30 September 2008

Pakistan's Existence

Reading the transcript of the first debate between the presidential candidates did not reveal much new and inspiring insofar as their opinions were concerned, but it was illuminating in that it helped me put together an idea I've long been mulling; what precisely is wrong with US foreign policy?  My answer:  Lack of a coherent and reflexive approach to sovreignty.  Sovreignty is central to the equation because the US is itself a state of the 1648-style Westphalian kind.  This problem is becoming most evident with the failure to address the Pakistan Question and the resultant denial of rights to millions of people.

There are two different ways for the state system to fail us.  There is either a lack of state control over a particular area or the state exercises its control improperly.  (my definition for the state is a geographically delimited public goods monopoly.  The state may be an individual in the legal sense, but it is not a human being.  There is no "right" for it to exist, rather it has duties; contractual obligations to provide rights (public goods) to all of its inhabitants)  The lacks of control are well know and admitted--the Chad/Sudan border, the Place Formerly Known as Somalia, most of Congo.  The other side of the continuum in state failure is too packed to even begin to list and some states are worse than others in this regard.

My proposition is that there are three such holes in the state system that pose particular threats.  I think of them as my own personal axis of evil.  These states are Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.  All three fail on the level of failing to provide rights to large numbers of people living under their control, but most interesting is that these states' failures also create black holes in the state system.  All three states' claims to legitimacy rest on mutually contradictory tenets that serve to weaken the order around them.

For the sake of brevity, I'm just addressing Pakistan for the moment.  Pakistan is the one thing that keeps Afghanistan from becoming a success, or for that matter just surviving.  All of Afghanistan other neighbour's can be bargained with and play within some basic parameters.  This goes for India, China, the Central Asian states, and Iran (the US's failure to deal rationally with Iran goes back to the corrupting influence of Israel policy, which is subject for another rant).  Pakistan on the other hand cannot not be dealt with within the framework of the state system because the Pakistani state has already failed.

The curious part of Pakistan's failure, and the one that I think leads policymakers astray in constructing a coherent approach to it, is that it has failed on both of the levels I have mentioned about.  The very success of the political elite in building a strong state has overlooked such a states necessary foundation and consequently produced holes in the state system on Pakistan's fringes.  Whereas Saudi Arabia has had sufficient resources to subsidise its legitimacy by doing things like supporting illiterate business men who would never be able to succeed anywhere else without fully embracing modernity or funding missionary activity abroad, Pakistan has had to pursue a much more austere programme to hold the state together.  That 'programme' has been the military, which plays such an immense role in Pakistan's political culture that it has practically become the state.

The growth of the military state in Pakistan has fanned the flames of defensiveness already rife within the state.  States founded on ideologies other than liberalism (providing public goods to all citizens) are always problematic, whatever they may be, but states with multiple ideologies are even more fractious.  Pakistan's elite struggles visibly with whether it is a state for South Asian Muslims, an Islamic state, or a curator of the Mughal legacy.  The quick creation of the state glossed over the fact that there are as many differences between South Asian Muslims as their are between many Muslims and Hindus, hence the pan-Indian Muslim identity of many Muhajirin from places like UP class with different Muslim identities in Balochistan and NWFP.  Adding to the irony was that secular, plurast India became a more Muslim state from the point of view of traditional sharia (this is worth another rant too) and also the fact that much of the Muslim elite did move to Pakistan during partition effectively lopping off the head of Muslim (Mughlai) high culture for the Muslim masses or could not or did not want to make the move in 1947. (For more on partition, Yasmine Khan's The Great Partition is an excellent place to start.)  The muddled rump that was detached from India to become Pakistan was then given one further ideological complex--a defensive posture against the universalist India.

The most important of all of the above has the creation of mass hypocracy amongst large sections of the Pakistani elite, the ones that morally conscious individuals need to do business with.  Hence many Pakistani who know well that there's nothing wrong with intoxication, fornication, and modernity still support causes that would make their own lives hell if they ever came to power.  This psychological phenomenon is not unique of course...in the US it's easy to witness Christians giving money to a cause that seeks among its objectives to deny rights to homosexuals, even though they themselves would not directly support a move.  In Pakistan however, these tendencies have become more extreme and more unsustainable.  At the policy level Pakistan has more and more sought to encourage unattainable policy objectives in the interest of holding together the coalition of elites who still buy into the existence of the state of Pakistan.

After every major attack, some observant commentator notes that 'the Pakistani elites will now have to get really serious about the threats facing them'.  This is not true because it ignores the fact that getting serious would mean questioning the existence of the state all together.  The attacks on the ISI headquarters, the Wah Cantonment, and the Marriott Hotel (narrowly missing the entire government) have not been enough to exercise support for the groups that carry them out.  To give a few examples of untenable foreign policies which Pakistan will continue; continuing support for militancy in Kashmir when the only solution to the dispute is political, supporting any movement that might set up a Pakistan-friendly regime in Afghanistan despite that Afghans would never support it and that the idea of strategic depth for Pakistan has been discounted, and sending in the military to suppress upprisings in Balochistan and the FATA when these situations could be addressed by simply giving the people there the rights of ordinary citizens.

The war in Afghanistan needs to be fought on Pakistani soil, and the reality is that there is no conceivable way the Pakistani government can be a partner in this.  The current attack across the Durrand Line are useless because they don't seem to be part of a more complete and well thought out strategy, but they are not wrong.  In the near future it needs to be understood that to the degree to which Pakistan is a sovereign state, it doesn't have effective controls over the areas where coalition forces are attacking.  The Pakistani state will not allow access to such forces, or even if they did say so, they would then support proxies to fight them.  As for "the Pakistani street", many people will indeed be infuriorated by an assault within the state's borders, but those same people also need to understand that support for that state is no longer a viable options.  Every Pakistani is in fact now faced with the decision between supporting the Pakistani state, whatever they may construe that to mean, and supporting their own humanity, their rights as individual human beings.  The militants born out of decades of Pakistani policy are now fighting a war not for political objectives but rather a war against reality.  I never thought that I would see causes much stupider than the US war on an abstract now such as terrorism, but sure enough some people managed to come up with one.

In the long term, policy makers need to sit down and start planning the future of the region after Pakistan is gone.  This could be anything from a deeply rooted regime change in Islamabad, to dividing the state into a number of smaller ones to reincorporating it back into India (though I'm sure India would be more than happy to not take responsibility for an area that has become such a basket case).  Gradually a consenus is emerging that borders can be withdrawn with a proper amount of process.  The long process that led to Kossovo's independence should how long, delicate, and arduous this can be, but the state system needs this basic amount of flexibility (that borders can be withdrawn without the consent of all parties involved) in order preserve its survival (and it does have many concrete advantages).  This process can be done the wrong way to, as Russia's hamfisted incursion into Georgia and subsequent recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia shows, but that should not distract us from the issue.  Some states, like Somalia, should be declared dead (for what to do afterwards on that check out When States Fail by Rotberg), and others--the other two in my access of evil, Saudi Arabia and Israel--need to be left to collapse on their own terms to a large degree and I think that any intervention itself might produce greater problems than the states are already producing.  But Pakistan's existence is no longer tenable either for Pakistanis or non-Pakistanis and should be the subject of immediate international intervention to figure out the next step.  Again, states don't have rights to exist, people do.  That means individuals in Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, the US, etc.  The longer that the international community waits to address the unsustainability of Pakistan's existence, the uglier the outcome will be.

24 September 2008

Shostoshuye Maghzi

This has to be one of my favourite words which I've learn recently.

shustoshuyi maghzi (شستشوی مغزی), or brainwashing

Yep, it's a calque.

15 September 2008

Turkish food!

We now have a fourth restaurant in Mazar!  So along with the Royal Oak (truckstop fare and atmosphere), Delhi Darbar (Indian comfort food), and Ittifaq (pizza and burgers), we now can enjoy Turkish food.  I just got take-away from there last night...it seems to be the only thing completed yet in the soon-to-be-impressive Amiri planned community.  Amiri is one of the series of privately financed subdivisions going up on the east of town...if you're interested in their business model, think Irvine Corporation.  The food was good at any rate.  the Karishik Pide and ezme salatasi tasted just like they do back in Turkey.

Maybe the market for restaurants is not so big as I thought.  After living here a while it has become apparent to me, that only three NGOs including myself are based here, and that leaves embassy staffs and the UN and ICRC to make up the rest.  Kabul this is not.

Today whilst driving through town, my driver made a funny observation (we were looking at a convoy of World Food Programme (WFP) trucks).  "People don't like the WFP flower here because it's so dark and the bread doesn't look right."  My response was "obviously they are not hungry enough."  The observation was amusing because it is a reminder that this area was once relatively affluented.  Flour doesn't bleach itself but the fact remains that people consider normal what in places like India or the Middle East is considered a rather unnecessary luxury.  The other thing is that it's probably not the starving people suffering from food shortages in Kohistanat District of Sar-e Pol who are complaining--it's the urban customers buying bread from bakeries.  Bakery owners who, thanks to corruption at all levels, take their cut of WFP wheat.  Remember the flour is as good as any other but not bleached, but since people think that unbleached equals inferior quality, bakers acquire the WFP flour and cut it with the regular stuff to the degree they can get away with.  This leads to scenes of customers accusing the naanwalla of scamming them with WFP bread!

05 September 2008

Work, Vacation, and Beyond

After about two and a half months in Mazar, I can at last say I'm settled in--both to the place and my job.  I finally got to take a small vacation to a place other than India, and have even begun looking at the next step beyond Afghanistan.

My work is always fun and fascinating.  Anything that I accomplish in a given day is all subsidiary to one big bullet point: building and maintaing my own human intelligence network.  That, it turns out, isn't my notion of "work" at all in that work is something unpleasant which involves an Excel spreadsheet.  Here when something happens (unfortunately that means 'goes boom' for a security advisor), the resulting process is very akin to gossip collection at a party ("Sonali slept with whom?, okay you talk to Alex and I'll talk to Aziz")--we divide up who has the best contacts for the particular information sought, go to it, issue a report, maybe hash it out further with the boss in Kabul.  And it's all very intuitive.  Furthermore you get to interact with the plethora of NGOs (and other actors) roaming about in the north of country, which means there's always a parade of interesting people from different walks of life stopping by my office.  A while ago some food security people stopped by one of our meetings, so afterwards we went up to my office where I got a full Q&A session with them about how food security work is carried out, what it entails, what specific dangers they face and how they mitigate them; interesting for my own bank of personal knowledge and useful for me professionally in understanding their security profile.  An organisation doing food security faces completely different risks and threats than one involved in microfinance.  Likewise yesterday I got to learn about demining.  So the job is fun; always interesting, engaging, and different.  And the best part is I get to have all the fun of doing intel without having idiotic masters, the Americans (assholes) or Russians (clowns).

I've also come to discover that, as predicted, the security world is in great need of people who can put two and two together.  At the micro level that means being more interested in protecting people than shiny new weapons, but on the broader scale it also means that what sounds tough does necessarily work.  This all brings me back to the (unsuccessful) interview which firmed up my decision to quit DC a few years back...it was four days into the 2006 Lebanon War and the interviewers asked me what was going to happen, and were consequently very displeased at my answer that the IDF was going to get its ass kicked for a number of reasons starting from lack of defined strategic objectives.  My point is that these people (security consultants) had a pre-defined notion of how the world had to work and they weren't about to let reality intrude on it.   Basically people handling security matters need to know why Russia is a threat just like Israel is, even though neither gets their fair share of blame.

The city of Mazar is survivable, but being a quiet place I find it something of a din of iniquity.  I chill a lot more here and get a lot more reading done (thanks to the Kindle as well, which is awesome), and it's okay because I'm not missing out on things like I would be in Kabul and I have a really nice home/office to come back to here in Mazar.  In general, even though there are a lot of expats around, they are all pretty introverted and hard-working.  Plus there isn't a critical mass of people who like to party.  This is made tolerable by the work and the fact that I would feel like a tool if I keep hanging out in Kabul, with its cast of interesting (much better than DC or NY) yet repetative people (the meatheads, the glamour-seekers, the int'l men of mystery, the granola-munchers, and so on).  I will not be one of those people who just stays on here indefinitely without any direction...I will get out a some point next year and if not it will be because I found something in Afghanistan that is a damn good and clear alternative.  It would be nice to live in a Western country if it helps me in my career goals (not North America, which I've long since outgrown) and eventually if I do something development-related it would be nice to spend time in a country with more morality and decency (Georgia?! Turkey?!) rather than Afghanistan, which all too often seems like a bunch of Sarah Palins running around unwilling to acknowledge the realities necessary to achieve what it is they claim they want.

Finally there was the vacation; a quick tour of Toronto, DC, and London.  I also got a new passport and stopped in for MillerStock near Buffalo.  I've definitely learned never to go visit a big group of people...go stay with one friend or just bring one or two along and leave it at that.  Trying to fit everyone in in DC was insane, but the plus side was that everyone showed up.  Muhammad was there from Khurtum, Waise made an appearance from Manila.  I had great hosts (Lynn and Ann) and a generally good time.  DC has improved as well--two cheers for gentrification.  I spent a good a mount of time in what used to be an incredibly depressing Columbia Heights which is now full of nice house and appartments and fun things to do and shop at.  And of course I also got to have Ravi Kabab with Neda and Navid.  It was nice to leave DC in the end, and I definitely don't know when or if I'll be coming back though.  Been there done that.  On the way back to Dubai I had a day layover in London which did turn out to be an eye-opener.  The customs gods smiled on me getting to and from Heathrow and I got to spend the whole day with my lovely friend Jaya getting a tour of the city.  It's a huge and quite strange place (19 degrees in August...hmm) but I decided I might well give it a go post Afghanistan.  I also have some friends there and hence a potential roommate pool and place to start building a new network.  The real test will be to see if I can survive the winter there...the next step is to try spending vacation there in late January, do some informational interviews, and get a feel for the place.