Monday, October 27, 2014

Pankaj Mishra and his discontents...

Pankaj has an op-ed in the NY Times. Friend Sardul Minhas prodded me to say something about it, but I was short of time and just gave some general comments about the Pankajist worldview and it's discontents. These comments are quick and off the cuff, so almost as superficial as Pankaj Bhayia's op-ed, but they sort of add to my earlier longer rant about his book, and my earlier article about Pankaj and Arundhati Roy. Read them all and you will start to see what I mean (or at least, where I am coming from). Trust me :) 

Before I go on, let me say that India hypernationalism is at least as real as Pakistani or American or Chinese hypernationalism and can be almost equally crazy. Like those hypernationalisms, it is mostly held in check by real-life constraints and need not trigger world war three, but world war three is not inconceivable. Shit happens. So I do not mean to imply that all is well and will forever remain well in the Indian subcontinent with the BJP in power (and of course anyone who says all was well before the BJP came to power must be joking). But I do think some of the doom and gloom is overdone and a lot of it is just hyperventilation that provides no good analysis as to why this phenomena has grown, what it may become, and what can be done to moderate or counter it's possible short, i dont think there is nothing to fear, but I do think that the Pankajist worldview is neither an adequate analysis, nor a rational prescription for it's cure.

Pankaj seems to believe (or knows it is fashionable to believe) that the worship of strength and material progress is a serious mistake and therefore all of recent Western history (with its abundant displays of strength and material/organizational progress, however defined) was a very bad thing. But he also believes the equally fashionable meme that the weak should “stand up for their rights” and fight back and defeat the strong….since I have not seen any evidence to suggest that he has some well-developed theory of Gandhian resistance, how is this circle to be squared? Given belief A, belief B requires the acquisition of strength and at least some material/organizational progress (how else will anyone be able to overcome the amoral West?) but it so happens that the constituency of “strength and material/organizational progress" in India is one that Pankaj cannot afford to be associated with. He has little trouble with non-Indian strength-worshippers like Jamaluddin Afghani (a minor and ineffectual fascist whom he portrayed, historically inaccurately, as one of the great exemplars of Asian resistance to Western domination), but in India his home is in the liberal elite Left, and the "strength and progress" idea, while very much present in the traditional Left, is not one that the postmodern Left is comfortable with...besides, the strength part is now mostlymonopolized by the Hindutvadis, so there are problems with admiring Indian anti-Westernism and strength-worship that do not arise for Pankaj when he is talking about Muslims or Chinese who want to become strong like the West. Incidentally, Japan remains a sore spot of Pankaj; perhaps because of his initial Leftist orientation or because the rise of Japan does not fit his preferred picture of "East tries to Westernize and falls flat on face", he completely skipped Japan when discussing his version of the rise of Asia from the ruins of Empire. Anyway, given these ideological limitations, what is to be done? His options include:

Friday, October 24, 2014

Hazara Genocide: Are the police just stupid or is there more to it?

As the systematic genocide against the Shia Hazara community in Balochistan continues unabated, Mohammed Hanif has a good piece on his interactions with "law enforcement" in Quetta.

Some choice quotes:
"“Hazaras, you know, are our ladla babies,” said one of Quetta’s senior most police officer earlier this month. “We’ll do anything to protect them.” He was giving an off the record briefing and went into some detail about the number of security cordons he had thrown around the Hazara community in Quetta, particularly Hazara town. And what about their movement? Students, traders, office workers? Students going to the university, according to the police officer, got a police escort. The problems of food delivery were discussed. “Even the vegetable vendors get police escort,” he said triumphantly. And then like a true philosopher of law and order he went on to explain: “Do you know the basic problem with Hazaras? They look different; because of their features, they are easily identifiable.”

On Thursday, when eight of those pampered babies, with different features, were gunned down while buying fruit and vegetables, Quetta’s police was quick to absolve themselves. “We offered them escort, and they just didn’t tell us.”

Forget about the details, just look at the strategy: a well armed, organized group has declared war on Shias in general and Hazaras in particular (because they are so easy to identify; one reason racism works more effectively than most other forms of discrimination: the enemy is color coded or otherwise easily identifiable). This armed group runs countless madressas in which they teach their anti-Shia ideology. They have an organized militant wing that carries out assassinations and bombings. The police, charged with stopping this campaign and protecting Pakistani citizens, throws up ever higher walls around the Hazara community and wrings their hands when some terrorist either gets across the wall or some Hazara gets slaughtered wandering outside their prison.
Does this make any sense? 

What about tracking down and capturing (or killing) the killers? After all, they do not drop out of the sky and disappear under the earth, they live in and around Quetta. They meet somewhere. They plan their attacks. They make their bombs. They buy guns and ammunition. They have bases and hideouts.
And the police strategy is to build more walls around the Hazaras?
Are the policemen just stupid or is there more to this policy?

What do you think? 
I think they are stupid, but no more than any other subcontinental police force. Mostly "there is more to it"... First and foremost there is a dual government in Balochistan, with the army running it's own regime and the so-called elected provincial govt twiddling their thumbs and looking for ways to make money doing so; Secondly, the army has other priorities when it comes to Jihadists, so an all out operation is inconceivable. Good jihadis must be protected while bad ones are hunted. It has never worked, but hell, this is the army that has been trying the same tricks in Kashmir for 65 years and "it has never worked" is not a problem for them; next year will be different. Armies from Madina Saani will conquer India and Khorasan and together with China we will rule the world, etc know the drill. 
Is there any way to change this? 
Or do we wait for the Hazaras to either die or leave? 

Monday, October 20, 2014

"we are muslims"

...“We have source besides the (Pakistan) army…people in Kashmir are fighting....just need to incite them....we can fight with the (Indian) army from both the front and back....we are Muslims”.....

This is true, there is a hot war going on right now in Kashmir and all the familiar arguments (pro-war, pro-peace) are being re-hashed. It is time to examine them anew.

We have ex President/General Musharraf noting that the path to freedom in Kashmir involves inciting Kashmiri Muslims to launch an intifada. He is confident that the inherent strength in the "we are muslims" argument will (finally) lead to the vanquishing of a half-million strong Indian army.

Short response: Our opinion is that the only feasible way forward in Kashmir is to bring Indian civil society on-side by impressing on the moral arguments about self-rule. For that two things (at the minimum) need to happen. First, there has to be a popular consensus in India that meaningful peace is possible with Pakistan. As of now, only Pranay Sharma (see below) and a few committed leftists believe in this. Any Pak incitement will only lead to more Kashmiri deaths (and a rise in popularity of Modi).

Second, moral arguments are not convincingly made by (or on behalf of) people who do not have any inherent faith in them. Large sections of Kashmiri muslims rejoiced when the Pandits left. The argument is simple: get rid of the people (minorities) and the land is yours to enjoy for all times. As originally battle-tested by the proponents of the two nation theory, this winner-takes-all argument has been a winning one all across South Asia. Today in Hindu majority Telangana, the man in charge compares himself favorably to Hitler (see link below) and wants to chase away all Andhra people (also Hindu majority and Telugu speaking).

Thus to win the argument Kashmiri muslims (and their well-wishers such as Musharraf and a Hindu Brahmin like Vishal Bharadwaj) have to stipulate that suppression of the weak by the strong is wrong. But Musharraf is not making that argument. He is claiming that victory will come from Pak army fighting outside-in, even as the Intifada fights inside out. This "we are muslims" dream helped in the birth of Pakistan and (seemingly) helps hold Pakistan together even now. But it will not help liberate Kashmir.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

High Court Upholds Death Sentence on Aasia Bibi

Setting new records of shamelessness and spinelessness, the Lahore High Court has upheld the death sentence awarded to Aasia bibi for "blasphemy".

For years now, the lower courts in Pakistan have taken the route of automatic award of death sentence in blasphemy cases. Lower court judges feel that they have no security and why should they put their life on the line for a Christian or an Ahmedi (and of course, for apostates they themelves almost certainly feel a death sentence is justified, so no conscience issues there)? They expect that the case will go to the High court and high court judges will either keep it in limbo forever or hear it and throw out the death penalty (helped, no doubt, by the transparent lack of due process at the lower court in a way the lower court judge is doing the accused a service by giving zero time to their defence and pronouncing sentence on the flimsiest of grounds).
Well, no more.
Christians and Ahmedis in Pakistan now face a legal situation whose closest parallel may be in the Jim Crow South, where Black defendants were frequently found guilty on the flimsiest of grounds and if acquited, faced mob justice and public lynching. But while the Jim Crow South has moved on (a lot, though not all the way), the situation in Pakistan is headed in the opposite direction.
A poor woman has been in prison for 4 years and now faces the very real prospect of execution for what is basically the crime of being "uppity". 
Very sad.
Btw, this does shed light on what is clearly the weakest part of Ben Affleck's ignorant but well-meaning liberal account of the Muslim world: the fact that the core Islamic world (really, everyone except Muslim countries that have been hit hard by communism, as in the Soviet Stans and in Xinjiang) is COMPLETELY illiberal when it comes to apostasy and blasphemy. Illiberal views on these issues are not fringe views in the Muslim world. Blasphemers are to be punished, usually by death. This is a MAJORITY view, supported by ALL major Islamic sects and their theologians. The notion that apostates are to be killed has a little less support, but is still the majority view in many countries and is again the clear consensus among orthodox Sunni theologians (I have little detailed knowledge of Shia theology, so I am leaving them out of it...they may believe exactly this as well). Based on these two memes, criticism of Islamists becomes a problem in all these countries and "reform from above", enforced by Westernized rulers (like Ataturk) is always in danger because the religious establishment has never accepted it and the population continues to honor classical beliefs in principle (without knowing them too well, thanks to secularized education) and so is always available to be "reformed" back to those classical beliefs when circumstances change (as they have been changing in Turkey).
And so on.
Its not as hunky dory as Affleck and his fans may wish to believe.
For more, see this article about blasphemy laws.

Also note that while Aasia bibi cannot get out of jail no matter what, this guy apparently had no problem joining the Mujahideen after being imprisoned in Croatia and deported to Pakistan for being a Jihadist
Shoot rushdie

Friday, October 10, 2014

Monday, October 6, 2014

Imran Khan: between a rock and a hard place

For the past one month, Imran Khan has been spending several hours a day on top of a container in the heart of Islamabad, demanding that the elected government must resign (because he says so) and pave the way for him to become prime minister and finally create the Pakistan that was dreamt of by Iqbal and that will be run according to the model of the State of Medina. (I am not kidding, he regularly evokes both Allama Iqbal and the model state of Medina and seems to be seriously impressed by both). Unfortunately, his sincere admiraition is not matched by any detailed knowledge of either Allama Iqbal or the state of Medina. This causes problems when someone who knows a bit about either of them shows up to bully him...poor IK has to cave in. Very fast.

This is Imran Khan promising that in his new Pakistan, "the best will be appointed on merit" and he has just heard that Atif Mian, a Pakistani economist at Princeton is among the top 25 economists in the world, so Atif Mian will be his finance minister:

Imran Khan wants “Qadiani” Atif Mian to be his... by PakistantvTV

Atif Mian is apparently an Ahmedi.

Complete Interview IMRAN KHAN on MessageTv... by fame6

Why can Imran Khan not stand up to the Jamat e Islami or Hamid Gul or anyone with any Islamist credentials?

Sun wey bilori akh waaleya

The original

 The Coke studio version from Meesha Shafi

Whatever you may think of the new effort ("desecration of the original" or a vast improvement), it is interesting that coke studio (and Meesha Shafi's expresions) is trying to to salute some folk and classical elements in their modernized version and the director of Anwara is trying to make his picturization of the folk-ish Punjabi song more modern... I detect at least a short essay opportunity in the journal of postcolonial studies..

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Haider - a spectacular tour de force

Lady V & I just managed to catch Haider and I have to say it was a great adaptation of Hamlet in Kashmir. In Kampala I see Shakespearean adaptation but they aren't even localised instead it's copied over word for painful word (especially when done in a different accent so it's a double adaptation).

Other than that Haider demonstrates the maturity and emerging role Bollywood is weighing on the national conscience. It demonstrates the open-air prison that Kashmir was as well as the huge more ambiguity amongst all protagonists.

Furthermore while staying true to Hamlet and Shakespeare it also managed to infuse a unique desi element that makes the adaptation so compelling. Haider at times was edge of the seat but also weighed on the individual conscience with searing glimpses of the different types of love (& hate) that define the human experience.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Pashtun power play(s)

....The Pushtuns are divided among the Durrani, Ghilzai, Waziri, Khattak, Afridi, Mohmand, Yusufzai, Shinwari..... each tribe is divided into subtribes.....divided into numerous clans... Zahir Shah belongs to the Muhammadzai clan of the Barakzai subtribe of the Durrani tribe. Such clan, subtribal, and tribal divisions contribute already intense rivalries and divisions.....
For some time now there has been an expectation that post-2014 Af-Pak will go from a slow burning play-field to a hot fire battlefield. These fears are just a tiny bit less now that Ashraf Ghani has assumed powers (by consensus) and Americans are allowed to stay and fight (and contribute to the Afghan economy), unlike Iraq.

Traditionally we have had a lot of (gleeful) finger pointing from the left that if the world had simply ignored their attempt to transform Afghanistan into Cuba then things would have been just fine and dandy. The problem though is more basic: Pashtuns have never accepted the Durand line and the attraction for a national homeland (we would presume) would be just as strong as that of the Sikhs (and Kashmiris and Balochis...).

The difference between then and now is that the Pashtun powers that be now feel confident about their chances to create Pakistan in their own image. All the Taliban versions (Punjabi, Pashtun) may have differences in goals and opinions but doctrinally (and often operationally) they are brothers.

We have seen this Punjabi vs. Pashtun movie before when Afghan armies would raid Lahore and Delhi and Punjabi armies would go the other way. But we have not really seen a joint Punjabi-Pashtun operation to make Pakistan more pure and homogeneous.

The fear is not that the tribal districts will be ruled by religious nut-jobs (they already do), the worry is that Karachi and Lahore will fall in the hands of the extremists. This will happen as part of a well co-ordinated strategy. These people know what they are doing and they are capable of playing the long game.   

In this context meaningless words like "failed state" are not helpful, a state bound by powerful (but hateful) laws is not the same as a law-less state. The far greater problem may be "isolated state." People - yes, lots of Hindus, Jews and Americans, but also Europeans and Chinese...and Arabs (!!!) - associating Pakistan with terrorism when it is actually Pashtun nationalism in alliance with Punjabi islamism hoping to create a Caliphate for the true believers, trying to establish territorial, cultural, and spiritual control through the power of the gun (and the mob).
Flying into Kabul earlier this week just before Afghanistan’s presidential inauguration, a number of embassy cars sat waiting to pick up VIPs and visitors from their respective nations. It was telling that the Pakistani embassy cars were the only ones not armored.

A Christmas cake (for Dussehra)

Why not? This is India where all folks of all faiths meet in celebration (around this time the holy days just keep rolling one after the other...without a break, as far as we can see).

We are very fond of home-made recipes because they taste different from the commercial stuff and they are quite practical (unlike the cook-book stuff).

This is claimed to be an authentic Syrian Christian recipe for sponge cake. A resourceful "aunty" instructed us "live" and the result was not half bad (and very little effort). Let us know if someone likes it, we will pass on the message to aunty.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

255, 261, 264, 350, 381

Five Indians in the Forbes USA Top-400 list. In one way it is nice, the percentage of  the ultimate high earners is in line with the expat Indian community strength in the USA. However the list is empty at the top (no one in Top 200).

As expected, Bharat Desai, John Kapoor, Ramesh Wadhwani, Ram Shriram, and Vinod Khosla have either technology backgrounds or play in technology. Specifically, Desai (IIT Bombay), Wadhwani (IIT Bombay) and Khosla (IIT Kharagpur) are Indian Institute of Technology graduates and are committed to improve those institutions and create entrepreneurs (not just technology officers).
The Indian Institute of Technology (Bombay) in Powai (Mumbai) received quite a windfall recently when billionaire alumnus Bharat Desai, chairman of US-based company Syntel, donated $1 million to his alma mater. The money will go toward starting a robust entrepreneurship centre so that many more technicians come out as entrepreneurs rather than just as degree-holders.

"Kem Cho Mr PM"

Indians are known the world over for their lack of unity (this is only to be expected, a billion people marching in lock-step is possible only in Communist China, and even there we have our doubts). No one except the stoutest patriot believes in that hoary school-yard slogan "unity in diversity."
That said Indians are united about the need for diversity (and benefit of local control). This is simply a matter of accepting reality. In a country when there are so many languages, religions, cultures there is not much you can do to privilege any one "thing" over another (you can try and fail).   

In general, where there has been sustained complaints of "imposition" (one community over another), we have followed the example set by our (ex) British masters and granted partition. On November 1, 1966, there was a splitting of the pre-existing Punjabi Suba into majority Punjabi speaking (and Sikh by religion) Punjab, and Hindi speaking (Hindu) Haryana, and also Hindi/Pahari speaking (Hindu) Himachal Pradesh (25 January, 1971). The same policy was followed for Kerala (1956), Maharashtra (1960) and Nagaland (1963) and others.

In November 2000, Jharkhand was split from Bihar (and Chattisgarh from Madhya Pradesh) with an emphasis on (exclusive) tribal identities. We just experienced (2nd June, 2014) a bitter, yet mostly peaceful partition between Telugu speaking people in Telangana and Andhra. And in the future there may be a Gorkhaland for Nepalis who propose to be free of Bengali domination.

Even at the intra-state level, a new, muslim majority Malappuram district was created on 16 June 1969 (by the secular, communist government of EMS Namboodiripad) by segregating taluks of the erstwhile Kozhikode and Palakkad districts.

Thus when President Obama said: (Tame) Kem Cho (?) Mr Prime Minister we were quietly happy. There is no country on which has such diversity to the point that the Constitution notes 22 scheduled languages. Even that list ignores tens of millions of non-Hindi speaking people in the "Hindi" belt - Maithili from North Bihar is the sole exception - and the Tulu speaking community in (Mangalore) the south.