Tuesday, November 27, 2007

On the political maneuverings inside Pakistan

I have been asked to comment on this and I have the following things to say.

The confrontation with the Islamists at Lal Masjid ended badly for the Pakistan Army. The incompetent conflict resolution by the Zarrar Company of the SSG resulted in the murder of some 700 children, mostly young girls. The Zarrar also assasinated Maulana Abdul Rasheed Ghazi and the mother of Maulana Abdul Aziz, the khatib of the Lal Masjid. To make matters worse, Musharraf's media managers publicly humiliated the former Khatib by projecting his efforts at a negotiation with the ISI as an attempt to escape from the mosque by dressing as pious woman. This shameful conduct by the Pakistan Army and Musharraf's men resulted in a complete rupture of the cosy relationship that Deobandi Ulema and the Pakistani Army had enjoyed since 1947. The Ulema effectively withdrew the approval they had given the Army in 1999, and with it, the real legitimacy of the Army's rule in Pakistan ended. The aftermath of the Lal Masjid seige was a brutal confrontation between the Islamists and the Army which has left a thousand or so Armymen dead. The Pakistan Army's hamfisted efforts at counter insurgency have only succeeded in turning the general public against the Army.

Most observers judged that having been so betrayed, the Islamists would make a lunge for power. Pakistani Corps Commanders openly opined that the Islamists would turn against the Army as an institution, and American analysts worried about the possibility of Islamists seizing the Pakistani nuke. Driven by these fears an elaborate drama was staged, Musharraf pretended to loosen his grip on the army as an act of contrition - he named a successor - Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani. Gen. Kayani quickly opened a number of communication channels to the Islamists and made veiled gestures of regret over the events that had transpired between the Islamists and the Army. Gen. Kayani also made several revisions to Gen. Musharraf's counter terrorism strategy. These revisions gradually pulled away from the excessive proximity that Gen. Musharraf had portrayed to American whims. By distancing the Army from Gen. Musharraf and the Americans, Gen. Kayani sought to soften the blow. Additionally the ISI sought to engineer a breakup of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal - through a careful use of threats and money, factional strife inside the MMA was amplified.

This approach by itself was not sufficient to contain the possibility of an Islamist lunge for power. The Islamists still possessed tremendous street power. In Pakistan, street power is everything and the cities where it mattered the Islamists could put large numbers on the street.The Police had indicated that controlling such large numbers would be impossible and the Islamists had indicated even before the Lal Masjid fiasco, that they were having a very hard time keeping overzealous and angry young Islamic men and women from doing nasty things. Some way had to be concieved to try and deflect Islamist enthusiasm in the general population and to this end another drama was arranged with the help of the US, UK, and Saudi Arabia. Per the script of this drama, Benazir and Nawaz were allowed to return to Pakistan and stage a political boxing match of the 1990s variety. Both had lost considerable amounts of money in the last decade of military rule. In order to prop them up as viable candidates in Pakistan, they need a huge amount of money, this money came from the US and Saudi Arabia.

It is important to note that both Benazir and Nawaz had their channels of communication to the Islamists that were modulated by the Pakistan Army. It is unclear if either of them will be able to prevail against the Islamists in an environment where the Pakistan Army is unable to being stability to their communications. Without real support on the ground via Pakistan based economies, neither of them is likely to be particularly effective in containing the ground swell of public support for the Islamists. If anything both are likely to be percieved as candidates that are completely supported by foreign interests.

In my opinion, sweeping Islamist sentiments under the rug in this fashion, makes it very difficult to audit the true nature of their extent. There is the added concern that sweeping too much under the rug may simply result in a very big mess that has to be cleaned up at a later date. While it is true that the Islamists are in a very direct confrontation with the US, it is also true that they have a staggering presence inside Pakistan. In many cases the Islamists provide basic services in parts of Pakistan where even the Army does not dare to enter. While most of the so-called secular politicians of Pakistan have spent the last two decades soaking up free liquor at various embassies or eating pork in London and Washington D.C. , the Islamists have spend the last twenty years in the trenches with the Pakistani people facing their day-to-day problems and helping them cope with struggles. Whether anyone likes it or not, the Islamists have a finger on the pulse of the Pakistani people and despite what minimal popular appeal that the so-called "secular" leaders of Pakistan project - they will remain wedded to a highly feudal style of economic authoritarianism that is out of place with the needs of Pakistan.

When the obvious stares you in the face... sometimes you just have to accept it.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Declining Power of the US NRI

As the dollar falls, the fortunes of people that remit to India in dollars will fall with it.

I am not saying India will not want dollars, but that the buying power of the dollar *IN* India will decline and with it, the influence weilded by those who deal solely in the dollar will fall.

For NRIs in the Gulf (or elsewhere) this is simply a question of changing currencies. You earn in Dinars or Dirhams, convert to Euros before you move the money back to India. Also worst case scenario, you can simply buy gold in the souks and take it home.

But for US based NRIs things are not going to be so simple - they simply do not have this flexibility. Their businesses earn money directly in dollars. They cannot demand payment in Euros.

Many US based NRIs have been at the centre of the global technology revolution, however only a small fraction of these people returned to India and shared their technological gains with India directly. Most were content to earn in dollars and periodically wire some money home to India. This inflow of capital allowed India to pretend that in someway the intellectual property deficit created by the outflow of trained labour to US industries, was being redressed.

Now that pretence will have to end.

The US NRI will have to bring his or her skills back home if they are to remain relevant from an Indian point of view.

Many US based NRIs will find this transition very difficult. Most have acclimated to their adopted homeland and will find returning to the motherland almost impossible. The few brave ones that leave after having stayed in the US for long will find that their ideas of India are outdated.

Among those that I pity the most are the American "SuperHindus". Their ideas of "Hinduism" revolve around notions of using religion to "bind" a community together against an external cultural influence. Such ideas are a byproduct of cultural friction between Indian immigrants and local populations in the US. These have no relevance in India. Like the "SuperSikhs", (the main supporters of Khalistan) before them, the "SuperHindu" will find the India of their fantasies simply does not exist. It is unclear to me how they will make such a transition.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Endless American Addiction to Self-Serving Hype!

In his latest article, George Friedman demonstrates the addiction that the US suffers to self-serving hype.

He claims,

As we have discussed a number of times, the United States delivered a very clear ultimatum to Musharraf after 9/11: Unless Pakistan allowed U.S. forces to take control of Pakistani nuclear facilities, the United States would be left with no choice but to destroy those facilities, possibly with India's help. This was a fait accompli that Musharraf, for credibility reasons, had every reason to cover up and pretend never happened, and Washington was fully willing to keep things quiet.

This is complete news to me.

What I recall is that Stratfor claimed that Pakistan's nukes were safe and that India lacked the competence to execute surgical strikes to destroy them. Stratfor routinely reminded its readers that India's intelligence agencies were no good in Pakistan and that India should pursue the state department's lead and make peace with Pakistan. During the entire Parakram episode that followed the events of 9-11, the overall tone in Stratfor and elsewhere in Foggy Bottom or the Pentagon was one of disdain for India's conflict resolution capabilities inside Pakistan.

So I ask you, my gentle readers, would a US which had such a low opinion of the Indian military, this very same US which sent a Pentagon delegation to India only to discover flaking paint on the walls of Kashmir house and a "precariously hanging" light bulb outside the COAS's office.... turn around and ask India for help in dealing with the emergent threat of Pakistani nuclear weapons falling into Jihadi hands?

Or were they simply expecting us to "automatically" do their work for them - while they continued to badmouth us?

Quite honestly, Mr. Friedman, if you are thick enough to believe such rubbish, that is one thing, but assuming that Musharraf the Magnificent will be equally gullible is downright dangerous.

Since you seem to be in the "think tanking" business given the healthy fees you charge for peddling stuff I can overhear at any dinner conversation in D.C... you may want to take a few seconds of your valuable time to consider the following questions:

- What are the consequences of a direct threat to Pakistan's nuclear weapons?
- What will be the Pakistani response to that kind of thing be?
- Is there some reason why India never ever makes statements of that kind?

Then ofcourse, George Friedman's talent for self-contradiction shows up vividly in the next few lines of the article,

The timing of the New York Times article, then, is interesting -- we would not be surprised to find that certain opposition elements were involved in the publishing of this article in an attempt to throw another hand grenade at Musharraf.

The US obsession with visible appearances of democracy in its client states is well known. Clearly per Mr. Friedman's statements, the Pakistanis also know that the US is keen to push Benazir to the fore in Pakistan and that these disclosures regarding US led nuclear security measures inside Pakistan are embarassing to the Pakistani Army. Infact the public release of this information *now* is most likely the work of the "secular" Pakistani opposition to undermine Musharraf.

Ofcourse those of us that read Pakistani newspapers, recall that the Islamists themselves had made several such allegations in the 2002 period. At that time professional know-it-alls in D.C. like Stratfor had dismissed the allegations publicly as an Islamist ploy aimed at discreding Musharraf.

So which is it?

Is the US threat to Pakistan nuclear weapons real? or ..

Is it a figment of the anti-Musharraf opposition's imagination?

I find that after 9-11 the US was very keen to showcase Musharraf the Magnificent as a great ally of the West and to that end they overprojected his political longevity. Today for reasons best known to them, they are keen to reinvent Musharraf the Magnificent as a likely adversary of the US and to that end they are underestimating his political lifespan. Like the Najibullah government, Musharraf the Magnificent is likely to fall within seconds of the US withdrawing its support in the media - we are told.

Tiresome as it is, the changing tune that now dominates this exceedingly bizarre public diplomacy exercise, is key to feeding America's appetite for self-serving hype.

I have one small request to the know-it-all brigade - please leave India out of this.

A collapse in US-Pakistan relations is beyond India's ability to salvage. It may even be beyong Jesus' ability to salvage, and I don't know about Jesus, but I am quite sure India has absolutely no intentions of offending, Musharraf the Magnificent.

Musharraf be Praised!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Musharraf the Magnificent

Dear Friends,

The Pakistani Supreme Court decision heralds the arrival of Musharraf the Magnificent, in our midst.

I ask you to join me in bowing low to His Majesty.

Repeat after me:

Country is more important than Democracy,
Musharraf is Pakistan, Pakistan is Musharraf,

Allahu Allahu Allahu Allahu
Musharraf is Great! Musharraf is Great!

I was blessed to watch the following video on Youtube.

The words of the song were particularly insightful..

Juda ho key poonchtey hain, judai kya hoti hain
Nikah hua hain mujhe azam sey,
Main kisi ka nahin,
Aye Khuda suraj dooba dey, agar main nahin..
Aye Khuda mujhe *jalaa* dey, agar main nahin
Ek rooh hoon main, jisey kuch nahin mila.

Yaar, the last time I heard that sort of thing was in rural Iran in the late 90s, when young girls would set themselves on fire to die in the most irreligious way possible. By deliberately causing their own death by fire, the worst possible death imaginable to a Muslim, they would rid themselves of the burden of resurrection and accept an eternal condemnation.

But the visuals say everything that you need to know about what lies in store for people who don't bow before Him.

Added later:

After watching a number of fearsome SSG videos, and episodes of Alpha Bravo Charlie on Youtube, I have decided to join Amritraj and Mr. Honduras in forming an international "Joint Cowering In Fright at the sight of the Pakistanis" team.

You will find us all hiding under our beds with our pillows and stuffed animals.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

India US Relations: A "Rough Patch" Ahead

It does not look good.

The Americans want us to move faster in India but they can't pay for the speed up.

In order for this to happen, they have to pay off both the Left and the BJP. That is simply too much of a down payment. Only Americans living abroad who have to pay for services are in a position to immediately understand the real downside of currency instability.

American dealings with India are heavily leveraged to preserve their market access. There is no payoff they can make to get this nuclear deal through without losing out elsewhere. In fact there is no understanding of the sheer waste the US had laid of its NRI based leverage in dealings with India. As the dollar drops, the social status of the NRI who bargains for the US, will drop precipitously. The consequences of this are obvious.

Most people in the US do not get that the escalation in oil prices is seen as an inflation in the rest of the world.

Some people are talking about this "international law" v/s "domestic law" change that the US can make in the deal. The idea being that this would give India - an equal status to China.

This idea misses the fact that India cannot have the same deal as China, because the Chinese will pay enough people in the US to make sure that is not the case.

The US expects the Chinese to reinvest their reserves into the US and somehow rescue the failed US credit system. This transition is going to be hard on the US, and that is why the Federal Reserve leadership is talking about a "rough path". The Chinese leverage with the US exceeds what India can presently manage.

I also suspect that a majority of those talking do not understand the reality of the uranium market today. The prices in the market are ballasted by that weapons grade downmixing racket that the charming gentleman from Atlanta put together with some Russians. There is pressure that we join that initiative and buy from there because of percieved non-proliferation gains.

This is good in theory, complicated in practice, the problem is that a small limited fuel stock with a rising demand is a recipe for rapid inflation. If you do it this way, the nuclear renaissance will die in a few years. The only way we can ensure that this reniassance continues and nuclear fuel actually reduces pressure on the carbon fuels market (critical for India's fuel security) is if the US agrees to downblend fissile material from its own weapons and add to the international fuel pool.

Unfortunately one does not see any credible moves towards this in the US. If the tone of public debate in the US is anything to go by, the US public seems completely oblivious to the fact that American consumption of oil has go down by 80% rapidly over the next five years. Anything less than this will result in unbearable inflationary pressures on the dollar.

The difference between the Americans and the Russians is that the Russians have had over a decade to realise that the large number of their nuclear arsenals are an economic liability. It is a lesson they have learnt through blood toil and tears through a decade of high domestic instablity.

The Americans are now where the Russians were in the mid-80s - perestroika period - when the need to change is slowly becoming undeniable. It could be at least a decade before the desire to change finds reflection in intelligent actions. For a decade we will most likely see Americans make bad judgements and then compound the errors of judgement with incompetent implementation.

It was difficult to watch Russia do this in the late 80s and 90s. It will be difficult to watch the US do this now.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Wither Pakistan US Relations?

So it has come down to visible criticism and open threats. That is really bizarre.

Usually this kind of behaviour in public suggests that

1) You have lost! you have no options and making a fuss publicly is an admission of failure or
2) You have major ... major... "drama queen" tendencies.

and that... does not make sense in this context.

We put up with quite a bit more from the Pakistanis, and we *never* do this. I mean wow.. we went to war with them thrice and we never publicly said a harsh word about them. The nastiest we ever got verbally was when Vajpayee composed a poem about storms and lightning while visiting Kupwara.

I know the Americans really like looking good on TV, but if they keep this up and the Pakistanis will really not like America very much. And that won't be very good -- especially with the dollar going the way it is.

Publicly pushing the "moderate" is the surest way to ensure the Pakistani people reject the "moderate" - the studied ignorance of this fact suggests that the US wants this Benazir drama to fail spectacularly.

I like Mr. Benchpress as much as the next guy, and Mr. Honduras, he is a great guy, but man... but why would one want to put them in a position where Miyan has to ignore them?

In addition to "sacrificing" the goat, is the strategy also to piss of Miyan? or is this some strategy to discredit Mr. Benchpress and Mr. Honduras?

The word... bewildered.. does not begin to describe how this makes me feel.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Democracy in Pakistan: A Private Joke

I was reading this, and I fell off my chair laughing!

My first thought was "Who is Gerald Warner?" then I realised I really I don't really care to find out, he is just another idiot in the west trying to come up with a way to rationalise for the western audience the US policy with respect military dictators in Pakistan. The only thing decent about him is that he appears to have discovered there simply is none.

The fact remains that US and other Western nations cannot conceptualise a Pakistan without military rule. They fully realise that this completely contravenes everything they advertise domestically and internationally about their commitment to democracy and justice.

Gerald Warner is pointing out that this inability to comprehend Pakistan will not come in the way of "solving" the problem. By carefully resurrecting the spectre of "Al Qaida Nukes" anything can be sold as "pragmatic" and "firm" policy. Ofcourse if this excites people too much, then one can always make the obligatory big-talk about precision airstrikes on the Pakistani nuclear arsenal whose location most US officials admit to only having a vague idea about. How exactly a precision strike will be effective in an environment of ignorance is a question I suppose the public in the West is unlikely to ask.

Or perhaps that last bit about the "whole military caste feeling threatened" or "the diversionary war over Kashmir" is supposed to keep pesky questions about the accuracy of precision strikes at bay.

It all seems pretty clear really, now the only question in my mind which I can't seem to get my head around is ... what the devil is "running like wet hens".

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Energy Crisis: A summary of discussions with a friend

I spoke to a friend who has a birds-eye view of the energy world. Here is a summary of what I came away with:

1) Carbon utilisation will prove difficult in a market where the pricing structure is shaky due to uncertainity of supply, growing demand and an outdated pricing structure that promotes escalation and inflation. We are witnessing a preview of the likely outcomes of these forces. Environmental concerns are (currently) secondary to carbon energy pricing, however monitoring emissions represents a way of measuring and possibly creating controls on carbon utilisation on a global scale. Additionally in the future it is unclear if environmental concerns over Carbon utilisation will create constraints on carbon energy pricing, and in the event that it does, emissions monitoring could become critical to the maintenance of a new world order.

2) If a cap structure on carbon utilisation is created, enforcement of the cap will be possible only through a system of consumption control. Available technologies for alternative energy insufficiently economical to promote fuel substitution as a means of consumption control. Consumption levels have to come down for any substitution to be effective.

3) Nuclear sources offer the greatest promise of high volume energy generation, subject ofcourse securing key technologies and fuels against adverse market fluctuations. Non-traditional sources like Wind, Wave, Solar and Biofuels are currently hostage to improvements in storage technologies.

4) In general, the utilisation of all alternative sources and higher consumption efficiencies is dependent on the ability to maintain a strong presence in the high technology field. It is impossible to do this without a robust scientific community and aggressive research and development programs in the government and private sector.

5) An information system will be needed to permit effective policy making. Surveillance on carbon energy consumption, emissions levels will have to be rapidly enhanced in the next five to ten years.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Pakistan: Musharraf Coups Himself.

As you know a second "coup" has happened in Pakistan, and General Musharraf has just "couped" himself, i.e. he has thrown into jail, the very politicians he himself spent all this time gathering into a parliament of his choice.

The fighting in Waziristan and the entertainment in Supreme Court and all the demands from America to control Jihadi sentiments, have become a bit much for el Presidente Dictator in Chief etc.. etc... and he has asked for a time out.

As you know a suicide bomber came by Majid's house,and who knows where the suicide bomber will go next.

It is an internal matter of Pakistan.

Friday, November 02, 2007

On Testing Things.

I think there has been endless commentary on testing issues.

One has to keep the following subtle points in mind.

1) You have to test your ideas out - otherwise there is no way to know if they really work. This applies to Indians, Americans, Japanese, Chinese, Pakistanis, Martians, people from Jupiter etc...

2) Unlike your high school physics experiment where everything the theory, the physics, the result, the procedure, the answer, the classroom where it will be conducted etc... is well known... a real test is a much less comfortable environment. Everything is only "sort-of-known", and you have to use your instinct and experience to draw conclusions. If you don't have either of those, then you spend your time learning about things like that - each kind of test is different.

3) Before you draw conclusions - one *has* to have information. Now this is where it gets tricky in the matter of testing things. If the access to information is restricted for any reason, someone who knows half the story will reach a different conclusion from someone who knows the entire story. That is why the interpretations of test results may differ.

4) This kind of differences of opinion are common in real inquiry and a scientific debate on the interpretation of the test results is a very standard thing - though I admit that it is almost never a public affair. What is told to the public is the consensus or average conclusion of the debate - there are always extreme positions that are taken in the debate by people but these are not necessarily accurate positions. It could easily be that the people who took extreme opinions were not fully aware of what done in the test.

5) You can keep testing something, but in general, the more complicated it is, the more ways it can fail in. Testing again and again is good if you want to mass produce something because you want to know every which way it can fail, but if the intention is not to mass produce then there is no sense in wasting energy doing repeated tests. However if the details of the test are known only to a select few, the possibility that this information is compromised is higher - each time you test. It is exactly as Szilard said to Byrnes, when you test, you let the biggest secret out - i.e. you tell everyone - it can be done.

6) Protecting such secrets is the biggest job on hand, even in my opinion superceding the primary function of the test - i.e. specific communication with someone.

7) What to test, well in general one tends to have more ideas than time to try everything out properly, so one has to pick from a set of ideas. Every idea has to be evaluated on its merits and demerits, for example, is bigger really better? or is simply better - better? etc... dirtier better or cleaner better? etc... frankly the ability of people without a technical background in issues to participate in this is limited, and to be perfectly honest I don't have an opinion about this. Knowing what idea is possible to try out properly, is something that is beyond my abilities.

These are very subtle points that one can easily forget in the heat of the debate.

Everyone should say what they want but one should keep points like this in mind - it helps avoid that horrible tendency we all have to go overboard with our imagination.