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Archive for June 2011

India: Gujarat riots records ‘destroyed’

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Official records relating to the 2002 riots in India’s Gujarat state were destroyed in line with regulations, the government tells a panel probing the riots.


The riots left more than 1,000 dead

Documents with records of telephone calls and the movements of officials during the riots were destroyed in 2007, five years after their origin

Officials say this is standard practice and in line with civil service rules.

More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died in the riots.

The violence erupted after 60 Hindus died in a train fire. The cause of the blaze was never clearly established.

Hindu groups allege the fire was started by Muslim protesters, but an earlier inquiry said the blaze was an accident.

The Supreme Court set up a panel to investigate the riots in 2008, after allegations that the Gujarat government was doing little to bring those responsible to justice.

Government lawyer SB Vakil told the Nanavati panel probing the riots that some records relating to the riots had been destroyed according to the rules.

“As per general government rules, the telephone call records, vehicle logbook and the officers’ movement diary are destroyed after a certain period,” Mr Vakil was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India news agency.

In April a senior police officer alleged in a sworn statement to India’s Supreme Court that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi deliberately allowed anti-Muslim riots in the state.

Mr Modi has always denied any wrongdoing.

The Gujarat government has responded to the allegations by saying they have already testified before a special panel investigating the riots and will wait for the court’s verdict.

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Jihadist web forum knocked off Internet

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WASHINGTON — A popular jihadist Internet forum has been knocked off the Internet, and counterterrorism experts say it appears it was hacked.

Cybersecurity analysts say the al-Shamukh forum appears to have been taken down by a fairly sophisticated cyberattack that hit not only the website, but the server – which is the main computer that enables people to access the site over the Internet.

Evan Kohlmann, a counterterrorism expert who tracks jihadist websites as a senior partner with Flashpoint Partners consultancy in New York, described the site as a key al-Qaida propaganda forum.

He said it bounces around between Internet hosts every few months, but has seemingly been allowed to exist as an open secret, possibly allowing a Western government to use it as an intelligence resource.

“These sites can be like spy satellites, they’re great ways of gathering information about your adversaries,” he said in an interview late Wednesday. “Bringing them down is like shooting at your own spy satellites. But there are others who don’t agree with that.”

He said there’s been a “struggle behind the scenes” in the U.S. government about whether to allow the site to stay up.

Other cyber experts agreed that the site is a popular jihadist forum.

“The al-Shamukh website had become the most trusted and exclusive haunt for e-jihadists,” said Jarret Brachman, a terrorism expert who has spent a decade monitoring al-Qaida’s media operations and advises the U.S. government. “If it doesn’t come back up soon, the forum’s registered members will start migrating to the half a dozen other main forums, all of whom are probably chomping at the bit to replace Shamukh as the pre-eminent al-Qaida forum.”

The Defense Department said late Wednesday that it was aware of reports that al-Qaida’s Internet operations had been disrupted, but could not comment on the specific incident.

Kohlmann raised the possibility that a government could be behind the website’s problems.

If true, this would not be the first time that government officials have sabotaged an al-Qaida website.

U.S. and British officials have acknowledged that British intelligence authorities launched a cyberattack against al-Qaida’s English-language Internet magazine, Inspire, taking down directions for bomb-making and replacing them with cupcake recipes.

U.S. authorities had considered knocking the magazine off the Internet but realized it would just go down for a few days, then reappear, according to one U.S. official. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the U.S. believed it was more productive to keep an eye on the site and glean intelligence from it.

Kohlmann said chatter from another message board known to be frequented by al-Qaida members confirmed that there was a technical problem with the al-Shamukh forum website and that the outage wasn’t intentional, such as performing site maintenance.

The fact that the forum wasn’t knocked out sooner is revealing. Forcing a website offline can be a relatively easy matter. A so-called denial-of-service attack, which floods a website’s servers with enormous amounts of webpage requests is a popular hacking activity. But it apparently wasn’t used in this instance. Instead, cyber experts said it was a more complex attack.

Keynote Systems Inc., a San Mateo, Calif.-based company that specializes in measuring Internet and cellphone network response times, confirmed that the site was completely down from 14 cities around the world.

Based on the kind of error the site was giving people who tried to view the site, it is likely that someone stole the domain name and caused traffic to go to the wrong server, or that someone got access to the system and directed it to not return content, said Berkowitz, spokesman for Keynote.

Kohlmann said it appears that the people who control the website were diligent about backing up the content, so it could be back online soon.

NBC News first reported the site was hacked Wednesday.

It Has to Start With Them

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“Thomas Friedman sounds so convincing and logical in this article. That is the art of a good writing. But he is not half as convincing for those who have read him regularly. I still remember his interview when the Iraq war was being semi-debated in the U.S. Asked if he was for or against the war, he thought and thought and then declared that he was “51% for it.” The play acting was put on to show the audience that this was not an easy position for him to take, and that he had really agonized over it. The sheer cynicism of it was so obvious and dripping that one could have got a cup and collected some of it, and given it to the Smithsonian to be preserved as the ooze of the majority main press hypocrisy then afflicting the land of the free.

This led to the death of a million innocent Iraqis, uprooting of four million more, and the dismemberment and devastation of their country–this extra one percent that tipped the balance in favour of a war for which there was no justification whatever. And of course these very people are now blaming all and sundry for the explosion of terrorism in Iraq, indeed anyone but the war mongers!

And now Friedman seems so sensible. And in trying to be this, he is asserting that foreign troops is not the answer to sort out internal problems of a country, but the people of the such countries can sort them out when they have the will to do so. Among the many examples of indigenous movements, he cites one is Afghanistan, and goes on to say: the ” Taliban regime in Afghanistan was routed by Afghan rebels, backed ONLY by U.S air power and a few hundred U.S special forces.”

Because this suits the central thesis of his argument, he fails to say that without this U.S air support [which he emphasizes as “only” and special forces, these so called rebels [thoroughly discredited war lords] did not have a hope in hell of succeeding. He completely ignores the fact that if these rebels had had genuine success, they would not need ten years of American presence to keep this success propped up. And this, for you, is journalism at its best!!”

WHEN President Obama announced his decision to surge more troops into Afghanistan in 2009, I argued that it could succeed if three things happened: Pakistan became a different country, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan became a different man and we succeeded at doing exactly what we claim not to be doing, that is nation-building in Afghanistan. None of that has happened, which is why I still believe our options in Afghanistan are: lose early, lose late, lose big or lose small. I vote for early and small.

My wariness about Afghanistan comes from asking these three questions: When does the Middle East make you happy? How did the cold war end? What would Ronald Reagan do? Let’s look at all three.

When did the Middle East make us happiest in the last few decades? That’s easy: 1) when Anwar el-Sadat made his breakthrough visit to Jerusalem; 2) when the Sunni uprising in Iraq against the pro-Al Qaeda forces turned the tide there; 3) when the Taliban regime in Afghanistan was routed in 2001 by Afghan rebels, backed only by U.S. air power and a few hundred U.S. special forces; 4) when Israelis and Palestinians drafted a secret peace accord in Oslo; 5) when the Green Revolution happened in Iran; 6) when the Cedar Revolution erupted in Lebanon; 7) when the democracy uprisings in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Egypt emerged; 8) when Israel unilaterally withdrew from South Lebanon and Gaza.

And what do they all have in common? America had nothing to do with almost all of them. They were self-propelled by the people themselves; we did not see them coming; and most of them didn’t cost us a dime.

And what does that tell you? The most important truth about the Middle East: It only puts a smile on your face when it starts with them. If it doesn’t start with them, if they don’t have ownership of a new peace initiative, a battle or a struggle for good governance, no amount of U.S. troops kick-starting, cajoling or doling out money can make it work. And if it does start with them, they really don’t need or want us around for very long.

When people own an initiative – as the original Afghan coalition that toppled the Taliban government did, as the Egyptians in Tahrir Square did, as the Egyptian and Israeli peacemakers did – they will be self-propelled and U.S. help can be an effective multiplier. When they don’t want to own it – in Afghanistan’s case, decent governance – or when they think we want some outcome more than they do, they will be happy to hold our coats, shake us down and sell us the same carpet over and over.

As for how the cold war ended, that’s easy. It ended when the two governments – the Soviet Union and Maoist China, which provided the funding and ideology propelling our enemies – collapsed. China had a peaceful internal transformation from Maoist Communism to capitalism, and the Soviet Union had a messy move from Marxism to capitalism. End of cold war.

Since then, we have increasingly found ourselves at war with another global movement: radical jihadist Islam. It is fed by money and ideology coming out of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran. The attack of 9/11 was basically a joint operation by Saudi and Pakistani nationals. The Marine and American Embassy bombings in Lebanon were believed to have been the work of Iranian agents. Yet we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, because Saudi Arabia had oil, Pakistan had nukes and Iran was too big. We hoped that this war-by-bank-shot would lead to changes in all three countries. So far, it has not.

Until we break the combination of mosque, money and power in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, which fuel jihadism, all we’re doing in Afghanistan is fighting the symptoms. The true engines propelling radical jihadist violence will still be in place. But that break requires, for starters, a new U.S. energy policy. Oh, well.

George Will pointed out that Senator John McCain, a hawk on Libya and Afghanistan, asked last Sunday, “I wonder what Ronald Reagan would be saying today?” with the clear implication that Reagan would never leave wars like Libya or Afghanistan unfinished. I actually know the answer to that question. I was there.

On Feb. 25, 1984, I stood on the tarmac at the Beirut airport and watched as a parade of Marine amphibious vehicles drove right down the runway, then veered off and crossed the white sand beach, slipped into the Mediterranean and motored out of Lebanon to their mother ship.

After a suicide bomber killed 241 U.S. military personnel, Reagan realized that he was in the middle of a civil war, with an undefined objective and an elusive enemy, whose defeat was not worth the sacrifice. So he cut his losses and just walked away. He was warned of dire consequences; after all, this was the middle of the cold war with a nuclear-armed Soviet Union. We would look weak. But Reagan thought we would get weak by staying.As Reagan deftly put it at the time: “We are not bugging out. We are moving to deploy into a more defensive position.”

Eight years later, the Soviet Union was in the dustbin of history, America was ascendant and Lebanon, God love the place, was still trying to sort itself out – without us.

India: Maoist Attack in Chhattisgarh Leaves Indian Security Forces Dead

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Six security personnel have been killed and eight injured in two separate attacks by Maoist rebels in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh.


India’s Maoist insurgency began in the late 1960s, in the remote forests of West Bengal state.

Four policemen died when a vehicle carrying them hit a landmine in Dantewada district.

And earlier on Sunday, two paramilitary soldiers were ambushed and killed by rebels in Kanker district, police said.

Maoist rebels say they are fighting for the rights of indigenous tribal people and the rural poor.

They are active in several eastern and central states. In one of the most deadly attacks last year, rebels killed 74 policemen in Dantewada.

India’s prime minister has described the Maoist insurgency as the country’s biggest internal security challenge.

Sunday’s attacks happened in the restive Bastar region.

In the first attack, rebels ambushed a contingent of paramilitary soldiers belonging to the Border Security Force (BSF) in Kanker, killing two soldiers and injuring four others.

Police officials claimed that a number of rebels were also killed in the firefight, but only one body of a rebel was recovered from the spot.

Later in the day, a vehicle carrying policemen on a search operation hit a landmine in Dantewada.

Four policemen died in the explosion, and four others were injured in the blast which tore apart the vehicle.

The BBC’s Salman Ravi in Raipur says Bastar is the most sensitive region of Chhattisgarh where Maoist insurgents control a large area.

During the last one month, Maoists have carried out many landmine explosions in the area, killing more than 30 security personnel.

A government offensive against the rebels – widely referred to as Operation Green Hunt – began in late 2009.

It involves 50,000 troops and is taking place across five states – West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa and Chhattisgarh.

U.S. Eyeing 56.2 MPG Cars By 2025

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By JOSH MITCHELL and SHARON TERLEP

The Obama administration is considering a fleetwide average of 56.2 miles per gallon for all new cars and trucks sold in the U.S. by 2025, two people briefed on the matter said.

The proposal would roughly double current fuel-economy targets, and would likely raise the price of some cars by several thousand dollars.

The proposal isn’t final, and could be adjusted over the next several weeks as regulators prepare a formal draft to send to White House budget officials.

U.S officials presented the proposal to representatives of Detroit auto makers this week to determine the costs of such a proposal, said one of the people briefed on the matter. This person emphasized that the 56.2 mpg figure was floated as a means to kick negotiations among California, environmental groups and the auto industry into the final phase, and that the numbers could change.

The administration has said previously that it is looking at requiring cars average between 47 and 62 mpg by 2025.

The fuel-mileage targets would be accompanied by stringent rules to reduce vehicle emissions of greenhouse gases.

Environmental groups and the state of California have pressed for the 62 mpg target or something close to that, while the industry has lobbied for a target on the lower end of the administration’s range.

Spokeswomen at the Transportation Department didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Saturday. The 56.2 mpg figure was initially reported by The Detroit News.

The targets for 2025 would build on the administration’s requirement that autos average 35.5 mpg by 2016. U.S. officials are expected to release their final numbers for 2017-2025 in September.

Former French minister Georges Tron charged with rape

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A former French minister, Georges Tron, has been charged with rape and sexual assault after two days of questioning by prosecutors.


Georges Tron has denied having “any relations of a sexual nature with the victims.

Mr Tron is facing accusations that he sexually assaulted women working for him at the town hall in Draveil, south of Paris, where he is mayor.

Two women have filed complaints against Mr Tron, while a third has appeared as a witness but not filed a complaint.

The 53-year-old, who denies the accusations, was released on bail.

His assistant for culture at the mayor’s office, Brigitte Gruel, was also charged with rape and sexual assault and given a conditional release.

Prosecutor Marie-Suzanne Le Queau told the AFP news agency that Mr Tron had denied having “any relations of a sexual nature with the victims, even relations that would have been consensual”.

She said, however, that statements from the two plaintiffs were “coherent” and “corroborated on some points by outside elements”.

The women have alleged that Mr Tron forced them to let him give them foot massages, which became forced sexual encounters.

Mr Tron resigned as junior civil service minister at the end of last month over the allegations. He remains mayor of Draveil.

Freedom of speech means danger of death in India: Arundhati Roy

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This is not an ideal beginning. I bump into Arundhati Roy as we are both heading for the loo in the foyer of the large building that houses her publisher Penguin’s offices. There are some authors, V S Naipaul say, with whom this could be awkward. But not Roy, who makes me feel instantly at ease. A few minutes later, her publicist settles us in a small, bare room. As we take our positions on either side of a narrow desk I liken it to an interrogation suite. But she says that in India, interrogation rooms are a good deal less salubrious than this.

Roy, who is 50 this year, is best known for her 1997 Booker prize-winning novel The God of Small Things, but for the past decade has been an increasingly vocal critic of the Indian state, attacking its policy towards Kashmir, the environmental destruction wrought by rapid development, the country’s nuclear weapons programme and corruption. As a prominent opponent of everything connected with globalisation, she is seeking to construct a “new modernity” based on sustainability and a defence of traditional ways of life.

Her new book, Broken Republic, brings together three essays about the Maoist guerrilla movement in the forests of central India that is resisting the government’s attempts to develop and mine land on which tribal people live. The central essay, Walking with the Comrades, is a brilliant piece of reportage, recounting three weeks she spent with the guerrillas in the forest. She must, I suggest, have been in great personal danger. “Everybody’s in great danger there, so you can’t go round feeling you are specially in danger,” she says in her pleasant, high-pitched voice. In any case, she says, the violence of bullets and torture are no greater than the violence of hunger and malnutrition, of vulnerable people feeling they’re under siege.

Her time with the guerrillas made a profound impression. She describes spending nights sleeping on the forest floor in a “thousand-star hotel”, applauds “the ferocity and grandeur of these poor people fighting back”, and says “being in the forest made me feel like there was enough space in my body for all my organs”. She detests glitzy, corporate, growth-obsessed modern Indian, and there in the forest she found a brief peace.

There is intense anger in the book, I say, implying that if she toned it down she might find a readier audience. “The anger is calibrated,” she insists. “It’s less than I actually feel.” But even so, her critics call her shrill. “That word ‘shrill’ is reserved for any expression of feeling. It’s all right for the establishment to be as shrill as it likes about annihilating people.”

Is her political engagement derived from her mother, Mary Roy, who set up a school in Kerala and has a reputation as a women’s rights activist? “She’s not an activist,” says Roy. “I don’t know why people keep saying that. My mother is like a character who escaped from the set of a Fellini film.” She laughs at her own description. “She’s a whole performing universe of her own. Activists would run a mile from her because they could not deal with what she is.”

I want to talk more about Mary Roy – and eventually we do – but there’s one important point to clear up first. Guerrillas use violence, generally directed against the police and army, but sometimes causing injury and death to civilians caught in the crossfire. Does she condemn that violence? “I don’t condemn it any more,” she says. “If you’re an adivasi [tribal Indian] living in a forest village and 800 CRP [Central Reserve Police] come and surround your village and start burning it, what are you supposed to do? Are you supposed to go on hunger strike? Can the hungry go on a hunger strike? Non-violence is a piece of theatre. You need an audience. What can you do when you have no audience? People have the right to resist annihilation.”

Her critics label her a Maoist sympathiser. Is she? “I am a Maoist sympathiser,” she says. “I’m not a Maoist ideologue, because the communist movements in history have been just as destructive as capitalism. But right now, when the assault is on, I feel they are very much part of the resistance that I support.”

Roy talks about the resistance as an “insurrection”; she makes India sound as if it’s ripe for a Chinese or Russian-style revolution. So how come we in the west don’t hear about these mini-wars? “I have been told quite openly by several correspondents of international newspapers,” she says, “that they have instructions – ‘No negative news from India’ – because it’s an investment destination. So you don’t hear about it. But there is an insurrection, and it’s not just a Maoist insurrection. Everywhere in the country, people are fighting.” I find the suggestion that such an injunction exists – or that self-respecting journalists would accept it – ridiculous. Foreign reporting of India might well be lazy or myopic, but I don’t believe it’s corrupt.

She sounds like a member of a religious sect, I say, as if she has seen the light. “It’s a way of life, a way of thinking,” she replies without taking offence. “I know people in India, even the modern young people, understand that here is something that’s alive.” So why not give up the plush home in Delhi and the media appearances, and return to the forest? “I’d be more than happy to if I had to, but I would be a liability to them in the forest. The battles have to be fought in different ways. The military side is just one part of it. What I do is another part of the battle.”

I question her absolutism, her Manichaean view of the world, but I admire her courage. Her home has been pelted with stones; the Indian launch of Broken Republic was interrupted by pro-government demonstrators who stormed the stage; she may be charged with sedition for saying that Kashmiris should be given the right of self-determination. “They are trying to keep me destabilised,” she says. Does she feel threatened? “Anybody who says anything is in danger. Hundreds of people are in jail.”

Roy has likened writing fiction and polemic to the difference between dancing and walking. Does she not want to dance again? “Of course I do.” Is she working on a new novel? “I have been,” she says with a laugh, “but I don’t get much time to do it.” Does it bother her that the followup to The God of Small Things has been so long in coming? “I’m a highly unambitious person,” she says. “What does it matter if there is or isn’t a novel? I really don’t look at it that way. For me, nothing would have been worth not going into that forest.”

It’s hard to judge whether there will be a second novel. The God of Small Things drew so much on her own life – her charismatic but overbearing mother; a drunken tea-planter father whom her mother left when Roy was very young; her own departure from home in her late teens – that it may be a one-off, a book as much lived as written. She gives ambiguous answers about whether she expects a second novel to appear. On the one hand, she says she is engaged with the resistance movement and that it dominates her thoughts. But almost in the same breath she says others have “picked up the baton” and she would like to return to fiction, to dance again.

What is certain is that little of the second novel has so far been written. She prefers not to tell me what it is about; indeed, she says it would not be possible to pinpoint the theme. “I don’t have subjects. It’s not like I’m trying to write an anti-dam novel. Fiction is too beautiful to be about just one thing. It should be about everything.” Has she been blocked by the pressure of having to follow up a Booker winner? “No,” she says. “We’re not children all wanting to come first in class and win prizes. It’s the pleasure of doing it. I don’t know whether it will be a good book, but I’m curious about how and what I will write after these journeys.”

Are her agent and publisher disappointed still to be waiting for the second novel? “They always knew there wasn’t going to be some novel-producing factory,” she says. “I was very clear about that. I don’t see the point. I did something. I enjoyed doing it. I’m doing something now. I’m living to the edges of my fingernails, using everything I have. It’s impossible for me to look at things politically or in any way as a project, to further my career. You’re injected directly into the blood of the places in which you’re living and what’s going on there.”

She has no financial need to write another novel. The God of Small Things, which sold more than 6m copies around the world, set her up for life, even though she has given much of the money away. She even spurned offers for the film rights, because she didn’t want anyone interpreting her book for the screen. “Every reader has a vision of it in their head,” she says, “and I didn’t want it to be one film.” She is strong-willed. Back in 1996, when The God of Small Things was being prepared for publication, she insisted on having control of the cover image because she didn’t want “a jacket with tigers and ladies in saris”. She is her indomitable mother’s daughter.

I insist she tell me more about her Fellini-esque mother. She is, says Roy, like an empress. She has a number of buttons beside her bed which, when you press them, emit different bird calls. Each call signals to one of her retinue what she requires. Has she been the centre of her daughter’s life? “No, she has been the centre of a lot of conflict in my life. She’s an extraordinary women, and when we are together I feel like we are two nuclear-armed states.” She laughs loudly. “We have to be a bit careful.”

To defuse the family tensions, Roy left home when she was 16 to study architecture in Delhi – even then she wanted to build a new world. She married a fellow student at the age of 17. “He was a very nice guy, but I didn’t take it seriously,” she says. In 1984 she met and married film-maker Pradip Krishen, and helped him bring up his two daughters by an earlier marriage. They now live separately, though she still refers to him as her “sweetheart”. So why separate? “My life is so crazy. There’s so much pressure and idiosyncrasy. I don’t have any establishment. I don’t have anyone to mediate between me and the world. It’s just based on instinct.” I think what she’s saying is that freedom matters more to her than anything else.

She chose not to have children because it would have impinged on that freedom. “For a long time I didn’t have the means to support them,” she says, “and once I did I thought I was too unreliable. So many of the women in India who are fighting these battles don’t have children, because anything can happen. You have to be light on your feet and light in your head. I like to be a mobile republic.”

Roy has in the past described herself as “a natural-born feminist”. What did she mean by that? “Because of my mother and the way I grew up without a father to look after me, you learned early on that rule number one was look out for yourself. Much of what I can do and say now comes from being independent at an early age.” Her mother was born into a wealthy, conservative Christian community in Kerala, but put herself outside the pale by marrying Ranjit Roy, a Hindu from West Bengal. When she returned to her home state after her divorce she had little money and was thus doubly marginalised. The mother eventually triumphed over all these obstacles and made a success of the school she founded, but growing up an outsider has left its mark on her daughter.

Roy says she has always been polemical, and points to her run-in with director Shekhar Kapur in the mid-1990s over his film Bandit Queen – she questioned whether he had the right to portray the rape of a living person on screen without that woman’s consent. It may be that the novel is the exception in a life of agitation, rather than the agitation an odd outcrop in a life of fiction-writing. But has she sacrificed too much for the struggle – the chance to dance, children, perhaps even her second marriage? “I don’t see any of these things as sacrifices,” she says. “They are positive choices. I feel surrounded by love, by excitement. They are not being done in some martyr-like way. When I was walking through the forest with the comrades, we were laughing all the time.”