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Web Letter

A wretched piece of writing. Suspect in its motivations, inchoate in its conclusions, incoherent in its diction--that it should come from a writer for The Nation who had once been a New York Times reporter in that part of the world is astonishing, to say the least. While a columnist's opinions are her own, the editors do share responsibility for the rampant stylistic and logical confusions of the article.

Tamara Waldorf

Palo Alto, CA

Jan 1 2008 - 5:23am

Web Letter

After viewing the first seven minutes of this video, and knowing that the assassin--Omar Sheik, who is mentioned in the video--was known to work for the British MI6 (their intelligence agency) and has taken responsibility for the execution of Daniel Pearl--the Wall Street Journalist who was beheaded by him.

Why haven't we been told by any of the MSM about the fate of Osama bin Laden? I have my theories... what are yours?

Terry Sneller

Petaluma, CA

Dec 28 2007 - 6:52pm

Web Letter

I happened on this story through a link on The Onion, a funny satirical site. I am an Indian (and South-Asian consequently) currently living in Australia. I have been reading articles on Benazir Bhutto's assassination for the last twenty-four hours on various news sites. So when I saw the link to this article, I clicked on it and read the article.

I consider myself to be a reasonably well-read person and I am well aware of the history of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. When I saw that the writer of this article had worked for the New York Times, I immediately expected an objective and illuminating piece. Instead I found an utterly misleading, entirely subjective account of history that reads like it has been written by a schoolkid.

While most of the facts mentioned in the article are true, the story that has been built around them is entirely inaccurate. The depressing and pessimistic tone of the article is particularly misplaced. South Asia is not a region drenched in blood. Ask any of the numerous Western travellers in India or Sri Lanka, and you will get a better idea of this region and its people than what this article suggests.

That the author, in her ill-advised quest to generalize for the whole of South Asia, puts Afghanistan, Pakistan and India in the same bracket astounds me. India is a modern, progressive, secular, democratic country. Pakistan and Afghanistan are theocratic Islamic countries--in fact, Pakistan was created during partition expressly for Muslims. And political institutions have been alive and thriving in India for more than fifty years. Free and fair elections have become part of the culture in India. More individuals from minority sections of the population have been elected to be national leaders in India than probably anywhere else in the world.

It seems to me that the writer of this article is not in touch with modern realities about South Asia. This place is a beautiful place; its people are vibrant, and they are marching forward confidently with hope and conviction into the future, to take their rightful place in the world. There may be pockets of disaffection yes, forces pulling in counter directions even, but what place in the world can claim to be totally free from such?

Srinivas Reddy

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Dec 28 2007 - 10:02am

Web Letter

Barbara Crossette's opening image portrays the dawn of a purported era of hope in South Asia. Two new prime ministers. She was young. He was young. "There was obvious good will, almost intimacy, between them"--almost like Brangelina! They were both "modernizing"--how, exactly, is not clear... maybe by looking good on TV? No context necessary here.

She was "driven from office twice on charges of corruption, much of it attributed to her husband." "Suspicions linger that [he] or those close to him may have been involved in illegal payments for arms contracts." Any truth to these "suspicions" or "charges"? Let's not get too concerned about such niceties. Better to move on quickly to the carnage.

I was living in India during this supposed spring of hope, when our protagonist media stars were in power. What I remember are extensively documented cases of corruption against Rajiv Gandhi, particularly in the Bofors scandal, the "illegal payments for arms contracts" to which Crossette cursorily refers.

Charges of bribery against a sitting head of government are generally not such piddling matters in any democracy. Not surprisingly, Gandhi was soundly defeated in a subsequent election--on-screen pulchritude notwithstanding.

Crossette obviously sees things differently. According to her, "Rajiv was the perennial butt of attacks from unreconstructed leftists and traditionalists who scoffed at his Westernized style, Italian wife and fresh ideas that rattled the khadi crowd."

See, he was just like us--"Westernized," married a white lady, had lots of "fresh ideas" (what exactly they were is apparently unimportant).

And what is the at the root of Crossette's sneering at "unreconstructed leftists"? Would criticism from neocons would have been more credible? Did she think that she was writing this piece for National Review, and not that "unreconstructed leftist" rag, The Nation?

And while I'm at it, what's with the "khadi crowd" image? Could we get more race-baiting than that without crossing over into "Willie Horton" territory? A lucrative future writing speeches for Giuliani, or some such, may be an attractive career move in Crossette's future.

Indians voted Gandhi out of office because he was corrupt and because he had an agenda that was at odds with the priorities of the electorate (how quaint!), not because of his Italian wife. And lest we forget, a couple of years ago, those very Indians voted the selfsame Italian wife into the prime ministership, until she relinquished it under pressure from the opposition party, which was trying to exploit the fact of her ethnicity (as right-wing oppositions are wont to do)to their own political advantage.

From there, Crossette takes us on a bloody tour of assassinations of telegenic South Asian leaders (presumably all targeted because of how "Westernized" they were).

Forget context. Did Indira Gandhi's assassination have something to do with her brutal suppression of the Sikh separatist movement in the Punjab, which was in turn fomented by US ally Pakistan, as part of the proxy war against Soviet-leaning India?

Who wants to dwell on that? Let's move on to the next heartless murder--that of Rajiv Gandhi. Did his decision to send in the Indian army to Sri Lanka to put down the Tamil rebellion (accompanied by extensively documented human rights violations, including allegations of systematic rape) have something to do with a Tamil assassin wanting to kill him? Nah, it must have been the Italian wife.

(Mohandas) Gandhi, Bandaranaike, Liaquat Ali Khan, Zia Ul Haq... Crossette's excursion through South Asia's house of horrors continues.

Context? Why that? I think we get her point. "From end to end, South Asia is a region drenched in blood." Those irrational darkies--no wonder they hate us so much--look what they do to their own!

OK, my response to Barbara Crossette is not notable for its nuance, nor its generosity of spirit. I'm merely trying to bring out the (barely) hidden assumptions behind her "analysis."

While it is understandable that Crossette had to produce a commentary on the portentous events in Pakistan on rather short deadline, the vapidity and the lack of political context in the picture she paints is inexcusable for a publication as distinguished as The Nation.

For an in-depth analysis of some of the forces at work in the maelstrom of South Asian politics, here is an article by Arundhati Roy that serves as a good primer.

Alex Varghese

Reading, PA

Dec 28 2007 - 1:47am

Web Letter

Is this the demise of Western civilization and foreign relations between the US and Pakistan, or beyond?

Nick Rosen

Great Falls, VA

Dec 27 2007 - 8:18pm

Web Letter

It is ridiculous to suggest that Benazir Bhutto represented some sort of "Age of Hope" for Pakistan.

Bhutto was essentially a career criminal who stole an amount of money from the people of Pakistan estimated in the low billions of dollars. She was the kind of international criminal tracked and arrested by Interpol.

Furthermore, her "love" of democracy was entirely based on her momentary political convenience. During the 1990s, she openly supported members of the oppressive Taliban regime and was regularly accused of participating in conspiracies to have her political enemies assassinated.

Finally, Bhutto at this point, returning to Pakistan, was essentially serving as a US proxy, an American asset intended to follow the current head of state, Musharraf, if his regime ended.

Bhutto was a tawdry character, and should not be regarded as a great leader, and it is badly offensive to compare her to M.K. Gandhi.

Seymour Friendly

Seattle, WA

Dec 27 2007 - 7:35pm