Sunday, 21 December 2008

Taking Stock

The first term is over! It is hard to believe that I have technically completed half of the masters. I leave for Liberia on the 25th to be with my better half and spend some time in my adopted home. I can't wait to get a break from my routine and enjoy some sunshine and warmth.  I will be carrying ten books with me as I have an essay due in the first week of the second term. At least my consolation is that I will be writing this essay on the beach. 

Ha! That's not true at all. Anyone who knows me, I don't do the beach. I do Mamba Point or my balcony overlooking the chaotic Randall Street. 

So what I learned and experienced so far that I may be able to summarise and share it? 

Firstly, I have had a hard time keeping up with my reading and coursework given the fact I missed the first three weeks of classes and lectures. It took me a while to orient myself and, get into a routine. I have been struggling to keep up with the sheer volume of reading that is required for each week. I have also been highly frustrated with the fact that our tutorials are only one-hour long. Furthermore, students are assigned presentations for each class which is code for summarising and regurgitating core reading which everyone has to do anyhow. That takes up 30 minutes of class and, then, we delve into half-baked discussions around that reading. Most times, the class tutor tries to keep the discussion centred but if that is not the case, we sit through class floating superficially above the text itself. I have been apalled by the quality of discussions sometimes.

I have been academically and intellectually challenged in every respect. I guess the challenge of being back at school is having to conceptualise, place into frameworks and theories things like 'war,' 'peace,' 'violence,' 'state,' 'aid,' 'NGOs,' 'historical legacy,' 'economy,' etc. How do we define them? What is the nature, origin of these notions? To think of these notions in an abstract sense, of course, allows us to deconstruct and analyse them. At the same time, it moves us far from reality, too. Moreover, the fact that everything I study here is unabashedly Eurocentric makes frustrated. 

One of my classmates and good friend who is from Latin America finds it amusing that I am making such a big deal about the Eurocentrism. She asks, why didn't you study in Africa or Asia, then? It's a great question and has been a big source of dilemma for me. The sad reality is that the best universities dealing with development issues are in Europe or the US; it only makes logical sense given that the development project is a colonial/post-colonial, followed by Cold War, preoccupation to begin with. My friend says that the universities in Latin America are not narrow-minded in this respect and give equal importance to thinking originating from other parts of the world. I guess now that I am here and, plan to return to Africa or Asia to work, I must actively seek out academic writing on the subjects I have studied. 

It is not just me who is frustrated with the lack of attention given to academic thought or voices originating from the so-called Third World. Quite a few other classmates I have met were surprised that the School of Oriental and African Studies ended up being so Eurocentric. But then again, as my friend says, why are you surprised? Moreover, SOAS is a colonial institution - it was an institution to train and educate administrators of the Empire.

It is not as if I do not have any access to other thought. I read Pakistani papers regularly and follow columns which are usually an excellent source of political opinion and thought. We do have a great press. I have my Eqbal Ahmed, Said, eternally Chomsky and must start to read Fanon, more of Samir Amin, etc. 

What I also pleasantly and wondrously discovered is my own thought! I realised that a lot of my blind and often confused grasp of history, experience, observations are not so blind and confused. I now recall a lot of discussions with my father who lectured us on American foreign policy, Vietnam, Algeria, Third World politics, the challenges of development, the failings of Third World governments, and, the need for investment in education and technology. Our future lay in our hands, it was just a matter of taking it.  I think a lot of these notions of the need for Third World governments and states to purse independent and responsible state-making stayed with me. 

I applied a lot of it to my experience in Liberia. I went there as a naive, wide-eyed, adventure-seeking Pakistani girl. Because it was Africa, post conflict Africa, I probably got sucked into my artificial, we-wanna-save UN/humanitarian professional environment. I did not bother to understand the country I was in - a sovereign country with a history, with a lot of tragedy but above all else, a real country with real people. It was only after spending the five years I have there along with my better half who started a company from scratch that I began to see Liberia. I quickly abandoned the blah-blah-blah of international organisation speak. I realised that Liberia has to come into its own finally and, really carve an identity and strategy of its own. I realised that a country so crippled and devastated by war cannot and will not recover on dole. That the huge challenges of creating infrastructure, health facilities, schools and universities can only be done by the state, a strong state. Liberia must carve a vision for itself independent of MDGs and multinationals. I even wrote an essay on this 'Musings on Nation Building' which I believe is my own dependency theory. 

I hope the next term is equally, if not more challenging.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Now for some serious stuff

Professor: Why is your essay 1 year late?
Student: Oh, I decided to read the entire works of Marx. 

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Midnight Muddling

Is it possible to do without conceptions of modernisation and dependency theory?

My reading thusfar on modernisation theory is sketchy - limited to the knowledge that modernisation theory was propagated by American sociologists and political scientists in the post world war two context. And anything in the post world war context was a free world - evil communist nexus. Modernisation theory attempted to explain why the 'Third World' was underdeveloped or undeveloped (there is a subtle difference here) - the 'Third World' was still traditional and 'backward' and, had not made the transition to a modern, industrialised society. As Prof Bernstein explained in lecture 4 for TPP, the undeveloped 'Third World' was everything the modern, developed, industrialised world was not. Hence, to get to that ideal stage of development, the 'Third World' needed a modern elite assisted by a benevolent West. Prof Bernstein stressed that we should understand this in the fight against communism which threatened to engulf, win over, influence these vulnerable Third World states. This is a sketchy understanding but serves my purpose for the moment.

As is clearly easy to see, modernisation theory was ahistorical. It ascribes the 'backwardness' of states to their 'backward' cultures, still very traditional. 

Dependency theory thus takes a step back and attempts to explain why these states are not only undeveloped but underdeveloped. 

And I am going to go all romantic here. It is essentially what you and I would instinctively believe. It is the stuff of revolution, of rebellion, of political consciousness, the realisation of struggle, factoring in imperialism and exploitation,  and of cause and effect. It incorporates language that does not even exist on the other side. What other grand umbrella but Marxism can equip the thinker, you and me, for such analysis? But as I said, it is instinctive. There are 'millions of anti-imperialist militants' who know it as it is:

"Bjorn Beckman's observation on dependency of the 1980s was no doubt true, however: 'Academics may have contributed in articulating it but the tremendous diffusion of its perspective can only be understood as a response to specific historical experiences and the development of social forces at the world level, including the realities of colonialism and neo-colonialism, the rise of socialist countries and armed liberation struggles. It is not a specific political line with a uniform theoretical basis. It is a position held by millions of anti-imperialist militants most of whom may have never heard of or read the works of Andre Gunder Frank or Samir Amin."

(Bjorn Beckman, 'Imperialism and the 'National Bourgeosie'", Review of African Political Economy 22, 1981) 

Dependency theory's roots are in Marx and his analysis of the historical development of capitalism. Capitalism had a specific role to play for the future success of socialism. In a very compacted piece by Gabriel Palma (and learned a great deal of the evolution of Marx and Engel's thought, the expansion of the left in Russia by the likes of Lenin, further trajectories by the Narodnik folk who thought they were more Marx then Marx himself), we read that Marx "condemns this expansion as the most brutalising and dehumanising that history has ever known" but that it is necessary for the development 'backward' countries. Capitalism has to take root, take off before the proletariat can organise itself  and stage a socialist revolution.  Contrary to the line adopted by dependency theorists which did not come along until the 50s or 60s in Latin America, Marx was optimistic about capitalism taking off in countries where capitalism had made impact. 

From what I understand, then, is that the Narodnik folk are the original dependency theorists who as early as 1860 were pessimistic about capitalism taking off in in 'backward' countries. They pointed to the slow development of capitalism in Russia and because it was a 'late entrant' into the capitalist system, it would not take off. Hence, they believed that the solution was to move directly towards socialism. 

This is what Andre Gunder Frank proposes in his 1966 piece. There are three levels of analysis in Frank: i) there are ares in the periphery which are incorporated into the world economy ii) this has transformed the peripheries necessarily into capitalist economies iii) this is achieved through interminable metropolis-satellite chain, surplus is generated and drawn off to the centre. In this context, there is no real possibility of sustained development - it will only be underdevelopment. 

The nature of capitalist imperialism was already clearly defined by early Marxist analysis in Russia by Bukharin and Preobrazhensky  in the early 20th century. It was the 'policy of conquest which financial capital in struggle for markets, for the sources of raw materials and for places in which capital can be invested.' This would result in a dependency towards a greater integration of the world economy, a considerable degree of capital movement, international division of labour restricting growth of 'backward' economies to solely the production of mineral/agriculture primary products supplied cheaply by subsistence level labour. The 'backward' countries would be affected by increasing indebtedness and a productive structure which leads 'backward' countries to consume what they do not produce and produce what they do not consume. Regardless of when these unequal relations between centre and peripheries were forged in the monopolistic phase of capitalism, possibilities of development for the 'backward' countries would remain limited. 

What astounds me is the painfully accurate analysis of the lasting subjugation of 'backward' countries by capitalism made at the time it was made either by Marx in describing the capitalist modes of production and his elaboration of primitive accumulation or, the analysis of imperialism by thinkers following Marxist analysis and extending it to the prospects for colonial and post colonial countries. Capitalism and imperialism are synonymous. Explosion in my mind. Capitalism's imperialist nature, need for resource extraction, new markets for investment was plainly evident to Marxist analysis. There was no doubt of capitalism's nature of exploitation. 

Can we do without dependency theory, then? What we really  have to ask is whether or not we can ever do without conceptions of capitalism and imperialism.  What is the Third World struggle? To close the capitalist gap? To enjoy economic growth? Political stability? To eliminate poverty? End its conflicts? Are the Third World distortions, miserable human conditions, political instability legacies of imperialism? Why could not the Third World catch up with developed West? Because it was backward and remains so? Or is it because it is permanently subjected to unequal and exploitative dependency on centres of wealth in the West?  

Is there any other way to look at the world? 

I find it interesting that dependency theory propagated as it did in Latin America. Why did it develop there? Did this logically take root there because it was a good 100 or 150 years since independence from Europe? (Although Latin America suffered its share too in Cold War proxies and devastation wreaked by the US) What was happening in the 1950s and 1960s in Africa or Asia? Well, it should be noted that Africa was only beginning to gain independence from Europe. If we take a thinker from Africa, say Franz Fanon, and I need say no more, his work centered on anti-colonial thinking, its dehumanising effects: Black Skins, White Masks or Wretched of the Earth. Eqbal Ahmed was writing eloquently of American's terrorism in Vietnam. The Algerians were fighting the French and, "Battle of Algiers" was being made (Eqbal Ahmed helped to research the script).  The former colonies were fighting for independence, looking towards the future and, seeking their destiny. This world was flush on socialist thinking than anything else. Socialism was the ideological inspiration and, national state planning was going to be the tool. On the whole, I imagine, Africa and Asia was merely realising its political independence. It seems only logical that Latin America was going to give birth to dependency theory analysis. 

Can we extrapolate this analysis and apply it to political and social aspects of the 'backward' countries? Are not these spheres also under subjugation? 

Capitalist countries continued to march forward, build their economic prosperity and, even build political unity. Why has an entity like the EU and EC successfully merged most of European terrority and consolidate political unity and, not in Africa or Asia? Why is politics still so fractured? 

Again, it seems that Latin America is blazing the trail in terms of seeking alternative political paradigms. Or at least it seems. And this has to be explored further in my analysis. Where is Latin America now? How much has dependency theory and its broad propagation there moulded political consciousness, movements and organisation?

"Thank you, before I begin, I'd like everyone to notice that my report is in a professional, clear binder...When a report looks this good, you know it'll get an A. That's a tip kids. Write it down." Calvin, Calvin and Hobbes

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Writing Essays

"Any discussion concerned with the future of the Third World ought to begin with an inquiry into the past, because the past is very present in these so-called transitional societies. That it is a fractured past invaded by a new world of free markets, shorn of its substance and strength, incapable of assuring the contintuity of communal lives lived for millennia does not make it less forceful. Its power drives from the tyranny of contemporary Third World life and the seeming absence of viable alternatives. For the majority of Third World people, the experienced alternatives to the past is a limbo - of alienation from the soil, of living in shantytowns, of migration into foreign lands, and, at best, of permanent expectancy. Leaning on and yearning for the recovery of an emasculated but idealised past is one escape from the limbo, breaking out in protest and anger is another. At times, the two are mixed; at others, they are separated in time but historically, organically linked. In our time, peasant millenarian rebellions have often been the harbingers of modern revolutions."

Eqbal Ahmed, "From Potato Sack to Potato Mash: The Contemporary Crisis of the Third World" (1980) first appeared in Arab Studies Quarterly.

I have an assignment due at 4 pm today and, once again, as for my previous essay, am finding it difficult to approach the topic in question. I have knee-jerk reactions, informed opinions, and many many sentiments and intentions, but find myself hopelessly stranded. For one thing, how can one demonstrate an understanding of political positions, contrast them, bring in any other positions that vary usually only in subtle shades, all the while offering one's own original take on the matter in merely 3,000 words?

Secondly, I am frustrated with the Eurocentric approach to development issues. I only hear Western intellectual voices on issues that concern the Third World, the South, the poor, the impoverished, the refugees, the combatants, the peripheries, whatever construct or term you want to use. Yes, development itself is a construct that came about at the time of decolonisation by guess what, colonial administrators themselves, firstly, and then, Western thinkers and intellectuals. We are taught that the nation-state, the free market, democracy, rationality and, modernisation are notions and concepts with roots in Western intellectual tradition. Acknowledged. These ideas were not abstract ideas but actually the basis on which Europe developed and expanded. Without knowledge of Western political thought and philosophy which now enjoys hegemony over the world today, how can one possibly understand the mess we are in today, to put it one way?

I thought I had left politics behind in my undergraduate degree (Economics and Politics at QMW 7-8 years ago) but nope, can't get through a lot of the more abstract and theoretical musings on state, violence and conflict in my course without bumping into Marx (although don't mind bumping into him at all), Weber, Gramsci, Hegel, Adam Smith, Bentham, Mills, Foucault, and some newer upstarts as well. They can talk as much Marx as they want to - I do not mind! In fact, I have only now begun to appreciate Marx's discourse and his overwhelming contribution to our understanding of the modern, capitalist world we have inherited. I finally get primitive accumulation! Joy!

"The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the indigenous population of that continent, the beginnings of the conquest and plunder of India, and the conversion of Africa into a preserve for the commercial hunting of black skins, are all things which characterize the dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief moments of primitive accumulation."

From Karl Marx’s history of capitalism in part 8 of the first volume of Das Kapital.

Weber is another giant for his work on rationalisation in government, organisational behaviour and especially sociology of religion. His The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism makes a fascinating link between Protestant Christianity and capitalism. Capitalism evolved when the Protestant ethic influenced people to work in a secular world, embarking on enterprise and engaging in trade and the accumulation of wealth for investment. Weber quotes Benjamin Franklin who went around saying "time is money." Remember Adam Smith and the invisible hand that would guide markets? This would produce benefits for everyone in terms of low prices and, a variety of goods and services. Self interest, then, became a positive force rather than a vice in Western society is interestingly chronicled in Albert Hirschman’s The Passions and Interests (1977) a history of economic ideas and the rise of capitalism.

What does this reading of history, the advent of capitalism, the hegemony of certain ideas, the tragedy of history mean for me? In many ways, it has re-affirmed my view of the world order. Towards the end of my five years in Liberia, an African country modelled on the US state by ex-slaves, with a brutal history of repression and injustice, a country with strong rentier-state qualities, I used to go around saying, what did market-democracy, highly interchangeable words today, ever do? What did capitalism give to the world? Enslavement? Colonisation? Coca Cola and Hollywood? Liberia would not have existed were it not for slavery. Imagine. Free labour for Europe and America. Liberia has one of the biggest rubber plantations in the world but is a country mostly famous for its warlords and child soldiers. If you want to study capitalism, primitive accumulation and rentier states, go to Liberia.

It is easy to see why many former colonies newly independent were flush on more socialist visions rather than Western ones. Take Africa. Most politicians in the 50s and 60s hoped to embark on socialist planning – what academic literature calls the ‘developmental state.’ Tanzania’s collectivisation under Julius Nyerere was not successful – to put it mildly, for example. In academic thought, thinkers explaining the ‘underdevelopment’ of the former colonies made direct links between capitalism’s long history of exploitation, colonisation and underdevelopment. There’s no escaping capitalism. The market is everywhere.

Since the inception of development, the goal was to model economic growth based on the experience in the West without much consideration of the other social transformations that would have to take place for this to happen. The dependency theorists came along and, rejected this framework claiming that it was precisely the exploitative nature of capitalism, the outflow from the poor peripheries to the centres of wealth that has resulted in underdevelopment to begin with. Andre Gunder Frank in fact said the only hope was to retract from the world capitalism system and forge alternatives. This is what Amir Samin said recently in the face of the current financial crisis through embarking on a long road towards socialism.

What happened after the failings of the developmental state? Structural adjustment – a beast that we all know. These are the devil-incarnate policies forced down the throats of developing countries in the 80s by the World Bank and IMF that forced poor countries to reduce the state, cut back social spending, privatise national industries, and adopt market reforms.

The market was always the force that was going to deliver. It gained even more ascendency in the Thatcher/Reagan eras and subsequently, in the Third World too, by force or adoption. It’s called neo liberalism or new policy agenda or whatever you want to call it.

So what am I really studying here? The long trajectory of Western thought and its application to state, society and not to mention foreign policy. I read highly absurd and reductionist theories on why conflict occurs in developing countries (greed, resource abundance, resource scarcity, religion, ethnicity, primordial hatred). And mind, you most of it is highly ahistorical. We sit through classes talking about why such and such theory makes no sense in the real world. Of course, it is important to read these theories because these theories have resonated in Western thinking and even informed policy. But I do not hear any other voices from the South. Apart from a few interviews mentioned in a case study, are there are any African or Asian thinkers writing about violence and conflict? Or are the Others not concerned with violence and conflict in the way ridiculous way Westerners are or have the time for? It is the objectification, this relaxed inaccurate, selective and broad at the same time, study that ticks me off.

I am currently reading modernisation and dependency theories for this essay which I will obviously not turn in today. I have to answer the question whether we can do without these concepts. Can we for purely debate sake? Is dependency theory even alive today? Has modernisation theory really been discredited? Is it not alive and kicking in the form of neo liberalism? Needless to say, capitalism and its exploitative nature and effects is at the root of the debate.

Good intellectual debate cannot do without a good thrashing of capitalism! Even male bashing in this week’s topic for TPP (Challenges to Development III: From Women-in-Development to Gender Mainstreaming) could not do without bashing of capitalism. And, capitalism bashing, then, inherently is West-bashing. It is a really vicious cycle.

I do not mind bashing of the West so much but I would like to hear a few more voices from the rest of the world. What if my trusted volume of Eqbal Ahmed cannot carry me through the year? What if I can't use it for every assignment? Banish the thought, banish the thought!

Friday, 28 November 2008

"Marx is back!" -- Samir Amin

Intellectual Rock Star: Samir Amin

26 November

Beyond neo liberal globalisation and US hegemony: What Next?

Getting the chance to hear Samir Amin speak is probably the high point of my SOAS experience so far. I cannot compare this experience with anything else, even the Christopher Cramer lectures! * Why? Because I had the chance to see a great figure, a great intellectual force first hand. This is a global intellectual public figure who speaks on behalf of the so-called Third World, who sees the world for what it is, who is not afraid of calling the injustice of Western imperialism. Forget Westerners who are uncomfortable with their extensive history of imperialism, slavery and colonisation and, would rather not be reminded of it; our own people don't want to even figure it in their analysis and approach. It is a sense of inferiority on both sides, actually, which does not let people look at history and its implications today full in the face.

Samir Amin was introduced as the person who was synonymous with emancipation struggles, someone who has penned many of the language used in dependency theories such as core and periphery. And he really was a blast from the past, the era of early decolonisation and liberations struggles, the time when the 'Third World' was looking to unite, a time when there was so much hope. I felt so nostalgic for that time, although I was not born in that time but have learned of it from books and movies.

Sami Amin's talk was not about the past but the implications of the financial crisis. He spoke very much about today.

Samir Amin made reference to the fact that the financial crisis was actually acknowledged close to 11 September, which itself is very symbolic. He said that the financial crisis was only tip of the ice berg, this was the "systemic crisis of ageing capitalism." What had surprised him was that even "convential" economists had not predicted this crisis nor the "critical" ones like Stiglitz. The Marxists had, though. Moreover, the idea that stronger regulation will solve the crisis is superficial.

So what is this global financial capitalist system? Please rid of the assumption that we are dealing neo liberal globalisation. We are dealing with imperialism. Of the first 500 hundred years of capitalism, we had dealt with imperialists, now we are dealing with imperialism.

There has been a qualitative change of historical capitalism. The degree of decentralisation of capital has not happened over the past 50 years but in the space of a couple of decades. A handful of major groups - all can be found in Forune 500, from "trivial business literature" - control the majority of this trade. We have therefore i) a collective imperialism triad composed of US, Japan and Europe ii) global integrated financial market. Capitalism has moved from producing surplus valud into area of redistributing profits into oligopolies of capitalism.

The analysis of the crisis so far has only focused on management of these firms, these oligopolies. Wasn't it interests? Where are the Chicago boys now? Capitalism doesn't work according to ideas. (I guess he was being sarcastic about the Chicago school of neo liberal economics, the likes of Hayek, etc. ) So, the system is going to be restored as it was, practically speaking. We are not merely looking a simple market economy but a hierarchy of markets (and he asked Marxists to look more closely at the architecture of this system). It is an integrated global, financial market which dominates labour, trade, etc. Ongoing politics is aiming to exlusively restoring the credibility of this integrated, global financial system. Trillions of dollars will be injected, trillions of dollars of liquidity.

The volume of operations in the trillions of dollars is unprecedented in the history of capitalism. The ratio between global GDP trade and this global, financial market is mind boggling.

The victims are the working class who will face unemployment, inflation and decrease in the real value of wages and pension funds.

What is the reaction to this? Protests. Fragmented depoliticised responses. This is not the same scenario as the 30s when were were two camps: socialists and facists. The struggle focused on the New Deal, the Left. Social movements today are fragmented and not ideological - manageable for governments.

What about the South? The South continues to integrate into this global monetary financial system. The triad needs the exploitation of cheap labour and resources. China though is ntot fully integrated into this system. In 30 years, the South will move out of this system though. The system will crash though, maybe even harder because the current system is being restored. He said Obama is not Roosevelt. There is no ideological shift in response to this crisis.

What should be the strategy for the Left in the North and the South? We have to move to socialism. We have to be aware that natural resources will become, have already started to become scarce. Access will the the object of more violent conflicts. Mind you, resources were not scarce before, this is something new. The governments of the 'triad' know this and will need exclusive access to these resources to 'develop' and 'waste.' They essentially want military control of the planet - the Americans drafted their strategy during Clinton's era and Obama will continue this. Europe and Japan are following America's leadership.

The South cannot catch up, they have to do something else and move out of globalisation. Nationalisation of oligopolies, abolishment of private property - these are not options anymore. We have to start on a long road towards socialism. He said, he was an Egyptian therefore, long is long. It could be a hundred years or less or more.

If you had said to a merchant in Venice in 1500s that he was helping to build capitalism, he would never have believed it. Similarly, we can't see the context we are in right now, which stage of capitalism, which stage towards socialism.

Samir Amin said we have to emancipate ourselves from what he called the "liberal virus." It affects people so - markets are self regulatory and long live democracy. He said the financial minister in France said the markets would self restore when things started to go bad in the beginning. Clearly it was not so. They had to be bailed out at the cost of trillions. And what of democracy? Having elections, some rights? These democracies are completely disassociated with social movements. Today, you can't even change anything by an election, change of government. You can't even 'vote red.' Maybe something 'pink or rosy' but nothing changes. We have to emancipate ourselves completely from this liberial virus and restore conditions for alternative conditions.

The South has to come up with alternative strategies. China has become a capitalist economy however. It has access to land for its peasants and is more independent from financial markets however, this is an illusion. They will not be an independent capitalist state. India was until 5-7 years ago halfway out of the global financial system but has become more vulnerable by opening up more and more. Malaysia moved out of it since the East Asian financial crisis. The left is not fully aware of what is going on in Africa and this needs to be investigated more.

The reality is that most of human kind is still peasants and historically capitalism cannot address their conditions. The pattern of economic growth so far has not trickled down. It's "exclusive growth." The South has to develop national popular democratic alternatives with different sub stages and families, different formulas for different countries.

And how did he end his speech??

Marx is back!
Use Marxist tools as they are still the ones with which to see and understand the world and change it! **
* Reminder: Cecilia and I were suposed to start a fan club.
** Which convential economics does not understand.

Thursday, 27 November 2008


Violations in the Valley
A talk by Brad Adams from Human Rights Watch and Victoria Schofield, author of
Kashmir in Conflict
20 November, SOAS

It is a good thing I am making the effort to attend lectures outside the class room by people talking about real situations and conflicts; otherwise, I would go around thinking conflicts were caused by greedy trouble-making 'rascals' (as Cramer put it).

Brad Adams

It was Brad Adams who kicked off the talk by saying that Human Rights Watch does not take a position on self determination otherwise they would be considered biased and, perhaps denied entry or access. There are three actors in the Kashmir conflict: the Indian state, the Pakistani state and, militant groups. Human Rights Watch released two reports in 2006: "Everyone Lives in Fear" in Jammu and Kashmir and "With Friends Like These" in Azad Kashmir. For the first report, it was the first time that a Western journalist/expert was allowed to release a report on human rights in Jammu.

Adams laid a grim and horrible picture of the situation in Kashmir: one of heavy military presence, 'encounter killings' and, a large number of disappearances. Thousands of Kashmiris are in custody. Officially, there are 4,000 or 5,000 persons in custory although no one knows for sure. The high court in Srinagar is overburdened with cases. The Indian state at first gives a blanket denial of any disappearances or anyone in custory. At best, they respond by saying that because of military discipline 130 odd cases have been clearned. Privately, the armed forces which act with total impunity, admit that 'these things happen,' 'innocents get killed,' militant forces are supported by Pakistani ISI. The excuses for the army's behaviour is that the soldiers are scared, jumpy and, poorly trained and paid. This may be true however, that is clearly not the issue or excuse. Indian law protects the army and unless the Minister gives permission to prosecute nothing will happen. The last fail safe is that 'officer has been transferred out of Kashmir.'

The Indian state has effectively contracted out killings and solutions to the Army which is running the show and not politicians per se. The truism in India is that more money is spent in this state than any other per capita to create loyalty. The new PM is 'helpless' particularly as head of a coalition.

The main complaint from the Kashmiris is the physical presence of the Army: checkpoints, harassment, being searched. It is an occupation. There is no sense of normalcy.

The militants have also perpetrated many abuses. Human Rights Watch maintains that it is illegal and immoral to set bombs to target civilians. The number of attacks have gone down in recent years. Pakistan officially denies any support to the militants but privately no one denies it.

Being a Pakistani, I was not so much surprised or even shocked but angry to angry to hear that Human Rights Watch's experience in Azad Kashmir was not a bed of roses. Azad Kashmir is a police state and it is apparently much more difficult to interview people. People only talk one-to-one in whispers. Brad Adams said that the situation in the Valley is obviously much much worse however, it is sad that the Pakistani Kasmir has frequent torture and lack of a free media. It is ironic because Pakistan claims the higher moral ground.

Although polling is not accurate, most Kashmiris prefer independence.

The Report recently released by Human Rights Watch says: i) the cycle of violence must end ii) the Army is protected by the Indian state iii) there is increasing resentment by the Kashmiris in the Valley iv) the Indian state has no intention of negotiating v) most people in India think of the Kashmir issue as a nuisance vi) the Indian strategy is one of attrition vii) the Indian state wants to wipe out militancy at any costs - if this is true this drastically reduces options for the Kashmiris.

I was really impressed listening to this fellow. He spoke very clearly and, did not use any notes during the entire length of his speech. He was very restrained and, at the same time, one can guess his attachment to the plight of the Kashmiris.

Victoria Schofield

The dudette lady gave us a broad sweep of the history of the roots of this conflict which lie in the Partition of India. There were 560 princely states at this time. The rulers of Hyderabad and Junagar for example did not want to go either to Pakistan or India. The ruler of Kashmir with a 75% Muslim population wanted to stay independent. For two months, Jammu and Kashmir was actually independent. When things started heating up, the Maharaja of Kashmir requested assistance from the Government of India. Mountbatten suggested temporary ascension before the transfer of weapons to India. Hostilities broke out and, a UN resolution was passed calling for a plebiscite. However, it must be understood that this plebiscite was flawed to begin with. There were only two options - ascension to Pakistan or India without any option for independence. Moreover, the plebscite is unclear about specifics such as Ladakh and the Northern Areas. Despite this, the plebiscite has transformed itself into the symbol of azadi.

Pakistan and India both have a territorial objective and, independence does not sit well with either two positions. Pakistan supports the independence of Kashmiris from India given Kashmir will pass to it.

According to a Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) poll, 75% Kashmiris want independence.

General Mush Mush made somewhat of a departure from Pakistan's traditional stand on the Kashmir issue. He started a lot of "confidence building measures." She had met him during one of her visits to Pakistan and, thought he seemed to be open to alternative solutions or more compromises with India. The current government has also been trying to follow open dialogue and diplomacy. However, it can safely be said that any compromise or solution to Kashmir will not be easy given the entrenched positions of both states. India considers Kashmir an internal issue and for Pakistan, it is almost part of the psyche, a matter of national honour.

India is clearly the more powerful player in this situation. In fact, it is the 'key' player. The Indian Government will not only lose face if the status quo is changed but it will open up a pandora's box for any other nationalist struggles within its territory. She gave an example of the maps one finds in Jammu and Kashmir which not only show this territory as an integral part of India (not a disputed territory which shares a Line of Control with Pakistan) but also Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas of Pakistan. India has a completely 'fossilsed' view.

Pakistan however needs a 'carrot' or some other incentive (Siachen Glacier?) in order for things to move forward.

She has been going to Kashmir for the past twenty years. She said every family in the Valley has lost either a husband or a son or a brother to the conflict.

Her belief is that the plebiscite is not the answer.

Although India has not really budged on its position at all since the start of the conflict, there are little baby steps. The Indian PM said that the Government has zero tolerance for abuses. This may not seem like a lot but this it is a big deal that the Indian Government has even said it.


There were many questions, one very naive but evoked a great answer. One fellow asked why the UN doesn't send troops into Kashmir. Brad Adams and Victoria Schofield were very patient in their answers explaining that the UN actually has no mandate or authorit to send in troops to Kashmir. Moreover, the conflict has been ignored for most of its history. It is only when Pakistan and India became nuclear powers that it became a little bit more visible. India is a huge international player and really knows how to work the system. What I found really hilarious was when Brad Adams said that all Indians have to say is 'colonialism' to the Brits and the Brits get scared; like its a 'boo' or something. As for the Americans, they are too busy cementing their nuclear deal with India. Human Rights Watch could not get any comment at all on the Kashmir issue from the American Embassy in India. Human Rights Watch says it does not support UN sanctions but the organisation should at least be allowed to go into Kashmir for fact finding, find corroboration. The fact that is that the UN is equally 'scared' of India.

Another question dealt with Kashmiri journalists in the UK. Were they doing a good job? Yes, some of them are pretty good. The Internet and the technological revolution has also done a lot to bring exposure and communication to Kashmir. As for Pakistani journalists, their views are mostly fossilised too. They are still talking about the plebiscite. We need to change and revise the rhetoric.

Generally, there is no international focus on Kashmir. The Obama government will focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, it is not out outrightly understood that Kashmir is a vital piece of the puzzle! Pakistan is an arch rival with India due to its terroritial dispute over Kashmir. Much of Pakistani's history is about fighting wars with India, building a strong army and intelligence at the cost of other institutions, and seeking 'strategic depth' in Afghanistan. (Please see my entry on the Ahmed Rashid lecture).

Another kid (the same one who wanted to know why the UN wasn't sending in troops to Kashmir like it did in Africa, as if Africa were more 'cared' for) said that Musharraf's autobiography admitted that the government has no control over ISI while India says 'stop militancy' to Pakistan. Wasn't it a vicious circle? Brad Adams said it was more of a self serving dishonest statement more than anything else. He said it was interesting that all the militant groups resurfaced after the earthquake in Kashmir in 2005. These militant groups directly received aid from the government and other channels.

Tail End

This was really a humbling experience for me. Kashmir has completely receded into the background. It hardly features in world news. Moreover, we in Pakistan have for the most part been brainwashed by our Government into believing that we do indeed hold the higher moral ground. It was said during the talk that the ascension of the Northern Areas to Pakistan has still not been formally accepted by Pakistan so that the status quo would not change. The Northern Areas don't have any formal representation in our Government. We don't have to go into any detail into the make up of our democracy or our government but, it is clearly it is even more flawed than we know. I don't remember thinking about Kashmir for some time. We in Pakistan are now too busy observing and processing the explosion of 'terrorist' violence and the spill over from Afghanistan, our past coming to haunt us. However, everything is connected. We cannot separate any of these situations. I was also humbled by the dignity and hard work of these two people who have clearly devoted so much time of their lives to this conflict, speaking about it, understanding it and letting the world know what is going on. For this we as Pakistanis should be grateful for the truth.

I never knew that Mountbatten was assassinated by the IRA!!

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Rights Responsibilities and "Cultural Citizenship" in South African Land Reform

Professor Deborah James from the LSE gave a talk on Rights Responsibilities and "Cultural Citizenship" in South African Land Reform this last Thursday, 20 November at SOAS. I went along for the fun of it.

I tried to follow her train of thought and what she was going on about. She started talking about land identity, anthropology of citzenship, how in the Middle East citzenship was based more on kinship, that citizenship can also be seen in cultural terms, etc. All in all, hers was a befuddling train of thought to follow.

I mean this is one of the slides she put up -

Citizenship is i) modelled on other forms of identification ii) contextual. (Whatever the heck does that mean or did i just not take good notes?)

Land is a potent symbol that can unify but also represent cracks and hierarchies.

In South Africa, citizenship was based on the struggle against apartheid but has also now been linked to land restitution. She listed the set of land reform legislation starting with 1984 to 2004. These acts of legislation were to return land to those who owned land and it was stolen from them or, those who claim informal rights.

The case study the Prof presented was of Doornkop. A farm was bought there by missionaries and converts (I guess they'd be converts). Some of the owners of the farm were living in the city while others had rented it out. It was seized in 1974 like a lot of other land had been seized and was only returned to the titleholders (the original owners and tenants) in 1994. It was taken over by squatters in 2000. She had interviewed some of the owners and the squatters. I am not exactly sure what she was trying to do but i suppose trying to understand these people's association with the land. The owners were angry with the squatters but at the same time recognising their rights. squatters said they had voted for the new South Africa and were citizens and, had the right to be where ever there was available land. Henry Bernstein picked up on this during the discussion and said it was highly interesting that a squatter would say that defining citzenship in an all-encompassing and egalitarian way.

The Prof seemed to be intrigued by the overall lack of return of people to the land and start farming all over again. She seemed to imply that if history had taken its course, people would have left the land anyway because of the rural-urban migration. Because of the larger sense of hurt and grievance, people had made a symbolic association with land harking back to an idyllic past, a biblical return to the land. She said that apartheid had left a sense of entitlement. Moreover, the government had not gone about land reforms in the best and fair manner. Land restitution had been handed over to market forces, put under Trusts. Ownership was being forced onto beneficiaries. Black economic empowerment elites were more successful on the other hand.

All in all, I was highly unimpressed with her talk. She wasn't a good speaker to begin with and failed to provide a larger or a smaller picture of the land reforms or the meaning of cultural citizenship either. This was pointed out by the audience during the discussion. Moreover, it is it me or was she trivialising people's identity and link to their own land whether or not they were owned it or not.

Bernstein said during the discussion that South Africa is a country where before 1994 most of its inhabitants were not even citizens despite the fact it was a fully developed capitalist state. The black and other non-white population had actually experienced 100 to 150 years of capitalism and, therefore, the struggle against apartheid and in post-apartheid is also based on class conflict.

The Politics of Successful Governance Reforms

Now that I have come across Good Governance in my lectures and classes and, even attended a lecture by a fellow from DFID , I now know what the heck the 3rd floor back in UNDP Liberia was doing! For us the operational side of things (contract management, reporting to donors, monitoring projects, supervision of NGOs, fighting with donors, fighting with management), we never knew what anyone above us was really doing. Ha, now I know.

The lecture I attended was Politics of Successful Governance Reforms given by Mark Robinson from DFID on Tuesday, 18 November. The talk was a summary of research carried out on governance reforms being carried out with various DFID partners. The purpose of the research was to

- identify success in governance reforms: processes, impacts and sustainability
- analyse political and institutional factors that account for successful reforms

There are limitations to a technocratic approach as it outweighs politics and falls outside 'globalisation' and 'democratisation.'

The research hypotheses were that governance reforms are dependent on i) high levels of political commitment and bureaucratic capacity ii) governing elites and the depth of civil society iii) and the type, scope, level and length of reforms.


  1. Political commitment had a decisive role. Leadership, commitment and tactics of politics was key to successful reform. Political leadership has to have a vision of potential benefits, a willingness to consider reform options, and rely on technocrats (Brazil, Uganda).
  2. He went on to say that political competition generates bargaining and forces compromise over reforms but, cautious and attenuated reform can produce inertia and build resistance to change (India).
  3. Longevity of reform enhances credibility and predictability but undermines sustainability (Uganda).
  4. Non democratic context limits scope for mobilisation. Democratic political culture gives rise to strategies of bargaining and accommodation with vested interests (India).
  5. Incremental reforms with cumulative benefits build public support, minimise opposition, form vested interests and, strengthen political incentives for reform (India).
  6. Improved pay and conditions along with room for client feedback also helps reform (India).
  7. The assumption that traditional elites will resist reforms and formation of pro-reform conditions was not supported by the research findings.
  8. Civil society was usually not part of reforms.

Hence, the key conclusions are:

1) Centrality of political commitment
2) Technical capacity *
3) Politics of incremental ism

Implications for aid donors are that absence of domestic political commitment limits reform options and moderates donor expectations. Support for incremental reform is more rewarding over long term than ambitious reform initiatives with short term frames. Modest financial outlays and flexible lending instruments, selective technical assistance and compensation for losers are also important.

Wider implications are that politically feasible reforms require careful attention to institutional design, timing and, frequency. Incremental trade offs can entail trade offs between accountability and weaker efficiency games i.e. 'good enough governance.' The importance of long-term horizons and mutually reinforcing reforms with potential for achieving cumulative impact.

This is largely the summary of the talk given by the fellow from DFID. He did not really have a very engaging style of narrative and, bored a lot of people including me.

Good governance is a term that is now used by donors to speak of a transparent, accountable and efficient government. It is a very non-threatening, neutral phrase that really does not say a lot. However, its very banality and obviousness depoliticises the process by which governments would go about conducting reform whether they do it themselves or under donor pressure. Critiques of good governance agendas point out that this seemingly harmless concept is another form of neo-liberalism, that good governance is code for limited, efficient government which will allow free markets to function. Moreover, there is even the argument that neo liberalism has actually been internalised by heavily-indebted states.

The questions were interesting though and as you can see, even though they are questions, the answers are embedded in them:

  • doesn't corruption exist in developing countries?
  • why are we promoting privatisation in developing countries when it does not work here?
  • would political elites resist reforms only because of costs/benefits as explained by rational choice or would there be any other considerations?
  • weren't governance programmes social tranformation projects? how would it be possible to measure or evaluate this?

Mushtaq Khan, whom we have actually been reading in our classes, was among the audience. He asked what we actually meant by reform and was it not just service delivery. He said these reforms fail to see capture the bigger picture which includes class politics and conflict. In Pakistan for example, decentralisation by Musharraf created new structures that by passed the main political structures thereby creating tension and conflict. Morever, how do we measure political commitment independent of outcome in such research. Again, the question carried a lot of the answers within itself. Mark Robinson agreed with most of it anyway.

He also said that in today's world, the donors operate in a different way. After the Paris Declaration, donors are more diplomatic. We are in a post conditionalty environment. But again, as I mentioned before, there are arguments that the conditions have been internalised anyway in heavily-indebted states where the line between governments and donors have actually blurred.

All in all, I am glad I went to this talk to listen to the donor perspective on how they broadly see the success and constraints of governance reforms.

* Although this quite a paradox - what comes first, technical capacity or reform? If capacity were already there, would reforms even be needed?

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan himself

Hearing Aitzaz Ahsan, the lawyers movement personified, was a real pleasure. He gave a talk at the LSE on 10 November. The talk was moderated by Lord Desai.

The two have co-authored Divided by Democracy which discusses why India is a democracy and Pakistan is not. I should probably get a hold of this book at some point and read it.

I attended the lecture with my mother and, little Saira and Tariq joined us too. There was a great buzz in the lecture theatre and, I saw a lot of the same faces that I had seen at Ahmed Rashid's talk at SOAS. In fact, I saw the 'retired-academic' chappie and even asked him his name again and promptly forgot it. I saw the the same fellows who had been at the after-party at the student bar at SOAS. And might I add, I said hello to Mr. Ziauddin and, he actually remembered my name!

Aitzaz Ahsan started off and said his talk would be about 'law in a lawless frontier' and the 'transformative role of the lawyers movement' in Pakistan. He described frontier as something that could be the geographic outline of a region but also the outline of a region of civilised, normative, constitutionally functioning world. Pakistan does have laws which are of an Anglo-Saxon tradition. By and large, we have a refined legal system except for some regressive laws installed by General Zia ul Haq. However, our laws have not been applied or enforced.

He said that the lawyers movement has brought Pakistan to a high point of existence however some issues had been 'befuddled.' Pakistan has managed to democratically elect a government, parliament and provincial assemblies. However, people ask him why in the face of such great achievement, is it so important to reinstate one Supreme Court judge.

His answer is that it is not the issue of the judges themselves but the question of how could one man suspend, amend and mutilate the Constitution? How could one man arrest 60 judges along with their wives and families? The Chief Justice was house arrested with his family for five months.

And the two most advanced, the two oldest, the two most stable, the two most wonderful - Aitzaz Ahsan really built up a crescendo and boy did he work it - democracies in the world, the USA and UK, did not utter a single syllable against this grave injustice. And, Aitzaz Ahsan, who wrote a piece for the Newsweek lamented this and said, if any foreign dignitary goes up the hill to meet President Musharraf they should also think of a prisoner on another hill. Yes, yes, this is how he went on about it. It sounds pretty theatrical, no, not even, it sounds really silly. But this is the trouble with translating poetic Urdu thoughts into very unpoetic English words.

So what was the excuse for the USA and the UK to ignore such grave abuses going on in the country ruled by their darling of the West, the great Musharraf? The war on terror, the war on terror. The effective weapon in this war is not a hi-tech one but a sympathetic population with rights and rule of law. The Taliban on the other hand do not provide schools or roads - in fact, they blow them up - but at least provide quick and brutal justice thereby gaining the loyalty of the population. Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudry was reaching out to the oppressed, the victims such as Mukhar Mai. He had zero tolerance for corruption, human rights abuses and environmental degradation.

Harvard University has decided to award Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudry with the Medal of Freedom which has only been ever awarded twice: Justice Thurgood Marshall (was an American Jusrist and the first African American to serve on the Supreme Courst Justice of the USA. Before becoming a judge, he was a lawyer who was best remembered for his high success rate in arguing before the Supreme Court and for the victory in Brown v. Board of Education) and the great Nelson Mandela.

Chief Justice Chaudry will be awarded the medal on 19 November in Boston. It is an honour for Pakistan. Ahsan said that Pakistanis were grateful to the American and European academia for having shown solidarity but unfortunately the administrations did not. Rather, he said that the administration think Pakistanis should be grateful to them for the change that has come about it. He said it the lawyers movement which weakened Musharraf and not any external pressure.

What triggered the lawyers movement in Pakistan? Ahsan said that it was a long time coming. The judiciary had been abused for a long time and, the movement was inevitable. He described the moment when the Chief Justice was sacked and Khan was arguing against it with the panel of judges who told him to 'have faith in Allah' (the usual call-to-God-befuddling-diversion invoked in our parts) and he retorted 'he did have faith in Allah but not in them'.

Pakistan's lawyers movement has to be seen as an aspiration of its people for rule of law. Pakistan is a South Asian state, not an Arab one, where the judiciary is almost non-existent.

Historically, democracy and parliament cannot be sustained without an independent judiciary. We have to look towards our neighbour, our colonial cousin, India, where democracy has managed to survive the 'din and chaos.' Why? Because its judges have been independent. Even under Indira Gandhi's emergency rule, the judiciary was independent. Similarly, the judiciary was not suspended even during the American Civil War. In Britain, the judiciary as an institution existed 3-400 years before Parliament; the writ of habeus corpus predates parliament (e.g. of 5 Knights case). Hence, the British experience says 'democracy is a creature of independent judiciary.' And, South Asia derives most of its legal system, if not all, from the Anglo-Saxon tradition.

He passionately stressed that an independent judicairy is necessary for progress and economic development. 'No country can develop on dole.' It needs investment - sarmaya kari. He said economic development required capital, not necessary capitalism, which was a very interesting distinction that he made. And, capital can be invested where a contract can be enforced and an independent and 'fearless' judiciary resides.

The talk concluded and, the floor was opened to questions. Lord Desai - and what an entertaining character to look at, observe and hear - I was mesmerised by his pouffy white hair - strictly told everyone that they should only ask questions and not make statements. He quite got a bang out of all the Zardari-PPP related questions that Khan wanted to dodge but had to answer.

Ahsan said that he had a fundamental disagreement with Zardari over the deposed judges. Zardari had effectively abandoned his support for the Islamabad Declaration i.e. the judges would be reinstated 24 hours after the departure of Musharraf. Of course, that has not happened and the judges issue has been left unresolved. He was highly unimpressed with this turn of events. Moreover, the cabinet is comprised of characters who have publicly said really stupid things, for example condoning cruel judgements passed by village jirgas.

As far as his position was concerned, he has remained in the PPP because it is not a one-person party. The part is made up of millions of people. He has been part of it for 40 years. He is actually the voice of dissent.

As for inheritance in political parties, it seems to be a South Asian phenomenon. He gave the example of the Gandhi dynasty in India, the relations of the political leaders in Bangladesh and even in Sri Lanka.

However, the audience did not seem to be convinced that there was any dissent in the PPP. He said there was. He drew a rather strange parallel with the politics of the Democrat party in the recent primary elections and the contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. He said that Clinton has gone to great lengths to slander Obama but, when defeated, had to accept his victory and the party line. I guess he was trying to say that divisions occur in parties but he cannot really compare that mechanism for electing a Democrat nominee with the cracks within PPP over the issue of whether or not to reinstate deposed judges.

As for why Pakistanis haven't called for Musharraf's punishment, he said that in Pakistan we 'presribe for a more collective action.' There should be accountability however, it would probably create more division. Moreover, culturally, we prefer to say, 'let's forget it.'

It was clear that much of the audience was not convinced with his insistence that he was the voice of dissent in the PPP, that he had still clung on to his principles. Pakistanis can certainly be forgiven for being cynical in this regard. Pakistanis would never have believed that Asif Zardari, the guy famously referred to as the 10% man, the guy who is often blamed for Benazir Bhutto's tarnished track record and corruption charges, would one day be their President. The lawyers movement which engendered an entirely new wave of political and civic consciousness in Pakistan - of which Aitzaz Ahsan is a big part of, nay, is synonymous with - has sort of been betrayed by the new government under Zardari.

While discussing the talk with Tariq afterwards, indeed, I can understand the general disappointment among Pakistanis. They don't see Aitzaz Ahsan putting into action his principled stand. Tariq said that if the ANC can split, so can and should PPP. Perhaps that would create fresh blood within party politics in Pakistan and is what is exactly needed in Pakistan.

As for how I found Ahsan to be, I think he was quite a distinguished speaker, obviously a politician and mostly made sense to me.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

World Military Expenditure for 2007 was US $ 1,339 Billion!

I attended a presentation of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) 2008 yearbook at the London School of Economics (LSE) on 4 November. The main speakers were Dr Bates Gill and Dr Sam Perlo-Freeman from SIPRI and, the respondent was Lord Malloch-Brown. It was chaired by Professor Mary Kaldor.

SIPRI is a well-known think tank that researches issues such as security and conflict, peacekeeping, arms trade, military expenditure, arms control and non proliferation. The interesting thing is that the Institute was founded in 1966 to commemorate 150 years of unbroken peace in Sweden.

The core topics covered in the 2008 SIPRI yearbook are:

- armed conflict and peace operations
- military spending and arms production
- international arms transfers
- nuclear arms control, nuclear forces
- biological and chemical weapons and materials

Special topics include i) gender and post conflict security sector reform ii) US ballistic missile defense programmes iii) nuclear forensics analysis iv) global health.

The key findings for 2007 were not very encouraging in terms of the world becoming a safer place (despite American endeavours to make it safer). There were 14 major armed conflicts active in 13 locations in 2007 (although no inter-state conflicts). However, major armed conflicts account for only half of state-based conflicts and one-quarter of all armed conflicts, including non-state based contacts between on-state actors. Hence, the 'fragmentation of violence' continues. There were 61 peace keeping operations in 2007 with an all-time high of over 169,000 peace keeping personnel deployed on ground (69,000 in Africa and 46,000 in Asia).

The picture gets even worse when looking at how much money states have to spend on guns: world military expenditure was US $ 1,339 billion. This represents 2.5% of world GDP, US $ 202 per person. This is a 6% increase in real terms from 2006 and a 28% increase since 2002. American military expenditure was US $ 578 billion which is a almost half of the world's total! The other top spenders are the UK, China, France, Japan, Germany, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Italy and, India.

The biggest increases have been in armoured vehicles, electronics and communication (network centric warfare) and military services. There is increasing outsourcing to private security companies.

The presenter from SIPRI then focused on activities in world hot spots:

Afghanistan: There are more arms transfers than before. The Afghan Army is now being supplied by Americans instead of East Europeans as before. And, the Taliban continue to be supplied most probably from Pakistan's FATA region.

Sudan: Non-state actors are stealing from the Sudanese Army or from neighbouring countries. The Janjaweed are still being directly supplied by the Sudanese Army which itself still deploys Chinese and Russian arms.

South Caucasus: There has been a rapid decrease in military expenditure since 2003. In Georgia, military expenditure increased ten-fold! Arms transfers - very transparent - were from Ukraine and the Czech Republic.

The representatives from SIPRI, highlighted the overall difficulty in obtaining the data on arms transfers and government military expenditures, e.g. China and North Korea.

Lord Malloch Brown's (he was UNDP's big boss man not too long ago) response was highly diplomatic and may I say, quite dull. He praised SIPRI's excellent work and lamented how gone were the days when nuclear-armed tensions set the agenda and kept things simple. Now, with the end of the Cold War and, with the 'fragmentation of violence,' things had become too 'complicated.' North Korea was a rogue state. Iran had psychological insecurities. And, the United Nations peacekeeping capabilities were not yet as robust as should be.

Professor Mary Kaldor's comments were much more insightful and interesting to listen to. She initially made a mistake of introducting the SIPRI Director as Bill Gates instead of Bates Gill. That was very funny.

All in all, the lecture was interesting and, a great opportunity to hear the Director of SIPRI himself presenting the main contents of the latest yearbook. A lof of my course reading includes various articles published by SIPRI.

I was a bit bored by the presentation itself as it was just a straightforward presentation of hard data and analysis. I suppose, though, that that is how most people would react to 'boring data' even though it strongly speaks for itself. SIPRI did not need to make any damning statements towards any state or defense company. It is more than clear as to which states are spending the most on arms, it is clear where the arms transfers are being made and, where the main conflicts are raging.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

My Encounter with Ahmed Rashid

I met Ahmed Rashid last week at SOAS when he came to deliver a talk - "Rise of Religious Extremism in Pakistan" - this past Monday, 3 November.

I was at the reception desk waiting around for the lecture to begin when I saw him walk through the main entrance in a very angrezi style coat and hat. I immediately introduced myself excitedly, gushing about my experience in Afghanistan and what a pleasure it was to meet him! He asked me where he might get a cup of tea and I pointed towards our very grimy student union shop. His elegant wife and very cute daughter also walked in. I followed them to the shop where Mr. Rashid offered me tea as well. I chatted to Mrs Rashid who is Spanish. I asked her where she'd met Mr. Rashid and she quipped, 'where everyone meets everyone, in London.' I thought it was pretty cool to be talking to her while other Pakistani students streamed in greeting the famous journalist.

Because of the mix up of the allocated venue for the talk, it was another 10 minutes before it all began. It ended up taking place in a very small room but the relevance of the topic, the fame of the speaker, and the general coolness of Pakistanis more than made up for it! I mean, there was a real buzz in the room - unlike a few other talks I have seen so far by outside speakers.

Ahmed Rashid described the dire straits in Pakistan and helped me to better understand or differentiate between the violence spilling from Afghanistan into Pakistan and, our homegrown talents in mayhem. According to him, Pakistanis are living under a false set of assumptions propagated by our Army, politicians and the Urdu press:

- that America's so-called war of terror is not Pakistan's

- the war would stop if Americans left Afghanistan

- that if the Pakistan Army pulls out of Federally
Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), all would be okay

- that we should have unconditional talks with the militants
(Nawaz Sharif apparently supports this idea)

- everyone but us is responsible for the mess in Pakistan

Against this false sense of reality within Pakistan, it is true that Americans are badly losing the battle against the Taliban and other militants in Afghanistan. The reasons for the deterioation in the situation in Afghanistan are directly linked to the diversion in Iraq. The Americans abandoned the fragile security situation after their invasion of Afghanistan which was put on the way-back burner while Iraq was supposedly being liberated. 2003 to 2004 was a period of opportunity to rebuild Afghanistan and, rise to the expectations of Afghanis as was promised to them before cluster bombing them. Instead of rebuilding infrastructure and investing in basic health, education and the economy, warlords were re-empowered by the CIA, the drugs trade flourished again and, the Taliban eventually regained their strength in numbers and resources.

It is only now that Americans and, the Pakistan Government have woken up to the situation we find ourselves in. In their well-thought-out plan to only get a hold of Al Qaeda, the Pakistan Government under General Musharraf agreed to do America's bidding and only focused on Al Qaeda cells and, caught a lot of Al Qaeda #2's. This suited Musharraf very well because the Pakistan Army had not only help create the Taliban but also fought with it in Afghanistan against the Northern Alliance. The Taliban which had escaped from Afghanistan into Pakistan's mountains and frontier not only regrouped but branched out into a Pakistani chapter as well. And, it is this Pakistani chapter of the Taliban that is wreaking the death and destruction not only in the mountains but also in our major cities.

Taking a step back into the past, the original Taliban that had fought against Northen Alliance in the late 1990s were supported by the Pakistan Army and volunteers as part of our 'strategic depth' policy. It is this Taliban that escaped Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002 during American strikes and sought refuge in our mountains and along our border regions. And they certainly had the support of the Pakistan Army which according to Mr. Rashid not only turned a blind eye but supported them. These Taliban were hosted in FATA and after executing a lot of the local pro-government and anti-Taliban elders and heads of communities, raised their own fighting forces.

Mr. Musharraf meanwhile rigged elections in 2002 and radical religious parties such as Jamiat-ul-Ulama-i-Islam (JUI) who had actually supported the Taliban in the 1990s came onto the political scene at the expense of the sidelined mainstream political parties. The massive earthquake in 2005 in Kashmire allowed other dormant groups such as Lashkar-E-Tayyaba to also become active. Public relief funds were directed to them and, these groups gained legitimacy in public opinion as having been one of the first groups to offer help to the affected. And lastly, the delayed and bloody seizure of the Lal Masjid in Islamabad resulted in an unnecessary and tragic bloodbath; the few militants that had barricaded themselves in the Red Mosque should have been contained in the beginning and not after six months as it so happened, thereby radicalising the Taliban and sympathisers further.

Today, our Army is fighting militants in its own territories but not with any real strategy or policy in mind. The ongoing battle in Bajaur was meant to last for a couple weeks but has dragged on for three months now and, has become a frontline. Instead of employing a counter insurgency policy, the Army has only sporadically tackled the problem. I was shocked to learn that the Frontier Corps are fighting this war while the regular army is still posted on the border with India. Pashtoons who make up the Corps probably fought with the Taliban in the 1990s or have family links to areas in FATA compounding the challenges even further.

Furthermore, we have failed our own population. We did not protect the local population of FATA which have become refugee in the rest of Pakistan. Since 2004, 800,000 Pashtoons have fled those areas (this is 20 - 25% of the entire population!). Furthermore, the Taliban executed the elders and other leaders who did not agree with their ideology. By giving sanctuary to the Afghan Taliban, we effectively created our own Pakistani Taliban who have an agenda of talibanising the whole of Pakistan. Ahmed Rashid certainly did not mince his words when describing the mess we are in. He proposed the following solutions:

The Taliban which have become a regional problem in South Asia need to be approached and tackled regionally keeping in mind that India, Pakistan, Iran and the five central states all have proxies in Afghanistan. The Americans needs to have a far more comprehensive solution for the region as a whole. You can't box Afghanistan or Pakistan differently, for example.

Normalisation of relations and resolution of unresolved issues needs to be facilitated between Pakistan and India. Pakistan's Foreign Policy has always been rooted in deep fear of Indian aggression; furthermore, this policy has always been in theArmy's control. Hence, we came up with 'strategic depth' in Afghanistan. Hence, we have never allowed a stable democracy. The civilian government in Pakistan needs to be strengthened and regain control of its foreign policy.

Ahmed Rashid was bombarded with very interesting questions after proposing a regional diplomatic and economic strategy.

In answer to a question whether conservatism was not on the rise itself regardless of the presence of the Taliban, Mr. Rashid agreed but stated that the Pakistani middle class did not realise that Pakistani Taliban are a result of Pakistan Government - under the heavy influence of the Army - sponsorship over a long period of time. Relief funding was directly channelled to radical religious parties at the time of the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir. Hence, the Right is quite organised and well-funded. People are not standing up to this radicalisation or violence because they think that the war in Afghanistan and in FATA is America's war. The Taliban are quite a dangerous bunch of people without a real social or economic model (their view on women is disastrous). Groups in Egypt or Lebanon for example at least have an economic programme.

Is the violence in Karachi in any way linked to any Taliban presence? Mr. Rashid explained that the violence in Karachi has always had largely sectarian and ethnic roots. Although, a lot of support for the Taliban originated from religious schools in Karachi, all the way back in 1994.

In answer to 'Western-divide-and-rule tactics,' Mr. Rashid said that the Americans have not been playing fair politics in South Asia by initiating the civilian nuclear power exchange with India, Pakistan's rival. This will have an adverse affect on Pakistani internal politics and psyche. The neo-con strategy, highly "stupid," was to even use India against China but thankfully, India did not want to play that game. Of course there is no guarantee that the new American administration will have better policies for South Asia but at least we can hope. General Petraeus, the American military dude who was in charge of Iraq, is now running Afghanistan. Mr. Rashid explained that the tribal society was not dismantled in Iraq - tribal leaders were paid by Saddam Hussein and also, by the Americans after the invasion. The Americans armed 100,000 tribesmen in Iraq which now will be difficult to disarm. The options are limited - these armed tribesmen cannot even be absorbed into the army or police.

In Afghanistan, on the other hand, the Taliban have dismantled hierarchies by raising the mullahs over the traditional elders. Moreover, the Taliban are paying today paying salaries to their fighters which they were not in the 1990s.

The sad thing is that Pashtoon culture is being demonised all over the world and, even in Pakistan. Pashtoon culture is not only rich but, also has a rich tradition of politics. He himself and the audience made reference to the peaceful non aligned Pashtoon movement.

As for what Pakistan has done with the approximate $ 12 billion worth of 'aid' given by the Americans, a lot of defense equipment was bought but more against India. Pakistan should have spent the money on equipment more useful for counter insurgency and, training in it.

There were a lot of cynical observations made by some of the students as Pakistanis have lost faith in the army as well as the political parties. But Ahmed Rashid stressed that the democracy in Pakistan has never really had a chance to grow and mature; hence the quality of the politicans that we have. But just because these are the 'cards we have been dealt with', does not mean we should abandon the democratic route.

The lecture came to an end and most of the audience dispersed. I followed Mr. Rashid and some others to the SOAS bar. I found myself sitting with Mr. Rashid, a few other Pakistani students, an older retired Pakistani academic and who I believe to be M. Ziauddin, the editor of Dawn. Pretty cool, eh? I even managed to ask a few seemingly-smart questions and contributed my spurts of thought here and there. I was quite chuffed to be at this little after-party which went on about for an hour at least. The evening eventually came to an end and, I expressed my pleasure of meeting Mr. Rashid.

As far as the mess in Pakistan is concerned, it is going to take a lot of time to clean it up. It is not a mess, it is war. The kind of 'insurgency' war that can be sustained over long periods of time and, increasingly destabilise Pakistan. Because the means of this war are small to medium arms which are actually being manufactured locally and being traded across both sides of the border with Afghanistan. And, as we can imagine, it is not hard to recruit frighters; America is indiscriminantly bombing our territories. We in Pakistan have to not only fight this insurgency with a clear strategy but, be prepared to repair the damages of war and population displacement.

Embarking on my studies

After working for six years in the Development Industry, I have taken a break to study development theory in London, UK. I arrived here on the 19th of October from Liberia, West Africa where I have been working for the past five years, first with the World Food Programme (WFP) and then, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The degree that I will be reading is Violence, Conflict and Development at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

The fact that I am here completely blows my mind and, has been blowing my mind for a long time because to put it simply, I was never quite convinced that I should study development in London, one of the main heartthrobs of the Western World, in order to enhance my own career with the United Nations while supposedly working for the poor and helpless of the world. The inherent contradictions of this arrangement never sat easy on my mind. Although this higher qualification is essential for me to progress in my career, I always wondered why the heck my extensive experience and commitment was not enough. As naive as I wanted to be, there was no way out of it. If I were so committed to my career and the kind of work I do, I would have to undertake at least a master's level degree to get a grasp of the theoretical framework of development and, the irony is that the best schools teaching development theory are situated in the West.

I have never really seen my fledgling career with the United Nations as saving the world, as many of my more naive or pouffy-egoed colleagues would think they are doing. Nah, I am not so arrogant to think that I was doing anything to improve the lives of my host country's citizens by earning the kind of salary I was earning driving around in $ 40,000 UN Land Cruisers living in the better areas of town. And I do enjoy going to one of the two fancy sushi bars in Monrovia on a Friday night to shrug off the stresses of saving the world!

Ever since my first field trip - which was to Kabul and what a memorable time I had in Afghanistan - I have always seen my experience in the United Nations as a Pakistani as an incredible privilege. Afterall, I myself hail from the developing world and, like to identify with my fellow Third Worlders. We are all in the same boat! Crushed under the weight of colonialism, neo colonialism, neo-liberalism and whatever isms there out there. I know a lot of people from the so-called Third World itself want to look ahead and, not include the history of effects of colonialism in everyday discussion, but the truth is that colonialism did not occur in ancient history. On the cosmic scale of things, it happened yesterday. How much it disrupted and distorted societies and politics really depends on what region one hails from and, Africa probably suffered most from it, but it is part of our history. And, I firmly believe that those in the developing world should identify with each other and forge closer ties. Hance, I also like to imagine myself following in the footsteps of my father who served in the Pakistani Foreign Service for 35 years and associate myself with diplomacy.

My imagingings aside, I can't believe, for instance, that I am here in London, a functioning society and state at least on the very basic level, and can enjoy twenty-four hour electricity and running water. These are amenities which I have to worry about in Monrovia on a daily basis - imagine the plight of the ordinary Liberian! I find it spectacularly amazing that this stable and wealthy world is separated from one so poor and dysfunctional by a mere eight-hour flight. The world I come from has roads riddled with potholes, where a post conflict government is completely dependent on the international community for basic law and order, where it takes 6 hours to traverse a 100 km road in the bush and, where life of the ordinary citizen is a daily struggle. It is a struggle which could be completely invisible to a person working for the aid industry even within a country such as Liberia. It is a struggle one comes to comprehend and appreciate if one chooses to. Imagine the kind of world we live, then, where wealth and dire poverty are separated in today's modern world only through very superficial distance.

Moreover, I find it so ironic that I am going to study the conditions of conflict, the horror of violence and impediments to development in countries in Asia or Africa, for example, under an academic microscope in a place called the School of Oriental and African Studies in the capital of a country which not very long ago have the biggest empire in the world. [KaChing for the UK - they have scores of students living here, spending money on rent, books, the tube, tuitition and the rest of it. It is great how they continue to benefit from colonialism, war and conflict] And, as much as I think SOAS is one cool place, I would have imagined they would have gotten rid of the Oriental in their name by now.

There is a certain degree of guilt and dilemma inside me. I find the whole prospect of studying the tragedy of war and conflict, the lumping of it as it inadvertently happens even in an ordinary conversation, from an academic armchair incredibly arrogant. Equipped with this degree, I will be able to sign better contracts for sure but, I am not sure that I will have any better understanding of the plight of developing countries. Coming from a developing country myself and, having spent a lot of time in post conflict states, I pretty much understand the problems and what should be done. And, I suspect that so does the average person in Asia or Africa, for example.

What really got me going right before I arrived in London was my Holy-Grail-like search for the elusive British student visa in West Africa. As Monrovia does not have British diplomatic or consular representation, I went to our neighbouring Ghana to apply for one. When I got there, I was told to get my ass to Sierra Leone by the British authorities in Ghana as flippantly as if it were just a matter of me hailing a taxi and going to Freetown. I flew back to Monrovia, re-did all my paperwork, applied for the Sierra Leone visa and flew to Freetown. I applied for the student visa, was unpleasantly informed that the Commission would not make consideration for the fact that their colleagues in Ghana had screwed up and I had already lost time and had to wait for three weeks. I asked the Liberian Embassy in Freetown to issue me a travelling document so I could return to Liberia without a passport which they were very kind enough to do so. I returned to Freetown exactly three weeks afterwards only to find out my student visa application was rejected on grounds of financial consideration. Basically, I had failed to show enough cold cash in my bank statements despite the fact that I was planning on staying with my brother and would not need the full prescriped amount as I would not need to spend a penny on accommodation. I was thoroughly humiliated and disgusted by these Brits and, how they dismissed my application which I thought was pretty sound and straightforward. I found it hard to believe that these twits thought I was going to be a liability to their government or society while I would be in London, that I would want to, for example, stay on in their dreary country even one more second than I would have to after the completion of my degree. Heck, I had studied in the UK before for my undergraduate degree, had left upon completion and had now worked for the UN and, had full support of my employer in applying for a student visa. The wonderful thing about the visa application process was that the Brits had not bothered to even inform me my application was rejected before I even bothered to fly to Freetown from Monrovia. I had to fly back to Monrovia as the Commission would not re-open for another five days and return to Freetown to re-apply. I spent untold amounts of money on flights, hotels and visa fees. I had to push myself to go through this humiliating process again, that I was doing this for my education and nothing more. I ignored once again the concentration-camp-like style of the British Commission where applicants were given numbered tags to hang around their necks, herded into groups to the next waiting hall, speaking to the officer through a thick glass when submitting the application, and submitting facial and finger-print scans. All the people were so quiety lest they upset any of the Commission staff. I was disgusted at the idea that this Commission was charging a couple hundred dollars or more for various kinds of visas in a country that is considered one of the poorest in the world. Does the UK really need the money? Did it not feel ashamed of levying such fees in such a poor country?

But here I am after harassment by the British authorities and long, painful existential dilemmas. Because I had missed three weeks of lectures and classes, I plunged headlong into the thick of it.

I must say that I am not sorry I am here. The lectures and classes have been incredibly stimulating so far. I find it reassuring that a lot of the limitations to development which I have observed and mentaly muddled through are being discussed here. I was throughly amused when one of the main lecturers for the Theory, Policy and Practice of Development class said that if he and many of his colleagues had their way, the class would entirely be a class of history! I was nodding vigorously to myself when I heard that. I am fully engaged when going through the questions surrounding the role of NGOs and how they may be actually weakening the state and inadvertently promoting neo-liberal agendas as opposed to the openly neo-liberia policies of the IMF and World Bank. Among the reading I have done so far, I fully agree with Alan Thomas' point, for example, that development has been reduced to a practice as practiced by UN Agencies and NGOs as opposed to any larger theory of social change, that the vision of development has merely been "reduced to targets and the process of development to techniques."

All in all, I must say and I am extremely pleased I made it. I am grateful to all the loved ones who continued to persuade me that what I embarked on is a worthy endeavour despite my rantings and doubts.

This blog will record my thoughts on all that I will encounter academically in my course. I am sure I will end up ranting a lot but hopefully, there might be a moment of lucidity here and there.