Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Members of Parliament should hang their heads in shame today.

On the 10th anniversary of the attack on the temple of democracy – Parliament, families of martyrs stayed away from the remembrance ceremony in Parliament - in protest.

They wanted Afzal Guru, convicted for the Parliament attack to be hanged. But this blog is not about Afzal Guru. Not hanging Afzal Guru is just symptomatic of the malaise. What is our attitude towards national security? Are we blind to the threat – government and opposition? Our lawmakers owe not just the next of kin of Parliament attack martyrs but even the nation, an explanation.

•Where is the biggest threat to India's national security originating from?
•10 years after Parliament attack are we as a nation more secure?
•Can we effectively deal with the threat from the source of terror?
•Not just neutralise the pawns in the terror matrix – can India take out the kings of terror?

Afzal Guru is a mere pawn. Hanging or not hanging him is not as big an issue today. What the nation's powers that be on Raisina Hill must answer is - can we, as a nation, 10 years after 13/12 effectively target the source of terror?

Pakistan was the source of terror, 10 years ago and remains a threat today. Perhaps even bigger than 10 years ago. Terrorists like Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, Masood Azhar, Dawood Ibrahim operate in tandem with Pakistan's ISI to strike India at will – at a place, time and with intensity of their choosing.

Do prime minister Manmohan Singh, Leader of opposition Sushma Swaraj and the 800 respected lawmakers have a plan to deal with the threat? This is not a threat to the government. This is not a threat to the opposition. This is a threat to the nation and together the lawmakers have to discuss, debate and move forward to effectively deal with the threat.

10 years after 9/11 the US took out Osama Bin Laden, the biggest threat to US national security. The US has been waging war relentlessly on the source of that terror – not winning yet – but engaging the terrorists and their masterminds in Pakistan (often failing). But you cant blame the US for not trying or as Admiral Mike Mullen finally did – calling a spade a spade.

India neither has the military wherewithal nor the political will to take Pakistan's jihad factories – funded by the Pakistan Army and ISI – head on. India clearly cannot do an Abbotabad type operation to take out Hafiz Saeed, Dawood Ibrahim and Masood Azhar.

But there are hundreds of other options that the government must pursue. Covert operations to tell the enemy – every action has a bigger reaction that hits the perpetrators hard. It should be on the table. And should be exercised.

The Prime Minister and the lawmakers have fortified themselves in multi layer security. It's the aam aadmi – who travels in Mumbai and Delhi trains, shops at local markets, visits temples and mosques –is in the line of fire.

Real tribute to those who gave up their lives protecting the temple of democracy – and those who give up their lives every day protecting the nation from Pakistan sponsored terror would be to neutralize the threat at its source. Otherwise remembrance ceremonies at Parliament or Gateway of India will mean nothing.

You must hang Afzal Guru. But don't just stop there.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir has two elements - the smaller local involvement, and the larger Pakistan's proxy war. In the past two decades the Jammu and Kashmir Police, central police organisations, para military forces and the army have together contained the situation effectively. With the active assistance of the local population, to a large extent, black sheep have been neutralised.

The army having fenced almost 500 km plus of the 740-kilometre-long Line of Control (LoC), effective electronic measures and multi-tier grid has managed to stem the flow of terrorists. However, the situation is far from 'normal'.

The latest army intelligence assessment accessed exclusively by Headlines Today says:

•There are approx 2,500 terrorists undergoing training in PoK/Pak.
•There are approx 400 terrorists operating both north and south of Pir Panjal.
•20,000 'released' terrorists can be exploited by elements across.
•There are 42 active terrorist camps in Pakistan.
•There are a large number of active launch pads across the LoC.

We will talk about the local elements a little later, lets for a moment concentrate on Pakistan. Can terror survive in J&K without Pakistan Army/ISI recruiting, training, arming, funding and supporting terrorists? The answer clearly is no. Has Pakistan stopped training, arming and launching terrorists? The answer again is no.

Terrorism in J&K is a part of Pakistan's war on India. This, the army calls the 4th generation of hybrid war. Pakistan army regulars, irregulars, criminals and terrorists are all waging war on India by different means. In JK the much maligned Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is just a tool - an enabler - to fight this war.

As far as perception is concerned - the AFSPA needs to go. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is completely right the situation is improving and as a test case - from Srinagar and Budgam, where the army has not operated from in the past half a decade at least - the Act can be lifted. Both the J&K police and the CRPF (which is facing an uphill task dealing with the Maoists - because of poor training, tactics and deployment) are confident they will be able to handle the situation in Srinagar and Budgam.

No arguments there. We saw how the CRPF and J&K police 'controlled' the rioters and stone pelters in Srinagar last summer. One flag march by the Army, pelters knew the state means business and they quietly melted away.

At the same time it is also a fact that there have been no terrorist related incidents in Budgam - barely 10 kilometres from Srinagar since 2008. And even before that in 2006 and 2007 there were only two incidents each year. The J&K police perhaps, have the best intelligence grid in the valley.

In Srinagar town, the army has not operated since 2005 (except the symbolic flagmarch in 2010- which had the desired result).

But what when AFSPA is removed and there is a situation that warrants army's involvement? Has that been wargamed? No. First all the pros and cons should be extensively debated and wargamed, then a decision taken. Here a decision has been taken without even taking the army into the loop.

The state needs one spark to explode - for people to start spilling out on the streets. From Shopian drowning to Amarnath land protests to Srinagar stone pelters - last three years were extremely hot. In every situation, the army was on heightened alert; often strengthening the grid - backing up the police.

Suddenly in one peaceful summer - should army's enabler powers be curtailed? In a proxy war (unless we say J&K terrorism is not Pak's proxy war) there are no islands of peace. If security forces operate without enablers - the vacuum is filled by forces inimical to the state.

What does Army's internal assessment say:

•Pakistan's agenda on J&K has not changed.
•There is a nexus between the Pakistan Army, ISI, separatists & terrorists.
•Pak Army and separatists want Indian Army dis-empowered .
•Terrorists will use non-AFSPA spaces to fester and grow.
•Even if army has not operated in Srinagar & Budgam there is an active-Int Grid.

On Chief Minister Omar Abdullah saying it is a long standing demand of the people of the state to revoke AFSPA, top ranking sources point out:

•There were over 450 protests in the valley in 2011. Not one against AFSPA.
•In Poonch-Rajauri there were protests for army re-deployment when troops were relocated.
•There are no 'islands of peace'. Situation in Srinagar & Budgam peaceful because of proactive operations.
•Area domination, intelligence gathering and security of assets and lines of communication are all a part of the proactive strategy.
•If AFSPA removed from Srinagar and Budgam, the vital assets and vital points will be vulnerable to terrorist action.

In my detailed interaction with both commanders operating in the area and those involved in higher management of terrorism one thing was clear. Nobody wants Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to lose face. When the matter was raised in 'Regional committee' the army gave its recommendations justifying the retention of AFSPA in February 2011.

After February 2011, till the time that Omar Abdullah went public in October - there was no communication between the state government and the army on the issue.

A senior officer said that at a recent Unified Headquarters meeting a detailed presentation to highlight the complexities of the internal security situation and proxy war were given.

Are politicians only looking at the short term goals? One may or may not agree with army's big picture but it merits a mention here.

The army assessment of Pakistan's strategy in the coming years is - enhanced focus on J&K in the years to come. Pakistan balances Afghanistan, Pakistan's own internal security situation and engagement in J&K depending on who applies more pressure - USA or Pak trained terrorists.

With the US downsizing from next summer (2012) - this will reduce pressure on the Taliban in Afghanistan and more terrorists will be available to send across to J&K.

Elections in the US (2013) and India (2014) will see changes in the regional dynamics.

India's tenure at UNSC ends in 2012. Pakistan and OIC can then increase UN attention on J&K.

"The terrorists are desperate for non-AFSPA pockets to use as safe havens to strike and return to safety and also use as training ground for new crop of indigenous terrorists. Let us study the way situation evolves next summer. In case peace prevails, the army would be more than happy to return to fortify the LoC," a top commander said.

Is one more summer too much to ask for?

Thursday, May 26, 2011




There is pin drop silence on the 19th floor Federal court room of Judge Harry Leinenweber. The 12 member jury and benches packed with international media are listening in stunned silence as terror’s blue eyed boy describes how Pakistan’s ISI and Lashkar-e-Tayeba jointly planned and executed the worst terror attack on India with military precision. And LeT’s American operative David Coleman Headley should
know. He not only had a ring side view of the entire operation but was a part of the planning of this operation. In his low voice – often he has to be coaxed to speak up – Headley narrates how LeT and ISI jointly planned and executed the operation that killed 166 innocent people.

These are not allegations being leveled by India. This is the inside story of how heated debates took place between LeT’s operational commander Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakvi and ISI’s Major Iqbal on the perfect landing site for the 10 terrorists. And how it was finally a Pakistan navy frogman (name yet to be revealed) whose writ finally prevailed and Budhwar Park was finally chosen as the perfect landing site and
not Gateway of India as Lakvi wanted.

Lakvi wanted Gateway of India as a symbolic gesture of invasion of India but both the Pakistan Navy frogman and Headley who poured over India’s coastal maps over several days decided against it because of the heavy presence of Navy and Coast Guard in that area. ISI’s Major Iqbal also wanted two boats to reach India – one with additional arms, ammunition and explosives for future operations to be dumped but the LeT shot down the idea. It was also revealed that the 10 terrorists
were not on a suicide mission. Headley told the court room that he had been tasked to find a safe house where the 10 terrorists could live undetected for several months after the terror attacks to be able to carry out more attacks subsequently.

Some of this may not come as a surprise to many in the security and intelligence establishment in India but here in the United States there is alarm at the jointmanship between LeT and ISI. On trial in the Chicago Federal court is Pakistan born Chicago businessman and army deserter Tahawwur Hussein Rana but in the dock is clearly Pakistan’s ISI.

Wearing a black casual jacket, T-shirt and slacks Headley tells the Jury that ISI coordinates activities of groups like LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Hizbul Mujahideen (HM). He lists out names of Pakistan army and ISI officers who have either trained or handled him – Major Ali of Khyber Rifles Regimental Centre who met Headley when he was in detention in Pakistan’s northern Areas trying to smuggle in drugs. Major Iqbal of ISI, Headley’s handler at Lahore, Major Sameer Ali, a contact, Major Abdur Rehman alias Pasha and Major Haroon, another contact and handler.

``But it is not just officers at the rank of Majors who are handling terrorists or sponsoring terror,’’ James Krindler, attorney for the American victims of 26/11 tells Headlines Today. ``Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, Director General ISI and Lt Gen (retd) Nadeem Taj, former DG ISI should come clean. Without their knowledge this terror strike could not have happened. Not all ISI officers are terrorists but the
rot runs deep,’’ he adds. Krindler should know. He has filed a case for civil damages against the ISI and its DG in a New York court.

Headley’s testimony helps fill in the gaps about Pakistan’s planning for 26/11 terror attacks. Headley, a convicted drug peddler in the US was on his way to the north west frontier province of Pakistan to buy more drugs with an ex Pakistan army major turned terrorist Major Abdur Rehman alias Pasha. Together they were detained by the police and came into contact with a Major Ali at the Khyber Rifles Regimental Centre. The officer was in uniform, introduced himself as an ISI officer. When
Headley told him about his sympathies for the LeT and the fact that since 2002 he had done several courses – religious, weapons training, intelligence gathering and leadership – with the LeT in Muzaffarabad, Major Ali offered to rope him into the ISI.

That is where Headley’s association with the ISI began. On returning to Lahore, he was contacted by Major Iqbal a serving ISI officer posted at the Lahore cantonment. He expressed dissatisfaction at Headley’s level of training and offered to have ISI officers train him.

``I was taken to a double storied white building in a residential complex near the Lahore airport where ISI non commissioned officers (NCOs) trained me over a period of time,’’ Headley said in response to a question posed by accused Tahawwur Rana’s counsel Charles Swift. Though Major Iqbal always came in civvies (civil clothes and not uniform) he drove an army jeep, Headley said.

Headley told the court that during his training in Lashkar in 2002, he came into contact with Sajid Mir and Pasha, both people he learnt to admire for their dedication to the `cause.’ Since he was American looking (courtesy an American mother), spoke fluent English, Urdu and Punjabi and had an American passport, LeT and ISI (Sajid and Major Iqbal) decided to launch him into India. Rana’s immigration company was the perfect cover. Headley roped in Rana and with the 25,000 USD
given by Major Iqbal of the ISI Headley came to Mumbai for the first time in 2006 to start his reconnaissance mission.

At the same time he always kept Pasha (ex Maj Abdur Rehman), who he met through a common Lashkar contact at a Lahore mosque, in the loop about his activities and association with both the ISI and the LeT. Armed with his cameras, posing as a immigration consultant and tourist Headley undertook several boat trips to study the harbour to find the perfect landing spot. He marked them all on the GPS provided to him by the ISI and LeT.

Lakvi wanted him to take a boat and come into the international waters to bring in the 10 terrorists but Headley was against it saying as a foreigner he could not sail out of Indian territorial waters without arousing suspicion. Headley also told the court that he also met Hafiz `saab’ (Hafiz Mohammed Saeed) at the Lashkar Headquarters. When US Attorney asked him who Hafiz `saab’ was Headley replied: ``He is the chief of the Lashkar-e-Tayeba.’

Both ISI’s Major Iqbal and LeT’s Sajid wanted him to take multiple videos of the second floor conference hall of the Taj Mahal hotel. They had heard that there was going to be an important conference of Indian Defence scientists and contractors and wanted to strike then, But Headley could not get either the guest list or the dates of meetings so final dates of assault could not be worked out. But at every step, Headley told the court that both the LeT and the ISI gave him the same orders. ``It was clear to me that Sajid and Maj Iqbal were in touch and compared notes,’’ he said.

Headley also told the court that ISI was unhappy that the areas that Headley filmed for possible attack did not include the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and the Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport. Major Iqbal sent him back to take pictures of the nuclear facility for ``possible future operations.’’

During the trial it also emerged that the 10 terrorists first set sail from Karachi to Mumbai in August 2008. But barely had they sailed for some time that their boat hit a rock and capsized. The terrorists were wearing life jackets and managed to reach the shore but lost all their weapons and ammunition. The second time in September they managed to reach the international waters but the moment they tried to hijack an Indian fishing trawler, the captain of the Indian trawler managed to
evade them. The Indian trawler was faster and swiftly sailed out of reach. The 10 terrorists returned to Karachi empty handed. Finally in November they succeeded.

Headley also told the court that the LeT team commander Sajid was in Karachi along with LeT’s Abu Al Qama and Qahafa along with others watching the entire 26/11 terror attacks and guiding the terrorists. When the terrorists inside the Jewish Chabad House lost their nerve seeing NSG commandoes rappling down from the Mi-17 helicopter and asked Sajid for guidance, he told them to use a mattress as cover and fire at the commandoes. Headley claimed the plan worked and the terrorists succeeded in pushing back the commandoes. When he narrated this incident to Dr Rana, he is alleged to have said Sajid deserved to be called Khalid-bin-Waleed, the great military commander who fought with the holy Prophet Mohammed PBUH.

Headley also said that it was Sajid who insisted that all 10 terrorists before being launched into India needed to be given operational Indian mobile phones and sim cards. With 9 dead, Dr Rana is alleged to have said they all deserved the Nishan-e-Haider, Pakistan’s highest military medal.

On Wednesday in the Chicago Federal court house Headley rattled off a list of top priority targets that included Bollywood stars, Somnath temple, Shiv Sena office and Jyllands Posten newspaper office in Denmark. His fifth high priority target was the National Defence College in Delhi. His logic ``More Colonels, Brigadiers and Generals
will be killed in a single attack than put together in all the wars fought between India and Pakistan till date,’’ Attacking the NDC was Al Qaeda commander Illyas Kashmiri’s idea and interest, he said.

In fact after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks and with mounting international pressure, the LeT wanted to lie low but after having tasted success in the Mumbai terror attacks, Headley was already following the same surveillance procedure at Denmark, the court was told. Headley posing as a consultant of Rana’s immigration firm reached Copenhagen and went to the office of Jyllands Posten to place
an advertisement for his immigration firm. As he did that he made 13 surveillance videos of approach and access to the newspaper office, Copenhagen train station, King’s Square and the office building itself.

He told the court that Illyas Kashmiri sent him to England to meet his contacts who would arrange for funds, men and weapons for the attack as the LeT had backed down because of rising international pressure. However, the men in England instead of GBP 10,000 gave him only GBP 2,000 and no guns or men. A disappointed Headley reached Copenhagen alone. He saw Danish army personnel march on parade through Copenhagen’s King’s Square. Headley says, he struck up a conversation with a Danish army captain and found out that the weapons were always loaded. That’s when LeT’s Sajid suggested they throw a grenade at the parade, steal the weapons and then use them.

Before the plan could succeed, Headley was arrested and so was Tahawwur Hussein Rana. The prosecution maintains Rana may not have pulled the trigger himself but since he gave material support knowingly to Headley he is as guilty. His counsel Charles Swift insists Rana was taken for a ride by his master manipulator friend
David Headley. Swift insists Headley is guilty. Those who are guilty should be held to account. Unfortunately, he added, we’ve done a deal with them.

Either ways, the threat for India does not come much from people like Rana. The threat to India comes from people like Major Iqbal, Major Pasha, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed and Major Alis of the ISI. For India till the ISI is held to account – there is clear and present danger.


Headley, Rana, Maj Iqbal of ISI, Sajid of LeT and Pasha of LeT spoke
in codes and frequently changed their email addresses. However in
court Headley explained the codes they used to converse.

Marriage meant martyrdom

Investment meant plans for terror strikes

Old Uncle meant Hafiz Mohammed Saeed

In hospital meant either jail or house arrest

Doctor – depending on the context meant Illyas Kashmiri or Dr Tahawwur Rana

Company meant ISI

Bala meant Major Iqbal

Micky Mouse Project-Plan to kill Danish cartoonist

Saturday, April 30, 2011


The officer who called me is tasked to protect our borders from external threat. As Delhi boils in 40 degrees Celsius temperature, he guards our frontiers in sub zero temperatures even today. With great difficulty he manged to get 15 days off from his Commanding Officer to help his daughter with her admission and his father with his operation. But will the national carrier Air India fly him home?

With more than 800 pilots on strike demanding a salary much higher than the Rs 3.65 lakh per month they get, he is not too sure if he will get home in time. The officer desperately trying to reach Delhi - cannot extend his leave from 15 days to 16. He does not have the luxury of going on strike demanding additional leave, more family time or a higher pay packet. That's a luxury only Air India pilots can afford in today's day and age where the airline industry is desperately trying to take off again post slump.

Air India got Rs 2,000 crore of the tax payers money post merger. Today its losses stand at a staggering Rs 16,000 crore and mounting. Air India officials say they incur a daily loss of Rs 21 crore and the strike has increased it by Rs 4 crore every day. So Air India bleeds the nation by Rs 25 crore per day.


For JRD Tata, Air India was his baby.Nurtured with love, care and affection. It is not without reason when he was the chairman (took only Re 1 as salary) Air India was considered among the top 5 airlines of the world.In his times, Air India was the nation's pride.

Today Air India is national shame. And its pilots are perhaps hammering in the last nail in the coffin. The Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) claims they are fighting corruption and gross mismanagement by AI's CMD Arvind Jadhav. They claim he is bleeding the airlines to death and benefitting private players.They want a CBI inquiry into the mismanagement of Air India.

With due respect, isn't this exactly what the pilots are doing - bleeding the airlines to death and benefitting the private airlines.So are they not as guilty if not more than the management.

When the ship is sinking all hands are on the deck trying to save the ship.Not like pilots making more holes in the ship and blaming others for the sinking ship. From one of the best airlines in the world, Air India has now plumetted to number 4 position even within India behind Jet,Kingfisher and Indigo.

A section of Air India pilots celebrated the fact that Jet and other pilots were supporting them. Why not - with Air India pilots on strike - other airlines have increased their fares and are raking in the moolah. Why should they not want a longer strike. 150 of Air India's 200 domestic flights stand cancelled. Who benefits? other private players. Why should they not encourage Air India pilots to fight for higher pay packets while the private players drive Air India off the map.Once Air India was considered most reliable. Now some travel agents are telling potential fliers to spend a little extra and book with private airlines. At least they don't strike and travellers will reach their destination.

The timing of Air India pilots strike is also curious. April last week. Just when summer vacation is about to begin and most families have either booked or are in the process of booking their tickets. If pilots thought public pressure would force the government to act - they could not be more wrong. The public is so angry that they'd rather see Air India shut down rather than have another bail out for the airlines in red at the tax payers' expense.


Do you feel a sense of pride when you hear the name Air India?
Is Air India your preferred Airline when you fly domestic or international ?
Does Air India inspire confidence internationally as a brand name ?

If the answer to all of the above is no - it is time to shut down Air India. An Airline that does not take pride in its name, where employees are not struggling to keep it afloat and where the pilots and the management are on a Kamikazi mission does not deserve India in its name. India is a name I am proud of.

The pilots appear to be selfish, self centered, cribbing lot of have alls crying for even more when the airlines is in the red. I do not agree with civil aviation minister Vylar Ravi when he says the pilots are only 10+2 and crying for more when they earn at least 3.65 lakh a month. I could have forgiven a 10+2 for holding the nation to ransom. How do I forgive a group of 800 professional pilots - including 200executive pilots who have flown all across the country - some across the world - know ground realities and yet behave like spoilt rotten rogues.


Vylar Ravi looks really angry on television as he tells pilots to return or face disciplinary action.Air India has sacked 6 pilots and suspended another 4. Of the 800plus pilots who are running Air India to the ground, action has been taken against 10.Is that enough?

In the past pilots have been sacked and suspended for a number of reasons when on strike. But they were reinstated later. Did the pilots lose anything? no. Did the management lose anything? no. Who lost? Well Air India lost its name and the nation its prestige. Of course you and I as taxpayers are the ultimate losers.

The pilots once sacked from Air India can join any of the private sector airlines, fly chartered planes or fly abroad. But this time the sacked pilots should lose their licence to fly. Let them know they cannot hold the nation to ransom. Again and Again.


The Air India management and the government are perhaps as guilty as the striking pilots if not more.Why did Air India stop flying on 32 profitable routes including Chennai-Colombo and Gulf in the past couple of years. Who insisted on the merger that benefited the private airlines, especially on the Gulf route paving way for the second airline to operate on the route.

On what grounds has the management and government promised to look into the ``legitimate demands'' of Indian Airlines pilots on pay parity with Air India pilots. How can you compare apples and oranges?Air India pilots fly longer routes, bigger aircraft, longer duration...how can salaries have parity?

Why were domestic flying hours reduced drastically for Indian Airlines pilots? Why are private airlines growing at the cost of Air India? The management and the government need to explain why losses that stood at Rs 447.93 crore (Air India) and Rs 240.29 cr (Indian Airlines) shoot up to Rs 16,000 crore post merger?

Why was a decision to purchase 111 aircraft for Air India - international and domestic cleared when proper home work was not done on debt servicing, use of aircraft and requirement.

Experts say there has been no accountability in the functioning of Air India management and the government too. Pilots alone cannot be blamed. I completely agree with the pilots that there should be a CBI inquiry into the functioning of the national carrier and strict action be taken in a time bound manner against the guilty.


A lot of what is happening - from covert threats of a lockout to overt calls for talks are all `tamasha' for public consumption. If one goes by past cases, sacked pilots have no reason to worry. Sooner than later talks will be fruitful and there will be those Kodak moments, all smiling photo opportunities and once agin it will be business as usual.

Except you and I perhaps would be forced to bail out Air India once again. Another multi thousand crore bailout. Pilots without working would have got a massive salary hike. With 1600 pilots getting a salary hike the remainder of the 14,000 Air India work force will threaten or actually go on a strike demanding parity and a raise. Another strike and another bail out.

Private airline owners will laugh all the way to the banks and you and I...the aam aadmi will be left wondering why despite paying such high taxes India remains a poor third world country.

This time when the nation is actually standing up to corruption - let there be a transparent probe into allegations of corruption in Air India. Let those who have played an active role in running the airline to the ground be jailed. Let pilots show commitment work without a raise - lift the airlines out of the red and soar into the blue skies. Money will follow.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Anna Effect: My Jantar Mantar Diary

A driver in the Indian army during the 1965 Indo-Pak war in the Khemkaran sector, is today the General of the peoples army fighting the war against corruption.
He has taken the nation by storm. From five year old class one students to those in the twilight of their lives, were all at Jantar Mantar to see a movement take shape. The government initially did not realise the gravity of the situation. Such a movement had been initiated once earlier.A similar battle cry had been sounded. But that time the movement did not succed. This time it did - at least so far. SUPER SHOCKING SCAMS But that time nobody was talking about the Rs 1,76,000 crore 2 G spectrum scam, Rs 70,000 crore rupee Commonwealth Games Scam, the Adarsh Scam, the Antrix deal and a ``clean'' prime minister presiding over what was seen as one of the most corrupt ever establishment. Union Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal saying with a straight face that there was no scam in 2G spectrum allocation angered the man on the street.For the aam admi prices of food, vegetables, fruits, education - daily life - spiralling out of control was a scam. The government seemed unresponsive, at least ineffective. Anna Hazare's call to combat corruption struck a chord in perhaps every heart and people came out of their homes. Media has been `blamed' for egging Anna Hazare on. Especially television media. For beaming pictures of the protest and Jantar Mantar and ``breathlessly creating a frenzy.'' The Congress party went on record to say they respected Anna's cause but not the course. Now that was a bit confusing. A fast unto death was the course that Mahatma Gandhi, father of the nation took recourse to. There was no violence - no bloodshed and the only person punished was self. Yet the Congress did not agree with the course. WITNESSING HISTORY I was at Jantar Mantar every day. Saw the crowds build up - from a couple of hundred the first day to several thousand on day 4. I met school children (class IV to XII) impressionable age - they had been brought there by their teachers to learn first hand the Gandhian form of protest. Peaceful non violent fast. Children were ecstatic they were seeing history being made. One school teacher (prestigious Delhi missionary school) told me she had learnt about Gandhi only from books but her students were luckier to see it first hand. A Lesson they would never forget. ROLE OF REFORMERS A heated debate started at Jantar Mantar and in television studios the day Yog Guru Baba Ramdev sat on the platform next to Anna Hazare whether Gurus and Sants should be sharing that platform. What was unique about this protest at Jantar Mantar was the fact that every evening there would be a sarv-dharm sabha. A vedic prayer, the Gurbani, a sermon and reading a verse from the Holy Koran. It had a calming effect. We are a secular nation after all and religion plays a crucial role in our lives. Should the Babas, maulvis, Padris and Granthis have been there? My take: India has a history of Sants, Gurus, Mahatmas and teachers spearheading change. Maharshi Vishwamitra, Chanakya, Samarth Guru Ramdas, Swami Dayanand, Swami Vivekanand...the list is endless. Their role in history has not been confined to religious preaching but extends to nation building. BLAMING TV MEDIA To say TV led and `fomented' this movement is insulting not only Anna Hazare but the intelligence of the people of this country. This was perhaps a spontaneous outburst of peoples pent up anger and frustration. TV reported it - constantly - because there was interest in it. The number of people who called to ask how Anna Hazare was, how they could help, should they be at Jantar Mantar or in their own neighbourhoods...Each day the crowds swelled - not just in Delhi, Mumbai and other metros but even in smaller towns across the country. Tushar Gandhi in an interview to Headlines Today asked if the crowds were there because of the media - to appear on TV? My reading - majority were there to be a part of a process trying to improve the nation's future and fight corruption. WRONG PRECEDENT BEING SET? Well respected journalists and columnists have commented on TV journalists reporting and almost egging on the movement not realising its harmful aftereffects and side effects. I think for 60 years we have suffered this corruption and each year the problem becomes bigger and bigger. While I totally agree it is for the lawmakers to make laws but when they don't for 42 years, should we just wait another 42 years. This is an experiment. Instead of being cynical and saying it is bound to fail without even giving it a shot - lets push for it. If it fails there is not much to lose -after all for 42 years all other efforts have failed. And then the government can put on its most holier-than-thou mask and say we told you so - leave governance to us. But to pan it without trying it - almost echoes a politician's take - who are mighty alarmed being under the microscope even if briefly. Another Congress party spokesperson said today it is Anna Hazare tomorrow it can be the Jats and the Gujjars who would want a notification and civil society -govt joint drafting committee and cite this case as a precedent. Well, if jointmanship can bring better laws why not. And for anyone else to make such demands they would first have to reach Anna Hazare's stature. After all Jats protested earlier too and did we see the entire nation rise with them? Did we see one of the most well respected Indians - metroman E Sreedharan join them? Did we see CEOs, COOs and head honchos of top companies join the movement? ROLE OF TWITTER/FACEBOOK Tremendous. Much more than expected.And will have a bigger impact in the times to come. This is power to the people. The aam admi is the journalist. Your mobile phone is the camera and you are the journalist. The so called mainstream media follows social media - tweets, facebook updates, youtube. And in the times to come the role will only grow. But as J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted - with power comes responsibility. Will this street power prove to be responsible and actually bring about a positive change after camera have moved to the next big story? My take: awareness level has increased. THE ANNA EFFECT In Mumbai, a government servant was beaten up by a mob and handed over to the police for demanding an accepting a bribe from a tea shop owner. The official demanded Rs 25,000 as bribe, as the news report said. The poor tea stall owner managed to just arrange the instalment of Rs 2,000. As soon as the money was handed over- passers by caught the official, roughed him up and handed him over to the police. That's a positive step. Not the thrashing but people coming together to combat corruption. Godwilling we shall have many more stories like this in the days, weeks and months to come. Then perhaps there will be a genuine grassroots movement to combat corruption. At India Gate (crowds lesser as Anna Hazare was not there) - I asked a group of youngsters will they go on a fast unto death for their demands - to fight for justice and corruption free society. Pat came the reply: No sir - we will starve the politicians and establishment - we will not pay bribes. If the youth actually mean this and actually do what they say - the battle is won.

Friday, March 25, 2011


It is not Yusuf Raza Gillani or Asif Ali Zardari but Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, if at all, who should be invited to watch the high voltage India-Pakistan semi finals at Mohali.

After all it is not the titular president Zardari or pawn prime minister Gillani but the chain smoking chief of the army staff General Kayani who wields actual power in Pakistan.

Prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh would do well to press home the point with Kayani about the importance of maintaining stability in the region - which is now as much in Kayani's interest given the war with their home grown, trained and armed terrorists on their western flank.

Pakistan's military dictators from General Zia-ul-Haq (Jaipur,1987) to Pervez Musharraf (Delhi, 2005) have in the past used cricket diplomacy to talk to India in a less structured environment. Those talks may have momentarily reduced tensions but did not help bring about a change expected of a summit level meeting - aimed at cutting through the diplomatic red tape and stated positions.

Let me at the onset say I am not against talks. I am not an opponent of warmer Indo-Pak ties. I think both India and Pakistan stand to gain with friendly relations between the two nuclear weapon states. But the million dollar question is - who will tell the Pakistan army that?

Will Dr Manmohan Singh travel to the Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul and tell the young cadets that India is not their enemy. Terrorists are. That threat to Pakistan does not come from its eastern flank but from its western flank and now within. That the Pakistan army desperately needs reforms in military affairs (it just bypassed the region) to re-orient itself to take on terrorists it gave birth to, armed, trained and launched both in Afghanistan and in India.

The situation is far more desperate and radicalised now. The US, with all its clout -money and muscle power had to literally go down on its knees to gets its spy Raymond Davis out of Pakistan. Do we actually expect to move forward after one cricket match? If so, our understanding and appreciation of Pakistan army is very poor. Hating India is in Pakistan army's DNA. That DNA restructuring will not happen through these cricket matches. For that India will have to engage the Pakistan army directly in military-to-military contacts - off the battlefield. And seeing the US having limited success, we should really set very realistic goals.

These Mohali-type talks are more for the sake of talks. More like talking at each other - or just talking to keep the Americans happy. Indo-Pak engagements follow a pattern. It is almost like theatre. There is a script. The prime minister here, the president/military dictator there are just characters in a play. And it is almost as if someone is directing the play, ordering the characters to follow the script sitting across the seven seas.

Lets just go back one decade. Lahore bus journey in Feb 1999 was seen as a turning point in Indo-Pak relations. A new dawn, many fawned. It was followed by a devious war in Kargil masterminded by General Pervez Musharraf. More than 540 brave soldiers laid down their lives just to restore the Line Of Control.

In 2001, India let Pakistan off the hook and became the first country in the world to give legitimacy to a military dictator; Pervez Musharraf. India gave him a ceremonial tri-services guard of honour, reserved only for heads of state, at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. The Agra summit that followed was a complete disaster.

The same year terrorists trained, armed and launched by Pakistan attacked the J&K state assembly and then in December the Indian Parliament.

The same script was followed. India's desperate breast beating and sulking. A military stand off - Operation Parakram for 10 months and then again it was business as usual. Reports say more than 800 soldiers were killed during Operation Parakram without a single bullet being fired.

In 2004 Vajpayee travelled to Pakistan. Once again Pakistan was off the hook. The Indian cricket team traveled to Pakistan for the so called friendship series. In 200 Musharraf wrangled an invite to India to watch the cricket match at the Feroz shah Kotla grounds in Delhi. All for laying the foundation for better ties with India.

Did it bring peace in the sub continent? Delhi, Mumbai and several other cities across the country were repeatedly targeted by Pakistan sponsored terrorists. The Indian Institute of Science at Bangalore was targeted by terrorists. Tehre was a terror attack at Ayodhya and a serial bomb blast in Delhi on Diwali eve that killed almost 70 innocent people.

In 2006 the Sankat Mochan temple and the Railway station at Varanasi were attacked and in July, the same year, a serial blast in the Mumbai suburban train system killed almost 200 innocent Indians.

2007 again saw a series of blasts and terror attacks across the country. The government claimed it was Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jamat-ud-Dawa and other Pakistan sponsored terror groups that were responsible for these terror attacks.

In 2008 terrorist attacks increased. Not only were several Indian cities like Ahmedabad, Surat and Bangalore targeted but the ISI targeted Indian embassy in Kabul before the biggest ever terror attack on India in Mumbai 26/11 2008.

To all these terror attacks what has Pakistan's response been ?

Pakistan signed an agreement saying it will not permit its territory to be used for terror attacks against India. Now that agreement is not worth the paper it is written on since even post 26/11 not only are terror factories up and running in Pakistan but they are mushrooming along the line of control in Jammu and Kashmir and in Punjab.

Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, Illyas Kashmiri, Dawood Ibrahim are flourishing in Pakistan. Now that is an open secret. You do not need R&AW inputs for that. But Pakistan refuses to acknowledge that. What does that show? invite Pakistan for as many cricket matches - it will remain hostile to India.

Forget the past. Post 26/11 India's home minister P. Chidambaram cried himself hoarse telling Pakistan to give voice samples of alleged terror masterminds who were directing the 10 Pakistani terrorists during the 26/11 attacks. Has Pakistan delivered ? No.

Twice the Indian embassy in Kabul was targeted. Not just R&AW - intelligence agencies ranging from CIA to MI-6 to French and German agencies blamed Pakistan's ISI. Any action against even a low ranking non commissioned officer (NCO) let alone the mastermind - Director General of ISI ? No.

The civilian establishment needs to be strengthened in Pakistan no doubt. But the foundation cannot be laid on dead bodies of innocent Indians killed in terror attacks in India and Afghanistan. India should talk to Gen Kayani and tell him next time India is targeted - the nation will not turn the other cheek.

India should say exactly the same to the United States. While US interests in the Af-Pak region are important, Indian interests are far more important and cannot be sacrificed at the altar of US war on terror.

If India can do that then Gen Kayani would be equally desperate for that ticket at Mohali. Our Prime Minister would do well to keep that in mind while hosting Gilani at Mohali.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Tonight I write with a heavy heart. I am safe in Cairo. Physically more than 1,400 kilometres out of harm's way. But mentally and emotionally I am still in Benghazi and Brega and Aj Dabiah and Ras Lanuf in eastern Libya with the men who are so desperately fighting a losing battle for dignity, honour and freedom.
Imagine 15 days ago I did not know any of them. Never met them - never heard of them. Today they feel a part of me. There is not a day that passes without me thinking of them - praying for them and for Libya.
Why? I have covered conflict before and in other parts of the world - with little or no Indian connection. Sierra Leone, Lebanon, Iraq... why this attachment with Libya? A country that I along with perhaps more than half the world thought was synonymous with Muammar Gaddafi and believed what practically every one said - Libya is a rogue state.
10 days in eastern Libya changed all that. Libya - at least the 500 kilometres of eastern Libya that Headlines Today senior special correspondent Shiv Aroor and I saw is a lovely nation with equally lovely people - yearning for peace and prosperity and freedom from Muammar Gaddafi, Saif El Islam, Khamees and the rest of the Gaddafi family.
Tonight I am upset as reports indicate after Ras Lanuf, the rebels are on the verge of losing Al Brega. It is now only a matter of time before Gaddafi's mercenaries approach Benghazi, the opposition stronghold (our home for the past 10 days). Benghazi cannot be any stretch of imagination be described as a modern city. It is a small dusty port city on the Mediterranean coast. It could have been a beautiful tourist resort - as could perhaps more than half of Libya - a tourist paradise instead of being described as a rogue state. But its ruler for the past 41 years is happy to keep it backward and locked in a time warp. That helps him and his offsprings control the country better.
Can you imagine a country in the 21st century that prohibits its citizens from learning computers and English so that they cannot communicate with the outside world. There is so much oil in the country and so much foreign exchange coming in that if properly spent the country will be more advanced than perhaps the most advanced Arab country - if not Europe. After all Gaddafi only has to look after 6.5 million people spread over a vast African nation.
but Railway lines are still being laid in projects that started in the 1980s. Roads are still laid only on paper. There is a systematic effort to ignore the development of the eastern part of the country.
Revolutionaries love the media, we are told. They see the media as an ally or maybe a tool to carry their message to the world. The people we met saw us as family. Shiv and I walked into Libya with no contact whatsoever. No idea of what lay ahead. In the dead of the night we crossed over into Libya from the Egypt land border. The first welcome was heartening. The border guards, young `freedom fighters' stopped a taxi to take us to Tubruk, 200 kilometres from the border. The driver in the dead of the night took us to Tubruk and despite our pestering him refused to accept money. He was not engaged in psychological warfare. He was not using us as a tool. He was just a Libyan who wanted freedom and willing to lend a helping hand to anyone who could help get his message across. Even when we did pay him the money, he put it in a contribution box towards their revolution. He did not take a dollar or Dinar for himself.
We met many-many people like that in Libya. My story about Libya can never be complete without mentioning my good friend - or brother - Issam Khalil, an expat. He lives in Shanghai, China. Makes a lot of money importing Chinese goods into Libya. He gave it all up to join the freedom struggle. He took Shiv and me across the rebel held areas explaining the movement and the trauma the nation has been facing for the past 41 years of Gaddafi rule. His never say die attitude and fierce commitment for the cause of a free Libya are worthy of mention. I shall write more about him later.
Shiv and I were equally impressed with Dr Suheil Altarash - working tirelessly at the Ras Lanuf hospital - till moments before it fell to pro Gaddafi forces. Shiv, a British freelance photographer James Wardell and I reached Ras lanuf at last light. We filmed extensively in the town and then following ambulance sirens reached the hospital. As one battle casualty after the other was wheeled in, Dr Altarash and his team worked non stop to try and save lives - often literally snatching the seriously injured fighters in heavy arms fire - from the jaws of death. Dr Altarash spoke to us between life saving procedures in the operation theatre. He was calm, composed - matter of fact. He called us his brothers. Thanked us for being there in his hour of need. Have dinner with us. Eat what we have. Stay with us at the hospital, he said. If we have to die, we die together. we are brothers.
Barely two hours after we left that hospital, pro-Gaddafi forces bombed the hospital complex. Shiv and I prayed for the doctor and his team. We have not been able to get in touch with them ever since. These are just some names. There were many many people like that who spoke to us - both off and on record. We saw the Libyan prisons in Benghazi under Gaddafi rule. Heard the tales of horror. Not propaganda for the media. Just victims we sought, found and spoke to. Some did not come on camera. They did not want a story. They wanted justice. And freedom.
Freedom that is under threat today. Shiv and I are both keen students of military strategy and tactics. the rebels clearly have none. The days we spent with them - we saw their bravado. Holding a gun - from an AK series rifle to anti-aircraft guns, anti-material rifles, rocket propelled grenandes and even an odd mortar. But they are not an organised fighting force that can withstand - let alone take on Gaddafi's much better trained, armed and funded forces.
The writing is on the wall. The Libyan dream of freedom from Gaddafi appears to be dying a bloody death. The intervention that was eagerly awaited - desperately sought from the world - is not coming.
Gaddafi's forces are steamrolling all opposition in their bloody and brutal march towards Benghazi. Sitting in Cairo - with my heart in Benghazi - I can almost see my friends - brothers - fighting to their last breath for something that is so dear to all of us - HONOUR, DIGNITY AND FREEDOM.

War Dispatches From Libya #3

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Early in the morning we hired a taxi to take us to Benghazi some 500 kilometres from Tubruk. The previous night after flying half way across the world we had driven almost a thousand kilometres. Another group of journalists joined us and our cavalcade zipped through the cold north African desert. Nothing but rocks and sand for miles. The road was smooth. All cars were headed in the opposite direction – towards Egypt. Cars, buses and trucks all loaded beyond capacity with suitcases and bags piled on rooftops and hanging precariously from the sides. 300 kilometres and 3 hours later the landscape changed suddenly. The sand was replaced by red soil and rocks by lush green grass and trees. The sun disappeared behind clouds and it began to rain. A good omen I thought. As temperature dropped further I asked the driver to roll up his side of the window. It is broken, he smiled. I saw no reason too. Despite three layers of clothing, both Shiv and I were cold and wet.

We reached Benghazi by 5 in the evening. It was deserted. A ghost town. The vibes were rather negative. The first hotel we went to refused to take us. The rates had shot up to $ 200 per day. Every hotel had only journalists from all over the world. We then moved to Tibesty hotel – locals say the best in the city. The hotel had no rooms and no internet. Our hearts sank.

Early in the morning at Turbruk I had requested a Japanese journalist if we could use his Beegan system to uplink just two pieces to camera to India – just to establish our presence in Libya. He had very kindly consented. It must have cost his company a packet but he refused to accept the money we offered, In my school days I had read somewhere that Japanese were very helpful people. This action had confirmed it. Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya had no internet. We had no means to send our feed to India.

Since phone lines were down we could not even ask our office in New Delhi to book a 10 minute feed for us either through the Associated Press or the EBU. We sent smses but none reached Delhi. We were cold and hungry but since both Shiv and I cover security issues and spend time with soldiers from across the world – our morale usually remains high. By late evening one journalist checked out of the hotel – moving back to Cairo because he had not been able to communicate with his office for 6 days. We checked into his room. We went to the town centre and were amazed to see thousands of Libyans assembled there – singing – dancing celebrating ``freedom from Gaddafi.’’

``This is real freedom. Two generations have not experienced this,’’ said a 50-year-old. Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has been at the helm of affairs for 42 years and with the much feared intelligence agents all over – nobody ever spoke their mind. This time they not only abused Gaddafi openly – savouring every word like a sweet dessert – they also openly talked of democracy, rights and freedom. ``Had we done so even three months earlier we would have been locked up in a secret prison and our family would never have heard of us,’’ he added.

Little children played on tanks that had been sent to crush the movement. A major part of the Libyan army deployed in the east rebelled against Gaddafi and joined the freedom fighters. There was a carnival at the square on the Mediterranean coast. Despite the icy wind people were rejoicing in the new found freedom. Even if some seniors warned the celebrations were a bit premature. The people of Benghazi may have succeeded in pushing back Gaddafi’s forces freedom is still a distant dream.

Distances in this country are killing. From Tubruk to Benghazi was more than 500 kilometres. Aj Dabiah and Brega where pitched battles took place between forces loyal to and opposing Gaddafi were another 200 to 300 kilometres away. Ras Lanuf the major oil hub and port another 500 kilometres away from Benghazi. In the next 48 hours Shiv and I travelled to all these places.

With Issam Khalil, an expat who returned to join the freedom struggle we followed a convoy of fighters from Benghazi to Ras Lanuf. This was an experience I will never forget. But more on it later.

(to be continued…)

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Crossing over illegally into Libya was the aim. Armed with a multiple entry visa to Egypt and Tunisia Shiv Aroor and I boarded the Etihad flight from Delhi to Abu Dhabi and then to Cairo.

Within an hour of landing in Cairo we left for Sallum – the border between Egypt and Libya. The 800 kilometre long journey through the changing landscape and the famous second world war battlefield Al Alamien took almost a lifetime – despite our car zipping across at 140 kmph. The drive to the border was cold and tense. The border was cold and windy. There were thousands of people – Indians, Bangladeshis, Nepalis, Egyptians desperately waiting to cross over to safety into Egypt.

Shiv and I were the only two trying to cross over into Libya. In harm’s way. The border security personnel could not believe with no back up, no fixers and no local help – two journalists who did not even speak Arabic and had no idea about what to expect across the fence in cold desert – were desperate to cross over.

The Egyptians were friendly. They turned a blind eye as Shiv and I began interviewing the evacuees at the border post and then quietly had exit stamped on our passports and slipped across the barbed wire fence well past midnight.

As we walked along the no man’s land we almost expected a shout or a burst of AK fire. Or were we being too dramatic. Across the Libyan border – armed civilians – some in battle fatigues stopped us. Checked our passports. ``Welcome to the peoples’ Democratic Republic of Libya free of Gaddafi,’’ said one. We instantly felt at home. One of them offered us a cigarette. I declined Shiv accepted. We had some pictures taken before they waved an oncoming car – that had dropped some evacuees to Egypt – to take us to Tubruk, a magical tourist town on the Mediterranian sea coast some 150 kilometres inside east Libya.

``Into fate’s hands,’’ said Shiv. We had absolutely no idea who the driver was. He did not speak English and we did not speak Arabic. At night we had absolutely no idea where he was taking us. There were burnt cars all along the highway. Lights were lit in every house but there was not a soul in sight for miles. We were too scared to even doze off. After flying from India to Egypt for 12 hours and driving non stop for another 12, we were tired, hungry and sleepy. But dared not sleep. But our fears were totally unfounded.

The driver took us into Masera hotel in Tubruk. It was a surreal experience. From crossing over into Libya illegally here we were in a swanky five star deluxe hotel. Except for two other journalists the hotel was empty. The hotel staff did not even ask where we came from and why. They saw our passports and gave us the room keys. But kept our passports with them. That was scary. In a strange land with passports not with us. A very scary thought but the hotel manager showed us the passports of other journalists too. Both of us were too tired to argue. We walked into our rooms and even before the door shut we crashed out.

(to be continued…)

Friday, February 11, 2011


The roar of democracy will shatter the window panes of the Presidential palace and the ear drums of the regime, scream protesters at the Al-Tahrir square. It is people power versus the President in Egypt. The embattled president Hosni Mubarak has once again sidestepped the overwhelming demand to step down. He is giving up power drop by drop, talking about delegating some responsibilities to the vice president Omar Suleiman. But this has angered the protesters even more. There was a massive build up to the presidential address. The secretary general of the national democratic party Hossam Badrawy indicated the president had been advised to step down. The supreme council of the armed forces met and a spokesperson said the peoples' demands will be met. Thousands and thousands rushed to the Liberation Square - all wanting to be a part of history being made. They wanted to be there and experience change. They were bitterly disappointed. I spent a week at the Al-Tahrir square and it is an island of democracy in midst of a sea of uniform.

In unity lies their strength. And more and more people are pouring into the Al-Tahrir square to boost the morale of those camping there for the past 18 days. All eyes are on the all powerful Egyptian Army, an institution well respected by the masses. While covering the Friday - Day of Departure protests - last week at the Al-Tahrir square in Cairo I had met and interacted with an Egyptian army colonel. There was a major general personally supervising security arrangements and several other senior officers standing by. They were at ease - smiling and receiving friendly salutes from the masses. Little children begged to have pictures taken with them.

A Major of the Egyptian Army Parachute Regiment and two other officers walked into the Square and were almost lifted on the shoulders by the pro-democracy protesters. The army permitted the protesters to sleep on the tank tracks as a symbolic gesture to ensure the tanks do not move. Will the army continue to stand by tonight and in the days to come? The army’s supreme council has told the people it will ensure smooth transition to democracy and wants the people to go home. The vice president Omar Suleiman has said the same thing. One thing is clear the army is the establishment in Egypt.

Will the protesters take on the army ? Can there be a Tiananmen Square at the Tahrir Square? As of now it appears not just unlikely but nearly impossible. Why? Egypt is no China. They might have an authoritarian regime but the masses have well and truly smelt the sweet smell of freedom. It is intoxicating. The whiff of Jasmine will anyday overcome the smell of burnt gunpowder. The people are certain that their own army will not open fire on them.

The people are fighting against president Hosni Mubarak and not the army - even though for many they have been two sides of the same coin. The army has stakes in the country and will ensure it does not go to the dogs. They will not let mobs rule the streets of Cairo - not even at the Qasr el Nil or 6 October Bridge. The army will stand by and watch the masses protest peacefully. The army, it appears, will tire them out. The army too appears to be realising Mubarak is not Egypt. Ultimately the army will choose Egypt over the man who ruled it for 30 years. The roar of democracy will shatter whatever illusions remain. The revolution is successful. Egypt has arisen and the world is watching.

Even if the protesters go home, or are made to go home they have achieved their aim. It will not be back to business as usual for the ruling elite. Change will come.

Freedom will come to the people of Egypt. The question now is not if but when.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


When the government in Egypt said foreign journalists could not use television cameras to film the protests and events as they unfolded before the all important Day of Departure Friday protests, I used my mobile camera to shoot.
That time it was not the quality of pictures - but the fact that pictures could be taken and sent at all - that was more important.
Pro-Mubarak protesters ensured many journalists could not step out of their hotels, but we were lucky. I accompanied a group of protesters and entered the heavily fortified Al-Tahrir square with them. And used my mobile phone to tell the story.
There was a story to tell and this was the only way to do it.
Technology came to my rescue again when I used a mobile phone to connect to the Headlines Today studio in Delhi and did a live report form the Al Tahrir square.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011



Gaurav C. Sawant | Cairo

Egyptians rally in Cairo to demand President Hosni Mubarak's resignation

The chants of 'Go Mubarak Go' at Tahrir Square in Cairo are rivalled by the pro-Hosni Mubarak slogans requesting the 'beloved leader' to stay on for the country. State-sponsored vigilantes are on the street clashing with pro-democracy protesters. The tottering Egyptian president's televised address, insisting he would step down in September, was booed by thousands of freedom marchers.

Pro-Mubarak demonstrators attacked me and other members of the Headlines Today team, hitting the cameraman for shooting visuals of only anti-Mubarak demonstrators and not of Mubarak supporters. They accused the team of being a part of a "hostile Arab channel". The cameraman was beaten up and his camera tripod broken. They also yanked out the tape and smashed it. "I tried to tell them I am an Indian and not an Arab but the mob does not listen," said cameraman Tahir Chowdhary.

The attackers relented only when we showed our passports. "We kept saying we are Sahafi al Hind (Indian journalists). But the mob was not listening. It was only when a section of the mob saw the passports and intervened did the rest of the mob relent and then targeted another group journalists," said Chowdhary. They also roughed up several foreign journalists covering the crisis in Cairo, accusing them of deliberately trying to destabilise the Mubarak regime.

Braving chilly winds and 4ºC temperatures are the 'freedom fighters' who insist they will continue to fight for change even if the army opens fire. This is battleground Egypt. For the first time ever people have dared to defy the state in such large numbers.

Protesters use a shoe to disgrace an image of Mubarak woven into a carpetThe Jasmine Revolution of Tunisia has spread to Egypt and a whiff of freedom is in the air. "This time we will be free. Allah is with us," says Dr Nashwa Salah, professor of philosophy at Cairo's prestigious Ain Shams University. Many tents have come up at the roundabout at Tahrir Square. Thousands of people camping through the week, saying they will leave only when Mubarak leaves. Twenty-eight-year-old Salma Sayed teaches interactive theatre to schoolchildren. "But this is no drama. This is an issue of our life and death. I am here with my parents and entire family. Our entire neighbourhood is camping here," she says.

This is the most unique aspect of this movement. Men, women, children, some as young as five, are taking part in an effort for what they say is Egypt's brighter future. But what is the future when the 82-year-old president who has ruled with an iron fist for over three decades refuses to step down? "I do not know if it will be Mohamed ElBaradei or Omar Suleiman. But even the Muslim Brotherhood cannot be as bad as Mubarak," adds Yaseer Beraka, an engineer from Fayaum who came to Cairo to join the protesters.

A former International Atomic Energy Agency chief and Nobel Peace Prize winner, ElBaradei is the face of moderate upper class Egypt. He has returned to Egypt and is being seen as the spearhead of the movement against Mubarak. He said the president's concessions are too little and too late. He has the support of the youth and the intelligentsia but lacks a mass base. His critics insist he has spent so much time in Vienna that he has completely lost touch with ground realities and the issues concerning the masses in Egypt.

Suleiman, the former chief of intelligence and the newly appointed vice- president, is seen as the acceptable face of transition to democracy.

Then there is also Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi. He is the country's deputy prime minister and defence minister. He controls the army and has played an extremely crucial role in shaping the army's measured response. He has said to have instructed the army not to open fire at the protesters and that news has led to his popularity increasing.

Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, who is the face of moderate upper class Egypt, is the focus of the movement against Mubarak.
"There is also Ayman Nour, the leader of the Al-Ghad party. In the 2005 elections he was very popular but those elections were rigged. He could also be a part of the transition government. More and more people should have a voice. In fact, Mubarak had him jailed because of his rising popularity," says Aisha Shehab, a Nour supporter.

The Muslim Brotherhood, though officially banned, is the biggest opposition group with grassroots support. It will play a key role in the formation of the next government. The Brotherhood's main support base lies in the rural areas among the downtrodden. They lack a mass base in urban areas especially since they insist they want Egypt to be an Islamic state ruled by the Sharia. Their supporters are moving on the streets carrying banners that read "Islam is the only solution to the crisis".

The Muslim Brotherhood has said that ElBaradei is acceptable to them and experts say a combination of ElBaradei and the Muslim Brotherhood could pave the way for a smoother and widely acceptable transition model. One thing is clear, the army will have a major say and role to play in the future of Egypt with Mubarak losing his moral legitimacy to rule. Experts say he is and will remain at the mercy of the army.

Both pro- and anti-Mubarak supporters want peace to prevail and insist they do not want Egypt to become another Iraq. But the country has come to a virtual standstill. Schools, colleges, offices, shops, malls, banks, the stock market are all closed. There is no public transport. Not even neighbourhood shops are opening in the non-curfew morning hours. "I have run out of food. What do I feed my children?" asks Tariq Sadiq, a school teacher. Truckers fear looting and burning, so they are unwilling to ferry cargo to Cairo. The police, virtually non-existent on the streets, are forcing youngsters to form neighbourhood watch schemes to protect their homes and surroundings from looters.

Mohamed ElBaradei addresses the crowd at Tahrir Square in CairoOverall the country is descending into chaos. And many say this is being encouraged purposely by the embattled president to give the people an impression of the chaos that the country will be engulfed in if he quits.

Anarchy in Egypt would mean trouble in the Arab world and its impact will be felt in more ways than one across the globe. The Suez Canal, the shortest link between the East and the West due to its extremely unique geographical location, is one of the world's most critical navigation channels. The canal is still open but there is no loading and unloading of cargo at the ports since workers are staying away due to the crisis. The added tension to the world is what happens if the route that connects the Gulf of Suez with the Mediterranean Sea is shut down. More than 2.5 million barrels of oil, which is more than 2 per cent of the global production, pass through the canal each day and any trouble in the canal would mean the entire sea trade will have to pass through the Cape of Good Hope adding another 6,000 miles to the journey. That would mean loss of time and money.

A hostile Egypt is Israel's worst nightmare coming true again. If the peace treaty with Egypt collapses, Israel will have to rewrite its security doctrine after three decades of peace. A major military threat to Israel's southern border would only embolden Hamas in Palestine and divide the Israeli forces. The Egyptian army is well equipped with American military hardware. The American-trained Egyptian army numbers more than 6,50,000 troops with 60 combat brigades, more than 3,500 tanks and 600 fighter planes, including American F-16s.

Israel's worst nightmare would be a regime change both in Egypt and Jordan where it would return to a 1977-like situation facing a hostile combined Arab army of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestinian fighters.

Tunisia was a wave sparked by one young man setting himself alight. Egypt has the power to amplify that wave into a tsunami of change across the Arab world.

Gaurav C. Sawant is deputy editor with Headlines Today