Editorial 1 / Glimmer of hope
Editorial 2 / Long delayed task
New war against old foes
Fifth Column / Doing what they want him to do
Mani Talk / The terrorists and I
Document / Bearing a heavy social burden
Letters to the editor

The foreign policy of the United States of America has gone into overdrive to create the broadest possible alliance against the taliban and other terrorist groups suspected of being involved in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. This diplomatic initiative and perceptions of a global threat have made allies out of sworn enemies. The most remarkable achievement of this policy is not the turning around of Pakistan from a pro-taliban to an anti-taliban position. The real testimonial to this policy initiative is the ceasefire between Israel and Palestine. In the present conjuncture, this peace in west Asia, however temporary, is crucial. During a strike against the taliban, the US and its allies cannot afford a flashpoint in Israel and its environs which might further inflame passions among Islamic fundamentalists. The importance that the US assigned to this should be evident from the fact that this ceasefire was negotiated before any other major alliance was worked out. To an extent, the path to the ceasefire was cleared by Mr Yasser Arafat’s unqualified condemnation of the attacks on New York and Washington DC. It will not be unfair to suggest that White House had to exert greater pressure on Tel Aviv to stop its attacks on Palestinians and to accept Mr Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization as a partner in the global battle against terrorism.

The problem of Israel and Palestine is peculiarly complex and emotion-driven. Both groups see the same piece of land as their homeland. Over the years, violence, claims and counter claims have blurred the distinctions between right and wrong. The Jewish search for a homeland grew directly out of the oppression of the Jews in Europe, and acquired an edge after the Holocaust. Yet the political movement for the state of Israel, as distinct from the claims of Jewish families to settle in Palestine, was not devoid of violence, and once the state was established, its treatment of the Palestinians was based on terror and intimidation. The Palestinian counter-moves were inevitably violent. One man’s freedom fight became another’s terrorism. The situation there has thus spiralled out of everybody’s control. Violence rather than peace is the rule in the area. The sudden cessation of gunfire, bomb attacks and movements of tanks thus appears incredible. It is perhaps the only silver lining to the clouds that mushroomed over the World Trade Center.

That this ceasefire will hold in the aftermath of the strikes against the taliban is a matter of hope. An enormous amount will depend on the strength of the coalition that has come together to fight terrorism. There are grounds to believe that the destruction of the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon marks a threshold in international affairs. The world is perhaps now witnessing the birth of a new order in international relations in which the use of terror, either by a state or by groups, will be things that belonged to the history of the 20th century. All this might seem far too optimistic within the existing framework of Realpolitik. But there appears to be a recognition of the inadequacies of such a framework. Otherwise there is no explanation for the ceasefire and for the US’s attempts to build a world opinion against terrorism.


Populism is always the hallmark of blinkered politics. The agitation against the eviction of squatters on the banks of Tolly’s Nullah was clearly an illustration of this brand of politics. Curiously, the protests united Trinamool Congress chief, Ms Mamata Banerjee, with the smaller partners of the Communist Party of India (Marxists) in the ruling Left Front, all of whom argued that the unauthorized dwellers should not be evicted until the government arranged for their rehabilitation. Even more curiously, the mayor of Calcutta, Mr Subrata Mukherjee, who had first made common cause with the state government in favour of the eviction in defiance of his party, changed his stance under her pressure. True to style, Ms Banerjee sought to make it her latest street show, threatening to call a Bangla bandh on the issue. Both she and Mr Mukherjee should know the urgency of the long-delayed task the government has finally undertaken. Railway minister until recently, Ms Banerjee cannot be unaware that the unauthorized structures have long held up work relating to the extension of the Metro railway from Tollygunge to Garia. Until his latest somersault, Mr Mukherjee had supported the state’s move, arguing that clearing the area was necessary for development projects for which the Asian Development Bank had sanctioned substantial loans.

Calcutta has had to pay a heavy price for allowing its politicians to hold development projects hostage to their street power. Even a humble project like the widening of a small stretch of the Park Circus connector to the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass was stalled some years ago by irresponsible politicians who shed crocodile tears for some pavement dwellers. It is time such politicians realized that their antics no longer amuse the people. Ms Banerjee should know that the old game, once popularized by the Marxists themselves, now stood completely discredited even as an opposition ploy. In opposing the eviction, she is not only defending the indefensible but also encouraging forcible occupation of public land and fraudulent claims of compensation in the event of government intervention. In fact, the government should have long begun such clean-ups along not only Tolly’s Nullah but several other canals, as both the turgid waterways and the slums on their banks are dangerous health hazards.


Riding high on the worldwide condemnation of the diabolical terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York, the Bush administration is mobilizing its armed might for a war, sending hundreds of planes, warships, submarines, soldiers to various United States bases around the world. Statements emanating from US spokespersons paint a surrealistic scenario of US targets. If one day it is Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, the next day it is Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the third day it is a group in Lebanon or Libya.

Zionist terrorist actions against Palestinian children, or the armed groups in Chechnya or Kosovo who have committed terrible atrocities don’t figure on the list. They are the good boys whose targets coincide with US interests. The US has arrogated to itself the right to decide who is a terrorist and which are the nations harbouring terrorists. A corollary right would be that to remove regimes and replace them with those more pliant to the US will. There is no need for evidence, there is no need for minimum considerations of international jurisprudence, because according to the US national security adviser, “They don’t accept Western jurisprudence”.

Deliberations in the United Nations have been replaced with war councils in the US, tested methods of international cooperation have been replaced with arbitrary ones — the president of the US has made it clear: “You are either with us or with the terrorists.” Cowboys in the wild west could not have said it better. Principles and values like democratization in international relations, equality of nations, national sovereignty are all in jeopardy. It will be a different world, not a better world which will emerge if the US has its way.

For movements committed to social advance and change there can be no compromise with religious fundamentalism, leave alone when that fundamentalism is married to terrorism It has been and is the most potent weapon against such movements and struggles of working peoples throughout history. The taliban and groups led by men like Osama bin Laden have been a scourge to the people of Afghanistan. It is they, along with the mujahedin, who have butchered the finest young men and women of Afghanistan who dared to oppose them, using the most terrible means of torture.

While the world looked on, the war widows of Kabul, estimated at about 50,000, faced destitution and death. They were forced to accept the most hideous an irreligious interpretation of Quranic texts. They have been banned from working, their girl children have been prevented from going to school, they cannot even beg on the streets, they have been left to the mercy of aid workers, precisely from those countries which the taliban rulers have declared jihad against. They would be the biggest gainers if the taliban was destroyed.

But the greatest tragedy is that the victims of the taliban will be destroyed along with their tormentors if the US is allowed to bomb the country in the name of the fight against terrorism. Indian public opinion must assert itself to ensure that the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government does not become part of these military adventures where the target is nebulous and the cost is the lives of thousands of innocent people.

Many Indians who had hoped that the incidents in New York and the US reaction would have its repercussions in the closure of terrorist bases in Pakistan, are dismayed by the ease with which the US and Pakistan governments are fashioning a quid pro quo deal. They had hoped that the declared American “new war against terrorism” would lead to the elimination of terrorist bases within Pakistan which were used for cross-border terrorism against India.

They would do well to remember history and the fact that the Inter-Services Intelligence itself could grow so powerful only because of the support in terms of finance and training that it received from the US. Even today the US is allied to some of the most authoritarian and fundamentalist regimes in west Asia. The truth is that Islamic fundamentalism was the US’s weapon against the communists.

In a recent article, US duplicity has been detailed by Michel Choudessky. He writes, “In 1979 in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in support of the pro-communist government of Babrak Kamal the largest covert operation of the CIA and Pakistan’s ISI was launched...to turn the Afghan jihad into a global war waged by all Muslim states against the Soviet Union, some 35,000 Muslim radicals from 40 Islamic countries joined Afghanistan’s fight between 1982 and 1992. Eventually 100,000 foreign Muslim radicals were directly influenced by the Afghani jihad....The Islamic jihad was supported by the United States and Saudi Arabia with a significant part of the funding generated from the Golden Crescent drug trade. The US assistance was not just in terms of finance. It stepped up covert military aid to the jihadis, a steady stream of 65,000 tonnes of arms supplies annually from 1987. CIA and Pentagon specialists travelled to the secret headquarters of Pakistan’s ISI to help plan operations for the Afghan rebels. The CIA’s support was through the ISI.”

Perhaps the most shocking and cynical part of these operations was the use of drug money by the Central Intelligence Agency and the ISI. In 1995, the former CIA director of the Afghan operation, Charles Cogan, admitted that the CIA had indeed sacrificed the drug war to fight the Cold War. “Our main mission was to do as much damage as possible to the Soviets. There was a fallout in terms of drugs. I don’t think we need to apologize for this. The main objective was accomplished. The Soviets left Afghanistan.”

The CIA-ISI axis has continued through the overt and covert operations in the Central Republics, the Balkans, the Caucasus and played a crucial role in the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the establishment of the six new Muslim republics of central Asia. The main rebel leaders in Chechnya, Shamil Basayev and Al Khattab, were trained and indoctrinated in the CIA-sponsored camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan. These are oil-rich areas and the main beneficiaries of the Chechen war are the Anglo-American oil conglomerates who are vying for control of oil resources.

In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the given role to India by the US is connected to the declared policy of the Bush administration to contain China. Given Pakistan’s closer relations with China, the US would be happy to have India enlisted in this endeavour. Thus the so-called “shift” hailed by the Indian foreign policy establishment as a breakthrough in Indo-US relations. But as recent events have once more proved, there can be no illusions that this relationship will be at the cost of ties with the Pakistan government. The US has interests in maintaining conflict among countries in the subcontinent as it increases its own role in the region. India can be a wheel in the chariot, but the rider will always be from Washington.

In this context, the prime minister’s letter to the US president offering India’s partnership in “leading the international struggle against terrorism” — the operative word here being “leadership” — has only exposed the grandiloquent illusions of a government which was not even contacted till much later, leave alone asked for help. For India, in confronting terrorism not just in Kashmir but in states in the Northeast as well, the international links of terrorism are but one factor. The elimination of terrorism would also require fashioning of appropriate political and economic policies.

Further militarization and nuclearization as threatened by the government can never be the answer. The government has already warned of more taxes and increased prices. But the poor want the wherewithal for survival, not to be caught in an endless spiral of death and destruction. The ultimate answer must lie in our own strength, unity, and our capacity for conflict resolution with our neighbours, through dialogue.

Equally, India has to guard against its own fundamentalists. Even while Imam Bukhari makes inflammatory statements of jihad, Hindu communalists follow their own hatred-filled agenda seeking to equate the acts of terrorists with a whole community. They are a menace to the country and must be thwarted.


There are only two questions that matter as the world waits for the United States to strike back at the terrorists who planned the attacks on September 11. The first is: what did the terrorists want the US to do in response? The terrorists must have known that there would be an American response to such a huge and dramatic atrocity, they presumably calculated what it might be — and then they went ahead in the hope of getting Washington to do just that.

The other question is whether the US will fall into their trap. What the terrorists wanted, was massive and indiscriminate US retaliation against one or more Muslim countries of west Asia, with huge civilian casualties. This is what the Clinton administration did on a smaller scale after the terrorist bombings of US embassies in east Africa in 1998, dropping cruise missiles on suspected terrorist sites in Sudan and Afghanistan that rearranged much scenery and killed many civilians but few terrorists.

So if a liberal softie like Bill Clinton did that when a couple of hundred people, mostly Africans, were killed, what would a right-wing president like George W. Bush do when Muslim fundamentalist terrorists kill thousands of American citizens in their own cities? The planners of the operation would have predicted that Bush would bomb the daylights out of every Arab country he remotely suspected of harbouring terrorists, killing huge numbers of innocent Muslim civilians. And why would the terrorists wish that upon their co-religionists?

Trigger a cataclysm

Because their aim is to trigger a cataclysmic war between the West (which they see as their enemy and main oppressor) and the entire Muslim world. Osama bin Laden’s followers have always had this as their goal: as he said of his first really successful operation, a truck bomb that killed 19 Americans in Saudi Arabia in 1996, it was “the beginning of the war between the Muslims and the United States”.

Bin Laden believes that if the US can be driven to use excessive force in retaliation for these attacks, it will so outrage the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims that they will rise up, overthrow their shamefully collaborationist governments, and launch the final victorious jihad against those who have inflicted such pain and humiliation on the Muslims of west Asia. The fundamentalist fanatics imagine that the Muslims would win this war, and restore the world to its proper balance: one in which Muslims, and particularly Arabs, are prosperous, proud and on top. Even after Bush’s speech to the joint houses of congress on Thursday night, the actual sequence of impending military events is far from clear, but all the language being used by the US administration suggests that it is acutely sensitive to the danger of a Muslim backlash.

Intelligent handling

So do its actions, from the successful pressure on the Israeli government to stop its daily bashing of the Palestinians to the very serious attempt that is underway to build a broad anti-terrorist coalition incorporating as many Muslim and Arab states as possible. It worked in the Kuwait War, and if the US goes slowly and carefully enough it could work again.

All this suggests that there will NOT be early air strikes on Afghanistan, for they would hinder the courtship of potential coalition members merely for the sake of letting off steam. The current manoeuvring of US forces in the Persian Gulf and the dispatch of additional combat aircraft to the region is more likely just an attempt to frighten the taliban government of Afghanistan into handing over bin Laden and the other terrorists on its soil. But it was also clear, after Bush had finished speaking to congress, that in the longer run there will probably be a real war, with ground troops and all, for the list of demands he made of the taliban, including American access to the terrorists’ camps, stands zero chance of being met. That real war, however, is probably months away.

The Bush administration is working hard to dampen down public expectations of early action, let alone early success in the “war on terrorism”. It is still questionable whether the potential rewards of capturing some or all of the terrorists based in Afghanistan are worth the very serious risks of upheavals elsewhere in the Muslim world that would accompany an invasion. At least, the strategy of the operation is being handled quite intelligently.


Each one of us, I expect, has been refracting the horror of the World Trade Center through our personal encounters with terrorism. I rushed home to find the family transfixed on CNN, watching with horrified fascination action replays of the Boeings crashing into the towers. My daughter kept talking of the 26 year old girl she had seen leaping through a hundredth floor window to certain death below to escape from certain death in the towers in flames all around her. “She’s just my age,” Suranya kept repeating, “how can they do this to her?” Many, many of her school-mates and college friends work in New York, several in the towers she was seeing crashing down. She herself had studied at New York University, in the very shadow of the falling towers. CNN was, therefore, not just images on a screen. It was lived experience.

For me, I was not seeing New York at all. I was reliving my first encounter with televised war — the bombing of Baghdad in January 1991. I had lived there as a foreign service officer. There was, therefore, nothing impersonal about the images that CNN crashed through my mind’s eye. The equivalent of the World Trade Center was the Telecommunications Tower built by my closest Indian friend in Baghdad. I remembered the incredulous alarm in the voice of the CNN commentator, “It’s taken two hits; it’s still standing.” Years later, I suggested to Malvinder that he buy the rights to the shot and advertise it, adding “Singh International — the reliable builders”! But that was a joke for later dinner table conversation. All I could think of then were the “ganda children”, the six little kids from the house across the road who would slip into our compound when the Iraqi police were not looking, to play with three-year old Suranya and her infant sister. That cold winter’s day in 1991, death was raining on them from the skies, possibly burying alive in their fox-holes the boys, now seventeen-year olds, as the Allies mowed across the Kuwait-Iraq border.

I was an undergraduate at Cambridge when Harold MacMillan was the British prime minister and John F. Kennedy the United States president. It had been much publicized that Kennedy had presented the British prime minister a remarkable work by the American historian, Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August, etching over 500 pages, with meticulous precision and the finest detail, the story of the first thirty days of World War I. The Germans were operating to the Schlieffen Plan, which provided for the war to be won in 33 days, a time-table upset when the ordinary citizens of the villages around the Belgian city of Liege opened fire on the advancing German troops as the Belgian army retreated. They called themselves the francs-tireurs, the “free-shooters”. The Germans called them terrorists — the first non-combatants in European history to fire on combatants. Posted later to our embassy in Belgium, I wandered around the remains of those villages, Tuchman in hand, honouring in my own little way the first terrorists to stand up to state terrorism.

It was also at Cambridge that I first read and spoke about Palestine. The immediate provocation was a debate on the subject, “Israel is a dream at the Arabs’ expense”. I was listed as the lead speaker for the motion (with Norman Lamont, later chancellor of the exchequer — and the one who bailed us out of the 1991 balance-of-payments crisis — listed against). That was when I came across the word “terrorism”, the appellation used by the British mandate for the Jewish groups with guns — the Hagannah, the Stern Gang and others — who in later history provided Israel with most of its most distinguished leaders, from David Ben-Gurion to Ariel Sharon, terrorists to a man, and proud of it. CNN’s war against terrorism exempts them.

After Belgium, I was posted to Hanoi. Every morning at 8 am and every evening at 4 pm, American planes would fly over the city bombing at random. So, every pavement was pitted with fox-holes into which passers-by were expected to jump to shelter as the air-raid sirens went off. We know from the Memorial in Washington the names of each of the 55,000 Americans who died defending “freedom” in Vietnam. But no one knows how many hundreds of thousands of innocent Vietnamese were blasted to death for no sin of their own, but the sin of their government in wanting to be free. The Hanoi Hilton is now the Hanoi Hilton — then, the prison around the corner from our consulate-general which housed US PoWs, now the site of the hotel which was given its ironic name in the middle of a war in which the Americans rained a higher tonnage of bombs on little Vietnam — not to mention chemical warfare through Agent Orange — than all the powers all around the globe altogether through all the five years of World War II. I did not know any of the Americans who were killed. I knew some of the Vietnamese. That, perhaps, is why the horror of their suffering is as real for me as that of the girl of her own age whom Suranya saw jumping from her window in the WTC.

My most persistent memory of terrorism is of dusk falling on the night of November 1, 1984. My Sikh wife and I had driven around Delhi appalled at what marauding mobs were doing to her community. We returned home to a telephone call from a friend saying there was a slogan being shouted through a loud-speaker in the neighbouring gurudwara, “Din unki the; raat hamari hogi.” (The day was theirs; the night will be ours). Some lunatic was rushing around the colony saying the water-supply had been poisoned. Someone else rushed past screaming the jatha were coming, armed with kirpans and drawn swords. We ran across the lawn to snap up our kids and bundle them into our barricaded home. Nothing happened. It was all rumour. But the raw terror of those few minutes when we did not know whether we would be killed because Suneet is a Sikh or because I am not haunts me to this day.

I, like all of us, have seen the face of terrorism. But terrorism comes in many guises — and until we agree on what is terrorism, who are the terrorists, and how they should be tackled, there seems little point in stopping at saying that we are not non-aligned against terrorism. The global war against global terrorism can only be engaged when there is a global consensus on the definition of terrorism, the identification of terrorist groups, collective security action under the United Nations Charter, and agreement on the political component of the answer to terrorism. Without that, the plan of the US secretary of state, General Colin Powell, of doing to Afghanistan what he did to Iraq will go the way of the Schlieffen Plan, and have only the same consequence: bin Laden like Saddam Hussein will live but Afghans, like Iraqis, will die — and those who survive will wreak tomorrow, if not today, the kind of horrific vengeance which the innocent of New York and Washington underwent on September 11, 2001.

And the abiding image of global terrorism and the reaction to it will be of bin Laden fleeing from George W. Bush on horse-back and of George W. Bush fleeing from Osama bin Laden on Air Force One, hopping from Florida to Nebraska, bunker to bunker, in the desperate hope that bin Laden will not find him before he finds bin Laden.


HIV infection rates among teenage girls are often much higher than in teenage boys; the reason lies in girls’ greater biological and social vulnerability. Compared with that of males, the female reproductive tract is more susceptible to infection with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases... And girls often risk infection very early. Compounding this are complex and unhealthy societal expectations that mean girls and young women have less control over their lives and bodies than do their male counterparts.

In Thailand, too many girls find themselves at an early age in the sex industry, usually for lack of other options for earning a living. Young girls are desirable because they are thought to be “safe” and uninfected with HIV, but the risk of infection to them, and thence to their clients, is very high...

The reasons that girls enter the sex industry in Thailand have received much attention... The causes have been divided into those at the societal level and those at the family level. At the social level, Thailand’s rapid economic development is cited as one major cause.

When Thailand adopted an industrialized, export-led economy, one of the consequences was that agriculture — formerly the backbone of the Thai economy — was devalued. Farmers went increasingly into debt and many were forced to search for work in urban areas, usually Bangkok or provincial urban centres. Those who remained in the rural areas tried various alternative family survival strategies, including sending their children to cities to earn.

Thailand’s national policy, with its emphasis on economic growth, led at the same time to a rise in materialism in Thai society. Parental desires for a better, more comfortable standard of living...led some parents to encourage their children into the sex industry as one means of attaining their material goals. Children who did not accede to their parents’ demands were regarded as ungrateful, since respect for one’s parents and providing for their care are paramount, socio-cultural norms in Thai society, persisting even under Thailand’s rapid social and economic changes. In some rural villages, particularly in northern Thailand, where prostitution has become an acceptable occupation, families who do not sell their daughters may be seen as foolish by other members of the community.

More broadly speaking, the main reason for girls entering the sex industry is to satisfy their parents’ urgent need for money, in some cases not for more material goods but simply for the family’s survival. Earnings from unskilled labour are much lower than those from sex work. Thus, many parents decide to sell their daughters and earn quick money to provide for their immediate needs. Though girls may not want to become sex workers, many are forced or tricked into it. These children usually have little or no education and often do not live with their parents. Another group at special risk are children who live with a stepfather or stepmother. With weaker family ties and often less family support, they have become common targets for recruitment into sex work...

The expectation that they will support their parents in any way they can is placed on daughters much more than on sons in Thai society. A daughter’s duty is to earn a living for the family to repay her gratitude to the parents, while a son’s is to spend time as a monk. Thus, the economic burden of the family is placed on the daughter’s shoulder. There is no reported incidence of the selling of sons by their parents, whereas selling daughters is quite common.

Indeed, the reason males become prostitutes are different from those for females. One study...in 1994 on male bar workers in Bangkok found that 51 per cent were introduced to the job by their friends and 36 per cent by reading job advertisements. For male sex workers, choosing this job is mainly their own decision. Even though there are far fewer male sex workers than there are females ( a ministry of public health survey in 1997 estimated that there are only 3 or 4 male sex workers for every 100 females), national policies for preventing and solving the problems of sex workers give equal attention to both sexes. But different strategies are needed to cope with the problems facing male and female sex workers...

To be continued



Not the right signals

Sir — The report, “Washington under fire in Jama masjid” (Sept 22), is both alarming and bring up several questions. The reaction of Muslims in parts of Delhi is not unfounded. The basis of their accusation is the very nature of the United State’s foreign policy, be it during the Kuwait War or the American attitude to the Palestinians. Unfortunately, the mere depiction of the US as a terrorist state and chanting pro-Osama bin Laden slogans reduce the issue into something quite mindless. This sort of reaction may lead to a repetition of history, of past communal riots, ultimately endangering what it seeks to protect. It is good to have a critical perspective on ideologies of state, but when the American attacks have already lead to the death of innumerable civilians, such an attitude could be dangerously counterproductive. If the minorities are questioning the US’s killing of civilians at Chechnya, then they have no right to show apathy in this case. One can only hope that realization dawns on them while there is still time.

Yours faithfully,
Sohini Sarkar, via email

American history

Sir — Mukul Kesavan’s article, “The great American odyssey” (Sept 23), was characteristically insightful and I read it with profound gratitude. I actually do not disagree with his argument, but given the sensitive nature of the issue a couple of clarifications might be in order. Like Kesavan, I think the scale of American or American-induced atrocities during the post-war period is vast (see The Telegraph, Sept 16). I also think that these atrocities are legitimized by a narrative of American exceptionalism and innocence.

In fact, in my article I had argued that the myth of American exceptionalism does something worse to America. It often blinds America to the fact that the application of Amercian power has resulted in atrocities. Nevertheless, I think that these phenomena alone do not explain entirely the causes and character of anti-Americanism. Much anti-Americanism seems to me to be overdetermined.

It is often strikingly muted in areas that have suffered considerably at Amercian hands but appears in a strident form elsewhere. Take just a small example from contemporary discourse. While America is blamed with some justification for creating conditions in Afghanistan that have led to its current mess, deep Russian complicity is passed over in almost complete silence. This is not the place to argue Cold War history, but much contemporary criticism of America, especially in places like India, seems to assume that America alone was complicit.

We clearly have an investment in blaming America — and by implication exonerating others — that cannot be explained simply by the dark record of American foreign policy. I also think that a powerful critique of American power and mythmaking such as the one Kesavan provides ought in principle to be compatible with some acknowledgement of the power and moral resources of the American experience.

Any reference to these will, I hope, not be construed as an exoneration of America. Indeed they might lead to both a stronger indictment and a more complicated understanding of the place of America in the world. The country with a most pronounced racism towards African Americans is also the country of the civil war; the country that is guilty of Vietnam is also the country of the most prolonged anti-war movement in modern history.

If America and the rest of the world are to come to terms with one another, the engagement with history will have to move beyond ideologically overdetermined representations. Kesavan’s piece is one important contribution to that effort.

Yours faithfully,
Pratap Bhanu Mehta, via email

Fallen prince

Sir — The report of Sourav Ganguly being retained as the captain of the Indian cricket team is good news (“Sourav to lead India in SA”, Sept 6). Although there has been scathing criticism of the team’s performance in the final test against Sri Lanka, the skipper should be applauded for picking up youngsters such as Virendra Sehwag and Hemang Badani. The Indian side has recently suffered the absence of key players like Sachin Tendulkar and Anil Kumble. However, Ganguly should bear in mind that this should not be used as an excuse for a dismal performance. The series against the South Africans would be a tougher game of cricket. We have to wait and see whether our team would provide a better game, which would be a treat after many disappointments.

Yours faithfully,
Pradip Kumar Neogi, Dhubri

Sir — The retaining of the “prince of Calcutta” as the skipper for the forthcoming tour of South Africa only reflects the grim state of Indian cricket. His inconsistent performance in the last tour of Sri Lanka and his experimentation with too many inexperienced players were indeed disappointing. The Board of Control for Cricket in India has always been a bad judge at crucial times. It should be noted that Rahul Dravid has been a better performer both as captain and as an individual player. It would have been a relief to have Dravid as our next skipper rather than the prince who often keeps running foul of the match referees.

Yours faithfully,
S. Mitra, Calcutta

Sir — It is really unfortunate that the Indian cricket team did not participate in the Asian test championship. The dirty game of politics ensured that India would not be a part of any sports where Pakistan would be participating. It was a shame to find our prime minister, home minister and other officials spearheading such an act. If the Indian government maintains this political stance then there lies the alarming possibility of our country being banned by the International Cricket Council.

Yours faithfully,
Abdul Aziz, Cuttack

Sir — The report, “We weren’t intense enough” (Sept 3), is a correct evaluation by the Indian team’s coach, John Wright. He emphasized the need for a more gruelling workout schedule to enhance the fitness of the Indian players. The coach had been a bit harsh on the bowlers after the recent tri-nation series. The team as a whole, with Ganguly under constant pressure, and both the batting and fielding departments under-performing, has contributed to the scenario.

It is the lack of application and commitment that has deprived the Indians from pulling through in the finals. The re-appointment of Wright as the cricket coach is a sensible decision and the BCCI should be congratulated for this.

Yours faithfully,
A.U.S. Lal, Calcutta

Parting shot

Sir — The report about a fake prodigy was interesting (“Fake tag on Physics prodigy”, Aug 8). Unfortunately, the media have been responsible for creating hype about the so-called prodigy, Tathagat Avtar Tulsi, without judging the basis and the probability of his claim. The media should be careful the next time another seven-day wonder makes such fake claims.

Yours faithfully,
A.C. Chakraborty, Calcutta

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