Politics / 28.12.2013

By Ibn-e Eusuf A month before the elections in Delhi, Congress, by its own admission, did not even have AAP on its radar, which suggests that the former must still be in a deep sense of shock. So must the other political parties since all had been equally blindsided. Which raises the interesting question: What is going to happen between now and the coming national elections? How are the various parties likely to adjust and adapt to the shock results in Delhi? The thing to do for an analyst in such a situation is to travel around the country, talk to people, get a sense of the sentiments, and piece the findings together in some kind of a convincing narrative. That door is closed to us Pakistanis who nonetheless wish to figure out what may be in the works in India. And why not – India after...

Politics / 17.12.2013

Why they are unlikely to improve and may become worse By Anjum Altaf Pakistan and India continue to flounder in a relationship marked by a frustrating low-level equilibrium trap. Almost everyone concedes there are gains to making up but no one seems able to transcend the impasse. From time to time there is the promise of a breakout dissipated quickly by a sharp downturn.  A flurry of advisories follows on the importance of maintaining the relationship and much posturing later things work themselves back to the annoying status quo. The sequence has now been repeated often enough to suggest the combination of method and madness that might be at play. The mix of rationality and irrationality is not all that curious. People talk about its various elements but for reasons not hard to decipher refrain from assembling them all in one narrative. I believe it is worth spelling out...

Politics / 28.08.2013

By Anjum Altaf A seminal book of the 20th century, at least for academics, was An Economic Theory of Democracy, published in 1957. In it, Anthony Downs applied economic theory to the study of politics and, among other things, inferred what a rational government would do given its incentives. At its simplest, the theory claims that a government aims to stay in power and therefore, if it is democratic, adapts its policies and actions to appeal to a majority of the electorate. For example, in the current run up to the elections in India, the general wisdom is that the ruling party would spend extensively in rural areas to negate a likely swing to the opposition in urban ones. (Contrary to Downs’ prototype, though, it seems it is not the effectiveness of expenditures that matters most to voter sentiment in India – it is the courting that...

Politics / 31.07.2013

By Anjum Altaf It would be hard to find citizens in Pakistan or India who believe their governments really care for the people. The Nobel laureate, Amartya Sen, has repeatedly termed India a disaster zone in which pockets of California exist amidst a sea of sub-Saharan Africa; where millions of lives are crushed by lack of food, health, education and justice. Sen wants India to “hang its head in shame” contrasting its performance with China where massive investments in health and education in the 1970s laid the foundation for sustained economic growth. Sen points out that even within South Asia, barring Pakistan, India is at the bottom in terms of social indicators. Bangladesh is doing better with half the per capita income of India. This juxtaposition of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and China allows some myths to be laid to rest in explaining this outrageous neglect of people. First, Pakistan’s social...

Politics / 11.12.2011

By Kabir Altaf The incident last week at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in which NATO air strikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers has brought Pakistan-US relations to their lowest ebb since the OBL raid. The public reaction in both countries has revealed the extent of the mistrust between the supposed allies. The American public feels that since the US government gives Pakistan so much aid, it is ungrateful of the Pakistani government to block NATO's supplies or ask the US to vacate airbases in the country.  Americans are also angered by reports of Pakistan's alleged double-dealing and at best grudging cooperation with Washington.  The Pakistani public, on the other hand, is angered by what they see as violations of their country's sovereignty. They also feel that fighting "America's war" has caused a lot of blowback in their country, leading to the deaths of thousands of innocents at the hand of insurgents. Reading the newspapers from both sides, one gets a sense of how different the narrative is in each country. The articles in The New York Times are accompanied by images of groups of bearded men burning the American flag or effigies of President Obama. 
Politics / 17.10.2011

Too Much Secularism is a Dangerous Thing

By Dipankar Gupta Is the Congress afraid of winning in Gujarat? Nothing else explains why it lets Narendra Modi tom-tom development when it should have been the Congress banging the drums. The economic achievements of governments before Modi’s read like an award citation, but too much secularism has since led the Congress astray. Instead of showcasing its past performance to regain Gujarat, it is obsessed with nailing Modi as a communalist-in-chief. Naturally, it is not getting anywhere fast. Look also at the good memories the Congress is erasing away. In 1991, a full ten years before Modi arrived, as many as 17,940 out of 18,028 villages were already electrified.
Politics / 11.09.2011

By Anjum Altaf The response to 9/11 has been challenged along two lines: that it imposed a huge cost on the world without making it much safer; and that a legal-political approach would have yielded better outcomes. Both arguments, implicitly or explicitly, presume that an alternative response was possible. A reassessment of this presumption can help highlight some less discussed aspects of our world before and after 9/11. Prima facie it is plausible to assert that it was not necessary to frame the 9/11 provocation as an act of war. It could have been classified as a crime, albeit a spectacular one, and prosecuted using political leverage as needed. Given the near universal condemnation of the act and the swell of support for the US from nation-states, concerted political pressure on a weak Afghan state would in all likelihood have delivered the masterminds of the crime to...

Politics / 23.05.2011

By Anjum Altaf Opinion is divided between those who assert the ISI knew where Osama was hiding and those who believe it didn’t. This way of framing the situation obscures what might be the reality. Some months back, before the discovery of Osama, I was reading a book in which the author narrates a discussion with a Pakistani, now an ambassador, that took place towards the end of the Musharraf period when the interviewee was out of favor. A remark attributed to the Pakistani left such an impression that I repeated it to as many people as I had occasion to between then  and the discovery of Osama next to the military academy at Kakul.
Politics / 17.05.2011

By Anjum Altaf I hired a guard to secure my home and found him asleep when the robbers came. I fired him on the spot. I hired a driver to transport me from here to there and found him stealing the petrol. I fired him on the spot. I hired a tutor to teach my children logic and found him imparting them theology. I fired him on the spot. I am (all of us are) so decisive when it comes to firing private servants who are found to be incompetent or dishonest or devious – khaRey khaRey nikaal diyaa is the phrase of choice. And yet, and yet… We can’t do the same when we find public servants to be incompetent and dishonest and devious. What, after all, is government for if not to provide the citizens with security, direction and development?  And what greater evidence do...

Politics / 12.05.2011

By Anjum Altaf The thought of any connection between Osama bin Laden and Gandhi would not have occurred to me were it not for a remark in the much talked about biography of the latter by Joseph Lelyveld. At one point in the book, I am told, Lelyveld writes that “it would be simply wrong, not to say grotesque, to set up Gandhi as any kind of precursor to bin Laden.”  The remark piqued my curiosity especially given the fact that it was written before the recent discovery and elimination of Osama. Clearly, Lelyveld was not cashing in on a coincidence. So what was it that provoked the comparison even if it were to be dismissed? Let me state my conclusion at the outset: the personalities bear no comparison but the contextual similarities highlight major political issues that bear exploration and attention.