Monthly Archives: June 2010

Children of Taliban

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and journalist who has been working in Pakistan and Afghanistan documenting the rise of the Taliban and other radical factions since 2001. She is working on a pilot project to counter radicalization in Pakistan and is writing her first book. TED, a nonprofit organization devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading,” hosts talks on many subjects and makes them available through its website.

Source: Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy: Inside a school for suicide bombers

Sharmeen speaks at a TED event about the dynamics of the suicide bombers and terrorism with a different perspective.

Sharmeen’s full interview with CNN is here.

The Taliban are running suicide schools inside Pakistan, preparing a generation of boys for atrocities against civilians.In my documentary on the subject, “Children of the Taliban,” I came across the cases of many young men who were committed to giving up their lives for what they believed to be the glory of Islam. Fifteen-year-old Zainullah blew himself up, killing six people. Another boy, Sadiq, killed 22 and Masood killed 28.

Since more than 60 percent of the population of Pakistan is under age 25, it seems there will always be a steady supply of recruits waiting to create havoc in the country.The Tehreek-i-Taliban and the various extremist organizations that have been allowed to fester across the country have now joined hands, increasing the reach of their network, sharing recruits, plans, training centers, materials and safe houses.

It was only a matter of time before this would happen, since the Pakistani government’s flawed policy of fighting “Bad Taliban” –those who carry out attacks inside Pakistan — and turning a blind eye to “Good Taliban” — those who carry out attacks outside Pakistan — was bound to come back and haunt them and it has.

Since 2003, the number of suicide bombings has grown exponentially across Pakistan. In 2009, 78 attacks occurred across the country; this year more than 29 attacks have taken place. The Tehreek-i-Taliban is boasting that they have an army of suicide bombers waiting in the ranks to carry out more attacks at their command — and I believe them.

This is no ragtag army fighting in the mountains of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, until recently called the Northwest Frontier Province. These people have a vision, are well trained and their recruitment process is tried and tested.

In urban centers, the Taliban recruit from two fronts, Islamic madrassas and low-income neighborhoods. They have a network of sympathizers who run radical Islamic schools, providing free education to the very poor. Typically, older Taliban fighters or recruiters spend an evening at one of these schools, glorifying the front lines, showing students videos of their heroics, and talking to them about paradise and the afterlife.The students they address have already been primed by years of brainwashing; they have no access to entertainment, sports, books or even their family. The madrassa is the only home they know, they are often beaten by their teachers, told to study the Koran for hours at a stretch in Arabic, a language alien to them. They are frustrated and suddenly, they are provided with an opportunity to give their life up in the name of Islam and earn glory.

They are promised lakes of milk and honey and virgins in the afterlife. The young boys I speak with say to me: Why would I want to live in this world — where they rely on charity, dry pieces of bread and water, where they are subjected to harsh treatment, when they can be free and be the envy of their colleagues in the afterlife. They are only too eager to sign on the dotted line and join the ranks of the Taliban.

In the past few years, the Taliban have relied on other radical organizations, like Jaish-e Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, to recruit young men from low-income neighborhoods in smaller urban centers.

These organizations have had a presence there for years; first they recruited young men to fight in Afghanistan against the Soviets, then in Kashmir against the Indian Army. The Taliban have just re-activated these lucrative networks.

Smaller urban centers tend to have high levels of unemployment and the youth have fewer outlets to expend their energy. These radical organizations lure in young men from mosques after Friday sermons, from college campuses and through local neighborhood recruiters.

The young men who show slight interest are invited to selected safe houses where trained recruiters begin brainwashing them. A young man I met in Karachi described the process to me, telling me that in the end he could not carry out the attacks, but that almost everyone he knew from his group was now working for the Taliban and their affiliates.

Once inside the safe house, the young men are provided literature, so-called proof, about the atrocities supposedly being committed by the government of Pakistan at the behest of the United States.

Then, lengthy discussions ensue about their future. Will they ever have jobs, will they be able to provide for their families in this corrupt environment? Would they not want to be part of a process that changes the country and brings accountability? They are promised money, their families are promised compensation and the radical organizations then begin the next phase — training.

A number of young men who had gone through this ideological brainwashing period told me that training to be a bomber was their best option to get out of poverty. They said that they believe in the cause, because these people understood their needs, and provided them with opportunities, while the rest of society shunned them. Weeks of brainwashing also convinced them that they are fighting an evil and are working toward creating a just ideal Islamic society.

There is very little deterrent to suicide bombings, especially in a Third World country like Pakistan. Fighting the Taliban and the various radical organizations on the front lines is like adding a Band-Aid to a cut, it may stop the bleeding but unless you clean it with antiseptic, the germs stay and multiply.

The Pakistani government and its allies must overhaul their policies in Pakistan. They must tackle the madrassa system of education head on and they must look to provide alternate avenues and employment for the youth.

Thousands of civilians have lost their lives to terrorist attacks inside Pakistan, and thousands more will — because, unlike the Pakistani government, which has no coherent policy to deal with the radicals, the Taliban have one to deal with Pakistan and its citizens.

Source: CNN.com

As Sharmeen truly points out, its a lot of socio-economic variables as play. Raw power cannot succeed at rooting out terrorism and this has been proved by the experience of US and allied forces not being able to root out Taliban from Afghanistan. In fact leveraging religious fanaticism, Taliban is gaining grounds elsewhere in various forms and formats. Be it in developing nations like India through organizations like LeT (or by any other name) or in nations like Yemen where religious belief as well as internal instability fuel its growth.

So while our security forces battle it out with terrorists, government and other development agencies need to figure out more inclusive growth policies. The sooner the better.

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BP (mis)handles Gulf of Mexico Oil Spew

Beyond Petroleum?

The recent industrial accident in the Gulf of Mexico due to the oil well rupture from the British Petroleum (BP) has raised global cries against the petroleum giant and it’s claim of acting to contain the damage. While BP has gone on a PR war to contain the damage to it’s image, gulf residents and environmentalists are up in arms to take the fight to BP’s door.

Not many would remember the 2007, exit of the then BP CEO, Lord John Browne, who was removed owing to his sexual preferences and private life being exposed. Jeffrey Sonnenfeld in BusinessWeek had written an article which claimed to bring out “the real scandal at BP“. The article leveled a wide array of charges against BP ranging from PR misadventures to wrong business decisions being made by the BP boss.

Browne himself set the bar high. In addition to acquiring Amoco and Arco, he launched BP’s $200 million image campaign with the tagline that BP stands for “Beyond Petroleum”–embodying principles such as “delivering performance without tradeoffs” in areas ranging from worker safety to the environment. But two years ago, examining actual expenditures in alternative energy, Greenpeace gave Browne an award for the “Best Impression of an Environmentalist.”

Source: businessweek.com

The reason Browne’s memory comes to forth is the recent incident where environmental concerns and PR mismanagement are visible.

Demonstrators claim that the Worldwide BP Protest Day will be marked in over 50 cities in 5 continents on Saturday, June 12, 2010. Protesters are using any and every mode of communication possible. Social media and networking sites are flooded by such communities. The worst thing for BP is the fact that such protests are getting a lot of support.

  • The Facebook Worldwide BP Protest Day page
  • The CODEPINK protest page
  • Boycottbp.org
  • The Financial Times list top-10 online and offline protests:
  • 1 Million Strong Against Offshore Drilling: FB Page started by 350.org,the group is growing steadily with 135,000 fans and counting.
  • Boycott BP: Unquestionably the fastest-growing online movement, Boycott BP started as a Facebook group and is now expanding to multiple international websites. The group asks the public to boycott all BP stations including Castrol, Arco, Aral and AM/PM. The group’s followers have swelled to 450,000.
  • BPGlobalPR: The satirical Twitter feed @BPGlobalPR. (Latest one reads: “Having a conscience was definitely not in the job description when I took the position. ^Tony“)
  • Public Citizen arrest: On June 4 a coalition of nonprofit organizations gathered in Washington, D.C., to make a “citizen’s arrest” of an effigy of BP CEO Tony Hayward. The coalition is now calling for a three-month boycott of BP.
  • World BP Protest Day: June 12 will mark a worldwide protest of BP. Also being organized on Facebook, the group now has commitments for a march in 33 cities.
  • Code Pink: You have to love the brave and impassioned Code Pink Women for Peace.
  • Seize BP: The group wants the U.S. government to seize all of BP’s assets and use them to pay back the damages from the oil spill. Not likely, but they make their point!
  • Change.org’s full debarment plan: Change.org is asking to push the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to recommend a full “discretionary debarment” of BP, which means no more U.S. government contracts, no new leases in the U.S. and all existing leases canceled. The EPA was already investigating the possibility for debarment and it is expected the agency will open the issue to public comment in the near future.
  • Beyond Oil
  • Hands Across the Sand

Source: FinancialPost.com

It’s clear that BP had never expected as much public outcry on this issue. Now that it has muck flying from every corner, BP is going all out to control the damage, at least the BP damage. It’s home page is splashed with the damage control initiatives it has taken and is being updated constantly.

Politicians in US too are not behind. While they may be honest about their concerns or just trying to gain some political mileage but the fact remains that BP’s mismanagement and misrepresentation about the extent of damage have led to questions being raised on it’s integrity.

BP misrepresented what their technology could do,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday. “They misrepresented the amount of oil that was being spewed forth into the Gulf and continued to do so.”

This is a matter of integrity,” Pelosi said. “BP stated that they had the technology to drill deep, to prevent a blowout and that they had the technology to clean up, and none of these things happened to be a fact.”

Source: CNN.com

On one hand while the world is ready to go all out against the global petroleum gaint, billionaire and Mayor of the New York City stood by the company. In a statement on a radio show Bloomberg went on record to support BP.

“The guy that runs BP didn’t exactly go down there and blow up the well,” he told a radio program. “And what’s more, if you want them to fix it and they are the ones with the expertise, I think I might wait to assign blame until we get it fixed.”

Source: CNN.com

The British PM David Cameron too had similar sentiments which seemed to be fueled more by “economic” motives.

The prime minister explained that he was frustrated and concerned about the environmental damage caused by the leak, but made clear his view that BP is an economically important company in the UK, US and other countries,” the spokesman said in a news release.

He said that it is in everyone’s interests that BP continues to be a financially strong and stable company.”

Source: CNN.com

While officials, protesters and other interest groups are fighting a pitched battle, oil continues to leak. BP is taking measures to contain the damage but would it be enough?

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TEDxHitechCity – Karuna Gopal – The Truth about Indian Cities

Karuna Gopal from the Foundation of Futuristic Cities was the main speaker at a recent Tedx conference (TEDx: TEDx is a new program that enables local communities such as schools, businesses, libraries, neighborhoods or just groups of friends to organize, design and host their own independent, TED-like events.).

As always Karuna’s fiery talk was about Indian cities and their state. She highlighted the poor state our cities are in and the need for their development on our future.

The topic of Karuna’s talk was: The Truth about Indian Cities.

Watch her talk about the issues and how important they are:

Karuna’s organization the Foundation for Futuristic Cities has done pioneering work in the area of City Development and is determined to carry it forward.

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