Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Comeback of the day

"I will hit you so hard even google will not be able to find you."  

Courtesy of @venkatananth. I just love twitter.

Monday, June 21, 2010

It's time to cut the proverbial cord

(Hafiz Muhammad Saeed; Leader of Jamaat ud Dawa.Courtesy of Kashmir Watch)

It would not be wrong to describe the past five years as the most critical in Pakistan's existence. The economic and political tensions simmering for the last fifty plus years have finally come to a boil. Currently we are facing the largest economic crisis in our history, an armed insurgency aimed at a violent takeover, crises in basic infrastructure such as electricity and running water and massive food insecurity, all of which is compounded by Pakistan's demographic time bomb. So it comes as a surprise that according to the recent parliamentary budget report,  in 2009 the government of Punjab handed 82 million dollars of funds to madressas run by Jamaat ud-Dawa (JuD), the charity wing of Lashkar-Taiba (LeT); the militant group responsible for the Mumbai attacks. Of the 82 million dollars allotted, 79 million were given towards the group's headquarters in Murdike and 3 million were granted towards religious schools run by the organization throughout Punjab.

The monetary support for a religious extremist organization like JuD at a provincial level not only highlights the lack of commitment to promises Pakistan has made on the international stage, but also the unimportance of healthy relations with India. Following the Mumbai attacks, the United Nations imposed an assets freeze, travel ban and arms embargo on the four leaders of LeT, which resulted in the shut down of JuD offices and the house arrest of JuD leader Hafiz Saeed, a move which was later declared unconstitutional by the Lahore High Court (also responsible for the idiotic ban on Facebook). These actions were taken to show seriousness on the part of Pakistan in dealing with LeT. The revelations of Punjab's parliamentary budget report have cast a shadow of doubt on the sincerity of these overtures.

On a national level, these revelations are nothing more than a slap in the face of the families of the 2,000 or so civilians killed in militant attacks since 2009. The fact that Punjab continues to fund religious extremist organizations that are linked to organizations responsible for the pain and suffering of many of its citizens draws attention to the schizophrenia prevalent in the PML-N. And this is not the first incident. In February 2010, Punjab's Law Minister Rana Sanaullah was seen campaigning with the leader of Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP), an extremist group aimed at the extermination of Shiites from Pakistan and heavily suspected of cooperating with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

The continued support of groups like JuD by the government of Punjab is nothing short of denial. PML-N's unwillingness to deal with the problem of growing militancy is one thing. Actively supporting groups directly involved in militancy is another. It takes some kind of stupid to arm and fund the very people destabilizing your region. Or perhaps the leadership of PML-N hopes to buy out the militancy itself, an equally flawed idea. There is no guarantee that JuD and other religious extremist organizations are going to take the money and stop. It also sets a dangerous precedence. Funding such organizations as a matter of policy can lead to the possibility of demands for greater funding with the threat of violence in the future.

In a time when funding is sorely needed on multiple projects from electricity grids to securing drinking water in rural communities to reworking Pakistan's failed public education system, it is absolutely astonishing that the government of Punjab has chosen to bypass these problems and fund the JuD. Not only is this clearly irrational, but also highlights the delusions of our ruling elite. The problem of increased militancy is not going to go away if you close your eyes hard enough. Unless the government of Punjab removes funding from extremist religious organizations and treats them effectively as person non grata, the attacks on the civilian population will continue.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Video of the Day

I just have three words for this: Best. Video. Ever

Saturday, June 12, 2010

What do fish have to do with climate change? A Pakistani perspective

 (Image Credit: Tim Mansel. Taken from: BBC Radio 4)
A rather informal preamble: As a graduate student in fisheries science, it is a given that I am passionate about all things related to fish. But as most readers of my blog will notice, my posts are often related to interesting social and political happenings in Pakistan. Sometimes, however these two interests intersect. Recently, I was reading a scientific paper on the impact of climate change on global fisheries, and interestingly enough it listed Pakistan as one of the countries most vunerable to the negatively impacts of climate change (as forecasted by IPCC models) in terms of fisheries production. My post below will attempt to put the findings of this paper in the context of Pakistan's political, social, cultural and economic realities.

We are not a nation of big fish eaters. I came across this revelation one night, as I looked around the dinner table and could not find one food item containing fish. Given the state of our dinner tables, why should Pakistan's fisheries matter? Pakistan's fisheries exports may (including marine, freshwater  and aquaculture) represent 1.1% of the total merchandise trade, but they pale in comparison to our other exports such as agriculture. On a social level, out of the population of 172.8 million, only 300,000 people are directly employed as fishermen (this number is based on rather low estimates and may be incorrect) and 400,000 people in associated industries. And as I pointed out earlier, the majority of Pakistani fill our daily protein requirements (when we can afford them) terrestrially.

Quoting economic, social, and geographic fisheries statistics from the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization is all well and good. But macro scale analyses often miss important  local and regional trends. Let's look at the numbers again. Seven hundred thousand people, depend on fisheries on some form or another for their living. Multiply this by the average size of a household in Pakistan (assuming that everyone has a wife and some kids, or a number of people they support); most recent census (1998) states a national average of 6.8 people and this translates into 4.76 million people which is still not much in a population of 172 million people. However, the majority of fisheries production takes place in Sindh (approximately 35 million people) and Balochistan (7.3 million). In this context, the fisheries industry affects ~11% of the combined population of the two provinces.

Climate change is very important in the context of Pakistan's fisheries. Despite being a negligent contributor to the global greenhouse gas emissions, Pakistan is predicted to be one of the countries hardest hit by global climate change. In their recent paper "Vulnerability of national economies to the impact of climate change on fisheries", Allison et al (2009) identified Pakistan as one of the four Asian countries (the others being Bangladesh, Yemen and Cambodia) among the most vulnerable to climate change impacts.  In terms of freshwater fisheries, decline in the flow of the Indus river due to reduction in snowfall and glacial accumulation are predicted to decrease the range of the Indus delta and alluvial flood plain, the most productive fisheries habitat in the country. Increasing water surface temperature especially in shallow lakes (<20m) will impact fish biodiversity, favouring warmwater and (temperature preference >20'C) coolwater species (15-20'C) at the expense of coldwater species (<15'C) resulting in tremendous impacts on Northern fisheries which are exclusively dependent on coldwater species such as Waziristan, Suttar, Chiruh and Chush snowtrout. For marine fisheries, changes in ocean surface temperature will also impact many coldwater species resulting in shifts in marine food webs and ecosystem function. Additionally, temperature driven changes in currents could affect species migration patterns as well as growth, survival and reproduction rates ultimately impacting future catch sizes.

Considering that both marine and freshwater fisheries provide a substantial source of income for many communities in both Sindh and Punjab and often provide the only source of protein, the predicted decline in marine and freshwater fisheries is going to have important sociological consequences.  Decline in future fisheries catch will lead to decreased revenue for fishing communities in Sindh and Balochistan resulting in increased poverty and food insecurity. Other industries indirectly tied with marine and freshwater fisheries will also suffer.

There have been many recommendations made with regards to mitigating climate change impacts on Pakistani fisheries. Oxfam (a UK based NGO) in a 2009 report focusing on climate change in Pakistan suggested introducing aquaculture based on warmwater species, helping communities establish deep sea fishing practices, introducing shrimp farms to coastal villages and improving fisheries management on a national scale. While these recommendations make sense on sociological level, from a biological standpoint there are some problems. Firstly, the introduction of new species into an environment can negatively impact existing food web and ecosystem processes. Introduced species can proliferate extirpating existing species in similar food web positions impacting both species above and below them in a food web structure. In terms of aquaculture, this risk can be minimized by stocking and promoting local warmwater species instead of introducing them from other regions. With shrimp farming, there is always massive ecosystem destruction. In Pakistan, shrimp farms are built by removing coastal mangrove wetlands which act as hatcheries for the vast majority of warm and cool water species. The removal of mangrove wetlands from a region causes decrease in fisheries productivity resulting in a decline in regional fish catch for which shrimp farms cannot compensate. If shrimp farms are being promoted as an antidote to declining fisheries productivity, a better solution both biologically and economically would be to increase the area of the nearest mangrove wetland which would result in an increase in regional fish and shrimp catch.

Fisheries are important economically, socially and biologically for the people of Pakistan. Given that current climate change forecasts list Pakistan as especially vulnerable to fisheries collapse, it is essential for government to plan appropriate mitigation measures to deal with this scenario. Considering that Pakistan is currently dealing with a violent insurgency targeting the civilian population, massive shortages in food, water and electricity it is very unlikely that there will be any sort of intervention on a state level regarding the threat of climate change towards its fisheries. This is of course the trouble with Pakistan. We never get around to dealing with issues that could become serious problems for us in the future. If extremist ideology, food security, electricity and water had been dealt with two decades ago, we would not be facing these crises today. I fear that this too will be the case with Pakistan's fisheries.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Video of the day: Chris Abani

I came across this TED talk with Chris Abani, who I consider as one of the finest writers of this decade along with Haruki MurakamiNadeem Aslam and Cormac McCarthy. I wanted to share this with all of you because Chris talks about his beliefs aand experiences about humanity in a way I've never heard before.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Quote of the day

Mosharraf Zaidi mentions in his most recent article:

We should celebrate Junaid Jamshed, a born-again Muslim preacher and entrepreneur, in an epoch of pop music celebrity worship and self-worship.

I have a great deal of respect for Mosharraf Zaidi, but I think in this case he is really mistaken. I'm not sure how being a born-again Muslim preacher actually contributes to the betterment of Pakistani society. A weak case could be made that for Junaid Jamshed (JJ), a former pop star with popularity rivaling that of the Beatles, to give up his career and immerse himself in spirituality is quite an accomplishment. However, if JJ is really earnest about eschewing materialism, then he should stop using his popularity to sell outrageously expensive and somewhat horrendous clothing. Using a past riddled with materialism and excess wealth to make more money is hardly considered spiritual on any level.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Roti List: Song of the Day

This song has a sense of violence and calmness at the same time, like being in the eye of a massive storm. Even though you know it is violent and unforgiving, it still feels safe

Friday, June 4, 2010

My beef with Fatima Bhutto

Before I elaborate any further on this post's title, I'm going to be upfront with my readers about my personal views on Fatima Bhutto (daughter of late Murtaza Bhutto; niece of late Benazir Bhutto (BB)). While I have not had the opportunity of meeting her (I'm sure she is a perfectly nice person), my engagement with her body of work has been disappointing, to put it nicely. On a good day, her writings are oversimplied, overworked pieces of fiction. On a bad day, they point towards a megalomaniac using her last name to publish rubbish op-ed pieces in foreign news publications, all the while forgetting that no one reads the Daily Beast or the New Statesman in Larkana.

The reason I'm saying this is because it angers me that people like Fatima Bhutto seem entitled to represent Pakistan and Pakistanis to the world, when the only people they should be representing is themselves. In her most recent piece published in the London Evening Standard, she notes that at the launch of her book "Songs of Blood and Sword" in Karachi she "didn't expect the Pakistani establishment's decision to go nuclear" or that "sulking family members, a lugubrious lot who benefited richly from the power and corruption of (her) aunt's two terms in office and now her husband's" would come out of the "woodwork".  She is of course, disparaging Sanam Bhutto (BB's younger sister) for writing a letter to the editor clearly disputing her version of events leading to the formation of her father's militant outfit "Al-Zulfikar". Then there is the obligatory condemnation of the dynastic traditions of the current government, which conveniently ignores the fact that her step-mother currently holds the leadership position of the Shaheed Bhutto branch of the PPP in lieu of her son who is not old enough yet, a move which eerily resembles dynastic succession.

That is not to say that the entire op-ed is an exercise in narcissism and hubris. In fact, several sentences highlight important issues affecting Pakistan such as  polio, corruption in the state apparatus, women's rights and the recent ban on Facebook and Youtube. However, these examples are eventual foils (ok, not THAT eventual) through which Fatima advocates US and British financial and political disenagement from the country, ignoring the obvious fact that foreign involvement or the lack thereof has never impacted these issues in the first place. If Ms.Bhutto wants to correct the injustice against ethnic and religious minorities, women and the LGBT community in Pakistan, it would be best if she actually used her fame and influence as a vehicle to bring about this change (Diana style) rather than highlighting personal vendettas against members of her own family. Or better yet, donate all proceeds from her self serving historically inaccurate family history to individuals and organizations actually working to improve the human condition.

P.S. Worthy organizations include but are not limited to the Edhi Foundation (largest and most respected does everything from running Pakistan's only national ambulance service (made up of volunteers) to overseeing adoption of abandoned children to burying the dead after violent clashes), Ansar Burney Trust (Humam rights organization fighting against human trafficking, forced labour and abuse of prisoners), Human Rights Comission of Pakistan and The Citizen's Foundation (builds and manages over 500 schools in low income communities) and  Concern for Children  (involved with primary health care, education and awareness).

Things I wish I could do

Helen Thomas confronts U.S. Secretary of State Robert Gibbs on the Israeli attack on the Freedom Flotilla in the video below

How can you not love this woman?

News for Thursday

More than just a low calorie alternative for your coffee. French Prime Minister Nicholar Sarkozy is under fire for his role in providing 50 million Euros worth of "sweetners"  to senior Pakistani officials (legal until 2000) and and extra 33 million euros to two Lebanese intermediaries which had nothing to do with the contract  and instead were rewired to France to help finance Prime Minster Eduoard Balladour's campaign in 1995 (illegal).

Good news! BP has capped the ruptured oil well and is funnelling 1000 barrels of oil per day to the suface.

Yukio Hatoyama's replacement has been named. Naoto Kan, a former environmental campaigner has just been named Japan's fifth prime minister in four years. Political agenda: national stability, form a East Asian trading bloc, regional stability in the face of the korean crisis.

Keeping up the momentum. After the failed attempt of the Freedom Flotilla to defy Israel's naval blockade on Gaza, Irish and British  Freedom flotilla ship MV Rachel Corrie is headed towards the Gaza strip. Currently 80km from the interception zone of the first flotilla, 150km from Gaza.

So you want to be a professional apologist? Stephen Walt lays out the 21 talking points crucial to defending the indefensible.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Quote of the Day

Alex Pareene (Salon) on Thomas Friedman:
a barely literate cartoon mustache of oversimplification whose understanding of global politics is slightly less comprehensive than a USA Today infographic and who possesses about as much insight into world events as a lightly vandalized Wikipedia stub entry

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

News for Tuesday

Israeli raid on Gaza aid Flotilla back fires horribly. Russia, India, China, Ireland, Brazil, France, Spain and other nations condemn attack. Turkey cuts off its ties. Security Council condemns attacks. Major changes in Middle East geopolitics to follow. See Glenn Greenwald (I, II & III), Andrew Sullivan, Juan Cole, Marc Lynch and Stephen Walt for a comprehensive look on this issue. I'm posting developments more regularly on Twitter(see sidebar), so be sure to check that out.

No more Zombies please! Al-Qaeda No.3 and Afghan chief operator Mustafa abu-al Yazid  has been killed in an American drone attack. Let's not have a repeat of the Hakimullah Masood incident this time around. 

Turning a blind eye to murder. Press release from the Human Rights Watch proves that authorities in Punjab were warned about a pending attack on the minority Ahamdi Muslim sect, but ignored it anyway. Recycled Thought and Ahsan (Five Rupees) provide important insights into this fiasco.

Crisis in Japan. Japanese PM Yukio Hatoyama quits over inability to fulfill election promise to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma airfield from Okinawa. No word yet on his replacement.

Can you mutli-task? Death of Mexican national in altercation with US border guards draws condemnation form Mexico straining US-Mexico relations. Compounded with  increasing level of global animosity towards Israel, its safe to say that Americans are going to be busy for quite a while.

Nothing lasts forever. Al and Tipper Gore separate after 40 years of marriage.

The game just changed: Implications of the Gaza Flotilla attacks on the future of the Middle East (Update)

In the wake of the Israeli attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla delivering humanitarian aid despite Israeli naval blockade (contradictory to International Law surrounding occupied territories), one thing is very clear: we are stepping into unchartered territory as far as the Middle East is concerned. There has not been a single game changer as important as this one save for the Balfour Declaration of 1917 or the 1947 creation of an  Israeli state. In a period of 24 hours, Israel's credibilty has took an enormous hit with condemnations flooding in from Russia, Turkey, India, China, Brazil, France, Spain and other nations. Both Istanbul and Athens cancelled their military exercises and even staunch supporter Canada has to issue a statement of regret (in contrast with the 2006 invasion of Lebanon, which was categorized as a "measured response"). Israel has just lost the war for global public opinion with important implications for the future of this region.

For one, Israel can no longer claim the moral high ground in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If the first and the second intifadas and the subsequent suicide bombings garnered sympathy for Israel, then the killing of at least 9 (estimates vary from 9 to 10) civilian aid workers just shifted the sympathy towards the Palestinian cause, that is if the Palestinian leadership (both PLO and Hamas) continues to have good sense to let the matter work itself out. Israel may have been successful in preventing its blockade on Gaza from being breached, but it certainly has not done its cause a favour.

This incident may also mark the end of Israel's bilateral relationship with Turkey, its only ally among Muslim nations. Already three naval exercises slated between these two nations have been cancelled. Considering that the flotilla sailed its final leg from Nicossa in Turkey under the direction of a Turkish Human Rights organization IHH and that most of the dead and injured were Turkish nationals, all options are on the table. While all out war is not in the future, Israel will no longer be seen as a state friendly to Turkish interests. Turkey may have already forgone its right to veto Israel's membership in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) sending a message of goodwill to Israeli politicians and the public but in light of this incident, there is already ample proof that this will be the last time it does so. Hostile vocabulary is already being utilized by the Turkish state with foreign minister Davutoglu stating  "Turkey sees Israel as a terrorist state and will behave accordingly" in a speech to the United Nations security council. In his most recent address to the Turkish Parliament, Prime Minister Endrogan stated that "This attack should definitely be punished" adding "No one should test Turkey's patience." At the very least Turkey will push for an official apology and an international investigation of this incident. It will also try to free the ships held by Israeli authorities and call for the end of the blockade of Gaza. Turkey may also file a case against the Israeli state at the International Courts in Hague. On an international stage, Turkey may no longer support Israel at international forums such as the United Nations Security Council,  NATO and OSCE.

Thirdly, this incident has the potential to become a big headache for the United States policy in the Middle East and the Muslim world. The continuation of unilateral support for the state of Israel without any major change will damage the tentative credibility of the U.S in the Middle East and among Muslims abroad, laying  waste Obama administration's efforts for greater dialogue. There is some evidence for this already. On the flip side, the shift in public opinion may provide the United States with an opportunity to set terms for its support for Israel which in recent times has boldly opposed its dictates. Though the U.S. may face considerable opposition from hardcore Israeli supporters, Israel will ultimately be at a greater disadvantage.

On the domestic front, there are two possible outcomes that may result from Israel's international embarassment. If the current Israeli government; a coalition between Netanyahu and right wing parties such as Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu survives this crisis and continues to defend these actions using the argument of Israeli sovereignty, then it will have to face the daunting prospects of increased Israeli isolation on a world stage. But given Israel's dependence on foreign trade as highlighted by the government's vehement attack on Salam Fayyad's call to boycott settler produced goods, an uncomprimising stance will ultimately be detrimental. On the other hand, if this coalition falls then Israel will face domestic uncertainity only a year after its tutmultous elections.

Finally, the attack on the Gaza flotilla will have a definitive impact on the current U.S faceoff with Iran over its uranium enrichment program. With Israel's credibility on the world stage in bad shape, it's call for increased sanctions and military action are unlikely to be heeded. Additionally, it will complicate U.S. plans to rally Middle East opposition to Iran's nuclear program given that Egypt; one of its closest allies in the Middle East just eased its blockade on Gaza and both Lebanon and Turkey are still annoyed over Washington's decision to accept a Turkey and Brazil brokered agreement with Iran.

Given the plethora of possible outcomes, I for one will be keeping a close eye on the Middle East for some time.