Archive for the ‘ Mumbai ’ Category

The Pornification of New India

By Damayanti Datta for India Today

On February 7, three Karnataka ministers were captured on television poring over a phone screen, watching a woman in a petticoat gyrating wildly. They lost their jobs for watching pornography in the sacred precincts of the Legislative Assembly. The incident is a high-profile sample of a definitive reality: porn is pervasive through the Internet across India, easily and freely available, not just to leery politicians but to children and adults in millions of ordinary homes.

It is a sign of the times that the most famous international porn star has Indian roots and was on Indian television. Sunny Leone, 30, appeared on the reality show Big Boss 5 and has now launched a clothes-on Bollywood career. Her fake breasts, that won the 2010 fame Award for Favourite Breasts in Los Angeles, have brought her the honour of being named among the 50 Most Desirable Women by the nation’s biggest daily this month.

The organised $12 billion (Rs.60,000 crore) American adult entertainment industry, to which Leone belongs, has bred explicit images beyond the limits of imagination. And they are free. Fuelled by the Internet and facilitated by high-speed data service, pornography, born in dozens of studio lofts around the world, has entered teenagers’ mobile phones with the force and sweep of a dangerous flood. It threatens to swamp conventional notions of morality, raise tensions in bedrooms, lure children into a world they do not understand, and initiate a culture that threatens the mores of family life as we know it.

The writing is on the wall. Google Trends show the search volume index for the word ‘porn’ has doubled in India between 2010 and 2012. With instant Net connectivity and flexible payment options, online porn is increasingly affordable, accessible and acceptable. Seven Indian cities are among the top 10 in the world on porn search, reports Google Trends, 2011. One out of five mobile users in India wants adult content on his 3G-enabled phone, according to an 2011 IMRB Survey. Over 47 per cent students discuss porn every day, says a public school survey by Max Hospital in Delhi. Porn tops the list of cyber crimes in India, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.

Rape, penetration, oral, anal, lesbian, gay or group porn are yesterday’s news. There is now a hectic crossover of porn subcultures on the World Wide Web. Consider MILF (or Mothers I Like to F***) porn. “Check out the most notorious hot, mature moms going crazy and getting f****d by young studs,” invites one of the 40,600,000 MILF websites. “A hot and sexy bride is getting raped brutally,” says a ‘ravished bride’ porn site. There is ‘pregnant porn’ (“Are you ready to see these moms-to-be in action?). There is ‘incest porn’ that welcomes you to sites with “xxx videos full of mother and son, dad and daughter”. Child porn blends with ‘teen porn’, promising “fascinating porn actions starring our young models”.

New jargon and innovative formats, borrowed from foreign cultures, are trendy on the web. For the uninitiated, chikan (“to grope” in Japanese) porn is all about public molestation in trains. ‘Bukkake’ parties involve repeated ejaculation on a woman by several men. Shemale and futanari porn mean “live action” with transsexuals. Anime and manga refer to Japanese formats of sexually-explicit comics and animation. A new focus is the service sector, with “shy massage girls” seducing clients, doctors and “hot babes in nurse uniforms” getting wild. In ‘corporate porn’ “busty secretaries” go down on their knees to pleasure their boss.

Sunny Leone (or Karen Malhotra) takes credit for the ‘pornification’ of India. “My presence on Bigg Boss has empowered a lot of people to be open about their sexuality,” she tells India Today. One of the richest adult actresses in the industry, with her SunLust Pictures in Los Angeles reporting a top line of over $1 million (Rs.5 crore), she is now getting ready to debut in filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt’s Jism 2, playing a professional body double. The most-searched Google celebrity-powered by India, Bangladesh and Pakistan-she has 1,47,326 Twitter followers.

Leone’s success indicates the greater acceptability of porn in daily life. Internet is the new tool, exploding every embarrassing sexual adventure of public personalities and making every lurid detail an item of private consumption. Coming after the midwife Bhanwri Devi’s sex cds with Rajasthan politician Mahipal Maderna in November 2011, public reaction to the Karnataka fiasco has ranged from indignation to amusement, but not shock: if political parties engaged in a morality-in-politics war, social activist Anna Hazare demanded the ministers be sent to jail and media professional Pritish Nandy summed up Bollywood’s reaction by calling them the “3 idiots”.

“A porn star doesn’t automatically mean prostitute,” says Leone, now seeking respectability. She talks about her parents’ initial shock turning into respect, how they taught her to be a “good person”, years of hard work, restrained personal life, professionalism and lack of regrets. Like the girl-next-door, she tweets how she is learning Hindi, cooking sabzi and massaging hair oil. Her endeavour will not be too difficult. Young adults, who grew up with cable TV, DVD players and the Internet, have been exposed to much more adult material than their parents. As filmmaker Pooja Bhatt points out, “Young people don’t respond negatively to Sunny because they have already logged on to her website.”

She is not wrong. Even school students discuss porn. Dr Samir Parikh, chief psychiatrist, Max Healthcare, calls it “risky indulgences”. In a survey on 1,000 children from top public schools in Delhi in 2010, he found 47 per cent boys and 29 per cent girls visiting porn sites and talking about it in school. “I understand sexual inquisitiveness and peer pressure around sexuality, but pornography on the Internet is fake, unreal, often violent and downright perverted,” he says. “Moreover, a new technology in young hands could lead to irresponsible behaviour and ruin their lives.” He obviously has in mind the stream of MMS scandals that have hit campuses across the country since 2004, when two Class XI students of a school in Delhi created a sensation. In many of these cases, either one partner was not aware of being filmed or did not anticipate the videos would get circulated-as in May 2011 when JNU student Janardan Kumar, 22, made a video of the girl he was intimate with and used it to blackmail her after being rejected.

Campus porn is a thriving subterranean culture. Try talking to students in various campuses of Delhi: “Have you ever heard of MMS videos of students being circulated on the campus?”

Diksha Singh, 20: “Every couple of months there is a fresh case. It’s so common, I don’t even blink.”

Raghav Verma, 19: “All the time. It’s shocking to see a classmate’s intimate details on video camera.”

Mehak Suri, 18: “My ex-boyfriend tried that with me, and when it didn’t work he sent me threatening emails and messages.”

Amaira Kapoor, 20: “You will be surprised to know how many cases go unreported and unaccounted for.”

Sakshi Wakhlu, 21: “A year ago, one girl got high, went with a group of boys and had sex with them. The men came back and talked.”

The arrival of smartphones is changing the country’s porn landscape further. India has the lowest penetration of smartphones, 10 per cent, among the youth globally. But with email, social networking, chatting, messaging and gaming, it is a device every youth craves for. And now there are even porn applications. Imagine a ‘pocket’ girlfriend or boyfriend, who can strip, talk dirty, make sexual noises. “These are some of the ‘apps’ that can be downloaded on smartphones,” says Pranesh Prakash, programme manager with Bangalore-based think-tank Centre for Internet and Society. “App download data shows the popularity of sex-themed apps on smartphones, apart from the adults-only stores,” he says. Age restrictions for applications? Mostly a pop-up asking if one is over 17. With over 50 per cent of all Internet users in the country accessing the web via mobile phones already, as estimated by TRAI, smartphones are the future of anytime-anywhere porn.

The threshold of what can be called ‘pornography’ is shifting. Mainstream and hardcore entertainment are coming closer. The Dirty Picture, biopic of south siren Silk Smitha, raked in Rs.50 crore in its very first week in December 2011, with its noisy orgasms, titillating cleavage and fiery dialogues. It’s also hard to draw the line between porn and art in raunchy item numbers, from Sheila ki Jawani to Munni Badnam Hui. “What heroines do in films today is what vamps did yesterday,” says filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt. Some item numbers are more obscene than nudity, he feels. “People tell me, how can someone who made Saaransh, Arth and Zakhm, make films like Jism and Murder” he adds. “I say, get off the high horse.”

Kolkata certainly is getting off the high horse. A city with the least taste for pornography, going by India Today Sex Surveys, is also one of the top seekers of porn online, reports Google Trends. Leone’s CDs are bestsellers here. Teenage boys creep up and ask, “Sunny Leone ka CD chahiye?” (Want Sunny Leone’s CDs?), at Chandni Chowk market in central Kolkata, the city’s piracy hub. Step inside the dingy alleys between shops selling electronic goods, and piles of pirated blue film come out of hiding-Rs.120 for just a CD and Rs.250 for one with Leone on the cover. Ask too many questions and they show you the door. The police are their friends, although motorcycles stand ready for sudden crackdowns. “Sunny’s CD is selling like hot cakes, 200 a day,” says one. Leone is not pleased. “If you are stealing my movies in Kolkata, that is flipping horrible,” she has tweeted. But who cares? A 33-year-old customer puts away her CD in his plastic bag with quiet satisfaction. “I will have to watch when the wife is not looking,” he grins.

If a married man watches porn,is it considered cheating??

My husband secretly watches porn. Why are men like this? He knows I hate porn.

My husband watches porn alone. He refuses to watch it with me.

My husband watches porn very often. Should I be worried?

I feel insulted whenever my boyfriend watches porn.

There are 2,690,000 such postings on Google, from wives and girlfriends globally, on a range of sites on the web-health, marriage, empowerment, agony.

Watching porn alone is a rising trend among men, thanks to the Internet. Check out India Today Sex Surveys: in 2009, with video as the most popular porn format, just 10 per cent men out of 2,661 watched porn alone. This year, with smarter access and gadgets, it zoomed to 44 per cent. “It is usually a sign of cybersex addiction,” says Dr Vijay Nagaswami, Chennai-based expert on sexual psychotherapy. “Compulsive pornwatchers often become dysfunctional. They stay up late for online porn to get active on instant messengers, webcams, demand more private time, neglect family, work and normal sexual activity.”

Even five years back, it was difficult to get locals to dub foreign porn films in Gujarati. But now, mobile shop owners in Ahmedabad do brisk business in porn, supplying primarily to youngsters. They download content on hard discs and then transfer those to the memory cards of eager youngsters-Rs.100 to Rs.200 for a 30-minute film. “It’s good business. Sometimes I get more than six customers, all boys,” says Rajesh Patel, a porn-provider.

It’s good business in Chennai, too. In a small shop opposite the high court in Burma Bazaar, the hub of pirated movies in Chennai, Ramu is doing his puja. He throws flowers at the gods, and looks at his customer. “English, Tamil also.” His voice goes an octave lower, “Triple.” Who cares for storylines? Many of these films are shot in the city or taken off the Net. Ramu sells at least 100 discs a day, mostly to distributors. The CDs are mostly of Indian couples having sex, sometimes verging on rape. “This business can’t be hit by recession,” Ramu says. “People will always buy porn.”

The buzz is, although the Karnataka ministers claimed they were watching clips of a real-life gang-rape at a rave party, they were either watching Indonesian hardcore ‘abik’ porn or model Poonam Pandey’s YouTube video, Bathroom Secrets. But what do most Indians watch? Google Trends indicates that the average Indian pornwatcher opts for more tame keywords, ‘sex’ and ‘how to kiss’, the most. New research by computational neuroscientists Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam from Boston University, US, on a billion porn and erotic web searches across the world, shows that the five most popular porn sites for men are webcam or video sites featuring anonymous graphic sex, with a monthly traffic of 7-16 million visitors. For women, the most popular is the “erotic” site fanfiction.net, which gets over 1.5 million visitors a month and has more than two million stories, 50 per cent being “romance”.

How big is pornography in India? Of the 500 top Indian websites this month ranked by the leading global web information company Alexa, at least 24 are porn sites. Nearly a dozen porn sites are more popular than some leading news sites and that of the Bombay Stock Exchange. Leone, one of the top five global porn stars, says 80 per cent of her web traffic and 60 per cent of her “high six figures” revenue come from India. The content, she says, is “everything and above”. “I can sell anything you want as long as you have a credit card.”

The only other major-league porn actor of Indian origin in the US, Priya Anjali Rai, also says she has a lot of fans in India, but not many paying customers. Adopted from New Delhi by American parents and brought up in Arizona, Rai keeps her Indian name for her work: “That’s what makes me different from everybody else.” Both Leone and Rai insist they only do “vanilla” porn, “boy-girl stuff”. The US, specifically the Los Angeles area, has the biggest porn industry in the world, followed by London and Budapest, estimated between $4 billion (Rs.20,000 crore) and $15 billion (Rs.75,000 crore) annually. Top porn stars easily earn a quarter of a million dollars annually.

Those who think production and distribution of pornography in India are not allowed, think again. “A lot of amateur videos are being produced,” says Namita Malhotra, author of Porn: Law, Video and Technology. “They have been there for long. But now from print they have gone digital. Amateur videos are a new phenomenon,” says a lawyer associated with Alternative Law Forum in Bangalore. “It’s unorganised,” says a Bangalore-based photographer involved with the porn industry. There are a few big houses who run multi-crore businesses. The small players use small video cameras so that they can be seen on mobile phones. “Ever since the mms scandal, we make false scandal videos, called kaand,” the photographer says. “It’s normal sex. Not like those foreign videos where they use horses and 10 men at the same time.” Do they go online? Sometimes they are sold, but always with the permission of the model, “No force,” he insists. “The money is good, so that we don’t tell anyone.” His best moment? When a model asked him to shoot her in different ways, to try to create a scandal and get noticed.

Has the battle against porn been lost? Anti-porn feminists in the US have admitted defeat. India is not quite there. Despite the hyper-sexualised climate, ministers do get thrown out over porn. To cyber law expert and senior associate of SNG & Partners Rahul Sud, India is on the right track. “Personal consumption of porn has never been an offence,” he points out. “Child pornography, publishing and transmitting are.” Press Council of India Chairperson Justice Markandey Katju has rolled out the red carpet for Leone, but not before comparing her to history’s “fallen women”, Amrapali or Mary Magdalene.

Does Leone care? She is busy stretching, bending and sweating. Not in a girl-boy-girl orgy online but on a Bikram Yoga mat in Hollywood. “OMG, I’m so tired,” she tweets. She has the same vital statistics as Marilyn Monroe, 36-24-34, and she is determined to look her best for those semi-nude scenes in Jism 2. “We Indians are proud of you!,” tweets one of her admirers. “Thank you,” she tweets back. She has every reason to be grateful.

– With Indira Kannan, Nishat Bari, Kiran Tare, Gunjeet Sra, Shravya Jain, Avantika Sharma, Lakshmi Kumaraswami, Uday Mahurkar and Tithi Sarkar contributing.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– The porn phenomena is not isolated to just India in the subcontinent. Across the border, Pakistan was recently ranked as first in the world in terms of pornographic Google searches. This is a result of two conservative societies where sex is a taboo. One can only hope that these ancient and slow changing cultures can adapt to the new realities regarding sex.

Pakistani Judges Press Premier to Defy President

By Salman Masood and Ismail Khan for The New York Times

The political and legal crisis in Pakistan took a new turn on Tuesday when the Supreme Court threatened to dismiss Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani for failing to comply with court orders to reopen corruption cases against his political boss: President Asif Ali Zardari.

The latest pressure from the court compounds the problems of the governing Pakistan Peoples Party, already facing a political crisis over a controversial memo that sought United States support in thwarting a feared military coup.

Adding to the government’s troubles is a steep increase in terrorist attacks. Another attack occurred early Tuesday, a truck bombing that the authorities said killed more than 25 people, including women and children, in northwestern Pakistan. A senior government official said the bombing appeared to be in retaliation for the recent killing of a militant leader.

Since December 2009, when the Supreme Court struck down an amnesty that nullified corruption charges against thousands of politicians, the court has insisted that the government reopen corruption cases against Mr. Zardari.

But the government has resisted court orders, and Mr. Zardari said last week that, “come what may,” officials from his party would not reopen the graft cases filed against him and his wife, Benazir Bhutto, in Switzerland. Ms. Bhutto was assassinated in 2007.

On Tuesday, a five-member panel of the Supreme Court, led by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, ruled that the government was guilty of “willful disobedience” and said that Mr. Gilani was “dishonest” for failing to carry out the earlier court orders.

The judges laid out six options — including initiating contempt of court charges, dismissing the prime minister, forming a judicial commission and taking action against the president for violating his constitutional oath — and ordered the attorney general to explain the government’s position in court on Monday.

A three-member judicial commission that is investigating the controversial memo is scheduled to resume its hearing the same day. Apart from having an acrimonious relationship with the judiciary, the government has an uneasy relationship with the country’s top generals.

Mr. Zardari, who spent 11 years in prison on unproved corruption charges, says the corruption cases against him and Ms. Bhutto that date to the 1990s were politically motivated.

In an interview last week with GEO TV, a news network, Mr. Zardari said reopening those cases would be tantamount to “a trial of the grave” of his wife.

Mr. Zardari also claims immunity as president, but the judiciary, led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, has resisted that claim and has aggressively pursued cases against Mr. Zardari’s party, leading many government officials to speculate that the judiciary was being used by the country’s powerful military to dismiss the government before the March elections for the Senate, in which the Pakistan Peoples Party is expected to win a majority.

Political analysts said the fate of Mr. Gilani, the prime minister, was in peril.

Mr. Zardari called a meeting of his party officials and coalition partners on Tuesday evening to chart strategy, and he was expected to get a statement of support from his allies.

“The situation is fast moving towards a head-on confrontation,” said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a political and military analyst based in Lahore. “It depends on what options are exercised by the Supreme Court.”

According to the Pakistani Constitution, a prime minister can be removed only by the Parliament, and the Supreme Court can disqualify the prime minister only indirectly, Mr. Rizvi said.

“If the court disqualifies the prime minister and the prime minister continues to enjoy the support of the Parliament, then the stage is set for a very dangerous confrontation,” he said.

The legal standoff is forcing the government to defer issues of greater importance, like rescuing a failing economy and fighting Taliban insurgents, as it focuses on its political survival, Mr. Rizvi said.

“The court, the military and the executive are trying to assert themselves,” he said. “It has become a free-for-all.”

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the bombing on Tuesday, but it appeared to have been carried out by Tehrik-i-Taliban, an umbrella organization of Pakistani militant groups, against the Zakhakhel tribe, which has formed a militia in support of the government, said Mutahir Zeb, administrator for the Khyber tribal region.

Mr. Zeb said the Tehrik-i-Taliban sought to avenge the killing of Qari Kamran, a local Taliban commander, by security forces last week in an area occupied by the Zakhakhel.

Mr. Zeb said a pickup truck exploded in the middle of a bus terminal used by the Zakhakhel in the town of Jamrud.

The bomb destroyed several vehicles, damaged a nearby gasoline pump and shattered windows in the area. In addition to those killed, 27 people were reported wounded in the bombing and were taken to hospitals in Peshawar.

“I was on duty at the nearby checkpoint when I heard a big bang,” said Mir Gul, a security guard. “I rushed toward the spot and saw bodies lying around while the injured cried for help. It was devastating. There was blood everywhere.”

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note-
The Pakistani people deserve better than this. The only solution to EVERYTHING that ails Pakistan is a true and long lasting peace with India. The sooner this dream becomes a reality, the sooner grim news of extremism and its grip on Pakistan will go away~

Why They Get Pakistan Wrong

By Mohsin Hamid for The New York Review of Books

Nearly ten years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the commencement of the US-led war in Afghanistan, the alliance between the US and Pakistan is on shaky ground. The killing of Osama bin Laden by US special forces this May in Abbottabad, Pakistan, has incensed officials on both sides: on the American side because bin Laden’s hiding place appears to suggest Pakistani perfidy; and on the Pakistani side because the US raid humiliatingly violated Pakistan’s sovereignty.

As Ted Poe, a Republican congressman on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, puts it: “Unless the State Department can certify to Congress that Pakistan was not harboring America’s number one enemy, Pakistan should not receive one more cent of American funding.” Dramatic words,1 for Pakistan has been allocated quite a few cents of American funding. Yet this money has bought little love. According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, only 12 percent of Pakistanis have a favorable opinion of the United States, and only 8 percent would like to see US troops “stay in Afghanistan until the situation has stabilized.” Why might this be the case?

The past decade has been devastating for Pakistan. The country’s annual death toll from terrorist attacks rose from 164 in 2003 to 3,318 in 2009, a level exceeding the number of Americans killed on September 11. Some 35,000 Pakistanis, including 3,500 members of security forces, have died in terror and counterterror violence. Millions more have been displaced by fighting. It is difficult to convey how profoundly the country has been wounded. In 1989, my Lahore American School classmates and I (including children from Pakistan, America, Canada, Sweden, Germany, and Korea) were able to go to the beautiful valley of Swat by bus for a weeklong field trip with no security arrangements whatsoever. In 2009, the battle to retake Swat from Taliban militants involved two full divisions of the Pakistani army and hundreds of casualties among Pakistani soldiers. (Similarly, until a few years ago, there had never been a suicide bombing in Lahore. Now one occurs every three or four months.) The Pakistani government puts direct and indirect economic losses from terrorism over the last ten years at $68 billion.

Of the $20.7 billion in US funding allocated to Pakistan from 2002 to 2010, $14.2 billion was for the Pakistani military. On paper, economic assistance came to $6.5 billion, less than a third of the total. In reality the civilian share was even smaller, probably less than a quarter, for the $6.5 billion figure reflects “commitments” (amounts budgeted by the US), not “disbursements” (amounts actually given to Pakistan). The United States Government Accountability Office reports that only 12 percent of the $1.5 billion in economic assistance to Pakistan authorized for 2010 was actually disbursed that year. Independent calculations by the Center for Global Development suggest that $2.2 billion of civilian aid budgeted for Pakistan is currently undisbursed, meaning that total economic assistance actually received from the US over the past nine years is in the vicinity of $4.3 billion, or $480 million per year. (By comparison, Pakistanis abroad remit $11 billion to their families in Pakistan annually, over twenty times the flow of US economic aid.)

Pakistan is a large country, with a population of 180 million and a GDP of $175 billion. Average annual US economic assistance comes to less than 0.3 percent of Pakistan’s current GDP, or $2.67 per Pakistani citizen. Here in Lahore, that’s the price of a six-inch personal-size pizza with no extra toppings from Pizza Hut.

The alliance between the US and Pakistan is thus predominantly between the US and the Pakistani military. To enter the US as a Pakistani civilian “ally” now (a Herculean task, given ever-tighter visa restrictions) is to be subjected to hours of inane secondary screening upon arrival. (“Have you ever had combat training, sir?”) For a decade, meanwhile, successive civilian Pakistani finance ministers have gone to Washington reciting a mantra of “trade not aid.” They have been rebuffed, despite a WikiLeaked 2010 cable from the US embassy in Islamabad strongly supporting a free trade agreement with Pakistan and citing research showing that such an arrangement would likely create 1.4 million new jobs in Pakistan, increase Pakistani GDP growth by 1.5 percent per year, double inflows of foreign direct investment to Pakistan, and (because Pakistani exports would come largely from textile industries that US-based manufacturers are already exiting) have “no discernible impact” on future US employment.

Perhaps the vast majority of Pakistanis with an unfavorable view of the United States simply believe their annual free pizza is not worth the price of a conflict that claims the lives of thousands of their fellow citizens each year.

Pakistani journalist Zahid Hussain, in The Scorpion’s Tail, his examination of the rise of militants in Pakistan, makes clear that both sides of the alliance between the US and the Pakistani military share blame for the violence currently afflicting Pakistan. A long series of mutual policy missteps led to the present bloodshed.

As Hussain reminds us, the US and the Pakistani military together backed the Afghanistan guerrilla campaign against the Soviet invasion in the 1980s, thereby bequeathing to the world unprecedented international networks of well-trained jihadist militants. For the US, as in its previous alliance with the Pakistani military in the 1950s and 1960s, the primary objective was to counter the Soviets. For the Pakistani military, as ever, the primary objective of the alliance was to lessen India’s superiority in conventional arms. The US gained a proxy fighting force in the form of the Afghan Mujahideen (literally: “people who do jihad”). The Pakistani military gained access to advanced US-made weapons, the most important of which were forty F-16 fighter aircraft: too few, obviously, to resist any full-blown Soviet air assault, but enough to strengthen meaningfully the Pakistan air force against its Indian rival.

With the Soviet withdrawal, America turned abruptly away from the region and washed its hands of its militant cocreations; in the ensuing power vacuum Afghanistan descended into a bloody civil war among former Mujahideen. The US also severed its alliance with the Pakistani military, cutting off supplies of spare parts for Pakistan’s American weapons and withholding delivery of further F-16s that Pakistan had paid for but not yet received.

The outraged Pakistani military was seriously weakened as a conventional fighting force vis-à-vis India. But it now, as Hussain shows, had enormous experience of projecting power through jihadist militants and two opportunities to continue doing so. One was in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir (the divided Muslim-majority territory at the center of the Indian–Pakistani conflict, claimed in its entirety by both Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan), where an insurgency against Indian troops had broken out in 1989 following a disputed election.

The other was in Afghanistan, where the largely ethnic-Pashtun, Pakistan-backed Taliban were battling the largely non-Pashtun, India-backed Northern Alliance, consisting of Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, and others. During the 1990s, Hussain writes,

the jihadist movement in Pakistan was focused entirely on supporting the regional strategy of the Pakistani military establishment: to liberate Kashmir from India and install a Pashtun government in Afghanistan.
But following the terrorist attacks of September 11, linked to members of al-Qaeda living under Taliban protection in Afghanistan, the US returned to the region in force and demanded that Pakistan choose sides. President Pervez Musharraf’s subsequent decision to align Pakistan with the US was perceived by many militants as a “betrayal.” Still, Musharraf hoped the Pakistani military’s conflict with its infuriated, jihadist offspring could be circumscribed, that it might be possible “to drive a wedge between the Pakistani militants and the al-Qaeda foreigners.”

This plan, besides denying the extent of the militant threat to Pakistan, was also undermined by US strategy, a strategy that suffered from the outset from what Hussein identifies as two “fundamental flaws.” The first of these was a failure to understand that unless Pashtun grievances were addressed—particularly their demand for a fair share of power—the war in Afghanistan would become “a Pashtun war, and that the Pashtuns in Pakistan would become…strongly allied with both al Qaeda and the Taliban.”

As the US campaign in Afghanistan began, Hussain writes, Musharraf “warned the United States not to allow the [Northern] Alliance forces to enter Kabul before a broad-based Afghan national government was put in place.” But the US ignored this advice, and later, at the Bonn conference of December 2001, Hamid Karzai was installed as chairman (and subsequently president) as Pashtun “window dressing, while the Northern Alliance took over the most powerful sections of the government.”

By backing the Northern Alliance against the Taliban and then failing to include a meaningful representation of Pashtuns in a power-sharing deal in Kabul, the US not only sided with India in the Indian–Pakistani proxy war in Afghanistan, it also elevated a coalition of Afghanistan’s smaller ethnicities above its largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns. Conflict was inevitable, and since twice as many Pashtuns live in Pakistan as in Afghanistan, it was also inevitable that this conflict would spill over the border.

The results for Pakistan were catastrophic. Over the following decade, as Hussain describes in detail, the Pakistani military’s attempts to separate “good” militants from “bad” foundered. Instead, strong networks developed between radical groups in Pakistan’s Punjabi east and those in its Pashtun west. With each move of the Pakistani military against them, the frequency and lethality of counterattacks by terrorists inside Pakistan, on both military and civilian targets, intensified. Pakistani casualties soared.

The only way out of this trap, in which an unwinnable “Pashtun war” threatens to swamp an essential Pakistani program to neutralize militants, Hussain suggests, is to address the second “fundamental flaw” in US strategy: the “failure to appreciate that combating the militant threat required something far more than a military campaign,” namely a “political settlement with the insurgents, requiring direct talks with the Taliban.”

Equally vital, it must be added, is a push toward political settlement between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. This simmering conflict fuels the Indian–Pakistani proxy war between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban in Afghanistan, encourages the Pakistani military’s embrace of militants, and helps subordinate Pakistani civilian governments to the Pakistani military (by allowing a near-perpetual state of security crisis to be maintained in Pakistan). The outlines of a deal on Kashmir were reportedly secretly agreed upon in 2007, but progress has been frozen since Musharraf’s fall from power in 2008 and the terrorist attacks on Mumbai that same year.

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama acknowledged Kashmir’s central role. “The most important thing we’re going to have to do with respect to Afghanistan is actually deal with Pakistan,” he said in October 2008.

We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India, and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they can stay focused not on India but on the situation with those militants.
Once he was elected, however, talk of Kashmir and peace between India and Pakistan receded from President Obama’s official pronouncements, and he embarked upon an Afghanistan policy that might be described as “shoot first, talk later.” US drone strikes in Pakistan’s Pashtun belt intensified, with more—53—in 2009, Obama’s first year in office, than during the entire Bush administration—42—followed by a further sharp increase in 2010, to 118. This unmanned assault was accompanied by a tripling of US military manpower in Afghanistan, which in turn resulted in a fourfold increase in the American fatality rate, with more deaths there of US soldiers in twenty-nine months under Obama (974) than in eighty-seven months under Bush (630).

Obama has now begun to reverse his Afghanistan escalation. His June 22 speech announced that 33,000 US forces (described as those of his “surge,” but more accurately representing the second of his two roughly equal-sized surges) would begin withdrawing this summer and be gone by the end of the next. There will then, he said, be a “steady pace” of further reductions until by 2014 the change of mission “from combat to support…will be complete.” He also stated that “America will join initiatives that reconcile the Afghan people, including the Taliban.”

The following day, in an interview with the Voice of America, Obama acknowledged a US “focus shifted to Pakistan” and declared:

I think what’s happened is that the [US–Pakistan] relationship has become more honest over time and that raises some differences that are real. And obviously the operation to take out Osama bin Laden created additional tensions, but I had always been very clear with Pakistan that if we ever found him and had a shot, that we would take it. We think that if Pakistan recognizes the threat to its sovereignty that comes out of the extremists in its midst, that there’s no reason why we can’t work cooperatively….
The tone of Obama’s underlying message to Pakistan is certainly much improved from that of the US in September 2001, when Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage reportedly told Pakistan to cooperate with the imminent US campaign in Afghanistan or be prepared to be bombed “back to the stone age.” But implicit in Obama’s words, and explicit in his actions, is a continued willingness to escalate US armed intervention in Pakistan should Pakistani cooperation prove insufficient. The alliance between the US and the Pakistani military remains, therefore, a relationship between parties viewing one another through gunsights. Each side blames the other for putting its citizens in grave danger, and each is correct to do so.

A gunsight is not, however, the primary lens through which King’s College professor and former London Times journalist Anatol Lieven sees Pakistan. Quite the opposite: his Pakistan: A Hard Country, by far the most insightful survey of Pakistan I have read in recent years, reflects sensitivity and considerable, if clear-eyed, affection. Lieven has traveled extensively through Pakistan (dismayingly atypical for a contemporary foreign commentator), exploring all of its provinces and speaking with Pakistanis from a very broad range of backgrounds. He has also immersed himself in written sources, including pertinent anthropological research produced over a period of some two hundred years.

Pakistan’s is a diverse society, so diverse, in fact, that observers who deal best in generalizations are bound to get the country horribly wrong. Lieven recognizes this diversity and makes it central to his analysis. For him, Pakistan is a place of competing and overlapping clans, sects, tribes, beliefs, and practices. Its society, in order to function, has evolved powerful mechanisms to deal with rivalries inside shared localities. As a result, Lieven argues, Pakistan is characterized by structures—military, bureaucratic, social, political, spiritual, judicial—that are profoundly “Janus-faced,” in the manner of the two-faced Roman deity who gazes and speaks in opposite, contradictory directions. These structures, at once predatory and protective, operate to make the country both (frustratingly for reformers) very difficult to change and (bafflingly for forecasters of its demise) remarkably resilient.2

At the heart of Lieven’s account of Pakistan is kinship, pervasive networks of clans and biradiris (groups of extended kin) that he identifies as “the most important force in society,” usually far stronger than any competing religious, ethnic, or political cause. Several millennia of invasions, occupations, colonizations, and rule by self-interested states resulted in a “collective solidarity for interest and defense” based on kinship becoming paramount in the area that is Pakistan. It now, as Lieven points out, “is a cultural system so strong that it can persuade a father to kill a much-loved daughter, not even for having an affair or becoming pregnant, but for marrying outside her kinship group without permission.” Moreover it is enduring, having survived, for example, “more than half a century of transplantation of Pakistani immigrants to the very different climes of Britain.” It has done much the same in the far less dislocating shift to Pakistan’s cities, sustained, as in Britain, through constant replenishment by newly migrating kin from the countryside.

The effects of kinship on Pakistani politics are profound. Most of Pakistan’s leading political parties are dynastic, including the Bhutto family’s PPP and the Sharif family’s PML-N; even individual members of parliament are often elected on the basis of clan alliances and support. Politics is therefore about patronage far more than ideology. Furthermore, the Pakistani state is relatively weak, collecting taxes that amount to less than 10 percent of GDP.

As a consequence, Lieven notes, Pakistani governments follow a predictable pattern. They are elected (usually as coalitions, Pakistan’s many divisions making absolute majorities exceedingly rare) on general promises of higher living standards for the population and individual promises to particular politicians, families, and districts. The governments lack the resources to keep many of these promises (which are, in any case, often conflicting); their majorities ebb away; they lose power and await another turn.

Yet because of patronage, much of what politicians extract financially from official positions circulates among their kinship groups, which cut across class. Lieven believes this system, while hugely ineffective at driving real change, helps explain “Pakistan’s remarkably low inequality rating according to the Gini Co-efficient, measuring the ratio of the income of the poorest group in society relative to the richest.” By that measure in 2002 “the figure for Pakistan was 30.6, compared with 36.8 for India, 40.8 for the US, and 43.7 for Nigeria.”

The role of religion in Pakistan, a source of much hand-wringing in policy think tanks, is similarly complex. As Lieven points out: “the Islam of the Pakistani masses contains very different traditions.” Moreover, unlike in Saudi Arabia or Iran, where an oil-bankrolled state has tried to impose one monolithic version of Islam, “the Pakistani state is too weak to achieve this even if it wanted to.” Lieven describes the theological divisions among Sunnis sustained by Pakistan’s clan and kinship diversity. The Ahl-e-Hadith, heavily influenced by Wahabism, loathe saintly traditions. The Deobandis may praise saints but object to worshiping them. The Barelvis, Pakistan’s most numerous (and “fissiparous”) school, tend to embrace the intercession of saints with God. Veneration of saints is also central to Pakistan’s Shias. Because saintliness can be inherited, the heads of Pakistan’s powerful landowning “pir families remain of immense political importance.” They can actively create bridges among religious groups and they serve as major bosses in several mainstream political parties, especially the “secular” PPP.

Religiosity thus fuses with kinship networks and politics to reinforce Pakistan’s existing elite. But it also helps marginalize Pakistan’s Islamist parties, drawn primarily from the Ahl-e-Hadith and Deobandi schools, which struggle to capture more than a few percent of the country’s vote. (Away from politics and “hardly noticed outside the country,” Lieven believes Pakistan’s religiosity also softens “the misery of Pakistan’s poor” by contributing to an astounding level of charitable donation, which, “at almost 5 percent of GDP, is one of the highest rates in the world.”)

Throughout his analysis, Lieven rejects the notion that Pakistan fits somehow in a category apart from the rest of the South Asian subcontinent, a sui generis nuclear-armed “failed state” on the verge of collapse. Rather, he writes,

Pakistan is in fact a great deal more like India—or India like Pakistan—than either country would wish to admit. If Pakistan were an Indian state, then in terms of development, order and per capita income it would find itself somewhere in the middle, considerably below Karnataka but considerably above Bihar.

Indeed, even in the violent challenges confronting its state authority, Pakistan is like its subcontinental neighbors: “All of the states of this region have faced insurgencies over the past generation,” Lieven notes, and by comparison to the Taliban conflict in Pakistan, Sri Lanka’s Tamil rebellion “caused proportionally far more casualties” and India’s Naxalite Maoist insurgency controls “a far greater proportion of India.”

Lieven has evident sympathy for the Pakistani military (indeed there are points when, in referring to a uniformed ancestor who served during British rule in what is now Pakistan, one suspects Lieven may have his own feelings of kinship with the Pakistan army). But he is clear about the role the army has played in fomenting militancy, and about the deadly threat militants now pose to Pakistan, especially the potential for far worse bloodshed if the remaining militant groups that have not yet turned on the military and are therefore being kept “in existence ‘on the shelf ‘”—including Pashtun militants focused on Afghanistan and Punjabi militants focused on India—were to do so.

Still, despite the ineffectiveness of much of the Pakistani state, he believes Pakistan’s kinship groups and its stabilizing and antireformist social structures give the country a combination of diversity and toughness that makes successful revolution highly unlikely. He also writes that the Pakistani army, as it demonstrated in the “brutal but in the end brutally effective” operation to liberate Swat from militant control in 2009, is fully capable of routing guerrillas who seize territory when it sets its mind to doing so.

A key question, therefore, is whether the army itself could split. Lieven thinks not (and we must fervently hope that he is right). The army, he explains, is an all-volunteer institution with a strong shared ethos, nationalistic rather than pan-Islamic in outlook, and increasingly vigilant against Taliban sympathizers within—”after all, we are not suicidal idiots,” an officer tells him. The real risk, which Lieven argues must be avoided at all costs, is of “open intervention of US ground forces” in Pakistan. For if ordered by their commanders not to resist, “parts of the Pakistani army would mutiny in order to fight the invaders,” and in such an eventuality “Islamist upheaval and the collapse of the state would indeed be all too likely.”

In passages such as this, Lieven comes close to describing Pakistan as if through a gunsight; but the gunsight belongs to an American decision-maker on the hunt, with Lieven playing the role of preservationist guide. The best Western strategy, he counsels, would “stem from a recognition that Pakistan’s goals in Afghanistan are in part legitimate—even if the means with which they have been sought have not been”—and would “seek a peaceful solution to the Kashmir dispute, despite all the immense obstacles in both India and Pakistan.” For in the end, “not even the greatest imaginable benefits of US–Indian friendship could compensate for the actual collapse of Pakistan, with all the frightful dangers this would create not just for the West but for India too.”

Lieven’s is a vital book, with much wisdom in its advice for the West. But equally importantly, this detailed and nuanced survey offers Pakistanis a mirror in which to look hard at their country and themselves. Pakistan’s resilience is bound up with its resistance to reform, yet reform will be essential for facing the great challenges ahead, including the potentially devastating impacts of climate change on a dry and overpopulated land that is dependent on a single river and its tributaries. Pakistanis, and above all members of Pakistan’s military, would do well finally to reject their country’s disastrous embrace of militants. Pakistan must urgently mend its relationships in its own neighborhood and refocus on taking care of itself. Time is not on its side.

1
Indeed, perhaps more than just words: on July 9 the US announced it was holding back $800 million of military aid for Pakistan. ↩

2
Lieven is careful to point out that his analysis refers only to Pakistan as it has been configured for the past forty years, a territory with “more of a natural unity…[and] a degree of common history and ethnic intertwining stretching back long before British rule,” and not to what he terms 1947–1971’s “freak of history…[with] its two ethnically and culturally very different wings separated by 1,000 miles of hostile India,” a situation from which Bangladesh should have been given a “civilized divorce” but which instead “ended in horrible bloodshed.”

-Mohsin Hamid is the author of the novels Moth Smoke and The Reluctant Fundamentalist. He lives in Lahore, London, and New York. (Article originally appeared late September 2011)

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– The views expressed in this article are the solely the opinions of the writer and although interesting, do not necessarily reflect nor represent the views of Pakistanis for Peace and or Manzer Munir. 

India, Pakistan PMs Vow to Start ‘New Chapter’

As Reported by The Economic Times

The prime ministers of India and Pakistan said Thursday they expected to open a “new chapter” at future talks between the rival nations after they met at a regional summit in the Maldives.

India’s Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani said their often strained ties were improving, but they declined to give a date for their next meeting.

“The time has come to write a new chapter in the history of our countries,” Singh told reporters. “The next round of talks should be far more productive and far more practical-orientated in bringing the two countries closer.”

Gilani said that “all issues” had been discussed during their one-hour meeting including the contentious subject of Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region divided between the two nuclear rivals and claimed in its entirety by both.

“I am ready to discuss each and every issue,” Gilani said. “I think that the next round of the talks would be more constructive, more positive, and will open a new chapter in the history of both the countries.”

The leaders did not give further details of their discussions on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) gathering in the Maldives.

However Singh added that the two sides should push to make real progress as they had “wasted lot of time in the past in acrimonious debates”.

The two men emphasised their warm friendship and shook hands twice to oblige photographers at the start of closed-door talks at the luxury Shangri-La Villingili island resort.

After the meeting, the two men headed for the opening of the SAARC summit, where their host, Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed, hailed their dialogue.

“These developments are extremely welcome,” he said. “I hope this summit will be enthused with optimism.”

The two prime ministers last met in March when Gilani accepted Singh’s invitation to watch the India-Pakistan cricket World Cup semi-final. Their previous talks were at the April 2010 SAARC summit in Bhutan.

Both countries, who have fought three wars since independence in 1947, struck an upbeat note ahead of the Maldives summit, with officials describing the cross-border atmosphere as “considerably improved”.

However the vexed subject of Kashmir and the threat of Pakistan-based extremism remain major obstacles to their ongoing peace process.

A full peace dialogue — suspended by India after the 2008 Mumbai attacks blamed on Pakistan-based militants — was resumed in February this year.

The process remains tentative with only incremental progress on issues such as trade.

Last week, Pakistan’s cabinet announced it had approved a proposal giving India the status of “most favoured nation” but there has been confusion about when it will be implemented.

Efforts to reduce tensions have been complicated by concern over Afghanistan’s prospects as international troops begin departing after ten years of fighting the Taliban.

Indian involvement in Afghanistan is sensitive, with Pakistan vehemently opposed to its arch foe meddling in what it considers its backyard.

Islamabad’s suspicions were fuelled when Afghanistan and India signed a strategic partnership pact last month.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is also attending the SAARC summit, along with the leaders of other member nations Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Trust Deficit with Pakistan Shrinking: Singh

As Reported by The Express-Tribune via AFP

 

 

The leaders of India and Pakistan will meet on the sidelines of a regional summit this week, as the nuclear-armed rivals seek to push a tentative rapprochement in their fractious relationship.

Talks between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani will take place at the summit of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations that opens Thursday in the Maldives.

India’s foreign minister said Wednesday that a “trust deficit” with Pakistan was shrinking as he headed for a regional summit, in a clear sign of warming relations between the neighbours.

“The trust deficit with Pakistan is shrinking,” S.M. Krishna said on board his flight to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in the Maldives, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

He also said that it was necessary for Pakistan and India to develop a joint strategy to fight terror in the region, the agency reported.

Their meeting follows what Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai described as “positive indicators” from Pakistan in recent weeks that it is serious about reducing tensions.

An Indian military helicopter which strayed into Pakistani territory last month was promptly released along with its crew and returned to India, avoiding what in the past could easily have escalated into a diplomatic row.

And last week the Pakistani cabinet approved a proposal to grant India the status of “most favoured nation” in a move towards normalising trade relations.

“These are I would say indications of forward movement,” Mathai said, adding that “all aspects” of the India-Pakistan relationship would be discussed during the Singh-Gilani talks.

The two prime ministers last met in March when Gilani accepted Singh’s invitation to watch the India-Pakistan cricket World Cup semi-final. They last held formal talks at the 2010 SAARC summit in Bhutan.

Talks between the neighbours’ foreign ministers in July failed to produce a major breakthrough, but both sides signalled a warming of ties, with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani speaking of a “new era of cooperation.”

But efforts to reduce tensions have been complicated by the increasing influence of Afghanistan in the bilateral equation.

Indian involvement in Afghanistan is sensitive, with Pakistan vehemently opposed to its arch foe meddling in what it considers its backyard. Islamabad’s suspicions were fuelled when Afghanistan and India signed a strategic partnership pact last month.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai will also attend the SAARC summit, along with the leaders of other member nations Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Previous summits of the regional body have been largely overshadowed by the India-Pakistan dynamic — a fact that Mathai acknowledged with regret.

“We would like the focus to remain essentially on the common business of SAARC … and hope that the focus will not be diverted to one single event,” he said. The summit is being held in Addu, on the southern Maldives’ island of Gan.

Satirical Song, a YouTube Hit, Challenges Extremism in Pakistan

By Salman Masood for The New York Times

 

A satirical song that takes a tongue-in-cheek swipe at religious extremism, militancy and contradictions in Pakistani society has become an instant hit here, drawing widespread attention as a rare voice of the country’s embattled liberals.

The song, “Aalu Anday,” which means “Potatoes and Eggs,” comes from a group of three young men who call themselves Beygairat Brigade, or A Brigade Without Honor, openly mocking the military, religious conservatives, nationalist politicians and conspiracy theorists.

Their YouTube video has been viewed more than 350,000 times since it was uploaded in mid-October. The song is getting glowing reviews in the news media here and is widely talked about — and shared — on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.

The name of the band is itself a satire of Pakistan’s nationalists and conservatives, who are often described in the local news media as the Ghairat Brigade, or Honor Brigade.

Local musicians have produced work in the past vilifying the West, especially the United States, but rarely do they ridicule the military or religious extremists, and none have had Beygairat Brigade’s kind of success.

Sung in Punjabi, the language of the most populous and prosperous province, the song delivers biting commentary on the current socio-political milieu of the country, in which religious radicalism and militancy have steadily risen over the years and tolerance for religious minorities is waning.

Just this year, a governor who opposed Pakistan’s contentious blasphemy law was killed by one of his guards. The assassin was then celebrated by many in the country, including lawyers who greeted him with rose petals and garlands.

The song rues the fact that killers and religious extremists are hailed as heroes in Pakistan, while someone like Abdus Salam, the nation’s only Nobel Prize-winning scientist, is often ignored because he belonged to the minority Ahmadi sect.

“Qadri is treated like a royal,” wonders the goofy-looking lead vocalist in the song, referring to Malik Mumtaz Qadri, the elite police guard who killed the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, in January after he challenged the blasphemy law.

Another line in the song, “where Ajmal Kasab is a hero,” makes a reference to the only surviving Pakistani gunman involved in the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India. Still another line, “cleric tried to escape in a veil,” alludes to the head cleric of Islamabad’s Red Mosque — which was the target of a siege in 2007 by the Pakistani government against Islamic militants — who tried unsuccessfully to break the security cordon by wearing a veil.

The song even makes fun of the powerful army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, for extending his role for another three years.

Potatoes and eggs “never tasted so good,” wrote Fahd Husain in a commentary on Tuesday in The Daily Times, a newspaper based in Lahore. “They will always be credited for being politically incorrect when most needed, and giving voice to all those Pakistanis who live in fear.”

The popularity of the song on the Internet has made it a sensation across the border in India as well, surprising the band members, who have been incessantly asked whether they feel they have put their lives in danger by ridiculing the mighty.

There are certainly enough provocations to rile nationalists and conservatives. At one point in the music video, the lead singer holds a placard that reads, in English: “This video is sponsored by Zionists.”

The band members chose to upload the song on YouTube instead of handing it to television networks because they said the work was too offbeat and might be censored. Not surprisingly, some have criticized the song and its taunts as pedestrian and in bad taste.

“We were not expecting such a huge response,” said Ali Aftab Saeed, 27, the lead vocalist, who lives in Lahore, a city that is often considered the country’s cultural capital.

He said the assassination of Mr. Taseer was the inspiration for the song and its lyrics.

Resistance poetry and literature are not new to Pakistan, and they raised spirits during the somber years of military dictatorships.

During the protest rallies of the seminal lawyers movement in 2007, when they led the campaign to oust the president, Pervez Musharraf, the lawyers would sing and dance to a poem written by Faiz Ahmad Faiz, considered a giant of Urdu literature. Habib Jalib, another famous Pakistani poet, wrote several poems against Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, the military dictator in the 1980s.

But “Jalib is irrelevant to the generation of urban, young, middle-class kids that Beygairat Brigade is addressing,” said Nadeem Farooq Paracha, a culture critic based in Karachi.

“This band is offering an alternative narrative to the one this generation has grown up on, and provides a counternarrative to establishmentarian and conservative notions of politics, history and society advocated by televangelists, conspiracy theorists and, of course, the right-wing electronic media,” Mr. Paracha added. “And what better and more effective way to do this than by using satire and pop music.”

The band members, on the other hand, have no pretensions of being revolutionaries, activists or intellectuals, though they do feel that the song represents those who do not believe in extremism and want to live peacefully.

“At the end of the day,” said Mr. Saeed, the lead vocalist, “we are just musicians who raised some questions.”

Pakistan, India take Another Cautious Step Forward

By Alex Rodriguez and Mark Magnier for The Los Angeles Times

 

In cautious increments, nuclear archrivals Pakistan and Indiahave been easing the pall of tension that has overshadowed the two nations in recent years, as Islamabad increasingly worries about another neighbor: volatile Afghanistan.

The latest move toward rapprochement came last week, when the Pakistani Cabinet announced it would normalize trade relations with India by granting its longtime foe “most favored nation” status.

The designation has practical ramifications, including the elimination of discriminatory pricing and mutual imposition of lower tariffs and high import quotas. More important, however, it marks the latest in a series of decisions and events that signals a warming in relations between two countries that have fought three wars since their independence after the 1947 partition of British India.

Driving the move toward improved relations with India is Pakistan’s belief that strained ties with traditional allies such as the U.S. and Afghanistan are leaving it increasingly isolated, analysts say. India and Afghanistan signed a strategic partnership pact last month that included the training of Afghan troops by Indian forces — a move that rankled Islamabad.

The steps between the two South Asian neighbors have been small yet striking.

After an Indian military helicopter flying in bad weather strayed into Pakistani-controlled territory Oct. 23, Pakistani troops promptly released the aircraft and its crew and returned them to India, averting a crisis. Earlier this year, the two countries also resumed peace talks scuttled by the 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people. Pakistani militants carried out the attacks, and India has accused Pakistan’s ISI spy agency of involvement in the assault.

Both countries are also discussing a deal that would allow Pakistan to import electricity from India to relieve massive power shortages crippling the Muslim nation’s economy. In addition, India didn’t oppose Pakistan’s nonpermanent seat on the United Nations Security Council last month, which passed by a single vote. And, earlier this year, New Delhi didn’t fight a European Union bid to allow duty-free imports of Pakistani textiles, even though it would cost competing Indian textile makers an estimated $1 billion a year in lost sales.

Experts warn that major roadblocks still loom. At the top of that list is the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir, claimed by both countries and the cause of two wars since 1947. A dispute over water rights remains unresolved, and New Delhi continues to accuse the ISI of backing militant groups that target India.

Still, bolstering trade relations between the two countries, said Zafar Hilaly, a former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., “is a good first step. It shows a genuine feeling within Pakistan that the relationship should be normalized.”

Particularly significant is the Pakistani military’s decision to endorse granting MFN status to India. Foreign policy remains the purview of Pakistan’s security establishment, especially when it comes to the country historically regarded by the military as its chief enemy.

“All the stakeholders, including the military … are on board,” Pakistani Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan said in announcing the decision. “Such a big step could not be taken alone.”

The military’s backing of MFN status for India, Hilaly said, likely represents a realization that an easing of tensions with New Delhi may now be in Pakistan’s best interests, particularly at a time when relations with Washington and Kabul have soured. Both the U.S. and Afghanistan assert that their efforts to battle Afghan Taliban insurgents have been hampered by Pakistan’s backing of the insurgency there, a charge that Islamabad denies.

“What has happened is that, with respect to issues that the military faces, the priorities have changed,” Hilaly said. “India is still the main culprit as far as security is concerned, but the eastern front is much less active than the one developing in Afghanistan.”

Officials in Washington have been encouraged by the movement toward trade normalization between Islamabad and New Delhi, especially because economic interdependence is seen as an ideal path toward stability in South Asia. Testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee last month, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the Pakistan-India relationship “the real game-changer in the region.”

“We have in Pakistan today a leadership, both civilian and military, that wants to see progress with India, and we have the same on the Indian side,” Clinton told lawmakers. “I firmly believe greater regional economic integration would revolutionize the economy in Pakistan.”

Though India extended MFN status to Pakistan in 1996, Pakistan had not reciprocated until now. Observers in India wondered why it took Islamabad so long to see the value in the move. “Not allowing MFN status hurt Pakistan more than India and was shortsighted,” said Satish Chandra, an analyst and former Indian ambassador to Pakistan. “It was an exercise in cutting your nose to spite your face.”

With trade normalization, experts estimate two-way trade could triple to $8 billion within five years. Official trade flows currently run nearly 7 to 1 in New Delhi’s favor, with Indian exports to Pakistan totaling about $2.33 billion versus $332 million in the other direction.

“When trade picks up, there’s more and more confidence to ease political and other differences,” said Shaqeel Qalander, a furniture maker and former president of a business group on the Indian-held portion of Kashmir. “It’s a very good decision.”