Monday, June 30, 2008

General Kayani Has A Sense of Humour

Or he was living in Bizzaro land when he named the military operation in the Frontier.

Meanwhile, Rehman Malik presided over a meeting on the Bara operation —’Operation Popular’— at the Governor’s House on Sunday.

Just because you name it popular doesn't make it so. They should have learned that after 'Enduring Freedom'.

Justin Gimelstob Wants Younger Brother, Described As "Stud," To Nail Anna Kournikova, Reap Benefits

What a truly bizarre story. Apparently our favorite Sports Illustrated columnist didn't take his meds last week. Check out some of these quotes:
"Hate's a very strong word. I just despise her [Anna Kournikova] to the maximum level, right below hate."
"I have no attraction to her, because she's such a douche."
"I wouldn't mind having my younger brother, who's kind of a stud, nail her and then reap the benefits of that."
Gimelstob then described Frenchwoman Tatiana Golovin as a "sexpot", her compatriot Alize Cornet a "little sexpot" and Nicole Vaidisova "a well-developed young lady".
"I'm going to serve it right at the body, about 128 (mph), right into her midriff. If she's not crying by the time she comes off court then I did not do my job."
"Female tennis players lack the social skills, they don't go to high school, they don't go to parties."
"She has a great body but her face is a five."
Five? This is a five? Are you fucking kidding me? Anyway, in other news, he just got voted on to the ATP board as a player's representative. Good times.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Pakistan, Afghanistan, And The Taliban

So the army has predictably launched a series of strikes against the Taliban and affiliated militants outside Peshawar. I suppose it qualifies as timely action when you do something once one of the country's biggest cities is under peril of being turned over, and when people from the area are saying things like "The situation is like water flowing into a field and until you have some obstruction to stop it, you will drown. We are drowning", and when militants are executing "spies", and distributing flyers to truckers prohibiting them from doing their job, and seizing a girls school and converting it into a madrassa because the "Western system of education is not good for girls." Come on, people. Give peace a chance! More talks! More deals! Our people! America's war!

In all seriousness, I've been thinking about this issue in some detail over the last few days, mainly because I've been commissioned to (and isn't thinking only tolerable when you're getting paid for it?). I do want to retract one set of assertions I've been making for quite a while on this blog, and that is that the Taliban want power and control over Pakistan along with Afghanistan. Now I'm more likely to think that while Afghanistan is still the endgame for the Taliban, Pakistan is more of a bargaining chip or signaling tool, relaying information about Taliban strength and resolve to its adversaries, namely the U.S. and the Pakistan governments.

Why do I think this? A couple of reasons. First, while I am cognizant of the usual warnings about taking public statements at face value, it is striking that the Taliban almost never mention gaining political power in Pakistan as a goal. Broadly speaking, they tend to mention two goals. First, they want an end to the alliance between Pakistan and the U.S. In that rare rendezvous with local, national, and international journalists a couple of months ago, Baitullah Mehsud had the following to say: "We do not want to fight Pakistan or the [Pakistan] army. But if they continue to be slaves to U.S. demands, then our hands will be forced." The Taliban's second goal is that hey want foreign forces allied to the U.S. and NATO to leave Afghanistan. Both Maulvi Umar and Jalaluddin Haqqani have emphasized that jihad will continue until international forces withdraw from Afghanistan. These two goals - and end to U.S.-Pakistan cooperation and the exit of international forces from Afghanistan - are essentially means to an end themselves, and the end, I suspect, is to regain control of Afghanistan. Only if there is a political and military vacuum in Afghanistan will the Taliban be able to wrest control as they did in the 1990s, and that is what they are seeking to bring about by ending the role of the U.S. and NATO in the region.

The second reason that I think the Taliban are not aiming for Pakistan is that it will be much harder for them to make political inroads in a country with admittedly underdeveloped but still vibrant political and civic dynamics. More importantly, the Taliban know this, and so will aim for only what they can get. Pakistan has surprisingly well-developed political parties, and a pretty deep-rooted bureaucracy. It is much harder for military-political organizations like the Taliban to penetrate established areas like say urban Punjab or Sindh than it was in Kabul in the 1990s or FATA over the last five or so years. Put another way, I think gaining political control over Pakistan is a task that the Taliban probably don't think is worth the costs and difficulties in doing so, so they won't bother trying.

So then why, one may legitimately ask, are we seeing the Taliban spread their wings into areas like Peshawar and Karachi? My answer is that the Taliban are trying to accomplish two aims with this series of assaults. One, they are sending a signal of their resolve and strength to both Pakistan and NATO. By conveying how difficult they can make life for a supremely important ally for the sake of Afghanistan's "success", the Taliban are essentially trying to warn the both Pakistan and the international community from interference in Afghanistan's affairs. They are saying: this is what we can do over here. Now back off over there.

The second goal of this offensive Taliban operation could conceivably be to goad the new government into a disproportionate response and win public sympathy. For a number of reasons, the fight against militancy when Musharraf was calling the shots was colored and portrayed as a trigger-happy general overstepping his bounds to do his patron's dirty work against "our people". The government, in other words, lost the PR war by not being able to brings its public along in the war against the militants.

So far, this government has stayed away from heavy-handed military tactics in their effort to quell the violence, and the Taliban could be forwarding this offensive to change that. A response that is perceived as disproportionately measured will once again cede the moral high ground to the militants for much of Pakistan's population, the way it did during the Lal Masjid crisis. Their place in the PR war could be leading the Taliban to try to provoke the new Pakistani government. Baituallah Mehsud has gone on record saying that the PR war is crucial to him and his organization (as their "media cell" tells it, they can soon be caught on YouTube). The Taliban certainly would not be the first militant or insurgent group that tried to draw its bigger rival in to a heavy-handed operation to gain public sympathy. This viewpoint is strengthened by the fact that the Taliban's approval ratings have dropped (three separate surveys here, here, and here) in the last few months. The Taliban know they are losing the PR war lately, and this could be an effort to redress that imbalance.

Akmal: Keeper of the Year

Like the teacher who gives the pimply-faced, fat kid a toffee, the Asian Cricket Awards try to boost Kamran Akmal’s self-esteem. Or this is possibly a Hindu plot to convince us to play the worst keeper in the world:

The Asian Wicket-keeper/Fielder of the Year award was won by Pakistan’s Kamran Akmal

Friday, June 27, 2008

Qadeer, Unplugged

How can one man say so many stupid things? I guess a few years of being locked up tend to addle the brain. Not that Qadeer Khan was any saner before being placed under house arrest:

President Pervez Musharraf is working on the US agenda of dismembering Pakistan by 2015.

What the US really wants is a bunch of sovereign entities that hate it rather than just the one. So far, through their proxies the Taliban, the Americans have managed to dismember Pakistan by creating shining beacons of freedom in Swat, North and South Waziristan and, pretty soon, Mardan, Peshawar and Naushera.

Bitterly criticising the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), he said it is not an international organisation but belongs to the Americans and Jews

These Zionist-Christians are so diabolical they appointed a Muslim who vehemently opposes war with Iran to head their front group. Perhaps they are trying to lull the Muslims into a true sense of security.

About procurement of conventional weapons by Pakistan despite having nuclear weapons, he said they have no value as compared to the nuclear weapons and are being bought just to receive commissions. In this regard, he referred to the construction of flyovers in Karachi and said that in the areas inhabited by the poor there are big potholes all around. When big projects are executed, he added, these are meant to receive commissions.

Because when we are at war the only weapons we need are nukes. India shells terrorists across the borders: nuke ‘em. Karzai makes a statement we don’t like: incinerate Kabul. I’m guessing Qadeer doesn’t want an army either. Who needs humans to protect the border when we’ve got shiny Ghauri missiles? I guess disbanding the army will save us a few billion dollars a year. Qadeer should get a 10% commission for suggesting the idea in the first place.

He profusely praised Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and said he is a great person. About his oath under the PCO (Provisional Constitutional Order), Dr Khan recalled that some companions of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) were non-believers before embracing Islam but they cannot be remembered as non-believers.

No comment.

Has The Second Half Of A Sentence Ever So Completely Ignored The First Half?

"Whaddup Terrorist?"

Check out this BBC news item (courtesy Abbas) of a Beruiti shop's attempt to reclaim some of the icons and language used in the War on Terror. Some of the items on the menu include:

The 'Rocket-propelled grenade' (chicken on a skewer)
'Terrorist bread'

May I also suggest the following items:

'The Molotov Cocktail' (Rooh Afzah, Sprite and a shot of Orange Juice)
'Infidel Shashlik' (Skewers of white chicken meat, Awww-yeah, triple entendre!)
'Crescents' (Croissants)
'Camel Jockey Burger' (It might be a little gross, but its worth having on the menu for the heck of it)

As far as reclaiming the word 'terrorist' in particular, I doubt it will work. The reason the civil rights movement was able to reclaim the word 'black', but not 'Nigger' is because they managed to completely change how African Americans thought about the former. If the subject or target audience cannot redefine how they feel about their own use of the word, then it will at best continue to have two meanings (hence the N-word). The chances of redefining Muslim perceptions of the word 'terrorist' are pretty much nil, given the literal meaning of the word and the fact that it is completely at odds with the tenet that 'Islam' stands for 'peace'. Still, if the word 'terrorist' can be diluted and its sting removed to some extent through humour, I'm all for that.

Conversely, words like 'Jihadi' and 'Militant' are not inherently negative, and are likely to remain quasi-positive. There is also an excellent attempt to reclaim the word 'radical', which everyone should check out (courtesy Ali). Also, click here for an interesting article setting out the lexicon of the War on Terror.

Another example of a successful reclamation would be the word 'queer', whereas an unsuccessful or only partially successful example would be 'fag' or 'faggot'. Additionally, Meredith Brooks' attempt to reclaim the word 'bitch' have also met with failure.

Since I enjoy using clips from comedians to underscore my points and end my posts, here is another classic from Dave Chappelle.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

This Is Why I Love Marat Safin

He beats that insolent little Jokeovich in straight sets, and then has this to say:
"I had to take my opportunities as he was under pressure fighting for the world number one spot so he has to win matches. From me no-one expects anything."

Safin admitted later that he already booked himself on a flight to Moscow on Wednesday evening but he must now prepare himself for a third-round match against Italian Andreas Seppi.

"I hadn't looked at the draw because I saw I had Djokovic in the second round, but now I wiill have to check. The way I am playing right now I can go far but it must be step by step," added the Russian.

Is This The Worst Pun Ever?

From The News:

Is Shahid 'Afraidi' of batting?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

From The Department Of "Dream On, Dream Until Your Dreams Come True"

Prime Minister Gillani, ever the optimist, wants tax evaders to step forward, pretty please (with cherry on top).
ISLAMABAD, June 23: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani will launch a massive scheme to document black economy by appealing to the nation for voluntarily declaring untaxed assets.

The move, likely to come at the concluding budget session of the National Assembly, is aimed at documenting the black economy and will be part of an investment tax scheme that allows taxpayers to disclose their undeclared businesses, capital and assets by paying just two per cent of their market value.
Got it.

A Self Referential Video

Please to note the expression of the hero in the shalwar and the four chays with him on the charpai.

We desis are awesome.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Comedian Death Watch

Stand-up legend George Carlin died today. Everyone knows him for the “Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television bit. Here are two other classics.

Airport Security

Why We Don’t Need All Ten Commandments

Mike Myers didn’t die today. But if you read this Entertainment Weekly piece you’ll wish he did. Apparently he’s quite evil to directors’ daughters and Conan’s interns. Also check out this eminently quotable paragraph from A.O. Scott’s review of Myers’ latest abortion, The Love Guru:

A whole new vocabulary seems to be required. To say that the movie is not funny is merely to affirm the obvious. The word “unfunny” surely applies to Mr. Myers’s obnoxious attempts to find mirth in physical and cultural differences but does not quite capture the strenuous unpleasantness of his performance. No, “The Love Guru” is downright antifunny, an experience that makes you wonder if you will ever laugh again.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Hell Hath No Fury Like A Talk Show Host Scorned

After a one-month romance, Talat Hussain comes out all guns blazing against Asif Zardari and the PPP.

For 40 ministerial posts, there are only 15 ministers; all the 45 standing committees of the National Assembly, an important tool of a functioning parliamentary system, are yet to be formed. None of the parliamentary secretaries have been appointed. Policy-making is ad hoc at best, confusing at worst. Every decision has to be routed through the Zardari House, which has become a beehive of job-hunters, punters and court-jesters.

And this titbit may be the perfect summation of Zardari’s character:

The economic advisory committee, which is helping the government form budget proposals, is an odd mix of rich men, young economists and powerful lobbyists. Tragically, while the grimmest challenge that the country is faced with centres around the agriculture sector, the committee does not have a single individual representing Pakistan's troubled green-acres. When a well-wisher, who did not want to be named, pointed this omission out to Zardari, his response was, "I am the agriculturalist, who else do you need."

There is also this lovely anecdote:

This view is reinforced by repeated leaks in the press about meetings between the Chief of Army Staff General Kayani and his former boss, suggesting coordination and a friction-free relationship. The presidential camp has also been active in nurturing this 'all for one' impression. In one dinner meeting, General Musharraf borrowed a cigarette from General Kayani and laughingly said, "I smoke because of him."

I Hate Golf

I quite hate golf.The Onion illustrates why with a great article, titled "Man Who Used Stick To Roll Ball Into Hole In Ground Praised For His Courage"

If that doesn't convince you, then listen to Robin Williams.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Punjab Assembly: Raising Tax Revenue One Boutique at a Time

The Punjab Assembly gets to the important business at hand. It also confirms any stereotype you may have held about Punjabi men:

A PARLIAMENTARIAN on the floor of the house on Thursday suggested the government to impose tax on beauty parlours that are doing roaring business without any taxes...He cited examples saying during the peak wedding season, beauty parlours in posh areas had more than hundred brides’ made up every day, each paying tens of thousands of rupees.

Several members smiled and laughed at the suggestion. Few of them rose to extend their backing to this suggestion. Interestingly, the Deputy Speaker Rana Mashood Ahmad Khan who was chairing the session, also tried to cut a joke by saying that lady members in the house ‘who are used to having heavy make up’ should also make some suggestion on the matter.

This house broke up in laughter on this remark. However, lady MPA Azma Bokhari took strong exception and criticised the male members for always making fun of issues related to women.

The Asia Cup Schedule: And They Wonder Why ODI Cricket Is Dying

So apparently something called the Asia Cup is being held this week. While this in and of itself is cause for excitement, what makes it all the better is the format of the tournament.

There are two groups of three teams. Group A consists of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Hong Kong. Group B consists of India, Pakistan, and the U.A.E. Each group will have a round-robin, from which a total of four teams - two from each group - will advance.

Following this, the top two teams from each group advance to the semis, and then the final. Actually, wait, they don't. That would be the case only if we lived in a world where the thought processes of cricket administrators were governed and dictated by logic and reason. Instead, the remaining four teams - Super Fours so to speak - then play another round-robin set of fixtures, including repeats of intra-group games from the first round. This means that before the final is even played, Pakistan will play India twice, assuming we can get past UAE - no safe assumption given the fact that Mohammad Asif was just let off scot free in Dubai. Sri Lanka will similarly play Bangladesh twice, assuming those two can get past the juggernaut that is Hong Kong.

Again, let's think about this for a second. The ICC (or the dumbasses in charge of the various Asian boards, whatever) thinks we need twelve games to winnow six teams into two for the final. We need twelve games to figure this out. In a tournament where Bangladesh is not one of the two worst sides (I am struggling to come up with a historical precedent for this), we need twelve games to get from six teams to two. And of those six teams, three are Bangladesh, Hong Kong, and the UAE. Does this make sense to anyone? Anyone at all?

International cricket authorities killed the ODI game by making its players play it too much. It was thought of as a snazzy, fast-paced alternative, and because it was so lucrative, the authorities didn't tire of it, and forgot about the principle of decreasing marginal returns. The same set of circumstances apply to T-20 cricket, and I have little doubt, on the basis of the evidence provided by the Asia Cup, that the ICC doesn't learn, and will kill whatever golden goose comes into their grasp.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

YouTube of the Day

Harvard student and professional douchebag Samad Khurram refusing an award from American Ambassador Anne Patterson. I had written about Khurram on my old blog in response to a ludicrous article he wrote calling Ansar Burney an Indian agent. I hope the US cancels his student visa.

Breaking News: Oil Companies Benefiting From Freedom In Iraq

Yay for no-bid contracts!

Political Football

I came across this a little while ago:
Nothing unites Europeans like football, and this year’s Euro 2008 tournament is turning out to be one of the best in a long time, maybe ever. What else could have us feeling sorry for Switzerland and cheering for Austria? Isn’t Europe a more harmonious entity without the English? Would Brussels be paralysed by protests today if Belgium had qualified? And would Ireland have voted No if they were in the tournament?

Part of the fun of football is the way in which it overturns the international order of power politics.

The US, Russia and China can be expected to top the medal charts in the Olympics, as usual, but Croatia had already triumphed over two of the Great Powers – England and Russia – in qualifying before beating Austria and Germany last week. Up next: Turkey, the former Ottoman Empire.

Most of Europe got a, er, kick out of Croatia’s victory over Germany last week, in what everyone was too polite to call the Group of the Third Reich. We could all feel sorry for Poland once again as Germany beat them with two goals from a player born in Poland, Lukas Podolski.
This is one of the things I love about football. Because pretty much the entire world plays it (i.e. it's not rugby), and games are always well-attended (i.e. it's not cricket), and fans are almost always vociferous (i.e. it's not golf), the possibilities of sport highlighting historical and political rivalries are immense. I mean, in what other sport could we get Iran vs. the U.S.?

Anyway, I was watching Germany-Austria the other day. As I told AKS, I'm well aware that it plays into stereotypes and all of that, but there's just something disturbing about 20,000 Germans belting out their national anthem with all that pride followed by 20,000 Austrians belting out their national anthem with all that pride. I mean, of all the countries in the world, doesn't intense nationalism from Germany and Austria give the heart cause for concern? I'm not saying they're going to start another World War or anything, but I am saying history matters. As I told AKS, they messed around one too many times last century. Watching them sing their national anthem in unison with their chests puffed out and hands on their hearts, I kept thinking of words like Schlieffen, Eizengruppen, and Barbarossa. I know it's terrible, but there you go.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Agenda-Based Journalism

Let’s say that you are an editor at a major newspaper and have an agenda you’d like to push, an agenda that includes promoting the PML-N at the cost of every other party. If you are dedicated enough, you won’t let anything get in the way, not even the stories you are ostensibly supposed to edit.

So we get this headline from a story about the Punjab budget:
People welcome focus on social uplift
If you read the first friggin sentence of the story, you might get a slightly more nuanced approach.
Public has shown a mixed reaction over announcement of annual budget …
The other story on the budget actively seeks out the one constituency the PML-N has impressed:
Businessmen hail budget
But the Punjab wasn’t the only province to announce its budget. The NWFP, which isn’t governed by the PML-N was covered in a slightly different manner. Note that in the case of the Punjab, it wasn’t considered appropriate to quote what the opposition thought of the budget. The same rules don’t apply to the NWFP:
Opposition sees no respite for the poor
And the main story on the NWFP is simply titled ‘NWFP budget has no relief for the common man’, a headline that isn’t borne out by the piece in question:
Free books will be distributed to the government-run schools students from primary to secondary level; Rs200 monthly scholarship will be provided to each girl student from class 6th to 10th across the province, which was earlier limited to seven districts…Rs1b has been allocated for poverty alleviation under Chief Minster’s Program for Poverty Alleviation. However, spending mode was not specified. An insurance scheme was also announced for poor families of the province as well

Photograph of the Day: "Baluchi Bad-Ass"

(Courtesy: APP)

Let's hear what Sardar Mengal had to say about the meeting after this warm embrace: "Nawab Raisani is a tribal elder and we have tribal traditions in our society." (Courtesy: Dawn)

How charming.

I really wouldn't want to mess with these guys that's for sure!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

And The Dumb Shall Inherit The Punjab

There is something a bit disconcerting about having leaders who sort of fumble their way through things, not really knowing what they are supposed to do next, or indeed if they are supposed to do anything at all. Given Shahbaz Sharif’s reputation for firmness and competence, this comes as a (hilarious) surprise:

Believe it, Mian Shahbaz Sharif has asked the relevant officials to let him know his powers as the province’s chief minister.

The officials are studying the necessary books before writing a report for the boss. It’s not immediately known why the PML-N president had to ask this question when he has already held the office between 1997 and 1999.

Then again, apparently the entire Punjab government is seemingly clueless:

Finance Minister Tanveer Ashraf Kaira remained confused during his budget speech in the Punjab Assembly on Monday.

Kaira mispronounced several words during an hour-long written speech. The minister also added several ‘extra’ words to his speech, which were not part of the written text.

But I guess if you don’t know what you are supposed to do or are too dumb to do it, then your masterly inaction will prevent any real damage from being done.

Return To Karachi: Meeting My Old Maulvi, Discovering Asif Zardari Killed Benazir, And Looking Forward To The Train March

What an extraordinary 48 hours (by my standards anyway). This is not a personal blog, so I won't bore you guys with the completely random shit that has happened to me in the very recent past, but suffice it to say it would be enough to fill an entire page worth of Postsecret's anguished secrets.

There are three notes though that relate either directly or indirectly to the type of stuff readers of this blog generally care about, so I'll share those.

It's better to be a wuss than an asshole: meeting my old maulvi

Many (most? almost all?) Pakistan children when growing up have a maulvi. For those unaware, these guys (and they are always
guys) are essentially religious tutors. They help the child through reading (and sometimes understanding) the Quran, and they are usually the people to teach children about the basic mechanics of prayer (though parents fulfill this role too) and other rituals and religious obligations. They operate outside the framework of any central organization (like say a school or a particular mosque); they are basically freelancers, and their employment relies on word-of-mouth recommendations and transfers.

Anyway, so I had a maulvi when growing up. As some of you may surmise, I haven't met the dude in a while. In any event, he was at my house today for some odd reason, and apparently wanted to meet me. Hell, I wanted to meet
him - he was an important figure in my childhood and so when I found out he was at our place, I wanted to say hello.

Well, that didn't work out so well. In easily the most surreal episode I have experienced in at least ten years, the guy lectured me for fifteen minutes, berating me for losing my way and exhorting me to mend said ways. I am not joking. I hadn't seen the guy in more than a decade - my express purpose for saying hello was exactly that: saying hello. His express purpose in wanting to meet me was (a) to establish a position of moral patronage by kicking the conversation off with "I hear stories about you...", thus seizing the role of the concerned guardian; (b) to inquire about my praying habits by asking me "how many times [I] remember God in a day" (there's a really terrible and blasphemous joke to be made here but I won't make it) even though we both damn well knew the answer to that question; (c) judge and reprimand me for not being a true Muslim at all times (on being told I was studying for a PhD, he said for any student, being a good Muslim should come first, and 'studies' second; dude is clearly unfamiliar with the average U of C workload); and (d) express my arc of life as n-shaped by describing me as "one of [his] best students" and wondering aloud how this tragic turn in priorities could have come about. What made this entire episode worse was that this conversation happened around noon. Those who know me well know that if I'm up around noon on my second day of vacation, I'm probably in a
jetlagged state. So yeah, that part definitely didn't help.

In all seriousness, what pissed me off the most was that I maintained the decency, in the face of considerable provocation, to not offend him; throughout his lecture, I successfully resisted the urge to throw him out of my house or act like my phone was on vibrate and was getting a call. More importantly, I pretended to give a crap about the stuff he was saying. By contrast, he chose not to exercise any discretion. Put another way, I chose not to make him feel uncomfortable and he chose to make me feel uncomfortable. Which makes me a wuss but him an asshole.

Mystery solved: Zardari did it

The best part about returning home is, without a doubt, the conspiracy theories. Reading them on blogs and newspapers is simply no match for hearing them first hand;
soaking them up rather than merely discovering them. It's as Pakistani as pirated Bollywood movies.

Anyway, so my mother solemnly pronounced that she is convinced that Asif Zardari had his wife killed. This is certainly an unoriginal sentiment - almost from the moment his wife was assassinated, Zardari has aroused whispered suspicion. But it's fun nonetheless. "In any murder mystery," my mother advised, "you have to ask: who gained the most?" She went on to describe how Zardari has gained politically, financially, and personally. I didn't even have the patience to respond. I have decided to not get into it with my parents this summer; from here on in, I am going to believe in every single conspiracy theory espoused in my house, for entertainment's sake if nothing else.

Onwards we march: what does it mean for a judiciary to be "independent"?

So the long march is over. Some of the lawyers - bless their hearts - have finally come to the realization that their movement may just have been subverted and coopted by political parties as an electoral and political issue. Unsatisfied with the way the march ended, they now want a "train march", probably because walking all that way in the heat twice in one summer might be too much to ask for.

Anyway, can anyone say with a straight face that this is still about an "independent" judiciary? My limited understanding of politics leads me to believe that an independent judiciary entails a check on other branches of government; the highest legal body in the land being insulated from political pressures and processes, concerned only with rendering correct legal judgments on the basis of evidence and argument; an avowedly political but non-partisan body. That, my friends, is not what's being fought for. The rally was not for an independent judiciary but an anti-Musharraf and perhaps pro-PML one. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs only to read about Nawaz Sharif calling for Musharraf's hanging in his speech.

I should add that Nawaz Sharif (and Imran Khan and Jamaat-e-Islami) are well within their rights to make this a political issue. They are politicians after all; it's their job to make things political. Frankly, attaching themselves to the issue has been an excellent strategic move, leaving the PML-N especially in a win-win situation in terms of electoral prospects and popularity. My concern comes from the fact that I care about an actual independent judiciary, one divorced from mass politics. I mean, think about some of the proposals floating around. Not only is an extension of the Supreme Court from 13 to 29 judges being considered because of the political exigencies of the day, but the very roles judges play is being used as a bargaining chip. The PPP, according to the ever-reliable Ansar Abbasi, is willing to compromise by rendering the PCO judges "lesser judges" by giving them "evening courts and others set up to speedily dispose off the mounting pending cases." Evening courts! Hahahaha. It sounds like Michael giving George Michael control of the banana stand: "Aww, you're so cute! Of course you can be a judge!" In short, politics is making a mockery of what is supposed to be one of the state's most revered institutions. The irony, of course, is that it is being made a mockery by precisely those actors who profess to be fighting for it.

Anyway, I am really enjoying the politics of the whole thing. Frankly, I'm also relieved that the long non-train march has forced Zardari to pick a side. I mean, how great is this quote? "We know what to call a long march. We know when to call a long march. We know how to conduct a long march. And when the People’s Party calls a long march, then Pakistan will see what a long march really is."

God, I love Pakistani politics. We really are like a permanent Jon Stewart clip. Leaving aside the long and train marches, check out this story about the goings-on in the Senate yesterday:
The upper house witnessed a brief pandemonium when Leader of the Opposition Kamil Ali Agha criticised Parliamentary Leader of the Awami National Party Haji Adeel for his remarks against him.

Mr Adeel in his speech said he wanted to speak in the presence of the opposition leader, but it seemed that he had lost heart after the defeat of his party in the Feb 18 elections and was found missing from the house most of the time.

Mr Agha said: “The lawmaker (Mr Adeel) belongs to a party (ANP) which never accepted Pakistan’s reality wholeheartedly and whose founding father (Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan) had wished not be buried in Pakistan and his body was taken to Jalalabad for burial.”

This started a commotion and several members from both the treasury and opposition benches started shouting at each other.
It's good to be home.

Will The DHA's Storm Drains Even Work?

A few months ago the Defence Officer's Housing Authority (DHA) decided to dig up Phases 5 and 6 of Defence (a 'posh' area of Karachi located close to the sea) in order to install storm water drains. This move came after the DHA was heavily criticized for ignoring these drains which caused these areas to become submerged after last year’s rains.

Now that the DHA has undertaken this gargantuan task, it has come under renewed criticism for conducting the project in a slip shod manner. Storm water drains are usually found under footpaths but since the DHA never made any provisions for footpaths, they’ve had to lay these drains under roads thus rendering the entire road network of these areas a right a mess; it literally takes forever to get anywhere, and quite a few resident have had to park their cars a good distance away from their house and walk on gangplanks to enter. (Click here for a report on the dangers posed by the construction works - Courtesy: The News.)

The DHA may not be doing this the right away but at least they’re doing something, a few months of dug up roads is better than being submerged each year.

But recently I sat through a conversation, between three 70-year olds (2 engineers, 1 renewable energy expert) who questioned the very effectiveness of these drains. The three gentlemen have worked their entire lives on development for the Government so they do know a little about what they’re saying. They have the following concerns:

1. No Sound Foundation for the Concrete Drains

The drain is constructed by using pre-fabricated concrete blocks that weigh a great deal. The ground on which they are being laid is extremely soft and groundwater level is quite high. Thus, for the drains to remain level , the ground has to be prepared and a ‘foundation’ of rocks has to be laid. This has not been done. As a result the ground may sink in due to the weight of the concrete blocks and the added weight of the vehicles plying on top of the blocks.

2. Lack of Gradient

An effective drainage system makes use of one basic natural force – Gravity. The drains must therefore have a set declining angle that allows water to run downstream. These three gentlemen don’t appear to think that the DHA has done their homework and as a result, water will accumulate and stagnate in certain pockets. This problem is also linked to problem 1, if a section of the drain sinks, it disrupts the flow of the water and the water stagnates. One way of overcoming this problem may be to install huge suction pumps at the discharge site but there is no provision in the design for this.

3. Tidal / Storm Surge

Unlike the rest of Karachi’s storm water drains, which lead to backwaters or ‘rivers’, the DHA drains discharge on the Clifton Beach. (I have no idea of the impact this will have on the beach, I’m not putting my money on the impact being positive.) The Drain is therefore directly exposed to adverse sea conditions, which more often than not, are accompanied by heavy rains. Anyone living at Sea View, or having gone to Sea View during heavy rain, should have witnessed waves crashing onto the rock wall and at times spilling over on to the road. To be fair these events remain rare, but if and when they do occur they could cause the storm drains to fail and in extreme (very extreme) cases work in reverse.

I don’t really know what to make of these concerns. The three gentlemen do know what they're talking about which means we're in for some trouble down the road. At the same time I can't help but feel that they may have certain issues with the Pakistani government. It may just be the case that these guys may have become so jaded by their first hand experiences of witnessing the government screwing up development projects that they just cannot trust public bodies to do anything properly. And the DHA may well be one of the worst offenders when it comes to screwing up Public Works. I just hope that the DHA has learnt from its experiences and knows what it's doing.


Anecdotes of Government Screw-ups (as highlighted by these three guys)

  • In the early 90s, one of them worked for the Federal Government and presented a renewable energy policy for far flung villages of the country, beginning with sites at Sindh and Baluchistan. The policy stipulated that the energy requirement of these villages was extremely low and did not necessitate them being connected to the National Grid – he held that such a connection would be more expensive, would take a longer time and would waste a lot of energy. (Anyone seeking a demonstration of our wasteful National Grid should check this graphic out from an earlier post by NB) The initial stage, which saw the establishment of solar powered tube wells, received a go-ahead after UNICEF, EU and other International Donors stepped in to foot the bill. For its part, the Government of Pakistan was only asked to take care of minor technical problems and routine maintenance; complex maintenance issues would be tackled by the International Donors. A number of solar powered tube wells were set-up in Sindh and Baluchistan and dramatically improved the living conditions of the people living there. UNICEF officials conducted 6 month survey of these sites and found out that the Pakistani Government had completely failed to live up to its part of the bargain – many of the pumps were out of order for such ‘complex’ problems as loose nuts, damaged wiring, etc,. Despite numerous warnings, the Federal and Provincial governments failed to do anything and the project was terminated.
  • In the 1990s the Sindh Rural Water and Supply Development Board, with its office in Karachi had the use of the following vehicles: One Suzuki Potohar, One Suzuki Bolan (High Roof) and Two Honda CD 70s (Motorcycles). As the name suggest, the jurisdiction of this Board is Rural Sindh and the officials were expected to travel to Dadu, Tharparkar, etc. in the said vehicles. You can just guess how often they undertook those visits! UNICEF bought the Board a Land Cruiser and a Hilux, thus allowing officials to travel to these areas, which at the time they did. But since UNICEF pulled out the Board has had no money to maintain these vehicles, which are now rotting away; the Board is back to using a Suzuki High Roof (the Potohar was written off after it overturned in interior Sindh).

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Do They Know That We Know That They Know?

There is an episode of Friends where Phoebe finds out that Monica and Chandler are secretly dating. She tries to seduce Chandler to force him to admit to the relationship. Chandler realizes that Phoebe knows about him and Monica so he plays along to get her to admit she doesn’t want to bed him. Phoebe then figures out that Chandler knows she knows and on it goes until one person blinks (I forget who it was).

The ongoing Geo/government saga is something like that. Just about every story run by the various Jang Group papers and stations suggests that they suspect the PPP government and Musharraf are secretly supporting each other. The UAE government’s decision to shut down the Geo transmission gave them an opportunity to find out just how close that relationship really is.

First, the Jang Group published an ad in all their papers flirting with Musharraf and dissing the PPP.

Meanwhile, Geo TV has placed an advertisement in the Jang newspaper, which is part of the same media group, inviting Mr Musharraf to start his own daily or weekly talk on the channel if he thought his side of political developments in Pakistan was not being given enough attention.

The ad, which can be seen at the above link, goaded Musharraf by repeating a press report that Musharraf was upset that the PPP government had ordered a reduction in PTV’s Musharraf coverage.

Musharraf didn’t respond to the flirtations but Information Minister Sherry Rehman did, saying that it was the Jang Group she truly loved and they could be the masters of her domain at any time:

If any programme has been blocked by any force outside Pakistan, she makes an offer to Geo producers and anchors, who have been stopped, to use the PTV services live and without any editing until such time as they can restart or relocate, Sherry said.

The Jang Group knows that Sherry knows that they know that the government is close to Musharraf. Now its time for them to find out if Sherry knows that the Jang Group knows that Sherry knows that they know that the government is close to Musharraf:

A meeting of the editorial team of Geo was held here on Friday to review the offer given to Geo by the minister for information.

Appreciating the decision, the Geo editorial team thanked her and after reviewing the offer of the information minister decided that Geo will forward live signals of its programmes “Capital Talk” and “Meray Mutabiq”.

The editorial team requested the information minister to direct the PTV to receive live signals of the said two programmes and telecast them ‘as they are’ along with the advertisements therein.

The Geo’s editorial team held the opinion that each channel had its own set of standards and the same was the case with Geo. Therefore, it is important that a team of Geo prepares these programmes and forwards them to the PTV live. It also requested Sherry Rahman to direct the PTV to inform Geo about acceptance of this offer.

Sherry hasn’t responded to this offer yet. My guess: she’s going to come clean and no longer pretend she cares about Geo.

Hiring Women in Pakistan (Revisited)

This post is with reference to AKS’s earlier post (with the masochistic title regarding the employability of women in Pakistan) and the subsequent discussion in the comments.

Ill try and split the issue into two parts.

Express Declarations

Firstly, any business has to make a business decision. It’s not required to presume, contrary to an express indication from a candidate, that the candidate is question is willing to stay post marriage. That would be ridiculous, and the fact that AKS’s firm has done so in the past is down to their own silly unwillingness to believe what they’re told and capitalize on a candidates candour.

Imputing a Motive

Now to impute that eventuality to all female candidates is a trickier issue. From AKS's firm's perspective, they have previously experienced that most of their employed women, from a certain background have followed a certain course. Is that experience, which has proved so damaging to the firm (in the business sense) to be ignored when the firm is required to make a business decision about hiring and firing?

Ill give a slightly different example to try answer that question.

On occasion, multinational companies in Pakistan actually refrain from hiring male candidates from certain, good universities, because those candidates never settle into the company, and always try to hop on to higher paid jobs at smaller local companies after acquiring the credibility stamp from a multinational. In that respect, those candidates are being discriminated against, in that a motive is being imputed to them on the basis of a combination of their gender and educational background.

Those same multinational companies however will hire a lot of ‘vilayat returned’ (‘VR’) women and also middle class women from the same universities, because the companies know that the VR women appreciate the relatively safety guaranteed by a multinational working environment, wheras the middle class women are additionally especially drawn by the pay package. So in this instance, companies are positively discriminating in favor of both sets of women and against equivalent male candidates from certain universities, due to the motives imputed to each group on the basis of their gender and background.

Interestingly, those same women defend the positive discrimination that assisted their recruitment. They argue that it was fair for them to receive preference because criterion such as loyalty, commitment, and a firms previous experience with a certain group of candidates are all relevant factors that should be considered during the recruitment process.

So if all those factors are relevant, they are relevant notwithstanding whether they deliver a result that in effect discriminates for or against women, and AKS is entitled to impute those motives and to judge accordingly.


Interestingly, because AKS’s firm is not a multinational, the issue boils down to making presumptions on a background + gender basis rather than a purely gender basis. In the absence of big pay sums, VR women may stay given a certain working environment (which AKS firm may or may not provide), whereas middle class women seem unlikely to do so. Consequently, the statement in the previous post should have run as follows:
“If you’re a small to medium size firm with relatively shallow pockets (as opposed to a giant multinational), be very wary of hiring unmarried middle class women who haven’t expressly stated/demonstrated their commitment to remaining post marriage, unless you're hiring them as a PR officer or receptionist”
But before I get called whatever stuff I’m about to be called (due to my defense of AKS’s asininely titled and characteristically offensive post), let me reassure readers that my 'generalization' is a work in progress, and is very much open to suggestion and further qualification.

I-Had-No-Idea-About-This Fact Of The Day

Friday, June 13, 2008

I Wonder Who These Newspapers Are Supporting

Two headlines from reports on the Long March

Daily Times:

PML-N hijacks lawyers' movement

The News:

PML-N steals the show

Never Hire a Woman in Pakistan (except as a PR Officer or Receptionist)

Before I entered the work force it never occurred to me that learning how to tackle office politics, HR issues and generally retarded crap would is an essential part of any job. Likewise, I could never have imagined that I would ever be advocating an anti-women work policy. But here I am.

I honestly believe that, in Pakistan, hiring a woman in a position of importance is a waste of time and money. More often than not, all that training and cultivating will vanish away as soon as a marriage proposal is sent to the woman’s family. She will get married, then pregnant and will never return.

At the firm we’ve experienced this on so many different occasions that it has led us to seriously question if it’s worth hiring women. Just recently one of our associates, Ms. X, announced that she is going on a six month sabbatical as she had just received a rishta from a nice boy and would be getting married in a few months. Ms. X is a smart and hardworking chemist who joined the firm a couple of years ago and has been working in the Patent department ever since. The field of Patent Law is a highly specialized field and there are only 4 law firms in all of Pakistan dealing in this area, of which only 2 conduct Patent litigation, so Ms. X has spent most of her time learning the vagaries of Patent applications for chemical / pharmaceutical products. Ms.X proved to be exceptionally good. She knew her science, was a fast learner and a great communicator – which is essential as she has to explain chemistry to ‘scientific geniuses,’ like me. But now Ms. X is gone and we are back to square one. And even though Ms. X says that she’ll be back in six months, experience tells us that such an event is extremely unlikely to occur.

So at the end of the day, if you want to protect your HR investment, only hire women in areas where you can find ready replacements. Vilayat return women may be a slighter safer bet but good luck prizing them away from the clutches of multinational corporations.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

In Other News, The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Oh, yeah. That.
They don't want us to stay on our land. But we won't leave. We'll die here. It's ours.
That quote pretty much sums it up, don't you think? The funny thing is, without me attributing it, you have no idea who said it - a Jewish settler or a displaced Palestinian.

Stupid Things People Say: Pakistan and US Edition

Yesterday’s budget was a sane, sober document with little to complain about with so I’m only going to point out one minor issue that’s bugging me. What in the name of Iftikhar Chaudhry does increasing the size of the Supreme Court have to do with the budget? And isn’t this statement by Prime Minister Yousuf Gillani one of the stupidest things you have ever heard?

Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani said on Wednesday the proposed increase in number of Supreme Court judges from 16 to 29 in the national budget reflects a clear commitment of the government to reinstating judges.

Gilani’s logic reminds me of a college debate I once heard. The topic was something like "Peace won’t be achieved in the Middle East as long as the Arab governments are anti-Semitic." One guy arguing against the motion said that the Arab governments couldn’t be anti-Semitic since they were Semites themselves. On the face of it what the debater and Gillani have said is true but it so completely misses the point that you can’t help but feel contempt for both. Dude, playing games with semantics might not be the wisest thing to do right now. What you might consider to be logical brilliance is not going to convince anyone who thinks the PCO II judges should be hung, drawn and quartered.

Yesterday I made a post suggesting that the media might be in the tank for Barack Obama. The one exception I forgot about is….wait for it…yeah, you guessed it… Fox News. Yesterday they ran a news item with the headline “Outraged Liberals: Stop Picking on Obama’s Baby Mama!” Slate explains the ugly racial connotations behind the phrase “Baby Mama”. But then, should we surprised at Fox doing this. Earlier, one of the network’s anchors had described the Obamas’ adorable fist bump as a “terrorist fist jab”.

The Benefit of the Doubt?

Talk about doing wonders on the hearts and minds front.

There are two, equally bizzare accounts of what happened on Wednesday in Mohmand, which I have summarized below.

The American Account:

Coalition troops about 200 yards inside Afghan territory were attacked from across the border.

The coalition informed the Pakistan army that they were being attacked, apparently from a wooded area near the Pakistani border at Gorparai.

The US retaliates against the attack with with an air strike, hammering about a dozen bombs into Pakistani territory.

The Pakistani Account:

Afghan government soldiers had occupied a mountaintop position in a border zone disputed with Pakistan.

On Monday, the Afghan troops accepted Pakistan request to vacate the disputed position, withdraw to Afghanistan.

The Afghan troops were then apparently on their way back and were attacked by insurgents, inside Afghanistan.

The Afghans then called in the coalition airstrikes, which proceeded to fly directly past the insurgent attack site, and instead hit a Pakistani Frontier Corps post across the border and killed 11 Pakistani soldiers.

The coalition gave no notice prior to launching the strike.


Clearly theres a disagreement on the facts. Notwithstanding this, Husain Haqqani makes a very sad attempt to assert that the attacks were unintentional:
"We will look upon this as an incident that is not an intentional action to cause harm to Pakistan,"
And receives absolutely no assistance from US officials:
“The bombs hit the target they were aimed at,”
- Anonymous US Official quoted in the New York Times
"Every indication we have is that this was a legitimate strike against forces that had attacked members of the coalition,''
- Geoff Morrell, quoted in the Guardian
The aforementioned conversation between Husain Haqqani and US officials may therefore be reduced to the following:
HH: You bombed us!

US: Yes. But someone over your side was acting up.

HH: No they weren't. The problem was on the Afghan side. This must be a mistake.

US: It was on your side. This wasn't a mistake.

HH: It is a mistake you twat. 11 of our soldiers are dead.

US: Targeting your soldiers for an air strike was not a mistake. Though we are quite sorry that they're dead.

HH: Right. So if you're sorry, it must have been a mistake. Jolly good. Apology accepted.

US: It wasn't a mistake. But yeah, we're sort of sorry.

It would be an understatement to say that I'm skeptical about the impact of any sketchy peace accords, appeasement or Shariah-deals with the militants. The only thing that currently seems capable of changing the equation in Afghanistan and NWFP-FATA is a change in American focus, from Iraq to Afghanistan. More money, more troops, a comprehensive policy for reconciliation and development, even if it means the US' hard stance against Pakistan becomes more overt. This new American President can't come soon enough. And I really really hope its not John Mccain.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Wednesday Poll: Worst Point Of The Week And Worst TV Show Ever

After a long hiatus, the Wednesday poll is back.

Last time we asked what the worst point of the week is: Monday morning, Wednesday afternoon, or Sunday evening. 53% of respondents said Sunday evening, representing the end of the weekend and the dread of the oncoming work week, was the worst. Monday morning and Wednesday afternoon split the second-place vote.

This week, in honor of the release of Sex and the City, we want to know: which is the worst television show ever created? Is it (a) Desperate Housewives, (b) Grey's Anatomy, or (c) Sex and the City? Let us know what you think.

Headline of the Day

Wonder who the media is rooting for in the US presidential election? This Newsweek headline might provide a clue:

Obama's Official Blog is Boring. McCain's is Enjoyable. Why That's Bad News for the GOP.

Long Drive, Short March

The supposedly historic Long March, that has the entire media in a tizzy, seems to be more of a Leisurely Drive as the lawyers pack air conditioned coaches and make whistle stops on their way to Islamabad. My guess is they won’t be allowed into Islamabad and will meekly make their way back. It’ll just be a pleasant field trip for everyone involved.

But the media has to make it seem the lawyers have really achieved something by riding around the country. With our media, hyperbole is the norm. You are either the most evil being to ever walk the earth or heroic supermen who will save this unworthy nation. Until today I had no idea how taxing a bus journey could be:

Emotions ran high, but after a journey of over 14 hours in hot and dusty conditions, everyone was understandably tired…Speeches, including one from the fiery Kurd, were planned, but subsequently dropped keeping in mind the fatigue of the journeyers. After all, this journey, despite the passage of one day, was still in its early stages. Multan, Lahore, and finally Islamabad still remained.

But really, the lawyers are not all that different from every other Pakistani. For one they damn well won’t do any work until they’ve been properly fed.

The dedication to and belief in the cause was apparent. Things remained sluggish before breakfast, which, like the previous night’s dinner, was provided by the gracious hosts, the Sukkur Bar Association.

Who can really blame them for being so tired, however. As Shireen Mazari, plumbing the feverish depths of her over-excitable imagination, points out, the brave lawyers have to also contend with terrorists out to disrupt their movement:

The third question relates to the actual location of the blast – given that it hit out at poor Pakistanis at large rather than any Dane, and this is what must have been anticipated given the place of occurrence. So was the intent really to hit at the Danes or to create a security situation that could be exploited in terms of undermining the Long March on security grounds?

Then again, their fatigue may be explained by their lack of numbers. When there are so few of you around, you have to scream and jump more to make yourself heard. Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, who it should be stressed is not trying in any way to denigrate their heroic efforts, manages to dismiss the relevance of thousands of people in one statement.

The number of people attending the lawyers’ long march will be very small, but no compromise will be made on their security, Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer said on Tuesday. Talking to Business Plus, Taseer said more people came to his open courts than would attend the march. However, he said the government would make appropriate arrangements for their security irrespective of their number.


This is one of those stories that makes you laugh and shake your head at the same time. It's on Muslim women in Europe "reclaiming" their virginity. How does it work? Well...
PARIS — The operation in the private clinic off the Champs-Élysées involved one semicircular cut, 10 dissolving stitches and a discounted fee of $2,900.

But for the patient, a 23-year-old French student of Moroccan descent from Montpellier, the 30-minute procedure represented the key to a new life: the illusion of virginity.

Like an increasing number of Muslim women in Europe, she had a hymenoplasty, a restoration of her hymen, the vaginal membrane that normally breaks in the first act of intercourse.

Actually, my favorite part of the story is this tidbit:

The issue has been particularly charged in France, where a renewed and fierce debate has occurred about a prejudice that was supposed to have been buried with the country’s sexual revolution 40 years ago: the importance of a woman’s virginity.

The furor followed the revelation two weeks ago that a court in Lille, in northern France, had annulled the 2006 marriage of two French Muslims because the groom found his bride was not the virgin she had claimed to be.

The domestic drama has gripped France. The groom, an unidentified engineer in his 30s, left the nuptial bed and announced to the still partying wedding guests that his bride had lied. She was delivered that night to her parents’ doorstep.

In other words, dude was getting it on while his guests still hadn't left. That's horniness, people. Good old fashioned horniness.