Thursday, May 31, 2007

Global Peace Index

Yet another pointless global survey to digest. Lately, it seems everything is reduced to a metric of some kind, measuring previously incalculable things, like happiness. This time it’s the Global Peace Index, which, according to this press release, ranks countries, by: “peacefulness and the drivers that create and sustain their peace.”

And how do SAARC members measure up?
  • Afghanistan (not listed)
  • Bangladesh (86)
  • Bhutan (19)
  • India (109)
  • Maldives (not listed)
  • Nepal (not listed)
  • Pakistan (115)
  • Sri Lanka (111)
If you take out the hermetic kingdom of Bhutan, it’s not an impressive list. Pakistan scores poorly for obvious reasons (Afghanistan, military rule, and Islamic militancy, to name some of the problems), and not because there is a conspiracy to malign it as The Pakistan Observer contends. And I’m not engaging in Pakistan bashing, just pointing out the stupidity of the folks at The Pakistan Observer, who smell conspiracies everywhere but refuse to look in the mirror— for the truth is there for all to see. It’s not like India did all that great. It has its own problems, of course, including insurgencies and terrorism. As does Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. I’m surprised, though, that both Afghanistan and Nepal are not even listed given their problems of late.

In the end, you can either take the survey seriously, or with a grain of salt. Not everything about a country can be reduced into neat columns on a spreadsheet (but it would be nice, no?). Personally, I think a lot of people are spending too much time playing with Excel (like myself!) and not enough time observing ground realities. At the same time, I’m not going to dismiss this survey outright, it does seem to utilize a sound methodology.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Northern Areas Integral Part of Pakistan?

In a pre-emptive response to a European Parliament report on Jammu and Kashmir, the Pakistani Ambassador to Belgium, M. Saeed Khalid, has proclaimed that the Northern Areas was never part of Jammu and Kashmir, but an integral part of Pakistan, and has been since 1947. Such mendacity is not only bold but brazen and, not to mention, quite foolish given the evidence to the contrary.
Baroness Winterbourne, whose report is to be presented before a European Parliament plenary on Thursday, has sent a 7-page reply to Ambassador Khalid, stating that she is "unable to commend your Government's new position to the European Parliament." The Baroness' reply appends colonial era maps and treaty documents which make clear that the Northern Areas were part of undivided Jammu and Kashmir.

Experts contacted by The Hindu also expressed surprise at Pakistan's position. Navnita Chadha-Behera, a professor at New Delhi's Jamia Milia Islamia university and author of two books on the conflict, said she was "astounded by the new claims." "Both the United Nations resolutions and the 1949 Karachi Agreement make clear Pakistan considered the Northern Areas to be a part of Jammu and Kashmir," she said.

Intriguingly, Ambassador Khalid's claims fly in the face of the Pakistan's own judicial position on the Northern Areas. In a judgment delivered in September, 1994, Pakistan's Supreme Court held that while the Northern Areas are "not part of Azad Kashmir as defined in the Azad Kashmir Interim Constitution Act," the region was indeed "part of Jammu and Kashmir state" as it existed before 1947.

As a result of Pakistan's ambiguous position on the Northern Areas, the region had no elected assembly nor representation in the National Assembly until 1994. Only in 2000 did a Pakistan Supreme Court judgment lead to the establishment of a body with powers to legislate even on local matters. However, Pakistan's Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs continued to be the chief executive of the Northern Areas Legislative Council.
I’m not sure if Ambassador Khalid is freelancing or just parroting Islamabad, but it will definitely put a wrench in Pakistan's attempts to internationalize the Kashmir issue. Instead, it will bring attention to Pakistan's mishandling of the Northern Areas, from poor governance to maltreatment of its residents, who are mostly Shia.
Successive Pakistani regimes, activists in the Northern Areas have long complained, have also been engaged in engineering large-scale demographic changes in the region. In violation of both United Nations resolutions and Jammu and Kashmir's pre-independence state-subject laws, the large-scale settlement of ethnic Punjabis and Pashtoons has changed the pre-independence non-local to local population ratio from 1:4 to worse than 3:4.
Pakistan is willfully flouting the same U.N. resolutions it’s been championing. It is abundantly clear what Pakistan is up to: by changing the demographic make-up, the Northern Areas will safely accede to Pakistan when (and if) the issue is settled. And since Pakistan is unilaterally declaring Northern Areas to be theirs in perpetuity (which they have no right to do), it would be perfectly legal if India unilaterally declare Jammu and Kashmir to be part of the Indian union for perpetuity. The Line-of-Control (LoC), currently the de facto border, would become the du jour border.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Pakistani Peacekeepers Accused With Corruption

Nitin has written an interesting post about the “unprofessional” behavior of Pakistani troops serving in a United Nations peacekeeping force in the Congo. Their purported crimes include gold smuggling and selling arms to rebel groups, the same groups U.N. peacekeepers are tasked to disarm.

The Pakistani military always took pride in its inscrutable professionalism, but these allegations prove there are cracks in the armor. If anything, it shows a precipitous decline in discipline not only among the rank-and-file, but the officer corps as well.

It is no coincidence that this happening while Pakistan is under the control of the army, whose head, President Pervez Musharraf, also dons the uniform. With no legislative or judicial oversight whatsoever, the military is accountable to no one but itself. It is a recipe for corruption. The events in the Congo are just one of the manifestations of this rot known as military rule.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Like Father Like Daughter

A.G. Noorani gives the latest edition of Benazir Bhutto’s memoirs, Benazir Bhutto: Daughter of the East: An Autobiography, quite a drubbing. He writes:
The only additions are a new Preface and the last chapter. The former drips with megalomania; the latter, with mendacity. "Like England's Queen Elizabeth, I, who had also endured imprisonment and remained single, thought I would never get married." She married a man of ill repute, Asif Ali Zardari. Both stand convicted in Swiss courts in cases of corruption and money laundering
The apple does not fall far from the tree, I see. We all know what her father was like, and what fate had in store for him. Her father was a Western-educated feudal lord, and so is she. She has that sense of entitlement that only rich landowners possess, and she carried herself in the same way when she became Prime Minister.

And for all her progressive pretense, she was a ruthless politician at heart, willing to cut a deal for anything and with anyone, be they jihadists or the military, as long as it ensures her hold on power. In the end, she demonstrated nothing except arrogance. Her father was arrogant too, and look what happened to him. She should count herself lucky.

1971: Who Ordered The Capture Of Dhaka?

Praveen Swami writes a terrific article that illuminates one of the rather more interesting controversies surrounding the 1971 war that led to Bangladesh's independence: was there a standing order to capture the capital city of Dhaka (then called Dacca), and if so, who ordered it? The story pits two key players against each other.
The debate has polarised supporters of India's then Army Chief Sam `Bahadur' Manekshaw, who went on to become its first Field Marshal, and the then Chief of Staff of the Eastern Command, Major-General J.F.R. Jacob.
Soon after deciding to enter the fray, the Indian Army’s initial goal was to capture and secure the western half of Bangladesh (then East Pakistan). Any further advancement could have led to a Pakistani counterattack towards India's borders.
Although Pakistani forces were positioned for the defence of the country's eastern wing, Indian planners anticipated the possibility of a two-division thrust towards Silchar or Agartala, as well as a counter-offensive against Kolkata, along the Jessore-Bangaon and Satkhira-Bashirhat axes. In addition, Pakistan expected both China and the United States to intervene on its side. Plans had to be drawn up not just to secure offensive victory, but guard against defeat in these worst-case scenarios. Indian strategists hoped to take as much territory as possible in a short-duration war, and use it to facilitate a subsequent political settlement.
It didn't matter in the end. Both the United States and China, after some sabre-rattling, did not interfere as first feared; and the Indian Army made better then expected progress on the ground, so the decision to capture Dhaka was almost an afterthought. The psychological victory of capturing Dhaka—where the whole mess began and Pakistani forces were based—would be worth the effort. The question still remains, though: who ordered it? Manekshaw or Jacob?

This question, and all facts relating to India’s involvement in Bangladesh’s independence, can be found in the official History of the Bangladesh War, 1971. The problem is that it is still classified by the Indian government. The odd thing, however, is that it’s been available to scholars and students for over ten years. I think it’s high time to release it to the public.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Biman's Problems Are Much Deeper...

Like this editorial in The Daily Star, I, too, question the caretaker government’s wisdom in turning Biman Bangladesh, the nation’s moribund flag carrier, into a public limited company (PLC). It’s not an elixir or a magic pill; it won’t make Biman any more viable: in fact it will still be the same debt-ridden, over-extended, over-staffed, and poorly-serviced airline everyone is use to seeing.

The crux of Biman’s problems is a bad business model and poor management. Much of Biman’s problem can be placed at the feet of every government that used it like a political fiefdom, doling out positions to party loyalists. The challenge to right-size Biman is immense: first, staff must be trimmed; second, all outstanding debts must be paid off, or renegotiated at more generous terms; third, new aircraft needs to be ordered; and fourth, a new business plan needs to be formulated and a dynamic management team to implement it. It’s a tall order that requires millions of dollars in additional capital and a lot of patience.

Unless these structural problems are addressed first, with the additional promise of no political interference from this and future governments, turning Biman into a PLC is a pointless exercise.

Mithun Chakraborty Is Back

Indian actor Mithun Chakraborty is enjoying a renaissance, of sorts, in both Bengali and Hindi cinema. He flamed out in the early 90s with flop after flop, but is now getting rave reviews, mostly for supporting roles, from villains to father-figures. But this line from The Hindustan Times did irritate me somewhat:
He was hailed as the poor man's Amitabh Bachchan in the 1980s.
Poor in what sense? That he was cheaper? Considering he was signing movies left and right, and for princely sums, it seems strange to say Mithun was a poor man’s Amitabh.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Chavez And the United States: Mutual Needs

A letter in The Daily Star poses this interesting question about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez:
Can Chavez navigate his nation along with his allies, already plagued by inflation and poverty in South American standard, to take a stand against the US when he must continue to allow his own country to be one of the top oil suppliers of his northern nemesis?
In a way, the writer has answered his own question. There can be no Hugo Chavez without the United States, in the same way there can be no United States without Hugo Chavez. They are joined at the hip. And with oil prices inexorably going upward, and the United States the chief consumer of oil and Venezuela one of its top suppliers, Chavez is in a good position to dictate his terms without fear or repercussions. In President Bush, not surprisingly, Chavez has found his foil, which garners him points among leftist circles. It will be interesting to see how he behaves when a new U.S. president, Democrat or Republican, is elected.

But the problem with populists like Hugo Chavez, however, is that sooner or later he will overplay his hand. For one thing, he will have to deliver on his “socialism for the 21st century,” which looks increasingly like the socialism of old. Lastly, for all the so-called leftward drift of Latin America, many of its leaders simply loathe Chavez and his meddling ways. Ultimately, Chavez will end up one of two ways: deposed, preferably by his own countrymen; or isolated, first, by his allies and, second, by the world community at large. In the end, Chavez will end up more like Mugabe than Castro.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Another Great Magazine Bites The Dust

I’ve been reading American Heritage magazine on-and-off (lately more “off” than “on”) since junior high school, so it’s sad to read that this venerable periodical has suspended publication with its latest issue.

What’s surprising, though, is that it had a circulation of 350,000, enviable by any standard. The problem, it seems, is that the magazine operated on a bad and outdated business model. Unlike most magazines, American Heritage relied almost solely on paid subscriptions for revenue, not advertisements.

The owners are looking to sell the magazine, but it has yet to find buyers. Until then, the magazine will suspend publication, but it will maintain its web site—for the time being

arts & letters daily]

New Immigration Bill: DOA?

A bipartisan coalition of U.S. Senators has introduced an immigration bill so mind-numbingly complex that there is a good chance it will not see the light of day.

Even I can’t understand its working. There are “Y” visas, “Z” visas, merit points, fines, some illegal immigrants can remain in the United States while others must leave and re-enter at a later date (an absolutely preposterous proposition!), provisions for guest-worker programs are equally nutty, and then there are triggers; and don't forget about the lengthy timelines (8-13 years to get a green card). At times, it seems it’s better to remain illegal than going through all the bureaucratic hassles of becoming legal.

Presently, it’s a 360-page bill right before amendments are added, eventually the bill will exceed north of 1,000-pages. In addition, in order to accomplish this task, the Department of Homeland Security, specifically the USCIS, which is responsible for immigrants, legal or otherwise, will need billions in funding to process everyone that is eligible. Before this, America’s borders must be fortified, one of the infamous triggers, in order to prevent further illegal immigration. Good luck on that!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Rev. Falwell Passes Away

Television evangelist Reverend Jerry Falwell died yesterday, apparently of a heart attack. As leader of the Moral Majority, he made evangelicals a political force to be reckoned with; their influence culminated in the election of George W. Bush, a born-again Christian, for President.

Falwell was also vicious, sanctimonious, and a hypocrite, yet he moved with a certainty only a fanatic could possess. Rev. Falwell considered 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina to be acts of divine retribution, a punishment for America’s wicked ways (for being pro-gay and pro-abortion, to name a few of its sins). I wish I had nice things to say about Rev. Falwell but I don’t.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Rich Bangladeshis Go Overseas For Medical Reasons

Why must Bangladeshi politicians go overseas for medical treatment? In The Daily Star today, it's been reported that Khaleda Zia is going to Singapore in order to seek medical treatment. Others, especially Awami League politicians, like to go to India. And many more head for Europe, Canada, or the United States. This is not just true for politicos, but many prominent businessmen and industrialists also go overseas to have their tonsils checked, or their faces filled with botox, or whatever they need to get done.

Honestly, what are the rich and famous trying to say about Bangladesh’s healthcare system? Forget the poor, they’ve been condemned with substandard service (often no service) for years. This is nothing new. What I like to know: why isn’t there quality healthcare for those who can afford it?

Monday, May 14, 2007

MQM: Terrorists Or Heroes?

Karachi streets are again under a cloud of violence, and there is nothing spontaneous about it. The violence is geared toward supporters of embattled Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, who was in Karachi to give a speech but never made it out of the airport.

The violence was perpetrated by MQM, political party/criminal gang, who control the streets of Karachi and, not to mention, the government of Sindh. They also support President/Dictator For Life Pervez Musharraf, who, according to some, is giving the MQM its marching orders to disrupt Chief Justice Chaudhry’s stay in Karachi as much as possible. KO has details about the MQM and its aloof leader, Altaf Hussain.

Obviously, this is a blatantly transparent attempt to fob the blame for the violence on Chief Justice Chaudhry, whose only crime is his slavish devotion to constitutional norms, which President Musharraf is currently obstructing with aplomb. How soon will President Musharraf declare a state of emergency and shut Karachi (and Pakistan) down? Pakistani Rangers, paramilitary units stationed in Karachi since the mid-1990s, have already been given shoot-to-kill orders. Is martial law next?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Praful Kisses Vanaik's Ass

In the latest issue of Frontline magazine, Praful Bidwai has written a review on a collection of essays edited by Achin Vanaik. This is not unusual in itself unless you realize that both Bidwai and Vanaik are connected at the hip: both are fellows at the Transnational Institute, a think tank devoted to democracy, peace, and environmentalism (actually, it is a beehive of Marxist claptrap); they have co-edited a book together, South Asia on a Short Fuse: Nuclear Politics and the Future of Global Disarmament; and both are former editors at The Times of India. They're probably good friends too. Who really knows. Nevertheless, it seems unethical for Bidwai to be reviewing Vanaik’s book, which he gives unqualified praise.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Send Him To Cuba?

Is Luis Posada Carriles a terrorist? From the evidence gleaned here, he sure looks like one. Should the United States extradite him to either Cuba or Venezuela for the bombing of a Cubana jetliner in 1976? No. Those countries possess no sane justice system that we know of, just kangaroo courts. Carriles would never get a fair trial.

Nice Knowing Ya, Jacques!

Columnist Anne Applebaum has written the definitive column highlighting the career—mostly a series of bonehead moves—of outgoing French President Jacques Chirac, who has made it his mission to be smarmy and arrogant, whenever and wherever possible. He is a detestable character and I, for one, am glad to see him go.