Thursday, August 23, 2007

Days of Sharab aur Gul . . .

It seems former Pakistani PM nawaz Sharif will soon retunr to the country from his coup-induced exile. Quite a bit to think about. I heard the editor in chief of Dawn on NPR this morning that he has yet to make sense of it. Why, the question is asked, would Musharaf accept the return of the man who he forced out of power? I myself can only speculate.

One of the critical things to remember about Pakistan is that it has always had this sort of love hate relationship with its own democratic institutions. Mohammad Jinnah Das envisioned a modern, secular, democratic state when he and the Muslim Leadue fought fot he foundation of Pakistan. India basically existed as a centrally controlled socialist state in its formative years, but has been a rather well functioning democratic state since. Pakistan's political history has shown a tendancy to cycle between military rule and nearly democratic rule. Long periods of stability in which the democratic institutions have prevailed tend to be the exception rather than the rule., with the military being by far the most powerful institution in the country. I often wonder if middle and upper class educated and western oriented Pakistanis look east across the divide with envy at their Indian counterparts.

Cosmopolitan residents of Karachi and Lahore, with ambitions to export Lollywood, create high-tech labour markets, and create a Pakistan that the world notices for being something other than a exporter of Islamic extremists Enter Nawaz Sharif. Musharaf has lost his credibility with the judiciary, is at constant threat from the Islamists, and is losing support among top military brass. Bottom line, as I have stgated in other posts, he is embattled. It seems that the time is ripe for Pakistan to retreat to its one political constant: sudden and abrupt change, initiated from the top down, replacing military leaders with civilian ones, until the time once more comes to dance the dance. Musharaf knows that his move culls favor with the mainstream, moderate democratic parties and their popular supporters. It is simultaneously an admission of the in creasing isolation that Musharaf is suffering at the hands of the myriad fractures currently disrupting the Pakistani landscape.

These guys are old hands. They know the drill, and Musharaf would much rather see his country in the hands of the likes of Nawaz sharif and Benazir Bhutto than the Imams of the Lal Masjid or the warlords of Wazirastan and Peshawar. Its the old Pakistani two-step, and its time to change partners.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Let me tell you a joke

One of these days I am gonna get in trouble for all this . . .

Anyhow, for the simple sake of not letting thje archive be ridiculously thin, I will post a passing thought.

Maximum Kuo of has put up a word of the week. This week it is quisling. A quizzical choice, not perhaps very quixotic, but mixed with quanine-crap it had to be a "q" word.

My word of the week is dour, as in dour demeanour, or more recently, dour Scotsman (Shout out to Brownie). Why dour? Well, I was originally planning on doing a post entitled "The five most important dudes in the Middle East." Top of my list was to be Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, secretary general of Hezbollah, a man who has been called both a menace to the west and the smartest man in the region. For those who haven't seen pictures of Nasrallah, he is a pudgy, sort of rolli-polli lebanese with a turban and beard. In fact, he looks a little like my father. Point is, that the turbaned beards are supposed to be these fiery, baneful and yes, dour mullahs. Not so with Nasrallah. Albert Brooks would have done well to stop in Beirut in his search for comedy in the Muslim world. Nasrallah tells jokes!

Ok, he's no Larry David. Hard to be funny when you are giving shout outs to Hamas in the middle of your joke. In the end, Nasrallah is in the position he is in now because he breaks the mold. Its not just this one joke, but this is indicative of his abilities as an orator, his ability to command a crowd and appear self-deprecrating and humble, while still being able to light a serious fire under the ass of his very disciplined and seemingly uncorruptable rank and file. The power of laughter I guess.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

I thought we were friends . . .

Since the beginning of the Iraq war, the true patriots of this country have been pointing out the myriad failures and miscalculations this administration has made in its prosecution of the war. Some of the most important voices in our nation faced summary stonewalling from the mass media, which often held the loudest trumpet at the send-off party. Only when the ineptitude of the neocon agenda manifested itself in the form of thousands of dead Iraqis did mainstream politicians wake up and (most likely for polictical reasons) begin the chorus of dissaproval. People are starting to listen. People are starting to wonder.

Seymour Hersh (my hero) has spent at least the last two years decoding the administration's steady stream of accusations aimed at Iran, which at has variously been implicated in material support of "extremist groups" in Iraq, financial and arms support for the Taliban, and of course being an all around naughty nation. So it brings me to wonder if the chorus that now denounces the epic catastrophe in Iraq - particularly Democratic presidential candidates - will pick up on the events of this past week.

Since 9/11, the United States has invaded two nations. In both Afghanistan and Iraq, "democracy" has not seemingly abated the scourge of death being suffered by people whose fate was decided in Washington and London. Iraq is in the midst of a civil war, and an insistent and resurgent Taliban is again threaten the southern provinces of Afghanistan. Of course, we have Iran and the Shi'a mullahs to thank for this mayhem. Turns out, the democratically elected leaders of of both Iraq and Afghanistan don't seem to agree with that assessment, and have both said so while in press conferences with Bushie. Nouri al-Maliki and Hamid karzai have both stated that Iran is having a "positive and constructive" effect on their respective nations. So what gives? Is Iran really as mischevious as Bush would have us believe?

This entry is already too long, so let me sum up quickly:

1. Concerning Afghanistan: The Taliban's brand of extreme Salafi Islam is not exactly fun for the Shi'a. Quite simply put, anyone with the most basic understanding of the Shi'a/Sunni schism understands that the most orthodox Sunnis view Shi'a, not simply as a deviation, but outright heresy. Furthermore, Iran has nothing to gain from a Fundamentalist Militant Salafi governemt on its border. The mullahs in both Tehran and Qom have been weary of the Taliban since it first came on the scene, particularly because of ancient enmities between Pakhtun tribal identities and Persian ethnic identity. The Afghans and Persians have never been natural allies, and the confesional schism only widens this gulf.

2. On Iraq: this one is easy, and is again related to the Shi'a/Sunni split. Maliki, and his predecessor, Jafari are senior members of the Da'wa party, and both men spent years in Iran as exiles while the Shi'a opposition parties suffered under the iron fist of Saddam. Iran's overwhelmingly Shi'a population are co-religionsits with the newly empowered Shi'a of Iraq. So, is there any real surprise that the meeting between Maliki and Ahmadinijad would be "warm" as Al-Jazeera reported? Iranians have been in Iraq since before the war, mostly in the southern provinces. There is little doubt in my mind that some of this activity was centered around military and paramilitary training. It is also well known that this Iranian activities in Iraq have included financial investment, infrastructural development, and the creation of social services. Where is the Iraqi leadership goiong to look for friends in the region? Saudi Arabia, whose two primary exports are oil and Wahhabi Islam? Turkey, who wants to invade its Iraq's northern frontier to crush the PKK? Or the guys who celebrate the same holidays as you and who sheltered you from a brutal and blood thirsty tyrant? I think the point is clear.

Until next time, intrepid friends . . .