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Miscellaneous / 10.01.2008

This is really worth pondering over.  The January 7, 2008 issue of the New York Times has a front-page article entitled “In Musharraf’s Shadow, a New Hope for Pakistan Rises.” This includes such brilliant gems of analysis as the following: “Over the last several months, a little-known, enigmatic Pakistani general has quietly raised hopes among American officials that he could emerge as a new force for stability in Pakistan, according to current and former government officials.” “As he has risen through the military, General Kayani has impressed American military and intelligence officials as a professional, pro-Western moderate with few political ambitions.” “Kayani throughout his career has shown little in the way of political inclination,” said a senior American military official who has worked extensively with him but did not wish to be identified because of the sensitivities of Pakistani politics. “He is a humble man who has shown a...

Miscellaneous / 07.01.2008

“Already, more than 300 Kenyans are dead, 70,000 have been driven from their homes and thousands have fled to neighboring countries.” This is part of an editorial in the New York Times entitled Ambition and Horror in Kenya (January 3, 2008). First, some hand wringing: “It is particularly tragic to see this happening in a country that seemed finally to be on the path to a democratic and economically sound future.” Then some advice: “Mr. Kibaki should renounce that official declaration and the embarrassingly swift swearing in that followed. He should then meet with his principal challenger, Raila Odinga, to discuss a possible vote recount, election re-run or other reasonable compromise.” Followed by a suggestion for some “outside prodding.” “Urgent mediation by the leader of the African Union, John Kufuor, could help bring the two together before the violence gets worse.”  And finally, a hopeful conclusion: “Mr. Kibaki and...

Leadership / 04.01.2008

By Dipankar Gupta Just because we live in a democracy does not mean that we deserve the leaders we get. It is as unrealistic to believe that voters can choose an ideal candidate as it is for a consumer to get that ideal car, refrigerator, washing machine, or whatever. Till the mid 1980s our roads were clogged by historical throwbacks in the shape of Ambassador or Fiat 1100 cars. The car of our dreams, that ideal four wheeler, was nowhere on the horizon. Yet we bought, sold and drove these unwieldy monsters for only these junkyard machines were available in the market place. And there the matter ended. The same principle holds in the political arena as well. It is true we choose our leaders in a highly festive, often carnival like, atmosphere. In spite of the festoons and speeches, posters and ballots, charisma and chicanery, we are...

Democracy/Governance / 04.01.2008

It is important to record the fact (without prejudging it at this stage) that China has postponed till 2020 the date of direct elections (under universal suffrage) to the legislature in Hong Kong. We will take this into consideration when we develop our thesis on governance in developing societies. It is also of interest to record that the British ruled Hong Kong for 150 years without it occurring to them how wonderful it was to be governed through the exercise of universal suffrage. It was only guaranteed in the Basic Law that was established when Britain handed the territory back to China in 1997. So it was a parting gift that China has refused to accept. And this refusal is quite enough to trigger a lot of thinking and rethinking. Let us think before we rush to judgment. But lest we be misunderstood, let us also reiterate that...

Democracy/Governance / 01.01.2008

These notes are intended to record our thoughts about two aspects of governance that, in our view, need serious reflection by analysts of developing societies in general and of South Asia in particular. We intend, with the help of contributors, to build on these notes throughout the year. First, we have been reiterating our view that the ethos of South Asian societies is still monarchical. By this we mean that both the rulers and the majority of the ruled continue to view the world in a monarchical perspective and act in accordance with it. The latest dynastic succession in Pakistan provides proof of this assertion yet again and does not need elaboration at this point. But even a cursory examination of the situations in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka will bear out our point. What we intend to do is to examine the implications of this reality for...

Miscellaneous / 27.12.2007

By Samia Altaf  In two recent articles, I was pleading for a deeper understanding of Pakistan, an understanding based on the emerging realities in the country, an understanding that would give us half a chance of avoiding the kind of immense tragedy we are confronted with today. Helping Pakistan began with the following paragraph: “Pakistan, labeled the most dangerous country in the world, with loose nukes and angry jihadis, is unraveling. It needs help. To be helped it needs to be understood. Urging a transition to “true democracy,” after the fourth military dictator has suspended the constitution for the second time and sacked a judiciary that dared to question his legitimacy, betrays either naiveté or disinterest. Both will hurt in the long run, if there is a long run.” And Cricket in the Jungle started with the following lines: “While everyone is focused on what will happen,...

Politics / 16.12.2007

By Ahmed Kamran  Curiously, Pakistan passes through a cycle of political tumult and unrest after about every ten years that somehow leads to a change of the ‘faces’. After the political upheavals of 1958, 1968, 1977-78, 1988, and 1998-99 we are about to enter into 2008 with yet another ‘middle class revolution’ brewing in some urban areas.  Politics is much like Plato’s allegory of a cave where we do not see the real world but only the images of the people outside the cave being formed on the wall. Likewise, on the Pakistan political stage, we do not see the ‘reality’ but only the ‘images’ that are being projected onto the screen, now immensely powerful images with global satellite TV. Sentimental viewers of mostly middle classes tend to get so much emotionally involved in the play that they start ascribing their own latent ‘dreams’ and memories of their...

Miscellaneous / 09.12.2007

By Samia Altaf  While everyone is focused on what will happen, the much more profound impact will be of what is happening before it happens. Something will happen after all, it always does— when the dust settles there will be a deal: it will be Him, or him, or her in the driver’s seat; or Him and her, or Him and him; rather less likely it would be him and her. It will matter a lot to the bunch of ladies and gentlemen, honorable individuals all, who want an office, a chair, a flag at any price and who need to bet right on who will be left standing when the music stops. But what will it matter to us? We have seen them all, individually and in pairs, we have seen them all. And we know that nothing much will change when the dust settles...