The Pakistan test

November 24, 2008

Nicholas D. Kristof in the New York Times:

Barack Obama’s most difficult international test in the next year will very likely be here in Pakistan. A country with 170 million people and up to 60 nuclear weapons may be collapsing.

Reporting in Pakistan is scarier than it has ever been. The major city of Peshawar is now controlled in part by the Taliban, and this month alone in the area an American aid worker was shot dead, an Iranian diplomat kidnapped, a Japanese journalist shot and American humvees stolen from a NATO convoy to Afghanistan.

I’ve been coming to Pakistan for 26 years, ever since I hid on the tops of buses to sneak into tribal areas as a backpacking university student, and I’ve never found Pakistanis so gloomy. Some worry that militants, nurtured by illiteracy and a failed education system, will overrun the country or that the nation will break apart. I’m not quite that pessimistic, but it’s very likely that the next major terror attack in the West is being planned by extremists here in Pakistan.


Ringed by foes, Pakistanis fear the US, too

November 23, 2008

There is an increasing belief among some Pakistanis that what the U.S. really wants is the breakup of Pakistan. Jane Perlez from Islamabad in the New York Times:

Above are sections of maps that opriginally accompanied a speculative June 2006 article by Ralph Peters in Armed Forces Journal that has concerned pakistanis.

A controversial imaging of borders: Above are sections of maps that opriginally accompanied a speculative June 2006 article by Ralph Peters in Armed Forces Journal that has concerned pakistanis.

A redrawn map of South Asia has been making the rounds among Pakistani elites. It shows their country truncated, reduced to an elongated sliver of land with the big bulk of India to the east, and an enlarged Afghanistan to the west.

That the map was first circulated as a theoretical exercise in some American neoconservative circles matters little here. It has fueled a belief among Pakistanis, including members of the armed forces, that what the United States really wants is the breakup of Pakistan, the only Muslim country with nuclear arms.

“One of the biggest fears of the Pakistani military planners is the collaboration between India and Afghanistan to destroy Pakistan,” said a senior Pakistani government official involved in strategic planning, who insisted on anonymity as per diplomatic custom. “Some people feel the United States is colluding in this.”


Stephen Cohen on how US sees India

October 13, 2008

In Mint, Jyoti Malhotra interviews Brookings Institution senior fellow of foreign policy Stephen P. Cohen:

Q: Seems to some of us here that the gap between the Indian elite and the Democrats is much wider than between the Indian elite and the Republicans…

A: The Democrats were more influenced by non-proliferation considerations, and for a number of years, this steered US policy towards South Asia, especially after the nuclear tests of 1998. But before that the Democrats were very pro-India, it was the Republicans that were hostile to India. The Republicans thought India was a socialist state, they didn’t like Nehru, they didn’t like Krishna Menon. It’s flip now.

Now that the non-proliferation issue is behind us, I would say one remarkable thing about elite public opinion in the US is that everybody likes India. Whether they are for the deal or against the deal, they like India as a state. I think that is a major accomplishment of India and it puts a new spin on our relationship. But here, for example, the Left parties are systemically anti-American, whereas in the US even those who are against the nuclear deal are very pro-India.


Insurgency’s scars line Afghanistan’s main road

August 14, 2008

A highway that was once the showpiece of the United States reconstruction effort is now a dangerous gantlet of mines and attacks. From The New York Times:

Saydebad, Afghanistan: Not far from here, just off the highway that was once the showpiece of the United States reconstruction effort in Afghanistan, three American soldiers and their Afghan interpreter were ambushed and killed seven weeks ago.

The soldiers – two of them members of the National Guard from New York – died as their vehicles were hit by mines and rocket-propelled grenades. At least one was dragged off and chopped to pieces, according to Afghan and Western officials. The body was so badly mutilated that at first the military announced that it had found the remains of two men, not one, in a nearby field.

The attack, on June 26, was notable not only for its brutality, but also because it came amid a series of spectacular insurgent attacks along the road that have highlighted the precariousness of the international effort to secure Afghanistan six years after the United States intervened to drive off the Taliban government.


Mystery of Siddiqui disappearance

August 6, 2008

From BBC:

Aafia Siddiqui

Aafia Siddiqui

Aafia Siddiqui, whom the US accuses of al-Qaeda links, vanished in Karachi with her three children on 30 March 2003. The next day it was reported in local newspapers that a woman had been taken into custody on terrorism charges.

Initially, confirmation came from a Pakistan interior ministry spokesman. But a couple of days later, both the Pakistan government and the FBI publicly denied having anything to do with her disappearance.

Two days after Aafia Siddiqui went missing, “a man wearing a motor-bike helmet” arrived at the Siddiqui home in Karachi, her mother told the BBC. “He did not take off the helmet, but told me that if I ever wanted to see my daughter and grandchildren again, I should keep quiet,” Ms Siddiqui’s mother told me over the phone in 2003.


Anger in Pakistan as ‘missing’ scientist resurfaces in US court on terror charges

From The Independent:

Aafia Siddiqui reappeared five years later in US custody in Afghanistan

Aafia Siddiqui reappeared five years later in US custody in Afghanistan

A US-trained neuroscientist’s appearance in a New York court charged with the attempted murder of American soldiers and FBI agents has sparked angry protests in her homeland of Pakistan.

Aafia Siddiqui, 36, is under suspicion of having links to the al-Qa’ida terror network of Osama bin Laden, and is the first woman ever sought by the US in connection with the group, which was behind the September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.

According to US officials, Ms Siddiqui, who reportedly studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, was arrested in Afghanistan on 17 July in possession of recipes for explosives and chemical weapons, as well as details of landmarks in the United States, including in New York.


An endgame with no clear winners

July 23, 2008

Siddharth Varadarajan in The Hindu on the day of the confidence vote in Parliament:

When a patient is staring death in the face, the dividing line between self-preservation and self-destruction can be rather thin. In medieval times, leeches were often attached to a dying patient’s body in the belief that the ‘bad’ blood they drew out would help breathe life into him. But even if this drastic remedy worked, the doctor had to know when it was safe to cast aside the pet parasites. Let them feed too long and the sick man might never recover; remove them too soon and they may not have time to deliver their ‘cure.’

Ever since the Left parties withdrew their support to the United Progressive Alliance, the Congress party has sought to prolong the life of the government it leads by resorting to leech therapy. Beginning with the Samajwadi Party, it has struck deals with a range of parties and individuals to ensure at least 271 votes when the confidence motion is put to test on July 22. Some of these deals involve concessions that are in the public domain – a file speeded up here, a Cabinet berth promised there – but the most critical indulgences sought and granted are the ones not being advertised. Whatever they are, these deals could prove counterproductive for the Congress at four levels. First, the perception has gotten around that the UPA will go to any length to win this vote, even if this means accommodating demands that ought not to be accommodated. The Congress may carry the day but its reputation will have been diminished as a result. Second, creating the impression that the SP’s pet agendas will be pursued with vigour has given Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati a compelling reason to go flat out to unseat the government. Third, the impression that one section of big capital is being pandered to has galvanised another section into action, and it is far from clear what the overall effect of this corporate intervention will be for the Congress. Fourth, the understanding with the SP is clearly not momentary. As it matures into a full-fledged political alliance involving seat-sharing in Uttar Pradesh, the compact will represent the Congress’s formal abandonment of any hope of revival in India’s politically most important state.


Playing the Muslim card on nuclear deal

Also by Siddharth Varadarajan

Going by the statements Indian politicians make, Hindus and Muslims must be the most gullible people on earth. How else can one explain the cynical revival, in the run-up to the next general election, of the Ayodhya temple card by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L K Advani? Or the manipulative assertion by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati that the nuclear deal is anti-Muslim.

Sadly, Mayawati is not the only one to look at one of the most important foreign policy issues confronting India in this manner. On June 23, M K Pandhe, a member of the politburo of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), warned the Samajwadi Party against supporting the UPA govern- ment on the nuclear issue because, he claimed, “a majority of the Muslim masses are against the deal”. The CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat wisely disowned this shocking statement two days later by saying that Pandhe’s remarks “are not the view of the party” but the damage had al- ready been done. Now that it has been let out of its bottle, this dangerous genie will not be exorcised easily. Parties eager to hoodwink Muslims into supporting them feel they now have an issue. And waiting in the wings are the traditional Muslim- baiters in the BJP, who thrive on the communalisation of any issue and will point an accusatory finger at the community when the time is ripe.

Siddharth Varadarajan’s blog Reality, one bite at a time:

Bhutan a big draw in US

July 3, 2008

The Bhutanese are in Washington, DC for the Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival. Kinley Dorji reports in Kuensel:

As thousands of people crowded the Bhutan exhibition to look at a culture that was difficult for them to fathom, however, the Bhutanese participants were equally fascinated by the American people and their country.

“I can’t imagine, even after seeing them, that there are so many different types of people on this earth,” said a Bhutanese swordmaker, looking at the crowd of people of all shapes, sizes, and colours. And, in the heat of Washington’s notoriously hot and humid summer, the Bhutanese find the clothing and lack of clothing of the Americans equally astonishing.

Meanwhile, a Laya herder is still in a daze after the amazing 17-hour flight from Delhi which he found to be an ethereal experience. “I think this is how the deities live,” he said. “It’s so still up in the sky. And they bring you food and drink, serving it up to your chin. I chanted my prayers because I think they would have more merit up there.” He also watched every movie on the menu without understanding a word.

[Photo: His Royal Highness jamming with blues singer Texas Johnny Brown.]


Why India would like McCain as US President

April 27, 2008

Indians would prefer Obama or Clinton, but not the Indian government, says Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar in The Times of India:

Which of the three candidates for the US Presidency – Hilary Clinton, Barak Obama, and John McCain – will be best for India? Most Indians would opt for Obama or Clinton. But from a policy viewpoint, McCain would be best for India.

Indians have followed with fascination the Democratic struggle in primaries between Clinton and Obama. Through history, all presidential candidates of the Republican and Democratic parties have been white males. This time, all white males have been eliminated early in the Democratic primaries, and the race is now between a woman and a black.

Indian feminists would love to see Clinton win. The US constitution in 1787 had a noble vision of equality for all humans, yet women did not get the vote till 1920. For a woman to be elected this year would be a US landmark.


Bush aide thinks Nepal and Tibet are the same

April 15, 2008

From The Huffington Post:

President Bush’s National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley appeared on ABC’s “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos and repeatedly confused Nepal and Tibet.

Discussing how Bush has “no reason not to go” to this summer’s Olympic games in Beijing and how boycotting them would be wrong, Hadley discussed the outcry over Tibet and the US response, only he kept saying Nepal.

“If countries are really concerned about Nepal, we shouldn’t have this sort of non-issue of opening ceremonies or not. They should do the hard work of quiet diplomacy to urge the Chinese government — in their interest — to take advantage of this opportunity to do something,” Hadley said.


More here… and also watch the video of the gaffe:

Call my lawyer … in India

April 8, 2008

Call-centre jobs were first; now U.S. companies are looking offshore for their legal work too. From TIME:

Mark Alexander, a Dallas attorney, says he’s ethically obligated to do what’s best for his clients, “and that includes saving them money.” So when one of them asks him to research a securities-fraud topic, for example, or breach of contract, he doesn’t even think about applying his $395 hourly rate. Instead, he calls Atlas Legal Research, an outsourcing company based in Irving, Texas, that uses lawyers in India to provide the service for $60 per hr. “When a client pays me a $25,000 retainer and I can save them money, I will do so,” says Alexander. Handing off the work to a $225-per-hr. junior associate is not an option. “They don’t even know where to stand in the courtroom,” he says.


In Pakistan, U.S. swallows a bitter pill

March 28, 2008

The U.S. deputy secretary of state bore the brunt of a range of complaints that Pakistanis now feel freer to air with the end of military rule. Jane Perlez from Islamabad in The New York Times:

If it was not yet clear to Washington that a new political order prevailed here, the three-day visit this week by America’s chief diplomat dealing with Pakistan should put any doubt to rest.

The visit by Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte turned out to be series of indignities and chilly, almost hostile, receptions as he bore the brunt of the full range of complaints that Pakistanis now feel freer to air with the end of military rule by Washington’s favored ally, President Pervez Musharraf.

Faced with a new democratic lineup that is demanding talks, not force, in the fight against terrorism, Mr. Negroponte publicly swallowed a bitter pill at his final news conference on Thursday, acknowledging that there would now be some real differences in strategy between the United States and Pakistan.


Pakistan tells US: There’s ‘a new sheriff in town’

March 26, 2008

Pakistani leaders delivered a strong message to American diplomats. Jane Perlez from Islamabad in The New York Times:

The top State Department officials responsible for the alliance with Pakistan met leaders of the new government on Tuesday, and received what amounted to a public dressing-down from one of them, as well as the first direct indication that the United States relationship with Pakistan would have to change.

On the day that the new prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, was sworn in, Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte and the assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, Richard A. Boucher, also met with the Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf, whom they had embraced as their partner in the campaign against terrorism over the past seven years but whose power is quickly ebbing.

The leader of the second biggest party in the new Parliament, Nawaz Sharif, said after meeting the two American diplomats that it was unacceptable that Pakistan had become a “killing field.”


Moderates hold key in Pakistan

Also in NYT, a report from Peshawar:

One of the most significant results of Pakistan’s elections in February was the defeat of the religious parties that ran this critical border province for the last five years. In their place, voters elected moderates from a small regional party that may now wield big influence over Pakistan’s changing strategy toward its militants.

The victory of the Awami National Party, or A.N.P., was welcomed by Western officials and Pakistanis as a clear rejection of the Taliban and the religious parties that backed them here in North-West Frontier Province. The party will now be part of the governing coalition in the national Parliament, and sees itself as critically placed to begin a dialogue with the militants, something the Bush administration has regarded warily.


The war of drones

March 12, 2008

Pervez Hoodbhoy, professor of nuclear physics at the Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, in The Times of India:

A drone is a semi-autonomous, self-propelled system controlled by an external intelligence. Suitably equipped handlers guide it towards an assigned target. The MQ-1B General Dynamics Predator, connected to high-flying US military surveillance satellites, differs from the low-tech mullah-trained human drone produced in Pakistani madrassas. But they share a common characteristic. Neither asks why they must kill.

Drones, machine and human, have drenched Pakistan with the blood of innocents. In 2006, a bevy of MQ-1Bs hovering over Damadola launched a barrage of 10 Hellfire missiles, costing $60,000 apiece, at the village below. They blew up 18 local people, including five women and five children. The blame was put on faulty local intelligence. The same year, a Hellfire missile hit a madrassa in Bajaur killing between 80 and 85 people, mostly students. Pervez Musharraf’s credibility stood so low that few believed his claim that those killed were training to become Al-Qaida militants. Indeed, while these space-age weapons have occasionally eliminated a few Al-Qaida men, such as Abu Laith al-Libi in January 2008, the more usual outcome has been flattened houses, dead and maimed children, and a growing tribal population that seeks revenge against Pakistan and the US.


Imperfect heroes

March 9, 2008

In The New York Times, Vincent Lam, a physician, on Sandeep Jauhar’s book “Intern: A Doctor’s Initiation

Becoming a doctor, I hoped, would bring me back into the real world,” Sandeep Jauhar writes in “Intern,” his fine memoir of his training in a New York City hospital. “It would make me into a man.” The story he tells here is antiheroic, full of uncertainty, doubt and frank disgust, aimed at both himself and, sometimes, his patients. “Intern” succeeds as an unusually transparent portrait of an imperfect human being trying to do his best at a tough job.

Jauhar’s journey into medicine is driven by a swirling mix of half-reasons. Disillusioned with graduate studies in particle physics, jarred by the illness of a girlfriend and seeking a profession of tangible purpose, he entered medical school in his mid-20s with considerable ambivalence. Jauhar had always eyed doctoring suspiciously, as a “cookbook” discipline, “with little room for creativity.” His father, a plant geneticist from India who felt his own advancement was stifled by racism, had derided medicine as intellectually inferior to pure science even as he encouraged both his sons to become doctors for the sake of income and prestige.


Books of the Times; A Physician Caught Trying to Heal Himself

Indian doctor at centre of hepatitis scare in US

March 9, 2008

As many as 40,000 people in Las Vegas may have have been infected with Hepatitis C or HIV as a result of reused syringes and other medical material at Dr Dipak Desai’s clinic. KP Nayar reports from Washington, DC in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

An Indian American doctor is at the centre of what is emerging to be America’s biggest medical malpractice scandal. As many as 40,000 people may have been infected with the deadly hepatitis C virus or HIV from a Las Vegas clinic, owned by Dr Dipak Desai, which has been reusing syringes and medical vials for nearly four years.

Desai, who has been practising medicine in Nevada for 28 years, is an alumnus of Gujarat University and later did his medical residency at the Catholic Medical Center in New York. He is said to be an influential political fixer in Nevada, having made financial contributions to the election campaigns of President George W. Bush and former vice-president Al Gore, among others.


Hillary Clinton on Afghanistan: As President I will…

March 8, 2008

The Council on Foreign Relations website has the full statement of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Afghanistan:

Hillary Clinton announced her plans to address the forgotten front line in Afghanistan as she met with a group of respected retired admirals, generals, and other senior officials to discuss current foreign policy and national security challenges.

Al Qaeda and the Taliban have largely recovered from the blows inflicted after 9/11. Afghanistan and the border regions of Pakistan have now merged into one of the most dangerous regions of the world, and one of the most strategically important to the United States. Today, Hillary pledged to make Afghanistan her highest security priority after Iraq, and outlined her agenda for winning the war in Afghanistan.


The man behind Elizabeth Taylor’s smile

March 5, 2008



When Dr. Amarjit Singh Marwah first set foot on American soil, Dwight Eisenhower was President, Elvis hadn’t yet hit the radio waves, segregation was still a part of everyday life in the U.S.A., and Lucy and Ricky represented the quintessential American couple.

Back in 1950, it took Dr. Marwah a month to get here on a ship from India. And when he reached the crowded New York City port, he was quite alone. He had arrived on a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation as a dentist. Over the next few years, his work took him from New York City to Illinois to Washington D.C., and finally to Southern California…

..His patient list included the Beverly Hills A-list. Not surprisingly, Dr. Marwah became known as the man behind some of Hollywood’s brightest smiles.


US religious landscape survey: Hindus are the best-educated

March 4, 2008

An extensive new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life details the religious affiliation of the American public and explores the shifts taking place in the U.S. religious landscape:

In a study that highlights the fluidity of religious affiliation in America today, Hindus stand out as the group with the most stable religious identity. Ninety percent of Hindus marry within their own faith, and eight-in-ten Hindus who were raised Hindu remain so as adults, according to the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, released last week by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Nearly half of Hindus in the U.S., one-third of Jews and a quarter of Buddhists have obtained post-graduate education, compared with only about one-in-ten of the adult population overall. Hindus and Jews are also much more likely than other groups to report high income levels.

Key summary of findings:

Demographic portraits:

Mr Yunus goes to New York

March 4, 2008

Emily Parker in The Wall Street Journal on Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank’s new venture in the land of the subprime mortgage crisis. Via Mint:

muhammadyunus.jpgIn a Jackson Heights shop for colourful saris and glittering bracelets, several women have gathered to meet their banker. They laugh and chat in Bengali. Sultana, a 39-year-old woman wearing a headscarf, hands him $128 in cash. She is making her first repayment of the $3,000, six-month loan she’ll use to help with her husband’s candy store.

Welcome to Grameen America, Muhammad Yunus’ brand new microfinance venture. Yunus, along with his Bangladesh-originated Grameen Bank, won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for battling poverty by lending out small sums of money to the poor. The loans are mainly for income-generating activities-from making baskets to raising chickens. Since its establishment in 1983, Grameen has given out billions of dollars in loans, helping to pull families out of poverty and inspiring similar operations all over the world.

Yunus has now brought Grameen to this borough of New York City.


A man’s mourning resonates from Staten Island to Sri Lanka

March 4, 2008

A legal permanent resident from Sri Lanka who manages two Subway sandwich shops on Staten Island finds himself without a relative in the US, struggling to adjust to life with a newborn while mourning his wife, who died three weeks ago. Nina Bernstein in The New York Times:

It sounds like a throwback to another century: A healthy, middle-class woman sickens late in her pregnancy, gives birth and dies two and a half weeks later, leaving her young husband to care for their newborn son alone. Even the new father, Indika S. Arachchige, 34, grieving in their Staten Island home under balloons and streamers that exclaim, “It’s a Boy,” still cannot quite believe that so much everyday American happiness could be swept away so fast.

A pending autopsy may explain the death of his wife, Tai Ling Feng, 36, a Taiwan-born United States citizen who worked in a bank. But to the young widower and the multiethnic circle of friends who had cheered on the couple’s courtship as a uniquely New York love story, immigration law now seems to be compounding a New York tragedy.


Musharraf is not yet irrelevant

February 23, 2008

He may be out of his uniform, but he is going to probe at the faultlines between the coalition partners. Watch for another round of political bloodletting in Pakistan. Shekhar Gupta in the Indian Express:

 One of the most remarkable reactions to the Pakistani election result came, predictably, from Pervez Musharraf. All parties, he said, should accept defeat gracefully. You would have thought, for a moment, that it was a misquote, or that some TV headline writer had perhaps abbreviated much too brutally what was perhaps a more nuanced statement. But it seems that it wasn’t so. In any case, it was in keeping with the general’s way of thinking: since nobody had won a victory, everybody had lost, and so he had to again shoulder that onerous responsibility of putting a government together, of keeping his restless country on an even keel. Maybe, subsequently, the coming together (at least for now) of Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari, in spite of the inspired leaks on the latter’s Swiss bank funds, dampened the general’s enthusiasm a bit. But he knows better than anybody else that this split verdict has given him a wonderful opportunity to play the third umpire and more, once again.


A reporter’s story: How Pakistan kicked me out

February 4, 2008

American journalist Nicholas Schmidle was kicked out of Pakistan by the Musharraf government. He tells his story in The Washington Post.

The police came for me on a cold, rainy Tuesday night last month. They stood in front of my home in Islamabad, four men with hoods pulled over their heads in the driving rain. The senior officer, a tall, clean-shaven man, and I recognized one another from recent protests and demonstrations. Awkwardly, almost apologetically, he handed me a notice ordering my immediate expulsion from Pakistan. Rain spilled off a nearby awning and fell loudly into puddles.I asked, somewhat obtusely, what this meant. “I am here to take you to the airport,” the officer shrugged. “Tonight.”


Drawn and quartered

February 1, 2008

Given enough US pressure, Pakistan could be preserved by reinstating the 1973 Constitution. Selig S. Harrison in The New York Times.

Whatever the outcome of the Pakistani elections, now scheduled for Feb. 18, the existing multiethnic Pakistani state is not likely to survive for long unless it is radically restructured.

Given enough American pressure, a loosely united, confederated Pakistan could still be preserved by reinstating and liberalizing the defunct 1973 Constitution, which has been shelved by successive military rulers. But as matters stand, the Punjabi-dominated regime of Pervez Musharraf is headed for a bloody confrontation with the country’s Pashtun, Baluch and Sindhi minorities that could well lead to the breakup of Pakistan into three sovereign entities.


The Shah of Pakistan?

January 26, 2008

Like America’s overt support for the Shah, assisting Musharraf is risky for several reasons, writes Malou Innocent, a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute, in The Washington Post.

America’s most vulnerable ally in the war on terror is Pakistan. But our alliance with the nuclear-armed Islamic state may be exacerbating that country’s instability.

For eight years, Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf has delayed, deferred and ultimately denied his citizens the right to freely choose their next leader. U.S. policymakers and analysts concede that Musharraf’s autocratic rule is a problem but fear that whoever replaces him may be worse.

Once before in that part of the world, Washington backed a high-profile ruler without regard to his constituents’ wishes: Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran. The result was a fiasco for American foreign policy.



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