Monday, April 28, 2008

Intellectual Property Piracy in India, Pakistan

The US trade representative's office has placed nine countries, including India and Pakistan, on priority watch list for intellectual property piracy. In addition to the traditional categories of computer software and music, the USTR has added counterfeit pharmaceuticals to the list of concerns.

"Trade in counterfeit pharmaceuticals continues to be a particularly grave concern in light of the risks to human health and safety, and the U.S. continues to be actively engaged in addressing this serious problem," the USTRO statement said. The USTR report also noted that the manufacture and distribution of counterfeit pharmaceuticals is a “growing problem” that particularly threatens consumer health and safety.

It cited a “proliferation” of phony drug production in Brazil, China, India, Mexico and Russia. The priority watch list also includes Argentina, Chile, Israel, Thailand and Venezuela.

Several countries including Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey and Ukraine were shifted off the Priority Watch List in 2008.

The report said that while the U.S. continues to work with China to strengthen its intellectual-property regime, "high levels of copyright piracy and trademark counterfeiting remain serious concerns."

USTRO believes that US companies have lost billions of dollars due to copyright theft and piracy in China while Beijing insists it is doing its best to stamp out the problem. In a conference call with reporters Friday, the assistant US trade representative in charge of intellectual property, Stan McCoy, said: “If things proceed in line with current expectations, a decision from the (WTO) panel would be possible this fall.”

On Russia, the report summary said the U.S. will continue to monitor that the country meets the obligations it committed to as part of a bilateral agreement with the U.S. on Russia's ascension to the World Trade Organization.

"Implementation of these commitments remains essential to completing the final multilateral negotiations on the overall accession package," the report said.

The USTRO watch list also includes Algeria, Belarus, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, Indonesia, Italy, Jamaica, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mexico, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

As the biggest beneficiaries of globalization of the capital, labor and consumer markets, the US corporations are cheer-leading the opening of the emerging economies for their goods and services, while at the same time complaining about the IP piracy. They want to use the power of the US government to benefit their share-holders and ignore the lack of affordability of their products and services by the vast majority of the people in the emerging markets. This is no different from the efforts of the music recording industry in the US which prices, packages and distributes music without regard for the vast majority of their customers and then goes to court to sue the very customers they are trying to market their products to. These strategies are not likely to work either in the US or elsewhere in the world. Instead, such strategies will backfire, unless there's serious rethinking by the US corporations to address the real needs of their international customer base.

India Races Ahead in Space

"The mission was perfect," said G Madhavan Nair, chairman of the state-run Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). Mr. Nair was celebrating the latest successful launch by India of a mission with 10 satellites from the Sriharikota space center off India's east coast. With its headquarters in Bangalore, the ISRO employs approximately 20,000 people, with a budget of around US$815 million. Its mandate is the development of technologies related to space and their application to India's development. In addition to domestic payloads, it offers international launch services. ISRO currently launches satellites using the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle and the GSLV for geostationary satellites.

This latest success by ISRO makes India a serious contender in the fast growing $2.5B commercial satellite launch business expected to grow rapidly over the next several years. The BBC is reporting that the rocket carried an Indian mini satellite to gather technological data which will be available for sale, and eight tiny research satellites belonging to research facilities in Canada, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. India started its space program in 1963, and has since designed, built and launched its own satellites into space.

Last year, India put an Italian satellite into orbit for a fee of $11m. In January, India successfully launched an Israeli spy satellite into orbit, according to the BBC. The Israeli satellite launch drew strong protest from Iran amidst growing and multi-dimensional India-Israel collaboration. Israeli arms sales to India in 2006 were $1.5 billion, roughly the same as in each of the preceding three years as well. This from Israel’s total arms sales of $4.2 billion in 2006; the India market comprised more than one-third. A report by the Brookings Institution, a pro-Israeli US Think Tank, welcomed this collaboration and said, "The Israeli-Indian connection in commercial military and space intelligence fields is good for both countries and for the United States. In less than two decades since diplomatic ties were upgraded, New Delhi and Jerusalem have come a long way. Camp David was a pivotal moment on the way. The cooperation between Israel and India, with U.S. blessing, provides important security to two democratic countries in a very unstable part of the world."

India's own satellite named Technology Experiment Satellite (TES), which can be used as a spy satellite, has been beaming down what space officials call "excellent pictures". TES, launched in October 2001 from the Sriharikota launch pad, is a precursor for the launch of fully operational spy satellites. Indian Defense Minister has been touting India's satellite-based Military Surveillance and Reconnaissance System that was scheduled to become operational by 2007 allowing it to keep watch on developments in its neighborhood, including Pakistan and China. It has, however, been delayed with no new dates announced.

Beyond the Indian commercial ambitions, this milestone for India represents a strategic capability as an emerging economic and military power on the world stage. This is also a great comeback for ISRO about two years after a launch in 2006 had to be destroyed less than a minute after lift off when it veered from its path.

The Pakistan Space Agency or Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO), the equivalent of ISRO in India, is the Pakistani state-run space agency responsible for Pakistan's space program. It was formed in September 1961 by the order of President Ayub Khan on the advice of Professor Dr Abdus Salam, Nobel Laureate, who was also made its founding director. The headquarters of SUPARCO is located in Islamabad, however with the development of Sonmiani it is expected that the new headquarters will be moved in the near future. The agency also has offices in Lahore and at Karachi (an engineering installation). SUPARCO has no launch capability of its own. It has relied on Chinese and Russian space agencies to launch its satellites Badr-1 and Badr-2.

SUPARCO saw major cuts in its budget in the 1980s and 1990s. Last year, its annual budget was a modest $6m. In fact, Pakistan had no communication satellites in space until 2003. The urgency to place its first satellite in a geo-stationary orbit was keenly felt in the middle of 2003, by which time Pakistan had already lost four of its five allotted space slots. The five slots were allotted to Pakistan by ITU (International Telecommunication Union) back in 1984, but the country failed to launch any satellite till 1995. That year Pakistan again applied for and received the five slots, but once again the government failed to get a satellite into orbit, losing four of it slots in the process. According to officials, if Pakistan had failed to launch its satellite by April 19, 2003, the country would have lost its fifth and last 38-degree east slot when the availability of these space slots is getting difficult every day.

Pakistan’s former Science and Technology Minister, Dr. Atta-ur Rehman said retention of the slot was important from commercial and strategic points of view as it would assure retention of a foothold in space. Air Vice Marshall Azhar Maud, Chairman NTC, said that a geo stationary satellite could be used to secure defence communication, act as a lookout for a missile attack and detect any nuclear detonation or explosion. M Nasim Shah of the Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission(SUPARCO) said that the technology is vital for making the nuclear command and control mechanisms “credible”.

Recognizing that it is significantly lagging behind Indian Space program, President Pervez Musharraf has outlined his vision for SUPARCO by laying down a clearly defined agenda for the national space agency. Revitalization, restructuring, reorientation and modernization of SUPARCO are the main objectives outlined by President Musharraf. SUPARCO is to be brought at par with other successful space agencies of the world. Specific objectives include research and development of communication satellites, remote sensing satellites and satellite launch vehicles, with the objective of bringing rapid growth and socio-economic development in the fields of education, information technology, communications, agriculture sector, mineral excavation and atmospheric sciences. As an established and well recognized nuclear and missile power the next logical frontier for Pakistan is space. President Musharraf had made it clear that Pakistan would need to catch up to the world space leaders and make up for lost time and neglect in the past.

In 2001, Pakistan was reportedly in the process of developing its own Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV). Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, considered the father of Pakistan's nuclear program, said in March 2001 that Pakistani scientists were in the process of building the country's first SLV and that the project had been assigned to SUPARCO. According to Dr. Abdul Majid, chairman of SUPARCO, Pakistan envisaged a low-cost SLV in order to launch lightweight satellites into low-earth orbits. Dr. Khan also cited the fact that India had made rapid strides in the fields of SLV and satellite manufacture as another motivation for developing an indigenous launch capability. According to an Islamabad news source, the SLV would be derived from an already available missile launching system, which may be an indication that technologies acquired for the ballistic missile program would eventually be used to develop an SLV. All the experiments necessary to ready the SLV for a complete flight test have not been completed, although Pakistani scientists have tested three of the four stages. The nuclear proliferation allegations and events leading up to the Dr. A.Q. Khan's fall from grace and subsequent house arrest have clearly been a setback for Pakistan's space efforts.

India's success in space is likely to be seen in Pakistan as a threat, or at least a major challenge that they must respond to. Pakistan has a lot of catching up to do to try and reduce the gap between the space capabilities of the two nuclear-armed rivals in South Asia.

Just as Russia's Sputnik launch on October 4, 1957, spurred the Americans to respond with a comprehensive effort in space technology, the Indian success yesterday has the potential to serve as a wake-up call for Pakistanis to renew their efforts and focus on science and technology education, innovation and research to become competitive with India in space. Only time will tell if Pakistanis are really up to this challenge.

1. News Agency Reports
2. BBC News
3. Wikipedia entries on ISRO, SUPRACO
4. CNS-Current and Future Space Security

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Pakistan Space Program

Pakistan's Space Capabilities

SUPARCO Presentation at Berlin, Germany

Sunday, April 27, 2008

South Asia Community on Hillary vs. Obama

The views of South Asian-Americans are heavily influenced by the perceived positions of the presidential candidates regarding the South Asian nations. While there are no polls indicating their preferences, there is anecdotal evidence that the Democrats are likely to attract the largest share of South Asian-American votes this year.

The Clintons have had quite a love affair with things Indian since Bill Clinton's days in the White House. Indians see the couple as friends of India and credit them for the close ties between the two nations and the start of the outsourcing trend from the US to India that has intensified in the recent years. On the contrary, Pakistanis still remember Bill Clinton's patronizing speech on PTV during his brief visit there in March 2000.

While some Indians seem pleased with Barack Obama's rhetoric about "sending US troops into Pakistan", many see him as an unknown quantity as far as India is concerned. Some Indians were also turned off by a document released by Obama surrogates critical of President and Senator Clinton's links to India in an effort to portray Mrs. Clinton as having a poor record on outsourcing and protecting American jobs. The three-page piece of opposition research, titled "Hillary Clinton (D-Punjab)'s Personal Financial and Political Ties," was obtained from a source unaffiliated with the Obama campaign. The "Punjab" reference is an apparent reference to a joke that Mrs. Clinton made last year at a fund-raiser hosted by a top Indian-American supporter. "I can certainly run for the Senate seat in Punjab and win easily," she was quoted as saying. The "Punjab" here refers to the Indian state of Punjab.

In the past elections (including Bush's first term), most Pakistanis have played it safe by supporting Republican candidates for President, based on the common perception that Democrats have been much more pro-India than the Republicans. However, this trend changed in 2004 when most Pakistani-Americans voted for Democratic candidate John Kerry as a protest against the Iraq war and Bush's perceived anti-Muslim bias. This year, it is likely that the Pakistanis would again support a Democratic candidate in spite of their reservations about both Obama and Clinton. Obama's aggressive stance about sending troops into Pakistan initially turned off many Pakistanis. However, Obama has been trying to clarify and backpedal on those remarks. Obama has said there was "misreporting" of his comments, that "I never called for an invasion of Pakistan or Afghanistan." He said rather than a surge in the number of troops in Iraq, there needs to be a "diplomatic surge" and that U.S. troops should be withdrawn within a year.

Among Indians, there seems to be a generation gap in how they perceive Clinton and Obama. While the first generation immigrants from India tend to favor Clinton, the younger Indians are supporting Obama. An Indian commentator Alka Sabherwal of Danville, CA, attributes Obama's opposition among first-generation Indian-Americans to "racial prejudice".

While some Pakistani-Americans have serious reservations about US-Pakistan relations in an Obama administration, many of them support Barack Obama because of his unequivocal opposition to the Iraq war. Some Pakistani-Americans favor Obama because of the fact that he is the son of an African Muslim who lived in Indonesia as a child with a Muslim step-father. Their expectation is that he may have a soft spot for Muslims because of his Muslim heritage and early life in the largest Muslim nation. Of course, it would be political suicide for Obama to profess any love for Muslims or Islam in the current political environment. Even the hint of any Islamic connection could be bad for his campaign.

Obama has to constantly bend over backwards and re-iterate total and unqualified support for Israel to avoid conflict with AIPAC, the most powerful pro-Israel lobby in the US. While Obama's commitment for direct talks with Iran and a summit with the Islamic countries to discuss and resolve the current distrust has raised hackles in some quarters, it does offer a promise to many Pakistanis and Muslims in the United States for a better relationship between the US and the Islamic world in a future Obama administration.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Silicon Valley Pakistanis Hit By High Food Prices

The prices of rice, chappati, besan, daals, spices and almost all staples consumed by silicon valley South Asians have experienced triple digit price inflation during the last year. After reading about food price inflation and shortages of staple foods in their home countries, Pakistanis and Indians are now feeling the pinch in Silicon Valley as Basmati rice is in very short supply even with a 300% price jump. Jamsine rice, preferred by East Asians, has also disappeared from the grocery shelves at Costco stores. Costco management has decided to limit each customer to two bags of rice to control panic buying or profiteering.

Even with these dramatic price increases, the impact on their wallets from food price inflation is relatively small because Silicon Valley South Asians spend a much smaller percentage of their incomes on food than their friends and families in South Asia. Nonetheless, higher energy costs and the costs of various goods and services used by them everyday is causing them to be careful with their monthly budgets.

Many governments, including Pakistan's and India's, realize the possibility of civil unrest in the event of severe food shortages or famine, and some have taken minimal steps to ease the crisis in the short term, such as reducing import tariffs and putting export restrictions. On December 20, China did away with food export rebates in an effort to prevent domestic shortages. Russia, Kazakhstan, and Argentina have also implemented export controls.

According to reports from London this week, the executive director of the World Food Program, Josette Sheeran, warned that more than 100 million people will be pushed into poverty by a "silent tsunami" of sharply rising food prices. "This is the new face of hunger - the millions of people who were not in the urgent hunger category six months ago but now are," Sheeran said. "The world's misery index is rising."

The Bush administration, after sitting on the sidelines for months, is finally taking notice of the situation. The Washington Post reported today that the administration and Congress have been caught flat-footed by rapidly escalating global food prices and are scrambling to respond to a crisis that they increasingly view as a threat to U.S. national security, according to government officials, congressional staffers and human rights experts.

Among the major international concerns about "instability" leading to increased threats of "terrorism", the food price inflation and shortages of staples have now risen near the top. However, the $200m allocation by the US is much too small to deal with the global nature of this crisis. The Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the administration is planning “further steps to help ease the burden of rising food prices on the world’s neediest people.” Options include building more overseas storage facilities and roads to reduce food spoiling, and making the food crisis a top priority for the G-8 summit of industrialized nations in July, administration officials said. Top Senate Democrats, meanwhile, are pressing the White House to devote more money to emergency food aid — up from $350 million to $550 million — as part of a supplemental Iraq war budget package.

The consensus seems to be emerging in Washington that these are just the first steps toward a bigger commitment with a comprehensive strategy to follow soon.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Blue Collar Bigotry in US Presidential Race

As the election strategists, media pundits and "independent" analysts pore over the results of the Ohio and Pennsylvania primaries, there is hardly any overt mention of racism, the big elephant in the room.

President Clinton has been making a skillful use of the race card in supporting his wife's bid for the presidency. After the South Carolina primary, Mr. Clinton compared Obama's win with Jesse Jackson's win against him in the 1990s. At a rally of mostly blue collar white audience recently, the former President said that the voters will have to decide whether they prefer "a feeling of change" or "facts of change" -- a clear dig at Hillary Clinton's opponent Barack Obama. Real change, he added, is especially important here Pennsylvania. As Der Spiegel reported in early April, Jim Miller, a blue collar caucasian member of the audience smiled awkwardly and said something that many here in Reading are extremely reluctant to admit: "There is still racism here." He points to the crowd in the gymnasium and says: "Many, many racists."

The recent reports of Obama's pastor's inflammatory speeches, and Obama's remarks about rural America "clinging to guns and religion" have not helped, either. In his "race in America" speech, Barack Obama talked about many issues that hit a nerve in a place like Reading. He said that when whites suffering from unemployment and poverty blame blacks for their misery, they are not necessarily racist. Conversely, he also said that discrimination doesn’t just exist in the imagination of blacks.

According to a report in Der Spiegel, the speech "opened Pandora's Box," said John Forester, the news editor for a Pennsylvania paper, the Reading Eagle. Forester is convinced that the speech put race squarely in the center of the campaign, and he considers cities like Reading to be accurate test cases on whether a black candidate can prevail. He is not optimistic. Obama's inspiring speech, says Forester, was "political suicide."

In my own personal experience as a South Asian immigrant, I have seen that racism is alive and well in blue collar white America, even as the racism has declined among better educated urban whites. The blue collar neighborhoods in New York, Chicago and other major cities on the East Coast and the Midwest are some of the most racially segregated. There have been many high-profile racially motivated incidents of violence, such as the Howard Beach killings and Chicago south side riots, that characterize life in blue collar America.

Recent polls indicate that as many as a third of those who voted for Hilary Clinton would vote for John McCain if Obama becomes the Democratic nominee for President.

As is often said, "the more things change, the more they stay the same." However, I do believe that better educated population is better for America, as it is elsewhere in the world. By voting for Obama in large numbers, the high-earning college educated whites have shown that race is not relevant for leadership. Education will help fix racism, poverty and many other ills in society.

Regardless of the outcome of this election, I think America has come a long way since Martin Luther King's civil rights marches in the 1960s. I do hope Obama wins and makes history this year. But if he does not, he is still young. He will get more chances in the future to rise to the highest office in America. Hopefully, America will be further along in race relations with better education and understanding among the races, regardless of class.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

US Media Military Analysts Tainted

"Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance" reports The New York Times in today's issue.

The Times goes on to say, "The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air."

Implicated in this scandalous PR and pay-off campaign by the Pentagon are the big name media such as ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, Fox and Wall Street Journal. Each claims they weren't aware of the conflicts of interest of the retired military officers who were presented as "independent analysts". These "independent analysts" names include retired generals Barry McCaffery,Jeff McCausland, Wayne Downing, Paul Valley, Joseph Ralston, Don Shepherd,Montgomery Meigs, and Thomas G. McInerney. Many of these "independent analysts" were flown to Guantanamo, described as the "gulag of our times" by Amnesty International, and they tried to help the administration whitewash the US misdeeds at the notorious and illegal prison. The NY Times breaking this tainted analysts story has had its own journalists such as Judith Miller involved in promoting the Iraq war using false information about WMDs provided by the Bush administration prior to the Iraq invasion.

The big US media share major responsibility for the misguided policies of President George W. Bush. They became the cheerleaders for the Iraq war immediately after 911 in spite of the fact that Iraq had no role in it. They remained "in bed" with the Bush officials for a long time and only recently have they begun to criticize the current administration as the disastrous results of Iraq became apparent.

It seems that the current administration truly believes in Alexander Hamilton's proclamation that "the masses are asses". At least, that's the conclusion one can draw from their attempts to use the media to mislead the American people to support their wrong headed policies. However, they must remember the words of another great American: Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln said, "You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time."

Saturday, April 19, 2008

"Streets of Karachi" on the Big Screen

Shoieb Yunus, founder of a Pakistani media company called Precept Productions, has announced plans to make his maiden film about his hometown in Pakistan. A Silicon Valley high tech entrepreneur, Shoieb has had prior success in his ventures ranging from finger-print sensing software company to a TV production called "Gao, Celebrity Ban Jao", the Pakistani version of American Idol with a good run on Pakistan's GeoTV.

The film "Streets of Karachi" is being made for Pakistani and international audiences. It is expected to be released in June 2008 in Urdu language with English subtitles. According to Shoieb, "Streets of Karachi" is a drama about a man, who has achieved success in the United States, but realizes that his success and the possession of material things are not making him happy. He visits his ancestral hometown of Karachi, explores the city, sees immense contrast on the streets, and realizes Karachi is a vibrant city as well as the backbone of his country, where people from all over Pakistan come to fulfill their dreams. And, then events take a turn.

The concept, storyline and screenplay have been developed by Shoieb Yunus. Jawad Qureshi is the executive producer. Shoeib has produced 100 hours of entertainment programming for television, and has been the CEO and Managing Director of Precept since its inception in 2005.

The male lead is played by Adil Murad, the female lead is played by actress and model Nadia Hussain, and the lead character is played by veteran actor Munnawar Saeed. The film will be shot in studios and on location in Karachi, Pakistan.

For more information about this film, distribution opportunities, and Precept Productions upcoming media and entertainment projects, you may contact

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A New Era Of Unchecked Corruption?

As Mr. Asif Ali Zardari and Mr. Nawaz Sharif together consolidate their power in Pakistan, there are renewed fears that a new era of of unchecked corruption is about to hit Pakistan. Let's hope that these fears are unfounded. Unfortunately, the history tells us otherwise.

In the past, Pakistanis have had to withstand plunder from only one of them at a time. The question now is: Can Pakistan survive a combined assault by both of these "gentlemen" and their cabinet ministers in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi? Who will expose who, now that each is scratching the other's back? Will they cover up for each other to leave no tracks? If and when the corruption reaches new heights in human history, who will expose it? A very weak and ineffective opposition that exists in Pakistani parliament now? Or the compliant judiciary likely to be restored under a deal? Or the newly energized media? Or the powerful new middle class? Who will come to the "rescue" of the people and the country? Is it going to be the military again, as in the past? Or will a new force emerge in Pakistan to offer a better choice? A choice other than the military, the familiar corrupt politicians or the failed Islamic parties who recently suffered an ignominious defeat? Only time will tell. In the meanwhile, here are few lines in Urdu by Yasir Ali. The title is "Aao milkar khatey hain" meaning "let's pillage and plunder together".

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Nepalese Choice: Is This Possible in Pakistan?

Pakistanis have had to choose between the military dictators and the familiar corrupt politicians for all of their 60 years of history. They have gone back and forth between these two choices. This year, they have chosen the familiar corrupt politicians after suffering many indignities and food and electricity crises of last year. Not only have Pakistanis rejected the military rule, they have also rejected the Islamic parties who made significant gains in 2002 elections, right after the US bombing of Afghanistan with Pakistan's assistance. Besides the Islamic parties whom they have just handed a major defeat, do Pakistanis have a another choice? Is there a force lurking within Pakistan that could suddenly rise up as a viable alternative?

Contrary to expectations of most observers, Nepal has voted such a force into power. Charles Haviland of the BBC reports that "Nepal has been rocked by an electoral thunderbolt. As the Maoists surge towards victory in the elections to a constitutional assembly, even some of their leaders have expressed surprise at its apparent scale."

If Pakistanis continue to be ill-served by their rulers as they have been, is the Nepal scenario likely to play out in Pakistan? Probably not. Is it possible. I think it is. Only time will tell.

Bush Embraces The Pope

President George W. Bush took the unprecedented step of personally going to a USAF airbase to receive Pope Benedict XVI upon his arrival in the United States yesterday. This is a highly symbolic and extra-ordinary gesture toward the pontiff, a polarizing figure who has drawn strong support and admiration from the conservatives in the West and widespread criticism in the Islamic world.

It should be recalled that, in 2006, this pope quoted Byzantine Emperor Manual II Paleologos as saying "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

The choice of this quote by the pontiff came in a speech at a German university exploring the historical and philosophical differences between Islam and Christianity and the relationship between violence and faith. Later, as the worldwide Muslim outrage mounted,a Vatican spokesman, Father Frederico Lombardi, said he did not believe the Pope's comments were meant as a harsh criticism of Islam.

It is in this context that the Muslims around the world watch this embrace of the pope by a "born again" and "evangelical" US President who once described the US war on terror as a "crusade", invasion of Afghanistan as "Operation Infinite Justice" and uses religious terms such as "evil" and "axis of evil" in desecribing those who oppose the United States in the Middle East. As Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, recently said in an interview, "The rhetoric in Washington is absolutely pernicious--rhetoric that views the outside world as evil. Our foreign policy is trying to convert people to nirvana--that is, our way--or beating them up, humiliating and punishing them."

Many conservatives of all shades in the US and the West see this "war on terror" as a "clash of civilizations" between Christianity and Islam. They assert this "war on terror" is of the same or greater scale and potential duration as the Cold War that preceded it. And they expect the current Pope to play the same role that his predecessor did by siding with the United States and Western Europe against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. While the challenge from groups such as Al-Qaeda is serious, it is nowhere close to the existential crisis during the cold war with the nuclear arsenals of US and Soviet Union on a hair trigger. The rhetoric emanating out of the West has the potential of pushing the world toward a catastrophic war, an "Armageddon" that the lunatic fringe on the right is hoping for.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Has the Lawyers Movement Gone Awry?

"If they demand that the Afghan refugees be returned to Afghanistan, we demand that they (the Urdu-speaking Karachi-ites) be sent back to India" so says Mr. Latif Afridi, the President of Peshawar Bar Association. This outrage from Peshawar followed the clashes between the lawyers in Karachi which were triggered by the violence of the lawless lawyers of Lahore earlier.

The lawyers movement started well and helped bring about a positive change in Pakistan as a manifestation of the rise of the middle class considered the backbone for any democracy. However, it seems that this well-intentioned movement has been hijacked by unscrupulous elements in the legal community who are willing to engage in bigotry and violence against any one who disagrees. The inflammatory rhetoric by Mr. Latif Afridi captured on video by GEO News is particularly shocking.

One of the most alarming trends in Pakistan is that the various factions of lawyers movement in different parts of the country have allied themselves with regional parties such as the MQM in Karachi, PML(N) in Lahore and Islamabad and ANP in Peshawar and Quetta. Unless the top leadership of these lawyers stop and reflect on this dangerous situation and alter their divisive rhetoric and inflammatory actions, it is within the realm of possibility that the very forces helping shape a democratic Pakistan may lead to its demise as a single nation. Democracy requires a lot of mutual tolerance, necessary compromises and great patience. It can not be nurtured or sustained in an environment of violence, bigotry and intolerance.

Sports Draw Big Money, Mega Stars in India

As India's economy, business and industry experience rapid growth, large amounts of sponsorship dollars are flowing into the various sports including cricket, football and golf. At first, most of the attention was on the big cricket stars such as Sachin Tedulkar grossing million of dollars a year. Then came the Indian Cricket League(ICL) and Indian Premier League(IPL) drawing the biggest names in cricket such as Brian Lara and Inzimam-ul-Haq. The ICL tournaments covered by Zee Sports TV channel have been a great spectacle, comparable to the NFL and MLB games in the United States. Well, the money gusher is now starting to flood Indian golf with $2.5m purse for the Indian Masters golf tournament last February in Delhi.

While a $2.5m purse is small and about the same as Qatar Masters, it represents a growth opportunity that has attracted the big names in golf including South African Ernie Els, Fijian Vijay Singh and Australian Adam Scott. "As these events draw richer and more-aggressive backers, they have been offering more prize money. In November 2009, Dubai will host the Dubai World Championship, which will feature a prize purse of $10 million, making it the most-lucrative golf tournament ever for players", reports the Wall Street Journal. It goes on to say as follows: the declining dollar has lowered the relative value of purses at U.S. tournaments, making these Asian, Middle Eastern and European gigs harder for players to ignore. When asked during his stay in New Delhi whether he expected more top players to play outside the U.S., Mr. Els quipped, "The way the dollar is going, I'm sure."

Most of the new tournaments don't match the average purses available in the U.S. or even the European Tour. In Delhi, the $2.5 million purse was about the same as in the Qatar Masters in January, compared with an average purse of $5.8 million for the U.S. tour and $3.8 million for the European Tour. But the money race in on. In November 2009, Dubai will host the Dubai World Championship, which will feature a prize purse of $10 million, making it the most-lucrative golf tournament ever for players.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Madrassa Cricket Condemned

Madrassa education critics in Pakistan have long argued that the madrassa life and curricula are too narrow and inadequate to prepare graduates for life in the modern economy and the kind of jobs young people need to fill. There have been some efforts and steps taken recently to broaden the syllabus to add more secular education such as science, math and computer literacy. The most welcome news recently is the organization of an inter-madrassa cricket tournament in Islamabad.

The BBC's Haroon Rashid reports that "batons have been replaced with bats and balls.
It looks as if the seminaries are trying to salvage their badly-dented reputation by holding this tournament - the first of its kind."

"We wish to bring them into mainstream," event organizer Tahir Inayat of Eclat Concepts told the BBC. "We have been organizing different sports events for regular schools and colleges. But we thought that we needed to do something for these uncared-for students of religious madrassas."

Twenty-four teams representing as many seminaries in Islamabad are vying for the top slot in the eight-day floodlight tournament.

The final is being played April 12, 2008

However, this tournament has not been without controversy among the Pakistani clerics.

The Urdu newspaper Daily Jasarat quoted the leaders of Wafaq-ul-Madaris Arabia Pakistan and Jamiat Ahle-Sunnat as saying that a move by an Islamabad-based NGO to organize a cricket tournament between madrassas is a conspiracy against the religious seminaries. The Wafaq-ul-Madaris Arabia controls the largest number of madrassas in Pakistan.

According to the report, the madrassa leaders said, "None of our madrassas will take part in the cricket tournament and if anyone did, we will take action against it as per the rules." These views were expressed during a press conference by the Deputy Secretary of Wafaq-ul-Madaris Arabia Pakistan Maulana Qazi Abdur Rashid and several Ulema.

While this cricket tournament represents a positive change, it is clearly not going to be easy to continue in this direction. The fundamentalist clerics will oppose anything that changes the status quo. They fear the loss of power from changes that help the poor madrassah students focus on anything other than their brand of Islam based on suspicion and intolerance of anything they see as foreign or different. It seems that the Hadith of Prophet Muhammad about "seeking knowledge even if you have to go as far as China" does not carry much weight with these self-styled ulema.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Lawyers Liars!

While there was no expectation from the politicians to be truthful and take responsibility for lawyers violence, it was a pleasant surprise to see Mr. Aitazaz Ahsan show a sense of responsibility by resigning. However, barely 24 hours after the resignation, Mr. Ahsan has started to backtrack and use "conspiracy theories" and "invisible hands" and place the blame on his favorite target: President Musharraf.
According to the BBC, "a top Pakistani lawyer (Mr. Ahsan) has condemned President Musharraf following the attack on Mr Niazi on Tuesday. On Wednesday, at a press conference in Karachi he played down talk of resignation and instead called on President Musharraf to go."

Knowing the popularity and power of Sharif Brothers in Lahore, is it possible that this could have happened without a tacit approval by PML(N)? I doubt it. Have either of the brothers come out to unequivocally condemn the actions of the lawless lawyers? Not to my knowledge. Instead, they seem to be making lame excuses for what happened.

None of the lawyers from Lahore seen on various TV channels have unequivocally and strongly condemned the attack on Dr. Niazi. Advocate Latif Khosa's interview this morning on ARY TV is a representative example of the lack of candor in accepting responsibility. Instead, they have essentially chosen to soften any real criticism by offering various incomprehensible explanations for what was clearly visible on TV screens as an unprovoked and dastardly physical attack by lawyers on an elderly man. It is a very sad period indeed for those who were expecting civil society and rule of law to prevail with a new democratic setup. The only way to deal with this situation and go forward is to unequivocally condemn such actions, bring the culprits to justice, and send a powerful message to anyone contemplating a repeat of such despicable behavior.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Lawless Lawyers of Lahore

The criminal behavior of the lawyers in Lahore has shocked the nation and the world. They not only kidnapped and injured former federal minister Dr. Sher Afghan Niazi but they threw rocks and flattened the tires of the ambulance that was taking him to the hospital for treatment. Mr. Aitezaz Ahsan, the leader of the lawyers movement, has resigned from his position as the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association.

While some may be tempted to call it an isolated incident, the facts indicate otherwise. Several months ago, similar violence was perpetrated by lawyers outside the Supreme Court building against a few people carrying pro-Musharraf signs in the midst of a sea of black coats opposed to Musharraf's unlawful actions against the judiciary. Dr. Farooq Sattar and Senator Tariq Azim were also subjected to violence and needed hospitalization.

The shameful behavior of the lawyers makes a mockery of their claim that their movement is aimed at restoring "democracy" and "rule of law". It also raises questions about the readiness of Pakistani civil society to govern itself in a democratic manner. The conspiracy theories and the claims of "invisible hand" will not satisfy those of us looking for the facts. Unless there is full, impartial and apolitical investigation of this incident, this incident will be seen as part of a pattern of violence that has characterized the entire lawyers movement supported by politicians now in charge after the elections.

Monday, April 7, 2008

India Follows Pakistan To Food Inflation

The food inflation has hit India a few months after it rose its head in Pakistan. This sequence makes sense based on the fact that Pakistani economy is considered freer than India's economy and the food inflation is driven by rising global demand and tight supplies. In today's global world, it is hard to isolate any national economy from the impact of international economic problems.

In terms of economic freedom, Pakistan is ranked ahead of many regional economies, according to a worldwide index of economic freedom. The 2007 Index of Economic Freedom, jointly conducted by The Heritage Foundation and Wall Street Journal, has put Pakistan at the 89th place while India is ranked 104. A free economy means an economy that is based on liberal rules that preclude extreme measures against free trade and price increases. Such measures do not prevent problems, they simply delay the impact of such problems, as just demonstrated by inflationary pressures seen in South Asia.

As Indian economist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta recently wrote for the BBC that milk costs 11% more than last year. Edible oil prices have climbed by a whopping 40% over the same period. More crucially, rice prices have risen by 20% and prices of certain lentils by 18%. Rice and lentils comprise the staple diet for many Indians.

Thakurta says, "Food inflation is bad news for ruling politicians because the poor in India vote in much larger numbers than the affluent. Roughly one out of four Indians lives on less than $1 a day and three out of four earn $2 or less."

"Food riots in India, Yemen and Mexico, warnings of hunger in Jamaica, Nepal, the Philippines and sub-Saharan Africa, empty shelves in Caracas have been witnessed in the recent past which was not seen in decades of low global food commodity prices,"
a report by the UN FAO said.

A rise of more than 10 per cent is recorded in India and Russia while food price has inflated by 18 per cent in China, 13 per cent in Pakistan and Indonesia, according to the UN agency.

Meanwhile, there is shortage of beef, chicken and milk in the countries as governments try to keep a lid on food price inflation, it added.
Reports say that there are 854 million hungry people in the world and 4 million more join their ranks every year. Wheat has doubled in price, maize is nearly 50 per cent higher than a year ago and rice is 20 per cent more expensive, the UN said. FAO claimed that global food reserves were at their lowest in 25 years and prices would remain high for years. Moreover, any natural disaster such as a drought or flood might lead to an international crisis.

The price rise is a fallout of record oil prices, US farmers switching out of cereals to grow biofuel crops, extreme weather and growing demand from countries like India and China, the FAO said.

According to the US Dept of Agriculture, the average person in the developed world of Western Europe and North America spends less than 10% of his or her income on food. By contrast, South Asians' food expenditures account for 40% of the average income. Thus the impact of food price inflation is much greater in South Asia than in the industrialized world.

Like Pakistan, the current crisis in Indian agriculture is a consequence of many factors - low rise in farm productivity, low prices for cultivators, poor food storage facilities resulting in high levels of wastage. Also, big differences between domestic and world prices encourage smuggling to neighboring countries resulting in local food shortages.

South Asian governments need to encourage higher food production by various incentive programs such as higher prices for farmers and subsidies for farming inputs such as seeds, fertilizer, and machinery. At the same time, better farmer education, reliable food storage, transportation, better water management and modern irrigation techniques and infrastructure require greater attention by the agriculture officials. A serious longer term effort is also needed to encourage substitution and diversification of the sources of calories for the average South Asian.

Benzir Bhutto on the Big Screen

A Pakistani film company is rushing into the production of a movie based on the life of slain former premier Benazir Bhutto in collaboration with noted Indian filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, according to a news report in Pakistan Link.

Given the multi-dimensional significance of Benzair Bhutto to Pakistan and the world, it is not surprising that Lollywood and Bollywood together see her as an interesting subject to put on the big screen. What is surprising is the following statement by producer Aneela Khan: “The film is going to be released internationally and we don’t want to create any controversy with this film. The basic motive behind this announcement is just to dedicate this film to Benazir Bhutto."

While there is no question that Benazir Bhutto has left a deep mark on Pakistan's history and psyche, it is hard to imagine how a movie about her life can be non-controversial. In some ways she was quite traditional. But she also defied tradition in other ways by becoming the first female leader of a Muslim nation. She captured the imagination, love and affection of a large number of Pakistanis but, at the same time, she became the object of serious corruption allegations and required an amnesty to have the cases against her dropped with the US mediation. Some saw her as a democratic leader and savior of Pakistani democracy while others accused her of incompetence, hypocrisy and authoritarian rule. Like her father before her, Benazir elicits strong emotions by her detractors and her supporters. Some regarded her as a leader who stood for democracy while others called her a feudal princess ruling her party by hereditary right as chairperson for life. Some genuinely mourned her passing and called her "Shaheed" while others criticized Ms. Bhutto for perpetuation of monarchical right to rule by naming her 19-year-old son as her successor in defiance of democratic principles

For this film to be reasonably objective and historically relevant, the screenplay can not completely avoid the controversies that surrounded Benazir's life and continue to be debated after her tragic death. These controversies defined her as much as her accomplishments as the first female prime minister of a Muslim nation and a role model for many across the world.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

An Evening With William Dalrymple in Silicon Valley

William Dalrymple was invited to Silicon Valley to spend an evening on April 4, 2008, with TIE charter members. TIE is an organization consisting mainly of technology entrepreneurs of Indian origin but it also includes other South Asian entrepreneurs from Pakistan and Bangladesh as well. I had a chance attend this event with Mr. Dalrymple along with other charter members of TIE Silicon Valley.

William Dalrymple is a British writer, historian and journalist. He writes about South Asia, the Middle East, Mughal rule, the Muslim world and early Eastern Christianity. All of his six books have won major literary prizes. His first three were travel books based on his journeys in the Middle East, India and Central Asia.

More recently, Dalrymple has published a book of essays about South Asia, and two award-winning histories of the interaction between the British and the Mughals between the eighteenth and mid nineteenth century. Dalrymple is the son of Sir Hew Hamilton-Dalrymple and a cousin of Virginia Woolf. He was educated at Ampleforth College and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was first a history exhibitioner then senior history scholar.

At the Silicon Valley event, Dalrymple talked about and read from three of his best known books: Xanadu, The White Mughals and The Last Mughal.

Talking about Xanadu, he said he set out to write a book about how he assumed the Muslims had destroyed Christian churches and Hindu temples throughout the Middle East and South Asia. As he traveled from Jerusalem to Mongolia to write "Xanadu", he was surprised to see that Muslims had, in fact, been very tolerant of other religions and allowed their practice in their holy places to continue under Muslim rule. He then read a passage from Xanadu about a Greek monk he met in Palestine.

Then Dalrymple went on talk about his research into the pre-Victorian India of the late 18th and early 19th century when the British officers of East India company inter-married with local Indian women of both Muslim and Hindu faith. In fact, each had multiple wives and dozens of children. The book focuses on an officer named James Achilles Kirkpatrick who married Khairun Nisa, the niece of the prime minister of Hyderabad.

It was only after the British government directly took control of India when a system of apartheid began and eventually led to the great rebellion of 1857 against the British rule. An interesting fact he mentioned is that, in the 18th century Mughal era, India was the richest country in the world producing 22% of the world GDP (about the same as the US share now) and Britain contributed about 5%. By early 20th century, these figures completely reversed.

Dalrymple read a sad poem by Bahadur Shah Zafar in the period after the rebellion when Zafar was sent into exile.

In answer to a question about the authenticity of the Bollywood movie "Jodaa Akbar", which has drawn protests from Hindu nationalists and banned in Rajastan, Dalrymple said the protests by the VHP and the RSS were motivated by bigotry and found them "abhorrent".

In 2007-8, Dalrymple traveled extensively in Pakistan to cover the pro-democracy protests, the lawyers movement and the elections. He has written two very significant pieces focusing on difference between perception and reality of India and Pakistan sixty years after independence and Pakistan's ongoing transition to democracy.

In August 2007, Dalrymple traveled to both India and Pakistan to see for himself how the two countries are doing 60 years after independence. Here's an excerpt from what he wrote:

"In the world's media, never has the contrast between the two countries appeared so stark: one is widely perceived as the next great superpower; the other written off as a failed state, a world center of Islamic radicalism, the hiding place of Osama bin Laden and the only US ally that Washington appears ready to bomb."

"On the ground, of course, the reality is different and first-time visitors to Pakistan are almost always surprised by the country's visible prosperity. There is far less poverty on show in Pakistan than in India, fewer beggars, and much less desperation. In many ways the infrastructure of Pakistan is much more advanced: there are better roads and airports, and more reliable electricity. Middle-class Pakistani houses are often bigger and better appointed than their equivalents in India."

More recently, in March 2008, Dalrymple wrote a very optimistic piece about Pakistan pointing out positive changes in the form of a resurgent middle class:

"It was this newly enriched and empowered urban middle class that showed its political muscle for the first time with the organization of a lawyers' movement, whose protests against the dismissal of the chief justice soon swelled into a full-scale pro-democracy campaign, despite Musharraf's harassment and arrest of many lawyers. The movement represented a huge shift in Pakistani civil society's participation in politics. The middle class were at last moving from their living rooms onto the streets, from dinner parties into political parties."

Friday, April 4, 2008

King and Bhutto Legacies

On the 40th anniversary of his assassination, Martin Luther King is appropriately being remembered today for his civil rights struggle that has allowed Barrack Obama, an African American, to be the leading Presidential candidate for a major party nomination in the United States. This is also the day that Pakistani leader Zulfikar Bhutto was assassinated using the court system by Gen Zia-ul-Haq twenty nine years ago. Bhutto is being remembered as a leader who has captured the imagination of the poor and the disenfranchised masses in Pakistan seeking basic economic improvement in their lives, just as Martin Luther King did among the minorities and the poor in the United States. The Bhutto legacy lives on as Pakistanis have voted PPP into office once again.

There is widespread discontent in both nations centered around war on terror, security issues, social justice and economic opportunity. A poll released today by NY times/CBS shows that 81% of Americans think US is on the wrong tack. Pakistanis had a similar poll recently and have already voted for change in the general elections. The Americans are likely to do the same in the upcoming general elections.

While both nation's expectations from change are understandable, only time will tell if their choice of new leaders will deliver what is needed to improve their situations.

Americans Say US on Wrong Track

Eighty-one percent of Americans believe the US is headed in the wrong direction, says the latest NY Times/CBS poll conducted recently. This is the worst ever reading of dissatisfaction since this particular poll began in the 1990s. Although the public unhappiness has been rising since the early days of the Iraq war, it has taken a new turn for the worse in the last few months, as the economy has seemed to slip into recession. There is now nearly a national consensus that the country faces significant problems.

While it is not clear from the polls whether the people see a direct connection between the misguided conduct of the war on terror, the recent books such as "The Three Trillion Dollar War" by Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz are helping make that connection.

This poll confirms that Pakistanis are not alone in how they feel about the negative impact of the US policies on economy and security. Like their American counterparts, Pakistanis share similar feelings of dissatisfaction . Pakistanis have already spoken in recent elections. All the indications are that the Americans will also send a similar message in the November elections to the US Congress and elect a Democrat as the new President. The real question is whether the new governments in US and Pakistan will listen and act on what they are hearing from their people.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Middle Class Clout Rising In Pakistan.

There is a quiet revolution taking place in Pakistani politics; the middle class clout is rising. This is something that has not received a lot of attention by the media. Here are some of key nuggets gleaned from the fine-print of media reports that support this conclusion:
1. Nafisa Shah, an upper middle class candidate of the PPP, defeated Pir Pagara's son in Khairpur.
2. In Jhang, ten out of eleven of those elected are from the middle class rather than the families of the usual feudal zamindars. This would have been unthinkable ten years ago.
3. Some of the most benign feudal lords suffered astonishing electoral reverses. Mian Najibuddin Owaisi was not just the popular feudal lord of the village of Khanqah Sharif in the southern Punjab, he was also the sajjada nasheen, the descendant of the local Sufi saint. Because of Najibuddin's personal popularity, his vote stood up better than many other pro-Musharraf feudal lords—and he polled 46,000 votes. But he still lost, to an independent candidate from a nonfeudal middle-class background named Amir Varan, who received 57,000 votes and ousted the Owaisi family from control of the constituency for the first time since they entered politics in the elections of 1975.
4. PML (N) led by Nawaz Sharif and MQM swept the urban vote in Punjab and Sindh respectively. Both parties have their power bases in the urban middle class.
5. The PPP's voter lives in a different world, a world that was dominant up to a decade ago. It is a world that is much more rural, more deferential, more rooted in tradition. Its nationalism is less marked and its Islam less influenced by the international trends of the last 30 years and thus much less politicized and much more based in centuries-old Sufi traditions. Describing this situation, Jason Burke of the Guardian argues that "This is a Pakistan that is disappearing". Burke goes on to say that a PPP candidate in rural Punjab recognized it telling him that his party needed to "re-invent itself".

While many rural residents in Sindh and Southern Punjab who voted for the PPP have remained relatively isolated from major developments in Pakistan in the last decade, the urban middle class has grown dramatically in numbers and influence during the military rule of President Musharraf. The New York Times reported on this expansion of Pakistani middle class last November in these words: "As he fights to hold on to power, General Musharraf finds himself opposed by the expanded middle class that is among his greatest achievements, and using his emergency powers to rein in another major advance he set in motion, a vibrant, independent news media". Acknowledging this fact, William Dalrymple, a British journalist/author considered knowledgeable about India and Pakistan, recently wrote as follows: "It was this newly enriched and empowered urban middle class that showed its political muscle for the first time with the organization of a lawyers' movement, whose protests against the dismissal of the chief justice soon swelled into a full-scale pro-democracy campaign, despite Musharraf's harassment and arrest of many lawyers. The movement represented a huge shift in Pakistani civil society's participation in politics. The middle class were at last moving from their living rooms onto the streets, from dinner parties into political parties."

In 2007, analysts at Standard Chartered bank estimated that Pakistan has a middle class of 30 million which earns an average of about $10,000 per year. And adjusted for purchasing power parity (PPP), Pakistan's per capita GDP is approaching $3,000 per head.

By enlarging and enriching the middle class in Pakistan, President Musharraf has unleashed the forces that he can not control. In some ways, this situation is similar to the Soviet leader Mr. Gorbachev's perestroika that eventually led to the rise of democracy and capitalism in Russia and many of the former Soviet republics.

The fact that this enlarged, enriched and energized middle class is beginning to assert itself in Pakistani politics is a welcome change. Democracies depend on the existence of large, powerful middle class for their sustenance. If the size, influence and participation of the middle class in Pakistani politics continue to grow under the new government, it will only strengthen democratic institutions and the rule of law in the country.

Sources: NY Times, William Dalrymple, The Guardian, News Agencies

Related Links:

Online Political Activism in Pakistan

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A New Deal For Pakistan

The province of Sindh in southern Pakistan is a rural region of dusty mudbrick villages, of white-domed blue-tiled Sufi shrines, and of salty desert scrublands broken, quite suddenly, by floodplains of wonderful fecundity. These thin, fertile belts of green—cotton fields, rice paddies, cane breaks, and miles of checkerboard mango orchards—snake along the banks of the Indus River as it meanders its sluggish, silted, cafĂ©-au-lait way through the plains of Pakistan down to the shores of the Arabian Sea.

In many ways the landscape here with its harsh juxtaposition of dry horizons of sand and narrow strips of intensely fertile cultivation more closely resembles upper Egypt than the well-irrigated Punjab to its north. But it is poorer than either—in fact, it is one of the most backward areas in all of Asia. Whatever index of development you choose to dwell on—literacy, health care provision, daily income, or numbers living below the poverty line—rural Sindh comes bumping along close to the bottom. Here landlords still rule with guns and private armies over vast tracts of country; bonded labor—a form of debt slavery—leaves tens of thousands shackled to their places of work. It is also, in parts, lawless and dangerous to move around in, especially at night.

I first learned about the dacoits—or highwaymen—when I attempted to leave the provincial market town of Sukkur after dark a week before the recent elections. It was a tense time everywhere, and violence was widely expected. But in Sindh the tension had resolved itself into an outbreak of rural brigandage. We left Sukkur asking for directions to Larkana, the home village of the Bhutto family, only to be warned by people huddled in tea stalls shrouded under thick shawls that we should not try to continue until first light the following morning. They said there had been ten or fifteen robberies on the road in the last fortnight alone.

If it is dangerous to travel here at night, it is much more dangerous to declare openly for the candidates you support in the elections. The big landlords here—the zamindars—expect electoral loyalty from their tenants. As the Pakistani writer Ahmed Rashid put it, "In some constituencies if the feudals put up their dog as a candidate, that dog would get elected with ninety-nine per cent of the vote." Such loyalty can be enforced. In the more remote and lawless areas the zamindars and their thugs often bribe or threaten the polling agents, then simply stuff the ballot boxes with thousands of votes for themselves. This is sufficiently common for the practice to have its own descriptive term: "booth capturing."

Democracy has never thrived in Pakistan in part because landowning has traditionally been the social base from which most politicians emerge, especially in rural areas. Here Pakistan is quite different from India, where the urban middle class quickly gained control in 1947. That class has been largely excluded from Pakistan's political process, as, even more so, has the rural peasantry. There are no Pakistani equivalents of Indian peasant leaders such as Laloo Prasad Yadav, the village cowherd turned (former) chief minister of Bihar, or Mayawati, the dalit (untouchable) leader and current chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.

You can see the results of a system dominated by landowners in a town like Khairpur, a short distance from Sukkur in the northern part of Sindh. As you drive along, the turban-clad head of the local feudal lord, Sadruddin Shah, with a curling black mustache, sneers down from billboards placed every fifty yards along the road. Shah, who was standing, as usual, for no less than three different seats, is often held up in the liberal Pakistani press as the epitome of all that is worst about Pakistani electoral feudalism. After all, this is a man who goes electioneering not with leaflets setting out his program, but with five pickup trucks full of his men armed with pump-action shotguns and Kalashnikovs.

For generations the area has been dominated by Sadruddin's family, the head of whom—currently Sadruddin's father—is known as the Pir Pagara, "the Holy Man with the Turban." The Pir Pagaras are not only the largest and most powerful of the local feudal landowners, but they are also the descendants of the local Sufi saint. Normally Sufism is a force for peace and brotherhood—Islam at its most pluralistic and tolerant. At the other end of Sindh I have attended the annual 'urs—or shrine festival—of the Sufi saint Shah Abdul Latif, where there is ecstatic Sufi music, the singing of love poetry, and men and women dancing together—something that would horrify the orthodox 'ulema.

But Khairpur has a very different and more militant Sufi tradition. The Pir Pagaras have always had their own Hur militia, which once acted as a guerrilla force against the British and now acts as Sadruddin's private electoral army. The week I was in the district the local papers were full of stories of Sadruddin's gunmen shooting at crowds of little boys shouting slogans supporting the recently assassinated Benazir Bhutto, and burning down the houses of those of his tenants who had flown opposition flags.

The leaders of this feudal army were standing for election under the banner of their own pro-Musharraf faction of the Pakistan Muslim League (known as PML-F, in the alphabet soup of acronyms that characterizes Pakistani elections). Against them were ranged the forces of Benazir Bhutto's party, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP). Contrary to its socialist-sounding name, the PPP has traditionally also been very much a feudal party that has consistently failed to bring about any serious land reform that would break the power of the landowners. Benazir Bhutto herself was from a landowning feudal family in Sindh; so is Asif Ali Zardari, her widower and the current co-chairman of the PPP, which she left to him and their son Bilawal in her will as if it were a personal possession; so also is Makhdoom Amin Fahim, the most likely candidate for prime minister of the new PPP-dominated coalition.

But things are at last beginning to change in Pakistani politics, and here in Khairpur at least, the PPP candidates were largely middle-class—a new development in the region. Nafisa Shah, who was one of the candidates standing against Sadruddin, is the impeccably middle-class daughter of a local lawyer, who is currently at Oxford University writing a Ph.D. dissertation on honor killings.

Nafisa's campaign was hugely assisted by a wave of sympathy for Benazir: the day she was assassinated, Khairpur was consumed by riots, and for four days full-scale warfare broke out between Benazir supporters and the local administration, during which the election headquarters of the pro-Musharraf parties and several offices of the local government were burned down.

Partly because of this simmering discontent, outbreaks of violence were predicted on polling day, and everyone was anticipating widespread rigging by Musharraf and his intelligence agency cronies, something to which the Musharraf-appointed election commission was expected to turn a blind eye. This, it was predicted, would be followed by more riots organized by the discontented opposition parties who had been cheated of their votes.

In fact, however, serious violence did not materialize, either in Khairpur or elsewhere, and to general astonishment, Nafisa and her fellow PPP candidates had a remarkably strong victory, monitored and filmed by Pakistan's increasingly fearless and independent press and television. The PML-F was almost wiped out and Sadruddin Shah won only his own home seat—and that with the narrowest of margins.

What happened in Khairpur was a small revolution—a middle-class victory over the forces of reactionary feudal landlordism. More astonishingly, it was a revolution that was reproduced across the country. To widespread surprise, the elections in Pakistan were free and fair; and Pakistanis voted heavily in favor of liberal centrist parties opposed to both the mullahs and the army. Here, in a country normally held up in the more Islamophobic right-wing press of Western countries as the epitome of "what went wrong" in the Islamic world, a popular election resulted in an unequivocal vote for moderate, secular democracy.

For Pakistani liberals, 2007 was one of the worst years in their country's history. In early March, Musharraf suspended Pakistan's chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, accusing him of using his position for personal gain. This was clearly not the case. Chaudhry had a reputation for both integrity and independence, and most assumed that Musharraf simply wanted to replace him with a more pliant judge who would not block his reelection as president.

Some were encouraged by the popular protests mounted by Pakistan's lawyers in response to Chaudhry's suspension—in city after city across the country lawyers took to the streets in their court robes, marching in orderly ranks, three abreast, like emperor penguins in a nature film. But any optimism was quickly dimmed by the heavy-handed response of Musharraf's riot police and the simultaneous growth of Islamist radicalism in the heart of the capital, Islamabad.

This took the form of the heavily veiled, black-clad "chicks with sticks" who, in April 2007, emerged in large numbers armed with bamboo canes from a mosque and madrasa complex in the city center, not far from the headquarters of Pakistan's powerful intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The young women then proceeded to ransack suspected brothels and smash video and music stores in the capital while the police watched, apparently helpless. The bloody storming by the army of their base, the Red Mosque, in early July was followed by an unprecedented wave of suicide bombings and Islamist revenge attacks against the army. In all there were sixty suicide bombings in Pakistan last year, leaving 770 people dead and nearly 1,600 injured.

By autumn the situation had become even worse, with a series of crushing military defeats inflicted on the Paki-stani army by the Taliban in Waziristan, the "extraordinary rendition" by Musharraf's officials of the former prime minister and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif back to Saudi Arabia after his return from exile, and the subsequent declaration of an emergency by President Musharraf, who put a number of dissenting lawyers, political opponents, and human rights activists under house arrest. The disasters reached a horrific climax in December with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. This led many to predict that Pakistan was looking like a failed state stumbling toward collapse and civil war. The cruel contrast with India, then widely being celebrated as a future democratic superpower on its sixtieth birthday, was unmistakable.

Yet the widespread publicity given to the crisis obscured the important changes that had quietly taken place in Pakistani society during Musharraf's eight years in power. Pakistan's economy is currently in difficulty, with fast-rising inflation and shortages of electricity and flour; but between 2002 and 2006 it had grown almost as strongly as India's. Until the beginning of 2007, Pakistan had a construction and consumer boom, with growth approaching 8 percent; for several years its stock market was the fastest-rising in Asia.

As you travel around Pakistan today you can see the effects of the boom everywhere: in vast new shopping malls and smart roadside filling stations, in the cranes of the building sites and the smokestacks of factories, in the expensive new cars jamming the roads and in the ubiquitous cell-phone stores. In 2003 the country had fewer than three million cell phones; today apparently there are 50 million, while car ownership has been increasing at roughly 40 percent a year since 2001. At the same time foreign direct investment has risen from $322 million in 2002 to $3.5 billion in 2006.

Pakistan's cities, in particular, are fast changing beyond recognition. As in India, there is a burgeoning Pakistani fashion scene full of ambitious gay designers and amazingly beautiful models. There are also remarkable developments in publishing. In nonfiction, Ahmed Rashid's book Taliban became the essential primer on Afghanistan after 2001. Ayesha Siddiqa's Military Inc. and Zahid Hussain's Frontline Pakistan are two of the most penetrating recent studies of the country and essential for understanding the politics of Pakistan. Siddiqa is especially good on the economic and political power of the army, while Hussain's book is the best existing guide to Pakistan's jihadis. There have also been particularly impressive new works of fiction by Pakistani writers, among them Kamila Shamsie's Kartography and Broken Verses, Nadeem Aslam's Maps for Lost Lovers, and Moni Mohsin's End of Innocence. One of Daniyal Mueenuddin's short stories, his wonderfully witty "Nawabdin Electrician," was published in The New Yorker of August 27, 2007.

Recently Mohsin Hamid, author of the best-seller The Reluctant Fundamentalist,[2] wrote about this change in culture. Having lived as a banker in New York and London, he returned home to Lahore to find the country unrecognizable. He was particularly struck by the incredible new world of media that had sprung up..., a world of music videos, fashion programmes, independent news networks, cross-dressing talk-show hosts, religious debates, stock-market analysis.... Not just television, but also private radio stations and newspapers have flourished.... The result is an unprecedented openness.... Young people are speaking and dressing differently.... The Vagina Monologues was recently performed on stage in Pakistan to standing ovations.

Such reports are rare in the Western press, which prefers its stereotypes simple: India, successful and forward-looking; Pakistan, a typical Islamic failure. The reality is of course much less clear, and far more complex.

It was this newly enriched and empowered urban middle class that showed its political muscle for the first time with the organization of a lawyers' movement, whose protests against the dismissal of the chief justice soon swelled into a full-scale pro-democracy campaign, despite Musharraf's harassment and arrest of many lawyers. The movement represented a huge shift in Pakistani civil society's participation in politics. The middle class were at last moving from their living rooms onto the streets, from dinner parties into political parties.

February's elections dramatically confirmed this shift. The biggest electoral surprise of all was the success of Nawaz Sharif's conservative faction of the Muslim League, the PML-N. This is a solidly urban party, popular among exactly the sort of middle-class voters in the Punjab who have benefited most from the economic success of the last decade, and who have since found that status threatened by the recent economic slowdown and the sudden steep rises in the prices of food, fuel, and electricity.

The same is true of the success of the MQM, the Karachi-based party representing the Mohajirs, the emigrants who left India to come to Pakistan at the founding of the country in 1947. Like Nawaz Sharif's PML-N, it is an urban-based regional party attractive to middle-class voters. Almost 50 percent of Pakistan's population now lives in urban areas, and the center of gravity is shifting from the countryside to the large cities. The parties that appealed most successfully to this new demographic trend won the most convincing victories in the polls.

The rise of the middle class was most clear in the number of winning candidates who, for the first time, came from such a background. In Jhang district of the rural Punjab, for example, as many as ten out of eleven of those elected are the sons of revenue officers, senior policemen, functionaries in the civil bureaucracy, and so on, rather than usual feudal zamindars. This would have been unthinkable ten years ago.

Even the most benign feudal lords suffered astonishing electoral reverses. Mian Najibuddin Owaisi was not just the popular feudal lord of the village of Khanqah Sharif in the southern Punjab, he was also the sajjada nasheen, the descendant of the local Sufi saint, and so, like Sadruddin Shah, regarded as something of a holy man as well as the local landowner. But recently Najibuddin made the ill-timed switch from supporting Nawaz Sharif's PML-N to the pro-Musharraf Q-League. When I talked to people in the village bazaar, they all said that they did not like Musharraf, but they would still vote for their landlord.

"Prices are rising," said Hajji Sadiq, a cloth merchant, sitting amid bolts of textiles. "There is less and less electricity and gas."

"And what was done to Benazir was quite wrong," his friend Salman agreed.

"But Najib sahib is our protector," said Hajji. "Whatever party he chooses, we will vote for him. Even the Q-League."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because with him in power we have someone we can call if we are in trouble with the police, or need someone to speak to the administration."

"When we really need him he looks after us."

"We vote according to local issues only. Who cares about parties?"

Because of Najibuddin's personal popularity, his vote stood up better than many other pro-Musharraf feudal lords—and he polled 46,000 votes. But he still lost, to an independent candidate from a nonfeudal middle-class background named Amir Varan, who received 57,000 votes and ousted the Owaisi family from control of the constituency for the first time since they entered politics in the elections of 1975.

As well as a middle-class victory over a feudal past, in the west of the country the election was also an important vote for secularism over the Islamist religious parties.

In the last election of October 2002, thanks partly to their closeness to the ruling military government, and partly to their sympathy with al-Qaeda, the Islamist Muttehida Majlis Amal (MMA) alliance nearly tripled its representation in the national assembly from 4 to 11.6 percent, and swept the polls in the two key provinces bordering Afghanistan—Baluchistan and the North-West Frontier Province—where they went on to form Islamist provincial governments.

This time, however, religious parties sunk from fifty-six out of 272 seats in the national assembly to just five. In the North-West Frontier Province, the MMA has been comprehensively defeated by the overtly secular Awami National Party (ANP). This is a remnant of what was once a mighty force: the nonviolent and secular Red Shirts movement, which, before the creation of Pakistan, was originally led by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, an important ally of Mahatma Gandhi from the North-West Frontier Province. Ghaffar Khan was locked up by one Pakistani general after another for much of the time between Partition and his death in 1988, but his political movement has survived both the generals and a succession of bomb blasts aimed at its party, and has now—after nearly fifty years in opposition—made a dramatic comeback under the leadership of Ghaffar Khan's grandson, Asfandyar Wali Khan.

"Before the Taliban," the North-West Frontier Province "used to be a very liberal area," he told me in Islamabad.

No one can force us to give up that culture—even the suicide bombers. There is a very clear polarization taking place...on one side those striving for peace, nonviolence, and a future of cooperation with the international community, and on the other those who stand for confrontation and hatred. They are men of violence, but we refuse to be cowed. We may lose, but we will make a stand.

In the election, Asfandyar's ANP routed the Islamists, demonstrating that contrary to their image as bearded bastions of Islamist orthodoxy, Pashtun tribesmen are as wary as anyone else of violence, extremism, and instability. Now the ANP is talking of extending the Pakistani political parties into the troubled northern tribal areas that are federally administered and act as the buffer zone between Pakistan and Afghanistan: "If I am prepared to take on the Maulvis in the tribal areas, why should the government stop me?" asked Asfandyar. "At the moment the tribal areas are just left to fester. We have to end that isolation and bring them forward."

The issues that mattered to voters in the frontier were those of incompetent governance by the MMA, increased insecurity, and especially the fear of constant suicide bombings. Like democratically elected parties anywhere else in the world, the electorate judged the MMA on its record, and threw it out for failing to deliver. There is a clear lesson for US policymakers here. The parties of political Islam are like any other democratic parties: they will succeed or fail on what they deliver. The best way of dealing with democratic Islamists, if Pakistan's experience is anything to go by, is to let them be voted into power and then reveal their own incompetence—mullah-fatigue will no doubt quickly set in. Besieging Islamist parties that have come to power through a democratic vote, as the US has done with Hamas, or allowing local proxies to rig the vote so as to deprive them of power, as happened in Egypt, only strengthens their hand and increases their popularity.

There is an additional reason for modest optimism about Pakistan's future at the moment. In recent years, the biggest threat to the country's stability has come from the jihadi groups created and nourished by the army and the ISI for selective deployment in Afghanistan and Kashmir, but which soon followed their own violent agendas within Pakistan itself. For the last decade, that threat has been exacerbated by the ambiguous attitude toward the jihadis maintained by the Pakistani army and its intelligence services. Some elements have been alarmed by the militants' violence and the effects that supporting these groups would have on the alliance with the US. Others saw them as useful irregulars that could still be drawn on to fight low-cost proxy wars for the army. That era of division and ambiguity now seems to be coming to a close.

On November 24, 2007, a suicide bomber detonated himself beside a bus at the entrance of Camp Hamza, the ISI's Islamabad headquarters. Around twenty people died in what is the first known attack by an Islamist cell against the Pakistani intelligence services. Many of the dead were ISI staffers. This event, coming as it did after three assassination attempts on General Musharraf, several other bomb attacks on army barracks, and the murder of many captured army personnel in Waziristan, is credited with persuading even the most stubbornly pro-Islamist elements in the Pakistani army that the monster they have created now has to be dispatched, and as quickly as possible.

Shuja Nawaz is a Washington-based specialist on the Pakistani army who comes from a prominent and well-connected military family and who is about to publish Crossed Swords, an important new book on the army.

The direct attacks on the army have shaken up the military at all levels. One of Musharraf's senior colleagues said he was changing his cars daily to avoid being identified when he hits the roads of Rawalpindi. The army brass has been told not to go out in uniforms. Soon, they may stop using their staff cars with flags and star plates.

This is obviously a radically new situation, and one that changes all previous calculations on the part of the military. The Pakistan expert Stephen P. Cohen of the Brookings Institution agrees with this assessment. He recently told me:

The senior leadership of the army under Musharraf now regards the threat from Islamic radicals as being far greater than the threat posed by India. That conviction has been hugely increased since the suicide bomb attacks on army staff and the intelligence agencies this past December.

This week the news came that the army had rounded up in Lahore an important cell of Lashkar-i-Jhangvi Islamist militants; many more such arrests are expected soon.

Over the last few years there has been something of an existential crisis in Pakistan, at the heart of which lay the question: What sort of country did Pakistanis want? Did they want a Western-style liberal democracy, as envisaged by the poet Iqbal, who first dreamed up the idea of Pakistan, and by the country's eventual founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah? An Islamic republic like Mullah Omar's Afghanistan? Or a military-ruled junta of the sort created by Generals Ayyub Khan, Zia, and Musharraf, who, among them, have ruled Pakistan for thirty-four of its sixty years of existence?

Though turnout in the election was fairly low, partly owing to fear of suicide bombings, it is clear that Pakistanis have overwhelmingly rejected the military and Islamist options and chosen instead to back secular democracy. And if many stayed at home, no fewer than 36 million Pakistanis braved the threatened bombs to vote in an election which by South Asian standards was remarkably free of violence, corruption, ballot-stuffing, or "booth capturing."

A new coalition government now looks likely to come to power peacefully, bringing together Zadari's People's Party and Sharif's Muslim League, and will do so unopposed by the army. These developments should now lead commentators to reassess the country that many have long written off and caricatured as a terror-breeding swamp of Islamist iniquity.

The country I saw in February on a long road trip from Lahore in the Punjab down through rural Sindh to Karachi was not a failed state, or anything even approaching "the most dangerous country in the world...almost beyond repair" as the London Spectator recently suggested, joined in its view by The New York Times and The Washington Post among many others. On the contrary, the countryside I passed through was no less peaceful and prosperous than that on the other side of the Indian border; indeed its road networks are far more developed. It was certainly a far cry from the violent instability of post-occupation Iraq or Afghanistan.

On my travels I found a surprisingly widespread consensus that the mullahs should keep to their mosques, and the increasingly unpopular military should return to its barracks. The new army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, who took over when Musharraf stepped down from his military role last year, seems to recognize this. He has repeatedly talked of pulling the army back from civilian life, and ordering his soldiers to stay out of politics. He has also ordered that no army officer may meet with President Musharraf without his personal approval. He also seems committed to maintaining tight security to protect Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

Pakistan will not change overnight. Much violence and unrest no doubt lie ahead, as shown by the recent assassination by a suicide bomber in Rawalpindi of General Mushtaq Baig, the head of the Pakistan Army Medical Corps, and continuing bomb blasts in the troubled Swat Valley, once the country's most popular tourist destination. The country still has a vast problem with rural and urban poverty, and a collapsing education system. It also has serious unresolved questions about its political future. As Ahmed Rashid said in a recent interview:

The new coalition government will have to face continuing behind the scenes efforts by President Pervez Musharraf and the intelligence agencies to undermine them even before they are allowed to govern. Musharraf's agents backed by a section of the Washington establishment had been secretly trying to persuade Zardari to go into alliance with the former ruling party—the Pakistan Muslim League-Q group. The Q group has been decimated in the elections—23 ministers lost their seats and today it is leaderless, visionless and without an agenda—except it remains a pawn in the hands of Musharraf.

For many Pakistanis, there continues to be confusion and disillusion. Most of the country's impoverished citizens still live precarious and uncertain lives. A growing insurgency is spilling out of the tribal areas on the Afghan border. But Pakistan is not about to fall apart, or implode, or break out into civil war, or become a Taliban state with truckfuls of mullahs pouring down on Islamabad from the Khyber Pass. It is not at all clear whether the members of Pakistan's flawed and corrupt political elite have the ability to govern the country and seize the democratic opportunity offered by this election, rather than simply use it as an opportunity for personal enrichment. But they are unlikely ever again to have such a good opportunity to redefine this crucial strategic country as a stable and moderate Islamic democracy that can work out its own version of India's remarkable economic and political success.

By William Dalrymple
Lahore, March 3, 2008