Analysis / 30.04.2011

By Anjum Altaf In Himal Southasian Magazine, May 2011 It is an irony that the most significant enemy of history books is history itself, books being frozen at a moment in time while history continues its relentless march – eventually mocking, more often than not, the certainties of an earlier age. Historical accounts that rely on cultural or psychological constructs for explanations are particularly exposed to this danger, as any number of outdated verdicts can illustrate – the opium-eating Chinese, the Hindu rate of growth, the fatalistic Arabs, to name just a few. The senior journalist M J Akbar thus takes on a large challenge when he sets up his chase to identify the villain of the piece in this new book, billed as ‘historical whodunit to trace the journey of an idea … that divided India.’Akbar repeatedly points to what he calls Pakistan’s ‘DNA’ as the key...

Analysis / 17.04.2011

By Anjum Altaf We have the opportunity to improve our understanding of corruption, democracy and the relationship between them by examining critically the views of Professor Neera Chandhoke outlined recently in connection with the Anna Hazare campaign. In The Seeds of Authoritarianism, Chandhoke articulates two fundamental positions. First, the establishment of a Jan Lokpal is not democratic and carries within it the seeds of authoritarianism. Although Singapore has controlled corruption, it is not a preferred model because it ‘does not respect the two prime fundamentals of democracy as India does: popular sovereignty and the equal moral status of citizens.’ Therefore, corruption in India needs to be addressed within the procedures and norms mandated in the Constitution. Second, Anna Hazare’s political beliefs are questionable because he has expressed a low opinion of the voter by saying that some sell their votes; contempt for the voter defies the ‘very rationale...

Analysis / 02.12.2010

We argued in the preceding post (Analysis: Vision and Management) that a country cannot prosper without a national vision and concluded with the following questions: What is the national vision in Pakistan? And, are our problems getting worse precisely because of the absence of a national vision? It is a coincidence to find an entry that enables us to continue this discussion – a column by Shahid Javed Burki who is among the leading commentators on economic issues in Pakistan. I will quote the introduction to the column before picking up on the issues of interest to us:
Analysis / 27.11.2010

Can Pakistan, or any country for that matter, prosper simply on good management without a national vision? This question is prompted by a recent column of Irfan Husain in which he makes such a claim: In Benazir Bhutto`s first term, the late Eqbal Ahmed bemoaned her lack of vision. I replied that rather than a visionary, we needed a good manager at the helm. We argued about this, as we often did over other issues, without either of us convincing the other. I still believe that good, solid management is more important than having a grand vision that is not translated into reality. After all, we know what our problems are; what we need is a team that sets about solving them in a serious and effective way.
Analysis / 17.09.2010

By Anjum Altaf I received the following announcement from the Pakistan Solidarity Network in connection with a teach-in planned in New York on Friday, September 17, 2010. The Urgent Need for Solidarity With Pakistan’s Flood Victims Even as Americans revisit the lingering destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina, half a world away Pakistan is experiencing one of the most calamitous disasters in recent memory. Nearly 20 million people have been directly affected. More than 8 million need urgent aid. 800,000 people are stranded. A full 14 million people across the country are now homeless. The country's infrastructure, already in disrepair, has been simply washed away. As with so many natural disasters we've seen in recent years, this tragedy too is carved out of a history of unsustainable policies. Years of neoliberal economic policies and militarism have stripped the Pakistani State of its capacity to meet the people's needs. Pakistan's elites, both civilian...

Analysis / 27.06.2010

Editor’s Note: The aim of this series is to identify the major trends underway in the various South Asian countries and, based on an analysis of their interplay, to assess the likely consequences for the future. The precise predictions are of less interest than the discussions that are triggered, for it is the process of discussion that deepens our understanding of the changes that are taking place in our countries. We launch this series with an unusual choice – a paper published in 1982 that speculated on the political implications for Pakistan of a single major trend, the large scale emigration of labor to the Middle East.This retrospective provides an example of the kind of analysis we now wish to undertake for the future. It is also of interest to re-examine the predictions of the paper almost 30 years after its publication and to see the...

Analysis / 03.04.2010

By John Briscoe Anyone foolish enough to write on war or peace in the Indus needs to first banish a set of immediate suspicions. I am neither Indian nor Pakistani. I am a South African who has worked on water issues in the subcontinent for 35 years and who has lived in Bangladesh (in the 1970s) and Delhi (in the 2000s). In 2006 I published, with fine Indian colleagues, an Oxford University Press book titled India's Water Economy: Facing a Turbulent Future and, with fine Pakistani colleagues, one titled Pakistan's Water Economy: Running Dry. I was the Senior Water Advisor for the World Bank who dealt with the appointment of the Neutral Expert on the Baglihar case. My last assignment at the World Bank (relevant, as described later) was as Country Director for Brazil. I am now a mere university professor, and speak in the name of...

Analysis / 21.03.2010

By Anjum Altaf Amartya Sen has popularized the notion of the argumentative Indian with his book of the same name. Given that Sen has never allowed himself to be constrained by arbitrary divisions, and the fact that his family origins are in Dhaka, we can safely assume that he is referring more generally to the argumentative South Asian. So, although this post pertains to India, the question I would like to pose for discussion is: What is it that the argumentative South Asian argues about today? The occasion for this question was attendance at a recent presentation by the Indian Foreign Secretary. In the course of a long discourse covering many topics the Foreign Secretary articulated the position of her government on relations with Pakistan. This position came across to me as overly hawkish even after allowing for the fact that a Congress government has to protect...

Analysis / 07.02.2010

Just around the time of the earthquake in Haiti there was an article in the New York Review of Books (Witness to Horror by Charles Simic) in which part of a paragraph grabbed my attention: History repeats itself in unhappy countries. The absence of respected institutions and well-established laws that a person can count on to protect him condemns these societies to reenact the same conflicts, make the same mistakes more than once, and bear the same horrific consequences of these acts. There is an important truth here: To learn from one’s mistakes there is need for a minimal institutional infrastructure, for some kind of a learning apparatus, for some rules of conduct that facilitate reflection. Learning just doesn’t happen by itself. My thoughts turned immediately to the Pakistan cricket team and then to Pakistan itself. Take the cricket team first that has just concluded a forgettable tour...

Analysis / 18.10.2009

By Anjum Altaf I checked the name index of Amartya Sen’s book (The Idea of Justice) for Foucault and found him missing. Let me explain why I found that surprising. As mentioned earlier, Sen contrasts two approaches to social justice – the search for a perfectly just society versus the alternative of making existing society less unjust. These perspectives are given different labels – ‘arrangement-focused’ versus ‘realization focused’ or niti versus nyaya. The implication of the contrast is pithily summarized by an endorsement on the book’s back cover: “The Idea of Justice gives us a political philosophy that is dedicated to the reduction of injustice on Earth rather than to the creation of ideally just castles in the air.” In terms of lineage, the arrangement-focused perspective is said to derive from the social contract formulation of Thomas Hobbes via Locke, Rousseau and Kant to John Rawls (A Theory...