Archive for the ‘India Pakistan’ Category


India & Pakistan – Going At it Again

June 19, 2010
Pakistan Warms up for the Asia Cup India Match - June 2010

Pakistan Warms up for the Asia Cup India Match - June 2010

Well, it’s that time again. An India vs. Pakistan ODI match will be underway in a few moments. And there’s nothing like India-Pakistan cricket. For better or worse, it’s THE epic rivalry; it get’s catty, intense, fans are insanely polarized. It’s basically crickets equivalent to the NHL’s Crosby / Ovechkin rivalry. For my non-sports readers, it’s akin to team Aniston vs team Angelina. (for the record: I’m team Ovechkin and Angelina respectively)

But whether you’re a Pakistan or India fan, both teams are somewhat evenly matched at this time with Pakistan having more depth and raw talent, and India with firm composure, more consistent experience and better record in recent history. So it’s likely going to be a nail biter, winding down to the final over to determine a winner.

So, what’s it going to take for the men in green? Here’s what’s swimming around my head before the game:

Afridi: Stay the same. Awesome performance in the last game as skipper. In typical Afridi character he lived up to the “boom boom” title and strong character we expect from him. With 110 off of 75 it was his natural game catapulted to great heights with leadership and consistency. Good news is he has a tendency to excel against India. Let’s hope that form is maintained.

Salman Butt: Hold your wicket yo. He usually does, but it’s not always certain, yet crucial that he does so today. The Indian bowling attack looks mediocre, but don’t underestimate their pace bowling. Zaheer Khan is in the attack and Nehra could do harm too.

Abdur Razzaq: My favorite All rounder must be the Danger Man today. What does that mean? It means if we need it, you make 14 runs an over. No questions asked. Oh, and when we need those key maiden overs in the last hour of their lineup, keep up the bowling defense.

Kamran Akmal: Please no butterfingers. This is a world class game and an epic rivalry, no room for drop catches. Also, be quicker on the stumpings. Be a solid bat; a clutch hitter picking up the run rate consistently as a lower order batsman and even more so if you’re pushed up the order.

Mohammad Aamer: Come in strong and shut down Sehwag. Perhaps cut him some slack early on, get him into a slogging mindset then throw on pressure with an ultra slow ball. Sehwag’s bat is so fast that this is bound to be confusing to his game.

Shahzaib Hasan: Damn rookie stop playing like it’s a test match.

Shoaib Akhtar: Watch the extras, nuff said. If The Rawalpindi express does this, there’s no stopping him.

Shoaib Malik: Be at the top of your game, back form a honeymoon we need to see classic Malik in your best form. Picking off Harbhajan smashing off a couple sixes, fielding like a beast, and with accurate off spin.

Umar Akmal: Run with raw talent. You’ve got the youth, energy and can hold your wicket with a solid strike rate. Pick up the occasional boundary and stay consistent.

Prediction :::: the game changer will be either Shoaib  Malik or Shoab Akhtar. They’re comback kids and can steal matches for Pakistan. They’ve done it in classic form in the past, and i want to see them do it again tonight.

Let the games begin !



Unfair & Unlovely

May 28, 2010

OMG Shahrukh Khan "Fair & Handsome" -  Seriously?

OMG Shahrukh Khan "Fair & Handsome" - Seriously?!

I’ve very intentionally avoided this subject despite its relevancy to South Asia, but it’s close to summertime and now that Shah Rukh Khan is involved it’s borderline political, so it’s within my jurisdiction.

“Fair and Lovely” face cream is so pervasive in “desi” culture that it’s a household name amongst both Resident and non Resident Pakistani’s. International diplomats, the United Nations, countless non profits have all failed to get India and Pakistan to agree on nukes, trade, cricket, religion (the list goes on) but when it comes to the primal issues of attraction, both have consistently been on the same page. Visit the Fair and Lovely website and you’re confronted with images of a woman’s face growing progressively lighter and the slogan: “Gorepan se kahin ziyada SAAF GORAPAN”  Translation: “Even more Whiteness than Whiteness”. I kid you not, that is an accurate translation literally and contextually speaking, and yes despite this, we are still in the 21’st Century.

So this week Shahrukh Khan’s face is seen promoting the creams male counterpart, “Fair and Handsome”. The Telegraph reports “despite doubts of the effectiveness, the sight of Khan’s chiseled features endorsing the cream has angered campaigners, who say it’s “racist” to promote lighter skin as superior”

Shahid Afridi's Pretty Chiseled

Shahid Afridi's Pretty Chiseled

Alright, first off Shah Rukh Khan doesn’t from any angle I can see have “chiseled” features. Shahid Afridi is more chiseled than him. But, that’s besides the point and doesn’t invalidate the fact that billions of men and women around the world idolize Khan and find him very attractive, hence the lakhs of rupees I’m sure he’s receiving for this endorsement. But with such immense fame, comes responsibility and his endorsement of Fair & Handsome cream is justifiably being labeled “racist” by angry campaigners.

I grew up in California where girls lay out in the sunshine all summer to quite frankly, try and get skin like mine. When sunshine isn’t an option, they confine themselves into what are nothing shortof human frying pans, lids closed in tanning beds as they do their best to maintain my shade of golden brown all year long. So it’s no surprise that I love my mocha skin. Always have. I wouldn’t change it for anything. Tan skin is part and parcel of being a Californian. Just listen to Katy Perry or the Beach Boys. In this part of the world, tan has always been undeniably sexy.

Maria & Zainab - Perfect Beach tans ;)

Zainab & Maria - Perfect Beach tans

Which is why the angered campaigners in India are correct in denouncing the Shah Rukh Khan endorsement; it perpetuates an unhealthy, yes racist fascination with fair skin. The reason it’s racist while the the girls in California wallowing in tanning beds isn’t is because “Fair & Lovely” occurs in a post-colonial context. You’d think that as oppressed subjects having suffered and struggled to fight of massive injustices of colonialism until Partition wherein India severed itself into two as a result (the birth of Pakistan) looking like the oppressor would be unpopular. But instead fair skin is the ultimate desire in desi land, and it’s mind boggling because European skin tones are not naturally attainable in South Asia.

Sure evolutionary biology will tell you that humans are innately attracted to beautiful people. According to biologists, we’re attracted to relatively youthful characteristics because they’re indicative of heightened fertility (i.e. lustrous hair, hourglass figures, large eyes and clear skin) but a preference for skin color really is only skin deep. South Asians naturally have darker skin and there’s no reason it should be touted as inferior.

Out of chance I happened to have grown up in a particular part of the West that values darker skin, but had I lived in Pakistan I might not have been so lucky. It’s a sad realization, because skin color is not in our control, which is why it’s problematic when corporations like Fair and Lovely seize control in attempt to create preferences where none should exist. They’re preying on insecurities to peddle their products which is done by all advertisers, but this one goes too far because it’s racist.

Shame on Shah Rukh Khan for endorsing Fair & Handsome cream; it’s not a “fair” or “handsome” move on his part.  It’s Unfair and Ugly.


South Asian Smart Power – Aman ki Asha

February 26, 2010
Futility of Military/Economically Motivated relations Minus Democratic Input

Futility of Military Motivated relations Minus Democratic Input

While working in D.C. some years back almost every Congress person, Think Tank and academic I came across was certain on one thing on nuclear proliferation: if an atomic bomb ever goes off again, it’s going to happen in South Asia. It was a dismal but resounding notion that I have even heard expressed amongst South Asians. Profound mistrust, three wars, land disputes, all spurred by a gory colonial partition 60 odd years ago has left Pakistan and India scarred in a way that makes cynics of even the best of us.

A realist might tell you that nuclear armed neighbors by way of deterrence have allowed India and Pakistan to refrain from war since testing their atom bombs, but even they would conclude war is inevitable. Liberals would make a case for enhanced trade to gradually spur economic interdependence to help avoid conflict, which is perhaps the most palatable idea, but statistics show that deepening trade between India and Pakistan has not yet improved relations:

“trade between India and Pakistan was at its highest ever in the year following Kargil. 

Even the Mumbai attacks have not significantly dented India-Pakistan trade relations. Pakistan trades with 100’s of countries, India being the 9th largest trading partner”

So if deepening trade and deterrence haven’t yielded what confidently could be considered lasting peace, what will it take? I’m of the opinion that realist and liberalist policies must be accompanied by ground level, macro scale diplomacy.  Because while deterrence satisfies the all mighty military institutions, and trade satisfies highly influential business elites there’s little attention given to the masses; and by masses I mean billions of South Asians who have yet to even fathom peace as a possibility.

Call it ground level diplomacy, soft power or good ol’ winning hearts and minds: it’s  the missing ingredient in bilateral relations. Resident Indian’s and Pakistani’s have a perceived animosity for one another that verges on the irrational. Catapulting cricket matches between both countries as akin to war, hate crimes against Muslims in India to cross border terrorism is absurd for states divided by man made, post colonial borders.

So the problem is not one of trade, or military might: it’s epistemic. Both countries must engage one another from the ground up. Shashi Tharoor, the decorated Indian Parliamentarian described the effectiveness of Indian soft power best at a TED conference last year:

“India’s soft power, its true of music, dance of arts, yoga, aryuveda, even cuisine. With these examples come the sense that in todays world its not the side of the bigger army that wins, it’s the one that tells a better story. And india is the land of a better story. Stereotypes are changing.  Today people in Silicon valley people talk of IIT’s with same reverence of MIT”

Why not apply that soft power in Pakistan? And vice versa. I laud the Aman ki Asha initiative for doing exactly this. Launched by Pakistani media conglomerate Geo T.V. and on the Indian side, the Times of India, both companies have taken up the task of engaging both countries using soft power. As media houses, through television, print and web placements, they engage masses directly, finally sidestepping politically or economically motivated discourse both countries are used to. THeir mission statement reads:

Public opinion is far too potent a force to be left in the hands of narrow vested interests. The people of today must find its voice and force the rulers to listen. The awaam must write its own placards and fashion its own slogans. The leaders must learn to be led and not blindly followed. Skepticism about the given is often the genesis of faith. This skepticism has been brewing. It can be unleashed to forge a new social compact between the people of this region. A social compact based on a simple yet powerful impulse – Aman ki Asha. A desire for peace.

Aman ki Asha taps the widespread but underrepresented sentiments of commonality shared by South Asians. By engaging the masses directly with soft power it’s is a brilliant first step at mitigating the most potent problem in bilateral relations: mistrust. And what is most brilliant about the initiative is that could have teeth. Unlike countless other proposals for peace, Aman ki Asha uses mass media to speak to masses directly with a specifically outlined agenda:

“Issues of trade and commerce, of investments, of financial infrastructure, of cultural exchanges, of religious and medical tourism, of free movement of ideas, of visa regimes, of sporting ties, of connectivity, of reviving existing routes, of market access, of separated families, of the plight of prisoners, will be part of our initial agenda. Through debates, discussions and the telling of stories we will find commonalities and space, for compromise and adjustment, on matters that have bedevilled relations for over 60 years”

It sounds promising, because although I do not anticipate this dissemination of smart power to yield results immediately, if it’s done consistently it might have a capacity to democratize the push for peace. It ought not to be the military, or economic institutions setting the agenda, rather, policies should reflect the will of the people. Aman ki Asha is a hugely cooperative step in bilateral ties. More peaceful relations in South Asia can begin by reminding the masses of what my Pakistani born and raised mother said when she came back from a trip to India in 2005 they (Indians) eat the same food, sound the same, act and even look the same as us”. With such strong commonality felt amongst everyday people, one questions the legitimacy of policymaking that has historically divided, rather than united South Asians. And if that sentiment disseminates, albeit gradually, there’s much to hope for in the future.



Indian Premier League Bowls an Underarm Delivery to Pakistan

January 21, 2010

To my knowledge, Cricket is not an official tool of diplomacy in international relations. Cricket is however, traditionally a sophisticated, gentleman’s game.

But the Indian Premier League (IPL) foolishly overlooked this and soured the name of cricket on Tuesday by adhering to tacit government calls to exclude Pakistani cricketers from this years IPL tournament.

A very childish move because on a micro level, it wastes World Class cricketers’ time and on a macro scale, excludes the World Champions in 20Twenty from this tournament.

It’s bad enough that Pakistani visa’s were issued at the last moment, and IPL franchises were not given any guarantee that official clearance would ultimately be given at game time. Plus there are domestic extremist threats in India such as the Shiv Sena who even the Aussie team are worried about.

But the IPL has given no official reason for the snub, and realistically, bidding on Pakistani cricketers posed no serious security threat. And because the snub comes after implicit government instructions that Pakistani’s would not be “welcome in places like Mumbai”, a deep short sightedness is revealed on the Indian side, whether it be on the part of the BCCI, IPL, or government.

Were decision makers naïve enough to think that not bidding on Pakistani players would send a tough message to the Pakistani government so that they might soften up on Kashmir or divert troops from the Indian, to the Afghan border? I highly doubt it. Which renders the decision to exclude Pakistani players just juvenile.

It’s the kind of thing a teenager does which accomplishes little else than a momentary, base satisfaction that he or she later realizes wasn’t worth it as they get older. Because this is not going to improve relations, and it certainly doesn’t help the game of cricket to exclude the World Champs. It sends a symbolic slap across the border to millions of fans. Mind you, it slaps the fans, not the government, the fans. So, even though cricket is not an official tool of diplomacy, it can have a periphery effect of separating peoples. This snub can only stall rather than alleviate already chilling relations in South Asia.

But mostly, this comes at the cost of cricket in general. It’s reminiscent of  Greg and Trevor Chappel bowling the now infamous underarm ball to New Zealand in 1981. Shame on IPL for such a foolish misstep that accomplishes nothing positive.


If We Leave Now ….

December 14, 2009

Friday morning a CNN headline informed us that the stock market is inching forward, but America is “still in the red”, simply reminding us that we’re spending more than we’re making.

Ouch. With an expanding war and expanding government (Af-Pak war and healthcare reform respectively), expenses seem excessive. But, thinking about the Af-Pak quagmire within this perspective made me realize the costly necessity of our engagement. Because even though it may seem cost effective and immediately convenient to bring troops home , our absence in the Af-Pak region entails risks that are perhaps higher than the costs of Obama’s troop surge, even in our downward economy.

Let’s run a counterfactual to demonstrate. If we begin troop withdrawal, ultimately winding down NATO forces as well, in the absence of a U.S. presence, Af-Pak becomes fully accessible to regional powers, including China, Russia, and India to step in. Security and development will be led by other foreign powers who emerge with powerful influence in this strategic area. Because in addition to our foremost interest in obliterating Al Qaeda, Afghanistan is strategically poised to access Central Asian energy interests as is Pakistan. Pakistan is not landlocked so the Karachi port becomes key to transporting Central Asian energy to international markets. In our absence, Russia or China emerges as forerunners in supporting Af-Pak in their route to development meaning major energy projects that we stand to benefit from, such as the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan pipeline might take a backseat to projects led by Russia. Similarly, energy projects like the Iran-Pakistan-India Pipeline which the Heritage Organization has already called “unacceptable” for U.S. interests make further headway in our absence with the support China. So withdrawing troops runs the risk of our losing access to potential energy resources and could further threaten Europe by allowing the former USSR to gain a “stranglehold over European energy security”.

Similarly, there are critical security risks that come along with our withdrawal. In our absence, regional powers that are historically not geopolitically neutral in the can create a climate of further conflict.

– Current Afghanistan-India alliance (rapidly increasing)

– Historic Pakistan – Afghanistan alliance (rapidly decreasing)

– Russia-Pakistan enmity (as per India Russia alliance)

– Russia-Afghanistan enmity (Soviet Afghan War)

– India-Russia alliance (An expanding, long term alliance began during the Cold War)

– India-China enmity (Sino Indian War)

– Pakistan-China alliance (Long term alliance began during the Sino Indian War)

– India-Pakistan enmity (Deep mistrust dating back to Partition in 1947 with 3 wars fought since)

This complex mix of regional relations in tandem with competing interests for Afghanistan and Pakistan creates weighty risks that are too big to take. For instance, there’s a widespread notion that Pakistan sought to wield control over Afghanistan to use it as a buffer against India and currently, the Pakistani government says the same is true for India as relations warm between Delhi and Kabul. By removing the United States from the picture, the risk of leaving two nuclear armed, historic adversaries vying for geopolitically strategic and energy rich Afghanistan becomes a weighty concern.

So two weeks ago when Fareed Zakaria questioned Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on whether or not India believes Pakistan is doing it all it can to uproot terrorism, and Mr. Singh gently responded that America has given him all the assurance he needs, one realizes the magnanimity of our mitigating tensions in the region. Leaving the Af-Pak region now runs great potential for further insecurity and could run directly counter to our energy interests. Let’s hope our policies in uprooting terror are accompanied by development strategies for long term stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan so that our presence is not perpetually required.



Identifying Demons in Pakistan

December 9, 2009

NYTIMES does a good job of publishing weekly articles on the Af-Pak situation. And a recent piece had a very enticing title: “The Demons that Haunt Pakistan” . It conjured deep curiosity and I delved into it anticipating the “demons” referred to how terrorists have paralyzed the country since 9/11.

Instead, the writer interviews one oddball Psychiatrist who says the “Gucci suit” wearing Americans are the real terrorists and Blackwater is luring his hired help to engage in a grand U.S. conspiracy to destroy Pakistan. Based on this sole, very erratic viewpoint, she presumes that like a “teenager” Pakistan is “self-conscious, emotional, quick to blame others for its troubles” and is where conspiracy theories are “pervasive”. But the presumption that Anti-Americanism supersedes resentment of actual terrorists who have is not well founded. In fact, only at the end of the article does she acknowledge the moderate Pakistani viewpoint:

“Islam treats foreigners according to their wishes,” It’s not what these people (terrorists) say — killing them or asking others to terrorize them,” he said contemptuously of the militants. “We must treat everybody equally. Christians, Jews, Muslims”

The author refers to this as the “unlikely exception”, but on the contrary, this perspective is more likely to be found in Pakistan. The gentleman expressing this view is working class and the masses are working class. They’re not doctors or professionals whom the author erroneously cites as the norm. Further, it’s the working classes who struggle most with terrorism, not the sliver of Pakistan’s elite population who maintain comforts despite political upheaval. So the  implication that demon-esque Anti Americanism is rooted in spectacular conspiracy theories is unlikely:

The majority masses are far more skeptical of Pakistani policymakers and domestic corruption than of Blackwater and the American, or Indian government for that matter.

More accurately on India, the author cites counter productive policies in Pakistan that maintained, rather than obliterated the feudal system and attributes the profound struggles of Partition to subsequent skepticism that has been harbored by both countries for one another since. Plus, having fought three wars in just 62 years, she explains it’s “natural that Pakistan’s security concerns focus more on its eastern border with India” and “not irrational” for Pakistan to resent American calls for change in this strategy.

The piece goes on to explain resentment of American policymaking viewed  as “U.S. single-mindedly pursues it’s own interests as it did in the 80’s when it was confronting the Soviets”. And therein lies skepticism for the United States in Pakistan: it’s rooted in abandoning ship post the Soviet-Afghan war. Leaving Pakistan with one of the worlds largest refugee problems well ISI/CIA trained extremist Islamist militants in a developing country hasn’t boded well 20 years later. As a partial result, Pakistan hasn’t developed, it’s deteriorated. Cooperation in our Afghan operation in the 80’s isn’t perceived as productive. Thus,

Current skepticism of U.S. expansion in the Af-Pak war is not a matter of irrational, conspiracy theories or bitterness for all things American, it comes after prolonged, and now daily struggle against extremist Islam, and terrorists who massacre Pakistanis almost daily since 9/11.



Sab Kurbaan ! : movie review

December 1, 2009

After much hype and even more anticipation when it was sold out Saturday night, I finally watched Kurbaan (Sacrifice), and am so disappointed. Blasé story, lame action sequences, lousy screenplay. The first Kurbaan that took place was my deciding to watch the whole thing. Shukran Allah it didn’t go too much over 2 hours.

Kurbaan #1: Your time

The blockbuster has been promoted as a “thriller” flanked by a very dramatic trailer, beautiful soundtrack and an A list cast. And I watched the cast on a talk show the other day explaining Kurbaan was actually more than a thriller: it’s a love story.

But I didn’t see any love. Even the much hyped love scenes were mediocre. I used to think the Saif Kareena duo were flawless until I watched them together in Kurbaan. SPOILER ALERT. What’s sexy about a super smart girl, reduced to forcing herself to make out with a terrorist in attempt to save her life. Ewwwww.

Kurbaan #2: Saifeena

Poor Saif too, he wasn’t the hero (actually, there was no hero in this movie). Saif was hot until this movie. Because unfortunately for him, in the absence of any personal relationship with Saif, the roles actors play become a sort of reality with which we view them. Saif was cold hearted, cunning, deceptive. Did I mention he was a terrorist? Oh, and the whole three minutes devoted to a wounded, detailed stitching up of Saif’s usually perfect chest, wasn’t good.

Kurbaan #3: Saif’s hotness quotient

Speaking of terrorism and Bollywood, do all mentions of Pakistan/Muslims really have to be linked to terrorism? Yes Pakistan is in dire straits, and South Asian relations are increasingly hostile post the Mumbai atrocities, but 60 odd years after Partition must we perpetuate tension for the sake of a mediocre 2 hour thriller flick? I’m not naïve enough to expect Bollywood churn out movies of profound political sense with a moral compass, but after films like New York, A Wednesday, Kurbaan and a few others, India’s tinsletown really gives a notion that Muslim = Terrorist.

Kurbaan #4: Any chance of increasingly hostile South Asian political relations NOT affecting the masses.

But the biggest Kurban of all is the very use of words like “Kurbaan” and “Junoon” (passion). Saif is depicted in one scene using the concept of “junoon” to justify his terrorist endeavors. And that too in Urdu, which was poorly spoken throughout the film. Urdu accents were totally off and dialogue was too contrived for it to be believable. It just wasn’t how Pakistani’s speak.

Kurbaan #5: Urdu

Perhaps the way Saif justifies terrorist activity with notions of “junoon” and “sacrifice” irks me in particular because both are poetic concepts used in one of my favorite lyrics by the rock band Junoon:

“Junoon se, aur Ishq se millti hain Azaadi. Qurbaani ki bahoon mein, millti hain Azaadi”

With passion and love one finds freedom. In the arms of sacrifice, freedom is found.

Ahhh, now that’s art. I love Hindi movies, and although Kareena stole the show with impressive theatrics, Kurban was an overall let down. Love Aaj Kal is still my choice for best movie this year.

Ultimate Kurbaan: the Movie itself.

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