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Looking Glass World

By

Chandrashekhar Athavale

All rights for this book are with Mr. Chandrashekhar Athavale. This book should not be

All rights for this book are with Mr. Chandrashekhar Athavale. This book should not be downloaded or printed without express written permission of Mr. Chandrashekhar Athavale.

express written permission of Mr. Chandrashekhar Athavale. Mr. Chandrashekhar Athavale For any clarification, e-mail to

Mr. Chandrashekhar Athavale

For any clarification, e-mail to Shekhar.athavale@gmail.com

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

--Index--

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

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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

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A Road too far!

A Road too far! In the beginning of the year 2009, a bit strange news was

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,

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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

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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.

become the entry point for trade with Central Asian states. A Tripartite agreement was signed between

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.

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Iran has since declared the Chabahar port as free trade area, making things even easier

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

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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 rusting.

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.

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This committee has already received grievances from as many as 820 house owners. About 2000

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

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drywalls, fixed between the wooden boards, inside the walls, appear to be the real cause of the problem.

the walls, appear to be the real cause of the problem. Until four or five years

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.

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This mineral Gypsum, has a high percentage of sulphur in it. Lack of any quality

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

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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

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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 India. 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

Pakistan also was the only country, which had recognized Taliban rule. Things became so much in Pakistan’s favour, that

the most valued alley of Afghanistan.

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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 Afghanistan. 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.

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In May, an India-made power transmission line to Kabul and a sub-station were opened, bringing

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

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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

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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.

rain fall for almost six to eight months of the year. Bangladesh river systems literally pour

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

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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.

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It was suggested that the people should not drink contaminated pond water and should drink
It was suggested that the people should not drink contaminated pond water and should drink

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

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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.

now appears to be the real culprit of Arsenic poisoning. Earth’s crust always contains Arsenic metal

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

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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

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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.

to check smuggling of arms, narcotic drugs and other goods. What is noteworthy is the comment

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

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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.

have to look at the ground realities in North-West Myanmar. On a map, Northern Myanmar looks

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.

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Historically, diplomatic relations between Myanmar and china were never exactly friendly. However with Military takeover

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

1997.

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

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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.

trucks bringing in a range of consumer and other goods. This trade however is controlled entirely

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

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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

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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.

at a distance of about seventeen kilometers from the border. Historically, Tibet and Nepal have fought

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

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this area have been traditionally going to Gyirong town in Tibet for buying all their provisions.

to Gyirong town in Tibet for buying all their provisions. The days of popularity of Trishuli

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

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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.

to complete just this 17 kilometer long patch of road. In Tibet, this highway would extend

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.

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However the real importance of this Gyirong-Syabrubesi highway is neither about Nepal connectivity nor Lhasa- Kathmandu connectivity.

about Nepal connectivity nor Lhasa- Kathmandu connectivity. Lhasa is now connected to Xinghai province in China
about Nepal connectivity nor Lhasa- Kathmandu connectivity. Lhasa is now connected to Xinghai province in China

Lhasa is now connected to Xinghai province in China by an excellent Highway. Real beneficiary from this road is likely to

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be the China- India trade, which has already reached astronomical proportions.

trade, which has already reached astronomical proportions. There are obvious apprehensions about this road in India,

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 misadventures.

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

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of Tibet. These people, when provided with such an easy access to Tibet, are expected to create trouble for the Chinese regime.

are expected to create trouble for the Chinese regime. The Chinese Dragon has now suddenly appeared

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 seen.

31 January 2010

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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.

the human fatalities would be highest in these battalions. However the truth is quite different. We

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

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desolate areas in Himalayas bordering China, usually for a period of two to three years, which takes a very heavy toll on their health.

three years, which takes a very heavy toll on their health. In month of December, over

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 extent.

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

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and harsh conditions, is bound to be a daunting task for this organization and presents a really tough challenge for the Indian Army.

and presents a really tough challenge for the Indian Army. BRO or Border Roads Organization was

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.

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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.

total length of roads already built in this region today. There are reasons for this sudden

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,

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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.

at a very short notice. This capability can come only if requisite infrastructure and communications are

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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

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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.

distance from the shores of Africa, India and Indonesia. This cluster of islands was not inhabited

This cluster of islands was not inhabited till 18 th 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.

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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.

no other economic activity is permitted on the island. In 1971, the island of Diego Garcia

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 th and 19 th 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

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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 th and 18 th 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 them. 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

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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 st 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

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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 themselves. 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. “

fish stocks for the benefit of people in the region. “ The Chagos archipelago has now

The Chagos archipelago has now suddenly become the the Galapagos Islands of the east and is being compared with

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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.

4 th April 2010

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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.

structures, which could mean construction of a reservoir. The Zangmu dam was reported to be a

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

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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 China. 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

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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 lucky.

share common borders with China, may not be that lucky. Six of World’s mightiest rivers, Yellow,

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

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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

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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.

near the headwaters of the Mekong and Yangtze rivers. It flows through China, Burma, and Thailand

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

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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.

of Lake Mansarovar in Tibet Autonomous Region of China. The river runs a course through the

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

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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.

glaciers, but the ground, and flow continued round the year. On her way to Senge Khabab,

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 waters.

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.

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Later they have simply rejected the idea of Indus water getting depleted by such a

Later they have simply rejected the idea of Indus water getting depleted by such a dam. This Senge Khabab dam is situated at

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degrees and 31 minutes North latitude, and 80 degrees and

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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 operational.

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.

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More than 60m people from these countries depend on the Mekong River for their livelihoods.

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

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and say that this year’ drought and the extreme dry season are the main reasons for the low water levels.

dry season are the main reasons for the low water levels. Further, Chinese want to build

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 clear.

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The scale and the grandeur of this plan is so huge that even our imagination

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

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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

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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

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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.

so good that it caught like a wildfire throughout Africa. Safaricom, with about 12 million subscribers,

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,

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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

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on the transaction volume to keep them interested. From being a mobile service provider, Safaricom has

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 st 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.

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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

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String of Pearls- a paranoidal illusion

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

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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

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India. There is no need to look at these Chinese Islands as a possible pearl.

need to look at these Chinese Islands as a possible pearl. Chittagong port in the Bay

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

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came from a Gulf country. Chinese contractors have been hired to complete all these works.

contractors have been hired to complete all these works. Chittagong is at a distance of about

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 neighbours.

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Sittwe port, situated about 265 KM south of Chittagong, is at present a small port

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

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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.

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It is very unlikely that Sri Lanka would allow the Chinese Navy to use Hambantota

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 th 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

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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.

regarding their participation in any other project. There are solid reasons for this apparent non interest

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.

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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 weak.

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 ships. 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,

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which took place this year has virtually closed this road for use by anyone at least for near future

closed this road for use by anyone at least for near future In Hunza area of

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.

Baltistan. Eventually the road might be repaired, but the strategic reliability would always remain in question.

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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 experts.

17 June 2010

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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

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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’.

that this SLOC is now being called ‘Oil Silk Route’. Unfortunately, this ‘Oil Silk Route’ also

Unfortunately, this ‘Oil Silk Route’ also can not be considered to be a very safe route, just like its predecessor in central Asia.

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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.

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Another extremely dangerous area on the way of Oil Silk route happens to be in

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

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Malacca get closed for shipping, almost half of the world’s shipping would have to divert from their routes.

world’s shipping would have to divert from their routes. In spite of being such a critical

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

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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

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.

This agreement is known as ‘Regional Cooperation

Malacca. This agreement is known as ‘Regional Cooperation Why is India so much interested in the

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

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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.

ship that enters and exits Malacca straits quite easily. The major economic powers in Asia like

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

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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.

a larger role for itself in the security of the Malacca. In the month of June

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

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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

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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

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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.

was offered a red carpet welcome by the Indian government. General Than Shwe’s visit was designated

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

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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 started.

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 place.

A treaty on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters to combat transnational organised crime, terrorism,

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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,

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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

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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.

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 .

Islander maritime surveillance aircraft to Myanmar in 2006 . Obviously, this list is not inclusive of

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

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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 goods.

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.

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One of the reasons for this change, appears to be the situation in North-East Myanmar.

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.

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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.

militias to join a military-sponsored Border Guard Force. This news is of particular significance to India

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

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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.

would be possible if India has good relations with Myanmar. India and Myanmar have common geopolitical

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

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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 America. 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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Government. Popularity of Bollywood films in Malaysia can only be compared with India herself.

films in Malaysia can only be compared with India herself. A film award function held in

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

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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

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journey of Indian cities from ancient times to medieval period to modern India.

from ancient times to medieval period to modern India. The Indian Pavilion is built entirely of

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 bamboo.

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,

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Indian cultural programmes, including dances and of course – India’s latest soft power export – Bollywood.

course – India’s latest soft power export – Bollywood. The organizers have roped in 50 performers,

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

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Government. The entire effort has been done by private enterprises.

The entire effort has been done by private enterprises. Shanghai EXPO pavilion is perhaps the first

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

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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

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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.

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This is the amount of water flowing on average about every 24 hours down the
This is the amount of water flowing on average about every 24 hours down the

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

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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.

would be resettled in part of Giacha and Sangri counties. The second dam on Brahmaputra is
would be resettled in part of Giacha and Sangri counties. The second dam on Brahmaputra is
would be resettled in part of Giacha and Sangri counties. The second dam on Brahmaputra is

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

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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 Bangladesh. 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

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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.

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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?

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It is apparent that this is not the case of a few rivers flooding because

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.

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Satellite Image of Indus River in Pakistan on 1 August 2009 Satellite Image of Indus

Satellite Image of Indus River in Pakistan on 1 August 2009

Satellite Image of Indus River in Pakistan on 1 August 2009 Satellite Image of Indus River

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

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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 occurs. 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

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far worse. Over the years, there has been an absolutely mad rush to settle in these floodplains.”

an absolutely mad rush to settle in these floodplains.” Mr. Asad Sarwar Qureshi, a water resources

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

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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 tolerable.

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 better.

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 protection.

According to these experts,Managing Pakistan’s floods is a delicate balance between giving the river more room, and

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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

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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.

form and were living here some hundred millions years ago. Two paleontologists, Paul Sereno of the

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

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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 crocodiles.

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.

Sereno’s team was able to analyze the fossils extensively. Each of these crocodiles preyed on completely

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

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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.

its huge body underwater while scanning the river’s edge. The Boarroc and and pancake croc were

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

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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

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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 th to 10 th of 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

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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 th 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

Afghanistan.

and also the political instability and anarchical conditions in this region as well as in neighbouring

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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

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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 majority.

of Pakistan with elections being held and civil administration in place. Both these regions have Pashtuns

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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 skirmishes. 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 Pakistan. 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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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 country. 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

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to protect their as well as the entire developing world’s interests. 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

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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

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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.

the time line are from Banteay Strei temple. This temple was built around end of tenth
the time line are from Banteay Strei temple. This temple was built around end of tenth

Banteay Strei Apsaras

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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.

necklaces and the waistbands is rather intricate. The dress worn on lower part of the body
necklaces and the waistbands is rather intricate. The dress worn on lower part of the body

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Angkor Wat Apsaras Perhaps the most detailed and extensive apparel and jewelry is seen on
Angkor Wat Apsaras Perhaps the most detailed and extensive apparel and jewelry is seen on

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 th 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

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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.

Earring and necklace designs here are rather exquisite. Ta Prohm Apsaras The Apsaras from the Ta

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 th century.

of earrings and necklaces appears to be much simpler. This temple is from end of 12

Bayon Apsaras

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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.

dance movements. This more or less proves that the attire of Apsaras shown in Angkor temples

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Apsara Ballet or Dance 137
Apsara Ballet or Dance 137
Apsara Ballet or Dance 137

Apsara Ballet or Dance

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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

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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.

of this Cossack family over a period of number of years. I cannot avoid the temptation

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

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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.

Power Investment Corp. earning about 70% of its profits. However, opposition to the construction of this

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

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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

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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.

therefore has to act according to the desire of the people. The spokesman, Mr.Ye Htut, director

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

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suspending other projects on the Irrawaddy and elsewhere in Myanmar. 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 claims. The Irrawaddy would flow now, once again quietly. At least for the time being.

4 October 2011

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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.

Traders, monks and preachers, nomadic tribes and soldiers on campaigns, travelled on this very same caravan

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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 caravans.

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 caves.

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

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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.

of his disciples, Subhuti in presence of many other monks. The book,in its original form in

The book,in its original form in Sanskrit, is called 'Vajrachedikapragnyaparmita Sutra' ('वज्रच्छेदिकाप्रज्ञापारमितासूत्र ' ). दिकाप्रज्ञापारमितासूत्र ' ). काप्रज्ञापारमितासूत्र ' ). प्रज्ञापारमितासूत्र ' ). पारमितासूत्र ' ). रमितासूत्र ' ). तासूत्र ' ). स त्र ' ).

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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.

and the body of the monk before Sutra can be chanted by him. A sutra is

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

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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.

illusion, as Buddha points out. Subhuti is moved to tears on hearing this and understanding the

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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

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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.

to be from 2nd century AD and from the Land of Gandhara. Gandhara is a mountainous

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

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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 Zang,

“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 stupa. 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.

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The sculpture recovered by the Kabul museum is a fine example of Gndhara art showing

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.

2 nd February 2012

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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 st November 2011 after a long delay of 13 years since the death of the Khmer Rouge supreme leader, Pol Pot, who died in

1998.

the Khmer Rouge supreme leader, Pol Pot, who died in 1998. Mock up of a Khmer

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

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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

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landmines. Out of this period, Pol Pot years could be considered as the worst.

this period, Pol Pot years could be considered as the worst. ‘Aki Ra’ is an ordinary

‘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.

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Child soldiers of Khmer Rouge with their AK 47 rifles Having seen with his own

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.

land mines. Along with this his organization also helps in rehabilitation of children disabled because of

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Mines exhibited at the Mines museum Siem Reap He has set up a museum of

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

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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

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A museum of the heartbroken

A museum of the heartbroken Just across the city hall of Zagreb, capital of Croatia, where

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

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displays about 100 of these. Some of the relics of love have come from Manila, London and Singapore.

relics of love have come from Manila, London and Singapore. Each and every item on display,

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 museum.

Here are some of the items displayed at the museum. A war veteran from England with

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.

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A lady has contributed an axe which was used to smash every piece of furniture

A lady has contributed an axe which was used to smash every piece of furniture in the house after the heart break,

every piece of furniture in the house after the heart break, When the romance between a

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 bear.

the relationship. The man called this toy as my Malay bear. 161 A small figurine of

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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 away.

A pair of soft fluffy handcuffs (Only God knows for what purpose!) Mr Grubisic, sums

A pair of soft fluffy handcuffs (Only God knows for what purpose!)

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

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Flowers bloom from a 32000 year old Fruit

Flowers bloom from a 32000 year old Fruit Many of us would remember the 1993 famous

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,

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“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.”

perfect storage chamber,” “It’s a natural cryobank.” The burrows found by this team were sealed by

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 '

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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 degradation.

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 old. However, in a tragic twist to the story, the team leader, David Gilichinsky died of heart attack just before the report was to be published.

23 February 2012

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Tea Caravan Trails of Tibet

Tea Caravan Trails of Tibet Today, India is the second largest tea producer in the world.

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

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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.

the help of a ladle and satisfy their craze for this brew. Even though the Tea

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.

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In 1933, James Hilton, a famous British writer came out with a new novel called

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

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caravan Trail have become very popular with western backpackers.

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

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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,

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Portuguese planters were able to develop Cacao plantations on that island.

were able to develop Cacao plantations on that island. Cacao Fruit Claudio was of the opinion

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.

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80 miles south of Sao Tome island, there is another small island known as 'Principe'.

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 Amelonado'. 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

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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 chocolate.

leaving behind only the real fragrance of the chocolate. Claudio Corollo Roasted Cacao seeds To achieve

Claudio Corollo

only the real fragrance of the chocolate. Claudio Corollo Roasted Cacao seeds To achieve this, Claudio

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

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into a paste by hand stirring only. According to Claudio, mechanized stirring of Chocolate paste spoils the taste.

into a paste by hand stirring only. According to Claudio, mechanized stirring of Chocolate paste spoils
into a paste by hand stirring only. According to Claudio, mechanized stirring of Chocolate paste spoils

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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.

places just to taste his Chocolates such as Japan and US. After reading and knowing about

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

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Wrestlers of Koh Ker

Wrestlers of Koh Ker A large statue of Garuda or Eagle, sculpted in sand stone, welcomes

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.

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The old capital was a walled city having an area of about 1.2 square Kilometers

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 th century, 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.

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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.

of the wrestlers, firmly anchored to the ground, remain. Only the foot remains now at Koh

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 Sandstone 61-3/4 in. (156.8 cm) Norton Simon Art Foundation

M.1980.15.S

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Statue at Norton Simon Museum Cal. USA No one knew about the whereabouts of the

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 follows

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

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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.

stands as one of the great achievements of Khmer art. The wrestler as listed in Sotheby's

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 th 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

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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.

department of homeland security has opened an investigation. Second Wrestler's figure from Sotheby's Catalogue

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.

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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

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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.

areas near city of Kondoz in present day Afghanistan and parts of present day Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan

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Since ancient times, Bactria has been a part of the Persian empire. After Alexander captured

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

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endowed. Because of these reasons, the life in Bactria under Kushan rule, became affluent and had a strong cultural bias.

Kushan rule, became affluent and had a strong cultural bias. In the year 1978, a Russian

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

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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.

objects, below 6 burial mounds at Tillya Tepe. It was almost impossible to even estimate the

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Viktor Sarianidi and his team became acutely aware of the dangers of holding this horde
Viktor Sarianidi and his team became acutely aware of the dangers of holding this horde

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 th mound was forgotten. In 2003, when

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Afghan archeologists returned to Tillya Tepe to investigate 7 th mound, they found that it was already dug up and looted.

returned to Tillya Tepe to investigate 7 t h mound, they found that it was already
returned to Tillya Tepe to investigate 7 t h mound, they found that it was already
returned to Tillya Tepe to investigate 7 t h mound, they found that it was already

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When civil war broke out in Afghanistan against the Russian forces, museum officials moved the

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.

vault was under operative control of one gentleman; Mr. Amruddin Askarzai and normally he had the

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In 1990, when Taliban captured power in Afghanistan, they took upon themselves the task of

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.

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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.

key in the lock itself. This virtually sealed the vault. When there were clear signs that
key in the lock itself. This virtually sealed the vault. When there were clear signs that

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

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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.

were stored in many ramshackle wooden boxes was moved out. Opening the vault door with blow

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

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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.

resentment because he says that he kept the gold safe but Mr. Masud got the fame
resentment because he says that he kept the gold safe but Mr. Masud got the fame

Exhibition in Paris

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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.

of praise for Mr. Askarzai, whenever he speaks to the media. Mr. Aksarzai, a real Afghan

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 Afghanistan

12 March 2013

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Mr. Chandrashekhar Athavale is an electronics engineer by profession and an entrepreneur. He was involved

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 www.akshardhool.com