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Home / India / Beware of thy neighbour

Beware of thy neighbour

We seem to be afraid of our own shadows. Are we living in an outdated era? Pratik Kanjilal finds out.

india Updated: Sep 04, 2009, 22:54 IST
Pratik Kanjilal
Pratik Kanjilal

The neighbourhood watch is bringing in strange news. The Army reports that in July, the Chinese carpet-bombed Indian soil with tinned food. A mistake, apparently — no one really knows where the border is supposed to be. And meanwhile, on our other border, the Pakistanis are in the throes of a change of guard that’s as quaintly archaic as the one at Buckingham Palace.

General Pervez Musharraf, who had entrenched himself in Britain, left for Saudi Arabia this week. He will live there until the end of the year, a guest of the royal family, on what our ancients might have termed mauna agyatvas — soundproofed, depersonalised exile. As part of a deal cut with the Zardari government, he will live overseas for a decade with his mouth shut tight.

Exile is the hallmark of primitive feudal politics. India saw it last during the British era — Wajid Ali Shah and the dead Tipu Sultan’s family were packed off to Kolkata, while Bahadurshah Zafar was banished to a lonely death in Rangoon. These days, the top destination for exiles is Saudi Arabia. Musharraf himself had sent Nawaz Sharif there after a bloodless coup.

A posh neighbourhood of Jeddah is believed to crawl with exiles from Muslim-majority failed states. Its most illustrious resident was Idi Amin. It’s a mistake for Pakistan to keep up the tradition, though, when it’s rather eager to project itself as a modern state.

The Chinese food-bombing, however, was not a mistake. The Chinese do nothing by mistake. We’re outraged because they intruded on Indian territory, which they do quite frequently. However, the paranoid conspiracy theorist in me is convinced that this was no mere intrusion but a calculated insult — they were throwing food at us during a drought. Consider the security implications, too. How did the Chinese know we were in a drought in July, when even Sharad Pawar had no idea?

Talking of security, the Chinese are now suspected of planting backdoors in telecom equipment they sell us, through which they can enter our networks. The Department of Telecom has advised BSNL to stop procuring from the Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE in border areas contiguous with China, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The Intelligence Bureau apparently wants them out of the South as well.

Just how smart is this? Huawei is based in the People’s Republic of China, but it is an enormously successful globalised company with partners and clients ranging from Grameen Phone of Bangladesh to Vodafone UK. One suspects they’re in it for the money, not to tap Sharad Pawar’s phone. But with neighbours like ours…

Back when BlackBerry entered India, the Indian government gave it the traditional welcome that it offers all telecom operators: citing security concerns, it demanded their server passwords. A wave of derisive laughter travelled around the world at the speed of sound. No matter where it’s from, secure BlackBerry traffic runs through Research in Motion’s servers in Scandinavia, and Delhi cannot possibly police them. We looked like boors, operating under a communications law as old as the telegraph itself.

Until last year, when it was discovered that all the terrorists who hit Mumbai had been toting BlackBerries. Not just to make a style statement, surely. Of course, with neighbours like ours, anything is possible.

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