Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Integrating Immigrants

The reccent swiss vote to ban the construction of minarets in Switzerland has once again prodded the issue of the integration of cultural immigrants into the limelight. Its interesting how those calling the loudest for immigrants to culturally integrate often have a very bourgeois view of their own culture and its 'enlightened' values. But what is the reality of the culture that most immigrants are confronted with? Immigrants with the educational background to get good middle class jobs and wealth tend to integrate relatively more easily. But most immigrants are poor and end up living in the poorest areas of society. This excellent post by Londonistani on the Abu Muqawama Blog illustrates some of the difficulties with the concept of integration in the fringes of societies which are already experiencing social breakdown. Its a must read for anyone interested in the integration debate.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Blackwater CEO, Erik Prince, Quits

Blackwater (Xe) is coming in for so much flak from various quarters that the founder/CEO Erik Prince has announced that he is stepping down and is going to take up high school teaching instead! See this article in Think Progress, which has has plenty of interesting links. Here's an interesting quote from an article in Vanity Fair by the Prince of Darkness claiming he is being made a scapegoat:

I put myself and my company at the C.I.A.’s disposal for some very risky missions. … But when it became politically expedient to do so, someone threw me under the bus. … I’m an easy target.”

Also interesting tidbits in the article - Eric Prince was supposed to be staying in the Marriott when it was blown up by a Taliban attack last year - except that he had cancelled the trip because his son had an accident. And perhaps more controversially, AQ Khan was on a CIA list of targets to be found, tracked and possibly killed, though the US govt decided not to kill him.

Given all the hoopla over Blackwater etc. here in Pakistan, I wonder how/if this is going to be worked into the various conspiracy theories doing the rounds?

Sunday, 25 October 2009

On Balochistan

Gibran Peshimam has a good peice in the News on the still-unresolved Baluchistan issue and how it is becoming increasingly vital, and increasingly difficult, to attempt to bring it to some kind of just resolution.

Last year there was some mumbles from the PPP government about righting the wrongs done to the Baluchi people, apologies and trying to find the whereabouts of the over 1,100 disappeared in the Province, but when it came to taking concrete measures, little seemed to be happen. The disappearances continued as did the simmering insurgency which targetted police, army, infrastructure and gas and mining operations, as well as non-Balochis civilians. As Asma Jehangir of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan points out on this segment from a talk show on Geo, the government's control over its Balochistan policy seems non-existant.

Certainly at a time where the democratically elected government was being smacked down by the army over issues such as control over the intelligence agency, the ISI, drone strikes on the ISI-friendly Taliban groups such as the Haqqanis in North Waziristan and so on, it was not keen on trying to wrangle control of the country's Balochistan policy from them.

But what has been the result of this? The insurgency has only grown worse. As Murtaza Razvi has pointed out in this article, Why keep on bleeding Balochistan? With the rolling up of the local government system and the economic troubles of the Balochistan government, it seemed as if whatever few crumbs were being allocated to try and redress the province's greviances were also being taken away. Continued military repression, including the closure of Baloch newspapers, a move unmentioned by the TV news media that at the time were trumpeting the violation of press freedom when journos were beaten up at a lawyer's rally, added salt to the wounds. It should be noted that the BLA (Baloch Liberation Army) has also murdered journalists who have written articles they did not like.

Reccently Zardari and co have once again started speaking of Balochistan, announcing that there will be a massive socio-economic uplift package for the province. This was part of a wider effort to once again engage with the Balochistan issue, but it has been met with sckeptisim on the part of Balochi nationalist leaders.

The military's fears have been stoked by the contacts between various Balochi nationalist leaders and India, including alleged material support for the militants. Various military apologists like to point out this website for something claiming to be the Government of Balochistan in Exile which announces itself to be based in Israel - looks like 1 guy whose funding by whoever was pulled before the year was out! I wouldn't be surprised if it was actually some sort of idiotic Pak military "psy-op". Because who thinks there is actually a World Baloch Jewish Alliance Building in Jerusalem, ISRAEL? (And why the capitals?) Alternately it could be one idiot trying to take the Chelabi route to influence in the US.

Anyway, despite the military's fears, the need to do something concrete rather than cosmetic is dire. While relatively moderate politicians may be participating in the democratic process and willing to work with the Pakistani govt., we should also heed their warnings that the more this insurgency drags on the more radicalized the next generation of Balochis are going to get. Now is the time to act.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

More on US Aid

The last few months I've barely had time to follow the news and various blogs I read let alone manage to do any blogging of my own.

But just a little snippet that follows on from my post a couple of months ago about US Aid to Pakistan. This little article about the move by some senators to block American aid to the military seems to be making the rounds and causing great angst amongst various Pakistanis.

Of course it pushes all the buttons. All those conspiracy theorists who believe that the Americans are provoking the civil war in the north and the Mumbai attack was an Indian psy-op that went bad (a very popular view amongst Pakistani military officers, serving and retired, I've noticed), get up and point at this to say 'Aha! I told you so!"

Others are worked up about Pakistan being "declared a failed state". This is "threatening the image" of Pakistan, I suppose. The reason people feel so entitled to all that aid is because the idea that Pakistan is fighting the 'War on Terror' for the United States is still a commonly held view. In the words of Biden, the relationship between the two countries is still "transactional".

Personally, I'm fine with tying up/reducing military aid. F-16s, submarines and anti-aircraft guns are no help against the militants in Swat or Bajur. The problem of course is that so long as the Pak-India war drums are beating, those are exactly the kinds of things the army is going to ask for in return for participating in the 'War on Terror'.

Edit: And now we have this: US agrees to increase military assistance. So much for conspiracy theories.

Friday, 10 October 2008

A Light in the Gloom

Will all the bleak news making the rounds and amidst all the doom and gloom, this little snippet of news made me feel just that little smidgen better.

Bravo, I say.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

On US-Pakistani Relations and the Aid Affair

There is an interesting article in today's 'News' by Mosharraf Zaidi called 'Joe Biden's Massive Pakistan Discount'. He takes a look at the recently passed Biden-Lugar Bill in the States which pledges $1.5 billion a year to Pakistan over the next ten years if it meets certain conditions (prosecuting the war on terror and democratic institution-building).

Firstly Mr Zaidi criticises the bill, pointing out that Georgia, with a population of 26 million is getting $1 billion in aid, while Pakistan with a population of over 170 million is getting $1.5 billion. He helpfully provides the following statistics:
In 2006 America's $9.9 billion aid programme in Iraq represented a $353 US contribution per Iraqi. Jordan's comparatively meager $562 million package translated into about $91 per Jordanian. Afghanistan's $3.74 billion programme meant the US provided $114 in assistance for each Afghan. Egypt received $1.79 billion, or about $22 per Egyptian citizen. At $1.5 billion, America's Pakistan assistance package will provide less than $9 per Pakistani citizen (or $8.72 to be precise). The true extent of the discount can be gleaned not by comparisons to post-conflict zones, or countries with solid gold records of friendship with the US, but by a comparison with Georgia, which will get roughly $217 per citizen. In cold numerical terms this means that one Georgian is worth roughly 25 Pakistanis.

This first argument does not seem entirely fair. Firstly, the US is pledging $1.5 billion per year for ten years - in other words $15 billion. Which means that Pakistan would get roughly $80-odd per citizen. Still not a huge amount but fairly substantial. Also its worth pointing out that the aid to Georgia is split, with about $500 million sent this year and the rest to be decided on later.

Its also worth pointing out that Georgia, according to the NYT has received a total of $1.8 billion over the last 17 years, while since 9-11, Pakistan has received over $11 billion (admittedly mostly military aid, but then thats what the military government demanded) and that's not including loans through US-dominated lending institutions and loan deferments etc.

Still, the author's basic point has merit. $1.5 billion isn't going to be working any miracles. His second point seems to be much more pertinent. In his proposal on American policy with Pakistan, Joe Biden rightly said that the American relationship with Pakistan has to move from a transactional to a normal, functional one. But in tying strings to this aid and making it dependent on stopping the Taliban and fighting Al Qaeda, this bill brings the relationship right back to being transactional: Cash for blood.

This is bad for the Pakistani government. And its bad for the Americans as well. Mr Zaidi points out that the Pakistani state is clearly not an effective one - the whole raison d'etre of providing aid aimed at building governmental and economic infrastructure is to make it effective. Yet this aid is conditional on the Pakistani state acting effectively against the militants. This is not a winning strategy.

Far more astute would be a strategy which provides aid aimed at building institutional capacity regardless of the war on terror, and making military aid conditional of performance. This is what Joe Biden has suggested and there's no good reason not to go for this idea. Eventually the idea would sink in to the military types in Islamabad that their strategic interests would be furthered by dismantling the Jihadist framework of regional security than by hanging on to it.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Charlie Wilson's Chair

Via Twilight of the Weimar Era, we learn that UT Austin is establishing a chair in Pakistan Studies in their South Asian Studies department. And its named after Charlie Wilson! Yes, that's right, I said Charlie Wilson!

What better way to encourage the serious study of, and promote the nuanced understanding of Pakistani society, history and culture by naming a post after this man? (Pic: Time)

But the kicker is that under our good General, the Pakistani government was 'extending its services' to help raise money for the endowment. Yes, the Pakistani government always was good at extending its services to good ole Charlie Wilson, wasn't it.