Politics / 23.07.2017

By Anjum Altaf Pakistan wants to resume bilateral cricketing ties with India while India refuses to play ball. How would an alien from Mars, unaffected by nationalist biases, assess the situation? It would be hard to dismiss the Indian position outright. Think of it this way: If you live in a community and a neighbour throws his trash over your wall you would be justified in being annoyed. You might go over once for a friendly chat but if the dumping continues you would be well within your rights to protest and break off relations. The neighbour’s invitation to a friendly game of chess will clearly smack of hypocrisy in the circumstances. Extrapolate the analogy to India-Pakistan politics. There seems little doubt that Pakistan has been abetting incidents of terrorism in India - the 2008 attack in Mumbai was the most egregious and the most explicitly linked to...

Politics / 06.07.2017

By Anjum Altaf Look at the map of Pakistan. The overwhelming length of its land border (92% of a total of 6,774 kilometers) is shared with three countries - India (43%), Afghanistan (36%), and Iran (13%). Pakistan has poor relations with each of these three neighbours. Has anyone seriously asked the two obvious questions: Why? And, At what cost? Before we jump on the moral high-horse and go into paroxysms of indignant self-righteousness, could we consider the following: When George Bush asks ‘Why do they hate us?’ and answers ‘Because we are so good,’ we marvel at his intelligence. When we proclaim the same, we want to be taken seriously? Surely, some self-reflection is in order. Point number one: When nobody likes you, the problem could very well be with you. At the very least, intellectual honesty demands one should be open to the possibility. Alright, there is a ready-to-serve narrative for...

Politics / 06.03.2016

By Anjum Altaf Speak (After Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s Bol) Now is the time to speak Lips not sealed Body unbroken Blood coursing still Through your veins Now is the time to speak Look The iron glows red Like your blood The chain lies open Like your lips Now is the time to speak Speak For the tide of life runs out Speak For truth and honor shall not wait Speak Say all that needs be said this day Faiz Ahmed Faiz's poem can be accessed in Urdu, Hindi and Roman here. Back to Main Page...

Politics / 05.03.2016

By Anjum Altaf For the Students and Faculty of JNU (After Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s dar-e umiid ke daryuuza-gar) Cursing, hurling vile abuse They came to tarnish, ravish, debase Parade the tatters of our soul As emblems of their rule Hordes swarm the streets Goose-stepping, flaunting steel Threatening, intimidating those Who dare refuse to keel We collect the shreds they tore Dyed red in our blood Sew them back in a banner Bigger, brighter than before Faiz’s poem can be accessed in Urdu, Hindi, and Roman here. Back to Main Page...

Politics / 19.02.2016

By Anjum Altaf The ongoing row at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) reminded me of the following statement by Vir Sanghvi: “the gap between Indians and Pakistanis has now widened to the extent that we are no longer the same people in any significant sense” (The same people? Surely not). I am not convinced of this claim and believe that the underlying social and attitudinal propensities in both countries (towards violence, religion, and nationalism, for example) remain fairly alike. It is only accidents of time and place that lead to seemingly differing outcomes in the emergent landscapes. I explored this argument earlier in a couple of posts (How Not to Write History and Pakistanization of India?) and the response to the recent events at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) strengthens my conviction further. Despite its very different political trajectory, India is repeating the patterns observed in Pakistan albeit with a...

Politics / 11.01.2016

By Anjum Altaf Pakistan today is very different to what it was fifty years ago. An aspect that has changed significantly – literally turned on its head – is the nature of political and social activism, i.e., the very dynamic that leads to change in society. I describe this transformation based on my interactions with the young – as a student at the beginning of the period and as an instructor of students at its end. Needless to say, the majority in any society is content to swim with the tide. Members of this majority may hold opinions about desirable changes but they are not involved in the process of bringing them about. On the other hand, there is always a small minority of individuals who become actively engaged in efforts to change society. Such activists mobilize varying numbers of the majority for or against in different...

Politics / 30.12.2015

By Anjum Altaf My interpretation of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s Kuttey was published on 3 Quarks Daily on December 30, 2015 (here). Why Not even dogs Go as quietly as these men Battered and bruised Idle and begging Homeless and hearthless Stabbing each other o'er scraps Starving in silence Why What myth is it That keeps you Divided Amongst yourselves That keeps you Blind To your strength The original (in Urdu, Hindi, and Roman) can be seen here. Over the course of a life there are many who nudge you in one direction or another but very few who entirely alter its trajectory. In my experience I can count four, all encountered between the last two years at school and the first two years in college. Faiz Ahmed Faiz made me see the world beyond myself in a manner at once appealing and hopeful. Since then, Faiz has become a kind of Bible-substitute in all the manifestations of sight and sound. Three poems – Kuttey, Bol, and...

Politics / 17.12.2015

India and Pakistan are engaged in a high-stakes game in which the outcomes (and non-outcomes) are significant for many of the players involved. The essential ABCs of this game are well known; the finer XYZs are less obvious and I aim to address some of them in this article. It might be useful to treat the high-stakes game as just that – a game – and employ some of the features of game theory to better understand the situation. For those unfamiliar with game theory, here is a very brief orientation. We regularly engage in transactions in which our actions are independent of the actions of others and have no measurable impact on them either. If you go to the market to buy a cup of coffee you are engaging in this sort of a familiar independent action. There are other situations in which the choice of your action...

Politics / 07.12.2015

By Anjum Altaf India lags Pakistan in religious extremism but it seems both are headed for the same destination although by varying paths and with possibly different outcomes. Much attention has been drawn to the rising injection of religion into politics in India spurring a number of debates in the media. Is India being Pakistanized? Is Modi India’s Zia? What accounts for the phenomenon? Where will it end? These are some of the frequently heard questions. The dynamics of the phenomenon in the two countries appear similar but are actually different although there is an invisible underlying similarity that propels them in the same direction. A bedrock of religious prejudice exists in both countries available to be mined. In Pakistan, it has entered politics via concession and coercion while in India the drivers are manipulation and stealth. The paths in the two countries along which the phenomenon is...

Politics / 13.11.2015

By Anjum Altaf Could the 2015 state election in Bihar signify anything about the future of politics in India? It could, and I want to draw out that possibility by linking this analysis to a previous one related to the equally surprising outcome in Delhi earlier in the year (Electoral Choices). Very briefly, the point made was that while the BJPs share of the vote between the elections of 2014 and 2015 in Delhi remained the same, about a third, its share of the seats dropped sharply from 52 percent to 4 percent. This, it was argued, was a vagary of the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) method of election in vogue in a very few countries in which the candidate with a simple plurality of the votes in a constituency is declared the winner. Now look at the parallels in Bihar between the results of the 2014 Lok Sabha...