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Taliban Release Video of Captured US Soldier

Disturbing breaking news has been reported by the Associated Press about the release of a video of a captured soldier in Afghanistan. While the US government has confirmed that the video is of the captured soldier, they have not released his name, “pending notification of members of Congress and the soldier’s family”.
I am sure the authorities have to do things the way are supposed to do, and the soldier’s family deserve to be told first, but I wonder if not releasing his identity pending such notification works at all. The family is sure to know from news reports, and once they see his face shown in the video, they are going to know for sure. There should be a fast track way to get such information to the family, so that withholding of information from the public has more meaning than that of a formality.

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Farah Pandith, the Kashmir Connection

News! Now US State Department has an office of Special Representative to Muslim Communities (SRMC), and Hillary Clinton has appointed Farah Pandith as its head. So, who is Farah Pandith?
According to the State Department press release,

Pandith, a Muslim, immigrated to the United States with her parents from Srinagar, India. She has said that she sees her personal experience as an illustration of how Muslim immigrants to the US can successfully integrate themselves into American society. She grew up in Massachusetts with a diversity of faiths, ethnicities and perspectives.

Farah PandithSo, Pandith is of Indian Kashmiri origin, coming from the same region as this blogger.

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Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy on Taliban

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy's latest documentary on Pakistan - click to watch on PBSJust watched the PBS documentary “Pakistan: Children of the Taliban“. The situation in the region is really really scary. While I follow a lot of the news from the region these days, this perspective from Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy was somewhat of an eye-opener. While the players were no less important, the star of the show was definitely the presenter — Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, the 30-year old Pakistan born journalist who seems to have risked a lot to cover stories from world’s major trouble spots. It is a shame that today is the first day I heard about this amazing journalist. The following from an article on Stanford University’s Alumni website gives an idea of who Sharmeen is:

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Democracy, not a "daemon-cracy"

Being a Kashmiri is a very important part of my identity, besides being an Indian, a Hindu (of the atheist kind), and a self-styled rationalist. Still, none of the posts so far on my blog has been addressed to the Kashmiri aspect of my identity. I would very much like to keep this blog not Kashmir-centric, because opinions about Kashmir are as varied as the people concerned with it. The definition of the problem, and its solution, depends on who you ask – even among Kashmiris. So it is really hard to be objective in one’s opinion.
Then, couple of weeks ago, when my last post was featured on Blogbharti, I followed links to this blog-post on Kashmir, and then I discovered a whole world of Kashmir blogs out there, that have all mushroomed since I checked last, not very long ago. My two-post-long Kashmiri language blog still remains the only Kashmiri blog till date, though I discovered a Kashmiri language online newspaper, which was a pleasant surprise (can’t locate the link at this time). I plan to change the script on my Kashmiri blog to Roman so that it will have a wider reach, and give me incentive to add more posts to it. I can use the Urdu script, but somehow I find Unicode Urdu very hard to read.
Well, a lot of venom is being spat out there, a lot of wailing and rona-dhona. Lots of myths and untruths are being propagated – some of them rubbing salt into my own wounds. So I thought I should do my share of rona-dhona too, and try to break some myths – in my opinion. Hence this post, and perhaps a few more to follow. To give an idea of my locus standi on the issue, I was born and raised in a north Kashmir village, completed my education in my village and in Srinagar, left to work in Delhi in mid-80’s, and kept returning to my family in Kashmir until early 1990, when all of us had to give Kashmir up for ever. After that I have visited a few times, but have missed and followed my homeland everyday.
For now, back to this post about India being a “daemon-cracy”, instead of a democracy. The blogger called “~K~” writes:

India might claim to be the largest democracy of the world, an economic super power on its way to become the next super power of the world but for Kashmir and Kashmiris it is a state that rewards killing of innocent Kashmiris with money, more power and commendations. The fact that India does indeed reward its forces for killing innocents was reflected in an earlier post and now we have official endorsement that indeed innocent Kashmiris are being killed for rewards.

Then the blogger conveniently gives no reference or proof of “official endorsement” of the allegation. If there were official endorsement, then the culprits of encounter killings would not have been arrested. The Human Rights Watch report that ~K~ quotes in his latest post also quotes the official statement:

According to Jammu and Kashmir State Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, police official Farooq Ahmad and a constable have been arrested for the murder of Abdul Rahman and the killings are still being investigated. “Any security person found guilty of killing any innocent for personal reasons like promotion, rewards or appeasement to bosses would not be spared,” Azad said, adding that “nobody is above the law.”

The blog is full of such wild allegations and wailing. No, ~K~, India does not award its forces for killing innocent people. There may be cases of inefficiency, criminal attitude or nepotism but no there is no official endorsement or encouragement for such crimes. It is really unfortunate and wrong, but it is no different from what can happen anywhere else in the subcontinent – from Karachi to Mumbai to Dhaka.
India may be inefficient, poor, corrupt, call it all the names you want, but it is not a “daemon-cracy”. India may not be the next superpower, it may not even be a regional superpower, but it is definitely the largest and one of the best and most vibrant democracies of the world, warts and all. Yes, better in some ways than even the richest democracy of the world. And that includes its attitude towards Kashmir. In fact, it is a bit too democratic towards Kashmir, thanks to the blackmail Kashmiri separatists have subjected India to, over the years. It is definitely better than the other alternatives Kashmiris have, and they know it.
A lot of what I have to say has been covered in much detail by A soul in exile, including describing the events that led to my community’s migration from Kashmir in 1989-90, debunking the myth propagated by separatists that the then governor Jagmohan orchestrated the exodus.
I don’t deny the human rights violations that happen in my country – they happen everywhere in and outside Kashmir, in and outside India, and must be deplored and fought together. But calling it India’s plan against Kashmiris or Muslims is absolutely wrong. So many problems and sicknesses afflict my country, and some of them are due to the Muslim fundamentalism which is at the root of Kashmir problem too.
Here are a few points by way of a comparison that shows why India is better than most democracies in the world, and why ~K~ should stop calling it a daemon-cracy, and stop complaining.
1. In US, questions are still asked as to if a black, a woman, a muslim, a mormon, an athiest, a non-catholic, a non-church-going person can become the president. And all polls suggest that the answer to each of the questions is a NO. So far, in a few centuries of independent America, it has not happened. Chances of a black or a woman becoming a president in 2008 have increased, and we will know soon if American public is ready in the twenty-first century. On the other hand, when independent India was in its infancy in the middle of the last century, the first prime minister was an avowed athiest. The second longest serving prime minister was a woman, one who had married a muslim-turned-parsi. After her second term, she was followed by a person who was hindu-muslim-parsi and had married a christian. In between, there were farmers, so-called “backward class”, prime ministers, and now we have a Sikh at the helm. Is anybody complaining, based on their race or religion? No.
2. More Muslims live in India than in any country of the world, save Indonesia. Voices of protest are heard about their treatment and voilence against them, and an equal number of voices are heard about their appeasement, and the violence they initiate. But what is important is that they are represented completely in all facets of Indian life. Present president of the country is a Muslim. Before this we have had two Muslim presidents. At state level, many states have had governers and chief ministers who were Muslim – states other than J&K which are not Muslim majority. Can you think of a Hindu getting elected as the chief minister of J&K? Look at the film industry, beaurocracy, sports arena, they are widely and rightly represented everywhere. Even the fact that I am talking about it seems unnatural, so natural does this sound.
3. Multi-party democracy has its perils, but it is definitely more democratic. That is how parties like the PDP come to power. In America people have to choose between the Republicans and the Democrats, even if they don’t agree with either of them.
Well, given the multiplicity of races, religions, languages in the country, and so many countering forces, I think India maintaining its integrity and democratic structure is no mean achievement.
The separatist blogs keep talking about independence from India, and they will say they have nothing to do with India, democracy or otherwise. I will talk more about the so called “azaadi” demanded by the separatists in future posts.

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Natwar M. Gandhi, CFO, Washington DC

Natwar GandhiContinuing the series of Indian names heard in America, I am profiling Dr. Natwar M. Gandhi today. Dr. Gandhi is the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for the District of Columbia (Washington DC). Born in Savar Kundla, Gujarat in 1941 in a grocers family, Gandhi has an LLB and BCom in accounting from the University of Bombay. He came to the US in the sixties, completed a master’s degree in business administration from Atlanta University, and a doctorate in accounting from Louisiana State University.
Dr. Gandhi is responsible for Washington DC’s finances, including its approximately $7 billion in annual operating and capital funds. Gandhi was nominated to this position by Mayor Anthony A. Williams and appointed on June 7, 2000. On November 6, 2001, the Council of the District of Columbia unanimously approved the Mayor’s nomination of Gandhi to a new five-year term as CFO. His term expires next month, and from his successes in the city it is evident that he will only end up at a higher position in the district or federal government. (Update Jan-31/07: Dr. Gandhi has been reappointed by the new DC Mayor to his post in January 2007.)
This is what the Washington DC government website says about him.

When Gandhi joined the Office of Tax and Revenue (OTR) in 1997, the agency was in disarray. Its revenue base was shrinking, and employee morale was sinking. Under his leadership, OTR demonstrated a remarkable turnaround. Successes included collecting substantially more in tax revenue than in previous years, turning projected city deficits into huge surpluses; issuing more than 150,000 tax refunds within 15 days during the 1999 and 2000 tax-filing seasons; and establishing a new one-stop, walk-in Customer Service Center to improve public outreach.

In an interview with the Washintonian, Dr. Gandhi says he was born in a village with no electricity or running water, and came to the US with seven dollars in his pocket.
To read more about Gandhi’s achievements, and hear his radio interview visit the Business of Government website.

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Sunita Williams

Under this category, InhiA (Indian names heard in America) I will be talking about just that – Indian names heard in America, and finding out how much of Indian origin the person is. What better name to start with than Sunita Williams, who is currently in space, assigned to International Space Station.
Sunita Williams was born Sunita Lynn Pandya on September 19, 1965 in Euclid, Ohio. Her parents are Deepak Pandya, a famous neuroanatomist hailing from Ahmedabad, and Mrs. Bonnie Pandya, who is of Slovenian origin. Sunita has a B.S. in Physical Science from U.S. Naval Academy, 1987 and an M.S. in Engineering Management from Florida Institute of Technology. She is married to Michael J. Williams.
Sunita who left for the space station on December 9, is expected to stay there for about six months. Here’s a short (48 seconds) interview of hers from the space station, courtesy YouTube. Notice how her hair is flying in zero gravity.

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The Legal Immigrants

The topic of legislation of illegal immigrants is taking up a bulk of the airwaves on radio these days, particularly on NPR. The public radio has also had a series of reports from Jennifer Ludden about various aspects of immigration — legal and illegal. Hearing about people talking in favor of and against Mexican labor always made me wonder — what about the legal immigrants, who come in the front door, but have to struggle through a long winded process of “legalization” i.e., the coveted green card.
Sure enough, the last report in the series from Jennifer was about the H1B-holders waiting for their green cards, and wondering how long a wait is too long. Read about the report here, and listen to it here. As expected, the report mostly features Indian skilled workers, and their advocates. There is a link to non profit organization Immigration Voice too, on the NPR page. Check it out!

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Karan Goel on Fortune SB cover

Twenty-two year old Karan Goel, University of Chicago MBA student, and founder CEO of PrepMe is on the cover of this month’s Fortune Small Business magazine. Go Karan!
The founding team of this test preparation provider startup consists of Avichal Garg, 22; Karan Goel, 22; and Joseph Jewell, 24. Jewell seems to be a gem – he scored a perfect 1600 on his SAT, and then teamed up with these (apparently) desi kids to start an online test preparation company.
Read the full story here, and more here. They are all over the Internet anyway.