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I just think back to high school, the day after that abysmal election day in 2000. My global history teacher at the time was bemoaning the results of the election, a sentiment shared by most if not all of us in the room. Al Gore had been robbed, and he worried out loud about the future of the country. He was right to worry.
Eight years later, we are teetering on the verge of a large recession (if not an outright depression), involved in two unpopular wars abroad, and lagging behind most of the world in education and healthcare. To paraphrase a line Chris Rock used in a recent interview, “A president has two jobs: maintain peace and make money. Is that so much to ask?” Dubya’s predecessor, Bill Clinton, did both. Dubya did neither.
Did Dubya achieve anything? Yes, it would be silly to say he was completely useless as a leader. One can’t really blame Dubya entirely for the problems we are mired in now, but he can still be blamed. Is he a bad person? No, but he was easily manipulated by those who were close to him. Ultimately, though, he will bear most of the flak. Under him, regulations flew out the window, and the market operated of its own accord. Under him, defense spending ballooned at the expense of other, more necessary spending for domestic programs. Under him, we lost our respect in the eyes of the rest of the world.
Tomorrow, Barack Obama will be inaugurated, ushering in a new administration. I hope the change he promised will materialize into legislation and decisions that will lift our country out of the ditch into which it has sunk. Hopefully he will right the wrongs that have gone unchecked for the last eight years. Hopefully we will return to peace and prosperity. Hopefully.
I am not professing to know all the little nuances about the situation in Afghanistan, but this is what I’ve been able to conclude overall:
Barack Obama had mentioned during the campaign that attention would be turned towards Afghanistan, which in his eyes, represents the greater threat compared to Iraq. While I am tempted to agree with him, I can only hope he doesn’t mean an all-out war. It looks that way, though, since there is a plan in place to double the number of troops in the area.
War is probably the worst idea for the area now.
Here’s how I see it:
Afghanistan is starting to see a resurgence in the strength and size of the Taliban. The Taliban has started to encroach on Pakistani regions that lie close to the Afghani border, and have experienced little to no resistance from the government. Pakistan, itself, is a powder keg waiting to explode. Not only is Afghanistan slowly being eaten inside-out by newly-resurrected Taliban forces on its western border, India has increased the deployment of troops to Pakistan’s eastern border in light of the horrific attacks on Mumbai. Couple that with the fact that the government reeks of impotence and corruption, it is a disaster waiting to happen. War will just hasten the pace at which the fuse burns, if not blow up the powder keg outright.
So what should the plan be?
Pakistan, I think, has neglected the Afghani border in favor of keeping troops stationed near the LOC, as well as further south along its border with India. Given India’s accusations of Pakistan’s involvement with the terrorist attacks on Mumbai, war on that front is still highly likely. Ultimately (as far as I see it) this mostly stems from continued struggle for control over the region of Kashmir. Barack Obama’s original suggestion to somehow, solve that problem in order to reduce the need for troops being deployed to that front is smart in theory, but cumbersome to implement. India will not part with Kashmir, and Pakistan will not go away empty-handed. Nonetheless, there need to be steps taken diplomatically, to bring some sort of peace to the area. This battle has gone on for too long.
There is no easy way to explain the rise of the Taliban. It seems to be a combination of the Afghani government’s inability to protect itself effectively in conjunction with steadily-brewing anti-American sentiment, owing to its continued campaigns in the region. More troops will probably not help solve the latter. We must be seen as peace brokers, not war mongers.
Ultimately if we are to exert any further influence in the area, it should be more in a consulting and humanitarian capacity. Yet it shouldn’t be about designing a pure democracy, but about designing a government that best serves the needs of the people. This includes not stacking up the upper echelons of government with known drug lords and saying the opium production problem will be addressed. That should have been enough of a sign that there are major issues that needed to be addressed with regard to the current government.
Opium production continues to remain astonishingly high, with its largest crop (8,200 tons) being produced in 2007 (according to the Washington Times). The Taliban presence and resilience has been closely linked to the drug lords associated with the rich opium trade out of Afghanistan. Finding an effective way to end the opium trade will cut a major artery that serves the Taliban’s growth.
The Afghani people are still hurting, and there are still many thousands of refugees who need shelter, food, and healthcare. We need to be able to show the Afghanis, and the world as a whole, that we use our status to help others in need, not to encroach on other nations’ territories and meddle in other nations’ issues. Maybe once we do that, there won’t be as pressing a need to raise generations of people to hate us. We need to shed the cowboy mentality that has dictated the last eight years of foreign policy.
So imagine starting another war in an area that is still recovering from the last one, and borders a nation that is itself, in a virtual spiral downward.
We can’t afford a war in that part of the world. It would be a disaster. Let’s throw aside our weapons and try diplomacy for once.
Here is the link to a site compiling posts from bloggers from around the world who oppose the doubling of troops in Afghanistan.
So I’m Malayalee, but more specifically, I’m a Nair. Nairs are one of the many castes in Kerala, and were traditionally warriors and rulers, so something a la “kshatriyas” for those more familiar with that term. This is meant to be an informal, yet informative piece. It’s based on my own understanding, what I’ve been told, and what I’ve read from various sources.
By the way…as a sidenote, we are not in any way associated with the hair-removal product of the same name. In fact, Nair isn’t even pronounced the same way. Nair, the caste, is pronounced “na-yer.” “Na” as it sounds in “narwhal” and “yer” as it sounds in…yer… Please get this straight, I can’t tell you how irritating it is when people mispronounce it. Of course, I’m not assuming people are born with the innate sense of how to pronounce “Nair.” Now you know.
Nairs themselves can be subdivided into a whole host of subcastes. For the life of me I don’t know the differences between all of them, but there are at least four or five I can name off-hand. Nair, Kurup, Menon, Pillai, Nambiar, Panicker, and Paliath, to name a few. Nairs have, traditionally, held a pretty prominent place in Malayalee society. Sometimes a bit too prominent, and this gets into the whole mess of caste discrimination.
The most curious aspect of Nairs, I think, are their origins. I don’t mean mythological, though from what I understand, the claim is that they were from the North and fled to the South to escape Parashurama. However, perhaps even more interesting than that, is their ethnic origins. While there is one school of thought that claims that Nairs are most likely descended from the Newars (from Nepal/Tibet)–owing mostly to the presence of pagoda-like motifs in traditional Nair homes and temples–there are others that claim alternate origins. A friend of mine sent me an article a while back, the citation is below:
Thomas R, Nair SB, Banerjee M. A crypto-Dravidian origin for the nontribal communities of South India based on human leukocyte antigen class I diversity. Tissue Antigens. 2006; 68(3): 225-234
This article analyzes a set of South Indian nontribal and tribal groups to determine their similarity to other ethnic groups. For Nairs, what was found was that according to the analysis of HLA Class I haplotypes was that, Nairs were most similar to Western Europeans. I am incredibly curious to know if any migration theories exist for this postulation. Another existing theory places Nairs under the same umbrella as other supposed Indo-Scythian descendants (Pashtuns, Jats, Rajputs, etc.). Indo-Scythians spent most of their heydey in the region from present-day southern Afghanistan to around present-day Mathura, in northern India. This ties in weakly with the mythological origin of the Nairs having Northern ancestry.
I suppose if Nairs are related to Jats, that justifies my love for bhangra…right? Maybe? Ok, I’m getting off topic.
Nairs have their own martial arts system, known as kalaripayattu (color-ee-pie-yettu). It is most notably a form of swordfighting, but it does incorporate hand-to-hand combat as well. It is an incredibly elegant system of fighting (note: the fighters may look wiry but they are fast!). There has been speculation that kalaripayattu found its way into East Asia, by way of Bodhidharma–a Buddhist monk supposedly from Kerala–and this gave rise to the modern system of kung fu. Again, just speculation…but it would be pretty cool if someone definitively proved this to be the case.
Nairs were (and to a degree still are), notably, matrilineal. This is a rarity in most of the world, let alone India, where patrilineal societies are still the norm. Indeed even among Nairs, this has taken root. Yet it used to be that the women, not the men, were the real power-wielders in the household. Women were the property owners and family heads, though men were the legal heads of household in some cases.
Nairs have also had an enduring tradition of snake worship. I actually don’t understand the nuances of this, aside from the fact that most Nair households in Kerala had a sarpa kaavu on their property for the worship of snakes. The tradition fits in alongside traditional Hindu practice, but I believe this may be something that even predates Hinduism in the area.
If anyone else happens to have some cool/interesting Nair facts, or other information related to what I’ve presented here, feel free to comment.