Pakistan; negotiations and operations..and Islamicate rationality

first published in 3qd http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2014/02/pakistan-negotiations-and-operations-and-islamicate-rationality.html#more

by Omar Ali
ScreenHunter_536 Feb. 24 11.07This headline refers to two separate (though distantly related) subjects. First, to Pakistan. Apparently the Pakistani army is now conducting some operation or the other against some group or the other in North Waziristan and other “tribal areas” infested by various Islamic militant groups under the umbrella of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). This operation was preceded by some farcical negotiations in which the Nawaz Sharif government nominated a group of powerless “moderate Islamists” to conduct negotiations with the TTP. It is likely that these “talks” were never meant to be serious, and that Nawaz Sharif and his advisors intended to use them to expose the bloodthirsty Taliban and their civilian supporters (like Imran Khan’s PTI and the Jamat-e-Islami) as unreliable and extremist elements against whom a military operation was unavoidable. This gambit had worked once before in Swat in 2009 when a peace deal was signed with the Swat Taliban and they were given control of Swat. They proceeded to behead people, whip women and begin marching into neighboring regions, thus showing that no reasonable peace was possible and only a military operation would work against them.  But the Taliban 2.0 have learned some lessons of their own. They announced their own farcical committee (briefly including cricket star turned political buffoon Imran Khan) to hold negotiations with Nawaz Sharif’s farcical committee.  Within a few days the airwaves were dominated by Taliban representatives asking Pakistanis if they wanted Islamic law or preferred to be ruled by corrupt Western dupes? The Taliban, who routinely behead captives and even play football with their heads, were suddenly respected stakeholders and negotiation partners, holding territory, nominating representatives and promising peace if the state acted reasonably and responsibly.  At the same time, their “bad cop” factions continued to knock off opponents and spread terror (including a gruesome video in which they brought freshly killed, blood soaked headless bodies of soldiers they had taken captive 3 years ago, in broad daylight, in an open pickup truck, and dumped them on a “government controlled” road in Mohmand).

The government then half-heartedly suspended negotiations and started bombing selected targets. This may have been the intent all along, but the negotiations ploy certainly did not deliver the PR victory the state wanted; instead it further confused the state’s already muddled narrative. Even now, with some sort of operation under way, the Taliban are using the negotiating committee as a means of putting pressure on the state to halt operations against them and the state’s propaganda war remains hobbled by their own ill-advised negotiation scheme.
Of course the state’s PR problems go beyond the merely tactical setback of one badly thought out negotiations ploy. Pakistan’s foundational myths were confused and incoherent in any case and the version promoted by the deep state is heavy on Islamist propaganda, especially since 1969, when Yahya Khan’s team of General Sher Ali and General Ghulam Umer (father of PTI whiz kid Asad Umer) decided that Islamism was the best bulwark against leftist and/or separatist forces. An entire generation of Pakistanis has grown up with notions of a once and future Islamic golden age that has little or no connection with actually existing Pakistani institutions or culture. This brainwashing makes it difficult to intellectually confront Islamist terrorists groups who are only demanding what the state itself has promoted as an ideal, i.e. an “Islamic system of government” and a “proud Islamic state” that stands up against anti-Islamic powers like India, Israel and the United States. Imran Khan is a particularly egregious example of the resultant confusion among semi-educated Pakistanis, but he is not the only one.   Thanks to this added twist, it is harder to fight Islamist armed gangs in Pakistan than it should be given the technical sophistication of our institutions and our integration into the modern world. In short,  while Pakistan is not as primitive as Somalia (where there are  practically no institutional, economic or cultural resources above the level of Islamic solidarity and sharia law) , the ruling elite has an added level of vulnerability that arises from its own Islamist ideological narrative, over and above all the vulnerabilities of any corrupt third world elite.  
But here is the final twist. This added vulnerability (a vulnerability that is a particular obsession of mine) is not enough to spell the doom of the corrupt ruling elite.  It adds to their problems, and to the extent that they believe their own propaganda, it has caused them to score repeated own goals, but I still believe that they will not be overwhelmed by the TTP or other “Islamic revolutionaries”. In fact, I will make several predictions and I invite readers to make theirs. Mine will be relatively concrete and simple-minded but I hope commentators will add value.
  1. The British-Indian colonial state, much decayed as it may be, is still light years ahead of any “system” Maulana Samiulhaq and his madrassa students can throw together. Tariq Ali’s anti-imperialist warriors have no viable modern political system or institutions to draw upon and nothing to offer except beheadings and endless sectarian warfare. There is no there there. The state possesses a modern army and a semi-modern postcolonial state. Its leaders may not fully understand what they have, but they do have it.  They can still defeat the Taliban with both ideological hands tied behind their back. Of course it won’t be easy and it certainly won’t be pretty. The Pakistani state’s efforts may not be as vicious as the Sri-Lankan army’s campaign against the Tamil Tigers, but the human rights violations and collateral damage will be no picnic (for more on this, see my Pakistani liberal’s survival guide).Embedded image permalink
  2. As the Pakistani army is forced to confront the particularly vicious groups gathered under the umbrella of the TTP, it will face a period of determined Islamist terrorism. But this is not the last wave of Islamist terrorism they will have to face. Two large reservoirs of terrorists are yet to commit themselves fully to a fight against the Pakistani state (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the state is yet to commit to fighting them); one is the anti-Shia terrorists of the Lashkar e Jhangvi, whose front organizations (ASWJ) and networks of madrassas still operate without hindrance in the country and especially in Punjab; and the other are the various Kashmiri Jihadist organizations that remain on good terms with the army.
  3. Of these two groups, the LEJ is in a very unstable equilibrium with the state. While some in the LEJ and some in the state security apparatus (and the right wing political parties) continue to behave as if anti-Shia mobilization can coexist with a nominally inclusive Pakistani state, this is not really a viable strategy. When push comes to shove (and it’s getting dangerously close to the shove state) the Pakistani state will have to opt against the LEJ. Tolerating their brand of Shia-hatred is fundamentally incompatible with the continued existence of semi-modern Pakistan. So, like it or not, the state will find itself having to confront the LEJ’s front organizations at some point and when it does so it will face an especially unpleasant round of terrorism.
  4. The second reservoir of Islamist terrorists (the Kashmiri jihadists) has been kept relatively quiet by promises that the glorious jihad will restart in full once America leaves, but that too is not a viable long term policy. India, for all its incompetence, is not such an easy target any more. The days when Benazir could wish to see Jagmohan (governor of Indian Kashmir) converted to “jag jag mo mo han han” (i.e. broken into little pieces) were the high point of that whole strategy. India survived that point and by now, those days are long gone. Some in the deep state may not realize it yet, but just like they have had to give up on so many other Jihadist dreams, they will also have to permanently abandon their Jihadist dreams in Kashmir. And when the deep state finally comes to that point, the remaining LET and Jaish e Mohammed cadres will have to choose between a life of crime and open warfare against the state. Many will undoubtedly become kidnappers and armed gangsters, but some true believers will opt to fight. It is likely that many of them will make common cause with TTP terrorists and LEJ (beyond the connections that already exist). Islamist terrorism, in short, has not yet peaked in Pakistan. There are at least two more waves to come even after the current TTP-sponsored wave passes its peak.  There is also the possibility that these three waves may more or less combine into one in the days to come.
  5. The state will fight several groups of Islamist fanatics, but that does not mean it will become liberal or convert to Scandinavian style Social democracy. Warfare with the Islamist terrorist groups may still co-exist with attempts to outflank them by imposing sharia in some places and by pretending to be extremely anti-Indian and anti-American in others. Democracy and human rights will also suffer as they do in any state fighting an internal enemy. Crude suppression of Baloch and Sindhi nationalism will continue apace. Crony capitalism will become nastier and cruder than ever. Subject to the same pressures as the rest of planet earth, there will be more mixing of the sexes, more singing and dancing, and more semi-naked women being used to sell hamburgers and car-insurance, but many other trends will be unpleasant and will be unfair towards the weaker sections of society. These problems are, of course, not unique to Pakistan. These are the problems common to many of the artificial postcolonial states of the “developing world”. But it’s worth keeping in mind that the self-inflicted Islamist wound is not our only (or even our biggest) problem. It just makes it extra-hard to focus on all the other problems that also have to be solved.
  6. Still, there is a certain window of opportunity for mainstream liberal/secular parties (liberal in the Pakistani context. Obviously not by Western or even East Asian standards). Even though the deep state is still using the CIA-RAW conspiracy against Islam as its main tool to motivate its own soldiers  and remains fixated on “failed politicians” as the be all and end all of Pakistani incompetence and corruption, it will inevitably find itself standing closer to the hated PPP, MQM and ANP when it comes to fighting the Jihadist militias. Its old favorites in the religious parties, favored as recently as in Musharraf’s so-called “enlightened moderate” era, have too many ideological sympathies with the Taliban. While personal links, past usefulness and shared antipathies still sustain links with the Jamat e Islami and various JUI factions and the dream of using “good jihadis” against Baloch nationalists and in various foreign policy adventures) remains alive, practical necessity will force a slight rethink. This gives the “secular” parties a fighting chance to step forward and grab the initiative. All three (PPP, MQM and ANP) have made some efforts in that direction already, but they need to do much more. Pakistan’s small, but culturally disproportionately significant, old-guard left may also get a chance to enlarge their space and regain a little of the initiative they lost decades ago to the religious parties. Taking advantage of this opportunity is critical and both the “mainstream secular parties” and the old-guard Left must make the most of it.
  7. Unfortunately, in this task (of stepping forward, making alliances and grabbing political space from the religious parties), the left-liberal intelligentsia will be hampered by opportunity cost imposed by the unusual penetration of ideas from the academic and elite sections of the Western” Left” into the South Asian intellectual elite.  Their numbers are small and luckily most are not active in real-life politics, but their cultural and academic presence is not insignificant and they will do some damage. After all, there are only so many bright young intellectuals within the ruling elite who are temperamentally inclined towards liberal ideas. If 35% of them are sucked up into a universe where they read Tariq Ali, Pankaj Mishra and Arundhati Roy for political advice (not just for occasional insights, interesting information, entertainment or commentary on our absurd existence), well… you do the math.
Now to the second part of that title. A friend sent me Asad Q Ahmed’s article about Islam’s invented golden age (http://www.loonwatch.com/2013/10/asad-q-ahmed-islams-invented-golden-age/). I completely agree with the writer that there was no golden age of rationality that was followed by a dark age of irrationality simply because rationality was abandoned on the orders of Al-Ghazali and party. But Asad Q Ahmed then seems to imply that actually things were going so much better than “orientalist” scholars believe and just recently took a dip for reasons that have nothing to do with the irrationality of Imam Ghazali. He offers two tentative suggestions as to why intellectual endeavor declined (especially in the South Asian context): the adoption of Urdu instead of Arabic and Persian, and the rise of printing. I think this mixes up the issue of correcting a misrepresentation of Islamicate theology and philosophy (which were not as hopelessly irrational or sterile by contemporary standards as the “dark age” narrative implies) with the larger question of why scientific and industrial progress did not accelerate in the Islamicate world when it took off in nearby Europe.
I think we need to step back further than just correction some misconceptions about Islamicate philosophers and theologians. First of all, it’s good to keep in mind that these (and other) golden age and Dark Age myths and legends are inevitable parts of a certain superficial level of propaganda. They are almost always untrue in scholarly detail. But that is not necessarily their point. It may not be the best idea to to assess them from the level of the serious historical scholar. They are propaganda and their purpose is to promote or inhibit particular trends in current political conflicts. For a serious scholar to “discover” that they are erroneous is expected. And unsurprising. The point is what struggle they are being used in, and what side you wish to take in that propaganda war.
Moving on from that, if a serious scholar is going to take on this topic, then they should focus on their area of expertise. In this case, showing what Muslim religious and philosophical scholars actually read or thought. That is a huge service in itself. And I am sure Asad Q Ahmed has forgotten more about that topic than I can hope to learn in a lifetime. But the topic of why particular societies became more powerful or more scientifically advanced than others is a very big topic. It is not exhausted by learning about what theologians and philosophers said about reason and theology. It may in fact have surprisintly little to do with what theologians and medieval philosophers dreamed up (in the East or the West). A relatively small group of societies started the modern scientific and industrial revolutions. Whatever the reasons for this sudden acceleration (and while unlikely, it is not inconceivable that all we may ever say with certainty is “that’s just how it happened to be”), those reasons are likely to involve MUCH more than what the respective theologians of those societies said about reason and free will. The slippery nature of this topic is exemplified by the two tentative reasons Asad does end up proposing: Urdu and printing. I am sure everyone can remember equally impressive articles where the failure to develop learning in indigenous vernacular languages (e.g. Punjabi in Punjab) is the cause of our underdevelopment, and where the failure to take up printing on a large scale was a big problem, rather than a god-sent opportunity to write in margins. My point is not that the writer’s suggestions are necessarily wrong. Just that they may be not even wrong. They may be tangential to the main issues.
There is no one single Islamic model or empire. The early Arab empire was an imperial undertaking, and a successful one, but when it ran out of steam, its successor Islamicate empires (e.g. Ottoman, Mughal, Safavid) all failed to evolve any tradition of science or industry that matched what was happening within sight of them in Europe. They also failed to develop any political institutions beyond the old models of Kings and emperor that they had taken from Near-Eastern and Central Asian models centuries earlier. Ghazali probably did not cause this failure to accelerate, but his efforts did not contribute to any significant advance in these areas either. Scholars will eventually bring to light (i.e. bring into the modern scholarly mainstream) whatever lies lost in Arabic and Persian manuscripts, and that will be a good thing. But the explanation of, say, Syria’s relative relative lack of modern scientific, industrial and political development may not lie hidden in those debates in any meaningful way.
Something like that. This is just off the top of my head, and I look forward to enlightening comments, arguments and questions. My line of thought may become clearer (or even change) as the argument progresses.
I would add (to avoid unnecessary diversions)that by “advanced” or “underdeveloped” I mostly mean scientifically, industrially and politically developed. No Moral judgment is implied.
 
btw, youtube is still banned and these guys are not happy. Give them a hand 

Playing fields of Peshawar

If the T-emirate were to rule over eastern Afghanistan and north-western Pakistan, Peshawar would probably qualify as the capital. Right now as North Waziristan and Khyber Agencies explode in violence, the extremists remain focused. It is instructive to watch the heroes of battlefield Kashmir now targeting Iranian interests, perhaps the thinking is that battles inside Pakistan are more worthy than the battles outside. That said the Chaudhury Nisar offer must not be dismissed lightly (even though the Taliban themselves are sceptical), one must give peace a (sporting) chance.

A spokesman for militant commander Mast Gul, once acclaimed in Pakistan for his role fighting Indian rule in Kashmir, has claimed
responsibility of a suicide attack at Iranian consulate in Peshawar
which killed two paramilitary soldiers and wounded ten others on Monday.

“We sent a suicide bomber to target the Iranian consulate and Iranians inside the building,” the spokesman told Reuters. “They unfortunately remained safe. We will continue to target Iranian
installations and the Shia community everywhere,” he added.

With talks on a sticky wicket, the interior minister said Monday that cricket could offer hope.

“I have information that the Taliban keep an interest in cricket. So
if this message can go through to them, we can have a cricket match with
them which can have a better result,” he told reporters in Islamabad
following an exhibition game. “The Taliban follow the Pakistan cricket team with keen interest so this can be a platform.”


But speaking to AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location,
Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said his group would refuse to play
ball. “These secular people want to distance our youth from jihad and
Islamic teachings through cricket. We are strongly against cricket and
dislike it,” he said.

regards

India 2014

Right now the polls say that BJP/NDA will get 200+ seats. As I have noted this (if it actually happens) will be a game-changer because enough opportunists can be purchased to reach 272. However I consider this to be unlikely, mainly because of the impact of rural-based caste coalitions as well as that of the urban-based Aam Aadmi Party (incidentally why not Aam Aurat Party?). The Congress is optimistic about a Delhi like scenario where the BJP was stopped from getting an absolute majority. Indeed the same polls predict that AAP will win an overwhelming majority if elections are held afresh in Delhi.

Again the way I read the polls, Congress will do very poorly in North and West (Bihar and UP will be critical for the BJP), however it may get a few seats in the North-East. The bulk of the Congress seats will come from the south- Kerala, Karnataka and Telangana. This will make the transition of Congress from a pan-India party to a South Indian party complete.

That said it is instructive (and amusing) to see Big Brother monitoring the 2014 elections (in their usual soft-footed, light-touch manner). The piece below says a lot (even when it says little), for what it is worth polls were quite accurate in the most recent round of state elections. In my opinion, BB is unsure about the rise of the BJP, on the one hand they cant be happy about an assertive Hindu majority (kind of like the Muslim Brotherhood part II), on the other hand they are probably interested in new business opportunities. Again my feeling on this is if NaMo does come to the throne, he will push for China over America and this will be a nightmare all the way around (but may be good for regional stability). I conclude that a lot many people are deeply interested in what happens in India following the 2014 polls.

The sudden thaw in the relationship comes as India heads into the 2014 Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) elections to be held this April and May. Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has
named him as its candidate for prime minster should the BJP gain an
electoral victory.
By meeting with Modi, American officials are
signaling that they view a BJP victory in the coming elections as a real
possibility, and are hoping that they can improve the damaged
relationship with Modi as much as possible prior to the election.


Unsurprisingly, U.S. officials and India watchers around the world
are closely monitoring the torrent of election polls and public opinion
surveys streaming out of the Indian media to see where the BJP stacks up
against its rivals as the elections draw near.

regards

Don’t cry for me, Parsi

An old article on how the Vulture Program has been started by the Parsis.
Like the vultures on which they once relied, Parsis are disappearing. Their religion, Zoroastrianism, once dominated Iran but was largely displaced by Islam. In the 10th century, a large group of Zoroastrians fled persecution in Iran and settled in India. Fewer than 70,000 remain, most of them concentrated in Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, where they collectively own prime real estate that was purchased centuries ago.
Among the most valuable of these holdings are 54 acres of trees and winding pathways onMalabar Hill, one of Mumbai’s most exclusive neighborhoods. Tucked into these acres are three Towers of Silence where Parsis have for centuries disposed of their dead.
This contrasts quite well with a more recent article, Your Ancestors Your Fate:
Inequality of income and wealth has risen in America since the 1970s, yet a large-scale research study recently found that social mobility hadn’t changed much during that time. How can that be?
The study, by researchers at Harvard and Berkeley, tells only part of the story. It may be true that mobility hasn’t slowed — but, more to the point, mobility has always been slow.
When you look across centuries, and at social status broadly measured — not just income and wealth, but also occupation, education and longevity — social mobility is much slower than many of us believe, or want to believe. This is true in Sweden, a social welfare state; England, where industrial capitalism was born; the United States, one of the most heterogeneous societies in history; and India, a fairly new democracy hobbled by the legacy of caste. Capitalism has not led to pervasive, rapid mobility. Nor have democratization, mass public education, the decline of nepotism, redistributive taxation, the emancipation of women, or even, as in China, socialist revolution.
Elite cultures are difficult to dispose of and sometimes can masquerade as small minorities (especially trading ones like Jews, Parsis, Jains and Phanariotes). 

The bounds of decency

It is clear that the Tamil political leadership believes (driven by electoral compulsions) that the LTTE gangsters responsible for the death of Rajiv Gandhi are innocent and should be set free. It is also clear that given the nature of coalition politics (now and in the future) gangsters can always bank on regional identity to protect them- be it a Sikh or a Tamil or whatever. Kashmiris like Afzal Guru have not been so lucky.

Incidentally this is the same claim of normalization/vindication for Narendra Modi (who in my book is much more obnoxious for having used the powers of the state to terrorize people). The electoral victories that the people of Gujarat have bestowed on him carry more authority that any number of court verdicts.

Hear is Harithra, daughter of Nalini and Murugan who is making the case for the release of all the gangsters

In yet another emotive appeal to AICC president Sonia Gandhi and her children, Rahul and Priyanka, Harithra, the 22-year-old daughter of Nalini and Murugan, convicted in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination
case, has sought the release of her father. If they helped to get back
her father, they would be hailed as saviours, she said..
…The recent letters were written in the wake of the
Supreme Court order commuting the death sentence of the three convicts,
Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan, the subsequent decision of Tamil Nadu
chief minister J Jayalalithaa to release them, and the apex court’s move
to stay their release. Harithra said her parents have been behind the
bars ever since she knew about them. “When I was mature enough to
understand the world around me, I’ve heard people talking about the
heinous assassination of Mr Rajiv Gandhi. Now I truly understand that
the incident is one of the most tragic and devastating moments of Indian
history,”
she said.                                                                                                                                                                          
It seems no one cares for the bombing victims who were also Tamils.                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

                                                                  

“Where is the justice for the bereaved families after
all these years,” asked S. Abbas, who lost his mother Shanthini Begum in
the Sriperumbudur blasts.
Of the 15 other victims of the blast, five
were Congress workers while and 10 were policemen, including nine from
the State force…..“We are not advocating death penalty
but we want those convicted by the highest court of carrying out a
heinous act to undergo the punishment meted out by the court. They
cannot be allowed to walk scot free,” said ‘League’ M. Mohan, whose
Congressman father ‘League’ P. Munusamy was one of the victims.

                                                                                                                                                                    I am anti- death penalty and applaud the Supreme Court decision for rescinding the same but I worry about what broader message that this campaign is sending. In the future the only form of retributive justice that will be available will be mob justice (while the petty politicians will plead ignorance and innocence).                                                                                                                                                                   regards

Why Islam Haunts India

I’ve been able to get the chapter on India (Iran is the following one). I’ll post it when I get it. It is simply the must-read on geopolitics and the Subcontinent; Robert Kaplan is a genius. The photos aren’t exactly clear (I forgot my smart phone in SE Asia) but it’s still readable.

This chapter almost made me miss my flight even when I was next to my Gate, it’s that informative.

On my facebook I have created an album called Why Islam haunts India where I have captioned each picture with the salient sentence.

By the way I went to a lot of trouble to get all this lolz.

Is Pakistan the reason why India is not yet a Great Power?

I was rifling through Bangkok Airport (which is just amazing) on the long transits back to Africa and I saw George Friedman’s book, the Next 100 Years, which simply seemed fantastical (in one scenario Turkey, Japan & Germany wage war on the US, Poland & UK in 2050 after the collapse of Russia).

Anyway as I crossed over to the next bookshop close to my departure gate I saw The Revenge of Geography of Robert Kaplan.

Now Robert Kaplan (along with Huntington, Asimov and maybe Bernard Lewis) are huge intellectual influences on how I perceive the world. I became far more of a geographical determinist my Eureka moment happened what a decade ago when I chanced on this article by Robert Kaplan, Roman Africa.

To get to my main point when I was in South East Asia (and ironically Razib had a very good post up on Cambodian genetics at around the time I was in Cambodia) I realised that Hinduism and Buddhism have usually been having a fairly fratricidal relationship over the millennia. However the Hindu Right pays almost no attention to Buddhism but instead subsumes it into a brotherly Dharmic ethos even though Bhutan, Sri Lanka (which are admittedly more ethnic than religious conflicts) and even Pakistan in the deep past (apparently Bangladesh and Pakistan had strong Buddhist history before re-Hinduisation; correct me if I’m wrong).

Around the time I was pondering this though that why do India focus so much on Pakistan and Islam when frankly South East Asia and the Indian ocean is the grand prize. Furthermore India is almost an uncontested power (after all the historic name was Indo-China for the Asean region) but still seems bedevilled by playing power politics in Central Asia, Kashmir, Afghanistan & Pakistan.

Robert Kaplan almost perfectly answered my question as to the overwhelming strategic role Pakistan plays in India’s security. I had unfortunately forgotten my iphone so I would have scanned the whole chapter (it’s that good) so instead I’m going to excerpt from a few other pieces of Kaplan’s:

But the spirit of India has undergone an uneasy shift in this new era of rampant capitalism and of deadly ethnic and religious tensions, which arise partly as violent reactions against exactly the social homogenization that globalization engenders. Gujarat finds itself once again at the heart of what is roiling India, and what singularly menaces the country’s rise to “Great Global Power” status. India is home to 154 million Muslims, the third-largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia and Pakistan. India has arguably more to lose from extremist Islam than any other country in the world. Yet, as Dwijendra Tripathi, a historian based in Gujarat, lamented to me, “The Hindu-Muslim divide here is worse than at any time since the partition.” Not coincidentally, this rift is deepening even as Gujarat booms economically, with brand-new malls, multi plexes, highways, and private ports transforming it into a pulsing region-state athwart Indian Ocean trade routes. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2009/04/indias-new-face/307332/

The greater Indian Ocean region encompasses the entire arc of Islam, from the Sahara Desert to the Indonesian archipelago. Although the Arabs and the Persians are known to Westerners primarily as desert peoples, they have also been great seafarers. In the Middle Ages, they sailed from Arabia to China; proselytizing along the way, they spread their faith through sea-based commerce. Today, the western reaches of the Indian Ocean include the tinderboxes of Somalia, Yemen, Iran, and Pakistan — constituting a network of dynamic trade as well as a network of global terrorism, piracy, and drug smuggling. Hundreds of millions of Muslims — the legacy of those medieval conversions — live along the Indian Ocean’s eastern edges, in India and Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia. http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/64832/robert-d-kaplan/center-stage-for-the-21st-century

As the competition between India and China suggests, the Indian Ocean is where global struggles will play out in the twenty-first century. The old borders of the Cold War map are crumbling fast, and Asia is becoming a more integrated unit, from the Middle East to the Pacific. South Asia has been an indivisible part of the greater Islamic Middle East since the Middle Ages: it was the Muslim Ghaznavids of eastern Afghanistan who launched raids on India’s northwestern coast in the early eleventh century; Indian civilization itself is a fusion of the indigenous Hindu culture and the cultural imprint left by these invasions. Although it took the seaborne terrorist attacks in Mumbai last November for most Westerners to locate India inside the greater Middle East, the Indian Ocean’s entire coast has always constituted one vast interconnected expanse.
What is different now is the extent of these connections. On a maritime-centric map of southern Eurasia, artificial land divisions disappear; even landlocked Central Asia is related to the Indian Ocean. Natural gas from Turkmenistan may one day flow through Afghanistan, for example, en route to Pakistani and Indian cities and ports, one of several possible energy links between Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Both the Chinese port in Gwadar, Pakistan, and the Indian port in Chah Bahar, Iran, may eventually be connected to oil- and natural-gas-rich Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and other former Soviet republics. S. Frederick Starr, a Central Asia expert at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said at a conference in Washington last year that access to the Indian Ocean “will help define Central Asian politics in the future.” Others have called ports in India and Pakistan “evacuation points” for Caspian Sea oil. The destinies of countries even 1,200 miles from the Indian Ocean are connected with it.

Welcome to the newborn (#29)

A new state is officially born as the Telengana bill passes both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. The agitation for the separate state was initiated right after independence. In its own way, this development honours the memory of Gandhi. Everyone has a different opinion on what aspects of the Gandhian path are bene(male)-volent, in my own opinion the most significant is his stress on local rule. For people-power to be truly realized, power has to be taken out of hands of a few elites sitting (and stealing) in Delhi.

regards

Adieu to Asia

I’m about to leave Cambodia to head back to Uganda. I’m hoping to share my thoughts as I’ve become a bit of an old hand when it comes to South & South East Asia.

At any rate it’s back to Africa and even though developing countries are broadly similar; I have to admit that Phnom Penh and Kampala are totally different in their levels of organisation.

Oh and Bombay airport is simply spectacular.