Thursday, February 04, 2010

Why Pakistanis don't see the USA as an ally -- the long-range consequences of colonialism

US policy in the Middle East depends in part on the cooperation of the governments and populations in areas where unfriendly groups exist. But despite the fact that most Muslims in the Middle East mostly oppose people who claim to represent "Islamic government," there is very little enthusiasm for a US alliance. From a distance it looks a lot like sheer crankiness. Juan Cole at Informed Comment tries to explain, using a current example, of how Pakistanis like others with a recent history of colonial occupation, see US and NATO intervention as the same old, same old, and deeply humiliating.

Juan Cole writes
:

Opinion polls show that many observers in Pakistan already feel that the US is humiliating their country and sowing discord there, and this revelation of the presence of US troops on the ground, along with the Department of Defense role in building girls' schools, will further raise hackles (and risks making girls' schools unpopular even among non-Taliban).

The USG Open Source Center translated an editorial by Dr Hussein Ahmed Paracha: "How Much Dignity is Left?", published in Nawa-e Waqt in Urdu on January 18, 2010, which exemplified this point of view:

'The United States has been attacking within Pakistani land with drones for the last four to five years and is also killing innocent people. . . There were 44 drone attacks in 2009 alone in which more than 700 innocent people, majority of whom were innocent children, elderly, and women, were killed. According to the statistics provided by various agencies, those who belonged to "Al-Qa'ida" or the Taliban could not be more than 18. . .

Having made sure that the wealth of our national dignity has turned to ashes and the last flame has burned down, the US Administration has now announced a program of naked screening for the passengers coming from a few countries. All these countries are Muslim countries, and Pakistan is one of them. Yes, the same Pakistan, which is the frontline US ally in war against terror. Pakistan has danced to death in others' parties and has made fun of itself. It is the same Pakistan, which left its citizens starving and spent $35 billion in others' war. . .

The United States is bent on treating us shamelessly. Moreover, we pay too much regard to anyone coming from the United States. The Blackwater operatives, who committed heinous and inhuman crimes in Iraq, come wherever they please in Pakistan without visa or travel document. They keep on roaming around in vehicles with fake number plates with dangerous weapons. These US officials point guns at the security people if asked to reveal their identity. During a few minutes debate, there is a series of phone calls from the high officials, and they, who consider Pakistan as their playground, are allowed to go with honor.'


In an opinion poll done last summer, 64% of the Pakistani public said that they saw the US as an 'enemy,' and only 9% saw it as an ally.


The previous post on robowars with robotic bombers is relevant here.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Outbreak of the rule of law in Pakistan?

So argues Juan Cole:

The US punditocracy has never understood that the central political narrative of Pakistan in the past 2 and a half years has been the restoration of the rule of law (in the form of the Supreme Court chief justice and then the rest of the SC) and the ending of the Musharraf military dictatorship in favor of a return of the major political parties.

That twin project was riddled with a contradiction, though, since the political parties capable of supplanting the military were themselves often corrupt, while Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was determined to clean house. So what has happened is that the contradictions have just come to the fore.

How flat-footed the US commentariat is in this regard was obvious in the reaction of CNN's Wolf Blitzer to Malik's detention. He asked Pakistani ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani if it was the sign of a military coup. Haqqani was taken aback, and the Urdu press headlined the interchange.

No, Wolf, it is the opposite. It is an outbreak of the civil rule of law. It was a military dictator who had amnestied Malik. It is the Supreme Court calling him to account. The US media think the Pakistan Story is 'violent fundamentalism, military rule, and nuclear threat.' The reality-- that most of the Pakistani public wants a civil rule of law, is almost impossible for Westerners to grasp.

The hysteria in Washington about Pakistani political instability (read: civilian politicians elected to office and an independent judiciary instead of a military dictatorship) will be heightened by this development. And it does potentially weaken president Asaf Ali Zardari, against whom there are outstanding cases. But most judicial authorities hold that Zardari cannot be tried while in office, and there is no obvious way to unseat him, since his party is the largest in parliament.

The rule of law is more important for the structural integrity of Pakistani society and politics than the back door deals of the Musharrafs, Bushes, Rices and Cheneys. Pakistan has a parliamentary system. It will go to new elections in a couple of years. If the government falls before then, it will just have early elections and someone will form a government based on their electoral performance. It might be Nawaz Sharif and the Muslim League. So what? Sharif once agreed with Clinton to send in a Pakistani SWAT team against Bin Laden, and it was Musharraf who nixed that plan. And whereas Zardari has never shown an ability to run anything, Sharif is a steel magnate-- though his last term as PM was marked by an overly authoritarian style and a cozying up to Muslim fundamentalists substantially to his right.

And who knows, maybe some of the new non-corrupt PPP voices such as Aitzaz Ahsan will emerge if Zardari falters.


Then there is this development, also drawn to my attention by Juan Cole (originating in the International edition of the News, a Pakistani newspaper:
ISLAMABAD: Ulema and Mashaikh, belonging to different schools of thought, unanimously declared suicide attacks in the country un-Islamic and forbidden in Islam.

A large number of Ulema and Mashaikh, who attended the Ulema Mashaikh Conference arranged by the Ministry of Religious Affairs at the National Library here, denounced on Thursday the killing of innocent people in the name of religion. They spoke against suicide attacks in particular.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Minister for Religious Affairs Allama Hamid Saeed Kazmi and Ulema Mashaikh from across the country participated in the conference. The interior minister also briefed the Ulema and Mashaikh about the security situation and the measures taken by the government for curbing the menace of terrorism.

The Ulema said it is clearly stated in the Holy Quran that killing of innocent people is un-Islamic and it could not be justified in any way. They said the Shariah introduced by Hazrat Muhammad (SAW) is complete and adequate for us and we do not need anything more.

Speaking on the occasion, Minister for Religious Affairs Allama Hamid Saeed Kazmi said the conference was arranged with an aim to devise a strategy against terrorism.He said those who launched attacks upon mosques and educational institutions could never be called Muslims. He said Islam does not allow anyone to kill innocent people or attack mosques.

Those laying down their lives in the fight against terrorism are martyrs as they are fighting to save the motherland, he said.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

What's happening in Pakistan?


The Independent out of the UK has the best connected account I have seen.
Note this passage:

Ordinary Pakistanis have been left bewildered [by recent terrorist attacks], unable still to believe that the danger comes from within the country.

"Only God knows where such people come from because I know that Muslims cannot kill other Muslims," said Mohammad Yousaf, a 55-year-old, who runs a tea shop near one of the police training schools in Lahore and spent several hours hiding instead his store Thursday as gunfire and explosions engulfed the area.

Image: Outside Army HQ after the attack on it this month.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Roll it!

From the New York Times At War blog:

MINGORA, Pakistan — The Taliban are gone in Swat, and one of the best illustrations of their absence was on display a few days ago at a local cinema: the movies are back.

The men began lining up at 10 a.m. Forty-five minutes later, they began surging past a security guard into the courtyard through a side gate. They sidestepped the ice cream vendor and shoved and jostled their way to the box office for 150-rupee tickets. Seats are cheap; there are wooden benches, no recliners, no popcorn, no candy. But there are cigarettes, excitement and testosterone aplenty.
There's more...

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mapping the conflict in NW Pakistan


Besides this map, the BBC provides details on the various districts involved in the current conflict.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

And then last night on CBC TV...

...Newsworld's Passionate Eye documentary program to be specific, I saw a show called
Pakistan's Taliban Generation. It was about how the Taliban are spreading their influence in Pakistan, and not just in the tribal areas. It was scary, in part because it was a no BS presentation. Unfortunately you cannot see this on the CBC Internet site, but you can read about it here, and perhaps hunt up another broadcast where you can see it.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Afghanistan-Pakistan border

Click on the pic for the full effect. Makes you think, doesn't it?

See the Pakistan portfolio at the Big Picture.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan


Laura Rozen's War and Piece put me on to this article in Foreign Policy: Panic in Kabul, is Islamabad next? and it led me to a recent publication by the same author, Shuja Nawaz, on the FATA, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.

Image: Kabul.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The 300 Spartans (1962) and Charlie Wilson's War (2007): two historical movies

Last night I took it easy and watched two movies: The 300 Spartans, the 60s film that inspired the Frank Miller graphic novel and the recent movie The 300, and the much more recent Charlie Wilson's War, which tells the story of a Texas congressman who took the initiative in financing covert operations to counter the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, with, as IMDB says, unexpected consequences. They really provided an interesting contrast in filmic style.

I saw The 300 about a year ago and enjoyed it, though I did not think it was a particularly serious movie. Lots of perhaps unintentional laughs in that treatment of the battle of Thermopylae. Certainly in decades to come, people will kill themselves laughing at the cultural hangups revealed in the movie. But it was enjoyable. At least once.

Like Frank Miller, I saw the older movie treatment as a child and I wondered how the previous film would hold up. The answer is, not very well at all. It had its virtues: Greek landscapes, reasonably good depiction of military operations, some good sets (for instance, Xerxes' royal pavilions). The story, however, was slow and plodding and really not very much truer to the real situation than the Frank Miller version. It was a movie made up of old Hollywood clichés of character, and if you have seen enough old movies you could've written it yourself. My guess is that very few people today would write something similar from scratch. The year 1962 as seen through this particular lens, seemed a long way back.

I am not familiar enough with the small details of US policy towards the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to critique Charlie Wilson's War as a depiction of history, but it certainly is a modern movie. Movies go a lot faster now, they are much more efficient in setting the scene and characters and establishing plot points. Of course this movie was produced by Mike Nichols and written by Aaron Sorkin, who are consummate pros, but what they are professional at is noteworthy.

Interestingly enough, this weekend I also saw the classic British flick Darling (1965), when Julie Christie burst upon the film scene and won an Academy award for one of her first roles. She was fabulous but so was everything else. It had that same efficiency of pacing that I noted in Charlie Wilson's War. Perhaps someone better acquainted with the history of film could tell me how unusual those qualities were when they appeared in Darling.

As for yesterday's two films as historical films, let me quote something that a friend of mine posted at her blog two days ago. Sandra Dodd said:
So I'm sewing and watching Brother Sun, Sister Moon, a movie [about St. Francis and St. Clare -- SM] I will love for life despite that criticism of those who can't appreciate religious-art in the form of a movie. Had it been a painting with discrepancies from the historical record, or a sculpture, or a medal, no one would care. But make it HUGE, with real scenery and real medieval buildings and costumes and music, and people say "the armor is crap" and "Clare wasn't that age," and blah blah. ART. Art.
You know, I hear a lot of that, too, and I too get impatient.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sufism in South Asia

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sense

Sense on the "existential threat of Islamic extremist from IOZ, one of the few people I read to even mention US attacks on Syria and Pakistan:

One of our great, egomaniacal national myths is that the central motivation of Islamic radicals is Death to America. More accurately, their principle motivations are things like: Death to the corrupt, apostate, America-backed government in Islamabad. The September 11, 2001 attacks were an aberration. Insurgent and rebel groups from North Africa through the Middle East, subcontinent, and Pacific archipelagos engage American troops and assets where proximity dictates.

Paradoxically, while some fighters are rootless, semi-religious mercenaries, bopping across borders to get to where the action is, the goals of the various movements and insurgencies tend to be on the local-to-national scale. The Taliban aren't interested in Kansas. Rebels in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas don't care about moral degeneracy in Las Vegas. These people are not seeking to establish some vast caliphate and gobble up the world. The United States, in the principle symptom of our special brand of flailing imperialism, has gotten itself embroiled in a gaggle of civil wars. Most of the nations in question have been modern nation-states for somewhere between fifty and one hundred years. We might recall what happened in America when it was around that age.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Memories of Rome (President's Choice?)

At home, Americans are arguing over whether the financial system will collapse or whether the rich will be allowed to turn everyone else into debt slaves. Meanwhile, in South Asia, American forces have been crossing the border from Afghanistan into Pakistan, and Pakistan has been shooting down American drone airplanes. And no one much seems to be paying attention to the second. Or the fact that the Pakistani government almost almost got blown up en masse a few days ago.

This reminds me of those good old Roman days when the entire provinces might rise in revolt because of senatorial money lending practices, and when the senators involved were forced to commit suicide, it was in regards to some entirely unconnected matter, like pure imperial animus.

Image: the death of Seneca, whom Abelard and Eloise thought was a great philosopher, but whose moneylending contributed to the great British revolt against Rome. I wonder if A and E knew about that? I doubt it. Painting by Gerrit von Honthorst.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Background to today's politics in Pakistan


Juan Cole rightly calls this long entry on Pakistan by expert observer Barnett Rubin at Informed Comment: Global Affairs "a college education all on its own." I can speak with a little authority on this because I teach one of the few undergraduate courses offered by an Ontario university on Islamic history, and I can tell you that you won't get anything this substantial from me on Pakistan, post-independence (1947, more than 60 years ago!). Nor on India, either, and India contains very important Muslim communities. And Bangladesh, once part of Pakistan, hardly gets mentioned.

I have my excuses, of course, even valid ones. I've used the time I've allocated to post-WW II history to discuss mainly Egypt, Israel/Palestine, and to some degree Iraq, Iran and Lebanon. That may not be good enough any more. I may have to reallocate time, putting the conquests of Egypt and Bengal in the late 18th century at the end of term one instead of the beginning of term two.

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Pakistan


Although I'm not teaching History of Islamic Civilization this year (I should be next year), I assume that some of my students and other readers are going to be interested in the situation in Pakistan after the assassination of former PM Benazir Bhutto. There are any number of analyses on the web, but here are two from the reliable and honest Talking Points Memo: a video interview with Barnett Rubin from October, and a follow-up today, both accessible from this TPM post.

TPM also provides a link to this BBC summary of Bhutto's career.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Lessons in imposed democracy

Today's Washington Post has an interesting article by Shankar Vedantam entitled Lessons in Enforced Democracy (a title less accurate than the one I've chosen for this post). Vedantam has got hold of an unpublished study by Andrew Enterline and J. Michael Greig on the fate of democratic regimes imposed by foreign countries. (Unfortunately he doesn't say where this study will be published and whether it will be an article or a book. But I will keep an eye out.)

The study suggests that this usually works out badly because the countries on which democracy has been imposed lack the appropriate civic institutions. The traditional generation seems to be a turning point. Weak democracies with elections but no institutional infrastructure fail in large numbers in the first 30 years. Strong new democracies that reach 30 seem to have become very well established by that point.

I am tempted to say DUH! but really I'm pleased that this serious matter has appeared in a major American newspaper. It's an improvement over what often appears in the WP, not to speak of lesser forums like the discredited NYT. However, I wonder how much systematic thinking is behind the study. Here, for instance, is the study's recipe for success as reported by Vedantam:

...large occupation forces early on to stamp out nascent insurgencies; a clear message that occupation forces were willing to spend years to make democracy work; an ethnically homogenous population, where politics was less likely to splinter along sectarian lines; and finally, the good fortune to have neighbors that also were democratically minded, or at least neighbors who could be kept from interfering.


Is this just an ad hoc argument for a long-term US commitment to Iraq?

One thing that makes me wonder is this paragraph from the article:

Enterline and Greig said there is one large exception to their finding: India, with its myriad internal divisions, but which still has become a strong democracy. Civic culture and a strong desire for representative government undoubtedly play a role in whether stable democracies emerge, Greig said -- meaning that Iraq might yet defy the odds.


Indian democracy is a remarkable achievement, but perhaps success there indicates that civic institutions are far more important than ethnic homogeneity. After all, neither the USA nor Canada has ever had any such thing. There's always been some new wave of immigration to mix things up. Political science has known for years that having a tradition of British justice and an independent judiciary gave freed British colonies a better head start on stability than colonies of other countries. In the partition, the Republic of India got the vast bulk of the institutional inheritance of the Raj, while Pakistan just got the army. Even so, the Pakistani judicial system has shown itself recently the biggest organized force for reform.

The Vedantam article cites the problems that the Philippines have had maintaining democracy after independence from American rule; it might be interesting to compare American-imposed institutions in the Philippines to British ones in India, at a detailed level of analysis.

While we are wishing, what about a good study of Spain -- model backward Fascist state to model European democracy in less than a generation? All while suffering from domestic terrorism! Long-established democratic countries -- you know who you are -- should bow their heads in shame in the face of this example.

Update: Thanks to Will McLean, I now have a link to the Enterline and Grieg paper. Alas, the briefest of looks makes me question the analytical judgment of the authors. To term the 19th century democratization of Canada and New Zealand cases "imposed democracy" similar to the cases of Germany and Japan and now Iraq shows a profound ignorance of the internal dynamics of Canada and New Zealand in that era.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Strutting their stuff


Some people think that Iraq's problems can be solved by partition. Having studied and taught the post-World War II partitions, I have my severe doubts.

Perhaps the most dangerous partition of that time still in effect, Israel/Palestine apart, is the partition of British India into India and Pakistan (and Bangladesh). These two important countries face each other with nuclear weapons and a large store of resentment. However, as this article from the LA Times shows, partition can have its humorous and even artistic results.

The article quotes an Indian as saying if it were a cricket competition, things wouldn't be quite so lighthearted. But when I was in Delhi in April 2005, I found many Indians generously impressed by the way Pakistan won an important series. It was apparently brilliant, but I had to take other people's word for that.

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