Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Most Dysfunctional Relationship In The World

If you've watched The Sopranos, then you've had the experience of being bemused at the insanity that was the relationship between Christopher and Adriana (culminating in one of the most memorable hits in the entire series, when Silvio shot Adriana in a forest after Christopher ratted her out for talking to the FBI).

Well, Pakistan and the U.S. make those two look like Abelard and bloody Heloise. Consider the following facts:

1. Aid from the U.S., and other financial institutions such as the IMF at the behest of the U.S., have helped keep Pakistan's economy afloat at a time of great peril. To that end, the U.S. is promising seven and a half billion more dollars, and yet the reaction to that promised aid -- wrapped up in a maelstrom of nationalistic, ill-founded and uninformed outrage -- would suggest that the U.S. is stealing that amount of money from Pakistan's coffers, or worse.

2. Pakistan has paid enormous costs, both in treasure as well as in blood, in taking on militant outfits on its soil. And yet the near-constant refrain of "do more" from the U.S. continues unabated. Most recently, the visiting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that she disbelieved that the government was doing all it could to eradicate the presence of al-Qaeda from Pakistani soil. "Al Qaeda has had safe haven in Pakistan since 2002. I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn’t get them if they really wanted to." Such statements, especially two days after one of the most horrific terrorist attacks in Pakistan's history, smack of insensitivity from someone who is supposed to be the highest diplomat of her country.

3. On the one issue where both governments seem to agree -- that of drone attacks -- the Pakistani populace is angry, both at the civilian toll exacted in the attacks as well as the the perceived incursions on Pakistan's sovereignty the attacks represent. Depending on which poll you trust, between 75 and 90 percent of Pakistanis oppose the use of drones in the tribal areas. This anger was manifested in townhall-style meetings Secretary Clinton held with Pakistani students and professionals on her visit. The strange thing about this anger is that the Pakistani government has, in effect, signed off on the use of drones, and so the logical place for the populace to direct their ire is toward the leaders they democratically elected, not the foreign country those democratically elected leaders have found an agreement with. But that is clearly not the case.

I don't have any broad policy-specific recommendations here. I just wanted to highlight what I consider to be an extremely strange state of affairs. With the abnormally high levels of distrust present in this relationship, it has to be the most bizarre alliance I have ever come across in international politics. Secretary Clinton's visit has brought this vision into sharp focus; it is unclear, from this vantage point, what exactly the three-day tour accomplished, or was meant to accomplish.

It also begs a broader strategic question: if the U.S. and Pakistan cannot cooperate or see eye-to-eye when their security interests overlap for the most part (the dismantling of militant networks on Pakistani soil), when huge amounts of aid are transferred, when diplomats from both countries try to sweet-talk the other to considerable lengths (for every Holbrooke or Clinton reference to seekh kababs, there is a Husain Haqqani or Shah Mahmood Qureshi reference to a "long-term partnership"), is there any hope for this relationship?

Don't shake your head; it was a rhetorical question.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Scary Thought From Paul Krugman On Growth And Jobs

Reacting to the news that the U.S. economy actually grew in the third quarter of this year, Krugman throws a wet blanket on things, and says growth isn't happening fast enough to affect the high levels of unemployment at present:
At this rate, we wouldn’t reach anything that feels like full employment until well into the second Palin administration.

I Know Men Are Supposed To Be In To Younger Women And All

But come on man. This is ridiculous.

The Curious Fundamentalist

This is one of the craziest things I've heard in a long time, it involves a relative of my aunt's called S. S is a native of Karachi, she was always quite curious, a tomboy who liked playing with boys but who showed no interest in boys as she grew up. Her liberal parents never pushed her into being a 'typical Pakistani girl', and she was left to explore her identity, and even when this identity entailed 'close friendships' with girls it was left unspoken, never forbidden.

A few years ago, while she was in her mid-30s, S deserted Pakistan and left for America. She soon deserted being a woman and became, S the man. Her family, while taken aback stood by her, they didn't discuss the issue in the open but never disowned her and continued to treat like she belonged to the family. Recently, they were all shocked to see S return with a shoulder length beard, knee length shalwar and a woman by his side, his wife.

S was now a fundo. Not only that S now considered homosexuality a sin, trans-genders an abomination and people who have had sex change operations to have failed in the ultimate test. S now goes around the U.S. telling people how every single day he repents for having changed his sex, his identity crisis was a test from God and he failed.

Its quite apparent to me me that S needs serious help, his family really does need to intervene. At the same time what is interesting is that while S appears to be a Moulvi, he's ideologically much closer to a right wing evangelical christian.

In a recent email with NB we discussed how Islamic ideology which now appears backwards was revolutionary at the time but has since failed to adapt. There is no verve or dynamism to modern Islamic theology, and zealots have been given a free reign to define the religion. Even worse, modern Muslim 'scholars' (i.e. opportunist nut jobs) seem to be borrowing new ideas from their right-wing Christian brethren (i.e. opportunist nut jobs). So now we have people like Harun Yahya entering the Creationism v Evolution debate, offering a Muslim opinion, which really nothing more than a recycled lecture from Liberty University. The Quran is vague enough about the concept of creationism that evolution doesn't pose as much of a problem even for Muslims who believe in the literal interpretation of the Quran.

Then we have abortion regarding which we are getting to a point where most Muslims now believe abortion to be haram and permissible only if the life of the mother is in danger or where conception occurred after a rape (though even this is now being looked down upon). The Muslim pro-life campaign bases most of its arguments on Chapter 17, Verse 31 of the Quran which states:

"Kill not your children for fear of want; it is We who provide sustenance for them as well as for you; for verily killing them is a great sin."

The issue though is complicated by the acceptance by most Islamic schools that spirit is breathed into a fetus at 4 months, therefore before this period a fetus can't really be considered to be a child. This leaves the room open for a theologically sound Muslim pro-choice camp and in fact various scholars agree that while abortion during the first 4 months is wrong, it is not a punishable wrong. (The BBC summarizes abortion in Islam here.)

The stranger than fiction case of S and the Islamic movements on evolution and abortion show how conservatives of different religions are feeding off each other, this can't be a good thing.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Maybe Hillary Shouldn't Have Come (Updated Below)

Ninety five people dead, in what must surely be the deadliest attack in Pakistan since the one in October 2007, aimed at Benazir's motorcade when she first returned (the one she survived but 150-odd people around her did not).

I don't know if the attack is a signal or response to Secretary Clinton's visit -- there is, after all, a lot else going on that would earn the ire of these militants -- but I'm positive it didn't help.

Some people remain trapped in buildings. The death toll will surely rise. And I don't have much else to say.

Photo credit: AFP

UPDATE: Read this. I stand behind every word.

UPDATE II: The NYT has a heart-breaking slideshow of images taken in the aftermath of the attack.

UPDATE III: Making the reference to the attack in October 2007 got me curious, and so I went back into our archives to see what I wrote at the time in response to the attack. It's interesting to see what has changed and what has not. You can almost literally hear the anguish in my writing at the time, begging for people to identify the real enemy to Pakistan and its citizens, and to stop placing the center of blame on violence on the U.S., India or other "foreign actors". The first leg -- that of identifying the Taliban has a force to deal with -- has shifted in public opinion (see pages 14, 15 and 16 of this report from the IRI, which has been surveying the Pakistani public regularly for over three years now).

The second leg has not shifted, and in fact, has probably gotten worse.

My Top Five International Relations Journal Article Titles

I don't know why I'm making this list, but I just felt like it. Hereunder are the top five IR article titles. The extremely unscientific process in narrowing it down to these five involved judging (a) how out-there the title is, (b) how much unintentional comedy is contained in the title, and (c) to what extent the title tells you all you need to know about the article. Please understand this list just refers to the titles; by no stretch are these my favorite articles (except for Wendt's).

1. "Brother, Can You Spare a Paradigm? (Or Was Anybody Ever a Realist?)" by Peter D. Feaver et al (2000). International Security 25:1.

2. "I Exist; Therefore I Deter" by Lawrence Freedman (1988). International Security 13:1.

3. "Anarchy is what states make of it: The social construction of power politics" by Alexander Wendt (1992). International Organization 46:2.

4. "Kant or Cant: The Myth of the Democratic Peace" by Christopher Layne (1994). International Security 19:2.

5. "Chain gangs and passed bucks: Predicting alliance patterns in multipolarity" by Thomas J. Christensen and Jack Snyder (1990). International Organization 44:2.

Now that I look at that list, I'm pissed off that the entire thing comes from just two journals. But whatever.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I Love Boriss163

Who the hell, you may ask, is Boriss163? He is the man behind the greatest playlist in Youtube history. He is the man who has compiled every single goal from Barcelona's season last year, all one hundred and fifty nine of them. It amounts to over three hours of coverage. And he doesn't just provide highlights, but he does a masterful job in the production, with great soundtracks interspersed with commentary. For the big games, he shows more than just the goals, weaving a story together of a truly historic season.

If you don't have the time or the inclination to start from the beginning, where he shows snippets from the disastrous 2007-08 season and Pep being signed by Joan Laporta, you should at least watch the following. First, the second El Clasico, the one at the Bernabeu. You may recall that Real scored twice, and each time Barca responded with three goals.

Here's the first half. More than the goals, please watch the move that begins at about 6:45 in the video. It doesn't result in a goal, but it was undoubtedly the move of the season from my perspective. It takes six players, nine passes and less than thirty seconds to get from their six-yard box to Real's. And the ball never leaves the ground.

And here's the second half:

Here's the second leg against Chelsea. My favorite bit is this: after Guardiola runs down the touchline like a madman to celebrate the Iniesta goal, you see the veteran Sylvinho reminding him to make defensive substitutions (recall, Barca were playing with ten men and two and a half defenders at this point). Hilarious. Zeyd, you can look away now.

And here is the three part highlights package of the CL final in Rome against United. Again, my favorite moment wasn't a goal. It was the "You better not fuck with my captain again, you over-gelled STD-carrying fuck" address Xavi delivered to Ronaldo.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Difficulties In Being A Liberal In Pakistan

Via Rabia, who writes about a show on Dawn News where Nadeem Paracha argued against Zaid Hamid on conspiracy theories (without ever actually talking directly to him; perhaps this is part of Dawn's campaign to revolutionize journalism -- a debate without debating!), I came across this post on Paracha's blog. There's a lot worthy of note in the post, but the portion I wanted to highlight was the reaction he got from emailers:
Before I use this modest space to finally answer Mr. Hamid’s claims punch by punch, I would also like to share a fraction of the tons of hate mail I started receiving the evening after the show was first aired. I have selected portions of a few such emails (out of about – and so far – 197!).

Example one: ‘Dear Mr. Paracha, there is now no doubt that you are working for the CIA. You should be ashamed of defending Zionist lobbying and America. You should be kicked out of Pakistan and sent to Israel.’

Example two: ‘Paracha, how can you be a journalist and have such a big house? The answer is simple: You are CIA funded journalist.’

Example three: ‘Paracha, Zaid Hamid slapped you left, right and centre on the show, you pseudo-intellectual. There is no shortage of people like you in Pakistan. People like you have occupied important positions in our society and are given 90-95 per cent of media coverage. We are with Zaid Hamid and inshallah we will succeed.’

Example four: ‘NFP, you are a slave to the west and working against the interests of Pakistan by attacking patriots like Zaid Hamid. It is clear you and the newspaper you write for is being funded by Israeli and Indian agencies. Better shape up or we will ship you out.’

Example five: ‘Paracha Sahib, you have been trying to propagate your Yahoodi [Jewish], Hindu and Christian masters’ rotten and obsolete ideas of ‘freedom’ and ‘secular liberalism’ and kafirana [heretical] Socialism. But people like Zaid Hamid will never let Godless men like you succeed.’

He says he received one hundred and ninety seven emails to that effect, and frankly I have little reason to doubt him. I want to make a couple of quick points about this.

First, it is no coincidence that the people who espouse the most hateful and nonsensical political views are also the most hateful and nonsensical in their interactions with others. There are very few extreme right-wingers/uber-religio-nationalists who can express themselves in a respectful way, even when they disagree with you. I've experienced some of this myself, but obviously not on the same level as someone who writes for the most widely read English newspaper in Pakistan.

Second, every time I read emails/comments like these, I gain greater appreciation for Irfan Hussain. Many people agree with Hussain's views and many people disagree with his views, but say this for him: he has not backed off. He has continued (in my opinion) to be one of the sanest and rational voices in the Pakistani punditocracy. I am sure that he must receive, quite literally, hundreds of hateful emails every week from the rabidly hateful people that make up his readership. And yet it appears, on the surface at least, that it matters little to him -- he has not tempered his views in the slightest, and keeps taking on the most reactionary elements within our society with aplomb.

Third, liberals in Pakistan are always being defensive, mainly because we're vastly outnumbered, but in actual fact -- on the empirics -- we've been right about most everything. Liberals were the first to wake up to talk about the dangers of the Taliban, about five years before the rest of the country decided to join us. In the 1990s, liberals were the ones who questioned our Kashmir strategy and support for militant groups. If liberals' advice on things like blasphemy and rape laws was actually followed, many fewer people would have lost their lives to violence. So across the spectrum, on the biggest issues in domestic and foreign policy, liberals are right, but treated as if they're wrong, stupid, traitorous, foreign agents, slaves to the west and god knows what else. Which is a pretty strange state of affairs, you have to admit.

If You're Going To Read One Thing This Weekend, Make It Cyril Almeida's Latest Column

Normally, Cyril's columns are understated and dispassionate. Not this time. Read this. Just trust me.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Interview With Minnesota Public Radio

I had a quick chat with Jeff Horwich of MPR yesterday on the Taliban and the current war. They edited the segment considerably, to make me sound less stupid -- though I suppose you will be the judge of that. There is one bit, though, where they edited it such that I sound quite incoherent. See if you can figure out where.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Why Has Karachi Been Able To Escape The Violence Directed Against The Rest Of The Country?

As news of yet another terrorist attack, this time directed at the Air Force complex at Kamra, trickles in, one trend in the recent violence deserves scrutiny: why has there been such little violence in Karachi?

First, some background. Karachi has always been Pakistan's most violent city, but the violence it has experienced has tended to be of three kinds, all very different from what the country is currently experiencing. First, inter-ethnic violence between Mohajirs and Sindhis on the one hand, and Mohajirs and Pasthuns on the other. This was the pattern of violence that started in the 1970s in the former case, in the 1980s in the latter case, and has sporadically spiked since then but by and large has remained dormant.

Second, violence between the MQM -- the party largely representing the interests of middle class Mohajirs in urban Sindh -- and its breakaway faction (called MQM Haqiqi), as well as state security forces in the mid 1990s. This form of violence too has petered out, as the MQM becomes mainstream and an acceptable player on Pakistan's political scene.

The third type of violence has been sectarian violence, between Sunni and Shia militant groups.

By contrast, the rest of the country finds itself squarely in the middle of Taliban violence, which is wrapped up in geopolitical considerations, as well as control for the state. All forms of terrorist violence, but particularly suicide attacks, have been aimed at both civilians and agents of the state -- but have been geographically circumscribed in FATA, the NWFP and Punjab. So what gives?

The piece linked above, by Nadeem Paracha, claims it has something to do with the demographic and political balance in the city -- where different ethnic groups and parties maintain a relative balance of power. I'm not so sure. I think his arguments speak to these organizations not being able to establish a base of operations in Karachi, but that is different from saying that they are unable to launch attacks in Karachi.

To be honest, I really have no clue as to how Karachi has remained relatively peaceful in all this. I have a few hypotheses though:

1. The militants have changed their focus from civilians targets to state targets. Over the last three weeks, the majority of attacks have taken place at military and police headquarters or offices or training centers. The heart of the state, meanwhile, exists in northern Punjab and the center of gravity of the military is also in the NWFP/Punjab arc. As such, Karachi has managed to avoid violence by simple virtue of the fact that it's far away from the things that matter to the militants. So it's about military strategy.

2. Security forces and the police are doing a better job in Karachi than they are in the rest of the country. Attacks aren't taking place because they are being caught before the implementation stage. So it's about the effectiveness of the state.

3. The MQM -- the party with the strongest secular (good) and anti-Pashtun (bad) credentials in the country -- takes the Taliban threat more seriously than anyone else. And as they are in control of Karachi, they are most concerned with taking strong and effective action against militant groups, not allowing them the freedom to operate. Their aggression delivers results for Karachiites. So it's about local politics.

Any ideas, readers?

Nawaz Sharif Accepts Zardari's Invitation To Dinner

Of course he did. What, you think Nawaz Sharif is going to say no to a free meal?

The Good News Is That No One Died In Today's Earthquake. The Bad News Is That Imran Farhat Is Back.

As our erstwhile captain might say, furst aaf aall, thanks be to God. Seriously, it's been a long time since Pakistan caught a break, but it appears that today's earthquake resulted in no loss of human life. A bit surprising, given it was a fairly strong one, but there you go.

On the other hand, this idiot is back.

I suppose one absolutely shit opener called Imran isn't enough for our selectors. So I can definitely see the logic in recalling him. But not only have they recalled this idiot, but they've recalled him for all three formats for the tour against NZ. Unbelievable.

Of course, we know why this has actually happened. You know, don't you? If you don't, let me jog your memory. This was the announcement on Cricinfo on the new selection committee being formed during the summer:
Former Pakistan spinner Iqbal Qasim has been appointed chairman of a new, restructured national selection commitee. Former Test cricketers Saleem Jaffer, Ijaz Ahmed, Azhar Khan and Mohammad Ilyas have also been appointed members.

Read that last name again. Ring a bell? He's Imran's father in law, who once lost his shit at the late Bob Woolmer in public, and claimed that the former coach was out to destroy Pakistan cricket (because his idiot son-in-law hadn't been selected). A couple of years later, he went after the then selection committee (because his idiot son-in-law hadn't been selected).

Well, guess what. Now that he's a member of the selection committee, his idiot son-in-law has been selected. What a fucking coincidence.

How bad is this? Honestly, I think it's worse than the PPP's nepotism vis-a-vis giving Bilawal the party. Why? Let me give you three reasons:

1. Bilawal can't do any damage right now, only in twenty years when he's standing for elections. Imran Farhat will screw our chances against NZ in the present.

2. We don't expect anything from our government and politicians, so it doesn't matter if they suck. But we actually have hope for our cricket team. Ergo, when they disappoint, it hurts more.

3. Bilawal's ascension to power will, in a way, be kind of funny in a tragicomic sense (in this respect, he actually resembles Imran Nazir, whose batting is always good for a few laughs). Imran Farhat opening will not be funny at all. It will be torture. His failings are more visceral and less amusing than anyone else's.

Anyway, I'm also pissed that I'm going to have to come with an epithet for Farhat for my liveblogging, since "Crazy Imran" is already taken by his namesake Nazir. I think "Really Fucking Stupid Imran" will have to do, though it'll be hard to keep typing that when he's batting. Fortunately, I can rest secure in the knowledge that I won't have to type long.

Photo credit: Cricinfo.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

And Now An Earthquake

As if everything else wasn't enough, I just read that Pakistan (and Afghanistan) have been hit by an earthquake. Readers are requested to add details in the comments as they learn of them.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Yes, Rubin. I don't want to talk about it.

The table is crazy though. Three teams are tied at the top of the table with four points after three games, and none of them are called "Inter Milan". Hilarious.

Elsewhere, Liverpool have given themselves a lot to do, and Sevilla continue to roll. Do not -- I repeat do not -- sleep on Sevilla this year. They ran the Galacticos v 2.0 ragged two weeks ago, and they've swept their CL group so far.

Tomorrow is the Milan-Real game. Come on, Ronnie. Pretend it's 2005 again.

Government Bailouts To PIA Versus Other Priorities

Via Mosharraf's Twitter feed, it appears our national airline lost 40 billion rupees in 2008 (in a post I wrote a couple of months ago, the figure cited was 35 billion). Since they're still around, it is safe to presume the losses were covered by the government or, put differently, by the Pakistani taxpayers' money.

I got curious, and decided to peruse our government's federal budget. If you go to page 19 of the report (page 22 of the entire PDF file), you will note the following things.

1. For the next fiscal year (2009-10), our government plans on spending Rs. 34.64 billion on "Public Order and Safety Affairs". These services include the courts, the police, fire protection, prison administration, and public order in general. So...

Police + courts + fire + jails = Rs. 34.64 billion
PIA bailouts = Rs. 40 billion

2. Under economic affairs -- a truly broad category -- you will find that

Agriculture + food + irrigation + forestry + fisheries = Rs. 38.30 billion
PIA bailouts = Rs. 40 billion

3. Moving along to page 24, you will find that

Housing and community development = Rs. 1.52 billion
PIA bailouts = Rs. 40 billion

4. On health, you will find that

Medical products, appliances, equipment + hospital services + public health services + research and development + health administration = Rs. 6.48 billion
PIA bailouts = Rs. 40 billion

5. On education (page 27), you will find that

Pre-primary and primary services + secondary education + tertiary education + "educational services not definable by level" (probably relating to Zardari's English and Math lessons when he got elected) + subsidiary services to education + administration + education services = Rs. 31.57 billion
PIA bailouts = Rs. 40 billion

These figures were so startling that I did a double-take on almost every one of them. I made sure I had the scale right, and kept asking myself, "Wait, a billion IS a thousand million, right?" That's what our government's priorities can do to you -- they can make you doubt your knowledge of elementary math because they're so out of whack.

This Will Make You Waste 15 Minutes For Sure

I wrote a post this morning on what an idiot Rehman Malik is, but blogger messed it up so I deleted it. Anyway, please click here to waste 15 minutes of your life -- it's highly addictive and highly fun. I also happen to suck at it, so there's that. But put your average scores in the comments section (no cheating please) and we'll see which of our readers can claim bragging rights. I'm going to put my score in after I try for a second time because the first time didn't count because the computer hates me.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Four Things To Be Aware Of During The Waziristan War

None of the following are particularly ground-breaking insights, but I wanted to collate a couple of thoughts on this conflict today.

1. None of us can know how the war is actually going

Both the Taliban and the Pakistan army are opaque organizations that do not like revealing too much about themselves at the best of times. In a guerrilla war, however, you can amplify those instincts a hundred-fold. The war for public opinion in such wars is absolutely vital. Not just in terms of justice and the question of which side is "right" but also in terms of winning and the question of which side is on top. This is especially true of militant organizations such as the Taliban in civil wars, as they must keep morale high for recruitment purposes. If it becomes clear that one side is losing, it will make it very hard to sustain the war-fighting effort.

So with all that said, we will hear a lot of conflicting casualty statistics in the coming days. Both sides will claim that they have killed or captured x number of the other. We simply will not know which of these claims is true, which approximate the truth, and which are simply and outrageously false -- though we can always proffer educated guesses. The fact that journalists and other independent organizations are not heavily represented in the operational theater of war makes the entire thing incredibly murky.

2. The non-fighting aspects of the war will be as or more important than the fighting

There were mistakes and negligence with respect to internal refugees during the Malakand and Bajaur operations, to be sure, but -- under the circumstances -- the authorities did a fair job of registering families and ensuring they return to their homes as soon as possible. That is not to say they enjoyed Trump Tower level accommodations, but that epic-level disaster was avoided.

The same level of effort will be required here. In some ways, the job will be easier, because the Waziristan agencies are sparsely populated relative to Malakand, so there will be simply fewer people to take care of. On the other hand, the job will also be harder in the sense that this conflict is likely to last longer than those operations, which were essentially three-to-four week campaigns. This one, at best, will be about twice as long.

The local populations are key to any guerrilla conflict; that much is a truism. But the logical corollary of that is often missed by decision-makers: to care and provide for at-risk populations to the fullest extent of one's capabilities. The Army is required to fight. The civilians will be in charge of the rehabilitation. Both must do their job.

3. The Taliban are strategic actors, but we do not know their strategy

Broadly speaking, there are three options available to the Taliban now that the conflict is fully underway. First, they can disperse across the country, weaken their center of gravity, and concentrate on attacking civilian targets across the country in terrorist attacks. Such a strategy, at bottom, will aim at the political dimensions of the conflict. By raising the price Pakistani civilians have to pay, the Taliban will hope that public opinion turns against the war, and the government simply backs off. The Algerian civil war, as an illustration, saw a lot of this.

The second option is to face the military head-on in pitched battles as the military advances. This is the least likely alternative, simply because the very point of being a guerrilla organization is to avoid direct combat with armored militaries, as the Vietnamese will tell you.

The final option is tactical retreat into the mountains and hills of Waziristan and stage classical guerrilla warfare with surprise attacks and isolated offensive in vulnerable areas. In effect, the idea is to draw the military in where they feel least comfortable, and then assault them in unexpected ways. Such tactics exact a high toll not just with respect to actual casualties, but also on the psychological well-being of fighting forces. Anyone who has studied guerrilla war will tell you that armies fighting militant organizations go, for lack of a better term, a little crazy. They don't know where the next attack is coming from, they become suspicious of everything, trust dies, and they start acting in stupid and counter-productive ways.

How the Taliban weigh option one versus option three will determine the price Pakistani citizens pay in this war. In the week preceding the outbreak of hostilities, they clearly chose option one. Now that they have to face the Pakistani military in an actual war, the question becomes: to what extent will they change their strategy?

4. Two foreign actors will matter: the Americans and the Uzbeks

On the American side, air power and intelligence will remain important in boxing militants in circumscribed geographical areas, where the military can take action on the ground.
Taking care to coordinate border security, so that militants don't cross over from Afghanistan into Pakistan, and vice versa, is also crucial.

As for the Uzbeks, they remain the ultimate wildcard. Estimates on how many of them are being imported by the Taliban range from the hundreds to the low thousands. They could conceivably tip the balance against the military, which in turn reinforces the importance of border control on the Afghan side.

I'm Only Saying This Once Because It's Really Weird

The more careful amongst you will have noticed a couple of changes to the website in the last couple of days. The google ads are a basic staple of most websites out there, so I don't really have much to say about that. But I have also added a Paypal donate button, right up top, which I think deserves some comment.

First, and most trivially, this button allows those who would like to (monetarily) reward your humble blogger with the opportunity to do so, all with a click of a button and a credit/debit card (or a Paypal account). So that's the what. The why is a bit more torturous. This will be a bit of a stream of consciousness, so bear with me.

When I first started blogging more than three years ago, I did so because I loved writing and opining on things I cared about, from politics to sports to random shit on Youtube. I did it whenever I found the time, and I loved (and continue to love) doing it. I never imagined that we'd get to the point where we have the number of readers we do -- not an overwhelming amount by any stretch, but enough to make us proud. I never imagined that we'd get quoted by the BBCs and's of the world and I certainly never imagined that people other than our close friends would care about what we have to say. The fact that we have exceeded those expectations speaks to the power of the medium (i.e. the internet), where everyone is created equal, and it doesn't matter where you went to school, who your father is, how big your house is and so on. If you keep producing content, people will come. That's the nature of the enterprise.

About some time last year, I started thinking about ways to make this blog more than a hobby, or at least a profitable hobby. I kept putting real decisions off, however, because the idea of money makes me intensely uncomfortable. I really don't like talking about it -- just ask the W. I've always been the type of person who tries to live carefully, be frugal, and assume that by doing so, I save myself the incredible awkwardness of actually having to think about money. By and large this tactic has been successful, despite being a graduate student, not exactly the most lucrative thing a 20-something can do. Getting married last year changed this a little bit but hardly significantly.

There hasn't been some game-changing experience recently, but I simply bit the bullet and added the ads and the donate button. I felt that there would be little direct harm, but some possible gain, so I may as well roll with it. I know a bunch of our readers really like our blog, some just read it to waste time, and some positively hate us and our ilk (you know who you are). I'm hoping that people from the first two categories, on days when they're feeling extremely generous and when I've written something they particularly enjoyed, donate whatever they feel is appropriate. Think of it as Radiohead's last album release, except 4500 times less entertaining and brilliant.

There are a few obvious questions that pop up immediately. First, why the hell should anyone pay me for content when they get much more important content (newspapers, TV shows, sports websites etc) for free? Frankly, I don't have a good answer for that question. I guess one difference is that those people are already paid for their content by their employers, whereas I don't have one. Also, you still get this content for free; you only pay if you want to.

Second, since when did I become such a sell-out? Well, since yesterday.

Third, will the content change at all? No, of course not. I'm not beholden to any particular corporation or advertisement force, so there are no conflicts of interest. Though it will be mighty suspicious if I suddenly start blogging about the wonders of PayPal.

So yeah, that's it. Frankly, I don't even know if this is going to be a massive waste of time and effort, but I suppose we shall see.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

LUMS Bans Kissing On Campus

Oh noes! What now?

I loved this part of the story:
In the maelstrom of replies to the e-mail that exposed the kiss (and threatened to supply photographic evidence of it), one conservative senior tried to guide freshmen on the correct path. "At LUMS, you will be bombarded with all sorts of atheistic and secular philosophies and 'isms'. If you do not have the proper knowledge and conviction about Islam, you may fall prey to the untiring efforts of certain faculty members as well as your fellow students to misguide you," he wrote, before linking to his personal website dedicated to Islamic practices.

Others responded with sarcasm: "I have sinned. I do not believe that there is a God because I can not see, feel, hear or touch Him/Her… During the holy month, instead of attending Koranic recitals in the mosque, I was listening to the demonic sounds of Pink Floyd," wrote one junior.

Do we have any LUMS students/staff in the audience? Any opinions on this? Not the Pink Floyd bit, the other thing.

Anyway, I'd like to dedicate this video -- the most memorable kiss I've ever seen on screen -- to the students at LUMS.

Video Of The Day

This is brilliant. It's so...earnest.

Some Comic Relief

A few items that should brighten the mood around here:

1. This one is courtesy, uh, me. So the other day, I'm TAing Intro to IR, and have 32 eager undergraduates actually paying attention. The topic I'm discussing is the shadow of the future and iterated Prisoner's Dilemma, the point I'm making is that concern for the future makes people cooperate in the present. Why? Because if you see people again and again, you are less likely to want to cheat them (or so goes the logic). The way I wanted to express it was: "You are less likely to screw over someone you see every day." I forgot the word "over".

2. Liverpool lose to Sunderland. A balloon scored.

3. Staying on football, I hope you know what
Maradona did after Argentina beat Uruguay to qualify for South Africa 2010.
"You lot take it up the arse," were Diego Maradona's words to the pressimmediately after his team secured a place at next year's World Cup finals. It was almost adding injury to the insult when he scanned the room and added, "if the ladies will pardon the expression". Looking increasingly Botox-ridden, the angry yet victorious Argentina coach was somehow able to raise a nervous chuckle from those on the receiving end of the abuse.

He wanted to dedicate the triumph to the fans back home and especially those who bothered to cross into Uruguay, to his girls Dalma and Giannina, and to his squad, who worked like never before for the 1–0 result. "But certain people who have not supported me, and you know who you are, can keep sucking," he added.

Grotesque and undignified, Maradona then grabbed his genitals with both hands, signalling some sort of manly insult to the TV cameras in the tunnel outside the dressing room.
And on the Argentina win, I love how the dominant thinking on their chances next year have completely turned 180 degrees in four days. Last Wednesday, it was "even if they qualify, they're getting knocked out, their coach is a coke addict who wakes up at 3pm daily, their team is unbalanced, they have no back four, and Messi is lost for his country." It's suddenly become "you never bloody know, the favorites never win, they have a lot of heart, they just need four good days and anything can happen." And I loved this comment from a Guardian reader:
We're all laughing now at crazy Diego and his madcap antics, but just you wait and see what hapens:

In the group stages, amid the infighting they squeeze through into second of a group the tabloids call "The Piece Of Piss".

Second round they stumble through a 1-0 win over France, after which Domenech announces that his wife is pregnant, so things ain't all that bad. For some reason the French FA still refuse to sack him.

Quarters they come up against England who, after an insipid start to the tournement start to really play. Unfortunately Crouch's third minute goal is cancelled out in the 92nd minute by a Ferdinand backpass that goes through James' legs to the sound of a Swannee whistle. Agentina win on penalties.

Semis they put on a good defensive performance against Portugal. Argentina win 1-0 in a game that is remembered for the game in which it is catagorically accepted that Ronaldo 'never performs in the big games'.

In the final, against a suspension hampered Spain, the Argentinian players decide to ignore Diego's commands and just goes out there to play. Argentina win 3-2 in "The Greatest World Cup Final Ever" TM to much applause and backpeddling from sports journos world wide.

During the trophy presentation Diego pushes Messi et al out of the way and accepts it himself. He proceeds to ejaculate on it for forty-five minutes, spurting gallons and gallons of 'rage semen' before his head explodes.

I guarantee it will happen. Put a monkey on it.
Doesn't sound so implausible, does it?

4. Check out the map at the bottom of this article on BBC news. And then check out the map in this Daily Times article. Which do you think is more likely: that the BBC stole from the Daily Times, or the Daily Times stole from the BBC? Sorry, under terms of my Rs.5 contract, I must ask at least one stupid question per day.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Two Conflicting Interpretations Of The Latest Wave Of Violence

There are, broadly speaking, two interpretations of the spike in violence in the last ten days. One is optimistic, and one is pessimistic.

The optimistic version, predictably forwarded by the government, is that this is a last desperate stand from the Taliban and their allies, in advance of the Army assault in Waziristan. The logic is that this wave of violence is basically an attempt to ward off the impending attack. In this view, the militants wouldn't be doing this if they didn't think the Waziristan foray would cost them dearly, and perhaps even succeed in wiping out the movement, or at least debilitating it to the point where it no longer presents a viable threat to the state and its citizens.

Though I think that much of this thinking is, in fact, wishful thinking (and so not real thinking at all), there is something to be said for the fact that the timing of this escalation coincides perfectly with the military offensive. As such, we must conclude that it is not a coincidence. It follows then, by logic, that the militants are sending a warning to the military (and, I suppose, the civilian) leadership. And who would send a warning if they weren't worried?

On the other hand, there is a pessimistic view of the latest attacks too. Namely, that the TTP is adding to its organizational capabilities by allying with militant groups based in southern Punjab, like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jaish-e-Muhammad. For the most part, these groups have stayed outside the militant-army battle of the last few years, basically by not attacking representatives of the state and therefore not attracting the ire of the government -- though it bears noting that such organizations are primarily responsible for (a) the sectarian violence directed, primarily, against Shias, and (b) cross-border violence directed against India.

If this view is true, Pakistan, if possible, has an even bigger problem on its hands than once thought. For one thing, it stretches resources beyond the breaking point. Remember that the reason/excuse given by the government for not tackling non-Taliban militant groups (such as LeT, a move always guaranteed to royally piss the Indians off) is that they weren't actually at war with the state, so why go after them if such a conflict would attract resources away from the "real" war? The government can no longer enjoy making that distinction, which is an exceedingly good thing in the medium and long term, but hugely damaging in the short term because it forces, in effect, a two-front war. And you can ask the Germans how those work out.

Also consider that fighting a war in the sparsely populated FATA region is one thing, going gung-ho to fight militancy in urban and rural Punjab is quite another. Finally, in targeting police academies and government buildings and army headquarters, the militants are sending an unmistakable message to the Pakistani people: if the people in charge of protecting you can't even protect themselves, what hope do you have?

It is a sobering thought.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pakistan Continues To Buckle Under Militant Violence

The week from hell continues. In two separate incidents, the violence that Pakistani citizens and its representatives have been subjected to in the very recent past carries on unabated. First, in Kohat, a suicide bombing killed at least ten people. And halfway across the country, in Lahore, gunmen attacked a government building (in an attack continuing as I type this) with at least two casualties.

These incidents come on the back of the World Food program attack, the Peshawar suicide bombing, the GHQ siege, and the Swat bombing.

Not much to add at this point, I'm afraid. Readers in Pakistan are requested to use the comments section to update the news. Thanks.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Bilawal Bhutto Zardari Syndrome Is Exported To France

Brilliant. Just brilliant:
President Sarkozy caused embarrassment among his political allies yesterday with news that his 23-year-old student son is to be handed the powerful post of boss of Europe’s biggest business district.

As the Opposition cried nepotism, stalwarts of Mr Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement said that the President was going too far in lining up Jean, a third-year student, to head the public agency that runs La Défense, the island of corporate towers in the west of Paris.

Patrick Devedjian, a Cabinet minister and the current Défense boss, is being moved aside for the President’s second son. He reacted bitterly yesterday with a quotation from Corneille, the 17th-century dramatist: “For souls nobly born, valour does not await the passing of years.” Privately, other UMP officials said that Mr Sarkozy was exposing himself to accusations of dynasty building.
To be fair, the kid does have really nice hair, so there's that.

"The Financial System Nearly Collapsed Because Smart Guys Had Started Working On Wall Street"

A really funny and smart op-ed in the NYT explains the financial crisis.

Aye! Shut Up! You Shouldn't Even Be Allowed To Talk!

I was reading this story on the deliberations in the Senate on Husain Haqqani's role in the Kerry-Lugar bill, and found this tidbit hilarious:
He maintained that the president, prime minister, foreign minister and Pakistan ambassador in the US gave priority to national interests. Senator Ishaq Dar of the PML-N interrupted Malik Amad during the speech, saying that he (Malik Amad) was an MNA and not member of the Senate, therefore, he could not take part in the debate. “Either, he should wind up the debate or should not make a speech,” he said.

Anecote Of The Day

An American officer recalls an episode from his time in Iraq (via Greenwald)

Maj. Guy Parmeter: “Seen any foreign fighters?”

Iraqi farmer: “Yes, you.”


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

News Channels Should Continue Broadcasting Violent Images And Videos

One thing that irks me considerably is self-censorship by media organizations. At the best of times, I find this practice -- usually motivated by a desire to not offend, respect some sensibilities, or not broom up trouble -- silly and counterproductive. But it is in the case of gruesome violence where it assumes actual socio-political importance.

Consider this blog post on Dawn, which argues for not showing the images of people who've died, and other gory scenes of violence:
The common practice of providing live coverage of funerals and showing the face of the dead person on air, broadcasting bullet-riddled and blood-stained bodies of suspected terrorists, zooming in on the identifiable faces of rape victims, and incessantly screening the scattering of body parts after suicide blasts needs to stop. Every independent media outlet now has a website on which to post the images/videos that might require viewer discretion. More innovative ways of offering viewers the choice of how much blood and gore they consume can also be devised.

My argument would be: self-censorship can be incredibly damaging, and, theoretically anyway, can lead to more conflict and violence. Consider:

In almost every culture, violence for a worthy cause is respected and lionized. Whether its because of religion or country or whatever, it's always considered desirable to fight and die if the end or goal is just. The point is, violence is glorified and idealized to the point where it is thought of only in abstract terms; as a concept more than anything else.

But what uncensored images and videos of violence on television do is show you that concept in action. It demonstrates very vividly and powerfully that there is a real cost to living up to these ideals. Suicide bombing may sound cool in theory to a Baitullah Mehsud disciple, but might he think differently once he is shown a picture of someone who actually blew himself up? Maybe, maybe not, but there's definitely a chance, isn't there? Or what about the mob? Mafia movies (and The Sopranos series, no doubt) almost always depict gangs in a favorable or sympathetic light, and make the mob seem almost heroic. But if you actually see, unadulterated and unfiltered, what they do, you are less likely to be sympathetic.

News organizations have a responsibility to show the world as it is. If you are offended -- as I was by the Taliban beating the girl video, or the Pakistani army soldiers kicking and beating civilians video -- then you can simply turn away (as I did in both those instances). But to deprive the world of seeing what violence actually looks like simply because some are more queasy than others is deeply damaging, and risks the "coolization" of violence and murder.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Pakistan's Powerful Patrons And Partners

We know Pakistan's strong and powerful ally -- putative ally -- has abandoned the state in the past when push came to shove. We know that Pakistan has done and sacrificed a great deal for this ally, sometimes at great cost to its sovereignty and internal stability. So my question is: why hasn't Pakistan's relationship with China changed?

I started thinking about this issue a while back, but it's really been brought to the fore with the furor over the Kerry-Lugar bill. Pakistanis (often rightly and often wrongly) complain about U.S. policy toward their country, arguing mainly that (a) it is too intrusive and (b) it's an unequal relationship in that Pakistan gives up a lot more than it gets.

Well, what about China? It has refused help in any war Pakistan has had with its significantly more powerful neighbor, India. Let me be clear: I am not saying China should have helped Pakistan in such wars; indeed, such a venture would have been quite stupid for them. I am saying that if they are such a supposedly strong ally of Pakistan's, and such a rival of India's, then we need a theory of why such help was not forthcoming.

Moreover, it is not just in military affairs -- where tangible help is more unlikely from an ally -- that China has come up short. As Irfan Hussain notes, last year neither China nor Saudi Arabia stepped up the plate when Zardari took his begging bowl out for the world to peer in. Again, it may be the case that not giving money was the right thing to do in terms of China's national interests. But it's quite curious how China is never there for Pakistan when it needs it most.

And it's not as if Pakistan hasn't given anything to China. Hell, it's given China an entire bloody port in a highly charged and restive province, amongst other things. So what gives?

I have four possible explanations:

1. I am completely wrong. China does help Pakistan a lot, in terms of military equipment, arms sales, and an unabashed supporter in global diplomatic circles. And at least China has never out-rightly harmed Pakistan the way the U.S. has. So the very premise of the question -- that China doesn't do enough for Pakistan -- is stupid.

2. It's a relationship rooted in common rivalry with India. As Indo-Sino relations warm, relative to three or four decades ago, China will want to overtly support Pakistan less.

3. China is now a global power, as opposed to a regional power. As such, it has less time for foolish episodes and states in the region that take up valuable time and resources. It is now, again on a relative scale, less concerned with the goings-on in this neighborhood than it was three or four decades ago.

4. China is helping Pakistan by not helping it too much. It is the doctor, the help is prescription medicine, and we're the drug addict. Rather than by bailing us out again and again to our considerable cost, it is giving us tough love in an effort to make us a more responsible state on the international stage.

I am sure there are others that I am not considering. Of these, I consider one and three the most likely, and four the least likely. What say you, readers?

Breaking News: Health Insurance Industry Against Health Insurance Industry Reform

Surprise, surprise.

More on the politics of the situation from Ezra Klein.

The Taliban's Fourth Attack In A Week

Quick question: does this make you more or less likely to support the Pakistan military going into Waziristan? Isn't it fair to say the uptick in violence -- the World Food program bombing, the Peshawar suicide attack, the GHQ siege, and now this -- has coincided with the fact that army is readying itself for the mother of all counter-insurgent conflicts?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

If The Armenians And Turks Can Sign A Peace Deal, Anyone Can

Come on, Israelis and Palestinians, Indians and Pakistanis, Americans and Iranians. Learn some lessons here.