Politics / 23.05.2011

By Anjum Altaf Opinion is divided between those who assert the ISI knew where Osama was hiding and those who believe it didn’t. This way of framing the situation obscures what might be the reality. Some months back, before the discovery of Osama, I was reading a book in which the author narrates a discussion with a Pakistani, now an ambassador, that took place towards the end of the Musharraf period when the interviewee was out of favor. A remark attributed to the Pakistani left such an impression that I repeated it to as many people as I had occasion to between then  and the discovery of Osama next to the military academy at Kakul. I don’t have the book with me now but the following was the gist of the exchange: The Pakistani was asked if Osama was in Pakistan. I have quite forgotten whether he answered yes...

Politics / 17.05.2011

By Anjum Altaf I hired a guard to secure my home and found him asleep when the robbers came. I fired him on the spot. I hired a driver to transport me from here to there and found him stealing the petrol. I fired him on the spot. I hired a tutor to teach my children logic and found him imparting them theology. I fired him on the spot. I am (all of us are) so decisive when it comes to firing private servants who are found to be incompetent or dishonest or devious – khaRey khaRey nikaal diyaa is the phrase of choice. And yet, and yet… We can’t do the same when we find public servants to be incompetent and dishonest and devious. What, after all, is government for if not to provide the citizens with security, direction and development?  And what greater evidence do...

Politics / 12.05.2011

By Anjum Altaf The thought of any connection between Osama bin Laden and Gandhi would not have occurred to me were it not for a remark in the much talked about biography of the latter by Joseph Lelyveld. At one point in the book, I am told, Lelyveld writes that “it would be simply wrong, not to say grotesque, to set up Gandhi as any kind of precursor to bin Laden.”  The remark piqued my curiosity especially given the fact that it was written before the recent discovery and elimination of Osama. Clearly, Lelyveld was not cashing in on a coincidence. So what was it that provoked the comparison even if it were to be dismissed? Let me state my conclusion at the outset: the personalities bear no comparison but the contextual similarities highlight major political issues that bear exploration and attention. The word ‘precursor’ suggests clearly that...

Politics / 21.04.2011

By Anjum Altaf What exactly is India’s Pakistan policy? For years (decades, really) I have puzzled this over without being able to discern anything coherent. True, I am not privy to the inner councils of the Indian establishment but backward induction from observed actions does not seem to suggest I am grossly mistaken. The Pakistani establishment, by contrast, has a very clear India policy: keep the pot boiling, engineering an incident when needed; bleed by a thousand cuts with the bleeding outsourced to third parties; shore up domestic support by transforming education and information into indoctrination; and minimize public contact across borders to prevent any erosion of the mythology. India’s policy, at best, could be characterized as a reactive tit-for-tat illustrated poignantly by the exchange of helpless fishermen released from time to time by both sides after having languished pointlessly in jails for years. Yes, there is back-channel...

Politics / 07.02.2011

By Anjum Altaf What do the recent events in Tunisia and Egypt portend for Pakistan? The question is on many minds. One approach to attempting an answer might be to try and infer it from below by investigating the morphology of Pakistani society and noting any significant similarities and differences in the process. A convenient point of departure is the elementary error that most people make in their characterization of Pakistani society. It is often argued that the portrayal of Pakistani society as religious is incorrect because people do not vote for religious parties in elections; the latter hardly ever get more than five percent of the votes cast. This error flows from an uncritical conflation of religious beliefs and voting behavior. The fact that people are religious does not mean that they are oblivious to their material interests. A defining characteristic of Pakistani society is that it...

Politics / 19.03.2010

By Vijay Vikram One of the misfortunes of having an intellectual sympathy for the political Right in India is that one automatically finds oneself in the company of unbecoming Hindu goons, be they online or in the field. As legitimate political activity in India is set on a default left-liberal setting, it is in the normal order of things quite problematic to find a desi political animal to engage with who is possessed of a sense of public service and a strong sense of national identity. The ones who do represent the aforementioned themes and other programmes dear to the heart of the Indian political animal often also couple these admirable political sentiments with quite a nasty anti-cosmopolitanism, not to mention a general distaste for Muslims. The latest brouhaha over a 95-year-old Indian painter’s decision to accept Qatari citizenship is a case in point. Without going into the stultifying details of this non-controversy, it is possible...

Politics / 04.07.2009

Professor Alok Rai of Delhi University has suggested an exchange on Kashmir between members of civil society in India and Pakistan (Pakistan’s Kashmir Problem, Daily Times, July 3, 2009). This is a welcome initiative and the thrust of Professor Rai’s conclusions is sensible. But, the framing of the issue – in terms of an India-Pakistan “problem” – is not the best to achieve the end that Professor Rai has in mind. This framing leads straight back into the morass that has dogged all previous discussions on this topic. The bottom line of Professor’s Rai’s argument is that what’s done is done and cannot be undone; that the status quo is unchangeable; that Pakistan needs Kashmir to validate the two-nation theory; that a cost-benefit analysis should convince Pakistan that attempting to change the reality in Kashmir is not worth the price; and, that India does have a problem in Kashmir but Pakistan should allow it to resolve it on its own.
Politics / 29.01.2009

A reader’s comment has raised the issue of the dynamic of Pakistan’s creation. The question posed is about the role of Mr. Jinnah’s leadership: did Mr. Jinnah’s charisma make Pakistan possible or was the yearning of Muslims for self rule the primary driver? There have a number of other explanations for the creation of Pakistan and one can attempt to evaluate them by seeking answers to a few simple questions: (1) In which geographical areas did the demand for Pakistan emerge first? (2) Why did the demand arise when it did and not earlier? (3) Which social groups articulated the demand and lent it support? Some of the explanations appear weak when evaluated against these questions. One of them is the religious explanation that presents the creation of Pakistan as the fulfillment of a religious desire for a state in which Islam could be practiced without hindrance....

Politics / 07.12.2008

Here we are at the beginning of life beyond Mumbai. We have expressed our feelings, described the situation, analyzed the problem, prescribed a response, and articulated a vision for the future. We have come out of this gut-wrenching process changed. A fundamental truth has dawned upon us. Today, in this twenty-first century, in this global village, it makes little sense to be Hindu or Muslim, Sikh or Buddhist, Catholic or Protestant, Black or White. What matters only is whether you are for terrorism or against terrorism. If we make a false choice here, Hindus and Muslims along with all the others would go up in a ball of smoke. There are attributes of individuals that unite them in a common humanity and those that divide them into quarreling tribes. Terrorists can strike because we are divided; terrorists will thrive if we are divided yet again. There is a personal...

Politics / 06.12.2008

We have stood up and we have been counted. And despite all the caveats and all the filters, there are still many more non-terrorists than there are terrorists. So, how do we translate these numbers into the strength we need to STOP TERRORISM NOW? Isn’t it obvious? We have to recognize each other. Then we have to reach out and hold each other by the hand. We have to project a resolve so impregnable that a terrorist would think many times before he or she would hurl himself or herself against it. And we have to work together to drain the swamps that feed the fevered causes of terrorism in our homes. All this cannot be done in a day and yet we do not have too many days to lose. We need to begin small and have a plan to get big fast. Here is the contribution of...