Saturday, February 27, 2010

StrategyPage summary of affairs in Pakistan

The Strategy Page for today [in a strangely mis-titled article], after reporting on the attempts of Pakistani police to find Taliban in Swat, and on one more suicide attack in Pakistan, summarizes some notable events in the country in recent days.  The report reveals something of how wrought the country is by organized armed groups within the country.  

Most of the reporting on Pakistan omits mention that most Pakistani Muslims subscribe to the Barelvi style of Islamic practice, which is an eminently non-violent tradition.  Of course the news media covers the most noteworthy affairs, and the frequent attacks of violence, mainly in the northwestern part of the country, draws lots of media attention.  Deservedly so, I would say, because affairs in Pakistan matter to the world more generally than most observers admit.  If the most violent bands in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- united for the time being in their opposition to the Americans -- can establish secure bases in the region, some of them would be ready to take their war further.  Even so, these events actually touch relatively few Pakistanis directly.  RLC  [click on the title for a direct link to the source.]

THE BLAME GAME February 27, 2010: 

In Pakistan's Swat valley, police and troops continue to hunt down Taliban. The terrorists have few places to escape to, given the nationwide crackdown. There are still places in the valley that Taliban can find refuge. The Taliban got control (brief as it was) of the valley because of the endemic corruption, and the inability of the government to do anything about it. The locals soon discovered that the Taliban were a cure worse than the disease, but not everyone agreed. So the Taliban continue to find some people willing to help hide them. But the Taliban made a lot of enemies, and as cell phone service is restored, the police get more tips, and more of the Taliban leadership are caught.

Although the Pakistani tribal territories are largely governed by tribal leaders, the urban areas have plenty of Pakistani government officials. These ineffectiveness and corruption of these guys has not encouraged the tribesmen to seek greater government control. Thus government promises of aid and services are not greeted with great enthusiasm.

In northwest Pakistan, a suicide car bomber rammed into a police station, killing four and wounding 23. Most of the casualties were police.

India is increasing its defense spending four percent in the coming year, to over $32 billion.  That comes after a 34 percent rise last year. The Indian budget is more than four times what Pakistan spends.

February 25, 2010:  In North Waziristan, Pakistan, a U.S. UAV killed 14 Taliban leaders and their bodyguards. Among the dead was Mohammed Qari Zafar, who had planned a 2006 bombing of the U.S. consulate in Karachi, Pakistan, that left an American diplomat, and three Pakistanis, dead.

The first peace talks between India and Pakistan, since the November, 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, quickly ended. India accused Pakistan of not shutting down the terror groups that attack India, while Pakistan demanded that Kashmir be pushed to the top of the agenda, and accused India of supporting terrorism in Pakistan. The big problem here is that Pakistan is a mess, and the Pakistani leadership, who are largely responsible for the problems, are reluctant to take responsibility. Blaming India, the United States (in the media, less so officially, lest American aid be cut) and the West in general, is a more popular approach to massive internal problems. But it was the Pakistani government that officially backed Islamic radicalism in the 1970s, as a cure for corruption and similar ills. It was the Pakistani government that supported Islamic terror attacks on India in the 1980s, in an attempt to get control of Kashmir. It was the Pakistani government that created the Taliban in the 1990s, in order to halt the chaos in neighboring Afghanistan. Evidence that India ever supported terrorism in Pakistan has been scant. Why bother, with so many local terrorists already operating there, and attacking each other, as well as the government. But now the major problem is the inability of the government to admit what the main problem (corruption) is, and do something about it, something besides speeches and new laws that aren't enforced. Many of the current leaders in Pakistan have been convicted of, or investigated for, corrupt acts. Pakistan's ruling class (and it's not very large) have long talked about fixing things, but the only things that are carefully attended to are their bank accounts.

Responding to repeated requests from Afghanistan, Pakistan has agreed to turn over the recently captured (in Karachi) Afghan Taliban second-in-command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Pakistan would like to try Baradar first, but mainly Pakistan would prefer to not have Baradar talk about how much support the Taliban has received from the Pakistani government in the last decade. Over a dozen senior Taliban operatives have been arrested in Pakistan this month, in a major turnaround in Pakistani policy towards Afghan Taliban leaders hiding (often in plain sight) in Pakistan. It's not known what sort of deal was made with the Pakistani government to make these arrests happen.

February 24, 2010: In Indian Kashmir, a two day running gun battle ended with three Islamic terrorists, and three of the pursuing soldiers, dead. There are still 50-100 Islamic terrorism casualties a month in Kashmir, and the Pakistani government continues to tolerate terrorist camps just across the border, and use Pakistani troops to help the terrorists get across the frontier.

In North Waziristan, Pakistan, U.S. UAVs fired three missiles and killed at least nine Taliban and destroyed a vehicle. Elsewhere in the area, the Taliban beheaded three men suspected of supplying targeting information for the American UAV missile attacks. The Islamic terrorists are uncertain how the Americans are finding their targets (many resources are used), and tend to round up some of the usual suspects from time to time, and murder them publicly. But the American missiles keep finding the terrorist leaders.

February 23, 2010: In Indian Kashmir, a tip from civilians led police to a terrorist safe house. There, five senior terrorists, from three different terrorist organizations, blew up the house they were in, rather than surrender. Three soldiers died in the battle.

February 22, 2010: In Pakistan's Swat valley, a suicide car bomber hit a military convoy, leaving nine dead and over 30 wounded.

Indian Maoists asked for a 72 day ceasefire, and possible peace talks. After looking into it, the government decided that this was merely a ploy to reduce the damage the anti-Maoist campaign was suffering from the current government anti-Maoist offensive, and turned down the Maoist offer.

February 21, 2010:  In Pakistan's tribal territories, three Skihs were beheaded, for refusing to convert to Islam. Non-Moslems (there are over six million of them, but only about 20,000 Sikhs) have long been persecuted in Pakistan, despite government efforts to halt the religious violence. There is also a lot of fighting between Islamic groups that don't get on well. Not just Sunni versus Shia, but many different Sunni terrorist groups.

February 20, 2010: In Indian Kashmir, a terrorist leader was cornered, but refused to surrender and died in a gun battle. Such incidents are the exception these days, with most of the anti-Indian activity being demonstrations by Moslems demanding an end to martial law conditions, and restoration of the prosperity the region had before the Islamic terrorists showed up two decades ago.

In South Waziristan, an air strike hit a Taliban hideout in the mountains, leaving at least 30 terrorists dead. Hundreds of hard core Taliban fled to remote hideouts, after the army moved into South Waziristan last August. The U.S. has been helping the Pakistanis locate these hideouts, by providing electronic eavesdropping and satellite/UAV mapping of remote areas. Elsewhere in the region, two police stations were attacked. In one case, two armed men tried to get in, but one was shot dead and the other fled. In the other attack, a suicide bomber killed one and

Thursday, February 18, 2010

On Scholarly Writing Style: Modest suggestions for students

I have come to realize that some of my students are uncertain how to write a scholarly paper.  I produced this for my students and merely post it here, in case it will influence the practice of some.  This what we aspire to.  For what it's worth.  RLC [modified 2/19/10]

Notes on writing, for my classes.

1.  As you write – and this is especially a problem when we are writing longer pieces [a dissertation, an honors thesis] -- don’t let yourself suppose that you are writing about something.  Never write about something.  Say something.  That is, put forth your affirmation, your claims, and then, make use of whatever evidentiary material you can muster to explain why you hold that view.  Tell the reader what you are saying, not what your text is about.

2.  When you make an assertion back it up with precise evidentiary material.  Look at the following statement, the opening paragraph by Ervand Abrahamian in the London Review of Books [Vol. 31 No. 14 · 23 July 2009][‘I am not a speck of dirt, I am a retired teacher’]
Iran has a healthy respect for crowds – and for good reason. *Crowds brought about the 1906 constitutional revolution. *Crowds prevented the Iranian parliament from submitting to a tsarist ultimatum in 1911. *Crowds scuttled the 1919 Anglo-Iranian Agreement, which would have in effect incorporated the country into the British Empire. *Crowds prevented General Reza Khan from imitating Ataturk and establishing a republic in 1924 – as a compromise he kept the monarchy but named himself shah. *Crowds gave the communist Tudeh Party political clout in the brief period of political pluralism between 1941 and 1953. *Crowds in 1951-53 gave Mohammad Mossadegh, the country’s national hero, the power both to take over the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and to challenge the shah’s unconstitutional control of the armed forces. Crowds – aided by clerics – provided a backdrop to the 1953 military coup organised by the CIA and MI5. *Crowds in 1963 began what soon became known as Khomeini’s Islamic Movement. *And, of course, crowds played the central role in the drama of the 1979 Islamic Revolution – with the result that the new constitution enshrined the right of citizens to hold peaceful street demonstrations.
Notice the topic sentence of this paragraph [underlined].  Then notice how many times and in what specific ways Abrahamian demonstrates his opening claim.  I have placed an asterisk at the beginning of each sentence that he produces to support his claim.  Each of those sentences could in theory be supported with further citations if he were saying something relatively unknown or contested or critical to his point in this work [which he brings up later], but for his purposes in an opening paragraph there is no need for citations – what he is referring to here is all historically documented elsewhere.

3.  A paper should develop logically so that the reader can follow your point as you go along.  Each paragraph should make a point that helps you develop your main point, each sub-point of the argument being not only affirmed but also demonstrated and illustrated, as indicated above.  That is, as indicated above, Abrahamian could have developed each of those supporting statements with a body of more detailed evidentiary material; in that case, each of those sentences would constitute a sub-point that helps him make his main point.  The result should be a work in which the main point is clear and the evidentiary supporting material [illustrations, data, etc.] would collectively demonstrate his main point.  The project is to make the point persuasive.  The impact should come from the precise and explicit details that make the point.

4.  As you develop your ideas you want to remind the reader of the point: 
  • “The first reason that I believe the Americans should put a man on the moon [your point] is … [your supporting evidence].” . . .  
  • The second reason that the Americans should put a man on the moon is [another body of evidence]. 

The phrases such as those above, which iterate and reiterate your main point, are useful repetitions that remind the reader of what you are saying.  Readers easily get lost in the verbiage so they need to hear what you are saying, as you lead them through the thicket of details that help you make your point.

5.  Represent the views of other authors fairly and accurately.  A key task in demonstrating that you understand a text is to identify the key formulations in the text.  If you jump on marginal comments you demonstrate that you don’t get the point.  If you criticize an author make sure you quote from the key formulations, those that best capture his/her point.  Not long quotes; key quotes.  And make sure you have fully and fairly described his/her position on a particular matter before you take issue with it.  Part of that includes appreciating the time of writing and the social and political context.  Don’t flatten the opinions of anyone; that’s cheating. 

6.  Be sparing with long words:  Anglo-Saxon words are always best because they are shorter and have more punch; Latin based words [-tion words] are bookish and boring.  There is a way to evaluate the “readability” of a text based on the ratio of one and two-syllable words in the text.  Note the quotation by Abrahamian above:  Lots of one syllable words, few three syllable words.  There’s no pretense here, and no filler.  Note the verbs:  they are short and some have a distinct impact [NB “scuttled”]; no fancy verbiage.  By all means avoid the jargon of some writers [and journals] who effect an appearance of scholarly sophistication in awkward words [“problematize”, etc.]. 

7.  A few long sentences are OK but short sentences are good, and sometimes abruptly short sentences help break up the pattern  [E.g. “Enough.”  “Forget it.”].  But don’t overdo any particular pattern.  Keep it mixed up. 

8.  Eschew the passive voice.

9.  There is no substitute for authenticity.  You can write in the first person [“I” or the editorial “we”] but you want to mute yourself as much as possible unless you are writing an essentially personal piece.  Seek simplicity, authenticity, clarity, precision.

10.  If you are called upon to summarize or digest a book, make sure you get the formulations that best characterize the message of the book.  You can usually find those statements in the places where the author pauses to remind the reader of what he/she has said and where the argument is going.  Normally an author will pause at the beginning and ending of major passages to remind the reader of what he/she is saying.  Those are the places where you will find the most useful formulations.  Always watch for points he/she repeats; the repetition is meant to keep you aware of what he/she thinks is crucial as the narrative develops.

Sarah Kendzior suggests three more rules:

11.  Omit the adverbs. They are really, truly, indisputably, absolutely a drag on any sentence. 

12.  "Leave the boring parts out."  This is advice from the crime writer Elmore Leonard. It doesn't always work in academic writing, but most of the time, it does. Someone asked Leonard the secret to his success and he said "I just leave the boring parts out" -- what he meant was that he leaves out any information that is obvious or extraneous; if his work made sense without this information, then he cut it.

13.  When you're done delete 10% of your text because everything is better 10% shorter. 

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Cell phones in Afghanistan: How will they transform the country?

Christopher Beam of Slate has an article about phones in Afghanistan that gives us some interesting numbers.  Owing to the recent introduction of cell phone telephony the number of mobile phones users is now about 10 million, 32 percent of the total population -- in a country that had only a few dozen phone lines a generation ago.  The price of a cell phone has fallen from $300 to $11 and the price of a call has fallen to 10 cents a minute.  All this has taken place since 2001, most of it probably in the last three years. 

The social implications of such changes in interpersonal access are so large as to challenge our ability to grasp how the country is changing, or what the country will be like in a mere decade.  Obviously, the pace of other changes in aspects of the society has leaped also.  The new intensity of social contact enables many things to take place so much quicker.  For one thing, as someone said to me when I was in Kabul in 2008, the postal service is now moribund. 

It's true that Afghanistan has been isolated from the world for millennia.  Not so now.   In many ways Afghanistan cannot be the country that it was.  What will that mean for the future? 

Monday, February 08, 2010

Conference on corruption: Can the problem be even worse than we think?

The Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at George Mason University is having a conference, Feb 25, 26, on Global corruption Criminal Networks, Smuggling and WMD. The issues they are going to address seem eminently vital for our times:
"Pakistan: Lessons from AQ Khan Nuclear Proliferation Practices" ; “Crime-Terror Nexus: Concrete Examples from the Field” ; “Analysis of WMD Cases in Turkey: Police Seizure of WMD Materials” ; “Illicit Networks and Threats: A Latin American Perspective”; “Asymmetrical Warfare in the Digital Age: The Supreme Challenge”; “Is Radiological Trafficking Organized Crime? The Case of Georgia” ; "Federal Priorities for Protection Against Nuclear Smuggling and WMD" ; “The Crime-Terror Nexus: Connecting the Dots”.
But I wonder if something is missing in this list of scholarly-sounding topics. The Center is on to something, but the problem goes further than weapons of mass destruction, radiological trafficking, nuclear smuggling, and “terrorism”, etc. The issues we need to address may be even more extensive and more serious than we know. For we are just now beginning to internalize what we have learned about our own country in the last 6 months: that our elected representatives were unable to develop a health care system for all Americans, a project that is supported by most Americans and has been in place in many other industrial countries around the world, because they were beholden to the health insurance companies who would have been put out of business if a genuine public health system were established. Furthermore, we are learning that bank executives and Wall Street companies, who of course also have a close link to the insurance industry, are being paid millions of dollars in bonuses every year even though they were bailed out by our ordinary citizens after they had irresponsibly bet on the market – and not just once, b ut have been doing it for years [and pocketing the gains].

So we may find that criminal behavior is not “out there” but is inherently entailed in our whole business and legislative process.  If not criminal behavior, then at least is it not unethical and immoral behavior?

Indeed, the masthead of the Center sponsoring the conference on corruption justifies its existence in ominous terms:
"Transnational crime will be a defining issue of the 21st century for policymakers - as defining as the Cold War was for the 20th century and colonialism was for the 19th. Terrorists and transnational crime groups will proliferate because these crime groups are major beneficiaries of globalization. They take advantage of increased travel, trade, rapid money movements, telecommunications and computer links, and are well positioned for growth."
This statement strikes a chord with some of us who are wondering what is to become of the world as we know it, dominated as it now is by global corporations whose primary loyalties are to stockholders. Or at least they are supposed to be loyal to stockholders: it is turning out that corporate executives are taking extravagant salaries for themselves at the cost of even paying stockholder fair returns. Managing other peoples’ money has never been a better deal.

So now I’m wondering if the conference at the Terrorism Transnational Crime and Corruption Center is missing something, for there is no mention here of large corporate influences on the governing processes of states, and of the rising clout of the super-rich around  the world, who continue to enrich themselves while millions of people are starving.

And yet, if the Center tries to expose the abuses of wealth and influence by the corporate sector, what will happen to their funding?  I can ask such questions since I have no part in a corporately funded Center.  I'm only supported by a private university -- which is, of course, also corporately funded. 

Hmm.  Is there any escape?