Wednesday, January 25, 2006

"There is no such thing as an independent (Kashmir/Muslim/What-Have-You)!"

As I have always said, in any situation where a duopoly (or any other small, finite, number of players) rules the roost, the thing that most scares the folks that own the "market" is the possibility that someone might wise up to the idea that they can operate outside of their control. Whether it is the US two party system; or our college days in Pakistan when the ethnic militants and the Islamist militants ruled our campus at the point of a gun, anything that showed any promise was often greeted with a very loud "Listen; you just can't survive as an independent."

And as my brother's favourite political quotation goes "Don't believe anything until it has been officialy denied." Here's the official denial that Kashmir can go it alone:

Don't get me wrong; I am very patriotic Pakistani and avidly for peace between the two wonderful countries I and my wife belong to. But as I have said before, anyone or anything that reminds me of those Kalashnikov-toting Jamat-e-Islami activists or equally earnest representatives of my own ethnic organization that tried to shut down our efforts to organize concerts and the like at NED University in Karachi just rubs me the wrong way. There's gotta be a better way of convincing the Kashmiris you love them and will do best by them.

Though you do have to give Gen. Musharraf credit for being honest about why and independent Kashmir is not a possibility.

[A version of this has also been published on the Pakistan Futures blog.]

A Nuclear Iran; First Thoughts

A lot of the problem of dealing with the Iran Nuclear issue is figuring out what we are dealing with:

Thing is, as President Ahmedinejad has pointed out a couple of weekends ago (I think) it is an accepted fact by the Iranian leadership that for Iran to pursue nuclear weapons would violate the very ideology they officially cleave to; Ayatollah Khomeini is very clearly on the record as saying that they violate the dictates of Islam. It is said that as long as Khomeini lived, Iran did not pursue the nuclear option. That is actually something we need to keep in mind and, as importantly, communicate as understanding, when we take a stand and/or engage with the issue. (And discuss the nuclear issue with respect to countries like Pakistan, etc.) I am not being naive; I am NOT saying that I believe the regime is not pursuing nuclear weapons. I am saying that one of the best places to start with an engagement is to challenge that regime--and every Muslim that defends the nuclear option--needs to be called on the hypocrisy of doing so. [And not just the Shia; the Laws of War as laid down by the The Prophet, and then his immediate successors as Caliph, clearly outlaw weapons that have long-term effects such as poisoning crops, wells/water tables, and so on.]

Secondly, we also need to engage the hypocrisy of the Non-Proliferation Treaty itself. The committment from all signatories was that, on the one hand non-nuclear states will not acquire weapons while, on the other hand, nuclear states will a) help non-nuclear states with their nuclear energy needs/programs/etc. and b) work seriously to reduce if not eliminate nuclear weapons. The whole discussion in mainstream discourse today focuses on the former without so much as a mention or lip service to the two items promised by the latter--even by folks that critique the role of existing nuclear powers.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Radio Open Source on Pakistan

From a producer at Radio Open Source, based out of Boston:
Hi Sabahat-

Robin from Open Source here. Good to talk to you the other day. Thanks again for your insights and leads, they were invaluable. Thanks also for all the comments on the discussion thread so far. If you'd like to let your readers know we're talking about this tonight, that would be great. We'd love to hear from them as well. Here's the link to the show, and the audio will be up later tonight:

For timing, Robin adds "show is live at 7-8pm eastern time. It re-airs in Seattle a few hours later, and then even later in SF." I think that's 1 am on KQED in the SF Bay Area

More listings:

Gender in Engineering...A Girl's Software?

I mentioned the Wadiwallah blog in a post yesterday.

A post on that blog today covers an issue--please have a sense of humour; it's a little tongue-in-cheek--that I have been meaning to write about for a while; gender ratios and gender dynamics in engineering teams. Hopefully, we can start a conversation on this:
The main blog is at:

Comments, hate mail, etc. welcome!

The Chinese Discovered America?


To me this just points out the ridiculousness of saying that Columbus--or anyone--"discovered" American, more than proving that someone else did a little before him.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Wadiwallah; A South Asian in Silicon Valley

On and off, I have been trying to engage with the idea of a blog about what I like to describe as "life, technology and getting by in Silicon Valley" and haven't been able to sustain the momentum or engage with the subject matter. But I finally got round to (I hope) make yet another start. Here are a couple of links to posts I made this morning:
and, of course,

Comments, hate mail, etc. welcome!

Bremer's Turn...and Other Echos...

L Paul (Jerry) Bremer is now on a book tour:,0,947052.story?coll=cl-books-features

He was on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart last night, and held his own rather well. However, it was the Fresh Air (NPR) interview that is really worth listening to:

His defense of the botching of Iraq is that the pre-planning was for post-War scenarios that didn't pan out; the worst-case ones like a flood of refugees and things like that.

I am not sure about the book, but at least in the NPR interview, he dances around revealing that some of the major decisions--most notably the one to disband the Iraqi Army--came from one particular office in the Pentagon.

And he's forthrighth about the fact that the looting, etc. created a credibility problem as the US was seen as not being able--or, worse, willing--to provide for the security of citizens. And he hammers the point that what really surprised him was in how bad shape the economy and infrastructure was--and puts the blame for that fully on "misallocation of resources" by Saddam. Never mind that Iraq had the best industrial and social services infrastructure in the Arab world before it was goaded into three (don't forget the Iran-Iraq war) wars and then put under un-targeted sanctions that did nothing to weaken the regime but ground the people and infrastructure of Iraq to a pulp.

I mean, I never tire of pointing out that the sanctions put on Iraq were--to any casual observer of how bureaucracies work--almost tailor-made to strengthen the dictatorship and encourage inefficiency, corruption, patronage and on and on. To say that the "International Community"/"Coalition" after the First Gulf War tried to set up a regime that would get medicines and food to the people of Iraq and it was the monster that was Saddam that perverted that is beyond disingenous. Anyone who's ever dealt with a bureaucracy--any bureaucracy, First World or Third World, corrupt or Heavenly--could take a look at a program like the Oil-for-Food Program and say "Ah, you're making sure oil keeps flowing to the West and you are giving the people in power in Iraq control over who gets fed and who gets lifesaving medicine; you win, the ruler of Iraq wins. Cool; Win-Win and business can go on."

And, since we seem to be forever discussing why the Muslim world is, er, ticked off today, and pretend that all the evils of that situation are the product of the Bush administration, let me use this opportunity to remind those who are heading for putting all their eggs in the Democratic basket without--once again--demanding some well thought-out policies and policy changes, that before the noise of the looting of Baghdad and worse sort of drowned it out, the soundbite that most echoed in the Muslim mind was the Secretary of State to a Democratic President saying that half a million dead children was "worth it" in keeping Saddam in check:

Journalist to US Secretary of State on something American was "doing" in Iraq: We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?

SecState: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price--we think the price is worth it.


Please; let's try to get things right this time around!

Two Campaigns

One of the organizations I devote activist bandwidth to has taken up two thing lately:

and certain happenings in Pakistan--no, not the ones that have been in the news in the US and elsewhere: (no separate page set up yet; read the box about the Military Operation in Balochistan).

More details as I write them out.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Progressives Achieve Success, Turn Mercenary...

At first, I thought it was a parody, but here's the actual subject line of the e-mail I just got from Air America; I kid you not:

"Air America wins big in NY, Launches Premium Service"

The text said:

We’re trying something new over at the Air America Website – Air America Radio Premium.

Air America Premium puts you in control of your favorite programs, with exclusive access to archived shows, podcasts direct to your mp3 player, and the kind of flexibility only progressives can handle!

You can use it like a tivo for your radio, to hear what you want, when you want. You can even test-drive it with an Air America day-pass. For details visit

State of Belief Premieres

Gore on Tapping; Tapping Gore

Lovely speech:

CSPAN Video: rtsp://
Transcript from "The Raw Story" (via Democracy Now!):

Now if only I could get the other face on the presidential campaign button from 2000 and where I have seen it lately out of my head while I listen to that speech ...

Muslims and Democracy; But not the Usual Suspects...

I am sick of people saying things like "first constitution in the Arab and Muslim world" and that "Muslims have no experience with democracy" and that it's a new experience for Muslims to operate within a constitutional democracy. Of course, the examples we give to refute that are often from Iran, Pakistan, and the Arab World. Here's one that's not from the Middle East or South Asia.

A Muslim leader from the mid-20th century who very much operated within a multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnic country and negotiated the transition from a theocratic/monarchical system to a modern democracy, leading his community as an elected leader. Coming from a line of religious scholars and leaders, he did not take the line we so often hear in the Muslim community that democracy is unIslamic or that constitutions are haraam. And it was policies he and others set in place that took people like my parents and others like them from Pakistan and India, in particular, to work in his country, in large part because they wanted to show their people that one can be a practising Muslim and be educated in English and other "modern" things.

If I remember right, it is about this person that Martin Lings relates in one of his books, that when, as a leader of a newly independent country, he received a letter from the Pope, he kept the Papal Representative standing while he read and re-read the letter with tears in his eyes.

Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto, Premier of Northern Nigeria:

PS: On second thought, the story from Martin Lings was most probably about Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who was the first Prime Minister of independent Nigeria an another person who merits mention in this regard.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Stop Press: Zawahiri Hit?

First saw this on a Pakistani news site:

CNN seems to be saying something similiar:

Iraq '06; Earth '08...

Radio Open Source recently had Juan Cole over to talk about Iraq in 2006:

He doesn't really see much changing in the course of the year and he still believes that bringing in the UN, if it is possible, is the only way out.

But a few other things jumped out at me:

One set of snippets: "Terrorism...not an analytical category, but a tactic...most terrorist attacks would best be handled with good police work...We don't have a war on terror; we have a war on Al Qaida or Al Q-like organizations...The question for me is how are we doing in curbing and damping down that threat...when we have Ayman Al Zawahiri suborning British-born Pakistani youth to blow up the London subway, we're not winning...He is a serial murderer and serial murderers don't change their stripes...He has not been caught. In my view it is something of a national tragedy that we have spent something like a hundred billion dollars...I freely admit that it wouldn't solve the problem; but it certainly wouldn't hurt."

And he points out a couple of other things that are not part of the headlines:

The British were the ones that were the major power in the Gulf till '71; which is an important reminder in an enviroment when a lot of us seem to be discussing one party in one country--which is not Britain--as the source of all our problems in the Middle East. I have wanted to point out that some of the people we look up to and put our hopes in--like being wishful for leaders like Churchill, or just being blindly pro the Democratic Party in the US--should be engaged with in a little more thought-out a way. Afte all, Churchill, as a bureaucrat of the British Empire, first introduced chemical weapons to Iraq in the 20th Century.

And speaking of Iraq in the early 20th Century, Cole points out that the use of air power to control populations in Iraq was also pioneered by the British in the 1920s--and that one of the architects of that bombing went on to become one of the architects of the Dresden firebombing, etc.

So what's my point? My point is that this whole discussion of how we interact with each other across the planet is not as simple as most of us make it out to be. Whether it is the "It is just a fanatic fringe of Muslim world" or the "We need to bring Liberty to the Muslim World" or the "It is a clash of civilizations" or "Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney are evil" or what-have-you; each is an over-simplification. In short if, say, come 2009, we have a Democrat in the White House, it will be an opportunity to make a start fixing the world--but not a guarantee of things getting better. We all still have a lot of work to do.

And we're not even talking about Afghanistan, mind you...

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Of Islam, Accountable Governments, Patriotism and Unpleasant Truths

There's a article on the Internet by an academic at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, titled "Should Pakistan Be Broken Up?" and dated January 1, 2002. You can read it directly (google it if the link here doesn't work) or go to and follow the link from there.

Every once in a while, or should I say at least once in the life cycle of each mailing list related to Pakistan, this piece comes up and is discussed. This happened recently on a list I am on. Of course, the discussion of that list took an arc that is now often very familiar: some took the position that it was anti-Pakistan; others discussed the greviances of various groups that were mentioned in the article--or not; inevitably the Civil War came up. And then one person chimed in with the "why are we discussing this; why don't we discuss real issues?" I think the words "negative attitude" came up, too."

Here's part of what I posted in reply. I am posting a part of it here because I think it has parts that might be educational to a wider audience on how a Pakistani can think--and because it speaks to issues of patriotism, and of how Islam relates to a government being accountable to the governed and their issues.

"Closing one's eyes to unpleasant truths OR lies that are circulating out there is not good for anybody--whether you want to defend your country or fight injustice that you think is being done.

I just pray that more of us would try to understand what grievances, misigivings, and impressions some of our fellow countryfolk--or people in other countries--have, so we can discuss them, address them, and either dispel them as not necessary or remedy them, if they are based on reality. Outsiders being able to divide a nation, a group, or a community--or fanatics being able to carry the day--only works when they can use/exploit people within, who have grievances that are not being addressed. That's how Bangladesh was born. That's why we had another civil war we seldom talk about in the 70s in Balochistan. And, if I may say so, that's how Pakistan itself was born: because--justifiably or not--the community felt they would not be able get a fair shake in a united South Asian state after the British left.

I consider myself a very patriotic Pakistani and a believing Muslim, but as far as I am concerned, the interests or continued existence of a given country/nation-state/geo-political entity is not more important than the basic rights and well-being of individual humans and communities of citizens. If a citizen or a community feels that a government or state has become oppressive, people have not just a right, but a responsibility to try to correct that: working within the system where at all possible, but not ruling out more extreme measures. That's the understanding of Islam I was brought up with (see Abu Bakar's "Acceptance Speech" as first Caliph, for example, with his asking for support, but also feedback on bad decisions; and Ayesha, wife of The Prophet, for example, going to the extent of taking up arms when she thought the government was not doing the right thing; and then, of course, we have the example of the Hasnain, the grandsons of The Prophet, challenging a government they thought illegitimate--in one case coming to a peaceful agreement with it and in the other fighting to the last...); that's the understanding of the ideal of Pakistan I was brought up with (see the Objectives Resolution or any number of documents); and that's the understanding of good governance and democracy I was brought up with (see the American Declaration of Independence, the preamble to any of the various constitutions Pakistan has had...)."

[NB: I have posted a version of this entry on the Pakistan Futures blog.]