Saturday, August 16, 2008

Kashmir riots rage

Violent protests in Kashmir threaten India-Pakistan peace process

Riots sparked by a controversial land-transfer deal have widened to become pro-independence rallies.

by Jonathan Adams
Christian Science Monitor, August 14, 2008

Escalating unrest in Indian-controlled Kashmir threatens to derail a peace process between India and Pakistan that has extended over more than four years.

Riots, sparked by a land-transfer dispute, have also cast a shadow over local elections planned for this fall that were seen as a possible turning point toward greater stability.

Reports differed on the number of casualties from the violence. Bloomberg put the death toll at 27, after police on Tuesday fired on and killed 11 protesters who had defied a curfew.

Authorities cracked down on demonstrators a day after more than 50,000 took to the streets.... India's government accused its nuclear-armed neighbor of interference after Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi condemned what he described as "excessive and unwarranted use of force."

"The situation is tense," police official Kailash Kumar said. "The army has been called out and they are patrolling the streets."

The BBC explained that the current unrest began in May, when the state government in Indian Kashmir – also called Jammu and Kashmir State – decided to transfer some land to a Hindu trust that runs the Amarnath shrine, which is frequented by Hindu pilgrims. That deal sparked protests by the state's Muslim majority, which fears losing land rights.

The protests in the valley only subsided when the government dropped the plans - but that in turn triggered equally large protests in the Jammu region in the south of the state, where the majority Hindu population was outraged.

Now it is no exaggeration to say that the state could be heading towards a communal meltdown.

Angry Hindu extremists blocked roads between the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley in the north and the Hindu-dominated area around Jammu City in the south. That led to mass protests this week by Muslims, who said the blockade was preventing their fruit farmers from getting their produce to markets in the south. Agence France-Presse quoted observers saying that the unrest reflected a failure to increase basic security and economic conditions for Kashmiris.

They hope the massive protests will force New Delhi to admit it has not won "hearts and minds" in its part of the disputed Himalayan territory – despite claims it has – and accept the root causes of the conflict must be addressed.

"The protests are the manifestation of an anger that the peace process doesn't seem to have achieved anything," said Noor Ahmed Baba, a political science professor in Indian Kashmir's main university.

An editorial in the Indian daily newspaper The Hindu pointed out that the unrest had cast doubt on local elections planned for this fall in the Indian-controlled state.

Less than two months ago, politicians ... were discussing strategies for winning elections to the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, which are scheduled to be held in October. But poor political judgment — and an apparently catatonic administration — precipitated a crisis, which have made even the prospect of an election appear somewhat surreal.

The Pakistani daily Dawn published an editorial stating that the unrest was "threatening a wider conflagration" and has undone progress in revitalizing the region.

Indeed violence was on the decline, tourists had returned to the Kashmir valley and there was hope that the elections would be a turning point for stability in the region. But those gains have quickly evaporated and the Muslim protests, some of the largest seen in two decades, have widened to become pro-independence rallies.

The unrest in Kashmir comes on the heels of bombings in Indian cities that had already heightened India-Pakistan tensions. The Christian Science Monitor reported that the July 26 bombings in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad killed 45. Those attacks came a day after bombings in Bangalore and in the wake of May bombings in Jaipur that killed 60.

Security analysts suspect that Pakistan and Bangladesh-based Islamic militant groups were behind those attacks. Indian officials routinely claim that such groups are backed by the Pakistani government, but Pakistan denies this.

Tensions between the two nations also escalated last month over a series of skirmishes along the India-Pakistan border in Kashmir. The repeated exchange of fire was seen by both sides as a violation of a five-year-old cease-fire and sparked a mutual blame game, reported Reuters.

Both India and Pakistan claim the entire state of Kashmir, but control only part of the territory. The two nuclear powers have repeatedly come to blows over the region, most recently between 2001 and 2003, when tensions nearly led to all-out war.

A cease-fire in 2003 began a peace process that included talks and increased transport links across the so-called Line of Control separating Indian- and Pakistani-controlled areas of Kashmir. But analysts say New Delhi and Islamabad cling to irreconcilable claims that make a permanent solution of the territorial dispute unlikely anytime soon.

The International Crisis Group said in its latest report on Kashmir in 2006 that Muslim unrest within Indian-controlled Kashmir was fueled by frustration with the slow pace of the peace process and by the strong Indian security presence.

Observers in Srinagar and Jammu [Muslim-majority and Hindu-majority cities in Indian Kashmir] blame militancy on Pakistan but also warn that frustrated and alienated young Kashmiris, regardless of political affiliation, could join militants unless New Delhi changes its approach.

They attribute Kashmiri alienation to the overwhelming presence of Indian security forces, which, they say, create a sense of humiliation and loss of dignity and feed local perceptions that India is a colonial state.

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Eating China's treasures

Exterior of Silks Palace restaurant, Taipei, Taiwan

A Palette for the Palate

A restaurant near Taipei's National Palace Museum serves works of art that are more than metaphorical.

Jonathan Adams
NEWSWEEK magazine, Aug 2, 2008

Imagine if the greatest works from the Chinese imperial collection of art became ... edible.

That's the basic concept behind the new Silks Palace restaurant in Taipei. It opened in late June next to the National Palace Museum, which holds what is widely regarded as the world's finest collection of traditional Chinese art. The museum's prized sculpture, ceramics and artifacts come from the imperial collection of Beijing's Forbidden City, the best of which the Kuomintang took with them to Taiwan when the communists drove them off the mainland in 1949.

Silks Palace pays homage to that collection, but with a decidedly contemporary twist. Taiwan's Formosa International Hotels Corp. won the bid to run the government-owned restaurant until at least 2030, with a concept designed by Taiwan's Yao Ren-shi and Japan's Yukie Hashimoto. Then Formosa's army of chefs let their imaginations run wild. The result is a $14.8 million epicure's delight whose design and dishes offer a whimsical take on famous Chinese art and artifacts.

The exterior of the five-floor building is a boldly modern counterpoint to the imperial-style museum next door. It is covered in glass with a webbed pattern meant to evoke the cracks in Song-dynasty-era (A.D. 960–1279) ceramics. At night, the building is illuminated like a futuristic Chinese lantern. Interior designer Hashimoto continues the cracked-ceramics theme, and gives Chinese artifacts a hip but restrained twist.

Four glass-enclosed pillars inspired by the Tsung tubes used in Neolithic-era Chinese religious rituals extend the height of the two-story atrium. The first floor features an à la carte dining area with soft illumination from lamps shaped like Tsung-chou bells of the late Western Chou period (about 1100–771 B.C.). The 10 VIP rooms on the second floor are named after Chinese artists, and decorated with backlit paper prints of classic works from the museum collection. A banquet area on the third floor features sci-fi chandeliers with crystal bulbs illuminated by LEDs.

The cuisine is mostly Cantonese style, with flavors from other Chinese regions. Diners can order à la carte, or choose from wildly creative set menus inspired by the museum collection.

Three signature dishes imitate the most famous of the museum's masterpieces—two of which are actually renditions of food. A small, poached bok choy with mustard is presented to look exactly like the famed "Jadeite Cabbage With Insects," a piece of carved jade that was the dowry of a Qing-dynasty concubine. On the plate, a tiny shrimp takes the place of the carefully sculpted katydid on the original. A lovingly marinated chunk of pork mimics another masterpiece, the museum's carved agate imitation pork slice, "Meat-Shaped Stone."

And a tiered rack with a sampling of desserts—one of the restaurant's best-selling items—is inspired by a Qing-era emperor's curio box.

There are plenty of other delights. The goose comes in a wrap with a single swipe of Peking duck sauce, representing a broad stroke from Chinese calligraphy. The museum's take on the classic Fujian stew "Buddha Jumps Over the Wall" comes in a white bowl shaped like a classic three-legged "ding" cauldron from the Warring States period (about 475–221 B.C.). And the chefs carve a larger ding from ice to hold the fruit course at the end.

Even the serving plates—which evoke ancient Chinese coins from the collection—are an inspired nod to China's heritage. It gives a whole new meaning to the concept of a museum restaurant.

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US delays Taiwan arms sales

F-16 Fighting Falcons

Delay in U.S. arms sale to Taiwan stirs concerns

Taiwanese officials maintain the postponement is motivated by a US desire to secure China's cooperation in tackling North Korea and Iran.

By Jonathan Adams
Christian Science Monitor, July 24, 2008

A delay in the approval of an $11 billion arms sale to Taiwan has fueled concerns about the United States' commitment to help defend the island from Chinese attack. Speculation on the reasons for the freeze has mounted in the absence of a clear explanation from the US government. Taiwanese officials believe the sale has been postponed so that the US can secure China's cooperation and that it may yet go through after the Olympics.

At issue is a package of arms, including Patriot antimissile systems and attack helicopters, that was offered to Taiwan by the Bush administration in 2001 as part of the president's pledge to do "whatever it takes" to defend Taiwan.

Taiwan's legislature approved the purchase of the weapons after a long delay last December. But the Bush administration has yet to notify Congress of the sale – a necessary formality before the weapon systems can be released.

The US is also ignoring Taiwan's request for more than 60 F-16 fighter jets to boost its air power.

But the Taiwanese government continues to urge the US to move forward, and some pro-Taiwan commentators have criticized the Bush administration for shirking obligations to the island.

China sees self-governing Taiwan as part of its territory and has threatened force to back up its claim. Beijing has long pressed the US to phase out arms sales to Taiwan, but the US government is bound by law to make defensive arms available to the island.

Reuters reported last week that the top US military commander in the Pacific, Adm. Timothy Keating, confirmed the current freeze on major arms sales to the island. He noted that improved cross-strait relations had sharply reduced the potential for conflict.

U.S. decision-makers "have reconciled Taiwan's current military posture, China's current military posture and strategy that indicates there is no pressing, compelling need for at this moment arms sales to Taiwan of the systems that we're talking about," the Hawaii-based commander said at the Heritage Foundation in Washington....

"I'm more comfortable today ... than I was 15 months ago, that my belief is well founded that it is very, very, very unlikely that there will be conflict across the strait," Keating said.

But other current and former US officials appeared to contradict Keating's remarks. Asked whether US policy on arms sales to Taiwan had changed, a State Department spokesman said, "The short answer is no," according to the transcript of a US State Department daily press briefing. The spokesman continued:

"Let me reiterate for you what our policy is. The Administration faithfully implements the Taiwan Relations Act, under which the United States makes available items necessary for Taiwan to maintain a sufficient defense."

Speaking in Taipei on Wednesday, Paul Wolfowitz, former deputy defense secretary in the Bush administration and current chairman of the board of the US-Taiwan Business Council, said that he thought President Bush was committed to selling arms to Taiwan and would do so before he left office, according to the Associated Press.

Patriot anti-missile battery in action

But The Wall Street Journal reported that the US could be delaying the sales until after the Olympic Games.

Some analysts say Mr. Bush may only be delaying the sale until after he travels to China next month for the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. "The best chance [for the sales] is right after the Olympics," said Randall Schriver, a former senior Asia official at the State Department under Mr. Bush.

US foot-dragging on arms sales to the island comes amid a thaw in Taiwan-China relations under Taiwan's new, China-friendly president, Ma Ying-jeou. The Christian Science Monitor reported last month that since Mr. Ma took power on May 20, the two sides have moved rapidly to expand cross-strait links.

But Ma said that Taiwan still needs US help to defend itself against China, despite recently improved cross-strait relations, the Associated Press reports. He called recently for the US to remove the freeze.

The Financial Times cited top Taiwanese national security officials as saying that Taiwan was dropping its push for F-16s for now in order to focus on getting the other weapon systems approved. The report adds that Taipei officials believe the delay is motivated by the US's attempt to secure China's cooperation.

Taipei officials said they believed that the US had temporarily put off arms sales in order to secure Beijing's co-operation in tackling trouble in Iran and North Korea....

Taipei is concerned that Washington may have created a precedent that could prove difficult to reverse, since the communist-ruled mainland has long demanded the US phase out its arms sales to the island.

Pro-Taiwan commentators in the US have blasted the Bush administration for being soft on China. Writing in the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the Heritage Foundation's John Tkacik and the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy's Gary Schmitt said the US was shirking its obligation to defend Taiwan's democracy against the Chinese threat.

Such an approach will only fuel Beijing's own ambitions and sense of entitlement when it comes to Taiwan and, equally important, do nothing to reassure our democratic allies in the region that we have a balanced but firm approach when it comes to a rising China.

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