Archive for the ‘Current Affairs’ Category

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A Guide to Pakistan’s Election 2013

May 10, 2013
Pakistani Elections 2013

Each Candidate Brings a Unique Skill Set, Experience & Expertise

This marks the first time in Pakistan’s history a civilian government has completed its full term and will transition power to a new civilian government, Pakistani elections this Saturday are complete with hope, democratic fervor, and anticipation. Here is a guide to whose running, and what each party stands for.

The Businessman: Nawaz Sharif
Party: PML-N

Economic Philosophy: Industry Friendly, Economically Liberal: Nawaz Sharif is a consistent proponent of “rapid industrialization” and there is little doubt he will incorporate free market principles anywhere he can. “He liberalized foreign exchange regulations and denationalized several public sector industrial enterprises and financial institutions”, including electric utilities in hopes to curtail power shortages that have crippled businesses and left Pakistani’s reeling in hot summers from lack of electricity. Sharif vows to remove these shortages, known as “load shedding” in the coming years through increased use of natural gas extracted from Baluchistan. While Socialist policies have historically been more popular in Pakistan, Sharif intends to “cut government expenditure by 30 percent in order to secure international backing for the economy” and is likely to continue his legacy as a free market capitalist.
Foreign Policy: Flexible & Amendable: His record includes initiating peace processes with India in his first term as prime minister and is remembered for launching the Delhi Lahore Bus , with his Indian counterpart Atul Vajpayee in 1999. Sharif claims he will not be part of the War on Terror, but rarely shies from turning to the United States for assistance. During the 1998 Kargil conflict, former President Clinton writes in his autobiography that he was personally asked by Prime Minister Sharif to visit and discuss the conflict. He did however defy American calls to halt Pakistan’s nuclear program and the country faced crippling sanctions as a result. Sharif has since promised to “recalibrate Pakistan’s counterterrorism partnership with United States” , in hopes to quell widespread resentment of American handling of terrorism in Pakistan. He supports handing over Gwadar port to China and the singing of a gas supply project with Iran,citing Pakistan’s current foreign policy posture leaves them in “isolation” and such projects is a route to connecting with the world.
Social Policy: Very Conservative: A protégé of Pakistan’s most religious conservative leader General Zia ul Haq, Sharif initiated the ghastly 15th Constitutional Amendment bill known as the Shariat bill in 1998 during his term which empowered the “prime minister to enforce what he thought was right and to prohibit what he considered wrong in Islam irrespective of what the Constitution or any judgment of the courts”. Suffice to say religious conservatism will color his social policy.
Voter Base/Popularity: Very popular in the Punjab. Sharif has widespread support of the middle and lower class, urban population. He also commands support of the industrialist and business class, given his support of free market policies.
Leadership Style/Personality: With a feudal background, Sharif is considered a son of the soil in the Punjab, (even though he lives a rather lavish lifestyle; be brings white tigers to his campaign rallies). He is mild mannered, conservative and has a simple, unobtrusive, way about him which helps him connect with most Pakistanis.
Security Issues: He says drone attacks are against “national sovereignty” and will not tolerate them but does not offer specific alternatives to drone policy, or how to curtail them in the immediate future. Considered to be “soft” of militant groups, and lacking a significant record of standing up for minority groups, he has vowed to end America’s war on terror but “declines to say whether he would stop military operations against the Taliban and Al Qaeda” and has floated ideas on engagement with militant groups as workable options as opposed to “guns and bullets” . My guess is his government will initiate added dialogue with militant groups on a need to basis. Sharif is a free markets leader, and will prioritize big business before putting security atop his agenda.
American Counterpart: Mitt Romney – Both free market businessman to their core, socially conservative and very wealthy, these men are rather similar. Sharif does not have Ivy League degrees, but seems more down to earth and connects with the general public with ease.

The Deal Maker: Asif Ali Zardari
Party: PPP

Economic Philosophy: Centrist with Socialist Tendencies: The party has socialist roots but since the death of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his debacle of nationalizing major industries in the 70’s, the PPP has taken a centrist shift. Benazir Bhutto as prime minister favored socio-economic development through fiscal and monetary expansionist policies, and under her husband Asif Zardari’s leadership, the party will continue along this route. The PPP implemented welfare projects, including income support schemes which handed cash out to rural areas, especially in Sindh. Prime Minister Zardari has repeatedly called for consensus in Pakistan on economic issues and turned a nose to repeated US calls to steer clear of Iran’s gas pipeline. The pipeline deal with Tehran is Prime Minister’s Zardari’s answer to “chronic energy shortages in the country”
Foreign Policy: Accommodating: The party most diametrically opposed to the military in Pakistan, the PPP seeks to forge closer ties with the United States. The military having brutally executed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s most populous leader in the 1970’s, and house arresting his daughter Benazir (who would later go on to be Prime Minister) the Zardari government is responsible for appointing Hussain Haqqani as Ambassador in D.C. Recall Hussain Haqqani’s rather embarrassing Memo Gate controversy in which the Ambassador sent a memorandum to Admiral Mike Mullen seeking the Obama Administrations assistance in an American takeover of Pakistan’s military apparatus”. THe Prime Minister has also spent much time cultivating business ties with China, including announcing their takeover of the Gwadar port as part of a “drive to secure energy and maritime routes”. And despite seeking closer ties with the United States, Zardari has gone against US requests and met with Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to finalize the Iran Pakistan gas pipeline.
Social Policy: Liberal Leaning: Historically they have been very protective of minority rights, but the PPP has not been able to prevent a current upsurge in violence against Shias, Ahmedi’s and Christians. Social policy has been rooted in helping the poor through inflationary schemes; Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s exceedingly popular and iconic promise of “roti kapra makaan” (bread, clothing, shelter) is still a sentiment held by the PPP. Prime Minister Zardari’s government can also boast passing a “raft of women’s empowerment resolutions through the previous parliament, including laws against domestic violence and sexual harassment”, testimony to the PPP’s liberal leaning posture. And even though many party stalwarts have been sidelined by the Zardari government in the past few years, they remain mostly committed to PPP causes.
Voter Base/Popularity: The PPP’s stronghold has always been in Sindh,. The party commands support of the rural, lower, and middle class. They also have support in the southern part of Punjab. Not enough to win the election this year, but his party consistently wins a significant number of seats.
Leadership Style/Personality: Asif Ali Zardari is a savvy business dealer and deft negotiator. Coming from a relatively modest feudal background, Zardari grew up with a chip on his shoulder, and has been in business for himself since his teens. Beginning with selling tickets to his father’s cinema, to trading cars, selling assets, negotiating land deals, he has always created opportunities, and found success for himself. May not be as well liked as Nawaaz Sharif in Pakistan, but he is renowned to be the most loyal of friends to those who know him.
Security Issues: Prime Minister Zardari and his party have always sought widespread civil society support before opting for military solutions. Last year, he referred to drones as counterproductive, yet on the whole, drones have increased during his regime . On terrorism, Prime Minister Zardari has worked with the military establishment on some operations, (such as negotiating peace in SWAT with the Taliban) but insists Pakistan needs the support of civil society to launch operations against militants, while simultaneously censuring the media, judiciary and other right wing parties for not being supportive enough.
American Counterpart: Rod Blagojevich: Two left leaning party leaders jailed for corruption, they also share strikingly characteristic smiles and have suffered the brunt of many a political cartoon. Asif Zardari and Rod Blagojevich also both elicit a love hate response from people, there’s no middle ground; one either likes, or really dislikes them.

The Captain: Imran Khan
Party: PTI

zainab jeewanjee and imran khan smallest

zainab jeewanjee and imran khan

Economic Philosophy: Welfare Policies: Imran Khan says he will “end corruption in 19 days” and plans to sideline the bureaucracy to do so. All economic plans that follow are rooted in this idea. He will declare an energy emergency and claims to end load shedding in 2 years through an oversight board for energy distributers in attempt to make it an apolitical body while privatizing energy companies. He also plans to increase use of coal from Pakistan, and has made calls for an Islamic Welfare State. No word yet as to what the Islamic Welfare State would mean and how to go about implementing it, but it makes for wonderful campaigning with the people.
Foreign Policy: Assertive: “America is destroying Pakistan”, suffice to say Imran Khan is the candidate most opposed to current US policy to Pakistan, while clarifying he is not “anti-west” . He vociferously opposes all post 9/11 Pakistani regimes from General Musharraf to Prime Minister Zardari, for cooperating in what was once known as the “war on terror”. He finds current relations, involving drone attacks in exchange for American aid more than just transactional, but a failure. Referring to it as an “American war on Pakistani soil” , Khan insists on Pakistan’s sovereignty first, and a rejection of American aid if current policies persist . And in regards to India, as a world renowned former cricketer, India may be warm to an Imran Khan regime and such popularity in the Subcontinent could be an opportunity for diplomatic headway in bilateral relations with Delhi.
Social Policy: Conservative Reformist: Khan’s vision of an Islamic Society looks like Scandinavia; “a humane society, where there is rule of law, a society that looks after its weak, its handicapped.” Where to begin creating institutions to do this, has yet to be fleshed out. As with his energy policy, he vows to declare an emergency on education to tackle the country’s illiteracy problem, commissioning international scholar Dr. Azeem Ibrahim to come up with the plan. On minority issues, he has condemned Lashkar e Jhangvi’s killing of Shia’s yet. Overall, one may expect someone who was known for a high flying, partying lifestyle as a fashionable celebrity cricketer to be more on the liberal side of the social spectrum, but his policies for Pakistan are astonishingly conservative.
Voter Base/Popularity: Young, rural, urban, elite, upper middle class, and educated Pakistani’s are supporting Imran Khan in this election. He also commands a significant supporting from overseas Pakistani’s, especially in the United States, where he has raised millions for this election campaign, in his cancer hospital in previous years. They say if the youth turn out to vote, the election will swing his way.
Leadership Style/Personality: He’s the man who brought the Cricket world cup to Pakistan and will always be known as a hero who led a nation to victory. Men admire him and women love him; he’s compelling, handsome and speaking from personal experience, has a rather impressive presence. Leading PTI gradually, but steadily over the years with a straight shooting manner, he is criticized for being soft on substance. An unwavering posture against highly unpopular American policies and promise of sweeping change however, is where he finds tremendous support.

Security Issues: If elected, Imran Khan says he will simply shoot down American drones . He will negotiate with the Taliban, explaining actual militants comprise only a small sector of Pakistani society and plans to reconstitute tribal Jirga’s to maintain peace. He want to withdraw all Pakistani troops from FATA tribal areas and applauded Prime Minister Zardari’s and the military brokered peace deal with the Taliban in SWAT 2009, which was promptly violated by the Taliban almost immediately. His plan for securing the nation from increased sectarian violence, political bombings and terrorist militancy are rooted in ending American drones and “Rambo style” mercenaries who he explains increase, rather than decrease violence.

American Counterpart: Ron Paul: Both call for limited foreign interferences and engagements as a silver bullet to their country’s problems. They are straight shooters, unabashedly opinionated and while they don’t always have an exhaustive, full proof plans on how to pursue their relatively radical policies they both command increased followers each election cycle!

 Altaf Husssain : The Organizer

Party: MQM

Economic Philosophy: Small Scale, Private Enterprises: A party founded to establish a corruption free society, uproot the feudal system and establish a meritocracy in Pakistan’s Indian immigrants, and other minorities have a fair shot at social mobility, the party is a strong proponent of free market capitalism. They have executed several large scale development work in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi.
Foreign Policy: Progressive: MQM is the part that stands up most forcefully against the Taliban, historically and in this election. Sadly, they have been viciously targeted and attacked for this stance in the past weeks through bomb blasts in and around their party offices. They do not support American drones, but do support military operations against terrorist militants as needed. They call for “close, and honorable ties” with India along with a newly “independent foreign policy” .
Social Policy: Liberal : MQM is historically secular and has always stood up strongly in support of minority rights. They have vociferously condemned every attack against minorities in Pakistan.
Voter Base/Popularity: Altaf Hussain and MQM’s stronghold is in Karachi, among the urban, Urdu Speaking, educated middle classes. Urdu speakers are Paksitani’s who trace their roots back to India; their families migrated to Pakistan during partition, and they are disapprovingly referred to as “mohajirs” (migrants).
Leadership Style/Personality: Altaf Hussain is a cult like figure, the single and supreme ruler of the party, he has a thunderous speaking style. With the security of knowing his party does not command enough support to rival PML-N, PPP, or PTI and other parties throughout the years, he leads loudly, and forcefully.
Security Issues: Unwaveringly opposed to militancy and MQM supports grassroots movements to counter it. They have a stronghold in Karachi and a loyal party base in this large city couple this with Hussain’s powerful leadership (even though he lives in England) the MQM can mobilize attacks against the Taliban on a local scale.
American Counterpart: Jimmy Hoffa. They’re both charismatic leaders who catapulted their organization to protect a minority population to the forefront of the political scene. It helps that they happen to look alike also.

May the best candidate win.

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Romney’s Big Bird Problem

October 11, 2012
How to Save Money in today's Economy - Romney Style

Saving America’s Economy – Romney Style

Who didn’t chuckle when Romney said Big Bird at last weeks presidential debate? Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Tea Partier; no matter who you are, summoning an image of Big Bird makes you happy.  He’s yellow, feathery, rides a unicycle, sings and lives in a nest on Sesame Street. Baby Boomers raised their kids on him and we loved it. Kids still love him. Understandably then Romney’s spending cuts that threaten Big Bird’s livelihood have been met with alarm. The Obama camp promptly pounced on the opportunity to exploit Romney’s gaff with an ad this week.

And amidst all this Big Bird hoopla, I can’t help but wonder if European and Asian democracies are snickering at our squabbling politicians at the heels of an election. But then I realized, Big Bird commands this much political attention because he is a symbol of the American childhood experience. And when Romney so bluntly made axing him a pillar of his economic policy, it demonstrated his unintentional, but apparent lack of empathy for the public.

Most people may not have a problem with an argument to cut government subsidies to certain programs, but by specifying Big Bird, Romney just confirmed aloofness to the average American experience. Any politician may have made an argument for cuts to public spending but might not have singled out Big Bird and the very host who was moderating that debate. Romney however seems so convinced that his success in business necessarily will translate to all realms of politics that he seems to forget that what matters most to him (dollars and cents), is not what matters most to all Americans, all the time.

Even in this difficult economy, people may want more than a detached businessman in office, and justifiably so. Someone who sees public broadcasting as nothing more than a dollar figure that can be cut does not understand the cultural value it holds. An unadulterated business person without nuances to see the limitations of free market capitalism and rational actor model just does not seem like a good pick in an economy suffering a financial meltdown as a result of insufficiently checked private markets. And Romney’s Big Bird comment epitomized this imbalanced approach to not just economics, but America.

By extension, I think the reason women have had such a hard time with Romney is not just because of his right wing stance on hot button political issues including abortion and contraception, but because this lack of empathy is unnerving. Beyond a business man with aggressive economic success, I don’t know what this man stands for. It’s unnerving because according to classic economic and rational actor theory, maximizing profit are ideal objectives. So when Romney talks about cutting spending, it doesn’t matter how many American families actually feel  about public broadcasting, it doesn’t matter if Big Bird has come to symbolize a child’s happy, healthy world of learning and imagination. Rather, Romney’s gaff is a sincere commitment to the bottom line; dollars and cents. It’s a gaff because it inadvertently revealed a lack of empathy and economic arrogance.

Mitt Romney's Idea of Economic Reform

Mitt Romney’s Idea of Economic Reform

His Big Bird comment reminds me that a leader of this country needs to be more than just an accomplished professional, but also an empathetic person. It is still a unipolar world and the American President has a tremendous responsibility to this country and beyond. I think Americans are more nuanced than Mitt Romney, and no matter how much spin and politicking takes place from here on out, I hope we realize that this country represents more than a dollar figure.

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America the Resilient

May 2, 2011
President Obama & CIA Director Leon Panetta
President Obama & CIA Director Leon Panetta

9/11 changed the face of US hegemony and after 10 years of what began as a sweeping War on Terror, that face changes again tonight as America prevails proud, resilient and rejuvenated. President Obama’s address confirms Osama bin Laden has been killed and his body is in U.S. custody.

Special forces brought bin Laden to justice and our President thanked those who served us in the military, in counterterrorism and intelligence officials who had been watching the compound and gathering actionable intelligence that ultimately took out enemy number one in a firefight.

It’s a proud day for America, but questions already abound regarding relations with Pakistan: “Osama bin Laden was not in a cave, he was in a city in Pakistan” as one analyst on ABC news reported which had Christian Amanpour then raise the question “whose been protecting him?”

But before entirely implicating Pakistan for harboring the worlds most wanted man, it’s important to recall Obama’s increased intelligence operations in Pakistan since he took office. As the war shifted to Pakistan, so did ISI CIA collaborative operations. With closer collaboration came butting of heads where U.S. intelligence speculated if Pakistani intelligence was doing enough and such rifts peaked last week when Admiral Mike Mullen voiced harsh criticism of the ISI.

But the President’s comments and ongoing reporting indicates that today’s victory that comes after 10 long years of war, struggle and sacrifice, was a joint operation with Pakistan on the ground. GEO News in Pakistan confirms most of the information we’re hearing here, save some reporting that 1 American helicopter was shot down. Nonetheless, Peter Bergen on CNN says Elite Black Ops and Paramilitary CIA who were the likely heroes, operated with cooperation of the Pakistani government. Yet this success does not negate or allow us to ignore the concern of who, or at worst, what elements of the Pakistani government knew of Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts.

Today prompts us to reassess and revamp relations with Pakistan, who once again has proven itself as an effective ally at wartime. This victory is an opportunity to foster a fresh relationship that can be something more than transactional and more transparent. Skepticism of one another in both states is beyond a misalignment of interests, it’s a misalignment ofconceptions of one another. Perceptions matter and it is no secret that anti Americanism can be formidable fuel to our enemies abroad. U.S. Intelligence amidst constant rhetoric of “Blowback” is redeemed today; the Intelligence agencies are heroes to Americans everywhere, and in this instance, even for Pakistani’s who suffered tremendously since 9/11. With an ever crippling economy, and a seemingly endless barrage of violent onslaughts from Al Qaeda suicide bombers in the past 10 years, Pakistani’s along with American’s should rejoice at today’s victory while policymakers in both countries take time to capitalize on this game changer and move forward anew.

Step 1, halt the drones.

ORIGINALLY POSTED @ THE FOREIGN POLICY ASSOCIATION

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Gadaffi Makes Ahmadinejad Look Reasonable & Osama Bin Laden Seem Rational

February 24, 2011
How Can you Not Chuckle at This? - Libya's Dictator M. Gaddafi

How Can you Not Chuckle at This? - Libya's Dictator M. Gaddafi

It’s week 8 of a 10-week quarter in graduate school and suffice to say in such a system one is inevitably swamped from the onset. Despite my itching to write about Imran Khan’s talks since Davos on counterterrorism and the Cricket World Cup , I simply haven’t had the time or energy.

However, a friend came over this evening and we watched CNN coverage of Libya (more like CNN spotlight on “Crazy Gadaffi”) and I just couldn’t help but jot down some thoughts. At one point Wolf Blitzer had the former House Intelligence Committee Chair in the Situation Room and commented:

Is Gadaffi on drugs, there’s always been something off with him. He must be on drugs”.

The Congressman responded You know, two out of three times I met him, he was rational and completely in his senses. That third time though you could tell something was off. (this is paraphrased)

Hilarious. Hilarious  because this comedy was not the least bit intentional, it was prime time news. CNN went hours today with repeated images of Gadaffi in overwhelmingly monotone attire: this dreadful toasted camel tone, from head to toe and on that head was his 1984 curly mullet. It was too much. My friend and I laughed at the video clips and talked about a recent article in Vanity Fair entitled “Dictator Chic” depicting what was clearly portrayed as catastrophic fashion choices over the years. We laughed at a notion of giving Gaddafi a makeover as an effective means of American Intervention, but as students of International Relations/Security Studies that was all the segue required to transform our down time into a serious debate on shady men in international politics who manage to command the worlds attention for decades on end.

My friend (who is sure to be an expert on Iran who we’ll see on CNN one day) commented

It’s funny there are similar protests in Iran right now with crackdown on protestors but Ahmadinejad still publically calls for other dictators to hear peoples requests”.

I said, “Dude, Gadaffi makes Ahmadinejad look reasonable”.

Wow

Wow

We laughed in agreement, but got quiet for a second afterwards in serious thought.

She asked So…..Gadaffi, or bin Laden….whose more irrational?

I didn’t pause to reflect and immediately reacted “Bin Laden. He calls for establishment of an Islamic caliphate. Bin Laden is operating from a premise of ideology rather than rationality”

We looked at each other for a half a second, before I realized two things: One rationality and ideology need not be mutually exclusive in all situations, and secondly: if rationality in International Relations is understood (in a super simplistic nutshell) as a cost benefit analysis determinate of behavior, then my initial thought is incorrect.

I realized this and retracted, “Wait. Bin Laden has very real political objectives. He wants U.S. troops withdrawn from Saudi Arabia and an overthrow of the current Saudi regime. And whether we find that objective absurd or not, they are, according to his calculations attainable political objectives that he thinks are worth the costs he invests in terrorism”.

She was of my initial mindset and countered “No. I think he initially started off that way but has since called for overthrow of all Arab regimes and is so angry at what the west has done in the Muslim World that he would not have Al Qaeda stop targeting America for all that its done over the years

I responded “So the four biggest grievances Bin Laden has regarding the West in the Muslim World are troops in Saudi and Afghanistan being the top two. Next on his list is our military presence in Palestine and Iraq. Let’s assume all four of these, which he finds are legitimate grievances, are miraculously altered in his favor, I don’t think he would then continue to attack American targets

She smiled, and said “Solving those four eh? Now that’s hopeful!

We laughed and I continued, Because if we can agree that Bin Laden sincerely believes both that these objectives are legitimate grievances and his tactics can be effective, then he’s acting rationally. And if those grievances get solved, why would he bear the costs of investing in terrorism afterwards? It requires, money, organization and is very high risk. He would have to begin from scratch in rallying a support base with new objectives. Because he would no longer have reason to wage what he thinks is “jihad” if there were nothing to gain from it”.

She stopped for a moment, then thought about it aloud “So, then Osama Bin Laden does act rationally

It was a disturbing sort of conclusion we both very hesitantly came to. Because it’s immediately easier to assume our enemy is an irrational mad man, (a la the images of Gadaffi on CNN) than understand, recognize and deal with the root causes of their actions. Which has led me to expand focus from solely military forms counterterrorism in my studies. When the crux of the issue is one of grievances over U.S. troop presence in the so-called “Muslim World”, an amplified U.S. presence in response is increasingly seen as counter productive. It’s among the main reasons our initial target of obliterating the Taliban in Afghanistan at the onset of Operation Enduring Freedom has shifted instead to finding ways of negotiating with the group.

Although the United States policy of non negotiation with terrorists on the grounds that concessions reinforce and empower terrorist activity is reasonable, an over reliance on military means simply has not been sufficiently effective into our 10th year of engagement in Afghanistan, and as a dire result, now in Pakistan.

Pakistan is a prime example of how negotiations in tandem with diplomacy supported by military coercion is key to combating terrorism today. Spillover of Al Qaeda and radical militarization of Taliban among other terrorist groups has proliferated in direct correlation with our military operation in Afghanistan since 2001. Bridget Nacos of Columbia University in her work “Counterterrorism Strategies: Do We need Bombs over Bridges” describes a main reason for this:

As the Iraq war demonstrated, massive military force can result in a recruiting bonanza for terrorists. And as ground and air operations against Al Qaeda and Taliban figures in Pakistan’s tribal region showed, such strikes can trigger further waves of Terrorist attacks

Where does that leave us? The aforementioned point of negotiations with the Taliban is a fair starting point. No matter how unpalatable and in stark counter to international norms on human rights the Taliban seem, they were not engaging directly in terrorist activity prior to Bush’s “War on Terror”. The Taliban’s objectives were intrastate, domestic ideological goals of imposing their radical, warped brand of Islam on Afghani’s. In fact, Fawaz Gerges, scholar and author of “The Far Enemy: Why Jihad went Global”  explains while allowing Al Qaeda to operate in Afghanistan, the Taliban was actually at odds with them over their ambitions to wage attacks against American targets, or the “far enemy” if you will.

So, negotiation with groups by attempting to understand their grievances rather than ideology is key. Negotiations attack the support base of terrorist groups, whereas military means have shown to radicalize them in recent years. Groups whose ideologies, and constructed identities are repellent to us, may still be brought back into the fold of non-violence and retreat back into not targeting the United States. This is important because these very groups have aligned with terrorist organizations and made the past few years for our troops the deadliest ever and with General Patreus predicting an even worse situation for 2011, new strategies are essential.

Understanding that terrorism carried out by Al Qaeda is not entirely irrational, but rather calculated, orchestrated and heavily invested in to achieve what they feel are legitimate political grievances is critical in counterterrorism, especially efforts aimed at the spillover and expansion of attackers. An accurate assessment of not only the enemy but also potential sympathizers and supporters in Afghanistan and Pakistan requires immediate and preventative measures. Nacos suggests robust diplomacy through traditional channels, and engaging media and general public. It’s a fair argument, and given the deteriorating situation, her recommendations are very worthy of consideration.

Republished @ The Foreign Policy Association

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Where Comedy & Intellect Coincide

October 29, 2010
No Question too Tough for Obama - The Daily Show with Jon Stewart : October 2010

No Question too Tough for Obama - The Daily Show with Jon Stewart : October 2010

I just remembered why I liked Barack Obama so much. His appearance on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart last night showcased the President at his best: intellectual, elegant, steadfast and most importantly: insightful.

Without divulging how I voted in the Democratic primaries or General Elections of 2008, I will admit to being skeptical of Obama’s static foreign policy agenda and also feeling apprehensive about his left of center public policy. Because with such immense charisma calling for sweeping change amidst sentiments of “hope”, (which gave him mass appeal, especially amongst my generation) actual substance of his promises on policymaking were left out.

For better or worse, realities of effective politicking in our commercial election culture denied us an opportunity for substantial debate. Ironically, that gap in information was filled last night not by a mainstream news outlet, but Comedy Central .

This morning though, the mainstream news outlets probably realized this and have been abuzz over the interview. The Christian Science Monitor questions: Did Mr. Obama take Jon Stewart to the cleaners?” In one word: Yeah. But with such questions abounding, apparently many of us expected otherwise. Stewart is so widely celebrated as a voice of younger generations; recall pundits taking swipes at him in 2008 citing “stoned slackers”  were his majority viewing demographic. But his impact is far greater than such talk suggests. The Daily Show has become a relatively legitimate cultural representation of political inquiry and dissent. While the material is sometimes crass, I’ve found that well informed members of the public actually pay attention to what is said on the program.

If Wikileaks is the mighty foreign affairs whistleblower of our time, the Daily Show is it’s naughty little brother, revealing less dramatic yet just as irrational and unacceptable public policy absurdities of the day.

To boot, Jon Stewart actually asks compelling questions on important issues that he sincerely seems concerned are not addressed by mainstream media. And he did this impeccably in interviewing the President yesterday. Decidedly subduing humor, Stewart was poised and firm. He questioned Obama a number of times on Democratic party infighting as symptomatic of a larger problem within our system of government:

“Is there a difference between what you ran on and what you delivered? You ran on, if I may, such “audacity”…yet legislatively it has felt timid at times. I’m not even sure at times, what you want out of a healthcare bill

Cheeky use of “audacity but the question was an honest, direct investigation of the American President keeping promises, complete with a serious suggestion that he has not. Undaunted and with characteristic level-headedness, Obama responded deftly by listing accomplishments of healthcare reform thus far:

–       30 million more Americans are to be insured

–       A new Patients Bill of Rights ensures carriers can’t cancel coverage when one is sick

–       Abolishes Lifetime Maximum’s on health policies

–       Children/Young adults have extended stay on parental coverage until age 26

–       All while cutting the deficit by 1 trillion + dollars

“This is what I think most people would say is as significant a piece of legislation as we’ve seen in this nations history. But what happens is it gets discounted because the presumption is we didn’t get 100% of what we wanted, we got 90% of what we wanted, so lets focus on the 10%. And right now there is a woman in New Hampshire who doesn’t have to sell her house to get her cancer treatments because of that healthcare bill. And she doesn’t think it’s inconsequential, or “timid”

It was one of the most substantial responses I’ve heard a politician say on television that I can remember. We’ve become so used to seeing political figures evade questions (in the few instances they are asked serious ones), ambiguously address issues, irrelevantly tout campaign slogans, and regurgitate party rhetoric. Obama did not resort to any of that. He steadily addressed each pressing question with facts followed by insight. The highlight and defining moment of the interview came when Stewart peppered the President with a third follow up inquiry on healthcare reform, insisting enough had not been done in line with campaign promises to which Obama responded:

“Look, if the point Jon is that overnight we did not transform the healthcare system, that point is true. When we promised during the campaign, change you can believe in, it wasn’t change you can believe in, in 18 months. It was change you can believe in, but you know what, you’re going to have to work for it”

Sold. It was witty, honest and directly answered the question: And he elaborated:

“When social security was passed, it applied to widows and orphans and it was a very restricted program, and overtime that structure that was built, ended up developing into the most important social safety net in our country. The same is true on every piece of progressive legislation. When the civil rights act passed, there were still folks down south who couldn’t vote, and I’m sure there were commentators who said this law is not doing the job, but the point was we had created a structure, we put a framework in place that allowed us to continue to make progress. That’s what we’ve done in the past 18 months, and that’s what we’ll keep on doing as long as I’m president of the United States”

Behold: Factual + insightful = solid answers the public deserves. And while we can complain about an apparently dismal state of affairs wherein cable comedy television is perhaps the most substantial access to political discourse we have, let us instead revel in this moment when our Commander in Chief authoritatively leads with intellect. Our hegemony deserves nothing less.

TO VIEW THE FULL INTERVIEW: click here

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In Defense of Sarah Palin’s Sex Appeal

October 22, 2010
Sarah Palin - Making Politics Chic

Sarah Palin - Certainly Making Politics Chic

Making Ignorance Chic” is among the most emailed articles this week at the New York Times in which Maureen Dowd addresses an everlasting female dilemma: choosing between “intellectualism and sexuality”. She describes the “false” dichotomy in which women are rarely appreciated for both simultaneously. And by describing this phenomenon as “persistent”, I interpret it’s become progressively easier to pursue heightened sexuality than intellectualism. Dowd takes us back to 1950’s America reminiscing that “dumb blonde’s” like Marilyn Monroe made it seem fashionable to at the least, attempt to appear intellectual, while today’s personalities like Sarah Palin are “making ignorance chic”.

And it sounds convincing to cite a time when beauty icons like Marilyn were asked to pose with token history books and married intellectuals versus Sarah Palin who prides herself on being anti intellectual, or who Dowd is actually describing is of “average” intellect.

But does this make Marilyn any more intellectual in and of itself? Did Marilyn give females more reason to aspire to be intellectual while Palin makes ignorance chic? I don’t think so. If anything, it’s the other way around. If both cases reflect a societal and ultimately self-imposed choice for beauty over brains, Palin should be perceived as more empowering between the two.

Did Marilyn Monroe Make Reading Chic?

Did Marilyn Monroe Make Reading Chic?

Because while both represent sex before intellect, at least Palin comes complete with autonomy; which is a function of time and space.

Dowd describes Marilyn marrying intellectuals, or posing in “tight shorts” with books on Goya as evidence that it was somehow more chic to be intellectual then, albeit in an apologetic tone. But despite Palins sometimes absurd thoughts, she is not prided by advocates for being absurd or sexy; she’s lauded for what she has accomplished.

Unlike Monroe, Palin has very tangible intellectual achievements to show for as governor of Alaska, per opportunities afforded to her as we’ve progressed as a society in trying to level the playing field for women since Marilyn’s time.

So there are system level differences making it misleading to compare to what degree their individual impact was on perpetuating ignorance as chic. But if anything, Marilyn, and I’d say females in that time had less opportunity and incentive to pursue intellectual routes than we do in Palin’s America.

Simply put: Palin was governor / Marilyn merely married the author of Death of a Salesman.For what it’s worth, looking then just to sexuality: it’s further telling that Marilyn had to show far more skin than Palin in setting any standards for chic. Point being, it’s not significantly less sexy to be intellectual now than it was in the 50’s.

So Dowd’s piece is slightly off target. It’s partial to Marilyn (heck, deep down I am too) and that era. The article would be correct in a more general sense: it’s remained diametrically chic to be sexy rather than intellectual. And that route is often more immediately convenient too (females are aware of this every waking second, and very early on).

The catch is, pursuing sexuality at the expense of intellectualism is disastrous long term strategy (girls are rarely fully aware of this), and that’s the real lesson both Marilyn Monroe and Sarah Palin demonstrate.

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Remember Pakistan’s Liberal Dictator?

October 4, 2010
Freedom through Dictatorship?

Freedom through Dictatorship?

Well, I called it: Pervez Musharraf is staging a return to Pakistani politics. Launching his new “All Pakistan Muslim League” (AMPL) party this week in a plan to return to the country, the former General will have to face a tremendously skeptical, increasingly hardened citizenry and even tougher adversaries in the judicial branch and opposition parties. In an Al Jazeera special report, Musharraf’s former Legal Advisor Ahmed Raza Kasuri insisted that should tacit approval come from the country’s military establishment and most importantly, with support of a “silent majority” Kasuri measures at 60-65% of moderate Pakistani’s, Musharraf will garner required support to win in future elections. Political analyst Imtiaz Gul insisted otherwise explaining not only would the military establishment be weary of backing Musharraf who cost them valuable political capital when he sacked the judiciary in 2007 and issued a State of Emergency, but also because he has “lost relevance” in Pakistan today.

Gul makes a valuable point: without relevance a political figure is climbing an uphill battle of garnering credibility, and because credibility is deeply intertwined with legitimacy, Musharraff undoubtedly faces a bumpy comeback.

But relevance is not necessarily an impediment to power in Pakistan since the current situation lends a valuable opportunity for it to be readily earned. Current President Asif Zardari usurped such an opportunity when his wife was tragically murdered and assumed leadership, riding the waves of sympathy that swept the nation to win elections. While that “relevance” is waning now, it was enough to allow him a seat of power for 2 years and actually shake off some of the “Mr. 10%” infamy, which is a far larger feat than what Mushrraf faces today.

While the main opposition party leaders Asif Zardari and Nawaaz Sharif are forever bogged by allegations of corruption, Musharraff’s criticisms revolve around issues of “democracy”.

His most vociferous opponents will cite his sacking of the judiciary, coup to power, and 9 year dictatorial reign as subverting democracy in Pakistan. But such criticism of Musharraf is both misleading and mostly hyperbole.

The deficient part of such rhetoric lies in lacking recognition of liberalism. Notions of individual human rights and liberty, free trade, separation of church and state and religious tolerance are erroneously assumed to come only with democratic leadership in Pakistan. On the contrary, liberal policies extending specifically to women’s rights, fostering regional cooperation and trade, namely with India, opening domestic markets, such as free media and holding free and fair elections were successfully carried out previously by Musharraf.

Ironically, under the title of “dictator”, he brought forth more liberal triumphs than any other leaders in my lifetime. And it is important to not confuse democracy with liberalism. Fareed Zakaria makes this distinction in tweaking “Democratic Peace Theory”. His ideas are described:

“democracy is defined in terms of the process by which a government is selected. In contrast, “constitutional liberalism” is defined not by how the government is selected, but rather b the extent to which the society and its institutions protect individuals’ basic rights (to life, property, freedom of speech, and religion)”

Thus basic tenants of a such liberalism, to a fair extent were brought forth by Musharraf. And as political change seems imminent in Pakistan, if we continue looking to political theory one might advance a case for liberalism by way of identifying Musharraf’s opposition. If we take a voluntaristic view of government, wherein heads of states are integral parts of policymaking as opposed to looking mostly at system wide determinants of policy, one finds that not only corruption, but the fact that both Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif are part of feudal, landowning elites in Pakistan is meaningful. With that background, and likely subsequent value sets which are diametrically opposed to liberal notions of liberty and individual rights, Pakistan runs the risk of remaining socially, and economically stagnant under their leadership. Moreover, with the U.S. winding down our war in Afghanistan and shifting in to Pakistan, more than ever liberal ideals are needed.

No amount of drones, target killings or CIA intervention have yet quelled extremism let alone terrorism in Pakistan since 9/11. Modernity and liberalism are Pakistan’s best bet at framing a solution for the long run.

It cannot be an overnight shift, but it will require leadership that espouses liberal ideals. Because without credible experience in upholding individual rights and freedoms, only halfhearted appreciation will come for liberalism and even weaker attempts to implement them.

Is Musharraf the solution Pakistan is looking for? I do not know. But until new, more modern and liberal alternatives in political leadership are available, he just might be the best option now.

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