Tuesday, December 30, 2008

End of Year Links

Apologies for the lack of posting, but I've been on a much-needed vacation. As most writing these days seems to be recapping the year that passed, allow me to link to my favourites.

First we have the inimitable semi-retired humourist Dave Barry's annual round up. Not one of his best, but still pretty damn funny. Those who watch 24 in an ironic way should also be sure to catch his live-blogging of the TV show when its seventh season starts next month.

Then we have Roy Edroso, the scourge of right-wing bloggers, who posts the ten most ridicoulous stories pushed by right bloggers. As a bonus, he adds another five on his blog (which all of you should be reading religiously).

Saturday, December 27, 2008

How to make David Cameron look like a complete idiot

By the BBC.

First, publish this uber macho picture of David Cameron.


Then, publish a caption below the photo, drawing attention to the silliness captured within it:

"Mr Cameron was pursued by photographers through a river"

Then, next to the photograph, open the article with the following sentence:

"Conservative leader David Cameron was beaten by three girls and a semi-naked man as he braved a cold and muddy charity run in Oxfordshire."

Finally, artfully evoke the slightly pathetic image of an adult competing at a kindergarten birthday party, with the following closing line:
"All the contestants were awarded a medal."

Friday, December 26, 2008

An Announcement

The WTB is now the W.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Pot. Kettle, Black.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe does irony much better than he does democracy. Check out this fantastic headline:

Zimbabwe asks Bush to leave office quietly

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Year in Errors

The blog Report the Error has the funniest mistakes and corrections made by news organizations throughout the year. You should really read the whole thing - it's that hilarious - but here is my favorite one.

The American Family Association’s OneNewsNow site has a standard practice of using the word “homosexual” instead of “gay.” They even set up a filter to automatically make the change. This didn’t serve ONN well when a sprinter named Tyson Gay made news at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials. He suddenly became Tyson Homosexual when the site’s filter got a hold of an AP story:

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Programming Note

From now until January 9, posting will be very infrequent from me.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Quote of the Day

David Mamet explains why actor Jeremy Piven has quit his play:

“I talked to Jeremy on the phone, and he told me that he discovered that he had a very high level of mercury,” Mamet said. “So my understanding is that he is leaving show business to pursue a career as a thermometer.”

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dear Miss Pakistan, the word is 'Condemn' NOT 'Condone'

Why CNN? Why have you interviewed Miss Pakistan on this issue?





I for one did not know that Pakistan had a 'Miss Pakistan World' by the name of Natasha Paracha. I also did not know that that she is the Chairperson of Pakistani Affairs with the United Nations International Renwable Energy Organization. I was actually quite suprised on both counts.

There are many silly, but well meaning things she says during this interview with CNN. For instance, that India and Pakistan have for many years been both 'friends' and (bizzarley) 'colleagues', and that Natasha is somehow an Ambassador to Pakistan. The most especially daft one was as follows:
"The image of Pakistan has been threatened with these recent attacks and I feel that now as Pakistanis we have to stand up and condone what has happened in the country of India and through these Mumbai Attacks."
and if you thought it was a slip of the tongue, here again:
"As an ambassador to my country Pakistan I feel that we as Pakistanis need to work together, and indians as well need to work, and work on this friendship that we have and condone these attacks, thoroughly.
I am still debating whether the anchor was mean or merciful for not correcting her.

But surely, if you were going to appear on CNN wearing a Miss Pakistan sash, in order to give a statement on behalf of your country in the midst of a political crisis, you would take the time to learn the difference between two fairly critical antonyms. You went to Berkley for God's sake. I mean I know you mean well and all, and it is appreciated, but seriously yaar, could you please do your homework?

Mini-links For Wednesday

Stuff to help you procrastinate (but not for too long):

Oh, snap! Jagjit Singh lets rip on Adnan Sami Khan:
Jagjit Singh was quoted as saying, "He (Adnan) became a singer by mistake. He had come here to become an actor and by mistake he became a singer. He can't even sing. People like him should be sent back to work there (Pakistan) because they make money in India and send it to Pakistan."

Speaking of "oh, snap" here is a useful flowchart on its correct usage (courtesy Naqiya).

Matthew Yglesias takes aim at the idea that throwing a show at someone is a "deep insult in the Arab world":

Is it possible that there’s a region somewhere where throwing shoes is a compliment?

Oh, God. Javed Miandad has just been given another position, this time as Pakistan's "cricket ambassador to China", this being the rough equivalent to that of Liechtenstein's ambassador to the UN in importance. Why do I get the feeling Miandad will still mess it up? (courtesy Wasay)

Speaking of cricket, the start of the Australia-South Africa series is 16 minutes away as I type this (which means I won't be typing for very much longer). I would like to officially declare Dale Steyn as my new favorite non-Pakistani cricketer, and the official fast bowler of Five Rupees. There's just something about a really quick bowler who's really good that gets the purist's heart racing a little bit. Oh, and by the way, he's about to destroy the Aussies. I give him 25 for the series. You heard it here first.

UPDATE: I would like to clarify that when I call Dale Steyn my favorite non-Pakistani cricketer, I mean from amongst active players. I would never disrespect you like that, Prince Brian.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers"

I read Malcolm Gladwell's latest book - called "Outliers" - on a flight a couple of days ago and thought I would share some thoughts on it.

The book is primarily concerned with what makes great people - or outliers - so great. What made the Beatles so good? What makes East Asians so good at math? Why do some people simply lie outside the bounds of what we would all consider "normal" human experience? Put differently, why are some people "outliers"?

Gladwell's proposition on this question is remarkably unremarkable. He purports to arguing against the set of people who claim that extraordinarily successful people are simply extraordinarily talented, and seeks to imbue in these discussions the idea that opportunities play a major role - as big a role as the talent itself. It's not you who makes you what you are, Gladwell says, but everything around you that makes you what you are. As he says in an interview, “I am explicitly turning my back on, I think, these kind of empty models that say, you know, you can be whatever you want to be. Well, actually, you can’t be whatever you want to be. The world decides what you can and can’t be.”

The problem with this is that no serious person makes the claim that success is only or even largely to do with talent, or that you can be whatever you want to be. When Gladwell argues against such an idea, he is essentially arguing against a strawman. We know that Michael Jordan was incredibly lucky to be able to hone his off-the-charts talent at North Carolina. We know that the type of environment a child grows up in is highly likely to affect his or her intelligence, ability to problem-solve, and grades at school. In short, we know opportunity matters. When reading this book, one is left with a sense of "Yeah...so what?"

That does not mean it is not worth a read, or a purchase. Because the book is written by Malcolm Gladwell, who remains in my view the single best writer in non-academic publishing, the book is highly enjoyable. As he is wont to do, he throws in fascinating nuggets and stories that either make you shake your head or smile to yourself for a solid five minutes (his chapter on the reasons behind Korean air-crashes is particularly good). And the book has a singular theme and argument to it in a way that "The Tipping Point" (his first book) did not.

There are many good reasons to buy or read "Outliers". An earth-shattering insight into what makes people successful is not one of them.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Iraqi Journalist Throws Shoe, Actually Shoes, At George W. Bush

Say this for Bush: he may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, and he may have presided over a global economic collapse, and he may go down as the America's worst ever President, but...he does have quick reflexes for a guy his age.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Difference Between A Weak Government And A Weak State

One of the things that has bothered me about Western coverage of Pakistan since Zardari's election and, in particular, since the Bombay attacks a few weeks ago, is the conflation of two very different terms: a weak government, and a weak state.

For example, here is the New York Times editorial last week:
Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, must face up to his country’s involvement — whether official or nearly so. We know his new civilian government is weak, and he may not be able to accede to New Delhi’s demands that all suspects be turned over to India for prosecution.
I don't know who the "we" in that statement is - I suppose it refers to the NYT's editorial board - but "we" happen to be wrong.

Asif Zardari's civilian government is not weak. To the contrary, he is the single strongest civilian leader of this country since his father-in-law, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. He is arguably more powerful than even President Zia-ul-Haq was at his peak, and he is certainly more powerful than Musharraf was at his. To see why, we need to delve into Pakistan's internal political structure.

Historically, there have been three major power brokers within Pakistan's political, if not geographical, space. First and foremost is the Army. For reasons too complicated to get into at this point - though the interested reader should consult Ayesha Jalal's fantastic book on the subject - the military exerts enormous influence in Pakistan. The second major power broker is what can be broadly construed as the "business and feudal community". The third is Uncle Sam.

A relatively recent addition to this set of players that matter is what is commonly referred to as "civil society", though in Pakistan's case it would be more accurate to call this new group "the media and the lawyers". This group set off a chain of events in March 2007 that ultimately resulted in Musharraf's resignation as President in the summer of 2008.

So we have four groups that matter in Pakistan; the discerning reader will have noticed, I am sure, that I did not include the religious right (which is good for a few Friday sermons and Danish cartoon protests but not much else), mainstream political parties (generally devoid of souls or consciences), or the middle and lower classes (whose political allegiances almost always full into predictable ethnic and provincial breakdowns, thus affording them little credibility of desertion). Where does Zardari stand with each of these groups?

Let's start with the military. The Army under Asfhaq Kayani has shown an increasing willingness to step into the background on political issues, and allow greater subordination to civilians. Whether this is a tactical or strategic move is unclear - at least to me - but the point remains: Kayani has given Zardari more leeway than any General has given any civilian leader I can recall. Is the military completely subservient? No, of course not - and it would be foolish to expect it to be. But baby steps are being taken.

The second and third are no-brainers. Zardari is of the business and feudal community. He is one of them, and speaks their language. Uncle Sam is also willing to give him a chance, mainly because (a) there seems to be military-fatigue in D.C. and (b) Zardari does everything asked of him.

What about the fourth? This process has been completely hidden from view for those who don't pay attention to Pakistani politics on a daily basis, but Zardari's neutralization of the lawyers and their political representatives as been a political masterstroke. I can't even recall the last time someone mentioned the words "Iftikhar Chaudhry". Whether or not you countenence the means or the ends of Zardari's political acumen, there is no doubting his adroitness on these issues. Dude can play this game.

So, in a very basic and fundamental way, Zardari's government is not weak. It is in fact very strong. He is faced with a pliant judiciary, a patient military, a supportive U.S., and a majority in parliament.

The Pakistani state, on the other hand, is embarassingly weak. State strength refers to the amount of legitimate control the state exercises on its territory. The war against the Taliban in the north west of the country tells you all you need to know on that front. One can also consider Pakistan's abysmal tax-to-GDP ratio, a traditional marker of state strength in the poli sci literature because it gets at the ability of agents of the state to coerce citizens (for those interested, this article by Evan Lieberman explores the causes of a variation in the ability to collect taxes in South Africa and Brazil). Simply put, if the state can't establish it's writ in meaningful ways on the territory it purports to control, then it is a weak state. Pakistan falls under this category.

But please don't confuse Pakistan being weak for Zardari or his government being weak. They are separate and distinct analytical propositions, and should be treated as such.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

US Intelligence Strikes Again

The Americans discover a new kind of WMD:

An annual convention of the recently banned Jamaat-ul-Dawah created ripples in the American security circles a few years back when, while monitoring through satellite, they mistook thousands of Lotas at the Pattoki convention site as potential weapons.

Perhaps not aware of the fact that the Muslims use Lota (one of the toiletries) in place of toilet-paper for washing purposes, the US security officials monitoring the congregation with their rotating satellites were quick to refer the photo images of Lotas to their Pakistani counterparts, seeking their expert opinion if these could be used as weapons.

However, it was only after a flurry of US-Pak exchanges that the Pakistani authorities were able to address the American apprehensions, explaining that such toilet utensils are harmless and were used all over the world by Muslims.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Quote(s) Of The Day (Joint Winners)

Both sports related.

First, Wizards coach Ed Tapscott wins the "Most superfluous and redundant comment ever made" award with the following, after a pasting from Boston (who are now an ungodly 21-2 by the way):
You saw the best team in the league. And in case you weren’t watching, it wasn’t us. It was them.
Right-o.

Next, we have the strangest sentence I have ever read in a preview of a football match. I am in that weird state right now, where your team is playing so well, and the upcoming opposition is playing so shakily, that you can't help but feel something is going to go wrong. Well I was snapped out of my sense of foreboding with the following:
Real Madrid against Sevilla on Sunday were refreshing attacking even with their myriad of injuries and so were Sevilla against Real Madrid. But sleeping with a whore is one thing, sleeping with a whore without a condom is quite another.

I have no idea what that means.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

YouTube of the Day



An Indus TV correspondent will do whatever it takes to file his report, dammit.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Listmania: The Best of TV in 2008

First, because I’m expecting a lot of outrage from obsessive TV watchers, let me explain the methodology for my choices. In ranking a show, I am comparing it not only to all the other series out there, but also to previous seasons of the show. This would explain, for example, the relatively low ranking of The Wire, whose fifth and final season, while better than anything else on TV, was weaker than the four seasons that preceded it. And let me apologize for not including Mad Men. I just don’t get all the fuss about it.


The Best Shows



1) Lost

Let’s start by taking a moment to laugh at all of those who gave up on Lost during the admittedly weak first six episodes of the third season. Then, let’s take another moment to laugh at those who suggested Heroes was a better show than Lost. The thing is, Lost never really lost (yes, that’s an obvious pun) its mojo. Even the supposedly slow second season is awesome when watched continuously on DVD. But the shortened fourth season is easily the best and most audacious season yet. The sci-fi elements came to the fore, the pace quickened and the few flashbacks there were (Locke being continuously visited by Richard Alpert being the most prominent) gave answers about questions that mattered rather than explaining where Jack got his tattoos. The more prominent role played by Ben Linus (Michael Emerson), who along with Terry O’Quinn is the best actor on the show, also helped with the quality of the season, Think back to the best moments of the season, and chances are they will involve Ben. The desperation in Ben’s voice as, in an unsuccessful gambit, he frantically tells Keamy that he really doesn’t care about his daughter and the shattered look on his face after she is killed. And who can ever forget the chilling moment in the finale when Ben takes his revenge by frantically stabbing Keamy? As Locke asks him what he’s done, Ben chillingly replies, “So.” It was the frequency of these little moments that keep the mythology of the show believable. Jin asking Sun, “Is the baby mine?”, Sawyer whispering in Kate’s ear before taking a plunge from the helicopter and, of course, The Constant, which would surely top every list for best episode of the year. I must admit I was close to tears when Desmond met Penny in the past (or did that count as the present?) and begged her to give him his phone number. The 2004 phone call at the end of the episode was similarly heartbreaking and handled with extreme sensitivity.



2) The Office




For the purposes of this list, I am only including those episodes which aired in 2008, which would include the tail end of season four and the first nine episodes of season five. For a more detailed dissection of what makes The Office the most consistently funny comedy on television (sorry, 30 Rock fans), check out this New Yorker piece comparing the US and British versions of the show. I’m going to mainly concentrate on Amy Ryan. Her character Holly, who replaced Toby in Human Resources in the season four finale, was the perfect foil for Michael. She can be as na├»ve as Michael (the way she believed that Kevin is mentally challenged, whose behavior hilariously did nothing to challenge that notion) and as dorky (the Lazy Scranton rap in the first episode of this season and the Physical parody in the second). Ryan’s send-off was also perfectly appropriate, as she and Michael sing Life is a Highway multiple times. Ultimately, Holly was a smarter version of Michael. Unlike him, she realized that a long-distance relationship wouldn’t work. Oh, and major props to the writers for the way they handled the Jim-Pam engagement. Getting two of your main characters together has destroyed lesser shows like Moonlighting and Cheers, but has only improved The Office.



3) Friday Night Lights




I really shouldn’t like this show. I hate teen soap operas and don’t understand American football. But none of that really matters when you have such a top notch ensemble. The second season, with its murder plot and general melodrama, was mediocre, but what should be the final season of this ratings-challenged is a return to form. The interaction between Mr and Mrs Coach may be the best thing about the show, but this season also brought out the best in Matt Saracen, Smash Williams and Jason Street. Plot is really of no consequence in FNL; the only reason to watch this show is its minute observations of small-town Texas and the fantastic acting.


4) The Wire



A journalist friend of mine once mis-defined penultimate in a story as more ultimate than ultimate rather than next to last. Both definitions would be appropriate for The Wire. While it would be a mistake to concentrate too much on individual episodes as The Wire is meant to be digested as a season-length arc, the penultimate episode always brings together the various storylines in immensely satisfying and uncontrived ways. In Late Edition, the second last episode of the final season, we learn the fate of the four children of the fourth season as Michael kills Snoop without any hint of violence or malice and is forced to say a tender goodbye to his beloved brother Bug. My only quibble with this season was the portrayal of the Baltimore Sun. Probably because I am a journalist myself, the depiction of the newspaper just didn’t ring true. Then again, if I was a dock worker, my least favorite season would probably be the second one.


5) Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles



Yes, I know how ridiculous this show is. It’s plot has as many holes as Heroes (which is surely the worst show on television) and Thomas Dekker and Shirley Manson are terribly wooden actors. But if you don’t think too much about it, this is actually a really fun show. Most of the credit for that goes to Summer Glau, who should be familiar to fans of Firefly. As the good terminator, she has shown some subtle signs of independence and human feeling, which should come to the fore if the show is renewed for another season. I’m hoping the upcoming Terminator movie with Christian Bale as John Connor will incorporate some elements of this show. Overall, each episode has enough thrills and twists to keep me watching. It is also the most improved show on TV after a boring first season.


Other random stuff from the year in television:



The funniest scene of the year: Alec Baldwin of 30 Rock channels Redd Fox and many others in increasingly hilarious impersonations. How does this guy not win every award out there while Jeremy Piven wins an Emmy every fucking year?



Best ever Devil: Ray Wise (a television legend for his role as Leland Palmer in Twin Peaks) plays the devil as a cross between a horny teenager and a used car salesman in Reaper.



A great performance in an otherwise mediocre show: John Noble as the mentally challenged genius in Fringe. His non-sequiters always have me laughing but he also manages to bring out some pathos.

Quote of the Day

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (I don't know how to pronounce it either), as quoted in an FBI affidavit accusing him of trying to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat:

You're telling me that I have to "suck it up” for two years and do nothing and give this “motherfucker [the President-elect] his senator. Fuck him. For nothing? Fuck him.” Blagojevich states that he will put “[Senate Candidate 4]” in the Senate “before I just give fucking [Senate Candidate 1] a fucking Senate seat and I don’t get anything.”


Do you think Dubya might pardon Blagojevich for calling Obama a motherfucker?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Some Lightheartedness

With questions of war, death and destruction swirling around our part of the interwebs, I thought I might lighten the mood for a day. Here are some great videos that will make you feel better.

The first is Darko Milicic going apeshit after a loss in some international basketball tournament. You can watch it at work as long as you don't work for a Serbian boss. The subtitles, according to Serbian commenters on Youtube, are entirely accurate.



Staying on basketball for a second, please watch this clip of Tracy McGrady dunking all over poor Shawn Bradley from three years ago. In particular, catch the slow-mo replay and watch McGrady's body extend and torque to get maximum leverage around the 0:26 mark.




Moving along, do you know which Indian I fear the most? It is neither L.K. Advani nor Bal Thackeray. It is, in fact, Virender Sehwag. You can ask Chaminda Vaas why.



Did you hear the sound of that bat? Dear Lord. I bet Mohammad Sami still wakes up in a sweat sometimes.

This video, sent to me by Farooq, is also brilliant. It features some Islamic scholars debating in Arabic the exact method by which one should beat one's wife. I love the conclusion. I also feel like kind of an asshole for laughing the whole way through this, but whatever.



I'm sorry, this one should have gone right after the Sehwag one. It's obviously a little more agricultural - it is Afridi after all - but just watch how goddamn far the thing goes.



For some reason, embedding has been disabled for this video, but I highly encourage you to check it out. It's of a group of friends in Karachi yukking it up as they tape what has to be the world's worst ever traffic jam with a bird's eye view.

I don't really know anything about golf, but I know this is one amazing shot.




Readers are encouraged to post other great videos in the comments box below.

Hameed Gul Opens Mouth, Bullshit Follows

Oh, dear. Please watch this interview of our erstwhile intelligence chief with Fareed Zakaria. I love Fareed's "I don't know whether to be shocked this guy is saying this shit or excited that I'm getting this big a scoop for my show" expression.



My favorite lines:

"I think this is a frame-up, a total frame-up." Yes, well, if something's going to be a frame-up, it might as well be a total frame-up.

"I'm like an open book." Great, so in addition to complete stupidity, you have another thing in common with Sarah Palin.

"This is preposterous, this is wrong, this is fallacious." Someone's gone to town on shift+F7 just before their interview on international television, yes?

"I have all my sympathies for India." Oh dear Lord, where to start? You know what? Forget it.

"Obviously it [the Mumbai attacks] is an inside job." Obviously!

"I have no linkages with [Lashkar-e-Taiba]." In response to a question on whether the ISI has formal or informal links with LeT. That, my friend, is known as a Freudian slip.

"9/11's full evidence has still not emerged, it is still shrouded in mystery." I don't even have a comment for this one.

"Americans have still to set up a proper commission, inquiry commission into this event." It's too bad they wasted the name of the "9/11 commission" on something else then.

"It was the Zionists, the Neocons, they have done it [9/11], it was an inside job." So many inside jobs! How does one keep track of all this? I suppose it helps being an intelligence chief because, by definition, you must be pretty intelligent to get to that position.

Right?

Monday, December 08, 2008

A Conversation With An Indian Blogger On The Mumbai Attacks And Their Aftermath

Alright, so writer/editor/analyst Nitin Pai of The Acorn and myself agreed to have a sort of public conversation on the Mumbai attacks and their aftermath. Below are the first two emails; I will follow with a third soon and hopefully Nitin will find the time to reply. Without further ado...
_____________________________________________________________________________________

Hi Nitin,

In some ways, it feels like the dust has settled on the Mumbai attacks - at least on the discourse front - but in many other ways, it feels like the party's just getting started. The atmosphere on both sides of the border is unbearably tense. There was a report in Dawn about how a prank call from someone purporting to be Pranab Mukherjee put Pakistan's military on alert. I guess this is what it would feel like if Brad Pitt went over to Jennifer Aniston's parents' house during Thanksgiving, only if Pitt and Aniston both had nuclear weapons.

There are three sets of "things" about the attacks and the aftermath: the set of things which I know for sure, the set of things I'm not sure of, and the set of things that I'm completely lost on.

Things I know for sure

1. Having Asif Zardari in charge during a crisis is a bad thing

I bet even the lawyers are missing Musharraf right now. That guy was smooth, knew how to play the media game, and could talk up a storm. Zardari, on the other hand, is a bumbling idiot. He clearly learned nothing from his wife, who was even better at playing the rhetoric game than Musharraf (she was able to convince the entire establishment in DC and London that the chosen one from a feudal-aristocratic family was most attuned to democratic and liberal principles, for crying out loud). Zardari is liable to say or do something immensely stupid, which would be harmful at the best of times but can be near-apocalyptic during a crisis between two nuclear-armed states. Having a guy who confused the causes of World War I for the causes of World War II, or who went on Indian television and talked about instituting a no-first-use policy on nukes without running it by the people who actually decide nuclear policy in Pakistan in charge is a bad thing.

2. India's options are severely limited

India cannot launch an invasion or anything of the sort, because Pakistan has nuclear weapons. It cannot expect the U.S. to do its bidding to the extent that it would like because, as Negeen mentioned, Pakistan actually has leverage over the U.S. in the form of 100,000 troops on its western border (though this is not to say the U.S. won't do its bidding at all, quite the contrary). Even "low-level" responses, such as precision military strikes in Pakistani Kashmir are fraught with danger. Finally, doing nothing is perhaps the most unpalatable option of all: the Indian people, if my reading of various Indian newspapers and blogs is correct, want to throw a punch, for cathartic purposes if nothing else. But at this point, they cannot take anything other than extremely lame measures like calling off India's cricket tour to Pakistan or not allowing the release of some Shah Rukh Khan movie across the border.

I was leading my weekly discussion section this past Wednesday for a introductory course in international relations. It was all undergrads, but they're smart undergrads. So I asked them a simple question: "What would you do?" If you were an adviser to Manmohan Singh right now, I asked, what do you tell him? I was met with silence. I waited. Nothing. "No, seriously. What do you say to him?" Nothing. I waited a couple of seconds, before I moved on to discuss this week's readings, but it was telling that there wasn't even a suggestion.

3. This was not India's 9/11

The reason 9/11 was America's 9/11 was that the U.S, as a state, was not used to political violence. Of any kind. Even its civil rights movement was abnormally non-violent. The idea of civilians being targeted for political aims was not just anathema to them, but simply new.

This is the main reason that Mumbai is not India's 9/11. India is a violent country, by most standards. From secessionist movements to ethnic riots to religious violence, India has seen it all.

And yet the reaction to this episode easily outflanks the reaction to other forms of violence, even if they were more brutal in terms of lives cost. By way of illustration, not only was Narendra Modi not punished for aiding and abetting riots that killed more than 2000 people - ten times the casualties of the Mumbai attacks - but he and his party were in fact rewarded by being reelected.

There is, of course, a very simple reason for this dichotomy: notions of Self and Other. Identities, as Alex Wendt might say, constitute interests. Put differently, who we think we are - and, by extension, who we think we are not - will impact what we consider to be impacting our values and beliefs. It's clear to me from the mobilization of civil society in India in the last ten days that violence perpetrated by groups originating from Pakistan simply means something different than violence perpetrated by one's own, even if the latter costs more in terms of lives lost. We in Pakistan are no strangers to this phenomenon. Innocent civilians lost due to American drone attacks elicit a very different reaction than the Taliban bombing girls' schools does.

Things I don't know for sure

1. What the motives of the attacks were

Assuming we can abandon the language of evil-doers and killing for killing's sake, I am unsure of the precise motivations for the attacks. I suppose how one conceives of the motivations of the attackers is in part determined by how one conceives of the attackers themselves.

If, for instance, one considers the attackers to be operating as an extension of the arm of the Pakistani state, then there are two possibilities. First, the attackers wanted to widen the low-level war fought in Kashmir for two decades to the Indian "mainland". Second, and more convolutely, the attackers were sent to escalate tensions on the eastern border, thus affording the military and the ISI the opportunity to take forces away from the western border where they are fighting an unpopular and difficult war.

On the other hand, if the attackers are a relatively autonomous entity, the possibilities change. One idea could be to sow discord between Pakistan and India, retard the five-year peace process which would marginalize them if it actually came to fruition, and create operational and political space for them to operate. If this is the case, they have already succeeded. Another possibility could be that this was a replica of Bali, i.e., a targeting of westerners in an eastern country. If that is the case, it is merely another step in these groups' war against the west.

I really don't know.

2. Is there anything the Congress Party can do to stop the BJP winning elections next year?

Crises are usually good for political parties in power, if they handle them correctly. The Republicans in the U.S., for example, used the rally-round-the-flag effect for a good six years to stay in power, despite being terrible at leading and governing. The Indian case seems different to me, because as a distant observer, I sense a fair degree of pent-up frustration with Congress' ability to protect Indians, and this Mumbai attack seems to be the straw that broke the camel's back. Do you think Congress has a snowball's chance in hell next year? If yes, why?

Things I am completely lost on

1. How the Pakistani security establishment is going to change priorities, if at all

It's no secret that post-9/11, the military and the ISI have targeted militant groups that operate against domestic targets - such as Shias - and targets to the west - such as in Afghanistan - a lot more than they've targeted groups that operate against targets to the east. I wouldn't go so far as saying the latter have been left alone, but they've definitely been given more leeway.

I wonder if that will change. On the one hand, this crisis has shown that these groups can mean a lot of trouble for Pakistan, because bringing the state to the brink of war with a militarily and economically stronger rival is a seriously suboptimal outcome. On the other hand, the preceding reason could well be used to justify their continued existence. In other words, the severe imbalance of power between Pakistan and India could be interpreted as a reason to keep these groups hanging around, just in case.

2. What Barry-O is thinking right now

You know how I feel really sorry for? The guy who idealistically claimed throughout his campaign that we - whomever "we" may be - "will change America and change the world." As I said in another class I TA, Obama is barely going to be able to change the carpeting in the White House, forget the entire bloody world (and I say this as an Obama supporter).

One issue is simply the course of events, which are invariably more complicated once you're in power than when you talk about them as a dispassionate observer. If Obama was faced with this crisis as President, what would he have done? Nothing too different than George W. Bush, I would imagine.

A more important issue is what the underlying intellectual philosophy is that guides Obama's thoughts. He seems to come from a tradition of realism, especially when he says things like "I have enormous sympathy for the foreign policy of George H. W. Bush." Indeed, this is the exact reason he picked Robert Gates as Defense Secretary - not all that team of rivals nonsense. On the other hand, he's spoken about supporting democracies and interventions in places like Darfur that make him closer to the liberal hawk/interventionist camp in the U.S. (think Madeline Albright). So when he picks the liberal-hawk-to-end-all-
liberal-hawks (Hillary) to be Secretary of State, I don't know what to think about his philosphy on international relations. And not knowing his general intellectual persuasions makes it harder to guess what he would think or do in specific crises like this one.

I guess that's a lot for one email. I'll shut up now, and look forward to your thoughts.

Best regards,

Ahsan
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Ahsan,

Using the 9/11 analogy or anticipating President Obama's stance on these attacks look at the situation from an America-centric perspective. While this may allow a greater degree of debate among scholars and laymen alike, it is best we set aside these distorting prisms if we want to examine the situation with clarity.

I have previously characterised contemporary India-Pakistan relations as a game where India faces three players on the Pakistani side. India would like to engage and give the benefit of the doubt to one player (now Zardari & Co, for the want of a better name), but contain or suppress the second (Gul & Co, again for the want of a better name). The third Pakistani player, Kayani & Co, stood in between the Zardari & Gul companies, with evolving relationships with either. The relationship between Zardari & Co and Gul & Co appears to India as antagonistic, but not beyond all doubt. The dynamics of this four-cornered relationship was evolving, and was perhaps headed for some stability, until the Mumbai terrorist attacks were executed by the Lashkar-e-Taiba, likely with the ISI's connivance.


The fact that the attacks were carried out, and allowed to be carried out suggests:


a) That whatever might be the long-term benefits of having a civilian dispensation in Pakistan, it is not a credible interlocutor in the short-term.


b) That, in the post-Musharraf dispensation, the quarters that control Pakistan's nuclear weapons and the quarters that control its jihadis are operating increasingly independently.


c) That unless India acts forcefully, it may have to live with an escalating level of terrorist attacks. The Mumbai blasts of 1993 set off the trend of serial blasts. The Mumbai blasts of 2006 set off a new series of synchronised bombings. The Mumbai attack of 2008 might indicate a new wave of urban guerilla warfare.

This suggests that India must match its long-term commitment to a Pakistan's internal reconciliation and democracy with a short-term disregard for the unwilling or impotent de jure rulers. India's response must not be constrained by the need to keep Zardari & Co in power.


Second, far from having no options, it must be noted that India has a few options: not conducting a punitive strike is an option; sending troops to Afghanistan is an option; working towards an international coalition (of the kind proposed by Robert Kagan recently) is an option; bridging the United States and Iran to make use of the land corridor from Bandar Abbas to Kabul via the Zaranj-Delaram highway is an option; lobbying the international community to tie economic aid to Pakistan to Islamabad's meeting concrete milestones is also an option. In fact, if it is established that Gul & Co conducted the Mumbai attacks independent of Kayani & Co, the nuclear dimension becomes more manageable.


Third, the Mumbai attackers might well have failed in a broad strategic sense: by uniting the fissiparous Indian polity on the need to defeat jihadi terrorism. True, the post-Mumbai spirit might fizzle out, but already, politicians and policymakers have come around to tackling terrorism in the right earnest.


As I write this, Zardari & Co have arrested a top-rung Lashkar-e-Taiba leader and raided its Muzzafarabad camps. Symbolic as it is, it is still a welcome move. But will the other players on the Pakistani side accept this quietly?

regards,

Nitin

Quote Of The Day

Real Madrid manager Bernd Schuster:
The game against Barcelona worries me less than any other game. It is not possible to win because Barcelona are in devastating form and I believe that this is going to be their year.

There are two possible explanations for this remarkable statement. One is that Schuster is simply speaking the truth and, on an unrelated note, is about to get fired. The other is that he's playing mind games, doesn't realize that Madrid coaches aren't allowed to play these types of mind games, and is about to get fired.

By the way, they lost a remarkable seven goal thriller - at home, no less - to Sevilla today, leaving them nine points behind Barca. I'd describe it for you guys, but I really don't care that much. And, I suspect, neither do you.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Speaking of Prank Phone Calls

Sometimes you can be a bit too careful:

Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen received a phone call from Obama yesterday to wish her congratulations on her re-election and to convey other political-type niceties — like the importance of working together.

Problem was, she didn’t believe it was him. She thought it was one of those wacky radio station stunts wherein a DJ gets you to believe he is someone famous. You know, like when Sarah Palin was spoofed into thinking she was talking to French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Determined not to be “Palin-ized,” Ros-Lehtinen hung up on him.

So Obama’s head honcho Rahm Emanuel got involved and called her back. She promptly hung up on him too.

”I thought it was one of the radio stations in South Florida playing an incredible, elaborate, terrific prank on me,” Ros-Lehtinen told the Miami Herald. “They got Fidel Castro to go along. They’ve gotten Hugo Chavez and others to fall for their tricks. I said, ‘Oh, no, I won’t be punked’.”

It finally took Representative Howard Berman to get involved before she would believe Obama wanted to talk to her. Berman called his colleague, but she was wary of him too.

In fact, she demanded that Berman share a private joke they share to convince her that Berman was actually Berman.

No details of the private joke has emerged but that top-secret intelligence was enough for Ros-Lehtinen to believe that this was all for real.

She then told Berman to tell Obama to try again.

“I know this sounds very presumptuous, but please tell President-elect Obama he can call me now and I will take his call,” she said.

Barcelona's Rampant Run Through La Liga

If you're a football fan but follow the English Premier League or Serie A or Ligue 1 or any of those other competitions, I would exhort you to, for one week, turn your eyes toward the Blaugrana. Barcelona are not only playing the best football in Spain, they are not only playing the best football in Europe, they are not only playing the best football in the world, but in fact are playing the best football in the world seen for a long, long time.

Barca's last two games have confirmed this fact. Heading into last Sunday, Barca were playing awesome, attacking football, but could be legitimately criticized for not having done it against any of the big teams. Facing in succession Sevilla away, Valencia at home, Real at home, and Villareal away (teams 2-5 in La Liga as of last Sunday), we would find out the true mettle of this team. Were they merely showmen against the also-rans who would struggle against the top dogs?

On the basis of the first half of that challenging schedule, the answer is a resounding no. Last week, on the road against Sevilla, Barca handily won 3-0. It was a strange sort of game, because while Barca controlled the game, they hardly dominated it. True scoring chances were scarce. Nevertheless, when they (specifically, Eto'o) got one, they buried it. It was a very Champions League-ish type game, because you got the sense that one mistake, or one moment of flashing brilliance would be the difference, simply because they weren't going to be that many chances against a really solid Sevilla team. And for most of the game, it played out that way, with the Eto'o goal keeping Barca ahead. And then, late in the second half, the Messiah put away two chances, and that was that.

Watching them today against Valencia was even more impressive. At home and necessarily more free-flowing, they never missed a beat. Indeed, they looked like they were on cruise control for ninety minutes, not even really trying. Henry, after bitching and whining about how much he has to run because he has to play on the left, put up instead of shutting up, scoring a hat-trick as the suspended Eto'o sat on the bench. Dani Alves added one for good measure. So if you're keeping track at home, that's a 7-0 aggregate as Barca stepped into the ostensibly difficult part of their schedule. In 14 games in La Liga this season, they have now scored an astonishing 44 goals (and let just nine in).

And it's not just that they're winning, but how they're winning. Xavi especially has been brilliant this season, and is the motor that keeps everything running. They're such a smooth team when in form, and right now - not to sound overly bullish - they look nigh on unbeatable.

Next week? Real Madrid at the Camp Nou. As George W. Bush said, bring 'em on.


Prank Call Nearly Causes War Between India And Pakistan; Quick Thoughts On The Peshawar Bombing

I wish I was making this stuff up. This report in Dawn reads like an Onion story:

Nuclear-armed Pakistan went into a state of ‘high alert’ last weekend and was eyeing India for possible signs of military aggression, after a threatening phone call made to President Asif Ali Zardari by someone from Delhi who posed himself as the Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

Whether it was mere mischief or a sinister move by someone in the Indian external affairs ministry, or the call came from within Pakistan, remains unclear, and is still a matter of investigation. But several political, diplomatic and security sources have confirmed to Dawn that for nearly 24 hours over the weekend the incident continued to send jitters across the world. To some world leaders the probability of an accidental war appeared very high.

It all started late on Friday, November 28. Because of the heightened tension over the Mumbai carnage, some senior members of the presidential staff decided to bypass the standard procedures meant for such occasions, including verification of the caller and involvement of the diplomatic missions, and transferred the late-evening call to Mr Zardari. The caller introduced himself as Pranab Mukherjee and, while ignoring the conciliatory language of the president, directly threatened to take military action if Islamabad failed to immediately act against the supposed perpetrators of the Mumbai killings.

As the telephone call ended many in the Presidency were convinced that the Indians had started beating the war drums. Within no time intense diplomatic and security activity started in Islamabad. Signals were sent to everyone who mattered about how the rapidly deteriorating situation may spiral out of control. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was advised to immediately return to the capital from Lahore, and a special plane (PAF chief’s) was sent to Delhi to bring back the visiting Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi early in the morning on Nov 29 even when he was already booked to return by a scheduled PIA flight the same evening.

Go read the whole thing.

On the issue of the Peshawar bombing today, I just have a few quick questions: where are the candlelight vigils for these victims? The intense diplomatic activity? The promises to apprehend the perpetrators? Nowhere.

This brings to light an issue that AKS tangentially touched upon in his post: despite facing seriously high levels of political violence against its citizens, Pakistan - and Pakistanis - are not looked upon as victims of militancy. Imbued in American calls to "do more" during the Musharraf era and the saber-rattling by the Indian state following the carnage in Mumbai is the sense that Pakistan, and Pakistanis, are sponsors and supporters of death and destruction, not its victims. From Benazir's assassination to the near-weekly suicide bombings in 2007 to the escalation in the war against the Taliban this year, Pakistan and Pakistanis have suffered enormously. This is not to say that the state of Pakistan has not done its share in sponsoring violence in the past, but to say that the civilians and citizens of Pakistan deserve the same sympathy that victims of political violence get in the "good guys" set of countries of the world.



I won't hold my breath.

Photo credit: AP/Mohammad Sajjad

Friday, December 05, 2008

How About Rubbing Shoulders With Us, Kevin? We're Humans Too

Kevin Peitersen, the captain of the English cricket team, states:

"We will assess the situation on Sunday night but I am confident we will have 15 lads who are going to play a Test match next week. We can buy ourselves some time in Abu Dhabi and I think it is fantastic we've got a bunch of players who went to India initially and now want to go back there. It's important that we go back and rub shoulder to shoulder with the Indian people in their time of need and show our support, hopefully by going back there to play some Test cricket."

Just a few months earlier, Kevin 'the saint' Peitersen, 21st century's answer to Mother Teresa , highlighted the overwhelming need for cricketers to visit Pakistan and show support with the embattled ordinary Pakistani people. He said:

"I've definitely got reservations - 100% - about going to Pakistan."

"I don't think pressure should be put on any individual, especially when you realise your life could be at risk."

Adding:

"if the ECB has not made a decision I will make one after that meeting [on Aug 4]."

Unfortunately for Kevin, the ICC shattered his dream of showing solidarity with the Pakistani people and 'postponed' (read as canceled) the Champions Trophy. The great humanitarian Kay Pee was visibly distraught and with tears rolling down his heavenly cheeks mustered the following words:

"It's great that the boards have taken the decision."

"Players voiced their concerns from all around the world. All the players I know personally from other countries have expressed their concerns in terms of safety and security. It was good that it was taken out of our players' hands.

"Over the last couple of weeks it has been a huge topic of conversation in the dressing room. And last Sunday's briefing was a huge talking point. This whole week there's been ifs and buts and dos and don'ts. What I said to the team was to put it to the back of our minds because the most important thing for us is the one-day series with South Africa, and that means standing up to be counted on Tuesday. This is a huge decision and cricket can now take priority again."

Cricket certainly can take priority again. Well, unless you're a Pakistani and are going to spend the next few years attending weddings at National Stadium, surely that's the only thing the stadium is good for now.

Kay Pee I long for you, when will you come rub your shoulders with me? Jackass!

Flashback:

Osman Samiuddin highlighted the devastating impact of the ICC's decision to postpone the Champions Trophy in this article.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Asif Zardari's (Many) Foreign Trips

Now I'm all for travel and discovering new places, but Asif Zardari really takes the cake. Since I'm supervising an exam right now, I've actually had the time to do some research on our Dear Leader's jaunts across the world. Here's what I've discovered:

Asif Zardari took oath as President on September 9, which was 86 days ago. Of those 86 days, our Dear Leader has spent 29 days abroad. Put differently, Zardari has been in office for less than three months but has spent a month outside the country. During this time, the longest stretch Zardari has been in Pakistan has been 18 days (between October 17 and November 4).

Listen, I know Pakistan's not always the most fun place to hang out, and the nightlife kind of sucks, and the traffic can get kind of crazy at times, but is this really necessary? Does Zardari have some sort of reverse-travel-affliction, where he can't bear to stay at home for more than two weeks? I'm genuinely curious. I mean, I'm pretty sure for all of Pakistan's troubles, Zardari's life at home is fairly comfortable. It's not like he has to put up with load-shedding or people snatching his cell-phone at gunpoint at a traffic signal. Why is he always running away?

Anyway, here are the relevant details on his time in office, and his time outside the country:

September 9: Takes oath as President.

September 12-17: A six-day "personal" visit to Dubai and London, where he manages to meet Gordon Brown for two and a half hours, and drop his daughters off to school.

September 21-30: Off to London (the day after the Marriott attack, mind you) on his way to New York. Meets Bush and Condi, and finds time to hit on Sarah Palin, which Dawn's typically understated editorial board ascribes to "inner compulsions". Gets back to Pakistan just in time to offer Eid prayers at Aiwan-e-Sadr.

October 14-17: A four-day trip to China, which a Chinese spokesperson disingenuously described as Zardari's "first foreign visit after ascending to the presidency”. Um, ok.

November 4-5: A two-day trip to Saudi Arabia, of which the stated aim was to get a bailout to avoid having to take an IMF loan (how'd that one work out, by the way?). Took three chartered flights and 200 people in his entourage, which Prime Minister Gillani explained away by claiming Zardari paid for it personally.

November 11-15: A five-day trip to New York, for something called the inter-faith conference, where participants engaged in a "culture of peace" dialogue.

November 24-25: A two-day trip to the UAE.

December 4 (today): Goes to Turkey. Don't know when he'll be back.

So to recap: 86 days in office, seven trips, two each to New York and London, all for a grand total of 29 days abroad. I think it's time we start designing "My President went on another foreign trip and all I got was this lousy non-bailout" t-shirts.

Candlelight Vigil for the Mumbai Victims

Some of our readers may already be aware from Facebook, but just in case, I will post the following. Feel free to forward it along to anyone who is in London today and may be interested.






A vigil is being organised by citizens of Pakistan and India at the India House in Aldwych, London on Thursday the 4th of December, from 6PM to 9PM.

The event is a gathering of individuals who, on a personal level, have been shocked by the unconscionable violence that Mumbai has experienced this November, and who wish to express their grief and support to the families of the citizens, police officers and soldiers who lost their lives in the attack.

It is moreover an opportunity for Pakistani and Indian citizens to stand together as individuals and jointly condemn the terrorism that continues to afflict both countries.

We would emphasize that the vigil is apolitical, so that those who attend may speak with their own voices.

Lighting a candle may seem like a small gesture, and it is. But it is an act that is premised on a sense of civility, compassion and human decency.

We encourage anyone of any nationality or creed who shares that sense to attend and lend their voices in support of the victims, and in opposition to terrorism.


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Zardari on Larry King: A Uniter Not a Divider

An insanely busy week of work - what with the Karachi violence and all - has kept me from posting or reading here. Catching up with all the comments on the Mumbai blast has been quite depressing, with too many commenters retreating into defensively nationalistic stances. Anyway, here's a topic that can help unite us all, Pakistanis and Indians alike: taking cheap shots at Asif Zardari.

Going over the transcript of his interview with Larry King, it's hard to decide which of the two I dislike more. King, given the opportunity to interview Zardari at such a crucial time, completely blew it, asking inane questions in the short time he had with the president. Here are some examples:

By the way, what do you make of President-elect Obama?
What do you make and how do you look forward to working with the possible incoming secretary of state, Hillary Clinton?
Do you think she is a good choice?


Of all the answers Zardari gave, none pissed me off more than the one where he talked about how terrorism had affected Pakistan:

Like I said, these are stateless individuals who operate throughout -- I mean, I've got a situation in Pakistan that the fourth largest army in the world is challenged on my border on the west. I've got 150 people out, boys out, soldiers out. We have casualties every day. We've had incidents just the past two days in Karachi where we've lost more than 40 to 45 people, hundreds injured. These are stateless actors who are moving throughout this region.


The situation in Karachi had nothing to do with stateless actors or Islamic terrorism. Zardari knows Larry King knows nothing about that so it's a good evasion. It just makes me mad.

Which is why I'm in no mood to be charitable when Zardari messes up his World Wars

You will remember history correctly, even the Second World War (sic) was perpetrated by a stateless actor, murdering of the Prince

Links For Thursday (Mumbai Attacks Edition)

Stuff to read:

A Brookings guy says Pakistan was also a target of the Mumbai attacks last week. I'm sure that's exactly what the nationalist right in India wants to hear right now.

Speaking of stuff the nationalist right doesn't want to hear, Amitav Ghosh (The Glass Palace guy) has a column in the NYT, where he says that the attacks were not India's 9/11, and treating them as if they were would be a mistake.

Newsweek asks: Can India and Pakistan learn to cooperate? The short answer is "no". The long answer is "no, not really".

One accomlishment of Indian bluster following the attacks has been to unite Pakistan's political class. When Chaudhry Shujaat and Nawaz Sharif start greeting each other warmly, you know something's up.

Juan Cole gives Western readers a history lesson, and says Pakistan must detach itself from LeT. It bears mentioning here for those that are unaware that Pakistan's clamping down on militant groups post-9/11 has been quite asymmetric. Those that target either local populations (Pakistani Shias) and the western border have been hit a lot harder than those that target the eastern border.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Guest Post: An Interested American's Two Cents On The Mumbai Attacks

Negeen Pegahi is a candidate for a doctorate in Political Science at the University of Chicago, and a fellow at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. She works on India-Pakistan issues, and as a friend, very kindly agreed to write something for our blog.
_____________________________________________________________________

Given how high emotions appear to be running in many of the comments, and therefore how appalling an attempt at sober political analysis will likely strike many readers, I should probably briefly note where I am, and am not, coming from. I’m an American of neither Indian- nor Pakistani-descent, writing a doctoral dissertation in political science about what the acquisition of nuclear weapons can and can’t do for weaker states in conflict dyads. Pakistan vs. India is the most interesting case for such arguments, and India vs. China is another important one, hence my interest in the region. I’ve spent only one year in South Asia and have not been to Bombay.

I’d like to comment on several issues:

1. Likely motivations for the attacks;
2. Parallels between the strategic situation of Pakistan and anti-Indian
insurgents;
3. The relative importance of that shared strategic situation and the nature the links, if any, between whatever portion(s) of the Pakistani establishment and these particular insurgents;
4. What the US role will likely be and should be; and
5. What lessons India will likely draw from our 9/11 experience and what lessons it should draw.

So first: “Why do they hate us?” This was what we in the States were asking ourselves after the attacks of September 11, 2001 and there were two possible answers:

- “They hate us for who we are,” and
- “They hate us for what we do.”

Most Americans went with the former because, I’d say, it was comforting and allowed no further debate. Why should we change who/what we are? Especially if who/what we are is great stuff like “freedom” and “democracy,” which is of course how we chose to define the issue. The only policy prescription that can come out of such conclusions is to kill or capture as many of them as you can as quickly as you can because how can you deter people who hate you for who you are?

A far smaller number of Americans suspected it was our foreign policy driving things. The locations and target types of al-Qaeda attacks, and how these expanded over time, supported such an assessment. A campaign against what was perceived to be US military occupation of the Arabian peninsula began in the early 1990s with attacks on US troops in Yemen, moved onto US embassies in third countries, and concluded with strikes on civilian as well as military and likely government targets on US soil. So we went from attacks on the actual “boots on the ground” to embassies believed to coordinate intelligence collection in the region to the very top of the ladder back in Washington plus our financial foundations in New York. Given continuing failure to achieve their objectives, each time insurgents faced the choice of “escalate” or “give up,” since “more of the same” presumably wasn’t getting it done, they chose the former. I suspect this is what’s happening in India.

There are two main ways to get an adversary to do what you want. One is to threaten him, which may include actually hurting him in order to make your threats of more pain to come credible, in an effort to make him give in because resisting would mean too much suffering to be worth it. The other is to threaten his military, meaning his ability to achieve his objectives, in an effort to make him give in because resisting you carries too small a likelihood of success to be worth it. Ironically, in asymmetric fights -- either between insurgents and states, such as the LeT and India, or between weak states and strong, such as Pakistan and India, respectively -- only the first type of coercion, a.k.a. “terrorism,” is an option. The LeT can’t defeat the Indian military in the traditional sense, and the idea of the Pakistani military being able to do so is only slightly less ridiculous. From the other side, the Indian military can’t press its advantages too far against Pakistan for fear of tripping the latter’s nuclear “red lines” and it can’t do much of anything against insurgents as these aren’t adversaries with much to actually target. So “terror” becomes the strategy of everyone, and that -- all these self-important“My Bombay,” “My Mumbai” articles we’re seeing in the NYT and the Guardian aside -- is what we’re seeing from both sides, not just one.

So the whole question of “Are the attackers linked to the Pakistani establishment and, if so, how closely?” is a red herring. Any weaker actor facing India -- whether a state, Pakistan, or not, the LeT, etc. -- will attempt to coerce by punishment, ie. commit terrorism, because doing so is their only option besides giving up. (Yes, yes, of course resistance through non-violent means is always an option, but when you’re not facing a colonial power on their way out and down anyway it’s a very different story: just ask the Tibetans how things are going for them.)

Given all this, and regional realities -- namely, that we need Pakistan to help us with cleaning up, or at least containing, our assorted messes and that we just cut a nuclear deal with India that gave us the short end of the proliferation stick but, we hope/expect, longer-term strategic benefits -- what can the United States do and what will it likely do? I think the answers, the same in the two cases, are “Not much.” Structurally, the India-Pakistan problem is very similar to the Israel-Palestinian one: a weaker party dissatisfied with the existing territorial distribution and a stronger one relatively content with it. The only “successes” we’ve ever gotten in the Middle East have come as a result of making the leverage-less Palestinians swallow absurd deals. However, given our dependency on Pakistan for the war on terror -- not that it’s doing much for us -- we lack even this option for “progress” in South Asia.

One thing I’ve found surprising in this particular crisis -- particularly when one compares it to the one sparked by the December 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament -- is how subdued the official Pakistani response has been. I see two possible explanations here:

1. In 2001, India couldn’t launch a full-scale attack on Pakistan because of the latter’s nuclear arsenal (not that such an option would otherwise have been considered) and, much more important, India couldn’t launch any limited attacks because it lacked the capability to do so in a timely manner. Pakistan was therefore free to act relatively belligerently. India’s “Cold Start” doctrine, developed in response to the perceived failure to have any good limited options in 2001-2002, is coming online though and may explain Pakistan’s relative quiet this time around.

2. The Pakistani leadership may not only not have had anything to do with this one but may not even see any potential gain in it.

Particularly given how decent Pakistan’s behavior has been this time around, it depresses the hell out of me to see India responding with all the self-righteous fury of the United States post-9/11, rather than concrete plans to work with Pakistan on containing the militancy and making such efforts worth Pakistan’s while with some actual progress/concessions on the Kashmir issue. We’ve seen how unsuccessful Israel’s “Do everything we demand and then maaaaaybe we’ll talk final status” approach has been with respect to Palestinian militancy, and we’ve seen how counter-productive (and hideous, immoral, etc.) the US response to our particular problem has been, so I’m very sad to see that India appears to be making the same mistakes.

It is of course fine to decide that suffering one of these attacks every few years is worth the benefits of keeping Indian Muslims fifth-class citizens, keeping Kashmir a garrison state, and being the regional hegemon. We in the US have of course implicitly arrived at the same conclusion vis-a-vis our own militancy problem: the occasional attack from al-Qaeda or whomever is not too high a price to pay to continue to try to run the world and its peoples. Reasonable people can disagree about which side of the cost-benefit ledger is greater in such cases. Pretending the ledger doesn’t exist, however, is neither a smart nor an ethical way to move forward.