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Blurred lines: business and partying among Pakistan’s elite April 9, 2015

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, Pakistan , comments closed

Rosita Armytage

As we walk from the cul-de-sac clogged by Land Cruisers, Mercedes and BMWs towards a residence in one the city’s most exclusive suburbs, trickles of laughter and music drift down to greet us. Drivers emerge to open back doors, while the shalwar kameez clad workers of the construction site opposite survey the procession of suits and gowns from where they rest on tomorrow’s stacked bricks. A white-suited staff member leads us through the fairy-lit and manicured gardens, and a waiter descends with a tray of glasses of red and white wine, immediately offering to make my companion something stronger. Across the lawn, men in black suits stand about smoking, drinking whiskey and water, talking politics and business, while brightly decorated, bejeweled and kohl-lined women gather uneasily on couches, eyeing one another critically whilst loudly proclaiming how pleased they are to see each other.

This is Islamabad, and being invited to this party means you’ve made it: to a club where the grass is green, the liquor imported, and the wealth is unimaginable.

At parties like this one the lines between social and business networks blur, as one mingles with the highest tier of Pakistan’s commercial and political elite. Favor-giving and exclusive social networking are critical features of how big business gets done at the uppermost tier in Pakistan – or anywhere, really. But while these are universal characteristics of elite-level business, in the context of Pakistan’s weak regulatory structure the exclusionary element of this world is both compounded and solidified – serious profit-making depends on access to decision-makers and the influential people around them, and it is an access that is extremely difficult to obtain.  As a result, at its uppermost levels, the country’s economic system is closed, and the elite, not legal statutes, create, control, and guard their domain, serving as gatekeepers to those outsiders who might seek to gain entry.

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Overcoming gender discrimination in India April 2, 2015

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , comments closed

Rajiv Kumar

It is a bitter irony that International Women’s Day came right on the heels of the controversy about the government ban on a BBC documentary about the fatal 2012 gang rape of a young Indian woman known by the pseudonym ‘Nirbhaya’. The documentary has, as could be expected, raked up public emotions that feed on self-righteousness, jingoism and middle class pretensions. The public discussion that followed the government ban unfortunately distracts from the real issue. This was not the only, and will surely not be the last, case of maltreatment of women in India.

Every day there are thousands of Indian girls and women who are kidnapped, tortured and trafficked. Some are victims of honour killings ordered by khaps or fatwas, a punishment dealt on the basis of religious legal judgment. A large number of cases of domestic violence and marital rape routinely go unreported. Thousands of girls are trafficked across the border from neighbouring Nepal and Bangladesh and forced into prostitution. As a society, Indians choose to not only ignore but also often connive in the perpetration of these crimes. In any case Indian society does not care to challenge the stereotype of ‘good women’ propagated by both Hindu and Muslim extremists, and fringe groups. Why then the hypocrisy when an ‘outsider’, like the BBC, shines a light on this issue?

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Book review: Thieves of State – Why Corruption Threatens Global Security March 27, 2015

Posted by nishankmotwani in : Afghanistan, Guest authors , comments closed

Mark Beeson

Once in a while, a book comes along that forces you to rethink some basic assumptions. I had come to believe that corruption didn’t really matter that much because economic growth seemed to happen anyway.

In some circumstances, it seemed corruption might even have a functional purpose. China was the quintessential exemplar of this possibility. Having read Thieves of State – Why Corruption Threatens Global Security by Sarah Chayes, I can now see how complacent and ill-informed some of those assumptions actually were.

Under former president Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan was little more than a ‘vertically integrated criminal organisation’, according to a new book. EPA/Parwiz Sabawoon

Under former president Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan was little more than a ‘vertically integrated criminal organisation’, according to a new book. EPA/Parwiz Sabawoon

Thieves of State has two great merits over and above its important central thesis about why corruption threatens global security. First, much of the analysis is based on first-hand observations of the pernicious impact of corruption in pivotally important states such as Afghanistan.

Second, Chayes writes with a journalistic eye for detail that enlivens what might otherwise be a worthy but unread scholarly treatise. The book ought to be read and Chayes’ accessible prose ensures it will be.

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Remembering Mahatma Gandhi: the first statue of an Indian unveiled in Parliament Square March 26, 2015

Posted by nishankmotwani in : Guest authors, India , comments closed

Maya Parmar and Florian Stadtler

A new monument of political activist and leader of the Indian independence movement Mahatma Gandhi has been unveiled in London’s Parliament Square. Gandhi’s statue will join that of his famous adversary in the independence campaign, Winston Churchill, as well as others, among them Nelson Mandela and Abraham Lincoln. He is the only person never to have been in public office to be honoured with a statue in the square, and the first Indian.

Courtesy: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire

Courtesy: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire

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India–US relations face hurdles March 1, 2015

Posted by nishankmotwani in : Guest authors, India , comments closed

Dr Biswajit Dhar

Economic relations between India and the United States seem to be going well. This was recently reinforced in New Delhi with Prime Minister Modi and President Obama endorsing the India–US Delhi Declaration of Friendship. But beneath the friendly joint statement of a new economic partnership lie considerable differences on critical issues of economic significance. These hurdles need to be overcome in order to strengthen bilateral relations.

PM Modi and President Obama

India has repeatedly voiced concerns that its IT-driven services sector faces several barriers to entry into the US market. And recently proposed policy changes are threatening to exacerbate the problem. India has consistently raised these issues with the World Trade Organization (WTO), but its demand for a less restrictive regime for service providers has failed to cut any ice with countries like the US. (more…)

India-Pakistan relations: quo vadis? December 23, 2014

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India, Pakistan , comments closed

Maqsudul Hasan Nuri

It is ironical that while India and Pakistan are jointly honoured with Nobel Peace Prizes they should be lately engaged in cross-border skirmishes along their borders.

The Indian view is that Pakistan first provoked the border tension by sending cross-border militants. Also, many Indians took umbrage over Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s speech in September 2014 UN General Assembly session in which he raised the Kashmir issue. Another contributory factor could have been the exceptionally warm reception by US during the UN session. The US “pivot Asia” policy has also encouraged India as a partner against China in East Asia. The Indian stance, moreover, maintains that the perpetrators of 2001 Mumbai attack have still not been punished by Pakistan.

Justifying cancellation of Indo-Pakistan secretary-level talks, it seems the Indian forays were meant to divert the focus of the Pakistan military from fighting in FATA. In the wake of the US military exit post-2014, so the argument goes, India would not let its bargaining position weaken vis-a-vis Pakistan.

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A new vision for Australia-India relations December 4, 2014

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , comments closed

Sourabh Gupta

Australia and India have not always been the best of friends. Seven Indian prime ministers from across the political spectrum and spanning three decades have come and gone without paying a state visit to Canberra, a record broken only now with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Australia following the Brisbane G20 Summit. Four unreciprocated visits were made by Australian prime ministers during the latter half of this period. Australia’s strategic discovery of a ‘shared values’ partner in India too has been a near-term development. The Coalition government under John Howard did not deem relations with New Delhi to be a significant interest, let alone a significant bilateral relationship, in its first Foreign and Trade Policy White Paper in 1997.

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Malala and Salam: crusaders for education November 20, 2014

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, Pakistan , comments closed

Maqsudul Hasan Nuri

Pakistan has had the distinction of winning two Nobel Prizes in its nearly seven decades of existence: Professor Abdus Salam in science and recently Ms Malala Yusufzai for girl education. Salam had shared his prize with two others while Malala is co-winner with Kailash  Satyarathi – a committed Indian social activist for children education and rights.

Interestingly, both Nobel Laureates hail from humble backgrounds and belong to the lesser developed and remote regions of Pakistan: Swat in KPK and Jhang in Southern Punjab. The parents of both were school teachers but suffused with a passion for giving education to their wards; both prize-winners faced cynical reviews by many of their countrymen when they won the coveted Nobel Prize: Salam, for belonging to the Ahmadiyya community, while Malala for being a tribal, teenage girl – too young with insinuations of being exploited by Western motives. The cynicism has turned morbid that she or her family had allowed her to be deliberately shot at for attracting public attention and sympathy.

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India’s misguided schools policy shutting out the poor October 16, 2014

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , comments closed

Ken Schoolland

Millions of children are being shut out of India’s schools by legislation that predated the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This is the message of a petition by the Centre for Civil Society, which states: ‘Today, 3,494,520 children are out of school, due to the fact that 19,414 private schools across 17 states have been closed’. But few in India are hopeful that this recent shift in power will bring about a liberalisation of education policy in the near term.

In 2009 the government of India passed the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE), which mandates criteria for school facilities and teacher employment. In the capital of Bihar — the fastest growing state in India — a study by the India Institute concludes that this will eventually shutter three quarters of the schools that serve 68 per cent of Patna’s mostly poor children.

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Seeking accountability and failing to find it September 25, 2014

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, Pakistan , comments closed

Rosita Armytage

It started off fun. The Azadi (freedom) March led by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman and former cricketer Imran Khan, and the Inquilab March (Revolution March) led by Tahir Ul Qadri of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) party have created a festival atmosphere in the nation’s capital of Islamabad. Both Khan and Qadri are demanding that elected prime minister Nawaz Sharif resign and have stated that they and their supporters will not leave the protest site until he does. Protest is an important part of democracy. But demanding the resignation of an elected leader, rather than a return to the ballot or a recount of the votes, is not democratic.

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