Archive for the ‘ India ’ Category

Why I believe Pakistanis are the most gracious people in the world

By Harsh Mander for Scroll.In and Dawn.com

Pakistan Generosity

My mother was forced to leave behind the city of her birth, Rawalpindi, when she was just 18 because of the tumultuous ruptures of Partition. She had never returned. When she was to turn 75, I thought the best gift I could give her was to take her, if it was at all possible, to the city and to the home in which she was born.

I emailed my friends in Pakistan tentatively with my plan. They were immediately very welcoming.

“Just get her a visa, leave the rest to us,” they said. I applied for visas for my parents and the rest of my family. It seemed then a small miracle that we got these easily. I booked our flight tickets, and before long we were on our way.

A warm welcome

Our flight landed in Lahore, and our friends drove us from the airport to their home in Islamabad. I noticed that my mother was initially a little tense. Maybe it was memories of the violence of her exile; maybe it was just the idea that this was now a foreign land, and for many in India the enemy land.

I watched my mother gradually relax on the road journey to Islamabad, as she delighted in hearing my friends and the car driver speak the Punjabi of her childhood, and as she watched the altered landscape of her journey. Islamabad, of course, did not exist when she lived in the Punjab of her days.

In Islamabad, my friends invited to their homes many of their associates with their parents. They organised evenings of Punjabi poetry and music, which my parents relished. Our friends drove us to Murree, the hill-station in which my mother spent many pleasant summers as a child.

My mother had just one more request. Could she go to see the colony in Rawalpindi where she was born and spent her childhood in? My father also wanted to visit his college, the famous Gordon College in Rawalpindi.

A homecoming

My mother recalled that the name of the residential colony in which she lived as a child was called Gawal Mandi. My friends knew it well; it was now an upmarket upper middle-class enclave.

When we reached there, my mother tried to locate the house of her childhood. It seemed impossible. Everything was new: most of the old houses had been rebuilt and opulent new structures had come up in their place.

She located the building that had housed their gurudwara. It had now been converted into a health centre. But we had almost despaired of actually finding her childhood house. We doubted if it was even standing all these years later.

We were leaving when suddenly my mother pointed to the filigree work on the balconies of one of the old houses. My mother said: “I remember it because my father was very proud of the designs. He said there was none like it in the neighbourhood.”

Taking a chance, we knocked tentatively on the door of the house. A middle-aged man opened it, and asked us who we wanted to meet.

My mother said apologetically, “We are so sorry to trouble you, and intrude suddenly in this way. But I lived as a child in Gawal Mandi, before Partition, when we had to leave for India. I think this maybe was our home.”

The house owner’s response was spontaneous and immediate.

Mataji, why do you say that this was your home? It continues to be your home even today. You are most welcome.”

And he led us all in.

Before long, my mother confirmed that this was indeed her childhood home. She went from room to room, and then to the terrace, almost in a trance, recalling all the while fragments of her childhood memories in various corners of this house.

For months after we returned to Delhi, she would tell me that recollections of the house returned to her in her dreams.

Take a look: Why my heart said Pakistan Zindabad!

Half an hour later, we thanked the house-owners and said that we would be on our way. But they would not hear of it.

We were told: “You have come to your childhood home, then how can we let you go without you having a meal with us here?”

They overruled all our protestations, and lunch was prepared for around eight members of our party, including not just my family but also our Pakistani hosts. Only when they were sure that we had eaten our fill, and more, did they allow us to leave.

Caravan to Pakistan

After we returned to India, news of our adventure spread quickly among family and friends. The next year, my mother-in-law — a wheel-chair user — requested that we take her to Pakistan to visit her childhood home, this time in Gujranwala.

Given the joys of my parents’ successful visit, I was more confident. Many elderly aunts and an elderly uncle joined the trip, and in the end my wife and I accompanied six older people to Pakistan.

Our experience was very similar to that of the previous year. The owner of their old ancestral haveli in Gujranwala village took my mother-in-law around the sprawling property on her wheel-chair, and after we had eaten with them asked her: “Would you not like to check out your farm-lands?”

On both visits, wherever my wife visited shops for clothes, footwear or handicrafts, if the shopkeepers recognised her to be Indian, they would invariably insist on a hefty concession on the price. “You are our guests,” they would say. “How can we make a profit from our guests?”

As news of these visits travelled further, my associates from an NGO Ashagram working in the small town of Barwani in Madhya Pradesh for the care and rights of persons living with leprosy — with which I have had a long association — demanded that I organise a visit to Pakistan for them too.

See: Pakistanis seem to love Indians. Do Indians feel the same way?

Once again, the Pakistan High Commission granted them visas. There was only one catch this time: all of them were vegetarian. They enjoyed greatly the week they spent in Pakistan, except for the food.

Every night they would set out looking for a wayside shop to buy fruit juice. Each night they found a new shop, and each night without exception, the shopkeeper refused to accept any money for the fruit juice. “We will not charge money from our guests from India,” they would say each time.

This happened for a full week.

I have travelled to many countries around the world in the 60 years of my life. I have never encountered a people as gracious as those in Pakistan.

This declaration is my latest act of sedition.


Sarabjit Singh Dies in Lahore, India Blames Pakistan

As Reported by The Hindustan Times

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Indian death row prisoner Sarabjit Singh, who was comatose in a Lahore hospital after a brutal assault by four to five prisoners on April 26, succumbed to injuries on Thursday, officials said. “I received a call from the doctor on duty (at Jinnah Hospital) at 1am (1:30 IST) informing me that Sarabjit is no more,” Mahmood Shaukat, the head of a medical board that was supervising Sarabjit’s treatment, told PTI.

Officials of the Indian High Commission in Islamabad said they had been informed by officials of Jinnah Hospital about Sarabjit’s death.

Singh’s lawyer Owais Sheikh confirmed the 49-year-old’s death and said that his body “has been moved to the hospital mortuary”.

The doctor who spoke to AFP said arrangements were under way for an autopsy.

Singh sustained several injuries, including a fractured skull, when six prisoners attacked him on Friday last week, hitting him on the head with bricks.

“(His death) was already feared. His condition was more than critical and he had less chances of survival,” Sheikh said.

Sarabjit was on life support since April 26.

Sarabjit slipped into a “non-reversible” coma on Wednesday.

A source said Sarabjit’s heart was beating “but without brain function” because of the extensive head injuries he sustained when he was assaulted by prisoners at Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore.

Sarabjit was completely unresponsive and unable to breathe without ventilator support.

Sarabjit’s wife Sukhpreet Kaur, daughters Poonam and Swapandeep Kaur and sister Dalbir Kaur, who went to Lahore on Monday to see him, returned to India on Wednesday.

On Wednesday, doctors treating Sarabjit at the state-run Jinnah Hospital said that his condition had further deteriorated though he had not been declared brain dead.

Returning from Pakistan, Sarabjit Singh’s family accused the government of doing little for the death-row prisoner battling for his life after a brutal assault.

“I am disappointed with the government. The Prime Minister should resign as he is not able to bring back an Indian citizen.You failed to protect your citizen… They (Pakistan) got freed (Pakistani citizen Dr Khalil) Chishti and you (India) released their other prisoners,” Dalbir said.

Dalbir had demanded that Sarabjit be brought to India immediately and given proper treatment.

“I want the government to immediately step in. I want to bring him back. If Malala (Yousafzai) can be treated abroad, why not my brother. I have doubts about the treatment they are giving to him, but I have full confidence in the doctors back home,” Kaur said.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) condemned the attack on Singh as a “dastardly act” and called on the government to make a thorough inquiry into the matter and punish the guilty persons.

“The authorities have obviously failed to do their elementary duty” of providing him safety and security, the commission said in a statement.

Sheikh earlier told AFP that his client had received threats following the execution of a Kashmiri separatist in India. Mohammed Afzal Guru was hanged in New Delhi on February 9 for his part in a deadly Islamist attack on the Indian parliament in 2001.

Singh was convicted for his alleged involvement in a string of bomb attacks in Pakistan’s Punjab province that killed 14 people in 1990. His mercy petitions were rejected by the courts and former president Pervez Musharraf.

His family insisted he was a victim of mistaken identity and had inadvertently strayed across the border in an inebriated state.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note- Thus is another blow to peace between India and Pakistan. The attack on Sarabjit Singh and his subsequent death does little for trust and friendship building measures between the two nations.

 

India Anger Over Sarabjit Singh Attack in Pakistan Jail

As Reported by The BBC

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There have been protests in India after an attack in a Pakistani prison left convicted Indian spy Sarabjit Singh in a coma.

Singh, a high-profile prisoner on death row for more than 21 years, was attacked by inmates armed with bricks in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail on Friday. Singh is in intensive care with severe head injuries. Two inmates have been charged and two officials suspended.

Indian PM Manmohan Singh described the attack as “very sad”. Former foreign minister SM Krishna said a strong protest should be lodged with Pakistan. He said such conduct should not happen “in a civilised world”. Protests erupted in the city of Jammu, in Indian-administered Kashmir.

One protester, Chetan Sharma, told Reuters: “This was a conspiracy to kill Sarabjit Singh in which they have meted out inhuman treatment to him. This was well planned by Pakistan.”

‘All alone’

A doctor at Lahore’s Jinnah hospital told Agence France-Presse news agency: “Singh’s condition is critical with multiple wounds on his head, abdomen, jaws and other body parts, and he has been put on ventilator.”

India’s government informed Sarabjit Singh’s family that Pakistan had granted visas for four family members to visit.

His sister, Dalbir Kaur, told AFP: “We want to be with Sarabjit in this difficult time. He is all alone.” Sarabjit Singh was reportedly attacked as he and other prisoners were brought out of their cells for a one-hour break. Two prisoners have been charged with attempted murder.

The BBC’s Jill McGivering says that over the years the Singh case has been raised at the highest political levels and his fate has often seemed caught up with the broader relationship between India and Pakistan.

Sarabjit Singh was convicted of spying for India and involvement in a series of bomb blasts in 1990 in which 14 people died. His family say he is innocent and merely strayed across the border in Punjab by accident.

Tensions have increased in the past six months with the execution in India of Kashmiri Afzul Guru over the attack on India’s parliament 11 years ago and of Mohammed Ajmal Qasab, the sole surviving attacker from the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Sarabjit Singh’s lawyer Owais Sheikh told AFP his client had received threats after Guru’s execution.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– Another sad chapter in the depressing Pakistani-Indian saga. We hope that Sarabjit Singh is able to recover and Pakistan needs to release him to Indian custody. Whether he truly is a spy or not, he has served his time and now needs to be released to Indian custody in a goodwill gesture towards India.

Coca-Cola Tries to Bring India, Pakistan Together via its New Vending Machines

As Reported by The Economic Times
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An upscale mall in South Delhi has a Coca-Cola vending machine that not only dispenses Coke, Thums Up and other beverages of the firm but will very soon connect India and Pakistan.Once a similar machine is installed in Karachi or another Pakistan city, users of the two vending machines can see and virtually touch each other, a person in the know said.

The beverages major has quietly launched an online campaign that seeks to connect people in not-so-friendly countries through vending machines, starting with India and Pakistan this year.

“This year, two countries will show that what unites us is stronger than what sets us apart and come together to share a Coca-Cola,” says the commercial launched on YouTube.

A company spokesperson said it was too early to comment on specific plans, on how the beverage maker plans to scale up the concept.

This world peace initiative is part of the firm’s happiness project. “A moment of happiness has the power to bring the world together,” it says.

In another initiative, Coca-Cola recently set up a ‘hug machine’ in Singapore-a vending machine with red and white message announcing the consumer to ‘hug’ it, after which the consumer would be given a free Coke. The ‘hug machine’ generated 112 million impressions within one day. In Istanbul, it had installed a vending machine that gave away free Coke if people could prove they were indeed a couple.

Coca-Cola is spending heavily on social media globally, though the spends are still small compared to what it spends on traditional mass media.

“Brands can’t work remotely anymore so it is important to listen and engage to consumers,” Wendy Clark, senior VP, integrated marketing communications and capabilities, at Coca-Cola had told ET last month.

“We make consumers part of our marketing channel, sharing content and engaging with them all the time,” Clark had said, adding that the company was looking at investing in innovative ways to connect on social media.

To Fight India, We Fought Ourselves

By Mohsin Hamid for The New York Times

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On Monday, my mother’s and sister’s eye doctor was assassinated. He was a Shiite. He was shot six times while driving to drop his son off at school. His son, age 12, was executed with a single shot to the head.

Tuesday, I attended a protest in front of the Governor’s House in Lahore demanding that more be done to protect Pakistan’s Shiites from sectarian extremists. These extremists are responsible for increasingly frequent attacks, including bombings this year that killed more than 200 people, most of them Hazara Shiites, in the city of Quetta.

As I stood in the anguished crowd in Lahore, similar protests were being held throughout Pakistan. Roads were shut. Demonstrators blocked access to airports. My father was trapped in one for the evening, yet he said most of his fellow travelers bore the delay without anger. They sympathized with the protesters’ objectives.

Minority persecution is a common notion around the world, bringing to mind the treatment of African-Americans in the United States, for example, or Arab immigrants in Europe. In Pakistan, though, the situation is more unusual: those persecuted as minorities collectively constitute a vast majority.

A filmmaker I know who has relatives in the Ahmadi sect told me that her family’s graves in Lahore had been defaced, because Ahmadis are regarded as apostates. A Baluch friend said it was difficult to take Punjabi visitors with him to Baluchistan, because there is so much local anger there at violence toward the Baluch. An acquaintance of mine, a Pakistani Hindu, once got angry when I answered the question “how are things?” with the word “fine” — because things so obviously aren’t. And Pakistani Christians have borne the brunt of arrests under the country’s blasphemy law; a governor of my province was assassinated for trying to repeal it.

What then is the status of the country’s majority? In Pakistan, there is no such thing. Punjab is the most populous province, but its roughly 100 million people are divided by language, religious sect, outlook and gender. Sunni Muslims represent Pakistan’s most populous faith, but it’s dangerous to be the wrong kind of Sunni. Sunnis are regularly killed for being open to the new ways of the West, or for adhering to the old traditions of the Indian subcontinent, for being liberal, for being mystical, for being in politics, the army or the police, or for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

At the heart of Pakistan’s troubles is the celebration of the militant. Whether fighting in Afghanistan, or Kashmir, or at home, this deadly figure has been elevated to heroic status: willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, able to win the ultimate victory, selfless, noble. Yet as tens of thousands of Pakistanis die at the hands of such heroes, as tens of millions of Pakistanis go about their lives in daily fear of them, a recalibration is being demanded. The need of the hour, of the year, of the generation, is peace.

Pakistan is in the grips of militancy because of its fraught relationship with India, with which it has fought three wars and innumerable skirmishes since the countries separated in 1947. Militants were cultivated as an equalizer, to make Pakistan safer against a much larger foe. But they have done the opposite, killing Pakistanis at home and increasing the likelihood of catastrophic conflicts abroad.

Normalizing relations with India could help starve Pakistani militancy of oxygen. So it is significant that the prospects for peace between the two nuclear-armed countries look better than they have in some time.

India and Pakistan share a lengthy land border, but they might as well be on separate continents, so limited is their trade with each other and the commingling of their people. Visas, traditionally hard to get, restricted to specific cities and burdened with onerous requirements to report to the local police, are becoming more flexible for business travelers and older citizens. Trade is also picking up. A pulp manufacturer in Pakistani Punjab, for example, told me he had identified a paper mill in Indian Punjab that could purchase his factory’s entire output.

These openings could be the first cracks in a dam that holds back a flood of interaction. Whenever I go to New Delhi, many I meet are eager to visit Lahore. Home to roughly a combined 25 million people, the cities are not much more than half an hour apart by plane, and yet they are linked by only two flights a week.

Cultural connections are increasing, too. Indian films dominate at Pakistani cinemas, and Indian songs play at Pakistani weddings. Now Pakistanis are making inroads in the opposite direction. Pakistani actors have appeared as Bollywood leads and on Indian reality TV. Pakistani contemporary art is being snapped up by Indian buyers. And New Delhi is the publishing center for the current crop of Pakistani English-language fiction.

A major constraint the two countries have faced in normalizing relations has been the power of security hawks on both sides, and especially in Pakistan. But even in this domain we might be seeing an improvement. The new official doctrine of the Pakistani Army for the first time identifies internal militants, rather than India, as the country’s No. 1 threat. And Pakistan has just completed an unprecedented five years under a single elected government. This year, it will be holding elections in which the largest parties all agree that peace with India is essential.

Peace with India or, rather, increasingly normal neighborly relations, offers the best chance for Pakistan to succeed in dismantling its cult of militancy. Pakistan’s extremists, of course, understand this, and so we can expect to see, as we have in the past, attempts to scupper progress through cross-border violence. They will try to goad India into retaliating and thereby giving them what serves them best: a state of frozen, impermeable hostility.

They may well succeed. For there is a disturbing rise of hyperbolic nationalism among India’s prickly emerging middle class, and the Indian media is quick to stoke the fires. The explosion of popular rage in India after a recent military exchange, in which soldiers on both sides of the border were killed, is an indicator of the danger.

So it is important now to prepare the public in both countries for an extremist outrage, which may well originate in Pakistan, and for the self-defeating calls for an extreme response, which are likely to be heard in India. Such confrontations have always derailed peace in the past. They must not be allowed to do so again. In the tricky months ahead, as India and Pakistan reconnect after decades of virtual embargo, those of us who believe in peace should regard extremist provocations not as barriers to our success but, perversely, as signs that we are succeeding.

Mohsin Hamid is the author of the novels “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” and the forthcoming “How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia.”

 

Indian Women March: ‘That Girl Could Have Been Any One of Us’

By Heather Timmons and Sruthi Gottipati for The New York Times

Women India

Neha Kaul Mehra says she was only 7 years old the first time she was sexually harassed. She was walking to a dance class in an affluent neighborhood of New Delhi when a man confronted her and began openly masturbating.

That episode was far from the last. Years of verbal and physical sexual affronts left Ms. Mehra, now 29, filled with what she described as “impotent rage.”

Last week, she and thousands of Indian women like her poured that anger into public demonstrations, reacting to news of the gang rape of another young woman who had moved to the city from a small village, with a new life in front of her.

That woman, a 23-year-old physiotherapy student, died Saturday from internal injuries inflicted with a metal rod during the rape, which took place on a bus two weeks ago.

In her story and its brutal ending, many women in the world’s largest democracy say they see themselves.

“That girl could have been any one of us,” said Sangeetha Saini, 44, who took her two teenage daughters to a candle-filled demonstration on Sunday in Delhi. Women in India “face harassment in public spaces, streets, on buses,” she said. “We can only tackle this by becoming Durga,” she added, referring to the female Hindu god who slays a demon.

Indian women have made impressive gains in recent years: maternal mortality rates have dropped, literacy rates and education levels have risen, and millions of women have joined the professional classes. But the women at the heart of the protest movement say it was born of their outraged realization that no matter how accomplished they become, or how hard they work, women here will never fully take part in the promise of a new and more prosperous India unless something fundamental about the culture changes.

Indeed, many women in India say they are still subject to regular harassment and assault during the day and are fearful of leaving their homes alone after dark. Now they are demanding that the government, and a police force that they say offers women little or no protection, do something about it.

Ankita Cheerakathil, 20, a student at St. Stephen’s College who attended a protest on Thursday, remembered dreading the daily bus ride when she was in high school in the southern state of Kerala. Before she stepped outside her house, she recalled, she would scrutinize herself in a mirror, checking to see whether her blouse was too tight. At the bus stop, inevitably, men would zero in on the schoolgirls in their uniforms, some as young as 10, to leer and make cracks filled with sexual innuendo.

“This is not an isolated incident,” Ms. Cheerakathil said of the death of the New Delhi rape victim. “This is the story of every Indian woman.”

While the Dec. 16 attack was extreme in its savagery, gang rapes of women have been happening with frightening regularity in recent months, particularly in northern India. Critics say the response from a mostly male police force is often inadequate at best.

Last week, an 18-year-old woman in Punjab State committed suicide by drinking poison after being raped by two men and then humiliated by male police officers, who made her describe her attack in detail several times, then tried to encourage her to marry one of her rapists. Dozens more gang rapes have been reported in the states of Haryana, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in recent months.

The government does not keep statistics on gang rape, but over all, rapes increased 25 percent from 2006 to 2011. More than 600 rapes were reported in New Delhi alone in 2012. So far, only one attack has resulted in a conviction.

Sociologists and crime experts say the attacks are the result of deeply entrenched misogynistic attitudes and the rising visibility of women, underpinned by long-term demographic trends in India.

After years of aborting female fetuses, a practice that is still on the rise in some areas because of a cultural preference for male children, India has about 15 million “extra” men between the ages of 15 and 35, the range when men are most likely to commit crimes. By 2020, those “extra” men will have doubled to 30 million.

“There is a strong correlation between masculinized sex ratios and higher rates of violent crime against women,” said Valerie M. Hudson, a co-author of “Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia’s Surplus Male Population.” Men who do not have wives and families often gather in packs, Ms. Hudson argues, and then commit more gruesome and violent crimes than they would on their own.

Others point to the gains that women have made as triggers for an increase in violent crimes. “Women are rising in society and fighting for equal space, and these crimes are almost like a backlash,” said Vijay Raghavan, chairman of the Center for Criminology and Justice at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai. If poverty and unemployment were the only reason for these crimes, rates would already be much higher, he said, because both are constants in India.

In India’s conservative society, male sexual aggression is portrayed in unexpected ways. In Bollywood films, kissing on screen is still rare and nudity forbidden. But the rape scene has been a staple of movies for decades. And depictions of harassment often have an innocent woman resisting nobly, but eventually succumbing to the male hero. One commonly used term for sexual harassment is “eve-teasing,” which critics say implies the act is gentle and harmless.

The New Delhi rape victim, whose funeral was held on Sunday, and whose name had not been revealed, was from a small village in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state. Her journey to Delhi was the same that thousands of young women make every year to big cities around the country, in search of a better education and opportunities than their parents had. “My brother’s entire salary was spent on educating his children so that their aspirations were fulfilled,” the woman’s uncle told the newspaper The Hindu.

In South Delhi, hundreds of students from Jawaharlal Nehru University organized a silent march from their campus to Munirka, the bus stop where the rape victim was picked up, after her death became public on Saturday. The crowd of protesters trudged along a busy road, a few holding hastily made placards with phrases like “You are an inspiration to us all.”

“There’s a movement that has been built out of this,” said Ruchira Sen, 25, a student of economics on the march to Munirka. “We are going to do everything it takes to make it last,” she said.

Students and activist groups have presented a list of demands to the government, including the fast-tracking of rape cases through India’s courts and improved training for the police.

Part of the policing problem is that less than 4 percent of India’s overall force is female, said Suman Nalwa, head of Delhi’s special unit for women, in an interview. She said she was working to improve police response to sexual assault.

“Earlier, women didn’t leave their homes, so there was no crime,” Ms. Nalwa said. “We are doing our best, but, of course, there is a lot more to be done.”

Like many who attended these protests and rallies, Ms. Mehra had been urged to go by her mother, who she said had given this reason: “Because I don’t want my granddaughter to face this.”

Men have also been a large presence at the protests, though not always a positive one. After the large central Delhi protests on Dec. 22 and 23, the police received 42 complaints from women about men’s behavior there, said a senior police officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the information was not public. He balked at describing the actions as “harassment” or “molestation,” saying that implied aggravated or sustained behavior. Instead, he said, the men were merely “eve-teasing.”

Reporting was contributed by Malavika Vyawahare, Anjani Trivedi, Niharika Mandhana and Saritha Rai.

Mumbai Attacks: Four Years Later

By Bruce Riedel for The Daily Beast

Four years ago Monday, the Pakistani terror gang Lashkar-e-Tayyiba attacked Mumbai, killing more than 160, including six Americans, in the deadliest and most brazen terror attack since 9/11. Then and now, LeT enjoyed the support of Pakistani intelligence and al Qaeda. Today, LeT is a ticking time bomb ready to explode again.

Ajmal Kasab, the only one of the 10 LeT terrorists who survived the attack, was hung for his crimes in India this week. He had confessed to joining the organization and to being trained in its camps in Pakistan for the operation. He implicated the senior LeT leadership in the plot. LeT’s founder and leader Hafez Saeed is not only still free and at large in Pakistan, he routinely speaks at large rallies attacking India, America, and Israel. He denounces the drones and demands Pakistan break ties with America. He eulogized Osama bin Laden as a “hero” of Islam after the SEALs delivered justice to al Qaeda’s amir last year.

Saeed’s patrons include the Pakistani army and its intelligence service, the ISI, which works closely with LeT. Kasab also implicated the ISI directly in the Mumbai operation, saying it assisted with his training and helped select the targets. Two Pakistani emigres, David Headley (an American) and Tahawwur Rana (a Canadian), have also confessed in American courts that they helped LeT plan the massacre in Mumbai and that the ISI was deeply involved in it. Both were found guilty. The ISI helped bankroll their reconnaissance trips to Mumbai to set up the attack.

In researching my forthcoming book, Avoiding Armageddon: America, India and Pakistan to the Brink and Back, it became apparent that there was a third party behind the scenes in the Mumbai plot: al Qaeda. Al Qaeda deliberately kept a very low profile, but helped the LeT plan and select the targets. Al Qaeda and LeT have long been close. Bin Laden helped fund its set-up, and LeT routinely helps hide al Qaeda terrorists at its bases in Pakistan. Al Qaeda had big hopes for the 2008 plot—a war between India and Pakistan that would disrupt NATO operations in Afghanistan and the drone attacks on al Qaeda. Instead, India chose to use diplomacy and avoid a military response. We all dodged a bullet.

Since 2008 LeT has continued to enjoy a free hand in Pakistan and plot more attacks. In 2010 it planned a major attack on the 19th Commonwealth Games held in New Delhi. The plot was thwarted by good intelligence work, especially by the British intelligence services. This summer the Indians arrested a major LeT terrorist, Sayeed Zabiuddin Ansari, a.k.a. Abu Jindal, who was plotting another terror attack from a hideout in Saudi Arabia. Abu Jindal was also involved in the Mumbai operation in 2008—he was in the LeT-ISI control room in Karachi from which the orders were given by cellphone to the terrorists to kill hostages, including the Americans.

The Mumbai attack took place just after Barack Obama’s election. It was his first crisis as president-elect. In the last four years his administration has tried to rein in LeT. This year a $10 million reward was offered for information leading to Hafez Saeed’s capture, and the U.S. helped capture Abu Jindal. But the group is free to plot and plan in Pakistan and it has cells in the Persian Gulf, Bangladesh, England, and elsewhere. It will strike again sooner or later. When it does, al Qaeda and the ISI will probably be co-conspirators again.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– It has been 4 years since the tragic days of November 26, 2008 and the alleged masterminds of the attacks, the leadership of LeT has still not been brought to justice. We at Pakistanis for Peace believe that in a good faith measure towards a lasting peace between India and Pakistan, the Pakistani government needs to apprehend the LeT leadership and extradite those remaining terrorists responsible for this tragedy to India to face their trial and punishment there. Only then, can Pakistan and India start a dialouge about peace.

Preview: India v Pakistan, Super 8 Match

As Reported by Cricbuzz

There are a few games during which rankings, form, prospects and position in the table hardly matter. An India-Pakistan game is one such. The rivalry between the two teams has seen them produce some rivetting entertainers and this game could be no different. India could see their semi-final prospects disappear if they are to lose this game while for Pakistan a win could seal a spot in the last 4.

Both the teams have some forgettable records against their name and one of them could be broken when the arch-rivals go head-to-head. Pakistan have never registered a win against India at World Cups while India have failed to register even a single win at the Super 8s after their victorious 2007 WC campaign.

Both teams will be going all-out for the win knowing that it would give the fans and themselves much to cheer about, even if they do not end up taking the cup at the end.

India

India come into the match after having been annihilated by the mighty Aussies in their first super 8s match. India looked ill at ease with the bat and with the ball as they were walloped by Australia. Dhoni’s men may revisit the plan to play with 5 bowlers knowing that Pakistan are much better players of spin.

Irfan Pathan’s lack of firepower up top could prompt the team to bring back the swashbuckling Virender Sehwag while the over-dependance on Virat Kohli to steady the ship and provide the platform would be a serious cause for concern. Suresh Raina performance would have given India a few cheers, but they will want the left hander to do the kind of job he is known for rather than do the consolidating job. There have also been experts who have pointed out that India have rushed Yuvraj Singh back into the side. With his form and overall fitness being a concern, he might make way for another batsman.

India’s bowling will present the think-tank with the most questions. Harbhajan Singh and Piyush Chawla looked only of shadow of themselves that ripped through the England side in the group stage match. While R Ashwin too was poor.

Zaheer Khan good showing was the silver lining for India and they will hope betters his performance by picking up a few wickets.

Pakistan

Pakistan come in to game carrying a bit of momentum. They managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat thanks to a brilliant lower-order stand against South Africa and will hope to carry forward their momentum. Their bowling was top-drawer stuff even with Umar Gul not being used to full potential.

Pakistan’s batting will be a worry as the team buckled under pressure chasing a sub-par target. Mohd Hafeez, Imran Nazir, Nasir Jamshed, Kamran Akmal and Shoaib Malik all failed to create an impact and it was left to Umar Akmal and Umar Gul to rescue them.

Pak will be hoping the collective failure was just a one-off incident and that the top can come good in the marquee game.

Everything looks rosy for Pakistan on the bowling front, their spinners Raza Hasan, Saeed Ajmal, Mohd Hafeez and Shahid Afridi complete a brilliant spin attack while Yasir Arafat and Umar Gul are more-than-capable bowlers with both the new ball and towards the end.

Watch out for

Yuvraj Singh: The left hander still hasn’t had the impact that he would have hoped for after his return. With India’s chances of progressing depending on this match; Yuvraj, if included, could bring out his best game.

Nasir Jamshed: The top order batsman has been widely renowned as one to look out for during this tournament and he has done his prospects no harm with a good show so far. Another big game against the arch-rivals will go a long way in emphasizing his status as a hot propect.

Quotes:

Hafeez: Since we have won against them in the warm-up game, it will give us confidence going into the match. That victory has been a real morale booster for us and the boys are upbeat and raring to go against India.

MS Dhoni: We will go out their and express ourselves without thinking too much about the result. Obviously, we can’t do worse than what we did against Australia, so we should go out there and play freely. Since we have to win two matches, we have no room for complacency.

India On Look Out For Ascendance Against Pakistan

As Reported By The Hindu

Their tails up after an easy outing against hosts Sri Lanka, India would like to keep the winning momentum going when they take on arch-rivals Pakistan in their second warm-up game in Colombo on Monday ahead of the ICC World Twenty20 beginning on September 18.

The Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led Indian team would, however, want their batsman to come good against a superior Pakistani bowling unit to maintain a clean slate ahead of their World Twenty20 opener against Afghanistan on September 19.

Though, India won comfortably against the hosts in their opening warm-up game, they certainly need to put up a better show with the bat against Pakistan, who boast of quality bowlers like Saeed Ajmal and Umar Gul in their ranks.

Injury to opener Gautam Gambhir, who hurt his wrist against Sri Lanka, would be a concern for the Indians but Virender Sehwag along with other top-order batsmen need to redeem themselves against Pakistan following their dismal show with the bat in the first match.

India, in particular, would like Sehwag to fire against Pakistan and get some runs under his belt ahead of the tough battle ahead.

Virat Kohli, on the other hand, has been a consistent performer, but the young Delhi lad would look to settle down and get battle ready with a solid knock against Pakistan at the R Premadasa Stadium.

Yuvraj Singh, who made a comeback to world cricket after recovering from cancer with a cameo of 34 runs against New Zealand in the second T20 game in Chennai, also needs to get some more runs under his belt.

And the match against Pakistan will provide the gutsy left-hander with an opportunity to prove that he is ready and looking forward to take on the world with the same zeal as he had left it a year ago following the critical illness.

While Suresh Raina would also look to spend some more time on the crease, Dhoni showed why he is still rated as one of the great finishers of the game against Sri Lanka the other day.

But against Pakistan tomorrow, the Indian skipper needs to be much more focused both with the bat and with his leadership skills.

Of late, Rohit Sharma has been erratic with bat which might prompt Dhoni to give Manoj Tiwary a chance ahead of their campaign opener.

The Indian bowlers led by Irfan Pathan, however, looked in good stead in the previous match and they just need to continue their positive run against Pakistan.

Pathan continued his fine run and scalped five wickets to guide India to a comfortable 26-run victory over Sri Lanka in the first practice match yesterday.

The only concern for Dhoni would be lack of wickets in pace spearhead Zaheer Khan’s kitty.

But comeback man Harbhajan Singh looked composed against the hosts and bowled a tight line, which definitely is encouraging for the team.

Pakistan, on the other hand have been a bit inconsistent in the run-up to the sporting extravaganza. They won two successive T20 matches against Australia, but their 94-run loss to the Kangaroos in the final T20 tie showed that their batsmen are vulnerable to quality bowling.

Pakistan’s batting line-up exhibits immaturity at this level, but with the likes of Abdul Razzaq, Shahid Afridi and skipper Mohammed Hafiz in the ranks they really have the necessary fire power to upset any side.

Young Nasir Jamshed has shown tremendous promise with the bat and the game against India would certainly test his temperament.

On the bowling front, Pakistan has a much settled line-up with off-spinner Saeed Ajmal and speedster Umar Gul leading their respective departments.

The experience of Razzaq and Afridi with the ball gives Hafiz plenty of options to dismantle any batting side.

With both the teams having tasted success at the big stage — India winning the inaugural World T20 in 2007 and Pakistan lifting the trophy two years later — an exciting battle awaits cricket loving fans of both the countries.

Teams (from):

India: M S Dhoni (captain/wicket-keeper), Gautam Gambhir, Ravichandran Ashwin, Lakshmipathy Balaji, Piyush Chawla, Ashok Dinda, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Virat Kohli, Irfan Pathan, Suresh Raina, Virender Sehwag, Rohit Sharma, Manoj Tiwary, Yuvraj Singh.

Pakistan: Mohammad Hafeez (captain), Abdul Razzaq, Asad Shafiq, Imran Nazir, Kamran Akmal (wicket—keeper), Mohammad Sami, Nasir Jamshed, Raza Hasan, Saeed Ajmal, Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Malik, Sohail Tanvir, Umar Akmal, Umar Gul, Yasir Arafat.

The Opposite of American

By E.J.Graff for The American Prospect

The Sikh temple shooting, which left seven dead including the shooter, has left me feeling more shaky than the shooting in Colorado, which seemed more random.

I write that even though the skeleton of these stories is roughly the same. One man with a grudge takes semi-automatic weapons and opens fire at a public or semi-public event where people are gathered for some socially acknowledged purpose—education, work, politics, entertainment, worship. Some people die. Others are wounded. The gunman may or may not have the presence of mind to execute himself. Or he may choose to be martyred, putting himself in line for police to kill him.

The gunman’s race and age vary, anywhere from 12 to 50. In the U.S., the majority of such gunmen are white, disproportionately (although just slightly) to their numbers in the population. They are overwhelmingly male. Sometimes the gunman has a personal motive for making others suffer: He lost his job, or girlfriend. Sometimes his motive is putatively political: Liberals are ruining Norway, or abortion clinics are killing babies. Sometimes he’s just crazy—psychotic, or with a deeply disturbing character disorder—but sane enough to follow the cultural script.

Even knowing that the story has a plot that I can strip down to familiar elements, this particular shooting upsets me more than most—because Wade Michael Page shot up a gathering of a religious minority, darker than white, in the bucolic Midwest, in what police are calling an act of domestic terrorism. The FBI has been called in. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Page was, as many of us suspected, a “frustrated neo-Nazi who had been the leader of a racist white-power band.” (Okay, I didn’t guess the band part.) Dave Weigel goes into the background documents and offers up the relevant nuggets in an excellent post at Slate, including a link to one of Page’s hate songs.

Sikhs have been targeted and attacked in hate crimes since 9/11; CNN has a summary of some of the publicly reported attacks here. Many of the news reports quoting Sikhs about this attack emphasize that they’re mistaken for Muslims, as if attacking Muslims would be more understandable. But post-9/11 hatred focused on the “other” hasn’t been that specific; Sikhs are visibly south Asian and, with those turbans, non-Christian. That’s enough for a neo-Nazi or any xenophobe who nurses an irrational resentment.

Here’s why this one leaves me particularly shaky. I grew up in the only Jewish family in my southern Ohio township, and probably the county; for nearly a decade, as far as I knew, I was the only Jewish kid in my jam-packed grade school, junior high, and high school. (My graduating class had 675 people.) The area was so German-American white that my medium-brown hair (see picture to the right) counted as dark, and left me irrationally unwilling to date anyone blond, although I’ve known consciously that that’s ridiculous. Somehow, I never had the presence of mind to connect my feeling of exclusion to what my dear friends the Conchas, the township’s Hispanic family, might be feeling, much less how the handful of black kids might have felt; as a child, my focus was on trying to shut off that sense of exclusion. Not until adulthood did I learn, instead, to expand it into empathy.

It’s hard to express how or why this incised me with vulnerable outsiderness so profoundly. Was it the time my friend Patti chased me around at recess, telling me that the Jews killed Jesus, and the teacher made me sit in the corner for crying? Was it having to stand every day in fourth grade as everyone said the Lord’s Prayer, which I knew wasn’t mine? (Yes, that came after the Supreme Court ruling banning prayer in schools, but I wasn’t yet well-versed enough in the law to object.) Was it getting those little choose-Christ-or-go-to-hell pamphlets in our Halloween bags, which probably went into everyone’s bags but which I interpreted as specifically meant for my Jewish family? Or having my sixth-grade teacher call me into the hall at school, asking whether the class could have a Christmas tree?

Another child might not have felt all this so keenly, of course, but I did. And my friends who grew up in urban or suburban Jewish clusters—Los Angeles, Cleveland Heights, Long Island—had a vastly different experience as American Jews. After I left for college, a Hindu temple moved in, and I was happy that my little brother and sister would have some fellow outsiders to befriend. For me, being the Jewish kid in Beavercreek, Ohio, was a lot harder than coming out later as gay. Which is probably why I never write about this subject, and why it’s so easy, comparatively, for me to write about sexuality and gender.

And it’s why, after 9/11, I was so grateful to march with members of the tiny Cambridge, Massachusetts mosque, which sits one street over from the tiny Cambridge synagogue, as befits religions that are such close cousins. However much the 9/11 bombers resembled, say, Timothy McVeigh or Eric Rudolph (who bombed a lesbian club, an abortion clinic, and the Atlanta Olympic games, in that order) in their message of politically targeted hatred, I knew that after 9/11 all Muslims would be slandered as responsible in a way that all white Christians had not been. In fact, the one thing I thought George W. Bush got absolutely right was insisting that Americans should not blame a religion for its most extreme members’ unhinged actions.

Police may not have definitively determined Wade Michael Page’s motive. But I see a group of brown people gunned down in their temple, almost certainly for their religious outsiderness, out there in the hyperwhite Midwest. I grieve for every Sikh in the country, and for every Muslim and Hindu and South Asian and Middle Eastern American who knows the message was aimed at them as well.

Page may have been a shooter like all other shooters: just another grudge-holding male who decided to feel powerful by becoming the lord of death. And yet his bullets nevertheless delivered a specifically white message of “patriotic” hatred: You don’t belong here. You are not us. Go directly to hell.

Will someone—everyone, really—please stand up and say that what Page represents is the opposite of American?

Mango Mania

By Huma Yusuf for The International Herald Tribune

KARACHI — Summers in the city — and across much of Pakistan — are relentless. Temperatures typically hit 100 degrees, power outages drag on for hours, heatstroke is common, and while monsoon rains bring some relief, they bring great ruin through widespread flooding. But there is one thing that makes Pakistanis anticipate the torpid summer months — mangoes.

With their golden yellow, blushing pink and pale green hues coloring markets by the cart-full, Pakistani mangoes are a source of national joy and pride. But bad luck — and poor logistics — are now threatening Pakistan’s king of fruits.

The country is the fifth-largest producer and third-largest exporter of mangoes in the world. For as long as I can remember, mangoes have turned oppressive summers into seasons of celebration and amity. Friends and families share crates of the finest mangoes. Rival tribes exchange baskets to resolve arguments. Hotels and restaurants host mango festivals featuring mango puppets or 4-foot-high, mango-shaped cardboard cutouts strung with streamers.

Pakistan’s love affair with the mango is culturally ingrained. Mirza Ghalib, the foremost Urdu-language poet of the Mughal era, was an avid mango eater who measured his health and joie de vivre by the number of mangoes he was able to consume.

Nothing (except perhaps cricket) will stir Pakistani nationalism more than the suggestion that another country’s mangoes could taste half as good as Pakistan’s. The only point of contention is which of the country’s hundreds of mango varieties is the most delicious: chaunsa, langara, sindhri, anwar ratol? (My vote goes to the subtle and aromatic anwar ratol.)

Last summer, Pakistani growers were thrilled at the prospect of countries beyond Asia finally enjoying their mangoes. Not only did the British retailer Asda start stocking Pakistani mangoes, but the first-ever shipment of Pakistani mangoes arrived in the United States in July 2011 after USAID helped Pakistan to meet U.S. standards of pest control and post-harvest management. New exports to Western markets were expected to be a boon to local farmers.

But this summer’s crop has not met expectations — some mango varieties ripened too late in the season, others are too small or are lacking in taste or texture. Pakistan is now likely to fail to meet its mango export target of 150,000 tons by September, instead managing to export only 100,000 tons.

This is partly because of last year’s monsoon and subsequent flooding, which reduced mango productivity by 30 percent. According to some estimates, up to a quarter of all mango farms in the southern province of Sindh were completely washed out.

But a big part of the shortfall is due to poor logistical planning: containers needed to ship mangoes are in short supply; Pakistan International Airlines does not appear to have the proper infrastructure to make shipments; international shipping companies have transported mangoes to the wrong destination or failed to secure the fruit against damage or theft en route; a cumbersome distribution system has caused Pakistan to lose out in the Asian mango market to China and India. Meanwhile, U.N. sanctions against trade with Iran have also caused a loss of $10 million to Pakistan’s mango growers, who previously exported up to 40 percent of their crop to the neighboring country.

All this bodes poorly for the future. Meagre profits — or in some cases, losses — from exports, coupled with last year’s widespread damage to mango farms, could compromise future yields. This would be nothing less than tragic, especially given that a worsening economic and security situation means that there are ever fewer things for Pakistanis to enjoy.

I, for one, am not taking any chances. This summer, I’m scarfing down mangoes at every opportunity. But my real hope is that the Pakistani mango’s reign endures for many years to come.

Huma Yusuf is a columnist for the Pakistani newspaper Dawn and was the 2010-11 Pakistan Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

Pakistan Should Open Itself Up to India

By Aakar Patel for Firstpost

India and Pakistan have a reciprocal relationship. If one does something to the other, send back a spying diplomat for instance, the other imitates this and also sends one back. One country’s visa regime mirrors the other’s. We would rather harm ourselves by an act that is imitative than let the other side get away.

The world sees this behaviour as childish, perhaps rightly.

India acted maturely in opening up trade unilaterally a few years ago. This is why the shelves of Thom’s Cafe and Bakery, where I shop for groceries in Bangalore, are filled with Shan Masala boxes.

Now an opportunity exists for Pakistan to take the lead.

Islamabad should open up its borders and give Indian tourists visas on arrival. The same conditions under which Indians are allowed into Sri Lanka and Nepal and Bhutan. A quick stamp on the passport and that’s it.

Vast crowds of Indians will come to Pakistan.

Sikhs on pilgrimage to Nankana Sahib and to see Ranjit Singh’s masoleum (totally empty when I went there 10 years ago) next to Lahore fort.

Hindus who want to see the Indus, after which their country is named, and their faith. Muslims and Hindus who want to visit Pak Pattan, Data Saheb, and the shrines of Rukn-e-Alam and Bahauddin Zakariya.

Pakistanis will be amazed by how many Hindus worship at Muslim shrines. Punjabis will come and see the cities of Lahore and Pindi, of which they have only heard about from their grandparents. India’s wealthy Sindhi community will come to Sukkur, Hyderabad and Karachi.

Three Muslim communities – Memons, Bohras and Khojas – have their headquarters in India. They have family ties to Karachi and also business interests that will benefit from regular visits.

Deoband and Nadwa scholars can exchange views with Pakistan’s ulema.

The package tour business, which is big in India, will bring in large numbers who might see a Pakistan different from the one in their imagination. College and school excursions, which are also big in India, will find new venues to take their students to.

Bollywood will be interested in new settings to shoot, and access to the cities will open up plot-lines.

As an intelligent piece in The Friday Times a few years ago noted, Indian tourists will blend in, dress modestly, not expect too much, be at home with the food and do shopping on a healthy scale.

The exchange rate of the Pakistani Rupee, whose value is a little over half that of the Indian Rupee, will give them a bigger budget than they have at home.

The Hindu middle class, especially Bengali and Gujarati, are adventurous travellers and will not be easily put off by a couple of bomb blasts as westerners will. Because Indian women are not secluded, whole families will come, especially if non-airplane routes such as road and rail are opened. Pakistanis will not be threatened by middle aged Indian men and women with squealing kids about them.

It will not be possible, given the mischief in Mumbai and in Parliament, for India to freely let Pakistanis enter. So reciprocality must not be expected immediately. But that shouldn’t be seen as a problem.

Pakistan has already accepted a break in the tit-for-tat relationship. Pakistan’s cricket team is likely to play in India while there’s no chance that India’s players will come to Pakistan. No other cricketing nation is willing either and so it’s not about Indian obstinacy in this case. Just the circumstances, which can be altered by a little wisdom.

It’s a profitable opportunity for Pakistan to benefit economically, improve its image as a safe place and normalise relations with India. Three things gained while nothing is lost.

Pakistan should open itself up to Indians without waiting for reciprocity. And it should do this in self interest.

Pakistan and India to Resume Cricket Matches

By Michele Langevine Leiby for The Washington Post

Whatever their differences, Pakistanis and Indians love their cricket. Their armies might fight wars and their governments may deeply mistrust each other, but sports fans and politicians in both countries see a diplomatic bright spot: a series of matches this year between the historical rivals.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India announced last week that the country would resume matches with Pakistan for the first time in five years. They will be the first bilateral games between the countries since the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which India says were launched by Pakistani terrorists who have been protected from prosecution by Pakistan’s government.

Although dates and the venue are still being worked out, the prospect of a renewed sporting rivalry has stirred optimism for rapprochement in both capitals.

“I think this will be further cementing the bilateral relationship, which is improving by the day,” Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna said. Krishna is planning a visit to Islamabad in September.

Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, wrote a letter to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressing hope that reviving cricket matches would improve trust between the two nations, the newspaper Dawn reported.

Pakistani cricket-star-turned-politician Imran Khan also weighed in. “Anything which can bring both the countries to negotiations and normalcy is very good, and we must appreciate that,” he said.

Khan, who is running for prime minister, captained the Pakistan cricket team to its 1992 World Cup championship.

Young Pakistanis and Indians — aided by social media and unhampered by the long and contentious history — have found other ways to interact. Facebook pages such as “Romancing the Border” offer a forum for college students from both sides to learn about each other.

But online messaging and cricket diplomacy may not have much impact on a fundamentally hostile relationship; India and Pakistan fought three wars and remain locked in conflict over control of Kashmir. Their militaries are faced off on the disputed Siachen Glacier, described as the world’s highest battleground, where more men are lost due to the brutal conditions than to actual combat. In April, an avalanche at the entry to the glacier buried dozens of Pakistanis, most of them soldiers.

Religion Journal: For Ramadan, India Goes it Alone

By Joanna Sugden for The Wall Street Journal

Muslims start the month-long daytime fast of Ramadan Friday. But not in India.

While most of the world’s Muslims look to Saudi Arabia or follow astronomical calculations to determine when the new moon of the ninth lunar month has arrived – marking the start of Ramadan – India follows the declaration of its own Central Moon Sighting Committee.

“Geographical differences mean we are a day behind Saudi Arabia in terms of lunar months, so we are expecting to start on Saturday,” says Syed Tariq Bukhari, a member of the committee and general secretary of the advisory council at Old Delhi’s Jama Masjid, one of the country’s most important mosques.

At sunset Friday, the 29th day of the eighth lunar month, 21 senior leaders from Delhi’s mosques will meet to decide whether the new moon has been sighted. In the Muslim calendar, months are either 29 or 30 days long.

“It is very difficult to spot a new moon, particularly on the 29th day of the month because it appears for a very short time and is a very thin sliver,” Mr. Bukhari said, adding that the best time to spot a new moon is half an hour before sunset.

“If naturally we are not able to see it because it’s cloudy then we coordinate with the other committees of other cities who have similar geographic circumstances,” Mr. Bukhari said.

The committee then waits for a Shahadah or Islamic witness who has seen the new moon. “The appearance of the witness should be according to Sharia law, which means having a beard and his neighbors should know him as a dependable person as far as being a witness is concerned,” Mr. Bukhari added.

If no credible Islamic witness comes forward, the committee waits until between 80 and 90 other witness statements on sightings are collected by moon sighting committees across the country. Then it declares the start of Ramadan.

If the moon isn’t sighted at all in the last days of the lunar month, the committee waits until the first day of the ninth lunar month – which this year is on Sunday – to declare that Ramadan has begun. It announces the start of the fast via the media, to the government and over loud speakers from mosques.

Zasarul Islam Khan, president of the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, an umbrella body for Muslim organizations, says the timing of Ramadan should always be based on local sightings of the moon.

“Outside the Subcontinent they are following Saudi Arabia, which is technically wrong. The scholars say that you should wait to see the new moon physically before starting Ramadan,” he told India Real Time.

Mosques in the southern Indian state of Kerala go by Saudi Arabian timings because they have close links with the Middle East, according to Mr. Bukhari. Those in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir go by Pakistan’s declaration as they are more geographically in line with the country, he adds.

The Fiqh Council of North America, which rules on matters of Islamic jurisprudence, says Muslims should follow precise astrological calculations to decide the start of the fast.

In sunlight hours during Ramadan, Muslims refrain from food, water, sex, smoking and oral medicine in order to bring desire under self-control and to focus on prayer and Allah.

This year, the fast coincides with the London Olympics, so Muslim athletes will have to decide whether to observe it and risk a dent in their performance or exempt themselves and carry out the fast once they finish the competition.

Maher Abu Rmeileh, a Palestinian Judo champion who is competing at the Games, told the BBC that he would not be observing Ramadan this year. “Scholars recommended me not to fast and said that I represented my nation not just myself, so once I return from the games I will have to make up for it,” he said.

Such a clash only happens once every 44 years and the International Olympic Committee has said it will look into the possibility of avoiding such a conflict in future, once London 2012 is over.

People exempt from fasting include pregnant women, children who haven’t reached puberty, menstruating women, breast-feeding women, the elderly, travelers and the chronically ill.

Mr. Khan said those who are sick or elderly are allowed to give to charity instead of fasting. If they are determined to observe Ramadan, they should consult their doctor, he added.

Joanna Sugden is freelance journalist living in Delhi. Before coming to India in 2011 she spent four-and-a-half years as a reporter at The Times of London, covering religion and education. You can follow her on Twitter @jhsugden.