You have to stand guard over the development and maintenance of democracy, social justice and the equality of mankind in your own native soil. [Mohammed Ali Jinnah]

Monday, December 8, 2008

If India had co-operated...

IT is surprising that our media has not taken notice of a very strange and ominous phenomenon following the Mumbai blast. This phenomenon is the ‘swift’ convergence of intelligence services, all of them are surprisingly from those countries which are directly involved in the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

These are from the US, the UK, Australia and Israel. None has come from any Asian or African countries, notably, from Russia or China who have incidentally refrained from any doomsday comments.

Disregarding for a moment any hand of the countries just mentioned behind the blast one may safely assume from their alacrity that there is something more in their presence than meets the eye. Perhaps this is regarded as a golden opportunity to bamboozle India into quick commitment to aims and plans of Israel and the US for the Middle East, in particular, and for this part of our region, in general.

None of these countries showed any willingness to come to Pakistan to help investigate the blast at Marriott Islamabad. The damage and loss of life at Marriott were no loss than that of the Taj.
India is already very anxious to take on some kind of role in Afghanistan, in particular, and in the Gulf area, in general. India has already obtained facilities for docking and repair of its naval vessels on the Oman coast. The Indian navy very recently ‘arrested’ a ship on suspicion of its connection with the pirates which turned out to be utterly ridiculous!

There are other two sectors, among several others, which may benefit from the Mumbai blast. The Indian army is not very happy with the arrest of some of its personnel for involvement in terrorist acts. They would like to see the Indian government allow the army more say in defence matters, especially with regard to Kashmir and Pakistan.
The overreaction of the Indian government against Pakistan has only made it more dependent upon the army which may have come under increasing influence of the US following the ‘strategic consensus’.
In addition, the main opposition party, the BJP, has attracted a large number of retired army officers who are now very active on its behalf. The hue and cry by the Indian government will only strengthen the communal mindset of this section of the Indians.

The other sector which may not be unsympathetic towards the Mumbai blast are the Tamils. The Tamils are faring very badly in Sri Lanka; they may direct their fury and frustration towards someone which happens to be the Indian government which soon after partition held the dream of lording it over Sri Lanka, Nepal and other neighbours. The Tamil anger not very long ago took the shape of the murderous attack on Rajiv Gandhi.

The sanest policy is for India to line up with Pakistan against the spreading terrorism in this area instead of trying to be clever. It already has considerable problems in Bihar and northeast India which would be compounded by any internal strife as a result of coercion of untouchables and Muslim and Christian minorities. To this may be added the resistance by the leftist elements in India who will not easily agree to India becoming a western surrogate in this area.

The moral of Mumbai episode and similar others in the past is that regional instability if not corrected can engulf all and sundry. If India had cooperated instead of playing games with Pakistan, the metastasis of terror cancer starting in Afghanistan might not engulf India also. Conflagration in the neighbouring house affects without fail all the neighbours.

DAWN - Letters; December 08, 2008

India should be very careful if it (by any chance) cares for its ppl...

influlence of hindu extremists of indian army is increasing in india... india, actually, has always played in the hands of these elements...
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Processing news into movies

THE Indian film industry is said to be the biggest in the world in terms of annual output of movies. It churns out 900 films each year. An international Bollywood research study on the preferences of an average Indian moviegoer was recently conducted by Amanda Sodhi of Maryland University.

It revealed that an Indian watches a minimum of three to four new movies every month. No doubt an average Indian looks for drama in every aspect of life. And to cater to that insatiable palate for sensationalism, the Indian news media, especially TV, twists any noteworthy item into a short fiction film to keep that quasi-reality intact.

The Mumbai terror attacks were played out like a movie to the people who sat glued to the tube to witness the unfolding drama. Twists and turns abound, the short film became an epic saga with a running time of 60 hours. Of course you cannot discount the stellar cast lead by the Indian security agencies, namely the National Security Guards that wanted to enjoy its debut starring role and did everything possible to prolong the dramatics even if it meant hostages losing lives!

They wouldn’t let go of their moment of glory for nothing. Have you ever seen commanders of different units coming on TV and giving comments on an ongoing operation? The commander of the Black Cats crack unit couldn’t be discouraged as he appeared in full garb, with a black beret on top, dark shades, and a sinister black bandana to cover most of his face.

He spoke to the media in elaborate detail. The NSG commander followed the spotlight as soon it came on! And he wouldn’t leave it alone for three days and three nights. Oh! How I wished the Indian authorities would send in Sunny Deol…..he would have annihilated the ‘ghus-baithiyas’ in a matter of minutes…. 90 minutes at the most, with some songs thrown in as well.


DAWN - Letters; December 08, 2008

a very interesting letter :)

American columnist’s advice

ONE would begin with the story of two identical twins named Ecilop and Noog. One grew up to become a scientist while the other took to gangsters. Ecilop would develop novel kinds of weapons and Noog would use them to shock and awe any challengers to his domain.

Along the line, Noog came up with an ambitious plan, went to a country named Ebolg and offered to become its chief policeman. As his foremost qualification, he cited the possession of frightful weapons invented by his brother, which he claimed, could vapourise any opponent and turn a rebellious territory into a wasteland.

Understandably, he got the job and, over time, acquired power and riches in Ebolg. But, towards the end of his tenure, his conscience pricked him about a number of his misadventures and he publicly owned up to these. The people of Ebolg felt cheated and decided to fire him.

Some of the perceptive readers may have noticed that Ecilop is actually ‘Police’ spelled in reverse, while Noog is ‘Goon’ and Ebolg is the globe. This fable is meant to show the role United States has played in the world from WW II on, in trying to be its policeman.

First, it incinerated and vapourised nearly 200,000 innocent Japanese men, women and children in 1945 through atomic bombs, which was ultimate terrorism. Then, in the Vietnam war it used Agent Orange to wipe out forests serving to conceal the enemy forces. Apart from millions killed in that needless war, the defoliant permanently affected millions more.

The newest adventure has been in Iraq, where over a million Iraqis have met an untimely death just because America decided to invade it. Now, perhaps bothered somewhat by his conscience, Mr Bush said the other day that he felt sorry his intelligence agencies had provided wrong information about Saddam Hussain’s WMDs.

However, he never expressed any sorrow over the huge Iraqi casualties and the four million who became homeless. It reminds me of Shakespeare’s words: “Man proud man, dressed in a little authority, plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven as make the angels weep.”

In this backdrop comes an article by the Washington Post columnist Robert Kagan, who is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington. He has advised placing Pakistan’s tribal belt and areas where terrorist groups allegedly have their bases under international control.

Mr Kagan suggested forming an international force to invade those areas and destroy the bases although such an undertaking would violate Pakistan’s sovereignty. He has argued that “Pakistan and other states that harbour terrorists should not take their sovereignty for granted. In the 21st century, sovereign rights need to be earned. (Dawn, Dec. 3).

Who had given the right to the US to kill and maim millions of people in the 20th and 21st centuries? It was a ‘right’ earned not by its compassion or humanism but by sheer force of WMDs and gunboat diplomacy. The American broadcaster, writer and intellectual David Bersamian has revealed much about the unlawful and outrageous acts of his nation, during lecture tours of Pakistan.
Before faulting Pakistan, people like Mr Kagan must show some realism, if not empathy, by trying to understand the troubles that have shaped its present predicament.

India hounded us right from 1947. The occupation of Junagadh and Kashmir, among other places (including Goa), is an indelible proof of New Delhi’s aggressiveness and expansionism, with the first two issues still pending before the UN. Anyone with any sense of justice should first call for resolution of the underlying causes of hostility in the region. The breaking up of Pakistan by India in 1971 is another undeniable fact. Things like these, as well as the latter’s detonation of an atomic device in 1974, deceptively named the ‘Smiling Buddha’, forced Islamabad to take the nuclear path, which bothers the West so much. If the world powers had checked India’s covetousness and hegemonies, there would have been no militarism, no nukes or desire in some Pakistanis to wage jihad for Kashmir. Similarly, the British philosopher and peace activist Bertrand Russell, who had worked for India’s freedom until 1947, was so disillusioned by the time of the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962 that in his book ‘Unarmed Victory’ he accused India of having double standards regarding Kashmir and Nagaland. He also held India responsible for initiating the war with China. In view of all these facts, Pakistan needs a sympathetic and helpful approach, not occupation of its territory. If the root problems are resolved, the militancy will wither away rapidly.


DAWN - Letters; December 08, 2008

10 lessons all Pakistanis must learn

By Hassan Baig from LUMS.

"Mulk khud hi chalta rehay ga" (approximate translation: the country doesn't need our contribution to thrive) is a sentence many Pakistanis are prone to saying. I confess that till a few years ago, I myself was confident of this misleading notion. Misleading and dangerous - especially in today's volatile climate. As Pakistanis, it is imperative that we come to terms with the fact that no heavenly Manna will alleviate our country's plight. The job rests squarely on our own shoulders; with the destiny of a whole nation tethered to our will and to the execution of that will. And so as the clock ticks and the prophets of doom raise a foreboding murmur from East to West, it is high time for us to learn some crucial lessons. Lessons without which our collective slumber will only deepen:

1) Extremism always overcomes moderation. History is fraught with examples of moderate majorities ruled and controlled by extremist minorities. Therefore unless we are extreme in our moderation, our endeavor - any endeavor - is doomed to be highjacked by powers which know more meticulous passion. From the radicalized Islamic cleric who preaches bigotry and hatred to the Neoconservative-backed Christian televangelist who sermonizes the urgency of preparing for an ethnic genocide pithily called Armageddon, we today live in an increasingly polarized world. And since Pakistan exists on the very fault-lines of this burgeoning conflict, our problems are exacerbated. Regardless of what stance we take or which side we pick, our country will remain on the receiving end for the foreseeable future. And regardless of how hastily we disregard conspiracy theories, the extreme forces on all sides will continue to augment their belief systems with hybrid religiopolitical prophecies. Prophecies which have a way of snowballing into self-fulfilment. Therefore it is critical that we take our moderate stance to be more of a proactive doctrine rather than apolitical aloofness. Our very existence depends on it.

2) Microanalysis never gives the complete picture. The details are undoubtedly important when comprehending any system. But often overlooked is the effort to mull over the big-picture such details contribute to Рroughly the equivalent of what Sir Dr. Allama Muhammad Iqbal referred to as tadabbur in his reformist discourse. As denizens of a land increasingly rife with numerous challenges, we simply cannot afford intellectual naivet̩. Notwithstanding esoteric themes, we consistently fall short of sensibly determining atleast the more obvious big-picture connections in unfolding narratives. This is utter mediocrity. Whereas some would mistake this for a failure of ability Рthis is infact predominantly a display of negligent disinterest; of an irresponsible, desensitized populace.

Countless times we have allowed ourselves to fall for the same old tricks. A glaring contemporary example is the myth of Pakistan's democratically elected government we all seem to have digested without any modicum of reflection. Ostensibly, the country voted out the dictator and brought in a government ‘for the people by the people’. But consider the macro picture: currently the seat of political power is the Office of the President - a position where the current incumbent's name was never advertised on the ballot on Election Day, a position where the current incumbent affected the people's voting decision by publicly disavowing any interest in the Presidentship on and before election day, a position which still exercises the uber-powerful, dictatorial Article 58 2(b). In form, we indeed have a democratic set-up in place. But in substance?

Now confessedly this example is a soft and convenient target. Moreover even had most Pakistanis successfully connected the dots, demands for a true democratic set up would be a low priority given more daunting issues the country is currently facing. But it's one of the more visible examples and is relatively fresh in memory - overall an effective illustrative point. Furthermore it helps emphasize the need for greater intellectual involvement on our part. Unless we start to discern between real enemies and contrived ones, manipulation of us and our coming generations by exploitative elements both internal and external will continue to be a dominant theme in the national narrative. That is no future to look forward to.

3) Moral relativism is a conduit to absolute corruption. Those who start compromising on principles – even in trivial issues – end up going all the way. A textbook example is that of our previous President: By the end of his regime, General Pervez Musharraf was not the man he was when he first usurped the seat of Pakistan's government. Over time as his political age advanced, he underwent a staged metamorphosis: from an amateur idealist, to a practitioner of temperate Realpolitik, and then finally to an outright Machiavellian Prince. This is the classic lifecycle of corruption; the philosophy that principles are subservient to actions instead of it being the other way around. We must learn once and for all that those who have the proverbial ‘crack in the armor’ inevitably succumb; that their demise is a certainty.

Now realistically speaking it is true that there is no absolute escape from moral relativism, but we atleast need to be skeptical of the more blatant practitioners of this philosophy. We all know who they are. Too many times we have fallen for those who claim that they have been reformed; too many times we have made choices based on the ‘lesser of two evils’. This is folly because it reinforces the longevity of the corrupt by repetitively giving them second chances through the people’s misplaced, gullible trust. Until and unless we explicitly reject this opportunism, our polity will remain enslaved by the puppet-masters.

4) Morality is a myth in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Ethnocentric self-righteousness robs us of our ability to be constructively self-critical and stems societal improvement. Unless we teach our progeny the truth about the decrepit moral standards prevalent in the country and pass on a ‘to-do’ list of sorts; we would have failed in parenting responsible future citizens. We have all witnessed how the various religious movements burn CD shops, dynamite girl schools and dismantle barber boutiques without raising an eyebrow at the greater tyranny of the socio-political system. We have personally seen principled stands getting drowned in derision; the politics of necessity being proclaimed king. We have beheld firsthand justice being abused by megalomania; injustice becoming the law. This is not a lesson to be forgotten or concealed.

5) Don't believe everything you see in the media (self-explanatory)

6) But don't become too paranoid either: empathy and objectivity are seminal in asymptotically approaching the truth. Currently as it stands in Pakistan, we seldom 'think things through', and instead prefer to latch on to the first and most convenient explanation the social circle around us resonates with. This is futile practice. Futile because herd mentality is seldom rational, is borne of fear and dread, and invariably leads to the sort of exploitable mass-hysteria we have witnessed many times over circa 9/11. Make no mistake about it - by abandoning empathy and objectivity, we give up our very freedom of thought and become marionettes to higher interests. In a world of pervasive fear today, Pakistan can chart the course of its destiny better if the collective remains independently thoughtful.

7) Our destinies are tied to Pakistan, to our ethnicity, and to our religion. In the increasingly divisive world of today, individual allegiances are being outdone by overarching stereotypes. In other words, no matter what shade my skin may be, what dialect or accent I speak in or what my beliefs about God may be, I will always be perceived as a Pakistani Muslim by the world at large. And thus, my fate is inescapable from that of Pakistan. So for example if this country is torn asunder due to civil-war brought on by geopolitical strife, I will invariably be perceived as a refugee in the world. Thereafter I can achieve the American dream, or move in international social circles, or even perfectly synchronize my habits with Western norms - I can do all that and I'll still be a refugee. Pakistan's imprint echoes in my very existence; in all of us. We can live our life denying this fact and bury our head in the sand. Or we can accept it, embrace it and let it influence our priorities. How we choose our greater allegiance today will shape our collective, intertwined destiny.

8) The onus for reforming the system is on the middle classes. That is, the onus is on people like you and me. We are the potential agents of change. And thus by implication, we are also blameworthy for allowing the system to remain broken, for not wanting to 'get our hands dirty', for being the silent, apathetic onlookers. The moneyed elite are not to blame – they adhere to their characteristic decadence and nonchalance; they do precisely what they're expected to do. Corrupt politicians are not to blame – a thief knows little more than the art of thievery. Likewise, neither the military's top brass, and nor the have-nots of Pakistan are culpable. They all play their designated roles in manners they ought to. This leaves the middle and upper-middle classes - essentially people like you and me. Us. We are the true architects of revolutionary change. For we are the only societal segment in this country which is situated at the confluence of a moral code which may be disillusioned but still partly intact, a vision which is alienated but still somewhat patriotic and an agency which is disoriented but still adequately resourceful. In short we are far from perfect, but we are the only messiahs Pakistan can realistically count on. There is absolutely no one else. This lesson is perhaps the most consequential one we have to learn.

9) Incremental change is not a bad option. Activism through small, comfortable increments is not an impractical way of approaching the paradigm of change. That is, even small steps help since at any one time atomic constituents are more solvable than the complex whole. Hence we must not abhor atomizing issues and then indulging in micro-activism – it is ok if how one contributes does not have immediately noticeable repercussions.

I have encountered many Pakistanis who cite their inability to have a substantial, resounding impact as the main driving force behind their evident indifference to the country's woes. To all those who espouse this view, I say that though I can empathize with your sense of demoralization, I simply cannot condone the rationale for such inaction. For it is undeniable that some progress is better than no progress; that going from 100 to 101 is a better deal than staying put; that the smallest gestures help too. If all of us today - the 140 million plus of us no less – individually contemplate the smallest, tiniest way we can contribute to Pakistan's socioeconomic betterment and act on it, is there any doubt that the country will not change overnight in one big rush of altruistic activism? Now this is ofcourse an unrealistic, rhetorical example - but it is thematic of the power of incremental change. A change easy to accomplish with the results snowballing as more people buy into the paradigm. In short we must not overlook this option; rather it is sensible to include it as an ally in our portfolio of loftier ambitions.

10) Lastly, Pakistan can shine. No really; this is not just talk. If you don't know where to start, there's a lot of help around. And not to mention many examples to take inspiration from. Did you know that Pakistan possesses the technological knowhow to manufacture drones indigenously[i]? Or that one of the most highly regarded applications available in Apple's iPhone App Store today is of Pakistani[ii] origin? Or that 27 Pakistani scientists[iii] are scheduled to work on CERN's Large Hadron Collider (the 'Big Bang' experiment machine)? Or that a Pakistani Venture Capitalist has been placed in the top 10[iv] in Forbes magazine's worldwide annual VC ranking?

These are just a few inspirational stories among a plethora of real-world anecdotes and accomplishments with a quintessentially Pakistani stamp on them. For all that is made out to be defective about this country, there are flashes of brilliance just waiting to be given the opportunity to show themselves in their true splendor to the realms; to spread out and envelope the gloom infesting our polity. We just need to get rid of the “Mulk khud hi chalta rehay ga” approach. And fortunately, this is not as hard as it sounds. There are numerous small but meaningful ways in which we can make a personal contribution. Some suggestions are:

  • Make yourself heard. Become involved, for your continued silence is really an endorsement of the status quo. Reject what must be rejected, condemn that what is condemnable, endorse and encourage where merited. And do not be fooled into thinking that this is an ambitious proposition: increasing accessibility to the information superhighway has made it easier for any individual to become part of the public discourse. There are numerous Pakistani internet blogs and forums where you can voice your opinions and contribute in your own way to mold the national spirit for a brighter future. And you do not necessarily have to write articles – blogs traditionally invite one-liner comments as well. It is the same as, if not easier than, writing a text message on your cell phone.
  • Brainstorm in public to seed ideas and to inspire. Many people talk about the way the world should be, but much less understand how to get there. If you do have thought-provoking ideas, then there is nothing more fruitful than exposing your design – through, say, the internet – to the collective intellect for it to dissect it, understand it, polish it if necessary and support it when satisfied. Also remember that your proposed solutions do not have to be comprehensive – for many issues simply cannot be solved bottom-up[v] and the burden has to be placed on the unlikely possibility of a non-elitist, well-educated visionary coming along and dominating our political scene in the future. But your ideas can always ameliorate problems; lessen their severity so to speak. It is imperative that such brainstorming enters our public discourse – the resulting crosspollination is what will slowly and steadily alter the course of our destiny.
  • Become an activist through inaction (can’t get easier than this). Every populace has its own share of idealists and lunatics. Ones who think the impossible is possible, the unrealistic is realistic and that conventional wisdom is unwise. And too often people succumb to the temptation of vociferously chastising such individuals; of telling them how futile their beliefs are; of how the system will crush their hopes. Now during my days at LUMS, a Groucho Marx quotation used to do the rounds quite often: “Blessed are the cracked ones, for they shall let in the light”. Just let the lunatics be no matter how imbecilic[vi] their ideas are. Let them have their shot at change. Next time you meet the idealist, unreasonably optimistic seedling who thinks he or she can change the world, be lazy and do not make the effort go negative on them.

All of the suggestions above are very small starts confessedly. But by no means is such a start inconsequential. Through the build-up of momentum, confidence to tackle bigger beasts can evolve and we can then trailblaze our way to that true destiny envisioned for Pakistan by Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. This is our moment; let’s seize it. Let’s get going.

[v] Take this simplistically formulated example: India has roughly 8000 universities for its 1 billion people (approximately one university for every 125,000 persons). Pakistan has around 120 for its 140 million (one university for every 1.2 million persons). Assuming this level stays constant (unrealistic assumption), simple math shows we need 1000 more universities to attain parity. That is a massive task. And therefore the kind of fiscal muscle required to pull it off necessitates active government involvement.