David Berlinski Reviews Pankaj Mishra

I have been too busy (or wasting too much time on twitter) to write much, but I think we should promote some essays from other sites when they look interesting. Here is one I saw today: David Berlinski reviews Pankaj Mishra’s latest book of essays.   You can read it in full on this link.  

(my own, less erudite and much more rant-like takedown of Mishra and his brand of “tailor made for Western and Westernized Liberals” shtick can be found here) (my own summary of Pankaj in that rant: With Pankaj, the safest bet is that he is “not even wrong”. Good for virtue signaling. Useless for any other purpose.) You can also read a review of sorts I wrote about Pankaj in 2014 that also tries to clarify where I am coming from in this topic)

Bland Fanatics: Liberals, Race, and Empire - Mishra, Pankaj - Livres -  Amazon.fr

A few excerpts: 

PANKAJ MISHRA is an Indian journalist, novelist, and travel writer; he is widely appreciated as a scold.1 Written between 2008 and just the other day, the sixteen essays comprising Bland Fanatics were published variously in The GuardianThe London Review of Books, the New YorkerThe New York Times, and The New York Review of Books.2 Readers seeking ideological exuberance must look elsewhere. The essays are themselves unified by a common rhetorical strategy, if not a common rhetorical subject, in which Mishra reveals that he knows something that others do not. “It had long been clear to me,” he writes, “that Western ideologues during the Cold War absurdly prettified the rise of the ‘democratic’ West.”3

What I didn’t realise until I started to inhabit the knowledge ecosystems of London and New York is how evasions and suppressions had resulted, over time, in a massive store of defective knowledge about the West and the non-West alike. Simple-minded and misleading ideas and assumptions, drawn from this blinkered history, had come to shape the speeches of Western statesmen, think tank reports and newspaper editorials, while supplying fuel to countless log-rolling columnists, television pundits and terrorism experts.4

Living on hot air, logrolling columnists, like certain abstemious yogis, do not generally require fuel, although they may require logs; and a knowledge ecosystem suggests nothing so much as a child’s terrarium: wood, water, weeds, worms. Never mind. Readers will get the point. They could hardly miss it. In hanging around London and New York, Mishra encountered a good many dopes.

No doubt…

… THE ESSAYS IN Bland Fanatics, if intelligent and brisk, are also imperfectly argued and badly written. Realities are brutal, falsehoods blatant, notions reek, prejudices are entrenchedbinaries pop up here and there (eager, I am sure, to escape gender confinement), crime rates skyrocket, adventurers are bumptious, history is blinkered, delusions climax, despotisms are ruthless, and, if breasts are not being bared, chests, at least, are being thumped.6 Mishra is also a writer unwilling to savor the niceties of attribution. The wonderful phrase “closing time in the garden of the West” appears three times in two essays, welcome relief from the clump of Mishra’s habitual clichés. It is due to Cyril Connolly.7 That “every document of civilization is also a document of barbarism” is due, in turn, to Walter Benjamin.8 Mishra has appropriated the phrase and its mistranslation into English.

Continue reading David Berlinski Reviews Pankaj Mishra

Pankaj Mishra and His Discontents

This was an old post i wrote in 2014, still in our archive, but hard to find and not properly formatted, so I am reposting today).

Pankaj has an op-ed in the NY Times. Friend Sardul Minhas prodded me to say something about it, but I was short of time and just gave some general comments about the Pankajist worldview and it’s discontents. These comments are quick and off the cuff, so almost as superficial as Pankaj Bhayia’s op-ed, but they sort of add to my earlier longer rant about his book, and my earlier article about Pankaj and Arundhati Roy. Read them all and you will start to see what I mean (or at least, where I am coming from). Trust me 🙂 

Before I go on, let me say that India hypernationalism is at least as real as Pakistani or American or Chinese hypernationalism and can be almost equally crazy. Like those hypernationalisms, it is mostly held in check by real-life constraints and need not trigger world war three, but world war three is not inconceivable. Shit happens. So I do not mean to imply that all is well and will forever remain well in the Indian subcontinent with the BJP in power (and of course anyone who says all was well before the BJP came to power must be joking). But I do think some of the doom and gloom is overdone and a lot of it is just hyperventilation that provides no good analysis as to why this phenomena has grown, what it may become, and what can be done to moderate or counter it’s possible excesses…in short, i dont think there is nothing to fear, but I do think that the Pankajist worldview is neither an adequate analysis, nor a rational prescription for it’s cure.

Pankaj seems to believe (or knows it is fashionable to believe) that the worship of strength and material progress is a serious mistake and therefore all of recent Western history (with its abundant displays of strength and material/organizational progress, however defined) was a very bad thing. But he also believes the equally fashionable meme that the weak should “stand up for their rights” and fight back and defeat the strong….since I have not seen any evidence to suggest that he has some well-developed theory of Gandhian resistance, how is this circle to be squared? Given belief A, belief B requires the acquisition of strength and at least some material/organizational progress (how else will anyone be able to overcome the amoral West?) but it so happens that the constituency of “strength and material/organizational progress” in India is one that Pankaj cannot afford to be associated with. He has little trouble with non-Indian strength-worshippers like Jamaluddin Afghani (a minor and ineffectual fascist whom he portrayed, historically inaccurately, as one of the great exemplars of Asian resistance to Western domination), but in India his home is in the liberal elite Left, and the “strength and progress” idea, while very much present in the traditional Left, is not one that the postmodern Left is comfortable with…besides, the strength part is now mostlymonopolized by the Hindutvadis, so there are problems with admiring Indian anti-Westernism and strength-worship that do not arise for Pankaj when he is talking about Muslims or Chinese who want to become strong like the West. Incidentally, Japan remains a sore spot of Pankaj; perhaps because of his initial Leftist orientation or because the rise of Japan does not fit his preferred picture of “East tries to Westernize and falls flat on face”, he completely skipped Japan when discussing his version of the rise of Asia from the ruins of Empire. Anyway, given these ideological limitations, what is to be done? His options include:

  1. Westernization has been and forever will be a disaster for non-Western nations. The apparent weakness of “Eastern” nations is actually strength; a sign of moral superiority, closer to nature, deeply rooted, psychologically sound, more humane etc etc. Gandhi had some such beliefs. Of course Gandhi also believed that if we stick to our (moral) strengths, we can “defeat” the apparently stronger West. But this defeat will not look like the usual victory and defeat looks in war. Valid or not, this would be a relatively consistent (and very attractive) set of beliefs. But many elements of this system are anathema for the Left (like Gandhi’s embrace of the people’s ancient religon and religious myths, his lack of interest in physical strength, and his un-Marxist view of history), so Pankaj cannot comfortably take a Gandhian position against the West (though he can say patronizing nice things about it).
  2. Westernization has been and forever will be a disaster for non-Western nations. They must find their own unique way forward. They have unique cultures and cultural strengths and these are embedded in their language, their culture, their myths, their religions… and they must build from these, etc. But this is what a lot of the Hindu right is saying, so it certainly cannot be Pankaj’s choice either.
  3. Or Pankaj can drop the whole Eurocentric post-Marxist framework and start from scratch. He might then find that “Westernization” is not so exclusively Western. A lot of it is just progress in human knowledge (always incomplete and prone to errors) and any individual or group can acquire and make use of past discoveries in human knowledge, whether they happen to have been made in Europe or Central Asia or Japan, and build on those…. that maybe the flaws we see in the West are not that foreign either, but are human characteristics, and their larger organized expressions (armies, conquests, wars, colonization, cultural and literal genocides, megalomaniacs, liars) are not really some unique and novel Western invention…. If strength and scientific progress are diseases, then we are all prone to falling victim to their allure….and so on. But that would be such a departure from the postcolonialist postmodern post-marxist universe in which Pankaj operates, its not really a choice either. What if his audience no longer buys his op-eds?

It’s a tough place to be in.  Hence the confusion.
btw, he started with Naipaul, betting that his audience would have little or no clue about Naipaul’s actual views about Indian history and the rise of the BJP. I think this move shows Pankaj is not dumb and he sometimes takes risks. Those are worthy qualities 😉
Or it may mean that Naipaul’s earlier expression of admiration for Pankaj (as a literary critic) has created a soft spot. Human nature being what it is…

I initially posted these thoughts as a facebook comment and asked some questions on 3quarksdaily (where Pankaj’s article was up on the blog). One of the responses (from someone named Sundar) was as follows:
I doubt if I fit the profile of Pankaj’s intended readership, but here goes:
I think the Indian left (and Pankaj in particular) has become irrelevant. The Left parties have been decimated even in their citadel of West Bengal, where they had unleashed a reign of terror for 25 years. (If you think that is an exaggeration, you should learn more about life in Rural West Bengal). It is another matter that the TMC is continuing their tactics.
Intellectually, the left has been in shock since their utopias of Russia and China have moved on. Hence their desperate attempt to use any issue they can get their hands on: Environment, Caste etc. Their last gasp was their infiltration of the centrist Congress party via Sonia Gandhi’s unconstitutional NAC.
They are terrified that Modi has put together a workable coalition of various caste groups which aims to control parliament for the foreseeable future. They don’t know how to deal with Modi: he comes from the very groups that they claim to represent. But he represents a new kind of India, one which does not want handouts from elite controlled parties.
Whether Modi’s electoral coalition will hold in the next Lok Sabha elections, I don’t know. But if it does, the India left’s worst nightmare will come to pass: A world where they are simply irrelevant. A Bourgeois India that hasn’t heard of Pankaj Mishra and his ilk. And doesn’t care.

My answer had some more questions, which I will post here in the hope that someone will attempt some answers:
I think you are right, though out of loyalty to my youthful ideals and deference to my friends /peer group I would assign a less positive valence to this decline and fall… Anyway, follow up questions : since higher education and public intellectuals in India share (consciously and unconsciously) many of the historic assumptions, ideals, paradigms etc of the Left, what does the  future hold in that area? Will they modify their beliefs and carry on? Will there be a circling of the wagons and a vicious fight with the newly powerful right, followed by an auto da fe? Will the crazier Hindutva historians replace our familiar Marxist intellectuals as most of my friends seem to fear? And will all this play any role in “real life”? 
Inquiring minds want to know 🙂

Finally, a word from my better half (who has higher IQ and EQ): I must not just criticize Mishra. I must also say what he would be good at; so here goes: I think he would be an excellent literary critic if he could just give up his urge to push his (fashionable, but ultimately irrelevant) political agenda in every thing he writes. I know, “the personal is political” and all that, but comrade, that too may just be fashionable claptrap. Take a deep breath. Let go…

PS: Given the current political conflicts within India (with which I have only an outsider’s connection), it is inevitable that an attack on Pankaj will get positive responses from his supposed ideological opponents in the BJP (I say “supposed” because Pankaj actually shares their emotional antipathy towards the West and has some sympathy for their counterparts in other Asian countries, just not in India itself). Just to keep things clear, I am mostly Left-of-Center in my politics and extremely left of center on most social issues (though somewhat right of center on state intervention in social issues, whatever). I do hope a left-of-center alternative survives and thrives in Indian politics, not just because my own inclinations (mostly) lie that way but because the total dominance of any one ideology is always a problem. Best to have some balance and some competition. Finally, I do realize that all who identify as leftists are not as Eurocentric/Europhobic and confused as Pankaj. 
Oh, and about the Hindutvadis, I think there are some obvious problem areas in their quest to become the leaders of resurgent and powerful India: I am saying nothing original if I say that the “Muslim question” is one of them. In my case, the concern is not that they will try to “Indianize” Islam well beyond what current Indian Muslim leaders would consider desirable… I think that is the eventual fate of Indian Islam and I see no great reason to abhor that possibility. My concern is that they will mess up the “soft landing” that is the “desirable option” in this process. i.e. I think a soft landing is possible (and desirable) but the way the BJP has evolved, they may not be the best people to achieve it. More on that some other day, but I do want to add that to me this is not a specifically “Muslim” concern. It is an Indian concern. In numbers, in solidarity, in civilizational consciousness, in cultural contribution, etc Indian Muslims are not an insignificant component of India. A “hard landing” would hurt everyone and the outcome is by no means guaranteed to be in the Hindutvadi’s favor. Softer approaches would work better for everyone, not just for the Muslims. Fascist tendencies and mob action are other obvious problems but are by no means a BJP monopoly (see West Bengal for details) but a BJP-specific (much less serious) area of concern is the large mass of pseudoscientific nonsense that has accreted around the crazier edges of the Hindutva brand. While I think the actual “real world” significance of that mass of craziness is sometimes exaggerated by liberal/Westernized/agnostic/atheist observers, it is not necessary trivial.  I quote Prime Minister sahib: “We worship Lord Ganesh. There must have been some plastic surgeon at that time who got an elephant’s head on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery – See more at: http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/pm-takes-leaf-from-batra-book-mahabharat-genetics-lord-ganesha-surgery/99/#sthash.mRlrMYpm.dpuf “
I really dont think modern Indian medicine will be easily derailed by such flights of fancy, but ….There. That should do it 🙂

Post-post script: Friend Shivam Vij posted Guardian’s piece about Modi making his Hindutva pseudosciency remarks and I told him its funny, but may not necessarily be too consequential. Many friends seemed to find that surprising. Why not consequential? he is saying an elephant head was transplanted on a human, literally. That’s crazy. Well, yes, it is, but if we go by that, we would lose our shit everytime some leader says he believes in the talking snake or the flying horse or whatever. The silliness is not the problem. Or at least, its not NECESSARILY a big problem. The same people who believe in flying horses and talking snakes are very rational and clever in matters closer to our own lives. So the problem is not necessarily the silliness of the belief. Its the fact that PM sahib chose to express it on such an occasion and in such a context, indicating a certain mixing of knowledge streams best left unmixed…and the implication that such hindutvadi pseudoscience may then be forced on people in real life settings, maybe even in Medical schools and in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. Now in a democracy that is certainly a possibility and a scary one. But a reasonably competent elite can erect filters and keep the ship on near-even keel even in a democracy.
Is the Indian elite competent enough.
I guess we will find out. 

Browncast: Ambassador Kamran Shafi on Benazir, Nawaz Sharif, Military Rule, etc

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

In this episode I (Omar) talk to Major Kamran Shafi, who served in the army, then became a columnist, served as Benazir Bhutto’s press secretary and after another long stint as a columnist, served as ambassdor to Havana, Cuba. He looks back at these years and what may lie ahead.

Pos tscript: Ambassador Shafi sent in a short voice message to add to the above. It is an episode in Benazir’s first term when she was being constantly harassed by the “establishment” and Kamran Shafi advised her to resign and go to Larkana..

Kamran Shafi: Outsiders Can Help by Dealing with the Elected Government - YouTube

Major Amin; a few words on Pakistan, Afghanistan and China

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

Last time we interviewed Major Amin just after the fiasco of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. That was a relatively substantive interviey w (you can listen to it at this link: Major Amin on the age of strategic anarchy) and proved extremely popular, so there was a lot of demand to invite Major Amin back for an update. I caught up with the Major in a less than sober mood initially (some of you may have heard that recording) when he expressed his disappointment with how badly things are going in his homeland in somewhat colorful language, but at his request we have now redone this interview (the exact same questions) in a more sober tone. Enjoy.

Book Review: Rivals by Dr Saad Shafqat

Rivals: Saad Shafqat: Bloomsbury India

A review I wrote for India Today a few months ago.

Rivals is the third book and second novel from the pen of Dr Saad Shafqat, professor of neurology at the Agha Khan Hospital and Medical School in Karachi. He started writing with pieces about cricket and is the proud author of Javed Miandad’s autobiography (“cutting edge”) as well as a previous medical thriller (“breath of death”). This book is set in the same “Avicenna University Hospital” (a thinly disguised version of the author’s actual place of work) as his first novel, but the main protagonist in this one is not terrorists or terrorist hunters but doctors competing for a prestigious department chairmanship.
The book opens with Dr Tanya Shah at her morning constitutional and the author is clearly familiar with the world of Karachi’s rich and famous. As she puts on her Maria B lawn suit and grabs her Luis Vuitton bucket bag and heads out to work, every detail is lovingly described; Unfortunately, another character is also at his morning constitutional at exactly the same time, shaving his pubes and underarms so that he can be in a state of ritual purity when he meets his 72 virgins. Yes, there is a suicide bombing in chapter 2, but while it will play a bit of a role in the drama that unfolds later, this is not really a book about Islamist terrorists or their victims. It is a book about Dr Tanya Shah and her colleague Dr Hammad Khan, professor of ophthalmology and her rival in the race to become Avicenna’s next chief of surgery. Dr Hammad plots sexual escapades with medical reps and underhand maneuvers to undermine Dr Shah’s candidacy with his hangers on while sipping cocktails at an elite club, while a “white tiger” type ambulance driver and a bomb victim’s poor mother add some working-class spice to the mix. There is also a lot of medical excitement (operating room, trauma surgery, that sort of thing) that is well written and interesting.

The book is generally well written and is a fun and easy read, but the characters are not fully developed and promising detours frequently fade out without getting anywhere genuinely exciting. Still, it is set in Karachi and anyone with any connection to the medical world will find many familiar sights and sounds and depictions to keep him interested. And while there is a suicide bombing and some run ins with poor people, the book cannot be accused of relying on either poverty porn or Jihad-mongering for cheap thrills. Instead, Dr Shafqat stays mostly with the world he knows well and avoids any temptation to crudely take notice of how westernized and “un-Islamic” it is. These doctors are worrying about publications, presentations, trainees, committee meetings, departmental politics and sexual scandals and their stories hold no grand political lessons and attempt to correct no terrible historical crimes. That at least is refreshing. Overall, a fun read, but one is left with the feeling that it could have been better.

 

Afghan Chaos. Dr Hamid Hussain’s view..

From Dr Hamid Hussain. As readers of this blog know, our other Pakistani military history contributor (Major Amin) has a harsher version of the same situation: that there is chaos in Afghanistan and it will drag all neighbors into trouble with it. Dr Hamid, a nice guy at heart, is willing to hope for peace a little more than Major Amin.. (the initial response is about what the American policymakers are thinking of doing)

17 October 2021

Following was part of conversations with many with first hand knowledge about the region.  This gentleman had front row seat to many changes in the region and he was kind enough to candidly share his views with me & my response. It may be of interest to some.

Hamid

Thanks Sir.  I think you got it right about potential risks for the region.  I know that in polite conversations, these topics are not discussed but in the real and cruel world people talk about their dreams and delusions and it is directly proportional to the level of their knowledge or ignorance. This has been at least my experience of dealing with many from different countries who have front row seat to this blood sport.

Here are my two cents.  In my view, there is no agreement yet about the policy going forward but there are conversations about what is called ‘controlled chaos’.  Some see huge opportunities in current situation where all potential trouble makers in Washington’s eyes can be paid back in the same coin.  Keeping Russia busy defending its southern borders by spending more military and diplomatic capital, highlighting human rights violations of Uighurs on diplomatic front and limited support to do some fireworks in Xinjiang by using Wakhan corridor, destabilize Iran’s eastern border thus almost completely encircling Iran as currently, Israel is using Iraqi Kurdistan and Azerbaijan to cause troubles.  Igniting another border and more involvement in Afghanistan will waste more Iranian intelligence resources.  Turkey under neo-Ottoman dreamer Erdogan has gone from ‘zero trouble with neighbors’ foreign policy of decades to ‘100 % trouble with every neighbor’ quagmire.  He is arrogant and ignorant enough to be easily enticed into putting his hand in the snake pit of Afghanistan.  There have been reports of increasing Turkish parleys with Pakistan and several mysterious military flights from Istanbul to Chaklala air base have landed.  We don’t know the details yet but I’m suspicious that the cargo has something to do with Afghanistan and it is not humanitarian aid.

Everyone and his cousin in Washington is very angry at Pakistan.  The dangerous part is that now Afghanistan is not seen as a separate entity for management purposes.  The talk is about region and it is now ‘Pak-Af’ that means support of anti-Taliban groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan mainly on political front at this stage and if needed in future a military front can also come into play.  Goal is to create a ‘cordon sanitaire’ around Talib country of southern and eastern Afghanistan that is traditional Loy Kandahar and Loy Paktiya regions.  This means strengthening both Pushtun and Baloch nationalist forces in Baluchistan.  In Khyber Pukhtunkhwa (KPK), if Pushtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) is converted into a political party and moribund Awami National Party (ANP) wakes up and revamps its structure, it can create a political barrier to Taliban narrative.  In addition to these ethnic forces, two major political parties; Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) have no love lost for Afghan Taliban.  During their respective tenures (2008-2018), they have tried desperately to get rid of flea infested Afghan blanket but army came in the way. Even limited retreat of the army in current scenario provides the room for push back for all anti-Taliban forces.

Afghan Taliban leadership will try a hand at ‘reverse strategic depth’ by supporting religious segment especially fellow Pushtun Deobandi lot of KPK, Baluchistan and metropolis of Karachi.  This will be their attempt at political front.  In future, if circumstances force a military front then their natural allies will be Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

For the northern part of the region, there is talk about the Kurdish model that was adopted for Iraq.  A de facto independent region although Afghan scene is quite different as there is no history of separatism among non-Pushtuns and also it is not one single ethnic entity in the north.  If somehow, this time around non-Pushtuns come to the conclusion that Taliban are a dominant military force in control of Kabul for forseeable future who are not willing to share and they don’t have strong Pushtun partners to wrest control back and run as a joint venture, then other options come to the table.  Even in that case, this model will require some modification.  One possibility is the ‘canton model’ attempted in Syria for different ethnic and sectarian groups.  The base for northern plan will likely be Tajikistan.  Contrary to popular belief, it will be Afghan players that will determine the future course, outsiders will be simply enablers.

In my view ‘controlled chaos’ is a misnomer as chaos takes its own course and apprentice sorcerers can not even comprehend let alone control it. My personal view is that like every government change (although we may not agree with the method of taking control), Taliban should be given a chance of at least three years to prove what they mean?  Formal recognition can be kept at back burner for now while channels kept open at different levels.  In the meantime humanitarian aid channeling directly to the people to prevent famine and further dislocations while gently pushing Taliban to modify their stance on some issues especially inclusion of other groups and female education.  On part of Talib, if he can keep violence below a certain threshold where it does not hamper daily activities for the next few years, that will be an achievement.  In my view patience is needed but alas patience has never been an American virtue.

“The everlasting battle stripped from us care of our own lives or of others”.  T. E. Lawrence

Warm Regards,

Hamid

Major Amin’s Review: 1965, A Western Sunrise. by Shiv Kunal Varma

1965 – A Western Sunrise -Indias War with Pakistan by Shiv Kunal Verma Reviewed by Major Agha H Amin (Retired)

September 2021

  • DOI:
  • 13140/RG.2.2.21404.00645
  • This is a very interesting new addition to books on 1965 war. The writer gives very interesting background details to each relevant person or subject , though these did not interest this scribe as a military reviewer. Overall, a good effort but it does contain several errors:

The authors assertion on page-43 that 6 Infantry brigade was an independent brigade is not correct as this brigade was a part of 8 Division.

On page.99 the writers assertion that 19 Baluch (Special Services Group or SSG) was formed with 7/10 Baluch as nucleus is TOTALLY INCORRECT . 7/10 was renumbered 15 Baluch while 17/10 Baluch was later renumbered 19 Baluch or the SSG.

On page.106 and 107 the authors undue praise of then Brigadier Harbaksh Singh’s advance towards Muzaffarabad in the 1948 Kashmir war is highly disputable as per both Pakistani and Indian accounts. eg Pakistani official history published in 1970 stated that on reaching Tithwal, which was defended by a weak infantry company, Brigadier Harbaksh Singh ordered a two day halt and thus lost a golden chance to change history and possibly threaten Muzaffarabad. In these two days Pakistan Army reinforced Tithwal with a brigade. Colonel Achutan Singh of Indian Army in a recent article published in Indian Defence Review analysed in detail Harbaksh Singhs incompetent siting of Indian defences of the Chunj position as a result of which Indian Army lost they key Chunj ridge and was pushed on defensive at Tithwal and driven out of Pir Sahaba Ridge. Incidentally the Pakistani success in the attack on Chunj was thanks to the role played by Major Sloan, a British officer who managed to transport a medium gun over the river using a pulley, and who later died in action and was buried with full military honors in Pakistan. Continue reading Major Amin’s Review: 1965, A Western Sunrise. by Shiv Kunal Varma

Browncast: Omar Ali on Pakistan, Myths and Realities

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

In this podcast we reverse positions and guest blogger Maneesh Taneja interviewed me (Omar Ali) instead of the other way round. We talk about the usual stuff, the ideology of Pakistan,  partition, why the army rules Pakistan, how the India-Pakistan thing is likely to evolve, and suchlike. Just a casual conversation.

Errata:

  1. I said at around the 40 minute mark that the Indian army at partition was around 50% Muslim. That is not correct (thanks to @genionomist for pointing this out on twitter). It was about 33% Muslim, 33% Sikh and 33% Hindu.
  2. I said Pakistan officially teaches pride in the Indus valley civilization and then jumps to Mohammed Bin Qasim. I forgot to mention that we DO own the Gandhara civilization, but we present it as Buddhist, almost never as Hindu or generically “Indian”. In that sense, it is used to buttress the assertion that Pakistan was never really too “Indian”. And I did not get into this, but left-liberal types who reject or question the Two Nation theory then insist on a very sharp and black and white British 19th Century type vision of evil Aryans invading “our real people”, the heroic Dravidians. Win some, lose some 😉

I promised in the podcast that I would also post links to some articles and books I believe may be relevant. So here goes:

  1. Pakistan, Myths and Consequences. My article in “Pragati” about the ideology of Pakistan and its consequences for Pakistan can be found here. 
  2. Podcast with Venkat Dhulipala can be found here. 
  3. A link to Venkat Dhulipala’s book “creating a new Medina“, which I think is an excellent introduction to how Pakistan was imagined by many (not all) of its creators.
  4. Abdul Majeed Abid on the Objectives resolution, adopted by the Pakistani constituent assembly as the basis for a future constitution of Pakistan, can be found here. 
  5. Martial Race Theory, myths and consequences. This article by Major Amin sheds light on the genesis of the Pakistan army and its self image.
  6. Our fellow blogger “the emissary” views on India’s Islam. 
  7. Dr Hamid Hussain’s summary of the Kashmir problem is here.

Review: Hell! No Saints in Paradise

AK Asif’s debut novel (available on Amazon,) (also available on Amazon India) mixes dystopian science fiction, sufism, politics, humor and Salafist Islam to create a stunning and unexpected joy-ride through post-apocalyptic Pakistan in 2050. Of course it is no longer called Pakistan (there being no P in Arabic), it is now called Al-Bakistan, and it is ruled by a Khalifa who established law and order after the proletariat rose in revolt and decapitated the ruling elite in a paroxysm of rioting and holy war a few years earlier.

Continue reading Review: Hell! No Saints in Paradise

Spoils of War; The Aircraft of the Afghan Air Force

From Dr Hamid Hussain

Spoils of War

 Chaotic United States withdrawal from Afghanistan and consequent vacuum rapidly filled by Taliban surprised everyone.  Large amounts of weapons, especially aircraft falling into the hands of the Taliban raised some concerns. However, these fears are exaggerated.  Taliban were an insurgent force engaging in a protracted warfare focused on hit and run, small scale engagements, ambushes, Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks and assassinations in rural and urban areas.  It used motorcycles and civilian trucks for mobility and small arms, Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs), mortars and explosives for its operations.

The United States developed the Afghan Air Force (AAF) with the primary aim of supporting Afghan security forces with aerial reconnaissance and intelligence, logistic support to troops deployed in operational areas and use of rotary wing and light fixed wing attack planes to attack insurgent deployments.

Russian MI-17 was the nucleus as Afghan pilots and maintenance crew have long experience with these helicopters. Many Afghans living in Russia and Eastern European countries with experience with MI-17 and newly trained pilots and crew managed these helicopters. However, the MI-17 workhorse was downgraded in favor of new shiny American aerial toys. Many factors were at play.  Russian trained officers including pilots were eased out and when sanctions were placed on Russia, Afghan government funds could not be used for Russian equipment. This issue was circumvented to some extent by routing MI-17s and its parts through India.  American regulations require that U.S. finding should be used to buy American made equipment. The U.S. government was planning to phase out MI-17 by 2022 and no further funding was planned for this category.

Russian planes are simple to operate and manuals don’t need Russian language.  Afghanistan already had long experience with Russian aircraft and there was an available pool that could be easily expanded.  Maintenance crew with limited education can be trained without mastering Russian language. On the other hand, American planes are complex and the English language is essential.  Pilots and maintenance crew had to first learn the English language before training on American planes. Some training programs were in the United States that required a lengthy process of vetting and visa requirements.  In 2020, with COVID pandemic, Afghan pilots who came back from basic training in the United States could not start flying with their trainers and mentors. There was always a deficiency of qualified Afghan pilots and maintenance crew. Private contractors were operating and maintaining AAF planes. When the security situation deteriorated, some of the training was moved to third countries especially Gulf sheikhdoms. Continue reading Spoils of War; The Aircraft of the Afghan Air Force