Fire: The Overlooked Threat

By Scott Stewart*
Vice President of Analysis, Stratfor
People sometimes obsess over the potential threat posed by terrorist attacks that use things such as chemical weapons, electromagnetic pulses or dirty bombs. Yet they tend to discount the less exciting but very real threat posed by fire, even though fire kills thousands of people every year. The World Health Organization estimates that 195,000 people die each year from fire, while according to the Global Terrorism Database an average of 7,258 people die annually from terrorism, and that includes deaths in conflict zones such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

There are also instances in which fire is used as a weapon in a terrorist attack. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and embassy communications officer Sean Smith, the two diplomats killed in the attack on the U.S. office in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, did not die from gunfire or even rocket-propelled grenade strikes but from smoke inhalation. This fact was not lost on the U.S. Department of State Accountability Review Board that investigated the Benghazi attack. In an interview published by Reuters on Feb. 24, former Ambassador Thomas Pickering, the head of the Accountability Review Board, said more attention should be paid to the threat fire poses to diplomatic posts.

Fire can be deadly and destructive. But whether a fire is intentionally set, as in the Benghazi example above, or is the result of an accident or negligence, there are some practical steps individuals can take to protect themselves.

Fire as a Weapon

The use of fire as a weapon, especially against diplomatic facilities, is not new. It was seen in the November 1979 sacking and burning of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, and in the April 1988 mob and arson attack against the U.S. Embassy annex in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. In February 2008, the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade, Serbia, was heavily damaged when a mob lit its lobby on fire. More recently, on Sept. 14, 2012, three days after the Benghazi attack, millions of dollars’ worth of damage was done at the U.S. Embassy in Tunis, Tunisia, after a mob set outbuildings and vehicles ablaze. Fires set by demonstrators also caused extensive damage to the adjacent American school.

Fire has been used to attack non-diplomatic facilities as well. During the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, the group of attackers holed up in the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel started fires in various parts of the hotel. Anarchists and radical environmental and animal rights activists have also conducted arson attacks against a variety of targets, including banks, department stores, the homes and vehicles of research scientists and even a ski resort.

Fire has also been a weapon frequently mentioned by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in its longstanding efforts to encourage Muslims living in the West to conduct simple attacks. In an interview featured in the first edition of Inspire magazine, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader Nasir al-Wahayshi encouraged would-be jihadists to burn down forests and buildings as a way to strike terror into the hearts of their adversaries. This theme was expanded upon in Inspire magazine’s ninth edition, which actually contained a photo tutorial on how to construct timed incendiary devices as well as a fatwa noting that it was religiously permissible to light forest fires as an act of war. It is suspected that Palestinian groups have also been responsible for a number of fires in Israel and the West Bank.

But fire is not a weapon to be used against only buildings and forests — it can also be used to attack transportation targets. In March 2008, a Uighur separatist attempted to light a fire in the restroom of a China Southern Airlines flight from Urumqi to Beijing using two soft drink cans filled with gasoline that she had smuggled onto the flight. Fire is extremely dangerous aboard aircraft because of the oxygen-rich environment, the sensitive nature of avionic controls, the presence of thousands of gallons of jet fuel and the toxic smoke that results from burning plastics and other materials that make up a plane. Examples of deadly fires aboard aircraft include the September 1998 incident involving Swissair Flight 111, in which all 229 people aboard were killed after the crew was overcome by smoke, and the May 1996 ValuJet crash in the Florida Everglades. In a case similar to the one at hand, a June 1983 fire that started in the restroom of Air Canada Flight 797 resulted in the deaths of 23 of the 46 passengers on board. Autopsies showed that most of them died as a result of smoke inhalation.

Trains have also been targeted for arson. In August 2006, an attack against two German trains failed when the timed incendiary devices placed onboard failed to ignite. A February 2007 attack against a train in India proved far more deadly. Two timed incendiary devices placed aboard the Samjhauta Express killed 68 people and injured another 50. Two additional unignited devices were later found in other cars aboard the train. Had they functioned properly, the death toll would have been much higher.

Incendiary devices are not only quite deadly if properly employed, they also have an advantage over explosive devices in that they can be constructed from readily available materials such as gasoline and kerosene. Even the aluminum powder and iron oxide required to manufacture a more advanced incendiary compound such as thermite can be easily obtained or even produced at home.

Another consideration is that quite often other forms of attacks, such as those using explosive devices, rocket-propelled grenades or even tracer ammunition, can spark fires. Many of the victims of the July 7, 2005, London subway bombings were affected not by the bombs’ blast effect but by the smoke from the resultant fires.


In addition to the threat of fire as a weapon or resulting from another form of attack, many deadly fires result each year from accidents or negligence. Such fires are deadly enough in the United States and Europe, where there are strict fire codes, but their impact is often magnified in less-developed countries, where fire codes are nonexistent or poorly enforced. For example, while sprinkler systems are mandatory for hotels in the United States, in many parts of the world they are not required.

When I was working on protective details overseas, I learned that it is not uncommon to find items stored in emergency stairwells, leaving them obstructed or sometimes impassable. It is also not unusual to find fire doors that have been chained shut due to the criminal threat.

One thing that can be done to mitigate the threat from fire is to check emergency exits to ensure that they are passable. This applies not only to hotels but also to apartment and even office buildings. In the August 2011 Casino Royale attack in Monterrey, Mexico, the attackers ordered the occupants out of the building before dousing it with gasoline and lighting it on fire, but 52 people died in the incident because they were trapped inside a building by a fire exit that had been chained and locked shut.

While we recommend that travelers staying at hotels overseas should attempt to stay above the second floor for security reasons, we also recommend that they not stay above the sixth floor so that they will be within range of most fire department rescue ladders. We also recommend checking that functional and tested fire extinguishers and fire hoses are present.

In fires, smoke inhalation is a huge problem. According to studies, it is the primary cause of fire deaths and accounts for some 50-80 percent of all deaths from indoor fires. While this is somewhat obvious in confined spaces such as an aircraft fuselage or a subway tunnel, it also applies to buildings. Even buildings that are constructed of concrete or cinderblock and would therefore seem to be resistant to the effects of fire can serve to confine smoke to deadly levels. The U.S. office in Benghazi is a very good recent example. Video of the building after the attack showed that the fire had not badly damaged the building’s structure itself; what killed Stevens and Smith was the smoke.

As Stratfor has noted for many years now, smoke hoods are a very important piece of safety equipment and should be part of everyone’s personal safety plan. Smoke hoods can be carried in a purse or briefcase and can provide the wearer with 15-30 minutes of safe air to breathe. This period of time can make a world of difference to a person caught in a burning building, subway tunnel or aircraft and attempting to escape to fresh air.
Due to past fire incidents on aircraft, the Federal Aviation Administration mandates that airlines furnish a smoke hood for each crew member on commercial flights. They do not provide smoke hoods for each passenger, although high-end executive aircraft normally do. Commercial passengers who would like access to a smoke hood in the case of a fire need to carry their own. Another useful tool in such situations is a small, high-intensity flashlight that can help you find your way through the smoke or dark once you have donned your smoke hood.

Fire is a potentially deadly weapon, one that should not be forgotten, but steps can be taken to mitigate the danger it poses.

(*republished with permission of Stratfor.)

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Authenticity Of Meher Baba Words

Meher Baba in 1930s

As a member of the Publications and Copyrights Committee of the AMBPPCT, I am putting before you the reasons I feel that there is a need for publishing authorised editions of Baba’s unpublished words in the present time. I use the word ‘authorised’ not in the egotistic sense. We are not authorised to authorise! Baba is the Author and will ever remain so.

All we are trying to do with our limited human nature and intelligence is to keep the published product as close to the original as possible, while correcting grammar and spelling, and where possible filling in blanks. In that sense, we are working to preserve the authenticity and the accuracy of Baba’s words for posterity. We are creating a benchmark which will be what the AMBPPCT could call an “authorised edition”, as opposed to other free-lance interpretations of the same manuscripts.

I have been with Meher Baba from the time I was born. Due to His Grace, I was fortunate to have lived for a time with Him as part of His men and women mandali, and also later, to have spent much time in His presence. I was given unique opportunities to observe how Baba Himself dealt with the issues and questions surrounding the publication of His words. He was very particular about the actual editing process, and in fact Baba had said, “Future editors will come who will be able to edit my works, because I want My words to be properly edited.” Even during His life He asked Don Stevens to re-edit The Discourses because the language had become archaic.

After Baba dropped His body, the Trust took on the Olympian task of going through the many stores of documents and undertook the responsibility of putting His words before His lovers and the world at large as authentically and accurately as was possible. Many of His mandali devoted time and effort to this work – Mani S Irani, Rano Gayley, Adi K Irani, Feramroz Workingboxwalla, Eruch Jessawala, Bal Natu, Bhau Kalchuri among them – as did many of His Western and Eastern lovers who had been with Him and had knowledge of the events and circumstances surrounding some of the works. Among those are Ivy O’Duce, Elizabeth Patterson, Kitty Davy, Bill LePage, Darwin Shaw, Margaret Craske, Delia DeLeon, to name but a few.

With the formation of the Archives Committee, all Baba’s writings and correspondence which was held by the Trust at the time was scanned, then safely stored. A lot of previously unpublished material was found, bringing forth works such as “In God’s Hand” and “Infinite Intelligence”. I was involved in the work of bringing the material found into a form and shape which, while being grammatically correct, was also readable by anyone who chose to read the books. Translations, interpretations of charts and diagrams, editing the words to make them read easily (some of the original sentences were abbreviated) was done over and over again because each of us who worked on the manuscript was aware of the enormous responsibility we held and didn’t want to publish a work that in any way distorted or made ambiguous Baba’s words.

However, edit the manuscript we did. Because any editorial process is by its nature subjective and has to rely on the slant put on the work by the one doing the editing, there were several editors working simultaneously, to minimise this subjective interpretation. And to make it totally transparent, the original was scanned and put out on the Internet, so that anyone could read and cross-check to ensure that authenticity.

At the present time we are working on editing The Tiffin Lectures. These are a series of informal talks given by Baba some time in 1925 to 1926. The manuscript we had was full of blanks and the source material was not available until recently, when Chanji’s diaries became available. Other sources too were found outside of the Trust Archives. E.g. Chris & Chris Pearson had a manuscript which had a lot of the blanks filled in, probably from Filis Fredrick (late editor of The Awakener). We are now working towards bringing all these sources together and putting forth a book that is worthy of our Beloved.

There is no perfection except with our Lord Meher Baba. We do not say that the “authorised edition” of His words will be so. It will be coloured with our limited understanding and our personal experiences, but it will be done with the heart and mind focused on Him, and with His guidance we will succeed. As more and more of the people who knew Baba in His physical advent die, it is necessary to have people who have made it their life work to study His works, and who have talked to and been guided by His close ones and those who lived their lives under Baba’s supervision. They in turn will pass on the knowledge they were given and their own additions to this, to those yet to come.

Should we skip this meticulous and time-consuming process and just directly publish the manuscripts as is? It is only my opinion, but I do not feel that this is the way to go about publication.

(* Text of the written speech for a function on Avataric legacy
programme held in Meherabad on Feb 15, 2013)

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Jaitley –Katju spat through political prism

By Malladi Rama Rao

Arun Jaitley is an interesting leader. He is interesting not because he is not cut in the Laloo Prasad mode. He is well read and very articulate. Hearing him hold forth for BJP in the days when the party was a marginal player in Delhi’s power circuit was a delight just as it was a pain to attend the briefings of his senior Jaswant Singh. Unlike Singh, he had cut his teeth in student politics. His biggest plus is the fact that he is an unadulterated Delhiite.

There is an old world charm in Jaitley-speak though he is a product of ABVP politics, like Muppavarapu Venkaiah Naidu, his contemporary, whose paronomasia invites brickbats and bouquets in equal measure. So much so, when Jaitely entered into a public spat with Justice Markandeya Katju, it sounded strange.

A practising lawyer locking horns with a former apex court judge is an unusual spectacle. More unusual, of course, was Congress party’s Digvijay Singh quickly rallying in support of Katju.

Two things have happened as a result. One the issue became politicised with the BJP and Congress locked in a war of words. Two the basic issue raised by Jaitley has been sidelined particularly with the sections of Talking Shops pitching their pitch a little too high to grab eye balls.

Established names in the media, not all, but a majority, certainly, have not helped matters either. Their penchant to look at the Jaitely –Katju spat through political prism has something to do with a garrulous Gujarati, who is on a political mission to find answer to the question – Koham (Who am I) in time for the next national ballot.

Frankly, I don’t hold a brief for the BJP leader. Nor do I hold a brief for Justice Katju either. But my question is can there be no space for an exchange of ideas- big and small without making the ideas a hostage to politics.

From Itanagar to Bhavnagar and from Sopore to Tuticorin, we come across the same sad spectacle – politicised discourse. For the ‘aam aadmi’ engaged in a daily struggle for existence politics matters very little till someone intrudes and touches raw emotions with rhetoric.

Our politicians, irrespective of their labels, are full time practitioners of the art of the possible. So, there is nothing wrong in their jumping into the fray with or without provocation. But should we allow them to obfuscate issues with an eye on the elusive x- factor.

Yes, there are no ready answers to this question which has been before us from late sixties when we had a brief tryst with coalitions and ‘Aya Ram- Gaya Ram’ politics in the Ganga-Yamuna belt. The politics of untouchability ushered in by Comrade Harkishan Singh Surjeet have erected firewalls; this has largely contributed to making a dialogue between the ruling and opposition parties a thing of the past. Today both sides speak through the media missing no opportunity to spite at each other.

From Nehru to Rajiv Gandhi and PV Narasimha Rao, neither political moorings nor day-to-day political compulsions stood in the way of personal equations. It is not the case any longer as the Jaitley-Katju spat shows.

Katju is not the first former Supreme Court judge to head the Press Council of India (PCI) with its office located very near a sports stadium. He will not be the last one to head this toothless wonder despite its quasi-judicial status. But, he is certainly the first PCI chairman, who is in the headlines with his ‘opinion pieces’.

Now why he is offering his comments, mostly unsolicited, and why the media is giving him space are not germane to this column. The focus here is why should he rush to the press with his ‘op-eds’.

It appears as though he wants to mold public opinion, like the newspapers whose output comes under the PCI purview. Otherwise, Justice Katju would not have written in The Hindu against the Gujarat Chief Minister. And concluded that he found it hard to believe Narendra Modi had no hand in the 2002 riots.

Not only Justice Katju but many people with a thinking cap, do find it hard to believe that the Chief Minister was unaware of what was happening, for instance, at Gulburg Society, a Muslim housing complex, in Ahmadabad or about the Naroda Patiya massacre. Also most of us feel frustrated at the slow march of the wheels of justice in our country.

Neither of these two sentiments should blind us to the reality that the law of the land is finally catching up with the guilty for the post-Godhra mayhem. Justice Katju was an insider to the judicial system. As such, he should feel elated that his fraternity in Gujarat is making India proud whereas the national capital is still hanging its head in shame as the faces behind the 1984 riots are yet to be unmasked.

Now whether Justice Katju’s remarks/observations are reckless or whether he is a megalomaniac is a matter of perception. Also, whether the PCI chairman was right in advising Jaitely to take ‘sanyas’ from politics and whether he was right in his run-ins with Nitish Kumar in Bihar and Mamata ‘Didi’ in West Bengal.

The fact of the matter is a retired Supreme Court judge, who is heading a quasi-judicial body, has entered political space with his op-eds. Is this fair and proper? It is in finding answers to this question we can hope to carve out space for a healthy, unadulterated dialogue, which is the need of the hour. This question is important because we have a host of quasi-judicial bodies in the country.

Equally important is another question that has come upfront with the ‘tapping’ of Arun Jaitley’s mobile phones. A Delhi policeman is held guilty along with his detective friend, who once helped the police and intelligence agencies, trace Afzal Guru, and other suspects in the 2001 parliament attack case. Yes, an op-ed piece on Jaitley’s tryst with mobile freedom will be interesting to read.

(The writer can be reached at

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Congress Faces Minefield Ahead In The Election Year

By Malladi Rama Rao

With attention riveted on the new scam that the Italian prosecutors have unearthed for Indian opposition, a brewing confrontation in Patna between Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Governor Devanand Konwar is not receiving the focus it deserves.

What is happening in the Bihar capital is a replay of Kumudben Joshi show the readers may be familiar with. Like the Congress Minister hoisted on NTR’s Telugu Desam as the eyes and ears of the centre in Hyderabad Raj Bhavan years ago, the former Assam lawmaker in Patna Raj Bhavan is putting his own spin on ‘due process of consultation’.

The governors in Gandhinagar and Kolkata are also said to be in the same league. Old time politician Konigeti Rosaiah appears to be an exception and this is clear from the rapport he enjoys with Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. While on the subject of old time politicians, pertinent to remember is that Balaram Jakkhar had a smooth sail in Bhopal’s Raj Bhavan to the dismay of his Congress friends in the state.

Governor Konwar kicked up a row by appointing six vice-chancellors and four pro-vice chancellors without taking Nitish Kumar on board. His contention is a recap of Kumudben Joshi’s case. The Universities Act under which these appointments are made gives Raj Bhavan a free hand, and yet the state government was consulted, according to his office. The Patna High Court has ruled in favour of the Governor when the Chief Minister knocked at its doors last December. The court said that Raj Bhavan could, in fact, over rule the choice of the government which should be consulted nevertheless.

This is what the governor did on Saturday, Feb 9 and issued a notification reappointing his original choice.

Did Governor Konwar consult his government? He did not, according to Nitish, who, as media reports from Patna point out, generally avoids a confrontation with Raj Bhavan. “If the Governor’s office writing a letter to the government (on VC appointments) is consultation, it was done. But it was not consultation in true sense of the term”, says the chief minister.

Nitish case is simple. The governor cannot usurp the role of a chief minister, who is accountable to the people for all the actions of the government. Years ago, NTR raised the same question. In recent months, Narendra Modi articulated the same question though in the context of appointment of a Lokayukta. There were few takers for the Modi plea. The Congress and the Governor took the high moral ground and charged him with plans to either pick up a pliable judge or keep the post vacant.

There may be merit in Modi’s case against his governor and in Nitish’s clash with Patna Raj Bhavan. But that is not the issue at stake. Also not at stake is the law as it stands today in matters of appointing a VC or a Lokayukta. These laws belong to the period when same party ruled from Delhi and the state capitals and therefore didn’t envisage friction between the CMO and Raj Bhavan. So in the changed times, the issue is how a governor should function? Is he (or she) a friend, philosopher and guide of the chief minister or super chief minister playing to the galleries?

The Congress refuses to entertain these questions. Though it styles itself as the Grand Old Party (GOP) and claims ‘Good Governance’ as its USP, the party has not learnt the basics of running its machinery outside the national capital. The appointments made to Raj Bhavans by UPA-I and UPA-II clearly show that the party is banking on the faithful in a gubernatorial post to accomplish for it which it is unable to achieve in the normal course.

Right from the Nehru era, it has been turning to the man in the golden cage, as a former governor once described Raj Bhavan, to engineer a majority or to rescue the incumbent chief minister from dissidents. The country has seen many Ram Lals, who have done a better job than the good old Himachal Congressman, whose hatchet job had given fresh lease to Thespian NTR. These days superannuated policemen manning the Raj Bhavan appear to be in a hurry to do one-up on the Ram Lals of yore. Their brief is visible in the background briefings.

For instance, when a policeman was sent to Chattisgarh, it was said his expertise in intelligence gathering and policing would be useful to tackle the Naxalite menace. Implicit is the message that the gentleman would have a say in the anti-Naxal policy. The state was rued at that time, as now, by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Chief Minister Raman Singh has been quietly delivering the votes to his party with impressive record on development front. Put mildly, the buck stops at the Raman Singh’s door since he has to face the test of accountability. So, should the governor override him?

This is the very question that Nitish Kumar has kicked up in Bihar. And Mamata Bannerjee appears to do so in Kolkata, where the incumbent in Raj Bhavan, Mayankote Kelath Narayanan, has reacted angrily in public after ‘Didi’ shunted out the top cop of the ‘city of joy’. The Chief Minister may have acted in haste and made the police commissioner the scapegoat for the political fall-out of the death of a sub-inspector, as most reports put it. But was it fair and proper for the governor to react in the way Narayanan did. “If it (transfer of CP) might have to do with what happened in the last few days, clearly there is something that is wrong and we will have to look into it”, he was quoted as saying.

Who are this ‘we’ the governor was referring to? He offered no direct reply but left no doubts when he said “I presume they (Mamata government) should answer whether they are capable of running a government or not. The governor cannot answer that, he can only act”.

So, a minefield awaits the Congress in this election year. (The writer can be reached at

(This commentary first appeared on The Hans India, Hyderabad)

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Not looking Beyond The Nose

By M Rama Rao

Delhiites are an exceptionally lucky lot. They are an island where every want from water to onions is met even before the morning dailies hit you with screaming headlines over shortages. The latest war cry in the national capital is against the VIPs, and the police deployed for their security. The city police commissioner maintains that security is provided on threat perception but there are few takers to his claim; the issue has become a statistician’s delight with the government admitting that there is one policeman for 253 citizens in the capital while twelve cops protect each of the 427 VIPs. Delhiwalas are more than a shade better than fellow citizens, say in Hyderabad or Chandigarh. Not only in matters of policing. In all matters of daily concern.

This reality stuck me during my month long stay at Meherabad, a township that has come up in an erstwhile army camp near Arangaon village, on the outskirts of Ahmednagar city in Maharashtra. The place is famous for the Tomb Shrine of Meher Baba, who lived for long years at Meherabad. It is about 80 kms from Shirdi, the abode of Sai Baba. Though a top police functionary from Mumbai is a regular visitor to Meherabad, I did not notice much police presence in the area. There was a Beat Police Station in a pucca house but it appeared as a perennial silence zone. A van load of policemen descended on the area on Jan 31, the Amartithi of Meher Baba. Volunteers, mostly drawn from Andhra Pradesh, were scene handling the traffic and security drill for the 35 thousand pilgrims. It is possible that the organisers of the Amartithi wanted to keep security less visible. What struck an observant eye was the total absence of lathis and guns.

Meherabad is a part of Marathvada region where parched lands and thirsty throats greet every visitor. The area has not received good rain in the last two seasons. In fact, it being in a rain shadow zone, rainfall is always scanty. Bore wells have almost dried up by the time I visited the area. Water is difficult to find at 500 feet even. Truck mounted boring machines from Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are doing a roaring business drilling upto 600 ft though regulation depth is 250 feet. Water level in the reservoirs from Pune to Solapur has gone down forcing the Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan to reserve available water for drinking purpose.

Anti-corruption Ayatollah, Anna Hazare has implemented a water conservation and rain water harvesting scheme in his native Ralegaon Siddhi – a village that falls on Ahmednagar- Pune highway. The government, for a change, entrusted to him the task of replicating the success story across Ahmednagar district and even rest of the state of Maharashtra. Sadly, Hazare’s quest for a larger role on the national scene resulted in the quiet death of his water conservation movement. That his nation-wide anti-graft crusade has made no headway is neither here nor there.

Fact of the matter is that local Panchayats are not able to provide water – for animals and men alike. In Arangaon village, for instance, no water was supplied for most of December and even January. People are therefore forced to turn to water tankers. It must be said to the credit of Arangaon panchayat leadership that they too organised tanker supplies but it was not enough to meet the demand.

Like always at times of water scarcity, the worst sufferers are cows, buffalos and other domestic animals. Dusting its old drought manual, the government has set up animal camps in more than 1200 villages. The manual decrees that such camps should not be for more than a fortnight and provides for a princely sum of Rs. 32 per animal. A classic case of governance deficit!

A saying heard in Delhi is that rules are made for fools to follow and that the wise interpret them. Apparently, all wise men are in the nation’s capital, as Coalgates et al testify. If the ‘sarkar babus’ stick to the manual, and such a possibility is never ruled out in our deficit centric government, the sufferer will be the animal which doesn’t know what a PIL is. Consider this. Fodder is provided at the camp. There is no power to cut the fodder. Most farmers have deputed one or two persons to look after the ‘family silver’ by pulling them out of daily wage works.

Prithviraj Chavan has knocked at the doors of Delhi Darbar. His visit coincided with unseasonal winter rains that left parts of Delhi water logged for long hours, and pulled down the mercury further. He presented an ‘invoice’ for Rs. 2270 crore to the Prime Minister.

Visits to Delhi for bail-out packages have no more than symbolic value. Central aid is only advance plan assistance. That too is delivered after a central team goes around the affected state. All because our system of governance is based on mistrust. The central team is made up of IAS officers. And the team of officers they interact with is led by IAS officers. So, you have All India Service officers on either side of the Centre- State divide. Still, the practice persists.

Years ago, in Hyderabad, S V Giri was the pointsman for drought relief work. During a briefing, I asked him about the rationale for visits of central teams to assess the damage. Soft spoken Giri simply smiled and continued with his narration. Years later, he moved to Krishi Bhavan in Delhi, where his job profile included deputing central teams to calamity hit pockets.

Simply put we refuse to unlearn and learn. Well, we are a tradition bound society. And refuse to think out of the box. Maharashtra deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar wants to buy water from Almatti dam in Karnataka to meet the needs of Jalna, Osmanabad and other nearby areas. Good idea it is but it is fire fighting when the need is long term efforts like impounding and storing rain water. ( Courtesy: The Hans India, Hyderabad)

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Crony Capitalism to Crony Democracy


We are in the season of hikes. The petroleum companies have hiked their prices and are still sulking that their bottom-line is in the red. The Railways raised passenger fares through an executive fiat one month before the budget. Taking cue, the electricity companies and the bus companies hiked their rates. Like the petroleum companies, they are sulking that they are still not able to recover their operational costs.

The only tribe, which has increased end-user prices without demurring is the businessmen, who depend on petrol for personal comfort, and on diesel to keep their supply chain moving. Not to be left behind, neighbourhood grocery shops and vegetable vendors are making their own cut in our family budget.

The situation brings to mind the drive for voluntary contributions whenever the nation is gripped by patriotism in response to booming guns on the border or whenever some part of the nation is devastated at the hands of the nature.

From a policeman to the school teacher, everyone gets into targeted collection mode. The police man turns to the ‘lalaji’ on his beat. And the teacher to the students in the class. Neither coerces, as you and I know from experience.

The ‘lalaji’ has already made his voluntary donation to the local traders association, which is drum beating its nationalist credentials, to the local municipality’s tax collector, weights inspector, and sanitary inspector, who have been asked by their sectional heads to do their bit in the service of our mother land.

The trader has also answered the pleas of his daughter in the primary classes and of his son in the upper primary classes. For both kids, it is a matter of family prestige; they donot want their father to be bracketed along with the Merchants of Venice. Ditto for his brother in the college which has lined up a cultural extravaganza featuring film stars and the like. And for his wife too, who wants to hold her head high at the kitty party and amongst the Merchant Wives Association.

The story gets repeated with every household in the catchment area of the ‘lalaji’. Nuances may differ but end result is mostly the same
To demonstrate that everyone in the family is a worthy citizen, voluntary donations are offered, often after some song-drama with frayed tempers and sobbing hearts. Still, the earning member of the family, who is the only one poor ‘oversoul’ – contrary to the images of multiple incomes in every middle class home because of mushrooming BPOs, loves to indulge in just one luxury – seeing his name in print. The only way he can do is to send a cheque or money order to his favourite newspaper, which has set up a Relief Fund with great fanfare.

I can tell you because I know it first hand that every one of these contributor-patriots in the service of the motherland is thrilled to the core when the daily gives their name in the long list of donors though the Relief Fund details are moved from Page I to a corner of the inside page reserved for tender notices

What is so common between the drive by multiple agencies for voluntary donations and the hikes of administered prices announced by various government agencies? Well both pinch your pocket and my pocket.

We, the people of India, that is Bharat, pay for patriotism, and for our thirst for happiness. The ‘Lalaji’ has no problem because he pays through one hand and collects it through another hand. The ‘Neta’ has no problem because he doesn’t pay generally and when he does pay occasionally someone else foots the bill from behind.

Yes, if the consumer happens to be a government employee, a hike in dearness allowance is assured. The working class in the organised sector too gets some compensation because their wages are linked to the price index. Is this a consolation for both? No, certainly not.

There is a time lag between the price hike and DA hike. The price index doesn’t reflect the market till the government agencies entrusted with the task of compiling price data do their job to perfection. More over the Yojana Bhavan is resolved to talk down the price index. And the Finance Ministry is determined to ushering in the Feel Good Factor, (FGF).

Well, you cannot blame them. Also their pathetic inability to learn from experience that the instruments at their command are no match to the task given to them. Their mandate is to keep refurbishing the image of the leadership of Shining India as caring for the aam aadmi.

Text book economics pushes them to regulate money supply to address the problem of shortages created by supply- side constraints. Like administering Anacin to a person with stomach-ache!

Reminding us of the quip about doctors, by American humorist, Arthur “Art” Buchwald, our doctor holding the purse strings of the nation administers us ginger capsules, which replaces stomach-ache with headache. With no businessman willing to put his money where his mouth is, and with no consumer willing to buy no more than bare essentials, the Pink Papers see the GDP in tailspin to the dismay of FIIs betting their bets on India scrip

Back to basics, goes the war cry; the media becomes the devil’s advocate with deep background briefings giving a veneer of respectability to each by-lined despatch. And every economic ministry and every enterprise in the government are allowed to become islands and have their cake without much ado as our experience since beginning of the New Year bears out.

In the adrenaline rush to check deficits – revenue and fiscal, the bureaucrats on Raisina Hill and in the Rail Bhavan, and the superannuated bureaucrats masquerading as the regulators of electricity to insurance and share market, have reduced governance to a chartered accountant’s delight.

Will Rahul Gandhi be the Game-changer, the Congress party says he is. Answer to this question holds the key to our slide from our crony capitalism to the threshold of crony democracy. (The writer can be reached at

( This commentary first appeared in The Hans India on Feb 2, 2013)

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Meher Baba: “Tell me, how do you know I am the Avatar?”

“I am the Avatar. But tell me, how do you know I am the Avatar?,” Meher BaBa asked one day in January 1953 when he was with a group of devotees.

Gaya Prasad Khare, reciting some verses from the Ramayana, said these couplets were enough to convince him Meher Baba is the Avatar.

Baba replied, “But it is also said that many shall appear in the Kali Yuga as Perfect Beings and Avatars. How do you know that I am the Real One and not a fraud?”

Someone said that none had declared himself as the Avatar as authoritatively as Meher Baba had; hence, Baba must be the Avatar.

“But how can you say that I say all this knowingly?,” Baba asked again.”I may be copying the style after reading about previous Avatars. So, the proof is not in saying something in an authoritative way”.

“In the world today, there are about seventy-five persons who claim to be the Avatar of the age, both in the East and in the West – and God help them all! So, the question still remains unanswered as to how you know that I am the Avatar.”

Bandili B. Bapiraju related several of his miraculous experiences, saying they were sufficient proof for him to take Meher Baba as the Avatar.

To this, Baba replied thus:

“All such experiences may be due to your love and faith, and as such are far off the mark to prove that I am the Avatar. Of course, as for myself, I have the experience that I am the Avatar. But, however much you say, I do not feel convinced that you really know that I am the Avatar. To know me as the Avatar, to know me as I am, you have to be what I am!

“One day, Upasni Maharaj, when we were alone in his hut, said to me with folded hands, “You are the Avatar.” Now, although it is a fact that the Avatar, God, and you all are One, yet all that I want you to do is to love me, obey me with full faith.

Hafiz says:

O Hafiz! Don’t bother about anything.
Only worship your Master by holding fast to his robe.
Don’t let go your hold under any circumstances

“To make the point clear, suppose there is a rail engine with five or six bogies attached to it. Some contain gold, some silver and some cow dung. But as long as the link with the engine is maintained, all are safe and will reach the same destination. But no sooner is the link snapped, than the wagons shall be where they are.

“So, don’t bother about your thoughts, whether good or bad. Bear in mind that all thoughts are illusory. The only reality is to catch firm hold of the daaman.

Pukar made an ardent speech, and Baba appreciated it, dictating:

“It is beyond doubt that the Avatar is the Avatar. In the case of the Avatar, God takes human form – rather, God descends in human form. The glory of the Sadguru is unfathomable. In his case, man has become God. When the Avatar descends, there are five Perfect Masters who sustain him. These five have always sustained me: Sai Baba, Upasni Maharaj, Babajan, Narayan Maharaj and Tajuddin Baba.

“Sai Baba was Perfection Personified, a very rare type even among Sadgurus. Babajan was after all the Shahanshah – the Emperor of Masters – Kings.

“So, there are five Perfect Masters who sustain me from eternity. In every age, when I come, they sustain me. Sai Baba made me what I am; Babajan made me feel what I am; Upasni Maharaj made me know what I am. And what I am, I am!

“So, let us now bow down to these three Perfect Ones.

Baba then bowed to the photographs of the three Perfect Masters displayed on the veranda.

When Baba wrote His last message

On Saturday, January 1st, 1927, a year and a half after the Meher Baba began Hs silence, He wrote this message: “I intend to stop writing from tomorrow. It is not definite when I will resume writing or speaking. I may start again after some days, some months or even some years. It all depends on Hazrat Babajan.”

Baba received many New Year’s greeting cards. Baba’s advice to the mandali and all others for the coming year was: “You must all stick to the powerhouse.”

From the 2nd of January, Baba ceased writing completely and began conveying his thoughts and feelings through hand gestures or by pointing to different English alphabet letters in the newspaper. Up to
this time, because of Baba’s animated nature, the mandali had almost forgotten that he was silent, but when Baba stopped writing, they became keenly aware of it once again.

The Gujarati arti was performed at nine that evening. From then on, Baba gave permission for it to be sung every evening. He fasted and did not eat or drink anything the whole day.

( From Lord Meher by Bhau Kalchuri).

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What is the legacy of P.V. Narasimha Rao…?

December 23 is the death anniversary of former Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao. There will be official functions in Delhi’s Andhra Bhavan and elsewhere to pay homage to the Telugu bidda from Karimnagar. For the likes of me, who love our ringside seat, these mandatory exercises are a grim reminder of the final humiliation PV suffered in death. The tall leaders, who are going around chanting the FDI mantra today, were mute witnesses to that sad spectacle. PV was no Charan Singh. Nor was he Inder Kumar Gujral. Yes, the three were accidental prime ministers but unlike them, he had carved a place for himself under the Indian sun. Yet, he was denied the state funeral in Delhi, which was accorded to the Jat leader and the refugee from Lahore.

Indian tradition demands respect to the dead man even if he is your worst enemy and expects you to walk the extra mile to honour the sentiments of the bereaved family. PV’s sons were keen on conducting the last rites if not on the banks of Yamuna, the final resting place of most political leaders of modern India, at least in the Delhi Cantonment. The ‘messenger’ of the day conveyed the ‘wish’ to the family that mattered. And came back with ‘official no’.

Aided by a Chief Minister, who had been made to fly into the capital, cutting short his Christmas Day preparations, the messenger convinced the bereaved family to opt for Hyderabad. ‘I am forced to miss the Christmas at my native place for the first time in my life because of PV’, the Chief Minister told me.

The Congress has a long tradition of placing the body of a departed leader at the party headquarters to enable the workers to pay their respects. This tradition was also given a go-by. In fact, what we heard was that the powers that be clearly stated that the body of Narasimha Rao was not welcome inside the AICC headquarters at 24, Akbar Road. This building was just a few yards away from the Motilal Nehru road residence of the former prime minister.

‘Insider’ was the title of the book PV had written. ‘Outsider’ would be the appropriate title for a book on the way the Congress treated him after his death.

How the history will judge him? An Australian publication provided the answer when it said: “He is now reviled by his own party, forgotten by the world and neglected by India. But today’s India, for better or for ill, is Rao’s India”.

His legacy as prime minister is liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation.

The nation, in fact, the Congress Parivar, which swears by Rajiv Gandhi, must remain grateful to PV. So should be the followers of Mandal Messiah, V P Singh.

Rajiv could not sell his ‘Panchayati Raj’ dream to Parliament. Suffering a loss of face in the Rajya Sabha, he went for a snap election and lost the ballot. V P Singh turned to Mandal report in order to checkmate the dreams of Devi Lal and created mayhem across northern India, particularly Delhi.

PV educated both on how to get parliamentary approval without creating divisions in the society. The way he invoked the consensus mantra and highlighted his own rural roots to make all shades of opinion in Parliament to agree to give a push to democracy at the grass-roots level is a lesson in floor management. And the way he had handled the Mandal card was a demonstration of how social engineering should be achieved.

Sitaram Kesri was so impressed by the PV feat that he declared he would touch the feet of Telugu bidda. He did not stop there. He chided the Congress MPs from Andhra Pradesh that they did not know how to show respect to their leader.

The occasion for Kesri speak was a function held in Parliament House Annexe to hand over the letter of appointment to the first OBC selected for government job under the Mandal Quota. Sitaram Kesri was the Minister of the day for Welfare.

Well, the very same Bihari turned against PV and humiliated him and his soft-spoken personal assistant of long years. All this is a part of folklore of Indraprastha, which, according to GVG Krishna Murthy, a former Election Commissioner, is no more than a ‘Kutra Prastha’.

Two nuggets about the former prime minister. Just to show that he was not indecision incarnate as many are made to believe. And that he was always quick to cut to size anyone indulging in bravado.

Palaniappan Chidambaram and P R Kumaramangalam learnt this the hard way. As a Minister of Commerce, Chidambaram sent his resignation to the Prime Minister one day and arrived at the office of the Principal Information Officer (PIO) in Shastri Bhavan to announce his decision. No one expected the resignation to be accepted. He spoke with the media and walked back to his Fiat car. As he was settling at the steering, the PIO came running down his first floor office and told him that Rashtrapati Bhavan had issued a communication accepting his resignation. The victim was shocked.

Ranga, as Kumaramangalm was known, was administered a similar dose. In the post- Babri demolition assembly elections, initial trends showed the Congress was doing badly. Appearing on NDTV live from his home, Ranga displayed his heroics and tried to refurbish his secular credentials that go back to his family’s Arya Samaj roots. By the time ‘byte’ was over, this junior minister joined the ranks of formers.

The political class was surprised. They were not prepared for such decisive action. Nor were they prepared for the decisive verdict from the once BJP ruled states against BJP after the Babri Masjid’s demolition. Because in their tryst with candle light secularism, they refused to see the other side of PV coin. They persist even now with their refusal to let their attention to be drawn to the other side, which is visible to the BJP though.(Courtesy: The Hans India, Hyderabad)

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Golden Jubilee of Meher Baba’s East West Gathering

Meherabad Hill, near Ahmednagar, hosted Thursday Nov 1, a gathering of easterners and westerners to commemorate East-West gathering Meher Baba had held fifty years ago in Pune. It was an occasion for the lovers ( followers) of Meher Baba to remember the historic moment that took place as the Cuban Missile Crisis hit the western world and Chinese aggression across the Himalayas shook India as never before.

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Spurt in US hate crime militates against Obama’s foreign policy


New Delhi (Syndicate Features): The dance of death played out in a Milwaukee, Wisconsin (US), Gurdwara on August 5 in which six Sikhs were killed was not the first tragedy of its kind in the El’Dorado of the 21st century; nor unfortunately it is likely to be the last. Much as America tries to hide it, the fact is that psot-9/11 it is ridden with a nation-wide wave of hate crime that is aimed at ‘Islamists’ but mostly results in shooting, killing and unprovoked assaults on innocent Sikh men who are taken to be ‘Arabs’ because of their beard and turban.  Mosques too have been desecrated and attacked as have been clean-shaven brown skinned people from the sub-continent, Hindus and Muslims.

It is disturbing to realise that there is antipathy towards followers of Islam among the white Christians in the US; it is even more worrying that the Sikh community is presumed by the same Americans to be followers of Islam. Religious diversity cannot be unknown to the Americans. But religious tolerance and communal harmony do not seem to be strong points of the present day America. Dangers seem to be lurking in and around all the 120 or so Gurdwaras as well as the mosques and Hindu temples in the US which are not guarded by security personnel.

Judging by the protests in India, the tragedy in Milwaukee seemed to have angered Sikhs in India more than their brethren in the US. A leader of the Sikh community in the US has been telling audiences of US TV networks that he did not approve of the ‘burning’ of US flags by the Sikhs in India. The gentleman may have his reasons to underplay the tragedy that befalls his community with disconcerting regularity. For that reason what happened at the Milwaukee Gurdwara cannot be dismissed as an aberration by some lunatics or ‘supremacist’, as US officials have been saying.

According to the Washington-based Sikh Coalition, following the post-9/11‘anti-Islam’ sentiments, there have been more than 700 attacks on Sikhs and their institutions in America. The Sikhs are easy targets because they stand out with their bearded face and heads covered with turban. To the average American both features are associated with Osama bin Laden and his terror gangs.

In dismissing the suggestion that the Sikhs have been victims of hate crime in the US, officials in that country now blame it on ‘domestic terrorism’. Resort to ‘domestic terrorism’ is a way of aggressive and violent advocacy of a political or social objective.

That ‘objective’ has been spelt out often enough by the perpetrators of the crime who have been telling their ‘Arab’ victims ‘to go home’. These are xenophobic zealots who hate just about everyone who is not white and a Christian. The man who went on a deadly shooting spree at the Milwaukee Gurdwara has been a member of hard-core racist organisations which believe in the supremacy of the white race. Americans who subscribe to this belief are unhappy that they have a ‘black’ President.

The race- and ethnicity-based hatred among some Americans is perhaps as old as the arrival of the first white settlers from Europe who went about the task of exterminating the native Indians. After the successful civil rights movement of the 1960s, which claimed the life of Martin Luther King this hatred was presumed to be subsiding. But 9/11 changed that.

While extreme anger generated by acts of terrorism is understandable, it becomes a matter of concern when it is directed at a particular community, race or religious groups. It is as much true in India as it is in the US. Despite its economic downslide, the US remains a world leader and it is shocking to find that the phenomenon of hate crime has been allowed to grow unchecked in that country.

The Obama government’s effort to downplay hate crime is understandable. (Australia did the same when Indians students were being killed and attacked.) It militates against the American policy that finds US officials eagerly lecturing to the nations of Asia and Africa about human rights and religious freedom abuses. These abuses come in handy when the US decides to interfere in the affairs of sovereign countries that have gone ‘astray’.

The countries accused of human rights violations are also told to take corrective measures and a strict watch is kept to notice how far they have succeeded in respecting these rights. Violations and failure to respect or improve the human rights record of America are naturally beyond reproach.

The quality of life that America offers can obviously not be compared to the conditions in countries like India. But as a world leader, the US has to set an example in ending all kinds of discrimination and prejudices against ‘coloured’ immigrants. In no case can religion or religious identity become the basis for such prejudices.

It will appear that the average American, or maybe the majority of them, is unfamiliar with the ways of other religions. When more than 11 years after 9/11 they cannot distinguish between a bearded Sikh and a bearded ‘Osama bin Laden’ it can be assumed that the American state has done nothing to enlighten its citizenry about non-Christian religions and the way ‘others’ live.

The ‘supremacists’ who ask the victims of their attacks to ‘go back home’ pretend to forget that the USA is a country of immigrants. It can be argued that America would not have attained its position but for the contributions made by these immigrants who have come from both the ‘white’ as well ‘coloured’ countries.

The communities which are repeatedly attacked in the US because of their religious beliefs have every right to demand full protection. It is equally important to punish the guilty, awarding the severest possible punishment. It will not do, as happened some years ago when a Sikh youth was killed in the US, to reduce the sentence on grounds of the ‘low IQ’ of the perpetrator of the crime.  (Syndicate Features)

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Militant Reaffirms Role of Pakistan in Mumbai Attacks


By Sebastian Rotella, ProPublica

This story was co-published with Foreign Policy.

Last year, Indian and U.S. investigators came upon a rare promising lead in an internationally sensitive case: the 2008 attacks on Mumbai that killed 166 people and implicated Pakistan’s spy agency in terrorism.

Despite Interpol warrants and diplomatic pressure, Pakistan had refused to hand over accused plotters, including an officer of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) and chiefs of the Lashkar-i-Taiba militant group. But investigators learned that a wanted suspect had traveled from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia.

The suspect, Zabiuddin Ansari, an Indian militant, was a potential investigative gold mine. During the Mumbai attacks, intercepts recorded him talking to the gunmen from the Pakistani command post where Lashkar chiefs directed the slaughter by phone, Indian and U.S. counterterror officials say.

Ansari made the mistake of using an email address in Saudi Arabia that was known to those hunting him, officials say. Investigators tracked him and alerted Saudi police, who arrested him in May 2011. Diplomatic wrangling ensued. Finally, DNA evidence from India and pressure from Washington resulted in Ansari’s deportation to New Delhi in June, officials say.

Now, after weeks of interrogation, Ansari’s statements to Indian police have reinforced evidence of the ISI’s role in a terror plot that targeted Americans at the same time Pakistan was receiving billions of dollars in U.S. aid, officials have told ProPublica. Previous disclosures in U.S. and Indian courts about the spy agency’s links to the Mumbai attacks, which killed six Americans, contributed to a dramatic decline in U.S.-Pakistani relations over the past two and a half years.

On Nov. 26, 2008, attackers opened fire at locations across the city, many frequented by foreigners. The targets were the Taj Mahal and Oberoi Trident hotels, the popular Leopold Cafe, a train station and a Jewish center. Some gunmen took hostages and held off Indian forces for nearly three days.

Ansari has admitted to being in the Pakistani command post and assisting the telephone handlers who oversaw the rampage in India, according to Indian and U.S. counterterror officials. His statements give investigators the first account of an insider at the Karachi command post.

“It’s important that he was in the room,” said Stephen Tankel, a professor at American University and author of “Storming the World Stage: The Story of Lashkar-e-Taiba.” “He can speak to who else was in the room. And from India’s perspective, the most important issue is the involvement of ISI officers in the plot and whether Ansari can confirm that.”

Ansari’s emergence has generated intrigue and confusion that are typical of the labyrinthine Mumbai case. His arrival from Riyadh on June 21 caused a flurry of media coverage in India. Headlines described him as a “key handler” and “mastermind” of the plot. A prosecutor referred to Ansari as a “prime key conspirator” during a court hearing last month, according to media reports.

Nonetheless, Indian and U.S. counterterror officials with knowledge of the case have told ProPublica that Ansari is not a senior figure. The reality is less spectacular and more complex. His significance rests largely on knowledge gained as a trusted Indian member of Lashkar, which has worked closely with the ISI in a self-described holy war against India, according to officials and experts.

“He was one of the more important Indians in the organization,” Tankel said. “They have taken an important figure off the battlefield, but by no means an irreplaceable one.”

Hours before the Mumbai attack began, Ansari saw Major Samir Ali of the ISI meet with the terrorist plotters at the Lashkar safe house where the command post was located, according to his statement as described by officials. Ansari also said that an ISI officer known as Colonel Hamza helped him travel to Saudi Arabia to recruit fellow Indian Muslims and move funds for Lashkar, officials say.

Major Ali and Colonel Hamza had been previously identified by a star witness: David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani-American who pleaded guilty to doing reconnaissance for the Mumbai attacks and for a plot in Denmark. Headley testified that the officers helped train him and direct his activity as an ISI agent along with his handler, known only as Major Iqbal.

During a federal trial in Chicago last year, Headley spent five days on the stand giving a detailed look into the notorious Pakistani spy agency. Headley testified that he worked simultaneously for Lashkar and the ISI, which he said helped plan, fund and execute the Mumbai attacks with the explicit goal of killing Americans, Jews and other Westerners as well as Indians.

Prosecutors backed his testimony with emails, videos, phone intercepts, credit card charges and witness accounts. Nonetheless, Pakistani officials dismiss Headley, a former DEA informant, as an unreliable witness who entered into a plea bargain to escape the death penalty.

Based largely on Headley’s testimony, U.S. prosecutors charged Major Iqbal with the murders of the Americans in Mumbai — an unprecedented indictment of a serving ISI officer. Pakistan has not arrested him or even acknowledged his existence.

The U.S. Justice Department also charged the three Lashkar chiefs who were allegedly the telephone handlers in the command post. Pakistani authorities arrested one, Abu al-Qama, but the other two, Sajid Mir and Abu Qahafa, still operate openly in Pakistan, according to Western and Indian investigators.

A spokeswoman for the FBI, a major player in the global investigation, declined comment for this article because of pending court cases in India and Pakistan. U.S. and Indian counterterror officials spoke on condition of anonymity. Pakistani and Saudi officials did not respond to requests for comment.

‘An Office Boy’

Although Ansari was in the command post, his voice appears in only four of the 1,600 telephone conversations with the gunmen, officials say. In three of those calls intercepted by Indian intelligence, officials said, Ansari does little more than answer the phone. Officials say he told Indian interrogators that the main telephone handlers were the three chiefs whose voices dominate the calls: Mir, Qahafa and al-Qama.

Before the Mumbai attacks, Ansari worked as an aide to a Lashkar militant who set up websites, officials said.

“He’s described himself as an office boy, and that’s pretty much what he was,” said a counterterror official who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

Others say Ansari was better-connected and better-placed than that. An Indian counterterror official described him as “an important assistant.”

Ansari, 30, grew up in a modest home in Maharashtra state, where Mumbai is, studied to be an electrician and became radicalized as a result of anti-Muslim violence in India in 2002, according to a profile by Praveen Swami in The Hindu newspaper.

In 2005, Ansari and other extremists were in a two-vehicle convoy carrying a cache of assault rifles and explosives when Indian police intercepted them in Aurangabad, U.S. and Indian officials say. Ansari narrowly escaped the encounter. He fled to Pakistan, joined Lashkar and underwent training, according to the article and officials.

In the summer of 2008, as preparations for the strike on Mumbai gathered momentum, Lashkar trainers enlisted Ansari to give Hindi lessons to 10 fighters training in a paramilitary camp.

To conceal Pakistani involvement, the plan called for the attack squad to pose as Indians, complete with fraudulent identity cards and a statement claiming allegiance to an Indian extremist group. But Ansari soon told his chiefs that he did not think the rural, uneducated youths could learn more than a smattering of the Hindi language, officials said.

As a result, Ansari spent about an hour a day for five days teaching phrases to several trainees who were designated to speak to the Indian media during the Mumbai siege. In the fall, he moved with the trainees and the Lashkar chiefs to Karachi, where he taught his pupils phrases for taking taxis in Mumbai and did other support tasks, officials said.

Ansari did not know the specifics of the operation ahead of time but picked up details as the target date approached. He has told interrogators that he learned shortly beforehand that he would assist the handlers in the command post, officials said.

Ansari has pinpointed the location of the safe house in Karachi. He described a no-frills command center equipped with a satellite phone, hand-held phones, laptops, broadband Internet and at least one television. He said Major Ali of the ISI met with the Lashkar plotters at the command post during the day on Nov. 26, officials said. The attack squad landed that evening in Mumbai.

‘Just the Trailer’

The investigation had already indicated that Major Ali worked closely with Major Iqbal, Headley’s ISI handler and a central planner of the attacks, according to U.S. court testimony and counterterror officials.

Ansari’s revelations caused Indian leaders to repeat their charges that, in the words last month of then-Home Minister P.D. Chidambaram, Pakistani “state actors” were behind the most spectacular terrorist strike since the 9/11 attacks.

“It is no longer possible to deny that though the incident happened in Mumbai, there was a control room in Pakistan before and during the incident,” Chidambaram told reporters in India, according to news reports. “Without state support, the control room could not have been established.”

Ansari’s starring moment came late on the first night of the mayhem, which was televised worldwide. Telephone intercepts reveal that he spoke to an attacker holed up in the Oberoi Trident Hotel, reading him a statement with Hindi phrases to be relayed to the Indian media.

“Tell them this is just the trailer,” Ansari instructed the gunman, according to a transcript of the conversation. “The real movie is yet to come.”

In addition to the three telephone handlers, Ansari confirmed the presence in the command post of suspects including a top figure known as Muzzammil, the chief of a Lashkar subgroup that does anti-India operations. Ansari told police that Hafiz Saeed, Lashkar’s spiritual leader, was not in the command post, but did give his blessing to the attack squad before they departed by sea, officials said.

In April, the U.S. State Department sent a message to Pakistan by announcing a $10 million reward for the capture of Saeed and Hafiz Abdul Rehman Makki, a longtime chief of Lashkar’s international wing.

Pakistan has not moved against Saeed, who still holds public rallies. But in early 2009, Pakistani authorities reacted to international outrage by arresting seven suspects, notably Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the military chief of Lashkar, and al-Qama, the accused telephone handler.

Their trial has slogged on for three years, longer than a typical Pakistani trial. There have been repeated procedural delays and five changes of judges. Critics say it has become a farce. The Chicago trial resulted in the conviction last year of Tahawwur Rana, an accomplice of Headley, on charges of material support of terrorism. An Indian court convicted the lone surviving Mumbai gunman in 2010.

Pakistan has shown little interest in pursuing the case. Last year, a senior U.S. official asked the chief of Pakistani armed forces to confiscate a cellphone that Lakhvi, the Lashkar military leader, was using to issue orders from custody, according to counterterror officials and a U.S. government memo viewed by ProPublica. The armed forces chief rejected the request, according to the memo.

Investigators say the accused fugitive plotters have high-level protection in Pakistan. Headley testified that, soon after his arrest in Chicago, he worked with FBI agents in an attempt to lure Mir, whom Western and Indian investigators see as the chief architect of the Mumbai attacks, to a third country where an arrest might be possible.

Lashkar militants feel safe in Saudi Arabia because of a history of financial and ideological support from powerful Saudi extremists. The Mumbai investigation — and a ProPublica interview with a former recruit from New Zealand — showed that Makki and other Lashkar figures have operated comfortably in Saudi Arabia for years.

“Historically, if you were an [Indian] Lashkar militant in Saudi Arabia on a Pakistani passport and you were picked up for extremist activities, you were not sent to India,” Tankel said.

“Is it imaginable that people from the (Lashkar) high echelons might have gone to Saudi after the Mumbai attacks? Yes. Will they still go now? Possibly. Saudi Arabia is not suddenly a no-go area, but it’s not as hospitable an environment either.”

U.S. Role in Capture

Ansari’s motives for going to Saudi Arabia were a mix of operational and practical, officials said. Like many South Asian migrants, he went to find a job because he was not making enough money in Pakistan, officials said. He also had plans to recruit Indian Muslims, officials said. Lashkar relies more on Indian operatives because law enforcement scrutiny and international political pressure after Mumbai have made direct attacks using Pakistanis more difficult, Tankel said.

Ansari traveled on a genuine Pakistani passport with a false identity that, according to his testimony, he received along with funding and instructions from Colonel Hamza of the ISI, the officer identified by Headley, officials said. Ansari first went to Saudi Arabia in 2010 to visit a sister living there, then returned early last year. He sent small amounts of money to militants in India, officials said.

But Ansari did not know that investigators had already identified an email address he had been using, according to the Indian counterterror official. U.S. and Indian investigators detected his email traffic in Saudi Arabia and tracked him down, officials said.

“He was caught with the help of the Americans,” the Indian counterterror official said. “He was recruiting and fundraising among Indian workers in Saudi Arabia.”

Saudi police arrested Ansari in May of last year. But Ansari insisted he was Pakistani, and Pakistani diplomats backed his story, officials said. The arrest remained a secret as bickering continued.

“The Pakistanis at a high level tried to bring out evidence that he was in reality Pakistani,” the Indian official said. “They created a family history and everything. But we had a DNA sample and other evidence.”

The Indian official and others said Washington weighed in as well. Tankel suggested that U.S. officials made the case to Saudi counterparts that Lashkar was growing closer to al Qaeda, which Riyadh sees as an urgent security threat. But Tankel added that the state of relations between Lashkar and al Qaeda remains a hotly debated issue because the groups have been alternately allies and competitors.

After 14 months of discussions, the U.S. pressure was instrumental in the rare decision by the Saudis to turn over a Lashkar militant to India, officials said.

“This is a significant event,” Tankel said.

Nonetheless, it is not clear if Saudi authorities would pursue Pakistani members of Lashkar. And while the arrest of Ansari has bolstered the case against the accused masterminds, counterterror officials say, the fugitives remain out of reach in Pakistan.

Update: Pakistan’s embassy in Washington issued the following statement Thursday in response to questions about Ansari’s arrest in Saudi Arabia and his subsequent deportation more than a year later:

“No discussions ever took place between the U.S. and Pakistan on the issue. Mr. Ansari was obviously traveling on a fake Pakistani passport as he is an Indian national. Pakistan has requested India to share information on him and has also offered to hold a joint investigation.”

The statement does not address the allegations that Pakistan backed Ansari’s assertion that he was Pakistani, the reasons for14 months of diplomatic discussions, or why Indian authorities had to submit a DNA sample proving Ansari was Indian before he could be deported. Nadeem Hotiana, the embassy press attache, said he did not have further information on the case.


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