Monday, 30 July 2007

The Arms Bazaar

"The Bush administration is preparing to ask Congress to approve an arms sale package for Saudi Arabia and its neighbors that is expected to eventually total $20 billion at a time when some United States officials contend that the Saudis are playing a counterproductive role in Iraq."

But just in case you were getting worried, the US also announced that it would be giving $30 billion in military aid to Israel over the next ten years. And the worth of arms sent to Egypt is also being upped to $13 billion.

Many might question the wisdom of continually pumping billions of dollars worth of weapons into a region as volatile as the Middle East, particularly when arming all sides in any potential conflict. But there is a historical reason for this. Since the mid 70s, the Middle East has acted as a massive subsidy for the American arms industry (and to a lesser extent the British arms industry). The United States invests hundreds of billions of dollars in weapons development and some of this cost is offset by the guarantees it receives from middle eastern countries like Saudi Arabia to purchase weapons - a subsidy by any other name. This deal has been more or less continual since the assassination of King Faysal in 1975 which brought the notoriously pro-American King Khalid to power. Some speculate that King Faysal's removal was blessed by the American government irked by the Saudi oil embargo for the U.S. during the 1973 Israel-Arab war.

In part this also helps to pay off the costs of military aid to countries like Israel and Egypt. A sweet deal all around.


Oddness: Part 2

"Gunmen have forcefully occupied a mosque and an adjacent shrine in Mohmand Agency’s Lakaro tehsil and announced that they will continue the ‘mission’ of late Maulana Ghazi Abdur Rashid and establish a madressah at the place."


Oddness: Part 1

"I have never witnessed any spectacle as politically extreme, outrageous, or bizarre as the one Christians United for Israel produced last week in Washington. See for yourself."


Saturday, 28 July 2007

U.S.: Saudi Arabia Destabilising Iraq

Well I guess people in Washington are finally waking up to some of the realities of the Middle East. From the guardian: "U.S. Accuses Saudis of Telling Lies About Iraq"
The extent of the deterioration in US-Saudi relations was exposed for the first time yesterday when Washington accused Riyadh of working to undermine the Iraqi government.

The Bush administration warned Saudi Arabia, until this year one of its closest allies, to stop undermining the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

Would it be crass of me to say 'I told you so'?


Friday, 20 July 2007

The Iraqi Resistance: Interesting Happenings

This is absolutely the most important news to come out of Iraq in the last two years.
Seven of the most important Sunni-led insurgent organisations fighting the US occupation in Iraq have agreed to form a public political alliance with the aim of preparing for negotiations in advance of an American withdrawal, their leaders have told the Guardian.

I had started a blog post a couple of days ago which I never managed to finish in which I was writing about the significance of the Islamic Army of Iraq's split, with a breakaway faction disagreeing with the IAI's increasingly confrontational posture with regard to Al Qaeda in Iraq. This followed on reports that the 1920 Revolution Brigades, some of whose members had been targeted by Al Qaeda in Iraq had started actually helping the American forces against AQ.

Here's a very interesting interview with some of the leaders of the Iraqi resistance.

Many of the Iraqi insurgent groups have become increasingly critical of Al Qaeda's bloody, indiscriminate bombings of civilians and disregard for Iraqi life. They've also been very suspicious of their pan-Islamist agenda and non-Iraqi leadership, which doesn't have Iraq's best interests at heart. What's interesting is that the American government has been hammering on and on about Al Qaeda, boosting their popularity (and funding) outside Iraq, even while it is the nationalist Iraqi groups that are causing the most damage to the Americans and American-backed Iraqi government forces.

The recent report on the increasing condemnation of Al Qaeda's tactics from a number of groups within Iraq, as well as a fatwa from a prominent pro-insurgency cleric in Kuwait saying that Muslims should not support Al Qaeda because they were indiscriminately targeting civilians, were indicators of a growing split in the insurgency as a large part of it has started considering the political aspect of things and is thinking about how to influence events after American troops leave. What's interesting is that most groups (including the smaller Baathist groups) are thinking about participation in elections. Al Qaeda is different because their focus is not on rebuilding Iraq but on killing Shias and Americans in Jihad. A post-American Iraq for them would still be a war zone in which to kill Shias.

Abu Aardvark has some interesting articles about all this up on his blog.

I remain sceptical about the ability of this group to work with Shia militias though, especially as AL-Qaeda and pro-AQ groups will continue to inflame sectarian violence through their bombings etc. But perhaps this is one dim ray of hope that all will not collapse into complete chaos following the impending American withdrawal.


The Pakistani Media

An interesting look at the Pakistani media and its relationship with the state.


The Patriot Missle Mystery

Maybe I will find one of these at Itwar Bazaar?


Thursday, 19 July 2007

Foreign Fighters and Small Arms

If you blinked you may have missed the fact that the U.S. Senate unanimously voted 97-0 to declare that Iran was at war with the United States. Now it might strike one as a little odd that a country should declare that another country had declared war on it. But thus are the ways of American politics, where hype trumps reality and then all the resources of a hyper-power are used to twist and shape reality to conform to the hype.

The Senate saw fit to issue a declaration of war on behalf of Iran based on a dodgy newspaper article that itself was an unquestioning repetition of information given to the reporter by unnamed defence officials which attributed attacks on American forces in Iraq to Iran. Needless to say its another step closer to what is widely perceived as an inevitable American attack on Iran. Not that the United States hasn't already launched a major campaign of terrorism against Iran already.

All this hooplah came while U.S. military officials were busy pointing out that 45% of all foreign fighters in Iraq are Saudi, and most of the funding for the insurgents comes from Saudi Arabia as well. Most suicide bombers, whose deadly attacks have killed scores of Americans and thousands of Iraqis are also from Saudi Arabia. If the Time interview with a leading Iraqi bomb-maker was anything to go by, Saudi Arabia is also the source of high-tech gadgetry that the insurgents are using to defeat American mine-sweepers and IED detectors and neutralisers. And lets not forget that the recent report on insurgent media by Radio Liberty showed that the largest number of visitors to insurgent and Islamist websites come from Saudi Arabia.

To quote the LA Times in this excellent story:
Asked why U.S. officials in Iraq had not publicly criticized Saudi Arabia the way they had Iran or Syria, the senior military officer said, "Ask the State Department. This is a political juggernaut."

Last week when U.S. military spokesman Bergner declared Al Qaeda in Iraq the country's No. 1 threat, he released a profile of a thwarted suicide bomber, but said he had not received clearance to reveal his nationality. The bomber was a Saudi national, the senior military officer said Saturday.

So just to keep things in perspective about foreign fighters in Iraq, there are a big bunch of Saudis, a smaller bunch of Syrians and Lebanese, a few Jordanians and North Africans... also there are 160,000 Americans and 185,000 armed civilian contractors employed by the Americans. Number of Iranians? None?

At least the Americans have stopped blaming the Chinese for their woes in Iraq. Perhaps because it may have been too hypocritical even for the Americans to be calling on the Chinese to limit their arms sales while being the only country in the UN General Assembly to oppose a treaty to limit and monitor arms sales in a 139-1 vote last year. Still it shouldn't surprise us given that John Bolton, Bush's appointee to the UN first made his mark on the international stage as the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control by sinking the modest proposals of the 2001 UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms while declaring that gun ownership was a national way of life in the U.S. and that the uninhibited production and export of weapons is a national right.

Incidentally Moinuddin Haider, the Pakistani representative at the same conference fawningly supported the American position and reiterated that carrying small arms was a proud cultural tradition in Pakistan, while paradoxically also saying that Pakistan was a victim of small arms proliferation and was trying to "stamp out" this threat to state stability (recent events have shown just how effective that has been).


Agent Provocateurs

Back here I blogged about the protests at the G8 summit in Germany and mentioned how clashes between protesters and police started after undercover policemen tried to grab a couple of the protesters.

At this blog, histologion links to a whole series of articles about police provocateurs who disguise themselves as protesters and then spark off clashes or otherwise try and derail protest marches. It seems to have become a pretty common tactic in the last 5 or 6 years. For example there is this incident about which more is written here:

But something was funny about four members of the black-clad contingent. One of them, possibly the leader of the little group, wore a jacket with the red logo of a music group called "Slip-Knot," popular with globalization opponents. This was unusual, since the others avoided any details which would make them easily identifiable on police videos. And then, as the line of cops took up position nearby, ready to end the blockade, it was these four who started picking up stones from between the railroad tracks and lobbing them over towards the police and shouting, "Get the bulls"! Then one of the other protesters took a good look at the young man with the logo before he had a chance to pull up his bandana mask.

SlipKnot"That's the same fellow who arrested me during a demonstration in Bremen last year!" he cried, and he and his friends made a grab for the four. Two of the four made it to police lines, one disappeared, but they caught the one with the red logo, presumably the leader. They did not treat him exactly gently, it must be admitted, but one of the group organizers took hold of the man, sheltering him from the crowd, and dragged him over and delivered him to the police line -- and safety.

Although this episode ended the stone throwing, the police started up with their water cannon anyway, excuse or no excuse.

The police claim that their undercover agents are only there to observe and do not participate in or provoke any violence.


Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Orientalism Still Alive and Kicking

There has probably been no discipline more compromised by its close association with imperialistic government policies in the west than anthropology. Whether it is creating racial hierarchies to justify colonialism, trying to learn how to manipulate societies in order to legitimate colonial governments, or prop up friendly regimes, introducing infectious diseases into isolated tribal societies in order to model the impact of a nuclear war on American society in which a huge chunk of its population might die, or trying to justify abu gharaib by asserting that force is the only thing Arab societies respect and sexual abuse is the best way to get Arab prisoner's to talk, anthropology has been moulded by, and has moulded, how imperial powers interact with societies across the globe.

Its no wonder then that America has turned to anthropologists once again given its problems in Iraq. Enter the Human Terrain System - a plan to insert anthropologists into Iraq to study the "culture" from the ground and provide the Pentagon on the valuable information and perspective it currently lacks. As this U.S. Army site breathlessly informs us:
U.S. forces can operate more effectively in the human terrain in which insurgents live and function, HTS will provide deployed brigade commanders and their staffs direct social-science support in the form of ethnographic and social research, cultural information research, and social data analysis that can be employed as part of the military decision-making process.

Of course, this has led to a widespread outcry and debate within anthropology circles. Most anthropologists know the roots of their discipline lie in the colonisers attempts to know/subjugate "alien" societies. Ever since Edward Said wrote his monumental work 'Orientalism' in 1978, the idea that branches of western knowledge have been constructed around attempts to dominate other societies and cultures has become increasingly understood, and post-colonial anthropology has done much to take to task much of the discipline, its inbuilt racist and hegemonic assumptions and aims.

Except in America. Its so interesting to see how Edward Said's name, as well as the term 'orientalism' have become "dirty" words in the language of much of the American political and cultural elite. People who have never read the book remark with scorn that Said was a Muslim fundamentalist (he was Anglican), a hater of the west (he was a professor of English literature and loved the arts), an opponent of the Enlightenment (he was a strong humanitarian and believer in universal rights, it is the abuse and absence of these ideals in much of academia that was the focus of his work on culture) and an anti-semite (despite having many Jewish friends and co-workers and, as he pointed out, being a semite himself).

Interestingly enough, the debate over anthropology's co-option into the Iraq war is being couched in the media as a struggle over whether the discipline will remain in an ivory tower or become "relevant". Consider this odd article which mixes intelligent quotes with muddle-headed observations:

That, said George Mason University's Gusterson, points to a more fundamental issue that arose in anthropology in the 1970s: the idea that cooperation with the military ran contrary to the science's basic principles.

"You pitch a tent ... among the people you want to understand, you live with them, you catch their diseases, you eat their horrible food, you share their joys and pains," he said. "The thought that you would cultivate those relationships of trust and intimacy and then ... go to the Pentagon and say 'these are the people you should kill, these are the people you shouldn't kill,' that's extremely problematic for people with that methodology."

For some elder anthropologists, the discipline's recoil had by the 21st century led to practical irrelevance.

"Margaret Mead was on 'Johnny Carson' more than two dozen times," said Felix Moos, a University of Kansas anthropologist. "Today when I ask an audience can you name one internationally or nationally known anthropologist, I meet nothing but silence."

Umm... now what is the real issue here? The fact that anthropologists are attempting to become part of a society in the name of creating knowledge and "understanding" while having the ulterior motive of creating types of knowledge geared for outsiders who wish to use violence to change that society for their own purposes, or that anthropologists don't get invited to the Johnny Carson show any more?

Having said all of this, the social sciences certainly need to play a greater role in informing and educating people about the world, even if it is only to correct the assumptions of other, more directly "orientalist" social science. If the Human Terrain System is overtly problematic, other government initiatives are less easily categorised. For example, is it possible for the social sciences to inform and shape a less-imperialistic 'war on terror'? This excellent article in the New Yorker gives some food for thought on the issue. One of the anthropologists involved in the HTS has his own blog here where he also attempts to tackle the ethics of what he is doing.


Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Baluchistan Floods: A Man-Made Catastrophe?

Was the recent disastrous flooding in Baluchistan a man-made catastrophe? That's certainly what many of the locals who were effected think, and their views have been reflected by Baluchi nationalist leaders and politicians.

At the centre of the allegations is the much-maligned, newly built Mirani Dam in Turbat district. While proposals for a dam here had been floating around since the time of the British, it was only recently that the federal government initiated the project, and fast-tracked it so that it would be completed in short order.

Mirani Dam under construction (Source: Descon)

The dam was intended to generate electricity and create a fresh-water reservoir that could be used to expand irrigation in the area, as well as provide a fresh water supply to the new port-city of Gawadar. In a previous post I've mentioned how Gawadar and its associated mega-projects are regarded with suspicion at best, and outright hatred as a form of colonisation at worst, by many Balochi nationalists. In fact the dam's construction site came under rocket and small arms fire by Balochi insurgents several times at the height of the Balochi insurgency.

As with all dams, this one entailed the dislocation of numerous villages out of their homes and ancestral lands to clear the catchment area of the dam. While the villagers were assured that they would be compensated and their new lands would receive the benefit of electricity and irrigation water from the dam, many regarded the dam as something designed specifically to steal water for the benefit of Gawadar. As with many other of the nation's mega-projects there was little attempt to consult or effectively communicate with those whose lives would be most effected by the dam's construction.

One particular point of controversy arose over what the expected water level of the dam's catchment area would be, and thus, who would have to move as a result. The optimum water level of the artificial lake created by the dam was given as 244 feet above sea level, with a maximum level of 264 feet. (The height of the dam itself was 274 feet.) Naspak, the eingineering consultants on the project, calculated that with an average annual rainfall of 4 inches in the region, the dam could take up to 200 years to fill up to the optimum level. (7 inches of rainfall fell on one day at the height of the rains in late June.)

To quote from a detailed article from the BBC:

In the later half of 2006, Wapda agreed to offer full compensation for houses, orchards, land and irrigation works in areas up to 264 feet above sea level (asl) - or more than 18,000 acres, and transfer money to the provincial government.

But the provincial finance ministry decided to hold back the funds in the belief that areas above 244 feet asl - the level of the dam's spillway - qualified for only partial compensation.

The people refused to vacate their villages until they were paid in full. Last month was marked by marches and protests in Turbat city. The agitation ended when the provincial finance minister promised to make payments by 1 July.

But it was a day too far.

With the floods and rainfall that came with the cyclone of June 26th, the water in the catchment area rose to 271.4 feet. Dam engineers even called in explosive experts in case the flooding threatened the entire dam structure and a breach had to be made. A massive area of land in and around the catchment area was completely flooded resulting in huge loss of life and several hundreds of thousands rendered homeless in just that area of Baluchistan alone. Many have been quick to blame the dam for the carnage.

But its not clear if the dam itself is entirely to blame. Musharraf was quick to point out that the dam absorbed 450,000 cusecs of water, which if unchecked, would have caused further carnage downstream in the districts of Gwadar, Jiwani and Dasht. A senator from the ruling PML-Q went further in claiming that the floods had vindicated mega-projects like dams and had proposed dams in Sindh and NWFP been built, the effects of the floods would have been less severe there.

Flooding in Turbat (Image source: BBC)

The reality may lie somewhere in the middle of the two views. While the dam helped mitigate the effects of the floods in some areas, it made them significantly worse in others. A subsequent inquiry ordered by Musharraf also seems to have found fault with the dam spillways, which are meant to channel water overflow out of the catchment area and whose design may have to be altered. While Baluchi nationalists are pointing the finger of blame at the federal government and Nespak, the engineering consultants who were involved in the planning of the dam, it would appear that it was the provincial government that held up compensation to people above the 244 feet mark, thereby keeping people in harm's way. The Provincial Chief Minister meanwhile, pointed out that Nespak had estimated that it would take many years (as much as 200) to reach the high water mark and so they had no reason to suspect that the people who lived between the 244 and 264 feet marks were in any danger. Locals claim that their warnings about the levels of previous flooding were ignored by both government officials and the surveyors.

The blame game will doubtless continue for the foreseeable future. All in all the debacle highlights the continued neglect of one of the basic principles of any kind of development project - that of effective public consultation. Effected communities must be genuinely recognised as stakeholders in these projects and their participation and ideas and local knowledge solicited and integrated into the project. The Musharraf government is certainly not the only government culpable for ignoring this principle. There is a cultural attitude towards the poor that is widely shared throughout Pakistani society (and indeed much of the developing world) that is at work here; that Development is something done "to" people and communities, rather than "with" communities. Some lessons need to be learned if similar catastrophes are to be avoided in the future.


Sunday, 8 July 2007

More Reconstruction Highlights

A few more reconstruction highlights. The first from a report in the Washington Post:
A $75 million project to build the largest police academy in Iraq has been so grossly mismanaged that the campus now poses health risks to recruits and might need to be partially demolished, U.S. investigators have found.

The Baghdad Police College, hailed as crucial to U.S. efforts to prepare Iraqis to take control of the country's security, was so poorly constructed that feces and urine rained from the ceilings in student barracks. Floors heaved inches off the ground and cracked apart. Water dripped so profusely in one room that it was dubbed "the rain forest."

"This is the most essential civil security project in the country -- and it's a failure," said Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, an independent office created by Congress. "The Baghdad police academy is a disaster."

This article in USA Today describes how the big infrastructure projects started being wound up in 2005, even though very few had been completed. It notes that of the $18.4 billion allocated by Congress for reconstruction in 2003, $5 billion was diverted to training Iraq's security forces. Meanwhile the costs of security of American personel involved in any project kept going up:
Originally estimated at 9% of total project costs, security costs have risen to between 20% and 30%, says Brig. Gen. William McCoy Jr., commander of the Army Corps of Engineers in Iraq.

Which would mean that the actual allocation, when adjusting for the diverted money and security costs was something like $9.38 billion - half the officially allocated amount. Its still a hefty sum, but then we've seen how that was spent.

But what about the success stories? The places and projects where things actually got built and handed over to Iraqis in working order? Well, the story there isn't too good either, as this report notes:

Of the eight projects inspected, some just six months after being declared a success by the US officials, six were no longer functioning properly, the report said.

At Baghdad international airport the inspectors discovered that $11.8m had been spent on new electricity generators, but that already $8.6m-worth were not working.

It was a similar scene at a barracks built for special forces in Baghdad where four large generators, each costing $50,000, were not working.

And at a maternity and children's hospital in Irbil a sophisticated oxygen distribution system was not used because staff did not trust it.

In the same hospital needles and bandages were tossed into the sewer system, which frequently blocked, because an incinerator installed to deal with such waste was not in use.

According to the report, this was "because those initially trained to operate the incinerator were no longer employed at the hospital" and because the door to the incinerator was padlocked and no-one knew who had the key.

And at a recruiting centre in the town of Hilla faulty wiring was rife and blocked drains had caused the bathrooms to warp, inspectors said.

The Sigir team said that the speed and scale of the deterioration was so bad that it was doubtful whether some of the projects would even survive.

Alas, not a very happy story at all.


Saturday, 7 July 2007

Shoddy Construction on the Imperial Mothership

The Washington Post reports on the embarrassing revelation that the $592 million U.S. embassy in Iraq is suffering not just from cost overruns, delays and Justice Department investigations over labour abuse, but might be virtually unusable due to shoddy construction. The fears arose after a contingent moved into the completed guards complex in the embassy compound:

The first signs of trouble, according to the cable, emerged when the kitchen staff tried to cook the inaugural meal in the new guard base on May 15. Some appliances did not work. Workers began to get electric shocks. Then a burning smell enveloped the kitchen as the wiring began to melt.

All the food from the old guard camp -- a collection of tents -- had been carted to the new facility, in the expectation that the 1,200 guards would begin moving in the next day. But according to the cable, the electrical meltdown was just the first problem in a series of construction mistakes that soon left the base uninhabitable, including wiring problems, fuel leaks and noxious fumes in the sleeping trailers.

"Poor quality construction . . . life safety issues . . . left [the embassy] with no recourse but to shut the camp down, in spite of the blistering heat in Baghdad," the May 29 cable informed Washington.

Such challenges with construction contracts inside the fortified enclave known as the Green Zone reflect the broader problems that have thwarted reconstruction efforts throughout war-torn Iraq.

Indeed. The issue highlights the problems of the entire reconstruction effort in Iraq. Even while American politicians grow increasingly opposed to reconstruction spending and complain about how the United States is spending so much on an 'ungrateful' Iraqi public, reports have repeatedly shown how most "reconstruction" money is spent on private defence contractors, projects are allocated not through open public bidding, but to companies (such as Halliburton and its subsidiary Kellog Brown and Root) to which administration officials have rather dubious personal ties.

This article from the American magazine MotherJones chronicles a few of the reconstruction "efforts" that have come to light. They include, amongst other things:

A bridge and oil pipeline that was destroyed in the American invasion in 2003. After a survey it was estimated that it could be repaired within five months at a cost of $5 million. An Iraqi construction company offered to do the job. (Note: Iraqi companies had repaired the fair more extensive infrastructure damage throughout the country after the first Gulf War within a year.) Instead it was decided that the pipeline should be made more secure and built under the ground. Halliburton was awarded a $75 million contract to do so (without bidding). 3 years later, all the money was spent and the job wasn't done. Investigations found that Halliburton knew their proposal was not technically possible - but they took the contract anyway. A new contract for $40 million was awarded to another American company. The bridge and pipeline have yet to be built.

The Parsons Corporation was given a $243 million no-bid contract to build 150 medical clinics. By January 2006 it was found that only 6 clinics were completed and only 14 more could possibly be completed before the money ran out. Parsons would "try" to complete them by April 2006 when it was leaving the country. This, by the way, was what the American Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction called the "most important program in the health sector".

But its not just private corporations which are burning money. Take this report from in the IHT:

Late Friday, the inspector general also released an audit report on a $147 million United States-led program to train and equip thousands of Iraqis to protect oil pipelines, electrical transmission lines and hundreds of key installations in both sectors.
Begun in September 2003, the effort, called Task Force Shield, was so disorganized that the auditors were never able to determine basic facts like how many Iraqis were trained, how many weapons were purchased and where much of the equipment ended up, the report says.

The Congressional Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has launched an investigation into Iraqi reconstruction (you can check out their website here) but its safe to say that apart from a slap on the wrist here and a cluck of disapproval there, its not going to do much in terms of the damage that's been done.

Halliburton's stock just keeps on rising, as it grows bloated on the profits of the Iraqi war - money that ultimately comes from American taxpayers. To further rub insult into injury, Halliburton has now shifted its headquarters to the tax-haven of Dubai. Its no wonder that some Americans are beginning to feel that the entire Iraq War was a costly, bloody way of subsidising corporate America.


Friday, 6 July 2007

The Declaration of Independence

Another 4th of July has come and gone, celebrated by hysterical warnings of terrorist threats and elaborate fireworks displays. Amidst all this brouhaha its easy to lose sight of the actual document itself and the fact that it truly did have some interesting things to say - not least to for a Pakistani hoping for the restoration of democracy in the country.

Lets remind ourselves about some of the salient points in the Declaration:

- The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

- He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

- He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

- He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

- For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury.

- For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

- For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

Now replace the King of Britain with General Pervez Musharaf and what do you see?


Hometown Baghdad Comes to an End

The final episode of Hometown Baghdad was posted up on their site a few weeks ago.

Hometown Baghdad was a project to try and give people an idea about everyday life in Baghdad. The producers recruited three young Baghdadis and gave them cameras, and sort of like in a reality show, filmed them going about their everyday lives. The website says about the project:
The people profiled in 'Hometown Baghdad' are not the usual figures that dominate the media's coverage of the Iraq war: the politicians, the troops, the insurgents or the religious fanatics. They are young, smart ambitious Iraqis struggling with everyday concerns in the middle of a deadly war.

Apparently originally there was going to be a fourth person in the project - a girl. But because she lived in the green zone, there were problems getting permission to film so she dropped out.

Its an incredibly moving series. You really feel like you get to know the three guys very well, and through them, some of their friends and families. I would really recommend it to everyone, not just those who follow the news on Iraq regularly. Each episode is only a few minutes long.

You can watch all the episodes online here or download them.


Thursday, 5 July 2007

"...what exactly is this nebulous entity known as the Muslim community?"

An old, but nonetheless truly interesting article by Kamila Shamsie in the Guardian about this odd thing known as the Muslim community. And well written too.


Meanwhile, Back in Afar Land...

This whole lal masjid drama has been completely distracting me from other matters. Quiet apart from the fact that I should be working on my dissertation, there have been a couple of things I had wanted to blog about:

Recently I read an article by Priya Satia called "The Defense of Inhumanity: Air Control and the British Idea of Arabia" (American Historical Review Feb 2006) which apart from its interesting main thesis sparked some ideas about what Afghanistan means as a landscape of Jihad and spiritual redemption for the ISI and military men who became increasingly involved with covert operations there through the 80s and 90s. If I were ever to write an article on this, I might easily call it "The Defense of Inhumanity: Jihad and the Pakistani Idea of Afghanistan". I'm sure that more than one ISI officer in Afghanistan has seen himself as a sort of Lawrence of Arabia, living out the dream of a pure, manly life while helping a tribal people free themselves from the shackles of oppressive foreign rule.

But more on that some other time. Maybe.

The other interesting thing I've recently read is a policy and analysis report prepared by two media experts at the American propaganda unit Radio Liberty, entitled "Iraqi Insurgent Media: The War of Images and Ideas" and because its an American article it must of course have a subtitle which is "How Sunni Insurgents in Iraq and Their Supporters Worldwide Are Using the Media." You can download it here. Some interesting information there on the different insurgent groups, their use of media, and their discussions on strategies, aims and so forth.

Also, I now find myself trying to read for my dissertation, reading Mark Mazower's 'Dark Continent', and desperate to read my newly acquired collection of essays by Philip Curtin on 'The Rise and Fall of the Plantation Complex' which is about the institution of slave plantations - from their origins to their decline with the end of slavery in the Americas. (Note: By the late nineteenth century keeping slaves was so unprofitable that plantation owners were freeing them in droves even before the final abolition laws came into place throughout the Americas). All this, and I am spending most of my time reading blogs about Maulana Auntie!

Speaking of blogs, I've come across an interesting blog called 'Not the Whole Truth'. Given that the humanities and social sciences have generally been bulldozed into a ditch by the "useful" disciplines devoted to the deification of capital, its always encouraging to come across people in Pakistan with a genuine desire to grapple with basic questions about culture, identity and political theory. Its going up on my blogroll!


Maulanas on TV and an Anatomy of a Seige

Here's an interesting article written by a reporter for Time magazine who was inside the Jamiah Hafsa Madressah interviewing the headmistress when all the trouble started a couple of days ago. If you get past some of the more breathless sensationalising it makes for an interesting read. Here's a paragraph:
"Come on, we are going out to protest," said Aman. I only recognized her by the glasses perched on the outside of her mask. I follow her outside the madrassah gate where a hundred or so black robed women chant in unison against Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and against George W. Bush. A crack, a small explosion, and a cloud of acrid tear gas drifts our way, fronted by a pack of stampeding men. Apparently they had tried to occupy the neighboring Environment Ministry. I run back to the gate, having lost Aman in the sea of panicking black robes. More explosions, more tear gas. And the gunshots begin. First from the mosque, then in retaliation from the rangers. We are caught in a narrow corridor, bullets slicing through the thick smoke on either side of us. Another canister of tear gas rolls past my feet, spewing cottony clouds that claw at my eyes and tear at my lungs. Sweat, picking up gas particles clinging to my clothes, burns my skin. Someone from the second floor above the gate pours a bucket of water on us. Blissful reprieve, even if it lasts only a few seconds. I fight for breath, and I fight my instinct to breathe deeply. Eyes streaming, coughing, choking, spitting, we scrabble at the front door, battling to get through the narrow passageway, eight at a time, back into the madrassah, into safety.

Meanwhile, the guys on Metroblogging Islamabad continue to do a great job of keeping an eye on developments. They've also posted up video clips of two interviews - the first was an interview done over the telephone with Maulana Rashid Ghazi in the lal masjid by ARY and the second is one done with the captured Maulana Aziz Ghazi by the state-run PTV.

Both are interesting, though the second one turns into a polemic representing the government's position towards the end, with the interviewer barely giving Maulana Auntie the chance to respond. I truly enjoyed the grilling the ARY anchor gives Maulana Rashid.


A few thoughts: Now, I don't give much credence to the conspiracy theory that these two guys were stoking up the whole issue on the orders of the government to distract attention from the Judicial crisis. However, I can't shake the feeling there's something not quiet right here.

Firstly these guys are just not masterminds of anything. They are, in fact, quiet hapless, buffoonish not in that they are stupid, but almost sheepish as if they've been playing a naughty game and have been found out.

Secondly, there's an interesting point in the PTV interview where the interviewer asks Maulana Auntie where his students got guns from and what guns had to do with Islamic training. He replies that his madressah did not possess any guns until a few days ago when a few guns and gas masks were given by "friends" who said that the government was planning an operation against them. He decline to say who these friends were.

Now when the interviwer asks the question, he asks about klashnikovs, because klashnikovs are ubiquitous in Pakistan. Almost every automatic weapon you find in the country, whether used by private individuals, militants, police, rangers or army are AK-47s. But recall my earlier post were I pointed out that apart from a few AK-47s the students had snatched from the police, they were armed with MP-5s. Only in the army special forces will you find MP-5s. Oddly enough the "friends" of the Maulana provided MP-5s.

Even more interesting is this article I came across in the Asia Times which has this startling claim:
Ghazi admitted to this correspondent two weeks ago that things were not in his hands and that if he ever tried to compromise with the government (as there was considerable pressure from the clergy around the country to do so), he and his brother would be killed by their students.

Now this made me sit up and take a closer look:
The Lal Masjid "movement" has steadily fallen into the hands of Islamic militants connected with the radical bases of the Taliban in the two Waziristans. In the past few months, brothers Ghazi and Aziz have lost a lot of their power, becoming more like puppets whose strings are in the hands of the students around them.

Aziz's attempt to sneak away from the mosque dressed in a veil is evidence of this. Within minutes of his arrest, Aziz was sped away to the nearby headquarters of the Inter-Services Intelligence, from where he telephoned his brother and told him to lay down his weapons. Similarly, a delegation of Muslim scholars visited the mosque to seek a peaceful solution. The militant students forced Ghazi to issue a statement that they would not surrender.

Now there may just be something to this. Both the Ghazi brothers are political creatures. Cronies of Zia-ul-Haq, they have survived and thrived in the murky world of Islamabad's power politics not because of ideological rigidity but because they have known when to cut deals and with whom. It seems entirely possible that they lost control of the Frankenstein's Monster that they had created.

What is most extraordinary in the interviews was just how little they seemed cued in to what was happening around them. Rasheed, when asked of his brother's arrest claimed he had gone out to meet someone! Aziz claimed that it was only when he was outside that he realized how serious the situation was, and that's why he was now calling on the students to lay down their arms and surrender. His statements also seem to reveal that he had no clear idea of what the male students were getting up to when they rushed the rangers outside the masjid a couple of days ago.

Now part of this may well be attributed to attempts to save face. But the chronology of how events blew out of control is interesting. This is what I have reconstructed from news reports:

- Unnamed 'friends' provide automatic weapons and gas masks to some students and warn of operational planning within the armed forces for storming the Madressah.

- Meanwhile, the keystone cops surrounding the madressah are replaced by rangers by the government. They start setting up a cordon around the madressah.

- Seeing the perimeter being set up, a group of students rush out to stop them, sending some running and grabbing their weapons.

- The rangers, not being the same timid hapless souls as the much abused Punjab Police respond with teargas and aerial-firing.

- Jumpy students, now armed and expecting a government "operation", think they are under attack and respond by firing directly at the rangers, killing one.

- The rangers pull back to the cover of their barracks and start returning fire. The streets in front of and around the madressah are given over to roving bands of madressah students, intermingled with journalists and bystanders. Some are focusing on firing back at the ranger positions, others fan out and attack the Environment ministry and a girls' school.

- Government authorities rush in reinforcements and liberal use of armed force and teargas push the students back into the compound. In the crossfire numerous students, journalists and some bystanders are injured or killed.

- With public reaction turning strongly against the madressah, the government decides to initiate a proper siege. It sends in special forces and Brigade 111 - which is, interestingly enough, Musharraf's most trusted men - the people who launched the coup that brought him to power.

- The students of the madressah had so far been engaged in games of cat and mouse with the Punjab police - overwhelming small groups and revealing in the power of proclaiming their faith to the world in theatrical displays now find themselves in a serious war situation. They start surrendering in droves.

- All that is, except for a militant hardcore nucleus who hold out and are accused to pressuring other students to stay and, possibly, pressuring the mosque authorities to stay as well.

Now what's interesting about this scenario is that whoever it was who gave the weapons to the students did the masjid authorities absolutely no favours. In the hands of jumpy, hot-headed youths, it was a recipe for disaster. By sparking the bloodshed on Tuesday, they coalesced popular public opinion against them and finally roused the ire of the government.

With friends like these...


Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi on Giulani

Came across this article on the net. Its an NBC reporter's interview of Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi (of lal masjid fame). This is how it begins:

“In New York when Rudy Giuliani was mayor and he closed the brothels and all those things, no one said he was an agent of the Taliban, did they?” Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi shot back to a question about the creeping Talibanization in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. He was referring to Giuliani’s campaign in the ‘90s to clean up Manhattan’s Times Square, ridding the area of strip clubs and X-rated video stores.

My, my, but this is most interesting. We must concede the point to Mr. Ghazi. The rest of the article is mediocre blah, and the comments from readers that follow the usual uninformed blend of racism and ignorance from a variety of perspectives.

But there's an interesting point to be raised here. Something, that is readily apparent to anyone who has been exposed to people with the kinds of views Mr. Ghazi has and the kinds of books they read and ideas about the world and how it works, that they hold. So-called Islamic fundamentalism is very much a product of the modern, globalised world. It is in fact a phenomenon of modernity.

There's an endless recycling of rubbish by so-called experts in the media about how Islam is against modernity, it has to 'catch-up' or 'reform' or reconcile itself with modernity etc. There is endless analysis of the writings of Syed Qutab, deconstruction of the writings of Tariq Ramadan (who no one has heard of outside the west). I've had people who have never met a Muslim in their lives quote some obscure saying of the prophet no one has ever heard of to me and tell me that it is because of this that 'they' want to kill 'us'.

Most people with 'extreme' views that I know, watch CNN, read Samuel Huntington, get corporate sector jobs, parrot ideas popularized by Christain fundamentalists about the evils of science/the west/communism/atheism and for the most part have little concern with what the 'experts' believe they are guided by. Almost every single one insists that 'traditional' or 'uneducated' Islamic practice is wrong and must be reformed. They present their own views as the correct or true interpretation of Islam.

In fact, much like in the Reformation, where the traditional, "superstitious" Christianity of the peasantry was rejected by Protestants who offered up their own, educated interpretations as the true Christianity.

There's much more to be said on this topic, but at the moment I have neither the time nor inclination. Suffice to say, when Maulana Ghazi is inspired by Giulani, you know that many of the assumptions made by experts in the media need to reassessed.


Lal Masjid Seige Continues

Even though I haven't blogged a great deal about it, I've been glued to the computer trying to follow the latest developments of the Lal Masjid siege over the last two days. I've found to have some timely updates and video footage, but the people at the Islamabad Metroblog has been a good source for the latest developments as well. Other than that, Geo News puts audio files of its hourly news round-ups on its website (there are in Urdu however), and also puts up articles in English.

Despite the giggles over Maulana Abdul Aziz's farcical escape attempt, and the relief that over 1100 people left the lal masjid compound voluntarily yesterday, a very serious potential for catastrophe still exists with the siege. Apart from the 17 people confirmed killed so far in the clashes between students and the the authorities since 3rd July, a large number remain holed up in the compound and the prospects of any attempt to storm the compound could lead to a WACO like bloodbath.

Jamia Hafsa students were in the midst of clashes between militants and rangers (courtesy: BBC)

Many of those who left yesterday were relieved to be away from the Madrassah. Others were unwilling to leave and had to be cajoled, pleaded with, and in some cases dragged out by concerned family members. There were a large number of relatives reporting that their daughters or nieces were being coerced to stay, their mobile phones confiscated so they could no longer communicate with relatives outside.

A Lal masjid militant clearly concerned about the fact that the girls might get caught between the crossfire as his fellow militants shoot at rangers (source: bbc Urdu)

An article in The News describes the agony of relatives desperate to get their girls out:

At about noon, the administration of the mosque stopped releasing or handing over any girl to her parents. This continued for about one hour. Some female students during their interview disclosed that this step was taken to force maximum number of female students to stay back.

"By having maximum number of girl students inside the Jamia, the administration could exert maximum pressure on the law-enforcement agencies for not launching an operation," a female student said. "However, the Lal Masjid administration was forced to take this decision back after the number of parents outside the mosque rose."

Abdul Saboor from Chattar said that his three nieces were inside the Jamia and he was unable to access them despite making efforts the whole day. "I have sent many paper slips to the Jamia Hafsa but the response was negative every time," he said, adding: "A response from the woman administrator was that my nieces have been admitted to the Jamia Hafsa and they have taken oath to sacrifice their lives for the cause of Islam, so they could not be allowed to go with you."

A reporter for Dawn who was interviewing students who were leaving made an interesting observation:

She estimated the number of girls under the age of 10 years to be at least a hundred. Nobody had come to get them so far. Another 19-year-old student from Peshawar, Naila, tended to agree with this figure. Both of them said these children were frightened and “Madam”, wife of the Lal Masjid Maulana, was taking care of them. Apparently quite a few of these children are orphans and had been deposited at the seminary by their relatives.

Which of course touches on the entire reason Madrassahs have become an increasingly popular feature of Pakistani society in the last few decades - they are virtually the only institutions that provide social service functions such as care for orphans and homeless migrants to urban centres.

To these rootless individuals, caught up in the gears of a changing society that hasn't developed the social mechanisms to care for them, the madressah provides more than an education. It also provides a sense of belonging, identity, structure, and self-worth. As a taliba, one is an empowered, educated, righteous individual on the right side of history, with a sense of purpose, and a sense of belonging to something that is Godly, worthy, and of benefit to your country. In a society that treats women as objects, of less worth than men, and the poor as little more than beasts of burden, these describe an emotional state very few girls in Pakistan have access to.

So its interesting what tactics the Mosque authorities use to get the girls to stay:

Most of the female students do want to leave, Mr Shaheen said, as well as several of the younger ones. But he said the leaders of the mosque, Ghazi Abdul Rashid and Maulana Abdul Aziz, commanded them to stay. "They said to the students that 'your lives are useless if they won't protect the sanctity of the mosque'."

A truly interesting photo of one of the lal masjid militants. He is brandishing a Heckler & Koch MP5 which is not a commonly available weapon in Pakistan at all and is only issued to the SSG commandos and special forces, and wearing a gas mask of the kind worn by Pakistani special forces. [Edit: Please see below] Where did he get these do you think? (Source: BBC Urdu)

The government, claiming the girls are being used as human shields, has this to say:
"A large number of women and children are being held hostage by armed men in room," Khan told a news conference, adding that the brother of the captured cleric was hiding in the basement of an attached madrasa with 25 "women hostages".

"Yes, they're using them as human shields, because the people who have come out, they told us that they're telling women and children not to worry because as long as you're here forces will not attack us," he said.

And what did Maulana Aziz have to say about this?
"They are not being used as human shields, we only gave them passion for jihad," said Aziz, who was later remanded in court.

Needless to say, while Maulana Auntie's stomach may have been of noticeably larger dimensions than that of the girls in the madressah, his passion for jihad seems to be of a much smaller order of magnitude.

Let's hope this turns out okay.


Post-script: A number of knowledgeable readers have pointed out that the pictured gun the militant is holding is not an MP-5 and that this is now limited to SSG forces in Pakistan. Please read the comments for a debate on the issue.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Given Away By A Pot Belly!

Ah, how Maulana Abdul Aziz must rue all those parathays he's had through the years. He was captured while trying to escape from the government siege of the lal masjid complex by slipping out with a group of young girls in burqas. Alas, some sharp-eyed officers spotted something suspicious:

Another security official told AFP that the cleric had been picked out because of his "unusual" demeanour."The rest of the girls looked like girls, but he was taller and had a pot belly," the official said.

I wish one of the news channels had caught this on tape.

Edit: Meanwhile, one Lahori wit has asked, 'Which Auntie Do You Condemn The Most? Auntie Shamim or Auntie Maulana?'

When the policewoman who first spotted the suspicious bulge of the Maulana's midsection moved to question her, (sorry, I mean him), the burqa-clad students with him protested that "Our Auntie is very ill!" This has led to the Pakistani blogosphere dubbing him 'Auntie Maulana'. The term is all the more amusing because 'Auntie Shamim' was what the lal masjid burqa-clad vice squad had dubbed the woman they had abducted and accused of running a prostitution service.

The consensus seems to be that Auntie Maulana is the more contemptible of the two.


Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Beware of Ray Gun

Came across this at this website where, amongst other things you can watch videos of it being used on journalists.

It's just bizarre.


Dangerous Fatwas

And just in case anyone thought fatwas were very consequential in the Muslim world:
‘Mujahideen’ of Bajaur Agency warned clerics on Monday that if they do not take back the fatwa against suicide bombing, they should prepare to face the consequences.

Bajaur, you will recall, is not one of the areas which the Pakistani army ceded to the militants after its defeat last year. However, the army's withdrawal has seen a large increase in militant activity in the district, which has prompted local tribal leaders to call for raising their own militia to protect against the Taleban-inspired militants.

Local clerics had issued the fatwa amidst growing concern that the retreat of the army had left the area vulnerable to the militants. Alas, it doesn't seem to have had the desired effect:
The militants also disputed the clerics’ decree that Islam “does not allow intimidation,” saying this opinion should also be withdrawn. “Those who are working against the interests of mujahideen or defaming us should stop doing so,” the pamphlet warns.

So what we have here is an attempt to intimidate clerics into saying that intimidation is permissible. Ah, the ways of holy war are mysterious indeed.


Monday, 2 July 2007

Imperial Nostalgia Part II

The Guardian recently ran a book review of a collection of selected articles of Karl Marx's reporting for the New York Tribune, written by none other than the lefty-turned-(far)-righty, Christopher Hitchens. As with just about everything Hitchens tends to write these days its long and somewhat rambling but otherwise fairly interesting.

As this blogger points out, Hitchens is obviously also trying to write himself into the article when he writes about the journalist who was a "prickly and irreconcilable subversive." We read about how Marx was also an "heretical exile", whose finest quality seemed to be "a fine contempt for all theocracies and all superstitions, whether Christian, Jewish or Islamic." (Hitchens is a Brit "exile" living in the States and has made a name for himself as a rabid anti-religious atheist, through books such as 'God is Not Great'.)

But that's not exactly what interests me here. What interests me is what Hitchens, who is probably one of the loudest exponents in favour of the Iraq War and the idea of an 'imperial' America's civilising mission creating a new world order by force (amongst his more subdued rants he insisted that the war in Iraq was to be the beginning of "a slum-clearance program" in the Middle-East), has to say about British Imperialism in India:
Marx's... disdain for superficial moralism, also allowed him to see that there was more to the British presence in India than met the eye. No doubt the aim of the East India Company had been the subordination of Indian markets and Indian labour for selfish ends, but this did not alter the fact that capitalism was also transforming the subcontinent in what might be called a dynamic way. And he was clear-eyed about the alternatives. India, he pointed out, had always been subjugated by outsiders. "The question is not whether the English had a right to conquer India, but whether we are to prefer India conquered by the Turk, by the Persian, by the Russian, to India conquered by the Briton." If the conqueror was to be the country that pioneered the industrial revolution, he added, then India would benefit by the introduction of four new factors that would tend towards nation building. These were the electric telegraph for communications, steamships for rapid contact with the outside world, railways for the movement of people and products, and "the free press, introduced for the first time to Asiatic society, and managed principally by the common offspring of Hindus and Europeans".

Now this is a spectacular piece of mythologizing. Lets deal with it point by point:

1. The myth of the British sparking 'dynamism' in India. The South Asian economy was a far more dynamic place BEFORE British rule started sucking the life out of it by remitting all the silver currency out of the country, thereby massively disrupting the economy.

2. India had always been subjugated by outsiders? Only in the chest-thumping nationalist rhetoric of post-Napoleonic Britain could a statement like this make sense, considering that amongst others, the Romans, the Angles, the Saxons, the Vikings and the Normans had all "subjugated" England in the past. Were these not outsiders?

Of course this kind of statement has something to do with the feminisation of India in the Victorian imagination - an exotic, slightly dangerous, but bounteous beauty to be subjugated by manly, warlike conquerors. And the best man must get the prize.

3. On the same note, one would almost think that the British had to fight the Turks, Russians, etc. to claim India, rather than the powerful native Indian states such as Mysore, the Maratha Confederacy or the Punjab.

4. Ah! The much-beloved largess of the British industrial revolution - the most commonly cited justification of British rule. Except neither the telegraph, the railway, the steamship, or the industrial revolution had been invented when the British began their wars of conquest in Bengal in the 1750s. Perhaps, possessed of a prescient notion that these wonders of industrial civilization were just around the corner, the British started the process of conquest so that these lovely things could be introduced as soon as they became available...?

5. Except, what's all this? Bengal - in whose large textile workshops in the early eighteenth century, we had some of the largest and richest proto-industrial processes in the world at the time, actually de-industrialised under British rule! Though new industrial processes in Britain and the America could produce cheap cloth (mostly due to the provision of cheap cotton through slave labour in the colonies), they could simply not compete with the far superior cloth coming out of Bengal... so the British proceeded to demolish the textile industry in Bengal. In 1700, Bengal was the richest part of a rich land, with living standards comparable to those in Britain and better than those of most other European states. This was what drew the British to trade there, and also why it was the first part of the sub-continent that the British conquered. When the British left in 1947, Bengal was the poorest parts of the sub-continent.

Gee, I wonder why?

6. The "free press". Quiet apart from the fact that there are examples of news broadsheets existing from the times of the Mughals in India, the historian C. A. Bayly describes a pretty impressive system of news sheets and almanacs proliferating in the bazaars of 18th century India. Having said that, it must be said that a vigorous and healthy press grew up in the second half of the nineteenth century and much of it became the focus of nationalist aspirations by the 20th. Of course the British introduced "emergency" laws that suppressed the free media and throughout much of the years of British rule in the 20th century the "free press" was censored under martial law. Alas to do so became an addictive habit to the civil servants and military men who ran the country - so much so, that after independence, the men trained in these fine British institutions continued to keep up the habit from time to time.

7. But all this begs the point: Does a country need to be invaded and occupied to get a few railroads, telegraph and a free press? Hitchens has an obviously vested interest in making this case. But I wonder, how did the Japanese get railroads and telegraphs without being invaded? What about Turkey? What is this rather odd idea that only through an invasion can the fruits of the industrial revolution be shared?

Marx was in many ways an "irreconcilable subversive" but in many other ways he was a product of his times, sharing many of its assumptions and conceits, and working without the benefit of historical hindsight that we have now. Its not surprising that he was equivocal on imperialism - after all, he, just as everyone else at the time had convinced themselves that this was the path to progress.

But history has thoroughly debunked this idea, even though it refuses to die. Why? Because it is an idea that serves the exercise of power. It obfuscates the exercise of this power and its lethal effects. It placates consciences. In short, it sells tyranny. That is why Hitchens flirts with it endlessly. However, as he himself states about Marx's writings on India:

8. "The aim of the East India Company had been the subordination of Indian markets and Indian labour for selfish ends."

Yes, exactly.


Losing Afghanistan... Redux

A few days ago, I wrote a post about how the opportunity for NATO and the world at large to do something truly useful for Afghanistan was slipping away due to a combination of mismanaged aid and development efforts and a badly conceived military campaign.

Two days after my post, the Washington Post informs us of a NATO air assault that kills over 100 villagers in Afghanistan.
"More than 100 people have been killed. But they weren't Taliban. The Taliban were far away from there," said Wali Khan, a member of parliament who represents the area. "The people are already unhappy with the government. But these kinds of killings of civilians will cause people to revolt against the government."

Why? Why? Why? The War on Terror is such a pointless, stupid, purposeless and most important to understand, counter-productive war!


Sunday, 1 July 2007

Pakistan's Energy Crisis

The last couple of years have seen a major energy crisis in Pakistan, with Karachi in particular suffering from massive load-shedding. This summer, most of the city has been seeing 6-9 hours of load-shedding per day. Recently this state of affairs has even led to street protests.

This has been the result of a huge increase of demand and a static supply since 2004. Consumer electric goods, particularly air conditioners and fridges and freezers have dropped in price by up to 60% with the influx of cheap Chinese brands into the market. Multiple A/Cs are now common in middle class households. However, there has been no increase in the production of electricity. Karachi has further suffered from a decrepit infrastructure that has had to cope with the continuing building boom and expansion of the city and malignant neglect from a series of quarters. In an insightful Dawn article, Irfan Hussain examines how a series of policy and planning failures has led to this crisis.