Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Ahmad Rashid in Silicon Valley

Future of Democracy in South Asia:

The Indian Community Center in Milpitas, CA was the venue on June 11, 2008 for a panel discussion organized by Asia Society with well-known Pakistani author Ahmad Rashid, Stanford University Prof. Larry Diamond, UC Berkeley Prof. Pradeep Chibber, and Muhammad Humayon Qayoumi, President of California State University at Hayword. The discussion centered on "The Future of Democracy in South Asia" and it was moderated by Prof. Diamond. The event drew capacity crowd of over 100 attendees of many different ethnicities and origins in the US including Caucasian Americans as well as South Asians, East Asians and Central Asians.

Ahmad Rashid's presence was made possible by his ongoing book tour that brought him to Silicon Valley, California to promote his latest work "Descent into Chaos: The US and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia". Professor Diamond gave Rashid's book a big plug and stood in line with others to buy and get the book autographed by the author after the panel discussion concluded.


Larry Diamond moderated the panel. He is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and is the author or editor of more than twenty books, including Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq, and the newly released The Spirit of Democracy: The Struggle to Build Free Societies Throughout the World.

As part of the introductions, Prof. Diamond mentioned Freedom House findings that about 2 billion people, almost a third of humanity, now live under some form of democracy. Half of this population lives in India, the world's largest democracy. He praised the work of the ICC in nurturing good relations between India as the world's largest democracy and the United States as the world's most powerful democracy. The panelists were introduced as follows:

Ahmed Rashid is a Pakistani journalist and best-selling author who has covered Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia for 25 years. He writes for The Washington Post, The International Herald Tribune, The New York Review of Books, BBC Online, and The Nation and appears regularly on NPR, CNN, and the BBC World Service. His newest book is Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. Previous books include Jihad, Taliban (which has sold over 1.5 million copies), and The Resurgence of Central Asia.

Pradeep Chhibber is Professor and Chair of the Political Science Department at U.C. Berkeley. He is the author of The Formation of National Party Systems, Democracy without Associations: Transformation of Party Systems and Social Cleavages in India, and many articles. He holds an M.A. and an M.Phil. from the University of Delhi and a Ph.D. from UCLA.

Mohammad Humayon Qayoumi is president of California State University, East Bay. The author of eight books and over 85 articles, he was the senior advisor to the minister of finance of Afghanistan from 2002 to 2005 and sits on several boards of directors, including that of the Central Bank of Afghanistan. Dr. Qayoumi has a B.S. degree in electrical engineering from American University of Beirut and an M.B.A. in finance and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Cincinnati.

The Panel Discussion:

After the customary introductions, Prof. Diamond invited each of three panelists to speak on the topic for 10-15 minutes each. Mr. Qayoumi was the first speaker. He said democracy does not begin and end with free and fair elections. It must be anchored in rule of law and transparency of actions and budget/spending process to stop corruption. In most the nations considered free by Freedom House, there is no transparency in budgets and spending. He then proceeded to complain about the lack of US financial support to develop Afghanistan and described Pakistan as the "biggest exporter of terrorism". He questioned Pakistan's raison d'etre as a nation and dismissed it as just four ethnic groups with little in common except a passport and quarreling with each other and Afghanistan as just a buffer state. He blamed Pakistan for most of the problems in Afghanistan and drew applause from a section of the audience.

Mr. Qayoumi was followed by Ahmad Rashid. Mr. Rashid pointed out the two biggest early mistakes by the US in Afghanistan after 911. The first mistake was to tell Pakistan to go after Al-Qaeda exclusively and leave the Taleban alone, which allowed the Taleban to gather and regroup in Pakistan's tribal belt along the Afghan border. The second mistake was to farm out security to the Afghan warlords rather than strengthen the central government in Afghanistan.

Rashid said the resurgent Taleban have now become a major threat to both Pakistan and Afghanistan. He criticized the US policy of continuing to support President Musharraf after the crushing defeat of his loyalists and the Islamists in the recent elections. He said the Pakistani military still dominates Pakistan's foreign policy and it is also continuing to support Mr. Musharraf who is a threat to Pakistan's fragile democracy led by a secular party. He blamed the powerful military for undermining democracy in Pakistan during its 60 years of existence. He even brought up the possibility of another martial law in the near future with deteriorating political situation and the latest border incident between NATO and Pakistan that killed 11 Pakistani soldiers.

Prof. Pradeep Chhibber praised India's democracy and mentioned all the surveys and opinion polls in India that reinforce broad public support for current democracy. However, the Indian democracy does face two key challenges. The first challenge is the complete absence of the government or state in large swaths of India. The second challenge is that the government often acts in inconsistent and arbitrary ways where it does exist. He went on to say that, in some parts of Chhattisgarh, the government relies on private militias to act on its behalf. He also acknowledged the existence of corruption and criminal elements among the politicians in India. He said about a third of Indian legislators have criminal records. Democracy is a process that must be allowed to continue in spite its messiness for it to eventually bear fruit.

Questions and Answers:

There was strong participation by the audience in the Q&A session that followed the speakers. This scribe addressed the following question to Ahmad Rashid, "Unlike Al-Qaeda, the Taleban do have roots among the people on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border. Do you think the US and Pakistan should negotiate with some elements within the Taleban for peace, rather than rely solely on military means to defeat them?" Rashid said there should be negotiations, but only after "the Taleban sanctuaries end in Pakistan." Prof. Diamond did a follow-up by asking Rashid as to how can the sanctuaries be ended? Alas, Rashid had no answer to this question either during the Q&A or later at the book-signing in the lobby.

A couple of questioners asked whether Al-Qaeda was real and one even attempted to make fun of the Taleban as "75-year old students" of the madrassahs in Pakistan. These questions seemed to be tongue-in-cheek but those asking appeared to be quite serious.

There was a question as to why democracy has taken hold in India but not in Pakistan. Rashid suggested it was because of Pakistan's powerful military and its political and economic ambitions. Others thought it had to do with religion. The scribe offered that it may have something to do with the emasculation of the feudal lords in India through extensive land reform that never happened in Pakistan. One participant, a former president of TIE, proposed that Pakistan had to have strong military, disproportionate to its size, because of continuing hostilities with the much bigger neighbor India. The powerful military, needed for strong defense, has now become a liability in its quest for democracy. There was general agreement that democracy is a process that must be allowed to continue un-interrupted to work out its bugs and improve over time to serve the people.

South Asians in Silicon Valley:

The strong South Asian presence in Silicon Valley is helping bring focus to issues related to India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the entire South and Central Asian region with the participation of US opinion makers such as Stanford Prof. Larry Diamond who is also a fellow at the Hoover Institution. The ICC is clearly playing a major role and showing a path to PACC, its Pakistani counterpart in the valley.


Riaz Haq said...

Received via email from Prof. Larry Diamond:

Many thanks. You are very kind. Just a small correction. I don't have my notes here (I am travelling) but I believe the number I referred to was 2 billion people living in "free" countries, a somewhat more demanding standard than just electoral democracy.

Very kind of you to write this up.

Riaz Haq said...

Recently I saw a piece by Tariq Ali, a writer and well-know leftist who lives in the UK. In this piece, Tariq Ali criticizes Ahmad Rashid, the well-known author and strong advocate for use of overwhelming military force in Afghanistan and Pakistan against the insurgents. Ali says, "Rashid was a firm supporter of the Soviet intervention, although he is coy about this in his book (Descent into Chaos). He shouldn't be. It reveals a certain consistency. Afghanistan, he thinks, can be transformed only through war and occupation by civilized empires. This line of argument avoids the need to concentrate on an exit strategy. Civilian casualties in Afghanistan are high and in the last two months more US and British soldiers have died here than in Iraq."

Unknown said...

Just to add some further information on Ahmed Rashid from Tariq Ali:

This A Rashid is perhaps single handedly doing more to justify the policy of blood shed and carnage in the Af-Pak region than anyone else.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's the transcript of an NPR report on feudal power in Pakistan and how it enslaves people on the large feudal estates in Punjab:

LAURA LYNCH: The midday sun throws a harsh spotlight on weathered faces. Women crouch low, searching for, then plucking out barely ripe tomatoes. Every crease and crevice in their feet, their hands, even on their faces is dusted with dirt from the fields they farm. They work from dawn to dusk - and the landowner gets most of the income. Nearly two thirds of Pakistan's rural population are sharecroppers. One of the male workers, Abdul Aziz, says they all owe their livelihood to their boss - so they support the political party he supports. He has always voted for the Pakistan People's Party he says; the party of the late Benazir Bhutto. Bhutto and other wealthy landowners like her had always been able to count on the loyalty of those who toil for them in the fields. At her gracious home in Islamabad, Syma Khar traces her lineage - both familial and political - through the photographs she keeps in the cupboard.

LYNCH: Khar is a member of the provincial assembly of the Punjab - the largest province in Pakistan. She is also a member of one of Pakistan's most powerful families. The pictures are from the Khar family estate just outside the city of Multan. The sprawling property includes fisheries, mango orchards and sugarcane fields. Thousands of people work there - most are loyal to their masters. Syma's husband, his father, brothers, nieces and nephews have all turned that to their political advantage to gain office. The workers are by and large, poor, landless and uneducated. Pervez Iqbal Cheema of Pakistan's National Defence University says that's the way most feudals want to keep it.

PERVEZ IQBAL CHEEMA: A feudal, in order to maintain his influence, will be probably not very happy for extension of education or health facilities because as long as they have a minimum interaction with the outsiders then the chances of new ideas germinating or causing some trouble are relatively less.

LYNCH: That star power was evident when Benazir Bhutto staged her return from exile in Karachi in October of 2007. Though it was later marred by a suicide bomb attack, the Bhutto power base in rural Pakistan bussed thousands of loyal followers in to cheer her arrival and dance in the streets. Even after she died, Bhutto's political machine ensured her husband eventually became President. And her son, Bilawal, inherited the party leadership even though he's only 20 with no political experience. In a back alley off a busy road in Rawalpindi, boys are just starting a late afternoon game of cricket. Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, rights activist and professor of colonial history at Lahore University of Management Sciences, keeps an office a few floors up. Akhtar sees the staying power of the feudals - and gives credit to the military. It is Pakistan's other power centre - staging four coups in the country's 62 year history. Akhtar says the military, interested in holding onto its own sphere of influence, finds a willing partner in the feudal class.
KHAR: If they don't' keep that attitude then people will be doing daytime robberies because they are illiterate people. They will, you know, kidnap the daughters they will take away the children they will take away the properties, they will kill each other. So a boss has to be a boss. He has to have that sort of attitude.
LYNCH: As a farm worker empties her bucket of tomatoes into a crate there is no smile of satisfaction - the day's work is still far from over. There's little chance her life will change soon. Several land reform programs have failed to change rural life in Pakistan. And failed to loosen the grip of Pakistan's large landowners on the country's politics.

Riaz Haq said...

Excerpt of a piece by Ashly Tellis on what India must do to become a leading power:

For starters, the Indian state does not penetrate its own society sufficiently: there are still vast swaths—territorial and functional—where state power is conspicuous by its absence. In fact, the Indian state is overly present in those areas where it ought not to be, producing private goods for example, but seriously deficient in other spaces where it has no substitute, such as in administering law, order, and justice; providing various public and merit goods; and managing national security. Furthermore, the Indian state performs abysmally with respect to resource extraction: whether measured by direct, indirect, or property taxes, India’s tax-to-GDP ratios are among the lowest of its G20 or BRIICSAM (Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, India, China, South Africa, and Mexico) peers, and the incidence of tax evasion is also high. These realities underscore how pervasive underdevelopment, regressive economic policies, and poor enforcement capabilities combine to produce unproductive state-society interactions that ultimately subvert both India’s developmental aims and its acquisition of great power capabilities.
Finally, except where national security issues are concerned, the Indian state does not enjoy sufficient autonomy from its own society and seems unable to regulate social relations in ways that would permit it to pursue important national interests without being constrained by veto-wielders domestically. This problem is more intense in democracies, but the difficulties that successive Indian governments have faced in regard to subsidy reduction, trade liberalization, and labor law reform, for example—all widely agreed in India to be vital for future success—bode ill for expectations of any speedy expansion of state autonomy. It is unfortunate that the nature of electoral competition in India has actually sharpened its social cleavages, with democracy thus making the state even more susceptible to societal pressures. Therein lies a tragic irony: the very crosscutting cleavages that prevent any internal threats from becoming existential dangers to the country also end up weakening the state, thereby raising the question of how a state that cannot shape its own society can expect to shape the outside world—the ultimate hallmark of a great power.

Read more at:

Riaz Haq said...

The war in the heartland

A brief history of the Maoist insurgency in India

India has a long experience of dealing with insurgencies. But nothing has proven to be more challenging than the Maoist rebellion in central and eastern India that has led to a civil war of sorts in its very heart. Today, there are large swathes of land where the Maoist writ runs large. There is complete absence, or very little presence, of the Indian state in these areas. A few years ago, the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh termed the Maoists as the country's "biggest internal security threat." Today, the Indian state has pressed more than 100,000 security personnel in the Maoist-affected states. But the insurgency is far from over.

Naxalbari inspired and radicalised a whole generation of youth

The first seed of Maoist rebellion was sown almost half a century years ago in a small area in West Bengal. The Naxalbari area lay along Nepal and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), mostly inhabited by Adivasis, India's indigenous people. Most of them were landless peasants, working on a contractual basis on land owned by big landlords. They were treated very badly. The landlords took a lion's share of the crop, and the poor peasants did not get even enough to eat. Disputes over the sharing of harvest were very common.

In the mid 1960s, India was facing a severe food crisis. Millions of people were affected by the shortage of food. Many died of starvation. According to a survey of land ownership conducted around that time, it was revealed – and these were termed as conservative estimates – that 40 percent of the land was owned by only 5 percent of rural households. Life was a constant challenge for India's landless poor. On top of it, famines struck across India, in states like Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. To tide over the food crisis, the government envisaged and implemented the Green Revolution. While it did increase India's food grain output, the Green Revolution also created further disparities in society. It benefited only those farmers who could afford to buy chemical fertilisers and modern agricultural equipment.

Inspired by China's Mao Zedong and its ideology, a group of people, led by a man called Charu Majumdar began to work among the landless in Naxalbari. In short time, the peasants got organised and they began to fight the injustice meted out to them for generations. The violence began in May 1967, after a police inspector was killed by the rebels. In mid 1968, a group of these communists went to China to receive military and political training. The Maoist rebels began to be called as "Naxals" – from the village of Naxalbari where the first spark erupted. The Indian state sent its army that came down heavily on the rebels, managing to crush the rebellion in 72 days. Most of the leaders were arrested.

The Naxalbari movement might have failed but it inspired a whole generation of youth and served as an initiation to radical politics. In fact, the late 60s were heady days for the youth all across the world. In China a cultural revolution was in the offing. America was receiving a beating in Vietnam. On the streets of Calcutta, angry, restless youth were hurling crude bombs at police vans. Students from affluent families, studying in prestigious institutions were bidding goodbye to lucrative careers and going to the forests of Bihar and elsewhere to participate in the revolution. For such youth in India, Naxalbari became the shining light. And from there, the rebellion spread to other areas as well – to Midnapore in Bengal and to Bihar.