Kush Tandon Kush Tandon's bibliography

Not Aways a Burden

From 04/05/05, The New York Times.

You should realise that illegal immigrants not only provide "dirt cheap" labor, live in inhuman conditions, and then also cover your social security. Give them some dignity. Notwithstanding the law of the land, at least don't shoot them or let them die of thirst. One has to acknowledge them as human beings and then deal with the solution.

From Illegal Immigrants Are Bolstering Social Security With Billions


Tsunami, Earthquakes, and You

By Kush Tandon

Day before yesterday, a decent thing happened in spite of the deaths in Banyak and Nias Islands. As soon as Sumatra earthquake of March 29, 2005 was identified, countries were warning each other of a possible tsunami, online major newspapers were updating their story every 5-10 minutes, colleagues who knew of the earthquake before the newspapers/ TV/ blogs broke the news were sending out emails. The Amateur Seismic Centre (a website run by a student, Stacey Martin in India) was emailing people on the email list to pay close attention to any directive from their local authorities. It was a very effective low-tech warning system for a probable tsunami in action even though full tragedy in Indonesia was not fully averted.

Why didn't we do this on December 26, 2004? The reason was complacency, ignorance, and plain apathy. We all thought it was somebody else's job and even the ones who tried could not succeed. Very basic of knowledge of earthquakes (even with rough estimates of size, location and depth) and tsunami should have had us on red alert for Indian Ocean nations immediately. The basic information about the earthquake known before the tsunami hit the shores of many Indian Ocean countries should have been enough. The reach of CNN and cell phones is almost everywhere. Some of the scientists in Indian Ocean countries were scared of being chastised for "crying wolf". Sure, the early information was incomplete and sketchy - but that will be always the case, in any disaster of any kind.

I agree that an occurrence of a possible tsunami was completely forgotten from the collective memory of Indian Ocean nations and there was no oceanographic data in Indian Ocean while the tsunami was being formed, and that definitely hindered our sense of foresight. Indigenous islanders in Indonesia and Andaman Islands knew better than rest of us.

A clear link between the magnitude, depth, and seafloor deformation accompanying a submarine earthquake and its capability to produce a tsunami is still a research question, and will be for sometime to come. Similarly, is the case about trying to predict an earthquake? We do not know enough about earthquake physics and do not have enough past data to be able to predict them precisely. However, we know a lot more than we did 20 years ago and have some probabilistic ideas and guesses that can help us in clearly identifying "danger zones" and act accordingly.

A high-tech warning system for tsunami or any natural disaster will only be worthwhile if there is real time data sharing and communication between different countries, and most importantly a high level of awareness amongst the populace. Also, we all have to think of other possible disasters too, and start acting now. Is India-Pakistan-Nepal-Afghanistan ready to jointly build an infrastructure for a warning system for Himalayan earthquake risk hazard, similar to one in Mexico City? There will be huge earthquakes in Himalayan region - maybe tomorrow, maybe 20 years from now or perhaps 80.

Suggested Readings:

  1. http://asc-india.org/
  2. http://cires.colorado.edu/~bilham/indexHimEq.html
  3. http://www.seismolab.caltech.edu/
  4. http://tsunamihelp.blogspot.com/
  5. http://www.usgs.gov/

The Terror Bee Equation

The Terror Bee Equation: How to sterilize the queen bee without being stung by the whole beehive?

By Kush Tandon


"Last year, originally I wrote this post on www.thesquare.com for a discussion on fighting terrorism, and radical Islam - but has anything changed since then. Maybe, Israel and Palestine, India and Pakistan are now talking face to face and responding. I guess we do have hope."

Terrorism depends on many factors, some of them are entirely is in the hands of the people who commit them, but with some, we can make things more complicated for us. I made this terror bee equation to describe many factors and show how some of them play havoc beyond control.

Terror Bee Equation = Poverty X Exponential (Sense of Being Disenfranchised or No Hope) + Lack of Progress + Lack of Democratic Institutions + Cultural Trappings + Lack of Visionary Leaders Today (Mandela, Gandhi, King in Middle East)

Note that the "sense of being disenfranchised or no hope" is an exponential factor. I intend to say that when a group of population feels their future is slipping away than that anger becomes the dominant reason for hatred. In this equation, most of the factors solely are governed by Islamic nations themselves who have been quite active in recent terrorism. However, USA/ UK/ India/ Israel can play a not so helpful role in causing "sense of being disenfranchised or no hope" being blown out of proportion by noise of Apache helicopters day in, day out in Middle East or senseless humiliation in Kashmir.

Therefore, one should choose battles wisely so that the exponential factor is kept to the minimum. Even on this point, the mother lode rests on lack of leaders and thinkers within Middle East who would understand the aspirations of their own populace today, and harness public discourse in a non-violent manner. Without this citizenry is left with little room for peaceful outcome of differences in politics, etc. In recent times, the role of Nelson Mandela as a healer in South Africa overcoming century of injustice comes to mind immediately.

One would argue that there are poor nations that do not embrace terrorism - but then how does "poverty, lack of hope, AK-47 culture" feeds the cycle of radical Islam? Simple, democracy and peace does not grow out of the barrel of the gun, be it their own, or others. Quite often, if the violence due to poverty does not show in the form of religious bigotry than it takes a purely political face with examples from South America but it does show its ugly head. It is the visible disparity of wealth side by side that acts as an explosive mix in one of the means of continual humiliation? Purely, the presence of poverty and hardships does not mean reverting to terrorism, as shown in post WW II Japan. Cultural shock absorber can also play a great role in rebuilding a society under seige, as was the role of Emperor Hirohito and civil infrastructure still intact in Japan after WW II.

I have known a lot of Pakistanis and Middle East immigrants/ visitors/ students/ scholars in USA and Muslims in India. They all (the ones I have met are quite engaged in their life, career and the well being of the society around them) are very appreciative of democratic, free way of life, and have same dreams like a Hindu or a Korean American or an Italian American. Sure, my sampling is limited but revealing though.

Dr. Marc Sageman (U. Penn) aptly puts: "Most Arab terrorists are well-educated, married men from middle- or upper-class families, in their mid-20s and psychologically stable". In "The Economist" sometime ago, it was also pointed out that high profile acts are committed by "elitist, richer" Arabs but most of their foot work is done by orphans in Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and Pakistan. In an act like 9/ 11, Osama bin Laden trusted his own brothers and not the African and Asian brethren who do all the fighting in Afghanistan, Kashmir, etc. We can make recruiting efforts by elite radical Islam terrorist very difficult or easy in Asia and Africa - our choice. The only difference between radical Islam and radical versions of other religions is that they are finding recruitment very easy. Jessica Stern from Harvard is most succinct about Islamic terrorism that "If you're humiliated, you want to blame somebody and try to fix it". Why go on rampage (verbal and physical) and get stung by the whole beehive?

In September 14-24th (2004) issue of "The Economist", they had a telling article "The Muslim World: Liberals try to save their faith". A question why the Middle East moderates are not generally raising hell in condemning acts like Beslan and others is addressed by an interesting sentence: "Seeing the world through a lens of victim hood has grown into a comfortable habit". Why should we want to create conditions that perpetuates victim hood? It is nectar for a terror bee. Another interesting observation was "Scandals at Abu Gharib and Guantanamo have made it difficult to maintain that there exist universal notions of human rights, rather than particularist and discriminatory ones".

The slogan "War on Radical Islam" is originally from Salman Rushdie's bold article in New York Times, a few weeks just after 9/ 11 not from any politician from your home town. He made a point that active encouragement from West to build moderates in Islam is badly needed, if we want to wage a battle against radicalism. No intellectual knows radical Islam up close than him.

Nobody should ever advocate a passive approach to combat terrorism but an imaginative one. Also, remember they are no silver bullets.


US and South Asia

US policy in South Asia seen through my eyes

By Kush Tandon

"Following is a post, I wrote on www.square.com 6-7 months ago as a 101 on US-South Asian politics, but with recent yes to shipments of F-16s to Pakistan, this is more than topical. Does it make sense?"

I am amazed how young students in College Station or Corvallis know so little about South Asia even after 9/11. Let's revisit US - South Asia politics since 1950s. The US policy in South Asia had seen heady days of JFK-Nehru bonding on utopian ideas, Jacqueline's elephant rides in India, John Galbraith and Daniel Moynihan speaking up for India but also touched nadir when Indira Gandhi and Nixon were barely on talking terms and from strategic viewpoint, India was totally written off from 70-90s being in the Soviet camp. In case of Pakistan, their brightest hour was when they became the go between for Nixon's Great Wall diplomacy but then low point was reached when all they were gun runners extraordinaire during Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and Clinton only paid a visit to them for few hours (and chastised them openly on TV).

In 70s-90s, USA was solely concentrating on China in that region and others were secondary players in the geopolitical game at that time. However, things have now changed. India is slowly emerging as a true economic power, at least a fledgling one and Pakistan holds the key to stability for the entire region (India-Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran). United States now wants India to be a counter-weight to China 20-30 years from now.

The new US policy in South Asia should really include:

Vigorous Economic Engagement: Outsourcing, high tech industry, and textiles. Recently, Pakistan requested for textile tariffs to be removed but US turned it down. Small acts like that will touch more the common Muslim on the streets in Pakistan that anything else, including new F-16s. Both, India and USA are on the right track on becoming serious business partners. Outsourcing creates more new markets than jobs lost and also, an atmosphere for enduring friendship.

No blank checks to Pakistan. Even in Marshall Plan, there was strong accountability on a six-month basis. I understand situation is very delicate but on long term, Pakistan has always had the core talent that can grow into "Turkey-like" democracy. Pakistan has one of the most advanced infrastructure in Islamic nations. Indonesia is slowly joining the ranks of Turkey, so can Pakistan. In past, democratic governments in Pakistan have been sporadic and short lived.

During 9/ 11 hearings, I think George Tenet pointed out that US intelligentsia was basically uneducated with respect to Middle East (language, culture, politics, etc.). The liberal arts education in USA has a very strong European tilt and little bit of Japan. It definitely needs to incorporate South Asia, Middle East and Koreas in a rigorous way at college level, besides curry and Ravi Shankar. He was referring to reasons for intelligence failure but also holds true for marketing "USA" in South Asia.


Discovering Series, Part 1 (India)


Discovering India: “Will I become fairer like her, if I go to Amrika?”

By Kush Tandon


Of course, there are these scooter-rickshaws (“took-took”), rocketing through. It is October 2004; I am in Hyderabad for a scientific conference for a week. I am in my home country, India that I try to visit every year from the United States. There are hundreds of scientists for the conference from far and wide, many of whom have never been immersed in anything this overwhelming - India. You encounter beauty within the utter chaos, get lost in the multitude of crowds shoulder to shoulder, and be covered by the dust, sweat and smells by noon. Being on the road is an act of faith. One minute, there is total serenity and joy, colorful intoxicating spices, and the next - utter helplessness, and deep shock. You end up passionately loving and hating India, both at the same time.

The first day during the breakfast at Hotel Baseera, Hugh, a New Zealander notices, “Even the ones who are struggling quite hard in life here don’t seem angry. Their eyes are sparkling.” Many years ago, a friend of mine in graduate school had a similar observation of Cambodia and Vietnam.

I think I am a deft negotiator with scooter-rickshaw drivers. I am also a willing guide for any attendee – one in the morning.

The fifth day into the meeting, a Canadian named Michel and I decide to visit Charminar that afternoon. The Charminar, built more than 400 years ago by Quli Qutub Shah, is an arch with four minarets. You immediately realize this is the heartbeat of the old city. Surrounding the Charminar is a bazaar; in all four directions thousands of people are selling and buying. Some are selling fake Prada bags, saris, bangles, incenses, spices, nuts, and stalls filled with fresh orange, yellow, green fruits and vegetables. Bollywood songs are blaring out of from loud speakers, from radios, and from TV shops. Layers of merchants, permanent shops, mobile-stalls, and hawkers in the middle of the road are everywhere.

On the corner of one of the minarets of Charminar, sits a small Hindu shrine with fresh flowers as offerings, temporarily built. I do not know the history of this temple. However, it is next to a symbol of Islamic cultural glory. Somehow, all seems harmoniously blended. Close by is Mecca Majid, one of the largest mosques in the world. As we get off the scooter-rickshaw, a small girl approaches us to sell a religious text from Islam.

Do you want to buy this book?” She is about 8-9 years old, bright eyed, pretty, a thin girl wearing clean, whitish salwar-kameez. I smile back, and say “No.” She steps forward, looks straight into my eyes and retorts, “Why not?” I laugh, “Ok, I do not want the book but take this 10 Rupees.” She smiles back and runs away. Michel does not know Hindi. Michel has a daughter of around the same age and understands. We didn't ask her name. Do you inquire somebody's name when they eagerly want to sell something to you on the street? Michel has to pay 100 Rupees, and me, only 5 Rupees to get up the Charminar. We are escorted and bypass the huge line to go up the minaret. Michel is embarrassed. “We could have honored the line. In North America, people already in line would get really upset.

I briefly notice her once happily eating an ice cream with some friends. When Michel and I are ready to leave an hour later on a scooter-rickshaw, she shows up out of nowhere with another young girl. “My friend would like to have an ice cream too.” I give her friend a few rupees but I  pretend that I am not pleased with her repeat request. While she disappears, I try to lecture her, “Are you doing your homework regularly?” Meanwhile, I am also making sure that the scooter-rickshaw wallah knows where we are going next. Even if they have no clue, they never say to no to business.

On the last day late in the afternoon, I am again at the Charminar this time with Steven and Marta. Steven is from Germany and Marta from Hungary. We have been there for a while; we are now up on the Charminar. The girl and I run into each other, she is wearing a different colored salwar-kameez. She has the look, “You again.” Marta and Steven are amused too, “How does he know this little girl and why are they talking as if they have known each other?” Very soon, she is figuring out that whatever she tells me in Hindi, I translate back to Marta and Steven in English. It is quite amusing to all of us, herself included. She keeps walking with us, asking questions, offering her insights now and then. Steven and Marta are young visitors to India, eager to soak up any experience.

Is she a Hindu?” she asks, pointing to the bindi on Marta’s forehead. I turn to Marta, “Are you a Hindu?” She laughs, “No.” I pass it on in to her, “No, she is not.” Stepping down the minaret staircases, I turn back to Marta, “She is enamored by you.

No, she is enamored by the way you are talking.

The girl is curious about Marta - her sunglasses, attire, and demeanor. Marta is a pretty lady too. She is not paying any special attention to Steven. For next 30 minutes, she is with us. We walk past another temple. Steven: “Who is this Goddess?” Marta: “Saraswati” and me: “No, Lakshmi.” This week is Durga puja and Dasheera, and the temples are full with women in silken saris and jewelry.

Dozens of hawkers approach us. Some teenage boys are with us too for a brief moment. “Which country is the lady from?”, a teenager inquires looking at Marta. “Hungary, Now be gone.” They all have now disappeared.

Will I become fairer like her, if I go to Amrika (Hindi or Urdu for America)?”, the little girl inquires. I just smile and tell Marta about her query.

Look at the all the colors and smells. A temple with all the offerings,” said Marta pointing to all the mobile-stalls and the shrine within the Charminar. Steven is curious about the gold embroidered Islamic calligraphy on black silk being sold. It is the month of Ramadan, the sunset is round the corner, and the girl has sensed that we are about to leave soon. I have a flight to New Delhi quite soon in the evening. She pulls my T-shirt and, “You know the daily roza is going to be over soon, could you please let me buy some sweets?” The aroma of barfi is all over the bazaar. Also, there is the sound of frying jalebi from the halwai shops and stalls.

She is neither pleading nor begging.

Would it have mattered to her had she known that I am a Hindu (even not an observant one)? No. As we are stepping into a scooter-rickshaw, I give her a few rupees, “Do you even go to a school? You know you should be at home, studying right now.” She smiles back, “I go to a Madarssa and I have already completed my homework for today.” Marta steps forward and gives her few rupees and says, “I am from Hungary.” Steven does the same too, “I am from Germany.” Earlier, we had never told her where we are from, that was not part of the conversation.

We forgot to ask her name this time too.

She is going to buy her ice cream as the roza ends.

End Note: Neither of us was an American when this story was written, nor was the word "America" ever mentioned in front of her. In her mind, America was (or is) an ideal. Years later, I reposted this story on facebook, when I took US citizenship.

Acknowledgments: Picture of the bazaar and the scooter-rickshaws from top of the Charminar (Hyderabad) provided by Steven Golden.