer long patch of road.
In Tibet, this highway would extend up to Gyirong town. A
major road artery has been already built between Lhasa and
Gyirong. On the Nepalese side a road already exists between
Syabrubesi and Kathmandu. It is clear that as soon as highway
between Gyirong and Syabrubesi is ready, a direct motor-way
would open between Lhasa and Kathmandu.
Expectations run high in this region as it is expected that the
road would provide big boost to trade and tourism between
Nepal and Tibet. Local people are expecting employment ,
work and easy access to vast range of consumer goods from
China, better Chinese built schools on other side of border and
in general, benefits from Chinese wealth.
However the real importance of this Gyirong-Syabrubesi
highway is neither about Nepal connectivity nor Lhasa-
Kathmandu connectivity.
Lhasa is now connected to Xinghai province in China by an
excellent Highway. Real beneficiary from this road is likely to
be the China- India trade, which has already reached
astronomical proportions.
There are obvious apprehensions about this road in India, as a
motor-way that can carry heavy trucks loaded with traded
goods can also carry soldiers and armoured vehicles if
required. Chinese frontier is no longer at some far off place in
Ladakh or Arunachal Pradesh. It has suddenly moved very
near, just North of Delhi. For a millennium the Himalayan
ranges have always provided a security and protection to
people of India from invaders coming from central Asia or
steppe. This protecting barrier seems have been now pierced by
this latest Chinese action. India needs to take necessary and
suitable counter steps to safeguard the country from any
Chinese also seem to have worries and apprehensions about
this road. There is a sizable Tibetan community in Nepal which
basically consists of disgruntled people who have run away
from Tibet because of their opposition to Chinese occupation
of Tibet. These people, when provided with such an easy
access to Tibet, are expected to create trouble for the Chinese
The Chinese Dragon has now suddenly appeared on the door-
steps of India. Whether it would bring trade and prosperity to
the region or would create head aches and problems is yet to be
31 January 2010
Pickaxe and Shovel war
The Indian Army is a
gigantic organization with
1.3 million active persons on
the rolls. Numerous army
battalions or units, carry out
a plethora of jobs all over the
country, from safeguarding
the Indian borders to
building roads. If one is
asked to find out the riskiest
job done by the army units,
an easy way would be look at fatalities in various battalions
during say last year. I always thought that the Infantry
battalions facing India’s borders with Pakistan or China, are
carrying out the most dangerous job and the human fatalities
would be highest in these battalions.
However the truth is quite different. We are loosing men who
probably have never even held a gun in their hands. These men
are the personnel of Border Roads Organization and normally
work with a pickaxe or a shovel, somewhere on the high
altitude roads near the Chinese borders.
Speaking at a meeting held last month in Itanagar, the hill
station capital of Arunachal Pradesh, Lieutenant General MC
Badhani, the director general of the Border Roads
Organization, gave a grave account of the gruelling lives of his
men living and working in sub-zero conditions.
These brave men have to suffer spells of loneliness, totally cut
of from their families and dear ones. They face continuously
very high stress situations under sub-zero conditions in the
desolate areas in Himalayas bordering China, usually for a
period of two to three years, which takes a very heavy toll on
their health.
In month of December, over a short period of 10 days, the unit
lost 9 men due to these harsh conditions. It is not that only
human lives are cut short in such environment, even the earth-
moving machinery has a life expectancy which is only one
third of the useful life, one can expect in other places. After
this period, the machinery is in such a bad shape that it needs
to be sold as scrap. However it appears now, that the road
building work load on BRO is bound to increase by substantial
This means that for the men of this organization, future is
going to be even more testing time than at present. To carry out
expected work in such difficult terrain, under extremely hard
and harsh conditions, is bound to be a daunting task for this
organization and presents a really tough challenge for the
Indian Army.
BRO or Border Roads Organization was in fact set up, many
years ago to carry out this job and have been doing this work
ever since. That being the case, one wonders why this sudden
spurt in the activity. In fact, some of the figures and facts
available tell us about the magnitude and urgency of the task.
Defence ministry has now ordered BRO to build infrastructure
right along the 4000 KM long Chinese border with India.
Transport of heavy earth moving machinery to this difficult
terrain is an almost impossible task. During last year BRO
wanted 3500 Tons of machinery to be shifted to this region. In
practice they could move only 400 Tons. To overcome this
problem Defence ministry has decided to charter helicopters
with heavy load carrying capacity to make up the short fall.
Just in the state of Arunachal Pradesh, 2764 KM long roads are
being built. Incidentally, this figure is roughly half of the total
length of roads already built in this region today.
There are reasons for this sudden spurt of activity . For many
decades since the war with China in 1961, Indian Government
totally neglected development of areas adjoining Chinese
border. The logic behind this decision, was that the
underdevelopment of the region and absence of any
infrastructure, would deter China from taking up another
adventure in this region. As a result of this policy, even
preliminary facilities for communications, transport and
electricity were never planned or built up in this area.
However, Chinese authorities have taken up huge amount of
developmental works in the border region such as roads for
thousands of kilometres, airports etc since last two decades.
This has brought about progress in the region of south-west
Tibet, which could be nothing but spectacular. As a result,
people residing in the border region have started being envious
of the people and regions across the borders. Senior politicians
have realized this and have started warning the central
Government about this feeling amongst border people.
Simultaneously, Chinese media have started adopting a very
tough stance regarding border dispute, Dalai Lama and several
other matters with India. They even objected to the visit of
Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh. Since
Chinese media are just mouth pieces for the Government, it has
very serious implications. This change in the tone and the
language, which has been noticed for the first time after 1961,
when India and China went to war, has made the strategic
planners in Delhi to sit up and notice. There is a realization that
if India wishes to stand eyeball to eyeball vis-à-vis Chinese, it
also must talk in an equally tough language. This could be
done only if India has or develops a physical capability to
move requisite number of troops to the border at a very short
notice. This capability can come only if requisite infrastructure
and communications are in place.
After realization of the harsh realpolitik , machinery of the
Government of India has finally started moving at a gathering
pace and since 2006 there is a flurry of construction activities
in the region without giving any excuses.
At present, this border war is being fought, with pickaxes and
shovels it seems.
17 March 2010
Robbing Peter to pay Paul
Roughly 1000 miles south of the southern tip of India, a small
cluster of about 40 islands, known as Chagos archipelago, is
located right in the middle of the Indian ocean. The biggest and
the most important island from this cluster is known as Diego
Garcia. The Chagos Archipelago has a great strategic
importance as it is located almost at an equal distance from the
shores of Africa, India and Indonesia.
This cluster of islands was not inhabited till 18
century, when
French colonists, using slave labour, started few coconut
plantations on the island. After Napoleonic wars, the British
Crown took over the islands. Between 1814 to 1965 the islands
were administered from Mauritius. Just three years before
Mauritius became independent from Britain, the Chagos
islands were detached form Mauritius and were made a part of
the newly formed British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) and
put under direct British rule. In 1966 the British crown bought
the islands and the plantations from private owners as the
plantations were any way, highly unprofitable.
In 1971, an agreement was signed between British and US
Governments, under which island of Diego Garcia was
transferred to US for use as a military base. Surprisingly, no
payment was made by Washington to Britain. It is possible that
consideration in some other form, such as reduction in the
price of some military hardware, might have been made. This
was reported in some British Media. Under this agreement no
other economic activity is permitted on the island.
In 1971, the island of Diego Garcia had a population of about
2000 inhabitants. These people were known as Chagossians or
Ilois people and ware essentially of Indian or African origin.
Their ancestors were brought to the island in 18
and 19

centuries by their Colonial Masters to look after coconut or
Copra plantations. They lived in three settlements on the
island: the main settlement on the eastern rim of the atoll,
called as East Point; Minni Minni, 4.5 kilometres north of East
Point; and Pointe Marianne, on the western rim. After the
agreement about Diego Garcia was signed by the British with
US government, British authorities did something, which they
probably would have never even dreamt of doing in their own
country, Britain. They forcefully depopulated the Diego Garcia
island, forcing all 2000 people to move to the Seychelles and
then to Mauritius using controversial techniques.
To carry out this totalitarian activity, the commissioner for
British Indian Ocean Territory, issued an ordinance in 1967.
This unilateral proclamation, highly reminiscent of the British
actions in India in early 17
and 18
centuries, was called the
Acquisition of Land for Public Purposes (Private Treaty)
Ordinance and enabled him to acquire any land he liked (for
the UK government). On 3 April 1967, under the provisions of
the order, the British government bought all the plantations of
the Chagos archipelago for £660,000 and officially closed
The idea behind this action was to deprive any source of
income to the local population and to make them move from
the island. In fact some correspondence within British
Bureaucracy, has acknowledged the fact that they have bought
with this sum, few rocks and sea gulls along with some
Tarzans and Man Fridays. Another document states that the
British Government under no condition wants the indigenous
people to be called Chagossians or Ilois and should be known
as Mauritius or Seychelles citizens.
The British government thereafter issued an ordinance, that
island of Diego Garcia would be cleared of all non-inhabitants.
This ordinance was cleverly published in a BIOT gazette not
read by more than few people. After this, all islanders were
simply told that they never belonged to Diego Garcia and must
leave for Seychelles. In fact, no one was allowed to return to
Diego Garcia form Seychelles.
US military authorities have built an important base in Diego
Garcia with some 1700 military personnel and 1500 civilian
contractors permanently stationed on the island. The air base
served an important function during Iraq operations and is
considered as a thorn in the flesh by many countries in the
middle east. These countries were pleasantly surprised to know
that Andaman Tsunami of 26 December 2004, had completely
destroyed the Diego Garcia base. However the news was not
true and the military base continues to operate as before.
Meanwhile,since their expulsion from Diego Garcia, the
Chagossians regrouped in Britain and continue to assert their
right to return to Diego Garcia. In April 2006, 102 Chagossians
were allowed to visit Diego Garcia for a day, to tend to graves
and visit their birthplaces. With help of some British MP’s they
appealed to High Court to repeal the ordinance issued in 1967.
In 2000 the British High Court upheld the claims of the
islanders that the Ordinance was unlawful. In 2002, the UK
Parliament enacted legislation, which granted all Chagossian
islanders British citizenship, and the legal right to return to the
Territory. Subsequently, on June 10, 2004, to negate the effect
of this legislation, the British government enacted two Orders,
which re-established immigration controls on the islands and
effectively banned the islanders from returning home,
reversing the 2000 court decision. On May 11, 2006, the High
Court ruled again that the 2004 Government Orders were
unlawful, and that the Chagossians were entitled to return to
the Chagos Archipelago.
This is where the things stood till end of last month. Many
Chagossians had made plans to return home and start sugar
cane plantations and Fisheries businesses once the defense
agreement between British and US Govenrment expires. But
the power of British Bureaucracy can never be undermined.
The British Government has now come up with another
fantastic bureaucratic brain wave to effectively ban return of
Chagossians to their homeland. UK Foreign Secretary David
Miliband announced on 1
April that the UK government has
decided to create, the world’s largest marine reserve around the
Chagos Islands. The reserve would cover a 545,000-sq-km area
around the Indian Ocean archipelago, regarded as one of the
world’s richest marine ecosystems. This will include an area
where commercial fishing will be banned. According to Mr.
Milbrand, establishing the reserve would double the global
coverage of the world’s oceans under protection. It will protect
a treasure trove of tropical, marine wildlife for posterity.
The British Government’s decision drew praise from many
conservationists. This raised suspicion in the media that the
favourable comments were planted by the Government
William Marsden from Chagos Conservation Trust
commented: “Its creation is a major step forward for protecting
the oceans, not just around BIOT [British Indian Ocean
Territory] itself, but also throughout the world. This measure is
a further demonstration of how the UK takes its international
environmental responsibilities seriously. Today’s decision by
the British government is inspirational. It will protect a treasure
trove of tropical, marine wildlife for posterity and create a safe
haven for breeding fish stocks for the benefit of people in the
region. “
The Chagos archipelago has now suddenly become the the
Galapagos Islands of the east and is being compared with
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, hosts the world’s biggest living
coral structure. The Great Chagos Bank or the coral reef is
home to more than 220 coral species – almost half the recorded
species of the entire Indian Ocean, and more than 1,000 species
of reef fish.
There can be no doubt regarding authenticity of a statement
made by a conservationist that “ the Chagos Archipelago has a
great combination of tropical islands, unspoiled coral reefs and
adjacent oceanic abyss making the area a biodiversity hotspot
of global importance.” A question arises regarding the timing
of this announcement. Mauritius has asserted a claim to
sovereignty over the islands; and the UK has agreed to cede the
territory when it is no longer required for defense purposes.
British Government’s decision naturally provoked angry
response from the Mauritius authorities that unless the issue of
sovereignty and resettlement is settled to the satisfaction of the
government of Mauritius, establishing a worlds largest marine
reserve on the Territory, which doesn’t even belong to Britain,
has no legitimacy.
It is obvious that this decision of the British Government, even
though an excellent idea for marine conservation, appears to be
just a ploy to continue unhindered occupancy of the Diego
Garcia island by the US military even when the defense
agreement expires.
In 1980 the BBC had started telecast of highly popular comedy
named as Yes Minister. This sitcom embodied the British
Bureaucracy’s attitude to authority and politics as a gently
hypocritical world filled with doubletalk. The Chagos
Archipelago affair, appears to be an even better example of the
games played by the British Bureaucracy. It beats Yes Minister
on all counts.
April 2010
The Strongest takes all.
During early part of last year, news items started appearing in
Indian media that China has started building a huge dam
somewhere in Tibet on the Yarlungzangbo ( Yarlong Tsangpo
as known to Tibetans)or Brahmaputra river. This project,
known as ‘Zangmu hydroelectrical project’ was supposed to
have been inaugurated on March 16,2009 and the first concrete
was poured on April 2, 2009. The 1.138-billion Yuan (1 Yuan
= $0.15) project was awarded to a five-company consortium
with China Gezhouba Group along with NIDR (China Water
Northeastern investigation, design and research) involved in its
construction. This dam was expected to generate 540 MW of
electrical power. As per design plans, the Zangmu dam was
supposed to be a gravity dam with water-blocking structures,
which could mean construction of a reservoir.
The Zangmu dam was reported to be a part of a Chinese plan
to have a series of five medium-sized dams along the river in
the Nanshan region of Tibet at Zangmu, Jiacha or Gyatsa,
Zhongda, Jiexu and Langzhen. As expected, there was a
tremendous hue and cry over this supposed Chinese river plan
in India and two Indian State Govenments even requested the
Central Government to take up the matter with Chinese
Government and see that the project is stopped immediately.
This matter having come up at the time of the visit of Chinese
President Hu Jintao to India, Chinese authorities were quick in
rejecting the news as a baseless rumour to quell Indian public
fears and sentiments. China’s Minister for Water Resources,
Wang Shucheng, said the proposal was “unnecessary,
unfeasible and unscientific, and had no government backing.”
The China Daily reported, Wang Shucheng even saying that
“There is no need for such dramatic and unscientific projects”.
Later, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said
(according to the China Daily) that “The Chinese government
has no plans to build a dam on the Yarlung Zangbo River”.
The whole controversy seemed to have originated from a
proposal, promoted by a group of retired Chinese officials
earlier last year, to divert the waters of, what becomes the
Brahmaputra River to China. These officials had floated these
ideas in their book entitled ‘ Tibet’s water will save China’
published last year and had received a burst of publicity in
However, from various reports that now appear on internet, it
looks almost certain that in spite of the denials, the Zangmu
Hydroelectric Project, is indeed in construction. and the project
is expected to be completed by 2013. This project is however
just a run of the river, hydro-electrical generation project,
taking advantage of the steep fall the Yarlung zangbo river has
in this region and without any water diversion from the river.
This should not concern India at all as the Brahmaputra river
would continue to bring in same amount of water to India in
future also. In fact, even if the Chinese build all the five dams
on the river as planned, it would be of little consequence to
India provided these are run of the river projects and there is no
water diversion.
If what Chinese are saying about not diverting Yarlungzangbo
river water is true, it only means that at this point of time, they
must have found it to be a political hot potato and must have
weighed the consequences of such an action, which directly
goes against Indian and Bangladeshi Interests and must have
decided to hold off any such plans for future. India (and
Bangladesh) therefore, have nothing to worry about
Brahmaputra waters at least for the present. Other countries,
which share common borders with China, may not be that
Six of World’s mightiest rivers, Yellow, Yangtze,
Brahmaputra, Indus, Salween and Mekong, all rise from the
Tibetan Plateau and flow in Easterly or Northerly directions .
Except for Yellow and Yangtze rivers, which flow in the
Chinese mainland, all of the four remaining rivers, eventually
cross Chinese borders and flow into Myanmar, Thailand, Laos,
India ( not in that order) and also into illegally occupied part of
Kashmir in possession of Pakistan.
A Canadian documentary maker, Michael Buckley, during his
several trips to Tibet, accidentally discovered that Tibet’s river
systems are being strangled by large scale dam construction.
He along with a group of backpackers, moving through Tibet ,
discovered many newly constructed dams in the region built to
divert water and hydro energy to China. China’s own river
system, has been so devastated by uncontrolled
industrialization that it has resulted in 70 percent of the
nation’s water supply being undrinkable and unable to support
aquatic life. In fact,the Dri Chu, or Yak River, which becomes
the Yangtze—one of China’s most famous rivers, along with
the Yellow River, now fail to reach the sea.
He says that “The rivers are dead. Chinese are not trying to fix
their rivers. Their solutions are ‘Let’s take the water from
Tibet’”. He feels that the diversion of water from the Tibetan
highlands, to parts of northern China, is in planning stages and
will be done via a vast network of concrete conduits. He says
further that “China’s grand pipe-dream is to divert abundant
water from the Tibetan highlands to reach water-starved cities
of the north and west of China, which have around 300 million
people. A diversion project of this scale enters a realm beyond
anything ever attempted in water engineering.”
“The electricity produced via the hydro dams in Tibet, he
added, is not for Tibetans but for Chinese industry
downstream.” Michael Buckley has even produced a
documentary entitled ‘Meltdown in Tibet’ on the subject.
All the downstream and riparian economy countries, except
perhaps Pakistan, have realized and suddenly became aware of
the threat to their water systems, as China continues to build
huge dams on these rivers in Tibet and Yunnan. In fact their
entire river economies are suddenly in danger. Salween river
rises at 1,578 metres (5,177 ft) in the Qinghai Mountains on
the Tibetan Plateau, near the headwaters of the Mekong and
Yangtze rivers.
It flows through China, Burma, and Thailand and empties into
the Andaman Sea. The river is known as Gyalmo Ngulchu in
Tibetan, meaning ‘ The Queen of Silver Water’. Canadian
documentary maker Michael Buckley says that “Despite
widespread protest from within China and from neighboring
countries in Asia, Chinese engineers are forging ahead with
plans for a cascade of 13 large dams on the Salween. Several
dams are already under construction,one the height of a 60-
story building.” River Indus or Sindhu as we call it, rises in the
Tibetan plateau in the vicinity of Lake Mansarovar in Tibet
Autonomous Region of China.
The river runs a course through the Ladakh district of Jammu
and Kashmir and then enters Northern Areas (Gilgit-Baltistan)
in possesion of Pakistan. Flowing in a southerly direction along
the entire length of the country of Pakistan, it merges into the
Arabian Sea near port city of Karachi in Sindh.
Alice Albinia, a British journalist and writer who recently
visited Indus up to its roots, says in her book ‘ Empires of the
Indus ‘ that the greater part of water in the River Indus came
from its upper reaches, from Tibet, Ladakh and Baltistan,
rather than from its Himalayan tributaries in the Punjab. She
recently visited the Indus from its end point Indus Delta to its
catchment area and the point of start called Senge Khabad by
Tibetans, which means the lion’s mouth. It is the only place,
where water did not flow from the glaciers, but the ground, and
flow continued round the year.
On her way to Senge Khabab, she saw a huge dam with
massive concrete curve looms up from the riverbed. The
structure itself was complete, but the hydroelectric elements on
the riverbed were still being installed. There are pools of water
this side of the dam, but no flow. The Indus has been stopped.
China had not officially informed the government of Pakistan,
as there is no treaty between China and Pakistan over shared
Recent Satellite Photo shows huge amount of Indus water
grabbed by China, which otherwise would have flown to
Pakistan. Moreover when this book was released in Pakistan,
the water experts there, first refused to accept the building of a
large dam in Tibet by China.
Later they have simply rejected the idea of Indus water getting
depleted by such a dam. This Senge Khabab dam is situated at
32 degrees and 31 minutes North latitude, and 80 degrees and
10 minutes East longitude. It is built on a tributary of Indus
River, which flows from East to West joining the main (Indus)
river at 32 degrees and 31 minutes North latitude, and 79
degrees and 42 minutes East longitude near the Ngari township
and can be easily seen on Google Earth. The Hydroelectric
power station named as Sengye Tsangpo Hydropower Station
has an installed capacity of 6,400 Kilowatts and is now
Now we come to perhaps the biggest and greatest grab of an
international river water done by Chinese. The Dza Chu, or
Mekong River, begins its life again in the mountains of Tibet
and becomes a roaring torrent as it swirls through deep gorges,
dropping an astonishing 4,500 meters [14,800 feet] in elevation
through Tibet and China, over a distance of 1,800 km [1,118
miles],before turning tamer to enter Laos.the river is a life line
for further downstream nations such as Myanmar, Cambodia,
Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.
More than 60m people from these countries depend on the
Mekong River for their livelihoods. This life line of these
people is under tremendous threat as parts of the river are at
their lowest levels in 50 years. Further downstream, drought,
salt deposits and reduced soil nutrients are threatening food
production in the rice bowls of Cambodia and Vietnam.
The leaders of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam all
attended the Mekong River summit in the Thai resort of Hua
Hin recently.
All the downstream countries feel that the principal reason for
low water levels in the river is the on going construction of 8
dams by Chinese on the Mekong. Chinese do not accept this
and say that this year’ drought and the extreme dry season are
the main reasons for the low water levels.
Further, Chinese want to build even more number of dams on
the Mekong and feel that building of dams is the only efficient
way of regulating water flow and drought relief.
When one takes an overview of all the construction activity
undertaken by China in Tibet and Yunnan province, China’s
grand plan of diverting abundant water from the Tibetan
highlands to reach water-starved cities of the north and west of
China, which have around 300 million people, becomes very
The scale and the grandeur of this plan is so huge that even our
imagination falls short. I feel inclined to agree that the Chinese
might just do it as they are not much concerned about the
human tragedy and suffering that would accompany the
movement of such a huge mass of people that would be
required to be moved for execution of such a project .The
ecological after effects of such a huge project can not be even
imagined. There is a saying in English that ‘Winner takes all’.
Perhaps Chinese similarly believe that the ‘Strongest takes all ‘
and would like to grab as much water as possible from the
international rivers.
Unfortunately such a grand project would create great hardship
and suffering for people of all the downstream countries. They
need really to watch the situation and take adequate steps to
safeguard their interests. For India, one geopolitical region
becomes extremely important and critical now in light of this
grand Chinese plan. It is the spot and surrounding areas where
the Brahmaputra enters Arunachal Pradesh from Tibet. It is
called the great bend. If China intends to divert water from
Brahmaputra in future, they can do it only in this area. All the
other areas in southern Tibet, through which Brahmaputra
rushes down eastwards, are totally unsuitable for taking off
water to Northern, Western or Eastern parts of China. India and
China have signed an international treaty about exchange of
hydrological data three times every year. Any Chinese plans to
divert Brahmaputra waters would naturally reflect in this data.
This could also be one of the reasons for which, China lays it’s
claims for Arunachal Pradesh. India must watch the bend.
10 April 2010
ABC of Mobile Phone Banking
When the ideas about globalization started circulating around
the world for the first time, many people in the West, took a
very simplistic view. According to them, what globalization
really meant was that the Westerners, with their well proven
innovative minds, would come out with new products and
services, which would be produced or provided by the Third
World countries with their cheap labour costs, again for the
benefit of the Western markets. The consumers in the west
would immensely gain because of the low prices and the
largest share of profits would still be earned by the companies
and their bosses sitting in their high rise, glass walled offices,
in New York or London. In short, it would be East India
company all over again. For first few years, globalization
process indeed followed this path. China started producing
almost everything, that the West needed at an unbelievably low
cost. All the labour incentive call services and rigourous and
monotonous work of software development was picked up by
the Indians. Companies in the west started making huge profits
with their Royalty earnings and producer countries like China
started to spoil their environment along with receipt of money.
Somewhere down the line, things started souring for those high
street bosses from the West. Chinese manufactures did not
remain contended with designs and technologies provided by
the West. They started innovating things. Similarly, Indian
software companies started thinking about independent
projects. The center of globalization moved slowly but surely
towards Asia. One area, however remained, where western
companies still dominated the field. That area was Banking and
finance. In the emerging market countries, the banks and
finance companies still followed the old West centric methods
of transferring money, wherein banks earned substantial
commissions. For poor people of developing economies, this
pattern of money transfer was just not affordable so they kept
away from the banks. In Tanzania, just 5% of the population
have bank accounts. In Ethiopia there is one bank for every
100,000 people. However, even those small percentage of
people, who had bank accounts, faced such high charges to
move their money around that they hardly used it.
However, along with globalization, another change was
sweeping through the developing world. There was an
explosive growth of mobile telephones in almost of all the
countries of Asia and Africa. The poor population of these
countries had leap frogged into the modern world of
communication through a simple hand held device. Then, a
mobile service provider from Kenya, came up with a brilliant
innovation which uses the existing infrastructure of the mobile
service provider to provide banking services to even the
poorest of their mobile account holders. A new banking system
was born. The idea was so good that it caught like a wildfire
throughout Africa.
Safaricom, with about 12 million subscribers, is one of the
leading mobile service provider in Kenya. The company was
formed in 1997 as a subsidiary of Telkom Kenya. In year 2000,
Vodafone group aquired 40% stake in the company and the
right of management. The money transfer service offered by
Safaricom is called M-PESA . The name is very opt because,
in the local launguage, Swahili, PESA means money. M-PESA
clients can use this service to pay bills, transfer cash, buy
necessities of life and even pay taxi fares. The system is
simple, reliable, needs no plastic cards or ATM machines. All
it requires is a mobile phone connected to Safaricom and the
ability to type a few numbers on the mobile screen.
How does the system work? For actual cash transactions,
Safaricom has appointed thousands of Agent-Outlets. A chain
of small shops who sell grocery or such sundry items. A
safaricom client can actually pay or receive cash from such
Agent-Outlets. The Agent-Outlet informs Safaricom about the
transaction by means of a text message, which automatically
debits or credits the accounts of the client and the Agent.
Clients can use the money in their accounts to pay for
everything from beer to cattle. Masai farmers use it to sell
cows in Nairobi. The money put on their phones, ensures that
robbers can’t get the cash. Kenyan women use the technology
to transfer money from their phone to that of their parents,
while Nairobi businessman use it for settling customer
accounts as it is very handy. M-PESA service has over seven
million registered customers. The average transaction amount
is actually less than $40 , but the total amount M-PESA moves
every day exceeds $ 8.5 millions.
There are no hidden charges anywhere
except for text messaging service
charges. Agents are paid a commission
on the transaction volume to keep them
interested. From being a mobile service
provider, Safaricom has become a big
banker. South Africa’s mobile service provider MTN has
recently announced plans for a fully-fledged bank account on
mobile phones, with an optional credit card.The service will be
extended to the 20 countries where MTN operates, including
Uganda, Nigeria, Cameroon and Ivory Coast, which combined
have over 90 million mobile phone users.
Its no wonder that such an innovative system for banking
transactions, just tailor made for the ordinary people, has found
its way into India too. Eko India Financial Services Private
Limited, INDIA, a company launched by Mr. Abhishek Sinha,
along with his brother, promises to bring banking services to
the ordinary people who have a mobile phone. In February
2009, Eko managed to get State Bank of India as it’s Business
Correspondent or in ordinary words a Partner. Every Eko-SBI
mobile phone bank account has the safety and guarantee of a
regular SBI account. The service started in October 2009 with
about 6000 accounts opened by 31
December. Now on an
average 400 new accounts are opened with Eko-SBI every day.
Total bank accounts exceeded 40000, by end March 2010.
1500 transactions take place on every day now worth about
Rupees 1 million.
Like Safaricom, Eko has appointed Customer Service Points at
various locations. These are mostly grocers or shops selling
pre-paid mobile cards. Today, Eko has about 350 outlets across
Delhi, Gurgaon, Noida, Ghaziabad, Four districts of Bihar and
one district of Jharkhand. The targeted client base of Eko today
are the migrant Bihari workers in Delhi area, who want to send
money to their families bach home. To keep things simple for
not so literate clients, all text messages are sent using only
numerals. Eko has managed a transaction volume of Rupees 71
million in first six months of operation.
Opening an account requires minimal documentation, with RBI
relaxing the rules for mobile banking. It takes about 10 minutes
to open a new account. A person can deposit even Rupees 5 in
his account. Labourers, hand cart vendors, rickshaw pullers,
domestic help and housewives constitute some of the account
holders with Eko.
Eko-SBI has not broken even yet and are operating through
assistance of CGAP ( Consultative Group to assist the poor).
However, as the business volume grows, promoters are fairly
confident of reaching financial stability.
Mobile phone banking appears to have many distinct
advantages over plastic cards. Some people may not take it
seriously as the concept was innovated in Kenya. I feel that it
has tremendous potential for each one of us. Imagine meeting
all your daily expenses through your mobile SMS. No need to
visit banks or wait in long queues and carry cash around. I feel
that this may turn out to be the greatest innovation in personal
banking since discovery of plastic cards.
27 April 2010
String of Pearls- a paranoidal
Frankly, I was quite fascinated by this theory of string of
pearls, when I first read about it. It is not a very new
hypothesis and was originally proposed by Mr.Christopher J.
Pehrson, author of the book “String of Pearls: Meeting the
challenge of china’s rising power across the Asian littoral”. In
this book, Mr. Pehrson has proposed that “The ‘String of
Pearls’ describes the manifestation of China’s rising
geopolitical influence through efforts to increase access to
ports and airfields, develop special diplomatic relationships
and modernize military forces that extend from the South
China Sea through the Strait of Malacca, across the Indian
Ocean, and on to the Arabian Gulf.”
The concept is reminiscent of the John Foster Dulles days in
the cold war scenario, where United States Government had
created a chain of friendly nations around Soviet Russia with
International treaties like NATO and SEATO. Mr. Pehrson
suggests that China is similarly surrounding India with Ports
and connecting roads to limit India’s rising sea power. He calls
these ports as pearls in a string.
The phrase “string of pearls” to describe China’s strategy for
building ports was originally used by analysts working for the
US Department of Defense. Indian officials from New Delhi’s
south block, where India’s foreign affairs ministry is located,
picked up the phrase from the Americans and after that, there
has been a considerable amount of discussion within defense
experts in India. Professor Shrikant Kondapalli of Jawaharlal
Nehru University in Delhi says that, “This is not a fear, this is a
fact,” He believes that China is “setting up shop” in smaller
countries around the Indian Ocean because of oil. An estimated
80% of oil for China’s resource-hungry economy comes from
the Middle East and Africa, via the Indian Ocean. He says
further that, “When you put together all these jigsaw puzzles it
becomes clear that Chinese focus in Indian Ocean is not just
for trade, it is a grand design for the 21st Century.” Alka
Acharya, head of East Asian studies at this university says that
China’s ‘string of pearls’ policy started in the 1980s and its
basic aim was to give China increased energy security with
refueling stations throughout the world. But it has helped
China project its political and military influence further. No
wonder that many in India fear that although these deep sea
ports will be for trade, China could call them in for military or
strategic purposes if oil becomes scarce.
Now, Which ports are supposed to be the pearls, that surround
India? was the first question, that arose in my mind. However
there seems to be no unanimity amongst experts, regarding
this. Some consider that Chittagong port in Bangladesh, Sittwe
port in Myanmar, Hambantota port in SriLanka and the
Gawdar port in Pakistan are the real pearls. Some also include
in this list, China’s southernmost province Hainan Islands.
Karakoram Highway, built by Chinese, inside part of Jammu &
Kashmir, illegally held by Pakistan, connecting Khunjereb pass
on the China-India border (In illegal possesion of pakistan at
present) to the Pakistani capital Islamabad is considered by
some as the string in this necklace.
After having read all this, I felt that finding out the
Geopolitical facts about these so called Pearls and string might
prove to be an interesting endeavor. I set upon this task and
soon came out with many interesting images,facts and figures.
Initially, I found out that Hainan islands, which is a province of
China, are in the vicinity of Vietnam and Cambodia and in
reality are very much part of South China Sea, scenario,
bearing almost no direct influence on the situation surrounding
India. There is no need to look at these Chinese Islands as a
possible pearl.
Chittagong port in the Bay of Bengal is the largest Sea Port of
Bangladesh. The present port is on the banks of river
Karnafuli, a situation very similar to Hugli river port near
Kolkata, surrounded by a squalid city. Bangladesh authorities
have embarked upon a very ambitious project to develop and
transform Chittagong commercial port and transform the coast
line. The project is estimated to cost about $9 bn. It is reported
that Chinese have agreed to fund this project to a substantial
extent. The plans involve an ambitious new deep sea port
further along the coast, and a motorway running all the way to
China – via neighbouring Myanmar. Work is going on at
present on two huge container terminals. A gleaming four lane
motor way and a suspension bridge has also come up. However
from reports, it appears that the money for suspension bridge
came from a Gulf country. Chinese contractors have been hired
to complete all these works.
Chittagong is at a distance of about 1000 KM from nearest
Chinese road head city of Pu’er Shi in Yunnan Province.
Bangladesh has no common borders with China and any
motorway or pipe line, if laid, would have to pass through
Myanmar. The situation in border areas of Myanmar with
China can not be described as peaceful or friendly and any talk
of such motorway, appears to be little far fetched, from any
military point of view. Bangladesh is not a hostile country
towards India. Dr. Dipu Moni, Bangladesh’s foreign minister,
categorically says that “I don’t believe if China helps us build
this sea port, that China will be able to use it for other
purposes,” and adds that “Bangladesh will never let any part of
its territory be used for any kind of attacks or anything like
that,” In fact Bangladesh wants to be seen as a “bridge” from
China to India, and is careful not to offend either of its giant
Sittwe port, situated about 265 KM south of Chittagong, is at
present a small port on Myanmar coastline. The port is located
near the confluence point of river Kaladan with Bay of Bengal.
This river in fact rises in the Indian State of Mizoram and
flows south to Sittwe. The river is navigable only upto Paletwa.
Initially it was reported that China was negotiating with
Myanmar about development of this port. However, with
India’s ‘Look East’ policy in force, India seems to have taken
charge of the situation here. An agreement was signed between
India and Myanmar in April 2009 regarding development of
Kaladan transport project, which also includes development of
Sittwe port. The project has been awarded to an Indian
company ‘Essar Projects’ and involves constructing a port at
Sittwe and a jetty at Paletwa, 120 kilometers of road to be built
in Myanmar from the river terminal in Paletwa to the India-
Burma border in the northeast. The project will have 333 miles
(539 kilometers) of waterways and 140 miles of roads. It
would be completed in 36 months at the cost of about $ 75
million and is entirely financed by India. It is expected that this
project would boost links between ports on India’s eastern
seaboard and Sittwe in Arakan (Rakhine) State, Myanmar.
From there, goods will be shipped along the Kaladan River
from its confluence near Sittwe to Paletwa in Chin State and by
road to India’s Mizoram State, which will provide an alternate
route for transport of goods to India’s landlocked northeast. It
should be obvious to anyone that Sittwe is definitely not one of
the China’s pearls.
Let us now travel south to the southern coast of Sri Lanka.
Hambantota is a small fishing harbour on this coast. Sri lanka
has proposed to build a modern port facility near the existing
fishing harbour. Entire project is proposed to be completed in
15 years from year 2008 and is expected to cost about $ 1
billion. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa says that the
project was first offered to India but Indians showed no interest
in it. Later the project was offered to Chinese. The present
Chinese commitment is for the construction of the first stage
only, which is estimated to cost US $ 360 million. China has
agreed to give 85 per cent of this amount at concessional
interest. The balance is being contributed by the Government
of Sri Lanka. This stage envisages the construction of a 1000-
metre jetty, which will enable the harbour to function as an
industrial port for the import and export of industrial
chemicals, fuel and heavy machinery. By 2023, Hambantota is
projected to have a liquefied natural gas refinery, aviation fuel
storage facilities, three separate docks giving the port a
transshipment capacity and dry docks for ship repair and
construction. The project also envisages that when completed,
the port will serve as a base for bunkering and refueling.
It is very unlikely that Sri Lanka would allow the Chinese
Navy to use Hambantota against India. Sri Lankan President
Mahinda Rajapaksa says that India has nothing to worry about,
because the project is strictly a commercial venture.
Considering the overall friendly relations between Sri lanka
and India, Hambantota appears to be just that, a commercial
venture. One can also appreciate the Chines interest in this
project as the port is situated right on the sea route used by
shipping from Gulf states to South China Sea ports carrying
oil. On 10
June of this year, India and Sri Lanka have agreed
on establishing the office of Consulate-General of India in
Hambantota to reinforce consular cooperation and friendly
links. This move clearly shows that India is on guard.
This brings us to last of these supposedly Chines pearls. The
Chinese have helped Pakistan in the construction of a port at
Gwadar on the Mekran coast in Baluchistan. The first phase of
the construction has already been completed and the port was
commissioned when Pervez Musharraf was the President.
However this port is being run at present, by a Singapore
company. At Gawder, Pakistanis appear to more willing than
Chinese, to let them use the facility. Pakistanis had very
ambitious plans for Gawder. This port was supposed to be the
new gateway for trade to the Central Asian Republics (CARs)
and the Xinjiang and the Sichuan provinces and the Tibetan
region of China. Pakistanis had offered to the Chinese, the use
of Gwadar as a transshipment point for oil and gas, which
could be brought to Gwadar and from there moved by pipelines
to Xinjiang. A rail and road network between Gwadar and
Xinjiang was also proposed. Construction of a huge oil refining
capability in Gwadar was also planned. However, except for
agreeing to feasibility studies in respect of these proposals, the
Chinese have not made any firm commitments regarding their
participation in any other project.
There are solid reasons for this apparent non interest by the
Chinese in Gawder. In the first place security situation in
Baluchistan and in particular Mekran coast is far from
satisfactory. There is a very heavy presence of extremist
elements in adjoining province of Helmund in Afghanistan.
Presence of strong anti federal elements in Baluchistan further
complicates the situation. In fact, Chinese have preferred using
the facilities at Karachi for the ships of their anti-piracy patrols
than the facilities at Gwadar. Unless and until there is peace
and stability in Afghanistan, the prospects of Gwadar emerging
as the gateway for the external trade of the CARs will remain
Iran, with Indian assistance, has developed a modern port
facility at Chabahar , which happens to be just west of Gawder.
This port and the security situation in surrounding areas, makes
it far more easier to transport goods to Afghanistan and Central
Asian Republics from here. Iran has offered special rates and
facilities for such transshipment goods. A Road has been built
by India at Zaranj on the Iran-Afghanistan border to connect to
the golden quadrilateral route joining major Afghan cities.
There developments have virtually nullified all the major
advantages Gawder port was supposed to have. It is no wonder
that the Gwadar port has not been attracting many ocean-going
That brings us to the last location of String of Pearls theory.
The Karakoram Highway, which connects China’s Xinjiang
region with Pakistan’s north, can also be seen as one of
China’s pearls. The highway, called the ninth wonder of the
world by some, because of its altitude, was completed in 1986
after 20 years of construction. This road has real strategic
importance. It connects Chinese highway system to Pakistan
Highways. The road opened up China-Pakistan trade and gave
both of India’s rivals a fast route through the mountains, not far
from the Line of Control in Kashmir. However, this road has
been built in the Pakistan occupied Kashmir and a solution of
the Kashmir problem, if found any time in future, would have
provisions to check its misuse by China. Another development,
which took place this year has virtually closed this road for use
by anyone at least for near future
In Hunza area of Pakistan occupied Kashmir, a major land
slide has created a new lake near Atabad. The rising waters of
this lake have submerged about 10 KM stretch of the
Karakoram Highway, cutting of the transport to goods to
Gilgit, Baltistan. Eventually the road might be repaired, but the
strategic reliability would always remain in question.
As expected, Chinese are giving India’s fears a short shrift. Hu
Sisheng, head of South Asia policy at the China Institute for
Contemporary International Relations, which is a tightly
guarded government-run facility in Beijing and analyses
foreign affairs and directly advises China’s leaders, says that
“During peace time, these kinds of facilities are only for
commercial purposes, the Indians are being paranoid when
they talk of a string of pearls.” He says further that Washington
is playing games and trying to cosy up to India, as it becomes
increasingly concerned about China’s rise.
It would be difficult to accept everything that Chinese say. One
thing is however very clear about the principal motive behind
Chinese assistance to India’s neighbours. It is just a three letter
word, Oil. Chinese hunger for oil is bound to increase by leaps
and bounds as she grows in coming years. Major portion of this
is likely to come from Gulf states. China appears to be just
safeguarding the Sea routes by which this oil would come.
If these actions have any strategic or military angle, only the
future can tell. India needs to be on guard and take necessary
actions. From the above description, I feel reassured and
convinced that India’s strategic planners have taken necessary
steps to safeguard interests of the country. However it is clear
from this study of the Pearls and the string, that it appears to be
nothing but just a paranoidal illusion thought about by some
17 June 2010
Guarding the oil-silk route
Beginning somewhere around 200 B.C , International trade
flourished between European countries such as Greece or
Rome, mid eastern Persia and Turkey on one hand and China
and India on the other hand. The traded goods, such as spices,
salt and silk, were transported entirely along land routes, which
spread from continent to continent. A land route which began
near city of Xian in China and later bifurcated either to end in
Persia or India was one of the busiest of such routes. Chinese
silk and silk fabrics were very commonly transported along
this route. Because of this, the route was given a name, Silk
Route. Goods continued to be carried along this route even up
to Fourteenth century A.D.
Traveling on the Silk Route however, was never easy. The
camel caravans, moving on this route, faced sand storms, most
extreme weather, killing deserts and perennial shortages of
water. However, the worst enemy or danger that could be
imagined, was never a natural disaster. It came in from of
humans. There were gangs of thieves and murderers who
would attack and simply kill everyone in the caravan and run
away with the loot. To overcome this problem, the kingdoms
of China and Tibet, had erected watch towers and forts along
the route. These towers and forts were regularly manned by
soldiers to provide security for the caravans at least in these
territories. In spite of the guards and soldiers , gangs of thieves
moved at will and thrived all along this route.
It is rather hard to believe that even today, in the Twenty First
century A.D., a somewhat similar situation has emerged for
another international route of great importance. This
international route does not stretch over continents or deserts.
It happens to be a sea lane. Booming Oil trade between far
eastern countries like China, Korea , Japan and ASEAN
countries on one hand and oil producing nations from Mideast
on the other, is carried out along this sea lane. Most of the Oil
producers have their oil terminals locations in the Persian Gulf,
Gulf of Aden or on the Red Sea coast. A very heavy traffic of
cargo ships moves between these oil ports and the Far eastern
countries. The Sea route over which these ships sail, is known
as SLOC or Sea Lines of Communications. Since economics of
these oil consumer countries is dependent to a great extent on
this SLOC, it is considered most critical and sensitive.
In last few decades, China has made unprecedented economic
progress. China has now become world’s second largest
economy. This huge economy however is entirely dependent
on the imported crude oil. China today imports almost 70% of
its requirement of oil from middle east. The SLOC mentioned
above, has therefore become the most sensitive area on earth
for China. Chinese imports moving along this SLOC are so
huge that this SLOC is now being called ‘Oil Silk Route’.
Unfortunately, this ‘Oil Silk Route’ also can not be considered
to be a very safe route, just like its predecessor in central Asia.
This SLOC passes through two areas where Sea Pirates prevail
even today. Out of these two, the first area is along the Horn of
Africa. The entire portion of the Indian Ocean on West African
or Somalian seaboard is infested with large number of sea
going armed Somalian gangs, who move in small high speed
boats to attack big and bulky oil ships. It is unbelievable that
ships as far away as 1600 KM from the coast or even ships in
the vicinity of the Island of Seychelles, are being attacked by
these Sea thugs. There is another reason also for this area to
become so critical. Most of the giant oil tankers and container
ships, which can not negotiate the Suez canal, also follow this
route to go to southern tip of African continent. This makes the
Sea in this area a rich field with many potential targets for the
pirates. In 2007, Somalian pirates attacked as many as 47
ships. This number rose to 111 in 2008 and in 2009, an
unbelievable number of 214 ships were attacked by these
gangs. To establish some order, The United Nations Security
Council has now permitted Navies of few countries to operate
in the Somalian waters and attack the pirates.
Indian Navy received such permission in 2008 . Subsequently,
Somalian Government also allowed Indian Naval ships to
operate here. In last two years, Indian Navy alone has escorted
1037 ships in this area, out of which only 137 ships showed
Indian flag. Along with Indian navy, navies of some other
nations like US, EUNAVFOR (EU Naval Forces) , European
nations and China are also participating in this watch and ward
operation. All these ships belonging to different nations are
operating in co-ordination and harmony to control and protect
shipping in this area. This action has managed to create a fear
among the pirates and number of ship attacks has now started
to come down. It however appears that Indian Navy would
have to continue to patrol this area till the Somalian gangsters
are eradicated in totality.
Another extremely dangerous area on the way of Oil Silk route
happens to be in the Straits of Malacca. This portion of the sea,
is located between the eastern coastline of the Indonesian
Island of Sumatra and the Western coastline of Malaysia. This
narrow strip of water is known as Straits of Malacca because
the state of Malacca, now part of Malaysia, is just along the
coast. This strip of water is just 2.7 KM wide at it’s narrowest
point. As many as 50000 ships traverse the Malacca straits
each year. 15 million barrels of oil moves through the straits
each day. It is said that if due to some reason , Straits of
Malacca get closed for shipping, almost half of the world’s
shipping would have to divert from their routes.
In spite of being such a critical area, this body of water was
considered as one of the most dangerous places on Sea, only
few years back. In the year 1999, a 9000 ton freighter named as
MV Alondra Rainbow had disappeared from here, when on
way to Japan with a cargo of Aluminum ingots. This ship with
a crew of 17 was abducted by some 15 armed gangsters. After
a week, the crew was found floating helplessly in a rubber life
boat near Thailand coast with no trace of their ship. After a
month, Indian Navy and the Coast guard, discovered a ship of
similar description near the Indian coast. The ship was chased
and fired upon by the Indian Coast guard, when the pirates
surrendered. It was found on inspection, that half of the ship’s
cargo was gone, the name of the ship was changed, it was
showing a different flag and the pirates were trying to flood the
ship to sink it. In the year 2002 alone, 36 ships were attacked
here. In 2003, 60 ships were attacked. When the situation
reached such alarming proportions, the insurance companies
started declaring the Malacca straits area as war zone and
refused to insure the ships or the cargo. US government
indicated that unless littoral states take effective action, US
navy would have to patrol this area. After this, Governments of
Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore realized the
gravity of the situation and started joint patrolling. There was a
realization soon that the naval resources of these countries
were not adequate for the task This lead to an agreement
between as many as 16 nations including India, from the
surrounding areas, to provide protection to shipping in the
straits.. This agreement is known as ‘Regional Cooperation
Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against
Ships in Asia’. After this agreement, the piracy in the straits
has reduced almost to nil. Indian Navy participates in this
security environment as per this agreement and Indian Naval
ships are seen patrolling frequently in the Straits of Malacca.
Why is India so much interested in the security of the Straits of
Malacca? Just a casual look at the map, of this part of world,
could make things abundantly clear. The northern part of the
Indonesian Island of Sumatra is known as Banda Aceh. The
northern tip of this province, happens to be just 90 miles away
from the southern tip of Nicobar Island, which is an Indian
territory. This southern tip of the Nicobar island has been
named by India as ‘Indira Point’ and a light house was
constructed by India at this spot. The light house got damaged
in 2004 Tsunami disaster. An Indian Air Force base also has
been set up on CarNicobar island north of Nicobar. All ships
sailing to and fro between Indian Ocean and South China Sea
or Pacific Ocean, have to pass through this gateway to the
straits. This gives a unique privilege to India. India can keep
watch on each and every ship that enters and exits Malacca
straits quite easily.
The major economic powers in Asia like China, Japan, India
and ASEAN countries have now realized that the Security of
Malacca straits and also that off entire Oil-silk route, is of vital
interest to them. The Indian Navy has been exercising with its
counterpart in Singapore, for more than a decade, with the
Indonesian Navy, since last year and with the Thai Navy, since
August. The naval exercises with Indonesia were held at the
mouth of the Malacca Straits. Indian Navy has managed to
play a highly positive and balanced role, fully cooperating with
and augmenting the regional efforts, its adaptable approach,
has won the confidence of the regional nations on the viability
and the efficacy of coordinated patrols with the Indian Navy.
This positive impression and its close naval engagement with
these countries notwithstanding, India has been moving
cautiously with regard to carving a larger role for itself in the
security of the Malacca.
In the month of June this year, a conference was organized in
Singapore. Known as Shangri-la dialogue, the conference was
attended by representatives of US, Japan,China, India and
ASEAN countries. Two interesting facts have come to lime
light from the discussions that took place in this conference.
Firstly, the steps taken up by India to beef up security in
Malacca straits are much appreciated by all the countries
attending the conference with notable exception of China and
these countries are willing to extend full co-operation to India
in this regard. Secondly, Chinese are feeling extremely uneasy
about presence of a mighty US naval force in the region as well
as virtual Indian control on gateway to the Malacca straits.
As mentioned above, China would surely like to ensure that the
Oil-silk route, which brings in 70% of crude oil required by
them, is kept trouble free and open all the time, as entire
Chinese economy today depends on this Oil-silk route. The
remote possibility or even a thought of the possibility of this
supply route going under India’s control near Malacca straits,
is making them extremely uneasy. India, it appears, is well
aware of this leverage in her hand. Any suspicion of any
Chinese misadventure in Kashmir or on China India Border
could make India react here in the Gateway to Malacca straits.
India has been building up naval capability in this region and
has recently acquired Boeing P80 , U.S. made submarine
hunter-killer planes equipped with harpoon Missiles. China
finds it difficult to react to this strategic depth, because of the
distances involved and the deep rooted suspicions of the
ASEAN countries. She has been trying though, to build a series
of friendly ports in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and
Pakistan along this route, to ensure maritime security. The
efforts however have not met with much success so far.
India has made it absolutely clear at the Shangri-la dialouge,
that she has no intention what so ever, to control any part of
Malacca straits. The strategic depth, built up over many years,
however ensures that the capacity exists to do so if needed.
For last few years, it appears that the mandarins in New
Delhi’s South block, where India’s foreign affairs ministry is
located, have played some excellent strategic moves. Firstly it
was the Delram-Zaranj highway in Afganistan. Then came the
Sittwe port in Myanmar. Now the initiative taken by New
Delhi, in providing security to international shipping near
Somalia coast and also in Malacca straits is also a well
orchestrated move. The Malacca Straits region expects Delhi to
play a security provider role. This needs to be nurtured in a
consensual manner. China perhaps needs to be reassured of the
collective benefit. Stand taken by India at the Shangri-la
dialogue in Singapore supports this expectation rather well.
7 July 2010
It’s Raining Goodies in Myanmar
Last year, before elections took place in Myanmar, a very
unusual foreign dignitary paid a visit to India. Normally very
reclusive, leader of the Myanmar military junta, Senior General
Than Shwe was in India for a visit that was officially described
as a personal and religious visit. True to the description,
General did begin his visit from Gaya in Bihar, where he and
his wife took a day’s halt to offer prayers at Bodhi Gaya’s
Mahabodhi temple. With religious formalities over, the
General touched down in Delhi, where he was offered a red
carpet welcome by the Indian government.
General Than Shwe’s visit was designated as a state visit with
a ceremonial reception at Rashtrapati Bhawan and a gala state
banquet thrown in for the visiting leader. Next day, the General
got into the serious business of bilateral talks with the Indian
Government. The agreements reached during negotiations
make a fascinating reading.
 Expressed satisfaction at the construction, maintenance
and repair work by Indian Border Roads Organization
of the Tamu-Kalaywa-Kalemyo Road connecting
Moreh in Manipur to Myanmar and the handing over of
most of the segments of the TKK Road to the
Government of Myanmar.
 To enhance road connectivity, especially through the
State of Mizoram, the construction and revamping of
the Rhi-Tiddim road at a cost of more than $ 60 million
to be financed through grant assistance from India to be
 India announced a grant of $ 10 million for
procurement of agricultural machinery from India. and
agreed to provide technical assistance in manufacturing
of agricultural machinery.
 India also announced a project to set up rice silos to
facilitate disaster relief operations particularly in the
cyclone prone delta areas, with grant in aid from India.
 India agreed to cooperate in the implementation of the
Tamanthi and Shwezaye power projects on the
Chindwin River Basin in Myanmar. India’s National
Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC) has carried out
additional investigations after the signing of the MoU
on Cooperation in Hydro-power Development projects
in the Chindwin River Basin after signing of the MOU
in September 2008. This Memorandum of Agreement
to be concluded within a year.
 Already two border trading point are operational at
Moreh – Tamu (Manipur) and Zawkhathar-Rhi
(Mizoram) on India-Myanmar borders. Additional
trading point agreed to be operationalised at Avankhug-
Somra (Nagaland). Necessary infrastructure to make
these points viable and business friendly is to be put in
 A treaty on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters
to combat transnational organised crime, terrorism,
drug trafficking, money laundering and smuggling of
arms and explosives.
 India to supply Myanmar fast inshore and offshore
boats and interceptors to patrol its rivers and deltas.
These boats are of the type used mostly by the Indian
Coast Guard. Based on the original British Archer class
boats design and armed with 12.7mm machine guns,
the boats are being made at Goa shipyard. India has
already leased such a vessel to Mauritius.
 A $60 million line of credit for developing the railway
sector is on the way.
 ONGC Videsh, the overseas arm of Oil and Natural
Gas Corp, and GAIL have a 30 percent stake in two
gas-producing blocks in Myanmar as part of a
consortium which is supplying the hydrocarbon gas that
goes to China. The two companies are also part of the
pipeline project which will link the two blocks to
China. The total investment by the state companies is
around $1 billion.
This list really surprised me because it showed the depth to
which India is co-operating with Myanmar. I decided to look
on the internet for what has been agreed in the past? The
results were even more astonishing. Look at this list.
 India’s auto major, Tata Motors Ltd. signed a turnkey
contract with Myanmar Automobile & Diesel Industries
Limited (MADI), an enterprise under the Government
of Myanmar’s Ministry of Industry-2, on 22 March
2009, for setting up a heavy truck plant, at Magwe,
approximately 480 km from Yangon, funded by a Line
of Credit from the Government of India. The facilities
planned at the plant, include a highly flexible chassis &
frame assembly line along with a cab manufacturing,
painting & trimming set-up. The plant is expected to
become operational by the last quarter of 2010-11, with
a capacity of 1,000 vehicles per year. The capacity can
be expanded to 5,000 units.
 India gave generous assistance to Myanmar in the relief
and rehabilitation efforts that followed the devastating
Cyclone Nargis which hit Myanmar in May 2008.
 In February 2009, Indian Vice-President Shri M.
Hamid Ansari visited Myanmar capital Naypyitaw to
inaugurate, first cross-border optical fiber telephone
link between the two countries set up in Myanmar’s
second largest city of Mandalay. The high-speed
broadband link costing US$ 7 million for voice and
data transmission connects Mandalay and India’s
border town of Moreh in Manipur which are separated
by a distance of 500 kilometers. It was also decided to
start with Indian assistance an English language
training center in Yangon and set up an industrial
training center in Myanmar’s Pakkoku.
 An agreement was signed between India and Myanmar
in April 2009 regarding development of Kaladan
transport project, which also includes development of
Sittwe port. The project has been awarded to an Indian
company ‘Essar Projects’ and involves constructing a
port at Sittwe and a jetty at Paletwa, 120 kilometers of
road to be built in Myanmar from the river terminal in
Paletwa to the India-Burma border in the northeast. The
project will have 333 miles (539 kilometers) of
waterways and 140 miles of roads. It would be
completed in 36 months at the cost of about $ 75
million and is entirely financed by India. It is expected
that this project would boost links between ports on
India’s eastern seaboard and Sittwe in Arakan
(Rakhine) State, Myanmar. From there, goods will be
shipped along the Kaladan River from its confluence
near Sittwe to Paletwa in Chin State and by road to
India’s Mizoram State, which will provide an alternate
route for transport of goods to India’s landlocked
 India has been supplying military hardware such as
Field Guns, and light artillery to Myanmar, since 2004.
It is training Myanmarese military personnel at INS
Garuda in Kochi. India transferred two old British-
origin BN 2 Islander maritime surveillance aircraft to
Myanmar in 2006 .
Obviously, this list is not inclusive of everything, but gives a
fair idea of the assistance provided by India to Myanmar. What
is surprising here, is the fact, that just a few years back, China
appeared to sit pretty in Myanmar with India very much on the
sidelines. China still remains Myanmar’s main defence
supplier on “friendship” prices. It has captured so far, all major
infrastructure projects including ports and airports. Most of
Myanmar’s oil, gas and minerals are being captured by China,
and Beijing has got the gas and oil pipeline from Myanmar’s
Indian Ocean port to China’s Kunming. China is Myanmar’s
most ardent protector at the United Nations with its veto
power. In the trade hubs at Mandalay and Tamu, traditional
Tamil traders are being undercut by new Chinese traders. It
would therefore become apparent to anyone, that the Naypidaw
government, had almost become a captive of China. Yet this
list of India’s assistance is so impressive that one starts
doubting that something has obviously soured in Myanmar-
China relationship.
In the month of January 2010, India and Myanmar agreed on
conducting joint coordinated military operations in North-East
and Myanmar, to flush out Indian extremist fugitives hiding in
the dense jungles of Myanmar. The Security forces of India
and Myanmar were supposed to conduct coordinated
operations in their respective territories in the next two-three
months. The objective of the operation was that no militant can
escape to the other side after facing heat on one side. The
security forces were also to intensify their vigil along the
border to check smuggling of arms, narcotic drugs and other
These joint operations are very significant as India has suffered
for too long from its North East insurgents and separatists like
the ULFA of Assam and the NSCN of Nagaland using
Myanmar’s territory to bring arms and communication
equipments from China or the Naga insurgents led by T.
Muivah going to China in 1958, for support, arms and training.
The situation dramatically improved in 2008, when Awami
league came to power in Bangladesh and decided to cooperate
with India. This is the kind of co-operation that India needs
from Myanmar, and January agreement paves the way for it.
One of the reasons for this change, appears to be the situation
in North-East Myanmar. In August 2009, in the Kokang
territory, Myanmar military overwhelmed and disarmed the
Kokang rebel group, triggering an exodus of more than 37,000
refugees into China, prompting an unusual outburst of anger
from Beijing. It is common knowledge that Myanmar Generals
are vehemently anti communist and are suspicious of banned
Communist party of Burma. Most of them have fought in the
anti-communist/anti-Beijing operations in the 1950s and
1960s. In these operations, Chinese soldiers wore Burmese
Communist military uniform and had participated in actual
battles against the Burmese armed forces. It’s difficult to
imagine a change of heart on behalf of the Burmese generals
toward Beijing.
The Myanmar-China relationship is obviously a marriage of
convenience . It becomes clear that Myanmar junta has given
sufficient signals that it wants to get out of China’s clutches.
This is the first step where it desperately needs assistance.
India seems to have sensed this and is trying to help Myanmar
with all she could. India’s co-operation projects with Myanmar
appear to be mutually beneficial to both countries and are
therefor welcome.
Just south of the Kokang Territory in Myanmar, there is
another autonomous region known as WA country. It is
controlled by the United WA state army(UWSA),an ethnic
left-wing rebel militia. It consists of about 30,000 fighters and
enjoys very close relations with China because most of its
leaders, being former Communist guerrillas, were trained in
China in the 1960s and 1970s.Myanmar army had a ceasefire
agreement with UWSA. This agreement is in a danger of
falling apart because of the Myanmar government’s drive to
get all ethnic militias to join a military-sponsored Border
Guard Force.
This news is of particular significance to India because UWSA
runs informal franchise factories to manufacture small arms
designed by Chinese ordinance factories. The quality is known
to be fairly good with prices very low compared to Chinese
factory prices. The small arms manufactured by UWSA are the
principal sources of arms supplied to all rebel and terrorist
groups from this region which includes Maoists and ULFA
operating from India. The arms were exported through a
conduit operating from Chittagong in Bangladesh. This conduit
has been busted when Bangladesh started operations against
ULFA and other rebel groups. This has made both UWSA and
the Indian rebel groups desperate. India would naturally want
Myanmar to destroy these UWSA small arms factories. This
would be possible if India has good relations with Myanmar.
India and Myanmar have common geopolitical and strategic
interests. Both can benefit with greater trade and economic co-
operation. The two countries share a common land border and
meet at the seas.
The help given by India to Myanmar appears to me to be the
best foot forward without least doubt. Let there be more rain of
Goodies in Myanmar.
4 August 2010
Significance of soft power
United states is now considered the only super power of the
world. She has a mighty armed force, world’s biggest economy
and people who are biggest consumers of world’s energy and
resources. She can influence economy of any country in any
part of the world. She can also strike against any nation, which
she believes is acting against her own interests. Yesterday it
was Iraq . Today its Afghanistan . We never know what would
happen tomorrow. Yet except for small bands of people, who
feel that America is their worst and biggest enemy, almost
everyone else, anywhere in the world, just adores America.
This love for America is not because of the awe of her mighty
armed forces. It is not because of any cheap or world class
consumer products made by her and distributed throughout the
world. It is also not because of the food or any other aid
provided by her to real poor countries. Some people may be
misled into thinking that the reason for this love is the
individual freedom and the high democratic standards adopted
by United States. Many people in many parts of the world do
not know even today, what is democracy or individual
freedom? Leave aside any thinking about high standards. Still
they all love America.
The reason for this love is actually very simple. People
basically love products and ideas that came originally from
America. They symbolize these products and ideas with
The first product from America, which I came across as a kid,
was Coca-cola. This was way back in Fifties and being in
India, we kids had really no idea at all about America. We had
never met an American or even knew good enough English to
read anything about that country. Yet in our minds, we
associated this blackish sweet, fizzling drink with a weird
name such as Coca-cola, with that distant land. I often thought
then, that in America, where this wonder drink was made,
people must not be drinking water. As I grew up, in spite of the
best efforts of the then Indian Government, which clearly
favoured socialism, the things American always fascinated me.
Whether they came in form of a pair of funny looking blue
trousers called Jeans or giant sized sandwiches of a funny
shape, served wrapped in paper towels and were called with a
weirder name such as Hot Dogs. By then, I had acquired at
least some rudimentary knowledge of the English Language.
This opened up a new dimension for me to the world of
American Westerns. Those were the days of John Wayne and
Bert Lancaster with their Guns, Trains and horses. I had clearly
fallen in love with all things American. As I grew up, I was
enchanted and mesmerized further by the Hollywood
extravaganzas and musicals.
The idea of delving into my past personal love affair with
United States, is to point out, how an individual, alien to the
culture of a totally strange and unknown far off country , can
still get totally enamoured with that culture. This was hardly a
unique experience restricted to me as an individual. Almost
everyone of my age, had then exactly the same feeling and
same love for things America. Even though I did not realize it
then, this was the soft power of the American culture. United
States was probably the first country to propagate this power,
may be inadvertently, to the world. I do not think they did it
with any purpose, except for the commercial interests of giant
American corporations. However, it worked and America
became the darling of the youth from the world. Today, if you
ask any youth anywhere in the world regarding where would
he or she would like to work and spend his or her life? In
majority of the cases, answer would favour United States. The
other day, I was reading a book titled as River of white nights,
by Jeffrey Taylor. In this book the author has described his
journey in deep Siberia. Even here, every person he met,
wanted to go to America.
India was ruled by British for a long time. Many of the
household names in our life such as Lifebuoy soap or Britannia
biscuits have British origins. Many customs, traditions and
Laws we follow, have again some British legacy. Yet, I have
seen, no one ever falling in love with things done in British
way. However, in complete contrast, anything about America,
may it be American films, American clothes, or almost
anything American. is loved by the world.
America has given millions of tons of food aid to India during
Sixties and Seventies. American Government has given
financial aid to many countries of the world. Has that aid
helped in propagating America’s soft power? I do not think so.
It seems that aid receiving countries somehow resent the fact
that they have to accept aid from a foreign country. Pakistan
has been aided by United States over the years with all forms
of aid. Yet, Pakistanis do not like America. Any kind of aid
does not seem to propagate this soft power.
Recently, I came across the results of a survey reported by a
US news paper. This survey was carried out in Afghanistan by
ABC News/BBC/ARD National Survey of Afghanistan. The
sample which was taken was fairly large and across the
countryside, which made this survey fairly reliable. What
interested me the most was the fact, as reported in this survey,
that “Seventy-four percent (74%)of Afghans see India
favourably.” This was against the backdrop of marked
discomfort with neighbouring Pakistan. Reflecting long-tense
relations, a near-unanimous 91 percent of Afghans have an
unfavorable opinion of Pakistan (up 11 points from last year),
86 percent say Pakistan is playing a negative role in
Afghanistan and 67 percent think Pakistan is allowing the
Taliban to operate within its borders.
The survey also observed that a majority, 57 percent, of
Afghanis also have a favorable view of Iran, Afghanistan’s
neighbor to the west. Among Western countries, Germany’s
favourability is high, at 61 percent; its NATO/ISAF troops in
Afghanistan have been in the North, away from the heaviest
fighting. Favorable views of Great Britain are much lower, 39
percent; of the United States, as noted, they’ve dropped
steadily to 47 percent, from a high of 83 percent in 2005. The
results of the survey are very interesting and it should be
possible to discuss the results in many ways. I shall however
restrict my self to India. India has over last few years aided
Afghanistan to the tune of 1 billion US$. The aid has gone
mainly in the form of construction projects and power
transmission lines. India also is building a new Parliament
building for Afghanistan.
I do not however believe that India’s favourablity with Afghani
people, has anything to do with this aid. Obviously, India’s
tensions with Pakistan make it broadly appealing in
Afghanistan. This must have increased the favourability by a
few percentage points no doubt. India also had years of good
relations with Afghanistan. This could be also one of the
reasons. However, primary reasons, according to me, for
India’s popularity with Afghanistan, appear to be quite
different. India offers about 500 scholorships to Afghani
students for free university education. In the first year itself
(2006), 12000 students applied. These kind of gestures create
far better impressions on minds than buildings and power lines.
When these students come to India, see things here with their
own eyes, get their graduation and return to their country,
imagine the goodwill created for India. Yet, two other main
factors for India’s popularity, appear to be Bollywood films
and Indian TV sitcoms. Bollywood films and Indian music are
extremely popular in Afghanistan but what surprises me most
is the fact that Sitcoms primarily designed for India’s Hindu
population are predominantly popular in a traditionally
orthodox Muslim country. I read somewhere that a tear jerking
sitcom called ( Mai Tulsi Tere Angan ki or I am the Basil in
your courtyard) is so popular in Kabul that when it is aired , the
traffic on the roads drops considerably. Such sitcoms promote
new fashions in jewelry, clothes in Afghanistan and Afghani
women just love that. This promotes demand for things Indian
and boosts up the trade. This is really the soft power of India.
This power has far reaching range than any military, financial
or food aid.
In Brazil, a sitcom or a Telenovela, named “Caminho das
Indias” (Way of the Indias) was aired regularly on TV. It is
Brazil’s latest soap opera hit, a lavish production that has
sparked a mini India boom in Brazil, even while taking
liberties with its portrayal of India. The pink-walled palaces,
shimmering saris and Bollywood dances are all there. The
story, which like most Brazilian soaps, is told in a grueling 200
or so episodes over more than six months, centers on a
forbidden love between beautiful high-caste woman Maya and
handsome Bahuan, a low-caste Dalit. Filmed partly in India’s
Rajasthan state, the action shifts between Jaipur and Agra
where tradition and religion hang in the air. It even shows
Indian values such as the respect for the elders of a family,
which isn’t always the case in Brazil. However the funny part
about this sitcom is that it is neither produced or even
conceptualized by any one even remotely connected with India.
This sitcom with a viewership in order of millions, has already
created a new awareness in Brazil about India and the things
Indian. Hindi phrases such as the exclamation “Arre Baba” (Oh
my goodness!) have entered everyday speech; interest in yoga,
meditation and Indian dance is on the rise and demand for
Indian clothes and decorations has jumped. Caminho das
Indias shows how effective this cultural soft power can be,
even when it is not propagated by the original country or the
Popularity of Bollywood films in Malaysia can only be
compared with India herself.
A film award function held in Malaysia last year was watched
by a huge TV audience. Bollywood Idols are also immensely
popular hear. Last year I was pleasantly surprised to find
Ramayana serial being screened on Malaysia’s TV on a
Sunday Morning. Latest Bollywood fashions are found to be
reflected in Malaysia. I somehow had this impression, that
Bollywood films shown outside India are mostly watched by
the Indian diaspora. This might be true in western countries to
some extent. However in middle east and far east. This is just
not true. Bollywood films, Indian TV Sitcoms are watched and
loved by the locals as much as Indian diaspora. These films
create a new cultural window for India. Trade can and surely
follows this.
For Indian soft power, there are three more agents of
propagation, First comes in the form of gastronomical pleasure
created by Indian cuisine or cookery. Indian cuisine is popular
in many countries like Britain where certain types of curries
have even become Britain’s national dishes. The other soft
power agent propagating India comes in form of beautifully
hand woven textiles with rich embroidery. For many years,
government of India has been trying to promote Indian hand
loom woven textiles, through dusty shops set up abroad with
uninterested salesman. This never worked. Luckily, an
American businessman Mr. John Bissell, a former Ford
Foundation consultant sensed the true soft power of Indian
textiles and set up a business named as FabIndia in 1960. Mr
Bissell and his son William have now built Fabindia into a
112-store, $75 million retailer with outlets in Rome, Dubai and
Guangzhou, expanding the product line to include designer
clothes, jewelry, home furnishings, body care products and
organic foods — all without straying from the company’s
socially conscious roots. They managed to give usually staid
and stale handicrafts, a slick, modern look. The company is
incredibly popular with ordinary Indians, posh socialites and
Western expatriates alike. The last but not the least, agent
propagating India’s soft power is Yoga, perhaps the most
popular part of Indian culture. Yoga classes are found in many
parts of the world. With Yoga, a plethora of things Indian
follow to that part of the world.
City of Shanghai is the venue for EXPO 2010. A record
number of 192 countries and 50 organizations have registered,
the highest in the Expo’s history. It has been described by the
Chinese government as “a great gathering of world
civilizations”. Almost all major countries of the world have
used this opportunity to showcase their economic might or
technical capabilities. Yet, India pavilion in Expo 2010 appears
to have intentionally given up this path and is different. The
official website of the pavilion describes the pavilion as a
journey of Indian cities from ancient times to medieval period
to modern India.
The Indian Pavilion is built entirely of bamboo and other
environment friendly materials like solar panels, windmills,
plants, water cascade and earthen tiles; and is the ‘greenest’
and most eco-friendly pavilion at the expo. Over 60,000
saplings, including many herbal medicinal plants, have been
used in the roofing panels of the pavilion, which also collect
rainwater for use in the pavilion. Over 30 kms of bamboo
(which came from eastern Chinese forests) has gone into its
construction. It is in fact the world’s largest Bamboo Dome –
35 meters wide and 18 meters tall, and contains an interlaced
network of more than 500 pieces of 20 meter-length rods of
It is no surprise that it will be spared demolition unlike the
other pavilions (excluding China’s), dismantled and then
reconstructed in Wushi, Zhejiang Province in China.
The Indian pavilion also features authentic Indian cuisine,
Indian cultural programmes, including dances and of course –
India’s latest soft power export – Bollywood.
The organizers have roped in 50 performers, backed by a team
of film technicians and choreographers to act out 40 years of
classic moments in Indian cinema. And finally Yoga which
happens to be the single most popular aspect of Indian culture
and soft power. It is no wonder that the India pavilion being so
different from all other pavilions, has become one of the most
popular spots at the expo with an average of 25,000 visitors
every day.
Many countries are increasingly realizing that Soft Power can
be a very effective tool for increasing their influence, this is
especially true for countries with rich histories and cultures
like India and China. Unfortunately so far, propagation of
Indian soft power was never taken seriously by the Indian
Government. The entire effort has been done by private
Shanghai EXPO pavilion is perhaps the first major effort at
Government level, to promote India’s soft power.
I do not know whether India would ever become a super
power. One thing is certain. India is already a cultural super
power. All she needs is to propagate the soft power wisely and
effectively. I read lot of speculation about how India would
loose its position of eminence in Afghanistan, once the
Americans leave that country. I however feel that this is an
unlikely scenario since India is loved by ordinary Afghans.
Unlike financial or material aid, effect of soft power can not
vanish with the change of the Government. It lingers on,
perhaps because it has captured the hearts of the people.
10 August 2010
Red Flag up for Bangladesh, India
China Starts construction of the first of the five dams on
Brahmaputra River
Chinese plan for diversion of water resources, originating from
Tibetan plateau, has become a highly contentious International
issue between China on one hand and many downstream
countries like India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos,
Cambodia and Vietnam. China is planning to build or is in the
process of building dams, on all major rivers originating from
Tibet. This is naturally creating much resentment and
heartburn in the riparian downstream countries. The economies
of these countries and the lives of their people are principally
dependent on the waters flowing in these rivers. Yet, China
continues to pay only lip service to this issue by issuing denials
and arranging international seminars.China has yet not signed
any river water treaty with any of the downstream country.
About 3 years back, media reports appeared for the first time,
about possible Chinese plans, to build 5 dams on the river
Brahmaputra in Tibet. As per Chinese practice, the
Government immediately issued a statement and denied any
such intention. Avid China watchers had then warned the
Government of India that if Chinese Government is issuing
prompt denials, it must be seriously considering the plan. Even
a year ago, intention of taking up any such project was flatly
denied by Chinese Government. When this matter come up at
the time of the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to India,
Chinese authorities were quick in rejecting the news as a
baseless rumour to quell Indian public fears and sentiments.
China’s Minister for Water Resources, Wang Shucheng, said
the proposal was “unnecessary, unfeasible and unscientific, and
had no government backing.” The China Daily reported, Wang
Shucheng even saying that “There is no need for such dramatic
and unscientific projects”. Later, Chinese Foreign Ministry
spokesman Liu Jianchao said (according to the China Daily)
that “The Chinese government has no plans to build a dam on
the Yarlung Zangbo River”.
In spite of these denials, details started leaking out in the
Chinese press about construction of first such dam on
Brahmaputra. With high quality satellite imagery now
available to Internet users, it is impossible even for a secretive
Chinese government to hide such a project from internet users.
When latest images of the first dam construction were
published on the internet, Chinese government had to accept
this fact. The first dam on the Brahmaputra river is coming up
at Zangmu (Tibetan name Dzam) having 92.522996 and
29.141999 as longitude and latitude. One of China’s biggest
engineering and construction companies, China Gezhouba
(Group) Corp, has been awarded a contract worth 1.14 billion
yuan ($167 million) for a hydropower plant here. Gezhouba’s
subsidiary, No 5 Engineering Co Ltd, will provide concrete
and aggregate processing services for the Zangmu Hydropower
project, the company says on its website. The company will be
responsible for designing, constructing and running the project
that supplies 3.4-million cu m of concrete and 8-million-ton
aggregate for the water power station. The project is expected
to last until the end of December 2015. Tibet Power
Generation Co Ltd of China Huaneng Group, the country’s top
power generator, would proved finance for the Zangmu Water
Power Station. Zangmu Power station will start producing
power in 2013. The electricity goes to Lhasa as a high voltage
power line is planned for connecting the Lhasa power grid.
The dam is 389.5 m long and 76 m wide at the bottom and 19
m at the top. The flow rate of the river further down streams
will be maintained. During normal operations the reservoir will
have 86.6 million cubic meters of water.
This is the amount of water flowing on average about every 24
hours down the river. Installed power generating capacity is
510 MW and expected power generating capacity is 2.5 billion
kw/h per year. The three villages of Zangmu, Tangmai and
Dagu (Chinese names) would be submerged in the water
reservoir. The local population would be resettled in part of
Giacha and Sangri counties.
The second dam on Brahmaputra is now in planning stage.
And would come up at 12 KM downstream from Zangmu dam.
The location of the power station is 5 kilometers to the west or
upstream of Giacha county seat. The installed power
generating capacity is 320 MW and the dam will maintain a
water level of 3244 m above sea level. The reservoir will be
filled with 28.87 million cubic meters of water. The expected
power generating capacity is 1.527 billion kw/h per year.
Concerns of downstream countries on Brahmaputra, i.e. India
and Bangladesh seem to have been addressed at present as both
of these would be run of the river projects. This means that
river water would not be diverted at least at present. However
when all the five dams would be completed eventually, one can
not say for sure that water from reservoirs would never be
diverted. Such an eventuality would turn out to be a major
problem for India but would be a calamity or a disaster for
During 1950, China’s People’s Liberation Army set out to
‘liberate’ the roof of the world. The government of India,
having inherited past treaties signed by the British with Tibet,
were not only shocked at China’s unprovoked military action
in Tibet, but were also offended by how the Chinese
government had disregarded its explicit assurances to India that
Tibet would be left alone. The British and US governments had
strongly supported the Indian position on Tibet and had offered
all possible help to Tibet and India.
Most surprisingly, then Prime minister of India, Jawaharlal
Nehru, suddenly decided then to wash his hands off Tibet and
even dissuaded US government from giving military help to
Tibet. He offered Tibet to China, on a platter, without any
preconditions and failed to extract a price like settling border
disputes between India and China and a concrete river water
sharing agreements.
This is turning out to be the biggest blunder of the century,
committed by the Government of Independent India.

30 August 2010
Flooding Pakistan
The Monsoon winds arrived late in the Indian peninsula last
year. This was in no way something very unusual. Even last
year, the Monsoon rains had arrived late in the month of July.
But, what turned out to be very unusual this year, were the
areas where rains hit hardest. Usually the rains crash on the
west coast and north east regions of India. This year however,
these regions received only moderate rains. The areas or
regions, which get scanty rainfall normally, got the heaviest
rainfall. By third week of July, monsoon winds had covered,
most of the subcontinent, right up to Hindu Kush mountains in
the North West Pakistan. In next few days, North-west and
central Pakistan was hit like a blitzkrieg with such a fury that
the rainfall recorded in these areas was highest in last 80 years.
With this kind of onslaught, it was no wonder that the water
levels in the rivers soon escaped the embankments and started
flooding the adjoining areas. What followed was just
unbelievable. A natural phenomenon soon became a disaster
and later a calamity. In next couple of weeks, almost 20% of
the land area of Pakistan was flooded. 4.5 Million people have
become homeless and about 1600 persons have died. It is
simply impossible to imagine the after effects that the people
of this region may have to suffer in next few months or even
years. Why did this happen? How can heavy rains for a couple
of weeks, turn into a national calamity? To search for the
answers, let us first try to understand some geographical facts
about Pakistan. Pakistan happens to be one of the luckiest
countries in the world to have an elaborate natural river system
in the world. There are 5 major rivers in Pakistan’s landmass.
The backbone of the river system is the Sindhu (Pakistan’s
region of Sindh, gets it’s name from the name of the river) or
the Indus river.
This river rises from a glacier near Kailash mountain in Tibet.
Tibetan’s however believe that the real Indus rises as ‘Senge
Khabab’ north of Kailash mountain and is joined by a
subsidiary flowing from Kailash glacier from the east. Indus
enters India, near village of ‘Demchok’ and flows in northerly
direction. It soon turns westwards and passes near Leh city.
Indus is joined by Shyok and Gilgit rivers in Kashmir and later
enters Pakistan. In Pakistan, the river finally changes it’s
course to southerly direction, where It is joined by Kabul river.
In Punjab, water of 4 major rivers, namely, Jhelum, Chinab,
Ravi and Sutluj again joins the Indus. There are still few more
smaller rivers like Bolan, that join the Indus. Finally near the
Pakistani city of Karachi, Indus joins Arabian Sea. This is the
reason why Indus is called one of the mightiest rivers of the
world. I always feel amazed, when I think about the landmass
covered by Indus. This was the reason for Vedic texts to
consider Indus like a deity. The ancient civilizations of
Mohonjo-daro and Harappa came up in the basin of Indus and
had perished later.
Even by third week of August, the floods have not receded. So
far, 263,000 houses have been fully or partially damaged in the
two worst affected provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and
Punjab. According to the Federal Flood Commission, 1.4m
acres (557,000 hectares) of crop land has been flooded across
the country and more than 10,000 cows have perished.
Pakistani authorities have evacuated 500,000 people in 11
districts of Sindh and issued warnings to people in low-lying
areas of the Indus river. Flooding has submerged whole
villages in the past week, killing about 1,600 people and
affecting another 4.5m. From these facts the extent of the
damage and devastation can be well imagined. When details of
the extent of damage became known, many people started
asking the question as to how can such widespread damage be
caused over such a huge area by flooding of few rivers?
It is apparent that this is not the case of a few rivers flooding
because of heavy rains. There is obviously some other reason
for the wide spread damage and devastation caused by the
floods. It is now believed that the real cause for this calamity is
the wrong and unscientific way in which river waters have
been managed in Pakistan over last few decades.
The landmass in Pakistan, where these rivers flow is essentially
a flat country without any major hills in the region. An
elaborate system of Dams, Barrages and canals has been
created in this region to support the agriculture.
Satellite Image of Indus River in Pakistan on 1 August 2009
Satellite Image of Indus River in Pakistan on 1 August 2010
It is true that before independence, i.e. Before 1947, British
had already built few of these levees, barrages and canals.
However after independence, there has been a phenomenal
growth in the construction of these. Over the years, river
managers in Pakistan have expanded the canal system. The
overall effect now is that instead of the natural flow from the
Himalaya in the north to the Arabian Sea in the south, the
Indus is diverted, piecemeal, east or west, wherever it is needed
to support farming. Obviously this kind of diversion is not
restricted to Pakistan alone. Such river diversion is a common
sight in India and also around the world as populations and
food production boom. The expansion of river canal system is
one of the principal reasons of boom in world food production.
The flip side of this unnatural diversion of river waters can be
felt and seen when a calamity like the present one in Pakistan
Mr. Tahir Qureshi, a former government forest officer and
game warden and now a forestry expert with the International
Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) says that “ The
Indus and its canals are the largest irrigation systems in the
world. Pakistan’s irrigation system has turned this arid country
into an agricultural powerhouse, but it has had its downside as
well.” He adds that “In the past couple of decades, many of the
embankment forests and trees have died or been chopped
down. This also is one of the reasons for the catastrophe.”
Mr. Daanish Mustafa of King’s College London, recalls the
fable in which a man sells his soul to the devil in exchange for
a life of luxury. He is a geographer who has studied the history
of Pakistan’s river management. He says that “The major river
engineering is basically a Faustian bargain. Until a few decades
ago, there were typically mild floods each summer—the time
when the monsoon rainfall hits, and the melt from the snow
pack in the Himalaya and Karakoram Mountains is at its peak.
But now, because humans have sculpted the river and the
surrounding natural floodplain and wetlands for farming and
other needs, there are fewer floods, but when they hit, they are
far worse. Over the years, there has been an absolutely mad
rush to settle in these floodplains.”
Mr. Asad Sarwar Qureshi, a water resources expert at the
International Water Management Institute (IWMI) branch in
Lahore, Pakistan says that ” There is not very much space [in
the river channel] to absorb all the rainfall. We need to get it
back into shape, so that it can carry its original capacity.
Wetlands along the river’s course, used to take up some
floodwaters, and the government also used to divert excess
water into “no man’s land” during the monsoon season. But
those areas have been converted to farmland”. He also points
out that “Another part of the problem is that the Indus River
and its tributaries carry some of the highest levels of silt of any
river system. More silt equals less room for water as monsoons
and snow melt inundate the now-confined riverbed and canals.
Most of our rivers and canals are already silted up.”
From the explanations given by these three experts, it becomes
quite clear that the main reasons for this catastrophe are not
natural causes but creations and actions of humans. If that is
the case, there must be solutions, which would avoid the
recurrence of the disaster at least in future. These experts talk
of following steps.
 Allow the river to flood more regularly, and naturally.
This would help temper the floods and make them more
 Give the rivers room to expand. If not along the whole
way, at least some of the wetlands along the way
should be restored.
 Majority of levees may be kept in place, but maintained
 Plant trees along the riverbanks. Earlier practice of
promotion of seed planting of Acacia Nilotica tree
along river banks should be restarted. These trees are
soil binders, and a physical barrier to the flood flow.
They are the flood guards, a biological means of
According to these experts,Managing Pakistan’s floods is a
delicate balance between giving the river more room, and
building barriers to protect people and their land. They have
however expressed that the chances of the situation turning
around are rather dismal as it involves major landscape
changes and are afraid that government may not be in a
position to affect required changes considering the pressures
and power plays of the government.
With real reasons behind Indus flood catastrophe becoming
clear as man made and not natural, I feel that it’s kind of
warning bell for India. India has been building similar canal
systems in states of Punjab and Rajsthan. The threat for similar
kinds of disaster striking there, appears to be quite real. While
we create better irrigation facilities to feed the human hunger,
we should not neglect the river basins and wetlands. If we do
not do that we are likely to invite peril with our own hands.
This is the lesson for India from this Pakistan catastrophe.
21 August 2010
The Sahara Crocodiles
The heading for this article may be quite confusing to many of
the readers. Some may even go to the extreme of thinking that
I have joined the league of Nutty Writers. However there is not
a shred of fiction in this. Crocodiles have been found in Sahara
desert. There is just a small postscript. The crocs have been
found in fossilized form and were living here some hundred
millions years ago.
Two paleontologists, Paul Sereno of the University of Chicago
and Hans Larsson of McGill University in Montreal and their
team have been digging for fossils at Gadoufaoua in Niger, a
remote site in the Sahara Desert where Tuareg nomads roam,
since 1997. They were rather surprised to find fossilized
remains of crocodiles which lived there in Cretaceous period,
from about 145 to 65 million years ago. In this periods the
continents were nearer to each other that at present, the climate
was much wetter and warm. As a result there were super rivers
flowing in the African continent. The region of Sahara desert
in those days was a huge swamp, a heaven for reptiles like
Sereno and Larsson have discovered six new species of
crocodiles with sizes ranging from couple of inches to forty
feet. They have named these crocs as BoarCroc, RatCroc,
DogCroc, DuckCroc, PancakeCroc and supercroc from the
shape of their jaw. Sereno’s team has discovered fossilized
eggs, skulls, bones, parts of spine and jaws in large numbers.
With modern techniques like X-Ray and Ct scan, Sereno’s
team was able to analyze the fossils extensively.
Each of these crocodiles preyed on completely different kind
of animals and had a totally different life styles. It appears that
they had divided the total ecosystem amongst themselves for
mutual benefits The largest specie from the lot is the supercroc.
This specimen was about 40 feet long and weighed about 8000
kilograms. The jaw itself was six feet long with hundred
powerful teeth embedded in it. This animal not only ate fish
but also small dinosaurs. It probably spent most of its time
underwater, “living an ambush lifestyle. The ancient croc had
eye sockets that tilted upward, which helped it conceal its huge
body underwater while scanning the river’s edge.
The Boarroc and and pancake croc were about 20 feet long.
Rat croc was the smallest specimen with jaw length of only
few inches. Some of the species could stand erect on their two
feet and run upright. They would ram their prey with their
massive jaws and kill it. These crocs do not seem to look like
modern crocodiles but the shape of the jaw in some of them is
similar to Gharial crocodile found in India.
We are scared today because of the minor changes in the
Earth’s environment due to factors like global warming. There
have been catastrophic environmental changes on earth in
history. Such changes have many times have almost destroyed
the entire ecosystem of the earth. Even then, few sturdy
animals like crocodiles have survived and are still living on the
surface of earth.
26 November 2009
Bleeding Borderlands of Pakistan
Every morning, as I rush through the morning news papers, I
secretly hope in my mind that at least today, there would be no
news item about a bomb attack or a suicide bomber blowing
himself anywhere in South Asia. Unfortunately such days are
very rare and reading about the agony and the misery of the
victims of such bomb attacks has almost become a routine
affair. Most people simply avoid reading such news, perhaps to
isolate themselves from such horrific news coming to them
every day of the week. Almost 80 to 90% of such bombings
are being reported from the western border areas of Pakistan,
adjoining Afghanistan. Just to emphasize, what I am saying,
here is a list of such incidences that happened in these
Pakistani border lands during last week ( 6
to 10
December 2010).
On Monday, two bombers killed more than 40 people as they
attacked anti-Taliban militia talks in Mohmand, in the north-
western tribal belt on the border. On Tuesday, a suicide
attacker failed in an attempt to assassinate the chief minister of
Pakistan’s south-western province of Baluchistan. On
Wednesday, a bomber blew himself up near a minibus in the
town of Kohat, not far from Hangu, killing at least 16 people.
Another 16 people were injured by the blast at the Shia
Muslim-run facility in Hangu district, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
province. The explosion follows the start of the Islamic holy
month of Muharram, which is especially important for Shia
Muslims. Actually, I must admit frankly that the names of
these places do not mean anything to me as I have never heard
about them before. What hurts me is the loss of innocent lives
happening there almost everyday.
This border appears to be the most disturbed international
border today. The real irony here is that there are no invasions
or border incursions by any foreign soldiers here. All the
violence is being generated locally in a civil war like situation.
A search on the internet leads me to even more disturbing
facts. Besides bombings, which I mentioned above, people are
being killed here in cross fires between Pakistan army and
various terrorist groups. People are being killed here by bomb
attacks carried out by small pilot-less planes called “Drones”.
Just yesterday, (10
December 2010) a US drone plane killed
four people in the neighbouring tribal belt in Khyber
Pakhtunkhwa province. The situation is just horrific.
What are these border lands? Why is a civil war going on there,
when there is no foreign invasion? Why there are bombings by
the Drones? Many questions come to my mind. The answer
obviously is not simple. It involves the history and geography
of the region and also the political instability and anarchical
conditions in this region as well as in neighbouring
This international border was demarcated as a result of an
agreement in 1893 between Sir Mortimer Durand , a
representative of the Government of British India and Amir
Abdur Rehman (1880-1901) of Afghanistan and is popularly
known as Durand Line. This line is actually 2540 KM long
border between Afghanistan and Pakistan(then part of British
India). Even though Government of India and Amir of
Afghanistan agreed to demarcation of the border, in the true
sense, it was never an international border except for the south-
west portion, separating Baluchistan region from Afghanistan.
In the north-west part, actual border was never approachable
from the Indian side (Prior to 1947), for the Indians, as it was
completely under control of Pashtun tribes, who administered
the region as per their traditional systems. The New Delhi
administration paid substantial sums to these tribesmen to keep
the trade route such as Khyber pass open for the trade. Only
such routes were guarded by the then Indian Army. Except for
these, British Indian administration, never interfered with the
tribesmen all along the entire north-west part of the border.
Pakistan inherited this border from the British in 1947 without
ever realizing the extremely dangerous and delicate nature of
the power balance in these lands all along the north-west.
Successive military rulers of Pakistan continued the old British
system of Non interference in these Pashtun lands and
managed to maintain peace in the region. In fact, Pakistani
rulers managed to use these tribesmen as a facade against India
on two occasions. In 1947, under the name of these tribesmen,
Pakistani army soldiers were deployed in Kashmir valley
invasion. The trick was repeated in 1999 when Pakistani
Northern Light Infantry soldiers were deployed as tribesmen to
invade Indian territory near Kargil in Kashmir.
This north-west portion of the border is today administered by
the Pakistan government in a very unique fashion. It consists of
two political entities with lower region being called “ Federally
administered Tribal Area or FATA”. It is a collection of seven
semi autonomous agencies and six frontier regions. Central
Pakistan government exercises little control over FATA. This
region is administered through appointed government officials
and with draconian colonial time regulations and laws known
as FCR. The government official is known as agent and has
wide powers. Aptly, he is known as “Malik”. The FATA
inhabitants do not enjoy full citizen rights and the entire area is
underdeveloped and even basic facilities lack. The upper north-
west region is known as Khyber Pakhtun Khwa Region or
KPK ( earlier known as NWFA). This is one of the four
official provinces of Pakistan. This region, even though the
level of development is low, could be considered as an integral
part of Pakistan with elections being held and civil
administration in place. Both these regions have Pashtuns in
Even though, the Durand line has been the de-facto
international border between Pakistan (British India) and
Afghanistan since 1893, the successive Afghanistan rulers
including Taliban rulers even, never accepted or agreed to it as
international boundary. In fact in 1946, when British
announced their decision to quit India, Afghanistan was quick
to claim territory east of Durand line as part of Afghanistan. In
1949 Afghan Parliament canceled all previous treaties made
with the British and made claims for large areas east of Durand
line as part of Afghanistan. However, on the ground, peace was
maintained along the Durand line, except for some minor
Pashtunistan or the land of Pashtuns, has long been a
contentious flash point between the two countries, and brought
them to the brink of war on three occasions. Diplomatic
relations were severed in 1955 and 1962, as Kabul advocated a
Greater Pashtunistan, supported by left wing groups in
Things changed dramatically with Russian invasion of
Afghanistan in 1979. American aid poured in Pakistan.
Mujahidin freedom fighters were created by Pakistan with help
of Islamic fundamentalists and American money. Mujahidin
were successful in driving Russians out of Afghanistan leading
to a condition of total anarchy. A new brand of religious
fundamentalists called Taliban rose in Pakistan North-West
and soon succeeded in establishing their rule in Afghanistan.
The Taliban rulers of Afghanistan were very friendly towards
Pakistan and all claims about Pashtunistan, just vapourized
during Taliban days. With friendly Taliban firmly in power in
Kabul, military rulers of Pakistan started thinking of
Afghanistan as some kind of satellite state of Pakistan and
talked even of Afghanistan providing strategic depth to their
country. Unfortunately, the military rulers of Pakistan never
even seriously realized the dangerous scenario that was
evolving on their border lands in the west, with rise of Al-
Qaida under leadership of Osama -bin Laden, as they
concentrated on their India centric policies and reveries..
On Eleventh of September 1901, Al-Qaida struck. Destruction
of world trade center in New York brought about major change
in the perception and thinking of United states, leading to a war
in Afghanistan. Within next few months Taliban fled Kabul
and eventually all major Afghan towns.
The border lands of Pakistan was a natural heaven for them,
which already was a strong hold of religious fundamentalism.
The uncivilized and primaeval conditions of the region was a
boon for them to hide and renew their clandestine activities.
Since 2002, with the dramatically changed political situation,
the Pashtunistan issues came up again to the forefront with the
celebration of Pashtunistan Day in Afghanistan and wide
circulation of maps showing Pashtunistan boundaries up to the
Indus River and well inside Pakistan. This made the border
lands of Pakistan a cauldron of religious fundamentalism,
Pashtun chauvinism and anti Americanism. As Afghanistan
unifies and becomes stronger, pressure to realign borders with
Pakistan are bound to increase. Pakistan government would
need to deal with the situation firmly.
From 2001 onwards, militant groups started organizing and
expanding in the region leading to their territorial control in the
region. Militants regularly intimated and made government
officials and tribal leaders targets of assassinations. Civilian
property were targeted and open warfare began with the
Pakistan Government. By 2007 militants started controlling
almost all of FATA and some areas of KPK including Swat.
They imposed a harsh version of Islamic law on the region.
The Pakistan Army eventually launched major counter
offensives to regain control first on Bajaur Agency and then
Swat. For last three years, militants have fought back with
increased acts of terrorism across entire Pakistan, bringing
unimaginable misery to thousands of ordinary and innocent
people. Meanwhile, Pakistan Government signed a peace
agreement with a militant group Tehrik-e-Nafaj-e-Shariya-e-
Mohammed effectively ceding control over large area, which
actually was outside the tribal border regions. This agreement
broke down in 2009 with militants advancing within 100 KM
of Pakistani capital of Islamabad. Large scale military
operations saved the situation. However 3 million civilians
were displaced. Military operation continue in many other
regions of FATA bringing about displacement and misery to
the tribals.
As Pakistani border lands were increasingly being used by
Taliban and Al-Qaida, American and Nato forces in
Afghanistan started using Drones to bomb the militant hideouts
in the region. This has further increased the misery of the
people. As per published Pakistan Government figures,10000
civilians have lost their life in 2009 alone as a result of military
or terrorist attacks. Pakistani media claim that American Drone
bombings have killed more that 900 civilians in 2009 alone.
Besides this, scores of people have lost their limbs or have
been injured. From Pakistani estimates more than 25000
thousand persons have lost their life in the period 2003-2009
due to terrorist activities. In last three years, 2600 persons have
died due to just suicide attacks. Taliban have started improving
their influence in Baluchistan region with Pakistani
government slowly loosing control over FATA and KPK.
The Indus river flows parallel to these borderlands on the east.
Last year entire Indus river basin was devastated with
unprecedented floods. Militant groups appear to have taken
tremendous advantage of the situation by giving timely help to
the needy, whereas Pakistan government failed to provide help
in time. This has created sympathy for the terrorist
organizations in the minds of flood victims.
The situation appears to be extremely grave and dangerous. It
is obvious that Pakistani Government needs to launch a major
drive to safeguard its western border.
What are the implications for India? Stability of democratic
Pakistan is extremely crucial for India. If Taliban achieves any
major successes in Pakistan, Indian states on the border with
Pakistan could increasingly come under refugee pressures from
across the border. Strife and instability in the neighbouring
country would be a matter of greatest concern for the people
and the Government of India. Unfortunately options for India
are very limited. No direct or indirect involvement is possible
given the psyche of the people. Even today, you can read
Pakistani blogs and news reports putting the blame on India for
the troubles on Durand line.
A very depressing scenario is slowly emerging. Americans and
NATO forces would probably succeed in preventing Taliban
takeover of Afghanistan at least in near future. However, about
Pakistan one can not be sure at all unless Pakistan Government
launches a major offensive in the west.
12 December 2010
Looking east, further and deeper
During October 2010, Vietnamese city of Hanoi, hosted an
unusual meeting of the defense chiefs of ASEAN and eight
other countries. During such international gatherings,
discussions generally take a course, where representatives of
governments make some kind of policy statements and care is
taken not to offend any of the participant countries or raise any
bilateral issues. This Hanoi gathering was no different. In this
conference, even though no one spoke about it openly, the
undercurrent was about relations between China on one hand
and all other Pacific rim nations in south east Asia, who are
feeling threatened by the aggressiveness of China in South
China Sea. International news media concentrated mainly on
this aspect of the discussions at this gathering and a meeting
that took place on the side lines, was mostly neglected by most
news channels. This meeting was held between India’s defense
minister and defense secretary and their counterparts from
Vietnam. From the scanty details or reports that are available
on the media about this meeting, the meeting might turn out to
be of great significance for future.
Before we go into the media reports, it might be a good idea to
look at some historical facts and comparisons. This might lead
us to fully appreciate the significance of this meeting. After re-
unification of Vietnam in 1975, the civil war within its borders
was finally over. However the situation across its western
border with Combodia, was far from being stable. Vietnam
was getting pulled into the civil war there by continuous border
incursions. After murderous Pot Pol regime took control of
Combodia in 1977, he unleashed a rein of terror on the
country. There ware many attacks by Pol Pot soldiers inside
Vietnam. Faced with growing Khmer Rouge belligerence, the
Vietnamese leadership decided in early 1978 to support
internal resistance to the Pol Pot regime. On December 3,
1978, Radio Hanoi announced the formation of the
Kampuchean National United Front for National Salvation
(KNUFNS). This was a heterogeneous group of communist
and noncommunist exiles who shared an antipathy to the Pol
Pot regime and virtually total dependence on Vietnamese
backing and protection. With things going out of hand, the
Vietnamese assembled 10 infantry divisions along the border,
and with strong armour and air support, they entered
Cambodian territory on December 25, 1978. By end of March
1979the Vietnamese had control of all significant cities and
towns in Cambodia.
China was very much angered by this rapid takeover of
Combodia by Vietnamese forces and defeat of the Pol Pot
regime supported by it. China responded with large troop
deployments along the China-Vietnamese border. Eventually,
on February 17, 1979, the People’s Liberation Army moved
into Vietnamese territory, by which time the Cambodian
capital had already been captured by the Vietnamese and the
Pol Pot regime toppled. Chinese advanced towards Hanoi at a
high speed, although straining their supply lines and loosing
tens of thousands of troops in the process. The Chinese army
captured Cao Bang on March 2 and Lang Son on March 4. The
following day, however, the Chinese leadership suddenly
announced that it would cease offensive action, apparently
after meeting fierce and unexpectedly harsh resistance by the
well-trained and experienced Vietnamese forces.By 1982 the
war in Combodia was fully over and Vietnamese forces
returned back to their country with a peaceful western border.
I found that there was great amount of synergy and similarity
between what happened in India between 1959 to 1971 with
this Vietnamese history, though not in strict chronological
order. Remember 1961 invasion by Chinese troops in Ladakh
and Arunachal Pradesh or 1971 war with Pakistan and help to
Mukti Bahini of East Pakistan for liberation of Bangladesh.
This legacy of conflicts with China has resulted into a common
concern for both India and Vietnam. Both India and Vietnam
have large troop concetrations on their borders with China and
are always on guard to lookout for any mischief. India has a
unsettled border dispute with China whereas Vietnam has an
unsettled dispute about ownership of Spartley Islands in the
South China Sea.
Obviously this common concern of both India and Vietnam is
bringing them together. There are also other synergies. Both
these countries import majority of arms from Russia. Besides
there is the common ancient bond of Hinduism. Indian
strategists perhaps failed to realize this earlier, when east Asia
was not on India’s priority list. Only in 1991, when Late P.V.
Narsimha Rao was the prime minister of India, the government
officially adopted “Look East’ policy giving due importance to
East Asia. This policy was vigorously pursued during tenure of
Bajpai government and later also. Major improvements have
come about in India’s relations with East Asian countries as a
result of this policy such as FTA with Thailand, Singapore and
now with ASEAN. Newly developing relationship with
Vietnam must be seen in this context.
Coming back to to the Hanoi meeting, I found somewhat
detailed news about this meeting on China daily website by
Global Network reporter Li Zongze. I think,this was perhaps
expected. The highlights of this meeting are as follows, as per
this report. This report says that
Indian defense minister, defense secretary and India’s
ambassador to Vietnam talked with Vietnam defense minister .
Both sides expressed satisfaction with results obtained from
Memorandum of Understanding on defense cooperation signed
in 2009. India and Vietnam have decided to expand bilateral
military cooperation. India will expand its military assistance
to Vietnam and help Vietnam to achieve military
modernization. India has agreed to share with Vietnam its
defense related knowledge of information technology for
military purposes and cooperate with Vietnam in military
training. India and Vietnam armies would hold joint mountain
warfare training programme in India next year. India will
provide support for Vietnam to improve and upgrade its
military capabilities in Vietnam, especially Vietnam Navy. New
Delhi will also help build, rehabilitate and do maintenance
forVietnam Naval ships. Vietnam on its part has invited Indian
Navy to visit Vietnam Ports and would provide repair,
maintenance and fuel facilities for its ships.
Reporters asked the two defense ministers, whether India
would apply the same model of cooperation with Vietnam that
it has with Indonesia in the defense-related IT sector or
whether Vietnam would seek India’s expertise in pilots’
training of for Russian-made combat aircraft as recently
agreed with its southeast Asian neighbor Malaysia. No definite
reply was given to this question.
This report in China daily, tells us about the depth of
relationship India and Vietnam are trying to develop. The
agreement regarding providing service and maintenance
facilities to Indian Naval ships appears to be a major indicator
of the things to come as Vietnam ports are right there in the
middle of South China Sea.
If we see this agreement in light of the statement made by
India’s defense minister during the ASEAN + 8 meeting,
things would be clear ever further. He said “ Indian Navy was
actively engaged in anti-piracy patrolling in the Gulf of Aden
for over two years now and the security of sea lanes is
important for the Asia-Pacific region, that is now one of the
most important drivers of global economic growth. The
growing role of non-state actors and cyber threats in growing
terrorism threats are markers in the evolution of the global
security construct during the last decade or so. Given the
transnational nature of the challenges, it is important to
develop synergy and build institutionalized cooperative
arrangements. Through the Regional Cooperation Agreement
on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in
Asia (ReCAAP) and the Malacca Straits mechanisms, we are
partnering with other countries in the region to improve the
safety of navigation in the region.”
No one should be surprised to see in future, presence of Indian
Naval ships in the South China Sea. However, a defense deal
could be just a starting point in relationship between two
nations. What is more important is the trade and tourism
industry. Vietnam is a great tourist destination and I hope that
in coming years, many Indian tourists would visit that beautiful
Recently a remarkable change appears to be taking place in
Chinese media attitude towards India. I came across two
articles in Chinese media, which were difficult to even imagine
few months back. Mr. Du Youkang is the chief of ‘The center
for South Asian studies’ at Fudan University. In an article
written in China daily, he says that the rise of India and China
was the 21st century’s biggest development, and both countries
must work to deepen ties. He urges both to be vigilant against
elements inside their countries and outside trying to stir
trouble and derail a growing relationship. There is much that
was common between the two countries, not least their desire
to meet the challenges of globalization in a Western-dominated
international economic system. Surprisingly he also says
further something that is just unbelievable. China and India
share a lot of common views on many major international
issues such as a multi-polar world, reform of the international
economic and financial system, South-North relations,
democratization of international relations, climate change and
World Trade Organization talks. In recent years, the two sides
have enhanced coordination and cooperation over these issues
to protect their as well as the entire developing world’s
Mr. Qui Hao of the National Defense University, advices India
in his article in the Global Times that India, would do well not
to blindly follow America’s policies in the region, especially if
it really wanted to be a global player. India, China and the
United States were bound up in a triangular relationship, and
as the two weaker parts of that relationship, it was important
that they maintained stable ties so that Washington didn’t
exploit their differences.
I found these articles really amazing, since after decades of
consigning India to being a back water regional power,
bickering and fighting with its neighbours, Chinese suddenly
have started bracketing India with themselves and US.
This change in Chinese attitude, perhaps is a result of
realization that it has taken up too many hot potatoes in its
pockets and is crossing the paths with too many neighbouring
countries around. The importance of US$ 60 Billion trade
between India and China could also be a significant factor . If
there is indeed such a change in Chinese attitude, India must no
doubt welcome it. It is difficult to imagine how this could have
happened? I am not even trying to suggest that the Looking
East policy adopted by India could be one of the reasons. But
one thing appears certain. China is realizing that it is getting
isolated with only N. Korea and Pakistan remaining with it as
neighbours and loyal buddies.
India’s ‘Looking East’ policy seems to have started paying real
dividends, as relations and trade, not only with easterly
neighbours ,but also with ASEAN, improve. Its time now to
look east, even further and deeper.
26 October 2010
The Apsaras of Angkor
When I visited the world famous temples of Angkor near Siem
reap in Cambodia, one thing that struck me most was the
importance given to the concept of Apsaras in the ancient
culture of this country. Now, anyone may wonder, what or who
is an Apsara? The idea originally comes from the ancient
Hindu scriptures from India or The Puranas. An Apsara is a
female celestial nymph normally resident of heaven. Her job is
to entertain and please the Gods, who also naturally reside
there. The Apsaras are supposed to be extremely beautiful with
curvaceous and sexy figures with lots of oomph. They have
expertise in dancing and singing and in general improve the
ambiance and desirability of the heavens.
Surprisingly, this concept is not limited to Hindu scriptures
only. Even Islamic scriptures describe a paradise or a ‘Jannat’
full of gardens and pure perpetual virgins, who are divinely
beautiful. Any righteous person would have an access to these
most beautiful women or ‘Houris’ after his death as per these
Islamic scriptures.
Khmer kings in medieval Cambodia, picked up this concept
from Hindu Puranas and have given the Apsaras immortality
by picturing the heavenly beauties in almost all temple bass
reliefs in Angkor.
Another concept that was picked up by Khmer kings from
Hindu Puranas was that of the God-King or of the king
automatically becoming reincarnation of God once he takes
over the throne. The concept of Apsaras well suited the God-
King theory. Since the King was in any way, human Avatar of
the God, he was surely entitled to have these celestial nymphs
around him in the form of stone figures as well as real human
females. Thus the King could maintain a large troupe of
concubines in his harem.
Angkor temples have been built over a long period three or
four hundred years (from 900 to 1300 A.D.) While visiting the
Angkor temples, I realized that the Apsara figures are not at all
repetitive. There is a wide variation in their physical features,
faces, hair arrangement, crowns, earrings, necklaces,
waistbands and the style of dressing. Some observers have
noted that the reason for this variation is because the Apsara
bass reliefs have been modeled from real life female
concubines of the king from that period. If this idea is true then
I thought that it might be interesting to compare the Apsara
figures carved as bass reliefs all over this period. This might
give an idea about the way the concubines looked and dressed.
Preh Rup Apsara
The oldest Apsara carving is from Preh Rup temple.
This temple was built around 950 A.D. The Apsara
figure in this bass relief is tall, slim and without any
headgear or crown. She is not wearing much of
jewelry either. The face is distinctly different from
carvings in other temples. Next Apsara carvings in
the time line are from Banteay Strei temple. This
temple was built around end of tenth century.
Banteay Strei Apsaras
The Apsara figures here do not wear any head gear again. but
appear to have done a hair-do or hair style The figures are
shown wearing ornaments. The designs of earrings, necklaces
and the waistbands is rather intricate. The dress worn on lower
part of the body is also different.
Angkor Wat Apsaras
Perhaps the most detailed and extensive apparel and jewelry is
seen on Apsara carvings from Angkor wat temple, which was
built in the 12
century. Here they wear very tall crowns. In
their hands intricately designed bracelets appear instead of
bangles. The necklace design also has changed from usual
choker type to a long necklace with a locket. The dress is worn
in different style again. Earring and necklace designs here are
rather exquisite.
Ta Prohm Apsaras
The Apsaras from the Ta Prohm temple again are quite
different. They have shorter and more plump physique. They
have a hair style similar to Buddhist carvings. The designs of
earrings and necklaces appears to be much simpler. This
temple is from end of 12
Bayon Apsaras
The Bayon temple Apsaras wear a headgear which is very
similar to Indian designs. They are shown to have long hair.
The faces are again very distinctively different.
After having visited most of the Angkor temples, my initial
reaction was that the bass reliefs could not have been modeled
on real life human figures of that period. This was because the
headgear and costume shown in the bass reliefs did not appear
to be very practical. I could not imagine a real life person
wearing such weird head gear and moving about. However,
watching a performance of the famous Apsara dance from
Cambodia, my doubts were soon dispelled. During Khmer
days, this dance was performed only for the king and high
officials of the court. However daughter of Prince Sihanouk
(Born1922), Norodom Bolha devi was instrumental in
popularizing the dance. In Pnom Penh, a dance academy today
imparts training for the budding ballerinas in this classical
dance. The ballerinas in this dance, wear similar headgear and
costume to what is seen in the bass reliefs and are able to carry
the attire effortlessly through dance movements. This more or
less proves that the attire of Apsaras shown in Angkor temples
is practical to wear.
Apsara Ballet or Dance
Modern Cambodia continues with this fascination with the
Apsaras. In one of the major street intersections in Siem reap, a
huge Apsara statue has been recently installed. The semi
official body, which looks after Angkor temples is named as
Apsara Authority. On every street in Siem Reap, one can find
at least one shop with a name which incorporates the word
Apsara. As long as Cambodia exists, it seems that Apsaras
would also stay in the imagination of the Cambodians.
4 February 2011
And quiet flows the Irrawaddy!
In the year 1934, Mikhail Sholokhov, a Noble prize winning
Russian author, published a world famous novel, entitled as “
And Quiet flows the Don”. This novel deals with the life of the
Cossacks, living in the Don River valley during the early 20th
century. The plot revolves around the Malenkov family of
Tatarsk and describes vividly the struggles, sufferings, turmoil
and tribulations in the life of this Cossack family over a period
of number of years.

I cannot avoid the temptation of comparing the life of the
people of Myanmar, living in the valleys of great Irrawaddy
river with this novel. They have gone through similar turmoil,
sufferings and struggles as they saw their ancestral land being
snatched away from them. But the ending is good for the
Irrawaddy people as Myanmar Government has finally bowed
to the wishes of these people.
The military Government of Myanmar was planning to build a
giant dam on the river Irrawaddy since 2003. An official
opening ceremony for a giant dam on river Irrawaddy at
Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state in northern Myanmar
was held on 21 December 2009 and the project was finally
launched. This dam was to be built at the head of Irrawaddy
river at a distance of 3.2 KM from the confluence of Mali and
N’Mai rivers and about 43 KM from Myitkyina. This area is of
rich bio diversity and also in an earthquake prone area. Many
historical sites closely related to history of Myanmar are
located in this area and many academics consider this area as
cultural birthplace of Myanmar. Scheduled for completion in
2019 at a cost of US$ 3.6 Billion, the dam would have created
a reservoir some 766 sq km (296 square miles) – an area
slightly bigger than Singapore. Around 90% of the power
generated by the 6,000 megawatt plant at the dam is earmarked
to go to China, with state-run China Power Investment Corp.
earning about 70% of its profits.
However, opposition to the construction of this dam was
particularly strong in Kachin state. The residents felt that the
dam construction was a way of resettling and containing ethnic
Kachin residents while upsetting the area’s fragile ecological
balance. Kachin Independence organization, which has its own
army, has been battling the Myanmar armed forces for number
of years. It saw this dam as a direct threat to its people and
their livelihoods. Thousands of local villagers have already
been resettled to make way for the dam; thousands more would
have been forced to move as the project developed.
The Government never did carry out any public consultation
on the project. As a result, there is a deep opposition across
Myanmar to this project. Kachin guerrilla groups have clashed
repeatedly with Myanmar armed forces since last year and
have forced thousands of refugees toward the border with
China. Recently the fighting has intensified.
This dam was to be built jointly by the state Myanmar Ministry
of Electric Power, the privately-owned Asia World Company
of Myanmar Burma and the China Power Investment
Corporation. During last few years, thousands of Chinese have
moved into Kachin state as traders and workers. This fact is
highly resented by the Kachin people. When it became known
that bulk of the electricity generated in this project, would be
exported to China, the resentment against the project just
multiplied. The campaign against construction of the dam has
gained much support as Myanmar people consider the
Irrawaddy as people’s heritage, lifeline and civilisation. From
outside Myanmar, many activists from both environmental and
human rights groups, threw their weight behind the campaign.
Ms. Suu Kyi also joined the calls in August and asked the
Government to scrap such dam projects designed to provide
power to China’s energy-hungry economy. Her opposition to
the dam project, simple means that the Government’s decision
to build this dam, would never hope to get popular support in
big cities like Yangon and Mandalay, where resentment is
rapidly increasing amongst ordinary citizens over Chinese
investments in the country.
This has turned out to be the first litmus test for popularity of
the Government headed by Mr. Thein Sein, which claims to be
a truly elected democratic Government of Myanmar. Finally,
two days back, a spokesman for Myanmar’s government said
that Mr. Thein Sein has called for the suspension of the dam
project for next 5 years. He has taken this step because he feels
that he is elected by the people and therefore has to act
according to the desire of the people.
The spokesman, Mr.Ye Htut, director general of the
Information and Public Relations Department of the Ministry
of Information in Myanmar, says that “ This is yet again
another proof that Myanmar is changing,”
The author of a new book ; Where China Meets India: Burma
and the New Crossroads of Asia; Mr. Thant Myint-U, says that
“There’s a widespread perception that China has taken
advantage of Burma’s situation over these past decades, Burma
can benefit enormously from Chinese trade and investment, but
there is almost bound to be a backlash if Chinese projects are
undertaken with zero transparency and little concern for their
impact on local communities.” Other environmental activists
say that Myanmar must go even further to safeguard against
the potential ecological damage of hydropower projects by
suspending other projects on the Irrawaddy and elsewhere in
This sudden suspension off the project has taken China by
surprise as such democratic pressures are rather unknown to it.
It has requested the Government of Myanmar to hold
consultations with Chinese companies, which were expected to
build the dam. It has asked the Myanmar Government to
protect legal and legitimate rights of Chinese companies.
Meanwhile the new Myanmar Government considers it’s
decision as concrete evidence of its willingness to listen and to
work in the interests of the people and its democratic
anchorages. Only Time would test the truth behind these
The Irrawaddy would flow now, once again quietly. At least
for the time being.
4 October 2011
1143 year old printed book-
Diamond Sutra
From the ancient to medieval times, the cultural and
commercial interaction between countries like China, Persia
and India from Asia and European nations on the
Mediterranean sea coast, mainly took place through a 7000
mile long caravan route. Traders, monks and preachers,
nomadic tribes and soldiers on campaigns, travelled on this
very same caravan route.
Even though the caravans carried all sorts of goods, bulk of the
trade was in the items like silks, musk, perfumes, jewels and
decorative glass. Because of this, the caravan route became
known as the 'Silk Route'. This route was in use for at least
three millennia. The main silk route started from Xian in China
and reached the borders of the Roman empire through
Kazakhstan, Iran and Iraq. Another subsidiary or feeder road
came to India via Iran and Afghanistan. Number of taverns and
water points were built on this route for the convenience of the
A famous Archaeological explorer of twentieth century, Sir
Aurel Stein, led three expeditions on the silk route, between
1900-1901, 1906-1908, 1913-1916. Combining the three
expeditions, Stein and his team walked about 25000 miles on
foot. They crossed places like mountain ranges of Kashmir and
Afghanistan as well as deadly deserts of 'Taklimakan’, ‘Lop-
Nor’ and ‘Gobi’ number of times. He faced number of life
threatening situations in his travels. Nevertheless, he managed
to discover many ancient frescoes, banners, books and other
items of significance. Perhaps his most important discovery
was 'Mogao' or '1000 Buddha' caves near the town of Dun
Huang in Gansu district of China. This town was on the old
silk route. Stein came to know about the ancient caves hare and
befriended the self appointed monk 'Wang Uanlu' in charge.
Stein negotiated with this monk and managed to collect a huge
cache of banners and documents from a sealed room in these
In these artefacts obtained from Mogao caves, Stein found an
old book, which could be considered as the most important or a
masterpiece. This book has been printed and published on 11
May 868 (1143 years ago) on a thick and continuous roll of
paper. The printing was done by preparing wooden blocks and
then pressing these blocks on the paper. The book is a form of
a continuous roll of paper about 16 feet long and contains full
version of Diamond Sutra. This Sutra is considered by
Mahayana Buddhists as perhaps the holiest Sutra that was
preached by Buddha himself. In fact the famous Chinese
monk, Xuen Zang had travelled to India in AD 520 by a land
route to translate and take away with him, Diamond Sutra and
other Sutra's in their original form. However we can not really
say whether the Diamond Sutra found in Mogao caves is a true
version of the book or some corruptions have sneaked in again.
At the beginning of this book, there is a hand drawn sketch of
Buddha guiding one of his disciples, Subhuti in presence of
many other monks.
The book,in its original form in Sanskrit, is called
'Vajrachedikapragnyaparmita Sutra'
त ' ).
However in short it is known as 'Vajra' or Diamond Sutra. The
Buddhists Sutras or hymns were supposed to be rote learned
and then chanted. Since these were to be chanted, in the
beginning few lines of the text, express instructions were
given about purifying the mouth and the body of the monk
before Sutra can be chanted by him.
A sutra is a sermon spoken by the Buddha. All sutras begin
with the phrase, 'Thus I have heard', and then describe the
place where the sermon was first given. The Diamond Sutra
was originally preached in a park in northern India. The first
few lines of text here also report that there was a large crowd
present, including over a thousand monks. Among them is
Subhuti who asks Buddha to explain to the crowd how to
achieve enlightenment. In the first section Buddha explains
that learning four lines of this text and teaching them to others
would bring Subhuti more merit than if he filled three thousand
galaxies with treasure and then gave it all away to the poor.
This shows the importance of copying Buddhas teachings in
the Buddhist tradition.
A central doctrine of Buddhism is that the material world is an
illusion, and therefore there are no individuals or objects. This
is called the principle of non-duality. And since there are no
people or other living beings, there is really no suffering. In
this text Buddha elucidates this doctrine by asking Subhuti
questions about the 'world'. One of the questions concerns the
number of grains of sand in the River Ganges. 'Suppose', says
Buddha 'there were as many River Ganges as there are sand
grains. Surely, the total number of sand grains in all these
rivers would be immense?' But this is a trick question. Sand
grains are part of the material world and, as Buddha explains,
the material world is an illusion. Really, there are no sand
grains at all, just as there is no River Ganges and no Subhuti.
In the next section, Buddha names his sermon. He tells Subhuti
that their dialogue should thereafter be known as 'The
Diamond Sutra of the Perfection of Wisdom'. The diamond -
'vajra' - is a symbol of indestructibility and power over illusion.
'The Perfection of Wisdom' refers to a larger group of sutras,
all preaching the doctrine that the world is illusory. Of course,
naming the sutra is also part of the illusion, as Buddha points
out. Subhuti is moved to tears on hearing this and
understanding the Buddha’s teaching.
After his return from central Asia, this book was handed over
by Stein to British Museum as per previous agreement between
Stein, Government of India and British Government and has
been lying in their collections for last 100 years. Few days
back, British library has made few of such invaluable books
available in digital form on the internet. Diamond Sutra is one
book from this collection. The original book has been printed
on a paper roll and is to be read by unrolling from left to right.
On the internet this book is available in form of 5 slides. At the
end of the book the publisher of the book 'Vang Jie' has
mentioned that he has published this book " Reverently made
for universal free distribution by Wang Jie on behalf of his two
parents on the 15th of the 4th moon of the 9th year of Xiantong
[11 May 868]".
7 January 2012
Kabul Museum recovers one of the
priceless artifacts from Germany
A sculpture, carved in white limestone and measuring about 12
inches high and 10 inches wide, has been returned to Kabul
Museum in Afghanistan by German Ambassador. It is believed
to have been stolen from the museum during Afghan civil war.
The sculpture is made up of eight figures with two rows of four
figures standing abreast, one missing torso and others without
noses. All the faces are shown turned to left possibly an
audience for Buddha sitting on a throne. The sculpture is
believed to be from 2nd century AD and from the Land of
Gandhara is a mountainous region located below the meeting
point of the Hindu Kush and Himalayan mountain ranges
situated between India, Central and Western Asia, the
geographical location of Gandhara was very favourable for the
development and promotion of cultural interactions across
these regions of the Old World. Gandharan country was rich in
water resources and had dense forests in its various valleys.
The celebrated Chinese pilgrim Xuen Zang, who traveled in
India in 629-647 A.D., mentioned that Gandhara encompassed
the area located on the west bank of the Indus River and
included the Peshawar Valley as well as present day Swat,
Buner and Bajaur. According to Beal’s translation of Xuen
“the kingdom of Gandhara was about 1000 li from east to west
and 800 li from north to south. On the east, it bordered on the
River Sin (Sindhu or Indus). The country was rich in cereals
and produced a variety of flowers and fruits; it also abounded
in sugarcane, from the juice of which they prepared ‘the solid
sugar.’ The capital of Gandhara was Purushapura, now
Peshawar, which was 40 li in circuit in those”
Gandhara was ruled by Chandragupta Maurya, (305 BC), King
Ashoka (272 BC) and later by Kushan kings like Kanishka I
and II.
The Gandharn art is almost exclusively religious art devoted to
Buddhism. In Gandhara the great stupas were erected as
shrines for Buddha’s relics and these stupas were profusely
ornamented with Relief panels of Buddhist images, scenes in
the life of the Buddha, stories of the Buddha’s previous lives
(Jataka stories), and ornamental work were attached to the
Gandhara art was very cosmopolitan and a likely product of
cultural interactions because of invasions, immigration,
emigration, diplomatic links, and trade communications
between Greek, Roman, Byzantine,Persian, Central Asian,
Chinese and Indian traditions and styles.

The sculpture recovered by the Kabul museum is a fine
example of Gndhara art showing in minute details the facial
expressions, attire and personal effects of the figures.
Kabul museum is believed to have lost 70% of its original
collection or about 70000 pieces. Afghanistan Government is
making an effort to retrieve as many artifacts as possible.

February 2012
Too little; Too late!
Anyone, who knows something about Cambodian history,
would heave a sigh of relief, as United Nations backed trial of
Khmer Rouge leaders finally began in Cambodia on 21

November 2011 after a long delay of 13 years since the death
of the Khmer Rouge supreme leader, Pol Pot, who died in
Mock up of a Khmer Rouge outpost; Mines museum near
Siem Reap
The heinous and horrifying war crimes and atrocities of this
regime on the innocent people of Cambodia are unparalleled in
history and would put even world war 2 war crimes committed
by Nazis on innocent Jews, to a lighter shade. Approximately
1.7 million people or 25 % population of Cambodia was
murdered or died of starvation, exhaustion or lack of medical
care as a result of the Khmer Rouge’s brutal regime in one of
the worst genocides of the twentieth century.
It all began in 1975 when Chinese backed Khmer Rouge or the
Communist party of Cambodia captured power in PHNOM
PENH under leadership of Pol Pot. During next four years the
poor people of Combodia were subjected to leave their homes,
work in fields and were tortured at the slightest suspicion of
being anti communist.
If we have a brief look at the Cambodian history of last sixty or
seventy years, we can not record anything else but civil war. In
second world war, Japan captured this country from France.
After the war French returned and were defeated by the
Vietnamese army in Vietnam. Cambodia declared
independence around this time. In 1965 Cambodia broke all
diplomatic relations with USA and allowed Vietnam to open
secret bases to supply ordinance to Vietnamese soldiers
fighting US. This aggravated US and American air force
started bombing targets in Cambodia after 1969.
In 1970 Pro Chinese Government of Prince Sihanouk was
defeated by the forces under control of general Lon Nol and he
captured power. Prince Sihanouk took refuge in China and
formed Khmer Rouge or Communist party to fight the forces
of general Lon Nol, who continued their fight with Vietnamese
forces in Cambodia as well as Khmer Rouge. American war
planes continued to bomb Cambodia. In 1975, Khmer Rouge
defeated Lon Nol forces and assumed power in Phnom Penh.
In 1978 Vietnamese forces again entered Cambodia and
defeated Khmer Rouge. The Vietnamese continued their
occupation for next 10 years and left only in 1989, under
international pressure. In 1991 elections were held and first
civilian Government came to power. During all these civil war
years (1945-1979) Cambodian people continued to suffer
because of battles between various forces, bombings and
landmines. Out of this period, Pol Pot years could be
considered as the worst.

‘Aki Ra’ is an ordinary Cambodian citizen. He was conscripted
by Khmer Rouge at the tender age of 10 as a child soldier. He
says that his parents were killed by Khmer Rouge soldiers in
front of him and he grew up in the Khmer Rouge army camps.
He says further that “ As soon as we were conscripted, we were
given AK-47 rifles with live cartridges. We considered these
rifles as some kind of play things and we had to handle this
dangerous weapon continuously all along our training. These
rifles were of about same height as me at that age and I found it
very difficult to handle these. I learned using these rifles by
targeting fruits on trees and fish in the rivers. Many of my
friend got killed by their own bullets or bullets from the rifles
of their friends because we were not properly able to handle the
rifles. Later I learned to use weapons like Rocket launchers and
mortars in the same fashion. “
‘Aki Ra’ fought along with Khmer Rouge soldiers first and
then against them with Vietnamese soldiers.

Child soldiers of Khmer Rouge with their AK 47 rifles
Having seen with his own eyes the horrors and the anguish of
ordinary innocent Cambodians, he set up an organization for
de-activation of land mines. Along with this his organization
also helps in rehabilitation of children disabled because of land
Mines exhibited at the Mines museum Siem Reap
He has set up a museum of land mines near Siem Reap in
Cambodia and is well worth a visit.
Having suffered so much at the hands of the communists,
Cambodians today show remarkable patience when talking
about this horrific regime. Yet, while talking to them, an
occasional remark of frustration and anger is always heard in
any conversation. At least this was my experience during my
visit to Cambodia last year. Returning again to the trial of the
close confederates of Pol Pot, which began this week, all those
Cambodians who lost their near and dear once, must have
heaved a sigh of relief no doubt. The trial began this week of
85-year-old Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge’s chief ideologist
and No. 2 leader; 80-year-old Khieu Samphan, an ex-head of
state; and 86-year-old Ieng Sary, the former foreign minister. A
fourth defendant, 79-year-old Ieng Thirith, was ruled unfit to
stand trial last week because she has Alzheimer’s disease.
When the Khmer Rouge took power in 1975, they sealed off
the country to the outside world. Intellectuals, entrepreneurs
and anyone considered a threat were imprisoned, tortured and
often executed. The charges against the surviving inner circle
of the communist movement include crimes against humanity,
genocide, religious persecution, homicide and torture.
Even though a ordinary Cambodian would be happy at the
commencement of the trial, his true feelings are bound to be “
Too little and Too late” without any doubt.
24 November 2011
A museum of the heartbroken
Just across the city hall of Zagreb, capital of Croatia, where
many young couples get married, a very novel museum has
been set up by one Drazen Grubisic and his co-founder Olinka
Vistica, who is a film producer. They call it The museum of
Broken Hearts. Drazen Grubisic says that “The objects that are
here represent all the stages of a breakup ... and how people go
through love,” The museum is an aftereffect of a broken
marriage between two founders of the museum, Drazen and
Olinka themselves.
When they split up, they did not know, how to divide their
sentimental memorabilia. So they thought of creating this
museum of love but in an inverted sort of way. They went on
to collect about 1000 relics of broken love and the museum
displays about 100 of these. Some of the relics of love have
come from Manila, London and Singapore.
Each and every item on display, which by itself, is a complete
story of romance, passion and heartbreak, is arranged in the
museum with dates and locations of the relationships. There
are also notes by their donors, who for obvious reasons are
anonymous. Here are some of the items displayed at the
A war veteran from England with a
prosthetic leg, fell in love with his
physiotherapist, which did not last.
His prosthetic leg is displayed with
a note that it lasted longer as it was
made of sturdier material.
A lady has contributed an axe which
was used to smash every piece of
furniture in the house after the heart
When the romance between a
Malay lady and a Chinese man,
who met is Singapore, broke up, a
stuffed bear soft toy was all that
remained of the relationship. The
man called this toy as my Malay
A small figurine of a small
humanoid creature, known as
Gnome and with smashed up
face, is a witness to a stormy
break up, as it was thrown at
the husband trying to speed
A pair of soft fluffy handcuffs
(Only God knows for what
Mr Grubisic, sums up saying that “Maybe sometime in your
life you will want to remember some of the good parts of the
relationship,” and says further that “They can move on,” but.
“They also show there's something universal — We all have
been brokenhearted at least once.”
How true!
14 February 2012
Flowers bloom from a 32000 year
old Fruit
Many of us would remember the 1993 famous film by Steven
Spielberg; Jurassic Park. In this film, dinosaurs were shown to
be cloned from the DNA extracted from insects preserved in
prehistoric amber. That might never happen in reality for the
animal kingdom. Yet, Russian scientists have now revived a
plant 32K years old, if not from Jurassic age, and shown that
the idea is feasible at least for the plant kingdom.
A team of researchers from the Institute of Cell Biophysics,
Russian Academy of Sciences research centre at Pushchino
near Moscow, was carrying out research on ancient squirrel
burrows, long hidden by layers of loose soil and snow but now
standing exposed, because of their location on the banks of the
lower Kolyma river on the tundra of northeastern Siberia. One
of the member of this team, Stanislav Gubin,, who has spent
years rummaging through this area for squirrel burrows,
describes the discovery of 70 squirrel hibernation burrows that
they found,
“The squirrels dug the frozen ground to build their burrows,
which are about the size of a soccer ball, putting in hay first
and then animal fur for a perfect storage chamber,” “It’s a
natural cryobank.”
The burrows found by this team were sealed by windblown
earth, soon after being dug by squirrels and were in the range
of 20-40 meters (60-130 feet) below the present surface of
earth in permanently frozen or permafrost conditions. The
permafrost essentially acted as a giant deep freezer, and the
burrows and their contents resided in this closed world --
undisturbed and unthawed, at an average of -7 degrees Celsius
(19 Fahrenheit) -- for tens of thousands of years. The burrows
were located in layers containing bones of large mammals such
as mammoth, wooly rhinoceros, bison, horse, deer, and other
representatives of fauna" from the Late Pleistocene Age.
Researchers found in these burrows, hundreds of thousands of
seed samples from various plants. In this lot they also found
fruits stored by ancient squirrel's and these were identified as
those belonging to a flowering plant known as ' Narrow-leafed
Campion' or in botanical terms known as ' Silene stenophylla '
plant. The fruits survived because the burrows were quickly
covered with ice, and then remained "continuously frozen and
never thawed," in effect, preventing any permafrost
A report now published by Svetlana Yashina and David
Gilichinsky, who were leaders of this team , says that the
researchers first tried to grow the plants in a pot in their lab
near Moscow by using mature Silene Stenophylla seeds, but
when that failed, they turned to the plant's placental tissue, the
fruit structure to which seeds attach. The scientists extracted
the so-called "placental tissue" from immature seeds and put it
in a special nutrient solution, which imitated a growing plant,
to successfully grow regenerated whole plants in pots under
controlled light and temperature.
After a while, the tissue in petri dishes germinated into mature
seeds, which were planted in soil and have grown into fully-
blossoming plants. The scientists say that they found only
subtle differences in the shape of petals and the sex of flowers,
between the resurrected old plants and the present day Silene
stenophylla plant, which still grows in the Siberian tundra. The
plant now grown by Russian scientists , can be considered as
world's oldest plant, as the claim is supported by firm
radiocarbon date, which says that the fruits are 31800 years
However, in a tragic twist to the story, the team leader, David
Gilichinsky died of heart attack just before the report was to be
23 February 2012
Tea Caravan Trails of Tibet
Today, India is the second largest tea producer in the world.
However, very few people are aware of the fact that till middle
of nineteenth century, India did not produce even a Kilogram
of Tea. Almost all the tea that was consumed in India, was
imported from China. In the year 1835, a British officer, Dr.
Arthur Campbell, planted few tea plant seeds in the compound
of his bungalow in Sikkim with the help from the ruler of
Sikkim, The Chogyal. The seeds grew into fine trees.
Encouraged by the results, many British businessmen invested
in Tea gardens in the Indian states of Asaam and Bengal and
tea production took off in India.
Earlier to this, Tea was brought from Tibet, but was never
produced there. This Tea was imported in form of very hard
and black coloured bricks, each weighing 2 or 3 Kilograms.
Many such Tea bricks were placed in lamb skins ,which were
later stitched to make a package. Such tea packages used to
come to India from Tibet. To make the brew from these bricks,
a brick would be placed is a large steel pot filled with water
and placed directly on the fire. The brew would be allowed to
boil over the fire, till it was strong and dark. Salt, Yak butter
and Barley would be added to the brew and the Tea drinkers
would get their wooden cups filled from the pot on fire with
the help of a ladle and satisfy their craze for this brew.
Even though the Tea bricks were known as 'Tibet Bricks', tea
was never produced in Tibet. The Chinese province of Yunnan,
which is located across the borders of three countries,
Myanmar, Thailand and Laos, produced all the tea and was
then exported to India through capital of Tibet, Lhasa. The
route through which the Tea bricks would be transported to
India was a very difficult trail passing through mountainous
regions and was known as Tea caravan Trail. The Silk route
joining China with west Asia and east Europe is very well
known. Comparatively, this trail is completely unknown.
Tea Caravan Trail became famous in western countries
because of a totally strange reason.
In 1933, James Hilton, a famous British writer came out with a
new novel called 'Lost Horizon.' In this novel, the story goes
on these lines. The aeroplane of the hero meets with an
accident in the Himalayan region and he is forced to travel on
his foot through a region stunningly beautiful. After his travel
he reaches a heavenly place, called in the novel as ' Shangri-
La'. After this novel was released, a debate was started
regarding whereabouts of this heavenly place and which has
gone on and on for last sixty or seventy years. Most interesting
fact about James Hilton is that he had never even travelled in
Himalayas. He had obtained the details given in his novel from
some of his friends or acquaintances. The Chinese Government
entred into this 'Shangr-La' fray in 2003 and declared that the
village of Zhongdian on the border of Yunnan and Tibet is the
official 'Shangri-La.' Since then, this village and the Tea
caravan Trail have become very popular with western
The Tea Caravan Trail actually used to start from a village
known as Xishuangbanna located in southeast Yunnan. This
place is actually in the vicinity of Mekong river. The region
here is mountainous and hilly. Tea plants were grown and are
still continued to be grown on the gentle hill slopes around
here. The famous Tea from this region is known as “Pu'er”
Tea. This region is extremely picturesque with snow clad peaks
in the background, forests of Deodar, Birch and Fir trees,
abundance of beautiful blue water lakes and crystal clear
weather with zero pollution. The trail passes through Lijiang
and crosses Yangtze river near 'Tiger-leaping Gorge'. It
continues to Zhongdian near Tibet border and then crosses into
Tibet at Deqin village. From there it goes on to Lhasa through
extremely mountainous region. From Lhasa the trail would
reach Sikkim through Nathu-La pass.
Up to the beginning of twentieth century , all the Tea bricks
would be carried by porters. Each and every porter would carry
unbelievable loads on their backs, through this treacherous
mountain terrain. Today we can only imagine their hard labour
and efforts.After 1962 war, between India and china, the
Nathu-La pass was closed and the traffic on the Tea caravan
trail stopped completely. On July 6, 2006, India and China
reached an agreement to open this pass again for border trade.
At present only local goods are being traded here. In 2012, this
route is expected to be opened for international trade. It is
likely that by then, this Caravan Trail would have transformed
into a regular road suitable for motorized transportation.
I do not think however, that anyone would transport Tea by
this route anymore.
25 February 2012
Just for a bar of chocolate!
This is a story of a person, who is obsessed with Chocolates.
Our Chocolate man, Claudio Corollo, is an Italian and was
born in Florence, Italy. He took his basic training from an
agricultural institution in Florence and later joined in 1974, an
aid agency in Congo, Africa, run by an International aid
institution. This work enabled him to tour the country
exhaustively and learned about living or surviving in equatorial
rain forests. Caudio soon realized the basic contradictions
faced by such International aid agencies, working in
developing but autocratic countries of Africa and decided to
leave his job. He then joined another company involved in
growing and processing of coffee beans as a chief and learned
the tricks of the trade. Claudio however, was not happy with
the job and became aware that his first love was always the
Jungles of Africa and would any day prefer to stay there. He
resigned from this job also and decided in 1979 to buy his own
coffee plantation.
During this period, he happened to visit Lisbon, the capitol city
of Portugal. During his stay in the city, he went to visit there,
the Naval museum of the Portuguese Navy. In this museum,
Claudio came to know about a minor historic fact. Chocolates
that we all eat, are basically made from the roasted beans of a
tree known as Cacao tree. This tree is originally from Brazil in
south America. Since Brazil was a Portuguese colony,
Portuguese cultivators had developed huge Cacao plantations,
prior to year 1800, in that country. An year before Brazil had
declared independence (1822), Portuguese navy had moved
large number of Cacao trees of original Brazil species to a
small island called 'Sao Tome' in south Atlantic ocean. 'Sao
Tome' island is located directly west of the country known as
'Equatorial Guinea'. With these trees brought from Brazil,
Portuguese planters were able to develop Cacao plantations on
that island.
Cacao Fruit
Claudio was of the opinion that the present day Cacao trees are
all genetically modified to give maximum crop output and built
in disease resistance, by hybrid plant production techniques.
He felt that even though the modified tree has all these plus
points, it happenes only at the loss of original cacao aroma and
taste. Claudio then and there only decided, to hunt for the
original specie Cacao tree, which Portuguese navy had
imported from Brazil in 1821 on Sao Tome island.
He then bought a coffee plantation on Sao Tome island and
using his previous experience, started coffee production.
During his spare time, he kept on pursuing his ambition of
looking for the original Cacao tree. In spite of his great efforts,
he had no success as almost all Cacao trees on this island were
hybrid trees.
80 miles south of Sao Tome island, there is another small
island known as 'Principe'. Claudio visited on this island a
Cacao farm, called Terreiro Velho, located on a hill slope. This
farm had not been exploited for Cacao production for at least
hundred or hundred and fifty years and looked like a jungle to
Claudio. In the midst of the jungle, which now existed on this
farm, Claudio found a Cacao tree, belonging to original
Brazilian specie, Which has a Botanical name of 'Forastero
Claudio, extremely delighted with his discovery, straight way
brought the farm on Principe island and after meticulously
cleaning the jungle existing there, started cultivating the
original Cacao plantation in a systematic fashion.
After few years, when Claudio received first crop of original
Cacao beans from his form, he started his efforts to produce
world's purest and best chocolates. Claudio says that present
day commercially produced chocolates, all smell of Milk and
Vanilla essence. According to him, pure chocolate has kind of
flowery and woody smell and it dissolves in your mouth
without a trace leaving behind only the real fragrance of the
Claudio Corollo
Roasted Cacao seeds
To achieve this, Claudio has fixed his production process
carefully after giving considerable thought to it. The Cacao
beans are roasted in his Principe farm only before these are
sent to his factory on Sao Tome island. Here in the factory
these are carefully inspected and only good beans are selected,
before grinding these to a fine powder. The powder is made
into a paste by hand stirring only. According to Claudio,
mechanized stirring of Chocolate paste spoils the taste.
Claudio's chocolate factory employees 13 people and the
Chocolates are exported to Portugal, Italy, Germany, Spain,
Every evening, after the factory is closed, Claudio welcomes
factory guests, who visit his chocolate factory from distant
places just to taste his Chocolates such as Japan and US.
After reading and knowing about Claudio's Chocolates, next
time I think of buying some chocolates, I am going to
remember Claudio and his untiring efforts and search to find
world's purest and best Chocolate.
28 February 2012
Wrestlers of Koh Ker
A large statue of Garuda or Eagle, sculpted in sand stone,
welcomes visitors in the entry hall of the National museum of
Cambodia in Phnom Penh. According to Hindu mythology,
Garuda is a personal bearer of Hindu god Vishnu. This
particular statue of Garuda was shifted to the museum for
safety from its original location in an ancient capital of
Cambodia, known as Koh Ker. This capital of Cambodia was
set up by King Jayvarman IV (928-941 CE) during his reign,
80 miles north of Angkor, and was known as Chok Gargyar
(the Island of Glory) or Lingapura then.
The old capital was a walled city having an area of about 1.2
square Kilometers and had number of temples including a 30
meter high seven tired pyramid.Koh Ker site is famous for its
gigantic figures, human as well as animals and was lost to
history for over a thousand years. At the end of 19
two French scholars, Louis Delaporte and Étienne Aymonier,
rediscovered Koh Ker and its colossal sculptures. In this style
of sculptures, the human and animal figures became free
standing for the first time in Cambodian history and there were
no arches sculptured to support the figures.
At Prasat Chen, a sandstone temple at Koh Ker dedicated to the
Hindu god Vishnu,, a sculpture commissioned by King
Jayvarman IV himself, sometime around 930 CE and
consisting of two free standing wrestlers, was discovered by
the french scholars. In this sculpture, two figures of wrestlers
were more than 5 feet tall and each must have weighed more
than 125 Kg. The wrestlers wearing intricate headgear were
shown in battle ready stances. It is believed that the two
wrestlers are none other than the Hindu mythological figures of
Duryodhana and Bhima from the classical Hindu epic
Mahabharata, in a battle stance.

Later, during Khmer Rouge rule of Cambodia (1975-1979), the
statues were plundered or looted from the site. Those were the
days of complete chaos, power struggle and genocide, when
looters hacked the long forgotten and inaccessible temples and
pillaged priceless antiquities and sold them to western
collectors. The wrestler's statues were also hacked near the foot
and at the ancient site of Koh Ker today, only the feet of the
wrestlers, firmly anchored to the ground, remain.
Only the foot remains now at Koh Ker
One of the statues of wrestlers was traced by Archeologists in
2007 to the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, Calif. USA ,
where it has been on display since 1980. the display board near
the exhibit reads the following.
Temple Wrestler, c. 925-50
Cambodia: Koh Ker (?), Angkor period, 900-975
61-3/4 in. (156.8 cm)
Norton Simon Art Foundation
Statue at Norton Simon Museum Cal. USA
No one knew about the whereabouts of the other statue till
recently it was found in a lot, offered for auction by well
known auctioneers 'Sotheby'. The auction for this lot was to
have been done about an year back or in March 2011. The
Brochure published by 'Sotheby' describes this statue as
Sotheby Indian & Southeast Asian Works of Art sale will be led
by a spectacular 10th century Khmer Koh Ker period Athlete
from a European private collection (est. $2/3 million).
Acquired by the original owner over 40 years ago, the figure is
mate to the Koh Ker athlete at the Norton Simon Museum in
Pasadena that is almost identical in posture and physical
appearance.The Khmer Athlete was commissioned by emperor
Jayavarman IV (r. 914 – 928) for his new capital at Koh Ker
80 miles north of Angkor. Koh Ker sculptures are among the
great masterpieces of Khmer art. The impressive size and
quality of the figure reflects the prestige and importance of the
ruler who commissioned it as well of the skill of his craftsmen.
The Athlete’s pose derives from Cambodian dance postures
which often depicted Hindu epics and mythology. These dances
have been a constant feature in the country’s long history. The
imposing stance of this figure indicates that it was more
significant than a mere temple guardian. Indeed, the Athlete
would have been a major mythological figure, instantly
recognizable to the Khmer elite of the day and this depiction
stands as one of the great achievements of Khmer art.
The wrestler as listed in Sotheby's catalogue
The wrestler's statue was promoted and figured on catalogue's
cover and also was included in a news release by 'Sotheby's'.
Statue was to have been auctioned on 24
March 2011.
However, on the day it was to be sold, a Cambodian official
working with United Nations, Mr. Tan Theany, wrote a letter
to Sotheby's and told them that this statue was illegally
removed from the site and asked Sotheby’s to facilitate its
return. After this, the statue with a catalogue price of 2-3
Million US Dollars was pulled out of the auction.
Sothby's say that the seller is a noble European lady, who has
acquired the object in 1975 and as per their investigation, there
is no proof that it was taken illegally. A quiet tussle has been
going on between Cambodian Government and Sotheby's
almost for an year for the return of the statue. Cambodia have
even tried for a private purchase of the statue from Sotheby's.
Finally after almost an year, Cambodia has finally made an
official complaint to the US Government and have asked their
help in recovery of the 1000 year old statue. The department of
homeland security has opened an investigation.
Second Wrestler's figure from Sotheby's Catalogue
United state have returned recently treasures to Baghdad
museum, ransacked from there in 2003. A Marine Corps
Reserve Colnel and a lawyer, Matthew F. Bogdanos, was
recently awarded a National Humanities Medal for leading the
hunt for these treasures. He says that the times have changed
and what was acceptable 50 years ago, is no longer acceptable.
Sotheby's do agree now that there are widespread differences
in views over ownership of heritage and cultural objects.
We can only hope that matter gets resolved soon and the
wrestler's statues returns to its homeland, Cambodia.

1 March 2012
Story of The Bactrian Gold
Whenever anyone mentions Afghanistan to me, the first picture
that imerges before my mind is of a vast, sandy, desert like
terrain with no habitation. I can imagine, within that picture,
few details like couple of dusty roads, buildings and dwellings
devastated with a never ending war and occasional Toyota
trucks carrying Afghans with their AK47 automatic rifles. It is
therefore rather difficult to imagine, and I am sure that very
few people would believe in, that an immensely wealthy and
prosperous empire with rich and fertile lands, existed within
the boundaries of very same devastated land for almost a
millennium. This ancient Kingdom was known as Bactria and
had existed in the 'Amu Darya' river basin between Hindukush
and Pamir mountain ranges. If we see the present map of
Afghanistan, this 'Amu darya' river actually forms the northern
boundary of the country. We can therefore say that kingdom of
Bactria consisted of areas near city of Kondoz in present day
Afghanistan and parts of present day Turkmenistan,
Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
Since ancient times, Bactria has been a part of the Persian
empire. After Alexander captured Persia in 330 BCE, it
became part of Alexander's empire. In 327 BCE Alexander got
married to a princess from Bactria; Roxana. Alexander died in
323 BCE and his empire was divided amongst his top 5
generals. In this period, political situation in Bactria remained
very unsettled with the control of the country continuously
changing hands between Greeks and the nomadic tribesmen
invading Bactria from the north. In 127 BCE, Yuezi or Kushan
tribesmen under leadership of king Kujula Kadphises defeated
Saka tribes and took control of Bactria. We are well aware of
the history that Kushans ruled over Bactria for next 100 years
and moved into Gandhar and northern India only later, under
king Kanishka.
The tribes that had settled in Bactria consolidated their power
well in this region. Bactrian lands are very fertile and a long
association of the local people with arts and culture of the
Greeks and the Persians had made the region culturally
endowed. Because of these reasons, the life in Bactria under
Kushan rule, became affluent and had a strong cultural bias.
In the year 1978, a Russian Archeologist Viktor Sarianidi and
his team were excavating north of Sheberghan city in this
region for pre-historic objects. They believed that since Bactria
was inhabited since Bronze age, they should be able to find
some clues to that period. Nader Rasoli, the then chief of the
Archeological department of Government of Afghanistan, was
also one of the member of this team. He says that “ We started
investigating certain earthen mounds at a place known as Tillya
Tepe or Yemchi Tepe. We had heard a legend that this place
was the official burial ground for Bactrian royals and high
officials. We came to observe in this region, 7 burial mounds.
Locals told us that this burial ground was at least 2000 years
old and was known as Golden hill. ”
Viktor Sarianidi. and his team, started digging the graves on
the Golden hill. They did find six skeletons under six burial
mounds as expected. But what was surprising that each and
every of these six burial chambers was loaded gold ornaments,
coins and small idols. Obviously, all this gold was buried along
with the bodies with the belief that it would make the post
death journey of the dead a happy and contented one. The
treasure contained gold bangles and bracelets, earrings and
necklaces used by the ladies and also couple of beautifully
crafted gold crowns. These crowns were so designed that they
could be folded up for storage, indicating that the buried
princess was part of a nomadic tribe, who kept moving from
place to place. The crowns were so designed that it was
possible to store these in a suitable pocket attached to a horse's
harness after folding. Another burial place, where a warrior
was buried, revealed a golden belt, gold buckles for his shoes
and a golden grip for a dagger. The remnants of the clothes,
worn by the buried royals were all brocaded with gold thread
and with jewels. The team of archeologists in all found over
21000 thousand precious objects, below 6 burial mounds at
Tillya Tepe. It was almost impossible to even estimate the total
value of the find.
Viktor Sarianidi and his team became acutely aware of the
dangers of holding this horde in their possession and hurriedly
returned to Kabul and handed their precious cargo over to
Kabul museum and were greatly relieved. Within one year of
this find, Soviets attacked Russia and in the political turmoil,
excavation of the 7
mound was forgotten. In 2003, when
Afghan archeologists returned to Tillya Tepe to investigate 7

mound, they found that it was already dug up and looted.

When civil war broke out in Afghanistan against the Russian
forces, museum officials moved the precious horde to another
museum near president's residence in 1985. The chief of Kabul
museum, Umar Khan Masudi says that the horde was moved to
vaults of central Afghan bank after couple of years. The Tillya
Tope treasure was kept along with the foreign exchange and
gold reserves of Afghanistan. This vault was under operative
control of one gentleman; Mr. Amruddin Askarzai and
normally he had the keys to the vault.

In 1990, when Taliban captured power in Afghanistan, they
took upon themselves the task of destroying the symbols of
glorious past of Afghan culture. Mr. Masudi says that almost
70% of the priceless artifacts held by Kabul museum were just
stolen and were moved out to west via Pakistan route.
Fortunately, since whereabouts of Bactrian horde were known
to very few people, who kept quiet about it and it was stored in
the bank vault, it remained safe.
Later, even during days when battle raged in Kabul, against
Taliban, Mr. Askarzai never shunned away from his
responsibilities. He kept regularly noting down names of each
and every person who entered bank's vault. After 9-11 attack
on world trade center in US, a team of Talibani ministers
entered the bank and asked Mr. Askarzai to open the vault and
inspected the gold, silver bricks and foreign currency notes.
This vault had a small side room with a closed room. Mr.
Askarzai was asked about what the room's contains. He replied
that there were few old china clay pots there. After this, the
Taliban team returned.
Judging from the course of events, Mr. Askarzai became very
much worried about the future and decided to break the vault
key in the lock itself. This virtually sealed the vault.
When there were clear signs that Northern alliance soldiers
aided by Americans were likely to enter Kabul, few Talibani
goons entered the bank and asked Mr. Askarzai to open the
vault. This was not possible as the vault was sealed. The
Talibani left firing few shots in the air and after stealing 4.5
Million US Dollars kept in another bank safe. After this, Mr.
Askarzai was sent to jail and was also beaten. After new
Government took over in Afghanistan and after almost 3 or 4
months, they realized that no suitable person was available in
the central bank, who could handle foreign exchange reserves.
New administration, found Mr. Askarzai in a jail and was
released and asked to report back for work. After resuming his
job, he got the vault door repaired and new Government could
again handle the foreign exchange reserves. Regarding
Bactrian gold, all officials kept saying that the treasure was
safe and protected.
In 2004, Afghan Government notified that Bactrian treasure
should be handed back to Kabul Museum. To physically
transfer the treasure, a team of Afghan government, museum
officials and members of the original archeologists team
including Viktor Sarianidi was formed. Mr. Askarzai opened
the vault in presence of this team. Then the door of the smaller
side room was opened with the help of blow torches. Mr.
Masudi says that after this The Bactrian treasures, which were
stored in many ramshackle wooden boxes was moved out.
Opening the vault door with blow torches
Some of the artifacts from the Bactrian horde were later
exhibited in Paris. In this exhibition, Mr.Masudi of Kabul
museum was given a prize of 25000 Euro's for preservation of
the horde.

Mr. Askarzai however never came into limelight as he was
always afraid that if Talibani's find out that he was principally
responsible for the safe keeping of Bactrian gold from Talibani
hands, they might take revenge against him. He continued to
work in a bank,s corner. He however always feels certain
resentment because he says that he kept the gold safe but Mr.
Masud got the fame and prize.
Exhibition in Paris
Mr. Masudi appears to be well aware of Mr. Askarzai's
resentment because he has a word of praise for Mr. Askarzai,
whenever he speaks to the media.
Mr. Aksarzai, a real Afghan hero
Finally in 2009, the injustice done to Mr. Askarzai was
rectified by the Afghan Government to certain extent. Chief of
the central Bank of Afghanistan recommended his name to
president for honour and he was presented with a medal and a
prize and was honoured.
I am sure that all Afghani people must be proud of Mr.
Askarzai and remarkable courage he showed against Taliban
and has helped to preserve a great cultural legacy of
12 March 2013
Mr. Chandrashekhar Athavale is an electronics
engineer by profession and an entrepreneur. He was
involved in design, development and manufacture
of electrical and electronic equipments. After retiring
from business, he started writing as a hobby.
History, Geography and physical sciences are the
subjects of his special interests.
'Looking Glass World' contains 30 essays
written by him, first published in his blog