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‘Intolerance is damaging to human spirit, soul’, says director

I would never have started to work on the subject (physics) if I was not a Muslim.

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Abdus Salam docu

The baffling and paradoxical life of Dr. Abdus Salam, the first Pakistani and Muslim to win a Nobel Prize for Physics, is a subject of a compelling documentary by New York-based Indian American filmmaker Anand Kamalakar.

Salam (1926-1996) is a dichotomous figure in the world of science. He once said: “I would never have started to work on the subject (physics) if I was not a Muslim.” Yet, in his lifetime, not only was he shunned by Pakistan, the place of his birth, because he belonged to the outlawed Ahmadiyya sect, but had the misfortune of standing up for science in a country that had no particular interest in it.

He received his Ph.D in quantum electrodynamics at 24 and went on to do pioneering work in physics. It was only because of Pakistan’s strategic interest in developing nuclear weapons, in whose early development Dr. Salam played a crucial role, that he had a brief period of official patronage.

The documentary Salam’ — produced by Omar Vandal, a doctorate in Immunology and Microbial Pathogenes, and Zakir Thaver, a science/education media producer — was screened at the Mumbai International Film Festival on January 29. Kamalakar answered email questions from IANS. Excerpts:

Q: What prompted you to chronicle the life of Dr. Abdus Salam?

A: The producers Zakir and Omar have always been troubled by the fact that Abdus Salam was not given his rightful place in Pakistan’s history because of his religious beliefs. They have been attempting to make a film to shine a light on his illustrious career since their youth. After almost 10 years of collecting archival material they approached me through an acquaintance and I was taken by their commitment and the layered story of Salam.

Q: When did you discover that science, particularly physics, and Islam were not necessarily adversarial in Dr. Salam’s estimation but, in fact, complementary?

A: I discovered this while viewing the archival interviews. This aspect always fascinated me about his story. Salam went through a complicated evolution on this subject. We have tried to reveal the best we can on where he stood on this at various stages in his life. He was contradictory and controversial on this subject at many stages in his life.

Q: I ask specifically because that is at the core of his ironic and even somewhat tragic life. Here was a man who considered himself devout Muslim and precisely for that reason, chose to pursue physics, but his own country and culture, revolving around Islam, rejected him so thoroughly. How did you approach that strange dichotomy?

A: This aspect is what drew me to make this film. How did Salam reconcile working in an area of physics, which essentially attempts to prove the absence of god, and here he is, a devout Muslim who attributes his talents to his belief in Islam and god� In this sense, Salam was a bit ambivalent but found a way to rationalise this approach. We reveal this duality in many instances in the film� But we wanted to respect his position and give it credence as he was able to walk that line and be a man of science and religion at the same time.

Q: Were you surprised to discover that he saw no contradiction between a pure physicist and a devout Muslim?

A: More than surprised I was fascinated. One of the reasons the producers and I found common ground is because we are all rationalists. We subscribe to the logic of science more than anything. So when we found that Salam saw no contradiction but in fact believed that the religious text in fact encouraged science and informed his explorations, and reality did not reflect that, it was an intriguing area to explore, especially in a time when Islam is often viewed as a regressive religion in the mainstream.

Q: Since you were dealing with a very sensitive theme, what kind of challenges did you face in obtaining archival audio-visual material as well as interviews?

A: We really did not face any great difficulty in procuring archival material as such. We did face difficulty though in interviewing people with the extreme point of view on the Ahmadi issue. We ended up using clips from YouTube to show the extremist view. I was denied a visa to visit Lahore. I had to hire a cameraman there and manage the shoot remotely. We never received a clear answer why I was denied a visa, even though I am a US citizen. We concluded probably because this issue is still controversial there and I am of Indian origin.

Q: Have you been able to resolve the extent of Salam’s involvement in Pakistan’s nuclear bomb? Journalist and author Tariq Ali says it is not clear whether Salam was involved in Pakistan’s nuclear bomb. Both sides — the Ahmadiyya and the Pakistan establishment — have their own reasons to deny it.

A: I think this is answered in the film quite succinctly. He definitely was involved in the initial stages but then changed his mind.

Q: In the light of the way Salam was treated how do you think it impacted the future of science in Pakistan?

A: We address this is in the film with great emphasis. I think this is the greatest tragedy of his life. The younger generation of Pakistan has suffered the most and science in general has taken a back seat as a result of Salam being exiled. The casualty of any kind of intolerance towards knowledge, intelligence and brilliance are the young. Pakistan has suffered irreparable damage by distancing Salam and his legacy. At its core, this is what the message of our film is. Any kind of intolerance is damaging to the human spirit and soul.

By : Mayank Chhaya

(Mayank Chhaya is a senior journalist of Indian origin. He can be contacted at [email protected])

Analysis

India’s Sri Lanka challenge

From all accounts, India’s encirclement has begun with ruthless efficiency. Pakistan is gone. Maldives is about to fall. Nepal is almost there.

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70th Independence Day celebrations in Colombo

My wife and I recently visited Sri Lanka on a holiday with friends. For both of us, it was the first visit after almost 15 years. At that time, the idyllic island country was caught up in a deadly civil war that claimed countless lives and devastated the economy. When Mahinda Rajapaksa assumed power as the Sri Lankan President, he made the elimination of the Tamil Tigers his foremost objective. After 30 months of relentless assaults, the 26-year-old civil war finally ended in 2009, with the killing of Tamil Tigers (LTTE) leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and the ruthless decimation of his supporters.

It is argued that widespread human rights excesses occurred and that the Tamils were openly discriminated against. This is true. Yet, what is also true is that the island country finally saw peace for the very first time after decades of unrest, uncertainty and terrorism. The Sri Lanka we visited was in complete contrast with the one I had grown accustomed to, with gun-toting security personnel everywhere. Now there was a sense of calm. Even impatience, at being held back for so many years. It is as if it was time to claim the life that had been long denied.

For India, the end of the civil war and of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was good news. It had already declared the LTTE as a terrorist organisation, but domestic compulsions — with its allies in Tamil Nadu openly aligning with Prabhakaran — forced New Delhi to opt for covert support for the anti-LTTE military operations. Tragically, with the end of the civil war, history repeated itself and India, once again, lost its momentum. Today, we are on the brink of losing Sri Lanka to Beijing.

The Chinese presence in Sri Lanka is not covert. Far from it. You see them everywhere and the pace of the activity is hectic. Chinese dredging ships can be openly seen working at a furious pace. Work on the Hanbantota port has started. Chinese workers are everywhere, from shopping malls to pubs. Many are learning to speak Sinhalese. Hotels, roads and infrastructure, performing arts theatres, a swanky cricket stadium are not simply projects on the drawing board. People can see them. The importance of the visual should never be underestimated. And given the speed with which the Chinese execute projects, a real estate transformation is credibly under way.

Over a period of 12 years (2005–17), Beijing has poured in $15 billion into projects in Sri Lanka. The Chinese Ambassador conveyed an unambiguous message to India, which sees Chinese presence in Sri Lanka as an intrusion in its immediate sphere of influence, when he said, “No negative force can undermine the cooperation between Sri Lanka and China.”

For India, this is a disturbing development. Indian foreign policy has relied heavily on “time-tested civilisational links”. While this is undoubtedly appealing, there is an aspirational impatience among Sri Lankans that India failed to see and respond to with the scale, speed and imagination that only Beijing appears capable of.

It is common enough to hear Sri Lankans say how disgruntled and unhappy they are with the intrusive presence of the Chinese, who are loud and arrogant. It is like a deadly embrace but one that they find lucrative, if they wish to fast-track to a prosperous future. Artists impressions of future Colombo tell Sri Lankans that it will rival Singapore. It will bring in investments, tourism, employment and economic well-being. This can be seriously tempting.

From all accounts, India’s encirclement has begun with ruthless efficiency. Pakistan is gone. Maldives is about to fall. Nepal is almost there. And Sri Lanka is under an understandable hypnotic trance. India genuinely faces its most serious security challenge.

If India is to get its act together, it needs not only imagination but the speed and efficiency to deliver on its promises to offer Sri Lankans a future that the civil war denied them. For Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale, India’s neighbourhood will be a disturbing challenge. The problem he would face is convincing the political, bureaucratic and corporate partners that India faces its greatest-ever security threat and one that we are on the brink of losing.

As the legendary chess player Bobby Fisher once remarked, “If you are playing the game, you play to win. But if you’ve lost the game, it’s because you took your eyes off the pieces and then, you deserve to lose.”

By : Amit Dasgupta

(Amit Dasgupta is a former Indian diplomat. The article is in special arrangement with www.southasiamonitor.org)

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Netanyahu threatens ‘to act’ against Iran

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Benjamin Netanyahu-wefornews-min

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has warned  Iran saying he was ready to go to war if Tehran continued to entrench itself in Syria. Netanyahu addressed the Munich Security Conference which was attended by International leaders.

Directly addressing Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif and holding a piece of an Iranian drone shot down by Israel last week after it infiltrated its territory, Netanyahu during his speech said: “Do you recognize this? You should. It’s yours. You can take back with you a message to the tyrants of Tehran: Do not test Israel’s resolve.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif dismissed Israeli premier’s remarks and called them ‘a cartoonish circus.’

Equating Iran with Nazi Germany, Israeli PM drew many comparisons. “Let me be clear, Iran is not Nazi Germany,” he said. “There are many differences between the two,” he said, but, he noted, “there are also some striking similarities.”

He drew a parallel between the 1938 Munich Agreement, seen as a failed attempt to appease Nazi Germany, and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that has “unleashed a dangerous Iranian tiger in our region and beyond.”

The tensions between Israel and Syria escalated after an Iranian drone that crossed into Israeli airspace was shot down by the Israel Air Force on February 10.

Bolstered by the support US President Donald Trump, the prime minister reiterated he does not support a full Palestinian state, but a “state minus.” Netanyahu said the Palestinians should have self-rule, but not the “freedom to threaten our security.” Netanyahu indicated that he has been discussing legislation with the United States that would effectively annex settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Condemning the remarks, Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation termed it as “land theft” with US complicity.While Israeli police recommended the indictment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Accusing Tehran of seeking a permanent military foothold in Syria by supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in civil war entering its eighth year, Netanyahu said Israel could act against Iran itself — not just its allies — after border incidents in Syria brought the Middle East foes closer to direct confrontation.

Worried over the increase of Iranian influence in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, Netanyahu stated that Israel would not allow Iran to establish military bases in Syria.

At a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on the sidelines of a major security conference in Munich, Netanyahu declared that the Golan Heights would “remain in Israel’s hands forever.”

The Syrian Golan Heights has been under Israeli occupation since 1967.

 

arti2-150x150

By: Arti Bali

Senior Journalist

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Analysis

Air war in 1971: A view from the other side

Where does one seek authentic information about India’s contemporary military history?

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The Air and Naval War 1971

Disregarding the counsel of wise men, from Herodotus to George Santayana, Indians have consistently ignored the importance of reading, writing and learning from history. So, when retired US Air Force Brigadier “Chuck” Yeager, head of the US Military Assistance Advisory Group in Islamabad during the 1971 War, says, in his autobiography that the “Pakistanis whipped the Indians’ asses in the sky… the Pakistanis scored a three-to-one kill ratio, knocking out 102 Russian-made Indian jets and losing 34 airplanes of their own…”, we are left fumbling for a response. Other Western “experts” have alleged that, in 1971, the IAF was supported by Tupolev-126 early warning aircraft flown by Soviet crews, who supposedly jammed PAF radars and homed-in Indian aircraft.

Where does one seek authentic information about India’s contemporary military history? The Ministry of Defence (MoD) website mentions a History Division, but the output of this organisation is not displayed, and it seems to have gone into hibernation after a brief spell of activity. A Google search reveals copies of two typed documents, circa 1984, on the Internet, titled “History of the 1965 War” and “History of the 1971 War” — neither of which is designated as “official history”.

A chapter of the latter document deals with the air-war in the Western theatre, and opens with a comparison of the opposing air forces. The 1971 inventory of the IAF is assessed at 625 combat aircraft, while the PAF strength is estimated at about 275. After providing day-by-day accounts of air-defence, counter-air close-support and maritime air-operations, the “History of the 1971 War” (or HoW) compares aircraft losses, on both sides, and attempts a cursory analysis of the air war.

The IAF is declared as having utilised its forces “four times as well as the PAF” and being “definitely on the way to victory” at the time of ceasefire. Commending the PAF for having managed to survive in a war against an “enemy double its strength”, it uses a boxing metaphor, to add a (left-handed) compliment: “…by its refusal to close with its stronger enemy, it at least remained on its feet, and in the ring, when the bell sounded…”

This is the phrase that Pakistani Air Commodore M. Kaiser Tufail (retd) has picked up for the title of his very recent book: “In the Ring and on its Feet” (Ferozsons Pvt Ltd., Lahore, 2017) about the PAF’s role in the 1971 Indo-Pak war. Commissioned in 1975, this former Pakistani fighter-pilot is a historian and bold commentator on strategic affairs. Currently unavailable in India, the book may, prima facie, be accepted as authentic, because the author asserts that in two of his appointments, he was the “custodian of PAF’s war records”, which he was, officially, permitted to access in writing the book.

Tufail starts with an attempt to dispel the “ludicrous Indian fabrication about Pakistan having initiated the war”, and offers the thesis that since war was already in progress, the ineffective 3rd December PAF pre-emptive attacks were merely “first strikes” meant to overburden the IAF’s retaliatory capability. Apart from this half-hearted attempt at obfuscation, the rest of Tufail’s narrative is refreshingly candid, free of hyperbole and — one hopes — reliable. Having served in an IAF fighter squadron during the 1971 war, I was fascinated by Tufail’s account, and share a few of his frank insights into wartime events in this article.

Tufail suggests that the wartime PAF Chief, Air Marshal Rahim Khan, was an inarticulate, short-tempered and lacklustre personality, who, at this crucial juncture, chose his two most important advisers — the ACAS (Operations) and the Deputy Chief — from the ranks of transport pilots. His problems were compounded by low service morale, due to the massacre of 30 airmen in East Pakistan and defections by Bengali PAF personnel.

As far as the two orders-of-battle are concerned, it is interesting to note that the HoW figures of 625 combat aircraft for the IAF and 273 for the PAF are pretty close to Tufail’s estimates of 640 and 290 respectively. A fact not commonly known, in 1971, was that while the IAF’s work-horses, Sukhoi-7s, Hunters, Gnats, HF-24s, Mysteres and Vampires were armed only with 30/20 mm guns, the opposition had the advantage of air-to-air missiles. While all PAF western-origin fighters carried Sidewinders or R-530s, Yeager tells us, “One of my first jobs (in Pakistan) was to help them put US Sidewinders on their Chinese MiGs… I also worked with their squadrons and helped them develop combat tactics.”

Tufail provides a tabular account of both IAF and PAF aircraft losses, with pilots’ names, squadron numbers and (for PAF) aircraft tail numbers. To my mind, one particular statistic alone confirms Tufail’s objectivity. As the squadron diarist of IAF’s No. 20 Squadron, I recall recording the result of a Hunter raid on PAF base Murid, on December 8,1971, as “one transport, two fighters (probable) and vehicles destroyed on ground.” In his book, Tufail confirms that 20 Squadron actually destroyed five F-86 fighters in this mission — making it the most spectacular IAF raid of the war!

Particularly gratifying to read are Tufail’s reconstructions, of many combat missions, which have remained shrouded in doubt and ambiguity for 47 years. Personally, I experienced a sense of closure after reading his accounts of the final heroic moments of 20 Squadron comrades — Jal Mistry and K.P. Muralidharan — as well as fellow naval aviators — Roy, Sirohi and Vijayan — shot down at sea. Tufail also nails the canard about Soviet Tupolev-126 support to IAF, and describes how it was the clever employment of IAF MiG-21s to act as “radio-relay posts” that fooled the PAF.

Coming to the “final reckoning”, there is only a small difference between the figures given in the HoW and those provided by Tufail for IAF losses; both of which make nonsense of Yeager’s pompous declarations. According to the tabulated Pakistani account (giving names of Indian aircrew), the IAF lost 60 aircraft. The HoW records the IAF’s losses in action as 56 aircraft (43 in the west and 13 in the east). However, a dichotomy surfaces when it comes to PAF losses. While Tufail lists the tail numbers of only 27 aircraft destroyed, the HoW mentions IAF claims of 75 PAF aircraft destroyed, but credits only 46 (27 in the west and 19 in the east).

Using the “utilisation rate” per aircraft and “attrition rate”, as a percentage of (only) the offensive missions flown by both air forces, the HoW declares that the IAF’s utilisation rate being almost double, and its attrition rate being half that of the PAF, “…had the war continued, the IAF would certainly have inflicted a decisive defeat on the PAF”.

Adopting a different approach, Tufail concludes that the overall “attrition rate” (loss per 100 sorties) for each air force as well as aircraft losses, as percentage of both IAF and PAF inventories, are numerically equal. Thus, according to him, “…both air forces were on par… though the IAF flew many more ground-attack sorties in a vulnerable air and ground environment”.

He ends his narrative on a sanguine note, remarking: “The PAF denied a much stronger IAF… the possibility of delivering a knock-out punch to it.”

Air Commodore Tufail’s book clearly demonstrates that there are at least two good reasons for writing war histories: Lessons are learnt about the political sagacity underpinning employment of state military power, and militaries can test the validity of the Principles of War. Sensible nations, therefore, ensure that history is not replaced by mythology. There is a whole new crop of young scholar-warriors, like Kaiser Tufail, emerging in India, eager to record its rich military history. But as long as our obdurate bureaucracy maintains the inexplicable “omerta” vis-a-vis official records, this deplorable historical vacuum will persist.

By : Admiral Arun Prakash

(Admiral Arun Prakash is a former chief of the Indian Navy. He can be contacted at [email protected] )

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