Politics / 25.10.2014

By Anjum Altaf In Pakistan, revolution is confused with revolt. A revolution sweeps away the old order; a revolt just replaces the faces at the top. As we have discovered, a revolt is not enough. No matter how often the system is restarted by new saviors, it converges to the same outcome that is compatible with the attributes of the old order. The principal attribute of the old order is stark social inequality in which the majority is dependent on a tiny minority for access to services and basic rights. This kind of hierarchical order is compatible with patron-client forms of governance which is really what we have had in the guise of democracy. Everything we observe confirms that our rulers consider themselves monarchs while the ruled think of themselves as subjects. Years ago I asked a peasant why they did not elect an honest representative instead of...

Politics / 26.08.2014

By Kabir Altaf For the last ten days, Pakistanis have been fascinated by the sit-ins occurring in Islamabad.  Led by Imran Khan (of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf) and Tahirul Qadri (of the Pakistan Awami Tehrik), the movement is calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif, the Chief Minister of the dominant Punjab Province.  The PTI is also calling for election reform and for the holding of midterm elections under a new caretaker government.  This anti-government movement has deeply polarized the country, particularly on social media.  Many young Pakistanis are supporting Khan’s demand for Sharif’s immediate resignation, arguing that the May 2013 general elections were massively rigged and that the PML-N does not have the people’s mandate.  Others argue that Sharif is the legitimately elected Prime Minister and that he cannot be forced to resign simply because a mob of 55,000...

Politics / 04.06.2014

Early on in Ulysses, Joyce has Stpehen Dedalus harking back to Aristotle and thinking the following thoughts: Had Pyrrhus not fallen by a bedlam’s hand in Argos or Julius Caesar not been knifed to death? They are not to be thought away. Time has branded them and fettered they are lodged in the room of the infinite possibilities they have ousted. But can those have been possible seeing that they never were? Or was that only possible which came to pass? Weave, weaver of the wind. We are at that momentous point in South Asia where all of a sudden there is a burgeoning of potentialities only one of which will turn into reality – the actuality of the possible as possible in Aristotle’s formulation. I have no way of knowing which of those possibilities will become the reality we will look back on ten years from now....

Politics / 28.12.2013

By Ibn-e Eusuf A month before the elections in Delhi, Congress, by its own admission, did not even have AAP on its radar, which suggests that the former must still be in a deep sense of shock. So must the other political parties since all had been equally blindsided. Which raises the interesting question: What is going to happen between now and the coming national elections? How are the various parties likely to adjust and adapt to the shock results in Delhi? The thing to do for an analyst in such a situation is to travel around the country, talk to people, get a sense of the sentiments, and piece the findings together in some kind of a convincing narrative. That door is closed to us Pakistanis who nonetheless wish to figure out what may be in the works in India. And why not – India after...

Politics / 17.12.2013

Why they are unlikely to improve and may become worse By Anjum Altaf Pakistan and India continue to flounder in a relationship marked by a frustrating low-level equilibrium trap. Almost everyone concedes there are gains to making up but no one seems able to transcend the impasse. From time to time there is the promise of a breakout dissipated quickly by a sharp downturn.  A flurry of advisories follows on the importance of maintaining the relationship and much posturing later things work themselves back to the annoying status quo. The sequence has now been repeated often enough to suggest the combination of method and madness that might be at play. The mix of rationality and irrationality is not all that curious. People talk about its various elements but for reasons not hard to decipher refrain from assembling them all in one narrative. I believe it is worth spelling out...

Politics / 28.08.2013

By Anjum Altaf A seminal book of the 20th century, at least for academics, was An Economic Theory of Democracy, published in 1957. In it, Anthony Downs applied economic theory to the study of politics and, among other things, inferred what a rational government would do given its incentives. At its simplest, the theory claims that a government aims to stay in power and therefore, if it is democratic, adapts its policies and actions to appeal to a majority of the electorate. For example, in the current run up to the elections in India, the general wisdom is that the ruling party would spend extensively in rural areas to negate a likely swing to the opposition in urban ones. (Contrary to Downs’ prototype, though, it seems it is not the effectiveness of expenditures that matters most to voter sentiment in India – it is the courting that...

Politics / 31.07.2013

By Anjum Altaf It would be hard to find citizens in Pakistan or India who believe their governments really care for the people. The Nobel laureate, Amartya Sen, has repeatedly termed India a disaster zone in which pockets of California exist amidst a sea of sub-Saharan Africa; where millions of lives are crushed by lack of food, health, education and justice. Sen wants India to “hang its head in shame” contrasting its performance with China where massive investments in health and education in the 1970s laid the foundation for sustained economic growth. Sen points out that even within South Asia, barring Pakistan, India is at the bottom in terms of social indicators. Bangladesh is doing better with half the per capita income of India. This juxtaposition of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and China allows some myths to be laid to rest in explaining this outrageous neglect of people. First, Pakistan’s social...

Politics / 11.12.2011

By Kabir Altaf The incident last week at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in which NATO air strikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers has brought Pakistan-US relations to their lowest ebb since the OBL raid. The public reaction in both countries has revealed the extent of the mistrust between the supposed allies. The American public feels that since the US government gives Pakistan so much aid, it is ungrateful of the Pakistani government to block NATO's supplies or ask the US to vacate airbases in the country.  Americans are also angered by reports of Pakistan's alleged double-dealing and at best grudging cooperation with Washington.  The Pakistani public, on the other hand, is angered by what they see as violations of their country's sovereignty. They also feel that fighting "America's war" has caused a lot of blowback in their country, leading to the deaths of thousands of innocents at the...

Politics / 17.10.2011

Too Much Secularism is a Dangerous Thing By Dipankar Gupta Is the Congress afraid of winning in Gujarat? Nothing else explains why it lets Narendra Modi tom-tom development when it should have been the Congress banging the drums. The economic achievements of governments before Modi’s read like an award citation, but too much secularism has since led the Congress astray. Instead of showcasing its past performance to regain Gujarat, it is obsessed with nailing Modi as a communalist-in-chief. Naturally, it is not getting anywhere fast. Look also at the good memories the Congress is erasing away. In 1991, a full ten years before Modi arrived, as many as 17,940 out of 18,028 villages were already electrified. The Ukai plant, which uses washed coal to generate power, was also pre-Modi as was the asphalting of 87.5% of Gujarat roads. 1980-81, Gujarat’s share in manufacturing at the national level was only 16.29%,...

Politics / 11.09.2011

By Anjum Altaf The response to 9/11 has been challenged along two lines: that it imposed a huge cost on the world without making it much safer; and that a legal-political approach would have yielded better outcomes. Both arguments, implicitly or explicitly, presume that an alternative response was possible. A reassessment of this presumption can help highlight some less discussed aspects of our world before and after 9/11. Prima facie it is plausible to assert that it was not necessary to frame the 9/11 provocation as an act of war. It could have been classified as a crime, albeit a spectacular one, and prosecuted using political leverage as needed. Given the near universal condemnation of the act and the swell of support for the US from nation-states, concerted political pressure on a weak Afghan state would in all likelihood have delivered the masterminds of the crime to...