Democracy/Governance, India, Pakistan, South Asia / 26.06.2009

There was a music program in Washington, DC recently in which the three performers on stage were of South Asian origin – the vocalist from Bangladesh, the tabla player from Pakistan and the harmonium player from India. All three were young and together they created a beautiful music. The Indians in the audience asked for Faiz, the Pakistanis for Nazrulgeeti, and the vocalist herself sang the verses of poets from India. The program was a huge success lasting over five hours. It was an occasion that was symbolic of what was possible in terms of coexistence. Is that an unrealistic dream for South Asia? The election primary in the U.S. this year is a ready reminder of the transformations that are indeed possible. A mere fifty years after the Civil Rights Act when black Americans were second-class citizens afraid of being lynched and cities were burning with...

Pakistan / 15.06.2009

We often say things without really realizing what we are saying. Pervez Hoodbhoy’s latest article on Pakistan (Whither Pakistan? A five-year forecast) begins as follows: First, the bottom line: Pakistan will not break up…. That’s the good news. Now why exactly is that good news? And from whose perspective is it good news? Clearly Pervez Hoodbhoy has assumed that to be a statement of the obvious that merits no further discussion. But it is really an unexamined assertion. I am not taking a personal position on the issue of whether the break up of Pakistan is good or not.
Pakistan / 18.03.2009

The question left over from the last post was the following: Given that it had become inevitable for Pakistan to have a religious identity (for reasons articulated by Professor Ralph Russell in the previous post) why was the tradition of Islam that was indigenous to the subcontinent ignored in favor of one imported from Saudi Arabia? As we have mentioned, Professor Russell was not a political or religious scholar and he never sat down to explicitly address this question. However, in his essays he left behind numerous astute observations that we can use to begin crafting a plausible answer. Our aim is not to reach a definitive conclusion but to see how the mind of a trained humanist works, how from certain observations a hypothesis is derived, and how facts are linked through a chain of reasoning to arrive at conclusions that can be tested against the outcomes...

Pakistan / 17.03.2009

By Anjum Altaf Let us begin when everything was as it was supposed to be. Before you came, Things were as they should be: The sky was the dead-end of sight, The road was just a road, wine merely wine. It was November 2006. The sun was in the sky, everything was alright with the world, the Enlightened Moderate, everyone’s favorite, was firmly ensconced on the throne, the Chief Justice was still the Chief Justice, and the lawyers were beyond the dead-end of sight. This is what we recommended, based on our analysis of the situation, in a paper presented in Islamabad: So what is to be done beyond the struggle for civilian rule? In the absence of a political coalition to support the demand for improvements in human rights, civil society groups at the present juncture in Pakistan should look for mechanisms to strengthen the instruments of social control over governments, to...

Pakistan / 15.03.2009

In the three preceding posts (Here, Here and Here) we have pointed out pitfalls in analytical reasoning using the situation in Pakistan as case material. Readers are entitled to ask: What is good analysis? What follows is my perspective on what makes for good analysis. It is not original but something I was taught by a teacher I feel I was lucky to encounter. I enrolled for a course in Decision Analysis and this is what the teacher talked about in the first class: The most important concept to understand is that a Decision and an Outcome are two separate things. A Good Outcome is not necessarily the result of a Good Decision. A Bad Outcome is not necessarily the result of a Bad Decision. How can this be so? Because between the Decision and the Outcome there is something called Uncertainty or Randomness, something that you can never know fully in advance...

Pakistan / 15.03.2009

Professor Ralph Russell died on September 14, 2008 at the age on ninety. Known as the British Baba-e-Urdu, he was a leading scholar of the language and was awarded the Sitara-e-Imtiaz for a lifetime of notable contributions. Professor Russell was a scholar of language and literature and never thought of himself as a political analyst. But his training in the humanities endowed him with the ability needed for good analysis. Here I take an extract from his essay (Strands of Muslim Identity in South Asia – first published in the 1980s) to illustrate the attributes of good analysis. It is quite likely that Muslims and Pakistani readers were upset by this analysis. But Professor Russell, a great friend of Urdu, Islam and Pakistan, never let that keep him from saying what he felt needed to be said. It is from him that I picked up the line: Do...

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...

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...