Category Archives: International Affairs

Lifting away the weight of 3 years: Why we Israelis go to India after the army -Shalev Paller

Source : https://www.timesofisrael.com/lifting-away-the-weight-of-3-years-why-we-israelis-go-to-india-after-the-army/

It is almost the norm for soldiers, on leaving the IDF, to fly to India to ‘decompress.’ Here, a tank commander who served in the 2014 Gaza war explains the appeal, and details the process of regaining control over his life after ‘3 years of alarms each morning, of always having an assignment, of constant uncertainty as to when I’d be home next’

I wake up to the sound of laughing children, stare out the window at the blanket of clouds covering the valley below, and think of nothing. Finally, nothing.

Like many of those traveling to India, I have just finished my three-year army service. During my time as a soldier I served as a tank commander in various parts of the country. Toward the end of my service, in the summer of 2014, I participated in Operation Protective Edge (against Hamas in Gaza). After being released, when asked about my service, I’d end up summarizing an ocean of images, some of them difficult, with a single, inadequate sentence, “It was good.”

There is a weight that comes with living in this country, a weight that many of us carry, a lost friend or family member, or simply the everyday stress of not living in the safest of places. One of the reasons I traveled to India was to discover what weight I might be carrying with me, and hopefully rid myself of it. Plus, I heard the food was amazing.

When I first arrived in India, I was a sponge. I stood in the middle of a busy market in Old Delhi, took a deep breath, and soaked it all in: the smells, the faces, the colors, the sounds, all so new and strange and intense. An entire road filled with mountains of books. An alleyway too spicy to walk through. A family of six on a single motorbike. A bony old man, with legs of an ox, pulling a massive vegetable-filled cart. A woman with gray tired eyes sitting with her children in the middle of a market.

It was during my first week of taking it all in that I met Chacha, Delhi’s most popular chai shop/laundry service owner. He had a contagious, toothless smile and kind brown eyes, his curiosity resembling that of a child and his wisdom that of a guru. Walking with Chacha through the markets was like accompanying the pope through the Vatican. Everyone knew Chacha, and he knew everyone. Chacha was proof that money has little to do with happiness, seeing as he was probably the happiest man I’d ever met and his salary was a tenth of what I made as a soldier. On my last day in Delhi, Chacha told me the story of how he once used masala spices instead of laundry detergent. I laughed, and he suddenly gripped my shoulder and said, ”I see pain in you, my friend, you laugh with sadness. The next time I see you, I want you happy, yeah?” I nodded my head. “Okay, Chacha.”

On my way to the northern town of Rishikesh, my bus was delayed by a train that had broken down in the middle of the intersection. Instead of arguing with the driver, or getting upset, the passengers made their way off the bus, sat on the side of the road, prepared chai, and waited. It took hours, and what could have been a bitter day turned into something sweet. As the sun began to set, families, friends, and strangers alike sat, eating, talking, and most importantly, head-nodding. I remember thinking how people might react to such a thing back home, how much we dread the thought of wasting time. Yet somehow in a place where time is given such little value, it becomes so special. We reached Rishikesh by early morning, the birds and the street dogs beginning to rise, and I felt lighter somehow, even though I’d just eaten my entire body weight in rice and curry.

Weeks later, wandering along a river, I came across a group of boys skipping rocks. I joined them for a while, and when it came time to leave I handed each a small bar of chocolate. As the youngest of the boys opened the wrapper I remembered how my father used to bring us chocolate from his trips abroad, how so much happiness was found in the smallest of gifts. The boy took the first bite. His eyes lit up, and he ran off to join the others. Midway through his run he stopped, turned to me, and shouted, “Dhanyavaad” (thank you), then continued running.

And so it went, every location a new face, a new story. I sat on a street corner with Rajaswa the shoe cobbler as he sang songs his mother had taught him. I went to a Hindu movie theater and witnessed two hundred locals scream and cheer as a father and daughter reunited in the film. I became immune to hot food and hot weather. And I rediscovered a thirst for life I’d been missing for some time.

I’d had three years of alarms each morning, of always having an assignment, of constant uncertainty as to when I’d be home next. Three years of my days not really belonging to me. Now that they did, once again, I was going to fill them with flute lessons, mantra-humming monks, and as much India as possible.

Angita, Raju, and their two kids, Akansu and Likitha, lived in a small mountain village located a few kilometers north of the Himalayas. I spent a week living in a small guestroom Raju had built. Immediately, my heart was touched by this young family, by the way they all slept in the same bed, wrapped in each other’s dreams. The way Angita and Raju spoke each evening with hushed voices and listening faces. The way Angita stared at the sky as she collected large stones and logs. The dark red ties and stained white shirts Akansu and Likitha wore to school. The worn out flipflops Raju walked in as he went to help his neighbor build an extension for his home.

The first time I played cricket with Akansu, the boys laughed mockingly as I came up to bat. They were unaware, of course, that I’d been on the Israeli national baseball team. My first swing, and all laughter ceased. The kids fell silent and stared in disbelief as a small orange tennis ball soared through the air like an eagle, disappearing into the sun. That night over dinner, Akansu described my hit to the family with giant, enthusiastic motions. “Baseball!” he kept shouting. “He plays baseball.”

The next few days I spent mostly on my own, hiking and exploring the area. During one of my hikes I had stopped to eat on a grassy mountaintop when it began to drizzle, then rain, and finally pour. And suddenly it hit me, all of it. The weight I’d been gathering and carrying, that ocean of images, the pain in my laughter came flooding out and lifted, and I could see everything clearly: a giant soldier, who was really just a boy in a uniform, sitting beside me with tears in his eyes; a city in flames; the worried faces of summer camp children waiting in a bomb shelter; four men blessing the Sabbath in a small packed tank; a mother’s shaking voice on the phone. I saw, and accepted it, as part of who I was. And the rain gently washed away my burning.

The next morning I woke to the sound of laughing children. I stared out the window at the valley below, and thought of nothing. Finally, nothing.

A few days before leaving India I went back to visit Chacha. It had been months since I’d seen him last, and it felt like years. Chacha was sitting at the exact same spot where I’d left him, chewing red tobacco, making someone laugh. When he saw me he nodded his head and smiled, “You came back, my friend.”

“I have,” I replied.

“And what a wonderful smile you’ve brought with you.”

When I finally came home resembling Tom Hanks from “Castaway,” a giant family hug awaited. Once again I was asked what it was all like, only this time an ocean of images, of warmth, friendship, beauty, kindness, laughter, and love flooded my mind.

I smiled like Chacha, nodded my head, and said, “It was good.”

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Balochistan might be like Kashmir, but Pakistan is no India – Ahmar Mustikhan

ऋभु वशिष्ठ (Ribhu Vashishtha)

Should Kashmiris thank the Ashoka Chakra, so to speak, for being nationals of India? One does not know what to do, laugh or cry on reports that Kashmiri protesters Wednesday led by separatist leader Masarat Alam Bhat had chanted “Kashmir banega Pakistan,” or Kashmir will become part of Pakistan, slogans.

India Today, released a video that showed Bhat chanting slogan, with the apt caption, “The Democracy that is India. Here Masarat Alam can chant “meri jaan Pakistan” and “Kashmir banega Pakistan fearlessly!” The reason why I felt crying was I was told by Baloch sources in my native Balochistan that Pakistan launched its first drone attack in Mekran Friday afternoon around the same time protests were being held in Srinagar. Some sections of the media also reported that Bhat had raised Pakistan flags, but others question this charge as frivolous. However, after Bhat is clearly heard saying “meri jaan Pakistan”…

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India’s Soft Power

ऋभु वशिष्ठ (Ribhu Vashishtha)

The recent tie-up of Prasar Bharti with Germany’s broadcaster Deutsche Welle is a welcome step in the arena of India’s ever expanding soft power in the world. The tie-up will pave the way for availability of Doordarshan channel with the name “DD India” to 120 million viewers in Europe, Central Asia, Middle East, North Africa and Australia. This marks our ascent on the world stage with international TV channels like CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera and Russia Today. These channels play an instrumental role in shaping international public opinion about various events that occur daily in the world. Often, they provide different and sometimes even conflicting views about the same event. Now, India has got a long due chance to present her angle to these events to the international audience and showcase her magnificent culture on the television platform for attracting tourists, investments, admirers, artists to Incredible India!

While we still have miles to go…

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Spying gracelessly : Balochistan

Source : The Indian Express -C. Raja Mohan (Twitter @MohanCRaja)

It’s natural for India and Pakistan to spy on each other. But it’s time they instituted spy swaps to bring them home when they get caught.

It’s shocking! So shocking to discover that New Delhi and Islamabad spy on each other! Louis Renault, the corrupt police captain in the film Casablanca, who simulates shock at gambling in Rick’s cafe, endears himself by lacing venality with wit. The media warriors in South Asia, however, refuse to let even a bit of commonsense colour their easy outrage. The latest provocation for their huffing and puffing is Pakistan’s claim that it has arrested an Indian spy in Balochistan.

It’s not for nothing that spying has been called the second-oldest profession. It’s as ancient as statecraft. Any self-respecting sovereign would maintain an effective ring of spies as the first line of defence against potential threats, both internal and external. All states indulge in spying, political and commercial. And not just against their adversaries. Keeping a tab on your friends and partners is considered just as important.

Thanks to WikiLeaks, we know how intensively the United States spies on its friends. The US National Security Agency (NSA) was routinely snooping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

What is really shocking, though, has been the lack of any grace attached to spying in the subcontinent. Elsewhere in the world, it’s respected as a tough profession and valued as a special art. India and Pakistan have generally tended to disown spies who get caught. It would be more sensible for India and Pakistan to acknowledge, at least in private, their respective spooks and bring as many of them home through spy swaps. That’s what Russia and America did at the height of the Cold War.

We might never really get to know the real story behind the claims and counter-claims in Islamabad and Delhi on the purported arrest of an Indian spy in Balochistan. Truth is always hard to pin down in the cloak and dagger business. For Islamabad, the claim reinforces the charge that India is destabilising Pakistan in Balochistan. These charges are not new. Recall the insistence of then Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to include Balochistan in a joint statement with then-PM Manmohan Singh on the margins of the 2009 non-aligned summit at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt.

Unlike the UPA government that turned defensive amid the angry reaction in Delhi, the NDA government is a lot less coy on these things. Some analysts would see the incident boosting Delhi’s current image of being very tough on national security. It might also be an advertisement for the new will in Delhi to pursue muscular approaches to counter Pakistan’s cross-border terrorism.

What’s intriguing, though, is the Pakistan army’s statement that it has raised the issue of Indian spying in Balochistan when General Raheel Sharif called on visiting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani last week. In his press conference at the end of the visit, Rouhani, however, denied that there was any discussion about the Indian intelligence agency, R&AW, and its alleged activities in Iran and Balochistan.

That General Sharif publicly accused Tehran of colluding with Delhi in Balochistan is a reminder that all is not well between Iran and Pakistan. Although the R&AW is a favourite whipping boy for Pakistan, Islamabad has problems of its own with Tehran in Balochistan. The border between Iran and Pakistan, which runs down the Baloch lands into the Arabian Sea, has long been turbulent. At the end of 2014, the simmering tension boiled over into an exchange of fire between the security forces of Iran and Pakistan. Tehran has long accused Pakistan of sheltering Sunni militant groups, like Jundullah and Jaish al-Adl, hostile to Iran.

That’s only one part of a more complex story in Balochistan. Enduring tribal resentments in Balochistan against Pakistan’s oppression have erupted in frequent revolts over the decades. The Pakistan army, which has put them down with considerable force, has often accused Delhi and Kabul of supporting the Baloch insurgents.

If Delhi has longstanding complaints about Pakistan’s cross-border terrorism, Kabul points to Rawalpindi’s open support for the Afghan Taliban, whose leadership has made Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, its home. Tehran has long been apprehensive of the Afghan Taliban’s Sunni extremism and has been wary of its return to power in Kabul with the Pakistan army’s support.

Delhi and Tehran have, indeed, had a common interest in countering Taliban rule in Afghanistan during 1996-2001.That’s not all. Don’t forget the Russians, Americans, Saudis and Israelis — all of whom have had varying degrees of interest and involvement in the politics of Balochistan.

China now has growing stakes in Balochistan, where its ambitious Pakistan economic corridor connects with an even more expansive project, the 21st century Maritime Silk Road. As China builds a new port in Gwadar, Iran is building its own a few miles to the west in Chabahar.

One doesn’t have to count all the competing interests and contradictions to appreciate that Balochistan will remain a dangerous but very inviting hunting ground for the world’s spies in the coming years.