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Pawan Bali
Friday , July 01, 2011

Pirates of the unruly sea

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My first encounter with sea-pirates was at the age of seven. They seemed largely harmless. Patched-eye pirates, somehow, invoking pity. It was an Asterix comic-book, unintentionally introducing the enigmatic world of the pirates. I still have not known a real pirate up close, but recently the encounters recounted by the released MV Suez hostages do give a sense, that they are anything, but harmless. Piracy in Somalia is as old as its non-existent government. After the civil war in 1991, the Central Government collapsed. The transitional Federal Government, which replaced it, only controlled a small part of the country. That's when piracy was born-apparently at first it was just the capture of ships, which were encroaching the Somalian waters for illegal tuna fishing. The hostage ships were asked to pay taxes and then let off. But for a country, which had no jobs, no money, piracy soon became an....

Saturday , June 18, 2011

Indo- Pak talks: dialogue is therapeutic

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Talks are therapeutic. That's what any shrink will tell you. Especially, if it is between two warring parties, that have witnessed extreme highs and lows in a relationship. For Indo-Pak tie-up too, dialogue is somehow curative. Both nations are closely engaged in a situation, where they cannot " live with or without each other." So any strategic shrink would tell them, dialogue is the best way forward to mend ways. A positive step after the 26/11 attacks, where both countries have decided to resume talks and the foreign secretaries will meet this month-end. Whether India agrees to bring 26/11 on the talk table, or Pakistan manages to shove terror talks under the carpet, one thing is certain-this time both countries will discuss Jammu and Kashmir, peace and security and confidence building measures (CBMs). So as far as the CBMs are concerned, Pakistan should start by formalizing India's....

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

J&K: The lesser polls with larger gains

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KP woman, a former militant and a model turned politician are Kashmir's new sarpanches The usually stone-pelted streets of Baramulla sprung a surprise a gentle summer afternoon. Celebrations, as Aisha Jee beat her closet rival Sarwar Begum to be elected as a first Pandit sarpanch in Kashmir. The victory was tweeted as a symbol of Hindu Muslim unity in the Valley. Some days before this, near the Line of Control in Lacchipora, a software engineer and an aspiring model Raja Pervez Ali Mir joined in the ranks of Kashmir's new sarpanches. A former Hizbul Mujahidin commander Munaf Malik, involved in over150 encounters, contested the polls. Another former militant, Ghulam Ahmad Magray got lucky with a win. Kashmir's panchayat elections have been an interesting platter. Not just for the high voter turnout, but for the mix of its contestants. The separatists had also indirectly extended their....

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Time for a political roadmap on Kashmir?

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Every time the Prime Minister visits Jammu and Kashmir, some things are inevitable. For instance, traffic jams or no traffic at all; speculations, expectations and finally an anti-climax, when he returns without a path breaking political announcement. The recent visit of PM Manmohan Singh to Jammu was no different. He inaugurated the two-room tenements for Kashmiri Pandits; announced 1.5 lakh jobs for youth of the state (on the basis of a report by C Rangarajana submitted a day earlier) and then shied away from any kind of a political commitment. True to the track record, Prime Minister's seventh visit to the state had economic incentives, promises, talks on how India will talk and not talk to Pakistan. And true to the past record, when asked about a possible political roadmap on Kashmir, he was non committal. He, however, did say that the separatists, who have refused to....

Monday , February 07, 2011

Kashmir: The dichotomy of grief

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Young lives lost are always tragic. The grief of it is something which every home in Kashmir carefully guards against. Somehow, it quietly creeps in. The grief of an army bullet that kills an innocent student in the dark or of a tear-gas shell that pierces through a 12-year-old class topper in Baramulla. The silent stalker grief, which walks into an 8 x 10 room of a labourer in Sopore, takes away his two young daughters forever. Every time this dark gloom breaks into the vulnerable families in Kashmir, pitched battles are born. Battles of streets protests and political statements- crusades over owning and disowning the tragedies. So in Kashmir when young Akhtara and her sister Arifa are shot by suspected terrorists, first the separatists turn their back on it. Three days later, they wake up to protest. The Shiv Sena and the BJP, who cowardly and....

Monday , April 05, 2010

A Stoned T-20

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It was an invitation for a T-20 of different sorts. "Make sure you are on time," they gently dropped a reminder. Precisely, on Friday, on the streets of Baramulla. The young boys had refused to give in their names. Not even their exact code names. Hesitantly they parted with a few general ones. "Taatha" (older brother), Ish Guard (The fisherman), Iodex or Mufat (free). The Stone-Pelters were still nameless. Teenagers in denims, thick-soled shoes, and a sure foot. T-20 is their name for the stone rage on the lanes of Kashmir. A day before, we had met near the banks of the Jhelum. A group of six, who put on their ready masks when the cameras were switched on. A normal vest with two eyes dug in to cover their faces. They showed off pistol bullets round their necks and fresh injury marks. For....

Friday , January 08, 2010

Enter the dragon, and it spits fire

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Every time there is an argument on India's tricky neighbourhood, my vote goes out to China. It is our more formidable neighbour. But somehow we are so pulled into our Pakistani obsession, that a quiet threat brewing on the Indian borders is always ignored. Or may be we are a bit shy, scared or relatively indifferent towards the dragon. As our Republic turns 60, China has instructed its media to be polite towards the Indian side. For our part, at least we can re-look the Chinese threat all over again. Locals in Ladakh have for years been complaining of China's aggression, verbal at times, and sometimes, even physical. The threats have been consistent since December, 2008. In Ladakh's Dokbug area, the locals had complained of regular Chinese threats and even assaults by the People's Liberation Army. Now, Dokbug and Skakjung in Ladakh, which border with....

Friday , November 27, 2009

Terror- fighters, who?

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It is the week of 26/11. A week of remembrances and of pledges re-drawn. As the nation stood solemnly, silently and promised not to forget, a lesser known, forgotten village of Marrah Kulali spoke up. Windy heights and cold desolate people here tell you how easily we forget terror and the men who fight it. In 2002, Marrah Kulali in border district of Poonch was a home to over 600 militants, spilled over from training camps in Pakistan. Open grounds, villagers say, were their cricket fields. That was the time when 14 Gujjar muslims led by Tahir Fazal left their jobs in Saudia Arabia and returned home to fight them. Fazal, whose brother Mohammad Arif had been by killed Jaish-e-Mohamamd militants, set up the first civilian initiative against terrorism and named it the Indian Peace Peer Panjal Scout. He met Army bosses and senior politicians with the idea....

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Big brother India!

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On a rather hot summer afternoon in Srinagar, a friend spoke about the sense of isolation an average Kashmiri youth feels outside the Valley. I retorted, "But then Kashmiris have to accept India first, which most of them refuse to". He was no lawyer, but my friend made his point simply, "Don't you think India should act as a big brother and accept Kashmiris first". The debate was left for yet another day. The recent incidents did put the argument back on the table. A young Kashmiri cricketer, who had a local cricket board vouching for him, gets held up for alleged terror links. RDX traces in his bag, said the Bangalore police. An embarrassing admittance, especially after the forensic report proved otherwise. And then by a strange coincidence, earlier in the day, the Services Cricket Team had refused to play in Jammu and Kashmir. Apologies....

Monday , July 13, 2009

Kargil: Of a war and the mountains

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When India was at its last war, I was a student, holidaying somewhere near the high altitude training school in Gulmarg, Kashmir. On the way back at the Srinagar airport, tri-coloured coffins crossed my path. It was perhaps my first direct contact with the Kargil war. I read about the battle, about the men who fought it. A brief emotional outpour and I forgot all about it. Five years later in 2004, on a road trip to Ladakh, we stopped in Drass for a tea-break. The houses still had bullet marks and the highway was dotted with warning signs: " you are in the enemy fire range". You could sniff the war and its stories around. But we drove ahead, leaving it all behind. This time around, Kargil was a decade old. And a war, which I saw and read about so often, was almost right before....


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