I am a physician interested in obesity and insulin resistance, and in particular in the genetics and epigenetics of obesity As a blogger, I am more interested in history, Islam, India, the ideology of Pakistan, and whatever catches my fancy. My opinions can change.
I have been busy with a move for several months (from the Midwest to the Best Coast) and have not been active on Brownpundits. I hope this will change in the coming weeks and months. Not enough time today for a full post on something, just some quick notes on two recent events:
VS Naipaul has died. I am a fan of Naipaul the writer, which sometimes gets me into arguments with woke friends, because the memo has been circulated that he was “a White supremacist” and so on (there is also the issue that he was a misogynist and mistreated some of the women in his life, which is probably true, but the broader un-personing instructions are based on his supposed ideological crimes, not his personal life). I don’t have anything to say about his relations with women (FWIW his last wife seems to have been happy with him) or his general crankiness and misanthropy, but I think the ideological accusations are an unfair characterization of his work. As far as I can tell, he had no single over-arching ideology; his aim was to try and see “things as they are”, which is never easy (and perhaps never possible), not to promote a particular Right or Left wing political viewpoint. He will be missed.
Pakistan heads to the polls on July 25th. I happen to be in the middle of a move, so I have not been posting much but a short note on the election is certainly due. Back in 2013 Pakistan had its first peaceful democratic transfer of power and it looked like some sort of democracy was finally taking root, with the military still exercising disproportionate influence but with an elected government running most of the country according to its own priorities. Unfortunately, the trend line has since reversed and done so in spectacular fashion. There are many theories about why this particular reversal happened, with some people blaming the party in power (the nominally right of center PMLN) and others the overweening ambitions of GHQ (*General Headquarters. The army). Whatever the triggers, it seems that at some point the army high command decided that it could not coexist with Mian Nawaz Sharif and his politically ambitious daughter (Maryam Nawaz Sharif) and for the last year and a half the army, primarily acting through its intelligence agencies (for the rough stuff) and ISPR (the PR wing of the army, now expanded into a vast public relations operation with a serving general in charge) has been on a crusade against the PMLN in general and Mian Nawaz Sharif (MNS) and his daughter in particular.
The operation has not gone according to plan; it seems clear that the army expected that MNS would give up the fight easily and the PMLN (a party once put together with the help of the army and including many professional turncoats) in any case will get the hint and push him out and replace him with his more cooperative younger brother (Mian Shahbaz Sharif, MSS). But MNS has refused to back down and most of the party has chosen to stand by him. The army has been forced to resort to more and more blatant attempts at political engineering but every escalation has been met by even more stubborn and public resistance from MNS, culminating in his return to the country after being sentenced to a long prison term in a corruption case where legal norms were openly flouted and the fairness of the judiciary was seriously compromised. Multiple national and international observers have already commented on the kind of tactics being used to corner the PMLN and to give an unfair advantage to Imran Khan’s PTI and I won’t go into those details (see links for more on that), but this level of blatant military intervention has also stiffened the resistance of the PMLN and seems to have energized their supporters. At the same time, the combination of 24/7 one-sided propaganda in the Pakistani media and the behind the scenes pressures applied by intelligence agencies has not been without effect, with several candidates disqualified, others induced to switch sides and all facing the possibility of more engineering on election day. The end result is that there is great uncertainty on the eve of the election. Polls generally indicate a close contest, but the unknown unknowns make any guess hazardous.
Controversy about judiciary is seen as a novel phenomenon in Pakistan. Found this piece from the vault written in 2007. It is long but provides context of current status. There is a coming ‘food fight’ among senior judges. A sitting senior judge has leveled the accusation that court benches are formed at the advice of intelligence agencies and that phones of judges are being taped. This is the first salvo and more fireworks in store. When politics is militarized and judiciary and army brass politicized, then system will always be wobbly. Read it if you have some spare time but I’ll advise to take some aspirin before reading it.
“The keenest sorrow is to recognize ourselves as the sole cause of our adversities”. Sophocles
Defence Journal, June 2007
Judicial Jitters in Pakistan – A Historical Overview
‘Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please’. Mark Twain
Pakistan is in the throes of a judicial crisis since March 2007. On March 09, 2007, general Pervez Mussharraf summoned chief justice Muhammad Iftikhar Chaudry to army house. He was asked some tough questions and then asked to resign. Chief justice held his ground and refused. He was kept at army house for several hours so that an acting chief justice could be sworn in. Justice Javed Iqbal was sworn in as the senior most judge justice Rana Baghwan Das was out of country. Chaudry was given the title of ‘suspended’ chief justice and his case referred to Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) for action. This started a crisis where majority of the people denounced the cavalier manner in which general Mussharraf dealt with the chief justice. Legal community fully supported chief justice by boycotting courts and bringing out processions on the streets. Now every one is waiting for the final scene of the drama which may take a while. Current crisis has brought judiciary in the lime light. This article will give a historical overview of the role of judiciary in Pakistan and its interaction with both civilian and military rulers.
In every country, there is a continuous struggle for accumulating more power between different state institutions. Executive tries to get a free hand and does not like legal restraints. Judiciary tries to put some breaks on unchecked powers of the executive. This struggle keeps some semblance of balance of power. However, a politicized judiciary is as dangerous as an uncontrolled power hungry executive. Continue reading “Judicial Jitters in Pakistan. A look back..”
While browsing through some old material, found an old piece written in 2003 when General Pervez Mussharraf had just completed the political engineering project. It is lengthy and indulges in some theories but gives some context to what is happening now. While pondering over it, I found words of Amjad Islam Amjad as best description;
dairoon mein chalte hein
dairoon mein chalnen se
daire to barhtey hein
fasley nahin ghatey
aarzoen chalti hein
jis taraf ko jate hein
manzilein tammana ki
saath saath chalti hein
gard urhti rehti hey
dard barhta rehta hey
rastey nahin ghatey
subhe dam sitaroon ki
tez jhilmilahat ko
roshni ki amad ka
pesh baab kehtey hein
ik kiran jo milti hey
aftab kehte hein
daira badalne ko
inqilab kehtey hein
Enjoy if you have some extra time on hand.
Forbidden Fruit – Military & Politics
Politics and profession of soldiering has nothing in common. They are totally different but essential elements of any society. Politicians and soldiers have an interesting relationship in all societies. In societies where civilians are in control, military officers act in accepted boundaries though ready to defend their turf against civilian encroachment. In societies where political institutions are weak and there is lack of consensus on legitimate course of succession, soldiers gradually expand their area of influence. They gradually restrict the role of civilians in various areas and sometimes directly take over the state replacing the civilians. This generally accepted model does not mean that military as an institution has no relevance to the important policy decisions. Even in countries where the tradition of civilian supremacy is well established, military has a political role relating to national security, albeit a different one. One commentator has correctly pointed that “the military’s political role is a question not of whether but of how much and what kind”. 
This article will evaluate soldier’s attitude towards political activity and how it develops. This will be followed by the details of Pakistani experience of politicization of officer’s corps and how repeated and prolonged military rules have militarized the politics. In the end, the complex relationship between soldiers and politicians will be summarized. Continue reading “Forbidden Fruit: Military and Politics in Pakistan (and beyond)”
This is a very simple poll. I posted a couple of these questions on Twitter (@omarali50) and want to do the same here. The idea is to test a hypothesis (not about what will happen to the Indian religious landscape, but what do readers of this blog THINK will happen to it, and why) which will be part of a later blog post I plan. For now, please take this very simple 3 question survey by scrolling down within the survey below.. and comment on the post as you see fit.. We may learn something, or at least have some interesting discussions..
Following piece is mainly the result of questions form non-Pakistanis to explain the context. It may not be very interesting for Pakistanis as they are already well informed and it seems lengthy and a bit boring. The noise is at a very high pitch making reasonable discourse very hard. Reminds me tenth century Arab poet Mutanabbi’s words, “With so much noise, you need ten fingers to plug your ears”.
Summary could be single sentence quotes;
Political Leaders: Reminds me Liddelhart’s words “The prophets must be stoned; That is their lot, and the test of their fulfillment. But a leader who is stoned may merely prove that he has failed in his function through a deficiency of wisdom, or through confusing his function with that of a prophet”.
Generals: The Times, April 6, 1961 issue statement that “it is difficult to envisage some thirty or forty generals and a smaller number of admirals and air force commanders appointed solely by Providence to be the sole judges of what the nation needs”.
Judiciary: Jorge Ubico of Guatemala’s words that “My justice is God’s”.
Political Engineering – Modus Operandi
“The establishments in the US, Pakistan and India are usually working for their own good rather than for the good of their public. Shaking them might not be a bad idea”. Former Director General of Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) Lieutenant General (R) Asad Durrani quoted in Spy Chronicles
Pakistanis will be voting for general elections on 25 July 2018. Events of the last one year have raised many questions about the process. The gulf between important institutions is widening by the day. Attitudes have hardened and everyone is rallying behind their respective wagons. Pakistan’s power stool is three-legged and at one time known as ‘troika’. In the past, President, Prime Minister and Chief of Army of Staff were the three legs of this stool. Change of President to a ceremonial role by taking most of his powers removed this leg. In due course, this leg was replaced by Judiciary. The three legs are uneven with executive as shortest, followed in size by Judiciary and then army. There is an inherent element of instability in this arrangement. Continue reading “Political Engineering in Pakistan Part II”
This is a review of “The Spy Chronicles” (not by me, but by our regular contributor Dr Hamid Hussain), a recent book co-authored by two former chiefs of ISI (the Pakistani intelligence agency) and RAW (the Indian intelligence agency). The book has generated some controversy (a lot of it far-fetched and irrational) and the Pakistani author (Retired General Asad Durrani) has been called to GHQ to provide an explanation and has been barred from leaving the country until an enquiry (conducted by a 3 star general) has been conducted.
The review is by Dr Hamid Hussain.
The full title is: Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace. A. S. Dulat, Assad Durrani and Aditya Sinha (Delhi: Harper Collins), 2018.
This book is neither a memoir nor an organized attempt to explain a theory. It is essentially a transcript of conversations. It covers India Pakistan relations, Kashmir, Afghanistan and other general regional and international topics. Two informed individuals from rival countries engaged in a candid conversation and some of their views are not fully in line with the official stance of their respective countries.
In view of unresolved issues between India and Pakistan, there have been several international attempts to bring high former officials of both countries together for dialogue. One effort was to bring former intelligence officials of both countries together. This effort called ‘Intel Dialogue’ was organized by the University of Ottawa. Dulat and Durrani met each other during these ‘Track II’ efforts and developed a kind of friendship. Continue reading “Review: The Spy Chronicles”
The Washington Post has an article by Khalid Diab about the complications that arise around the issue of obtaining alcohol during Ramadan. Excerpts are posted later. As Shahab Ahmed points out in his magnum opus (What is Islam), drinking alcohol is prohibited in Islam, but it is also an established feature of Islamicate culture; i.e. not only is it regularly used (by a minority), it is celebrated in poems and songs, there are rituals associated with its use, everyone knows someone who drinks and drinkers have their own (albeit not always comfortable) place in society. In some countries (Saudi Arabia, Iran) it is strictly prohibited and users can expect serious penalties if caught, but even in those countries a great deal of regular communal drinking does go on. A few more countries (like Pakistan) have prohibition, but with more exceptions than exist in Iran and Saudi Arabia (non-Muslims and foreigners can buy alcohol, some high end hotels have bars, and so on). In several other countries (Egypt, Tunisia, Indonesia, etc) alcohol is widely available and can be purchased in supermarkets and even in small roadside kiosks (what would be called a Khoka in Pakistan). But in all these countries, there is a visible change during Ramadan: many regular drinkers voluntarily give up alcohol for the month and those who continue to drink may go deeper underground than usual. I have friends who cannot go to sleep without one (or several) nightcaps, but who will not touch drop during Ramadan. They invariably get drunk on Eid.
Some excerpts from Khalid Diab’s article follow:
Although alcohol is considered haram (prohibited or sinful) by the majority of Muslims, a significant minority drinks, and those who do often outdrink their Western counterparts. Among drinkers, Chad and a number of other Muslim-majority countries top the global ranking for alcohol consumption.
Jack Weatherford is an anthropologist who has spent many years researching the Mongols in general and Genghis Khan in particular. The book is a very sympathetic portrayal of Genghis Khan and his descendants and their impact on world history. It is a very easy read and is an excellent summary of the rise of this amazing man and his (relatively few; a total population of less than a million) people to greatness. And there can be no doubt that Temujin is one of the most remarkable characters in world history; one of those (few) heroes about whom you can confidently say that without them, the history of his people would have been VERY different indeed. He is a one-man refutation of the idea that individuals, no matter how prominent, do not really matter and all we need to study are the aggregate/impersonal/stochastic processes that drive history. Continue reading “Book Review: Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World”
Following piece about recent clouds on Pakistan’s scene was mainly for non-Pakistani audience as many questions/confusions came my way.
This is an attempt to understand the view from barracks although I strongly oppose such moves from military. This is first of two part. Second part will deal with modus operandi.
Political Engineering – View from the Barracks
In July 2017, disqualification of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif by Supreme Court again opened the debate about the role of country’s powerful army. This was one of the most politicized decision of country’s Supreme Court. In April 2017, Supreme Court not only ordered formation of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) but went ahead and nominated its members. It included a serving Brigadier Kamran Khurshid of Military Intelligence (MI) and a retired Brigadier Nauman Saeed of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Supreme Court disqualified Sharif based on JIT investigation. In the aftermath of Sharif disqualification, many political changes including change of provincial government in Baluchistan achieved by defection of several members, defeat of government’s nominee for Senate chairman position and defection of many politicians from ruling political party Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N) to rival Pakistan Terek-e-Insaaf (PTI) were alleged to be orchestrated by the army brass.