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Karl E. Meyer and Shareen Brysac: God's Own Country

Kochi (Cochin)—In the 1990s, the wordsmiths in New Delhi struck upon “Incredible India” as the advertising shorthand for the world’s most populous democracy. Not to be outdone, Kerala’s rulers rebranded their state “God’s Own Country,” a slogan now seen everywhere. But three thoughts occurred to us after spending ten days traveling through Kerala:
  1. That the apostrophe should appear at the end of the first word, given the plurality of divinities in this intriguing state;
  2. That among these deities is the Marxist god that demonstrably failed the former Soviet empire; and
  3. That communism here has half-succeeded and half-failed in interesting ways.
Much has been written about Kerala’s quality of life, its achievements in literacy, health, and empowerment of women. But we found that God's Own Country is also vulnerable to mortal misjudgments and adverse external forces. As we learned in Mumbai, access to jobs is a major source of communal strife. In Kerala, the lack of jobs for educated citizens is an omnipresent challenge. Unemployment in the state hovers around 25 percent, depending on how and whom you count; roughly twice as many women as men are jobless. Moreover, Kerala has no industrial base. Workers are unionized and wages are high compared to neighboring Tamil Nadu. Land is in short supply and expensive; consumer goods are imported. Jumbo-sized billboards pepper the landscape; television commercials interrupt programming—a Mad Man’s delight. Print journalism flourishes, and people are well informed and opinionated. But in the words of a friendly critic, “Keralites know their rights, but not their obligations.” On our journey we have seen several attempts to mitigate the relentless consumer pressure on a weak economic base by promoting ecotourism, nurturing manufacturing cooperatives founded a half- century ago, and disbursing micro-loans to seed small businesses. The intentions are admirable; the limitations severe. Early on, we visited a popular tourist destination, the hill station of Ponmudi, nearly three hours by car from the capital, Trivandrum. But whereas the ancient Romans excelled at constructing ruler-straight roads, Keralites have produced what must be among the world’s greatest collections of hairpin turns (22 in the final stretch). On leveler terrain, public and private buses, trucks, motorcycles, bikes, auto-rickshaws, and cars hurtle through roads blocked by armies of pedestrians, cows, protest demonstrators, and the occasional temple elephant accompanied by his or her mahouts. A recent cover story from India Today noted that India has the highest number of road accidents in the world: by last count, 13 every hour, 114,590 a year.  Safety aside, public transport is sluggish, inadequate, and subject to periodic strikes. This infrastructure is palpably inhospitable to large-scale ecotourism. As a headline in The Hindu puts it, India is a country “Where the Pedestrian Is a Third-Class Citizen.” Sidewalks are a rarity in Kerala. 

Patricia DeGennaro: Obama's War — The Next Best Steps in Afghanistan?

Tonight, America’s commander-in-chief will address the nation to outline his new Afghanistan strategy. Among other things, this means many of the West Point cadets in the audience will learn what their immediate futures have in store.

According to White House officials, President Obama will comply with General McChrystal’s request for more soldiers, deploying 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan over the next six months. Obama has reportedly said that these young men and women will be asked to “finish the job.”

Of course, the question remains: What exactly is the “job”?

For eight years, forces on the ground have been struggling to find the mission. Hopefully, all of us will soon hear what their “job” is and why it will entail deploying thousands of extra soldiers. Thanks to McChrystal’s assessment, we now understand some of what more soldiers will do. The influx of troops will certainly build and train the Afghan army and police forces and arm militia-style provincial patrols. They will also use counterinsurgency tactics to target Al Qaeda and/or the Taliban while protecting average Afghans, as well as add a dash of nation building.

Unfortunately, this multi-billion dollar strategy ignores the reality of Afghanistan. No one can easily summarize the challenges and complexities there. The country comprises a conglomeration of cultures, ethnicities, languages, and beliefs, and is surrounded by problematic neighbors. History has shown that large-scale interventions there never work and that treading more lightly makes a difference.

Charles G. Cogan: The Political Class is Falling Off the War in Afghanistan

This article was originally published by The Huffington Post. Read more

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