Pakistan ‘created, nurtured’ terrorism: Zardari | Sindh Today – Online News

Posted on July 8, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Check out this website I found at sindhtoday.net

This is a crucial admission and an important point in democratic Pakistani governance, if only because of it’ll help build a national conversation about homegrown terrorists.

Zardari: “The terrorists of today were the heroes of yesteryear until 9/11 brought things into a new light,” Zardari said in what he called “a candid admission of the realities” in an interactive meeting with former bureaucrats Tuesday night at the presidency.

“Let us be truthful to ourselves and make a candid admission of the realities… Militancy and extremism emerged on the national scene and challenged the state not because the civil bureaucracy was weakened and demoralised, but because they were deliberately created and nurtured as a policy to achieve some short-term tactical objectives,” he said.

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Posted on July 5, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

It's been a while since I walked out of a movie. So long, in fact, that I can't remember when it last happened (although i'm fairly certain I've done it before.)

But now, Akki, Bebo and their annoyingly loud piece of trash (putting it rather lightly), Kambakkht Ishq has done it.

Warning: DO.NOT.WATCH.

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A free-lance prototype: multimedia and entrepreneurial

Posted on July 3, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Now this looks like the sort of thing I would want to do right out of college. Work as an international correspondent, wherever they send you, for just enough money that it costs you to travel and live there. Imagine that.

You have to free-lance, and be ready to live with the uncertainty that comes from that, but otherwise, I’m already somewhat of a multimedia journalist, and I’m prepared to go anywhere for pretty cheap, as long as the stories are interesting (and usually, if it’s not London, Washington or New York, those cheap stories have to be interesting.

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McSweeney’s Internet Tendency: Create Your Own Thomas Friedman Op-Ed Column

Posted on July 2, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

“Last week’s events in [country in the news] were truly historic, although we may not know for years or even decades what their final meaning is. What’s important, however, is that we focus on what these events mean [on the ground/in the street/to the citizens themselves]. The [media/current administration] seems too caught up in [worrying about/dissecting/spinning] the macro-level situation to pay attention to the important effects on daily life. Just call it missing the [desert for the sand/fields for the wheat/battle for the bullets].”

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A Photo Montage of USC Football – Conquest Chronicles

Posted on July 2, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

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Pakistanis turn on Taliban, but resent U.S. -poll | Reuters

Posted on July 2, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

* Opinion poll shows big swing against Pakistani Taliban

* Overwhelmingly negative views of U.S., Obama also seen

* Pakistanis express opposition to the war in Afghanistan

Some interesting news out of Pakistan, both good and bad.

The good bit, is obviously that public opinion, as far as this new poll conducted by WorldPublicOpinion.org shows that up to 81 percent of Pakistani people view Islamist militants and local Taliban as a critical threat to the country, up from 34 percent in 2007. That’s a tremendous increase, if accurate. If coupled with the fact that the poll also shows widespread sympathy with the present government and support for the army, this could mean that Pakistan can now begin to really hit the Taliban and other radicals where it hurts, without worrying about alienating the public.

Meanwhile, the country that has given them billions of dollars and continues to promise plenty more, is still the target of widespread disdain (to say the least.) Pakistanis are still not fond of their American allies, but that doesn’t matter as much, as long as they realise that the local militants are the ones that really matter and need to be beaten.

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Are humans cruel to be kind? – life – 16 May 2009 – New Scientist

Posted on July 1, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Interesting experiment into our natural tendency to be cruel.

“Last year Karla Hoff, an economist at the World Bank who is currently working at Princeton University, and her colleagues reported the results of experiments conducted in villages in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (American Economic Review, vol 98, p 494). In these tests, two players started out with 50 rupees each. The first could choose to give his to the second, in which case the experimenters added a further 100 rupees, giving the second player 200 rupees in total. The second player could decide to keep the money for himself, or share it equally with the first player. A third player then entered the game, who could punish the second player – for each 2 rupees he was willing to spend, the second player was docked 10 rupees.

The results were startling. Even when the second player shared the money fairly, two-thirds of the time the newcomer decided to punish him anyway – a spiteful act with seemingly no altruistic payoff. “We asked one guy why,” says Hoff. “He said he thought it was fun.””

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The Great Restructuring

Posted on March 15, 2009. Filed under: Public Square, Uncategorized |

I know this blog is focused on South Asia, and this will be a digression from that overarching theme, but as someone who hopes to make journalism his profession, I feel compelled to make some mention of Clay Shirky’s latest analysis of the newspaper business. This is a Must Read for anyone interested in the business.

The problem newspapers face isn’t that they didn’t see the internet coming. They not only saw it miles off, they figured out early on that they needed a plan to deal with it, and during the early 90s they came up with not just one plan but several.

Indeed, newspapers did all sorts of things to try and make money online, but there was one problem with most of these plans.

As these ideas were articulated, there was intense debate about the merits of various scenarios. Would DRM or walled gardens work better? Shouldn’t we try a carrot-and-stick approach, with education and prosecution? And so on. In all this conversation, there was one scenario that was widely regarded as unthinkable, a scenario that didn’t get much discussion in the nation’s newsrooms, for the obvious reason.

The unthinkable scenario unfolded something like this: The ability to share content wouldn’t shrink, it would grow. Walled gardens would prove unpopular. Digital advertising would reduce inefficiencies, and therefore profits. Dislike of micropayments would prevent widespread use. People would resist being educated to act against their own desires. Old habits of advertisers and readers would not transfer online.

If you read the post you’ll understand better that the way the fifth estate has survived in the last four centuries by occupying a peculiar crack between being an integral, governmental body (BBC, PBS) and having to make a profit acting as both a middleman (advertising medium) and content provider, with most of the money coming from the former.

When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.

There are fewer and fewer people who can convincingly tell such a lie.

That will no longer last in the age of the internet. Advertisers have found better and other ways to peddle their wares, for now at least. News organizations must now either put money into becoming better middlemen, or try and get their content to pay for itself.

And that doesn’t mean a paid model; Paywalls, micropayments, etc. won’t work, except in specific niches (WSJ, Consumer Reports). So what then?

Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead.

When we shift our attention from ’save newspapers’ to ’save society’, the imperative changes from ‘preserve the current institutions’ to ‘do whatever works.’ And what works today isn’t the same as what used to work.

We don’t know who the Aldus Manutius of the current age is. It could be Craig Newmark, or Caterina Fake. It could be Martin Nisenholtz, or Emily Bell. It could be some 19 year old kid few of us have heard of, working on something we won’t recognize as vital until a decade hence. Any experiment, though, designed to provide new models for journalism is going to be an improvement over hiding from the real, especially in a year when, for many papers, the unthinkable future is already in the past.

For the next few decades, journalism will be made up of overlapping special cases. Many of these models will rely on amateurs as researchers and writers. Many of these models will rely on sponsorship or grants or endowments instead of revenues. Many of these models will rely on excitable 14 year olds distributing the results. Many of these models will fail. No one experiment is going to replace what we are now losing with the demise of news on paper, but over time, the collection of new experiments that do work might give us the reporting we need.

The title of this post comes from Jeff Jarvis’ rather grand idea.

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How do you hold a rogue moonbeam in your hand?

Posted on March 14, 2009. Filed under: Public Square, Uncategorized |

How do you solve a problem like Pakistan?

Well, what do you do when your radical traitor of a brother, who you swore you’d never talk to again, is now broke and seems to have a terminal disease?

You help him out, that’s what you do. You throw him a bone. Family’s family after all, isn’t it?

And that’s what India needs to be doing, if it ever hopes to live in a region that isn’t constantly hampered by strife, militancy and, as a result, sustained poverty.

Invest! Pressure the Pakistani government to begin trading and opening up the country to Indian private investors. Put money into infrastructure and civil society development.

India has already extended Most Favoured Nation status to Pakistan, although this hasn’t been reciprocated, the only such case in the world. But right now they need the help, and they’d be hard-pressed to refuse it.

But wait, aren’t they supposed to traditional be arch-enemies, sustaining a pseudo-war over Kashmir, and will never agree to work that closely, especially since the Mumbai attacks?

Well, the “tradition” of being enemies only extends to the 1930’s, when the British first started dividing the locals on the basis of religion. For a culture that prides itself on unity in diversity for thousands of years, 80 shouldn’t mean much.

Indians and Pakistanis speak many of the same languages, although they may write them a little differently, wear the same clothes, enjoy the same movies and music, have the same obsessive passion for cricket and share the same penchant for inept politicians.

It’s only the emotional baggage left over from partition that keeps the people of the two countries apart.

So what’s keeping the two governments from working closely with each other?

As should be obvious from the events of the last few months, there’s the alarming spectre of fundamental Islamism that works closely with the Pakistani Army and the ISI to keep the two countries apart. And they’ve even managed to dictate the public mood, somehow rousing anti-India sentiments after the terrible events of the Mumbai attack.

The only way to counter the forces of jihadism, is to show that the country can succeed without fundamentalists. But it doesn’t seem likely that Pakistan will be able to do that on their own anytime soon; what with giving up the Swat valley to the Taliban, freeing A.Q. Khan and ceding more control of the NWFP to the tribes.

So they’re going to need some help.

Right now its the Americans and Chinese who are pouring money into the country. But the Yanks do it despite widespread opposition from the Pakistani populace, and also follow their own objectives in the region, having sunk $15 billion in the last 3 years without much to show for it. And the Chinese essentially help provide them with the military capabilities to keep India at bay,  furthering the Chinese aim of being the sole superpower in Asia, without actually being invested in a stable, prosperous Pakistan.

So who does benefit from a stable Pakistan? India!

They’re already spending millions in Afghanistan; Substantial amounts of money that goes to local institutions and infrastructure to induce democracy via prosperity.

Why not apply the same model to that other western neighbour, and, better yet, tie the money to Pakistani progress on dismantling the terror networks?

The actual process would have to take place in a careful, considered manner, with constant efforts to manage the publicity of such actions, but just because it will be difficult doesn’t mean its failure is assured.

The Indians would have to convince their own media, politicians and public to actually pour their own money into a country many see as being the “anti-India.” But after years of an unsuccessful peace process, and just as Islamic terrorism has upped its ante, Indians might be ready to face facts and be proactive about the situation, rather than expecting Pakistan to deal with it. They would have to make sure their money is not wasted on projects that will be destroyed by the Islamists.

On Pakistan’s side, it will be crucial to ensure that public opinion doesn’t see the investment as a form of a ‘soft’ invasion, a tough thing to ask, and the best way to do that would be to find a convenient public measure, subsidised by India, that actually has an impact on the average Pakistani.

If the government, and even more importantly, the people of Pakistan were convinced that their own prosperity depended on India’s, then the very dynamic of South Asian politics could change, and Pakistan might be less inclined to give a free rein to the terrorists.

India has always fancied itself as the big brother to the other South Asian countries, but the extreme volatility of the neighbourhood has stopped it from being able to pull its weight the way China or the US does.

This is its chance to have a positive impact on the region. Instead of trying to establish success by ruining its backyard via mini-wars and the promotion of insurgency, a la Russia, India would be helping to save its neighbours and the Subcontinent itself, starting with its antithetical little brother, Pakistan.

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The Key to South Asia: Not Kashmir

Posted on February 21, 2009. Filed under: Public Square, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , |

Most foreign policy experts and commentators today agree that Afghanistan and Pakistan are the real forefronts of America’s War on Terror. This is the place where global jihadi terrorism has been allowed to grow and flourish, especially while American troops are otherwise occupied in Iraq. An increased military focus on Afghanistan, accompanied by a drawdown of armed forces fighting the ‘mistaken’ war in Iraq, was even a major part of then-Senator Barack Obama’s campaign, and Obama has reaffirmed his commitment to this promise with the recent move of 17,000 troops to Afghanistan. As Obama’s administration begins to work out the details of its foreign policy, it will be imperative to gain a proper understanding of the factors that influence the politics of the region, and especially pinpoint the specific issue that needs to be dealt with in order to achieve stability in the region. Presently, the American and British foreign policy establishment mistakenly views the Kashmir issue as the key to the dynamic and troubled political relationships in South Asia; a policy that distracts these Western governments from the true nature of the power players in the region.

There are strong indications that Obama and the British foreign policy corps seem to believe that ‘solving’ the Kashmiri problem will be crucial to bringing peace to the region, an idea comparable to the assumption that a resolution of the Israel-Palestine problem would instantly bring lasting peace to the Middle East. Kashmir is undoubtedly an important factor in the overall structure of South Asian politics, and if this were 1947, right after independence and the partition of India and the first war over Kashmir, or even 1965, after the Indo-Pakistani war somewhat solidified the Line-of-Control which separates Kashmir between the two countries today, then the push to solve Kashmir ahead of all other regional issues would make sense. But, in the post-September 11th and post-Mumbai attacks world, it’s impossible to look at the terrorism that emerges from South Asia and attribute it entirely to a question of Kashmiri independence or how the two countries should divide the region.

While on the campaign trail, and before the Mumbai attacks, Obama made the following comments which were received with much criticism from the Indian administration and media,

“The most important thing we are going to have to do with respect to Afghanistan is actually deal with Pakistan…We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they can stay focused not on India, but on the situation with those militants.”

One of the problems, especially for many in India, with these comments was the suggestion that outside mediation would speed up the peace process that, at that point in time, was slowly progressing through delicate back-channel talks which might not have survived under the public scrutiny and pressure associated with third-party mediation. But the bigger issue with Obama’s statement was the implication that the Kashmiri issue was at the heart of Pakistan’s inability to deal with the militants who were supposed to be the real enemies in the war-on-terror.

Britain’s foreign minister, David Miliband, courted even more controversy by making similar assertions while on a tour of India in the immediate aftermath of the Mumbai attacks.

“Resolution of the dispute over Kashmir would help deny extremists in the region one of their main calls to arms, and allow Pakistani authorities to focus more effectively on tackling the threat on their western borders.”

As with Obama’s statement, the basic nature of the comments wasn’t entirely untrue, but, when putting them into context, there was the implication that the Kashmiri issue was the main reason that 145 people, including foreign nationals and Jews, were targeted and killed during the Mumbai attacks. In addition, Miliband echoed Obama’s assertion that Pakistan’s failure to deal with the militants was the result of their preoccupation with India and Kashmir.

The reality is, of course, much more complex. Pakistan’s difficulty in dealing with the militants is a direct consequence of the way politics and governance has come to operate in the nation. Over the years, Pakistan has struggled to establish itself as a stable democracy, having had four separate military dictators in its 62-year-old history, each of whom had a major effect on strengthening the influence of the army. Indeed, one of the most unique features of modern Pakistan is the precarious nature of the government’s position, especially with regard to the Pakistani army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s intelligence agency. In essence, the civilian leadership has “virtually no control” over either of these institutions which have played and continue to play an important role in the politics of the region. 

The aggressively independent army’s multifarious problems stem from inadequate training and equipment, the inability to fight militants and insurgents in the difficult, rocky terrain especially in the Northwest Frontier Provinces. Experts have even questioned the willingness of the army to attack and dismantle the very militias that were once in partnership with the army. The ISI has, on the other hand, has actively funded and supported extremist and anti-American militants in the past, and many believe it continues to do so. A leaked report by the British Defense Ministry in 2006 claimed that, “indirectly Pakistan (through the ISI) has been supporting terrorism or extremism – whether in London on 7/7, or in Afghanistan, or Iraq.” In fact, the very group that poses the biggest threat to democracy and stability in South Asia, the Taliban, was created and sustained with ISI funds, expertise and arms from the time of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to the years leading up to the September 11 attacks.

As a result, these influential institutions, the army and the ISI, that are supposed to be organs of a legitimate democracy yet still contain many personnel that have regularly worked to nurture and encourage militancy, continue to operate mostly independent of the writ of the government. Without heavy oversight from the government, both the army and the ISI can continue to cultivate the militants and extremists without fear of any retribution from either their own government or the Americans. According to Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria,

Pakistan has long viewed [the militias which are supported by the ISI and the army] as having given the country “strategic depth”—keeping its historic foes, India and Afghanistan, off balance. For Islamabad to genuinely renounce these groups would require a fundamental strategic rethinking within the Pakistani military.

Admittedly, the effort to influence Kashmir’s political climate has been one of the main objectives of the ISI’s involvement with militancy. Over the last few decades, the ISI has supported numerous insurgent Kashmiri groups and according to some experts they have since lost control of many of these groups. But since their inception as local militias fighting for Kashmiri independence, these groups, most significantly the Lashkar-e-Taiba (L-e-T), the terrorist organization alleged to have planned and carried out the Mumbai attacks as well as the 2005 attacks on the Indian parliament, have enlarged their objectives and are no longer satisfied with simply winning back Kashmir. In fact, L-e-T’s explicit aim includes the “restoration of Islamic rule over all parts of India” and to bring about “a union of all Muslim majority regions in countries that surround Pakistan.” So even the groups that might have started out Kashmiri-centric, are now modeling themselves after Al-Qaeda, demonstrating how much smaller of an impact the Kashmir issue itself has on militants in the region today.

The present democratically elected government of Pakistan, for its part, has shown a clear intent of reining in the power of the army as well as the ISI. It has disbanded the meddling political wing of the ISI and even attempted to bring the intelligence organization under the Interior ministry, an attempt that was recanted within three hours of its announcement. The problem in this case is that the situation of the government itself is precarious, in that it still has to draw sufficient amount of public approval in order to remain in power. Even though Pakistan is an ally of the United States in the war-on-terror and the populace is mostly moderate, rather than extreme Islamists, a strong anti-American sentiment still prevails among the public, and any action that seems to pander to the needs of a Western government, such as cracking down on the ISI, could threaten the ability of the administration to remain in power.

It is this delicate balancing act that Zardari has to carry out; dealing with powerful international allies that are often in direct opposition to influential domestic institutions, which have been connected to extremists and militants, while also maintaining public support. And it is this aspect of the South Asian political situation, rather than the Kashmir issue, that America and the international community will have to focus their efforts on, in order to achieve success in the region.

A large part of those efforts from the international community will have to focus on keeping Pakistan solvent and giving Zardari’s government enough support that it can establish order to the country. Along with the rest of the world, Pakistan is facing a protracted credit crunch which forced it to approach the International Monetary Fund for a loan of over $12 billion to “ward off a debt crisis.” America too, has provided nearly $15 billion of monetary aid to the country over the past few years because of its help as an ally in the war on terror, but an unknown amount of that money was passed on to the army and the ISI. Some reports indicate that Pakistan “diverted much of the money to build up its forces against India.” This highlights another consequence of unnecessarily elevating the importance of the Kashmir issue, because giving such publicity to the issue naturally raises the stakes on either side, and thus results in money and manpower being wasted by both countries in order to match the other on each side of the LOC. The Enhanced Participation with Pakistan Act, a bill sponsored by now Vice President Joseph Biden would “triple US nonmilitary aid to Pakistan, granting $7.5 billion over five years in assistance for development projects.” The U.S will have to ensure that enough oversight is in place this time to see that the money goes towards improving the democratic structures rather than simply going to the military.

Since assuming the presidency, Obama seems to have backtracked somewhat on his original stance regarding the relative importance of the Kashmir issue in the region. The administration is continuing the “de-hyphenated” policy towards India and Pakistan which was initiated after the U.S.-Indian nuclear energy deal was passed. Obama also gave only Afghanistan and Pakistan to the portfolio of his South Asian special envoy Richard Holbrooke, keeping him away from having to deal with Kashmir; a decision which many claim was the result of heavy lobbying by the Indian community. On the other hand, Obama has also appeared prepared to take the fight to Pakistan, launching drones and allowing missile strikes in the country. While this will have a positive strategic and military effect, the U.S. will have to make every effort not to unduly compromise Zardari’s government.

Holbrooke has a tremendous task ahead of him. Obama’s administration has shown less patience with both the Afghani and Pakistani governments, and a willingness to carry out unilateral military action, but Holbrooke will be the one having to deal with the fallout of this action. In addition, he will also have to make every effort to ensure that neither of the countries reverts back to lawlessness or has to contend with the specter of the ‘failed state.’ At the same time, developments like the freeing of A.Q. Khan, the man accused of having proliferated nuclear weapons technology to Libya, Iran and North Korea, and the acceptance of Talibani law in the Swat region, will force Holbrooke to take a deep, incisive look at the objectives that the US has in its engagement of the region. Kashmir will continue to be a contentious, significant issue in the region and every viable solution must be considered or even attempted, but as the international focus turns away from the problems of the middle-east and takes a better look at the issues in South Asia, the Western community will realize that achieving a stable, even prosperous Pakistan and Afghanistan will be far more important in the overall scheme of things.

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