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  • 10/08/14--05:22: Geography is indestructible

  • The Face of the Ummah -

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    As Malala becomes the youngest ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize

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

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

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

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  • 10/20/14--23:40: "we are muslims"
  • ...“We have source besides the (Pakistan) army…people in Kashmir are fighting....just need to incite them....we can fight with the (Indian) army from both the front and back....we are Muslims”.....

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

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

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

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

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

    Next, Bruce Riedel worries about a cross-border nuclear war and Pranay Sharma frets about Modi using "Pakistan card" to consolidate his power.

    It is interesting (and typical) to see how differently the two analysts read the same situation, while "neocon" Riedel points out that not responding to Pakistan's misadventures will encourage them to attack even more, "aman ki asha" Sharma is worried that a robust response from India will invite backlash from Pak (we think both predictions are correct, an ideological response holds constant regardless of the counter-response).

    India has a no-first strike policy on nuclear weapons. Thus the only way a nuclear war happens is if Pakistan initiates a strike. Two things are for sure. First this will not happen without Chinese authorization and that seems unlikely. After all India CAN launch a nuclear missile on Beijing (it is a bit closer to home than MARS). Doomsday scenarios are fun to discuss but beyond the recycled concerns we doubt there is anything fresh to ponder upon.

    Second, if Pakistan does strike it will be also the end of Pakistan as a nation. We know that the Pak army has a long history of being irresponsible, but we doubt they are suicidal. 

    Former president General Pervez Musharraf on Thursday said Pakistan needs to incite those fighting in Kashmir, India Today reported.   
    “We have source (in Kashmir) besides the (Pakistan) army…People in Kashmir are fighting against (India). We just need to incite them,” Musharraf told a TV channel.
    Musharraf, who assumed power in 1999 soon after the Kargil conflict as hostilities erupted between Indian and Pakistani troops in the area, claimed that the Pakistan army is ready for war with India. But he cautioned India against any misadventure.
    “India should not be under the illusion that Pakistan will not hit back,” he warned.
    “In Kashmir, we can fight with the (Indian) army from both the front and back…We are Muslims. We will not show the other cheek when we are slapped. We can respond tit for tat,” he said, while commenting on the recent firing along the Line of Control and working boundary.
    At least 12 people have been killed since India resorted to ‘unprovoked’ firing on the border.
    “Modi is anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan. He has not changed. The problem is with us… We are running to attend his (Modi) inauguration, we should keep our dignity.”

    Let us be absolutely clear on this: the only person who has no dignity left over Kashmir is Ex-P/G Musharraf. He has been exposed as a person who was betraying his allies in the West and (specifically looking at Kargil) betraying his own (Muslim) troops.

    The argument that democracy (even if imperfectly) should come to all corners of South Asia (and the near-abroad) is a powerful one.

    But then Pakistan as the worst case offender should repair the democracy deficit urgently and teach big brother a "peaceful lesson" in how democracy works, starting with (muslim) people in "Azad Kashmir". Unfortunately there is not a chance of that happening anytime soon, not in Pakistan, but also not in Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Iran, Afghanistan, and China. And we will be very surprised if Ex-P/G Musharraf will ever come to a position where his opinion counts for anything, except as a measure of what his fellow citizens think (and dream).

    India and Pakistan have fought four wars since 1947 and had several crises that went to the brink of war. Both tested nuclear weapons in 1998. Now tensions are escalating between the two again.
    It began in May, when a heavily armed squad of Pakistani terrorists from Lashkar e Tayyiba (Army of the Pure) attacked India’s consulate in Herat, in western Afghanistan. They planned to massacre Indian diplomats on the eve of the inauguration of India’s new Hindu nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi. The consulate’s security forces killed the LeT terrorists first, preventing a crisis.
    Since LeT is a proxy of Pakistan's military intelligence service known as the ISI, Indian intelligence officials assume the Herat attack was coordinated with higher-ups in Pakistan.  They assume another LeT attack is only a matter of time.  They are probably right on both counts.

    This summer, clashes between Indian and Pakistani troops have escalated along the ceasefire line in Kashmir. Called “the Line of Control,” the Kashmiri front line this year has witnessed the worst exchanges of artillery and small arms fire in a decade, displacing hundreds of civilians on both sides. More than 20 have died in the crossfire already this month. Modi has ordered his army commanders to strike back hard at the Line of Control to demonstrate Indian resolve.
    Although Modi made a big gesture in May when he invited his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, to his inauguration, since then Modi has canceled routine diplomatic talks with Pakistan on Kashmir and signaled a tough line toward terrorism. He also appointed a very experienced intelligence chief, Ajit Doval as his national security adviser. Doval is known as a hard-liner on terrorism—and on Pakistan.

    Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party strongly criticized his predecessor, Manmohan Singh, for what it saw as a weak response to LeT’s attack on Mumbai in 2008. No military action was taken after 10 LeT terrorists, armed and trained by the ISI, killed and wounded hundreds of innocents, including six American dead.
    In 2001, a previous BJP government mobilized the Indian military for months after a Pakistan-based terror attack on the Indian parliament. The two countries were eyeball to eyeball in a tense standoff for almost a year. Two years before that, the two countries fought a war in Kashmir around the town of Kargil.
    In the 1999 Kargil War, the Pakistani army crossed the LOC to seize mountain heights controlling a key highway in Kashmir. BJP Prime Minister Atal Vajpayee responded with airstrikes and ground forces. The Indian navy prepared to blockade Karachi, Pakistan’s major port and its critical choke point for importing oil. A blockade would have rapidly cut off Pakistan from oil supplies. The Indian navy was so eager to strike it had to be restrained by the high command.
    The Pakistanis began losing the fight at Kargil. Then they put their nuclear forces on high alert. President Bill Clinton pressured Nawaz Sharif (the prime minister then and now) into backing down at a crucial summit at Blair House on July 4, 1999. If Clinton had not persuaded Sharif to withdraw behind the LOC, the war would have escalated further, perhaps to a nuclear exchange.
    Kargil is a good paradigm for what a future crisis might look like. A BJP government is not likely to turn the other cheek. It cannot afford to let terror attacks go unpunished. That would encourage more.
    The difference between the Kargil War and today is that both India and Pakistan now have far more nuclear weapons and delivery systems than 15 years ago. Pakistan is developing tactical nuclear weapons and has the fastest growing nuclear arsenal in the world. China provides Pakistan with its nuclear reactors. India has missiles that can reach all of Pakistan and even to Beijing. The escalatory ladder is far more terrifying than it was on the eve of the millennium.
    For retreating in 1999, Sharif was overthrown in a coup by the army commander, Pervez Musharraf, who had planned the Kargil War. Now Musharraf is calling for Sharif to stand up to Modi and not be pushed around by India. The main opposition party leader, Bilawal Bhutto, has called for a tough line defending Kashmiri Muslim rights, promising to take “every inch” of Kashmir for Pakistan if he is elected prime minister in the future. Sharif is under pressure from another party leader, Imran Khan, to resign. The politics on both sides in South Asia leave little room for compromise or dialogue.

    America is seen in South Asia as a power in decline, a perception fueled by the Afghan War. U.S. influence in New Delhi and Islamabad is low. A Clinton-like intervention to halt an escalation will be a tough act to follow. But the consequences of a nuclear exchange are almost too horrible to contemplate.


    The hype notwithstanding, Narendra Modi’s ‘tough’ line on Pakistan, as reflected in the fortnight-long firing across the Line of Control and the International Border by Indian and Pakistani soldiers, sets a dangerous precedent.
    A flag meeting that could have ended the firing between the rival troops earlier than it did was put off because of India. Officials in New Delhi justify the Indian stand to argue that it was to prevent Pakistan from embarking on similar ‘adventurism’ in the future. In the process, however, this also opens up space for India’s own ‘adventurism’ which it can adopt in dealing with other smaller neighbours as well.
    To his myriad supporters, Modi’s hard stand against Pakistan is something that was long needed. In Modi they see an Indian leader who has finally decided to set the parameters of engaging with Pakistan in a manner that is both effective and couched in terms that the neighbour can well understand.
    However, despite the prevailing mood of belligerence in the country, especially among the prime minister’s admirers, the Modi government’s policy of how to deal with Pakistan raises some serious concerns.
    There are clear indications that much of India’s tough response was fashioned by Modi to shore up his image domestically, especially before the crucial assembly elections in Maharastra and Haryana. According to a report in the Economic Times, during the entire period of firing at the border, Modi did not convene a single meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). The decision to escalate the Indian response to the Pakistani firing was taken solely by the Indian prime minister and his national security advisor Ajit Doval, a former Intelligence Bureau chief.

    Modi decided to refer to the developments at the border and the tough stand his government took several times during his campaigns in Maharashtra and Haryana. This clearly shows that irrespective of the death of several people, including hapless civilians living near the border areas, the prime minister continued with his tough line to raise his own stock and brighten the chances of his party’s victory in the two assembly elections.
    But the willingness to adopt such a stand and to use Pakistan to build his own image can have negative implications. One, its success may encourage him to play the Pakistan card every time he finds himself in a spot and needs to boost his image with his countrymen at home. Two, Pakistan can play this game of brinkmanship as well in future, with dangerous consequences. 

    Whether or not it results in a war between the two nuclear-armed countries, heightened tension between the hostile neighbors will surely scare off potential investors from India and derail India’s project of economic development.
    More importantly, a tough, confrontational line drastically reduces the diplo­matic space to resolve differences through peaceful negotiations between the two countries. The precedent Modi is setting can also send a negative signal to India’s smaller neighbors in South Asia. If they continue to feel nervous about India, they may end up moving closer to China—the other big power in the region. And surely the Indian leadership would not desire a possible scenario where India gets isolated in South Asia. For the sake of its own development and growth, India needs a peaceful neighborhood, particularly in South Asia.
    The Indian prime minister will therefore have to go back from where he started—by reaching out to India’s immediate neighbours. A policy that not only ensures a peaceful neighbourhood but also allows the space for others to grow and develop with India may turn out to be much more effective in dealing with neighbours. Modi may as well show his strength by taking the ‘tough’ political decision to reach out to Pakistan and resume his engagement with the recalcitrant neighbour.

    Suffice to say the Congress govt followed Sharma's prescription and lost respect on the international stage and politically at home. Sharma makes the economic point that investments in India will suffer in case of escalation in conflicts but then where were these investments in the peacetime of 2009-2014?

    Also, as is clear from the recent state elections in Maharashtra and Haryana, Modi will keep winning due to a complete vacuum in the opposition ranks. Congress is finished, Mayawati also looks finished. Modi has been accepted as an OBC (Shudra) leader by Indians drawing from all sections of society. India is also an OBC nation by a large majority...thus we have a truly strange situation where powerful OBC communities like Yadavs in Uttar Pradesh, Marathas in Maharashtra, and Jats in Haryana opposing Modi (and he will still win).

    As far as the muslims are concerned the in-fighting between the "secular" parties have left them without any sure source of political patronage. The understandable reaction has been to vote for "communal" parties like AIMIM headed by the odious Akbaruddin Owaisi. Unfortunately, this will lead to even more marginalization. Strategically, it would make much more sense for muslims to vote for the BJP and make it bend to minority demands (this is starting to happen in some strange Kerala and in West Bengal).

    It is early days yet but Modi is transforming into Indira Gandhi (it is a good thing that he has no sons to hand over the baton when the time comes). The weakness of Man Mohan Singh was that the public knew that he was a puppet. So yes, India will not turn the "other cheek" as the provocations keep coming...and Pakistan becomes more and more isolated as a nation with no friends.

    Finally, Pranay Sharma knows this well: small neighbors of India seem to be working much better with Modi than the small neighbors of China. Not to mention how the Iran-Pak border has become hot as well as Iranian soldiers violate borders and shoot down Sunni insurgents. It also seems that Afghanistan will not remain passive if ISI continues with the "incite muslims" strategy.

    So all in all, even the strongest opponents of Modi are only peddling weak arguments. We have to look harder for better leaders and better arguments (since we are pro-peace after all) but right now all we see is Modi all around us (even if with a broom and a dusting-pan).


    Link (1):

    Link (2):

    Link (3):

    Link (4):


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     1. Westernization has been and forever will be a disaster for non-Western nations. The apparent weakness of "Eastern" nations is actually strength; a sign of moral superiority, closer to nature, deeply rooted, psychologically sound, more humane etc etc. Gandhi had some such beliefs. Of course Gandhi also believed that if we stick to our (moral) strengths, we can “defeat” the apparently stronger West. But this defeat will not look like the usual victory and defeat looks in war. Valid or not, this would be a relatively consistent (and very attractive) set of beliefs. But many elements of this system are anathema for the Left (like Gandhi's embrace of the people's ancient religon and religious myths, his lack of interest in physical strength, and his un-Marxist view of history), so Pankaj cannot comfortably take a Gandhian position against the West (though he can say patronizing nice things about it).

    2. Westernization has been and forever will be a disaster for non-Western nations. They must find their own unique way forward. They have unique cultures and cultural strengths and these are embedded in their language, their culture, their myths, their religions… and they must build from these, etc. But this is what a lot of the Hindu right is saying, so it certainly cannot be Pankaj’s choice either.

    3. Or Pankaj can drop the whole Eurocentric post-Marxist framework and start from scratch. He might then find that "Westernization" is not so exclusively Western. A lot of it is just progress in human knowledge (always incomplete and prone to errors) and any individual or group can acquire and make use of past discoveries in human knowledge, whether they happen to have been made in Europe or Central Asia or Japan, and build on those.... that maybe the flaws we see in the West are not that foreign either, but are human characteristics, and their larger organized expressions (armies, conquests, wars, colonization, cultural and literal genocides, megalomaniacs, liars) are not really some unique and novel Western invention.... If strength and scientific progress are diseases, then we are all prone to falling victim to their allure....and so on. But that would be such a departure from the postcolonialist postmodern post-marxist universe in which Pankaj operates, its not really a choice either. What if his audience no longer buys his op-eds?

    It’s a tough place to be in.  Hence the confusion.
    btw, he started with Naipaul, betting that his audience would have little or no clue about Naipaul's actual views about Indian history and the rise of the BJP. I think this move shows Pankaj is not dumb and he sometimes takes risks. Those are worthy qualities ;)
    Or it may mean that Naipaul's earlier expression of admiration for Pankaj (as a literary critic) has created a soft spot. Human nature being what it is...

    I initially posted these thoughts as a facebook comment and asked some questions on 3quarksdaily (where Pankaj's article was up on the blog). One of the responses (from someone named Sundar) was as follows:
    I doubt if I fit the profile of Pankaj's intended readership, but here goes:

    I think the Indian left (and Pankaj in particular) has become irrelevant. The Left parties have been decimated even in their citadel of West Bengal, where they had unleashed a reign of terror for 25 years. (If you think that is an exaggeration, you should learn more about life in Rural West Bengal). It is another matter that the TMC is continuing their tactics.

    Intellectually, the left has been in shock since their utopias of Russia and China have moved on. Hence their desperate attempt to use any issue they can get their hands on: Environment, Caste etc. Their last gasp was their infiltration of the centrist Congress party via Sonia Gandhi's unconstitutional NAC.

    They are terrified that Modi has put together a workable coalition of various caste groups which aims to control parliament for the foreseeable future. They don't know how to deal with Modi: he comes from the very groups that they claim to represent. But he represents a new kind of India, one which does not want handouts from elite controlled parties.

    Whether Modi's electoral coalition will hold in the next Lok Sabha elections, I don't know. But if it does, the India left's worst nightmare will come to pass: A world where they are simply irrelevant. A Bourgeois India that hasn't heard of Pankaj Mishra and his ilk. And doesn't care.

    My answer had some more questions, which I will post here in the hope that someone will attempt some answers:
    I think you are right, though out of loyalty to my youthful ideals and deference to my friends /peer group I would assign a less positive valence to this decline and fall... Anyway, follow up questions : since higher education and public intellectuals in India share (consciously and unconsciously) many of the historic assumptions, ideals, paradigms etc of the Left, what does the
     future hold in that area? Will they modify their beliefs and carry on? Will there be a circling of the wagons and a vicious fight with the newly powerful right, followed by an auto da fe? Will the crazier Hindutva historians replace our familiar Marxist intellectuals as most of my friends seem to fear? And will all this play any role in "real life"? 
    Inquiring minds want to know :)

    Finally, a word from my better half (who has higher IQ and EQ): I must not just criticize Mishra. I must also say what he would be good at; so here goes: I think he would be an excellent literary critic if he could just give up his urge to push his (fashionable, but ultimately irrelevant) political agenda in every thing he writes. I know,"the personal is political" and all that, but comrade, that too may just be fashionable claptrap. Take a deep breath. Let go...

    PS: Given the current political conflicts within India (with which I have only an outsider's connection), it is inevitable that an attack on Pankaj will get positive responses from his supposed ideological opponents in the BJP (I say "supposed" because Pankaj actually shares their emotional antipathy towards the West and has some sympathy for their counterparts in other Asian countries, just not in India itself). Just to keep things clear, I am mostly Left-of-Center in my politics and extremely left of center on most social issues (though somewhat right of center on state intervention in social issues, whatever). I do hope a left-of-center alternative survives and thrives in Indian politics, not just because my own inclinations (mostly) lie that way but because the total dominance of any one ideology is always a problem. Best to have some balance and some competition. Finally, I do realize that all who identify as leftists are not as Eurocentric/Europhobic and confused as Pankaj. 
    Oh, and about the Hindutvadis, I think there are some obvious problem areas in their quest to become the leaders of resurgent and powerful India: I am saying nothing original if I say that the "Muslim question" is one of them. In my case, the concern is not that they will try to "Indianize" Islam well beyond what current Indian Muslim leaders would consider desirable... I think that is the eventual fate of Indian Islam and I see no great reason to abhor that possibility. My concern is that they will mess up the "soft landing" that is the "desirable option" in this process. i.e. I think a soft landing is possible (and desirable) but the way the BJP has evolved, they may not be the best people to achieve it. More on that some other day, but I do want to add that to me this is not a specifically "Muslim" concern. It is an Indian concern. In numbers, in solidarity, in civilizational consciousness, in cultural contribution, etc Indian Muslims are not an insignificant component of India. A "hard landing" would hurt everyone and the outcome is by no means guaranteed to be in the Hindutvadi's favor. Softer approaches would work better for everyone, not just for the Muslims. Fascist tendencies and mob action are other obvious problems but are by no means a BJP monopoly (see West Bengal for details) but a BJP-specific (much less serious) area of concern is the large mass of pseudoscientific nonsense that has accreted around the crazier edges of the Hindutva brand. While I think the actual "real world" significance of that mass of craziness is sometimes exaggerated by liberal/Westernized/agnostic/atheist observers, it is not necessary trivial.  I quote Prime Minister sahib: "We worship Lord Ganesh. There must have been some plastic surgeon at that time who got an elephant’s head on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery - See more at: "
    I really dont think modern Indian medicine will be easily derailed by such flights of fancy, but ....There. That should do it :) 

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    Looking back at Pakistan’s history over the last forty years, he represented the country’s best opportunity to transform itself from a third-world kleptocracy to a modern democracy, which is why the failure of Imran Khan and his revolution is such a tragedy. I do not mean to imply that he has failed in narrow political terms: It is much too early to say that, and I would not be surprised to see him as Prime Minister of Pakistan in the near future. What has failed, rather, is the vision that he had once promised. It has been tainted irredeemably by his alliances with obscurantist forces like the Jamaat-e-Islami, his rationalization of Taliban extremism, his willingness to act as the instrument of anti-democratic forces, his poor judgment of character, his limited grasp of history, his opportunistic embrace of bigotry, and his inability to organize his movement into a meaningful force rather than a rabble of unthinking acolytes. Ultimately, Imran Khan’s revolution has been limited by its leader’s inability to transcend the limitations of his own character. At one level, this is just a tragedy, but at another, it is an unforgivable betrayal because, by promising gold and delivering dirt, Imran Khan has set back the cause of true reform and strengthened the very forces he had originally wished to counteract. Many of his supporters are delighted that he has weakened the current government, which they see as corrupt and illegitimate, and indeed he has. But this government represents only one aspect of the rot in Pakistani society – and not even the most salient one. What Imran Khan’s actions have really weakened is the institution of democracy in Pakistan.

    Among the factors that have brought Pakistan to where it is today, corrupt politicians may be the most visible, but are certainly not the most significant. They are the scavengers picking at the corpse, not the original killers. The true source of Pakistan’s problems are the forces that, over the country’s entire history, have not allowed the institutions of governance and socioeconomic organization to establish themselves, and have precluded the emergence of a stable social contract between the state and its citizens. These forces are given many names – “the Establishment”, “the Deep State”, “farishtay” (angels), “secret agencies”, etc. – but the only thing certain about them is that they pervade all aspects of the state. Corrupt politicians are, at best, servants and enablers of these forces – a symptom, not the cause, so to speak. And this is reflected in the fact that, while the political system in Pakistan has been extremely unstable since the country’s inception, the ideological orientation of the country has been remarkably stable, and has moved only in one direction. This is evident in the policies towards India and Afghanistan, the Kashmir issue, the nurturing of extremism as a geopolitical weapon, the untouchability of the military-industrial complex, the use of the educational system as an instrument of ideology, the suppression of civil society and civil rights, the dehumanization of minorities, and – above all – in the periodic disruption of the democratic system.

    Democracy is a fragile thing and does not come naturally to humans. Its success in the West and the East has depended on being given the space and time to establish itself. Good democracy – if it arises at all – requires many generations to take root, and is often preceded by decades of poor, imperfect, corrupt and just plain bad democracy. Those decades of bad democracy are absolutely necessary for the ultimate emergence of good democracy, which explains why the latter has never occurred in Pakistan. Every time the democratic experiment begins and takes its natural imperfect course, a possibly well-meaning “reformer” upends it in the name of bringing order, thus resetting everything to square one, which is where the process starts again after a period of political stasis. There is no time for democracy to establish itself, and for true reformers to emerge from withinthe system, which is the only way the system can ever be reformed. And this brings us back to the tragedy and betrayal in Imran Khan’s revolution. His diagnosis of what ails Pakistan, while partial, was (and remains) correct: The democracy that exists now is terrible. As the leader of the second most powerful party in the Parliament, and the party in power in one of the four provinces, Imran Khan the reformer had a golden opportunity to begin exactly the kind of “reform from within” that Pakistani democracy needs. However, such a process would take time – years and decades of bad but slowly improving democracy, if the reformers could persevere. It is quite likely that, while he would begin it, Imran Khan would not be the one to complete the process. And this is where his character was tested and found wanting. Like many would-be reformers, Imran Khan obviously believes that he, and only he, can accomplish what is needed. It is a delusion common in the leadership business, but is seldom warranted. In this case, realizing that he was already nearing “retirement age”, Imran Khan chose to short-cut the process and to attack the system from the outside. The claim is often made (by his supporters) that he first spent a year – a whole year! – demanding reforms within the system, as if a process that requires decades can be judged on the results of a few months of half-hearted noise-making! I have no insider knowledge of who – if anyone – pushed him towards adopting this course, but it is obvious who benefited from it: The forces that do not wish to see the institutions of democratic government stabilize. Whether he has weakened the PML-N government or not, he has done incalculable damage to these institutions, which represent whatever future Pakistan might have. That is his greatest betrayal … but it isn’t all.

    Imran Khan emerged upon the political scene as a widely admired sportsman, a determined fighter, a dedicated philanthropist and, above all, an honest man. He is still all these things, though the last attribute must perhaps be qualified now to apply only to financial matters. Those who followed him enthusiastically and those, like myself, who wished him well with some caution, all hoped that he would transform the social and political landscape of Pakistan with a thoughtful, well-organized and systematic movement. What has emerged instead is empty sloganeering, shallow thinking and dangerous impatience. One would expect the leader of a true reform movement to surround himself with thinkers, intellectuals, technocrats and organizers – people who know, understand, think and act with judgment. Instead, Imran Khan is surrounded by rank opportunists of little expertise but grandiose ambitions, the refuse of the same system that he seeks to overthrow. One common theme that unites them is their reluctance to criticize their leader and their willingness to rationalize his most absurd actions. And there have been plenty of these. One may recall the exhortation to transfer money from abroad using a “hawala” scheme that violated international law, or the ridiculous (and counterproductive) edict to stop paying tax and utility bills, or forcing all his party’s members to resign from Parliament (much to their chagrin). No prominent leader in the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) – with the exception of the now departed Javed Hashmi – has dared to criticize these ideas as impossible, counter-productive or both, though many of them must surely know this. However, they also know the boundless narcissism of their leader who cannot abide criticism any more now than he could when he was captain of the cricket team. A little autocracy was not bad for Pakistan cricket, but it is poison for national governance!

    The party created by Imran Khan – the PTI – should have been a haven for rational, thoughtful Pakistanis who could change the country through the force of their ideas and their exemplary behavior. That has always been the key to reform: Ideas and character. Instead, he has created a party characterized by paranoia, demagoguery, defensiveness and abusiveness. Every untoward event is quickly attributed by the party faithful to vast international and domestic conspiracies, variously involving the US, India, Israel, internal traitors, former judges and generals, government functionaries, and Fakhroo Bhai’s lack of spine. Whatever befalls the PTI is always someone else’s fault – the Dear Leader never makes a mistake. When – in spite of many irregularities– the 2013 elections were deemed to be generally fair, and the results turned out to be almost exactly what all serious pollsters – as opposed to PTI kool-aid drinkers – had predicted, the response was to serially blame officials and politicians at every level. Every journalist who criticizes PTI policies is immediately deemed a “dollar-khor” “lifafa journalist” traitor on the take from nefarious entities. Anyone who dares to challenge Imran Khan’s “ideas” is labeled a bully, traitor, pervert, and worse. The picturesque language that issues forth from the social media accounts of PTI youth is just an amplified reflection of the attitudes implicit in their leader’s rhetoric – the same lack of decorum, the same inability to accept criticism, the same alacrity in blaming everything on others, and the same lack of prior thought. The river of incoherence, factual errors, empty threats and false predictions that has issued forth from the roof of the PTI container on D-Chowk would long ago have drowned any rational political movement, but froth floats even in a flood.

    Then leaving aside style, let us turn to substance. Through 2012 and 2013, as Pakistan was engulfed in violence perpetrated by jihadi Taliban, Imran Khan and his party kept up a steady drumbeat of apologetics for the extremists, calling them “our alienated brothers” and suggesting they open offices in Pakistani cities. To be sure, the PML-N of Nawaz Sharif was no better on this, though the two differed slightly in their choice of preferred extremist outfits. However, this was a much more problematic position for a party supposedly championing reform. When it came time to form a government in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, PTI forged an alliance with the mother-ship of religious obscurantism and political thuggery in Pakistan, the Jamaat-e-Islami. They were given only two ministeries, but one of them was education - an area fraught with ideological conflict. Predictably, the need to mollify Islamist coalition partners has resulted in devastating changes to the educational curriculum in KP. PTI still does not dare to criticize Islamist militants as terrorists. Even as I write this, PTI mouthpieces are out on social media and TV news shows trying to deflect the blame for yesterday’s deadly blast at Wahgah away from the Taliban (who have already claimed responsibility) and towards India. One has to ask: Whom is this benefiting? And once we have an answer to this question, many things will become magically clearer.

     I am often asked why I am so adamantly opposed to Imran Khan’s leadership if I think he is not corrupt and means well (I do). Why not give him a chance as opposed to the corrupt lot currently in power? My answer is that, given the stakes, I prefer corrupt, incompetent opportunists to committed, single-minded ideologues. The former are not harmless, but are incapable of being truly dangerous, because the success of their “business” depends on the system’s survival. The latter scare me because they are the type who would gladly burn a village to save it. I fear that Imran Khan today is unleashing forces within Pakistani politics that even he will not be able to control in the future, and sadly, they are mainly destructive ones.

    In the hard-fought and bitter American presidential election of 1960, more than 68 million votes were cast nationwide, and John F. Kennedy won by only 112,827 votes – 0.165% of all the votes cast – and winning only 23 states to Nixon’s 26. It was well-known that Mayor Richard Daley’s “machine” in Chicago had conjured up thousands of questionable votes, including votes from dead people. The state of Texas was delivered by JFK’s running mate, Lyndon Johnson, by means still shrouded in mystery. Yet, that most greedy of politicians, Richard Nixon, accepted defeat with grace and left the field to his opponent, living to fight another day. Then in the election of 2000, the Democratic nominee, Al Gore, actually won half a million more votes than his opponent, George W. Bush, and clearly should have won the state of Florida – and thus the Presidency – had all votes been counted properly. However, the US Supreme Court, with a majority of Republican judges – including three appointed by Candidate Bush’s father or President Reagan (when Bush Sr. was Vice-President) – arbitrarily stopped the recount and delivered the Presidency to George W. Bush. Many urged Gore to challenge this, but he stepped aside gracefully to show respect for the system. This is how mature leaders behave. In both cases, the losers’ supporters (myself included, in the case of Al Gore) gnashed their teeth and stamped their feet in frustration, but no one talked of overthrowing the government. Contrast this with the behavior of the Republican ideologues after 1994, who ended up impeaching Bill Clinton, or the even more reckless ideologues of today’s Tea Party, who have repeatedly brought the US government to the brink of disaster because of their personal hatred for President Obama. In this, and in too many other things, the party created by Imran Khan resembles the Tea Party of today and the ideologues of 1994: The same unwillingness to listen to contrary facts, the same paranoid conspiracy theories, the same indiscriminately abusive language towards critics, and – most sadly – the same preference for ideology over Reason. The PTI has become the party of “you’re with us or against us”, the party that trusts its gut feelings more than objective facts, and the party that seeks to “reform” the system by demolishing it. For all his claims of being an honest reformer, Imran Khan has turned out to be yet another well-meaning authoritarian wannabe – albeit in civilian clothes for a change.

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    by Omar Ali

    First published at

    At about 6 pm on Sunday evening, a young suicide bomber (said to be 18 years old) blew himself up in a crowd returning from the testosterone-heavy flag lowering ceremony held every evening at the India-Pakistan border at Wagah, near Lahore.

    Presumably this young man (a true believer, since a fake believer would find it hard to explode in such circumstances) had wanted to target the ceremony itself (usually watched by up to 5000 people every day, most of them visitors from out of town) but the military had received prior intelligence that something like this may happen and there were 6 checkpoints and he was unable to get to the ceremony, so he waited around the shops about 500 yards away from the parade site and exploded when he felt he had enough bodies around him to make it worth his while.
    About 60 innocent people died. Many of them women and children. Including 8 women from the same poor family from a village in central Punjab who were visiting relatives in Lahore and decided to go to the parade (whether as entertainment, or as patriotic theater, or both). The bombing was instantly claimed by more than one Jihadist organization but it is possible that Ehsanullah Ehsan’s claim will turn out to be true. He said it was a reaction against the military’s recent anti-terrorist operation (operation Zarb e Azb: “blow of the sword of the prophet”), that his group wants "an Islamic system of government" and that they would attack infidel regimes on both sides of the Indian-Pakistani border.

    The Indian authorities decided to suspend their side of the parade for the next three days. But on Monday evening, the Pakistani side decided to hold their parade as usual and a crowd was on hand. Cynics have pointed out that most of the “crowd” looked like soldiers in civilian clothes, but that is not fair. The “show of resilience” meme is a very ancient and well-developed meme and has solid credentials and should not be easily dismissed. I personally wish both India and Pakistan end this ridiculous ceremony someday (soon), but on this particular occasion a show of resilience was the smart move. But then, the respected corps commander of the Pakistani army corps in Lahore, General Naveed Zaman (an outstanding officer, himself on the Taliban’s hit list for his role in various anti-terrorist operations) made a statement and beat his chest a bit about how we are a brave nation, we are back the next day and “look, on the Indian side it’s like a snake has sniffed them”, the implication being, they are cowards, they didn’t show up, but look at us, we are back and we are strong.
    Naveed zaman on wagah blast
    This is par for the course for the Pakistani army (whose propaganda software was designed and built for only one enemy, and whose soldiers are motivated to attack Jihadi terrorists by being told that the Jihadists are all Indian agents, I am not kidding) but is still telling: the day after one of the biggest massacres of civilians by a Jihadist terrorist bomber (there being no other kinds in our area these days, though the Tamil Tigers showed that a Tamil Hindu version is indeed possible, and in fact preceded the adoption of this particular weapon by Islamist terrorists) the senior army officer in the region could only taunt the Indians across Eastern border.
    Meanwhile, in Nigeria, the Boko Haram terrorists announced that most of the 276 girls they kidnapped have been “converted to Islam” and married off. So the matter is settled.

    And in Iraq, the “Islamic State” has been buying and selling captured Yezidi girls as slaves in the best medieval Arab tradition. In the video below, the young men of IS can be seen joking about the topic (the translation is by Jenan Moussa, an Arab journalist, not by MEMRI, so discerning viewers can view it without violating any of the standard guidelines):

    Boko Haram has also gone ahead and blown up some Shias in Nigeria as they commemorated Moharram, while their fans have apparently shot a Shia in the face in, of all places, Sydney.
    My point is this: the Salafist-Jihadist meme, so carefully nurtured and brought together in the Afghan-Pakistan border region by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the US in the 1980s, is now global and will soon come to your neighborhood if your neighborhood happens to be in the core Islamicate territories of the Middle East, India, Southeast Asia, Londonistan or Mississauga. Many different narratives about this phenomenon are in the market, ranging from Neocon propaganda and Fox News to Islamist apologetics and Marxist “class-based analysis”. For Western and Westernized liberals of a particular disposition, there are also “commentators” like Pankaj Mishra, who can be relied upon to press all the politically correct buttons without committing to anything resembling a coherent description, prediction or prescription. I would like to add some random thoughts to this mélange:

     1. We are all human beings. And in the great Eurasian landmass, we have been mixing, biologically and culturally, for thousands of years. It is not possible that a relatively recent religious movement (Islam) has somehow significantly altered the biology of the people involved. This is a trivial observation, but some people on both sides of the liberal-conservative divide seem to have some misapprehensions about this, so it is worth reiterating. Going beyond that, I would add that even as a cultural phenomenon, Islam is not from some other planet. It evolved within pre-existing cultures, borrowing and altering already existing cultural memes. Much of “Islamic history” is the history of an initial (very successful and very extensive) Arab conquest, followed by some further conquests (primarily in Central Asia and India) by Islamicized Turkic invaders. Only in Indonesia and Malaysia did the initial wave arrive as traders and the subsequent conquests and conversions were almost entirely the work of local converts. This makes early South East Asian Islam a bit of an outlier, but that is another story. Only by disregarding most of history can we regard these conquests (and their associated missionary activities) as somehow completely unique. There are some peculiar features of Islamicate civilization, but not as many as its fans or its detractors would like to claim.
    2. That being said, Islamicate civilization developed a remarkable degree of consensus on it’s core doctrines in the Islamic heartland. Even Shias and Sunnis converged on similarities in daily life and communal attitudes towards non-Muslims, towards women, towards apostasy, towards blasphemy, towards the notion of holy war. While agreeing with Razib Khan’s views about the relative unimportance of theology in general, I think modern life and the recent experience of colonization, decolonization and its associated psychopathologies have led to an unusual situation in the Islamicate world: while the pressures that cause religious revivalist movements or “fundamentalist” movements may be similar in non-Muslim communities (hence Sikh, Hindu and Buddhist identity-based semi-fascist  fundamentalist movements), the material that is available to these movements and the historical background of the religions involved, makes it difficult to associate a detailed “shariah” with any of those movements. Sikhs can ban tobacco and kill blasphemers and traitors, Buddhist mobs can kill Muslims without compunction in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, Hindu nationalists ban beef and carry out pogroms, but the notion of a Sikh state or a Hindu state or a Buddhist state is mostly the notion of a state where their co-religionists hold sway (or even hold exclusive title), but lacks consensus on any well developed legal code or even theology.  This is not the case with Islam.
    3. There is such a legal and theological framework in Islam and it has wide support in principle. In principle is, of course, not the same as in practice. Most Muslims know as much about Muslim theology as Christians know about Christian theology, which means they know very little. But because of widespread beliefs about blasphemy and apostasy, this “in principle” support translates into an inability to frontally challenge those who come armed with more detailed Islamic knowledge. For example, most Pakistanis may have no idea that classical Islamic law permits slave girls to be captured, used for sex (without marriage) and bought and sold as desired. If and when IS comes to Pakistan and wants to talk about buying and selling slave girls, most people will probably be shocked. It is possible that most people will initially even find some way to say this is wrong. But it is also my guess that when face to face with an IS ideologue, most people will be unable to argue for too long. Because he will have classical Islamic texts on his side and his opponent will have nothing beyond his human intuition of fairness and good behavior. Intuition will not stand against argument. And there will probably be no argument for too long because to argue too much would cross over into the zone of blasphemy.  And most people (except maybe for the tiny sliver educated in Western or Western-style universities and out of touch with their own traditions almost completely) believe that blasphemers should be punished, and at least for the most extreme kinds of blasphemy, the punishment should be death. This, by the way, is just a simple empirical fact, easily checked if you step out among the people in that region.
    4. Whenever the existing state order (in almost all cases, the product of recent Russian or West European colonization, so somewhat suspect in any case) falls apart, the next common denominator tends to be Islamist. And among those Islamists, the ways of the golden age are not some distant myth. Those books are still around, still honored, still relevant, still protected against criticism by blasphemy and apostasy memes. And those books include rules for holy war, for slave holding,for female legal inequality etc. that are no longer fashionable in the modern world. That is just how things happen to be.
    5. The ruling elites in most Islamicate countries are not Islamist in practice and may not be so in principle either. But having taken the path of least resistance (or having received their Islam from Karen Armstrong or post-Marxist theorists) they have acquiesced in the glorification of medieval Islamicate norms, not as past history but as guides to present behavior. They will now be (literally in many cases) hoist on their own petard.
    6. Elements of the ruling elite (especially in South Asia, where penetration of Western postcolonialist/postmodern/post-Marxist garbage has been most extensive within the elite) are vigorously opposed to many of these medieval norms, but have disappeared into an alternate universe where only White people have agency and therefore only White people are responsible for all events. This has effectively taken them out of the equation for now. They remain mostly harmless, but the opportunity cost of their withdrawal into la la land is not insignificant.
    7. As the Bill Maher-Ben Affleck affair has shown, Western Liberals are generally clueless about Islamic history and the status of (most of) the Islamicate world with regard to issues like freedom of religion, freedom of speech, feminism and suchlike. This is NOT to endorse a particular Whiggish vision of history as the only valid path, with every community situated somewhere along the timeline from barbarian to Western liberal democracy. But it is to emphasize that opting out of this linear timeline is one thing, pretending that everyone is already at point X on the timeline while paying lip-service to multiculturalism is another. If Ben Affleck thinks that Western standards of “liberal democracy” (however defined and whether regarded as an endpoint or not) are not to be applied to everyone on the globe and that these standards are being used to demonize and colonize those who hold to different values and models, then he has a leg to stand on. But he (or others like him) seem to lose this admirable level of “nuance” when they get to specifics. Instead of saying that Pakistani Muslims do not permit free speech when it comes to X, Y and Z and who are we to comment or interfere(especially when we are just using this commentary to justify our invasion of this or that country), they are saying “there is no real difference in free speech norms between X and the US”, which is patently absurd. Other liberals (too numerous to list) will look at history as if European powers have real histories (with colonization, oppression, invasions, decimations etc, also with progress, emancipation, democracy, etc.) and everyone else lived on some other static planet with no history, no past and no future. I don’t have to go into detail, Wikipedia can solve this issue for anyone these days, but it is still surprising how few people will bother to even read Wikipedia before brandishing absurdities in this matter. The opportunity cost for this (loss of some Western liberals) is perhaps insignificant in real life, but since I tend to interact with some of these (very nice) people, I obsessively comment about them. Hence this comment.
    8. More after I get some feedback; many or most of these comments are very likely to be misinterpreted by many people. This is partly because I am not a good enough writer, but partly because all of us use various heuristics to slot every commentator into pre-existing boxes. To see a little of where I am coming from, some of the following articles may be helpful. Thank you.

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    Shama and Shahzad Masih were poor Christians who lived in the small village of Chak 59 in the Tehsil (subdivision) of Kot Radha Kishan near Lahore. It is not a remote area (though some orientalist in the BBC has managed to describe it as such), being a well developed center of the leather industry lcoated only 60 kilometers from the provincial capital of Lahore on a major national highway (and is the home of 2 former prime ministers of Pakistan!). Like many other poor people in their village, they worked as modern-day slaves in the local brick kiln. This, by the way, is not an exaggerated or poetic description of their employment status; bonded labor in brick kilns in India and Pakistan is internationally recognized as a type of modern slavery and involves many of the abuses known to us from books and movies about slaves in the days of yore. 

    The young couple had 4 children: Solomon (8) and Zeeshan (5) had been given to an uncle for adoption, probably due to the parent's poverty. Sonia (4) and Poonam (18mths) lived with them and Shama was pregnant again with her fifth child. Her father-in-law had died recently and a few days later Shama cleaned out his room and disposed of his old papers by burning them. He had been an "amil" (a folk healer) who used various religious texts in his amulets and suchlike, and the burnt papers apparently included some with arabic writing on them. Shama, who was illiterate and so could not read them in any case, burnt the lot and threw the remains on a nearby garbage heap.What happened next is best described in this report from World Watch Monitor (corroborated to me by a friend in the police as the best description of the event):

    "On Sunday, Shama burned them all and threw the ashes on a garbage heap outside their quarters. Shama never meant any disrespect to Islam as she was totally illiterate and had no idea what the amulets contained," she said. "A few people recognized partially burned pages in the ash and raised a cry that Shama had burned the Qur’an."
    Shahzad Masih and his five brothers worked for many years at the brick kiln, owned by Yousuf Gujjar. Parveen said Shahzad and his brothers went to Gujjar to resolve the matter after the situation got tense in the village. "Gujjar on the one hand assured us that nothing would happen, and on the other hand asked his accountant not to let Shahzad and Shama flee the village without paying back their bond money", (taken from them as an ‘advance’ against their employment and wages).
    By Monday night, some Muslim neighbors had informed the police of the alleged desecration and warned of a possible attack on the Christian couple, Parveen said. "That night I had Shahzad and Shama sleep in my home so that if the police arrested them, at least we would know."At about 6 a.m. when Shahzad and Shama went back to their own home in order to prepare for work, an angry mob began pouring into their quarters. Sensing the danger all the Christians fled except Shama’s sister Yasmeen (married to Shahzad’s brother Fiaz Masih).Yasmeen said they were still preparing breakfast when a few more people knocked at their door and enquired about Shama. 
    "They entered the house and one of the men dragged Shama out. Shama had their youngest daughter Poonam in her arms. That man snatched Poonam and threw her on the floor…So brick kiln guard Muhammad Akram rescued Shama and took her to the kiln office (only a few yards away from their house) and locked her in there, to save her from the attackers."
    "By then, the number of mobsters was very small, but we could hear announcements being made from mosque loudspeakers in nearby villages - that a Christian woman had desecrated the Qur’an".Yasmeen said people from five surrounding villages – Chak 60, Rosey, Pailan, Nawan Pindi and Hatnian – were gathered together by the residents of Chak 59 and their brick kiln coworkers."
    Soon thousands of men armed with clubs, hatchets and axes loaded onto tractors and trolleys began pouring in.(The guard) Akram had locked the main kiln office door from the outside, but the angry protestors broke in anyway. But they failed to break the iron door of the office inside, and Shama and Shahzad must have locked it from inside."The angry protestors then climbed on to the roof, and broke it in, "as if it was made of wood, straw and mud" said Yasmeen.She says these men then opened the door from inside and brought the couple into the open, where the highly-charged protestors were ready to attack.
    "They beat them with wooden clubs on their heads, and hatchets, before they were both tied to a tractor and pulled out onto a road which was under construction, covered with crushed stones.""I think they were unconscious, but still breathing, but the mob was still not willing to leave them alone," said Yasmeen. "They took some petrol from a tractor and doused their bodies and threw them in the kiln. Then I lost hope and fled with my children from there."
    Another relative, Parvaiz Shehzad, who also lives in Clarkabad, said that Muslims of neighboring villages "were very much jealous of Christians". The village is named after Robert Clark (1825–1900), the first Anglican missionary to Pakistan. Parvaiz Shehzad said it was the first village in the district that had electricity, a bank, a post office and a high school."Most educated people of surrounding villages had studied in in Clarkabad…Strife between the Christian villagers and Muslim villagers has been a common feature in recent years".As Shehzad and Shama were of Clarkabad, he claims jealousy came into play.
    The dead woman’s sister Yasmeen says that during the entire violent attack, a police van was present, but because they were so few, the police did not take charge. "Some men asked them to fire into the air to quell the protestors, because the mob had no weapons to fire back…Shama and her husband might have survived if the police had taken timely action."
    Heavy contingents of police did arrive at the scene after the crowd had killed the couple. A local media reports that the police have arrested at least 42 people in connection with the case.The police themselves filed the case and lodged the First Information Report (FIR), [no. 475/14], registered in Kot Radha Kishan Police Station. The FIR states that 500 to 600 men tortured the Christian couple. The FIR identifies 60 men by name and says that:"the incident took place after the above-nominated persons gathered a crowd of people and roused their passion though false announcements from the mosque (loudspeakers) of desecration of the Qur’an."...

    Another eyewitness reports that when the young couple, beaten to near death, were put into the fire, a large heavy iron sheet was put on top of them to hold them down; as if the crowd wanted to make sure that they would burn. As if there was ever any doubt. As if there could be a different ending after a mob had arrived to defend the honor of Allah and his prophet. As if this was not 2014 in Kot Radha Kishan ("stronghold of Radha and Krishna"). As if this was not Kalyug... 

    Several pictures of the couple have surfaced. We do not know if it was Shahzad or Shama who chose the backgrounds. (Note: I hv been told (and agree after looking again at the pictures) that it is not the same girl in all the pictures, some are with a cousin or niece of Shahzad, not with his wife Salma; this will no doubt become clearer with time; In any case, there seems to be no doubt about the picture of their last remains)

     Yes, many thousands were killed in equally gruesome ways in 1947, in 1971, in 1984, in 2002; India, as Naipaul said, is a wounded civilization. But just look at these pictures...the contrast between the idyllic scenes depicted in the photographer's backgrounds and the actual life of the poor couple was already harsh when they took went to the photographer in Clarkabad; the contrast between these beautiful, hopeful faces and their terrified, screaming last hour on earth is unbearable and unimaginable. Too painful for words. After such knowledge, what forgiveness?

    Someone took a picture of the remains after the good people of Kot Radha Kishan had finished with the couple.  

    Burnt offering

    What more can one say? 

    The government of chief minister Shahbaz Sharif has acted with some speed and 40 or so people have been arrested for this atrocity. The Prime Minister has expressed shock, condemned the incident, and promised to bring the guilty to book. Multiple organizations within Pakistan have condemned this murder and I have no doubt that millions of Pakistanis are shocked to the core. I also believe that both the chief minister and the prime minister are entirely sincere in their concern. They are not inhuman bastards and they are not dumb. They see this is a terrible atrocity and they know how ugly it looks to the rest of the world. But their best intentions will not prevent the next incident and the fact that the blasphemy law itself has been openly questioned in Pakistan after this incident will not lead to any change in the law. 

    Why not? Because the law runs deep and has real support among the people and, perhaps more to the point, serves real purposes for sections of the ruling elite. (the follow is modified from an earlier article I wrote about the blasphemy law)

    A blasphemy law was part of the 19th century Indian Penal code as section 295 (this fact has allowed many a postmarxist to begin any discussion of blasphemy laws with the phrase "colonial era law", God be praised). 
    Here is section 295 of the Indian Penal Code of 1860:  Injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class.—Whoever destroys, damages or defiles any place of worship, or any object held sacred by any class of persons with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of any class of persons or with the knowledge that any class of persons is likely to consider such destruction, damage or defile­ment as an insult to their religion, shall be punishable with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.

    This seems like an eminently sensible law and cannot really be blamed for all the evils that came later. But in the 1920s there was a famous case in Lahore where a Hindu publisher was arrested by the colonial authorities after Muslims agitated against him for having published a book called Rangila Rasul ("merry prophet"). But the court in Lahore (quite properly) found him innocent because there was no law on the books against just publishing a book, no matter how offensive it may be to some religious group. Fearing future communal discord from such provocations, the British then had the legislative assembly add section 295A to the law in order to criminalize deliberate attempts to "outrage the religious feelings of any community"). This section states: 

    Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise], insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 4[three years], or with fine, or with both. 

    But even with this new and expanded article 295A in place, prosecutions for blasphemy were few and far between until, in the 1980s, General Zia added two new sections to the law in Pakistan and really set the ball rolling.  These infamous sections are labelled 295B and 295C.

    295-B:  Defiling the copy of Holy Qur’an. Whoever wilfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Qur’an or of an extract there from or uses it in any derogatory manner for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment for life.

    295-C: use of derogatory remarks etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet: – who ever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation innuendo, or insinuation, directly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable for fine.

    Note that the law no longer requires that the offense be malicious in intent. Intent is no longer an issue. Insulting the Quran or the prophet, even unintentionally, is now punishable by death. To seal the deal, in 1991 the Federal Shariat Court of Pakistan struck down the option of life imprisonment and made the death penalty obligatory. 

    Between 1984 to 2004, 5,000 cases of blasphemy were registered in Pakistan and 964 people were charged and accused of blasphemy; 479 Muslims, 340 Ahmadis, 119 Christians, 14 Hindus and 10 others. Thirty-two people charged with blasphemy were killed extra-judicially during that time. More have died since. Eighty-six percent of all the cases were reported in Punjab.

    In the wake of this latest horrendous outrage, many liberal people are hoping that this blasphemy law can be changed to finally stop or slow down this torrent of prosecutions and killings. Others have noted that the law is not the problem, free lance enforcement of a broader blasphemy meme in the Muslim community is the problem and will likely persist even if the law is repealed. In my view the law is not the only problem, but it IS a very potent symbol of the surrender of state and society in front of the blasphemy meme. Repeal of the law will not kill that meme, but repeal of the law will be an equally powerful signal that things have changed and that state and society no longer approve of the killing of blasphemers. It will not end the problem, but it will be the beginning of the end. Repeal of the law is not a sufficient condition for this nightmare to end, but it is a very important necessary condition. 

    Unfortunately, I don't think such repeal or amendment is actually likely in the foreseeable future. My predictions: 

    1. The law will not be repealed. Some minor amendments may be made someday (and even these will excite significant Islamist resistance and are not likely) but their effectiveness will be limited. Blasphemy accusations will continue, as will the spineless convictions issuing from the courts. In fact, new blasphemy accusations will almost certainly be made with the express intention of testing any new amendment or procedural change (thus, ironically, any amendment is likely to lead to at least one more innocent Christian or Ahmedi victim as Islamists hunt around for a test case). 

    2. Aasia bibi, the law's most prominent current victim, will not get a reprieve from anyone but she will not be hanged. Instead, she will be held in prison till she dies or is killed by a vigilante in prison.  Her immediate family will have to leave the country at some point. The local Christian community will have to clearly show their humble submission in order to be allowed to get on with their lives. 

     3. Blasphemy will continue to be a potent weapon in the hands of the deep state, the Islamists and sundry local gangsters and land grabbers. 

    These predictions may appear pessimistic and discouraging, but I would submit that they are not meant to be discouraging; they are meant to be realistic. The law will not be repealed because the law is not just an invention imposed by General Zia on an unwilling populace. Rather, this law is the updated expression of a pre-existing social and religious order. Blasphemy and apostasy laws were meant to protect the orthodox Islamic theological consensus of the 12th century AD and they have done so with remarkable effectiveness. Unlike their Christian counterparts (and prosecutions for heresy and blasphemy were seen throughout the middle ages in Europe) these laws retain their societal sanction and have been enforced by free lancers and volunteers where the state has hesitated. The most famous, and in many ways, the most telling example of the wide societal sanction for killing blasphemers is the case of the carpenters apprentice Ghazi Ilm Deen Shaheed, who executed the Hindu publisher of Rangila Rasul after legal prosecution had failed. The demand to kill Rajpal was being made openly in public meetings and two other Muslims had already attempted to kill Rajpal prior to Ilm Deen's successful attempt. In fact Ilm Deen's best friend had wanted to do the act and only stepped aside because they drew lots and Ilm Deen won thrice in a row. 

    And when he did do the deed the Muslim community mobilized to defend him and in the high court his appeal was handled by two lawyers, one of whom was none other than Quaid E Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who was asked to take up the case by that illustrious modernist and "moderate Muslim hope", Allama Mohammed Iqbal. After he was hanged by the British, Allama Iqbal was one of the leaders of a campaign to have his body brought to Lahore for reburial (he had been quietly buried in a remote prison by the British authorities). When this demand was conceded in the face of massive public protests, his funeral drew thousands and was attended with pride by Allama Iqbal, who supposedly said that “this carpenter has left us, educated people, far behind”. In an ironic twist the charpoy (rope bed) on which Ilm Deen was borne to his grave was said to have been donated by another literary luminary, Mr MD Taseer, whose own son would later become governor of Punjab and would be killed for "blasphemy" by a new Ilm Deen. Ilm Deen's grave is now a popular shrine and a movie has been made about his exploit, complete with a dance sequence featuring the blasphemer enjoying himself before he meets his fate.

    When Salman Rushdie’s book was declared blasphemous and rallies demanding his head were held all over the world and books were burned, General Zia was not the agent of those protests.
    Rushdie went underground and has managed to survive, though some of his translators were not so lucky. But Theo Van Gogh was killed in broad daylight in Amsterdam and Ayan Hirsi Ali was driven underground for producing a supposedly blasphemous movie in liberal Holland. Another blasphemy execution was attempted by textile engineering student Aamir Cheema in Germany. And as expected, Aamir Cheema too has achieved sainthood in Pakistan after he took his own life in a German prison, with his funeral attracting thousands and his grave becoming a popular shrine. A minister in Musharraf's enlightened cabinet wrote more than one op-ed commending such acts and fantasizing about the day Salman Rushdie's skin will be torn from his body with sharp hooks. A fantastically surreal movie has even been made about the execution of Rushdie by Muslim Guerillas who penetrate his secret Zionist hideout and attack him with flying Korans. 
    I am not kidding. 

    In 2002 a convicted murderer named Tariq decided to atone for his sins by killing a man accused of blasphemy who happened to be in the same prison in Lahore. Director Syed Noor (known for countless song and dance Lollywood films) produced and directed a movie called aik aur ghazi (one more holy warrior) about this young man and his glorious exploit. It is worth noting that Syed Noor is a "moderate Muslim", but this has not prevented him from glorifying the actions of a vigilante who killed another prisoner because he believed him guilty of blasphemy. 

    When a poor christian boy was accused of blasphemy in Lahore, the entire colony he lived in was burned to the ground. When a poor Christian woman named Aasia bibi acted "uppity" in front of some Muslim ladies (see details in the video below), she was charged with blasphemy and sentenced to death. These episodes highlights another important aspect of the blasphemy meme: it functions to bully and oppress minorities by threatening them with legalized lynching in exactly the same way as the "uppity nigger" meme was used to bully and oppress black people in the pre-civil-rights South in the United States. The fear of being accused of blasphemy, enforced by periodic horrific lynchings, ensures that Christians, Hindus and Ahmedis never forget their place and act uppity in front of good Muslims, since any indiscretion could lead to a blasphemy accusation and once accused, your goose is cooked. 

    Aasia Bibi's death sentence was so flagrantly unjust that Salman Taseer (whose own father had provided a funeral bier for Ilm Deen), the then governor of Punjab, was moved to say she should be let go and the blasphemy law should be amended to prevent such misuse. He was killed by his own guard for saying so. His guard was garlanded and showered with rose petals by Pakistani lawyers when he appeared in court and now has at least one mosque named in his honor.

    HE has not been hanged. In fact, he is a hero to many and has been handing out new death sentences of his own while in prison; he convinced one of his guards to go and shoot a 70 year old mentally unstable British man who has been sentenced to death on blasphemy charges but not yet exectuted (probably not yet executed because he is British). MNA Sherry Rahman introduced a “private member bill” to amend the law and was herself charged with blasphemy for her pains (though being a member of the ruling elite, she has not yet been brought to trial). Rashed Rahman, a well known human rights lawyer was shot dead because he dared to take up the case of a young university lecturer who is being tried for blasphemy on insanely ridiculous grounds in Multan. Javed Ahmed Ghamdi, a liberal cleric who has tried to present religious arguments against this law (a law that clearly goes well beyond anything written even in most of the medieval compilations of shariah law) has had his assistant killed and is now living in exile in Malaysia. "Respected" Pakistani religious scholars have declared him to be an apostate and an agent of the enemies of Islam. The law is no closer to repeal or even modification.

    And just a few weeks ago, the spineless Lahore High Court upheld the death sentence on Aasia Bibi. She may be hanged before the Governor's killer. 

    In fact. the law is now moving on to fresh pastures. There is a sustained push by anti-Shia groups to use the law against Shias just as it is being used against Ahmedis, Christians and other minorities. The law does not specifically mention the issue of blasphemy against the companions of the prophet (the sahaba), but why not? if you insult any of the companions of the prophet, do you not insult the prophet? Never mind that the companions themselves were frequently at each other's throats, but today the issue is the wedge that will open the way to legal persecution of Shias and help push them into the same position now occupied in daily fear by Christians, Hindus and Ahmedis. Several Shias have already been charged under the law and there is more to come. In fact, on the same day when Shahzad and Shama met their gruesome fate in Kot Radha Kishan, a Shia Zakir was killed in custody in Gujrat. He may have been mentally unstable and had been arrested for brawling in the bazar. In custody, he continues to harangue the police about the calumnies suffered by the Banu Hashim (the family of the prophet) at the hands of some of the companions (the sahaba). This so upset one of the police officers present that he got an axe and decapitated the prisoner inside the police station. The police officer concerned has been arrested and desperate attempts are being made to play down the sectarian dimension of this killing, but all will become clear once the policeman is put on trial. The ASWJ (the main umbrella anti-Shia organization) will protest that he was only defending the honor of the prophet. Punishment will not be easy. "Sweep under the rug" is likely to be the compromise. 

    In short, while it is indeed true that misuse of the law has become common after General Zia’s time (an intended consequence, as one aim of such laws is to harass and browbeat all potential opposition), the law has deeper roots and liberals who believe that it is possible to make a distinction between true blasphemy and misuse of the law, may find that this line is not easy to draw. The second, and perhaps more potent reason the law will not be repealed is because the law was consciously meant to promote the Islamist project that the deep state (or a powerful section of the deep state) continues to desire in Pakistan. The blasphemy law is a ready-made weapon against all secular opposition to the military-mullah alliance (though some sections of the military now seem to have abandoned that alliance, hence the qualification “section of the deep state”). Secular parties are suspected of being soft on India and are considered a danger to the Kashmir Jihad and other projects dear to the heart of the deep state. At the same time, Islamist parties provide ideological support and manpower for those beloved causes. In this way, the officers of the deep state, even when they are not personally religious, recognize the need for an alliance with religious parties and against secular political forces (Musharraf was a good example). They may have been forced into an uneasy (temporary?) compromise with secular parties by circumstances beyond their control (aka America) but with American withdrawal coming soon, the deep state does not wish to alienate its mullah constituency too much. They will be needed again once the Yankees are gone. Hence too, no repeal at this time. 

    Of course blasphemy accusations and their use to suppress speech are not limited to Muslim countries; e.g. Sikhs have resorted to violence to protest blasphemy and Hindu mobs have rioted to enforce the sanctity of Shivaji's memory in Mumbai. But Islamist consensus on blasphemy is wider and deeper and has an edge that other fanatics can only envy. In the long run (decades, not centuries) Islamists will be forced to compromise with modernity one way or the other (with one way being less painful than the other). But that time is not yet here...For many years, perhaps decades, we are going to see terrible violence in the Islamicate core and some of it is going to be about blasphemy. That is just where we happen to be..

    Post Script: It is likely that in the coming days some of the details of the murder will be revised (though the beating and burning are not in doubt and will not be wished away). About such revisions, it is important to keep in mind that a number of new stories are going to be circulated by interested parties to muddy the waters, spoil the prosecution, confuse the issue and so on. And the "best supported" new stories may not be the most authentic. As Goldhizer noted about hadith authentication, in many cases the best authenticated are the ones most likely to be untrue (the authentication chains being so good precisely because they were invented to look authentic). 
    Local MPA's will be activated to defend the kiln owners. Local villagers will find ways to play down their own barbarity and play up the "desecration". Clerics will find NGO's behind a new conspiracy to defame Islam.
    It has all happened before....

    PPS: The All Pakistan Private Schools Association (which may or may not represent too many schools) has observed an "anti-malala day" to condemn her membership in the "Rushdie club". Mashallah. 

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  • 11/23/14--22:55: Furious Confusions

  • A PTI supporter I know on-line sent me the piece “An Ode to Fury” by Fahd Husain in the Nov 19 Express Tribune, with the implication that the fury discussed in this article justified the “revolution” being fomented by PTI and PAT. The following is an extended version of my response, which may also address critiques by others on my earlier piece, “The Tragedy of Imran Khan and the Insafian Revolution”.

    The people of Pakistan have every right to be furious. They should be furious at those who have led them for 67 years and have brought them to their current state. But they should be even more furious at themselves for allowing this to happen: for electing incompetent leaders when given the chance, and for welcoming dictators with celebrations when they grew tired of those they had elected; for their worship of personalities and their ignoring of institutions; for buying into a toxic and bigoted ideology in the name of faith and patriotism ; for teaching their children mythology dressed as history; and for swallowing the propaganda of civilian and military governments without ever checking for its veracity. The deaths of children in Thar is indeed an incredible tragedy, but these children didn't just start dying this year; they've been dying for decades - even centuries. It is a sad fact that the society at large in that part of the world has not cared much for the plight of the poor and the powerless. I'm glad that the people of Pakistan are now furious about it, but will they respond by repenting of their own ways, or will they again go looking for fantasy solutions peddled by snake oil salesmen with big words and no ideas? As the poet Iqbal Azeem said eloquently:
     badalnaa hae to rindoN say kaho apnaa chalan badlayN
     faqat saaqi badal dayne se maekhaana na badlay gaa
    (For true change to happen, tell the drinkers to change their own ways; the tavern will not change just by replacing the one serving the wine)
    What I see is that some people, furious at the country's conditions, are looking to yet another savior running on the cult of personality. To the extent that Imran Khan is embodying the justifiable fury of the Pakistani people, he is serving a useful function. But history shows that those who embody such fury seldom, if ever, turn out to be actual saviors, or even good leaders. The extreme examples of this are Hitler and Mussolini, both of whom expressed the real anger of people overreal problems in their countries, but in the end, created even greater problems. I do notimply that Imran Khan is an extremist like these two, but his movement in its current manifestation does pose a real danger. A revolution driven by anger always leads first to incredible horrors, as was seen in France, Russia, China, and, to some extent, in Iran. Only in the long run do such revolutions move to their different outcomes – in most cases, disillusionment. Once people are brought to a frenzy, they cannot be controlled even by the leaders who led them there. The spark of fury that ignites revolution turns easily into fires of vengeance and hate. Is that what Pakistanis want? If so, Imran Khan is their man – though he should remember that the first people such revolutions consume are often their own leaders. And in almost all cases, the end result is not a democratic system, but a strongman dictator.
    However, I am comforted by the fact that, while understandably furious, the people of Pakistan are not in a revolutionary mood. Imran Khan can gather a few tens of thousands - occasionally a few hundred thousand in large cities - for a one-night stand with music and entertainment, but there is no ocean of humans out in the streets of Pakistan day and night, as there was in Iran in 1978 or in Egypt in 2011, even though neither revolution produced a particularly desirable outcome in the short term. Most people still seem to understand that, all said and done, Imran Khan is yet another politician promising the moon. And they are strengthened in their opinion when they see the opportunists surrounding Imran Khan, and his own feckless behavior. Gravitas, though much ridiculed by those who lack it, is indeed an essential component of a true leader's make-up. It is what gives them the dignity to command respect and expect loyalty. Washington and Lincoln had it, Ataturk had it, Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah had it. Imran Khan, bless his heart, just doesn't. It is worth noting that all the gentlemen I mentioned achieved far greater ends without once resorting to the kind of personal insults and empty threats that issue forth every night from the roof of the PTI container. Can anyone imagine Mohammad Ali Jinnah or Mahatama Gandhi speaking in the idiom that Imran Khan, Shah Mahmud Qureshi and Shaikh Rashid use? They were erudite, dignified and hyper-intelligent individuals with the self-control and depth necessary in true leaders. They spoke firmly and eloquently, but with civility; their ideas moved not only their followers but also their foes by the force of their logic and conviction, not by the use of locker-room trash-talk. Today, one can disagree with their ideas, but no one can deny their stature – and this was apparent even before they had succeeded in their causes.
    I think that the passionate defenders of Imran Khan conflate two distinct things. The first is a justifiable feeling of frustration with the current order and the desire to change it. The second is the belief that, because they are giving voice to popular frustration,  Imran Khan and PTI are going to fix the problem. Unfortunately, the latter does not follow automatically from the former. Just because your pain is real and someone gives voice to it does not imply that they can heal it, or even have the first idea of how to do so. Everything I have seen suggests to me that Imran Khan does not have the knowledge, character, judgment or temperament to do what it will take.
    In the article, Fahd Husain says, “A state and a government that has lost the ability to care, has lost the mandate to rule.” Perhaps so, but by these standards has any government in Pakistan ever had a mandate to rule? And who can say that those who rule post-revolution will truly care? If history is any guide, the revolution will probably lead to an even less caring government by an even less accountable group. I could be wrong, of course ... and indeed, would be happy to be wrong. But at this point, I can only modify Iqbal's words to say:
      na Qadri meN ne Imran mayN numood is kee
      ye rooh apne badan kee talaash mayN hae abhee

    (neither Qadri nor Imran provide what is needed; the spirit [of change] is still in search of a body it can inhabit)

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    This was a rolling rant I wrote while reading Pankaj Bhayia's book in 2012. Edited version follows

    After being told that everyone from Orhan Pamuk to Pakistani Ambassador (and liberal feminist Jinnahist icon) Sherry Rahman is in love with Pankaj Mishra’s new book I have finally started reading it.
    I have only read 50 pages so far.So I have NOT yet reached the meat of the book. But the intro is starting to set a certain tone. And its not a very encouraging one.
    I am not impressed. At all. So Far. 

    Seeing how little time I am getting and likely to get in the next few days, I know I am not going to be a doing a review. But a blog permits other possibilities. One of them is a “rolling review” (basically a rant in real time). So here goes. As I go through the book, I will try whenever possible to get online and say a few words. Quotes from Pankaj Bhaiya are in italics.
    On  page 18: the word Islam, describing the range of Muslim beliefs and practices, was not used before the 19th century. 


    This is then negated on the very next page by Mishra himself.
    The only explanation for this little nugget is that Pankaj knows his audience and will miss no opportunity to slide in some politically correct lines. There is a vague sense “out there” in liberal academia that Islam is unfairly maligned as monolithic. Pankaj will let people know that he has no such incorrect belief. It is a noble impulse and it recurs. A lot.

    Pankaj’s summary of colonial history is boilerplate and unimaginative. He really has nothing new to say. But he does seem to think (and, somewhat surprisingly, most of his reviewers seem to think) that he is revealing new information and (to quote Hamid Dabbashi) jolting our historical imagination and placing it on the right though deeply repressed axis. 
    This is very surprising. Are we to believe that a professor at Columbia did not know this very basic outline of colonial history and had "deeply repressed it"? Anyone with any genuine interest in history would know all this in much greater detail already. 

    Muslim power.. had been the biggest losers as the British East India Company became the major power the subcontinent. 

    This is standard and rather unoriginal and not really accurate. The Sikhs and Marhattas lost more to the British than the remaining Muslim-ruled states in India.  
    And anyway, isnt this very un-poco pomo when you think about it? To label it as “Muslim power”?  I thought the pomo thing was to point out that this business of dividing Indian history into Hindu, Muslim and British periods was a British colonial reading of Indian history? Did Pankaj not get the memo?

    In actual fact Turko-Afghan power in North India was breaking up and weakening throughout the 18th century and large chunks of the country were in the hands of Hindu (Marhatta) and Sikh rulers, most of whom had Muslims in their service..and vice versa in the various principalities headed by Muslims. The British in some areas got rid of Turko-Afghan rulers, in a few (Mysore comes to mind) they defeated Muslim rulers who were of Indian-convert origin rather than Turko-Afghan origin; and in several  others they got rid of Hindu and Sikh rulers. And they were by no means as uniformly anti-Muslim as Pankaj implies. In fact, after 1857, a disproportionately large chunk of their army was Muslim. And Muslim feudals as well as a large coterie of officially approved ulama and mashaikh (clerics and saints) were dependable and loyal servants of the empire. Pankaj missed several memos.

    He is also not above sliding in some facts that are less than accurate to make his story more convincing. Having got on the case of Muslim defeat at the hands of the British, he says “…finally subduing the great Muslim-majority lands of the Panjab in 1848″.  

    It cannot be that PM is unaware of the fact that the “Muslim majority lands of Panjab” were under Sikh rule since 1800 or so and it was a Sikh kingdom and not a Muslim kingdom that the British conquered in 1848. Why not say Sikh kingdom instead of “Muslim-majority lands of Panjab”? Minor point, but its a pattern. The overall propaganda requirements generally take precedence over mere facts with Pankaj bhai.

    Over-running parts of North-West India, the jihadists were finally suppressed in 1831 at the battle of Balakot in 1831, which was to assume a tragic aura in South Asian Islamic lore comparable to the martyrdom of Hussain at karbala in 680 AD. 

    The context in which this is mentioned implies (without explicitly saying so) that this was all part of the Muslim resistance to British rule. Which is partly true but mostly untrue. Even Pankaj probably knows NO large areas of British India were liberated by jihadists. The areas “liberated” by Syed Ahmed were in what is now Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan and he did not liberate them from the British, he liberated them from the Sikh ruler of Panjab. And finally it was a Sikh army (an army that included a predominantly Muslim artillery corps) that destroyed the jihadists at Balakot, after they had already alienated many Muslims in Peshawar with their harsh rule. NO karbala like mythology attaches to these people though there has been some attempt to resurrect their memory in Pakistan after 1947. Its a very small detail, but its telling. Facts will not stand in Pankaj bhayia’s way. Be on guard.

    P-40, para 2. Read it and marvel. Europeans thought Asian were in decline and stagnation while Asians were actually economically and culturally dynamic. And of course, PM puts “decline” and “stagnation” in scare quotes. Then he tells us how Asians really were well behind the Europeans in science, technology and organization and the Europeans, because of superior skills many crucial areas, mustered more power than the wealthiest empires in Asia. .a long list of examples of Europe’s extraordinary “pulling ahead” then follows.
    You have to read the section to get the flavor of Pankaj’s problem here. He feels its not good to say decline and stagnation. But the whole book is about relative decline and stagnation and attempts to set that right.
    What gives?

    Even the unalloyed boon of modern medicine in the rising West turned into something darkly ambiguous in Asia when it helped increase populations in the absence of corresponding economic growth, compounding the problem of poverty. 

    Read the above passage a few times. Think about it. Feel the love...

    Al-Afghani is barely known in the West today, even though his influence exceeds that of Herzen and, at least in its longevity, almost matches Marx. 

    “at least in longevity”? What does that even mean? I can tell you what it means. It means Pankaj is telling his fans that there are great Asian thinkers that they should know about but that they have missed because of their Eurocentric education. And Pankaj will set them right. He knows how popular this kind of thing is among his European and Europeanised Desi audience. He gets them, even if he does not get Afghani. 
     SEPTEMBER 24th


    For the Jamaluddin Afghani section, I suggest perusing these links to get an idea of how he is generally remembered in the region (and in particular in Islamist circles)> then compare with PM’s version.

    p-53 he traveled to India in late 1850s to continue his education, and spent a considerable part of the next decade there, in among other places, Bombay, (which had a large community of Persians) and Calcutta. it was during this time of fierce Indian assaults on the British and the latter’s brutal backlash that his intellectual heritage of revolt from the babis began to turn from a local into a global ideology of resistance.

    By now you know the drill; the “large community of Persians” in Bombay was Parsis (Zorastrians), themselves refugees from Islamist persecution, not people Afghani would especially associate with, and not people inclined to revolt against the British (or anyone else at that point in time). 
    The "heritage of revolt from the Babis” is just plain bullshit. There is absolutely no evidence implicating the babis in anything Afghani did or thought and the babis in any case are not exactly the revolutionary anti-colonial movement of revolt PM is hinting at. See here for details and compare this information with PM’s casual insertion of babis into his narrative (here and earlier).  PM, in short, is relying on the ignorance of his Western readers (and Westoxicated Asian readers) to follow him along this path of anti-colonial struggle without too much concern for nuance or historical accuracy. (the Babis are the founders of the Bahais. The furthest thing from an anti-imperialist revolutionary movement (and currently maligned in the Islamic world as imperialist agents, not anti-imperialist revolutionaries).

    OK, I read the next few pages and there is so much crap that I cannot bore you with it. Poets are quoted out of context. Events are selected to fit the story. Its not frankly untrue, its “not even wrong”. And throughout, the dominant feeling is of a writer who knows his audience and is carefully crafting his words to fit their preconceptions. This is not original history or analysis, but it does fit in perfectly with what his readers seem to expect.

    Take these fairly typical sentences:

    Afghani still lived in the old city where Muslims in turbans and flowing robes still study the Koran and the hadith. But elsewhere turks wore the Fez ….and an imperial degree issued in 1856 (“a day of weeping and mourning for the people of Islam” according to some Turkish Muslims) had permitted church bells to be rung in the city for the first time since the conquest of Constantinople in 1453. Indeed, churches palaces hospitals, factories schools and public gardens were advancing relentlessly to the shores of the Golden Horn and the sea of Marmara, squeezing out traditional Muslim neighborhoods.

    The passages practically drip with tears at the way “traditional life”, so beloved of truly modern people like PM, was being “squeezed out” by new fangled crap like allowing church bells to ring and building schools and factories. All the confusions of modern “large-carbon-footprint” intellectuals are visible in this and other passages. Modernization was terrible. Modernization was needed. Modernization was the aim. Modernization was a tragedy. Its all the fault of perfidious Albion (he uses the term, btw)…

    Pankaj is providing red meat to his liberal, anti-colonial, postmodern, vaguely leftist readers. Up to a point, one can do this sort of thing AND provide interesting information and original insights, but beyond a point it is just propaganda with no value beyond rallying the troops. In PM’s case, it quickly degenerates into propaganda.

    Oh Lord. The Ottoman section is so confused that I am surprised anyone gets past this drivel. The Ottoman empire is sick; its not sick at all; it has fallen behind; its not really behind; it needs reform; reform is killing it; The claims are contradictory and confused. That anyone read this and kept going and then wrote those laudatory reviews can only mean that “anyone” was just dying to have his or her prejudices massaged and paid no great attention to “mere details”.

    OK, two things.
    1. Some people love Mishra because they think colonialism and imperialism are bad and he is anti-colonial and anti-imperialist, so he must be good. Let me put on my revolutionary Marxist hat and say thats just bullshit. I think he is harmful EVEN to people who, for whatever reason, have made it their mission in life to destroy Western imperialism or the upper classes or any other target you think he is targeting standing on your side of “the struggle”. ….Lets take an extreme example, just to make the point…Everybody knows that Zaid Hamid (Paknationalist propagandist)  hates india and wants it defeated. But any sensible person should also know that Zaid Hamid is harmful to to any actual attempt to “defeat India” (forget about whether its even a good idea to “defeat India’, lets assume we want to do it). Here’s the thought experiment…what would happen if your strategy for defeating India is based on Zaid Hamid’s work? You would sink without a trace (or explode in your toilet) because your guide is an idiot and is frequently misinformed or working on false premises. Now Pankaj bhayia is certainly not in the Zaid Hamid class. But he and his ilk are objectively harmful to anyone who is trying to make an Asian country independent or powerful. If the workers of the world unite and follow him, 0.01% of them will end up making good money in western universities but the other 99.99% will find that the world has passed them by and their deep and moving arguments were “not even wrong”.

    2. I am not saying colonialism was good (or bad, for that matter). I am just saying things were rather different in too many details and HIS framework is a 21st century liberal Westoxicated framework mixed with 10th grade Indian history textbooks, and its not worth the effort to try and fix it and use it for some useful argument. 
    Which makes one wonder; whats with liberals? why are they so taken with this book? A friend on my FB page said its because “he tells us things we didnt know”. Well, some of them are wrong or out of context or just ever so slightly displaced from reality, but the parts that are true..why are they news? People didnt know colonialism involved taking over countries and trying (with varying success) to exploit them? or they didnt know that colonized countries had multiple strands of resistance to colonialism? Or that some countries managed to get pretty far in matching the Europeans in their own game? Whats the “new” revelation here? The few facts are pretty well known. the commentary is cliched and confused, the three exemplars chosen for the book were not very influential, and the tying together seems to be mostly imaginary. 
    More thoughts on why this particular sophomoric book is being praised by so many people?

    1. Because with 100 safe years between him and actual events, Pankaj can now play heroic anti-colonial crusader and his elite fans can play anti-colonial fanboys with absolutely NOTHING at stake. Win-win for everyone. Britain’s empire is long gone. So is the (frequently subtle, occasionally harsh) pressure special branch could apply on those misbehaving in the empire. Of course it was not alwaysgentle, but ice-pick in Trotsky’s brain was not the usual special branch style…most of the time a couple of agent provocateurs, a few informants and the extreme likelihood that Maulana Shaukat Ali and Maulana Mohammed Ali will embezzle Hijaz funds was enough…that last vignette btw is mentioned in special branch dispatches…its somewhere in Francis Robinson’s book on Muslim separatism in North India. A junior functionary reassures his boss not to worry about the anjuman e khuddam e kaaba (society of servants of the holy Kaaba) because the Mohammeddans will inevitably have trouble with financial proprieties and that will take them down... Special branch knew what it was up against.

    btw, Pankaj hasnnt yet mentioned the speculation (as poorly sourced as almost everything else about Afghani’s life) that Afghani himself was an agent of British intelligence.

    2. Because it is clear that most reviewers have no detailed knowledge about those times. Tagore specialists may disagree with his Tagore section but find nothing objectionable about his Afghani stories and vice versa. And all of them know batshit about the Chinese guy.

    some things Panjak forgot to mention in the Islam section:

    1. Akbar Ilahabadi, the poet most often quoted in this section, was a traditionalist shocked by the appearance of women outside of purdah but not so shocked at being in British service (he spent his whole life in government service, retiring as a session judge and being given some minor honor as a reward for his services). His position of honor in PMs book remains dependent on carefully excluding aspects of his life that dont fit the anti-colonial guerrilla war Pankaj is waging a hundred years after the fact.

    2. The Mahdi in Sudan. PM’s version “in the Sudan in the 1870s, a charismatic leader calling himself the Mahdi emerged at the head of a millenarian movement to beat back not only the Egyptian Khedive but also his British allies. Scoring one brilliant victory after another, he promised to Islamize the entire world”. 

    Wikipedia, as usual, does a better job of describing the fanatical eruption and its disastrous results.

    Afghani becomes an eager follower of the Mahdi. “he had clearly and vehemently turned against the kind of accommodation to Western power and tutelage that many Muslim elites had previously advocated. “

    PM clearly approves. Even the craziest and most insane scheme against the British empire (or its puppets; a long list in which Akbar Ilahabadi would surely be included by Pankaj if he was not already being used as poster boy of anti-colonial heroism..Akbar being far more “accommodationist” than most of the Sudanese who tried to resist the rising millenarian tide) gets his fullest approval.

    To sum up. Afghani opposed Sir Syed, declared himself, falsely, an acquaintance of the Mahdi, offered his services to Turkey, to Russia, to the British, to Iran, floated harebrained schemes that few people actually joined, opportunisticallysupported self-destructive fanatical Islamists, opportunistically invoked the Vedas in front of a Hindu audience, got carried away with blasphemous rationalism when debating Renan (and then hid it from his Muslim audience), and ended his life as an ineffectual guest of the Turkish Sultan. And has had NO impact on Islamic theology. And Pankaj has fallen in love with him. 

    Thats the key to this book. Pankaj is living out an anti-colonial (mainly anti-British, he seems untroubled by the Russian empire in Asia, which is also very telling) fantasy and is following Afghani around from one half-baked idea to the next. Meanwhile, the actual 19th century world carried on, little affected by Afghani or the time-travelling Pankaj. Until we land again in the 21st century where this book is selling well and the British empire has moved on, never seriously threatened by either Afghani or his acolyte. Afghani's tomb in Kabul meanwhile is being repaired with American “war on terror” funds. 

    Oh the humanity.

    Read Pankaj bhaiya’s attempt to link his story/fantasy to current events on p-110 and enjoy. “It is impossible to imagine, for instance, that the recent protests and revolutions in the Arab world would have been possible without the intellectual and political foundations laid by Al-Afghani’s assimilation of Western ideas and his rethinking of Muslim tradition”. (what assimilation? what rethinking? I would like to hear about one Arab revolution of recent times that opted to give any credit to Afghani?  but to say so is enough for both Pankaj and his fans)

    Dear Indians, I have good news for you. Pankaj has his hopes set on Islam as the virile tradition that is now “challenging empire” (in his 19th century dream avatar AND as he sits in London today). 

    but do keep in mind, there is a Tagore section coming up after a detour through China (its Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist revolution and Hyper-capitalist industrialization surely forgiven as it prepares to do battle against “empire”..I can already feel PMs breast beginning to swell with Asian pride). So dear Indians, I may have spoken too soon. You may not be safe yet.

    1. The Chinese and Tagore sections are even weaker than the Afghani section. The same confusion remains paramount. Thinkers in China and India are responding to Western dominance. Pankaj describes this domination in one paragraph and then tries to show it was never really that dominant in the next. He shows how weak China or India were in the face of Western invaders and then wants to insist that they were never as weak as portrayed in his favorite straw-man, “the dominant narrative”. He consistently underplays sectarian and religious fanaticism and their violent consequences in Asian countries, but pounces on every example of violence or duplicity in the Europeans. All of this is perfectly calibrated to suit the tastes of his eager (and forgiving) audience. As long as ALL their buttons are pressed, it seems they have no problem with button A being flatly contradictory to button B.
    2. The weakest part of the book is its claim (made in large print on the cover and repeated in every interview and in every favorable review) that these were the intellectual who remade Asia. 

    How so? Jamaluddin Afghani was a serial impostor who tried to sell his services to every empire of the day (British, Russian, Turkish, Persian, Egyptian, etc) and failed in every one of his harebrained schemes. His efforts had no detectable impact on the rise or fall of the British empire. His attempts at creating some sort of modern Islam, neither Shia nor Sunni and able to meet the Western challenge, 
    have NOT become the dominant form of resistance in the Islamic world. The high-water mark of modern Islamism was around the end of colonial empires. Where is that synthesis now? Even if we imagine that such a synthesis is ABOUT TO EMERGE, how can that effort be said to have ALREADY created modern Asia?

    Besides, it is a tremendous stretch to say that Afghani was somehow the prime mover of the Islamic revivalist trend. That trend existed (and still exists) because the Islamicate world retained a self-image of ideal unity and worldly power and reacted from day one to “objective conditions” that did not conform to their self-image. There is a long history of Ottoman attempts at “catching up”, leaping ahead or falling back on fundamentals in order to match the West. Mishra himself makes tangential mention of those attempts but seems to empathize mostly with those who completely rejected Western knowledge and insisted on an “authentic” response, one that would meet Mishra’s own apparent need forjustification by faith. 
    Similarly there were multiple Persian attempts at reform and re-invigoration. Afghani would approve of some of them. All of them would have gone ahead without him. Allama Iqbal attempted an “Islamization by stealthy Europeanization” by retroactively imposing modern philosophical categories on Islamic theological debates (with little substantive success…countless middle class fans in Pakistan think he did something very original and great, but NONE can ever tell you what his philosophy was in any concrete detail..try for yourself…ask any PTI supporter what Allama Iqbal’s vision of modern Islam really was…enjoy the silence), but his admiration of Afghani came AFTER his own work was well underway…i.e. this trend existed independent of Afghani and in any case has now petered out after Saudi money pumped up the more “authentic” return-to-purity version.

    Modern China was built on traditional China and big influences include Sun Yat Sen’s nationalism (explicitly described as an opponent of Liang by Pankaj),  Mao’s revolution (its debt to Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism acknowledged by his followers and his detractors, his debt to Liang, imaginary) and Deng’s counter-revolution (his debt to America to be found in the 100,000 Chinese he sent there to study, his debt to Liang?).Again, If and when modern capitalism and nationalism fails in China and if and when some sort of Liang-ism (whatever that is, Pankaj has not yet enlightened us about the new faith that will replace “the dominant narrative”)  replaces it, maybe we will be forced to say something else. But for now, how is modern China in any way the creation of Liang Qichao? Pankaj fails to make that case and yet labels him one of his “intellectuals who remade Asia”. How so?

    Modern India is the product of British empire building, an earlier Mughal empire, a somewhat mythologised Gupta Charter state, the efforts of people like Gandhi and Nehru, and modern political parties and modern political movements (albeit with skilful use of Indian cultural symbols by Gandhi in particular). How exactly can the last 100 years of Indian history be described as the fruit of Tagore’s intellectual labors? if Tagore had not even existed, would India look different? I am sure Tagore was a good man (and in his gentlemanly way, not even critical of Stalinism, not to speak of gentler Western models) but how did he “remake Asia”?

    Pankaj himself describes the failure of Liang and Tagore to do much (and their disappointment at the end of their lives). Maybe in his own mind, he sees their achievement as the fact that they were not impressed with Western notions of progress and warned that these may include hidden disasters. These hidden dangers have become more manifest today so in retrospect they may seems somewhat prophetic, but they did not CAUSE the current rethinking. Their influence in their own time was not great, their detailed programs were either missing or included as many errors as prescient predictions (Tagore and Stalinism, for example). 

    The response offered by all three thinkers to the supposed “dominant narrative” is different and it needs a lot of selective reading to make them part of the same trend in anything more substantial than “skeptical of Western civilization”, but PM’s audience knows even less than he does, so he gets away with it.

    PM also feels that the demise of “Western” notions like the secular nation state is now imminent, so those intellectuals are about to be vindicated. Well, even a stuck clock is right once a day. Real vindication would involve being right in more detail than just some vague notion that “materialistic Western civilization” was doomed. It would also involve being at least partially right about what happens if “it” fails. In any case, with nation states and capitalism still very much alive (and no more unwell than they were in 1930 or 1960)  how can these brave intellectuals be said to have “created modern Asia”?? What is un-modern about modern Asia?

    To get some idea of his thought process, take a look at these excerpts from a recent interview with fellow prophet Hamid Dabashi:

    Comrade Hamid: “Postcolonialism is a mode of knowledge production. Colonialism happened, then postcolonial nation states emerged, and they become conducive to the production of ideologies – nationalism, third world socialism, Islamism, etc. These ideologies have exhausted themselves and postcolonialism has ceased to produce knowledge. This is what I call the end of postcolonialism and the result is postcolonial leaders running for their lives across North Africa and the Arab world.”

    The world is rather large. Which parts exactly have moved beyond the ideologies of socialism, nationalism etc? (capitalism is not mentioned; perhaps sensibly enough).

    China is no longer nationalist? India has dissolved the nation state? Japan is now a multicultural post-national melange of new social experiments? Sherry Rahman is no longer ambassador of the nation-state of Pakistan to the nation-state of the USA? WTF does this even mean? A few (VERY few) dictators in the Arab world, long since past their sell-by date, have been deposed (3 at last count, out of 30 or so Arab countries, ZERO in the rest of the world). They have been replaced by new regimes trying to stabilize their nation-states in ways completely predictable in the modern paradigm. What does this question even mean?

    Here is PM’s humble response:“I would date my political awakening in many ways to that particular visit (to Kashmir), where I was confronted with the debris of the postcolonial ideology. I saw how a postcolonial ideology of secular nationalism had turned malign and had become extremely oppressive for the four million Muslims of Kashmir, who had embodied at some point – and they still do – a cosmopolitan idea of culture, a cosmopolitan idea of society. Here they were being asked to conform to a certain form of postcolonial polity which claimed to be secular but that actually concealed a very strong Hindu majoritarian element.”

    I invite Indian friends to have a go at this one. Start with “postcolonial ideology of secular nationalism” (malign) versus the Kashmiri Muslim idea of  ” a cosmopolitan idea of culture, a cosmopolitan idea of society.”

    IF Kashmir had thrown off the Indian yoke and become some sort of cosmopolitan alternative to the nation-state then we would have had to sit up and take notice. As it is, it was an armed revolt (one of many that have occurred in every part of the world before and after “modern” times. It now seems to be on the verge of failure but even if it had succeeded, it would have led to a modest enlargement in the size of nationalist Islamist Pakistan at the expense of nationalist-so-called-secular India. Or maybe it would have triggered a collapse of modern India (the one Pankaj doesnt like too much) and been followed by a violent free for all that would probably entail Pankaj spending much more time in London than in Mashobra. and how would that suddenly negate whatever it is that Pankaj thinks it negates? The straw-man of peaceful, perfectly secular, perfectly just, perfectly-formed nation states would go down in flames. The actually existing world of nation-states indulging in violence, territorial grabs, religious violence, etc. would remain unsurprised even as parts of it in the Indian subcontinent are violently rearranged.

    Keep in mind that I am NOT saying secular nationalism etc cannot be malign. But actually existing A needs to be described accurately, then perhaps replaced by actually possible B. PM’s description of actually existing A is frequently overpowered by his intense desire to see a modern Western “materialist” civilizational catastrophe (in his interview: “The old paradigm of “the west” having reached the summit of human achievement – modernity – with everyone else catching up, lies exploded due to various crises not just within “the west” but also the sheer scale of environmental crises that are about to overwhelm large parts of India and China who have elected to follow that particular path of development and globalisation”)
    Since this apocalyptic vision is already mainstream in the Western Left (now waiting for global warming to finally do what years of revolutionary intellectual effort has failed to accomplish), it is accepted without question by his audience. But out there in the real world, modern civilization is closer to what Marx predicted it would be:

    “The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”

    This is not necessarily a happy state. Maybe “we” were better off without it. (thats a big maybethough, since it has to take into account that most of “us” were peasant serfs in the good old days). And maybe new ways of social and communal life will arise from the smoking ruins of the old (or, perhaps in a few luckier cases, will evolve relatively peacefully from the old). One can certainly make an Ashish Nandy type case against bourgeouise triumphalism. One can also make an Islamist case or a Hindutvadi case or one of a thousand other cases that have been made in the past and continue to be made today…many of them by people who are themselves willing or unwitting creators of exactly the revolutions they wish were not happening. But what is Pankaj Bhaiya’s B and how is it superior?  Where has it replaced the “dominant paradigm” and how did these three intellectuals create that alternative?

    He doesnt have to bother with making that case because his audience is already eagerly waiting to be told that it is the case. This fact (the existence of such an audience in the Western and Westernized world elite) may indeed forewarn us that a huge disaster is about to happen…or it may tell us that he and his audience are entertaining each other while life goes on. I take the second view, but am still open to the possibility of the first. In both cases, these intellectuals did NOT remake Asia.

    Btw, an example of how PM Bhaiya creates his straw men and shoots them down with his super-gun:  ”Someone like Mughal emperor Jalal-ud-Din Muhammad Akbar, nominally a Muslim emperor and yet incredibly syncretic. Someone who knew he was presiding over a multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-religious reality. These are examples of suppressed histories that we don’t really talk about much or that don’t form part of the dominant narrative. “

    First of all, the view of Akbar the Great as a great syncretic ruler has been around since the 19th century! British historians described him in exactly those terms, as did Nehru and many many Indian nationalists. What dominant narrative? what suppressed history?

    PS: another interesting thing about Pankaj: his heroes OUTSIDE India tend to be the same kind of people he cannot stand INSIDE India. Afghani, with his pan-islamist dreams (with a reformed and modernized Islam in place in a Muslim empire that can match the West in scientific and military terms, not just in some airy-fairy spiritual realm) is good, but Savarkar, with similar nationalist-revivalist dreams about Hindu India is not? The same goes for Chinese and Japanese nationalists. It is something to think about...

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    A strategic corporal is a junior level operator whose actions can have huge strategic and political consequences well above his pay-grade.

    A strategic corporal may have struck gold this morning in Faisalabad.

    Imran Khan's PTI had given a call to "shut down" the city today. The PMLN leadership had mobilized it's own supporters/toughs to stop the PTI crowd. In the very first confrontation on Monday morning, someone in the PMLN crowd took out a pistol and shot directly at the PTI crowd several times. He has been caught on tape:

    Embedded image permalink

    I have not yet heard any report of his arrest or even his identification. It is likely that he will turn out to be some low-level member of the PMLN crowd. Though it is still possible that he will turn out to be an agent provocateur, working for some intelligence agency; of course if he really works for an intelligence agency, he may never be caught in the intelligence republic of Ghaibistan. Anyway, we may find out some day. But one thing is already clear: his killing has energised Imran Khan's floundering protest campaign and if current clashes accelerate, it may be the spark that starts a prairie fire. In that sense, the actions of this low-level operative, whether an operative of the PMLN (most likely), the LEJ or an intelligence agency; may have very far-reaching strategic consequences.

    What strategic consequences?
    1. A prolonged agitation that leads to military intervention (direct, or indirect via intelligence agencies and an engineered national government). Such intervention to be followed by a hard-paknationalist regime and then by carefully managed elections (if we get that far). To be followed by an Imran Khan regime under military supervision?
    2. A prolonged agitation that is suppressed by force and that delegitimizes the PMLN regime even if it holds on.
    3. A collapse of the state and rearrangement of it's borders and it's fundamental characteristics (least likely in my opinion, but then again, how likely did a breakup seem in early 1970?)

    Or do you think this will blow over?
    Inquiring minds want to know.

    Power Lunch 8 December 2014 Tahreek e Insaf kamyabby DinNews

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    The fact of the matter is that the establishment (Tory-Lib-Lab) have left Britain in much weaker circumstances since the end of the Thatcherite era,

    • Immigration is not a qualified evil but nor is it a blessing. It's the idea of who would you like as your neighbours and who would you want in your house. Ideally one would like to live with one's relatives (or at best close friends) but as we say in Farsi, Doori Doosti (friends from afar).
    • The fact of the matter is that one should be somewhat in favour of one's closer connections and citizens. However the metropolitan elite is the middle class (from a financial perspective) living the high life (from a social perspective). The metropolitan elite, being inherently middle class, seeks to disadvantage those who are similarly aspirational. Therefore the interests in importing vaste hordes of unqualified immigrants, who won't pose a threat this generation or the next.
    • Immigrants cannot be parasitical either in seeking welfare or in perpetuating their cross-generational interests. The idea of immigrants is ultimately to integrate into the wider society (or a certain class). In no way does that qualify as assimilation (I don't drink and don't plan too, seeing it as a death-instinct made manifest in the Wasps).
    • I was told that as an immigrant I can't have sympathies for UKIP. I identify as an BritPak Baha'i and I don't seek to change British society, merely enhance it where I see sub-optimality. For instance I'm planning to host the Lahori festival of Basant in May Bank holiday, Iranian Christmas (Yalda) around my 30th birthday celebrations and Eid-e-Ridvan (the 12th day of the declaration of Baha'u'llah of his Mission to the World). 
    • In no way do I feel offended or underminded by the traditional Season Greetings, in fact I wish everyone I meet a Happy Christmas and New Year (I feel Merry Christmas is a vulgar Americanism but I could be wrong but it does seem rather common).
    That's all for now.

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    The kids take it rather well.
    Talibs (or as Tariq Ali says, "the Pakhtoon resistance") make sure Pakhtoon kids are not destroyed by the evils of rhythm, harmony or melody. You have to click the link below to see the video.

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    Comrade Tariq Ali speaks about the Afghan resistance;  I am NOT kidding.

    Dont say I didnt tell you: 

    "A pre-revolutionary situation appears to be developing in Pakistan. The proletariat, long suffering under the yoke of neo-colonial exploitation, has begun to stir. Identifying the US as the head of international capital, the working class is ready for a complete overthrow of the oppressive system. In Peshawar, samizdat texts smuggled across the border under the noses of CIA-trained security forces are already circulating in the barrios. Relatively sophisticated elements of the ruling classes, fearful of losing their grip, but unable to rely on American tanks and drones in the dense urban landscape of Peshawar, are trying to pre-empt the revolution by installing a Kerensky-like figure in Islamabad. Others anticipate Thermidor and check the balance in their Swiss accounts, while American “advisers in the fortress-like American embassy still believe that the jackbooted thugs of the puppet Sharif regime will be able to hold off the revolutionary surge.
    Meanwhile the young men (and women; contrary to Western stereotypes, women are an important behind-the-scenes component of the Islamist militias now being organized in working class neighborhoods) are moving on from the sometimes simplistic anti-imperialism of the Taliban; Islamic socialists will soon insert class and gender issues into the emerging debate. With the capitalist media increasingly discredited by their association with the White Russian forces in Afghanistan, these new voices may suddenly emerge on Friday to announce to the world a new dawn of hope. Aging revolutionaries across the globe may yet see that light burst forth from a region presented by FOX news and the New York Times as the heart of darkness. But the revolution will need our support as the forces of reaction in London and Washington attempt to land troops on the borders of Islamic soviets under the guise of protecting human rights and bourgeois democracy. Massive civil disobedience in Western capitals will be the only way these interventions can be thwarted.  Let us not be found wanting.”

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    One of the best ways to reach equanimity these days is to unfollow everything. Therefore while I'm still on social media I actually don't follow anything or anyone (instead I look up individual profiles). It suits my own character (if my 30th birthday has 700 invites sent out, it's fairly obvious that I prefer holistic approaches to socialisation and people, intimacy is too often a cover for narrowness).

    At any rate the original point of my piece is that I read on twitter about how a gay couple were forced out of Burger King and how apparently Silicon Valley has a star troll (a girl) who won't stop until the white, male patriarchy is dismantled (it's interesting how it's no longer a WASP patriarchy).

    Other than that I always remember what Noam Chomsky said that (and I paraphrase) that to preserve the illusion of freedom create intense debate in ever-narrower bands of discussion. Okay I messed up that quote to such an extent that now I've had to go and link it:

    “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum....”

    The illusion of freedom, brought on by the internet, is where we are as a society. We can no longer actually dissent from the liberal demo-capitalistic order (Churchill had the final word on democracy being the worst form of government but for all others). I also have noticed that the galloping inequality means that we are actually vindicating Marx's assertion that return on capital is going to exceed return on labour.

    What does this all mean and how does it concern the title of the piece. It's that while as a Torykip I'm very sympathetic to the idea of capitalism but at the same time it's now evolved to corporatism. How are we supposed not to notice our new oligarchy? Well by dwelling on ever-dwindling civil rights cases (kissing in a Burger is now the new civil right it seems, isn't PDA bad form in any case).

    Furthermore by concentrating and collectivising power it takes them away from the regions to the centre. When every town, locality and area have larger and larger swathes of authority it decentralises the metropolitan structure. The metropolitan elites would have it no other way but to undermine any pole of authority against them, this is why we are living in the Age of the Death of Common Sense.

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    Since I only write when I'm riled about something (which oddly enough in my last weekend as a 20-something is getting rarer and rarer- perhaps I'm getting more self-centred) I trawl through the free press (Unz & Taki) to find something that's counter-intuitive and irrational. I don't actually read the mainstream media anymore (except the Daily Telegraph from time to time and when I'm feeling particularly saucy the Daily Mail).

    At any rate I must get to my point or at least start getting there. I love freezing fruit and then eating them. Today I had an especially delicious frozen banana, that had it not been frozen would have been thrown 4days ago. We must stop wasting food as we do and incidentally enough I eat fruits (and their skins) with gusto. It explains why even as I approach 30 I'm able to control my waist with some aplomb.

    Also usually I find winters in London to be horrendous (I especially used to dread November). However while the winter was not so bad (notwithstanding the night before last when it sound like bombs were going off, the winds were that bad) I must say what has helped are ice showers. After I exercise (I don't step into the shower sweaty, I wait a bit) I turn the water to ice temperature. I make sure that all of my body is subjected to that but what I've realised is that by lowering the temperature of my body in such a dramatic way I'm not as sensitive to the cold as I should be.

    Finally on everyone's favourite topic, immigration amnesty. Personally I think deportations are just too harsh but more of the same cannot continue. The West and the developed world must revise their immigration policy so that there is free settlement between first-tier nations (to move from Australia to America) and wealthy Westerners should be encouraged to emigrate to the developing world. They'll get much more bang for the buck and Uganda, with it's evergreen spring temperate climate, would be an ideal location for Western pensioners to settle. It would be bring about a transfer of capital, help demographics in both countries and create necessary cultural links. Our immigration/emigration policy is all wrong as it stands..

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  • 12/12/14--03:29: Incomplete without the feet

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  • 12/14/14--14:37: Turning 30
  • I'm turning 30 in an hour and a half.

    It's the shift now where the big birthdays are every decade rather than every year, three years or 5yrs (18, 21, 25).

    Goodbye to my 20's, it's a brave new world ahead...

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     ہے زلزلہ زمیں کو گہن میں ہے آفتاب / بارش ہے خون کی چشم فلک اشکبار ہے 
     ہے عنقریب پھونکے سرافیل صور کو / بس حکم کبریا کا فقط انتظار ہے

    The Earth is shaking, the sun eclipsed, the sky is raining blood
    The time is nigh when Israfeel will blow his trumpet (to end the world). 
    All that is awaited is a signal from God... (Mir Anis)

    I saw a pair of big black boots coming towards me, this guy was probably hunting for students hiding beneath the benches.
    My body was shivering. I saw death so close and I will never forget the black boots approaching me – I felt as though it was death that was approaching me.
    I folded my tie and pushed it into my mouth so that I wouldn’t scream. The man with big boots kept on looking for students and pumping bullets into their bodies. I lay as still as I could and closed my eyes, waiting to get shot again.
    When I crawled to the next room, it was horrible. I saw the dead body of our office assistant on fire.
    She was sitting on the chair with blood dripping from her body as she burned.
    (a surviving student's account)

    7 men drove up to the Army Public School in a high security area fo Peshawar. They poured petrol on the car and set it on fire, then entered the school and started shooting people. They were not psychotic loners. They were trained soldiers, fighting for a cause.They were "moral" men. They were following rules and making distinctions. According to their handlers, they had been told not to kill underage children and in this they were following Sharia law (the example of the massacre of the Banu Qurayza was specifically mentioned). They cold-bloodedly went from room to room, shooting school children cowering under their desks (per one journalist, most of the dead had been shot the head). And while students were shot calmly and the assassins may even have confined themselves to older children, some teachers faced a more horrendous fate. A couple of them seem to have been set on fire in front of their students. Whether before or after they were shot is not clear. Perhaps because they were female. 
    This is not a psychotic loner going nuts and shooting up a kindergarten. It is not even the same as Chechen terrorists taking a school hostage and causing the deaths of hundreds of children in the subsequent firefight and explosions (started accidentally or during the rescue attempt). This is atrocity at the Nazi level. People following orders, systematically and ruthlessly, for many hours. Shooting school kids. Burning teachers. 
    And proudly accepting responsibility and promising to do more. 
    They were also talking to their handlers all the time. The last time they called, the terrorist told his handler "we have killed all the children in the auditorium, what do we do next?"

    These are the attacker, posing before they go to kill kids 

     There has been an explosion of outrage in Pakistan. Even Imran Khan managed to condemn the TTP by name (though PTI's offical account still tweeted that "Whoever" did this, did something awful). The Pakistani state has reportedly stuck back already at Taliban targets. The PM and the army chief have promised action (and are likely sincere, as far as that goes). The media has condemned the attack. Social media has been on fire. So far so good. 
    But within hours, the narrative has already started to fracture. First the media groups managed to invite people like Hamid Gul, Hafiz Saeed and Maulana Abdul Aziz (of Red mosque fame) to comment on this terrorist attack. And they managed to muddle the issue with references to the Indian hand and the eternal enemies of Pakistan (Afghanistan, Jews, America, that sort of thing). And on ARY (the most pro-army of Pakistan's many pro-army channels) the anchors themselves have been leading the charge. Mubasher Lucman, for example, angrily demanded that the first step needed at this time was to ban Indian overflights to Afghanistan! Top Military propagandist Ahmed Qureshi and loonies like Zaid Hamid have been busy blustering about how India will be made to pay for this latest atrocity. 
    The more things change. .

    I wrote a piece three and a half years ago about the Pakistani anti-terror narrative and it's confusions and it is depressing to find that little or nothing needs to be changed in that article. The entire piece, unedited, is pasted at the end of this post. 

    There is a lot of talk about how this particular horrendous event is SO horrendous that now things really HAVE to change. Maybe. But do keep in mind that this is not the first mass casualty attack. There have been attacks on the Marriot hotel, an Ahmedi mosque, a volleyball match, a meena bazar, a church, even a mosque near GHQ (where the son of a corps commander was among the civilian victims killed in cold blood). And of course there have been countless massacres of Hazara and other Shias. Literally thousands of people have died in these attacks. But until now, there is no evidence that the army has changed it's basic "good terrorist/bad terrorist" policy. Terrorists who kill schoolchildren and shoot up railway stations in Kabul and Mumbai are good. Terrorists who kill children in Pakistan are bad. That policy has not worked for 13 years. It is not going to start working now. 

    How can we tell that GHQ is really changing policy: 

    1. Ahmed Qureshi and Zaid Hamid are suddenly out of a job and publicly disowned by the army. 
    2. Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was sentenced to death years ago for the killing of Daniel Pearl (a terrorist act he may not have committed, though he has surely committed many others). He has not been hanged. In fact there are intermittent reports of him living it up in prison. If he is hanged, that will be a sign of change. Especially since his handler was the famous brigadier Ejaz Shah (a close associate of the father of the double game, Pervez Musharraf himself). 
    3. Mumbai attackers rapid trial and punishment. Outside of Pakistan, everybody and their aunt knows that a group of ten terrorists from Pakistan landed in Mumbai in 2008 and cold bloodedly killed a 168 innocent people. In a famous picture, one of the attackes is calmly walking down the platform at Mumbai Railway station, shooting random civilians sitting on the platform. 
    Because of international pressure, the FIA (federal investigation agency) in Pakistan actually carried out a very thorough inquiry in Pakistan and identified several people who arranged things for the killers, who trained them, who sent them on their way. The FIA may not have reached all the way to the top, but they certainly made a case against some of the lower level people involved. But 6 years have passed and the trial of these terrorists has not moved forward. The prosecutor has been shot dead. And the supposed military mastermind (Zaki ur Rahman Lakhvi of the JUD/LET) is living it up in prison, and reportedly even got married and conceived a child in prison. If the army has changed it's mind about terrorism, then the trial of these terrorists has to move forward. 

    Unless you see some of these happenings, things will go back to "normal" ....

    A dissenting note about the double game from a friend on facebook: 
    no, not a double game any more. they are being played by the taliban now, manipulating the internecine fault-lines inside the ISI and the army. they don't mind a few casualties in the mountains, if that is the price (in fact their foot-soldiers welcome the chance for martyrdom). they have the indomitable resolution of a madman doing god's work, while the army has the emptied ideology of a failed religious state being devoured by corruption. by day the generals pay hollow homage to the motherland and at night send tithes to their new fathers in the mountains, hoping to buy personal protection from the next suicide attack for themselves and their families.

    A more sober take from the redoubtable Ahsan Butt on Five Rupees. 

    POSTSCRIPT: it is not looking good for those who thought some great sea change is coming. The script on the media has changed on PTV and to some extent on GEO, but remains the same on other channels and especially on the army's favorite channels like ARY and Dunya..... Blame India, CIA and the Jews. Invite Hafiz Saeed, Hamid Gul and other similar jokers to fog everything up. Bomb someone in the tribal areas and generate suspiciously exact body counts. 
    Until the next bombing.
    Unfortunately it does look like the song remains the same...

    Postscript2: Got some feedback from people focused on the role of Islam in these outrages. I would like to emphasize that while various forms of Islamism are causing problems in many parts of the world, Islam is NOT the proximate cause of the choices made by the Pakistani establishment. Hard Paknationalism is the primary driver. Someone like Musharraf (father of the infamous double-game) was not too bothered about Islam. What caused him to maintain the Taliban and other Jihadist groups was Paknationalism; specifically the "hard paknationalist" belief that we have to defeat India and to do that we need certain force multipliers/strategic-assets/deniable-non-state-actors and the Jihadis are the only people who will do that job. It is this belief that drives the "good-taliban/bad-Taliban" policy and the double games it entails. Commitment to fundamentalist Islam has little or nothing to do with it. (though of course, no Islam, no partition in the first place, so there are other turtles below the first one)...

    Postscript3: Lakhvi granted bail by anti-terrorism court. He many not actually walk free if tremendous pressure comes from Uncle Sam, but signals are (or are being misread in Pindi) that Uncle Sam is OK with India-specific terrorists. Lets wait and see...

    Postscript 4: Some explanation is needed of two positions that seem contradictory to some people. 
    1. I seem to imply that the Pakistani establishment is not going to change, at least not soon. 
    2. I objected to right-wing Indians who wanted to shut down "IndiaStandsWithPakistan" because they felt sympathy for a terrorist-supporting nation was unjustified or naive. 

    I tried to explain this on twitter with limited success. So trying again:

    1. Simple human empathy caused most humans (EVERYWHERE) to feel intense sympathy for the parents of those whose children were so callously and brutally murdered in one of the most awful and bone-chilling atrocities, even in a world filled with atrocities. That simple human empathy is worth preserving and should not be dismissed. Without it, what will be left?

    2. Pakistan is a state in crisis. It's core establishment is fracturing. There is a very real constituency for changing course. That constituency is not just in the so-called liberal parties like the PPP, ANP, MQM etc (not to speak of the tiny but culturally significant Marxist and Post-Marxist Left) but even (and sometimes more so) in mainstream civilian parties like the PMLN and even the JUI. The paknationalist hardcore (defined by complete loyalty to the "hard-paknationalist" agenda of permanent war against India, colonization of Afghanistan, dreams of power projection in Central Asia, etc etc) is still in control of key policy areas, but has to FIGHT to stay in control. Among the civilians, they mostly get their way via manipulation of media, pakstudies brainwashing, taking advantage of the foolishness of young PTI supporters and so on. True ideological clarity is limited to a relatively small faction of the army, it's pet journalists and think-tankers and touts like Sheikh Rasheed.

    3. That fracture will increase with time anyway (since the Paknationalist hardcore cannot deliver what most pakistanis want: peace and development) but it is helped, not hindered by gestures like "IndiaWithPakistan". I suspect that some understanding of this lay behind the Modi government's willingness to express sympathy and make positive human gestures. Of course, they are also human, so some real human sympathy was probably involved. But beyond that, the cynical calculation is also in favor of such gestures.

    4. When and if the hard-Paknationalist establishment spits in their face by doing something like bailing out Zaki Lakhvi, the fact that they made the gesture only goes in their favor. It does not hamper any other action they may or may not take.

    5. With Uncle Sam desperate to get out and save face, options are limited. Planning has to be long-term.

    Makes sense?

    Some tweets from yesterday and today in order of time posted:

    “Dark house, by which once more I stand
    Here in the long unlovely street,
    Doors, where my heart was used to beat
    So quickly, waiting for a hand,

    A hand that can be clasp'd no more -
    Behold me, for I cannot sleep,
    And like a guilty thing I creep
    At earliest morning to the door.

    He is not here; but far away
    The noise of life begins again,
    And ghastly thro' the drizzling rain
    On the bald street breaks the blank day.” 
    ― Alfred TennysonIn Memoriam

    My older post from 2011...unedited. Original at

    The Narratives Come Home to Roost
    by Omar Ali

    Most countries that exist above the banana-republic level of existence have an identifiable (even if always contested and malleable) national narrative that most (though not all) members of the ruling elite share and to which they contribute.  Pakistan is clearly not a banana-republic; it is a populous country with a deep (if not very competent) administration, a very lively political scene, a very large army, the world’s fastest growing nuclear arsenal and a very significant, even if underdeveloped, economy.  But when it comes to the national narrative, Pakistan is sui-generis.  The “deep state” has promoted a narrative of Muslim separatism, India-hatred and Islamic revival that has gradually grown into such a dangerous concoction that even BFFs China and Saudi Arabia are quietly suggesting that we take another look at things.
    The official “story of Pakistan” may not appear to be more superficial or contradictory than the propaganda narratives of many other nations, but a unique element is the fact that it is not a superficial distillation of a more nuanced and deeper narrative, it is ONLY superficial ; when you look behind the school textbook level, there is no there there. What you see is what you get. The two-nation theory and the creation of Pakistan in 712 AD by the Arab invader Mohammed Bin Qasim and its completion by the intrepid team of Allama Iqbal and Mohammed Ali Jinnah in the face of British and Hindu connivance is the story in middle school textbooks and it turns out that it is also the story in universities and think tanks (this is not imply that no serious work is done in universities; of course it is, but the story of Pakistan does not seem to have a logical relationship with this serious work).
    This lack of depth and sophistication dooms this narrative to a cardboard existence and removes it from the ranks not only of the story of America or the history of that sceptered Isle north of France, but also of the “5000 year old civilization of China” and “Eternal India”. Some intellectuals are aware of these shortcomings and half-hearted attempts to remedy the situation have been made, but I think it is fair to say that nothing has yet brought home the (halal) bacon; the story does not fit the post-enlightenment liberal notions of the world and does not even offer an alternative that claims to go beyond the ruling paradigm. Instead, the claim of an alternative system is being used to create just another nation state in a world of Westphalian nation-states. The working part of the state is entirely within the world norm, the supposed ideology has almost no connection to that norm, and problems were bound to arise at some point.  This statement will sound strange to many people since in polite company it has been usual to ignore the contradictions between the two-nation theory and liberal notions of national identity; to the point that even liberal Pakistanis are not conscious of their own unusual and unique position. This willful blindness is not without precedent in our world and can in fact be said to be just another “normal” facet of the world we live in, but there are contradictions and then there are contradictions. Ours have reached breaking point and will no longer hide quietly in the background. This is, of course, my opinion and may or may not make sense to everyone, but let it sit around in your mental living room for a few months;  it may start to seem worth a look.
    I would add that a superficial and even contradictory national narrative is not necessarily the road to ruin. Life goes on, even in countries with less than convincing “national narratives”. Pakistan is a country, it exists, it is located at a strategic location, it encompasses very productive land, it is blessed with many bounties of nature and a talented and resourceful population, and it has an ancient and resilient culture.  It can succeed (and success is being defined here as nothing more than “normal” existence in the world of today, all problems of capitalism and nationalism fully included) in spite of its creation myth since human beings can apparently hold several contradictory ideas in their head at one time (it is even “normal” to do so). So this is not a claim that it is bound to fail, just that it can succeed in spite of its myths, not because of them.  If someone wishes to argue that myths and hot air are being overvalued in my piece today, they may be right. But it is my claim that realpolitik and narrative have intersected with great force in Pakistan today, and while the “deep state” faces many very “real” problems that will take years to solve, the narrative is itself a problem that is making all the other problems much harder to solve.
    Let us quickly review some history: In 1954, the ruling elite found its international partner (not without some effort) and Pakistan joined SEATO and CENTO. While Pakistan was happy to be part of the international anti-communist alliance, its elite saw India as the primary enemy. But when they launched an adventure in 1965 that ended in war with India in September, SEATO and CENTO were nowhere to be found.  This started a narrative of American betrayal (a narrative that no American took too seriously) that was accentuated in 1971 when the Indian liberation of Bangladesh proceeded with little more than symbolic American intervention on the Pakistani side. The estranged lovers (estrangement being mostly one-way; the relationship was rather asymmetrical as Uncle Sam never seems to have paid too much high level attention to the hurt feelings of their “ally”) made up in 1980 in order to bleed the Soviets in Afghanistan.
    But there was now a new element in the relationship since  Pakistan was led by more ambitious and intelligent people at this time, and managed the relationship with greater independence and “agency”.  The simple-minded and childish notions of the 1950s and 1960s were left behind and the Pakistani high command was able to use American aid while building nuclear bombs and planning for a future projection of Jihadist forces into Kashmir and Afghanistan and beyond.  Whether the American side understood what was going on and ignored it for devious reasons of their own, or whether their arrogance prevented them from seeing that their agents had a mind and plans of their own, the fact remains that the United States was no longer the sole creator of policies and projects in this era.  After the US left the region with “mission accomplished” in Afghanistan, their ally did not allow this to interrupt their glorious work of arming and training Islamist armed groups. Rather they accelerated the process, eventually arming and training half a million young men to fight in the cause of Islam. By the mid-1990s, Pakistan had established a somewhat unruly client regime in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Afghanistan became “Jihad central”; the “go-to place” for any young Muslim dreaming of a new caliphate. This growing network was supported by the intelligence agencies of the state and a wider network of international funders and political supporters built around some favored Madrasahs and the existing Islamist political parties like the Jamat e Islami.
     When some of these warriors took the fight to the West and triggered a much larger war (justified or not is another argument) Pakistan’s military establishment decided to dump its more unruly friends (the “bad jihadis”) but either through lack of capacity or lack of will, did not wish to go after the good jihadis (the ones who target India and Afghanistan).  Unwilling or unable to find a narrative that justified their sudden change from pro-jihad to anti-jihad, GHQ opted for a short-cut. Bad Jihadis were described as agents of evil powers (mainly CIA, RAW and Mossad). Many of the Taliban killed in Pakistan were said to be uncircumcised Hindus. India was said to have 14 consulates in Afghanistan from where they and their American friends were running this vile operation.  Military-affiliated websites like and provided a narrative that may seem fantastically improbable to outsiders but that fit in well with previous military psyops efforts and was smoothly accepted by many middle class Pakistanis.  When losses in this new civil war accelerated, another element was added to the narrative. Now we were innocent victims of America’s “so-called war on terror”. This narrative could also draw upon liberals in the West who had their own suspicions about their ruling elite and served as a rich source of  talking points for the military’s favorite propagandists.  
    This narrative of “we are fighting America’s war” cleverly excluded any mention of our own role in bringing this menace to our shores. That America (and not just America) may have picked on Pakistan because Pakistan’s own armed forces had worked hard to make it the world headquarters of jihadist terrorism was not part of the story that was put together. Instead, it was all America’s fault. They brought the jihadis here, they dumped them on us and left. They were now using the jihadis as an excuse to attack us unfairly and with mala fide intent.  The mala fide intent was usually presented as an American desire to “steal our nuclear arsenal”, but other theories like “imposing Indian hegemony” or protecting Israeli interests (the last being an activity that the US has long performed at great cost to itself, so it was not a claim without any foundation) were also cited.
    This story, while useful in the short term since it got the armed forces off the hook and preserved the possibility that the mullah-military alliance could be revived once the Americans left, is now turning out to be too clever by half. The crucial assumption in this scheme was that America would leave and let us return to status quo ante prior to our being overwhelmed by the confused civil war we are fighting in the interim. This fine balance also required that the Americans remain indifferent to the narrative and don’t take counter-measures in the media-management field. Finally, it assumed that the US could be alternately pressured and pleasured forever without seriously rupturing the relationship. Unfortunately, the plan did not factor in Seal Team Six and Obama’s willingness to risk a unilateral operation that simultaneously humiliated and pressurized the military high command while putting them in a very uncomfortable position in front of their own people.
    Only time will tell if the net effect of this operation will be positive or negative. In the early weeks, the only thing that is clear is that GHQ had not anticipated any such operation and may not even have known about Osama’s presence half a mile from their military academy. The Pakistani leadership (which in this case means not just the military leadership but also the political leadership, who have been handed an unexpected opportunity to play a role beyond being the military’s human shield) initially reacted by trying to find some backup from China and Saudi Arabia and even Russia. But early indications are that neither China nor Saudi Arabia is willing or able to bail them out if they continue with their past policies. The word is that the Chinese have told the Pakistani leadership that they are our bestest, fastest, deepest friends and the entire politburo prays for our health every day, but as far as budget support is concerned, it may be a good idea to apply to the IMF and Uncle Sam. The half-hearted effort to wave a Russian offer in America’s face is even more of a joke as both the Russians and the Pakistanis are just blowing hot air in an attempt to get Uncle Sam’s attention and neither is likely to get very far. Meanwhile, the jihadis are not rolling over and playing dead either, which complicates matters further.
    In short, in the real world, the second coming is not about to happen and the black flags from Khorasan are not going to drive the infidels into the sea. Pakistan will have to live within its current boundaries and will have to make a serious effort to go after any transnational terrorists based in our territory. Even the India-specific terrorists will have to be told the game is over. For the deep state, this is not an easy news bulletin to deliver to its own people because they have been telling a very different story for a very long time.   Most people in Pakistan do not even know that Pakistan was world headquarters for international Jihad for so long and that our own intelligence agencies set up most of the militant organizations and trained most of the terrorists we are now fighting. Most Pakistanis probably believe that 9-11 was an “inside job” and Mumbai was staged by some rightwing Hindu colonel. This amazing level of denial and disinformation has been carefully cultivated by the deep state, but is now coming home to roost. With the US plucking Osama a stone’s throw from PMA Kakul and with the jihadis attacking our most cherished institutions (GHQ, the Sri-Lankan cricket team, now Mehran airbase) the narrative is coming home to roost with a vengeance.
    What will happen next? As an eternal optimist, I think things will slowly get better after several years of civil war in which the state will be pitted against the very people it created and lionized not too long ago. While the initial phases of this civil war were fought while telling our own people that our enemies are Hindus and Jews and their uncircumcised agents in the tribal areas, this clever scheme will have to be abandoned because it is impossible to fight one set of jihadis while working with another set as friends and allies. They all see each other as friends and they can see (even if some people in GHQ cannot) that this war can only mean that the state is abandoning its jihadi dreams in exchange for membership of the capitalist globalized world led by Chimerica. To them, this means war and it means war to the finish. This would be a very hard war to fight even if we know what is going on; it an impossible war to fight when our own people don’t know who is fighting whom. Which is why the narrative will have to be altered and a start has already been made by the generally pro-army anchor, Kamran Khan.  It will not be an easy job and there will be much resistance from within GHQ’s own propagandists, some of whom have such serious psychological issues with India that this realignment threatens to fry their fragile eggshell mind. But there is no choice. Slowly but surely, the times they are a changing…

     I may have been too optimistic. There are some other pieces too

    see more at (scroll down a lot till you see my articles listed)

    Army Public School

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