Gurukanth Desai is not “of Indian origin”

Suspected British jihadi must have used a Gujarati Hindu name to avoid suspicion

Soon after the British authorities released the names of nine suspected terrorists yesterday, most Indian media reports rushed to tell us [1 2 3 4] without a hint of doubt or uncertainty, that one of them was “of Indian-origin.” Given that there was very little time for them to do background checks, they just assumed that a person going by the name of “Gurukanth Desai” must be a person of Indian origin.

They didn’t even google him up.

If they had, they would have found that Gurukant Desai is actually the name of the lead character in Mani Ratnam’s 2007 movie Guru. Gurukanth is an unusual first name for a person with the surname Desai. Gurukanth Desai is also an unusual name in a list in which the others are Abdul Malik Miah, Omar Sharif Latif, Mohammed Moksudur Rahman Chowdhury, Shah Mohammed Lutfar Rahman, Nazam Hussain, Usman Khan, Mohibur Rahman and Abul Bosher Mohammed Shahjahan.

It should have raised eyebrows and, at the very least, a qualifier indicating that he might be of Indian-origin. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. [The Calcutta Telegraph was an exception]

It turns out—as I pointed out on twitter yesterday—that Gurukanth Desai, 28 years old and a father of three, is Abdul Malik Miah’s brother and of Bangladeshi origin. The Hindu Gujarati name, taken off a Hindi film, was probably adopted to ward off suspicion.

Apart from exposing lazy journalism in India, this episode is yet another indication that Indian embassies and consulates must exercise much greater care while issuing visas to people presumably of Indian-origin.

This is also disturbing because it might make visa applications and travel more difficult for the genuine Gurukanth Desais of the world, not least because it is impossible to prevent jihadis from assuming names like David Coleman Headley or Gurukanth Desai. This case is an argument against profiling based on religion, but where such profiling exists, a Mr Desai or Mr Singh might become a little more suspect. (This is not to say that there cannot be real jihadis of Gujarati Hindu origin, as the case of Dhiren Bharot/Abu Musa al-Hindi tells us. Rather, that such cases are exceptional and very rare.)

Tailpiece: A few years ago, friends of Shehzad Tanweer, one of the London 7/7 bombers, gave their names as “Sanjay Dutt” and “Shahrukh”…and the New York Times reporter didn’t get it.

Cameron comes with a different mindset

The new British prime minister is right to start with trade and right to start with Bangalore

Most commentators are putting it mildly, but the numbers show that India-UK trade atrophied in the last decade. From being India’s third largest trading partner at the beginning of this decade, the UK is now the thirteenth, and falling perhaps. Even as India’s overall trade volumes grew at around 26% on an average over the last four years, Britain’s share of the total trade has dropped—from 3.72% in 2004-05 to 2.56% in 2008-09. The growth in absolute numbers, from $7.2 billion to $12.5 billion during the same period masks the marginalisation of Britain as an economic partner.

Mr Cameron hopes to change that trend. The good news is that he has not only arrived in India with a large delegation but also with changed mindset. His government’s decision to remove dogmatic hurdles to trade in civilian nuclear technology and set up a framework for joint research & development in the field exemplifies this. As the British prime minister reminds us in his op-ed in The Hindu:

Beyond the cultural bonds, Britain has practical attractions for India. We speak the world’s language. We are still the world’s sixth largest manufacturer and the best base for companies wanting to do business in Europe. We have some of the best universities in the world and we are a great hub for science and innovation. Britain still has the strengths of its history, not least our democracy, rule of law and strong institutions, but there is also the modern dynamism of the nation that helped pioneer the internet, unravel the DNA code and whose music, films and television are admired the world over. All of these things can mean opportunity for Indian investors and entrepreneurs. [The Hindu]

If Mr Cameron follows through it is likely that he’ll succeed in turning the trade game around. But there’s a deeper, more fundamental reason why there is promise in economic relations between the two countries. Britain is grappling with rising costs of public services and tightening public finances. It will find that India provides the way out of the jam if the “outsourcing” partnerships can be managed well. That is the reason why Mr Cameron did well to start in Bangalore (okay, the beer and Amrut Fusion Single Malt are equally good reasons).

Geopolitics, though, can be a spoiler. The abominable David Miliband has not been forgotten. The Cameron government would do well to steer clear of that kind of gratuitous sanctimony.

Update: In Bangalore, Mr Cameron’s speech in Bangalore will do much to undo the damage Miliband did.

Where’s David Miliband now?

Shouldn’t he tell his boss “to be alive to the impact of his government’s counter-terrorism strategies on minorities?”

The New York Times reports that a “radical Islamic group planning a protest march through the streets of a town that has achieved iconic status in Britain for honoring the passing hearses of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan ran into a stiff rebuff from the British government on Monday.” The British prime minister has stated that he is “appalled” and the home secretary has indicated that he is inclined to ban the rally.

Where’s that cabinet colleague of theirs, David Miliband? The British foreign secretary had found it appropriate to speak at the site of a terrorist massacre at Mumbai’s Taj Mahal hotel and lecture his hosts on the “need to be alive to the impact of our counter-terrorism strategies on minorities.”

We strongly agree with Gordon Brown that “any attempt to use this location to cause further distress and suffering to those who have lost loved ones would be abhorrent and offensive.”

That’s exactly what we want to impress upon Mr Miliband.

Afghans, however, think highly of India

But India has to live up to its popularity

So here are some results from a survey conducted by ABC News between late December 2008 and early January 2009: “a random national sample” of 1534 adult Afghans across the 34 provinces were asked a number of questions in face-to-face interviews. India, it turns out, is big in Afghanistan. Almost three in four Afghans had a favourable impression of India, making it the most popular country in Afghanistan, bar none.

Big in Afghanistan
Big in Afghanistan

When asked for their opinion of the role countries were playing in Afghanistan at this time, India still comes out on top. Although the United States has the highest proportion of positive ratings (44%) it also has a large proportion of negative rating (36%). India ranks slightly lower (41%) in terms of positive perceptions, but only 10% of the Afghans polled thought it was playing a negative role. This is explicable, because Indian troops are not engaged in counter-insurgency operations, unlike the Americans.

The favourable perception of India outweighs the positive opinion of the role it is playing in Afghanistan. Some of that might be due to distance, and as the surveyors suggest, due to sympathy for fellow sufferers of Pakistani machinations. But India’s role is helping maintain India’s popularity. Still there is an equal proportion of Afghans (42%) who are neutral about India’s role. This gap probably suggests to them that India could do better. As indeed, it could.

Related Links: Holding steady; the road that India built; contributing to Afghanistan’s development; and concerning pomegranates

An Oxford education helps

…when holding up the jihadi end

“The reason is that I’m not a target for the extremists because from day one I opposed the War on Terror. The terrorists don’t consider me one of the American puppet politicians in Pakistan.”

From the moment he heard the news about this week’s attack in Lahore, he was convinced that Pakistani extremists were being made the scapegoats….In his view a “foreign element” was almost certainly involved. “It could be India, Afghanistan, the Tamil Tigers. The motive is to damage the state of Pakistan and end cricket here. The shocking thing is that there was so little security for the players.”

H e denies that Pakistan is now a breeding ground for terrorists. “The madrassas may be producing fundamentalists but there is a difference between fundamentalists and militant extremists.”

He says he does not condone suicide bombing. “Suicide bombing is a result of extreme desperation where you have such hatred and anger that you are willing to use your body as a weapon. God forbid anything happened to my family but I can understand that if something happens to your dear ones then in anger…” [Times Online]

You see Imran Khan is one of those people—like Pervez Musharraf was—who seems almost reasonable because he is so presentable to middle-class drawing rooms. Take out the face, the voice and the identity of the speaker. Just look at the words in cold print, and you realise that the person saying them is an unvarnished apologist of jihadi terrorism, seeking to exploit the sympathy in Pakistani society for the jihadi cause (if not for their methods) into a platform that he can use to gain power. [He exploited religious outrage and he has expressed, err, rather quaint, views on the Indian psyche]

He is dangerous—just as General Musharraf was—because such a person is likely to have no compunctions about feeding the jihadi monster to stay in power.

Pink, but not pretty

Calling out the Financial Times’ anti-India prejudices

The editors of Financial Times have timeandagain demonstrated an anti-India bias that is unfathomable. Or it is perhaps a ‘poison-pill strategy’ to prevent Anil Ambani or Vijay Mallya from buying over the paper and casting out the condescending snobs who sit on its editorial board. If these are strong words, they are only in response to an editorial that not indulges in crass moral equivalence but sees nothing wrong in using language that it probably considers taboo in other contexts.

It’s about David Miliband’s disastrous visit to Mumbai a few days ago. The newspaper is within its rights to find that Mr Miliband “was, of course, right” and that his only failing was being tin-eared and tactless. Given the context—Britain’s chief diplomat speaking at a sombre funereal occasion—that failing is the kind that should make decent Britons call for his resignation.

But the FT doesn’t leave it at that. It goes on:

More generally, the boyish Mr Miliband and Pranab Mukherjee, his septuagenarian Indian counterpart, do not seem to have hit it off. The studied informality of New Labour mateyness collided with official India’s Brahmin sense of decorum. Yet there is more than outrage in India’s over-reaction. [FT

Unless the FT’s editor’s think that “the studied informality of New Labour mateyness” has replaced a sense of decorum in the way the world conducts its diplomacy, shouldn’t it have called Mr Miliband out on this one? If indeed such chumminess is the new style in international politics, perhaps they should try that in Beijing or Moscow. “Hey Vladimir dude, can you extradite those mates of yours who go about our locals spiking drinks” is, shall we say, unlikely to impress those non-Brahmin Russians.

Which brings us to the “Brahmin sense of decorum”. The reference to caste was uncalled for, and is in gross bad taste. If Mr Miliband’s mateyness was of the New Labour kind, Mr Mukherjee’s decorum could well be the Old Congress kind. Does the FT equally drag in race and ethnic labels in other contexts?

There’s more:

First, the ruling Congress party is fighting desperately for re-election against the Bharatiya Janata party, Hindu supremacists who say the government is soft on terrorism and its causes: Kashmir and Pakistan.[FT

There’s a new odious label that the FT has invented for the BJP—“Hindu supremacists”. Now, the BJP can reasonably be approximated as “Hindu nationalist”, but it is gratuitous for the FT to describe it as a Hindu “supremacist” without justifying the label.

Second, kicking the former colonial power is a popular, almost cost-free way to send a message to Barack Obama. The new US president is believed to be considering a special envoy for south Asia, with Kashmir as part of the remit.[FT

Here the British editors of the FT claim undue importance. The truth is that far from being a favourite whipping boy, Britain is largely irrelevant. In fact that is implicit in the FT’s own argument: kicking Britain to send a message to America is cost-free because an uppity foreign secretary of an irrelevant country behaved improperly. And no, it’s not India’s fault that Britain is irrelevant.

Third, while Indian officials regard Kashmir as inalienable, much of the rest of the world sees a 20-year insurgency with 60,000 dead; that India refuses outside mediation or to call a plebiscite mandated by the United Nations after partition; and that New Delhi needs almost half its army to subdue 4m Muslims in the Valley of Kashmir.[FT

There they go again: the days when British editors could claim to speak for “much of the world” are long gone. One wonders how old the FT’s editors are, for their memory goes back only 20 years. If they were older, or had read their history, they would not have glossed over Britain’s own mala fides starting in the 1940s and 50s. India is still sorting out the mess Britain created.

And unless the FT thinks that all 4m Muslims in the Valley of Kashmir are terrorists and armed insurgents, it is baffling that it should claim that the Indian army’s job is to ‘subdue’ the population. First the FT indulges in moral equivalence between terrorists and their victims, and then again between Muslim terrorists and ordinary Muslims.

Indian officials talk windily of a “paradigm shift” in Kashmir following successful elections there this winter. But dozens of Kashmiris were shot down last summer in protests against Indian rule. This is a conflict that transcends regional boundaries. Pakistani support for the insurgents has helped spread jihadi extremism. And the religious right is influential in both India and Pakistan, which have twice been on the brink of war since they tested nuclear weapons in 1998. The Miliband storm was not in a teacup. [FT]

Mentioning the killings after the elections might make it appear that that was the order in which it occurred. But unless the FT does this, it can’t fit the facts to its conclusion. For just how can it sustain its argument if it were to truthfully say that an unprecedented number of people defied the calls of the separatists and turned out to vote, despite last summer’s killings?

The reference to the regional dimension, the religious right and nuclear weapons is the usual gratuitous garnish, it makes no substantial difference to the taste, but subtly adds to the smell.

From India, with no love

India’s outrage over David Miliband’s gross insensitivity and atrocious behaviour was near universal. After a scathing critique of Mr Miliband’s words and antics, a Mint editorial held that "Miliband’s misadventure in India is unlikely to have any lasting impact on relations between India and his country; it will, however, leave a bad taste for some time to come."

As far as the sophisticated world of diplomacy goes, the Indian government has delivered the necessary rebuke. After official rebuffs and leaks, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has supposedly written to his British counterpart and "conveyed India’s disappointment on his behaviour and comments." And it appears that verbal expressions of displeasure will continue for a while longer.

But that’s clearly not enough. While Mr Miliband might well be faulted for the manner in which he delivered the message, he was articulating the British government’s position. Now, if the British government believes that it need not necessarily fight the jihadis who attack Indian citizens, then it behooves India to reciprocate. Suspending intelligence and security co-operation is in order. Will this hurt Britain? It’s hard to say. But let Britain work that out.

Is Britain anything more than a nuisance?

David Miliband’s trip raises serious questions on Britain’s role in countering terrorism

Never in recent times has a visiting foreign minister been so flippant and so insensitive. The flippancy concerns a bizarre trip to Rahul Gandhi’s rural constituency, the purpose of which is unfathomable beyond cheap political theatre.

But the British foreign secretary’s speech at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai—just over a month ago the site of one of the worst terrorist attacks in India—sets a new low in terms of its sheer insensitivity. For here is a leader of a foreign country, speaking at the site of a terrorist attack, not only telling India to co-operate with a country that refused so much to acknowledge the bleedingly obvious fact that the terrorist attack was of Pakistani provenance, but went so far as to call attention “to be alive to the impact of our counter-terrorism strategies on minorities. As the Sachar Committee reported, India’s Muslims remain socially and economically disadvantaged.”

Mr Miliband’s claim that “we share your anguish, we admire your resolve, and we are determined to work in close collaboration to address the threats we face” seems hollow, empty and patently insincere. If he shared India’s anguish, he would not have taken a position that compromises India’s demands on Pakistan. If he admired India’s resolve he wouldn’t have ignored the fact that co-operation over the last half-decade neither prevented the Mumbai attacks (and others before it) nor cause the Pakistani government to act with sincerity after their occurrence.

Britain might be ready to work with close collaboration to address the threats “we” face, but Mr Miliband’s statements must give the Indian government pause for thought. His contention that different terrorist groups have nothing to do with each other is only partially true. Perhaps the LTTE and the Naxalites have nothing to do with Hezbollah. But to suggest that there is no international network of Islamist terrorism is to indulge in vacuous political correctness or, as Melanie Philips describes it, to demonstrate “astounding shallowness”. But if we accept Mr Miliband’s contention—that the jihadis that attack Mumbai are not quite the same as the ones who attack Britain—then why should India collaborate with Britain at all? Perhaps the British government should be left to ‘cooperate’ with Islamabad to address the 75% of terrorism cases that it claims (without credible evidence, come to think of it) can be tracked back to Pakistan.

Britain must ask itself whether it intends to be part of a solution or merely a nuisance in the war against jihadi terrorism, which for India is very real indeed. Mr Miliband’s newfound dislike for the “war on terror” in the last week of the Bush administration’s term is opportunistic and linked to Britain’s attempt to extricate its armed forces out of Afghanistan where they have not exactly covered themselves in glory. But it is wholly unnecessary for Britain to recommend a Partition (this time of Jammu & Kashmir) every time it retreats from the subcontinent.

Mr Miliband ostensibly came to India to ‘defuse tensions’ with Pakistan. He has succeeded in creating new ones—with Britain. India’s response to Mr Miliband’s comments must extend beyond rebutting his words. Some cooling of relations is in order.

Update: Richard Beeston, foreign editor of The Times calls David Miliband out; Siddharth Varadarajan reports that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee didn’t take Mr Miliband’s hectoring too kindly. They would do well to ensure that such acts are costly.

Movements that just won’t take off

Selective outrage

In his piece on the readiness with which people come out on the streets to protest against Israel, Mark Steyn writes:

Only Israel attracts an intellectually respectable movement querying its very existence. For the purposes of comparison, let’s take a state that came into existence at the exact same time as the Zionist Entity, and involved far bloodier population displacements. I happen to think the creation of Pakistan was the greatest failure of post-war British imperial policy. But the fact is that Pakistan exists, and if I were to launch a movement of anti-Pakism it would get pretty short shrift. [Mark Steyn/National Review]

Reductio ad borderum

Reducing everything to a matter of borders

The special award for gross oversimplification goes to Sajjad Karim, Member of the European Parliament for North West England. According to him:

The lack of secure defined borders whether it be the Durand Line bordering Afghanistan or the line of control in Kashmir is one problem. Until the international community faces the challenge of providing Pakistan with defined borders, a task left incomplete by the British in 1947, we can never hope for a stable, secure and democratically based society.

The best way in which to repay the people of Pakistan for the stance they have taken in putting their country on the front line is to give them this stability. Without this you simply apply sticking plaster where much more is required. More so, programmes aimed at supporting democratic processes or other civil society reforms, while valuable, will always prove to be ultimately temporary and ineffective. [Times Online]

Of course, the possibility that a stable, secure and democratically based society might be what is necessary to have secure defined borders did not cross Mr Karim’s mind. Nor did the fact that Pakistanis showed themselves capable of acquiring secure defined borders by ceding territory to China in 1963. In any case, hasn’t the EU tired of irredentism already?

Tailpiece: For you Latin fundamentalists: yes, borderum is incorrect. It should probably be ambitus, margino, but borderum has a better ring to it.