Monday, April 13, 2009

Links For Monday

Stuff to make you work slower, and thus help you get fired in this recession:

You know how they say "with great power comes great responsibility"? Well, Asif Zardari wishes they didn't say it. He would prefer, bless his heart, all the benefits of the power without the potential to be blamed for anything that goes wrong.

Holy shit, there might be a tax on soft drinks in the U.S. I cannot live without cheap Coke (stop sniggering, I mean the drink). Ergo, I am going to stock up on 45000 cans to get me through the next couple of years. (Link courtesy Sarah).

This is a really cool interactive guide to the events of the Hillsborough tragedy 20 years ago, when close to 100 fans were crushed to death at a football match.

How magazines are trying to cope with the death of journalism.

Here's a piece on what careers young people will switch to now that finance has died (and killed everything else with it). I've always maintained that one of the most pernicious effects of Wall Street's overcompensation was that it drew legitimate talent away from other industries and sectors where that talent would be better suited. (Link courtesy an anonymous commenter).

I'm in the middle of a very muddled phase of thinking about Pakistan's relationship with the U.S, and the latter's strategy toward the former. Once my thoughts are crystallized, I'll have a post out, but in the meantime, here's some of what I've been reading on the issue in the last 24 hours or so:

1. This column by Anatol Lieven in the Financial Times (via Obsidian Wings).
2. Steve Walt's posts on what he calls the "Af-Pak" muddle. Here's the first, and here's the second.
3. The Indian angle, in a short post from Arif and in this editorial in Dawn.

Sorry for the limited links, but I have limited time today.


Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

"I've always maintained that one of the most pernicious effects of Wall Street's overcompensation was that it drew legitimate talent away from other industries and sectors where that talent would be better suited."

I'm SURE you've always maintained that. I've never ONCE heard you say that Ahsan. Stop being promiscuous

bonobashi said...

Ahsan, about what you called ‘the Indian angle’, and only about that, it makes pretty sad reading. I'd like to protest, and ask you to read something not so obviously slanted to yield conclusions and to point to everybody but the Pakistani administration, including the euphonious security establishment (did they mention in school that there's a shorter four-letter word for this circumlocution?) as being responsible for what's happening to Pakistan.

Take the Dawn editorial first. It’s based on three questions, and I’m guessing that you read it pretty early in the morning or very late at night, and didn’t read them seriously, in the sense of taking them on board. Here’s what Dawn has to say:

1. Why are Indians constructing roads in Afghanistan that lead to the Pakistani border?
2. Why is no heed paid to accusations, grounded in reality or otherwise, that third parties operating out of Afghanistan have been fomenting rebellion in Balochistan?
3. Why is state-sponsored terrorism in Indian-occupied Kashmir not condemned by the US?

I guess the game’s up, huh? Nothing to do but raise our hand over our heads (hand, not hands, the other one’s holding up our pants, we’ve been caught by Dawn with our collective 1 billion pants down, right?), and come out slowly, making no sudden moves.

But while you herd us into the security establishment’s POW camps (I’m not going to guess when they were built, it’d give away my age), could we pass this scrap of paper out in the hope that someone gets it onto the ‘Net? At least our defence will live on.

1. Why are Indians constructing roads in Afghanistan that lead to the Pakistani border?

Where does that fucking moron want it to run, Springfield, Ohio? Have you noticed what it says on the maps, Afghanistan is pretty much umbilically linked to Pakistan in a number of ways. At the eastern borders of Afghanistan, for some strange reason, probably to do with Chanakya’s Subversion of Pakistan through Road-building palm-leaf written two thousand two hundred years ago, roads cross over and go straight into settlements on the Pakistan side of the territory.

Also, strangely, the roads being built by the Indians lead to the Pakistani border but don’t go on; the sinister reason being that Pakistan doesn’t really, really like the BRO working within its borders. No accounting for tastes.

2. Why is no heed paid to accusations, grounded in reality or otherwise, that third parties operating out of Afghanistan have been fomenting rebellion in Balochistan?

Something – my ‘but’-worshipping third eye probably – tells me that the US might have bigger worries on their minds than looking at accusations grounded in reality or otherwise. That ‘or otherwise’ was class stuff. This editorial writer’s making it to minister, you mark my words. Or at least Adviser to the Interior Ministry. Is his accent OK?

3. Why is state-sponsored terrorism in Indian-occupied Kashmir not condemned by the US?

Unanswerable: a Daniel come to judgement. This is the argument known as, ”Your shirt button is undone.””So what? Your fly’s open!” Does this genius know what a non sequitur is?

What is the connection between Pakistan misusing finances for fighting terrorism in Afghanistan and inside Pakistan and India’s blood-crazed actions in Kashmir? That the security establishment (I could get used to this) just couldn’t help itself, and with a sob, took all the money and said to the LeT/ JeM/ whoever the latest three-letter acronym bunch of killers is, “Take it – take it all. It’s yours. And run for it. We’ll keep firing this single-shot musket that’s all that’s left with us, and keep those bad Yanks from running you down. Go, go, go…”

It gets worse when you come to the next piece, the next nail in India’s coffin.

Do you seriously want anybody, me, the Indian Foreign Minister, Johnny Depp, to answer this rubbish? I will do that happily if you wish, but maybe there’s a better use of your time than reading this crap. For starters, there’re two Pakistani blogs you might like to take a look at, which might settle your thinking:

Both are hugely better than the bits you’ve managed to dredge up.

Any time you want, on a logical and practical plane, I could purely as a reasonably well-informed citizen answer those two examples of parachute journalism, which cite road-building and school-building as examples of subversive activity, but I’d rather not get into a main-main tu-tu kind of argument.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to bring attention to this interesting fact that among few people who warned about the economic crisis is Raghuram Rajan, professor of finance in the University of Chicago, a former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, who argued at a 2005 conference that the rapid growth of finance had increased the risk of a “catastrophic meltdown.” But other participants in the conference, including Lawrence Summers, who is now the head of the National Economic Council, ridiculed Mr. Rajan’s concerns. And the meltdown came.

Making banking boring--

NB said...

@ Bonobashi

I'm sure Ahsan will address your points in due time, but I do want to point out that you're creating a bit of a 'straw man' here.

Arif Rafiq (to which Ahsan linked) posted a short article that quoted & cited Foriegn Affairs and Foreign Policy, both of which are quite well respected, and credible. You said you'd "take the dawn editorial first" but you didnt actually address the content or the sources in the other two articles, nor query their veracity or basis in fact.

Im not saying your wrong (heaven forbid such a thing, given the apparent strength of your convictions), but your comment is incomplete. Please do also tackle the the other two articles, rather than simply pick on the guy from Dawn who is reiterating the point, and whom you obviously feel is lacking in credibility and journalistic credentials.

Anonymous said...

Zardari's quite a convenient punchbag eh? It's really easy for us to continue with the image that we have harbored for decades about the man but why we won't give hope and possibility a chance, even half a failing chance, is beyond me! There have been difficult, near impossible, political pressures and issues (inheritance left by Musharraf's era) but he's kept going. Credit him with he has done if you can't cast any hope far beyond tonight.

bonobashi said...


Sorry, a thousand apologies, you are perfectly correct. I'll get back to this in about an hour, if that's OK. I guess I deserved that. If it's any excuse, I thought I was running on a little longer than I ought to, and thought I'd economise on those other two. Not a good reason. Scheisse!

Ahsan said...


I don't know why you're getting in such a huff; I didn't say anywhere I actually agreed or disagreed with this or that piece -- I said I READ it.

A couple of substantive points though. First of all, road building can and is very much a subversive activity when two states are locked in mutual conflict, because it affords transportation opportunities for military units. Prior to WWI, hundreds of miles of railroad tracks were put down and made it easier for European states to go at each other. Closer to home, the Chinese have been very keen to construct roads from Gwadar (a Pakistani port essentially built for the Chinese) to their border (all the way to the other side of the country). Transportation matters in balance of power politics.

Second, there is little doubt that (a) the Karzai government is strongly allied to India, and (b) India is increasing its political, economic and diplomatic influence in Afghanistan. Neither of those statements are factually disputable. Now, you may say: "so what?" to both of them, and that would an appropriate response. For some. For others, such as those people in charge of Pakistan's external security, that set of developments is worrying.

Ahsan said...


Believe you me, I would like to give hope and possibility a chance, but Zardari doesn't let me. Pray tell, what has he done that I or we should credit him with?

bonobashi said...


PS: I've often been wrong, disastrously wrong, and don't have problems with being told that - with facts and logic, if possible. It isn't personal on my side, and I guess it isn't on a respondent's side.

More anon.

bonobashi said...


It's been pointed out - point being the operative word - that I wasn't being fair on picking on the Dawn guy and leaving out consideration of the other two heavyweights. So perhaps I'd better keep things brief before managing to respond to those two pieces as well (I'd like to dig out the originals if possible).

Meanwhile, I'm not in a huff. Just very, VERY unhappy at what you're reading. And I do have the brains to realise that you never said you agreed or disagreed. It's just that these are quite unabashedly tendentious.

More on European railroad building and Chinese infrastructure development later :-)> give me an hour, pretty please.

bonobashi said...


Arif Rafiq’s selection of passages made me see red; I saw two elegant young ladies sitting somewhere in a Washington think-tank and being extremely speculative, stirring things up further.

After reading the entire piece through in original, I’d rather you read it in full, carefully. It’s about 6,900 words, and Christine Fair’s jab, Aqil’s support and Sumit Ganguli’s counter-jab take up less than 14/15% of the piece.

However, on the issues that she addresses - I continue to have a problem. One by one then.

1. The Indian mission at Zahedan, in Iran, isn’t issuing visas. Well, whatever else it’s doing is apparently with the approbation and consent of the Iranian authorities. When last I checked, they weren’t being very nice to embassies, even US embassies that didn’t keep their noses clean. What could it be that the Indians are up to? Ms. Fair carefully doesn’t say, although she’s happy to fly kites elsewhere. This is just the kind of thing some guy in uniform is likely to take up and treasure as a bit of intelligence, and there’s not a single tangible fact in the statement.
2. The mission in Mazhar-al-Sharif is helping the Northern Alliance (gasp! Choke!). Erm, yes, guilty, me Lud. And they could be doing something at Jalalabad and Kandahar as well. Now she’s slipping; the accepted figure is 15 (sometimes it becomes 40 during a speech) Indian consulates in Afghanistan, all working like elves at Christmas to wreak havoc. On the other hand, others who have seen these operating confirm that they are under-manned and bureaucratic and harassed. As for Indian intelligence, in spite of spirited efforts to prove that to be an oxymoron, the fact is our agencies are pretty flat-footed (heard about their tailing a journalist in Delhi who sicced the cops onto them?)
3. Indian officials have told Christine privately that they are pumping money into Baluchistan. Could be, but it’s a little difficult to visualize this conversation. Ms. Fair: "So you're slipping a couple of mil across to the Baluchis every month or so, are you?" and the MEA guy passes the cookies, and says, "Oh, that's hugely exaggerated! Preposterous. We simply don't have that kind of money. About $3.0 million for the year is more the ticket. Lemon or milk?" I mean, give me a break. I think she’s lying.
4. Kabul has encouraged India to indulge in provocative activities like using the Border Roads Organisation to build roads. Damn! there goes the diversification opportunity of a lifetime; we could have got those navvies to build a nuclear reactor instead. That’s the fun way to get attention. Recall that we are talking about a country’s acknowledged administration asking us to build roads. Also electricity lines and schools. Somehow that doesn’t seem to have the same dramatic purposefulness. On the subject of roads in Afghanistan, have you been reading Doonesbury lately? Just asking.
5. The Kabul Government has allowed the Indians to use the ITBP as a security force. Maybe I should explain this one. This step happened after several Indian workers got killed by the Taliban, head-cut-off style. What were we supposed to do? Submit a dossier to the ISI and ask them to pack it in? That doesn’t seem to be working very well.
6. India is building schools in Kunar. Yes, that’s right, just across from Bajaur, where it’s ‘For you the war is over’ time for schools, teachers, pupils, modern education, the lot.

You mentioned that this would make no difference to anybody other than, say, somebody responsible for Pakistan’s external security. I don’t agree. I think (as you well might if you read this article) Pakistan’s external security needs are being blown up out of proportion. Schools in Kunar don’t need to threaten Bajaur, and it certainly is a better supportive measure than giving Hekmatyar enough rockets to take out Kabul. But you’ll get enough references in the article to the inability of the Pakistani military to contemplate life, this world, the universe without India in it. If I had the money, I’d buy that bunch of kids The Worm Ouroboros; they’ll relate to it perfectl

Tirthakumar said...

I agree with Bonobashi. Christine Fair is outrageous. She is conveying the idea that India is involved in nefarious activities targeting Pakistan in Afghanistan. And what does she produce to support this? The first item is that the Indian Consulate she visited wasn't issuing visa as the main activity. What they were up to is not stated but left to dark innuendo. Second item - Indians were constructing ring roads as a part of the highway project. Blow me down !! A few new roads will surely destroy Pakistan entirely !Fair also states that some Indian officials admitted to her that they were 'pumping money into Baluchistan'. Tells you a lot about the competence of those officials if that is true. What sort of sophisticated destabilization operation is India running if all an American civilian has to do is to walk up to an Indian official and buttonhole him for the entire plan? And let us look at the results if the Baluchistan story is true. How much of a militant activity have we seen there? bombings? attacks on Pak troops?
Its just too funny that some people expect to be taken seriously.

Ahsan said...

There's a lot said here, primarily by Bonobashi but also by Tirthakumar, which I don't have the time to get to at this point, but will hopefully incorporate in a later post. But really quickly, I would say that a couple of things:

1. Having read both comments twice, I didn't see any compelling evidence to contradict my sole substantive point, which was that India being strongly allied to Afghanistan is a problem for Pakistan's security apparatus. There was mention of this threat being overhyped, and I agree with that in the sense that India does not need Afghanistan as an ally to pose a threat to Pakistan's security, but I disagree in the sense that being allied with Afghanistan is better for India than not being allied. In other words, it may not make a marginal difference, but it makes a difference.

2. All the talk about schools and what embassies are really doing and not doing is sort of a red herring, because you are missing the forest for the trees. The simple point is that India is perhaps the strongest ally that the Karzai government probably has right now -- and yes, that includes the U.S. -- and that that strategic partnership is perceived as encirclement. We can argue about whether it SHOULD be perceived as encirclement, but arguing about the relative depths of Indo-Afghan cooperation is foolhardy in my view.

3. On the Balochistan issue, I honestly don't know if India is supporting separatist elements or not, mainly because the very nature of intelligence issues renders definitive judgments on them intrinsically problematic. But what I would say is that (a) India has rational incentives to do so, at least in the short term, and (b) it has the capability to do so.

The supporting-the-Taliban issue is more easily an open-and-shut case, because India has no incentive to do that because the last thing India would want is a Taliban ruled Pakistan next door, which is what its putative support would help accomplish. To the contrary, India has every incentive to HELP Pakistan against the Taliban.

These are quick, off-the-cuff points and I'm sure I've left some stuff out, but the more detailed and careful analysis will probably be up in a post sooner or later.

Good discussion though.

Anonymous said...

@ Ahsan I was looking forward to reading your analysis on US policy towards Pakistan and not the Indo Afghan Pak post which is a stale issue, always ends in mud slinging and bickerings.

@Bonobashi and Tirath Kumar- I thought elections in India is a much more crucial issue rather than discussion on Indo Afghan issue.

bonobashi said...


Fair enough; I'll wait in sulky silence for a detailed post from you then. Just to keep my adrenalin flowing:

0. I'm really not happy about the stridency of my posts. Please dial down three shades of purple when reading it. I'm changing my ink; hope that helps.
1. The point about strong links between India and Afghanistan being perceived as a threat to Pakistan's external security is reasonable as far as perceptions go. Until these perceptions get toned down, that's the way it'll stay; everything India does in the neighbourhood, including Iran, including the CIS, gets looked at by Pakistani security analysts in terms of what damage it can do to Pakistan. Nothing to be done about that by the Indians, except just shrug and carry on.
2. Conceded. Let's make no more of that. It's just the articles you had listed to read were quite fatuous. The second one particularly, which uses the Mark Twain gambit: Tuesday: bonobashi broke his toe and decided to go anonymous. Wednesday: we lied to you about bonobashi going anonymous, BUT on the other hand, it isn't true that he broke his toe, so we haven't totally lost credibility. If this is a conclusion you've come to from other sources, or your own logical deductions, I have nothing to say.
3. Ah, no, please, spare us. I beg you on my arthritic middle-aged knees. Have you met an Indian spook? I have, twice or thrice (not on the job: I don't swing that way), and I DON'T want to repeat the experience. It scares me to think that these hapless bozos are loose on the ground. For pity's sake, please keep reality in mind when you think these things. I'm referring to the Baluchistan bit. My completely conclusive argument is that these flatties are recruited from IPS officers in the States, and they are posted to RAW as a favour, to go to the phoren. It's so enfuriating to hear a whole conspiracy theory being woven around these Thompson-and-Thomson pairs. The Taliban bit is self-evident, but you'd be surprised to hear how many people seriously think it.


Dear Sir, or Madam, I'm really sorry you got put off. I couldn't agree more with your incisive analysis, which got right to the core. But Ahsan is the kind of s******* o** g*** who obviously doesn't know, like you instinctively do, what makes for a good discussion, and insists on talking about Indo-Afghan relations, rather than the Indian elections.

What to do? He's like that only.

Do have a word or ten with him. It'll do him good to hear you often. Remember to tell him which of his fans you are.

About the mud-slinging and bickering, are you referring only to what Ahsan, exercising commendable self-restraint, called 'Good discussion, though', or have we gone and messed up someplace else as well that you noticed?

In deference to your logical, polished arguments, I shan't post here on this thread until Indian elections come up.

Anonymous said...

@ Bonobashi This spat was unnecessary as I thought you will be more interested in the coming elections where a cobbler is contesting an election along with a banker giving us a satisfaction that India still function as a democracy. I was referring to Ahsan’s forthcoming post on Indo Afghan alliance which will end up in bickering and mud slinging not to the interesting dialogue between you two. Calling me a fan and rest of the stuff was unwarranted. I was not expecting this from a ‘bhadralok’ Bengali. Anyway, Shubho nobho barsho- Happy New Year.

bonobashi said...

Ah sheesh. What can I say other than sorry?

This has been the most disastrous series of posts I've done, since Kiran Jonnalaguda caught me bending on my home list and hit me out of the stadium.

Maybe it's a good idea just to get drunk and forget about everything.

And shubho noboborsho to you too; there's still 22 minutes to go.

bonobashi said...

And I've no idea why my posts are getting duplicated. I'm not drunk yet.

anand said...

i live in India and don't see anyone in politics, military or civilian setup having pakistan's destruction on it's agenda. there's a few fringe loonies who make noises to the effect but are too unimportant to be paid attention to. given this, i don't know why pakistan should view india as a threat. isn't this "evil india" theory pushed around in pakistan as a convenient plot by those trying to grab power. so easy to control a nation this way and no one comes questioning if the state's millions are disappearing to swiss accounts. the day this story stops selling in pakistan, india wouldn't be a threat. but would the powers that be in pak ever let that happen?

AKS said...


The rise in Anti-India media reports in Pakistan is astonishing. On Sunday, Hameed Haroon under his alias Red Baron rallied Pakistanis on his FM89 radio show to demand that India stop stealing our water. Today, Dawn News had an extensive report on the 'Saffron Taliban' (Hindu extremists) attacking reporters in India (failing to note that Indian reporters fought back).

And this Dawn we're talking about. The rest are out of control (except maybe Geo actually - though it could just be the case that I've missed their anti-India reporting).

Express News devoted a large segment in its prime time news hour to a report on India's coercive actions in Pakistan that are ultimately behind our security problems. TV One (the channel that hosts Zaid Hamid) is perhaps the leader of the pack here; I swear every time I pass through the channel while channel surfing I hear them talking about the menace that is India.

This leads me to wonder: Is this all planned? Is the ISPR behind this? I say this because the powers to be have always relied on India as a uniting factor - what better time than this to pull the giant evil rabbit out of the hat.


Speaking of your last link. I used to quite enjoy Arif Rafiq's posts but haven't found his recent writings too be all that good. He also seems to have become quite the populist.