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...

Pakistan / 03.01.2009

The situation in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is in a mess. It is being said that while Pakistanis refuse to see or accept the reality, a civil war is underway in the region to all intents and purposes. And the Pakistani state is losing this civil war. The Pakistani military has no credibility with anyone in the country and many see the Taliban favorably as either anti-imperialist or pan-Islamist. All this leaves the following question on the table: What will this mean for Pakistan when the new US administration raises the ante in Afghanistan as expected? Let us examine the various elements in this picture. It is impossible to deny that a civil war is underway and that the Pakistani state is on the losing end. Just the loss of control over territory makes this obvious. Less than five years ago residents of Islamabad...

Pakistan / 07.10.2008

By Anjum Altaf This is the edited text of the keynote presentation at the conference on Teaching Textiles organized by the Textile Institute of Pakistan, Karachi, on December 2, 2005. It was published in the SDPI Research and News Bulletin, Vol. 13, No. 1, 2006. The textile and clothing (T&C) industry is the most interesting of the major industries to study at this time. Its natural development has been the most severely distorted by a system of global constraints that were only eased at the beginning of 2005. Many people expected the removal of quotas on January 1, 2005 to trigger a massive readjustment and the resulting cutthroat price competition to drive production to the lowest cost locations. It is important to remember, however, that the quota regime was initiated over 50 years ago--the first long-term agreement was enforced in 1962--and 50 years is a very long time....

Aid, Pakistan / 07.09.2008

By Anjum Altaf As Chairman of the US Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joe Biden has been a strong advocate of increased developmental assistance for Pakistan. Therefore, if he becomes the Vice President in November, the prospects of a significant jump in the quantum of American aid to Pakistan would grow considerably. Would this be a good idea? The question is good idea for whom? Who would be the beneficiary of this assistance? Any such increase would clearly ignore the evidence that much past aid to Pakistan has been wasted because there are no tangible development outcomes to be seen. This is not to say that there have no beneficiaries of the transfer of funds. An investigative report would provide fascinating stories about where all the money has gone. Between 1950 and 2000, donor assistance to Pakistan has been of the order of $60 billion. Yet, the country’s social indicators...

Fundamentalism, India, Pakistan / 01.07.2008

The only F-word to have retained its unambiguous meaning is the original F-word. Two others, Feudalism and Fascism, seem to have lost all meaning. They serve no purpose except to characterize any development the user is negative about. Thus anyone you don’t like can be labeled a feudal or a fascist. This might not matter much because feudalism and fascism are largely phenomena of the past. Fundamentalism is a new F-word, however, that demands a lot more care in its usage. Fundamentalism is both current and hot and there could be a lot riding on how we define and interpret the phenomenon. Narrowly interpreted, the term fundamentalism refers in religious discourse to a total commitment to the literal interpretation of a scared text and a belief in its infallibility. In this sense, there can be no religious fundamentalism without the existence of a scared text. It follows from...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Pakistan, Politics, South Asia / 26.06.2008

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...

Governance, Pakistan / 04.06.2008

Samia Altaf  The furor over the display of nudes at the National Art Gallery in Islamabad made me think of the Partition. Both situations represent the challenge of reconciling different points of views without conflict. And both are complicated by the fact that we desire to live in a democratic society. In the case of the Partition we failed. It was perhaps the most tragic failure of our times – a million people lost their lives and over ten million lost their homes. The conflict at the National Art Gallery is the same type of problem in principle but the stakes are much smaller and we can think about how to resolve the dilemma without losing control of our emotions. Hopefully we can draw some macro conclusions from a micro situation. The first thing to note is that democratic governance is not equivalent to majoritarian rule. The views...

Democracy/Governance, Pakistan, Politics / 07.04.2008

By Shreekant Gupta  On the crowded and chaotic streets of Rawalpindi, Sheikh Rashid the former federal minister is everywhere.   His corpulent, moustached face looks down at you beatifically from huge billboards and hoardings, from posters dangling from lamp posts and on the back of rickety smoke-belching vehicles.  At some places it is only him and at others he is pictured along with other party candidates.  At roadside tea stalls and in the homes of the elite in Satellite Town and elsewhere, views for and against him are equally vehement.  In the National Assembly elections in 2002, though he won from both Pindi constituencies NA 55 and NA 56, the race seems wide open this time, and he is up against strong ‘noon’ (PML-N) candidates at both places. Welcome to Pakistan’s noisy and vibrant democracy.  Wait a minute, democracy and Pakistan, isn’t that an oxymoron?  Well, that is...

Leadership, Pakistan / 31.03.2008

By Samia Altaf  There is a fascinating news report (Jinnah’s New Republic) in an American weekly datelined November 15, 1947 that puts its finger on Pakistan’s most critical weakness – the quality of its leadership. Reporting from Karachi, the author comments on the country’s first cabinet: “With enormous problems, Pakistan has only a very ordinary set of leaders to cope with them”; barring a few “the other members of the cabinet are all mediocrities.” The exceptions identified by the author were the “brilliant” Mr Jinnah, the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister. In 2008, the problems have become much more enormous and the leadership has become much more mediocre. Even the exceptions at the very top are conspicuous by their absence. The quality of political leadership went into a steep decline after Mr Jinnah. This was exacerbated by the military’s interruption of the political process that serves as the...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Modernity, Pakistan, Politics, South Asia / 02.02.2008

In the last few posts we have left a few loose ends dangling: there have been references to individualism in the context of hierarchy, to social contract in the context of monarchy, and to reason in the context of modernity. In this post we will try to tie the loose ends lightly to highlight some of the connections and hope to come back for a fuller discussion at a later time if there is demand. There is no one better to weave the argument around than Thomas Hobbes (1558-1679) whose famous book The Leviathan (1651) became the foundation for most of Western political philosophy. Of course, Hobbes did not emerge in a vacuum. The seventeenth century is widely accepted as a decisive turning point in Europe that marked the transition from an old decaying order to a new emerging one that many equate with modern society. Very briefly,...