Posts Tagged ‘politics’

The Idiot’s Guide to Pakistan – Foreign Policy

March 29, 2009 1 comment

Foreign Policy magazine published a great article titled “The Idiot’s Guide to Pakistan“, written by Nicholas Shmidle who spent two years in Pakistan (06-07) and is soon publishing a book about his time there. Myself being a relative layman when it comes to the complicated situation, I can’t point out many inconsistencies but it definitely serves for an interesting read.

Firstly Shmidle draws a line between the commonly confused FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) and NWFP (North West Frontier Province), two different areas that are often confused. The first point of interest is that these areas have been troubled for quite a long time, this is not a recent development. Shmidle includes a nice quote from Lord Curzon on Waziristan, an area effectively run by the Taliban:

“No patchwork scheme — and all our present recent schemes, blockade, allowances, etc., are mere patchwork — will settle the Waziristan problem. Not until the military steamroller has passed over the country from end to end, will there be peace. But I do not want to be the person to start that machine.”

On the supposed “border” between Afghanistan and Pakistan:

Pashtuns ignore the border separating Afghanistan and Pakistan, named the Durand Line after the Englishman who drew it in 1893; the Pashtun “nation” encompasses wherever Pashtuns may live. Fighting the Americans, therefore, was seen as self-defense, even for the residents of FATA.

An interesting example of where colonialism in frontier areas wreaked havoc by trying to impose the Westphalian system of nation states by drawing random borders not defined by any real demographic or rational reason other than possibly the interests of occupying powers. We see similar issues in areas of post-colonial Africa, for example.

Here we have an interesting example of the fractitiousness of what outsiders know as one force the “Taliban”, in fact it is not one force and hardly united and even locals differentiate between them quite often:

(Maulvi) Nazir is only interested in fighting U.S., Afghan, and NATO forces across the border. He is not part of the TTP and has not been involved in the wave of violence sweeping Pakistan of late. Therefore, in the minds of Pakistani generals, he is a “good” Taliban versus Baitullah Mehsud, who is, in their mind, unequivocally “bad.” That’s just one example of Talibs living in Pakistan who do not necessarily come under the title “Pakistani Taliban” or the “Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan” moniker.

Sipahs, Lashkars and Jaishes:

Although Lashkar-e-Taiba is committed to fighting the Indians over Kashmir, Lashkar-e-Janghvi is bent on killing Shiites, and Jaish-e-Mohammed seems ready to attack anyone. The proliferation of these terrorist militias became so bad that in January 2002, Musharraf was obliged to declare, “Our army is the only sipah and lashkar in Pakistan.”

Issues with the Frontier Corps, the real front-line against the “War on Terror” or would that be “overseas contingency operations” now? Lol:


First off, the FC falls under the Interior Ministry, not the Defense Ministry, which overseas the half-million-member Army and has received the lion’s share of U.S. aid since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Defense Ministry’s dominance of the aid game means that the money Washington gives Islamabad to reimburse Pakistani security forces for operations against the Taliban and al Qaeda, money known as Coalition Support Funds, hardly, if ever, trickles down to the FC units manning a border post in South Waziristan who are, truly, on the “front lines” of the so-called war on terror.

Second, there is an issue of command structure because the FC is officered by regular Army colonels and generals. And finally, there is the problem that, owing to the widespread anger among Pashtuns toward the United States and the Pakistani establishment, no one can say whether the FC won’t simply hand over night-vision goggles and new weapons to the Taliban, especially when oversight by U.S. officials in FATA, parts of NWFP, and Baluchistan is so scarce.


Scary stuff. And an amusing account of the Pakistani army:

There is some leeway in the grooming standards and fitness levels expected by the Pakistani Army — especially for officers. Mornings are for praying and sleeping; lunches are for buffets; and evenings are for gallons of tea. Not much time for exercise, is there? And mustaches? The thicker, the better. Beards? The longer, the better. Does that mean that the Pakistani Army is composed of Islamic fundamentalists salivating at the opportunity to fire some nukes? Yes and no.

Umm. lol? On the famous ISI that we hear so much about, we have:

The ISI is the intelligence wing of the military. The Army, meanwhile, has its own intelligence wing, confusingly named Military Intelligence (MI). The Interior Ministry has its own: Special Branch. And so on and so forth; there are more intelligence wings in Pakistan than there are varieties of dal. And when Pakistanis on the street suspect that they’re involved in something nefarious, they simply refer to “the agencies.” That way, there’s no need to specify which agency was responsible because no one has any idea who is behind what, frankly.

Moreover on the perceived Islamism within the ISI:

The ISI draws from the ranks of the regular Army (in addition to some civilians), the same Army that is commanded by Sandhurst-educated, Johnnie Walker Black Label-loving Anglophiles.

And this is pretty much where he wraps it up, not exactly a conclusive conclusion as, at the moment, we’re getting a picture of more or less utter chaos everywhere, seems… about right? Good luck in “Afpak” Mr. President! And for those of you that are now better informed and view the region with more interest, why not get news from the source? Here’s a link to the Urdu-Pashtu Media Project, a project that concerns itself with the translation into English of Urdu-Pashtu media. No more BBC and Al-Jazeera, we now have the Pakistan Daily and the Indian Urdu Daily. Good times.

Categories: Afpak Tags: , ,

Is Israel an Apartheid regime?

March 22, 2009 6 comments

Yet another excellent op-ed from Tony Karon for Abu Dhabi’s The National appeared in my reader feed this morning.  Accusations of apartheid politics have been thrown at Israel for some time now from members of the Left and Palestinian solidarity groups but Mr. Karon seems to be suggesting that these accusations are soon going to hit the mainstream. Moreover, it seems these suggestions are prompted by comments made by Ehud Olmert himself.

In a remarkable interview last November, the Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert cautioned that unless it could achieve a two-state solution quickly, Israel would “face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, and as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished”. The reason, he said, was that Israel would be internationally isolated. “The Jewish organisations, which are our power base in America, will be the first to come out against us because they will say they cannot support a state that does not support democracy and equal voting rights for all its residents.”

I myself must have missed this interview last November but it certainly does sound remarkable – especially for Olmert to make such an admission which, it should be noted, was made even before the Gaza offensive began. That offensive, as Karon also points out, has seen a bit of a seismic shift in global perceptions of Israel.

Jewish communities in western countries have long been Israel’s trump card against international pressure, because they mobilise support for Israel and restrain critics by painting opposition to Israel’s policies as motivated by hostility to Jews – a toxic accusation in a world still sensitive to the horrors of the Holocaust. But what was palpable during the Gaza conflict was the diminished enthusiasm of young Jewish people abroad for Israeli militarism, and the increasing willingness of many to openly challenge Israel.

Karon invokes Jon Stewart, one of the left’s favourite political commentators and satirists. I also had no idea that Stewart was Jewish, which hardly matters I guess as opinions on Israel’s regime need not (and should not) be formed on a basis of religious or ethnic camaraderie. In the past, Jewish critics of Israel’s regime have been labelled “self-hating Jews” as carelessly as the accusations of “anti-semitism” have been thrown at gentile opponents. I have not heard such accusations thrown at Stewart, and hopefully they haven’t been and they won’t be. Hopefully we’re seeing a shift away from careless labelling and equating opposition to Israel to denying the Holocaust. Whatever your opinions on the matter, a discourse tainted with hysterics is never a positive thing.

Even as Israeli officials admitted last week that they were hoping to “rebrand” Israel’s image abroad, the Israeli media were reporting that six Israeli soldiers who had fought in Gaza were alleging that men in their units had indiscriminately killed Palestinian civilians because of what they said were permissive rules of engagement. There is only so much that “rebranding” can achieve when it is the product, rather than its packaging, that is at the root of the problem.

This is a fairly serious accusation. I have long said that the civillian casualties in Gaza were unacceptable and that the old defenses about fighting in densely-packed urban areas and Hamas using civillians as human shields, to me, just don’t seem to stack up to the numbers reported. 1,417 Palestinians died in a 3-week conflict, most of them civillians including many many women and children. I’m fairly sure the Israeli military command was not instructing its soldiers to fire at civillians but I’ve always suspected that the culture within the IDF has always been one of nonchalance towards civillian Palestinian casualties, I’ve always had a hunch that the motto seems to be “destroy Hamas at any cost, apart from Israeli lives”… Palestinian lives just never seemed to equate to the lives of Israelis.

In addition to what Tony Karon has wisely said, Israel will not be able to continue on the same track unless it starts to value the lives of Palestinians as equal to those of Israelis. Children are the same everywhere, and other innocent non-combatants should be too.

[Update]: Just seen some new articles from Haaretz and The Guardian about fresh allegations of massive disregard within the IDF for Palestinian civillian casualties and a disgustingly gung-ho culture. We’re talking about:

“Shoot and don’t worry about the consequences” was the message from commanders [Guardian]

Dead babies, mothers weeping on their children’s graves, a gun aimed at a child and bombed-out mosques – these are a few examples of the images Israel Defense Forces soldiers design these days to print on shirts they order to mark the end of training, or of field duty. The slogans accompanying the drawings are not exactly anemic either: A T-shirt for infantry snipers bears the inscription “Better use Durex,” next to a picture of a dead Palestinian baby, with his weeping mother and a teddy bear beside him. A sharpshooter’s T-shirt from the Givati Brigade’s Shaked battalion shows a pregnant Palestinian woman with a bull’s-eye superimposed on her belly, with the slogan, in English, “1 shot, 2 kills.” [Haaretz]

It’s really really sickening.

Join the pink underwear protest in India

February 12, 2009 8 comments

Those of you that are familiar with Indian “popular politics” and the related shenanigans of various Hindutva organisations will, along with peppering your sweethearts with love, be checking Indian newspapers with vigour on Febuary 14th to see what carnage/misery/humourous protesting has occurred. I don’t want to treat the matter lightly, in many cases it can get quite serious and has done so in the past.

In the leadup to V-Day we have already had a major event occur in Mangalore where a bunch of goons from a small group called the Sri Ram Sena ran into a pub and decided to beat up some women, Chris Brown style:

Reports say that 40 activists barged into the pub, found the girls and boys in what they called “objectionable positions’ and attacked them. The girls were chased and thrashed, slapped and kicked. They were tripped while they were running away while trying to escape. In the television reports, one could see at least one girl being tripped, resulting in her falling flat on her face.

This is, of course, nothing new in India, but it is completely reprehensible nonetheless. A group has arisen on Facebook titled A Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women, which at the time of this post has 29,855 members including males & females of various nationalities. The group promises to send the Ram Sena a pink chaddi (pair of lady’s undergarments), a novel idea but hopefully not one that will excite the young men and thereby not achieve its objective (as pointed out on Sepia Mutiny)

The underwear protest has been gathering serious press and in addition:

The Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women, which was formed on Facebook last Thursday, has also exhorted women to “walk to the nearest pub and buy a drink” on Valentine’s Day.



I joined the Facebook group in support and so should you (and check out the blog). Those murderous hindutva bastards must die (or at least go to prison)

The end of “White America”… so what?

January 19, 2009 2 comments

I’ve had numerous opportunities to read Hua Hsu’s excellent piece for the Atlantic titled “The End of White America”. It was linked on the blogs of such illustrious bloggers as Nisha Chittal and Andrew Sullivan, so of course I had to read it. It was indeed a thought-provoking piece and made me think about it’s implications not only for the USA but also for the whole world. Some choice quotes:

“I think white people feel like they’re under siege right now—like it’s not okay to be white right now, especially if you’re a white male,” laughs Bill Imada, of the IW Group.

A good point from Imada and one reason for this, I think, is that in the past 8 years, the damage that has been done by the Bush Administration worldwide and all of its related failures and disasters have somehow been associated with White America. All of a sudden, Americans are stupid… but they’re not only stupid… they are also redneck hillbilly cowboys, they are white trash and they don’t know anything about the rest of the world. As you can see the “white” tinge to this (fairly unfair) prejudice against Americans is obvious and their lack of knowledge about the rest of the world has an implication of a sort of revelling in whiteness… understandably it seems, nobody wants to be associated $with that sort of image.



“Like, I’m aware of all the horrible crimes that my demographic has done in the world,” Lander says. “And there’s a bunch of white people who are desperate—desperate—to say, ‘You know what? My skin’s white, but I’m not one of the white people who’s destroying the world.’”

Indeed. Hua Hsu also explores some of the more common contradictions involved in racial/ethnic identity association in the States:

And, as the historian Matthew Frye Jacobson asked, “Why is it that in the United States, a white woman can have black children but a black woman cannot have white children?”

In addition he explores what sort of impact this trend has had on White Americans and how this seismic shift is manifesting itself. Apart from chronicling the rise of hip hop and the ‘wigger’ phenomenon, he also looks at the other side of the spectrum.

The result is a racial pride that dares not speak its name, and that defines itself through cultural cues instead—a suspicion of intellectual elites and city dwellers, a preference for folksiness and plainness of speech (whether real or feigned), and the association of a working-class white minority with “the real America.”


The politics of this quote is fairly obvious, as soon as the word “folksiness” is mentioned, Sarah Palin comes to mind… and interestingly enough it was Palin who’s gaffe about “real America” vs. it’s presumably less palatable opposite was ridiculed on political blogs and SNL during her disastrous campaign for VP.

It has been mentioned countless times on political blogs and everywhere else in the wake of Obama’s victory but it deserves to be repeated ad infinitum until the GOP finally gets it into their thick skulls. America and the World is changing and has already changed, since the advent of Bush II. Not only is the USA changing demographically but the unfortunate associations of whiteness, specifically white trash hillbilly folksy whiteness, no longer resonate positively with people and they are no longer afraid to show it. There is nothing wrong with being ‘folksy’ but it will not be taken seriously in the political establishments.


Most Americans are clearly not stupid (as can be evidenced by the election result in November… finally… vindication) and hopefully the next 4-8 years will see the USA taken seriously on the world stage again, as the quality of its people and its history of leadership & progress richly deserves. How charming that this advent will happen at the hands of the first black president who will lead the new USA into the new age.

Categories: Obama & The US Tags: , , ,