Category Archives: South Asian

Uncomfortable but possibly correct thoughts on Afghanistan

It isn’t very often that I recommend something in Quadrant, but I do recommend Justin Kelly’s How to Win in Afghanistan – even if the title is perhaps rather ambitious. What he says is certainly worth placing beside whatever other sources you may be following. “Kelly is a recently retired Australian army officer. He commanded the Peace Monitoring Group on Bougainville, was deputy commander of the peace keeping force in East Timor and was director of strategic operations in the US headquarters in Iraq from November 2006 until September 2007.” So it is frankly written from a military perspective, but he does get at least some vital facts correct.

Originally law belonged to a people. It was a common possession which defined the group to which individuals “belonged” and which was marked by their subscription to the weight of custom, ritual and obligation entailed. In return, membership of the group regulated the interactions between individuals and families within the group and offered advantages in dealings with other groups…

From this germ evolved the idea of the modern state as a geographically bounded area within which “a law” prevailed…

These two conceptions of law—as belonging either to a people or to a state—are irreconcilable and the conflict between them is being played out in domestic and international politics across the world. Insurgency and counter-insurgency is a competition to establish whose law will prevail in an area. The counter-insurgent force is attempting to establish its coercive authority in areas in which that authority is contested by insurgents. In Afghanistan, NATO forces are acting as proxies for the government of Afghanistan in the extension of its authority. The Taliban is resisting that attempt while also endeavouring to extend its authority over the remainder of the country.

Modern-day Afghanistan is largely a figment of the Western imagination. Its present boundaries emerged only during the nineteenth century as a result of imperial competition between Persia, Russia and Britain. It is the rump of a larger Pashtun empire (the term Afghan having its roots in the Persian for Pashtun) that had previously extended well into modern-day Pakistan and Iran. The northern boundary, only stabilised in the 1870s, was originally a zone through which Pashtun influence was in balance with that of the steppe-dwelling Uzbek, Tajiks and Turkmen, who remain ethnic minorities in northern Afghanistan today. Peshawar, in Pakistan, was until the early nineteenth century the winter capital and “pearl of the [Pashtun] Durani Empire”…

I still think a good case can be made that the whole Iraq thing – whatever you now think of it – was a terrible distraction from attending properly to the place where Al Qaeda really was, under the friendly shelter of the Taliban.


One-time pride of Journalspace – John Birmingham’s “Cheeseburger Gothic”

Australian writer John Birmingham was one of the highlights of Journalspace before the great crash. He has reappeared on the new Journalspace at Cheeseburger Gothic, but so far it is a blog of brief notes sometimes pointing to his other venues. You may like to look at his take on the Lahore Cricket fiasco/tragedy: Cricket attack rewrites the rules.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a brave prediction. The attack on Sri Lanka’s cricket team in Pakistan was not carried out by militant Presbyterians.

There is a small chance it was the work of Tamil Tigers, but only a very small chance. If the Tigers wanted to target the national heroes of their enemy, it would be much easier do so at home, rather than go through the logistically tortuous process of moving dozens of trained insurgents and their equipment thousands of miles away into an alien and hostile environment, where their very presence would arouse immediate suspicion.

No, I think we can probably rush to judgment in this case and blame our old friends the beardy nutters.

This attack will have the immediate effect of further isolating Pakistan and its people from the outside world. Sri Lanka were the last, best hope of the Pakistani Cricket Board, the only serious cricket playing nation still willing to tour in the face of repeated warnings from security experts that such an attack was inevitable…

See also my own post Pakistan: Sri Lanka Cricket team attacked below.

And a note on my Google Reader

My little stable of blogs was very active overnight. I have added a record 31 new posts this morning to Neil’s shared items. That’s almost four pages in the Reader!

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Posted by on March 6, 2009 in blogging, Cricket, current affairs, other blogs, South Asian


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Pakistan: Sri Lanka Cricket team attacked

However you read it, this is a bad business. It is still unclear who did what or why. What is clear is that violent people in the long run do enormous harm to others – obviously – and most often do harm to their own cause. We simply do not yet know what cause is involved here. As Lateline put it:

SALLY SARA: It’s the first time that international cricketers have been directly targeted in a terrorist attack, and it’s expected to signal a halt to any further cricket series in Pakistan.
HASHAN TILLAKARATNE, FORMER SRI LANKAN CAPTAIN: Yes, because we all knew that they are so many insecurity concerns in Pakistan. I don’t know why we want to send a cricket team to Pakistan. So, as cricketers, it’s a very bad situation and we are sad about the whole thing.
SALLY SARA: The attack has also increased pressure on Pakistan to take action against terrorists within its own borders – a message which India delivered with an added sense of urgency.
VISHNU PRAKASH, INDIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN: Terrorists based in Pakistan are a threat to the entire world. It is in Pakistan’s own interest to take urgent, meaningful and decisive steps to dismantle the terror infrastructure once and for all.
SALLY SARA: The latest bloodshed has highlighted to instability and insecurity in Pakistan and its implications are expected to extend well beyond the cricket field. Sally Sara, Lateline.

Mr Prakash is jumping to conclusions. He is not alone, and we could do with less of that. Someone needs to bang a few heads together at government level on the sub-continent, and someone needs (among other things) to deliver a just solution in Kashmir, just for starters. The tragedy of partition continues, to the cost of all.*

I looked in on The Pakistani Spectator – which really is just a group blog – to see what reactions I could find there. Some are commendable: see the lead story.

On Tuesday morning, our revered Cricketing friends from Sri Lanka were attacked in Lahore, leaving the whole nation embarrassed, shocked and with our heads shaken in disbelief. With the approval of the Colombo Government, SL team decided to tour Pakistan despite security fears and they courageously defied the advice by other Cricketing nations. India was more vocal against the tour by SL team. Due to our security lapse, Tuesday shooting has helped in vindication of theri stance and has resulted in  closing doors of international Cricket in Pakistan for many years to come – the worst set back to game in its history.

Political differences, ideological distances or social restlessness, no doubt, has created chaos in our country but no such incident has taken place in our history where a sports caravan has been attacked so cowardly. Hats off to those jawans who laid their lives in a combat aimed at saving lives of the guest team.

There are many voices in Pakistan pointing fingers to India for master-minding this attack which has jeopardized the Pakistan Cricket future beyond repair. There may be ‘some’ credence in such allegations as India has emerged beneficiary of the situation in the backdrop of the acrimonious environment prevalent between two neighbours. But this drumbeat is simply out of place because we ourselves need to do some soul searching and have to admit that our security measures were insufficient…

Too true, and it is a shame about some of the other stories: Sri Lankan Cricket Team Attacked : India Behind Terrorism?  and Lahore Attack On Sri Lankan cricket team – Is It Inside Job? especially. Highly bloody unlikely, I’d say. More rational are Pakistan achieves yet another milestone – The Lahore Chapter and Who Dunnit ? Liberty Attack on Sri Lankan Team.

Bad business indeed. See also an earlier post here: Pakistan on the Brink – Four Corners.

Next day

* I was interested to see Tanvir Ahmed making this same point in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

…A large share of responsibility for the current chaos must be put at the door of Pakistan’s army and its Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI. For more than 20 years, the ISI has deliberately and consistently funded a variety of Islamist groups, including Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group most likely to have co-ordinated the Mumbai bombings. The agency has long seen the jihadists as an ingenious and cost-effective means of controlling Afghanistan (which occurred with the retreat of the Soviets) and bogging down the Indian Army in Kashmir (achieved from the early 1990s).

The results have been disastrous, filling the country with thousands of armed but now largely unemployed jihadists, a plethora of unregulated modern weapons and a host of militant groups. The Islamists have followed their own agendas and have brought their struggle to the streets and into the heart of the country’s politics.

In an amusing twist, Pakistani television channels blamed India’s external intelligence agency for the attack on the cricketers. Geo, a leading news channel, broadcast old footage of the president of the Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, promising a fitting response to those responsible for terrorist acts in India.

It underscores how the disputed region of Kashmir is again in the shadows of Tuesday’s events in Lahore. It is not in the job description of Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan, but remains critical in establishing any sort of stability in the region…

Pakistan remains the prime manifestation of the sores of partition in a region that is still stinging from post-colonial headaches. It is where ancient identities and conflicts arising from them are being reinterpreted for modern conditions, a kind of Balkans with garam masala.

As its most worrying example, Pakistan, languishes next to its powerful neighbour, its impact upon our world may be just as great, albeit in an entirely different direction.


Posted by on March 4, 2009 in Cricket, current affairs, South Asian



Pakistan on the Brink – Four Corners

Those who close all girls’ schools wherever they have the power to do so, who murder all their opposition, favour terror as a weapon, make their God a gun, and are driven by a crazed and extreme version of the worst aspects of the Abrahamic faiths – the Taliban and their supporters. What more can you say? The poor people of Pakistan — a country M visited in 1999-2000 and loved, having met with nothing but hospitality and honesty wherever he went, which included Peshawar and much of the North-West Frontier.

But what a different story today, thanks to Bush’s foreign policy, past neglect of the key significance of Afghanistan/Pakistan – the borders really are notional – and the sideshow that was the invasion of Iraq, even granted that things there are somewhat better.

But it is chilling to realise that whatever one’s hopes of peace the Taliban and company do not want peace, except their own peace – and that is what you just read in the first paragraph. That is not a peace the world can live with, even less the people of Pakistan. And yes I know what a quagmire Afghanistan/Pakistan has been for all who have ventured into it – the British, the Russians, and now NATO, the US, and our own military. Earlier US Cold war policy directed against the dying USSR in Afghanistan nurtured the monsters.

r341525_1554761Before you comment on this post, carefully review the Four Corners program linked to that image.

Before you start rabbiting on in a generalised way about Islam, consider that all the people we see in that program – terrorists, cultists, fanatics, and their victims – are all Muslims. There are indeed Muslims and Muslims. Jihad-watch style reaction does not help.

You don’t have to demonise the Taliban; they do that very successfully themselves. The dilemma — and what a dilemma! – that the program also brought out is that heavy-handed military “solutions” quite often strengthen the Taliban and such groups. Can’t help thinking though that it would be in everyone’s interests if India and Pakistan could bury their differences in the light of the common threat they confront. Nor would a just solution to the Israel/Palestine issue go astray – that being another running sore in the background to all these events.

Glad I just run a blog, and not the world!

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Posted by on February 24, 2009 in awful warnings, best viewing 2009, current affairs, Islam, peace, South Asian, terrorism



Book notes and footnotes

sat29 On the right you will see a small stack of (bargain!) books, two that I have referred to just lately, and one that I am about to review.

The new book

LawrencePotter Lawrence Potter (left) has inadvertently led me to a very good book blog via This May Help You Understand the World by Lawrence Potter. As that entry says:

In a confusing universe, it’s reassuring to find that it isn’t only you who doesn’t grasp the intricacies – or even the basics – of the world’s problems. We probably all feel that at some instinctive level we understand most of the big issues, but the truth is – certainly as far as I’m concerned anyway – that we couldn’t even begin to explain the difference between Shia and Sunni Muslims (and why it matters) or the US electoral system, or the Weapons of Mass Destruction controversy, or why the Palestinians are fighting each other or even why organic bananas are so much better for everyone, not just you.

In fact, I suspect that the number of people who could get any further in their explanation than “Err … well …” would be tiny.

Those are just some of the topics covered in this excellent and well-timed book…

I concur! The first entry is on jihad

Potter is very thorough and up-to-date (as of early 2007 of course). Other topics include: Israel/Palestine, US elections, world trade, climate change, Darfur, Russia, nuclear proliferation, and China. On China, about which I know a bit, I find it very well informed. Back to the review:

Considering what a comparatively slim volume it is, the amount of information in it is amazing, and it’s just so pleasing to be able to listen to a news broadcast or read a paper and actually have a reasonably clear idea of what they’re talking about. In fact, smugness is in danger of setting in …

Oh … and Mr Potter also tackles the thorny question of whether George W Bush really IS stupid.

The answer may surprise you.

And any author who looks like that has to be credible. 🙂

Seriously, this is an excellent and very readable book. He avoids pomposity and excessive predictability or overdone PC. Not a bad achievement, eh! It’s another Best Read of 2008.


Well, that horrible set of events in Mumbai continues to distress and perplex, doesn’t it? In my post Some thoughts on Mumbai I ventured some background gathered from good sources, but the plot really is thickening, isn’t it? Trouble is there are so many vested interests at play here it is hard to know what is most likely. There can be no doubt none of it bodes well.

In today’s Australian one letter writer expresses quite a common view, which would seem to have much in common with what I tried to say in Dark energy, God and humility, which in a way is also about Mumbai…

IT’S all too easy to see the current terrorism in Mumbai as the work of an insane minority. These men are not deranged. They are intelligent and psychiatrically normal men who just happen to believe literally the words of their silly and dangerous religious books.

Both the Koran and the Old Testament frequently advocate violence towards those of differing religious beliefs. Most people, perhaps influenced by secular humanism, instinctively do not take these “silly bits” literally. Unfortunately, a minority of the devout can’t make a distinction.

Until the major world religions, be they Muslim or Christian, are prepared to “clean up” their violent and often murderous literature, they deserve to be proscribed just like any other terrorist group.

David Phillips
Southport, Qld

As John Dominic Crossan says in God & Empire, however, it is not quite as David Phillips and many others portray it. If one considers a dual portrait of God as a God of Violence and/or a God of Love:

It is positively, absolutely not that one solution is found exclusively in the Old Testament and/or the Jewish tradition while another is found exclusively in the New Testament and/or the Christian tradition. It is not ecumenical courtesy, political correctness, or post-Holocaust sensitivity but simply biblical and historical accuracy to insist that both solutions run side by side, and often in the same books, from one end of the biblical tradition to the other. They are asserted relentlessly as the twin tracks of the Divine Express…

He’s quite right, an assertion I base on having read the Bible and Apocrypha from one end to the other, not cherry-picking as I went, and much the same can be said for the Qur’an, a substantial amount of which I have also read. (Few books are more bloodthirsty than The Apocalypse of John, after all.) It is what you do with this that matters. Crossan comes up with one solution, which I am not sure works, but at least leads to a rather healthy analysis of life and politics… I can’t help thinking, though, that the life-time study of the biblical traditions and the Ancient Near East/Greek World/Roman World has led to an only too understandable cultural myopia… We’ve all been there. What he knows he knows in depth and explains very illuminatingly, however. Can’t see fundamentalists liking it one little bit.

I make a case in that “Dark energy” post for quite a radical rethink by believers of their sacred scriptures, one that is not I have to say original to me. At the same time there are those not willing to be quite so radical who can still be perfectly harmless, even desirable, as neighbours and fellow-citizens, even if they regard me with suspicion and I regard them as being a bit cracked. Only through such benign tolerance do any of us have much hope, after all. We don’t have to be right, you know…

And the excellent blog I found…

… It’s Vulpes Libris (The Book Foxes). Have a look.

On Mumbai

This is pretty impressive: Terror in IndiaDileep Premachandran. (ABC Unleashed)

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Posted by on November 29, 2008 in Best read of 2008, Bible, Christianity, current affairs, events, faith and philosophy, humanity, interfaith, Islam, other blogs, reading, religion, South Asian, terrorism



Some thoughts on Mumbai

Of course I condemn the attacks, as I condemn all political violence whoever is doing it – whether “them” or “us”. There is no such thing as a Good Bomb. So I welcome this from 3 Quarks Daily:

It is difficult to express the horror that one feels at the ongoing events in Mumbai (which I just found out about, not having looked at the news since yesterday). Here at 3QD, I am sure that I can speak for all of us when I say that our stunned thoughts are constantly with the victims, hostages, and their families. We fervently hope that no more innocent lives are lost and that the hostages are quickly rescued. The enormity of this crime is mind-boggling and one hopes the perpetrators of this disgusting outrage are swiftly identified and brought to justice.

Today, we are all Indians, and all of us, especially those of us from Pakistan, stand in resolute solidarity with our brothers and sisters across the border.

Posted by Abbas Raza at 09:25 AM

But before we react, there are many considerations. Here are just three.

1. The New Untouchables from The Washington Post one year ago.

…The frustrated effort to build a women’s mosque exposes the Achilles’ heel of India’s highly touted secular democracy: the abysmal socioeconomic status of Muslims.

This became quickly clear to me when I went to Mumbai late last year on a reporting fellowship from the South Asian Journalists Association to chronicle the "progressive jihad," or struggle for progress by Muslims in India. The week I landed, the Indian government released the so-called Sachar Committee report, a 404-page document that revealed it all: Muslims are disenfranchised, poor, jobless and uneducated. Their conditions are worse than those of the dalit, the caste commonly called "untouchables." To me, the sad truth was evident: Muslims are India’s new untouchables.

Consider these figures: Fifty-two percent of Muslim men are unemployed, compared with 47 percent of dalit men. Unemployment among Muslim women is 91 percent, compared with 77 percent among dalit women. Forty-eight percent of Muslims older than 46 can’t read or write. Though they make up 11 percent of the population, Muslims account for 40 percent of the prison population. They hold only 4.9 percent of government jobs and only 3.2 percent of the jobs in the country’s security agencies.

You wouldn’t know any of this from the news about India that appears in the Western media. Here, it’s "Incredible India," as a global ad campaign by the Indian government proclaims. Or it’s "India Inc.," the headline on a Time magazine cover story. In an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal this year, former defense secretary William Cohen, whose Cohen Group consults frequently on the country, said that the United States and India are "perfect partners" because of their "multiethnic and secular democracies."

But if we don’t pay attention, that could all change. Unless something is done to improve the socioeconomic condition of Muslims in India, it may be only a matter of time before extremist Islamic ideology takes root…

2.  Martha Nussbaum: The President-Elect and India3 Quarks Daily 17 November 2008.

…Third, and most disturbing, the letter commiserates with Singh for the Delhi bomb blasts, but makes no mention of Gujarat or Orissa. Obama offers Singh:

"my condolences on the painful losses your citizens have suffered in the recent string of terrorist assaults. As I have said publicly, I deplore and condemn the vicious attacks perpetrated in New Delhi earlier this month, and on the Indian embassy in Kabul on July 7. The death and destruction is reprehensible, and you and your nation have my deepest sympathy. These cowardly acts of mass murder are a stark reminder that India suffers from the scourge of terrorism on a scale few other nations can imagine."

Obama’s use of the word "terrorism" to describe acts thought to be perpetrated by Muslims, while not using that same word for acts perpetrated by Hindus, is ominous. Muslims suffer greatly in India, as elsewhere, from the stereotype of the violent Muslim, and both justice and truth demand that we all do what we can to undermine these stereotypes, bringing the guilty of all religions to justice, and protecting the innocent. (The recent refusals of local bar associations in India to defend Muslims accused of complicity in terrorism, under threat of violence, shows that the rule of law itself hangs in the balance.) Particularly odd is Obama’s omission of events in Orissa, which were and are ongoing. His phrase "the scourge of terrorism" is virtually Bushian in its suggestion that terrorism is a single thing (presumably Muslim) and that many nations suffer from that single thing. (Note that it is not even true that most world terrorism is caused by Muslims. Our University of Chicago colleague Robert Pape’s careful quantitative study of terrorism worldwide concludes that the Tamil Tigers, a secular political organization, are the bloodiest in the world. Moreover, Pape argues convincingly that even when religion is used as a screen for terror, the real motives are most often political, having to do with local conflicts.)

Obama’s letter was written during a campaign. Perhaps it reflects awareness of the priorities of NRI’s who were working hard in that campaign. At this point, however, he can start with a clean slate and decide how to order his priorities regarding India. Let us hope that, like Bill Clinton, he will give the center of his attention to issues of human development (poverty, gender equality, education, health), and that, when discussing the issue of religious violence, he will study carefully the violence in Gujarat and Orissa, learn all he can about the organizations of the Sangh Parivar, and adopt a policy that denounces religious violence in all its forms. To mention one immediate issue, it would be a disaster for global justice if Obama, as President, were to heed the demands of the diaspora community to grant Narendra Modi a visa — especially since the Tehelka expose has made so clear the cooperation of the government of the state of Gujarat in those horrendous acts of violence.

President Obama has repeatedly shown a deeply felt commitment to the eradication of a politics based upon hate. Can we have confidence that he will carry that commitment into his relationship with India, even when the demands of powerful leaders of the NRI community make that difficult? I certainly hope so.

3. The old ghosts of India show their faces again by Robin Jeffrey in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

What happened in Mumbai will not shake India to its foundations. India is tough and has weathered bigger storms. But the highly symbolic attacks dramatise a much wider set of struggles: the product of growing wealth for some and a revolution in communications.

The spectre haunting the nation is the old ghost in new clothes – class conflict, propelled by the same communications revolution that enables it to launch moon probes and claim recognition as a global power. In the new media age, awareness of injustice and disparity is growing among the poor, along with a sense that "we’re not going to take this any more."

It will be some time before anyone knows for sure who was responsible for yesterday’s calculated lunacy. But we can be almost sure among them will be young men left out of the prosperity a growing minority of Indians have experienced. Religion sometimes propels violence, but deprivation and injustice are felt around the country. Last month 12 police were killed by suspected Naxalites in Bijapur, eastern India. It was the latest encounter between police and Naxalites or Maoists, who are leading a resistance by tribal people and landless labourers in a belt snaking from Nepal down the highlands of eastern India. Near Kolkata, the attempt by Tata, a giant conglomerate, to build a factory for the new cheap mini-car the Nano was chased away by landholders mobilised against inadequate compensation for their land. Tata announced earlier this month it would build the factory elsewhere.

Scholars, policy-makers and politicians debate whether disaffection among India’s 140 million Muslims results from poverty and disadvantage rather than religious alienation. A poll by Outlook magazine showed close to 80 per cent thought economic divisions were responsible for religious conflict.

In the most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, a Dalit (former Untouchable) woman, Mayawati, led her party to an election victory last year, becoming Chief Minister for the fourth time; that would have been unthinkable three generations ago. A government report last year estimated that more than 75 per cent of Indians spent less than 20 rupees (62 cents) a day to live. But Mukesh Ambani, one of the world’s richest men, is completing a new $1.5 billion house in Mumbai. Until the current generation, two things mitigated India’s disparities of wealth: the ideology of caste and the isolation imposed by poor communications. You accepted the role of the caste into which you were born and believed that your next life would be better; you aspired eventually to escape the cycle of rebirth.

…Mayawati’s capture of legislative power suggests the capacity in a democracy, however flawed, for outsiders to become insiders; ultimately, that changes the system itself. At the other end of the spectrum of possibilities are gun battles in remote forests between marginalised zealots and the Indian state.

India is in the midst of six state elections with results to be announced on December 8. National elections are due in the first half of next year. Nationally, the ruling coalition of the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, and the Congress party president, Sonia Gandhi, will face a formidable challenge from a rival alignment centred on the Bharatiya Janata Party, which stresses Hindu identity to paper over class divisions. Events in Mumbai will almost certainly turn the national poll into a tough-on-terrorism election, which will favour the BJP.

India’s communications revolution, which the perpetrators of yesterday’s carnage are exploiting, will continue to propel its rulers to interact with the world and seek recognition as a great power. The same process will drive the poor to compare their lives with those of the rich and powerful. In the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks the challenge for the Indian state has not changed: it must find ways to dull the jagged edges of class disparity.

I thought it unfortunate that last night The 7.30 Report trotted out Rohan Gunaratna as the “terrorism expert”. He is that, but not an uncontroversial one.

Unfortunately Mumbai won’t be the last such occasion, and you don’t have to postulate some kind of organisation that blends James Bond movies with reality to see why. It is sad but true that no matter what battles we may win in what used to be called “the war on terror”, the war itself is set to go on for a very long time. Hearts and minds, as the cliche goes, are what will matter in the end, and much soul searching on ALL sides. In Gaza for starters would be useful…


Posted by on November 28, 2008 in current affairs, humanity, Islam, Israel, South Asian, terrorism, USA



ABC brilliant last night: "Mortgage Meltdown" and Imran Khan

Last night Auntie indulged herself in a repeat, as well she might. Mortgage Meltdown was first broadcast on Four Corners in September 2007.

PAUL BARRY: Mark Seiffert is a housing activist in Cleveland Ohio, the foreclosure capital of the United States. The hundreds of people who file into his offices every week are not rich and are not speculators, but they’ve been persuaded to take out expensive subprime loans they can’t pay back and should never have got into.

WOMAN (speaking to counsellor): … Mortgage started in September at an adjustable rate, which is almost $300 more than I was paying. When my husband lost his job …

PAUL BARRY: Now their city is now seeing a tidal wave of evictions and foreclosures.

MARK SEIFFERT, HOUSING ACTIVIST, CLEVELAND OHIO: It’s devastating. I mean, you know we’ve had, in Cleveland there’s supposedly about 80,000 property units, buildings. Ten thousand of those are vacant as of today. And we’re seeing foreclosures increasing by more than 300 per cent over the last couple of years.

And it’s no longer an inner city, minority, poor person type issue, it’s, you know, we see men, women, black white, it’s married, single, wealthy, middle income, lower income, fixed income. There is no, you know, status quo. I mean fire fighters, architects, TV reporters. It’s everybody. And it’s, you know, the crisis is just beginning.


PAUL BARRY: But bad as the problems clearly are for California and for Cleveland, how on earth have they spread so far as to shake the world?

The answer lies here on Wall St, because it was the big banks and brokers here who put up the massive amounts of money that fuelled the huge lending surge and the dodgy loans then came back here to be parcelled up into mortgage backed securities and collateralised debt obligations and sold to investors all around the world, with everyone picking up fat fees along the way.

SATYAJIT DAS, AUTHOR, ‘TRADERS, GUNS AND MONEY’:A German banker recently said to me with a very Germanic accent, “Why is somebody not paying their mortgage in Luneville, West Virginia,” and this is a real town by the way, “going to affect me?”

And the reason is very simple. Because of the web of transactions in global finance now and capital flows, people from all round the world have invested in the US.

PAUL BARRY: Satyajit Das is a world expert on hedge funds and credit markets and an adviser to banks around the world.

Based here in Australia he has long been warning how easily a crisis like this could develop.

SATYAJIT DAS, AUTHOR, ‘TRADERS, GUNS AND MONEY’:To give you an idea of global capital flows, 85 per cent of capital flows from Europe, the Middle East, and the Far East is in to the US. And a good chunk of that has gone into the subprime mortgage area, or the mortgage area in general.

PAUL BARRY (to Satyajit Das): So the money comes from overseas and it then gets lent out to people in Cleveland, Ohio?

SATYAJIT DAS, AUTHOR, ‘TRADERS, GUNS AND MONEY’:That’s absolutely correct.

PAUL BARRY (to Satyajit Das): Right.

SATYAJIT DAS, AUTHOR, ‘TRADERS, GUNS AND MONEY’:That’s absolutely correct.

PAUL BARRY (to Satyajit Das): So when the people in Cleveland, Ohio, stop paying, the wave comes back again outwards?

SATYAJIT DAS, AUTHOR, ‘TRADERS, GUNS AND MONEY’:It’s like the old saying about chaos theory: the flapping of the wings of a butterfly in the Amazon causes a Caribbean hurricane. And that’s what we’re seeing now.

Do read/watch. Yes, well worth repeating!

Then on Enough Rope we had an interview with the rather wonderful Pakistani cricketer turned politician Imran Khan.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on October 14, 2008 in America, Australia, Australia and Australian, challenge, current affairs, globalisation/corporations, Islam, South Asian, terrorism, USA


Back in the world…

I just highlighted via my Google Reader a recent entry by Jon Taplin on The Media and the Market Place. He cites a US columnist, Eugene Robinson:

Rarely have there been bigger or more urgent issues to talk about in a presidential campaign. But John McCain wants us to talk about Barack Obama’s acquaintances. He and Sarah Palin are going to try their best to make us talk about anything but the big issues facing our country, because most Americans think Obama’s solutions are better than McCain’s.

Knowing that, are we in the media going to aid and abet the McCain campaign’s obvious ploy?

We journalists like to think we’re too smart to be used by one side or the other in a political campaign. In a sense, we’re followers of Adam Smith: We believe in an omniscient free marketplace of news in which myriad individual decisions by reporters, editors, photographers, columnists, commentators and media barons — decisions about what to cover and how to cover it — somehow miraculously end up maximizing the truth. We claim not to be ideological, but this is our ideology…

We also know that no matter how skeptical we are when we write about bogus allegations, writing about them at all gives them wider circulation. So when Palin questions Obama’s love of country because Obama knows somebody who did something unpatriotic when Obama was 8, our free-market ethos makes us rush to cover her every ridiculous word. We also find ways to convey that this is pure mudslinging and nothing but a cynical campaign tactic, but that doesn’t matter to the McCain campaign. What matters is that we’re writing and talking about this extraneous stuff — and not about the issues that polls say voters really care about.

Jon Taplin recommends reading the whole article; so do I.

Another story to catch my attention is one not designed to comfort, but worth checking: Security fears as Pakistan veers towards bankruptcy. That is far more worrying and far more relevant than what someone Obama may know did when Obama was eight years old…

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Posted by on October 8, 2008 in America, current affairs, media watch, other blogs, South Asian, USA


The Making of the Mahatma (1996)

198614 The Making of the Mahatma (1996) is one of my current crop of DVDs from Surry Hills Library, and sad to say the most notable thing about it is that it is very, very long. It could quite easily have been one hour shorter with very little loss, and possibly much gain.

One of two feuding Mohammedan cousins living in Britain but of Indian origin seek the assistance of an Indian Barrister to travel to Britain and settle their matter in a court of law. The Barrister travels to Britain, and finds that all Asians are treated as coolies, and their status is worse than of servants. Despite of being dressed in a suit and a tie, he is thrown out of a first class train compartment; is asked to remove his cap in a court of law; asked to ride with the driver of the coach; and even shoved out on the footpath for daring to walk close to a bureaucrat’s premises; beaten, and abused with no recourse to any justice. His attempts to grieve these issues is met with strong governmental and bureaucratic disapproval and opposition. Notwithstanding this, he settles the dispute between the two cousins out of court, and sets about trying to organize the local Asians to assert their rights, and even represents some of them in Court. Then he journeys to Durban, South Africa, where yet another struggle is taking place against the native Africans and the emigrant Asian community. This is where this young man summons his wife, and three children, and this is where he decides to garner support of the oppressed community to improve the lot of all people, and this is where he will find that though the laws are on his side – the people who interpret them, and legislators are opposed to any kind of fair or equal treatment that this young Barrister was asking for. The young Barrister will then re-locate to India to continue his struggle against the British – and he will soon be known and acknowledged by the world as — Mahatma Gandhi. — from the IMDB database.

It is a curiosity, a South Africa/India coproduction. There are plenty of good moments, one outstanding one being an early scene where Gandhi is thrown off the train to Pretoria — at the station — because he as a “coolie” dared to ride in the compartment for which he had purchased a ticket. It also fleshes out part of Gandhi’s life that was rushed over when I studied Indian History; we were told something or other in South Africa, but the truth is he was there for 21 years and that experience was crucial. So I am glad I saw the movie. On the other hand, they must have suffered some budget constraints, I suspect; some parts seemed amateurish, given the stature of some of those involved in making the movie.

It is a good supplement to the better known epic Gandhi.

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Posted by on August 7, 2008 in Africa, film and dvd, History, movies, South Asian



Boston Review — Days of Lies and Roses: Selling out Afghanistan — Sarah Chayes

This is an Arts & Letters Daily offering.  Sarah Chayes’s Boston Review article is one of those invaluable contributions that take us away from the political and ideological into the actual world of human experience.

The other day I drove out to visit Nurallah, a member of my cooperative who had just lost his mother. His house lies a few miles outside Kandahar on the ancient road to India—the very place where Afghanistan was founded. From the sturdy beaten-earth walls of the compound, the lines of tawny Kandahar shrink to insignificance against the backdrop of the rocky hills beyond, etched in purple against the sky.

Enough children to fill a schoolroom crowded around me, clutching my hand to kiss, as I settled cross-legged on a cushion on the floor. The four strapping sons of that beloved matriarch seemed like lost children too, faces crumpled by the blow of her passing.

Nurallah’s mother died of a stroke. In a way, that was a happiness, a sign of improving times. For a woman who lost her husband and two sons during the Soviet occupation, a woman who spent 12 years as a refugee in Pakistan, a woman whose youngest son was drafted by the Taliban to fight in northern Afghanistan and almost perished when U.S. proxies there sealed him and other prisoners in a cargo container in November 2001—for such a woman to die in her bed was not a foregone conclusion…

Sarah Chayes is the founder of the Arghand, a cooperative agribusiness in Afghanistan. From 1997 to 2002 she worked as an overseas correspondent for National Public Radio. She is the author of The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan after the Taliban.

In a context of increasing danger and violence—which reached a pitch last fall when open battles between Taliban fighters and Afghan and international troops were fought at the gates of Kandahar—the situation in this very symbolic southern capital of Afghanistan has indeed stabilized a bit. Village families that fled the fighting to camp out in the cramped homes of relatives in town have returned to their vineyards and orchards. Kandahar streets are crowded again—if somewhat tentatively—with the jolly chaos of late-model SUVs, caparisoned horse-drawn taxis, dark-green pickup trucks loaded with police officers, battered white station wagons, brightly painted rickshaws, vegetable wagons, donkey carts, dust, and smog.

And yet, after five years here I have learned to mistrust the weekly or monthly fluctuations in atmospheric pressure, seeking instead to discern the underlying pattern. And that pattern is not encouraging.

Permit me first to dispel a common misconception. This city where I live and work is Kandahar, Afghanistan, which since September 2001 has come to symbolize (at least for Americans) the forces of evil and obscurantism—enemies of our “enlightened civilization.” Kandahar, after all, was the lair of Mullah Muhammad Omar, where he cosseted his infamous “guest,” Osama bin Laden. Kandahar has arguably replaced Moscow as the ideological antipode to everything we Americans think we believe in. And yet the issues at stake here are not in the least ideological. They are practical—and opportunistic.

Ask a Kandahari what he wants from his government and you’ll get a familiar answer: not vast ideas but practical solutions to everyday problems. Most Kandaharis would put basic law and order at the top of their list, then public utilities and infrastructure, education, timely performance of administrative functions (such as delivery of driver’s licenses and title deeds), freedom from arbitrary shakedowns by public officials, and some mechanism to afford them a voice in their collective destiny.

But in more than five years in Afghanistan, the American government, which considers its presence here a part of its broad effort to “bring democracy to the Middle East,” has achieved none of these things.

Please read the whole article.

…Some urge me to swallow my outrage: bribery and corruption are the Afghan way. I refuse to accept such stereotypes. Every society is composed of diverse tendencies, and it is specific historical events that bring one or another to the fore. In this case, the historical event was America’s post-9/11 intervention in Afghanistan—our effort to transform an entire society without bothering to understand it in the first place.

Our first error was to subordinate every other concern to a cowboys-and-Indians-style hunt for al Qaeda and the Taliban leadership—a hunt that has thus far proved singularly fruitless…

I was reminded too of one of my “blogmarks” — who has been silent lately, now studying in the USA: Ahmad Shuja. Reading his back entries is still an education for anyone seeking to understand life in Afghanistan.

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Posted by on August 5, 2008 in current affairs, human rights, humanity, Middle East, South Asian, terrorism


Glue Sniffing Among Street Children | The Pakistani Spectator

Yes, out there beyond the politics the world’s real problems go on, don’t they? Just happened on Glue Sniffing Among Street Children | The Pakistani Spectator.

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Posted by on July 21, 2008 in Asian, current affairs, humanity, South Asian


Pakistani Spectator interview draft now ready

I mentioned this on the Gateway in What’s new on Monday, 30 June 2008.

I am currently playing “20 questions” with The Pakistani Spectator, having been invited to do so in a comment yesterday.

Now you can read the draft I am sending to them, which may or may not be what they want: Pakistani Spectator interview.


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Posted by on July 9, 2008 in blogging, personal, site news, South Asian


Ninglun and the mullahs

Not really, but spurred on by an excellent review article in the US magazine Nation I have thought about them. The Long Life of the Frontier Mullah by Basharat Peer [June 11, 2008] reviews Frontier of Faith: Islam in the Indo-Afghan Borderland by Sana Haroon.

…The “war on terror” has made the borderlands a newsworthy topic, yet accounts of the daily struggles, aspirations and challenges of the region’s population are rare. American coverage of the recent elections there spotlighted the ANP’s victory as a rejection of Islamist parties and marginalized the issues that dominated the campaign: reducing the presence of the Pakistani military, lowering civilian casualties in the counterinsurgency operations and pushing a development agenda in the tribal belt. What’s not in short supply are stories about the mullahs and warring tribes; their prominence is a testament to how the frontier region remains an unruly captive of the narrative that first defined it for the world beyond the Hindu Kush and the Khyber Pass: the imperial “Great Game” played by Britain and Russia in the region in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Great Game had its second inning in the early 1980s, when the United States, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan supported the Afghan resistance against Soviet forces in neighboring Afghanistan.

One of the first printed works to establish the reputation of the North-West Frontier tribes as bloodthirsty and acrimonious was written in 1897 by a second lieutenant of a British cavalry regiment. The young officer was Winston Churchill, who had ended up commanding a brigade tasked with subduing tribes in Malakand–in the frontier territory’s northern reaches–after refining his polo game during a posting with his regiment in British India. In The Story of the Malakand Field Force, which is peppered with racist and Islamophobic remarks, Churchill says of the frontier tribes, “Except at the times of sowing and of harvest, a continual state of feud and strife prevails throughout the land…. Every man’s hand is against the other, and all against the stranger…. To the ferocity of the Zulu are added the craft of the Redskin and the marksmanship of the Boer.” He goes on to write that the frontier people were exposed to the “rapacity and tyranny of a numerous priesthood…and a host of wandering Talib-ul-ilms, who correspond with the theological students in Turkey, and live free at the expense of the people. More than this, they enjoy a sort of ‘droit du seigneur,’ and no man’s wife or daughter is safe from them.” Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on June 16, 2008 in America, current affairs, South Asian, terrorism, USA


Interesting on India, and on left politics generally

I am no expert on her work, in fact I am expert on very little really, but whenever I read something by Martha Nussbaum I am usually impressed.

Martha Nussbaum was born in New York in 1947. Her father was a lawyer, her mother an interior designer. Nussbaum gained a BA from NYU and an MA and PhD from Harvard. Currently professor of law and ethics at the University of Chicago, she is considered one of the world’s foremost philosophers. She is an award-winning author whose many books include The Fragility Of Goodness, Sex And Social Justice and Hiding From Humanity. Earlier this year she published The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence and India’s Future.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?

Reading mysteries when I am supposed to be reading student papers. And answering this questionnaire when I am supposed to be writing letters of recommendation.

To whom would you most like to say sorry, and why?

My teacher and friend, Bernard Williams, for depreciating some of his more anti-Enlightenment writings. Not that I’ve changed my view, but I am sad we were less close in the later years of his life…

Which living person do you most despise, and why?

I don’t waste time despising people. Anger is much more constructive than contempt.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

‘Deep’, ‘fascinating’.

What is the worst job you’ve done?

Acting in a theatre company whose director was having a mental crack-up and kept changing everyone’s parts.

If you could go back in time, where would you go?

I’d like to be a student in Rabindranath Tagore’s school in Santiniketan in around 1915, dancing in the dance-dramas he wrote…

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