Monday, October 31, 2005

Azad Karachi Radio Program 003, October 31, 2005

Program 3 of Azad Karachi Radio continues discussion of the earthquake in South Asia and discusses issues of democracy, civilization and the role of the World Bank and the Military.

You can hear the program, or get information on how to subscribe to the Podcast here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Military, National Disasters, and Posse Comitatus

The principle that the military can not be used for operations within the "homeland", as it has come to be referred to, is one that is often taken for granted in the discussion and practice of American (meaning, of course, US) democracy. Both by those who believe it is a very important principle and by others who think, as a lot of even "liberal" and "Democratic" (with a big "D") pundits have said in the last month or so, that since the military is there and it is very well trained and equipped, we should use it. There was quite a bit of discussion about the role of the military in disasters of a national scale in the US media lately, peaking a few weeks ago, and I have been meaning to comment. See for example, the following on National Public Radio:
and more generally,

You will hear the "liberal"s I am talking about.

Frankly, to a person that has lived under more military governments than elected ones, that is scary. And this is coming from a person in the thick of trying to keep track of relief and aid for about a 100 000 or more of my own compatriots in Pakistan. The logic of "they are there, let's use them for this, and since they are the best (physically, I guess) equipped and trained, it would be criminal to not use them" is very, very tempting. But is it a replacement for building up institutions to really do the job the way it should be done?

Take this scenario: Say, two elected governments in a row have scandals that bring governance to a standstill. Then nepotism emerges in a time of national disaster and need. Oh, say mishandling the governmental response to a series of hurricanes followed by a major earthquake, with the appointment of an incompetent administrator for national disaster relief and then profiteering in relief and reconstruction. And then someone says "Well, we need some short-term management expertise to run things till we get back on our feet. Why don't we declare Martial Law--we won't remove the President; the guy we appoint to run things, the Chief Administrator for Homeland Security Law will report to the Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, but he'll have broad powers, so he can coordinate things. Just for some months. And it will soothe the nerves of our Chinese and Japanse creditors, too." Wouldn't the folks like the commentator in that NPR clip above say "Hell ya! Bring it on!! And about time, too!!!" Well, that's approximately what happened in Pakistan circa 1958. And again. And again. Most recently around mid-October 1999.

The most interesting and unsettling thing in the US perspective about all this is that the legal basis that prevents us from rushing headlong into that scenario is not a constitutional guarantee. It is a simple law, passed by Congress, usually referred to as "Posse Comitatus". And a simple act of Congress could change it. And given the speed and un-examined way in which, for example, the Patriot Act passed in a moment of national emotion, can anyone look me in the eye and tell me with a straight face that it couldn't happen? Think about it.

And moving on to the Pakistani scenario, I'd like my Pakistani brethren and sisters in Pakistan and, especially, in the diaspora, to also take a moment to temper the emotion and energy they are pouring into this time of national need. I get emotional and angry emails about what the army is and isn't doing for earthquake relief in Pakistan and what use it should be put to. I agree that, especially since we don't have the equivalent of a Posse Comitatus and the military is already involved in running so much else, we shouldn't leave any stone unturned in how we can use the military. But let us live up to that Islamic principle that we often quote, and at least know in our hearts that, even though we can't lift a finger to change things, this is not the best, or as we say in Islamic parlance, the "Ahsan", course of action.

World Bank "Support" to the Quake-Hit

A journalist friend forwarded a press release titled "Pakistan: World Bank Supports Earthquake Recovery with US$470 million", which said that
"The World Bank today announced a package totaling US$470 million to assist the Government of Pakistan in the reconstruction of areas devastated by the massive earthquake of October 8.

The package comprises US$200 million in quick disbursing credits from the Bank’s concessional International Development Agency (IDA), a US$100 million loan for highway reconstruction, US$130 million in additional credit financing for community infrastructure and US$40 million, announced last week, in reallocated IDA funding.
You can read the whole release here.

My reply to my friend was simply this:
"There's a Bollywood song that puts to music an old South Asian expression: "Main ro'ooN ya hasooN; karooN maiN kyaa karooN?!" [Do I laugh or cry? To do; what do I do?"]

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Azad Karachi Radio Program 002 now available

The second program of Azad Karachi Radio (I mentioned it last week) has just been uploaded. Please take a look and provide feedback:

Azad Karachi Radio is an Urdu language audio program available on the web. Published under the Azad South Asia banner, this program covers, politics, poetry, and life. The first two programs are now available at:

You can subscribe using podcasting software using the address:

Azad Karachi Radio is also available for online listening via Yahoo!s new (Beta) Podcasting service at:

Please send comments to me at

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Pakistan's Civil Society Shines

One of the rays of hope in the crisis in Pakistan at this time--and I am not just talking about the Earthquake-- is that Pakistan's "Civil Society", our silent majority, is showing what metal it is made of

I hate to sound like a broken record, tooting the same horn again and again, but readers of this blog will be familiar with WikiPakistan's documentation of the Quake and relief efforts, which is at:

People following that story will have seen how a nation, torn apart by ethnic animosities and sectarian conflict; the media coverage from where seemed to be all of "religious parties" holding rallies to burn international leaders in effigy (including their own--and never mind the religious proscription on making craven images); the way this nation just dropped all the noise and fury and focused on helping its own was a wonder to look at. And the "religious parties"? I have been trying to run an informational site on the crisis and it was on the 11th day that I saw anything from them that any Pakistanis paid attention to--and even then mainly to shake our heads in bemusement. I covered some of this in a previous blog entry.

But this past week came some positive feedback from two other sources--both, in a manner of speaking, from just over the border. (And I mean this not in an gloating way, but in a "It is good to be thought well of by the most thoughtful of neighbours" spirit.) If you get a chance, listen to what Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has to say on Talk of the Nation (a US radio program put out by National Public Radio) about the Human Rights community in Pakistan:

He says that Pakistan, in terms of Civil Society, has made major progress. Pointing to the Human Rights Commission, an NGO that "under visionary leadership of Asma Jehangir and IA Rehman" (his words) has done great work. He goes on to point out that our newspapers play a very big role, and give opportunity to different points of view. "I don't feel as hopeless about it...Pakistan will move towards democracy."

Then a few days ago, a friend in India pointed out what Pankaj Mishra has to say about our Press in the 10th anniversary issue of Outlook, a major, well-regarded journal:
(skip to page 2 and look for "Pakistan" if you are in a hurry--Note: The page requires login and the archives might not be available; Qalandar has been nice enough to reproduce the paragraph I am talk about in the comments section for this blog post.)

It is almost a throw-away line on page 2, and I feel that in his frustration with it, he's giving short shrift to India's very robust English language press, but it it does make the point that Dr Sen makes: that contrary to what you might have heard in most of the media in the West and elsewhere (and not just on FOX), this Muslim nation at least (the second largest, by the way) has a very strong tradition of an independent press, independent thinking, and independent speech--and not just "Islamist" rhetoric, neither.

So please, if you're not a Pakistani, in this moment when the world's kleiglights are trained on it, take a moment to explore Pakistan's society. You can start at WikiPakistan, or any of several sites that index Pakistani websites and information; or any of the Newspapers: The Daily Times, said to be the most independent; Dawn, our very own "paper of record", with all that that status entails; The News, our largest circulation English paper. Or explore the blogosphere at Karachi's Metroblog, or Lahore's; read Danial's blog; or tech maven TM's...write to me for more.

And if you are a Pakistani or have roots in that region. Well, ditto. Take a look at Pakistan. Not the Pakistan we whine about or the Pakistan your parents or you left a decade or five ago. Follow the disaster relief effort: notice the strength of our spirit and the beauty of our hearts once the silent majority wakes up and engages with an issue. We need to keep this alive beyond this month, this year. We need to come out of this a stronger, more engaged, more caring nation, playing the role that our founders envisioned--that of a modern nation and a democratic republic that stands for the best, most--to use the dreaded word--enlightened model of how Muslims can engage with the world of today; any day.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

...if it doesn't hurt...

"Let's Give until it hurts; for if it does not hurt, you haven't given enough."

Words to live by:

Read the full article.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Interview with an ISP Manager in Pakistan

Tariq Mustafa, Senior Manager, Core Networks, with one of the largest ISPs in Pakistan is a techie I have learned to respect and like--even though he was several years my junior at college. He's done a lot of things on the Internet over the years. He runs about the oldest mailing list there is for alumni of our common alma mater. You can read his own blog at

Here's an excerpt from a conversation I had with TM, as he is known in Pakistani technical circles, on Wednesday morning, Karachi time. Their offices are situated, together with other telecommunications providers that are part of their corporate group, in a highrise building near my parents' home in Karachi. There had been a tremor in this southern Pakistani city overnight.
we couldn't sleep last night
the 4.0 that hit Karachi?
apparently, my mother slept through it
but it were the rumors that made a louder noice
i was following it on the Karachi Metroblog
i got this call from my 24X7 team at [our] office (Hasan Center)
they panicked out of the building
i'd forgotten you have a 24x7 team reporting to you
that must have been "fun"
no..i was just wondering that god forbits if anything happens, how wholesomely would *I* be affected
imagining the tower housing so many communication stuff [a cellphone provider, a payphone company, etc.] coming down
do you have any technical reports on how sound that building is vis-a-vis earthquakes?
but that is the most scary part
do you intend to try and get something now?
as a manager, it seems like it would now be laazim [Urdu for obligatory] on you to do that
we've already started finding things out
but this email [about what to do in the case of an earthquake]
that come this morning from the admin
was the worst way of starting a day

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

iFaqeer Podcast, October 11, 2005

Podcast program. Covers a new Urdu language podcast, Earthquake information, and Pakistanis' reaction in a time of crisis. Who do they turn to?

Audio file is here.

Refers to these previous blog posts:

Who Do Pakistanis Turn To?

... besides God, that is.

In spending time on the Earthquake page I am administrating (hate that word) on WikiPakistan, (see previous post), and monitoring what has been happening around that whole mix, I had the following outburst on a mailing list I am on.

In Pakistan, for direct, on-the-ground information, about the best sources are Lahore and Karachi's "Metroblogs" at: and

If you want to see a Muslim nation come together in a time of need; a nation that others have dismissed as a "failed state" and one of the "Least Developed Countries" and on and on, read those blogs. This disaster has brought Pakistan and Pakistanis together like never before. (One poster on one of those blogs pointed out Pakistan's winning of the '92 World Cup of cricket as the only other time he felt a similar spirit).

And in this day and age, there is much talk about "secularism"--and the "Islamic Republic of Pakistan" is often under discussion in that context. But think about this:

Take as one example, Canada, arguably is one of the shining examples of the success of secular, liberal democracy. (I mean that without sarcasm; I have come to have great respect for that country and its social order.) But on the list of charities provided by "Foreign Affairs Canada" on their website for Canadians to consider donating to, 10 were based on one religion (never mind which one; I'd be raising the issue if they were all Sunni Muslim agencies approved by my mother); one's address doesn't work; and the 12th was the Red Cross.

On the other hand, we have Pakistan, so often in the news in connection with religious fanatics. And which is the Pakistanis' favorite charity--to a man, woman and child around the globe? Who do the denizens of this "breeding ground of terrorists" turn to in our time of need as our FEMA, our Salvation Army, our Red Cross, and our Mother Teresa rolled into one? Not a religious organization. Just one founded and run by an simple, God-fearing, unassuming, plain-spoken man in rubber slippers and basic kurta-pyjama (the dress that is the origin of our modern sleepwear, our pyjamas) who often drives the ambulances himself. We turn reflexively to the Edhi Foundation and Abdus Sattar Edhi. A man that is no Jamaat-i-Islami leader, no Franklin Graham, no Mother Teresa-equivalent. (And believe me, we have those, too.) Just a volunteer worker who now heads an organization that, as unassuming as its founder, and to the frustration of thousands of expats over the last few days, still does not have an official website touting, for example, that they run the largest volunteer ambulance service in the world, or asking for money. For information on the man and the organization, see

The rest of us mortals are demeaned devils (and I do mean that in the theological sense) compared to this man--a man who has, over the years, run afoul of every religious and ethnic organization in Pakistan--probably bar none--with his simple-minded insistence on doing the right thing; whether it was providing decent burial for the bodies of heathens, or putting a cradle outside the Foundations' Welfare Centers for abandoned/unwanted children. In the troubles that have engulfed that region over the last three decades, it was often the shield of an ambulance with the Edhi name on it behind which innocent bystanders were shepherded to safety--including at least once in this writer's life. And again this was often unsung: in my own case, it was amusing to hear on the BBC that evening that the Police had apparently rescued us.

That is humane leadership. And that's what matters in the end. As far as I am concerned, Edhi--often referred to by Pakistanis as "Maulana Edhi", a title reserved for the most respected of religious leaders and which literally means "My Lord"--is living proof that terms like "secularism" and "Islamic Republic" are distractions from the real work, that of doing well by the rest by His Creation.

And, to quote the Jewish sage, "the rest is details", or, in the words of an Urdu--the official language of Pakistan--poet:

mazhab thoe buss mazhab-e-dhil hai; baaqee sub gumraahee hai
(the only (true) creed is the creed of the heart; all else is heresy)

Information Site on Earthquake

Readers of this blog will be familiar with the fact that I am the founder of WikiPakistan--a "Pakistan Information Database" hosted by the same foundation that runs WikiPedia. I started a page about the Quake on WikiPakistan on Friday night (California Time) as soon as I heard of the Quake. The page (and affiliated pages) is starting to become a good place to gather and look for information.

Here's the message I sent around Friday night:

-----Original message from WikiPakistan Admin to community

I set up a page on WikiPakistan, which can be used to gather information, provide links, etc.:

This is a good place to put information you receive, so there is a central place to go to.

Suggestions/Requests for information:

* Specific information about towns, cities, etc. and how much they have been affected.
* Database of missing people and informatioin about people found.
* First hand accounts of events, photographs (phone camera pix welcome)
* Relief efforts, fundraising events planned, etc.

Please add the information yourself, if you can. Otherwise, e-mail it to

Since this tragedy spans several countries, please feel free to add quake-related information, from India and Afghanistan (and beyond? China?).

WikiPakistan is a relatively new Information Database about Pakistan, Pakistanis and the diaspora. The site is at and background information can be seen at . It is an open database that anyone can edit and is developed under a Free Document License. Contributors are encouraged to click on the "Create an account or log in" link in the top righthand corner of every page and create an account. You do not need to provide any personal information.

Azad Karachi Radio; a New Urdu Language Podcast

We've launched a new Urdu Language Podcast with the title "Azad Karachi Radio". Check it out at:

You can subscribe to the RSS feed using the following address:

Please let us know what you think.

For Azad South Asia,

Monday, October 10, 2005

Now PodCasting!

I have added a Podcast to this blog. The way things work for now is that I will make selected posts, and some Podcast-exclusives, available as audio files that will form the Podcast feed. You can subscribe to either the text version of this blog or the Podcast using the following URL/link:

Just copy and paste that address where the software you use to subscribe to PodCasts (for example iTunes from Apple, iPodder, etc.) asks you to put addresses of Podcasts you are subscribing to manually.

Most entries with a Podcast associated with it will also provide a link to the MP3 file for readers who want to download and listen to Podcasts directly.

And here's a Stop Press: Someone (not me; honest!) has already created an entry on Yahoo!'s new beta Podcasting service for this program. Check it out:

Thursday, October 06, 2005

On Foreign Policy and Doing The Right Thing

The problem, I think is not that America, or the American establishment, is evil or something. The problem is the false assumption--or big lie, if you will--that is often used to underpin propaganda; the assumption that any nation's foreign policy can be based purely on the human rights or best interests of other people.

Granted that one can operate in the foreign sphere with moral principles and try to do the right thing, and one can wage war and conduct one's diplomacy in ways that are not morally repugnant; and nations have done these things on occasion, including the USA. But to say that one is running one's foreign pollicy for the benefit of others is just not logical. And I am not picking on the US--Pakistan's (the country I am a citizen of) policies in Afghanistan; India's in Sri Lanka, the list goes on, fall under the same category. And often, as was arguably the case in Afghanistan under the Soviets, the cause was just. But the means chosen, the agents and friends the US and Pakistan picked, were not the ones that, especially in hindsight, were the best people to work with in the long run. In fact, one of the most prominent ones is now on the State Department's terrrorist list. And I am not talking about Usama bin Laden, but someone that was much more central to the activities of those governments at that time.

Personally, I hold critics of this or that foreign policy whose critique is that the policy is "selfish" in nature more at fault than the people actually running them. The critique, in my humble opinion, should be that the policy is not being implemented in with the dignity and rights of human beings in mind; thus not "Why is America looking out for its oil interests?" but one of a multitude of others. For example, "Why is American making deals with the House of Saud not some nicer Arab?" or "Why did American subvert Iranian democracy and put a monster like the Shah in place?" or "Why did American support Saddam in the first place?"