No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka

Carefully evidenced and powerfully measured, No Fire Zone is a feature length film about the final awful months of the 26 year long Sri Lankan civil war told by the people who lived through it. It is a meticulous and chilling expose of some of the worst war crimes and crimes against humanity of recent times –  told through the extraordinary personal stories of a small group of characters and also through some of the most dramatic and disturbing video evidence ever recorded. (Text Courtesy:

The post Afzal Guru still before the storm?


A powerful incident like Afzal Guru’s hanging lifts the scab from earlier  wounds, exposing raw nerves. Experiences one had pushed into the deepest recesses, begin to surface.

When I joined the Statesman as a cub reporter, my effort at house hunting taught me one of my earlier lessons: Muslims have difficulty finding houses. Even in the 60s? Sadly, the problem has grown worse. But my faith in the secular fabric was secured by senior colleagues, Kuldip Nayar and Bikram Singh who persuaded a delightful Mr. Gupta to rent us  his house in South Delhi.

And now, in the context of Afzal Guru’s hanging the mind ferrets out Kashmir related memories.

Writing my earliest articles on Kashmir, I chanced upon a rare document. Maulana Azad mostly drafted his letters to his cabinet colleagues in Urdu. These were translated by his staff. In an inspired moment, Director of National Archives, Dr. Rajesh Kumar Pruti published the original in Urdu.

In a 1953 letter to Jagjivan Ram, Minister for Communications, then Education Minister Maulana Azad writes:

“As many as 53 persons from Jammu and Kashmir apply for a clerical post and only one is appointed. The rest are from outside the state. This baffles me. Obviously those in charge of recruitments are not sensitive to the fact that such instances complicate our stand on the question of Kashmir.”

“As you know, Communications and Defence have been transferred from the State to the Centre. We are asked mockingly that if this is the way Kashmiri Muslims are going to be treated by the Communications and the Defence Ministries, then what hope will there be for these people if other departments are transferred to the Centre? How do we respond to this charge?”

In another letter the Maulana is even more blunt:

“The state government has been complaining repeatedly that Kashmiri Muslims are not recruited by the State Posts and Telegraphs department. Jobs are  given only to non-Muslims.”

He concludes in another letter:

“If this is the result of a department having been transferred to the Centre, then how will Kashmir ever have the confidence that its future  is secure with India.”

President of the Congress in its crucial phases, a friend and confidant of India’s first Prime Minister, erudite, an intellectual, has, within six years of independence, been reduced to a supplicant, imploring cabinet colleagues to stand by the promises they had made to the people of  India. There are other letters which are even more pathetic.

How “appeased” the Muslims had been, came out in bold relief in the Sachar Committee report in 2006. They had in the years since independence been pushed into the ranks of the most marginalized. The Maulana would have shed tears of blood.

There was minimal breast beating at the report but no more. To do anything dramatic would only invite the appeasement slur. And appeasement would cause many to walk out on the Congress.

It was in continuation of this understanding, that the locks of the Ram  Janmbhoomi temple were opened to please the devoted Hindus. The Supreme Court verdict on Shah Bano was upturned to appease the conservative Muslims. With the Hindus and Muslims so yoked (went the thesis), the  Congress bandwagon would roll.

It  did not. In fact the bandwagon collapsed largely because of the Congress ambivalence on the Mandir-Masjid issue. The Congress collusion in the demolition of the Babari Masjid was seen by the minorities as a great betrayal. They walked out on the Congress en masse. The party crashed to 140 seats in a house of 545. Gone, for good, were the days of  absolute majorities.

Meanwhile, global events were to complicate the internal communal picture. Pakistan had stolen a lead in being enlisted as a frontline state in the post 9/11 war on terror. This was galling for New Delhi, having been a victim of cross-border terrorism for decades. In this context the December 13, 2001 attack on Parliament turned out to be an event which boosted India’s stature as a serious participant in the war on terror.

In the vocabulary of the global war on terror, Muslim became indistinguishable from “Jehadi”. This distortion was carelessly embraced by the Indian establishment, picking up young innocent Muslims on terrorism charges, training police guns only in one direction in all riots, arresting Akbaruddin Owaisi for his intemperate speech but hesitating on Praveen Togadia of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Togadia in his speech had boasted of the Muslim killed in a series of riots. He had virtually produced a macabre catalogue.

And now, finally, having spared the killers of Rajiv Gandhi and Beant Singh (that would destabilize Tamil Nadu and Punjab) they have taken a gamble on Afzal Guru because the valley of Kashmir is well covered with military presence. How will the aftermath playout?

The new middle class on the make is exposed to mobilization by that effective pulpit, 24X7 channels. Those who see themselves as victims get their diet of retaliatory vitriol and morale boosting rhetoric from the Urdu press.

For the moment, the two tectonic plates are moving parallel to each other. Should they ever meet, it will be with a cataclysmic impact.

(Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian  journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished  Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a  guest blogger with Canary Trap)

Who sold info on Osama bin Laden to CIA?

The mystery surrounding the source of information about the whereabouts of killed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is still, well a mystery.

While the movie Zero Dark Thirty, based on the story surrounding the decade long hunt for Bin Laden and his subsequent assassination, is getting rave reviews, an article in a Pakistani newspaper in May 2011 had claimed that the story that a courier helped track Bin Laden was just a cover.

While the story, published in The News on May 14, 2011, is an old one but I came across it while going through Wikileaks’ release, The Global Intelligence Files. The whistleblowing website began publishing millions of e-mails (between July 2004 and late December 2011) from the “global intelligence” company Stratfor.

One of the email (dated May 14, 2011) refers to this article. The article, written by Wajid Ali Syed, claims that “the CIA actually learned of Bin Laden’s whereabouts in August of 2010, when an informant associated with Pakistani intelligence walked into a US Embassy and claimed that Bin Laden was living in a house in Abbottabad. The official, however, would not disclose whether the Embassy was located in Pakistan or Afghanistan.”

The article poses an interesting question: “Did a Pakistani intelligence official sell the information about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden to the US last year to get millions of dollars and relocate to a western country with a new non-Pakistani passport?”

The newspaper report claims that: “After confirming that the information was somewhat accurate, the CIA set up a safe house in Abbottabad in September last year (2010) to monitor Bin Laden’s compound.”

The report further states:

As the intelligence collection proceeded, the CIA demanded that Pakistan come clean with what they knew about Bin Laden, claims the official. In December of 2010, the CIA station chief’s identity was made public in the Pakistani press. The intelligence official says that the station chief’s cover was blown to retaliate against the CIA for pressing Pakistani intelligence for information about bin Laden. At the time, the speculation was that the move was in response to a civil suit accusing ISI officials of being involved in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Once it was clear that the information from the walk-in source was accurate, Panetta set up a reporting chain from the CIA’s Pakistan station direct to him, a highly unusual move that involved bypassing the normal official channels.

Click here to read the entire article that appeared in the Pakistani newspaper

#RN Kao Memorial Lecture Series Collection

The Research and Analysis Wing, India’s external intelligence agency, started to organise the annual RN Kao Memorial Lecture to commemorate the legacy of its founder RN Kao.

The first lecture took place in 2006 on the fifth death anniversary of Kao.

Read the speeches given by prominent policy makers since 2006 here.

Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition

This report “is the most comprehensive account yet assembled of the human rights abuses associated with CIA secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations.

The report for the first time details “what was done to the 136 known victims, and lists the 54 foreign governments that participated in these operations”.

The report shows that responsibility for the abuses lies not only with the United States but with dozens of foreign governments that were complicit, Open Society Foundations (which came out with the report) stated.

The report is authored by Amrit Singh, daughter of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. She works as a senior legal officer at the Open Society Justice Initiative.

Click here to read the entire report

Media setting up Rahul – Modi contest for TRP ratings


Conventional wisdom being forged by lobbies is veering around to the view that there shall be either a UPA-III or an NDA-II after the 2014 General Elections. In which case why this high decibel clamour for Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi as prime ministerial candidates for the BJP and Congress respectively?

Of course such a facile scenario would simplify matters for the talk show hosts, the TRP hunters: just place faces in those six boxes on the screen and trigger a daily diet of prime time cacophony, as riveting as a street brawl.

The channels miss the point that there is so much else to clarify to their viewers in the run upto the 2014 election that naming of prime ministerial candidates at this juncture may be a trifle premature.

For example, several states have to face the electorate this year, by end November. Please analyze these states. These include four states in the North East, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka and Delhi.

If the Congress in Delhi, under Sheila Dikshit’s leadership, wins for the fourth term, only a very perverse system would keep her out of higher office. This line of thought will immediately be challenged by Congressmen themselves, in whose ranks ironically we may find Sheila Dikshit too. The Congress principle at this stage is that the first right of refusal for the prime ministerial slot belongs to Rahul Gandhi.

All of this, as I have indicated earlier, is premature for a simple reason: UPA-III entails a coalition. Who the coalition partners will be and what bargains they strike will depend on the hand the electorate deals out to the players at the table.

Shrill demands for Narendra Modi as prime ministerial candidate is equally premature in an era of coalitions. If the BJP in its deep heart’s core is inclined to field him as its candidate for Prime Minister, the situation will clarify of its own accord when Modi does or does not campaign for his party in the coming state elections.

Modi and Rahul are distinct political entities. Modi is an extrovert who intimidates and repels prospective coalition partners; Rahul, an introvert, is, on current showing, shy of coalitions. This aversion to coalitions is being rationalized as a tactic to wait, even beyond 2019, when the electorate will become so disenchanted with coalitions that it will produce a Parliamentary majority for the Congress. What underpins this enchanting pipe-dream is the purposive manner in which Rahul’s team proposes to build the party brick by brick.

Reconstruction of the party edifice visualizes ruins, like Macho Picho, on which masonry is being undertaken. A more valid image for the Congress in disrepair derives not from architecture but from gynaecology. The caste parties now in play were once inside the Congress womb. How does a weakened mother fight her own children?

The Congress led the nation to independence representing a federation of interests behind a programme for freedom. Purshottam Das Tandon and Abul Kalam Azad were in the same party. During an election in the 1960s, S.K. Patil and Krishna Menon were Congress candidates from separate constituencies in Mumbai. Patil represented big business while Menon was more on the fringe of the Communist Party. Over a period of time, this diversity had to break ranks and find independent political platforms.

Let us not forget, barely twenty years after independence, in the 1967 elections, Indira Gandhi lost power in eight states. A weakened Indira Gandhi, split the Congress in 1969, throwing a cordon of Left of Centre Congressmen around herself and thereby creating a distance from the conservative party bosses in the states.

It was this conservative streak which mingled with the RSS and socialists under the banner of the Bihar movement led by a retired Gandhian, Jay Prakash Narayan. An unnerved Indira Gandhi declared the Emergency, and later proceeded to lose the elections.

Before the emergency, the press maintained a balanced, adversarial attitude towards the establishment. The theory was something like this: In a democracy, people elected the government. The government could represent the Centre, Right or Left. The media’s job was to respect the people’s verdict, report objectively, and accord “critical support” to the government elected by the people. The emergency destroyed this balance and the distortion continues.

Political parties which do not ponder this question will have abdicated power and placed it in hands exposed to influences, both within and outside.

(Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)