Saturday, October 16, 2010
PLANTING SEEDS IN JAMMU & KASHMIR
I spoke to 100 people last night at the Jammu Club. They were mostly professional people - doctors, lawyers, professors, engineers, military officers, political leaders, and bank employees (the banks are nationalized in India).
Sitting next to me on the dais was Mohammad Aslam Goni of the National Conference Party who is the former Advocate General for the Jammu & Kashmir state and currently political advisor to the Union Minister of Renewable Resources. I knew he was an important man when he was escorted into the hall by about a dozen men.
Following my talk Goni was asked to respond and the newspaper (one of two that covered the event last night) reported, "Goni expressed his disagreement with the chief guest ..... He [Goni] maintained that China and other neighboring countries have strengthened themselves in the race of defence and in compulsion the Indian government was focusing on defence. He added that Indian government was shaking hand with U.S. government for the safety of the country."
Not reported by the press was Goni's statement that even if satellites had to be destroyed and space junk made space unusable, then it was still worth it as long as India could protect itself from terrorism and outside aggression.
After he finished his remarks and returned to his seat, Goni leaned over and whispered to me, "I had to tell the truth". I shook his hand and whispered back, "Me too."
I actually liked Goni very much. We are of similar ages and I felt he was listening closely to my words. After the talk was over he invited Rao and I to come to his home this morning for tea.
A car has been furnished by a local politician for us while we are in Jammu. Sitting in the front seat has been a machine gun toting policeman. Everywhere you turn in Jammu there are police with guns and road blocks. In recent months there has been much unrest in Kashmir as stone throwing youth and growing members of the Muslim majority population demand independence. India has long promised Kashmir "autonomy" but the public has grown increasingly impatient. Some blame Pakistan for stirring up the youth. So far during this recent turmoil 111 people have been killed by the Indian government forces who have been trying to repress the dissent.
Goni lives behind guarded gates in a beautiful home with lavish gardens. Goni, a lawyer by trade, was waiting outside for us in his garden where we were served mango juice and nuts. He immediately said that he enjoyed the talk the evening before, he had been sick in bed all day with a fever, but had received five phone calls urging him to come so he felt he must do so. During the two and one-half hours we spent at his home were were served a brunch and we discussed the Kashmir situation and U.S. foreign policy.
I asked Goni why India would want to follow a sinking ship (the U.S. military empire). He responded that in this unstable world India must choose between China (who attacked India in 1962 over a border dispute - Rao tells me that some believe that India might have been the one to instigate the trouble) or the United States.
Goni then told us that our peace in space message was prophetic and that he felt his words the night before had to be uttered because they were essentially the official position of the national government. He suggested that India was only interested in defending itself from possible aggression from Pakistan or China.
I reminded Goni, as I had told the audience last night, that it is the U.S. who has been helping Pakistan develop its military capability for many years. I remember back in 1974 while in the Air Force I was stationed in Hawaii under the Air Force Headquarters Command. My job was to maintain the personnel records of Air Force officers assigned throughout the Asian-Pacific region. One day I rifled through all the records of these officers and discovered they all had the same job description - they were assigned as embassy staff in each Asian-Pacific capital and their task was to serve as liaison between the host government and American weapons corporations. In other words they were salesmen for the military industrial complex and funded by the American taxpayers. Prominent among these locations was the U.S. embassy in Pakistan.
I learned alot listening to Goni today and left feeling close to him. Several times he brought up key points from my talk so it was apparent he had heard me and had also reflected on what I had to say. At one point near the end of our meeting I asked him to think about the satellites in space each time he uses his cell phone. If we allow the arms race to expand into space I said, the amount of space debris is likely to destroy the satellites you count on for your phone and your TV.
Tonight we have been invited to the home of the leader of the Jammu Communist Party for dinner.
We were supposed to head north the 300 kilometers to Srinagar early this morning but the invitation from Goni changed those plans. So we will proceed north at 7:00 am tomorrow for more meetings and talks.
Slowly, much like Johnny Appleseed, we are planting knowledge and concern about space issues across India.