Archive for the ‘Pakistan’ Category

Dissecting Hoodbhoy’s Logic

June 5, 2009

We often say things without really realizing what we are saying.

Pervez Hoodbhoy’s latest article on Pakistan (Whither Pakistan? A five-year forecast) begins as follows:

First, the bottom line: Pakistan will not break up…. That’s the good news.

Now why exactly is that good news? And from whose perspective is it good news?

Clearly Pervez Hoodbhoy has assumed that to be a statement of the obvious that merits no further discussion. But it is really an unexamined assertion.

I am not taking a personal position on the issue of whether the break up of Pakistan is good or not. (more…)

Governance in Pakistan – 7: Which Islam?

March 18, 2009

The question left over from the last post was the following:

Given that it had become inevitable for Pakistan to have a religious identity (for reasons articulated by Professor Ralph Russell in the previous post) why was the tradition of Islam that was indigenous to the subcontinent ignored in favor of one imported from Saudi Arabia?

As we have mentioned, Professor Russell was not a political or religious scholar and he never sat down to explicitly address this question. However, in his essays he left behind numerous astute observations that we can use to begin crafting a plausible answer.

Our aim is not to reach a definitive conclusion but to see how the mind of a trained humanist works, how from certain observations a hypothesis is derived, and how facts are linked through a chain of reasoning to arrive at conclusions that can be tested against the outcomes of real life.

Such a process based on reasoning need not always lead to the correct explanation but it provides the reader the opportunity to identify particular links in the argument that he or she disputes or disagrees with and to offer a new explanation based on the substitutions. It is important to be clear about what one disagrees with and to be able to suggest alternatives that stand up to criticism. The ensuing dialogue forms the basis of the method of intellectual enquiry.

Let us take Professor Russell’s essay Aziz Ahmad, South Asia, Islam and Urdu and note straight away his observation in passing about the fundamentals of intellectual discourse.

Aziz Ahmad was for a while (beginning in 1957) a colleague of Professor Russell’s at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Professor Russell mentions that he had sharp and vigorously pursued disagreements with Aziz Ahmad on the methodology of teaching Urdu to foreign students:

Such disagreements were not infrequent. That being so, it surprised and puzzled him when he found that this in no way inhibited my whole-hearted praise of his talents and of his published work. (He came from a milieu where it is indeed rare for these two things to go together.)

One must admit that it remains rare even today.

Professor Russell mentions that often the best understanding of social situations is to be found in literature:

For example, the problem of Kashmir is one of the major problems of the politics of the post-1945 period. An important element in the determining of the present situation was the internal political struggle of the 1930s and the 1940s. Where can one find a vivid picture of Kashmir during those years? In Aziz Ahmad’s novel Aag. But those who (if they knew about it) would like to read it for this purpose, can’t. And those who can read it aren’t for the most part interested in doing so for this purpose.

At this point a question that naturally arises is: What about historians and social scientists in Pakistan and India who write in English but know Urdu well? Don’t they use these materials? The answer is: For the most part, no. Why not? For several reasons. First, numbers of them come in the category already described, of people who have acquired their English at the cost of letting their Urdu rust. Secondly, many of them are more English than the English, more royalist than the king.

In a society where conventions have for centuries been more rigid than in the West, English-derived conventions (for example, that a novel cannot be a worthwhile source for academic studies of this kind) are observed with a rigidity which the Western world does not apply to them. Even where non-fictional writing is concerned they think (often, but not always, rightly) that works written in Urdu lack the scholarly qualities of works written in English, and that therefore no self-respecting scholar pays any attention to them. Even if the premise were wholly correct (and it isn’t) the conclusion doesn’t follow from it. But there it is. They think that the premise is correct, and that the conclusion does follow from it; and they act accordingly.

Note Professor’s Russell’s hypothesis and the argument he is constructing: that the Pakistani ruling elite was alienated from its own traditions and often contemptuous of them. If this was its attitude towards Urdu, imagine what it must have been towards the languages of the masses and what its perception must have been of the folk wisdom and traditions of illiterate people.

When a ruling elite is alienated from its own traditions it is all the more susceptible to the presumed superiority of outside ones. As Professor Russell observed, it was more English than the English. And similarly, it was more Arab than the Arabs.

And so when Saudi Islam came backed by large amounts of money there was no resistance, intellectual or otherwise. The game was over.

This is where Professor Russell’s chain of reasoning leads us. If you have a different explanation we can build a discussion around it.

Let us end by adding a general observation of Locke about human beings to Professor Russell’s observation of the Pakistani intelligentsia:

Most men are simply too lazy or ill trained to apply themselves to the dull work of sifting through evidence and reasoning properly. They prefer pseudo-certainties, even if those are inherited from tradition and untested by experience; and once they are committed to dogmas, they enjoy imposing them on others. This is how religious superstitions are born and perpetuated. But that also means that they can be combated if human beings are given enough leisure and training to let their natural faculties develop.

The bottom line is that it is important to learn to reason; and this learning requires training; and this training can only be imparted by educational institutions, preferably early in life.

We have a challenging agenda before us.

Professor Russell’s essay is from his book How Not to Write the History of Urdu Literature and Other Essays on Urdu and Islam. The observation from Locke is to be found on page 94 in the book by Mark Lilla (The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West).

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After the Long March – What Now Comrades?

March 17, 2009

By Anjum Altaf

Let us begin when everything was as it was supposed to be.

Before you came,
Things were as they should be:
The sky was the dead-end of sight,
The road was just a road, wine merely wine.

It was November 2006. The sun was in the sky, everything was alright with the world, the Enlightened Moderate, everyone’s favorite, was firmly ensconced on the throne, the Chief Justice was still the Chief Justice, and the lawyers were beyond the dead-end of sight.

This is what we recommended, based on our analysis of the situation, in a paper presented in Islamabad:

So what is to be done beyond the struggle for civilian rule? In the absence of a political coalition to support the demand for improvements in human rights, civil society groups at the present juncture in Pakistan should look for mechanisms to strengthen the instruments of social control over governments, to weaken the latter’s control over critical areas of resource allocation, and to increase the accountability of its actions….

A critical area is the rule of law where the arbitrary power of the state or of one individual over another needs to be curtailed. Mechanisms need to be found to shelter the judiciary from the predatory powers of the executive and to try to ensure easier and more equitable access to and enforcement of justice. Civil society should devote efforts to wrest a lot more input in the design and staffing of the institutions of government providing justice and enforcing the law and a lot more control over the promotion of officials within these institutions. Once again, we learn from Tocqueville that this is not likely to be an easy struggle: “Unable to do without judges, it [the government] likes at least to choose the judges itself and always to keep them under its hand; that is to say, it puts an appearance of justice, rather than justice itself, between the government and the private person.” Do we need Tocqueville to remind us of this reality in Pakistan? Nevertheless, the efforts need to be made as part of a multi-dimensional strategy to exert pressure on the state.

Fast forward to November 2007: All hell had broken loose, the Enlightened Moderate had shown his true colors, the Chief Justice had been sacked, and the lawyers had appeared on the horizon. All the talk was about a new dawn with the restoration of true democracy.

Now everything is like my heart,
A color at the edge of blood: 

And the sky, the road, the glass of wine?
The sky is a shirt wet with tears,
The road a vein about to break.
And the glass of wine a mirror in which
The sky, the road, the world keep changing.

This is what The South Asian Idea had to say on the day the Emergency was declared:

So, going back to “free and fair” elections, back to “true democracy,” as promised by a dictator, ruling under an emergency, to a bunch of democrats ready to cut a deal, is not going to do much good. It will be very old wine in very old bottles. Well-wishers of Pakistan, at home and abroad, need to grasp the one promising development in an otherwise sorry history. They have to agree on a one-point agenda—the Supreme Court has to be restored; the independence of the judiciary has to be guaranteed. This is the only leverage we have at the moment, the one issue on which a broad coalition can unite. This is where the fight for “true democracy” begins. Whosoever is next anointed by God would need to be put to this test of sincerity. Otherwise, the moment and the opening would be lost. Those who are fighting would need to go on fighting.

Forward again to March 2009: The Long March is over, the Chief Justice has been reinstated, the Supreme Court has been restored.

What now? Is this the Revolution?

We don’t think so. As we said: This is where the fight for “true democracy” begins.

There is still no political coalition at the grassroots pushing for systemic change. This is still a movement led by civil society that needs to act on behalf of citizens to wrest control from the state to enlarge the space for democratic action.

Old habits die hard. Civil society has to ensure that the next person anointed by God to govern this country does not wrest back this hard-won advantage, does not shrink this space that has opened up. The independence of the judiciary would have to be guarded and guaranteed so that it can stand up to the other organs of the state and begin to act on behalf of the citizens of the country.

And there could be some new complications on the horizon.

We wish the Peoples Party had succeeded because it had representation in every province of the country and could have furnished the glue for national unity. But that was too much to hope for – as we had mentioned “this is a society at a stage of development where political parties are personal affinity groups.” If the Peoples Party had been a political party we would have seen it exerting control over its leader and not the other way around.

Now, although an important victory has been won, there is the danger of provincial polarization much as we saw when the Awami League emerged dominant in one province and had no support elsewhere in the country.

How will the political parties (that are not really political parties) deal with this complication? How will civil society force the politicians to maneuver through these rapids with care?

Civil society has been here before – Ayub Khan was toppled by the students and Bhutto fell at the hands of the traders. But then civil society folded, gave back its gains, and succumbed to the charms of the status quo. Professor Ralph Russell noted this many years ago: “For a century now all sections of the modern sophisticated elite have continued the traditions of their medieval forbears (in regarding it as the whole duty of the unsophisticated masses to do as the elite tells them) and the traditions of Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan (of looking for essential support – even if, in some cases, only moral support – to more powerful forces based outside their own country, be it the British, the Americans, the Russians or the Chinese).

And even more ominously, as a friend from Ahmedabad put it: Who will protect us from civil society? 

As we have said: The fight has just begun. Some parts of the picture have brightened, others are threatened with darkness. Even civil society has to prove itself. It is still a long way to go.

Don’t leave now that you’re here –
Stay. So the world may become itself again:
So the sky may be the sky,
the road a road,
and the glass of wine not a mirror, just a glass of wine.

[Excerpts are from the poem by Faiz (rang hai dil ka merey) translated by Agha Shahid Ali (Before you Came). The quote from Ralph Russell is from his essay Strands of Muslim Identity in South Asia.]

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Governance in Pakistan – 6: Advantages of Good Analysis

March 15, 2009

In the last post we used material from an essay by Professor Ralph Russell to illustrate what we consider a good analysis. Let us continue using that example to convince the reader of the advantages of good analysis.

Resting one’s future on hopes does provide solace but is self-defeating because it provides no direction for the future. What happens when the hopes are dashed? More hopes? No wonder things continue to deteriorate as they have in Pakistan over the years so that we have now reached the stage where the unimaginable is peering in through the windows of our homes.

A good analysis, on the other hand, provides a roadmap for the future because it is based on an understanding of the forces that are operating in society and it is possible to shape and mould societal forces with intelligent public policy. Not that the intelligence emerges out of a vacuum. On the contrary, it is good analysis that helps inform public opinion of what is happening and mobilizes it behind the demand for intelligent responses.

We can see now a critical dimension of the systemic problem in Pakistan more serious than all the other seemingly more immediate problems. Without good analysis mobilizing public opinion on a continuous basis all there is are misplaced hopes and prayers for miracles. I too wish for a miracle but I would not count on it. As we have mentioned before, it is fine to trust in fate but it is wise to tie your camel.

So, let us go back to Professor Ralph Russell who explained the rise of religious fundamentalism in Pakistan by referring back to the tactics that were used to mobilize Muslim support for separation in the 1930s and 1940s. We ended with Professor Russell’s conclusion:

It hardly needs to be said that if appeal to sentiments of this kind helped to mobilize the mass support without which Pakistan could not have been won, it also strengthened the religious (or pseudo-religious) fanaticism which Jinnah had opposed.

When we read this analysis we can easily understand why Mr. Jinnah’s famous appeal on the founding of Pakistan was such an abject failure:

You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State.

This appeal failed not because Mr. Jinnah’s deputies were pygmies as is commonly argued. It failed because the emotional forces that had been let loose to achieve Pakistan were too powerful to be easily controlled even by a personality with the charisma of Mr. Jinnah.

Professor Russell picks up this thread:

Once Pakistan had come into being, this force, which the new country’s rulers had themselves done so much to foster, confronted them with a challenge. It has done so ever since.

Professor Russell’s argument is worth reading in detail but let me just summarize his bottom line. A situation had been created in which there was no getting away from the fact that Islam had to be a key element in the identity of Pakistan to weld the people together.

To Professor Russell it was clear that the answer was not to be found in conventional Islam. And based on his analysis he both asks the question and suggests a possible answer: If an Islamic identity was inevitable, why did it have to be the obscurantist one of Maududi when an alternative was available?

It seems to me that Islam in the subcontinent possesses a still living tradition which is at once authentically and recognizably Islamic, intelligible to the mass of the people and a more than adequate sanction for policies ‘workable in the light of the requirements of modern life.’

This is the tradition of Sufism, of Muslim mysticism, which finds such powerful expression in the poetry both of Urdu and of the regional languages such as Punjabi and Sindhi, and which is as familiar to the illiterate peasants as it is to the sophisticated Urdu-speaking literati. It proclaims values which are no less authentically Islamic than those proclaimed by Maududi and his supporters, but have little else in common with them.

Among these values are a cordial, and bluntly declared, hatred and contempt for religious bigotry, and a passionate dedication to humanist ideals which inculcates, among other things, a proper respect for the rights of ALL men, whether they be Muslim or not…

One may perhaps point to this last-named strand in Muslim consciousness as one which could provide even the most modern and progressive of Pakistani politicians with the authentically Islamic sanction for their policies which they seem to feel that they need.

It is easy to forget that Professor Russell was writing this in the 1980s and it was only his analysis that could make him see the writing on the wall so far ahead of time and to propose a feasible alternative that could have changed the trajectory of the future.

So, a new question arises here: Why was this Islamic tradition that was so deeply rooted in the everyday life of the majority of Pakistanis not made an integral part of the school curricula? Why was it displaced by an alien tradition imported from Saudi Arabia?

This requires an analysis of its own and Professor Russell hints at some of the reasons. We shall take up this discussion in a subsequent post.

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Governance in Pakistan – 5: An Example of a Good Analysis

March 15, 2009

Professor Ralph Russell died on September 14, 2008 at the age on ninety. Known as the British Baba-e-Urdu, he was a leading scholar of the language and was awarded the Sitara-e-Imtiaz for a lifetime of notable contributions.

Professor Russell was a scholar of language and literature and never thought of himself as a political analyst. But his training in the humanities endowed him with the ability needed for good analysis.

Here I take an extract from his essay (Strands of Muslim Identity in South Asia – first published in the 1980s) to illustrate the attributes of good analysis.

It is quite likely that Muslims and Pakistani readers were upset by this analysis. But Professor Russell, a great friend of Urdu, Islam and Pakistan, never let that keep him from saying what he felt needed to be said. It is from him that I picked up the line: Do you want me to say what I think or what you want to hear?

In another of his essays, Professor Russell says “I sometimes have the impression that in the field of Islamic studies more than most, scholars feel a need to be ‘diplomatic’ (which, let us face it, is only a polite way of saying ‘less than completely honest’) so that influential people will not be offended. And then he refers to Hardy in the Explanatory Note to Tess—that ‘if an offence comes out of the truth, better it is that the offence come out than that the truth be concealed.’ 

So here is Professor Russell not trying to be analytical but making an observation based on the analytical process. Follow the logic of the argument as Professor Russell tries to explain the rise of religious fundamentalism in Pakistan:

The sophisticated Muslim case underlying the separatist demands that ultimately became the demand for Pakistan rested on the secular or quasi-secular concept of the Muslims of the subcontinent as a separate nationality; in the years preceding independence it was this concept that was always stressed by the authoritative spokesmen of the movement for the creation of Pakistan. To such a concept religious orthodoxy was irrelevant. ‘Muslim’ meant anyone who called himself a Muslim, anyone who was born into the Muslim community, even if he were a militant atheist. Jinnah himself, the Qaid e Azam (Great Leader) of the Muslim League, was anything but an orthodox Muslim of the old-fashioned kind. For him, the concept of a Muslim nationhood implied even an onslaught on the conservative Muslin divines, and an effort, as he wrote in 1942, ‘to free our people from the most undesirable reactionary elements.’

But such sophisticated concepts could not arouse the mass Muslim enthusiasm which the leadership needed if acceptance of its demands were to be enforced. With the illiterate and half-literate Muslim masses, what carried weight was precisely the ideas of the ‘most undesirable reactionary elements’—the prejudices which told them: ‘One Muslim is worth ten Hindus. We Muslims ruled over these people for centuries. We are a fine, manly people: the Hindus are slaves and cowards. Our type is the warrior, bold and generous: theirs is the banya, the cowardly, extortionate, hypocritical moneylender. Islam is a fine faith, the acme of all religious development: Hinduism is an inhuman and revolting system which sanctifies human degradation.’

And so on and so forth. An appeal to the Muslim masses to come into the political arena could, in the late 1930s and 1940s, hardly have had any other result than to fan this sort of Muslim chauvinism. The response to Jinnah’s call in December 1939, to celebrate a ‘Day of Deliverance’ when Congress ministries resigned, already showed this; still more horrifying was the response to his Direct Action Day of 16 August 1946.

It hardly needs to be said that if appeal to sentiments of this kind helped to mobilize the mass support without which Pakistan could not have been won, it also strengthened the religious (or pseudo-religious) fanaticism which Jinnah had opposed.

I am not saying that this is necessarily the correct diagnosis. What I am pointing out is the process by which Professor Russell explains the present through a link to the past and traces the consequences of actions taken and forces let loose a long time back to the conditions that exist at present.

If you feel Professor Russell is wrong, the field is wide open to present a better analysis. There would be little point, however, in the common response of merely accusing Professor Russell of being an agent of the enemy.

For those who consider Professor Russell’s description of the nature of the appeal to Muslim masses far-fetched, it would be salutary to read through the modern public school curriculum in Pakistan today (Here and Here).

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Governance in Pakistan – 4: What is Good Analysis?

March 15, 2009

In the three preceding posts (Here, Here and Here) we have pointed out pitfalls in analytical reasoning using the situation in Pakistan as case material.

Readers are entitled to ask: What is good analysis?

What follows is my perspective on what makes for good analysis. It is not original but something I was taught by a teacher I feel I was lucky to encounter.

I enrolled for a course in Decision Analysis and this is what the teacher talked about in the first class:

The most important concept to understand is that a Decision and an Outcome are two separate things.

A Good Outcome is not necessarily the result of a Good Decision.

A Bad Outcome is not necessarily the result of a Bad Decision.

How can this be so?

Because between the Decision and the Outcome there is something called Uncertainty or Randomness, something that you can never know fully in advance and over which you may have no control.

Let me illustrate this with some examples that I have invented for a South Asian audience:

Suppose a batsman picks the wrong ball to hit and makes a lousy shot but the fielder drops the catch and the ball goes over the boundary: A Bad Decision yields a Good Outcome.

Now suppose a safe single is there for the taking and the batsman sets off but slips in the middle and is run out: A Good Decision yields a Bad Outcome.

The lesson to take away is that a Decision can be Good or Bad independent of the Outcome.

A Good Decision is one where you have taken all the available information into consideration, gone over all the alternatives possible, studied their costs and benefits, and then chosen what you think is the best course of action in the circumstances.

The Outcome could still be bad – fate may intervene, an earthquake may alter the cost-benefit calculus, a coup in Russia may freeze the credit markets. As they say, ‘there’s many a slip between the cup and the lip.’ Regardless, given what you knew when you knew at the time you made the decision, it was the best if you did all that was mentioned above.

Now replace Decision with Analysis and Outcome with Prediction.

An analysis is not considered good ONLY if it predicts correctly.

An analysis is good if it does the following:

  • Marshals all the available evidence that is relevant to the analysis.
  • Organizes the evidence in a way that it can be assessed carefully.
  • Understands the context in which the evidence is to be applied.
  • Recognizes the forces and trends that are acting upon the context.
  • Surveys critically the various alternatives that are likely.
  • Intuits the motivations of the key actors in the situation.

Based on the above the analyst offers his or her opinion on the most likely outcome – which could still be wrong.

Note that the good analyst acts more or less like the good doctor or the good detective in the process he/she follows in reaching a diagnosis or a conclusion.

Note also that these skills require a lot of training. There may be the rare intuitive analyst born with the gift but most of the time analysis is a learned skill that requires dedicated study.

It is not for nothing that leading universities in the West have programs to train analysts who then earn their livings as professional analysts. It is because, more often than not, good analysis yields good predictions. And when it doesn’t, it is possible to go back and study what might have gone wrong improving the analytical method in the process.

It is certainly not possible to do good analysis driving by in a car, or drawing conclusions from fluffy puppies, or hoping for the best.

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Governance in Pakistan – 3: More Bad Analysis

March 14, 2009

The previous two posts in this series have described what we think are poor analyses of the situation in Pakistan by William Dalrymple and Moni Mohsin, respectively.

Now the venerable New York Times has entered the fray with another bad analysis (Closer to the Cliff, March 12, 2009). Let us dissect it:

We are especially alarmed to see President Asif Ali Zardari repeating the excesses of his predecessor, Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

Why alarmed, one may ask? What was the basis for the expectation that Asif Ali Zardari would act any differently? Is this a case, once again, of wishful thinking leading the analysis?

Mr. Zardari is dishonoring his late wife’s memory by following that same path.

So, the expectation is that Mr. Zardari’s prime loyalty should be to his late wife’s memory and not to his self-interest, as he perceives it. Is this a realistic expectation? Or is it a pathetic attempt at emotional blackmail – what would your late wife think Mr. Zardari?

Mr. Sharif is all too eager to manipulate this destructive drama for personal gain.

Surprise, surprise! Any basis for assuming Mr. Sharif would act differently?

The American ambassador in Islamabad spoke with Mr. Sharif, and an envoy, Richard Holbrooke, had a video conference call with Mr. Zardari… They need to press Mr. Zardari now to compromise on the dispute over Pakistan’s courts and to allow Mr. Sharif to run for office. And they need to press Mr. Sharif to work for peaceful political solutions. If there is any hope for democracy in Pakistan, a robust opposition must be allowed to flourish and participate fully in the country’s political life.

Here is the impatient solution – the bad boys have to be told to behave and fix the situation in no uncertain manner. There is no need to try and understand why they are behaving the way they are.

Otherwise: hint, hint!

Already, some Washington analysts are suggesting there might be worse things than a return to military rule in Pakistan.

This is typical of what passes for analysis at the New York Times. More than a year ago, we had highlighted this style of NYT analysis (Ah, New York Times) when the crisis under discussion was the electoral chaos in Kenya. Replace Mr. Zardari and Mr. Sharif with Kenyan names and note the similarity of the advice:

Mr. Kibaki should renounce that official declaration and the embarrassingly swift swearing in that followed. He should then meet with his principal challenger, Raila Odinga, to discuss a possible vote recount, election re-run or other reasonable compromise.

What is wrong with this mode of analysis?

Note that it is entirely top-down. It starts with a desired outcome (democratic governance in these two cases) and then works backwards impatiently to try and ensure that the outcome is achieved. It invariably ends up chastising the bad boys who are misbehaving, informing them that they are acting stupidly, and threatening them with worse consequences.

There is no attempt to understand why the boys are bad in the first place, why they are misbehaving yet again, and what may be the systemic causes that lead to this kind of repeated crises.

It is no wonder that the NYT joins the rising crescendo of lamenting voices from Pakistan who are surprised that Mr. Zardari and Mr. Sharif are behaving badly, who had expected them to have learnt their lessons while in exile, who had hoped that the ‘restoration’ of democracy was itself the solution, who had really lulled themselves into believing that there are dictators and democrats and that they behave differently.

Any meaningful analysis has to work from the bottom-up. It has to look at the forces that operate at ground level and then project what kinds of outcomes are feasible given the interplay of these forces and the changes in them over time.

A bottom-up analysis need not always be right but it creates room for meaningful discussion that can help lead to a better and fuller understanding and more realistic expectations.

This is how an analysis in The South Asian Idea (Helping Pakistan, November 2007) approached the issue with a bottom-up perspective:

Understand that in a deeply unequal society without individual rights, and with extreme dependence of the many on the few, the functions of political representation and social protection are inseparable…

Understand this is still very much a monarchical society in which the ruler, in whatever garb, believes he rules by divine right…

Understand this is a society at a stage of development where political parties are personal affinity groups with lifetime leaders…

And based on the reading of these and other attributes it predicted:

So what does a transition to “true democracy” mean in a situation like this? Understand that representative democracy is not going to emerge any time soon by pressure from below. Democracy will be the name given to a sharing of power amongst the elites holding the wealth, the guns, and the controls over rules and rituals. And, barring anything different, this democracy will go the way of previous democracies, each morphing from “true” to “sham,” each leaving the country more wounded and vulnerable than before. Has this not been the story of the last sixty years?

In 2009, this prediction elicits much less surprise and disappointment than Dalrymple, Mohsin, the NYT or the lamenting chorus in Pakistan. Why?

The bottom line is that one needs to determine the appropriate starting point for analysis. Starting with what one hopes for almost always renders the analysis useless. Starting with the reality that exists on the ground and working upwards may not always yield the correct prediction but it is the most promising approach to an eventual understanding of why things turn out the way they do.

And that understanding is needed as the real starting point on the road to reform. Without that we would continue to cycle endlessly between our rascals and our redeemers, between our unrealistic hopes and our betrayed expectations.

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Governance in Pakistan – 2

March 8, 2009

I had intended to wait a while to get some feedback from readers on William Dalrymple’s analysis of the situation in Pakistan (Governance in Pakistan – 1) before starting a discussion on the reasons for its poor predictive power.

My plan was to follow that up with some samples of analysis by Pakistani commentators to reiterate the reasons that, in my view, contributed to the weakness of the analyses. 

I changed my mind when I immediately came across one such analysis in the March/April 2009 issue of the Boston Review. This review is by a member of the crème de la crème of Pakistani society, educated in the best institutions, a journalist by profession, and with the benefit of living abroad in a vibrant intellectual environment. The analysis provides a good parallel to Dalrymple’s piece. While Dalrymple brings an outsider’s excusably incomplete perspective, the contributor to the Boston Review is a well-connected insider very familiar with the history of events in Pakistan.

Consider a few examples from the analysis and see whether you agree if they provide a good basis for predicting the future.

The opening optimism is based more or less exactly on the same reasoning as Dalrymple’s:

Though outraged by General Musharraf’s strong–arm tactics, Pakistanis were not despondent. The economy was strong and foreign investors looked favorably upon Pakistan as an emerging market. A national election was in the offing, and Benazir Bhutto, emerging from years of exile the leader of Pakistan’s largest and most popular political party, had returned to contest it. Though religious extremists had dug into the Tribal Areas in the north, Benazir vowed to flush them out and, with American backing, end their reign of terror. Relations with India were calmer and more open than even before. There was everything to play for.

And the verdict a year later is also the same as Dalrymple’s:

Today that optimism has vanished.

But once again, there is no explanation why the analyst was deceived and why her optimism was so misplaced.

Let us look at the article for some clues:

Here are the author’s observations on the elections after the death of Zia ul Haq:

Soon after, Pakistan held elections, and I was glued to the television as results trickled in through the night. The first time Benazir Bhutto—so young, so beautiful, so full of promise—appeared on the screen, I wept.

The basis for the author’s hope was the fact that Benazir Bhutto was ‘so young, so beautiful, so full of promise.’ There was little anxiety that Benazir Bhutto had no training for the job, no prior experience in governance, and no demonstrated competence in managing a complex enterprise.

Are you surprised at the sentence that follows?

But my euphoria was short–lived.

Did the author learn anything from this episode? Here are the author’s responses to the entry of Pervez Musharraf:

I was one of many who expressed quiet relief when Musharraf seized power in 1999…. From my home in London, I anxiously watched the Pakistani news reports. Though relieved to see the back of Sharif, I was initially wary of the new general. By then I knew what military rule could mean. But my worst fears were dispelled when I saw him pose for his first staged photos in the lush lawns of Army House with a fluffy dog under each arm. Since mullahs consider dogs unclean, I took his choice of props as a clear sign of his secular leanings. His talk of accountability endeared him further to a nation sickened by the rampant corruption of its civilian leaders. And when he promised to promote enlightened moderation and economic development, the ghost of General Zia was finally exorcised from my mind.

Once again, there was no apprehension that this was the mastermind of Kargil, a man whose competence in his own field of specialization was so woefully exposed, a man who derailed the peace process with India, a man who overthrew a democratically elected government, and a man with no experience in political governance.

It seems the fluffy dogs and a few promises were enough to dispel all the fears and the apprehensions. That does make it pretty easy for any charlatan to pull the wool over the eyes of Pakistan’s crème de la crème, doesn’t it?

With analysis like that does it surprise you when the author discovers eight years later that:

Musharraf’s doublespeak about “enlightened moderation” was not confined to appeasing Americans alone.

And so on to Asif Zardari:

Whether President Zardari—working against a history of corruption allegations to win the trust of the people—is up to the job remains to be seen.

What is your prediction about what you are likely to see?

You have some clues to work on here. Read the article and decide for yourself if it is possible to make good predictions with this kind of analysis that is so gullible, that falls so easily for youth and good looks and fluffy dogs and empty promises.

Is this analysis or wishful thinking? How would you go about improving on the analysis?

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Governance in Pakistan – 1

March 7, 2009

In this series of posts we will try and provide an explanation of the seemingly intractable problems that afflict Pakistan today.

But first we address the issue of why analysts and observers are so often wrong in their assessments of the Pakistani situation.

The occasion for this is an article by William Dalrymple who has made a name for himself as a chronicler of Mughal history and an analyst of modern South Asia. Writing on March 4, 2009 he says:

Just over a year ago, in February 2008, I travelled by car across the length and breadth of Pakistan to cover the country’s first serious election since General Pervez Musharraf seized power in 1999…. The story I wrote at the time for the New York Review of Books was optimistic.

Like most other people given the option, Pakistanis clearly want the ability to choose their own rulers, and to determine their own future, I wrote. The country I saw over the last few days on a long road trip was not a failed state, nor anything even approaching ‘the most dangerous country in the world … almost beyond repair’ as the Spectator (among many others) recently suggested … By and large, the countryside I passed through was calm and beautiful, and not obviously less prosperous-looking than its subcontinental neighbour. It was certainly a far cry from the terminal lawlessness and instability of post-occupation Iraq or Afghanistan.

 A year on, however, the situation could hardly be more different, or more grim…

So this is our question for readers: Why was as astute an observer as William Dalrymple deceived? Why was he unable to correctly predict the future one year ahead?

Let us get some feedback on this question before we try and speculate on the possible reasons.

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Pakistan: What is to be done in FATA?

January 3, 2009

The situation in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is in a mess. It is being said that while Pakistanis refuse to see or accept the reality, a civil war is underway in the region to all intents and purposes. And the Pakistani state is losing this civil war. The Pakistani military has no credibility with anyone in the country and many see the Taliban favorably as either anti-imperialist or pan-Islamist. All this leaves the following question on the table: What will this mean for Pakistan when the new US administration raises the ante in Afghanistan as expected?

Let us examine the various elements in this picture. It is impossible to deny that a civil war is underway and that the Pakistani state is on the losing end. Just the loss of control over territory makes this obvious. Less than five years ago residents of Islamabad could pack a picnic lunch and drive to Swat without a thought; there used to be a weekly train marketed to tourists through the Khyber pass from Peshawar to Landikotal. All this is history and today the civil war is on the outskirts of Peshawar whose elite is fleeing the city where they have lived for generations.

It is also impossible to deny that the gainers in the civil war are imposing their own writ in the ‘liberated’ territories. In Swat, which as a princely state had one of the most progressive infrastructures of education as far back as the 1930s, schools are being bombed, televisions smashed, women confined to the home, and men forbidden to shave.  Whether this is good or bad depends on the side one favors but the point is that it defies the writ of the Pakistani state.

The Pakistani military, while remaining the most powerful player in the game, has put itself in the situation where it is trusted by neither friend nor foe and is intensely hated and despised by many. This has come about from its Machiavellian attempts to fool and double-cross all the people all the time in the service of its parochial interests, to contrive incidents to take over political power when deemed unavoidable, to ride roughshod over all other interests in the country, and to perceive itself clever enough to get away with biting the hand that feeds it. It is rogue elephant out of control.

And yes, there is either a deep-rooted ideological sympathy for the Taliban and its Al-Qaeda allies or an ambivalent support driven by gut resentment. The first comes from years of post-Zia religious indoctrination that began as a calculated strategy by the US-Saudi-Pakistani triumvirate and was never abandoned; the second, from a reaction to ham-handed, arrogant and hypocritical interventions by the US that delivered nothing to the suffering citizens while openly enriching their oppressors.

So it is indeed a vital question to ask at a point in time when the stakes could be raised significantly if the new US administration carries through with its planned ‘surge’ in Afghanistan: What ought to be the new strategy that should replace the failing one in FATA?

There are emerging voices asking Pakistanis to unequivocally oppose the military’s campaign in FATA and support its replacement by a social, economic and political mobilization that would transform the political and economic landscape in the area. But it is not made clear what such a mobilization would imply in concrete terms. Do the periodic attempts in the recent past to rely on peace talks and plan development schemes with US money constitute part of this mobilization that would transform the landscape? If so, one would need to figure out why these attempts have met with repeated failure.

We really have no solution to offer in a situation where sixty years of cynically neglected investments in social, economic and political development are coming back to bite in a vicious fury but there is one common-sense suggestion that can form the basis of a discussion of this vexing question.

It would seem to us that this battle cannot be waged by players that do not have credibility in the region or those who are seen as compromised by their past behaviors. There is need to seek and empower players who have a clear and unambiguous stake in the stability of the region. In our mind this can only be the legitimately elected government of the NWFP.

It is quite fortunate that the government of the religious groups shoehorned by the manipulative Musharraf rule has been thrown out by the citizens of the province to be replaced by one led by the ANP. It would seem, at least from a distance, that the ANP, given its entire history, would be the least affected by emotions sympathetic to the type of governance promised by the Taliban.

So turning over full control and responsibility of the conduct of the suggested mobilization to the ANP with the federal government taking a supportive backseat should make strategic sense. This would require the funding needed to support the social, economic and political dimensions of the mobilization but the mobilization would not rule out military action, if needed. However, this action would be at the discretion of the provincial government and the military would need to be clearly seen to be taking its orders from the former.

We are too far from the action to say whether this is feasible or not and if not, why not. It might still be useful to structure a discussion around the proposition to see if the barriers to its implementation can be surmounted by an effort mounted in support by domestic lobbies and external allies acting in concert.

For another perspective on this issue see Violence Without Limits and Pakistan’s Challenge by AH Nayyar and Zia Mian in the January 2009 issue of Himal Magazine.

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