Asian Correspondent » Ahsan Butt Asian Correspondent Tue, 30 Jun 2015 18:23:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Analysis: Trust in US-Pakistan relations Tue, 10 Jul 2012 03:58:23 +0000

One of the things that came up in discussions about the NATO supply routes reopening in return for a US apology on Salala was trust, or lack thereof, between the US and Pakistan. I think trust is definitely important but I also think it’s a bit overrated as a factor in this context.

Pakistan NATO supply routes

Pakistan agreed to reopen NATO supply routes earlier this month. Pic: AP.

Trust matters most in those situations where two (or more) parties are leaving the possibility of mutual gains on the table because of a lack of trust. That is, we live either in a Prisoner’s Dilemma world or a Stag Hunt world or something similar. Presumably, if the parties believed that the other would do the right thing in the future – i.e. had trust in the other – they too would do the right thing, thereby realizing the mutual gains. Importantly, in these worlds, the parties are actually better off if they cooperate.

I’m not sure, however, that these worlds really reflect the US-Pakistan case. I think the better analogy would be Deadlock, where the parties simply want different things. In this situation, trust has no role to play whatsoever. It cannot help in ensuring cooperation because the parties’ goals are incompatible.

On everything from the ethnic makeup of the post-2014 Afghan government to Pakistan’s role in a post-2014 Afghanistan to opinions and policies toward China to opinions and policies towards India, the US and Pakistan have irreconcilable differences. Under these circumstances, we could live in a world where the US and Pakistan trust each other with absolute certainty and yet still not reach cooperative outcomes. The existence of trust cannot make them want different things.

Put differently, the fracturing of the US-Pakistan alliance is not a puzzle at all and should not be thought of as such. There was a time when cooperation was easier, because goals overlapped to a considerably greater degree (al-Qaeda, mainly). That is no longer the case. In fact, one could make the argument that there is no stronger indication of al-Qaeda’s relatively crippled state than the breakdown in US-Pakistan ties. Just like the Cold War, which could only be born once Nazi Germany died.

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The US ‘apology’ on Salala/NATO routes reopening quid pro quo Tue, 03 Jul 2012 17:47:58 +0000

So the U.S. has apologized for the Salala raid that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, or so say the headlines. A closer look reveals that the U.S. has not said anything it hadn’t said before, with one possible exception.

Here’s the most relevant paragraph from Secretary Clinton’s statement:

I once again reiterated our deepest regrets for the tragic incident in Salala last November. I offered our sincere condolences to the families of the Pakistani soldiers who lost their lives. Foreign Minister Khar and I acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives. We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military. We are committed to working closely with Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent this from ever happening again.

There’s essentially three elements to that paragraph:

1. Regrets and condolences.

This element has been offered before, repeatedly.

2. A commitment and promise to prevent this from happening again.

This element is a perfectly acceptable gesture but neither here nor there. I’m sure neither the Americans nor the Pakistanis want to see a repeat of Salala.

3. “Foreign Minister Khar and I acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives.”

The most interesting element of the paragraph, less than a full apology but an explicit acknowledgement of mistakes. Notice, however, the lawyerly language. “The mistakes” were acknowledged, not “our mistakes”. This has been the primary sticking point during the negotiations: whose fault was it? Pakistan claims the NATO forces fired at their soldiers unprovoked; the U.S. counters by saying they were fired at first and as such it was a joint or common mistake. The language of the statement tends closer to the U.S. interpretation than the Pakistani one.

Thus, this apology, such as it is, says nothing new. The closest it comes to saying something new falls considerably short of what Pakistan was demanding — an unconditional apology over the attacks. As a useful contrast, this is how the U.S. responded to the mistaken bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999.

I am now wondering what the point of this seven month charade was. If the Pakistan government was going to be satisfied with an apology that doesn’t apologize and climb down from its untenable position on transit fees all the way to $0, what exactly was accomplished?

I suspect those involved in the negotiations would answer that Pakistan demonstrated its resolve in this period. Fair enough. But I’d like to see our government and khakis sell the Difa-e-Pakistan Council and our assorted private TV channels on the fact that all we got out of this was — maybe — a tougher reputation for future bargaining during crises.

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My 10 favorite results from the Pew poll in Pakistan Wed, 27 Jun 2012 16:16:50 +0000

Pew has just come out with its latest opinion poll from Pakistan. I encourage you to go through the whole thing. Here’s a few results that I thought were striking:


For me, I find it very interesting that a plurality of people concede that the government is approving the drone strikes. Looks like WikiLeaks had an effect after all. The question for me is: what does “government” mean? When people hear that word, do they think (a) Asif Zardari and the PPP, or (b) the military and security leadership of the country? Or both?

Let’s move on to the war. Check these two out; people care less about the threat of extremism than they did in 2009 and don’t want to see the military take them on to the same extent as before:


This makes sense, given that levels of violence in Pakistan overall have decreased in the last three years, particularly in major urban centers in Punjab and Sindh. The one area of the country that is still significantly threatened by militant violence is not, as expected, quite as sanguine as the rest:


94% in KP vs 49% in Punjab. I guess Punjabis don’t give a crap about the rest of the country as long as they’re not the ones being bombed? Sorry, is that too harsh? I mean, it wasn’t that long ago when Shahbaz Sharif said this, was it?

Here’s a couple conflicting results. On the one hand, India’s unfavorable rating in Pakistan is up recently (I would ignore the 2010-2012 changes; these are all margin-of-error type changes. The big shift appears to have taken place post Mumbai).

And yet Pakistanis are fairly bullish on more cooperation with India:


Moving on from foreign policy, check out this graph of opinions on our economy.



Asif Zardari, take a bow. I try to give Zardari and the PPP credit when they deserve it but don’t get it, and I try to defend Zardari and the PPP against the often unjustified criticism they face for all sorts of things that are not their fault. But this? This is totally their fault. They have no model for growth whatsoever. None. When it comes to domestic economic policy, these people just don’t have a clue, unfortunately. And it looks like 89% of people have noticed.

This next one makes complete sense, though I’m not sure what “people leaving for jobs” (63%) means. Is that about the brain-drain? Seems awfully high if it is. Must be something else.


Here’s the favorability ratings for our main political and military leaders. Thank god we live in a parliamentary, not presidential, system. Imran Khan is insufferable and stupid enough as it is, can you imagine how much worse it would be if he was in power? The other thing I would note about this is that Gilani is surprisingly popular, given the state of the country.

And finally…


The police — THE POLICE — is twice as popular as Asif Zardari. There’s really nothing left to say.

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Separation Scandinavian style (or, this would never happen in South Asia) Fri, 22 Jun 2012 22:29:33 +0000

The dissolution of the union between Norway and Sweden is well known for being one of two completely peaceful secessions in the 20th century (the Velvet Divorce in Czechoslovakia was the other). This is interesting enough.

But what’s even more interesting is this website on the separation, Project 1905, named after the date of the separation. Check this out from the about section:

The 1905 website was the brainchild of Project 1905 and has been set up through close collaboration with the National Library of Norway, the National Archives of Sweden and Norway, the Royal Library in Stockholm and many others. Project 1905 is working on an extensive, diverse historical marking of the centenary jubilee of the dissolution of the union, including book projects and a range of events and exhibitions in addition to the internet productions.

I find this charming. Scandinavian countries are often used as shorthand for utopia on earth, what with their generous welfare system, strong economies, stable political systems, liberal values, and beautiful people. I myself use some variant of the phrase “We’re not going to be Sweden but at least [fill in the blank]” all the time.

But this stuff is another level. For the National Library of Norway and the National Archives of Sweden to be working in tandem on a project like this is very strange. Historical events crossing national boundaries are almost always contested along national lines. They’re certainly contested along statist lines.


We in South Asia know this firsthand. Pakistan has been involved in two partitions. I can safely say the standard, mainstream interpretations in India and Pakistan differ significantly on the events of 1947. Ditto Bangladesh (and India) vs Pakistan for 1971.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t foresee any official joint historical projects coming out of South Asia on either partition. Call me crazy.

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One implication of the Chief Justice-Malik Riaz scandal Sat, 16 Jun 2012 18:01:02 +0000

One thing that bugged me from the beginning about the mainstream coverage Chief Justice received from about 2006 onwards was how easily and unproblematically people bought the idea that this guy was some sort of savior. That he was cut from different cloth as the rest of our political class. That Suo-Motuing everything from petrol prices (unjustified) to disappearances in Balochistan (more justified) betrayed a concern with the “aam aadmi” than anyone else in our political class. The basic perception was that he was a good man doing good things (we’ll conveniently forget that this great principled democratic force, along with his bench, validated Musharraf’s takeover and his referendum).

Well, the excrement has now hit the fan, and we have a slightly better sense of his personal failings. However, I would point out that corruption of this kind — and it is corruption, I hope no one will disagree — is built into our system. I believe that anyone who partakes in the system axiomatically has to partake in corruption of some sort. So it’s less about Iftikhar Chaudhry’s personal failings and more about the larger structure within which he is one agent. (I wrote a post a couple years ago on this issue titled “There’s no such thing as “good” or “evil” in politics”).

Anyone want to shower him with rose petals now?

Now, fast forward to today. We have another savior on the landscape who pretends that he’s above it all and that he will clean out corruption from the system and that he cares about the aam aadmi while the rest of these rascal politicians do not. I will not name him or even his party because prior experience has taught me that in order to avoid troll-supporters of this man and his party, it’s better to not mention him in the heading or body of the post to preclude avid googlers from showing up here.

My only point is that while I am sure this man has a great moral compass and sincerely believes he is capable of solving all of Pakistan’s problems by himself once elected to power, saviors don’t work. We don’t need saviors. We need incremental progress, working through the system. I know that doesn’t sound sexy or revolutionary enough to get likes on Facebook, but that’s what we need. The only people calling for “revolutions” are the ones who don’t know (a) how actual revolutions work, and (b) what happens after revolutions.

By the way, I’m not claiming that there aren’t valid reasons to vote for Mr. Unnamed and his party; of course there are. I’m saying that “he really cares about us and isn’t corrupt” is not one of those reasons. That logic, as we’ve seen in this current scandal, does not usually withstand the test of time (and power). Everyone — even people who were perceived to have halos around their head — is susceptible to this stuff. Just watch seasons 3 and 4 of The Wire if you don’t believe me.

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How things change: Kashmir edition Thu, 14 Jun 2012 00:23:46 +0000

This is an excerpt from a 1954 Foreign Affairs article by Josef Korbel. It’s titled “Danger in Kashmir”, and I came across it while doing some research.

The strategic location of the State of Jammu and Kashmir is tailormade for Communist strategy and aims. The country borders for some 900 miles on Sinkiang and Tibet, but most of these boundaries have not been internationally fixed. According to some maps and some Soviet writers, it touches a short strip of territory of the Soviet Union. Newspapers have reported from time to time infiltration of agents from the Soviet Union and Sinkiang to Gilgit, the northern province of Kashmir. In April 1953, the Pakistani Foreign Minister, Sir Zafrulla Khan, protested to the Chinese Government against violations of the Gilgit-Chinese border.

That’s pretty funny, considering the most strident proof China’s “infiltration” into Gilgit/Baltistan today is voiced by…India. It’s fairly instructive that essentially the entire first page of results when you google “China Gilgit Baltistan” are Indian media websites. This also serves as a reminder of the larger fact — easy to forget, at least for me — that Pakistan’s relationship with China wasn’t especially warm until after the Indo-China war in 1962.

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The Siachen conflict: A perfect example of the prisoner’s dilemma Wed, 13 Jun 2012 02:07:11 +0000

I was reading Myra Macdonald’s excellent piece on the Siachen conflict and this portion jumped out at me:

Yet Siachen was a single-minded battle for territory. Soldiers in both countries told me that “not 1 inch of land” could be ceded to the other side. And the result has been a fight with many casualties and little gain, employing World War I-style trench warfare at 18,000 feet.

Siachen is the largest of a number of glaciers — giant, rubble-strewn, potholed, cracked open by crevasses — that slide down from the jagged peaks of the Karakoram Mountains into the snow-filled valleys below. Nothing grows there; no animals can live there. The region lies on the outermost rim of the old kingdoms of Jammu and Kashmir. Since the times of the maharajah, it has been a place of myth. Only the bravest of explorers dared to go there, and those who did traveled in awe of the mountains. It’s hard to imagine how anyone could try to own them.

She goes into the history behind how the two militaries came to occupy the glacier, and it’s worth reading the whole thing.

The thing that struck me about this is how perfect an illustration of the simple prisoner’s dilemma this is. Both Pakistan and India would much prefer they “cooperate”, if by “cooperate” we mean “mutually get the hell out of there”. But such an outcome is impossible because the individual incentives to defect are simply too powerful; neither side wants to run the risk of ceding the territory to the other, and as such, remain locked in this suboptimal status quo.

Note that very few territorial conflicts can be strictly thought of in this way. The reason Siachen is unique (or close to unique) is that the only reason the players want it is because the other side claims it. There is no intrinsic value to the territory in question. No oil, no lebensraum, no minerals, no nothing.

Nice to look at. Not necessarily worth fighting over. Photo: EPA/Khaqan Khawer

When it comes to other territorial conflicts, the incentives are different. Presumably there is something about that territory that is valuable. Unlike the Siachen prisoner’s dilemma, a state would want such territory, and not want to let go, irrespective of what the other side is doing.

The distinction can be thought of this way: in the case of Siachen, both sides would rather not have it, and just let it be a no-man’s land — if they could convince the other side to do so as well. In the case of random valuable territory X, both sides would rather have it. This makes those conflicts more akin to the game of chicken than prisoner’s dilemma.

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Euro 2012 preview and prediction competition Wed, 06 Jun 2012 19:09:43 +0000

Okay, so I did this for the 2010 World Cup and it was a mild success, so I’m doing so again. Basically, readers are encouraged to predict how the groups finish and who does what in the knockout rounds. The reader with the highest point total gets a small prize. In 2010, it was Jonathan Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid. This year, it will be a similarly priced football book or DVD. I’ll probably consult with the winner to see what they want… within reason (reasonable defined as about $30).

Before I lay out my predictions, let’s go over the format. First, there are the groups:

Group A




Czech Republic

Group B





Group C





Group D






To be eligible for the prize (and bragging rights), you have to follow the exact same format as I do here with the numbering system. No exceptions. (You don’t have to have explanations and asides as I do, but the numbers have to be there).

1. Czech Republic (winner A)

2. Russia (runner up A)

Comment: First of all, let me state that Greece will come in last. Why? Two reasons. One, they’re the only non-iron curtain team in the group, and nobody likes attention-seekers. Two, the football gods have not and will never forgive them for the torture they put all football fans through in 2004. The rest of the group is a crap shoot, and while I would like to support the home teams all else being equal, that BBC Panorama documentary on racism at football grounds in Poland and Ukraine turned me away. So I’m backing the Czechs because the ghost of Nedved will be behind them, and Russia because, well, the games are played in Poland, and we know Russia has historically done well in those regions.

3. Germany (winner B)

4. Holland (runner up B)

Comment: These are two of the three best teams in the competition. There might be a flutter, particularly if there’s a winner in the Denmark-Portugal game, but I still see these guys going through comfortably.

5. Spain (winner C)

6. Ireland (runner up C)

Comment: Why not Italy for runners up? Well, I find the whole “we’re going to do well because we’re entering the tournament on the back of a scandal” thing a little too convenient and easy. I really don’t think they’re very good. Then again, neither are Ireland. But “Luck o’ the Irish” is a phrase while “Luck o’ the Italians” and “Luck o’ the Croats” is not, so I’m going with Ireland.

7. Sweden (winner D)

8. England (runner up D)

Comment: This group is the only one that’s completely, widely, and totally open in that any two teams can make it through, and any team can top the group. I literally would not be surprised by any of the possible 24 permutations of the final table.


9. Holland (winner of 1 vs 4)

Comment: Holland are better than the Czechs. As long as Van Persie, Robben, and Sneijder don’t actually beat the crap out of each other in the dressing room, they should be okay. The only other thing worth considering is that the group A team will have one extra day of rest compared to the group B team but I don’t think that should matter so much.

10. Germany (winner of 2 vs 3)

Comment: Oh man. Germany vs Russia in Poland. The jokes write themselves.

11. Spain (winner of 5 vs 8)

Comment: Friendlies at Wembley are one thing. A knock out game in a real tournament is quite another. Spain will pass England off the park. They’re not as good as they used to be, especially without David Villa, but they’re still better than England, who are hardly at full strength themselves.

12. Sweden (winner of 7 vs 6)

Comment: I don’t have anything to say about this game, so allow me a tangent. The non-Spain team from Group C and all the teams from Group D will be licking their lips at the prospect of a relatively easy path to the semis. And once you’re there, anything can happen.


13. Holland (winner of 9 vs 11)

Comment: This will be the match of the tournament, since it will in all likelihood be Spain vs Holland/Germany in the semis. Finals are usually pretty boring but semis can be awesome and I expect a great game. I don’t think Spain will have enough though, unless del Bosque actually does the ballsy thing and sits Xabi Alonso, plays the proper Barca midfield (Xavi, Iniesta, Busi), and plays two forwards (Torres and Llorente) with one of Silva/Mata/Fabregas tucked in behind. That is a much more attacking side but del Bosque has been very conservative in his selection lately so I don’t see it happening.

14. Germany (winner of 10 vs 12)

Comment: Next.


15. Germany (winner of 13 vs 14)

Comment: They’re well-coached, a lot of their players play together in the same club side (and we’ve seen how this has helped Spain), they’re not especially weak in any area, and they’re German.

So, to recap, here are my numbered predictions:

1 Czech Republic

2 Russia

3 Germany

4 Holland

5 Spain

6 Ireland

7 Sweden

8 England

9 Holland

10 Germany

11 Spain

12 Sweden

13 Holland

14 Germany

15 Germany

Remember, please follow the same format when submitting your predictions in the comments. You should have 15 predictions; if you don’t, you’ve done something wrong. Here’s the schedule and the fixture list to help you, if you want. And don’t leave anonymous predictions; in the event you win, I will need to be able to get in touch with you. Good luck!

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Obama’s ‘kill-list’ and the drones issue in general Thu, 31 May 2012 21:06:56 +0000

Before you do anything, please make sure to read this NYT report on the Obama administration’s counter-terrorism policy. There are some fascinating and absurd nuggets as they relate to Pakistan and the drones issue. It really is required reading.

The most galling and criminal element of the story is the process by which terrorism suspects are deemed to be worthy of killing by the U.S. government: it’s one man (Barack Obama), a few advisers, a “baseball card”-like biography of the suspect, and up-and-down vote. That’s it. This is the process by which people die in brown countries far away from the U.S. (Glenn Greenwald and Ta-Nehisi Coates have good reactions to this troubling process).

Here’s the thing: I am not against the use of drones in this war per se. I think drones can be beneficial to this war. A combination of difficult terrain, a lack of institutional counter-insurgency experience and memory in the areas in question, and the inability of state forces to blend into the local population without being noticed, means that drones are a useful tool in this war.

It’s worth remembering that we are at war; some, though certainly not all, drone opponents seem to forget this basic fact. Militant groups are not going to politely turn in their weapons and stop threatening Pakistani citizens from Khyber to Karachi upon reaching some sort of accord with the state. We’ve tried that approach repeatedly and it hasn’t worked. I also don’t buy the argument that drones somehow represent a new and dangerous form of warfare, either because they don’t allow the victim to see, or fire back at, his adversary (the same could be said of snipers) or because they’re operated from a location away from the theater (very common in modern war).

Photo: AFP

So the issue for me is not the use of drones per se. It is how drones are being used. Let me list three specific concerns, the last two of which have to do with transparency:

1. You cannot make the claim — as the Obama administration does — that all military-age males in the general vicinity of militants are themselves militants. Legally, morally, and strategically, this is some of the dumbest shit I’ve heard in a long time. I had to read that paragraph in the NYT report three or four times to make sure I hadn’t misread it. Evidently, I had not. Again, this is the key passage:

It is also because Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.

Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good. “Al Qaeda is an insular, paranoid organization — innocent neighbors don’t hitchhike rides in the back of trucks headed for the border with guns and bombs,” said one official, who requested anonymity to speak about what is still a classified program.

This counting method may partly explain the official claims of extraordinarily low collateral deaths. In a speech last year Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s trusted adviser, said that not a single noncombatant had been killed in a year of strikes. And in a recent interview, a senior administration official said that the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan under Mr. Obama was in the “single digits” — and that independent counts of scores or hundreds of civilian deaths unwittingly draw on false propaganda claims by militants.

But in interviews, three former senior intelligence officials expressed disbelief that the number could be so low. The C.I.A. accounting has so troubled some administration officials outside the agency that they have brought their concerns to the White House. One called it “guilt by association” that has led to “deceptive” estimates of civilian casualties.

Well, obviously if you count everyone you kill as a militant, then you can claim that you kill only militants. That’s a bit circular and more than a bit appalling.

2. It has been clear for a while that the human intelligence for drone targets comes from people on the Pakistani side of the border. Obviously the individual identities of these sources cannot be revealed, but I really would like to know at least a little bit about them. Are they intelligence agents? Are they informers? Who are they and who do they work for and what do they do and how do they do it? These are very basic questions that we need the answers to, simply because it is this “humint” that directly leads to drone attacks.

3. Our government needs to be honest with us. Neither the khakis nor the civilians can or should be able to claim they have not supported drones in the past. We know that is a complete lie. The very same characters are today still vociferously demanding an end to drone strikes. Maybe they’ve changed their minds; perhaps they now genuinely think drones are a bad idea. People, after all, are allowed to change their minds.

Unfortunately, we do not know if they’ve changed their minds genuinely, or are still trying to keep up the old pretense of being against drone strikes in public and for them in private. If it’s the latter, it really must stop. A more open, transparent, and honest policy from our government would explicate why we need drones, under what conditions they are to be used, and under what conditions they are not to be used. We cannot have a national debate on this if we keep pretending that up is down and black is white and that our government is against drone strikes.

If they have changed their minds — and I don’t believe they have, but let’s assume for the sake of argument it’s true — then they need to be more honest about why they’ve changed their minds, and what convinced them of the inefficacy of drones relative to an earlier period when they were for it. Admitting their past support for drones will be a costly signal of sorts of their current preferences of not supporting drones.

But the status quo is, while sustainable in the short term, a completely asinine way to organize an important element of this war effort. Normally in wars you lie to the other side and share information with your side; we seem to be doing the opposite.

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Political science and order in politics Mon, 28 May 2012 20:56:40 +0000

Via Monkey Cage, check out Paul Staniland’s latest paper (PDF) on wartime political orders (full disclosure: Paul is a friend and on my dissertation committee). The basic point of the paper is that during civil conflicts, “bargains, deals, and tacit understandings between states and insurgents are common.” That is, states and insurgents are not actually always contesting one another, even during times of “war”. The places and times where they do not contest one another are as if not more analytically interesting than the places and times they do.

I think this paper gets at a certain bias within political science and certainly IR. Within the field, we tend to think A LOT about how disorder arises. We tend to think A LOT about how wars and violence are carried out and why leaders, states, and groups do the conflictual things they do.

But this emphasis masks the fact that most political life is pretty orderly. When I say orderly, I mean it is routinized, predictable, essentially non-violent, and prone to stickiness. The fact that violence is so shocking is indicative of the fact that it is so unexpected. “If it bleeds it leads” would not work in a world in which disorder was more common than order.

I think this is interesting because while most debates within IR and security studies are carried out on the question of the causes and consequences of disorder and violence, we could have equally if not more fruitful debates on the causes and consequences of order and regularity. I could imagine the same old realist/liberal/constructivist debates in that sense, with realists privileging force and coercion, liberals arguing for institutions, and constructivists for norms and the constitution of identity. Of course, some scholars do work on cooperation, broadly construed, but I think it’s safe to say they are in a minority.

It’s interesting that in the last few years, our department has advertised faculty positions in “Order, Disorder, and Violence.” I think it’s revealing that almost all the job candidates that have come to present their research do so on the question of disorder and violence (drug cartels in Colombia, the use of rape as a weapon in Africa, insurgent groups etc) rather than the “order” bit. I can think of very few people who stand up before a crowd and say “I’m going to tell you why violence doesn’t occur”. This brings to mind the famous piece by Fearon and Laitin on how and why cooperation occurs across ethnic groups.

Personally, I’m fascinated by the question of order, where it comes from, and how competitive actors come to agreements to live and let live. Shouldn’t we study why football games broke out in between trenches during World War I as much as World War I itself? (Okay, maybe not “as much” but you know what I mean). Isn’t it compelling how gangs in urban environments can agree on territorial demarcation just as successfully as modern nation-states? (Following Kalyvas, it’s instructive that the most violent season in The Wire was season 3, when the Avon/Stringer crew was challenged for territory by the Marlo crew). On an even more micro-scale, isn’t it interesting that if you’re walking in a crowded city in a country where people drive on the right, then people will walk to the right to avoid collisions, and the opposite in countries where people drive on the left? That’s an element of order, isn’t it? A regularized, predictable pattern of interaction between agents?

All this is to say, I can’t wait to teach a grad seminar or upper-level undergrad seminar on order in politics. I’d love to bring in the IR literature on hegemonic stability theory and hierarchy, the literature on cooperation and order during civil wars, and the literature on gangs and urban neighborhoods. I’m not sure how many people study those things in consort with each other but I think (hope?) it would be useful.

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Pakistan: Thoughts on the NATO supply line hullabaloo Tue, 22 May 2012 15:59:48 +0000

You want to know how deep the divide is between the U.S. and Pakistan? The two countries papers of record can interpret the exact same event in diametrically opposed ways. In the U.S., the New York Times had a pessimistic take on the Obama “snub” of Zardari and the prospects of reaching a supply lines deal:

On the Pakistani front, however, things seem to deteriorate.

American and Pakistani officials expressed optimism last week that an agreement on re-establishing supply routes was imminent. Negotiators were narrowing their differences after three weeks of intense deliberations, they said, and it was hoped that an invitation for Pakistan to attend the summit would engender the good will needed to close the gap between the two sides.

The invitation was accepted, and Mr. Zardari arrived in Chicago on Saturday. But a deal on the supply lines remained elusive, and Mr. Obama would not meet with Mr. Zardari without it, American officials said.

The supply lines, through which about 40 percent of NATO’s nonlethal supplies had passed, were closed in late November after 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in American airstrikes along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The deaths capped a year of crises between the United States and Pakistan that put immense strain on the two countries’ already fragile relationship.

The failure to strike a deal on the supply routes ahead of the summit injects new tension into the relationship.

In Pakistan, Dawn was optimistic, or at least its chosen headline betrayed optimism: “Pakistan, US signal optimism on supply routes deal”.

My own view is that a deal will be struck. Pakistan wants a deal, the U.S. wants a deal, and the only thing that separates them right now is the price of the deal. Of course, that’s usually a big impediment, but it’s a much smaller impediment that we had until about a week ago: the unwillingness of Pakistan to open up the routes. Anyway, here are some thoughts on this whole thing:

1. How big is the gap between the two countries’ prices?

The News reported (that the Christian Science Monitor reported) that a deal was about to be struck for a per-truck fee of between $1500 and $1800. The NYT reported today that the price demanded has gone up to $5000 (based on anonymous U.S. sources). So there’s three possibilities. One, the CSM/News had a bad source. Two, the NYT had a bad source. Three, a deal was struck, and Pakistan backtracked, and increased the price in the last three days.

2. Pakistan is entitled to ask for a higher price for trucks than it did previously

This is a bit of an obvious point, but you wouldn’t know it from reading angst-ridden and frustration-laden accounts in the western press about Pakistan’s actions here.

Look, there’s nothing wrong, per se, with using your leverage in order to obtain higher benefits (or lower costs) in one’s interaction with other actors. That’s IR 101. Pakistan has interests (however defined) and is allowed to pursue them. The U.S. and NATO do not have a right to transport war materials through Pakistan. It is a privilege to be granted. Right now, we are in the midst of a negotiation on what the price of that privilege is. If our position was really that egregious or ridiculous, the U.S. would’ve walked away, similar to how it treated our demands/requests that we be given a civilian nuclear deal similar to India’s. But the U.S., unlike the civilian nuclear deal case, is talking, because it has its own interests at stake, as this map from the Washington Post attests:

Map credit: Washington Post

I am interested, however, in the logic behind the increased price. Are we demanding a higher price simply because we like the idea of having more money? Is it because the U.S. refuses to apologize over Salala and we’re trying to make life difficult for them? Is it because a higher price would result in a bump in popularity for the PPP government back home, due to taking a “tougher line” with the U.S? I’ve heard some combination of these and other logics. The third one makes no sense whatsoever. It’s probably a bit of the first and a bit of the second.

(Update: Journalist Huma Imtiaz tweeted in response to this issue that “the 5k figure (if true) has a lot to do with how much the US pays for the NDN” (the Northern Distribution Network) and that we should “add in that the cost of repair for Pak highways that have been degraded in past 10 years due to the truck movements.”)

3. Leaders are meant to be ribbon-cutters

You know all those ceremonies where someone big and important cuts a red ribbon to inaugurate/celebrate something?

Think you could've used smaller scissors, gents.

Well, the obvious point to note is that the building/plaza/hotel/fancy-whatever is built before the big and important person gets there. They’re not laying brick while he’s mulling around with a giant pair of scissors.

Unfortunately, someone in our government seems to be unaware of this basic premise. Sending Zardari to Chicago without a deal being made was absolutely asinine. He should’ve gone there just to cut the ribbon. NOT to hope and pray for a deal. If there was no deal, he shouldn’t have gone. You know why? Because he, and by extension the government and state, ended up looking like idiots.

Predictably, this has led far right politicians like Imran Khan to pronounce that the Zardari trip was an utter disaster. Well, you can’t really argue against that. (Though it should be noted that Imran Khan would’ve said the exact same thing regardless of what actually happened in Chicago).

This was a mistake by whoever handles Zardari and his foreign policy treks. No doubt about it.

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That other Supreme Court case, you know, the one about stealing elections Wed, 16 May 2012 18:18:08 +0000

The news in Pakistan has been recently dominated by discussions about the Supreme Court convicting Prime Minister Gilani for contempt of court.

There is, however, another case ongoing as we speak, and it’s all quite hilarious. You will recall, of course, the bombshell news in early March, when a frail, wheelchair-bound former banker named Younis Habib described in intimate detail for the Supreme Court exactly how the ISI funneled money to anti-PPP politicians in the 1990 elections.

ISLAMABAD: A frail-looking Younus Habib, who headed the now defunct Mehran Bank, spilled the beans in the Mehrangate-IJI case on Thursday when he revealed in his first-ever statement before the Supreme Court that he had been forced by former president late Ghulam Ishaq Khan and former army chief Aslam Beg to arrange Rs340 million in the “supreme national interest”.


Younus Habib said Gen Aslam Beg and ISI’s Brigadier Hamid Saeed had provided number of certain accounts in UBL, ABL and MCB for depositing the amount while the counterfoil of the deposit slip had been handed over to one Colonel Akbar.

Both Gen Aslam Beg and Asad Durrani were in the court, quietly listening to Mr Habib’s affidavit.

“In all I was asked to arrange Rs350 million by the former president and the army chief before the 1990 general elections,” said Mr Habib while reading out the affidavit.

Enter stage left Mirza Aslam Beg, who you may remember from his famous “We can make a first strike, and a second strike, or even a third. You can die crossing the street or you could die in a nuclear war. You’ve got to die some day anyway” line on the possibility of nuclear weapons in the 2002 crisis with India. Mr. Beg, honorable man that he is, completely denied his role in the Mehrangate scandal.

In the statement submitted Wednesday, Baig has maintained the stance that the alleged funds were transferred into the ISI’s accounts, and not the Army’s accounts. Baig has claimed that he neither had any knowledge of orders to distribute the funds by then president of Pakistan Ghulam Ishaq, nor was he aware of any illicit activity concerning the funds.

The former military chief has further claimed that the ISI at the time was not operating under the command of the Army chief.

I don’t know what’s more fanciful: the idea that Beg was an innocent, know-nothing bystander in all of this, or the idea that the ISI’s workings and dealings fell outside the purview of the Army high command. Either way, step forward Mr. Asad Durrani, then ISI chief:

Durrani on Wednesday submitted a counter affidavit in response to former army chief Gen (retd) Mirza Aslam Beg’s statement in which he blamed the ISI for ‘corrupt practices’.

Durrani, defending his position, insisted that the role of ISI and MI to distribute funds among various politicians and political parties was lawful, and he added that Beg was also informed about the plan. “The ISI did have the mandate to carry out this task, which has often been reiterated during the proceedings of this case,” the former spymaster maintained.

“The decision to disburse election donations through the ISI may well have been taken by then president Ghulam Ishaq Khan, who, having handpicked the caretaker government including its Prime Minister Mustafa Jatoi, was de-facto the chief executive. The operation was therefore lawful and it followed an established chain of command,” Durrani said.


“Be as it may, ISI as an organisation responds to multiple centres of power: the president, in his capacity as the supreme commander of the Armed Forces; the three service chiefs and the chairman JSHQ; and indeed the prime minister. In practice, however, the army chief wields more power over the ISI than any of its other ‘bosses’; not only because of his extraordinary status in the national polity, but also because most of the ISI’s senior appointments including its director general are serving soldiers,” Durrani explained.

Now, let me make a few points about all of this.

One, judge me all you want, but I find this whole “jackals turning on each other” thing highly entertaining and fun. Sue me.

Durrani and Beg, seen here in their natural habitat

Two, I love — just love — the fact that Pakistani taxpayer money transferred to the bank accounts of certain politicians through the ISI is called “election donations”. Election donations! He makes it sound like sadka. Which, I suppose, it was in a way.

Three, I love the defense that just because the operation involved the President and “followed a chain of command” that it was legal. Listen, buddy. The holocaust followed a chain of command too. Doesn’t make it legal.

Four, I greatly appreciate Durrani’s candor here. It’s nice for a khaki to just come out and say “the army chief wields more power over the ISI than any of its other ‘bosses’; not only because of his extraordinary status in the national polity, but also because most of the ISI’s senior appointments including its director general are serving soldiers”. I respect that. Kudos Durrani sahib, kudos.

Five, this episode is instructive for those people who claim corruption is the biggest evil plaguing Pakistan. First of all, stealing elections is MUCH worse than stealing money. Secondly, even if you think stealing money is worse, these buggers took almost half a billion rupees. That’s 1990 rupees, not 2012 rupees. That’s a lot of money. Third, Beg siphoned off a lot of this cash (more than Rs.150 million) for himself, his family, his friends, and his “NGO” (link via @shahidsaeed). If you can read the last link and still think the Nawaz/Zardari level corruption is what ails this country, then I can’t help you.

Six, there’s a popular line of thought amongst certain sections of liberal/PPP-supporting circles that this judiciary has it all out for them and is in fact an extension of the establishment. While I have no love lost for Holy Man Chaudhry, the idea that a court investigating the 1990 elections and the missing-persons issue is somehow an extension of the very people who carried (and carry) out those crimes is quite stupid. I’ll grant that both the robes and the khakis hate the PPP, but both the Republicans and al-Qaeda hate Barack Obama; that doesn’t make them friends.

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Recommendations for NATO attendees on what to do in Chicago Tue, 15 May 2012 15:22:55 +0000

Well, it appears Pakistan will be represented at the NATO summit in Chicago after all. After not getting an apology for Salala, our military brass has decided that enough is enough, and the NATO supply routes can be opened again. Is there any wonder why no one takes us seriously?

Look, I have no strong opinion either way on opening or delaying the NATO supply routes. My only point is if you make the opening of these routes conditional on X, and X doesn’t happen, and you open them anyway, well, you look like an idiot.

Anyway, as a proud resident of Chicago for five years, here are my recommendations for the hangers-on/bureaucrats/aides/random journos that make their way to this beautiful city.

Things to do

1. Chicago has awesome museums. Make sure to go to the Museum of Science and Industry (especially if you’re with kids), the Shedd Aquarium, the Art Institute, and my personal favorite, the Chicago History Museum (which is not a “history” museum but a “Chicago history” museum). If you plan on going to three or four of these main attractions, you should get a Chicago CityPASS, which will save you money.

2. Make sure to catch a show at Second City comedy club, a great place for sketch and improv comedy. Almost anyone you’ve heard of on Saturday Night Live or the Daily Show graduated from Second City (including Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Steve Carrell, Stephen Colbert etc etc). You’ll have a good time, as long as you don’t sit in the front row.

3. If you’re not afraid of heights, go to the Skydeck at Sears Tower. They have these boxes that jut out of the building on the top floor that you can stand in, and basically look down through a glass floor all the way to the ground. The NYT had a nice article on these glass boxes last year. Here’s a picture of me 103 floors up off the floor:

4. If it’s a clear day, walk along the lakefront. Just trust me on this. The water is Caribbean blue on those days, and if you turn your head, you see one of the greatest downtown districts in America.

5. Don’t waste too much time in the downtown shopping area; there’s nothing distinctive about it from any other major city you’ve been to. What is distinctive about Chicago is the extent to which it is a city of neighborhoods, especially compared to other major American cities. Walk around different neighborhoods and you’ll see the difference for yourself. Walk around in Wicker Park, the Gold Coast, Rogers Park, Lakeview, UIC/Little Italy, and Hyde Park, and you’ll get a nice varied sense of the city. Ask locals how to get to each of these, public transport should work for you almost all the time.

Places to eat

Relatively fancy: Salpicon (Mexican), Bistrot Zinc (French), Boka (great place for a date).

More chilled out: Cafe Ba Ba Reeba (Tapas), The Bristol, Mista (great thin crust pizza).

Down and dirty: Usmania (desi food, more hijabis here than Karachi), Crisp (Korean fried chicken, best you’ll ever have).

Other stuff

1. I’m biased here, but take a walk around the University of Chicago campus. Make sure to visit Powell’s bookstore, if you do go. If you have access to a car or don’t mind cabbing it, try to go to the Northwestern campus too, it’s really gorgeous.

2. Lots of people enjoy the boat architecture tour. If you’re into boats or architecture, you could try it out.

3. If you’re foreign, do not under any circumstances get sucked into watching a baseball game. Americans will try to con you with phrases like “Wrigley Field is really quaint” and “you haven’t been to America until you watch a baseball game”. Ignore these people.

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What does globalization mean for nationalism? Sun, 06 May 2012 16:57:16 +0000

There was an interesting comment on my last post by a reader named Omar, which posited the hypothesis that globalization and the increasing inter-connectedness of people(s) through technology spells doom (or at least trouble) for nationalism. This is a fairly popular view amongst certain people but I disagree with it completely, and I think it’s useful to spell out why.

The basic logic of the globalization-leads-to-dampened-nationalism is the following: as people come into contact with each other, and as increasing trade/technology/movement/migration render borders less relevant, people will realize that many of the things they thought about other people were false, and abandon those ancient hatreds. So, for instance, many people who support the Indo-Pak peace process argue for increased “people to people” contacts, in the hope that this will lead to a breaking down of stereotypes and lead to more lovey-dovey feelings.

The reason I disagree with this logic is that increased connectedness is often associated with more stereotyping and hatred of others, rather than less. It’s telling that the literature on nationalism and national identity is quite clear that more communication and interaction tends to increase conflict among peoples. The basic idea is that with increased communication and interaction, you get a better sense of how other people are different from you, leading to more cultural awareness of your identity, leading to an increased salience of ethnic/cultural/linguistic/national differences, leading to more conflict.

There’s plenty of illustrations of this, but I’ll give two here. First, consider that the first traces of a truly national identity in Europe in the pre-modern age were found in university towns, where students from different territories (we can hardly call them countries or nations at that point) formed “national” gangs and groups. This is instructive because university towns were one of the few places that people from different regions actually came into contact with one another in that age. (See Bloom 1993 for more on this).

Second, consider the massive effects the printing press and the spread of vernaculars had on nationalism in early modern Europe. Print capitalism allowed people to tap into, and share, written histories and literatures on a much wider scale than previously possible. In turn, this allowed people to see far beyond their parochial communities in search of people like them and, as importantly, in search of people unlike them. Your sense of belonging to a community will only be reinforced once you realize that there are others out there who are saying the same things as you, and still others out there who are not. (See the grand-daddy of nationalism studies, Anderson 1983 for more on this).

In many ways, the internet and globalization is the Printing Press 2.0. This is why I strongly believe that globalization has and will continue to lead to greater self-awareness of identity rather than less. Think about how internet message boards or comments sections of blogs work: when you see the opinions expressed by the Other, whoever it may be, are you persuaded, or is it just more evidence in your favor for how stupid/primitive/backward/biased/racist/haughty the Other generally is?

Credit: XKCD

Think about how increased migration of brown people in Europe has led to a rise in right-wing parties enjoying favor. Think about how large, metropolitan cities such as London or New York see people retreat into predictable geographical distributions, with Xs living in X neighborhood and the ABCs living in the ABC neighborhood (sitting on a subway for its entire route is very instructive in such cities; if you want to see the color of a train change, get on the red line in Chicago at one end and wait until you get to the other).

This is not to suggest that particular cultural/ethnic/national identities cannot die away or their salience can’t decrease; only that increased social communication and interaction per se is not the road one takes to get there.

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The usefulness of nationalism to states Tue, 01 May 2012 21:44:50 +0000

Here’s an excerpt from a really great essay by Eric Hobsbawm titled “Mass-Producing Traditions: Europe, 1870-1914″ in an edited volume titled The Invention of Tradition. In this essay, Hobsbawm focuses on the instrumental uses of “tradition”; that is, how leaders birthed traditions and symbols (such as flags, national anthems, and statues of leaders) for the express purposes of building loyalty to their states:

Quite new, or old but dramatically transformed, social groups, environments and social contexts called for new devices to ensure or express social cohesion and identity to structure social relations. At the same time a changing society made the traditional forms of ruling by states and social or political hierarchies more difficult or even impracticable. This required new methods of ruling of establishing bonds of loyalty. In the nature of things, the consequent invention of ‘political’ traditions was more conscious and deliberate, since it was largely undertaken by institutions with political purposes in mind. Yet we may as well note immediately that conscious invention succeeded mainly in proportion to its success in broadcasting on a wavelength to which the public was ready to tune in. Official new public holidays, ceremonies, heroes or symbols, which commanded the growing armies of the state’s employees and the growing captive public of schoolchildren, might still fail to mobilize the citizen volunteers if they lacked genuine popular resonance.

I think this is broadly accurate, though I’m pretty sure the public would have “tuned in” to any broadcast which cast some people as Others and some not. Human beings are a tribal species. We like being in groups, and we like delineating who belongs in those groups and who doesn’t. That these boundaries were constructed on a national basis rather than something else is an interesting, contingent development, but by no means was it inevitable. In a sense, Hobsbawm isn’t giving states enough credit here.

But this essay is great precisely because it traces the evolution of things like anthems and flags which we assume have been around forever but in fact are very recent additions to our social and political landscape. The “invention of tradition” is exactly the reason I can’t take it seriously. As Jan Pettman notes, “one of the paradoxes of nationalism is that an identity frequently celebrated and authenticated through reference to the past is judged in scholarship to be modern.” The state and its agents tell me to sing the national anthem with pride, to look up at the flag, to believe in the joy of August 14 or September 6 or March 23, to be moved by statues and memorials and mausoleums…but I can’t. It’s all patently fake to me. All of it: stamps, flags, uniforms, fighter-jets-as-roundabouts, carefully crafted histories, myths of suffering, parables — all of it. They’re not going to massage and coerce me into being patriotic, though I commend their efforts.

There is one exception to this rule, however. I took a trip to the Gilgit-Baltistan area a few years ago with a friend and his dad; we went to Chitral and Gilgit and Hunza, all the way up to the border with China, at Khunjrab pass. I saw a lot of military graves in that area, which makes sense, since it was seven years after Kargil and the Northern Light Infantry was drawn from the area. I must confess that seeing those graves and those headstones — with dates indicating that many of these soldiers were younger than I was at the time (23) — was one of the few times I felt powerful pangs of patriotism. I am sure there is a good psychological or anthropological reason for this exception, but I don’t know what it is.

The bottom line, for me anyway, is that the rise of nationalism in the modern world is no accident. States have learned that few things are more useful than a sense of nationhood when attempting to inculcate loyalty and obedience amongst its citizens. And I don’t know about you, but I hate being treated like a puppet.

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Photograph of the day Mon, 30 Apr 2012 21:03:09 +0000

This is what your face looks like when you get punched in the head.

Facebook profile pic! Photo: Reuters

Via Yahoo sports.

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Excerpt of the day: ‘You may sit there.’ Mon, 23 Apr 2012 16:11:03 +0000

This is from Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Night about growing up and living with the Kashmir conflict. This excerpt is drawn from a section where a young Peer is moving away from Kashmir to go to university in Aligarh. To get there, he is on a train with his grandfather.

A few hours into the journey, as the Shalimar Express entered Punjab, two soldiers entered our compartment. Like me, the soldiers have made a twelve-hour journey through the high mountains to the railway station in Jammu. Ahead of us was a fourteen-hour train ride to Delhi. The solders smiled and dropped their bags in the aisle. “Will you please make room for us?” one of them asked a middle-aged man reading a newsmagazine. “We are going home after a year in Kashmir and don’t have any reservations.” The man was unmoved. The soldier repeated his request, and as I squirmed in my seat, another passenger pointed at the dirty floor and said, “You may sit there.” I was stunned. Grandfather and I looked at each other. Unlike people in Kashmir, our north Indian fellow passengers had no reason to be scared of the soldiers: They ordered them around, and the soldiers obeyed.

Couple of points. First, it’s interesting that Peer frames the choice of letting the soldiers sit in the train this way. He makes it about fear: if you’re from Kashmir, you’re afraid of them, and you would let them sit. If you’re not, you won’t be, and you won’t. But there’s alternate frames one could employ for this scene: respect, or lack thereof, or empathy, or lack thereof.

Second, the plural of anecdote is not data, so I really don’t know how widespread or “real” this view of Indian soldiers is, but it is interesting to think about why certain societies revere their soldiers more than others. In the U.S. for instance, people in uniform are treated with a great deal of reverence and respect — the “Support the Troops” bumper stickers, the endless tributes to their sacrifices in public speeches by elected and unelected officials, the absolute reluctance to call their war crimes “war crimes”. As an outsider, I consider it fairly over the top. It’s easy to imagine other societies tipping toward the other extreme.

I have had almost no interaction with soldiers in my life, but I have been around and come across police quite a bit, and can safely say that cops in Pakistan are treated with only slightly more respect than poorly paid maids and servants. If that. Again, it’s an interesting question as to why respect for certain institutions exists in some places but not others. I can think of many reasons cops are disrespected in Pakistan, and truth be told, a lot of those reasons are unfair to them.

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The last three pieces Murtaza Razvi wrote Thu, 19 Apr 2012 18:35:43 +0000

It’s too early to speculate on the whys and hows of Murtaza Razvi’s tragic and sad torture and murder. Instead, I just wanted to take this opportunity to present the last three political pieces he wrote, just to give you a sense of the man and his views. These are in reverse chronological order.

From a piece on April 6th, on the parliamentary review of relations with the U.S.:

The question is: do we want such sovereignty, national honour and integrity as we have been practising to define our march forward in a world that is increasingly interdependent? It is in the pursuance of such isolationist internal and external policies that we have wreaked havoc at home and lost many friends, including China, of late. Depending heavily on the US and its regional allies economically, especially the Gulf Sheikhs and international market mechanisms, can Pakistan base its foreign policy on the mere wishes of its politicians to score brownie points with the generals and the electorate in an election year?

We will be deceiving ourselves by focusing on the half truth that the US needs Pakistan; we also need the US and its allies for our own sanity and a chance at survival. The lunatic fringe sympathetic to the Taliban and the like is only a fringe. The politicians and the generals are doing Pakistanis a disservice by mainstreaming their ruinous agenda in foreign policy considerations. Let the think tanks, foreign policy academics and economic managers guide the PCNS in its deliberations.

From a piece on March 9th, on the increasing attention to Balochistan given in the electronic media:

The state really has little defence in the face of such critical contradictions, which reveal total apathy to the condition of the people of Balochistan. Add to this the disappearances of Baloch youth, leaders and their mutilated bodies, and you have what you have: a rebellion against injustice with a popular appeal.

These well-founded grievances need to be heard by the Pakistani public, and the media is doing well to mainstream the dissident Baloch leaders albeit a bit late in the day.

Unfortunately, the precarious situation on ground does not permit TV crews to be there and bring documentary coverage of the actual situation and happenings. And ensconced in their ruling privileges, those in the Balochistan government remain equally apathetic to the woes of those who elect them.

From a piece on February 24th, on the failure of Islam to hold Pakistan together:

Islam as a state ideology has failed to unite Pakistanis as a nation, because religion has not done so since the abolition of the classical Muslim Caliphate, which clearly had run its course centuries ago; or else Muslims from Morocco and Bosnia to Brunei and Indonesia would form a single nation state today. Turks and Arabs would not have fought amongst themselves wars of conquest, and of deceit, respectively, the latter in cohorts with Britain and France in the 20-century; last but not least, there is not even a concept of a single Arab Muslim nation, let alone one great Nation of Islam.

This is because people will be people, and no two communities’ much loved and practised Islamic ideals really match for them to embrace an umbrella divine law under which everyone can live happily ever after. It hasn’t happened and it won’t happen for a long time. Why? Because all so-called ‘divine law’ is based on the interpretation of the divine sources by fallible, albeit great men of learning, who too could not but disagree with one another in their own historical times and spaces.

I always looked forward to reading Razvi; he was clear, forceful, and intelligent. He argued from a socio-political persuasion that is fast becoming extinct in Pakistan. He will be missed.

Interestingly, after Salman Taseer’s assassination, Razvi penned an article that concluded thusly:

Back to Mr Taseer’s assassination, it was rather uncanny to overhear a conversation that I did between two security guards outside the building they were deputed to guard, within minutes of the news of Mr Taseer’s death breaking. One guard congratulated the other on the assassination while the other responded by saying that the killer was indeed a very courageous man, God be praised.

This is not the country that makes one feel very safe.

Indeed. My thoughts and condolences to his family and friends.

Update: The articles I linked to were the ones that appeared in Dawn. In fact, the last piece Razvi wrote actually appeared in the Indian Express, where he opined on the Indo-Pak peace process (via @cyalm).

Earlier, Singh’s offer to transmit up to 5,000 MW power to the energy-starved west Punjab in particular was a gesture that was widely welcomed in Pakistan. The national grid’s shortfall, which covers Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, Sindh and Punjab, is touching the precise 5,000 MW figure. Pakistan has accepted the offer with much gratitude. Such confidence-building measures, whose fruits the public will reap directly, will help the democratic government at the Centre and particularly in Punjab, from where the army draws much of its muscle power, pull the rug from under the feet of anti-India extremists. Rogue elements in the army, too, who may have sympathy for the likes of Hafiz Saeed, will be forced to look the other way because the army as an institution never acts against public sentiment in Pakistan.

The strengthening of India-Pakistan relations, despite many unresolved issues between them, can work wonders for redefining Pakistan’s national security prerogatives over the medium to long term. If progress continues to be made in bilateral relations, the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) can rightly claim credit for it in what is now virtually an election year in Pakistan.

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Can Chelsea beat Barcelona? Actually, yes Tue, 17 Apr 2012 16:57:22 +0000

One of my (only?) Chelsea supporting-friends, a guy called Zeyd, sent me the following email yesterday:

You’re going to destroy us. Honestly, I just want a bit of respectability to the scoreline. A Milan as opposed to a Leverkusen. We got no chance.

Incidentally, the subject line of said email was “Mercy”.

Of course, I tossed in the obligatory accusation of reverse jinxing, a time-honored tradition in email circles amongst sports fans. Zeyd swore that’s not what he was doing, but then again, that’s what a reverse jinxer would say.

The fact remains, though, that most people don’t really give Chelsea a chance. A tongue-in-cheek piece in the Guardian listed five reasons Chelsea might go through; the fifth of these called upon “getting lucky” and “start praying”, which as one commenter noted, is a bit revealing in and of itself. In a more serious piece, Gary Neville (who knew this guy would be such a good analyst post-retirement?) says that “even at their best, they won’t be good enough to beat Barcelona without unforeseen help” and that “I don’t want to appear overly pessimistic about Chelsea’s chances” before laying out exactly why he’s overly pessimistic about Chelsea’s chances.

I have to say, I find this all a bit nuts. I think Chelsea have a decent shot. Not a great shot, mind you, but a shot nonetheless. Here’s what I would do if I were Chelsea:

1. Start Didier Drogba in both games, and play him the full 90 minutes both times

Big, physical forwards tend to give Barcelona trouble. Fernando Llorente had some success against Barça earlier this season, as did I Am Zlatan. Teams that can withstand Barça’s first wave of pressure after losing the ball, and bypass the midfield by hoofing it up to a hold-the-ball-up-with-his-back-to-goal type of center forward can have success. Drogba fits both of these skill-sets. Moreover, he is excellent in the air and very physical in the box, which will make him (and Chelsea) dangerous at set pieces. In all likelihood, Gerard Pique will be given the assignment of marking Drogba, and while his form has improved of late, he has had an up-and-down season and is prone to the odd mistake. He can be gotten at.

2. Defend deep and narrow

Since the departure of Villas-Boas, Chelsea have returned to the Mourinho/Hiddink style of defending deep rather than pressing high. Given the relatively old and creaky legs in defence and in the center of the park, this is a good move, more suited to the actual personnel Chelsea have.

If Chelsea sit back, it will obviously become much harder for Barça to play in balls behind them. Moreover, two narrow banks of four are likely to give Barça trouble, since it will funnel attacks out to the wings and invite crosses, which is not really Barça’s game. Alexis Sanchez has excellent technique and power with his headers, but he’s still a relative midget. None of Barça’s main goalscorers are real threats in the air. Chelsea would do well to concede possession and ask Barça to cross it in all night. “Be my guest” should be their motto.

Of course, this presumes an ability to stay tight, disciplined, and not go chasing after the ball — which may or may not be applicable to players such as Cahill. But it does represent Chelsea’s best shot. There is one exception to this deep and narrow point, however…

3. Press Barça like crazy in the first 10 minutes

In recent big games, Barça have shown a tendency to make mistakes if they are pressed and harried early in the game. Against Milan in the first leg, Busquets misplaced a simple pass while Milan were pressing, and it opened up a ridiculously easy chance for Robinho to score (he missed). In the Liga Clasico in December, Benzema scored within the first twenty seconds as a result of a misplaced Valdes pass, again owing to high pressure. Madrid scored first in the first leg of the Copa Clasico too. Against United in last season’s Champions League final, it took Barça a while to get their rhythm going, and Hernandez had a half chance early on. There are myriad other examples of this.

The basic point is that because Barça insist on playing it out of the back, and because it takes a couple of touches and passes before all the players’ engines are warmed up, Barça are vulnerable to high pressure early on around their penalty box. It represents Chelsea’s best chance to score and grab a hold of the game (or tie).

4. Channel their anger

I’m not going to get into the relative merits and demerits of the refereeing in the 2009 tie; it’s not worth it. But it’s very clear that Chelsea remember that day with a great deal of anger. Dani Alves’ trolling probably did not help in this regard. This anger, properly channeled, can help Chelsea. When they have tired legs, when they’ve been chasing the ball for 85 minutes and no longer have the energy to make tackles or runs, when they go a goal or two down and have to summon mental strength — the anger can help. But they mustn’t allow it to overwhelm them. They have to control their emotions, their emotions can’t control them.


5. Hope Mata has a blinder

It is understood that when the Spanish national team gets together, the rest of the team can’t really stay with the Barça players once they get the rondos going. There are two exceptions to this. One is David Silva. And the other is Juan Mata. This is another way of saying that Mata has the touch, technique, and skill to take on Barça at their own game. He’s had good games against Barça in the past. He won’t be overawed by the occasion or the opposition.He is the key player for Chelsea in this tie.

6. Pray

Barcelona are a better team than Chelsea. They have better forwards and midfielders than Chelsea. I’d rather have Puyol over Terry in the “inspirational center back captain who yells a lot at other players” role. Pep is a more innovative and flexible coach than Di Matteo. Over 180 minutes, the cream usually rises.

This is another way of saying the wholly unoriginal idea that Barcelona are favorites. They should go through. But they may not. One crazy shot from distance, a deflected free kick, an injury to a key player (Xavi is carrying a niggle, and you can bet that Madrid will spend all of Saturday happily kicking and stomping on anything that moves), a timely away goal — crazy stuff can happen. I genuinely believe that Chelsea can beat Barcelona. Unlike the other semifinal, where Madrid are absolutely, certifiably, categorically guaranteed to go through, the result in this semi is very much open.

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How about a ministry we actually need? Fri, 13 Apr 2012 15:57:53 +0000

Dawn has a ho-hum story on the front page today, about moves and shakes within the cabinet.

President Asif Ali Zardari administered the oaths as five new federal ministers and six ministers of state were inducted into the Federal Cabinet.

Qamar Zama Karia, Raja Pervez Ashraf, Nazar Mohammad Gondal, Farooq Saeed Khan and Farzana Raja were appointed as federal ministers, while Tariq Anees, Raheela Baloch, Abbas Afridi, Moazzam Jatoi, Samsam Bukhari, Tasneem Qureshi were appointed ministers of state.

The new appointments brings the number of federal minister to 35, while the number of ministers of state is now 18.

This all got me curious, so I went over to the official website of the Government of Pakistan. I learned the following things that I did not know before:

1. We have a Ministry of Defence AND a  Ministry of Defence Production. These should be one government department.

2. We have a Ministry of Commerce, a Ministry of Industries, a Ministry of Textile Industries, a Ministry of Economic Affairs and Statistics, a Ministry of Privatization, a Ministry of Production, AND a Ministry of Professional and Technical Training (?). These should all be one government department.

3. We have a Ministry of Inter-Provincial Coordination, a Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit Baltistan, AND a Ministry of States and Frontier Regions. These should all be one government department.

4. We have a Ministry of Information Technology AND a Ministry of Science and Technology. These should be one government department.

This is what “political patronage” looks like. Literally make up a bunch of random jobs and give them to people who have either helped you in the past or who you would like to help you in the future (or both). My favorite out of all these is a “Ministry of National Harmony”. National harmony! As the kids say these days, LOLZZZ. How apposite is it that when you click on the website for this Ministry, you get this:

If you say so, buddy.

It’s amazing to me that amongst all these ministries, we do not have a Ministry for Minority Affairs. After Shahbaz Bhatti’s assassination, the government abolished the ministry through the 19th amendment. With Shias coming out on to the street to protest the wave of killings against them recently and demanding redressive action, this would be one ministry whose (re)introduction people would actually be behind. I wonder if the Zardari-Gilani tag team has considered this at all.

Update/correction: It turns out that they have indeed considered it; in fact, the Ministry of National Harmony is actually a reconstituted version of the Ministry of Minority Affairs. Thanks to @subh_e_azadi for the tip.

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Three thoughts on the Indo-Pak peace process Tue, 10 Apr 2012 18:38:59 +0000

1. Yes, things are moving slowly. But that does not mean real, verifiable progress is not being made, particularly on trade and visas. If people think two years of stop-start talks are going to yield demonstrable results on territorial issues like Siachen or the big issues like Mumbai or Kashmir, they’re nuts (or they’ve been watching too much Hollywood). That’s not how things work.

The one point I would make on trade is that trade in and of itself is not likely to reduce conflict between India and Pakistan. The evidence on how trade affects conflict is mixed at best (though leans slightly in the expected direction of more trade = less conflict). However, one thing worth noting is that Pakistan, according to reports, plans on importing energy and fuel products from India. If that happens, well, I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a game-changer, but it would be a massive shift. The basic point would be that a more stable energy supply would (a) do wonders for the everyday life of the average Pakistani, and (b) make a massive difference to the industrialist class in Pakistan.

Now, point (b) matters because of two reasons. One, the industrialist class is important, and while not always getting their way on domestic policy, at least have a voice that is heard. Two, the industrialist class has a lot of cross-connections to the retired-khaki class (and if you don’t believe me, go to Karsaz or Defence Golf Club some time and see for yourself). The point would be that if you can make the case that warmer relations with India benefits that particular class, then you can drive a wedge within some of the anti-peace-movement sections of the public.

Stuff like this won’t happen overnight (or maybe at all), but I think it’s important to lay out the possibility at least.

2. Whether the policy pays long-term dividends or not, you’ve got to tip your hat to the PPP government and its foreign policy crew. Other than relations with Russia (which we actually have now), this has been their best achievement in foreign affairs to date. Think about the confines within which they have to work: they don’t actually have control over “high politics” issues such as Kashmir or Hafiz Saeed, so they can’t promise anything to the Indians there. And they can’t concede too much, lest the khakis and the Difa-e-Pakistan Council types get their knickers in a twist. They’re locked in a 3-player game (India, our civvies, our khakis) where they are, by far, the weakest player, have the least freedom of movement, and the most to lose. And yet, slowly but surely, they’ve worked their way to something approaching a set of modest achievements.

You had me at hello. Photo: AP

It bears noting that none of the other major parties has given the PPP the slightest problem when it comes to rapprochement with India. Nawaz Sharif, as he is wont to do, came out strongly in support of Zardari’s visit to India. No one else has really made a fuss either way. This is to be commended.

This relates to a point I’ve made before about the distortionary effects the khakis have on our domestic and foreign politics. Imagine a world where our military did not have the preferences or power that it does. Obviously we do not live in that world, but for the purposes of a physics-style thought experiment, just imagine it. Now, what do you think our foreign policy towards India would look like? Consider that none of our major parties really has a problem with India. In a world where only our political parties are responsible for policy, I can assure you said policy would look very different. (The contrast with our American policy, by the way, is quite instructive. In a world with no khakis, our American policy would be as, if not more, strident than it is today).

Now, it’s important to not go too far on this. A peace-process is a two way street and anti-settlement lobbies exist on both sides of the border, to be sure. Plus, even so-called low-hanging fruit are not easy to pick off.

But we can only control what we can control. And as I’ve argued before, the gains from a stable relationship accrue to Pakistan a lot more than they do to India. Put differently, it’s a bigger national interest for us than it is for them. The hope/plan would be that gains on smaller issues (visas, cricket, etc) engender levels of trust in a shadow-of-the-future sense that make bigger, more difficult issues slightly more doable.

3. Domestic politics, domestic politics, domestic politics. We’ve seen this movie before and it’s ended badly because of domestic politics. By all accounts, Musharraf and Manmohan were this close to something substantial on Kashmir. What happened? The Chief Justice, May 12, and the moment was lost. Nawaz Sharif and Vajpayee also made substantial progress. What happened? Uh, this.

With elections in Pakistan in about a year, and the Congress government in India getting hammered recently from a number of angles, the tenuousness of this process is made abundantly clear. Then there’s other unpredictable factors: another LeT attack in a major Indian city, complications in Afghanistan as a result of the American retreat, the possibility of a conflict in Iran spiraling out of control, and so on. These are things states and their representatives cannot predict.

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Hafiz Saeed’s genius theory on the 2005 earthquake Thu, 05 Apr 2012 15:33:10 +0000

Channeling his inner Pat Robertson, Hafiz Saeed had this to say about the 2005 earthquake that killed about 80,000 people:

The earthquake is the result of the rulers’ sinful policies.

They wanted the women to abandon hijab; run with men nude in bikinis; and learn dance and music. They were not afraid of Allah but (US President George) Bush. At his (Bushs) behest, they wanted to purge our schoolbooks from verses on jihad; befriend India and recognise Israel.

They banned all the jihadi outfits and abandoned jihad. They made jihad an abusive term.

They wanted all the Pakistanis to adopt the ‘get-up’ of Bush. They blatantly ridiculed the commandments of Allah. Thus they invited the wrath of God in the form of the earthquake.

Stretching the definition of "professor" a tad, no? Photo: AP


Anyway, I just have a couple of points to make about all the Hafiz Saeed news over the last few days:

1. I don’t know what the point of the bounty was. It has no meaningful effect on anything important whatsoever.

2. I understand that our government is redeploying the all-too-familiar trope of needing “evidence” to arrest Hafiz Saeed. I really wish we wouldn’t do this. It’s really stupid, it makes the people saying it sound stupid, and it makes all 180 million of us look stupid. I wish we lived in a world where our leaders could just say: “Look, we’re not opening another front against another militant organization right now, because we have enough going on as it is. Furthermore, we’re definitely not going to do anything against an organization that still figures very deeply in our (khakis’) strategic thinking on India. Finally, even if we wanted to do something against him, we could not  because judges and lawyers have absolutely no appetite to take these guys head on, because if they do, they end up dead or in exile.” In short, I wish our government would lie less, both to us and the rest of the world.


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Dear Barcelona haters, your tears are so sweet Wed, 04 Apr 2012 00:36:49 +0000

I wonder if there is a five-stages scheme for supporting an awesome, dominant team, similar to the five stages of grief. I can definitely chart my own evolution over the Guardiola years.

The first stage is a disbelief seeped in pessimism. You think “yes, nice, a few wins, but there will be more season ending injuries than trophies this year.”

The next stage is elation/joy: “Wow, trophies, awesome!”

The next stage is evangelizing. You try to convince everyone how good your team is, how they’re redefining the sport. You defend them in blogs, in comment sections, on Twitter, and so on. This phase is weird, because while you’re enjoying the winning, there’s something nagging and gnawing at you. WHY DOESN’T EVERYONE RECOGNIZE THE BRILLIANCE.

The next stage is fists-up-defending. This is when the backlash has started, and you have to guard against accusations that your team only wins because of referees. You point to decisions that went against your team, just to show it’s not one-way traffic. Like when Arsenal fans point to Van Persie’s red card, and you remind them of Messi’s disallowed goal in the first leg, or an incorrectly denied penalty in the second leg. This is a horrible phase, and sucks the fun out of sports. If you are ever lucky enough to support a team that kills everyone, just jump over this phase, if you can.

The fifth and final phase is acceptance. You understand that not everyone will like you, so you don’t bother trying to convince them. If people doubt the bases of your team’s success, let them. It is at this point that you realize that it’s unlikely Pep Guardiola and Leo Messi stay awake at night wondering what internet trolls — and Mourinho, who shares a great deal with them — say, so you shouldn’t bother either. Simply put, haters will be haters.

Well, over the last few months, I have entered stage 5, and I have to tell you, it’s bloody awesome. Now when irrational fans complain about penalties given to Barcelona that are, um, fouls in the box, and completely forget about penalties denied to Barcelona that were, um, fouls in the box NOT SIX DAYS AGO, I welcome it. It tells me that they’ve completely run out of things to say.

Just for the record, pulling someone’s shirt in the box is a penalty. It’s not even one of those “I’ve seen them given” things. It’s a penalty, full stop. The fact that those types of penalties aren’t given more often — again, one should have been given last week — is not the fault of the guy who calls it correctly. It’s the fault of the guy who doesn’t give it, incorrectly.

If you don’t like Barcelona, that’s obviously your prerogative. But don’t make stupid arguments in your attempt to minimize their excellence. There is no UEFA conspiracy. Refs do not help Barcelona in Europe. Barca have been winning over the last few years because they happen to be better than other football sides during that time. Sorry to break it to you.

(By the way, stage 6 is nostalgic depression, as your team begins to suck. Thankfully this stage hasn’t hit yet.)

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Our feudal lord Sat, 24 Mar 2012 20:58:33 +0000

Certain stories require no comment or embellishment. This is one of them:

ROME: The long standing and once highly publicised case of acid victim Fakhra Younus met its tragic end on March 17 when she jumped to her death in the Italian city of Rome. Her body is due to reach Karachi on Sunday, Express News reported.

Yunus, wife of former Member of Provincial Assembly Bilal Khar, had been undergoing treatment for acid scarred tissue, including multiple corrective surgeries in Rome.


In 1998, Yunus was an 18 year old resident of Napier Road’s Bulbul Bazar, Karachi’s red light district, when she met the then Muzaffargarh MPA Bilal Khar.

They both got married after a six month relationship. This was Bilal’s third marriage, while Yunus had a three year old son from an earlier liaison.

Little did Yunus know, that this was not meant to be her fairytale marriage, since shortly after the marriage, she faced both physical and mental abuse by Khar, which lasted for three years before she eventually escaped and moved in with her mother.

An infuriated Khar, with his bruised ego, took ‘revenge’ by pouring acid over her on May 14, 2000, as her five-year-old son watched. The attack left her severely burned, particularly her face. She, however, survived the attack but not before spending three months in intensive care.

Khar used his political influence to evade arrest and absconded, while Yunus’s family faced difficulty in registering an FIR against him.

On October 31, 2002, Khar was eventually arrested, but released in 2003 on Rs 200,000 bail.

To recap: one acid-burn victim leaped to her death. One acid-burn perpetrator sits comfortably in his home. And one-acid burn perpetrator’s cousin is presenting prizes to a documentarian whose Oscar-winning film was about acid-burning women.

Photo via The News

There’s something very wrong with this picture, both literally and metaphorically.

To be clear, I don’t mean to indict or implicate Hina Rabbani Khar for her cousin’s crimes. Maybe deep in her heart she hates her cousin and what he did. We cannot know. But frankly, I’m not terribly interested in knowing what’s going on deep in her heart. (Update: For the record, here’s what Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy tweeted about HRK: “she was most concerned about acid violence saying she had a personal connection- v genuine”).

Incidentally, this type of thing is exactly why a lot of Pakistanis get angry when fashion shows and Birkin bags are taken as synonymous with liberty in the western press. It’s not just to be snarky to incurious and lazy western journalists. It’s because we know these people inside out. We know how Birkin owners think and act away from the cameras. They are, as a general rule, some of the most illiberal people you will find in our country.

For those unaware, the title of this post explained. (Update II: And on the subject of Tehmina Durrani, please make sure to read her op-ed in The News on Fakhra Younis and her suicide. Link via Shahid Saeed).

Update III: And via ExTrib, please watch Mr. Bilal Khar claim his innocence, argue that Fakhra killed herself because she had no money rather than the acid attack, use the word “kanjar” at least three times on national television, plea for understanding based on his having three daughters (what would he do if one of them married someone like himself?), and channel the Musharrafian argument that women in Pakistan are good with violence because it guarantees foreign visas and donor money.

Update IV: Please sign (and share) this petition demanding justice for Fakhra Younis and all acid-attack victims in Pakistan.

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The contingency and construction of national identity Fri, 23 Mar 2012 20:52:23 +0000

One thing I find fascinating about the literature and scholarship on nationalism and ethnicity is the extent to which it is accepted that such identities are politically and socially constructed. That is to say, without the deliberate efforts of states and state-like entities, national identities would not exist, or perhaps not exist in their current form. You need indoctrination, propaganda, primary school education, national anthems, flags, parades, independence day celebrations, and military service, and voila, suddenly everyone’s a Frenchman.

Obviously, this is a bit of a crude synopsis of the literature. But I would argue it’s a basically accurate picture. Very, very few social scientists ascribe to primordialist views of identity.

As I said, it’s fascinating that this view enjoys such widespread acceptance. Not because I think it’s wrong (I don’t; I think it’s completely right, like most other social scientists do). No, my fascination stems from the inability of this view to have seeped into the popular imagination.

Perhaps the point can be made better by pointing to how this is different to other similar findings. Think about the Democratic Peace theory. Or the states-that-trade-don’t-fight theory. Or terrorists-aren’t-crazy-people-motivated-by-72-virgins theory. Or states-balance-because-of-capabilities-and-threats theory. Each of these beliefs have found their way, one way or the other, into newspaper reports, op-ed columns, and the wider public. People are aware of them and cite them in causal conversation (often unwittingly, but the point remains). On the other hand, I literally can’t recall any mainstream journalist or intellectual espousing the view that their national identity is all made up, and not some ontological given.You’ll never see Tom Friedman cite Benedict Anderson or Ernest Gellner, that’s for sure.

Another way of saying this would be: the distance between academic beliefs and popular beliefs is much wider when it comes to the question of national identity than most topics.

Of course, this raises the question of why this disjuncture exists as it does. The cynical answer would be that states have been so good at policing the discourse and indoctrinating their citizens, that those citizens are unwilling and unable to grasp that they’ve been told lies upon lies about who they are, and why they are who they are. I don’t know if that’s true though it strikes me as plausible.

It’s no coincidence that I’m writing this post on March 23. I’m sorry, but I find all this patriotism stuff quite silly. I don’t celebrate August 14, March 23, or any other date the state deems important. It makes no sense to me, though of course I can perfectly see why others would disagree. I’m not claiming my national identity box is completely empty. If it was, I wouldn’t care about cricket beyond its sporting importance, or wouldn’t care about Pakistan being a better place to live tomorrow than it is today, and I assure you that I do. But it’s probably emptier than most people’s.

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