Sunday, December 30, 2007

A reassuring thought

Here's a gem of American foreign policy thinking: a blog from the editors of Foreign Policy magazine.

Blake Hounshell writes that we shouldn't be depending on individuals in Pakistan, but instead encouraging democracy. That's good advice, but here's how he ends his analysis:
[...] stringent U.S. oversight has ensured that Pakistan’s pro-Western military would retain firm control over the country's nuclear arsenal. Indeed, Pakistan's military would still wield a great deal of power under any civilian leader, as it did under Bhutto and Sharif. It's a reassuring thought.
See full post here.

Oh, great. So, we should be reassured that the Pakistan military will retain power and firm control over the nuclear arsenal?

This would be the same Pakistan military that:
  1. Is known to have spread nuclear technology among many "rogue states", and now continues to shield A.Q. Khan from any questioning by atomic energy experts or by the U.S. government?
  2. Remains a closed mafia whose budgets cannot be audited, which acquires public land and resources illegally, which can place retired officers as CEOs in any public sector undertaking, and is not answerable to any civilian government in Pakistan?
  3. Indoctrinates its officers and jawans to believe that civilians are corrupt and that the military alone knows what is best for the country (obviously untrue, given today's sorry state of Pakistan)?
  4. Uses its intelligence services to spy on, intimidate, and assassinate journalists and politicians, and uses jihadis to achieve its own ill-conceived objectives?
With this kind of "stringent U.S. oversight", I guess we should all sleep well.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The hit on Benazir

The Pakistan government's official version of events has changed twice, and it is hotly contested:

Authorities initially said she died from bullet wounds, but subsequently Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema said Bhutto was killed when the shockwaves from the suicide bomb smashed her head into the sunroof as she tried to duck back inside the vehicle.

Bhutto's spokeswoman Sherry Rehman said, "We saw a bullet wound in the back of her neck. What the government is saying is actually dangerous and nonsensical. They are pouring salt on our wounds."

The government blamed the attack on Baitullah Mehsud, head of the Tehrik-i-Taliban, a newly formed coalition of Islamic militants along the Afghan border believed to be linked to al-Qaida and committed to waging holy war against the government.

But a spokesman for Mehsud, Maulana Mohammed Umer, said, "We strongly deny it. Baitullah Mehsud is not involved in the killing of Benazir Bhutto."

See full story at the International Herald-Tribune.

The Pakistan government has rejected international probes into the assassination, saying that they are capable of handling it. Meanwhile, the rioting in Karachi and elsewhere continues.

Iraq was a distraction

The Washington Post today chastised Barack Obama for saying that our misadventure in Iraq was a distraction from Pakistan (see editorial from today).

The editorial thundered:
After the candidate made the debatable assertion that the Iraq invasion strengthened al-Qaeda in Pakistan, his spokesman, David Axelrod, said Ms. Clinton "was a strong supporter of the war in Iraq, which we would submit was one of the reasons why we were diverted from Afghanistan, Pakistan and al-Qaeda, who may have been players in the event today."

What Obama actually said was "we were distracted from focusing on them [Pakistan]." (see quote on MSNBC).

The assertion that Iraq was a distraction from Pakistan is "debatable" only by people like the Washington Post editors, who first foolishly supported the Iraq war and now refuse to see the error of their ways---which is exactly Hillary Clinton's position. So we know whom the Washington Post editorial board will support.

Boston Brahmin will continue to read the Washington Post for their excellent reporting and analysis, but their editorial board needs to get a life. And Barack Obama is absolutely right.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Readers' Guide to Pakistan News

It's hard to understand reports about Pakistan. Big-time pundits, who should know better, are spewing opinions without access to facts. So, Boston Brahmin decided to write this Readers' Guide. You need to read this guide in order to understand the news and spot those clueless op-eds:
  1. Journalists in Pakistan are muzzled and intimidated. If you are a reporter, bad things can happen to you and your family, and you have no recourse. The news you see from Pakistan is constrained not to report or analyze events in a way that exposes the reporters to action. Many journalists report from abroad, and even there, they and their families are not safe. So the only news you see has effectively been vetted by the people who hold the power in Pakistan.
  2. The people who hold the power in Pakistan are the landed gentry (a few hundred families, in a nation of 160 million), senior military officers, and the very rich. If you have the right connections in Pakistan, you can do anything; if you are an ordinary person, you have no rights. The political system has no checks and balances; the police, the intelligence agencies, and the courts are all subservient to the people who hold the power in Pakistan.
  3. All political activity is monitored by the intelligence services. If you are a politician of any importance, you are assigned minders, your telephone and family are under surveillance, and you are followed. It is inconceivable that you are assassinated and the intelligence services have no idea what happened. Of course, the intelligence services may not share their knowledge with anyone, but they have a pretty good idea.
  4. The current election process is completely rigged: Nawaz Sharif is banned from running; the king's party (PML-Q) gets to use government resources to campaign; the election commission and the supreme court are both staffed by Musharraf's cronies; and of course, the intelligence services are on duty to make doubly sure nothing untoward happens. No one in Pakistan believes in this process. Only the Americans support it. Which means:
  5. Support from the U.S. is the kiss of death for any politician in Pakistan.
So, please keep in mind these facts as a background to any news coming out of Pakistan.

Who killed Benazir?

Boston Brahmin didn't think he'd be posting again in 2007, but Benazir Bhutto was assassinated yesterday in Rawalpindi. With her died the hopes of millions of ordinary Pakistanis.

The earlier attack on her political rally in October had been a bomb that killed over 150 of her supporters but narrowly missed her. There are no leads in that crime either, although her supporters are sure the ISI and other Islamists in the Musharraf government are behind it, just as she has stated several times.

Obviously, dear reader, you must have seen the headlines of yesterday's assassination already. Here's something you might not have seen, in an unlikely place: Parade Magazine published a November interview with Benazir Bhutto. It is to appear on January 6th.

Here are her last words in the interview. Enjoy:

What would you like to tell President Bush? I ask this riddle of a woman.

She would tell him, she replies, that propping up Musharraf’s government, which is infested with radical Islamists, is only hastening disaster. "I would say, ‘Your policy of supporting dictatorship is breaking up my country.’ I now think al-Qaeda can be marching on Islamabad in two to four years."

Nice going, Bush.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Why I liked Om Shanti Om

Have you seen Om Shanti Om image yet?

Readers of Boston Brahmin know that I usually feel I've wasted my time after watching most Hindi movies. But I keep watching them because occasionally I like one. I'm glad we went to watch OSO in the theater this time.
I liked OSO for the following reasons:
1. It's great fun! Lots of laughs, catchy songs. Deepika Padukone is gorgeous, and there are also cameo appearances from lots of other beautiful and well known "babes", as the movie calls them.
2. There's lots of information about the Bombay film industry, because the characters are all in the movies. You see "spot boys" and "grips" on the sets. You see the hierarchy of workers and how they are still treated badly by the top bosses like stars and producers ("chup ay, ja coffee leke aa."). I had never seen this material before. Learned something.
3. Many old actors and movies are mentioned and shown, for the sake of nostalgia and poking fun at them. (Like the badminton song where the heroine hits a shot during a beat). To me, just seeing the old men like Jeetendra and Dharmendra for a minute one more time was worth the price of admission.
4. There's a hilarious scene where our hero is a candidate for a Filmfare award. In cameos from new and old actors and actresses, there are funny comments and satire. Recently I've been seeing this kind of thing in Hindi movies, but in OSO it's very well done.
The following things I didn't like about OSO: The plot is kind of ho-hum, SRK's and Deepika's acting ability is fairly limited, Kirron Kher and Bindu are getting irritating in the same role again and again, and the movie is too long. But the good points above more than make up for this. The kids liked it, too, although there is one scene of graphic violence amidst a huge fire that may be too intense for young viewers.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The problem is not Musharraf

Yesterday's New York Times had an editorial about Pakistan's current problem (registration required):
Pakistan’s president, Pervez Musharraf, insists his outrageous power grabs are aimed at stabilizing and protecting his country. His authoritarian maneuvers only weaken the country’s already feeble political institutions and fuel more political turmoil.
His friends in Washington need to tell the former general and the Pakistani military — no matter what the polls say about his unpopularity — that trying to rig this vote is unacceptable.
But this would only try bolting the barn door after the horse has already fled. Today, in an op-ed piece by lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan (registration required), he provides a summary of the current problem in Pakistan:
The parliamentary elections scheduled for Jan. 8 have already been rigged [...]. The election commission and the caretaker cabinet are overtly partisan. The judiciary is entirely hand-picked. State resources are being spent on preselected candidates. There is a deafening uproar even though the independent news media in Pakistan are completely gagged. Can there even be an election in this environment?
The vote, in other words, has already been rigged.

The problems with Pakistan go far beyond the current flouting of the rules by Pervez Musharraf. The NYT editorial above does mention "political institutions", which is on the right track. But most "analysis" in the U.S. press is simplistic ("He must do more to fight terrorism", "will the next army chief be pro-Western?", etc.)

Some root cause analysis is necessary. Plenty is at hand, but no one seems to be reading it. Here's one: a book called Military, Inc.: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy, by Ayesha Siddiqa.
In it, the author explains how the Pakistan military, primarily the Pakistan Army, gradually came to acquire power within Pakistan as an independent player.

The military in Pakistan has tremendous control over its own budget and has its own independent revenue-generating capabilities, formal and informal. Senior and retired army officers are assured of plum assignments in public-sector undertakings. The army continues to acquire public land and give it away to its own people and allies. It uses the state's resources and intelligence services to intimidate rivals and acquire money and power. Its budgets are largely un-audited, and starting in 2004, it has given an institutional role for itself in the highest level of decision making through the National Security Council. The Pakistan military is now a monster that is independent of the civilians who are supposed to control the military.

And over the years, it has been American tax dollars at work that have been feeding and continue to feed this monster. Bush's contribution stands at ten billion dollars, and counting. Congratulations!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Mitt, you are no John F. Kennedy

Mitt Romney's speech on December 7th (see CBS News story) was all about why Republican Evangelicals should support him despite his Mormon faith:
Almost 50 years ago, another candidate from Massachusetts explained that he was an American running for president, not a Catholic running for president. Like him, I am an American running for president. I do not define my candidacy by my religion.
So, Romney is comparing himself to John F. Kennedy in 1960. But JFK was answering one question only: would the Catholic church have any authority over him if he became president. And this is how he answered it:
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute -- where no Catholic prelate would tell the president [should he be Catholic] how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote -- where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference -- and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who elect him.
Whereas Romney said the exact opposite: recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It's as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America-the religion of secularism. They are wrong.'
In other words, the big problem with America today is the "War on Christmas": all those bad people who want to separate church from state.

So, it's even more important for Romney to answer the question that Kennedy answered: would he be influenced by his church if he became president?

I don't know if Romney can ever answer this question honestly, or whether his right-wing audience can even understand the question. Who knows? I suppose miracles do happen in God's Own Party.

Boston Brahmin is on again

After a long hiatus, Boston Brahmin is back!

Here are my previous posts.