Sunday, December 30, 2007

More On Conspiracy Theories

I just want to piggyback off of NB's excellent post on conspiracy theories for a second. Many non-Pakistanis would gaze in wonderment at our dexterity in assigning blame based on outcomes. Almost always in Pakistani drawing rooms and lounges, one (evil) beneficiary of a certain action is identified and then made responsible for said action, despite absolutely no evidence for such an assertion. The lack of evidence is written off as the result of the nefarious designs of the extremely adroit conspirator ("you really think they would leave evidence?").

There are a couple of points to be made about this "logic". First, if it is taken to its logical conclusion, then we must blame (a) Iran and China for the Iraq war, (b) the U.S. for World War II, (c) Tim Duncan for the Shaq-Kobe feud, and (d) Subway for McDonald's. The fact that no evidence exists for Iran and China instigating the Iraq war, the Americans instigating World War II, Tim Duncan instigating the Shaq-Kobe feud, or Subway convincing McDonald's to use approximately 450 tons of fat in each burger only shows us how brilliant and conniving each of Iran, China, America, Tim Duncan and Subway really are.

The second point to be made is that even if you ignore the ridiculousness of the general "logic" outlined above, it still doesn't make sense in this particular case. As NB mentioned, there are no conceivable set of circumstances under which Musharraf would have benefited from BB's death. He already had what he wanted: the office of the Presidency secured, a pliant judiciary, a muzzled media, the continued support of the West in general and the U.S. in particular, and the participating of all the main parties in the general elections (the PML-N agreed to contest despite Nawaz Sharif not being allowed to run for God's sake). What else could he have possible wanted? And how might have those desires been furthered by murdering BB? To blame Musharraf for this, in my mind, is simply foolish.

Be that as it may, I am not prepared to completely eliminate the possibility of official/establishment involvement. A number of rogue elements within the ISI, in conjunction with some retired generals (ahem, Hameed Gul) and current politicians (*cough Ijaz-ul-Haq cough*) could have conceivably used some nutter to further their objectives by getting rid of BB. But - and this is crucial - the burden of evidence lies on the conspiracy theorists to show it isn't just some Baitullah Mehsud disciple carrying out orders, because that is the most obvious and natural explanation for this. I think we as a nation would do well to familiarize ourselves with the concept of Occam's razor.

All this said, I'm wondering if Pakistanis would have been so quick to blame Musharraf for BB's death if it had happened a year or two ago - before the firing of the Chief Justice (the first time), before the emergency, before the clampdown on the media, before May 12, and before the price of flour went through the roof. Clearly, it's not just about wild imaginations but popularity ratings as well. It is extremely difficult to imagine Musharraf being held culpable for this back when he enjoyed 60% approval ratings. In a perverse way, Musharraf deserves what he's getting here. If he hadn't made so many mistakes, he wouldn't be blamed for one he didn't make.

Bhutto's Assassins and Destructive Conspiracy Theories

New footage has appeared of Benazir Bhutto's shooter, alongside a man alleged to have been the suicide bomber. This seems to disprove the Government's account and the coroners report that she was killed after colliding with the sunroof lever due to the outward force of the blast. You can see the video from Dawn Television below:

That said, the specifics are immaterial. Whether she died by gunshot, or by the blast, the fact remains that she was standing outside the sunroof and that she was killed by her assassins. Whether her death was caused by gunshot, shrapnel, or the force of the explosion has no logical bearing upon the actual blameworthiness of the government. It neither assists Musharraf nor does it reflect worse upon him. The shrapnel/bullet/sunroof debate (started by the somewhat pointless Sherry Rehman) is therefore pointless, and is not an appropriate topic for public discussion, not least because it has zero bearing on any one parties culpability. It should be determined upon by the investigating authorities, regardless of their inevitable shortcomings.

Exhortations to dig up Benazir's body just a day after her burial to resolve such a ridiculous dispute are indicative of the madness that is now pervasive. The governments immediate declaration of willingness to accede to such demands is further indicative of their sheer desperation to acquit themselves of a charge that should never have been made against them in the first place.

Just to put this particular sub-debate in context, it has somehow become wound up with the broader conspiracy theory proposed by many that Musharraf actually orchestrated Benazir's death (rather than the softer version wherein he was simply negligent in permitting it). I have reproduced Robert Fisk's astoundingly daft version below:

"So let's run through this logic in the way that Inspector Ian Blair might have done in his policeman's notebook before he became the top cop in London.
Question: Who forced Benazir Bhutto to stay in London and tried to prevent her return to Pakistan?
Answer:General Musharraf.

Question: Who ordered the arrest of thousands of Benazir's supporters this month?
Answer: General Musharraf.

Question: Who placed Benazir under temporary house arrest this month?
Answer: General Musharraf.

Question: Who declared martial law this month?
Answer General Musharraf.

Question: who killed Benazir Bhutto?
Er. Yes. Well quite."
Just to clarify, Fisk thinks that the above Q & A speaks for itself in terms of Musharraf's apparently obvious culpability. Fisk's regrettably simplistic efforts notwithstanding, it is close to impossible to actually reason out a comprehensive scenario where it was in Musharraf's interest to kill Benazir. A simple glance at the state the Country is in today should establish that. Secondly and more importantly, even if one outcome did benefit a party it may legitmatley raises a suspicion, but it should not result in an irrefutable charge being made against that party, which is essentially what a conspiracy theory does. A paucity of information should result in a simple "I don't know" rather than a convoluted conspiracy theory.

That said, it should be noted that there is some information in the current instance. This conspiracy theory exists notwithstanding an apparent initial admission by Al-Qaeda, an alleged confession tape by Baitullah Mehsud, and a belatedly thin denial by the latter which incredibly states that "it is against tribal tradition and custom to attack a woman". Baitullah Mehsud apparently lives in an alternate dimension where his brain has been replaced by a walnut, where honor killings don't take place and where suicide bombs have somehow always been intelligent enough to focus their explosive force exclusively upon men and not women. That is not to suggest that Baitullah Mehsud is actually guilty or that the government was correct in identifying him, but rather that his explanation is just about as implausible as they come.

I would submit that the creation and proliferation of conspiracy theories following Benazir's assassination is extremely damaging and detrimental to Pakistan for two reasons:

1) Armchair conspiracy theories and baseless punditry place the burden of proof upon the government to somehow prove their innocence in the matter. Rather than rupturing further, Pakistan's society and state should be galvanizing in outrage against religiously bigoted militancy or at the very least against the use of such horrific violence against our own people. Conspiracy theories however misdirect public anger, with the kind of catastrophic effects were now witnessing across Sindh. The Jihadis (who are a real problem regardless of their culpability for this crime) are effectively rewarded through the instigation of a conflict between their biggest opponents, namely the PPP and the Army, or Musharraf and the PPP (or Punjab and Sindh, depending on which fault line you want to use as perspective). If they are responsible, it's two birds with one blast, and plenty of innocent Pakistanis to follow.

2) Conspiracy theories are not premised upon evidence but rather the lack thereof. The absence of evidence to prove the 'official' hypothesis somehow 'proves' the idiotic conspiratorial hypothesis, i.e "there's no evidence, therefore there must be a cover up". Contending that conjecture stands proven because of the absence of evidence is circular and stupid. We should only be drawing conclusions when real proof, i.e. a motive plus incriminating evidence, is established.

By reversing the burden of proof, conspiracy theories create new issues and new sub-disputes which cannot essentially be resolved (e.g. the pointless sunroof v bullet dispute although that can be resolved, albeit only by exhuming the body). In the future, this debate will stalemate and become knotted, locking innocent parties in a poisonous blame game and preventing the country from moving on and forward. Moreover, the entrenchment of such conspiracy theories prevents people from obtaining closure in the future and prolongs their grief.

Why then do Pakistanis love to subscribe to such investigative jiggery pokery? Well, there has traditionally been a vacuum of credible information in Pakistan. Moreover, the government has historically been positively in-credible and understandably, conspiracy theories tend to flourish in such an environment. Less understandably, that proclivity is further assisted by our individual penchants for gossip, our desire for self-importance and our unflagging ability to draw macro conclusions from bizzare & unreliable anecdotal information received from an uncle.

Additionally, we are extremely willing to believe whatever we like about people we don't like. Consequently, many Pakistanis simply don't like to make well reasoned and slightly obvious conclusions where it's entirely more gratifying to blame people we already hate. Which is why Musharraf somehow orchestrated the Lal Masjid uprising and Benazir's assassination, and which is why the Jews are somehow responsible for 9/11 (and Benazir's assassination, because those we hate love each other obviously).

So by that logic, I hate Atif Aslam, he is therefore responsible for pretty much everything bad because when people are sad they buy his crappy power ballads, and unless he can prove that he didn't secretly orchestrate everything by instructing someone who instructed someone else to instruct someone else to carry out something which caused everything to get messed up, he's clearly guilty.

Chalo. Now lets go burn some banks.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Interior Ministry: BB Didn't Die From Bullet Wound

I just saw a spokesperson from the Ministry of Interior claiming that Benazir didn't die as a result of a gunshot but from hitting her head against the sun-roof lever in her car. The government is also stating it has strong proof of al-Qaeda's involvement in the assassination. In other news, the Army has moved into Sindh and Benazir was buried after Friday prayers today amidst scenes of anguish and despair.

In Rs.5 news, I will be traveling over the next 24 hours or so. I am actually headed out of the country. No, I'm not running away - though I will concede the timing is extraordinarily convenient...or extraordinarily inconvenient, depending on how you look at it. I'm actually going back to school. Luckily for our readers, AKS should be returning from his vacation tomorrow, refreshed and (hopefully) ready to blog - internet connection and AKS' incredible laziness notwithstanding.

Breaking News: Rangers Given Shoot-At-Sight Orders

DawnNews is reporting that Rangers (a paramilitary organization) have been given shoot-at-sight orders against arsonists in Sindh.

UPDATE at 08:40 GMT: There are numerous reports of violence and rioting taking place all over the country in towns and cities alike. Sindh's situation is deteriorating more rapidly than other areas, and the Rangers have been deployed in Thatta (a rural town in Sindh). Mobs have generally taken to damaging and burning motor vehicles (buses, vans, cars, motorbikes) and offices of the PML-Q and the MQM around the country. A news item on Aaj showed how the country has come to a complete standstill: businesses and offices are shuttered up, schools and colleges shut, the Karachi stock exchange closed, and all transport off the road. I also saw a ticker-tape item on DawnNews (whose coverage, by the way, has been superb) saying that three PPP workers have been shot dead by the police. Regardless of how disorderly PPP supporters might be at this point, is it really a good idea for the police to be killing PPPers the day after their leader was assassinated?

UPDATE at 08:48 GMT: In election news, caretaker Prime Minister Soomro has said that elections will be held on time. As many will know, Nawaz Sharif's PML-N decided to boycott the elections last night. The MQM, meanwhile, has asked for the elections to be postponed.

The Mourning After

The country is in a three day mourning period with flags at half-mast and the roads completely empty. If you're from Karachi, you simply cannot recognize the lack of traffic - it's like that scene in Vanilla Sky when Tom Cruise ends up in Times Square with no soul in sight. There have been a number of flashes of protest/anger/rioting/tire-burning/vandalism though.

The picture of Benazir's killing is pretty clear. Benazir was in the back of a four-wheeler and stood up on the seat to wave at supporters through the sun-roof as she was leaving Liaquat Bagh. She was shot in the neck and chest, forcing her to get back in the car where she put her head into someone else's lap, bleeding profusely. As the car tried to make an escape from the premises a few seconds later, a suicide bomber with up to 4kg (about 9 pounds) of explosives blew himself up. Benazir died of her injuries on the way to hospital and will be buried later today in her hometown of Larkana in interior Sindh.

The blame game has already begun, with many questioning Benazir's security arrangements. It's unclear to me what role greater security could have played given that Benazir was basically a sitting duck: standing on a seat of a car, waving through the sun-roof, in a slow-moving vehicle through throngs of supporters in a constrained space - I mean, that's an assassin's dream, isn't it? Of course, I am not ruling out the culpability of the establishment or government - I am only ruling out the potential of greater security to have obviated the assassination.

It's also worth mentioning that I have about as much confidence in a real and thorough investigation as I do in Imran Farhat's catching ability (i.e. not very much). First of all, television pictures yesterday showed the police using those really powerful water pipes to clean the area of all the blood and body parts. I don't know about their intentions, but they definitely guaranteed the complete absence of any forensic evidence. Second, it is now been twenty years since that Zia fellow suddenly had his plane explode in thin air, and no one - I mean no one - has any idea of what the hell happened. If a sitting President - and Army General - can have his plane explode without any explanation, what chance does a mere opposition leader have? I'll be willing to wager that we will never know what happened on December 27, 2007, notwithstanding al-Qaeda's claims.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

What Benazir's Assassination Means

To understand why Benazir Bhutto’s death is so important – not just tragic, but of grave consequence – you must first ask yourself the question: which fissures in society are the most highly politicized? In Pakistan the answers are: religion and ethnicity. Class is not much of an issue in Pakistani politics – most serious left of center parties as well any semblance of a Marxist-Lite movement were wiped out by the establishment by the 1970s. Only the PPP is a truly viable left of center party today, and it isn’t significantly left of center either. No party is said to cater exclusively or even primarily the poor and most if not all parties are run be elites.

No, in Pakistan the true lightning rods have been ethnicity (historically) and religion (recently). These issues have driven the agenda in the political landscape since the country’s inception and continue to do so today. Ethnic politics manifests itself in center-provincial and provincial-provincial relations because most of Pakistan’s ethnicities are neatly encapsulated by separate provinces (the Bengalis lived in East Pakistan until 1971, the Pukhtoons live in NWFP, the Balochis in Balochistan, the Punjabis in Punjab, and the Sindhis and Mohajirs share Sindh), with only the megacities – Islamabad/Rawalpindi, Lahore, and Karachi – displaying any degree of metropolitan-ness. The issues which are usually used to assert positions in these battles are things like language policy, water issues, military recruitment, and taxes and spending. Religious politics, meanwhile, have become more overt in the last twenty years. It’s not just NY Times-front-page-type stuff like terrorism or militancy where religious politics plays itself out but also on issues such as rape laws and passports. Both issues have the power to inflame passions and result in significant violence – though only ethnic issues have the potential to result in widespread violence.


Already two explanations are being forwarded insofar as the culprits of the assassination are concerned. The first is that the Taliban or some other Islamic militant organization targeted Benazir for her promising to tackle extremism and militancy. They saw her as a threat and killed her just like they tried to kill Musharraf or Shaukat Aziz or Sherpao. The second explanation is more of a conspiracy theory. It says that our military agencies in consort with the senior leadership of the PML-Q took Benazir out because she was a threat to their hold on power. They point to the fact that another strong party – the PML-N – was targeted earlier in the day. They also point, somewhat more credibly, to Benazir’s letter to Musharraf before she returned to Pakistan where she pointed out some names that might wish her harm. Included in those names was Ijaz Shah, the head honcho of one of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, and, according to rumors, the Chaudhries of Gujarat: Pervez Elahi and Chaudhry Shujaat.

The second explanation holds significantly more potential for violence. The Chaudhries are from Punjab and have essentially ruled the province these last five years. The Pakistan military and intelligence agencies are also seen to be Punjabi entities. The Bhutto family, on the other hand, is about as Sindhi as Sindhi can get. The point to note is that it doesn’t even matter if the Punjabi-establishment explanation is true. What matters is if people believe it is true. And by people, I mean really pissed off PPP workers.

As I type this, reports of violence in the urban areas of Sindh are coming through on television. In Karachi, riots and tire-burning started almost immediately after news of Benazir’s death was confirmed. A hospital was set on fire and a jail (Gulistan-e-Jauhar for the Karachiites out there) was attacked. Five people have been killed so far in firing in the city. This much, I think, was expected. The danger, of course, is that, in the Sindhi PPP worker’s mind, this is about Sindh and Punjab, and that today’s almost spontaneous violence becomes tomorrow’s more calculated and narrowly aimed. In other words, if the court of public opinion privileges the second explanation – the Punjabi establishment one – over the first – the Taliban/militant one – then we could be on the cusp on the breakout of Pakistan’s first brush with mass, widespread violence since 1971.


There is a very good reason a number of analysts on television have already shone a light on calming Sindhi sentiments. There is a very good reason Nawaz Sharif, a Punjabi leader of a large national but largely Punjabi party for non-Pakistani readers, said in his press conference a little over a half hour ago that “in their time of grief, I want Sindh to know that the PML-N is with them…that Nawaz Sharif is with them.” Center-province relations have been fraught at the best of times but this type of incident has Archduke Ferdinand-type power. Almost everyone – student organizations, political parties, religious organizations – is armed at the neighborhood or district level, and those that are not armed can become so fairly quickly (in Pakistan, only hash is as easy to procure as a weapon). It does not take a great deal of imagination to picture a Pakistan where a widespread conflict erupts between Punjabis and Sindhis, especially if the Army becomes involved in trying to maintain order (which it most likely will). In short, Newsweek’s infamous cover proclaiming Pakistan the most dangerous country in the world could conceivably become a reality. A large ethnic conflict, coupled with militant violence in the NWFP and a nationalist movement in Balochistan (already happening), in addition to rampant inflation and socioeconomic pressures (already happening) in an unstable country with an unstable leader and, oh yeah, nuclear weapons? Yup, I think that would about cover it.

Even if that worst-cast scenario does not materialize, there is bound to be certain level of street violence in the coming days. Riots and strikes should be the norm and I anticipate extremely high levels of tension. I think we can also safely say goodbye to the prospect of elections in January. The idea of elections does not just seem implausible to me at this point but also somewhat inappropriate. At the very least they should be postponed four weeks to give everyone time to grieve (and take a deep breath). What sort of elections would we see under the current circumstances anyway?


Readers, if you are not in Pakistan, there is simply no way I can convey the sense of shock pervasive here. It gets more surreal hour by hour. A significant part of me simply cannot believe that she is dead. Over the last two years or so, I grew to admire and respect Benazir, despite her many faults. As regulars will know, I loudly supported her and her party. But today cannot be about politics. Even those who hated Benazir, and hated her positions, cannot be anything but immensely grieved and deeply disturbed by today’s events. It is, without a doubt, one of the saddest days in Pakistan’s history and a true national tragedy. Our thoughts are with her family, and may her soul rest in peace.

Breaking News: Benazir Bhutto Killed In Suicide Attack

If you're counting, that's three (maybe four) Bhuttos that have met politically motivated deaths. I will be blogging updates as I watch Aaj, Geo and ARY.

What we know so far is that Benazir was one of the victims of a suicide blast outside Liaqat Bagh (a park named after Pakistan's first Prime Minister, also assassinated) in Rawalpindi as she was leaving a political rally. Right now, the news channels keep replaying the last few scenes from BB's life, as she descends from the podium from which she delivered her speech into her bulletproof four-wheeler. More to follow.

UPDATE at 13:58 GMT: Reports are streaming in that shopkeepers in the urban areas of Sindh, the PPP's primary stronghold, are closing down their businesses. In Larkana, people have come out on to the streets and burned tires. In Karachi and Hyderabad, people have come out on the street. I myself saw an increased security presence in Karachi a few minutes after her death was confirmed, including a helicopter and some police cars and checkpoints. DawnNews is reporting that the government is asking people to stay indoors.

UPDATE at 14:07 GMT: Aaj just reported that a bullet was also found in her neck. So much for the bulletproof vehicle.

UPDATE at 14:19 GMT: A report that the death toll is up to 25 and that Sherry Rehman and Naheed Malik are among the injured. DawnNews reports that a motorcyclist apparently rammed into her vehicle and blew himself up. I really can't describe the state of shock pervasive here, both among people calling our house and the journalists on TV.

UPDATE at 14:33 GMT: BBC is reporting that as Benazir rose to wave from her car to supporters (presumably through a sun-roof) when she was leaving the scenes, she was shot three times in the neck and head before a suicide bomber blew himself up. She died on the way to the hospital.

UPDATE at 14:37 GMT: Aaj is reporting rioting and violence in the two strongest PPP areas in Karachi: Lyari and Malir.

UPDATE at 14:56 GMT: Jamaat-e-Islami shows its class. Some senior JI official (Munawar Hassan) started railing against Musharraf, dictatorship and 8-tear tenures while a DawnNews anchor tried in vain to get him to talk about BB. Mullahs never disappoint.

UPDATE at 15:03 GMT: After chairing a high level cabinet meeting, President Musharraf
on state television appealed for calm and restraint in the nation so that the "evil designs of the terrorists" could be defeated.

UPDATE at 15:28 GMT: Reaction has streamed in from all over. President Bush called the attack cowardly and said the U.S. stood by Pakistan in its fight against extremism and terror. The British Prime Minister said it was a sad day for democracy and a tragic day for Pakistan. Condolences have flown in from all over the world, including India and France, as well as condemnation of the attack.

UPDATE at 20:35 GMT: Aaj is reporting violence in Karachi has simmered down, though that may have less to do with tempers calming and more to do with the fact that even rioters need to sleep (it's half past one in the morning here). I have also heard that the Army has been readied in Sindh to move in, though I haven't heard anything official about martial law or anything of the sort. The movements and words of various people such as Musharraf, Asif Zardari, Nawaz Sharif, and the Chaudhries will be crucial tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Quote Of The Day

The difference between Madrid and Barcelona is the difference between an antelope and a lion. And I don't remember a single documentary where the antelope wins.

Marca's Roberto Palomar. Having watched El Clasico between Barcelona and Madrid on Sunday, I'm inclined to agree with him. Not the whole antelope-and-lion bit, but the not-winning bit. Barca are now seven points behind a very solid looking Madrid, still yet to play at the Bernabeu. They put in a pitiful performance on Sunday night, they really did. Iniesta was the only bright spot - other than that, too many people had too quiet games: Eto'o, Deco, Xavi to name just three.

And then there's Ronaldinho. I think it's become clear that him and Barca must part ways. I say this with a somewhat-but-not-completely heavy heart. Most will understand by ambivalence. On the one hand, he is still young, and there is the feeling that the right manager, someone who would light a fire under his ass, could get him nearing the heights of his 2004-2006 form, still fresh in the minds of Barca fans. On the other hand, however, he looks increasingly overweight and not committed enough (hmm, I haven't typed those words on this blog with respect to anyone else, have I?), and I'm not sure I would want someone like that on my team, irrespective of the manager.

I don't think anything will happen in January, even if Milan or Chelsea (the two most interested suitors) come in with an outlandish offer. I think the club will give Rijkaard a chance to steady the ship, to see if he can get this La Liga campaign kick-started after the new year and still put in a solid performance in Europe. I also think that after his play against Real, nobody will complain if Ronaldinho is on the bench the rest of the year, unless his training and practicing habits change. This will allow Rijkaard to play the team he wants, and see how good that team can be. A Barca with Ronaldinho out, Messi fit and Eto'o and Yaya Toure back from the African Nations Cup will still be a massive contender in Europe, though as I said earlier, I think the 1-0 loss to Madrid at home has effectively ended the La Liga campaign. At the end of the season, the club will see where it's at and will in all likelihood let Rijkaard walk and sell Ronaldinho for an exorbitantly overpriced fee.

By the way, just a word about Madrid: they are an excellent team. They are very much for real, and they along with Man United are my new favorites for the Champions League (with Arsenal, Barca and Inter my second tier candidates). They are very different from years past and have a very steely look to them both in the middle of the park and up front. Not that Real ever really fly under the radar, but I feel people have sort of forgotten about them this season, and I have no idea why. They never really gave Barca a chance on Sunday and thoroughly outclassed them. It didn't even look particularly competitive, which was the worrying thing for me personally.

Please come back, Messi.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"Can You Change It Please?" (Video Of The Day)

Owing to his fondness for diving, his meterosexual eye-brows, and his very real and undeniable talent, Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the most reviled players in the world. This video is a gift to those who indulge in said reviling.

Two Steps, One Objective

The following ad was placed in yesterday's Dawn [and I'm sure various other newspapers]. I reproduce it here for the viewing pleasure of those unfortunate enough not to be in Pakistan.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Of Manifestos, Alliteration, And Acronyms

So party manifestos have been all the rage in the last couple of days. First, Benazir's PPP came out with their 5 E's manifesto, aimed at employment, education, energy, environment and equality. Not to be outdone in the alliteration sweepstakes, the PML-Q responded with their 5 D's manifesto which entailed democracy, development, devolution, diversity and defence. Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N decided to blaze their own trail, leaving the alliterations in their dust and instead turning to acronyms that spell real words. Check out what they came up with:

Restoration of the judiciary, democracy and 1973 constitution
Elimination of military's rule in politics
Security of life and property of the people
Tolerant and pluralistic society
Overall national reconciliation and institutional development
Relief for the poor through poverty alleviation
Employment, education, and health facilities for the citizens

RESTORE. For some reason, I couldn't stop laughing when I read this one. Did someone forget to tell good old Sharif bhai that in acronyms, you can't have each letter representing an entire goddamn sentence? Unbelievable.

For my mind, these manifestos are Royally and Excruciatingly Terrible Attempts at Replacing Dictatorship with Everlasting Democracy, or RETARDED.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Quotes Of The Day (Nutty Pervez Edition)

You know you're guaranteed some doozies when the Washington Post has a 5 page interview with Pervez Musharraf. What follow are the highlights of a truly remarkable sit-down.

Q. Will the judges be restored to their prior positions?

A. No, not at all. What judges? Why should they be restored? New judges are there. They will never be restored.

Q. People in the West will have a hard time understanding that.

A. Let them not understand. They should come to Pakistan and understand Pakistan.


Q. Then why are you now clamping down on the media? You seem far more angry now than ever before.

A. I think you are right. [Laughs] Why don't you understand? Am I a madman? Have I suddenly changed? Am I a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?


Q. But didn't you promise the U.S. last summer that you'd lift the ban on that [a third term for Prime Ministers]?

A. No, I haven't given any such promises. We did talk about it, but there were many things that we talked about which have been violated . . .

Q. And you feel you could work with her [Benazir Bhutto]?

A. I think so. I am not such an unpleasant person.

The Fallacious Logic Of Boycotting Elections

So my first discussion on politics took place about a minute and a half after I sat in the car on the way home from the airport a couple of days ago. My dad and I were talking about the forthcoming elections and the purpose served in boycotting them. My dad was adamant that no party should take part in the January elections, and that the proud lawyers movement had been sold down the drain by the power-hungry and unprincipled political parties.

This view is completely wrong-headed. First of all, it is not the political parties' job to represent the legal community's interests. If a political party feels it to be a wise and sound electoral strategy to support protesting lawyers, then it's all well and good. But political parties do not owe the lawyers' movement anything - anything at all - and if it is the case that certain parties are participating in elections, it does not mean those parties are somehow less "moral" or "principled" than those boycotting elections. It is merely the case that the former have calculated their interests differently than the latter. I am always very suspicious when people use words like "morals" and "principles" in the study of politics. I am especially suspicious of the employment of any framework which results in Imran Khan and Qazi Hussain Ahmed being cast as "moral" and "principled".

Moreover, participating in elections in and of itself does not confer legitimacy on them. To the contrary, it is only when one participates in elections that one has the right to shine light on their inherent flaws and illegitimacy. For instance, if the PML-N did not choose to participate in the elections, and the PML-Q cruised to victory in Punjab, then Nawaz Sharif could not have said a word about the rigging of elections (this idea brackets pre-poll irregularities such as differences in ability to organize rallies/advertising space on television/etc). Anything Sharif said could have been countered by the Chaudhries with, "Well, how do you know they were rigged? You didn't even fight the elections. Maybe we won a landslide victory because our main competitor (i.e. you) were not contesting them."

On the other hand, let's say the PML-Q wins 60 percent of the districts and seats in Punjab with Nawaz Sharif's PML participating. In that case, everyone will know something fishy happened. Actually, everyone knows something fishy is going to happen in these elections anyway, but at least the opposition parties will have a leg to stand on when the fishiness does finally ensue. Nawaz Sharif could say: "Look, the whole world knows your party is unpopular. The whole world also knows I am held in great esteem by many Punjabi voters. How the hell, then, did this come to pass?"

Don't underestimate the power of the crankiness of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif post-elections. Having been pushed on to Musharraf by two of Pakistan's three most important foreign allies (the U.S. and Saudi Arabia respectively; by the way, who's China's candidate?), their satisfaction with the status quo post-elections will be important to power brokers abroad and, consequently, at home. Is this a perfect deterrent to unfair elections? No, of course not - it is more than likely that these elections will be grossly unfair. The question to ask, however, is not "Is participating in elections going to make them fair?" [no] but "Is participating in elections better than boycotting elections in terms of our ability to cry foul and declare them invalid and unfair after the fact?" [yes].

I am really open to the idea that contesting elections somehow grants them legitimacy. I don't believe it for a second but honestly, I'd love to hear a convincing explanation of the logic behind it. The prevailing conventional wisdom seems to be that once you agree to contest elections under a particular facade, you signal to the world that you find that facade acceptable. But that's a ridiculous notion, at least to me. The world will only believe your protestations against a facade once you've lived under it. This is why it is a good thing that Pakistan's two biggest parties, the PPP and the PML-N, have agreed to contest the forthcoming elections. Even under the most mangled of political circumstances, Pakistan is infinitely better off with the PPP and the PML-N fighting the system from within than without.

There seems to be an inverse relationship between one's strength of condemnation of Sharif's and Bhutto's moves to fight these elections and one's importance in Pakistan politics. In other words, it is incredibly easy, even beneficial, to cast BB and NS as villainous heathens bent on power and power alone if you're a small and insignificant party. It gets your name in the paper and gives you a visibility that you lacked before. Think Imran Khan and his one-seat party. Think Mahmood Khan Achakzai and the fact that you'd never even heard of his name until this blog post. Think Qazi Hussain and the JI, likely to be squeezed between the PPP, MQM and PML-Q like never before in Karachi and between the JUI (contesting elections, remember) and other smaller parties in NWFP (where it has never traditionally been a strong vote-getter). The only exceptions to this rule are the Aitzaz Ahsans of the world, but even in that case it is the exception that proves the rule. First, Aitzaz Ahsan is inexorably tied to the lawyers movement. His threshold for participating in elections will obviously be higher given his association with a movement that is unidirectional in nature: all the lawyers want is the exit of Musharraf and the return to the pre-November 3 judiciary. Second, even given these constraints, Aitzaz Ahsan was still willing to contest the elections provided BB budged a little on her post-election plans. Only when she told him to bugger off (itself a bit of a mystery to me - why doesn't BB see the favorable effects of AA's presence and think only in terms of her ego?) did AA decide that he wants no part of these elections.

Before I'm accused of betraying the revolution, please allow me to say what I'm not saying. I'm not saying any of Musharraf's and the Q League's shenanigans before these elections are acceptable. Furthermore, I'm not saying that contesting these elections guarantees, or even makes more likely, their fairness. What I am saying is that one's word against these elections is made significantly stronger and more reliable if one actually contested them. Now, if only my dad would believe me.

Update: A Poli Sci grad student at Columbia writes about a couple of themes touched upon in my post.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Pakistan vs. India 3rd Test Day 5

Hello and welcome to Rs. 5’s coverage of the fifth day of the third test between India and Pakistan. We join the action 30 minutes late because I had to run a couple of errands this morning. India have moved on to 148-2 and have pushed their lead to 237. Why they are still batting is completely beyond me. Don’t they want to win 2-0? Don’t they want to give themselves as much time as possible to get this done?

As always, all times are local (i.e. Pakistan time).

9:33 a.m. This pitch is behaving very badly. Some are taking off, and others are staying really low. The one positive for Pakistan seems to be that the pitch is more inconsistent when the quick bowlers are on, and India’s attack on this fifth day will be spin-centric.

9:41 a.m. Shoaib bowling a lot of short-pitched stuff to Ganguly here. One hits him on his ribs/side and flies to the boundary. That’s going to hurt tomorrow.

9:47 a.m. Dani is offering complete rubbish to Ganguly. What’s happened to him? Does he need a rest? (Well, he doesn’t play ODIs or 20/20s). Has he just become crap? (Possible). Have batsmen the world over figured him out? (Probable).

9:53 a.m. Shoaib looks T-I-R-E-D. I know he bowls quick and all, but is that unreasonable to expect your “ace” to get through a six over spell without flagging?

9.58 a.m. Zeyd must be rejoicing. Sami is on. I miss Gully and Asif.

9.59 a.m. I see that Dravid has quietly moved on to 41. He really needs a score here to get him in groove for Australia. That is the only reason that I can think of for India still batting.

10:02 a.m. Supersport runs a promotion/ad/congratulatory message for Dale Steyn being the second South African ever to get 10-wicket hauls in two consecutive tests. Did I mention I miss Gully and Asif?

10:12 a.m. Wow. That has to be the most anticlimactic wicket ever. Dani bowls a googly from around the wicket. Dravid plays for the turn, gets hit on the pad, and Dani and Akmal go up in the most muted appeal (well, as muted as Dani and Akmal can get) you’ll ever see. Taufel raises the finger and Dravid’s gone. Even though that was definitely out, I didn’t really expect Taufel to give it. Clearly, neither did Dravid.

10:16 a.m. Wow. Sami got a wicket. Sami got a wicket. Pretty nothing delivery and Ganguly slashed it straight to a fourth slip/fine gully. So Ganguly doesn’t get his second hundred of the game and Sami (Sami!) gets a wicket. India’s lead, by the way, is up to 267.

10:18 a.m. Birthday boy Yuvraj comes out to a roaring ovation.

10:23 a.m. Bruce Yardley: “Shoaib Akhtar is back on the field. Spends a lot of time off the field, does Shoaib Akhtar.” Yes. Yes, he does.

10:32 a.m. Sami gets another! Yuvraj isn’t happy. Plays (and misses) outside off and Rudi gives it. Yuvraj’s reaction was hilarious. He just stood there in shock and stared at the umpire and started giggling. Snicko, for whatever it’s worth, shows he hit it.

10:40 a.m. Consecutive boundaries for Laxman. Now that’s the Sami we know and love. Over pitched on leg stump followed by short and wide outside off.

10:42 a.m. The camera pans to the Indian dressing room where the entire team is eating popcorn. Rameez tries to say something intelligent about intermissions and the drama being put on hold, trying to make a connection to a declaration, but fails miserably.

10:44 a.m. Kartik smashes a Kaneria waist-high full toss for six before hitting him for four through midwicket. India go past 200 and their lead goes past 290. Declare already, goddamnitt.

10:45 a.m. Another four for Kartik off Dani. Maybe a declaration is imminent with Kartik being this aggressive. Or maybe Dani’s just a crap bowler for whom being carted around is a natural state of being. Who can say?

10:52 a.m. Kartik sweeps Dani for four. India’s lead is past 300. Eight minutes to go to lunch, which is when I guess Kumble will declare.

11:00 a.m. Dani bowling the last over before lunch. If India declare – which they should – this will be Dani’s last over in India for a while. You think he’s happy about that prospect?

11:01 a.m. And that’s lunch. India are 310 ahead. See you guys in 40.

11:40 a.m. WHAT?! India didn’t declare!! India didn’t declare! Wow. Unbelievable. Wow. I…seriously…I don’t even know what to say. Wow. I need time to recover from this. Let’s just move on, shall we?

11:45 a.m. Ouch. Shoaib hits Laxman smack on the elbow. Laxman is not wearing an arm guard. He’s in real pain here. Who knows, the Yuvraj/Dravid opening conundrum may just have solved itself.

11:48 a.m. One thing’s for sure. Pakistan are going to let Laxman take all the time he needs.

11:49 a.m. Laxman’s walking off. You think a couple of guys by the names of Ponting and Lee might be smiling as they see that image?

11:53 a.m. Through sightscreen delays, injuries, and an inordinately long run-up, Shoaib’s first over after lunch took 13 minutes.

11:57 a.m. A number of the guys in the commentary crew have picked their 11s for the Melbourne test. Shiva’s is shown first. He wants (a) Sachin opening, (b) Dravid at three, (c) two spinners, and (d) Pathan as the second seam bowler, and one of four bowlers. That’s a long batting lineup – and I don’t necessarily think Sachin opening is a terrible idea – but Zaheer, Pathan, Harbhajan and Kumble aren’t going to get 20 Australian wickets in Melbourne. If you want to play 2 spinners, fine, but play Sharma or Munaf Patel instead of Pathan. You get Dhoni at seven and Kumble at eight, and with that top 6, you don’t mind the short tail.

11:59 a.m. Aamir Sohail has almost the exact team I just laid out. The only difference is he substitutes Sharma for Harbhajan instead of Sharma for Pathan as I do. He also has Dravid opening, as I do.

12:01 p.m. India’s lead, meanwhile, has stretched to 325. I can’t believe they don’t want to win this thing 2-0.

12:09 p.m. The only reason I can even remotely think of for India still batting is to judge Kartik’s form before the team to Australia is selected. Incredibly daft if it’s true, but what else could it be?

12:12 p.m. Bruce Yardley is as bemused as I am. “What’s the purpose of all this, Bish?” “All this,” of course, being India’s batting well after lunch.

12:14 p.m. Yousuf drops an absolute sitter to let Pathan survive. Dani’s pissed. My God, that was shameful.

12:16 p.m. Bishop and Yardley are shocked by the dropped catch, and take the opportunity to talk about the fielding standards of both teams in general. Neither is particularly enthusiastic about either India or Pakistan. Yardley says, “Some guys in the field are naturals. Yuvraj Singh is a natural.” The camera pans to Dani. “A guy like Kaneria, though, is not as…[pause]… coordinated.”

12:39 p.m. Yardley pronounces, “For the sake of the crowd, I think India need to declare RIGHT NOW.” You can’t argue with that, though you can still make fun of Bruce Yardley.

12:46 p.m. Arafat gets Karthik caught behind after drinks and, lo and behold, India have declared. Pakistan need 374 to win in 48 overs. What if Yousuf carves a 213 not out off 135 balls to take us home? What if?

12:58 p.m. Rameez, enlightening us all: “I don’t think Pakistan will target eight an over on this pitch. So I think India have batted Pakistan out of the game.”

1:00 p.m. Pathan beats Butt first up with a ball that swings out before seaming in. Hmm.

1:03 p.m. They’re showing the cracks on the pitch. They’re wide enough for Bruce Yardley’s finger to go through, on the evidence of the pitch report this morning. They’ve obviously only widened since then with the sun beating down on them. Have I mentioned this is a terrible pitch?

1:13 p.m. While Arun Lal and Ramiz yap away about their India squads, Yasir Hameed is flailing his bat around when he really shouldn’t. It’s not like he’s actually connecting…why not just play it safe?

1:15 p.m. Arun Lal just compared Bad Haircut to Mohammad Asif. I don’t even know what to say. You see, Indians, this is why we can’t stand you. It’s not Kashmir. It’s your endless hype of anyone who’s enjoyed even a modicum of success. He took 5 wickets and now you’re calling him a “Mohammad Asif type bowler”? Please shut up.

1:18 p.m. A good length Pathan delivery outside off bites the pitch and jumps viciously at Butt, who is startled. Pathan smiles and mockingly rubs his biceps.

1:20 p.m. It’s nice to see Butt look really solid. He looks like he’s tightened up his game and doesn’t look to be too bothered with not having gotten off the mark yet. That’s a good sign.

1:24 p.m. Butt gets off the mark off the 21st delivery he faces. Edges Kumble and it just eludes Dravid at slip.

1:28 p.m. Yasir Hameed flashes Pathan hard to gully and is dropped twice. Once by Kumble and then once by Dinesh Karthik on the rebound. I told him to stop flashing. Idiot.

1:34 p.m. Butt is clearly not in the mood to score a run today. Which is completely fine with me. I really want to see one of our young openers make a 30-off-145 type innings. I want to see if they can.

1:35 p.m. Clearly Hameed can’t. As soon as I finished typing that last sentence, Hameed doesn’t control a hook off a bouncer from Pathan. Could have gone anywhere really; just so happened to go to long leg for four.

1:36 p.m. And one more. Another attempted pull off Pathan, this one takes a bottom edge that just misses the stumps and goes to fine leg for four. As Aamir Sohail says, he’s just trying to get some runs before he’s exposed by Anil Kumble.

1:37 p.m. That’s a little more convincing. Back foot drive through the covers. Four more.

1:41 p.m. They show a cute woman sitting next to Aamir Sohail’s wife. Aamir tells us its Vengsarkar’s daughter. I don’t know how I quite feel about that.

1:43 p.m. Butt barely survives a couple of balls from Bad Haircut that stayed low. And that’s tea. Be back in 20.

2:09 p.m. And we’re back. We join the action nine minutes late because I had to meet someone. Anyway, in breaking news, Yasir Hameed is looking completely lost against Kumble.

2:10 p.m. Except for the whole “two convincing boundaries in two balls” thing.

2:15 p.m. After hitting Kumble through midwicket for four, Kumble beats Yasir Hameed with a really quick leg break, almost a leg cutter. The off stump is knocked back, and Yasir’s brilliant showing against the Indian spinners has mercifully drawn to a close. In comes what is becoming my second favorite Pakistani cricketer, Younis Khan.

2:19 p.m. Gone. Younis knocks a straight quick one right back into Kumble’s lap. Suddenly those 35-odd overs left in the day seem to be a long, long time.

2:20 p.m. Out comes Faisal Iqbal. I have absolutely no idea why they’ve done this.

2:24 p.m. Kumble and Harbhajan really mixing it up with some quicker stuff, almost like they’re bowling slow-medium cutters. It might not be a bad ploy on this pitch where the slower it is, the more time the batsmen have to adjust to variable bounce.

2:31 p.m. I think we settle into a long afternoon of Kumble and Harbhajan.

2:35 p.m. Five guys round Faisal Iqbal’s bat as he faces Harbhajan. Nice going Kumble, but if you wanted to be aggressive, shouldn’t you have declared when you got a lead of 250?

2:46 p.m. Butt gone, caught behind off Kumble. Are we actually going to lose after being asked to survive less than 50 overs? Are you kidding me?

2:47 p.m. I’m being beckoned for lunch. Hope nothing untoward happens in the next 20 minutes.

3:07 p.m. And we’re back. Pakistan have moved on to 104-3. Phew.

3:12 p.m. Everyone’s laughing as a quick one from Kumble hits a crack and turns it a mile, defeating Karthik by a solid 12 inches. Kumble is now essentially bowling cutters at medium pace. The slips have moved back to where they would be for a guy like Ponting bowling his little dobbly medium pacers. Just a terrible, terrible surface.

3:18 p.m. Faisal Iqbal hits Harbhajan straight down the ground for a couple of boundaries. Given his prowess against spin, Faisal could develop into a really good player if he could sort out his problems against pace. To be fair, that’s a little like saying that given her hotness, Lindsay Lohan would be a great life partner if she was slightly more intelligent. The Faisal-Misbah partnership has put on 60-odd at more than a run a ball, for whatever it’s worth.

3:22 p.m. Faisal gets his fifty with a straight drive for three off Kumble. Well played, bhanja. I know for a fact this score is going to infuriate the Pak Passion crowd.

3:30 p.m. Kumble gets two in two balls. Faisal plays an atrocious shot to hole out to mid-on and then Akmal is bowled exactly like Hameed was. 16 overs to go.

3:35 p.m. Yuvraj bowls Misbah through the gate. Oh dear.

3:42 p.m. I’m going to be very upset if we lose.

3:43 p.m. Yuvraj gets Arafat with one that stays low. 13.4 overs to go and 3 wickets to get. They might win this with plenty of overs to spare, India.

3:44 p.m. Umpires checking the light meter. Oh Lord, please send some rain, or at least dark clouds. Please.

3:45 p.m. No rain, but Sami is here.

3:46 p.m. Just confirmation of the collapse: 4 wickets for 10 runs in 16 deliveries.

3:47 p.m. Come on, Yousuf. Play an Inzi innings here. Come on. 12.4 overs to go.

3:49 p.m. All nine fielders are within 10 yards of Yousuf. Rudy looks at his light meter. Come on, darkness. Come on!

3:51 p.m. Umpires conferring. Offer the light. Come on!

3:52 p.m. They’ve offered the light! Hallelujah! They’ve offered the light!

3:52 p.m. If this ends in a draw, Kumble has only himself to blame. Why they batted well past lunch is completely beyond me. They should have declared about 45 minutes after the start of play today. They always had enough runs – no way Pakistan was going to chase even 230 on this pitch.

3:58 p.m. Complete chaos here. So the artificial lights were turned on for some reason, despite the lack of an agreement between the captains prior to the series. So the lights need to be turned off for the umpires to gauge whether the natural light has improved. But for some reason, they can’t get one set of lights off.

4:03 p.m. Kudos to the scoreboard people at Bangalore for putting some information up for the crowd. The spectators at the ground are almost always not told what’s going on, despite being the people who most need to know.

4:06 p.m. Arun Lal: “The sun is going down on the horizon.” Heh. Hope the horizon enjoys it.

4:08 p.m. So the light is getting worse, not better, which makes more play unlikely. This game is now a draw, which means India have beaten Pakistan 1-0 in this 3-test series. The result is a thoroughly fair one – India have far and away been the better team in the series. They’ve simply batted, bowled, and fielded better than Pakistan. They now go to Australia, where their biggest challenge will be to get 20 Australian wickets on a regular basis, and relatively cheaply at that. I don’t think their batting will be a problem – everyone is awesome form and Australia’s bowling is not what it used to be. But they’ll have to bowl out of their skins to get something out of that series. Australia’s batting is one of the most intimidating lineups ever. I think they’ll challenge Australia to a greater extent than most people think but I think their fielding and inconsistent quick bowling will let them down. Ask England what poor fielding and hot-and-cold bowling can result in when in Australia.

For Pakistan, Butt and Misbah have been the positives. But make no mistake, Pakistan is not a particularly good team. Our batting had a fairly solid look about it for most of the series but the fielding and bowling was quite terrible to be honest. What happened to those days in the 90s when injuries to Wasim and Waqar were actually guilty pleasures for Pakistani fans because it would give us the opportunity to see the next 90 mph bowler slicing through sides? Our quick bowling resources are shambolically bare. Our catching and ground fielding is the same as ever. And our leadership situation is uncertain, with Malik impressing no one on the field and Younis impressing no one off it. Right now, the only sides against which Pakistan start as favorites are Bangladesh away and New Zealand, West Indies and Bangladesh at home. This hurts to admit but it’s the truth: we’re just not very good. We need to find an opener to partner Butt, we need a real number six (I say Akmal), we need a real keeper (I say anyone but Akmal), we need a real astute and strong captain, we need to discover a solid second tier of quick bowlers so we don’t go from Gully and Asif to Sami and Arafat, and we need to improve our fielding. That’s six major to-do items. We do four of those, and we can challenge everyone but Australia. We don’t, and we keep languishing in mediocrity like we are.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Pakistan vs. India, 3rd Test, Day 4

Hello and welcome to Rs. 5’s coverage of day 4 of the third test between India and Pakistan. We join the action a little bit into the day because I’m recovering from jet lag and woke up late. All times are local (i.e. Pakistan time).

9:20 a.m. Wow, it’s been a while since I got to watch live cricket on a TV and not a tiny laptop screen. And who better to welcome me back than Arun Lal and Rameez Raja? By the way, the field for Irfan Pathan, according to Arun Lal, has a 7-2 “bias” for the off-side. Anyway, Pakistan get to 382-5 on a streaky shot by Akmal, still a staggering 244 runs behind India.

9:26 a.m. This Sharma chap really needs a haircut. He looks like a casting mistake from a bad 80s movie.

9:32 a.m. Pathan jags one back to Misbah and hits him on the hand. I know I’ve made my fair share of jokes at Pathan’s expense, but if I’m an Indian fan, it’s nice to see him swinging it that far at this point in the game. One thing the failings of this Pakistan team has shown me is that for teams not named Australia, an all-rounder is so, so important. If he can bowl 15-20 mildly threatening overs in a day’s play and bat the way he can at six or seven, India would benefit immensely going forward.

9:36 a.m. Change in the commentary team! Praise the Lord. Bishop and Shiva in.

9:39 a.m. Misbah guides Bad Haircut through gully for four. Lots of boundaries in the last fifteen minutes or so. It’s also (pleasantly) hilarious to hear Bish tell us that “you can’t give width to players as good as Misbah”. Did anyone ever think that we’d hear the phrase “players as good as Misbah”?

9:44 a.m. Pathan goes past Akmal’s edge twice in a row. Pathan’s bowling well here. I think there is something to be said about the power of ridicule propelling players to greater heights. Exhibit A: Pathan. Exhibit B: Ganguly and his buckets of runs. What I’m trying to say is: you’re welcome, India. I know you couldn’t have done it without me.

9:49 a.m. Akmal plays a delightful late cut to Harbajhan. Gets just two but that was a great shot. Against the turn, fourth day pitch, with a short third in place. It’s clear to anyone who knows cricket that this guy has oodles of talent with the bat. It’s also clear that he’s completely forgotten how to keep. I think we should try and Sangakarra him (i.e. make him give up his gloves, at least in test cricket, and see just how good he could be while exclusively a batsman). I honestly think he could average 45 as a number six. Now close your eyes and answer the following question: who would you rather have while chasing a score/staving off defeat/setting a target: Akmal or Shoaib Malik? That’s what I thought.

9:57 a.m. Another boundary, this time an Akmal paddle off Harbajhan. Score’s up to 417 in quick time.

10:14 a.m. Really interesting passage of play here. Kumble on, and he always looks threatening. Aamir Sohail commentating, and he always sounds borderline insane. Akmal looks kind of flaky; Misbah looks as solid as a rock. Which, of course, means that Misbah will be the next wicket to fall.

10:20 a.m. Pakistan save the follow on. To let Zeyd know I’m back, I text him: “Misbah, Akmal look for the win”. He calls back and while we’re talking, Akmal’s stumped. Idiot. Alright Yasir Arafat, let’s see what you have. By the way, if Yasir Arafat wasn’t an international cricketer, do you think he’d ever get a visa for any country in the world?

10:34 a.m. Misbah plays a gorgeous on drive off Kumble for four. That was beautiful, it really was. I don’t believe our jackass selectors have been messing around with the Faisal Iqbals and Hasan Razas of the world while this guy was toiling away in our domestic cricket. What a travesty.

10:40 a.m. I predict Arafat won’t survive to lunch. Let’s see.

10:42 a.m. The phone rings and complete bedlam ensues in my house. I don’t even know where to start so I won’t bother.

10:45 a.m. Consecutive boundaries for Arafat, the first (a cut through backward point) infinitely more convincing than the second (an edge just past Laxman’s outstretched hand). Pakistan up to 454-6.

10:51 a.m. Harbajhan and Kartik go up for a catch behind off Misbah. I can promise you that he did Mis-that-bah a mile. Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week.

10:56 a.m. Arafat late cuts Kumble twice in two balls. 8 more, and we’re up to 465. You know, it may not be the most difficult pitch in the world (it’s definitely not the easiest though), but we’ve batted really well here. I mean for three tests we’ve been playing catch up and almost always, our batsmen have responded, even when chasing mammoth totals. I’m not saying our batting has a settled look to it or anything, but it bears mentioning that many Pakistani teams in the past would have folded when chasing 500, 600 odd like we have been in this series, even if the pitches weren’t difficult.

11:01 a.m. Three Yuvraj deliveries to go before lunch and Misbah on 98. Will he get there? He gets a single to third man. Come on, Arafat, tap it and run.

11:02 a.m. Arafat taps it and runs. Field comes in.

11:03 a.m. Misbah will go into lunch on 99. Rameez calls Arafat “a gallant partner for Misbah-ul-Haq”. Gallant?

11:04 a.m. Alright, see you guys in 40.

12:12 p.m. Sorry for the 30 minute delay. My cable was out. Fucking World Call. Anyway, we’re up to 508-6, with Misbah well past his hundred (122) and Arafat giving able support. Bad Haircut into the attack.

12:14 p.m. Shiva and Aamir Sohail are having fun playing with the interactive arrow thing to show where Pakistan have scored their runs. Commentators can be real kids sometimes, especially with technology.

12:16 p.m. Bad Haircut sort of reminds me of Sajid Mahmood. His build, action, and stock delivery (short of a length, coming in) are quite similar to Jayasuriya’s favorite bowler. He’s not as quick as Saj though, at least on the evidence of two hours of play, but that will change as he builds into his body. Looks a decent prospect for my mind.

12:18 p.m. Terrible ball by Kumble. Half way down the pitch on leg stump. Arafat helps himself to four through midwicket. Score’s up to 512.

12:23 p.m. Cable’s out again. Un-fucking-believable. Apparently it’s been acting up for a few weeks now. Pakistan: Where Independent Judiciaries And Cable Just Don’t Work.

12:36 p.m. Cable’s back, and Arafat pushes Pathan through midwicket for four. Zeyd texts: “What a shot by arafat”. Um, Zeyd, shouldn’t you be, you know, working at work? Anyway, we’re up to 524-6.

12:42 pm. Zeyd texts: “Watch how sami is preferred the next time we play”. He’s another one we should Sangakarra. Let’s make him a stodgy opening batsman to partner Butt. Clearly this whole “fast bowling” thing isn’t working for him.

12:43 p.m. Zionists all over the world rejoice as Arafat is gone. Played on to Bad Haircut. Solid contribution.

12:45 p.m. Supersport runs an ad for its clothing supplier Woolworths. Uh, thanks guys, but the day I start dressing like the Supersport guys is the day my fiancĂ©e suddenly discovers that she’s not allowed to marry a non-Shia.

12:49 p.m. Rameez and Arun Lal are back, regaling us with…God, I don’t know, I’m not really listening. I did just hear Rameez say that “manufacturing, or making, a pitch is an art.” Evidently, so is manufacturing a sentence.

12:56 p.m. Bad Haircut gets Sami with a low full toss. I think Sami lost that one in the crowd because he reacted like he thought it was a beamer or something. He clearly didn’t spot that one. Bollywood Shoaib in.

1:03 p.m. Misbah is dancing around in the crease, trying to manipulate the strike. Rameez tells Shoaib to watch out for the quicker one. Shoaib inside edges to vacant square leg and takes a single off the last ball of the over, thus rendering Misbah’s strike manipulation completely redundant.

1:06 p.m. Shoaib lobs a dolly to short leg off one that stayed really low. Bad Haircut has three wickets in less than half an hour here. Nine down and in comes Dani and his 9.62 average.

1:09 p.m. Kaneria smashes, just smashes his first ball through mid-off for four. He follows that with another slog that gets an under edge to Kartik. Even Rameez is laughing. Zeyd texts: “Damn it. We need at least 30 more”. I reply: “Let’s see. Dani might get us there in 5 balls”.

1:13 p.m. Misbah shimmies down and carves Kumble over midwicket for four. He’s up to 133.

1:16 p.m. Bad Haircut gets Dani with a short one that he had no idea about, and ends up with 5 for the innings, throwing his hat in the Zaheer/Sreesanth/R.P Singh/Munaf Patel ring for the Australian tour. Misbah remains unbeaten, and the umpires decide to take tea.

1:34 p.m. In the Pakistan huddle, Shoaib is wearing his cap back to front. Sigh.

1:35 p.m. Gambhir and Jaffer walk out with a lead of 89 behind them.

1:36 p.m. Shoaib to open the bowling with 3 slips, a gully and a short leg.

1:37 p.m. Alright, here we go. Can Pakistan pull something out of less than nothing?

1:38 p.m. Shoaib’s first ball flies through to Akmal, without him putting in any effort whatsoever. This pitch is terrible.

1:39 p.m. Shoaib beats Jaffer’s outside edge. The best thing about having Faisal Iqbal in the team is his endless supplies of “oye, hoye, hoye!” and “aye, yaaaaaar!”

1:40 p.m. Another one flies through, as Akmal takes it two feet above his head.

1:42 p.m. Gambhir’s not lasting here. I give him till 2:07.

1:45 p.m. Shoaib is making some indecipherable gestures toward the dressing room. I can only presume that he’s unfit. Heroic assumption, yes?

1:46 p.m. My lunch is here while the physio comes out for Shoaib. Unless something important happens, no updates for the next 20 minutes.

1:47 p.m. Turns out Shoaib isn’t unfit. He just wants a stuffed animal (from the looks of it, it’s a leopard) from the dressing room. I swear to you I’m not kidding. Bruce Yardley and Aamir Sohail are trying to make sense of this. Don’t bother, guys. Seriously, don’t bother.

2:04 p.m. Rameez and Shiva are passing one lame comment after another. Shoaib and Sami haven’t looked particularly threatening. Jaffer and Gambhir have looked solid. And I’m about to poke my own eyes out.

2:07 p.m. Sami sprays down leg, four. Now think about how many times the words “Sami sprays down leg, four” have been said and written in the last five years. Anyway, India’s lead is past 100.

2:09 p.m. Man, I miss Gully and Asif.

2:12 p.m. GONE! Shoaib follows two 150 km/h balls with a slower one from around the wicket, and Gambhir is done. My 1:42 prediction was off by a mere five minutes. Man, I’m good.

2:15 p.m. The Wall is hopping. The Wall, by the way, has to open in Australia for India to have a chance. More on this later.

2:18 p.m. I feel really bad for Bishop, being stuck with these jokers. From Rameez to Arun Lal to Shiva to Aamir Sohail, Pakistan-India series always seem to attract the biggest retards in the commentary business.

2:19 p.m. Zeyd texts: “Why is sami bowling? Please give yousuf the ball”. I think it’s safe to say our good friend Zeyd has reached the end of his Sami rope. I also think it’s safe to say Zeyd is being overpaid for whatever work he’s supposed to be doing.

2:24 p.m. Shoaib is clearly tiring here. You can see it written it in the pained expression on his face as he’s running in. Great over to Dravid though. Had him jumping, poking and fending.

2:30 p.m. The cameras show Venkatesh Prasad talking to Bad Haircut. I wonder if Venky and Aamir Sohail ever sit down and have a nice long chat about life.

2:31 p.m. Sania Mirza sighting. The chick in front of her is considerably cuter.

2:32 p.m. Arafat replaces Shoaib. Wicket to wicket stuff so far, which should be pretty effective given how ridiculously low the ball is staying.

2:42 p.m. GONE! Arafat gets Jaffer with one that stays low and traps him plumb in front. India two down. I text Zeyd: “I think sami has two important wickets in him. Just a hunch.” I can practically hear him scoff.

2:53 p.m. Dravid drives Arafat through the covers for four. Easy as you like, and India’s lead is up to 122 with about 30-odd overs to go in the day.

2:56 p.m. Ganguly top-edges a pull off Sami for four. Poor Sami.

3:05 p.m. Shoaib back into the attack, and Ganguly welcomes him with a Lara-drive through the covers. That got to the boundary in less than a second.

3:07 p.m. Another one, this one off the back foot and through gully. If you’re going to bowl across Ganguly, you better swing or seam it – otherwise, he’s going to cream you all day.

3:08 p.m. Shoaib decides to come around the wicket. Way down the leg-side and Akmal makes a great diving save on the bounce.

3:11 p.m. Ganguly drives Arafat gloriously through point for four. He’s going at more than a run a ball. When he’s on, he’s on.

3:13 p.m. Four more, followed by one that goes underneath Ganguly’s bat and missed the off-stump by the proverbial coat of varnish. Of course, he smashes the next one behind point for four, and India’s lead is up to 151.

3:18 p.m. The more time I spend thinking about it, the more astounding Ganguly’s return gets. About 30 months ago, he was being embarrassed by Afridi and Kaneria and struggled to grind out meaningless centuries against Zimbabwe. He had a coach who didn’t like him, a vicious media, an unforgiving opposition, and no guarantee of a return to the Indian team ever again. Now he looks primed and ready for anything Australia throw at him next month. I’m actually struggling to think of a bigger and more impressive turnaround in cricket. I’m sure there are some, I just can’t think of any off the top of my head.

3:25 p.m. Dani into the attack. Ganguly is really going to go after him. You can that to the bank.

3:33 p.m. As the camera pans to Sania Mirza again, Arun Lal informs us: “That’s a pretty face.”

3:36 p.m. Dani is such a jackass. So he beats Ganguly with one that stays low and goes straight. Ganguly sort of loses his balance, trying to cut it, and backpedals away from the crease. Dani takes the opportunity to sledge Ganguly, saying something to the effect of (my lip-reading is kind of weak) “haan, bhaag” [yeah, run]. Next ball, Ganguly takes two steps down the track and effortlessly deposits Dani straight over the sightscreen.

3:41 p.m. My mum yells from downstairs: “Are you back to just watch cricket?” It’s a legitimate question.

3:43 p.m. Right, so Arun Lal and Aamir Sohail have brought it up, so I’ll deal with it now, especially as there’s kind of a lull in play. India don’t have a great shot in Australia. They don’t even have a good shot. But they have a shot. They absolutely have a shot. The only way, however, that they have a shot is play (a) their six best batsmen and (b) maximize the number of players in their team with big balls. Both (a) and (b) can be fulfilled if Yuvraj plays. He has to play because he oozes talent, and because he’s got a huge set of balls. There’s simply no question in my mind. He has to play. So what to do? It’s simple really, though I’d almost be willing to bet my life India won’t do this.

Open with Dravid.

Look, if you open with either Kartik or Gambhir, Dravid’s going to be the de facto opener anyway, because neither of those two is lasting more than seven overs of the new ball. Dravid has the technique to open. He has the mental strength to open. He certainly has the willingness to open, because he’s the ultimate team player. And if he opens, you move Australia’s worst nightmare (Laxman) up to three, and you are able to play perhaps the most awesome batting lineup that I’ve ever seen:

Jaffer (in form)
Dravid (brilliant player)
Laxman (Australia’s bogeyman)
Tendulkar (brilliant player)
Ganguly (in form)
Yuvraj (in form, big balls)
Dhoni (huge balls)

Just look at that lineup. How do you not play that lineup? Seriously. If India want to do anything in Australia, they’ve got to open with Dravid and play Yuvraj. Do that, and they must just be good enough to spring a surprise on everyone.

3:53 p.m. India, meanwhile, have moved on to 97-2. The lead is 186, and Pakistan are now guaranteed of losing this series.

4:04 p.m. Ganguly brings up his 50 with a glide to third man off Sami. Dravid taps his shoulder and shakes his hand. I shake my head: Ganguly? I still can’t believe he’s back scoring runs.

4:09 p.m. Bruce Yardley and Shiva discuss the Dravid opening/Yuvraj point. As Shiva says, it helps that Kumble, a senior player who has the respect of a guy like Dravid, is captain. Shiva also doesn’t mind Sachin opening with Dravid at three. I wouldn’t want that, because Sachin’s never been an opener or a one-down batsman and Dravid has. Plus it takes a certain type of temperament to open against Australia in a test match, a temperament Dravid has and Sachin doesn’t. Anyway, that’s my two cents on the issue. Guess we’ll know one way or the other in a fortnight’s time.

4:16 p.m. India’s lead, by the way, has crept past 200. They’re up by 204. If they want to send a message to Australia, they’ll declare half an hour into the first session tomorrow, leaving us with 250 to win in 80 overs on a truly terrible pitch.

4:30 p.m. The day ends up with both Dravid and Ganguly glancing Shoaib to fine-leg for four. India finish the day about 220 ahead. Barring cable disasters, I should be back providing full coverage to day 5. For now, from the couch in my TV lounge, it’s good night and good luck.