Saturday, February 27, 2010

Some Academic Reactions To The Academic Killer

The story about the University of Alabama professor who shot and killed three colleagues because she was denied tenure understandably created waves within the academe. The Chronicle on Higher Education has run some reactions from graduate students, professors and administrators on what this means going forward, and what is says about the rigors of the process of tenure and hiring in general.

I served on the hiring committee this year at Chicago, and while confidentiality concerns keep me from revealing anything of substance that happened, I can safely say that I gained a greater appreciation for the sheer difficulty of getting an academic job (at least in the U.S.). You won't believe the quality of the CVs and dissertations that we rejected simply out of hand. Moreover, with the recession hitting university endowments hard (more than 30% on average), and hiring freezes in place, it doesn't look to be getting better any time soon.

Anyway, I wanted to highlight one section from the above link. Here's John Cavanaugh, Chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education:

We have done an overall poor job of providing the support and mentoring appropriate for such major, stressful, career make-or-break situations as dissertation defenses and tenure votes, despite the fact that we have considerable (faculty) expertise and a burgeoning research literature about individual differences in coping with stress. It is time to end any tolerance for the notion that "we eat our young" and that such intellectual brutality is somehow an indicator of rigor.

How? First, we must not use the notion that "we have to uphold our standards of excellence" as a thinly veiled code for professional hazing.

Second, we need to do a reality check regarding the criteria for "passing." If a majority of those voting on a tenure case, for example, would not meet the criteria in play, then a serious review of the criteria is in order. How many times do we hear colleagues admit their relief that it is not them on the docket because they "would not make it"?

Third, if rising scholars need to give up any semblance of a normal life to obtain a doctorate or tenure, then that program's values are out of alignment. I, for one, do not want institutions full of people who sold their souls for a degree or for tenure. I want balanced, well-rounded scholars. Funny thing about that—isn't that exactly what we say in our marketing materials: that we want to produce in our undergraduate programs well-rounded, educated graduates?

Fourth, we need to become as good at providing career and emotional support as we are at criticizing performance (a very highly honed skill in most academics). However, research and experience show that the ability to cope with failure varies a great deal across people and situations. Let's tap our colleagues' expertise in understanding what people need and how to provide support and teach mentors how to give it effectively.

Finally, let's reward our young scholars for having the good sense and insight to ask for support and mentorship in the first place, rather than viewing it as a sign of weakness. We may not be able to prevent another situation like what occurred in Huntsville, especially given the freedom to carry weapons in most states. But we can certainly learn from it and do our best to help those who are overly stressed. Someday they will take our place. Let's give them the best chance for success.

I agree with every word. It's really hard to get across to people outside academia how stressful and mentally debilitating this environment is. Everybody has their own coping mechanisms, but's hard. At every step -- getting into grad school, defending your proposal, defending your dissertation, getting a job, getting tenure -- it's hard.

Video Of The Day

Hahaha. Classic.

Two related points. One, there now appears to be a title race in England, a real one (though Arsenal have to beat Stoke for this to be true). Second, England's back four is shaping up to be an utter disaster for the World Cup. Quarter final exit again?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Quote Of The Day

The Taliban's former ambassador to Islamabad, on how he tried to deal with the ISI:
I tried to be not so sweet that I would be eaten whole, and not so bitter that I would be spat out.

What a truly awesome line. Is this some ancient Pashto proverb or something? I'm going to try to use this phrase at least once a day for the foreseeable future; the only problem will be trying to find suitable contexts in which to use it. And if said contexts aren't forthcoming, I'm going to have to invent them. For example:

Random friend: Hey, how are you?

Me: I'm good, what's going on?

Random friend: Not much, just finishing my paper for that conference.

Me: Cool. By the way, I've found that when writing a paper, you should not be so sweet that you will be eaten whole, but also not so bitter that you will be spat out.

That works, doesn't it? By the way, if you're wondering, that poor sod was spat out -- he was arrested and sent to Guantanamo until 2005. You should read the whole article anyway, it's good. As is this chat Steve Coll had with readers after the piece was published.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The PBS Piece On Pakistan's Education System, Or Lack Thereof

Good stuff. Check it out.

Also,the full text of Mosharraf's interview is here. I highly recommend reading through it. Highly.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

There Are More Important Things Than Football

After an abject, goalless draw with Liverpool, the Manchester City manager, Roberto Mancini, had this to say about Carlos Tevez who was absent and sorely missed:

"He is in Argentina and it's a big problem because we have an important week," the City manager said. "We don't have any depth and, for me, it is not good. Carlos went eight days ago and I don't even know [if he will be back for the game at ­Chelsea next Saturday]. I don't know if, while he is in Argentina, he has been working [on his fitness]. I hope that Carlos comes back within two days. I have ordered him to come back and I hope in the next few days he can come back."

Fair enough one would think, Mancini as a manager has every right to order his players back when the team is missing them. But why is Tevez in Argentina anyway?

Because his wife prematurely gave birth to his daughter who is still under the observation of doctors on life support. Tevez, like any reasonable father, wishes to stay with his family until his daughter is completely out of danger.

Mancini, get a grip man.

No Such Thing As "Good" Or "Evil" In Politics

First of all, let me advise you to read this op-ed in the WSJ on Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary and the judges brouhaha from last week (via Rabia). It basically encapsulates my thinking on the matter, and saves me the trouble of writing anything on it.

I do want to make a related point, however. But before I do that, let's take a step backwards.

It's always easy for me to identify immature political analyses -- I do so by simply looking at whether the writer or opinion-maker has a normative slant on things. That is, in the analysts' view, are some people "good" and others "evil"? If yes, then that analyst is a bad analyst, at least in my book. Why? Because it takes the easy way out, and ascribes things to human nature when really the analyst should be looking deeper.

Now, of course I know that there are some people in politics who embody unmitigated evil (Hitler) and some people who are above moral reproach (Mandela). But, for the most part, it pays to assume that most people lie somewhere in the middle, and that their actions will be determined not by who they are but where they are; by the structural constraints and incentives and local contexts that come their way.

Does that mean that there is no room for human ingenuity, skill, temperance, personality, family history, stupidity, or other agentic characteristics to affect outcomes in important ways? Of course not. But it does mean that we should attempt to look beyond mere personalities when trying to figure out why things are the way they are. We can criticize the person of Asif Zardari all day for being corrupt -- and it is true, he is corrupt -- but such a position elides the fact that (a) that most Pakistani politicians and public figures are corrupt, and (b) that Pakistan would be not be significantly different if Random Politician X from the PPP was in charge of the country, instead of Zardari. So what does it matter that Zardari is corrupt? How does that change anything? It doesn't.

This is my worldview, and you can agree with or disagree with it, but that's how I think in general terms.

So what does all this have to do with the Chief Justice? Well, as it turns out, a lot. When Iftikhar Chaudhary first rose to prominence in 2007, he was widely celebrated and feted by the country's media, its body politic, civil society and the urban middle class. The reason for this celebration, we were told, was that Iftikhar Chaudhary was Good and Brave and a Hero for taking on Pervez Musharraf. He was, in other words, a knight in shining armor, striking a blow against entrenched interests, and speaking for the people.

Did I believe any of this? Of course not. Because identifying a political actor's interests and preferences and constraints is the first thing I do when looking at said actor, it was easy for me to see that there was a highly plausible explanation for Chaudhary's actions that didn't include the words "Man, isn't he the greatest effing thing ever?" Sadly, however, I was in the minority on this because many -- indeed, most -- people did fall for him.

By contrast, I believed that the Chief Justice was following narrow, parochial interests, that he used the anti-Musharraf momentum that was building in the country in early 2007 to good effect, and that he rode the way of populism all the way to the deepest recesses of Pakistani hearts in an attempt to aggrandize as much power as possible from the bench. This made him smart, but hardly Good. He was just another dude looking out for himself. Was he helping the so-called aam aadmi while doing so? Perhaps, but that is beside the point.

The last few months have shown that I was basically right about this. Everything from the petrol tax to the way in which the NRO was overturned to this latest blatantly unconstitutional measure** in blocking Zardari's appointments smacks of political opportunism. It is not the work of a bench interested in checks and balances and fulfilling constitutional roles. It is the work of a bench interested in stepping over its bounds, and being a viable and powerful political player. No sane, rational observer of Pakistani politics can doubt this. It's just a fact. The Iftikhar Chaudhary-led Supreme Court is now the judicial wing of the PML(N).

So what is the moral of the story? Contrary to what you may think, this post is not an attempt to show how smart and right I was -- I have been wrong so many times about so many things on this blog that it beggars belief (and it's all there in the archives for you to peruse and make fun of me). Rather, the point is to show that as a method of analysis, it pays to take out of the equation our perceptions of whether someone is Good or Evil. Politics, as they say, is the art of the possible, and some people are better artists than others. But that hardly makes them fit for deification.

**So it turns out that blocking the appointments was not "blatantly unconstitutional". My bad. Still ham-handed and self-interested though.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Links For Monday

Mondays suck, so hopefully these links will make your life a little better.

Favorite read of the week, right here. Do not, under any circumstances, mess with Viv Richards. Quite possibly the most intimidating cricketer of all time -- and he never said a word on the field. There's about four quotes in there that make me thank God that I wasn't an international bowler in the 70s and 80s, but this one is my favorite: "I love a guy who is up in my face. I didn't like it when a guy would beat my bat and just smile. I wanted him to say something, to give me something to fuel my emotions. Guys used to tell me to eff off when I was out. I enjoyed that. I wanted to come back every time. I thought, "Have your day. You knock me over, it takes only a couple of seconds to walk off, but I tell you, I back myself enough to know that so long as I'm batting you are going to see my face for a long time and it's going to hurt. Big time." Hahaha. Classic Viv.

Speaking of quotable cricketers, read Shahid Afridi compare himself to Tiger Woods.

And speaking of Tiger Woods, here's Charlie Booker on adultery, where he compares flirtatious texts to a "Matrix shag". And here's an article advancing the theory that Tiger wouldn't have cheated if he were a Peru poison frog.

My two favorite pieces from the Pakistani blogosphere this week. First up, Tazeen deals with the PML-Q MPA who's been arguing vociferously in favor of polygamy, saying "If there is no bar on them marrying again, all of men’s frustrations would be reduced, while women would be able to salvage their honour and lead secure lives." By the way, the MPA is a woman. Good times.

Second, here's Rabia talking about the right in Pakistan arguing against Basant, and the methods they employ to do so. An interesting post. Basant is one of those strange things that (a) shouldn't really be politicized, but is because we're sort of a crazy country, and (b) is politicized in non-predictable ways in the sense that the dividing lines on the issue aren't the usual faultlines in our society.

Here's a nicely written piece in Dawn on Imran Khan's Tehreek-e-Insaf and Shaikh Rasheed's Awami Muslim League (the most poorly chosen name for a political party in Punjab that I can think of) attempting to be more than "drawing-room parties".

Jonathan Chait thinks the Republicans have declared victory too soon in the healthcare battle, and that they are in for a rude surprise (via Krugman).

Speaking of Krugman, here's a long profile of him in the New Yorker. As always with the New Yorker, it's a great read -- though I'm not sure they tell me anything I didn't already know (other than random personal details).

A really interesting piece on how being horny makes the economy stronger. Not just in terms of buying flowers and chocolates etc. But in terms of driving males, especially, to greater accomplishments than they would otherwise achieve. The key quote: "More fascinating, perhaps, and ultimately far more consequential, the urge to find a mate drives us — particularly men, it seems — to increase our productivity and make bigger investments in human capital (e.g. education) than we otherwise would. It’s also suggestive that so much creative genius — in fields as diverse as physics and jazz — seems to peak before or around 30. And, that marriage seems to have a negative impact on productivity in such fields." (via Andrew Sullivan)

In his last press conference, Mustafa Kamal claims that his city district government has completed 2,496 projects in Karachi, with 126 projects still in process. Even if the numbers aren't completely accurate -- how would we independently verify this? -- can anyone doubt that the dude worked his ass for the city and its residents, and will be dearly missed? Anyone at all?

Well, India has finally arrived. No, I'm not talking about their economy or military. No, this is much more important: an Indian-American has finally made it to the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. Well done. Kudos. By the way, make sure to check out her picture without makeup from the link provided.

I'd venture to suggest that the U.S. is one of the few countries in the world in which you'd find an online article titled "Outsmart Restaurant Menus". I'm not usually one to take on a menu in a battle of wits; I usually just read it and order. My basic point is that America, as a country, has a very strange relationship to the concept of diet and fitness. They worry and talk an awful lot about it, and yet aren't a particularly healthy country. Gymming is huge here too, and yet...I don't know. It's a tough one.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Umm...This May Be A Stupid Question, But I Have To Ask Anyway

Okay, the Fatima Bhutto that is on Facebook is not actually her right? The one I supposedly have "13 friends in common" with? I mean, the pictures are obviously her, but they can easily be taken from google images (and appear to have been taken from exactly there). Moreover, the caption under on her profile is "I miss my baba a lot", which is almost a caricature . Most importantly, she seems to be ADDING RANDOM PEOPLE AS FRIENDS, people who obviously don't know her.

The only reason I'm even considering that it may be her is because she is a Bhutto and all Bhuttos are megalomaniacal enough to do the sort of thing where they join Facebook, get 1 million friends, and start a political career from the "ground up". Also -- how to say this politely? -- her writings don't suggest someone who's particularly concerned with rational or intelligent actions (okay, that wasn't polite after all...whatever), so it's conceivable that it's her. No?

Again, I'm embarrassed about asking this question, but I have to know: is the Fatima Bhutto on Facebook the real Fatima Bhutto?

By the way, I don't really have anything against her. She's definitely hot enough for her silly little columns to not matter to me if I had a chance to vote for her. Better her than her idiot cousin, yes?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Rape Victims Are Blameless

Consent. When it comes to sex this one word separates us from barbarians, and when a sexual act takes place without consent, no matter what the circumstances, it is barbaric. It is rape. By acting without consent an assailant the person in question the most basic of freedoms, the freedom over their own body.

It is therefore shocking to learn that over half the women in a recent survey carried out in the UK blame rape victims in some form or the other for being raped. Victims were accused of being too drunk or dressing scantily. This sort of thinking is absolutely wrong.

A woman who is incoherently drunk is comparable to a person who is mentally handicapped; they both lack the ability to consent to a sexual act. We would not blame a rape victim for being mentally handicapped then why do we apportion blame on a woman who passed out after being drunk? And the fact that being drunk is self inflicted does not change things, the key is that the person was not in a position to offer consent at the time the act took place.

A woman could walk around in a bikini at the truck adda in Shireen Jinnah colony and consent to a sexual act but then if she said no to that particular act, or any other act, and if said act continued it would be rape and she would be blameless.

There is no question of extenuating circumstances limiting the culpability of the perpetrator, except for him being insane; in a rape the fault lies entirely with the aggressor. However, when we apportion blame to the victim, we tacitly accept that in some situations the actions of the perpetrator are understandable, that they are somehow justifiable. They are not. Rape is unjustifiable.

But then why do a majority of people still blame rape victims? Dr Roxanne Agnew- Davies, a clinical psychologist and an expert on the effects of sexual violence, quoted in a Guardian article, says “it can be to reassure themselves that this will not happen to them.” Unfortunately this skewed logic borne out of fear hides the fact that your typical rape victim is not a scantily clad woman in Shireen Jinnah colony, the typical rape victim is likely to be a typical woman. And the assailant is likely to be someone known to the victim, in our society it is most likely a husband, a cousin, an employer or a neighbour.

The reason why we don’t hear more about rapes is not because they don’t take place but because women who are raped choose to stay silent. And who can blame them, as a society we’ve convinced ourselves that the woman who is raped is worthy of blame, that she is immoral or has a ‘bad character.’

This absurd way of thinking has to change. We can lie to ourselves and pretend that only bad people are raped, but this only makes us all more vulnerable.

Zizou The Magician

I never tire of watching Zidane videos and this one, which I came across on Guardian's awesome weekly youtube post, is breathtaking. Enjoy.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Four Views On The Baradar Arrest (Okay, Five)

First up, me. My only point would be that every time some high-value target from the Taliban has been taken out or captured, we're told it represents some major success in the war. To be fair, I myself have made this claim in the past, notably when Baitullah Mehsud was killed. But you know what? The only metric that matters to me is the extent to which Pakistani civilians face indiscriminate violence from these groups, and history suggests that taking out their leaders seems to have scant effect on that measure. In fact, when Baitullah was killed, the amount of violence in the country increased, and that too significantly. Maybe this time will be different, and one certainly hopes so. But let's not confuse means with ends here -- getting them killed or captured is the former, getting them to stop killing is the latter.

Next, Juan Cole:
My own suspicion is that Mullah Baradar was behind the violence against Shiites in Karachi this winter. Provoking Sunni-Shiite violence so as to destabilize Pakistan's financial and industrial hub would be a typical al-Qaeda tactic. The bombings succeeded in provoking major riots and property damage. But when you hurt stock prices and harm government revenues, you rather draw the attention to yourself of the country's elite and their security forces, since you have mightily inconvenienced them. As long as the Old Taliban were mainly bothering the government of Hamid Karzai over the border in Afghanistan, the ISI might have been able to turn a blind eye to them. But if they were going to cause billions of dollars of damage to Karachi, which they did this winter, that is intolerable.

I wouldn't jump to the conclusion that Mullah Baradar's capture will destroy the Old Taliban. And even if that organization is weakened, there are at least three other major insurgent groups only loosely connected to them, which have the operational autonomy and resources to go on fighting.

But it is true that with the loss of the $200,000 a month the drug trade in Marjah was generating, and with the loss of some important commanders to drone strikes, the Old Taliban may be in a weakened posture compared to a year ago.

Then, Steve Coll:

Why would Pakistan move decisively against Afghan Taliban leadership now? The Times suggests that Pakistani generals under the lame-duck Army chief, General Ashraf Kiyani, are coming around to the view that they require a national-security doctrine that does not involve sheltering the Afghan Taliban. Perhaps. There are certainly new debates inside the Pakistani military and civilian establishment about such a change of course.

I would guess at a more subtle motivation, one that might suggest a favorable pattern now emerging in the Obama Administration’s and Central Command’s approach to Pakistan’s role in the Afghan conflict. Over the last few months, by multiple means, the United States and its allies have been seeking to persuade Pakistan that it can best achieve its legitimate security goals in Afghanistan through political negotiations, rather than through the promotion of endless (and futile) Taliban guerrilla violence—and that the United States will respect and accommodate Pakistan’s agenda in such talks. Pakistan’s support for the Afghan Taliban, especially in recent years, was always best understood as a military lever to promote political accommodations of Pakistan in Kabul. Baradar, however, has defiantly refused to participate in such political strategies, as he indicated in an e-mail interview he gave to Newsweek last year. The more the Taliban’s leaders enjoying sanctuary in Karachi or Quetta refuse to lash themselves to Pakistani political strategy, the more vulnerable they become to a knock on the door in the middle of the night.

If, through a combination of pressure and enticement, Pakistan and the United States can draw sections of the Taliban into peaceful negotiations, while incarcerating those who refuse to participate, it will produce a sweeping change in the war.

Then, Arif Rafiq:

In my previous post, I speculated that Kayani’s overtures to the Karzai government possibly contained the following “implicit message” to the Afghan Taliban: “you are not our only option, so don’t take us for granted.” And so the arrest of Baradar is perhaps part of an attempt by the Pakistan Army to induce behavioral change on the part of the Afghan Taliban, and particularly its obstinate leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar. These desired changes likely include: giving up maximalist goals, such as the re-establishment of an emirate; and clear movement toward the bargaining table with Karzai and away from al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban. And equally important, as Afghans have engaged in a multitude of secret peace talks in the region, the Pakistan Army would like to ensure that it, to the exclusion of India, is part of the glue that holds together any power sharing arrangement in Kabul. In other words, it doesn’t want the Afghans to make their own peace and shut Pakistan out of the process. If Pakistan were excluded, then what was the trouble of the past eight years for?

The arrest of Baradar helps bring U.S. and Pakistan policy toward Afghanistan in closer alignment. The Pakistan Army is willing to work with Afghan moderates and, at the same time, retains significant leverage over the country’s insurgents. It has the capacity and willingness to engage, if not manage, a broad spectrum of Afghanistan’s major Pashtun actors — both “good” and “bad.” One would imagine that Pakistani diplomatic, military, and political officials are also engaging Afghan Tajiks and Uzbeks, particularly ex-mujahideen.

With its contacts, geographic location, and new-found “responsible” approach, it’s Pakistan — not Iran, India, or Russia — that is positioned to play the role of stability guarantor in a post-American Afghanistan, especially as it pertains to U.S. interests.

And finally, and most entertainingly, Rehman Malik, who claims it simply didn't happen.

Speaking to reporters outside parliament in Islamabad, the cabinet minister stopped short of either confirming or denying the media reports.

The New York Times and other US media cited US government officials as saying that US and Pakistani intelligence services arrested Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Karachi “several days ago”.

“We are verifying all those we have arrested. If there is any big target, I will show the nation,” Malik said.

“If the New York Times gives information, it is not a divine truth, it can be wrong. We have joint intelligence sharing and no joint investigation, nor joint raids,” Malik added.

“We are a sovereign state and hence will not allow anybody to come and do any operation. And we will not allow that. So this (report) is propaganda,” he added.

You've got to love being in a country where the arrest of a high-level Taliban operative is bad news, to be covered up and denied at all costs.

Man United Fans Don't Actually Believe This Crap, Do They?

I read this comment on the Guardian blogs, the first one in the thread, and almost threw up in my mouth:

Manchester United have the most effective player in the world.

I wouldn't swap Rooney for any other player.

That's not even blinkered. He's younger and better than anybody else you put anywhere near him.

A few comments down, I came across this:

Never write a player off. Darren Fletcher, my god, how did this happen? It's almost beyond belief what's happened to this guy. Guardiola knows, if Fletcher plays in the final Barca are f**cked.

I stopped reading after that. But quick question to the United fans out there: do you guys actually believe this shit, or are you just being euphoric?

Nerdy Video Of The Day

Confused about economics? Let Messrs Keynes and Hayek explain their conflicting theories to you. In rap.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bye Bye Mustafa Kamal?

The Sindh Government finally passed the Local Government Amendment Bill 2010 yesterday. The writing on the wall for the CDGK was written even since Mush was ousted and the provincial politicians regained their authority. There has been a fair amount of politically motivated violence in Karachi and it doesn't take a genius to figure out that a major factor was the power struggle between the PPP and MQM - political parties in Karachi have a unique way of negotiating. Even so, the fact that bill was passed in relative peace is a triumph and bodes well for the people of this city, at least in the short term.

It also means that the CDGK as we know it will cease to be. The next local government will certainly not have as much authority as Mustafa Kamal's, or even Naimatullah Khan's regime. Karachi's been lucky to have two mayors in the erstwhile powerful role who in their own ways had Karachi's interests at heart. And again, who knows perhaps the new system will prove to be better and provide more adequate checks and balance.

There's little I can add to what's already been written about the successes of the CDGK, and Mustafa Kamal in particular but I have linked to our previous posts on him at the bottom.

So what's next for MK? I don't see him continuing as the Mayor, the good times are over and he should want to leave on a high. Considering all that he's done for the MQM's image, the party would certainly want him to continue and he could be offered a slot as an MNA, a ministry may even be mentioned. But MK is no Farooq Sattar, also a former Mayor, and I don't see him getting his hands dirty in national politics. And unlike most Pakistani politicians, MK has a great cache of international goodwill which I think he'll use and head to a nice little shindig abroad.

By the way my dark horse candidate for the next mayor is Faisal Sabzwari, a young MQM politician in the MK mould who is currently serving as the Provincial Minister for Youth Affairs.

I leave you with a video of Mk which I came across on Cafe Pyala, its an odd choice I admit but I think it perfectly encapsulates the man. XYZ at Cafe Pyala had this to say about the video:

"Whatever the truth of what exactly happened and why after the blast at the Karachi Ashura procession, you are unlikely to see a more honest reaction of frustration from a politician on the media... Watch the clip till the end!"

Seriously, please do watch the clip till the end.

(Links to previous posts: Ahsan chose him as the best Pakistani politician of the decade, he also posted on MK being nominated as the Second Best Mayor in the World - which was not really the case but was still picked up by other outlets; I was impressed by him initiating students to the inner workings of the CDGK, I also wanted him to take over DHA; Ahsan also had a chance to meet with Mustafa Kamal in Chicago and posted about his meetings with the head of the Sadistic Goremint here and here.)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Increased Security In Karachi

The journey back from work was an interesting one tonight, not to mention a rather long one. First came a make shift security barricade right after Kala Pul, where the police had blocked off 2 lanes and were only letting one pass at a time, and stopping cars for random checking. I was able to save a good few minutes by taking a side road and avoiding the ensuing traffic jam (note to the police, ensure there are no alternatives because it kind of defeats the purpose). Nothing much out of the ordinary as once in a while the police will inspect vehicles at this exact same spot.

The second barricade came on Khayaban-e-Ittehad, right in front of the Askari Bank building. There again was nothing seemingly out of the ordinary (if one considers random police checks to be the norm) however it didn't feel like a normal police check. The police were actually paying attention and not just harassing motorcyclists, moreover the police were aided by rangers who had created a secondary barricade and were looking inside each car. Moreover, the police were stopping buses and inspecting them from the inside - our police are never this efficient.

The third incident was even more surprising. As I passed the Khy-e-Muhafiz intersection on Ittehad a Toyota Corolla car with SP (police) number plates chaperoned by a police mobile passed me by. I instantly cursed the guy and thought of how much better it would be if the police focused all their energies on protecting everyone rather than giving preference to the VIPs. But then as I crossed Khy-e-Hafiz (about a kilometer down) I saw the SP car flag a taxi with 4 men and the policemen in the car and the mobile hurriedly got out. I decided against finding out what happened next.

Perhaps this was just a show of strength, a PR job to mollify the people similar to the police idiotically parading dozens of mobiles and motorcycles on main roads in the middle of the day. Here's a photo courtesy Karachi Metblogs:

However, this seemed more than that. The policemen on duty looked edgy and it seemed that they were acting on some prior information. This brings me to a quote I read somewhere regarding the FBI: "our successes are private but our failures public." I wonder how many private successes our law enforcement agencies have had but chosen not to reveal.

A few weeks ago our cleaner (jamadar) spoke of the police apprehending three terrorists from his area; apparently a bunch of boys playing cricket hit a ball on to a neighbour's ledge, when a boy climbed on the ledge to retrieve the ball he got a peek inside a room that contained guns and what looked like suicide jackets. He immediately told everyone and they called the cops, the police arrived and apprehended the residents who had recently rented the house. This all occurred in Neelum Colony right off Zamzama Park. There was absolutely no mention of this event on the TV channels or the newspapers therefore I don't know if this story is entirely true, and it does seem a bit far fetched. But if the story is true, I can understand why the police would want to keep quiet about it, you really don't want to spread panic nor do you want people finding out that a major terrorist plot was only discovered because a teenager hit a ball on the ledge - what if this batsman was like Ahsan and chose to only take stupid singles and not play a big shot?

Atletico Madrid Help Crosstown Rivals, Hand Barcelona First Defeat Of The Season

Ugh. Unfortunately, the title race got a whole lot more interesting today. Let's talk about why, and reflect on the game and its implications.

1. Injuries and suspensions. This is not an excuse, simply a statement of fact. Barca's backline was decimated: Pique and Marquez suspended; Dani Alves, Abidal, Chygryinski, and Yaya Toure (a DMF who is capable of slotting in at center back, just ask Cristiano Ronaldo) injured. Adding injury to injury, Keita got injured within five minutes of the game. The term "makeshift" would be too kind to the back four Barca fielded today -- Puyol (sort of returning from a knock himself) and Milito (just returning to regular action after two years out) as center backs, Maxwell the left back and Jeffren (a winger who occasionally slots in at right back) replacing Dani Alves.

Now, normally injuries matter only to Barca if it's one of Messi or Xavi out. I wouldn't go so far as saying everyone else is replaceable, but Barca remain Barca as long as those two are in the team. And they were today. However, the sheer weight of absences meant that the backline was disorganized and frequently screwed up the off-side trap -- as evinced by Forlan's first goal, and the gilt-edged chance that Kun Aguero somehow missed in the first fifteen minutes. Both Jeffren and Maxwell had shockers, and both should've been sent off; Jeffren was saved because the ref was one of those "well, you're already on a yellow, so I'm not going to call you for a yellow-card foul you just committed even though it was obvious enough to be seen from the moon because I'm not man enough to give you a second yellow" refs. And Maxwell? Wow, that was a terrible game.

Moreover, the injuries to the backline had a massive influence on the way Barca went forward, in two ways. First, since there was no Pique, Marquez or, to a lesser extent, Chygryinski, there was no ball-laying CB. The ball-playing CB is key in Barca's system because it alleviates pressure from the midfield, and pushes the opposition back, lest they subject Barca to too much pressure in their third. Because Barca didn't have that today, Atletico pinned Barca back, and forced a lot of long balls that went nowhere.

This was bad enough, but the Barca attack suffered hugely because of the absence of Dani Alves. In fact, this was such a big issue that it deserves its own bullet point...

2. Alves is crucial because of the width he provides on the right. It allows Messi some space to operate in, and draws the opposition full backs to the flank, allowing the Messi/Xavi/Iniesta triumvirate to play their intricate passing game near the penalty box. Without Alves, and no real threat down the right, full backs just tucked in and crowded the center. It was like watching Arsenal hopelessly knock it around, there simply wasn't a way through.

It was a similar story on the left; Henry didn't even get off the bench, and Pedro played like utter crap. No space = no threat = no goals.

3. Barca played badly, separately from the matter of injuries. I have never seen Xavi misplace so many passes in my life...seriously. The dude was taken off when Barca were trailing, something I've never seen. I've never seen Messi's touch desert him to this extent. Other than a few pointless forays straight into the heart of the Atletico defense, he had a shocker. I've only very rarely seen so many passes from midfield go absolutely nowhere. Ibra, other than the goal, was absent again. The bottom line is that the whole team were off their game today.

On the one hand, you're inclined to say: it's okay, it happens. You can't be perfect every game. On the other hand, this was a winnable game, and if Barca were even 15% better, they could've taken it.

4. By the same token, credit must be given to Atletico. They played well, very well. The standouts were their center backs (especially Perea, perhaps the best player on the pitch today), Kun Aguero (the term "constant threat" comes to mind, he was like a mosquito buzzing around and evading capture), and Reyes. Simao knocked in a fantastic free-kick and that was that. And despite conceding before half-time, and thus making a game of it, you always felt they were in control.

5. Barca were not going to go the entire season undefeated, but there are good times for losses and bad times for losses, and this was definitely the latter. Real beat an earnest Xerez yesterday -- who gamely held on until half time, and then fell apart to lose 3-0 at home -- to draw within two points. Barca's loss today means that they are way too close for comfort.

On paper, next week's fixture list favors Barca, as they play host to bottom-third Racing, while Real host Villareal (who've had a massively disappointing season but on their day can still hurt you). But I'm suddenly not feeling too good about this, especially with the injuries piling on and the pressure of a European campaign to restart soon.

Pep, it's your move.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Song Of The Day

I was planning to write a post on Cesc and his (perhaps) impending and (definitely) silly transfer to Barca, but I got lazy. I'll write it soon enough, but you'll probably be better off listening to this song than reading my writing anyway.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Links For Thursday

Stuff to help you waste time:

A friend of mine in New York is doing Teach for America, which involves teaching basically poor kids who've always done terribly at school. Lo and behold, he's started a blog to chronicle some of his adventures. Read this post, it's hilarious.

Speaking of hilarious, check out this report from AFP, which says that an unnamed Arab ambassador had his marriage annulled because he had never seen his wife-to-be before they got married (she covered her face), and that when he did finally see her, she was cross-eyed and had facial hair. Too. Many. Jokes. (Courtesy Nabeel)

A nice piece from Cyril Almeida on the Pakistani military feeling a little too pleased with itself. I was saying this exact thing to a couple friends on email the other day -- great minds and all that.

The only word that comes close to describing this Glenn Greenwald post on Rich "Starbursts" Lowry is "evisceration".

Via Rabia, check out this Facebook revelation from Ahmed Quraishi, where he basically admits to lying and spreading propaganda. Also, how dumb is that Sabeen Syed chick?

Since I've stopped being a cricket fan, I don't really comment on it any more. That said, I couldn't let this patent lie by Iqbal Qasim, who only recently resigned after we lost everything on the OZ tour, go free. My response on PakPassion is here and here.

Yay! Gail Collins declares Illinois to have the worst political culture in the U.S.! This only confirms what everyone living here knows to be a fact. I mean, do I even need to say anything other than "Blagojevich"? Also, on an unrelated note, can we get Collins to replace Tom Friedman as the NYT's so-called foreign affairs expert on the op-ed page? Actually, while they're at it, can they give her Dowd's space too? If not, can the NYT just stop printing op-eds on Wednesdays and Sundays (except for the excellent Frank Rich)? I think most people would be okay with that.

I didn't really have much to say about this whole Aafia Siddiqui thing. But others apparently did. Read Tazeen, Saba Imtiaz, and Nadeem Paracha on this.

Call me crazy, but I think there's some logical inconsistency in a quote which says "I talk on behalf of the jihadi leadership, that we all stand for a negotiated settlement."

An analysis of what role the full backs have in Pep's 4-3-3.

Via Nabeel, Megan Fox has more "fans" in Pakistan than Zaid Hamid, if Facebook pages are anything to go by. In fact, she is only narrowly beaten out by Prophet Muhammad. There's hope for our country yet. Details here.

Why is Barack Obama saying nice and non-critical things about bankers making lots of money?

The Guardian details a disgusting honor killing of a 16 year-old girl in Turkey, who was buried alive because she chose to talk to boys.

And finally, courtesy Negeen, check out what Google's suggested search term is when you punch in "recursion" into the search box.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Thanks, CTA!

We're into day three of the Chicago Transit Authority's service cuts, and let me tell you, the first two days sucked.

Here's the background: the CTA has been losing money since, basically, forever. Because it loses money, it must (a) make more money, or (b) spend less money. Usually, we get (a). Last year, for instance, the CTA raised fares 25 cents across the board, which may not sound like much, but think about this: in what other facet of life are you supposed to accept quietly a 12.5% increase in the price of something which you use twice a day, every day?

Alternatively, instead of charging consumers more, we also regularly get treated to this inane dance between the CTA, the city government and the Illinois government, whereby the CTA starts throwing tantrums, says they're going to cut back services, and then waits for one of the city or the state legislature to fold and give it oodles of money. This happens all the time.

Except this time, nobody stepped in, and the CTA actually cut back services. And they didn't just cut back services, they cut back services in the middle of winter. I never thought commuting could be a near death experience, but the Chicago weather and the longer wait times for the bus now means it's a fairly realistic possibility.

Anyways, Mayor Daley says there's no end in sight to the cuts, which is just great. Thanks, CTA! You're the best.

By the way, if one of our readers would like to be nice and buy me (and the W, don't forget her) a car, now would be a good time. You'd also have to pony up for two parking spots near our place. Let me know if you're up for it.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Um, Refs Aren't Really Allowed To Do This, Are They?

Look, getting in the way is one thing, and happens all the time. But back-heeling it? Come on, ref. As Sid Lowe tweeted, nice touch.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

A Conversation With Two South Asia Scholars

Over the last couple of days, I've had the pleasure of exchanging emails with two Political Science scholars of South Asia. Vipin Narang is a PhD candidate in the Department of Government at Harvard University, and a research fellow at the Belfer Center at Harvard University. Next year, he will be joining the faculty at the Department of Political Science at M.I.T. His area of focus is nuclear security in South Asia.

Paul Staniland is a PhD candidate at the Department of Political Science at M.I.T, and a fellow at the Program on Order, Conflict and Violence at the MacMillan Center at Yale University. Next year, he will be joining the faculty at the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago. His area of focus is militant organizations and their cohesion.

The three of us talked about South Asia broadly, the Indian offer of talks, Kashmir, terrorism, water, Afghanistan and where it's going, strategic depth, and China. Without further ado...

Ahsan: Hi guys,

First of all, my sincere thanks in taking the time out to do this. I'm sure our readers appreciate it as much as I do.

Let's get right into it. We've seen some pretty interesting developments in South Asia over the last week or so. The most important of these seems to be an Indian offer of talks with Pakistan, breaking the deadlock in relations since the Mumbai attacks of 2008.

What I don't really get is that there is nothing of substance that has changed on the ground between India and Pakistan since then. India still claims that Pakistan has done nothing to actually dismantle the networks of anti-Indian militants on its soil, which has always been its primary concern. On the Pakistani side, meanwhile, we have General Kayani once again pronouncing Pakistan's security concerns in decidedly India-centric terms, and politicians regularly blaming India for violence in Balochistan.

So where did this come from? What is pushing the two sides to talk? Usually diplomatic exchanges are a result, not just a cause, of relations warming. But I see no evidence of any thaw whatsoever. Is it a third party (the U.S.) or a third issue (Afghanistan)? What gives?

Vipin: Dear Ahsan, thanks for having us! Just to get right into it, it is important to note what India's offer is precisely. It is *not* an offer to resume the composite dialogue, which was suspended after the Mumbai attacks, and which covered a broad range of issues. Instead, it is an offer for a Foreign Secretary level meeting (whether several or a one-off seems to need to still be worked out) between India's Nirupama Rao and Pakistan's Salman Bashir to discuss what appears to be a limited agenda (India would likely want Pakistan's support for terrorism to be on the agenda, but without discussion of Kashmir, Pakistan might not be willing).

This particular move by India seems to be primarily motivated by developments in Afghanistan, according to both Indian reports and statements by Richard Holbrooke. In particular, India has been growingly alarmed at the prospect of a US and Pakistani Taliban appeasement--or the prospect of negotiating with, rather than defeating, the Taliban--particularly after the London conference, which seems to have triggered a significant change in India's posture vis-vis Afghanistan and Pakistan. In conjunction with SM Krishna's recent statement that India is potentially open to the idea of negotiating with parts of the Taliban if certain preconditions are met, the offer of a Foreign Secretary level meeting on the subject may reflect the reality that if India is to have any influence over Afghanistan's future trajectory and a regional security architecture where the Taliban may yet play a role, it cannot be frozen out of the dialogue and cannot ignore Islamabad, which has a tremendous amount of power in Afghanistan, and with the Taliban in particular. The scope and dates of the talks are yet to be determined, and although this is a positive step for two states that have an interest in Afghanistan's stability, their starkly different interests and views about what constitutes stability in Afghanistan combined with the probable lack of a full-ranged composite dialogue means that one should be very cautiously optimistic, if at all.

Paul: I think Vipin is right to highlight the dynamics in Afghanistan as a driving force in moving Indian policy. At least based on press reports and op-eds, there is a fear among the Indian strategic elite of being frozen out of Afghanistan by a deal cut between the US/NATO and Pakistan over how to divvy up favor and control within Afghanistan. There is concern of a return to the dynamics of the 1990s. Krishna's flexibility on the issue of talking with the Taliban is a major change from the previous line, which was viscerally skeptical of any such moves. I'm not wildly optimistic about the outcome but I don't think India has gotten much out of its current stance so it represents a reasonable strategic adjustment. I find it impossible to imagine a serious deal over either Afghanistan or Kashmir, but keeping tensions low and hopefully reducing the likelihood of further attacks is extremely valuable on its own terms.

Something else that I think we need to keep in mind is the Indian domestic political context. This UPA government is much stronger domestically since the 2009 general election, and no longer has to worry about knife-edge coalitions and votes of confidence. Manmohan Singh has consistently favored engagement with Pakistan and is in a better position to do so, especially since I imagine this initiative has the support of Sonia Gandhi. BJP attempts to hurt Congress on the terrorism issue failed both in state elections and then the general, so there is less domestic vulnerability. The BJP is dealing with its own organizational problems and so the UPA can move forward: if talks have some success it can take credit; if they fail, it will be able to say "look, we tried but the Pakistanis are being unreasonable" without fearing a coordinated and electorally-salient BJP onslaught unless there is another 26/11. Pointing to Vajpayee's past efforts gives the Congress cover for diplomatic engagement. And of course, assuming no further 26/11s, the vast majority of Indian politicians care *far* more about local battles for power and patronage than they do about grand strategy.

If there is another major attack, though, all bets are off and we enter a dangerous realm. An escalation of militant rhetoric or violence in J&K will also be bad for further dialogue. The recent meeting and statements by the United Jihad Council, Hamid Gul, and crew in Muzaffarabad will certainly raise hackles in Delhi, especially but certainly not exclusively among Indian hawks. Conversely, the Indian response to the mass protests of the last 2 years has been deeply unsatisfactory from the perspective of Pakistan. The politics of Indian-administered J&K are a mess right now, and Kashmir always has the power to surprise.

Vipin: Paul's point about domestic politics is spot-on. This renewed effort on the Indian side comes on the heels of Shiv Shankar Menon's appointment as the new National Security Advisor, giving Manmohan Singh a lot of diplomatic talent within the PMO that, in my view, is a major consolidation of Indian diplomacy into the PMO away from MEA. Given that Menon was Rao's predecessor, this whole initiative could be run from the PMO but with enough plausible deniability and firewalls if things don't go well.

Ahsan: "United Jihad Council" sounds like such a sanitized institution -- like the Rotary Club or something.

Let's turn the original question on its head then. Both of you seem to agree that diplomacy between India and Pakistan is relatively cost-free, and holds potential benefits for India. That's fair enough.

But what could Pakistan possibly gain from talks that, let's face it, aren't actually going to accomplish anything? The last time Pakistan wrought a significant concession from India on the negotiating table that actually stuck was...never. Moreover, there is the inherent risk of a military-civilian split on the issue -- the only time there was progress on a detente between India and Pakistan was under Musharraf, when he didn't have to worry about the military outflanking him. Any time civilians in Pakistan try to change the tenor of relations with India, they have their knees cut off by the military.

I guess my point would be that there is no sound strategic reason to talk to India at present, and plenty of risk, both domestically and internationally. Even the leverage that, as both of you intimate, Pakistan has at present -- that of being a prime player in Afghanistan's transition -- is slight: the U.S. doesn't trust Pakistan, India doesn't trust Pakistan, and Karzai sure as hell doesn't trust Pakistan, so Pakistan's role in the Afghanistan transition will be necessarily more limited than it was in the 1990s. In addition, India has expended a great amount of resources in trying to assure that we don't have a repeat of the 1990s, in that it has tried to embed itself in Afghanistan in ways that it hadn't previously, and have a serious presence there.

Assuming, then, that Pakistan's leverage with India vis-a-vis Afghanistan is limited, what can they possibly get out of talking? In terms of substance?

Is it simply the case that they don't want to look bad refusing an offer to have a chat, after having begged to talk for so long?

Paul: Well I think I'd start by questioning the assumption that Pakistan has only "slight" leverage in Afghanistan relative to India. India has put resources into Afghanistan, no doubt, but it lacks reliable(as opposed to sporadic and opportunistic) armed patrons, an indigenous co-ethnic population, or a serious foreign intelligence wing devoted to this kind of thing. IK Gujral killed off quite a bit of RAW's overseas operations capability in the late 1990s and I haven't seen much evidence that it has been re-built; RAW is a comparatively quite small organization with a checkered history at this kind of thing (1980s Sri Lanka for instance).

Whereas Pakistan has a huge intelligence apparatus that has operated extensively in-country, a long shared border, and historical ties to a variety of armed/political actors among the ethnic plurality group. So Pakistan has vastly more power in Afghanistan than India and my sense is that the Indians certainly see it that way. I think that's reflected in the renewed Indian offer against the backdrop of the London conference on Afghanistan. No one is lying awake at night worried about Delhi veto-ing an Afghanistan settlement, because no one thinks India can or will. But ask yourself the same question about Pakistan and you get a very different answer.

What can Pakistan get out of talking? As we've both said, probably not a ton. With the crucial caveat that I know the Indian perspective on all of this far better than the Pakistani perspective, there do seem to be some possible reasons. First, it would be pretty hard to explain if Pakistan turns down a dialogue after demanding its return. It would really sink Pakistani credibility with a lot of people in India and I suspect the US. Being willing to talk at least reduces the vulnerability to accusation and diplomatic pressure if another possible crisis erupts. The strongest (and most negative) signal to everyone else comes from Pakistani unwillingness to reciprocate. Whether you like it or not, Delhi views Islamabad with the deepest suspicion and a refusal to accept dialogue will be seen as stone-walling, obfuscation, and foot-dragging.

Second, while your point about the military is well taken, there is also the danger of the military growing stronger because of a siege environment in the face of a threatening, unresponsive India. It may be a damned-if-you, damned-if-you-don't scenario. Now isn't a particularly good time, but I'm not sure when a particularly good time will present itself. If there is a supportive international environment there may be more domestic room to maneuver, especially given the favorable turn in Afghan policy for Pakistan and if the Indian offer is portrayed as a Pakistani victory ("The Indians tried to isolate us, but we've forced them to talk").

Finally, Pakistani policy traditionally likes to internationalize Kashmir. If a dialogue occurs, you can bet Pakistan will at least raise the Kashmir issue and make sure that everyone knows about it. For better or worse, it allows Pakistan to keep the dispute in the public eye.

Now, will a comprehensive water, Kashmir, and Afghanistan deal realistically be struck? It's wildly unlikely. But I don't see what Pakistan loses from being willing to talk: it gets some credit and credibility, might be able to show civilian leadership with international support, and can keep the Kashmir issue alive, all against the background of having what I think is considerable leverage in Afghanistan. And who knows, there is a chance you could get some movement on something lower-level, whether it's cross-LOC trade or confidence-building in Afghanistan or further talks on water.

Vipin: I have little to add to Paul's response--I think it is largely on the mark. India does not have the assets or capability in Afghanistan to challenge Pakistan's influence. India's infrastructure projects might have generated a lot of goodwill with Afghans, but that goodwill may not be very effective when met by the business end of a Kalashnikov. Importantly, I think this perception of India's strategic disadvantage in Afghanistan is largely held by India's strategic elites. As a result, the Indian gesture and SM Krishna's revision of Indian posture on potentially negotiating with the Taliban actually smacks of desperation at this point. Indeed, Pakistan has a lot of incentive to at least entertain the possibility of negotiating with an India that approached *it* and which is desperate to not be frozen out of the unfolding Afghanistan-Pakistan security architecture. As Paul noted, Pakistan can shoot the moon and test just how desperate India is and attempt to link a whole host of issues to India's interests and role in Afghanistan. In fact, given the way the offer as unfolded, I would fully expect Pakistan to attempt to make this effort as close to the composite dialogue as possible and, if and (likely) when India refuses, it can accuse India of being unwilling to negotiate in good faith, thereby deflecting some of the international flak Pakistan gets for half-hearted measures to stem cross-border terrorism. So there may actually be much to be gained by Pakistan strategically by being initially receptive to India's gesture. Unfortunately, that gain might come by ultimately balking at the talks, so I'm pessimistic that much substantive progress will be made.

Ahsan: Let's talk about what "substantive progress" would actually look like, even if we're highly unlikely to reach it. My own view on this is that Kashmir (for Pakistan) and terrorism (for India) are no longer the stickiest issues between the two states. I say this because, as Steve Coll and others have documented, Pakistan and India weren't actually that far off from a permanent settlement on Kashmir -- making the Line of Control a "permanent but irrelevant" border, free exchange of people and goods, joint security management, and so on. Only Musharraf's domestic troubles in 2007 and 2008 prevented a deal. Similar almost-agreements were reached by the governments of Nawaz Sharif and Vajpayee, according to Owen Bennet Jones' book, before Kargil laid waste to those opportunities. I actually think a deal on Kashmir could be struck with two years of talks, which is a nanosecond in international diplomacy terms.

Similarly, these may be famous last words, but the type and form of support given by Pakistan to anti-Indian militant networks in the 1980s and 1990s is not forthcoming today. The trajectory of the relationship is away from cooperation and toward confrontation -- even if the actual measures taken are unsatisfactory to India, the long term trend is unmistakable.

My view is that the stickiest issue is now water. Am I wrong?

Vipin: This is not my area of expertise, so with that caveat: I actually still think Kashmir (for Pakistan) and cross-border terrorism (for India) are still the stickiest issues in practice, not because we don’t know what the broad contours of the deals might look like, but primarily because there are too many domestic stakeholders in both countries that have incentives to violently undermine a deal on Kashmir, and enough motivated armed actors that make it extremely difficult for Pakistan to act against erstwhile and present-day organizations that may still be viewed by some powerful parts of the Army and ISI as strategic assets of the state against India (e.g. LeT, JeM, LeJ etc). Even if the level of support for the anti-Indian militant networks isn’t as forthcoming as in previous decades, these organizations are still operating with some level of complicity from the Pakistani state (i.e. the state is either unwilling or unable to put them completely out of business).

Indeed, the reasons you cite for the breakdown of the so-called ‘backchannel negotiations’ and their very nature (highly secretive, no paper trail, etc) suggest that domestic opposition in both countries to a deal that both sides rationally recognize as the optimal solution to Kashmir is still strong enough to derail a permanent solution. On Kashmir for example, converting the LoC to an international border is clearly the sensible solution, but it would undermine Pakistan’s rationale for supporting Kashmiri Muslims for the past 60 years, and convincing the (sometimes very violent) organizations that have been battling the Indian state in Jammu and Kashmir that they should suddenly lay down their arms because their cause is no longer worthy may prove difficult and potentially extremely destabilizing for Pakistan. Furthermore, the Kashmir dispute is always a potential diversionary safety valve for an embattled Pakistani government, one whose resolution could redirect the ire of these militant groups back at the state itself. So it is not that the solution to Kashmir and cross-border terrorism is unknown, it is that it is­for domestic political reasons in both countries, but probably primarily in Pakistan­impossible to enforce without risking serious destabilization and internal violence. And, oh yeah, water rights/diversion is also a sticky issue….

It is a very good question, however, what “substantive progress” in talks would mean in practice. To my mind, the usual baby steps of re-establishing cross border flow of goods and people, normalizing relations, military-military contacts are substantive progress, if only because if there is a cross-border terrorist attack or an uptick in violence in Jammu and Kashmir, the risk of a major militarized crisis will be lower. But substantive progress on the big two, Kashmir and cross-border terrorism, will obviously be hard to achieve so long as there are enough spoilers­some deliberately cultivated by the state, at least in the past­in both countries that are willing to risk an extreme amount of violence to undermine the solutions that both sides have come so close to recently endorsing.

Ahsan: Strongly disagree with your first two paragraphs there, Vipin. Let me explain why.

On the dynamics of domestic politics and a prospective settlement on Kashmir, there's a bunch of issues you've raised, so let's deal with them one by one.

First, the claim is that because the back-channel talks were conducted in secret, we have evidence that there is strong domestic opposition -- domestic opposition with veto power, that is -- in both countries to any deal. I don't buy the causal logic there. I'm not an expert on Indian politics, so let me just talk about the Pakistani side.

My view is that Pakistan's body politic is ready for a deal on Kashmir. The military, if it is allowed to think that it is running the show, has shown to be behind it (Musharraf's time proved this). The two biggest political parties -- the only ones with a snowball's chance in hell of being the dominant partner in any ruling coalition -- are the PPP and the PML(N), and both would be open to a deal. The PPP is the most pro-India mainstream party in Pakistan, and the PML(N) might be right of center and increasingly nationalist, but it doesn't have a problem with India. There are other parties, such as the ANP (major Pashtun nationalist party in the NWFP) and the MQM (whose leader once called partition the "biggest mistake in history") who would rally behind a deal too. Really, across the spectrum, I think if a relatively fair deal is to be found, you'd find support. Civil society would be behind it. The new nationalist media, and the urban middle classes, might be a problem, but that's what Aman ki Asha is for, right? In all seriousness, I don't think selling a deal on Kashmir to a broad spectrum of Pakistani political society would be that difficult. It has to be done right, with a degree of adroitness, but it's not impossible -- not by any stretch.

The second point is the raison d'etre issue: that because Pakistan's foreign policy vis-a-vis India has been defined almost solely in terms of getting something more than the conversion of the LoC into the border, that it won't accept the conversion as a satisfactory outcome. I think this is wrong, for reasons I outlined above (and the NATO/collapse of the Soviet Union case shows that sometimes the raison d'etre logic is overblown). However, this still leaves the very sticky point of the actual organizations who have been instruments of state policy. How will they respond?

Well, as you mention, probably not too well, one would imagine. If there is a deal to be made between India and Pakistan, then yes, it goes without saying that these organizations would do all they can to bury it. But that doesn't mean that they exercise veto power over state policy. They can make it very difficult, to be sure, but they don't control the state. The war against the TTP and their local affiliates over the last few years is evidence for that.

The third issue you claim is that "embattled" Pakistani governments can make Kashmir an issue to ward off domestic opposition. Two problems with this. One, I don't know the last embattled government in Pakistan -- a redundant term if I ever heard one -- to have made Kashmir or India an issue in an effort to hang on; Zulfi Bhutto might be the last one, to be honest, and even then I'm not sure. The bogeymen raised by embattled governments in Pakistan tend to be within the state, not without. Two, it wouldn't work.

In sum, I would argue that in the process of making a deal -- were one to be made -- you would see the big players on one side of the equation and the militant organizations on the other. Pretty similar to the FATA/NWFP experience in the last three years, if you want to think about it that way. The question then becomes, obviously, whether Pakistan has the stomach for another fight. That's a question I don't have an answer for. Or maybe I'm too afraid of saying the answer out loud.


Paul: A fight - I like it!

Water will definitely be a major issue, but I disagree with you Ahsan because I think there are more opportunities for credible international arbitration than with Kashmir or terrorism. While Pakistan has not been enamored of the World Bank's take on the issue in past, it seems to be still be interested in WB participation and this strikes me as an area where international organizations and third parties can help to craft a plausible technocratic solution. Money and water can change hands in ways that leave both sides only mildly discontent - which is a pretty great outcome considering the history of the region!

So that does leave Kashmir and terrorism as the biggest issues. I have huge respect for Steve Coll and hope he is right about how close the two governments came. I don't disagree that India and Pakistan *could* come up with a reasonable agreement over Kashmir if they put their minds to it. But that's been true for a long time. A mix of electoral incentives, bureaucratic/security pushback, and simple lack of focused attention (in favor of elections, domestic initiatives, etc) have kept the bargain from being sealed. I would love to see that situation be solved but given the track record I'd need to know why this will be the time. Right now the Indian security establishment sees some of the recent attacks in Kashmir as signs of continuing ISI support for militancy, and has become obsessed with even simple rock-throwing and mass protests as "agitational terrorism"; there is a clear sense that J&K is on the boil and that it needs to be "normalized" (a rhetorical staple of counterinsurgent governments the world over) before anything further happens. JuD and the Hizbul Mujahideen using Kashmir Day to demand more militant flexing of muscles is being seen as Pakistan once again playing games with manipulating militancy.

So on the Indian elite side, who knows what the actual level of interest in cutting a deal now is; policy towards Kashmir has been disjointed, often counterproductive, heavy-handed, and at the higher levels almost apathetic the last couple of years ("Send in the CRPF to stop the riots, and then stop bothering me about the damn place"). The two major Kashmir Valley parties, NC and PDP, are at each others' throats rather than presenting a united front. Unless all the variables line up just right, India appears perfectly willing to continue taking consistent but low-level costs in Indian-administered Kashmir; it seems to be almost built into future calculations that there will be future unrest and so after the hand-wringing articles in Outlook when protests flare, nothing actually changes.

On the Pakistani side, I am made hopeful by your interpretation. But I think you need to take a closer look at how Benazir in her first term relied on the Kashmir card (a thousand years of war, anyone?) to try to hold off the Army. Her husband just talked about a 100-year ideological war over Kashmir. And these are the peaceniks. Maybe it's cheap talk but it's not exactly the opposite of diversion and hawkishness-for-domestic-politics'-sake. Now on to the various militants and militias. I have no great insights here beyond interviews and press reports, but my sense is that the security establishment has cracked down pretty hard over the last few years on most of the Deobandi militants (Jaish, LeJ, HuM, and their various splinters). Yet there are still curiosities like members of the "good" Jaish (Maulana Masood Azhar and some of his post-split loyalists) throwing huge rallies and maintaining presence in Bahawalpur (at least according to Ayesha Siddiqa). Journalists based in Pakistan have told me that significant parts of South Punjab see fairly close collusion between local police and bits and pieces of the Deobandi militant milieu. And these guys keep showing up in Indian-administered J&K. If lunatic RSS members started rolling into Sindh aiming to mix it up with the Pakistani security forces, you'd wonder more than a bit whether the Indian state was actually trying to keep them out or not. Pakistan has certainly reduced infiltration since 2003, and clearly reined in the Hizb, but foreign journalists and scholars are massively discouraged from wandering up to Muzaffarabad, infiltration continues across the highly-militarized LOC, and one wonders why.

And then there is the vexed question of the Lashkar. Which was the 64 bazillion rs. question when I was in the Delhi over the summer among the Indians, and floating around in the heads of the Americans too. I don't have an answer, but Ahsan do you see activities against LeT/JuD nearly as far-reaching as when Nawaz Sharif decided that the sectarian militias had outlived their usefulness? Or when the Army launched Operation Clean-up in Karachi, or (in an obviously different way) went after PPP activists in 1977-8? If press reports are right, the organization has had a few members locked up but otherwise is still fund-raising and recruiting away. Now, many very reasonable Pakistanis say "look, we're doing what we can in a very tough environment." But the historical legacy (and thus responsibility) remain in the eyes of international interlocutors. Sri Lankan Sinhalese still distrust India in part because of its support for Tamil militant groups over two decades ago. So the argument that (to mix bizarre metaphors) Pakistan's hand is mostly now out of the cookie jar doesn't solve the fact that a lot of cookies are missing (and if I wanted to push this further somehow, that said cookies have themselves spawned a new generation of heavily-armed paramilitary brownies. I'll stop now.).

I could be wildly mistaken about all of this, but while I think you are partially right on the crackdown, I also think you are partially wrong. It's not an either/or question (does Pakistan support militant groups?) but instead continuous - how much is Pakistan supporting militant groups? Less than before, which is good, but still to some extent, which leaves it as an open question and a sticky issue. My default on South Asia is that Kashmir and everything that goes with it are the major issues. Hopefully some day that will change, but it seems like the status quo is the safe bet right now.

Ahsan: Cookies and I'm hungry.

Let me clarify a couple of my points before we move on to something else. First, I am not arguing that there is a serious chance of progress on any of these issues at present. My point was only that should the two governments embark on a serious process of "solving" Kashmir, that (a) they can do it (because it's almost been done before), and (b) the domestic-politics-will-cut-it-
from-underneath argument is wrong because the preferences of the actors don't point that way.

Second, yes, the anti-Indian groups have absolutely been given more leeway and freedom to operate than the sectarian/Western-border-oriented ones. The terrorism issue is complicated and much remains to be done, obviously, but I do believe it' tackle-able IF AND ONLY IF the right things fall into place in an Afghanistan settlement. The road to Muzaffarabad might go through Kabul. It's obviously unlikely, but it's possible. What if the three (US, Ind, Pak) reach some sort of grand bargain on Afghanistan where the US promises to get out of the region if and only if Pakistan gets this idiotic strategic depth thing in Afghanistan if and only if India gets what it wants vis-a-vis Pakistan clamping down on anti-Indian groups the same way it has clamped down on others? By contrast, on water, my belief is that because it's a tangible resource (unlike, say, "influence in Afghanistan"), and because it's not going to be there forever (given climate change and the populations of the two countries) and because third-party arbitration will only go as far as the two parties let it, I think we're in for real trouble there. In short, it's possible (at least for me) to conceive of a way forward on Kashmir and terrorism, but it's not possible to conceive of a way forward on water.

Anyway, let's move on. I want to get both of your views on something I wrote about a few days ago, namely the Kayani sermon on strategic depth and the Indian "threat". My point was that "strategic depth" could be sold as a defensive and security-seeking strategy in a pre-nuclear era, because India's conventional forces dwarf Pakistan's.

But we're obviously no longer in a pre-nuclear age. What threat, exactly, does India pose to Pakistan if the latter has about 100 nuclear weapons? Why hasn't Pakistan's geopolitical thinking changed from the time it didn't have a viable nuclear capability to now? I see a few possibilities:

1. "Strategic depth" was never purely or even primarily defensive, it was about throwing one's weight around in a manner one of our readers called "imperialist" but I will call "offensive realist".

2. This whole "Cold Start" thing has gotten the Pakistan GHQ really, really spooked. Vipin, if you feel the need to plug your own research, please go ahead!

3. Organizations' preferences and actions are not perfectly calibrated to reflect changing realities on the ground. The Pakistan military is stuck in one way of doing things, irrespective of actual capabilities. In essence, it's the Barnett and Finnemore story.

4. Other (feel free to fill in the blanks here).

So which is it? Why is Pakistan behaving exactly the same way as it did before nuclear deterrence took hold? Why does it feel the need to have a presence in Afghanistan to ward off the Indian threat when its nuclear weapons were purportedly developed to ward off the Indian threat?

Vipin: Ahsan, the issue of Pakistani strategic depth in Afghanistan is an excellent million dollar question, one to which I unfortunately don’t even have a five dollar (or five rupee as it were) answer. Even in the non-nuclear age, it is difficult to understand how the Pakistan Army envisioned Afghanistan as a source of strategic depth. Was the Pakistan Army really going to use Afghan territory as operational *retreat space* in the event it was overrun by the Indian Army? How would that have worked exactly given the terrain over which they would have to retreat (and to where? the Southeast of Afghanistan?), regroup, and then attempt to go on the counteroffensive once, presumably, the Indian military had secured its rear and occupied the bulk of Pakistan’s population centers in Punjab and Sindh? I find that scenario difficult to believe. And in the nuclear age, it is patently absurd for the reasons you suggest; and even referring to Afghanistan as potential retreat space undermines the credibility of Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent (since it suggests that the Pakistan Army would retreat first rather than use nuclear weapons on advancing Indian ground forces).

The only plausible interpretation of “strategic depth” in my view is an Afghanistan that is politically closer to Pakistan than to India, so that Pakistan does not face the threat of political or military encirclement. Politically, a reasonable concern might be Indian efforts to destabilize Baluchistan from Afghanistan (but as Paul noted, RAW’s operational capability to do so has been severely curtailed since the Gujral Doctrine), or perhaps stoking the creation of an independent Pashtun nation. Militarily though, it really can’t be that the Pakistan Army is afraid of a two-front war, with the ANA attacking its rear while Indian forces engaged them in the East. That has to be a joke, since Afghan forces never have, and likely never will, have modern offensive warfare capabilities, certainly nothing on the scale that an extremely professional and well-equipped Pakistan Army would have to worry about. The one scenario that an extremely paranoid Pakistan military planner might consider is actual Indian forces being deployed in an India-friendly Afghanistan and imposing a two-front war on Pakistan with Indian frontline forces. But, there is no evidence to suggest that India has that kind of power projection or could operate in the Afghan terrain against Pakistani forces, even with its mountain divisions. That fear might have been more acute during the non-nuclear period, but given Pakistan’s relatively robust nuclear deterrent against an Indian ground threat from the East, it is difficult to conceive of this as a realistic threat to Pakistan now.

Since you brought it up, Cold Start is understandably spooking the Pakistan GHQ. For those readers unfamiliar with the Cold Start concept, it was designed after the 2001-2002 Operation Parakram crisis in order to impart India’s military surprise limited war options against Pakistan below the nuclear threshold (i.e. achieving objectives that don’t pose an existential threat to the Pakistani state). In order to achieve this capability, the Indian military hopes to break up its three massive Strike Corps into eight integrated battle groups (IBGs) which have significant maneuver and offensive capability, deployed closer to the international border to reduce mobilization times so that they can initiate offensive operations from a ‘cold start.’ This concept is far from being operationalized but, as I’ve written elsewhere, my own view is that this is an
extremely strategically destabilizing concept for several reasons.

First, it seems to have been developed in a strategic vacuum in an attempt to solve the following dilemmas: how could India execute limited war options under the nuclear threshold and avoid the long mobilization times of Operation Parakram which, in the Indian military’s view, enabled Pakistan to countermobilize and the international community to pressure both countries and gave India’s Hamlet-like political leadership too much time to deliberate and ultimately balk at authorizing Strike Corps offensives? Their solution was to consider breaking up the Strike Corps and predeploying the IBGs closer to the international border to reduce mobilization time from about 2 weeks to roughly 2-3 days. But it seems to have been conceived like one-man chess, without considering what Pakistan’s strategic revisions might be in response. Clearly, Pakistan would have to think about what changes would be required at the conventional and nuclear levels to deter potential surprise Indian offensives. Conventionally, that would likely mean placing Pakistan’s air defenses and interceptor forces at higher levels of readiness, and perhaps fortifying the international border itself with corps level forces.

At the nuclear level, Pakistan presently has a time buffer to operationalize its demated (but proximately deployed) nuclear forces as a crisis unfolds. That demated posture is presently Pakistan’s most robust safety feature and allows the SPD to defend nuclear assets in highly secure and (mostly) secret locations. But in a de facto continuous crisis environment in which India has the capability to execute offensive operations with little warning, that time buffer would get compressed. In the worst case, one can imagine Pakistan military planners abandoning its demated stewardship procedure and deploying nuclear weapons on aircraft and mating them with short-range ballistic missiles so that, in the event that they are caught by surprise by an Indian conventional assault, its nuclear deterrent would still be usable and thus credible against
Indian IBGs. This would likely entail predelegating both nuclear assets and authority to lower-level commanders who would have the physical ability to use nuclear weapons if they deem it necessary (Brig. Gen (Retd) Feroz Hassan Khan has done some excellent work on this subject). Securing a nuclear arsenal at this higher state of readiness would be more difficult, and the risk of theft and unauthorized or accidental nuclear use would increase sharply.

Second, in practice, the Cold Start concept combined with the inevitable fog of war could increase the chance of uncontrollable escalation, perhaps past the nuclear threshold. In India, the ability imparted by Cold Start to execute surprise offensives will place a lot of pressure on civil-military organs following a crisis, since the logic of military mobilization may outpace political deliberation, forcing the political leadership to authorize offensives without full consideration of the strategic alternatives and ceding escalation control to the military. Furthermore, the whole concept rests on the Indian military’s confidence that it knows precisely where Pakistan’s red-lines lie and that it can carefully calibrate its operations such that those lines are not crossed. If either of those conditions are not met, then India could trigger a conflict that might quickly escalate to Pakistani nuclear use against Indian forces operating on Pakistani territory. What the Indian military defines as “limited objectives” may not be perceived as “limited” by the Pakistan Army which might fear an existential threat to both it and the population centers in Punjab and Sindh (for Pakistan, given how close most of its strategic centers are to the Indian border, there is probably no meaningful distinction between limited and total war except perhaps around the LoC). This is a particularly acute problem since even the Indian military has ruled out limited strikes in the past (in the first phase of Parakram and after the Mumbai attacks) as militarily futile; thus for Indian offensives to achieve any meaningful objectives they would necessarily have to engage Pakistani ground forces and seize some significant piece of territory (presumably as a bargaining chip). To the Pakistan Army, those may go beyond limited objectives and appear dangerously close to an existential threat—particular if it is uncertain where Indian offensives intend to halt—thereby potentially crossing the threshold where Pakistan’s nuclear weapons might be used (either authorized by the NCA or by a Corps commander who, because he could not reach the NCA, and finding himself in a potentially ‘use it or lose it’ scenario decided to take matters into his own hands).

I’ve gone on too long about this and digressed somewhat from the original question, since I don’t think Cold Start generates any additional need for strategic depth in Afghanistan. Rather, it is destabilizing for a whole host of other reasons…

Paul: The only conventional/nuclear-linked strategic depth scenario I've ever heard seriously advanced (second hand from Rawalpindi to a journalist to me in 2008 or 2009) is that somehow Afghanistan can be used for airfields. So I guess the idea is to get away from Indian strikes on bases and thus to keep the PAF in the air. However, where said airfields will come from and how they will be equipped and staffed remains up in the air (as it were!) in epically bizarre ways. So unless the PAF is going to start relocating en masse to scenic Bagram, there's no remotely plausible conventional/nuclear depth that Afghanistan secures.

That said, I think it's pretty unsurprising in broader political terms: Pakistan is worried that Afghanistan may foster Pashtun nationalism, may provide staging for Indian/Russian/American/Iranian intelligence and military forces that could surveil and occasionally do nasty things inside Pakistan, may restrict access to energy and Central Asian markets, may stop the Fauji Foundation from becoming Mazar-i-Sharif's dominant breakfast cereal provider, etc etc. That's your offensive realist story, and there's probably a compelling if partial organizational story in which past capabilities and roles are oriented towards this policy and thus making it more likely.

This is Great Game stuff, and it's not so different from India keeping a very very close eye on its neighbors, or the Russians being pushy in the near abroad. Which means it's unfortunate but not so shocking. India wants Afghanistan open to it for trade, access to Central Asian markets, a hedge against the Taliban returning with their training camps for Kashmir-oriented militants, and to stop the Pakistanis from getting what they want. And India is definitely worried about a resurgence of Pakistani power in AFG. So the Northern Alliance will start to get more Indian attention and support.

An ideal Afghanistan solution would allow India to continue trade and development work without being attacked, would alleviate Pakistan's concerns about the much-vaunted "Indian consulates" and Indian intelligence ops, and would pull some of the Taliban into power-sharing without turning the place back over to Mullah Omar. Who knows whether that will happen, but it's not a
surprise to me in the least that Pakistan takes a keen interest in Afghanistan.

Now what does that say about nukes? Vipin does that side of things so I'll let him take it away. But just because nukes do secure core strategic interests doesn't mean that Pakistan doesn't have other strategic interests that *aren't* settled by nukes. Now, some of these interests may be unreasonable or unnecessary, but if we learned anything from the Cold War it's that secure
nuclear arsenals don't stop countries from getting in nasty wars on the periphery. The Soviets and Americans mixed it up all over the place, even as defensive realists were arguing that the Third World didn't matter and that finite containment was the most rational strategy. No one was listening. And so while it would great to de-militarize Afghanistan, I can't imagine that happening and instead think the best we can hope for is a tenuous but enduring "ugly stability" (to borrow a phrase from a different South Asian strategic context) in which there isn't too much open warfare.

Ahsan: Paul, you win the coveted "Line of the conversation" award with the Fauji Foundation-cereal line. Kudos. Your t-shirt is on its way.

A reader of ours raised the same issue you did: that the US and Soviet Union still got their hands dirty all over the place, and so nuclear weapons are not necessarily an impediment to power competition. My rejoinder would be: that's the US and Soviet Union! Two superpowers hell bent on, literally, world domination.

But according to Pakistani strategic thinkers, we're just a poor vulnerable country, minding our own business, and this is defensive, and meant as a buffer against Indian threats. So my point would be: fine, if you want to treat Afghanistan as a playground for your little strategic adventures, go ahead. Be my guest. But at least be honest about it. Don't say "India threatens us, so we need to mess around in Afghanistan." Just say "we want to be a dominant regional player, we're not satisfied with our external security essentially being guaranteed, and we want more."

In other words, be more explicit about having regional-dominance aims rather than security aims. And then allow an honest conversation in the country about how that strategy has worked out so far. Give or take, about 10,000 Pakistanis have died in the last four or five years, as part of them cleaning up their last mess. 10,000! So let's just be open about the costs, open about the benefits, and have a conversation. The current stance is just plain disingenuous.

By the way, have you guys noticed that we haven't once used the word "China" in this entire conversation? Not once. And I don't think we're alone here. Very few people actually pay attention to China, for some odd reason. It's the second most powerful country in the world, and no one seems to give a damn. Okay, maybe some Indians give a damn. But generally speaking, we don't hear nearly enough about China.

With that in mind, what role do you foresee for China in the region in the next five to ten years? How, if at all, are they going to leave their imprint on a "solution" in Afghanistan? What is the trajectory of their relationship with India? And when are they going to abandon all pretenses and just declare Pakistan its 24th province (my understanding is Taiwan is the 23rd)? Hell, they already have a presence in the country that, were they American, would lead to 4 different revolutions in the country.

I went to the north of the country three years ago with a friend and his dad. Let me tell you, the Chinese are everywhere. They're building all the bridges. They're drilling all the holes in the mountains. They're laying all the roads. Hell, we've practically handed over Gwadar to them (if it was ever ours to hand over in the first place, that is). Personally, I don't really mind. Sovereignty is overrated anyway.

Paul: You're right about honesty. Pakistan seems to want to have it both ways: to be considered a major player who wants to have clout and influence, but without having to publicly face up to what that actually involves in terms of blood and treasure.

I'm the wrong guy to ask about China, but my two cents are that the PRC will increasingly occupy Indian conventional forces' attention along the northern and especially eastern borders. Hard to say anything with confidence about the future of Indo-Chinese relations: probably continued tensions popping up recurrently alongside inexorably increasing trade. Hard to imagine a serious war given the local terrain and theater conventional balance but border clashes
are within the realm of imagination. I wish the Chinese were building India's roads! I'd probably have fewer broken ribs if they were.

PRC will pump money into Pakistan like it is in Sri Lanka (where Hambantota is vaguely like Gwadar, though far less military) but frankly I don't know if Pakistan should take much comfort from China as an all-weather friend. The Chinese haven't shown any willingness to incur significant costs in order to help out Pakistan. It's really nice to have around, but not a strategic bulwark when things hit the fan. I just don't know enough about China to authoritatively talk about its motivations (economic, military, political) for expanding influence in South and Central Asia and what might alter the trajectory of that involvement. I don't hear much about China in Afghanistan either, but I'm sure it is interested in what is going on.

I will take this opportunity to lament the lack of regional cross-fertilization between South and East Asia. India has a really weak China expertise and my sense is that Pakistan isn't any better, while China doesn't seem to produce scholars or analysts of India in any great numbers. American academics aren't much help, since area studies centers and regional training tends to follow fairly strict South/Southeast/East Asia contours: which makes a lot of sense but also limits valuable comparisons. The US is a place where more of this should be happening.

Ahsan: Yeah, I don't know a single person who would qualify as both a China and South Asia expert, unless Vipin knocks my socks off with his response.

I agree with you on the China's-friendship-with-Pakistan-being-overblown thing. They've never helped Pakistan in any war. Even less ambitiously, they never helped Pakistan in times of economic or financial crisis. When Zardari went on his begging bowl tour in 2008 to obviate taking tough IMF loans, both of Pakistan's closest "friends" -- China and Saudi Arabia -- screened their calls and pretended to be not home, forcing an IMF bailout. China plays Pakistan better than anyone else out there -- they get a fair amount of access, without giving much (other than a few military hardware toys...oh, and the nuclear thingy, right).

Pakistan's relationship with China is like being married to Marge Simpson: they're super dependable, but honestly, other than forgiving your inanity on a regular basis, it's not clear what they really get you. On the other hand, the relationship with the U.S. is like going out with a batshit crazy chick on heroin, who happens to be very hot and great in bed: the good times are great (but short-lived in the larger scheme of things) but the bad times are really bad. It's also not clear if breaking up is better than staying in the relationship. Pakistanis who hated the Kerry-Lugar bill should really ask themselves if they preferred the Pressler sanctions instead.

But yeah, back to China. Vipin?

Vipin: I’m pretty sure this isn’t going to knock anyone’s socks off. On the Afghanistan strategic depth question, I fully agree—the lack of a military rationale suggests that the motivation for strategic depth in Afghanistan rests entirely on a political appetite for greater regional influence at the expense of India and Iran.

With respect to China, as far as some Indian analysts are concerned, the roots of all problems in the world lie with the (Chinese trained and supplied) ISI. Snowstorm in DC? Must be the (Chinese trained) ISI. Uber paranoia aside, clearly the China-Pakistan still figures as a significant concern for Indian military planners. On the Northeastern front, Arunachal has heated up recently with the deployment of several Su-30MKI squadrons to airfields in theater (aka nice targets of opportunity for China), and India has emphasized a ‘new’ two-front war doctrine which envisions offensive operations against Pakistan and holding operations around the LaC and around Aksai Chin (though there doesn’t seem to be anything ‘new’ about it, since this has been the aim since 1962, even if the capability didn’t exist). It’s true that China has never helped Pakistan in a war, but there are some prominent strategic analysts with whom I’ve spoke in Delhi that do believe (whether rightly or wrongly) that China was only deterred from intervening against India in the 1971 war by a (vague) Soviet threat to assist India. But a coordinated two-front war does seem somewhat fantastical at this point (there is no 'jointness' to speak of).

The bigger concern from the Indian perspective might be China’s continued proliferation of nuclear weapons technology to Pakistan—-now I know Marge Simpson’s hair is blue but she’s probably not giving Homer nukes. In the 1980s it was allegedly the transfer of full blueprints for a missile-mateable HEU warhead (the so-called CHIC-4 design) and potentially 50kg of actual weapons grade uranium. Now it is the development of the four CHASNUPP nuclear reactors and associated reprocessing facilities being built with Chinese assistance, which will give Pakistan an increasingly powerful plutonium production capability. The significance of this shift for the nuclear balance is that Pakistan will then be able to develop warheads with greater yield-to-weight ratios, making the ballistic missile arm of its nuclear arsenal more powerful and potentially enabling the development of lighter tactical nuclear options. But this is all part of a continuous nuclear relationship that is pretty unique and, slightly disagreeing with Paul, could be costly for China though so far it hasn’t been.

There is nothing new or perplexing about this balancing relationship and though China has an incentive to continue to use Pakistan as a proxy against India, it benefits from the firewalls and plausible deniability so that the US and India don’t hold it responsible if, e.g. Pakistan ever lost any nuclear material and it were god forbid used against either country. So the present form of the China-Pakistani relationship seems optimal for both countries.

Ahsan: On that note, gentlemen, let me thank you for allowing me ruin your weekend. This has been a lot of fun and very enlightening. Hopefully our readers will feel the same way. Thanks again.

For those interested, I have had such email conversations before. Click here for my conversation with Cricinfo Pakistan editor Osman Samiuddin, here for my conversation with Dawn editorial writer and op-ed columnist Cyril Almeida, here for the one with political economist and The News columnist Mosharraf Zaidi, here for one with a Wall Streeter in the aftermath of the financial crisis, and here for one with an Indian foreign affairs blogger after the Mumbai attacks of 2008.