Pakistan / 15.03.2009

In the last post we used material from an essay by Professor Ralph Russell to illustrate what we consider a good analysis. Let us continue using that example to convince the reader of the advantages of good analysis. Resting one’s future on hopes does provide solace but is self-defeating because it provides no direction for the future. What happens when the hopes are dashed? More hopes? No wonder things continue to deteriorate as they have in Pakistan over the years so that we have now reached the stage where the unimaginable is peering in through the windows of our homes. A good analysis, on the other hand, provides a roadmap for the future because it is based on an understanding of the forces that are operating in society and it is possible to shape and mould societal forces with intelligent public policy. Not that the intelligence emerges...

Pakistan / 14.03.2009

The previous two posts in this series have described what we think are poor analyses of the situation in Pakistan by William Dalrymple and Moni Mohsin, respectively. Now the venerable New York Times has entered the fray with another bad analysis (Closer to the Cliff, March 12, 2009). Let us dissect it: We are especially alarmed to see President Asif Ali Zardari repeating the excesses of his predecessor, Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Why alarmed, one may ask? What was the basis for the expectation that Asif Ali Zardari would act any differently? Is this a case, once again, of wishful thinking leading the analysis? Mr. Zardari is dishonoring his late wife’s memory by following that same path. So, the expectation is that Mr. Zardari’s prime loyalty should be to his late wife’s memory and not to his self-interest, as he perceives it. Is this a realistic expectation? Or is it a...

Ghalib / 13.03.2009

Ghalib says in his letters that in moments of despair he was given to reciting this she’r: raat din gardish meiN haiN saat aasmaaN ho rahega kuchh nah kuchh ghabraayeN kyaa night and day the seven heavens are revolving something or the other will happen – why should we be perturbed The meaning is open to interpretation and the reader is encouraged to refer to the commentary on Mehr-e-Niimroz for more on the literary wordplay. The most common interpretation is as an expression of resignation in the face of overwhelming odds that an individual feels powerless to confront (as, for example, the 1854 epidemic in Delhi that Ghalib refers to in one letter). And indeed, at such times, it is a great consolation to be able to leave one’s fate in the hands of a power greater than oneself. Two thoughts come to mind: First, note that Ghalib takes recourse to this remedy...

Education / 08.03.2009

Lewis Lapham, Mohan Rao, Mohammad Iqbal. It’s odd how unrelated pieces from across time and space sometimes fall into place as if they were intended for each other. I began with Lewis Lapham’s brilliant take (Achievetrons, Harper’s Magazine, March 2009) on President Obama’s “Christmas shopping for cabinet officers.” These are the ‘Achievetrons,’ members of the ‘valedictocracy’ who got double 800s on their SATs and graduated from the top of the Ivy League. And then Lapham, in his inimitable style, pours a bucket of cold water on the prospects: For the past sixty years the deputies assigned to engineer the domestic and foreign policies of governments newly arriving in Washington have come outfitted with similar qualifications – first-class schools, state-of-the-art networking, apprenticeship in a legislative body or a think-tank – and for sixty years they have managed to weaken rather than strengthen the American democracy, ending their terms of office...

Pakistan / 08.03.2009

I had intended to wait a while to get some feedback from readers on William Dalrymple’s analysis of the situation in Pakistan (Governance in Pakistan – 1) before starting a discussion on the reasons for its poor predictive power. My plan was to follow that up with some samples of analysis by Pakistani commentators to reiterate the reasons that, in my view, contributed to the weakness of the analyses. I changed my mind when I immediately came across one such analysis in the March/April 2009 issue of the Boston Review. This review is by a member of the crème de la crème of Pakistani society, educated in the best institutions, a journalist by profession, and with the benefit of living abroad in a vibrant intellectual environment. The analysis provides a good parallel to Dalrymple’s piece. While Dalrymple brings an outsider’s excusably incomplete perspective, the contributor to the...

Pakistan / 07.03.2009

In this series of posts we will try and provide an explanation of the seemingly intractable problems that afflict Pakistan today. But first we address the issue of why analysts and observers are so often wrong in their assessments of the Pakistani situation. The occasion for this is an article by William Dalrymple who has made a name for himself as a chronicler of Mughal history and an analyst of modern South Asia. Writing on March 4, 2009 he says: Just over a year ago, in February 2008, I travelled by car across the length and breadth of Pakistan to cover the country's first serious election since General Pervez Musharraf seized power in 1999…. The story I wrote at the time for the New York Review of Books was optimistic. Like most other people given the option, Pakistanis clearly want the ability to choose their own rulers, and to determine...

Religion / 28.02.2009

By Anil Kala [A curious man standing on a beach, blissfully unaware that earth is round, wondered what lies beyond the horizon! He embarked on a long journey in a dead straight line to explore the end of earth. Nature was kind; his journey progressed uneventfully but sluggishly. He crossed the ocean, walked across the desert and overcame mountains and as was inevitable passed through the same spot from where he had begun his journey. It was a long time ago; things had changed during his sojourn. He could not recognize the place and said, "Deja Vu". We are like this man unaware, always asking, "What beyond that? What after then"? ad nauseum. Like Neti Neti*, these questions are absurd. There are no straight lines only warped space and warped time. The ends are seamlessly joined with the beginning like in a loop. We pass through same...

Ghalib / 26.02.2009

Readers would be well aware by now that there is always more to Ghalib than comes across at the first encounter – therein lies one aspect of his genius. In this week’s selection Ghalib addresses the issue explicitly: haiN kawakib kuchh nazar aatey haiN kuchh detey haiN dhokaa yeh baaziigar khulaa the stars/constellations are one thing and appear another These conjurers/tricksters trick/fool us openly At one level the meaning is obvious – things are not what they seem and we are being openly deceived. There are a few twists – Is Ghalib referring to the stars in the firmament or to the stars on earth and what exactly does the deception comprise of? These aspects are addressed in the companion commentary on Mehr-e-Niimroz. Here we presume that Ghalib is referring to the stars on earth and explore a tangential thought – to what extent are we complicit in our deception? This is...

Education, Religion / 23.02.2009

By FT and FoF This is an almost unedited record of an email exchange between a Fresh Teen (FT) and a Friend of the Family (FoF) spread over ten days (February 13-23, 2009). FT is educated in the leading convent school in Pakistan (established 1876). Her parents are both physicians with doctorates from England.  Friday, February 13, 2009 FoF: All the very best for the birthday tomorrow. Are you 14?  Saturday, February 14, 2009 FT:  Thanks!!! No, im 13. a fresh teen. FoF:  I read it first as frash been! Congratulations anyway for crossing the milestone. Now the hard slog begins. FT:  frash been!!!!!!??????? Why is it a hard slog??? FoF:  French beans in local language became distorted into frash been. Hard slog, because it is a long ways to go and your hair will turn white and your teeth will fall out by the time you are through!! FT:   well thats good to know!!!!! FoF: ...


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