Friday, March 30, 2007

2008 Presidential Race: Setting Up the Field

As I have said before, I come from a family of political junkies, and whatever the problems with a US presidential campaign getting off to a ridiculously early start might be, for us it's wonderful! Watching the candidate cattle call at the AFL-CIO moot being broadcast on CSPAN last night, I realised I hadn't posted my comments on the first candidate forum that was held last month.

That one was held in Carson City, Nevada. You can watch the whole thing on CSPAN, of course. Or do it piecemeal on YouTube starting at:

It was held in the Carson City Community Center, with the candidates--all but Barack Obama--serially taking questions from George Stephanopulous, in the following order of appearance determined by lot: Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), former Gov. Tom Vilsack (D-IA), former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC), Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM), Sen. Joe Biden (D-DC), Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), and former Sen. Miake Gravel (D-AK)

As things move along, we'll discuss who's doing what and who's winning and who's losing and so on. But in the beginning of this season, I think it might be a good time to step back and think of the big picture. And my take on the race right now is that what we really need is a US President that gets any ways towards having a clue about how the world sees the US. Or how the rest of the world sees the world. Or, more generally, how the rest of the world sees anything, period. And based only on what they said and how, without paying heed to who can win and who has the Big Mo, and so on, I'd vote for Richardson--and have him appoint Biden Secretary of State.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Naeem Sadiq on Stuff: Fake, Foul and "big armed"

Once in a while you meet someone--often someone you already know--and your reaction is "Man, you should really have a blog." Well, I have been meaning to introduce exactly such a person on this blog for a while. I refer to a gentleman by the name of Naeem Sadiq.

Naeem Saahab is a bit of an essay writer and sends around his thoughts to his friends and family via email. Like I said, he's the perfect candidate to become a blogger, and has even been on the verge of starting one at least a couple of times, but things like the ban/block on Blogspot in Pakistan have gotten in the way of sustaining the effort. I am hoping to work with him that. And I will write a better, fuller introduction some other time and explain why he is worth listening to and why I often look to him for insight, advice, and just the kind of vibe one gets from an elder brother. For now, I am going to just post his latest dispatch and see if I can keep that up, at least:
Fake, Foul and "Big Armed"

Is this the only country in the world where Federal Ministers have fake degrees, use abusive language on TV and beat up citizens who suggest that they stand in a queue. Is it also by design that the ones with fake degrees are made responsible for the religious affairs and those who use abusive language and assault ordinary citizens end up becoming responsible for justice and human rights.

The Prime Minister has been a big disappointment quantitatively as well as qualitatively. His extravagant fleet of some hundred odd ministers is a burden on the tax payer, while their quality leaves much to be desired. Is this a good time to make amends and get rid of all fake, foul and "citizen thrashing" members of this bloated cabinet. A judicious trimming will automatically shrink the cabinet to some ten odd ministers – a perfectly appropriate size for the cabinet of a developing country. In this welcome season of accountability and references, let the chopper fall equally and fairly on all, notwithstanding the "big arms" that some so much boast about.

Naeem Sadiq

Photo courtesy Altamash Kamal.
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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Thoughts, Comments, Updates on Pakistan

Folks must be following the latest news about, sorry; wait, which news? And the thing is, whichever of the two major ways Pakistan has been in the news in the last few days that you are following, you will think that it is obvious which news out of Pakistan I am talking about.

But here's a little round up--followed up by something new.

So, at least out here in California, the first one-two exchange was, on the 12th, I think it was, two items making the rounds on the electronic transom. The first was an op-ed by Benazir Bhutto. It appeared in the Washington Post and later, I gather, in the Toronto Star, etc.:
A False Choice for Pakistan
By Benazir Bhutto
Monday, March 12, 2007; Page A13
I was actually going to post something about that article, saying, as I have before, that it is really wonderful to hear out-of-power Pakistani politicians, be they BB, NS, or Imran Khan. After all, when she says the following, one can only nod one's head in agreement:
Islamic parties have never garnered more than 13 percent in any free parliamentary elections in Pakistan. The notion of Musharraf's regime as the only non-Islamist option is disingenuous and the worst type of fear-mongering.


The West has been shortsighted in dealing with Pakistan. When the United States aligns with dictatorships and totalitarian regimes, it compromises the basic democratic principles of its foundation -- namely, life, liberty and justice for all. Dictatorships such as Musharraf's suppress individual rights and freedoms and empower the most extreme elements of society. Oppressed citizens, unable to represent themselves through other means, often turn to extremism and religious fundamentalism.
And even extrapolate to say that it's not just Pakistan "The West" has been shortsighted in dealing with. And what she says is very, very relevant to a lot of places, from Vietnam and Cambodia to South American and Iran. And the events in Pakistan since the 12th of March are a case in point. But I will come to them in a minute; I am trying to go chronologically here. [Do read the blog post I have linked to above, though, especially if you're not from Pakistan; it will explain why, despite the kind of thing in the paragraph above, people like me have issues with a "progressive, secular, moderate leader like Ms. Bhutto.]

So hard on the heels of that op-ed, there was another story about Pakistan making the rounds around that date. And it was summed up in The Times of India's headline:
Is US ready to dump Mush?
WASHINGTON: The writing seems to be on the wall for Pakistan’s military ruler Pervez Musharraf. Uncle Sam, the General’s patron-in-chief, is showing signs of cashiering his favoured stooge and preparing grounds for his succession...
going on to point out that "a spate of articles in the US media pillorying Musharraf has set the tone for a change." Prominent, of course, was the "Paper of Record", chiming in with an article actually listed under the section title "Wondering" and titled "One Bullet Away from What", with the operative point being that the one bullet that might take out the General might not usher in a Pakistan enthusiasticly going the way of the Khomeini revolution or the Taliban's Afghanistan.

And again, this article/these articles said things that would have someone like me nodding my head in agreement--if they did not also rub salt in our wounds by stating as amazing and revolutionary insights that my family, for example, thinks it's been mumbling for three generations. This for example:
The last time Pakistan went to the polls in 2002, religious political parties received just 11 percent of the vote, compared with more than 28 percent won by the secular party led by Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister.

And that election may have even been a high-water mark for the Islamists, who were capitalizing on surging anti-American sentiment after the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
As I have said on this blog before, whoop dee friggin' duh!

Now "coincidences" like the above temporal juxtaposition of the Benazir Op Ed getting prominent publication at the same time that well-placed leaks out of a US administration are getting play are something that folks who lived on the business end of the Cold War are well familiar with, even if the American media--no less the average taxpayer--might be blissfully unaware of. And just that might have been enough to keep the chattering classes, well, chattering. But then all hell broke loose in Pakistan itself--and, in some ways, in a rather unexpected way.

You see, one thing I have always said about Pakistan is that one of the problems we have in keeping our governments honest and our military in its barracks is that we don't, as a rule, do street protests about actual government high-handedness--or bread riots. And on the other hand, like everyone else, we're not very fond of lawyers as a profession. And judges, like a lot else in Pakistan, are just dismissed as part of the whole corrupt system. Except once in a while.

So it was, that when our sitting dictator, as dictators are wont to do, acted rather summarily in trying to remove our sitting Chief Justice, and the Honorable Judicial Lord would not go quietly into the night, things got ugly on Mall Road. [Actually, the actual "dismissal" happened on the 9th, I think; but the stuff hit the fan a few days later.] But it didn't start there, either.

A day or three before the Chief Justice's "dismissal", there was a letter circulating, purporting to have been written by Naeem Bokhari, a prominent Pakistani lawyer and TV personality. It was basically an indictment of sorts. Now Naeem Bokhari is sort of a Greta Van Susteren meets Larry King with a Texas twist; his interviewing style is definitely fun, one might even say deliciouslly so, mixing an urban lawyer's sensibilities with the odd down-to-earth Punjabi aphorism. And he was a prominent talk show host when Pakistan didn't have a proliferation of private channels, so he was a phenomenon. But despite the obviously well-written letter that, at that point, given Mr. Bokhari's profile, even the Teeth Maestro was asking readers to take seriously (as you can see at the link above), my first reaction was one of caution. And not because I had any real reason to. Let's just say that, from personal experience, my own impression of the gentleman isn't all sugar and honey.

And then Gen. Musharraf ups and dumps the Judge. And the lawyers take to the streets--most prominently in Lahore, the city where Naeem Bokhari is a member of the Bar. I am not going to recap everything. You can read all about it on All Things Pakistan and other places. The pictures of lawyers with bloodied suits, and lawyers hurling stones. There's been discussion of not respecting these folks. That boggles my mind; here are people from the most straight-laced profession, in a country that doesn't usually have organized street protests by educated professionals (riots, working class folk in Karachi, yes; running gun battles in working class neighbourhoods, yes; but actual protests against government policies? when? where?)

Lots of folks have said a lot of things; from the perversion of process and the rule of law, to the hijacking of institutions, and so on. But things I want to draw attention to include:

The second largest Muslim nation--and one that is more often in the news nowadays than the largest one--having someone in the streets besides bearded folks chanting pro-Taliban stuff is a good image for making the point that a large, large part of the Muslim world lives, and wants to live by laws and constitutions and have the advantage of proper, healthy institutions of state.

This might be one of those times when important parts of Pakistani society actually stand up and jerk their rulers' chain. Some check on the powers-that-be-by-default is a good thing. And it's not just the lawyers. We also now have the Pakistani netroots (to borrow another American phrase) taking up cudgels beyond just protesting the banning of blogs. The Teeth Maestro, a gentleman who's been in the forefront of activism on the issue of blogs and Internet censorship has launched an online campaign agitating about the issue of justice in Pakistan. The call to action going around looked like this:
Dear Pakistanis,

Assalam Alaikum

There is not a single Pakistani who is not irked by the recent events in Islamabad where our judicial system was turned into a circus at the hands of the powerful and influential. Since that fateful day Pakistanis the world over have been objecting, hundreds have braved the streets to show physical resistance while millions are unable to physically join the cause, but definitely want to have their voices heard.

We as peaceful non-political activists, Proud to be Pakistanis, have launched a petition where we appeal to all Pakistanis who would like to object to this mockery of our judicial system to register our protest by signing our name on the online petition created for this cause. The petition is as follows

Pakistanis Condemning the Mockery of the Judicial System in Pakistan

I, a citizen of Pakistan do hereby petition the President of Pakistan, to do as follows:
  • That the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, be reinstated
  • That the Chief Justice of Pakistan be released forthwith from house arrest
  • That all his inalienable rights (including the right to liberty) be restored forthwith
  • That the hearing of any reference be done in accordance with the law and in an open fair and
  • transparent manner and that at any and all such hearings the media and other impartial observers be permitted to attend
  • That the Supreme Judicial Council be re-constituted with fair and impartial members

A Pakistani

If you agree to the simple five point petition please step forward and peacefully defend your country.

Sign the petition here –

------- What can you do to help --------
  • Forward this email to all your contacts immediately so that the voice can be heard from every corner of the globe
  • If you maintain a blog or website display our banner supporting the cause White Band for Justice .... powered by Proud Pakistanis
  • The is a non-political organization and would like to motivate the patriotic spirit amongst Pakistanis, join the effort by dropping by our blog
  • Actively collaborate by joining our mailing list
  • If you have any Pakistan specific issues please forward them to
Lets be Proud to be Pakistanis

I definitely am, ARE YOU !!!

Dr. Awab Alvi
And quite frankly, that's the kind of thing I'd like to see more Pakistanis, in Pakistan and expatriates, engage with. These are, again, interesting times, in Pakistan. And some widsom in what we do, how we engage with government, and what activism we engage in is called for.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Women's Day 2007 - Celebrating (Pakistani/Muslim) Women

This being International Women's Day, it deserves commemoration. So here's something to get the day started right:

Just a little while ago, today, I stumbled onto an amazing juxtaposition of two of the Pakistani women one can be most proud of: a piece by Asma Jehangir on Mukhtaran Mai, written as part of one of those end-of-the-year series that major magazines do--in this case, the "Asian Heroes" series from 2004.

Mukhtaran Mai, of course, is the Pakistani woman most often celebrated nowadays; the person victimized by a barbaric village council and who went on to both demand justice without regard to the cost to her, and then becoming an active presence for women's issues and rights in Pakistan and for Pakistani and Muslim women as she has travelled abroad and published a memoir/autobiography. Folks will have read reams and reams of copy--and maybe even her book. But for me, the most moving and profound tribute came last year in a personal converstation with Prof. Adil Najam. Paraphrasing from memory here: "I have sat next to and interviewed a Prime Minister, the person acknowledged as one of the greatest poets in our region in the latter half of the Twentieth Century; and Pakistan's only Nobel Laureate. But sitting next to Mukhtaran Mai, I was genuinely impressed. And, even compared to those other folks, proud of her as a Pakistani."

And all this from a poor uneducated villager, one is tempted to say--and folks have often said. But then, that just shows that folks don't really know or understand Pakistani women, women, Pakistanis, or work-a-day Muslims who live in Muslim societies, now doesn't it? But more of that later.

Asma Jehangir is the kind of person that makes you start a discussion with "If the Nobel Prize was really given purely on merit..." and, in her case, if the Nobel Peace Prize was really given purely on merit, and a woman activist in a Muslim country going up against all odds completely fearlessly again, and again, and then not just stopping there, but stepping onto the world stage to work on the same issues on a global level...well then, why wait till 2003? Anything else might I had the honour of spending some time stuck at Lahore airport with her and Naeem Bokhari back in 1994--and just shooting the breeze. [And this after representing the War Against Rape at a human rights moot held in her offices that very week, and watching her from afar.] Pakistanis--at least those paying attention--don't need to be told the story. Asma Jehangir famously started the first All-Female law practice in Pakistan. Opposition to Gen. Zia's "Hudood Laws" brought her onto the streets, so to speak, and not taking nonsense became her style. She famously turned around a slapped a senior police officer who had yanked her ponytail during one demonstration. She then went on to be one of the leading lights of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. (Something Dr. Amartya Sen is very quick to acknowledge when discussing civil society in Pakistan, for example.) She's since gone global and taken on assignments from the UN as "UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Arbitrary and Summary Executions" and, since 2004, "United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief of the Commission on Human Rights since 2004". Oh, and Rani Mukerjee played what is often seen as a fictionalized version of her in a major Bollywood movie.

As I started to say above, even with all the attention focused on Pakistan and Muslims since 2001, these women demonstrate in all they say and do, and in how they say and do it, something no amount of ink--print or electronic--has been able to capture and convey. And that is that one can live in a dictatorship, one can be victimized in the most barbaric way, and yet, even in this day and age, stand up and speak truth to power, demand justice while continuing to have and draw strength from a very strong and personal faith (as Mukhtaran Mai does) and advocate strongly for things like human rights, civil society, and civil rights in the context of, and with respect for, faith, family, tradition, and values.

Today, we celebrate these Pakistani women--and Muslim women, and all women. Especially those not demanding special consideration for who they are, or what they want to do, but who are working for basic dignity and justice for themselves, for other women, and for all us.

PS: And if you want to read more from me on this topic, try this link.

PPS: I cross-posted the above on a couple of sites focused on Muslims, and added the following introductory paragraph:

On International Women's day, on this site, one would think of the Muslim Woman. But when one--anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim--thinks of the Muslim Woman nowadays, what does one think of? Well, not to push the stereotype too far, but it's either the headscarf-wearing (-and-calling-it-hijab), headscarf-pushing person demanding that her conservative values and practices be accepted and given allowances, or the other extreme; that of the memoir-publishing, interview-giving dissident or refusenik. But in all this, the person that I would really like to be heard from more is another kind of Muslim woman: the activist, the human rights lawyer, the person fight back against oppression, and to make the world a better place for all of us--comfortable with her faith, her community, and often her nation; but still being in the forefront of working to make them work better for her co-religionists, her neighbours and her compatriots.

So here [you are]--and of course, I focus on Pakistan, for it is one of the corners of the Muslim world I know best; please do post your own "nominations"!

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Damn the Mea Culpas; Full Speed Ahead!

So there was this New York Times story last week that began:
February 28, 2007
Afghan Bombing Sends a Danger Signal to U.S.
Correction Appended
WASHINGTON, Feb. 27 – The audacity of a suicide-bomb attack on Tuesday at the gates of the main American base in Afghanistan during a visit by Vice President Dick Cheney underscores why President Bush sent him there—a deepening American concern that the Taliban and Al Qaeda are resurgent...
The interesting thing was how unchanged the NYT's tone in this article is, despite the Mea Culpas about the Iraq War. Witness the second paragraph:
"American officials insisted that the importance of the attack, by a single suicide bomber who blew himself up a mile away from where the vice president was staying, was primarily symbolic. It was more successful at grabbing headlines and filling television screens with a scene of carnage than at getting anywhere near Mr. Cheney."
An American official says so, so that must be it; never mind that symbolism, and, well, terrorizing folks by, in this case, "grabbing headlines and filling television screens with a scene of carnage" is, by definition, the very aim of terrorism...and therefore, if I may dare to keep things real, and to borrow a phrase from Tavis Smiley at this year's State of the Black Union, this attack, achieved its objective...

The intention of the (Deputy) Leader of the Free World (to use a Cold War phrase) in putting out a statement like that can be understood; we don't have to like it, but as folks engaged in "Da Clash", it is understandable. But the cluelessness—one is tempted to say Orwellian nature—real or intentional (I am not sure which is more scary) of the "Newspaper of Record" of this here "Free World" is downright scary.

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Pakistan blocks Akamai, MSM Notices

It seems that the utter stupidity of the blocking of websites in Pakistan has gotten to a point where even the mainstream media (I never thought I would use that phrase for a Pakistani newspaper) has noticed:

And then, on Monday:
No respite in Pakistan Internet blackout

ISPs lose business; email-users run out of patience

By Naveed Ahmad

ISLAMABAD: The country's IT-enabled industry continued to face financial losses while the common user went through agonizing times for the fifth consecutive day while accessing some leading business-critical websites as the PTCL failed to unblock the Internet Protocols (IPs) at its gateway exchange.

The News learnt from an assortment of leading Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and other IT-dependent businesses that such companies have suffered 20 to 30 per cent revenue loss over the past five days. The ISPs have been the worst hit as the outage of websites was directly proportionate to the use of Internet, thus slashing their businesses.

The Internet-users have been facing problems intermittently in accessing vital web-based email servers, business and information portals

In trying to abide by the Supreme Court order of filtering certain websites containing blasphemous content "at all costs", the PTCL blocked access to thousands of vital websites and email servers on February 28.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) had passed on the same orders to the PTCL for action and denial of access to such derogatory websites.

While the PTA directions are binding for a service provider, the implementation details are left to the management of PTCL, who went for overkill by blindly blocking the Internet Protocol addresses en block instead of filtering the content on questionable websites.

The News has been persistently trying getting the PTCL side of the story about en masse blocking of vital websites but neither the corporate communications department nor Senior Executive Vice President (IT) Ameer-ud-Din cared to call back.

Sources told The News that the ministry of IT&T has taken any action so far over the situation. Secretary Farrukh Qayyum is in the United States over the past week. The national regulator has been maintaining a strange mum over the issue as well while the PTCL officials privately blame the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority for the embarrassing situation.

However, slight improvement in accessing certain blocked websites is being witnessed around the time of filing of this report by this correspondent. Over the past four days, the whole system had collapsed and owing to the routing and blocking flaws resulting in sporadic and random outage of the key websites. Simple websites which are not on the Akmai (and other domains mentioned) also remain affected. According to some observers, the whole system crawled to perhaps 30% to 40 per cent of capacity.

Sources said, "Since the PTCL did not have a proper anomaly detection system in place and their technical people were not empowered appropriately inform the chain of command, the disaster-like situation could have been averted."

The affected websites included,,,,, BBC, CNN, Systematic, Akamai, PC World, MTV, Best Buy, Logitech, ESPN amongst hundreds of thousands other.

Over the past four days, emails of Internet-users through web-based servers remained blocked which had been disappearing in the cyberspace.

The mid-level PTCL techies have been brushing the issue under carpet and instead sleeping over it. "Whenever a complaint is lodged, the PTCL officials are found in a denial mode," said a top IT professional, working at the Software Technology Park II.

In his emails to the industry, a PTCL official has been denying receiving any complaint about delay or packet drop was received from other customers. The same PTCL official, in his mass email, admitted, "Some of AKAMAI server Internet Protocols (IPs) got blocked as a consequence of directives to block obnoxious/objectives. This may be the cause of slow browsing because single website links are hosted on different IPs."

Meanwhile, the capital was abuzz with rumours of massive virus [distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Jesus's Tomb?

One thing that has created a bit of a stir in the last few days is the claim by a documentary film maker (his credits include Titanic) that he's found the tomb and ossuaries of Jesus and his immediate family (Allah be pleased with them).

Of course, the media's busy trying to sell the story it wants to see. Or finds more sexy. Namely how this challenged the basis of Christianity as we know it today, complete with a Da Vinci Code'ish reference to Mary Magdalene as His Missis, so to speak. See the story here, for example. And, to be fair to the Press, most everybody else has been doing the same--as you can see in the discussion on the "On Faith" site that The Washington Post and Newsweek run. [Featured guests there include everyone from the Bishop Desmond Tutu, to the MPV's co-founder, Pamela Taylor.] You'll see the whole gamut of opinions, from the agnostic, to the a-theist to the religious--and all the way to a person with the moniker "Jihadist", who claims that this just proves his point...

... But does it?

If you listen closely the producer (or was it the director) said, in at least one interview, that "If Jesus can rise from one tomb, he can rise from the other." [Or, as someone in that discussion above said, if Joseph of Aramathea can pay for tomb in one place, he could have paid for it in another place. And if I may say so, when you look more closely, what this story--for what it is worth, there've been multitudes like this over the centuries--does take on is:

  • The Catholic insistence that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is inarguably the site of the tomb Jesus rose from, and
  • The Muslim belief that Jesus never made it to a tomb and was raised bodilly without being crucified.
Postscript (3/2/07): The cross-post of this entry on the site has more of a discussion going, if you care to listen in, or join in.

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