Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Pakistan is a very complicated country. It is under a perpetual sway from the United States, who have been allies to it for years now. More than anything else, the geostrategic location appears to be the sole raison d'etre. It is like being friends with a very naughty boy, who lives in an important village, alongside some very interesting neighbors. India, China and Afghanistan. [The first two countries encompass the 'world market' and latter is a landmass that still gives the Russians cold war nightmares and acts as a constant reminder of how humiliatingly -- and cunninly -- it was defeated by the US]. For some easy reference, the defense budget of Russia in 2006-07 stands at close to $ 20 billion. US intelligence budget alone for 2006 stood at $ 45 billion. American defense budget is close to $ 445 billion.
Comparisons aside, we know very well how sly the US can be when it comes to dealing with world capitals. So they usually have the Islamabad establishment on board their efforts to do whatever they want to in this region [fight OBL, eavesdrop on intel, monitor Islamic nukes et al]. However there is a small twist to the tale: A dreaded bunch of guys and these fellas can be mad-caps -- trust me -- don’t like this arrangement at all. [Their political masters have always been averse to these infidel ties but couldn’t fight it due to lack of political base. In a changed world order, with public sympathies constantly shifting in a ‘them vs us’ scenario, the foot soldiers are clearly out and killing at will]. I am sure their mentors must be privately gloating.
Results: The marauding gang has made it clear. They just hate Musharraf and not because he is a dictator who keeps pets at home but because he supports the western idea of purging the badlands of extreme version of Islam. They detest Miss Bhutto not because she has Swiss bank accounts where she put all her ill-gotten wealth but because she is considered pro-west and a little too educated for Pakistan, with first-class degrees from Oxford and Harvard in economics, political science and International relation. [Now that is too much for someone taught in a Madrassa, where the system is strictly based on rote and stick]. And also because they can’t seem to stomach a liberal Muslim female opponent, in a post 9/11 world.
Their response is not startling. It is more on the expected lines. Death-Destruction-Destitution to their homeland. More than 60 years after the country was sliced from India, Pakistan’s politics continues to be torn betwixt coups, counter-coups, regime changes, instability and now – suicide bombings. The blame game never stops. The intelligence chaps now think the head on the tree near the Prez’s home looks like it belongs to someone from Wazirstan. So the investigation shifts to the FATA. [No-man’s land, a hellhole where everyone carries a rifle]. Meanwhile Ms Bhutto has repeated her demand for an impartial foreign probe in the Oct 18 attack on her that killed 140. The government finds that demand insulting and a snub to its notorious intel gathering. [Look Ma’am we create trouble all over and you telling us, we can’t find the bad guys]. To be honest, nothing has – actually – come out of any past investigations – whether it was Gen Zia’s or Benazir’s bros’ killing. It actually borders on slapstick, had it not been so bloody.
The parliamentary elections are around the corner. The Pakistan SC has now ruled that the other supreme politician Main Nawaz – newly transplanted hair intact – should be let back into the country. His inclusion will definitely make it all the more exciting. It will make the conundrum tougher. There could be renewed political alignments. However Mush has his own ego clash with the ex-PM. The Saudis, it is learnt, are upset with Nawaz, although they have put him in a palace with gold-rimmed curtains and priceless diamond studded chandeliers [Gaad, how rich can they get], for going back home last summer -- from London -- without informing them.
We can never say what way it goes in Pakistan. The country, not withstanding its tumult, continues to fascinate. Even if it is for all the wrong reasons.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Just two days after it was yelled out in a University of Florida lecture hall, "Don't Tase Me, Bro!" has become the newest cultural touchstone of our pop-cultural lexicon.
So what did you think. The police [those fat, corpulent, dull-looking chaps] manhandle in India only. They do it all over. For no great rhyme or reason. Including the US.
For those of you who've been on vacation on a Greek Island, or are just logging onto your computer from a remote location in China, the incident sparking the worldwide uproar is the Monday arrest and tasering of Andrew Meyer, a University of Florida student.
Meyer barged in line to harangue Massachusetts senator John Kerry during a campus talk that day. The student refused to pipe down after being asked to by the forum's organizers, and after he carried on pressing Kerry for answers, police hauled him off. They forced him to the ground, and tasered him. [Sourced: WB Network]
In the whole ruckus, the student yelled, rather haplessly: Don't tase me, bro.
That was it. The word spread. It is a rage. It is all over. Sample this:
- The term hovered between 9th and 11th place as the most searched for term on Google for Wednesday, according to Google Trends.
- The above video has been the number 1 Viral Video for the past 24 hours, according to Unruly Media, an online marketing firm in London that tracks viral video activity on the Web. The Meyer arrest video has received 2.6 million views and almost 40,000 new comments since Monday.
- In contrast, the much-talked about John Edwards' rebuttal to President Bush's progress report on the Iraq war received 114 thousand views and 43 new posts.
- Many of the leading opinion shapers on both the left and the right, as well as newspaper blogs, offered their thoughts and insights on the incident.
- Television pundits across the dial offered their opinions, and those opinions were archived for posterity on YouTube.
- Several enterprising individuals have even snapped up variations of the spelling of the phrase as Web addresses. One of them points to a Wikipedia entry for the University of Florida.
- Mashups are proliferating on the Web.
- A couple of t-shirt designs, and bumper stickers have emerged.
- Dozens of people have felt compelled to record their own video responses in a YouTube forum discussion on the matter.
A fast digital world, bro.
Monday, October 29, 2007
If International affairs give you a kick, then go catch ‘A Mighty Heart’.
It is a powerful movie based on naked truth. The film documents the events revolving round the kidnapping and subsequent killing of the Wall Street Journal, South Asia Bureau chief Daniel Pearl while reporting for a story in Pakistan. This was the time when the US was just beginning to flex its muscle in response to the daring attacks of 9/11.
The best part about the narrative is that it is factually and truthfully told. I think that is going to be the film’s USP and will eventually work for it. Angelina Jolie as a heavily pregnant Mariane, Daniel’s wife is at her career best. Expect an academy nomination for her stellar, real-life performance.
Michael Winterbottom’s casting crew makes a fascinating line-up. Indian actors like Irrfan Khan are first-rate. And although we already know Daniel’s fate -- he was beheaded, with the gruesome execution documented on tape -- the narrative still grips us with its frantic editing patterns and a restless, quasi-documentary approach. The hand-held, digital-video camerawork lends a certain heat-of-the moment immediacy to the proceedings, as a broadsheet puts it.
Though many people in conservative circles still believe that Daniel Pearl was CIA, I never trust such clap-trap. I know everything does not necessarily have to be spooky and this spy-thing is largely cliché. It is the easiest and most stupid label people stick on each other, in hostile places. Indian spies, ISI, Mossad, KGB. There is a something mischievously oddball about it.
The film is based on Mariane Pearl's first-hand published account of the dramatic events following her husband's disappearance. I especially liked the film-maker's focus on the Pearl maid's kid as the undersong. Although no ways connected to the main motif, the infant is constantly flickering across the screen, walking in between the labyrinth of wires that the FBI and Pakistani intelligence guys set around the Pearl home in Karachi. The innocent moments offer visual interludes in an otherwise intense movie.
The film is an eye-opener in many ways. It talks about the dangers of modern extremism, the cunning of it. A mighty heart underlines the pressures under which investigating agencies operate and how international relations can go askew in a matter of minutes.
We also learn about the perils of new age journalism, not withstanding its sheer romanticism. AMH subtly tells all of it, very originally, very candidly. Reminds me of Aldous Huxley, 'Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you mad'.
Friday, October 26, 2007
Kashmir looks stunning in fall. I pity that Delhi knows nothing of Autumn. I noticed everything looked russet from the tiny window of my plane as we neared the solider-infested Srinagar airport. The fields appeared like large chocolates with little dried apricots thrown in from crease to crease. Only later did I learn that the apricots were actually rice crop artistically thatched away in small chalet like formations. It was so Kashmir. So beautiful.
Two days to Eid [That is what Diwali means in Delhi and Christmas in London]. Everything was sepia toned with faith clearly up on everyone’s right sleeve. Since my chums traveled with me, I had to stop over at a Srinagar mosque for mandatory Friday prayers. The mosque was stunning. It had wooden panels, intricate patterns on its roof and a very repetitive Imam [preacher], whom was extolling upon believers to believe more and warning the fickle-minded with hellfire. I was more interested in the masjid patterning than his hybrid Kashmiri-Urdu sermon. Wonder why people feel this compelling need to be bi-lingual in a place where people perfectly understand Kashmiri.
Everyone wanted the Eid on Saturday. The mood was overwhelmingly festive. Alas the crescent didn’t show up. That is a pre-condition to every major Islamic festival. So it was postponed to Sunday. Most were dandered up. My kid sis was a shade dejected, I thought. Earlier that day the repetitive Imam had actually congratulated people for the Saturday Eid. I was impishly contemplating his distemper at this divine delay.
On the D-day I walked to the Eid-mass with my gang. Must have been about 7000 people for the open air Namaz. Clad in crisp Pathani dresses, good-looking people with sharp features, lined up in endless rows. It had a certain religious discipline to it that is often not prevalent in Kashmir. Post-Namaz [which takes all of five minutes], people greet each other with their broadest smiles. They don’t hug canonically three times like their co-religionists in other parts of India. Kashmiris don't even don skull-caps frequently, which are so common elsewhere in India. I forgot to add that most of them actually consider themselves quite distinct from Indian Muslims.
A small group of boys [7-8 of them] shouted slogans atop a moving mini-bus on the way home. Not many people agree on the distinction betwixt church and polity. Azadi [Freedom]. A lone cop looked away. The ubiquitous war-cry. Inspiring but inane. Empty of any purpose. The minibus guys were carefully bending over at places where the electricity cables hung low. Lest their irrational exuberance electrocutes them instantly and cuts short the march to freedom.
The mornings and evenings remained dreary and cold throughout my stay. The chill confuses you. It is warm in the afternoons though. I lunched with folks. It was not only delectable but satiating. Peaceful.
More posts to follow. Watch this space.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Friday, October 12, 2007
That love weighs more than gold!
I am taking a sabbatical. For a little over one week. It is the season of perpetual hope. With the festive season around the corner, I hope merriment is not too far. It is Eid. I'm expecting some shindig.
I shall see you all, soon.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
But to stand in the sun and melt into the wind?
~ Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
She was barely 32. Youthful, vivacious, inartificial. We would fondly call her baby. I remember when she was married into my neighbors; we would all kid around with her. ‘My dad got this for me from Nepal’, she said, stressing Nepal. That was ammunition for us – Me, Suhail, Salah (who had spent a large part of life in Europe and US). ‘Yeah, Nepal, must be pretty expensive’ Salah remarked rather mischievously. She nodded, unmindful of our naughty ways. I still recall the glint in her eye. It was pure innocence.
Her dad was a colonel. Uncle died last year. Baby was a military kid in many ways. Upright, honest and impeccable. She was always perky. However I mostly admired her for her naivety. ‘You bring my lil sonny lovely toys from Delhi, I am truly indebted,’ she would say in her characteristic humility. Now where do you find people, who reciprocate and value love? Baby was really one-of-a-kind.
A beautiful girl, who was also god-fearing. And full of life until death caught up with her. She got some medical problem, which -- as my doctor buddy in the US tells me -- has no real chance of leading to a premature death in the modern times. However, Kashmir is a godforsaken land, notwithstanding its glorified beauty, where doctors – with inadequate contraptions -- routinely fail to establish such symptoms.
On Oct 9, the day preceding the holiest Islamic night – Shab-e-Qadr – [that means beatification, going by the native logic], Baby breathed her last in her new home. Still beautiful, still young, not at all deserving to die. No one knows whether death is really a blessing or curse, but it reminds you that we can’t take life for granted.
Monday, October 08, 2007
Play: Waltz of the warriors
Musharraf: King and the kingmaker
Be-Nazir: A beautiful but ambitious damsel
Kiyani: A knight errant
Bush : Big brother is watching
Supreme Court: To divvy out a key verdict
Godmen: Howling and sneering but no one is listening
Gunmen: Running mad and fuming
Press: Effectively gagged; occassional jeers
Freedom is a saddled mustang -- beautiful, powerful but reined in. ~ SSB
The stage is all set. Curtains are being re-tailored. Pakistan, our ineluctable naughty neighbor is on the verge of creating a new order, which may shape its destiny in the times to come. Musharraf, the wily General has won the Prez poll. Oh, and it was very democratic. He went to the same senate and assemblies [unlawfully] – which were elected under him in 2002 – and no brownies for guessing how many votes his closest opponent got. Two [Poor, old boy Justice Wajihuddin]. Mush lapped an impresive 671. The Islamic parties along with Nawaz’s PML boycotted the polls. They anyways stood no great chance. Alsorans. Now the supreme court of Pakistan will decide on Oct 17, whether the poll was valid.
There is a rider though: If it okays the win, the SC will live to adjudicate more cases. In case they decide otherwise, [which is unlikely] expect a US backed military takeover [Applying the principle: Obeying dictators stay; the non-assenting hang]. The white house spokesperson Scott Stanzel would have a one-liner ready: Internal matter of Pakistan. So simple. Fundamental rights will go out of the window. Honorable Justices can then take a long walk, with no work. No messenger of the Armageddon, I hope democracy prevails in Pakistan. Diminished-deficient-democracy.
Politics is no rocket science but it could involve complex practicals. Last week, Musharraf signed a national reconciliation ordinance [they are good at coining these terms….Chief executive, accountability bureau et al] thereby absolving Pakistan's former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, and other favorable politicians, of all corruption charges — a move that has been criticized by many. Bhutto, a one-time rival, termed as a security risk, previously by Musharraf, is now seen as a major partner in the future government to be formed under the newly declared but yet-uncrowned king. Exigencies of real politic, as they say. Nothing is perpetually fixed. There are no permanent friends or foes.
While we saw Nawaz being bundled back to -- where he belonged [using the Mush expression], we now have Madame eminence busy packing her designer bags to Pakistan. Mohtarma Bhutto returns Oct 18. She might have a slightly shady past but the lady oozes charm. Those at CNN and BBC fall for her. The mango orchards of Larkana turn crimson, as the 'Daughter of the East' descends. No Pakistani politician worth his salt – for instance -- can match her pizzazz. Oxford-Harvard educated, armed with twin degrees in political science and economics, Bhutto is suave, polished and blessed with an amazing pedigree. [Dad: Prez/PM/Martyr/Oxford-Univ of Berkeley product; Grand-dad knighted by the Queen of England/Dewan of Junagarh; Ms Bhutto has just sent her sonny Bilawar to Oxford....and the legacy continues]
Supremely conscious of her image, you can expect Benazir to turn up -- in Pakistan -- in great style. Versace sandals, a Dior bag in hand, a Guy Laroche pettycoat firmly buttoned up, she looks geared up to lord over 150 million believers. A female! Difficult to stomach for many. The mullahs are riled, heads filled with nothing but rage. Taliban has started issuing threats but that won’t deter Pakistan’s first family in absentia from returning. Bhutto’s are to Pakistan what Gandhi’s are to India and Kennedy’s to the US. Flawed but tragic and regal, thus heroic.
While Pervez may soon doff his uniform and slip into those smart Shervani’s, he has taken utmost care to choose his successor in the army. That is called cherry-picking. Another Pervez replaces him. Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani. Musharraf loyalist, Punjabi, stammerer, chain smoker, moderate, close to Miss Bhutto [military advisor during her PM days], palsy but tough. Kiyani, as is the case with Bhutto, was finalized after an official stamp from the US of A. Only liberal, accommodating guys make the cut. The new spy boss at the powerful and deadly ISI is another Mush bloke, Gen Tariq Majeed. That completes the equation for you.
Wait for the third week of October. The drama is expected to play out as per the agreed script. Unless the judiciary decides to add a flaky line or two. We know what happens next.