The Conundrum that is Husain Haqqani

I was recently asked by AnAn to write a detailed post about Mr. Hussain Haqqani (henceforth HH) and his three books that I’ve read. I find it difficult to write about someone who is still active in his field of work and someone who arouses so much anger and partisanship among the commentariat in Pakistan. I decided to write about things that I know definitively, publicly available information about him and testimonies from two reliable witnesses about HH and then briefly discuss the three books (Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military, Magnificient Delusions and India vs Pakistan: Why Can’t we just be friends) that I’ve read (I just started reading his fourth one, ‘Reimagining Pakistan’). It is hard to label HH as a turncoat or opportunist because most major politicians in Pakistan changed course in their political life starting with Zulfiqar Bhutto, followed by Mian Nawaz Sharif, Benazir Bhutto(BB) and Imran Khan. People and their ideas evolve or else, they are ossified and become part of history while they are alive (Exhibit A: Most of the left-wing politicians of Pakistan).

HH comes from a Muhajir family based in Karachi and went to Karachi University where he was an active member of Islami-Jamiat-Tulaba (IJT), the student-wing of right-wing, religio-political party, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI). He claimed in Magnificient Delusions that he stopped students from burning down the American Consulate in Karachi in 1979 when Grand Mosque in Mecca was seized by ultra-Wahabi rebels and the conspiracy theorists put the blame on the US initially (the Embassy in Islamabad was burnt down by a mob of students). His claim has been debunked by several members of IJT at the time. He worked as a journalist for a few years after graduation. In the late 1980s, he was a media-consultant for Nawaz Sharif, the center-right politician from Punjab who rose to prominence as Punjab’s finance minister under General Jilani’s governorship (1980-85) and later served as the Chief Minister of Punjab (1985-90). Nawaz Sharif was part of an Islamist alliance, Islami Jamhoori Ittihad (IJI) which opposed Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in the 1988 elections. It is beyond doubt that the character of Benazir Bhutto and Nusrat Bhutto was mercilessly attacked during the election campaign. Helicopters were used to throw fliers over major cities in Punjab with explicit photos of the Bhutto ladies to malign their reputations. According to witness number 1, he saw HH in New York during that campaign where HH was offering nudes of Benazir Bhutto to anyone who was interested to see them. IJI still couldn’t win the federal election and ended up winning in Punjab, where Nawaz Sharif assumed the Chief Minister-ship.

Due to Palace intrigues and constant bickering between Punjab and the Federal Government and unrest in Sindh, BB’s government was dismissed by Ghulam Ishaq Khan, the President, after twenty months. In the ensuing elections, IJI succeeded in winning the election (there was massive rigging taken place on orders of the Presidency and funds were distributed to various IJI politicians, details of which can be found by googling ‘Mehran Bank Scandal’). HH served as Sharif’s spokesman till 1992 until he was sent to Sri Lanka as Pakistan’s ambassador. In 1993, the Sharif Government was dismissed by President Khan (with prodding and backroom deals by BB and Co). HH flew back from Sri Lanka and became a spokesman for the BB government that followed (1993-1996).

In 1996, the second BB government was dismissed by President Laghari and Nawaz Sharif’s party started ruling again. It was toppled during October 1999 and General Musharraf became the ‘Chief Executive’ of Pakistan. According to witness number 2, he saw HH begging Musharraf (or one of his generals) for the Information Ministry. The request was denied and HH spent a few years running a consultancy. In 2002, he arrived in Washington DC, as a guest of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In 2004, he joined Boston University as an Associate Professor of International Relations. He also headed a project by Hudson Institute on Islam and Democracy. Post-9/11 was a time in which the issue of Islam and Democracy was selling quite well in the ‘West’.

In January 2005, ‘Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military’ was published. It is a very good book detailing the history of Pakistan and the Mullah-Military Nexus that rules Pakistan today. The book was written with the help of Carnegie Endowment and the audience in mind was definitely American (with emphasis on post 9/11 understanding of Pakistan). It touches on all the relevant bases (quoting Ayesha Jalal, Khalid bin Sayeed, Margret Bourke-White, Stephen Cohen, Lawrence Ziring), the way Islam was used by Muslim League (and in certain instances, Jinnah himself) during the ‘Pakistan Movement’, the paranoia induced by newspapers and politicians about threats to Pakistan’s existence, the trifecta of Pakistan Ideology (Islam, Urdu, hostility towards India), suppression of dissent by ethnic groups using the tools of the Ideology (branding anti-state elements as anti-Islam is favored strategy even today), the way history was shaped from an anti-British perspective to an anti-Hindu perspective (since we got Independence from the British, not the Hindus), the first Kashmir War, the first Martial Law, attempts at a revisionist historiography, the disaster that was the 1965 war with India and so on. The book reveals very little new information (if you have read the liberal-secular version of Pakistan’s history) but is a very good collection of various liberal-secular  and diplomatic sources and serves as a good primer on Pakistan’s political history. I’ve always maintained that HH’s writing is often much better than his politics or his past.

It is often said that Pakistan’s political landscape is dominated by 3 A’s (Allah, Army, and America). The discussion on US-Pakistan relations in the first book forms the basis of his second book, Magnificent Delusions. Four years ago, I wrote a couple of articles, titled ‘Good Ally, Bad Enemy?’ reviewing US-Pakistan relations with excerpts from HH’s second book alongside the works of Carlotta Gall, Gary Bass and Daniel Markey (1. here 2. here). I’ll mention some quotes from HH’s book that I used in those articles.

“Anti-western propaganda was often unleashed precisely so Pakistani officials could argue that the United States had to support Pakistan against India, so as to preserve its alliance with them. Few Pakistanis knew how much their country and its armed forces had become dependent on US assistance.”

‘James L. Langley, American Ambassador to Pakistan (1957-59) wrote, “Pakistan’s forces are unnecessarily large for dealing with any Afghan threat over Pashtunistan. Pakistan would be of little use to us should perchance worse come to worst and India go communist… One of the most disturbing attitudes I have encountered in the highest political places here is that the United States must keep up and increase its aid to Pakistan, and conversely, that Pakistan is doing the United States a favor in accepting aid, in addition to the Pakistani pro-Western posture in the Baghdad Pact and SEATO and the United Nations, when actually these postures are in part dictated by Pakistani hatred for India.”

“India’s Prime Minister at the time, Indira Gandhi, ‘tried to persuade [Henry] Kissinger to recognize the need for more robust US involvement. She said that Pakistan has felt all these years that it will get support from the United States no matter what it does, and this has encouraged an “adventurous policy.” India is not remotely desirous of territory, and to have the Pakistanis base the whole survival of their country on hostility to India was irritating.”

“When Zia was approached by an American diplomat who conveyed the anxiety on America’s part regarding Pakistan’s nuclear weapons development, Zia said: ‘I am an honorable man. We are an honorable people. I ask you to tell your President that I give him my word of honor as President of Pakistan and as a soldier, that I am not and will not develop a nuclear device or weapon.'”

In his third book, HH focussed on certain aspects of the thorny India-Pakistan relationship: History, Kashmir, Nuclear Bombs, and Terrorism. The book is peppered with anecdotes and is a useful read as a primer on the relationship and the difficulties therin. One gets the impression after reading the book that if it were left to the civilians, the two countries would have patched out most conflicts, however, Pakistan’s military and India’s diplomatic bureacracy took maximalist positions to thwart that ambition time and time again.

Why is HH so controversial in Pakistan now?

He was appointed Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US by the PPP-led government (2008-13). It was a turbulent time for Pakistan because barbarians were literally at the gates (Taliban in Swat and Al-Qaeda+TTP in Waziristan). HH has certain views about Pakistan that are not palatable for the military establishment/Deep State. Those views include his insistence on civilian supremacy in the country, deceptive attitudes towards the United States and over-reliance on religion in political discourse. In addition, HH was trying to be a conduit between Pakistan’s civilian government and the United States during his time as the Ambassador (as opposed to a majority of Pakistani Ambassadors to the US who are appointed only after a firm nod from the GHQ) and that irked the establishment even further. It was during his tenure that Osama bin Laden was found and killed in Abbotabad (May, 2011). HH, in an op-ed published last year in Washington Post (read here), took credit for helping the Obama administration in that endeavor (which, in light of Trump’s recent ascension to power, seemed an opportunistic move). Soon after the raid, a conspiracy theory was hatched by the Military Establishment in Pakistan implicating HH. It was alleged that HH had sent Admiral Mike Mullen a memo (on President Asif Zardari’s advice) through a shady in-between named Mansoor Ijaz asking for help from the US in case our generals tried to topple the government in the wake of the OBL raid. The case dragged on in the court and later, a judicial commission but the charge was not proven. HH had to resign as the Ambassador. He has since been at Hudson Institute. In recent years, he has started, with the help of another Pakistani-American, Dr. Mohammad Taqi, SAATH forum (South Asians Against Terrorism and Hatred) that gathers progressive voices in London every October to talk about the future of Pakistan. (Full disclosure: I have been invited to the last two versions of this forum but the first one i couldn’t attend because of visa refusal and the second because I was doing an internship in Houston at the time). I personally agree with most of his views regarding Pakistan but I think his name has been tarnished so much by the Deep State that it is hard to advocate for his name/ideas/books in Pakistan. I believe that he is worth-reading and worth-engaging. If only the military establishment could fight ideas with ideas instead of slander and mis-information.

 

Early Indian Islamists (An Overview)

Part 1

Islamism or Political Islam are ideas that emerged in the early twentieth century and were formulated in different parts of the world mainly in response to fall of the Ottoman Caliphate. Two major figures that contributed to this debate immensely were Syed Qutb from Egypt and Abul Ala Maududi from India. The practical expression of this ideology came to fore in the later part of twentieth century and at the start of the twenty first. Browsing through the archives of history, one encounters figures that have been all but forgotten for the roles they played in the grand scheme of things. One such character that needs to be resurrected or at least identified for his role in popularising Islamism is that of Raja of Mahmudabad.

Amir Ahmad Khan (his given name) was a prominent landlord from United Provinces (U.P.). He received education from Lucknow and later from England. He was the youngest member of the Central Working Committee of All India Muslim League and its National Treasurer. He was the chief organizer of the Muslim League National Guard (till 1944) and the chief patron of the All India Muslim Students Federation (AIMSF) formed by Muslim students till August 1946. Despite his aristocratic background, he cultivated an austere personal style. He habitually wore khaddar, was known for his generosity towards his tenants, and his piety as a practicing Shia.

He was ultimately sold on the idea of Pakistan, but he chose to see the future state in a different light than Mr. Jinnah. He claimed that the Lahore resolution possessed global—and not just regional—significance. He exclaimed in a speech that it had been passed not just for Muslims in India but for Muslims in Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan and indeed the whole Islamic world. He held half-baked ideas about democracy and an ‘Islamic political system’ which he articulated in the following words: “When we speak of democracy in Islam it is not democracy in the government but in the cultural and social aspects of life. Islam is totalitarian — there is no denying about it. It is the Quran that we should turn to. It is the dictatorship of the Quranic laws that we want — and that we will have — but not through non-violence and Gandhian truth”.

He outlined some features of ‘Pakistan’ as he envisioned it in his Presidential address to Bombay Muslim League in May 1940: “There will be prohibition, absolute and rigorous, with no chance for its ever being withdrawn. Usury will be banished. Zakat will be levied. Why should not we be all allowed to make this experiment? In treading this path, we will not be crossing the path of any right-minded individual”.

Among contemporary ideologies, he found socialism to be compatible with Islam by and claimed that socialism was first inaugurated by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in Arabia long before it came into existence in Russia under the Bolsheviks. To the Raja, socialism just like Islam was based on a new vision of the world where there would be no discrimination based on colour, class, sect, region, or language. Before the Peoples’ Party of Zulfikar Bhutto appropriated the slogan of ‘Islamic Socialism’, Raja of Mahmudabad (and even Liaqat Ali Khan) had blown this trumpet.

Mr. Jinnah was not in favour of an overt theocracy at any time in his career and was irked by the frequent outbursts of Raja of Mahmudabad. An anecdote from Isha’at Habibullah’s unpublished autobiography demonstrates this attitude perfectly: “The Raja started the conversation by saying that since the Lahore resolution had been passed earlier that year, if and when Pakistan was formed, it was undoubtedly to be an Islamic State with the Sunna and Sharia as its bedrock. The Quaid’s face went red and he turned to ask Raja whether he had taken leave of his senses?

Mr. Jinnah added: Did you realize that there are over seventy sects and differences of opinion regarding the Islamic faith, and if what the Raja was suggesting was to be followed, the consequences would be a struggle of religious opinion from the very inception of the State leading to its very dissolution. Mr. Jinnah banged his hands on the table and said: We shall not be an Islamic State but a Liberal Democratic Muslim State.”

Major differences between Mr. Jinnah and Raja of Mahmudabad developed in 1946, due to the Raja’s espousal of violence in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and his opposition to the Third June Plan that laid the way for partition of India. On the eve of the Partition, the Raja was in Hyderabad but refused to visit Karachi for the 14th August Independence ceremony.

He was appalled by the violence that accompanied the   Partition and left for Iran with his family soon after India was divided.

They travelled from there to Mashhad, then Tehran and finally to Karbala. The Raja and his family stayed in Iraq for ten years. In 1957, the Raja went to Pakistan and changed his Indian passport for a Pakistani one. He had thought of going into politics but then Pakistan was a different country. He was a Mohajir, a refugee in Pakistan, a Shia in a predominantly Sunni country. The Raja left Pakistan again and travelled to London where he finally settled down and passed away in 1973.

Part 2

Browsing through the archives of history, one encounters figures that have been all but forgotten for the roles they played in the grand scheme of things. One such character that needs to be credited for Islamist tendencies was Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman, a political figure from United Provinces (UP).

Early in his political career, he had visited Turkey as part of Red Crescent Society’s medical mission to Turkey led to Dr. M.A. Ansari during the Balkan Wars (1912-13). During the First World War, Ottoman Turkey (ruled by Pashas) decided to side with Kaiser Wilhem’s Germany (part of the Central Powers). Following the defeat of Central Powers, Ottoman Turkey was deprived of its territories and this sparked a furious reaction amongst Muslims in India. A ‘Khilafat Movement’ was led by clerics from India to pressurise the British Government into restoring the Ottoman territories. Khaliq was actively involved in the movement during the early 1920s and led Indian Muslim delegations in the 1930s to international conventions organised to defend Palestinian Arab rights in the face of the Zionist movement and the perceived British attempt to appease world Jewry.

In 1935, British Government introduced the ‘Government of India Act’ which proposed a Federal Structure for running the country under limited Indian rule and elections in provinces. Khaliquzzaman was a member of All India Congress for many years before officially joining All India Muslim League (AIML). He was the Secretary of Muslim Unity Board (MUB) comprising mostly of Muslim politicians with close links to the Congress party, and Ulema belonging to the Jamiatul Ulama-i-Hind. He was involved in a power struggle for leading the Muslim League Parliamentary Board in UP with Raja of Salempur. Before the 1937 Elections, Khaliquzzaman, was parleying with the Congress leadership over ministry making, against Mr. Jinnah’s wishes. He started an Urdu newspaper named Tanveer for propagating pro-AIML’s message.

Speaking at the Pakistan session of the Punjab Muslim Students Federation conference in March 1941, Khaliq said that, “Just as the Prophet had created the first Pakistan in the Arabian Peninsula the ML now wanted to create another Pakistan in a part of India.”

Addressing a gathering in his hometown of Lucknow, he explored the relationship between territorial nationalism and Islam. The Hindus, he noted, saw nationalism as a Hindu Goddess (Devi) that needed to be worshipped. This practice was abhorrent to a Muslim for even though he loved his nation, he could never worship this Devi and become a slave of nationalism. In May 1942, he stated his Islamist goals in following words, “Pakistan is not the final goal of the Muslims. We want more. Pakistan is only the jumping off ground. The time is not far distant when the Muslim countries will have to stand in line with Pakistan and then only the jumping ground will have reached its fruition.”

Soon after the Lahore Resolution, Nawab Ismail Khan convened a conference of Ulema and prominent Muslim intellectuals to draft a blueprint for an Islamic Constitution that would inaugurate an Islamic state in Pakistan. The first meeting was held at the Nadwatul Ulama, Lucknow and was attended by Ismail Khan, Khaliquzzaman, Syed Sulaiman Nadwi, Azad Subhani and Abdul Majid Daryabadi. He firmly believed that a solution to the communal problem can be found by use of force. At a public meeting at Fyzabad, he said: “If the Musalmans of India pursue the policy of tooth for tooth, eye for an eye, nail for a nail, no power on earth can dominate them.”  On the question of the Muslims in the ‘minority provinces’ such as the U.P., Khaliq subscribed to the ‘Hostage population theory’ which he explained in the following words: “After Pakistan is established, the Hindu majority provinces will think a hundred times before they resort to any tyrannical act. They know the Indian Muslim who can shed his blood for his Muslim brethren of Turkey can also do something to save his Indian Muslim brethren of the minority provinces.”

He was fond of recalling past Muslim victories in the subcontinent for furthering political causes. Before the 1946 Elections to the UP Assembly, Khaliq asked Muslims to win the fourth and fifth battles of Panipat corresponding to the central and provincial assembly elections, by casting their votes in favour of the All India Muslim League. After the elections, Khaliquzzaman joined the Constituent Assembly as the leader of the opposition and pledged his loyalty to the Indian Union (although he resigned and left for Pakistan after Partition. Once in Pakistan, he resumed his Islamist activities. He was a founding member of the ‘Islamic World Brotherhood’ alongside Molana Shabbir Usmani. They convened a ‘World Muslim Conference’ in January 1949. A brochure at the conference titled ‘Muslims of the World Unite’ stated that ‘it was but natural that such an effort is made by Muslims of a country who do not subscribe to the theory that a nation is based on geography or race, but whose country’s very foundation is laid on a theory of religious nationality.’

Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman was appointed the President of Pakistan Muslim League a year after he moved from UP. Khaliq affirmed the World Muslim Conference promoted by Shabbir Usmani, as the first step in the creation of a permanent world organization, which would have branches not only in Muslim countries of the world but also in countries with Muslim minorities. It could soon be extended to become an organization similar to the Organization of American States. Expressing the long term aims of the Conference, he noted that in the context of the failure of the Arab League and Arab racial sentiment, he expected the ‘natural reaction’ of Muslims in Arab countries to work for the creation of a ‘central authority for Muslim States which can protect them against further political and economic inroads of other powerful States.’ He conceived this supervening authority in terms of the ‘Quranic State’, which he believed could be brought about through ‘political associations, social contacts, economic co-operation, and linguistic changes.’ This state would embrace any and all Muslim countries that wished to join and would be structured as ‘a loose federation of autonomous states bound together alike by adherence to the principles of Islam and mutuality of interests.’

His last political appointment was to the Governorship of East Pakistan. He passed away in 1973, two years after East Pakistan seceded. Religion did not play the role of ‘glue’ between the two halves of Pakistan, despite the claims of Islamists from UP.

A Tale of Two countries

It has been 70 years since the Partition of India. The separation was an ugly affair, with both sides holding grievances against each other. After living side by side for more than a thousand years, Hindus and Muslims were declared separate nations by the All India Muslim League which used religion as the primary reason to demand a separate state. When Pakistan came into being, Mr Muhammad Ali Jinnah tried to be inclusive in his August 11th speech at the Constituent Assembly. But his was a lone voice in a chamber full of proto-Islamists. Debates over the Objectives Resolution brought this issue to the fore when all the non-Muslim members of the Assembly voted against it. The Islamic identity that was chosen by the ruling elite, was propped up in opposition to secular India. Pakistan’s attitude towards India has steered its foreign policy and at times, domestic policy, throughout the last seven decades.

Former Pakistani Ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani has had a ringside seat to developments in this arena since the late 1980s. His latest book, India vs Pakistan: Why Can’t We Just Be Friends, tries to capture this unique relationship by focussing on four key areas: History, Kashmir conflict, Nuclear Bombs, and Terrorism. His analysis is peppered with interesting anecdotes that shed a new light on how politicians from the two countries have interacted over the years. It is also a concise history of different efforts by both countries and the International community (United Nations, the United States, and China) to reach a settlement on bilateral issues, especially the Kashmir dispute. Another book that sheds light on recent milestones in India-Pakistan relationship is Myra Macdonald’s ‘Defeat is an Orphan: How Pakistan Lost the Great South Asian War’. Based on her reporting experience in South Asia for more than a decade, MacDonald has penned a magisterial account of events that underpin the current relationship between the two countries.

On Kashmir, Ambassador Haqqani mentions the 1962-63 Indo-Pak talks when India was willing to give up 1500 square kilometres of territory but then Foreign Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto stuck to a maximalist position, rejecting the offer out of hand. Both sides have stuck to their guns since then and neither side is willing to consider a middle-of-the-road compromise anymore. Pakistan has tried using non-state actors and direct intervention, worsening its own case. India neglected the Kashmiris — despite Kashmir’s state assembly ratifying the accession of state to India in the 1950s — and tried manipulating election results in 1987, resulting in a full-scale insurgency that was later supported by Pakistan. After 9/11 attacks, when the insurgency in Kashmir died off, India failed to sell its multicultural and liberal democratic dream to the Kashmiris. In a recent interview with Indian Express, former chief of India’s Research & Analysis wing (RAW) A.S. Dulat spoke about the failure of Indian government to try rapprochement with Kashmiri leadership, resulting in the current unrest in the Valley.

I have heard similar anecdotes first-hand from people who had a chance to interact with military top-brass in Pakistan. Pakistan remains the only state among the nuclear-capable countries to publicly say that its nukes exist as a defence against another country (India) but it has not yet stated a ‘No First Use’ policy. Nuclear weapons have thus become an integral part of Pakistani nationalism and identity, according to analyst Feroz Hassan Khan. India started its nuclear programme ostensibly to obtain nuclear energy but changed course after the 1962 Indo-China war. Macdonald has mentioned at least three instances when India was ready to display its nuclear capability (before 1998) but was restrained by International pressure. The spectre of a nuclear war hangs over India and Pakistan and remains the biggest threat to humanity in this region. Unlike Nuclear scientists elsewhere in the world, many of Pakistan’s scientists have gone ‘rogue’ in recent years. These include the megalomaniac Dr AQ Khan indulging in a global nuke trade and others who are known to have visited Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.

The year 2016 saw three different events that will define the broader contours of Indo-Pak relations in the 21st century. On Christmas day in 2015, also the birthday of Pakistan’s current prime minister, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made an unexpected visit to Lahore, raising hopes for improvement in relations and opening of a dialogue. Exactly a week after that, terrorists attacked India’s Pathankot airbase. Investigations by Indian authorities revealed a Pakistani connection and Pakistan’s government publicly agreed to cooperate with the investigation. In March 2016, Pakistan’s National Security Adviser called his Indian counterpart and alerted him about a possible attack during the Shivartari celebrations in Gujarat. As a result, security was beefed up and nothing untoward took place. In April of the same year, Pakistan arrested a suspected Indian spy from Balochistan. The arrest was presented as evidence of Indian meddling in Pakistan’s internal affairs and ended any hope of a dialogue with India.

In the last few years, India has started treading the path that Pakistan has taken since the beginning: a path of intolerance, jingoistic nationalism and a visceral hatred for secular values. Pakistan’s political class has lately been trying to change course but the immovable force known as the ‘establishment’ stands in the way. Without improvement of relations between the two countries, the future of South Asia is bleak.

Pakistan, communists and a stained dawn

Abdul Majeed Abid

Yeh fasal umeedon ki hamdam,

Iss baar bhi ghaarat jaye gi,

Sab mehnat subhon shaamon ki,

Ab kay bhi akaarat jaye gi

(This crop of aspirations

will be ruined once again,

the toil of day and night

will be wasted another time.)

(Faiz, Montgomery Jail, 1955)

The view from jail

The year 2007 was eventful in Pakistan’s recent history. Political upheaval coupled with a rise in terrorism and a lawyers’ movement for the restoration of the judiciary gripped the country for most of the year. Musharraf, the military dictator, had forcibly removed the Chief Justice of Pakistan — sparking a movement led by lawyers across the country. Amidst all this kerfuffle arose a new band called ‘Laal’ with their song ‘Umeed e Seher’ (Hope for a new Dawn). The song became a sort of anthem for the lawyers’ movement alongside slogans against military dictatorship. The song was based on a poem written by Pakistan’s foremost progressive poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz and the band consisted of young academics who openly declared themselves Marxists. One of the band members was the General Secretary of a Communist Party in Pakistan. A communist party in Pakistan? That seems like an oxymoron, does it not?

Continue reading “Pakistan, communists and a stained dawn”

Review: Stalin, waiting for Hitler..

Stephen Kotkin is a historian who has written several outstanding books on Russian history and is now in the process of distilling his lifetime work into a monumental three part biography of Stalin. Volume 1 dealt with Stalin’s early life and his progress from relatively peripheral disciple of Lenin in 1917 to Lenin’s handpicked general secretary of communist party in 1922, to undisputed (though not yet completely all-powerful) boss and ruler of the Soviet Union by 1928. By the end of that volume, Stalin was firmly ensconced in this position, having successfully seen off the challenge from Trotsky, who lost out partly because almost nobody around him liked him, but mostly because he was neither as hardworking, nor as competent, iron-willed or crafty as Stalin.  It is true that Trotsky imagined himself as the real “Marxist intellectual” in this fight, but the autodidact Stalin was no intellectual slouch, and Trotsky’s low opinion of him in this arena is also a (small) part of why he lost this fight; he underestimated his opponent. Of course, both of them believed fully in the Marxist-Leninist picture of history and society, complete with the necessity of class war, the central role of the proletariat and the idiocy of the peasants, so it is easy to dismiss the intellectual output of both parties as equally delusional, but that is not how it looked in the 1920s, so we should leave such retrospective wisdom out of the discussion. In any case, by 1928, Stalin had kicked Trotsky out of the Soviet Union, and had defanged or sidelined all his other rivals within the Bolshevik leadership.

Stalin with Lenin

Continue reading “Review: Stalin, waiting for Hitler..”

The Coming Information Apocalypse..

“What happens when anyone can make it appear as if anything has happened, regardless of whether or not it did?” technologist Aviv Ovadya warns/asks in this interesting journey through the existing and coming technologies for manipulating words, images, networks and people..

Aviv says:

Alarmism can be good — you should be alarmist about this stuff,” Ovadya said one January afternoon before calmly outlining a deeply unsettling projection about the next two decades of fake news, artificial intelligence–assisted misinformation campaigns, and propaganda. “We are so screwed it’s beyond what most of us can imagine,” he said. “We were utterly screwed a year and a half ago and we’re even more screwed now. And depending how far you look into the future it just gets worse.”

That future, according to Ovadya, will arrive with a slew of slick, easy-to-use, and eventually seamless technological tools for manipulating perception and falsifying reality, for which terms have already been coined — “reality apathy,” “automated laser phishing,” and “human puppets.

He then describes how rapidly the technologies for manipulating images, mining personal information and using AI to tailor messages specifically to each user are developing.  And he fears that:

fast-developing tools powered by artificial intelligence, machine learning, and augmented reality tech could be hijacked and used by bad actors to imitate humans and wage an information war”

Of course they will. And the technology development will not stop just because it can be put to scary uses. I cannot think of an example from history where technological development was stopped because X “enlightened individuals” predicted it would be destabilizing. (Aviv is not saying that either, I just wanted to get that out of the way). So eventually everyone will be playing with these tools, and so? Didn’t everyone start using print and then radio, and then TV and then the internet? Maybe it made it possible to coordinate people in larger numbers towards common ends (not necessarily good ones, but I mean the game of politics did not change to some new game, it just ramped up a level), but the numbers coordinated by religion/culture in the past were not trivial either, just slower moving .. The question is this: is there a point where quantitative change becomes qualitative? and what does that mean? What will be radically different? Leaders? followers? patsies? useful idiots?

This is not a rhetorical question, I am really curious what people think will change and what will not.

By the way, i read that while he was waiting for Stalin to shoot him, Bukharin was reading philosophy and this was the question that stumped him; the question of quantitative change versus qualitative change..

Review: The House of Government

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yuri Slezkine is a Russian-American historian (he is also technically Portuguese-American, since he first emigrated from Russia to Portugal and then came to the US with a Portuguese passport) who has written a number of interesting books, and “The House of Government; a Saga of the Russian Revolution” is his latest and greatest offering.  At over 1000 pages, it is not a lightweight book, literally or metaphorically. What he does is follow the lives of a large number of Bolshevik revolutionaries, from their origins as young rebels (they were almost all very young; very few were over 40 when they took over the largest country in the world) to the heady days of the Bolshevik revolution, to the civil war that followed, the first compromise (the NEP), the second and more serious attempt at “true communism” (the five year plan), the terrible violence and suffering of collectivization,  the victory of communism under Stalin, the insane purge and auto-annihilation that followed that victory, the second world war, the desiccation and death of revolutionary ideology, and, perhaps most strikingly, the coming of age of the next generation without any sincere transfer of the purported official ideology, leading to the final, inevitable collapse of the entire experiment.

Continue reading “Review: The House of Government”

Ranking Mass Murder..

Ian Johnson in the NYRB asks the question: Who killed more? and does it matter? 

 

The people on the list are Mao, Stalin and Hitler. Obviously Pol Pot does not make it because there were not enough Cambodians to qualify. Some Indians will complain that Churchill is missing, though I personally think that while he was involved, at times peripherally, in some really bad affairs (Bengal famine is the one most mentioned), he honestly does not belong in this particular list. But that is easier said than proven; which is the point of this post; that this question turns out to be more difficult the more you think about it..  Continue reading “Ranking Mass Murder..”

Why do nonmulims mistreat muslims so much?

Perhaps the reason that nonmuslims mistreat muslims so much is because the vast majority of nonmuslims (and for that matter many muslims) don’t understand Islam or muslims. If carefully watching this video many times was a requirement for every nonmuslim in the world; and if nonmuslims were required to write articles on it to demonstrate their understanding; would this help nonmuslims treat muslims better? I think yes. What does everyone else think?

 

This video is funny like heck. Tarek Fatah should do stand up comedy. It is hard to watch this video without laughing hysterically for large chunks of it. One funny part is when Tarek Fatah said that Mohammed, may peace be upon him, was confused when he said muslims should not make friends with Jews and Christians because they are friends with each other. Didn’t Mohammed, may peace be upon him, know that Christians hated Jews?

 

Tarek Fatah would like for substantially reorganized Korans to be published. However he says that South Asian scholarship is not respected.

 

One important take away is how spot on similar older cultured educated Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are too each other.  Tarek Fatah could easily be a Deshi Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Sikh or Jain and talk the exact same way. When I was a young child, this was much more obvious than it is now. I hope that future generations don’t forget this.

 

Note, the post was heavily edited with feedback from Kabir. Thanks Kabir 🙂

Will the US Continue to Attract International Science Talent?

We had a little discussion on Twitter about this topic. It was triggered by this post by Sam Altman @Sama, (about increasing political censorship of heterodox ideas in Silicon valley) but became a more general argument about US competitiveness and ability to attract talent, especially scientific talent. I just wanted to put a few random thoughts and questions out there, in the hope of enlightening feedback.

Clearly the US is still the world’s number one destination for exceptional scientific talent. But this is just year one of the reign of the mad king and already there are many reports of racist and bureaucratic obstruction of visas and suchlike (being both racist and bureaucratic, this process naturally has limited connection to rational priorities). There is also the general decline of US reputation across the globe (whether it reflects the reality of US life and to what extent, these are separate issues; the perception itself would likely influence SOME aspiring migrants). This is one (obvious) side of the story. There is also an attack from the Left flank (see below). Continue reading “Will the US Continue to Attract International Science Talent?”