Sunday, 29 April 2012

Some Myths Work

UP and Sindh, joined by history, divided by secular democracy
Tahir Mehdi (The writer works for Punjab Lok Suhag, a research and advocacy group in Pakistan, with an interest in understanding governance and democracy. He also writes a regular blog in

The two regions of the subcontinent, Uttar Pradesh in India and Sindh in Pakistan, have both a unique bond and a disconnect. First, the bond: a huge number of Muslims from Uttar Pradesh migrated in 1947 to Sindh. People with Urdu as their mother tongue comprise 21 per cent of Sindh—every fifth inhabitant of Sindh belongs to second or third generation migrants from India, in particular from UP. References to forefathers’ villages, towns or jagirs still moisten many eyes and inspire nostalgia. They all had migrated willingly or unwillingly in pursuit of a peaceful society and prosperity. Their children’s textbooks kept on reminding them over next decades that the cherished dream could never be realised with Hindus roaming around and dominating everything.

The same Uttar Pradesh recently elected members for its 403-seat state assembly. Muslims still live in that province that has a population higher than Pakistan. UP’s population, according to the 2011 census, is 199.6 million. Of these, 19.8 per cent are Muslims. Or, every fifth inhabitant of present-day UP is a Muslim. Muslim candidates were serious contenders for around half of the general assembly seats. In fact, 68 of them went on to become MLAs; 64 Muslims stood second in the constituencies they contested in.

Almost every party fielded Muslim candidates. The Samajwadi Party’s Adil Sheikh defeated assembly speaker Sukhdev Rajbhar, former minister Nand Gopal Gupta was drubbed by SP’s first-timer Haji Parvez Ahmed and four-time BJP winner Inder Dev Singh lost to Mohammad Ghazi. No one cried foul, no allegations of rigging were hurled, no conspiracy theories of undermining Hindutva made the rounds and, above all, no one smelt the infamous ‘foreign hand’ behind the defeat of caste Hindus at the hands of ‘pariah’ Muslims.

The Samajwadi Party raised its tally from 97 (in 2007) to more than a simple majority of 224; the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party crashed from 206 seats to a humble 80. The massive reversal was caused by a four per cent swing in votes, and critics attribute SP’s ascendancy to winning the Muslim vote. Remember that UP is where the capital of Urdu culture, Lucknow, is located; so also the epicentre of Hindutva politics, Ayodhya, and the hometown of secular Indian nationalism (read Congress), Rae Bareli. It’s here that minority Muslim voters have so decisively swung political fortunes. But we were always told that in a democracy where Hindus outnumbered us, we would be forced to live miserable lives on the margins. I was flabbergasted. Does it not turn our history into a farce?

I am not saying that everything is exceptionally bright across the border. People in India too face mammoth challenges—but wait, I think I should not be apologetic about what I want to say and subdue my argument before actually forwarding it, to avoid being labelled unpatriotic. I better say it loud and clear.

Thousands of Hindus migrated from Sindh to India after Partition and are spread all over India. Today, many are prosperous. But, willingly or unwillingly, a few hundred thousand did not migrate. Non-Muslims in Sindh are around 9 per cent of the population, or half the percentage of Muslims in UP. Have you ever heard of a non-Muslim contesting elections and winning too?

They couldn’t even think of such a feat till 2002, when non-Muslims were corralled into reserved seats under the separate electorate system, while Muslim candidates vied for their co-religionists’ votes alone. Two elections ago, we moved to the joint electorate system; since then, only one Hindu candidate for a national assembly seat has polled votes in thousands—Mahesh Kumar, a Pakistan People’s Party nominee. He lost to Arbab Zakaullah of the Pakistan Muslim League by a margin of over a hundred thousand. Rajveer Singh, a Pakistan Muslim League-Functional candidate for the provincial seat of Umerkot, too stood a distant second to the PPP’s Ali Mardan Shah. Dr Daya Ram of the PPP is the only Hindu elected on a provincial seat to date.

That is the disconnect between Sindh and UP. One’s faith in democracy is unwavering, while we have heaped scorn over it for its inability to deliver, and instead have been beating dead horses hoping it would take us to a cherished future. We were told that democracy doesn’t work for us Muslims. It is alien to our culture, and comes to fruition when pollinated by secularism alone, which is heretic. Let me confess today: if being secular means having faith in democracy, I profess it, as I have seen it work miracles.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

The maths formula linked to the financial crash

Black-Scholes: The maths formula linked to the financial crash

It's not every day that someone writes down an equation that ends up changing the world. But it does happen sometimes, and the world doesn't always change for the better. It has been argued that one formula known as Black-Scholes, along with its descendants, helped to blow up the financial world.
Black-Scholes was first written down in the early 1970s but its story starts earlier than that, in the Dojima Rice Exchange in 17th Century Japan where futures contracts were written for rice traders. A simple futures contract says that I will agree to buy rice from you in one year's time, at a price that we agree right now.

By the 20th Century the Chicago Board of Trade was providing a marketplace for traders to deal not only in futures but in options contracts. An example of an option is a contract where we agree that I can buy rice from you at any time over the next year, at a price that we agree right now - but I don't have to if I don't want to.

You can imagine why this kind of contract might be useful. If I am running a big chain of hamburger restaurants, but I don't know how much beef I'll need to buy next year, and I am nervous that the price of beef might rise, well - all I need is to buy some options on beef.

But then that leads to a very ticklish problem. How much should I be paying for those beef options? What are they worth? And that's where this world-changing equation, the Black-Scholes formula, can help.

"The problem it's trying to solve is to define the value of the right, but not the obligation, to buy a particular asset at a specified price, within or at the end of a specified time period," says Professor Myron Scholes, professor of finance at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business and - of course - co-inventor of the Black-Scholes formula.

The young Scholes was fascinated by finance. As a teenager, he persuaded his mother to set up an account so that he could trade on the stock market. One of the amazing things about Scholes is that throughout his time as an undergraduate and then a doctoral student, he was half-blind. And so, he says, he got very good at listening and at thinking.

When he was 26, an operation largely restored his sight. The next year, he became an assistant professor at MIT, and it was there that he stumbled upon the option-pricing puzzle.

One part of the puzzle was this question of risk: the value of an option to buy beef at a price of - say - $2 (£1.23) a kilogram presumably depends on what the price of beef is, and how the price of beef is moving around.

But the connection between the price of beef and the value of the beef option doesn't vary in a straightforward way - it depends how likely the option is to actually be used. That in turn depends on the option price and the beef price. All the variables seem to be tangled up in an impenetrable way.
Scholes worked on the problem with his colleague, Fischer Black, and figured out that if I own just the right portfolio of beef, plus options to buy and sell beef, I have a delicious and totally risk-free portfolio. Since I already know the price of beef and the price of risk-free assets, by looking at the difference between them I can work out the price of these beef options. That's the basic idea. The details are hugely complicated.

"It might have taken us a year, a year and a half to be able to solve and get the simple Black-Scholes formula," says Scholes. "But we had the actual underlying dynamics way before."

The Black-Scholes method turned out to be a way not only to calculate value of options but all kinds of other financial assets. "We were like kids in a candy story in the sense that we described options everywhere, options were embedded in everything that we did in life," says Scholes.

But Black and Scholes weren't the only kids in the candy store, says Ian Stewart, whose book argues that Black-Scholes was a dangerous invention.

"What the equation did was give everyone the confidence to trade options and very quickly, much more complicated financial options known as derivatives," he says.

Scholes thought his equation would be useful. He didn't expect it to transform the face of finance. But it quickly became obvious that it would.

"About the time we had published this article, that's 1973, simultaneously or approximately a month thereafter, the Chicago Board Options Exchange started to trade call options on 16 stocks," he recalls.
Scholes had just moved to the University of Chicago. He and his colleagues had already been teaching the Black-Scholes formula and methodology to students for several years.

"There were many young traders who either had taken courses at MIT or Chicago in using the option pricing technology. On the other hand, there was a group of traders who had only intuition and previous experience. And in a very short period of time, the intuitive players were essentially eliminated by the more systematic players who had this pricing technology."

That was just the beginning.

"By 2007 the trade in derivatives worldwide was one quadrillion (thousand million million) US dollars - this is 10 times the total production of goods on the planet over its entire history," says Stewart. "OK, we're talking about the totals in a two-way trade, people are buying and people are selling and you're adding it all up as if it doesn't cancel out, but it was a huge trade."

The Black-Scholes formula had passed the market test. But as banks and hedge funds relied more and more on their equations, they became more and more vulnerable to mistakes or over-simplifications in the mathematics.

"The equation is based on the idea that big movements are actually very, very rare. The problem is that real markets have these big changes much more often that this model predicts," says Stewart. "And the other problem is that everyone's following the same mathematical principles, so they're all going to get the same answer."

Now these were known problems. What was not clear was whether the problems were small enough to ignore, or well enough understood to fix. And then in the late 1990s, two remarkable things happened.

"The inventors got the Nobel Prize for Economics," says Stewart. "I would argue they thoroughly deserved to get it."

Fischer Black died young, in 1995. When in 1997 Scholes won the Nobel memorial prize, he shared it not with Black but with Robert Merton, another option-pricing expert.

Scholes' work had inspired a generation of mathematical wizards on Wall Street, and by this stage both he and Merton were players in the world of finance, as partners of a hedge fund called Long-Term Capital Management.

"The whole idea of this company was that it was going to base its trading on mathematical principles such as the Black-Scholes equation. And it actually was amazingly successful to begin with," says Stewart. "It was outperforming the traditional companies quite noticeably and everything looked great."

But it didn't end well. Long-Term Capital Management ran into, among other things, the Russian financial crisis. The firm lost $4bn (£2.5bn) in the course of six weeks. It was bailed out by a consortium of banks which had been assembled by the Federal Reserve. And - at the time - it was a very big story indeed. This was all happening in August and September of 1998, less than a year after Scholes had been awarded his Nobel prize.

Stewart says the lessons from Long-Term Capital Management were obvious. "It showed the danger of this kind of algorithmically-based trading if you don't keep an eye on some of the indicators that the more conventional people would use," he says. "They [Long-Term Capital Management] were committed, pretty much, to just ploughing ahead with the system they had. And it went wrong."

Scholes says that's not what happened at all. "It had nothing to do with equations and nothing to do with models," he says. "I was not running the firm, let me be very clear about that. There was not an ability to withstand the shock that occurred in the market in the summer and fall of late 1998. So it was just a matter of risk-taking. It wasn't a matter of modelling."

This is something people were still arguing about a decade later. Was the collapse of Long-Term Capital Management an indictment of mathematical approaches to finance or, as Scholes says, was it simply a case of traders taking too much risk against the better judgement of the mathematical experts?

Ten years after the Long-Term Capital Management bail-out, Lehman Brothers collapsed. And the debate over Black-Scholes and LTCM is now a broader debate over the role of mathematical equations in finance.

Ian Stewart claims that the Black-Scholes equation changed the world. Does he really believe that mathematics caused the financial crisis?

"It was abuse of their equation that caused trouble, and I don't think you can blame the inventors of an equation if somebody else comes along and uses it badly," he says.

"And it wasn't just that equation. It was a whole generation of other mathematical models and all sorts of other techniques that followed on its heels. But it was one of the major discoveries that opened the door to all this."

Black-Scholes changed the culture of Wall Street, from a place where people traded based on common sense, experience and intuition, to a place where the computer said yes or no.

But is it really fair to blame Black-Scholes for what followed it? "The Black-Scholes technology has very specific rules and requirements," says Scholes. "That technology attracted or caused investment banks to hire people who had quantitative or mathematical skills. I accept that. They then developed products or technologies of their own."

Not all of those subsequent technologies, says Scholes, were good enough. "[Some] had assumptions that were wrong, or they used data incorrectly to calibrate their models, or people who used [the] models didn't know how to use them."

Scholes argues there is no going back. "The fundamental issue is that quantitative technologies in finance will survive, and will grow, and will continue to evolve over time," he says.

But for Ian Stewart, the story of Black-Scholes - and of Long-Term Capital Management - is a kind of morality tale. "It's very tempting to see the financial crisis and various things which led up to it as sort of the classic Greek tragedy of hubris begets nemesis," he says.

"You try to fly, you fly too close to the sun, the wax holding your wings on melts and you fall down to the ground. My personal view is that it's not just tempting to do that but there is actually a certain amount of truth in that way of thinking. I think the bankers' hubris did indeed beget nemesis. But the big problem is that it wasn't the bankers on whom the nemesis descended - it was the rest of us."

Additional reporting by Richard Knight

Saving Pakistan... And India?

Omar Ali

Pakistan is in the throes of an existential crisis. Pakistan has always been in the throes of an existential crisis. Pakistan’s interminable existential crisis is, in fact, getting to be a bore.  But while faraway peoples can indeed get away from this topic and on to something more interesting, Pakistanis have little choice in this matter; and it may be that neither do Indians.
The partition of British India was different things to different people, but we can all agree on some things: it was a confused mess, it was accompanied by remarkable violence and viciousness,  and it has led to endless trouble. The Paknationalist narrative built on that foundation has Jihadized the Pakistani state, and defanging that myth is now the most critical historic task of the Pakistani bourgeoisie.

Well, OK. We don’t actually all admit any of those things, but all those are things I have written in the past. Today I hope to shed my inhibitions and go further.

First, the crisis. Some friends think I am being unnecessarily alarmist and the only crisis is the presence of American infidels/imperialists in the region. Let America leave and all will be well. Others believe that if the army had a “free hand”, they would have things under control within days.  Let us dispense with both theories. The crisis is not primarily American generated (though they have a long and glorious history of feeding dollars to the crisis) and no one is in complete control.  The existing corruption-ridden state is a British colonial creation struggling to get by alongside an unstable mix of Islamist ideology and a very shallow and self-contradictory foundational myth. Even though the karma of the Raj is potent stuff, it will not last forever against these forces. When it goes, the next step will not be the dawn of Chomskyan enlightened anarchy or democratic socialism; it will either be Salafist Islam or the dissolution of the state. Dissolution being physically and diplomatically difficult (who will handle the scramble over borders that would follow?), Salafist Islam administered by the army (perhaps with a charismatic cricketer as its public face) is the likely option.

Unfortunately, it is not likely to work very well. In fact, it is incapable of sustaining even the bare minimum of modern statehood. Unlike Iranian Islam (which is literate, modern and sophisticated compared to Salafist fantasies) there is no there there.  A militarized salafist Pakistan may hold together a few years in the name of war against the infidels, but after the war (and who wants a war that could go nuclear?) we are left with little more than the vague notion of a rightly guided caliph, the whipping of uppity women and the accelerated cleansing of undesirable smaller sects. After all, if you have a religious state, then you cannot have ten different interpretations of religion (not to speak of ten different religions). Which vision is in charge has to be clear. The state must enforce religious uniformity or become secular. There is no third option.  One can see this principle in operation in Pakistan ever since General Zia started Islamizing in earnest.  Ahmedis were already beyond the pale, but Shias, a sect that provided the founder of Pakistan and were an integral part of Pakistan, now face the prospect of second class citizenship or worse. If you happen to believe in the Salafist project you may find this a desirable endpoint, but everyone else will want to stop this process and reverse it if possible.

To stop short of that particular landing, we have to repair what we have. What we have is very confused and the current “approved” mythology of Partition and an Islamic state serves to increase confusion and undermines what exists. That approved mythology therefore has to be set aside or defanged. This does not mean there are no other problems. There are tons of other problems, and many of them are bigger than salafist Islam in a worldwide context. But those problems are common to the whole region. They are common to the third world. They are even common to the rich countries. They are problems of power arrangements, of unbridled capitalism, of environmental degradation, of  individual alienation and so on. They are, in short, problems of where humankind is in the 21st century. There are many different approaches to these problems and many different solutions, precisely because we have not yet solved them. But there are other problems that were identified and solved centuries ago. For example, we moved on from the divine right of kings, the segregation of women, even the revolutionary vanguard and national socialism. The notion that we can have a religious state but somehow bypass the known problems of the religious state is not  tenable. But a salafist coup will be just that. The world has moved on, we will have to move on too.

While this explains why Pakistanis need to worry, what about Indians? With enough problems of their own, why should they care two hoots about all this? I think they will have to care because there are clear limits to how far Indians can downgrade the importance of whatever craziness is going down in Pakistan.  IF we go down, we will take a lot of people down with us. India is not protected from the fallout by two oceans or even the high Himalayas. If Pakistan crashes down to Taliban level, India will have to scramble to avoid the fallout and given the realities of geography and the capabilities of the Indian state, that is not a job they can do very well.

There is also a second reason why Indians should worry a little about what happens in Pakistan. India itself is a work in progress. Its integration of British India, modern democratic forms and the ancient but scientifically underdeveloped and culturally heterogeneous civilization of India is not a done deal.  It is easy for commentators to “discover” that India on the ground is not as different from Pakistan as Indians may wish it to be.  I am aware that there are differences and they are real; the stated ideal is superior, the historic basis is sounder, the religious landscape is too heterogeneous to even imagine monocultural purity, the dominant religion is Hinduism and so on; but the existing reality of everyday life is still very far from the ideal. While neither economic development nor democratic rule nor national integration are in imminent danger,  none of these are out of the woods. If Pakistan heads for salafist Islam, India will face not only terrorist attacks or overt hostility, it will find its own problems and weak spots revealed and exploited at a time when it needs to pretend it has moved beyond them in order to actually move beyond them.   

The rational choice therefore is for India to help prevent such an outcome. And luckily, there is much that India can do in that direction.  Trade with India has the potential to transform the economy of Punjab and beyond. Transit to Afghanistan and central Asia will double that dividend. And travel and cultural exchange with India undermine the entire paknationalist narrative (which is why Hafiz Saeed and other Jihadist leaders have been launched to try and stop any such initiatives). While it would be a mistake to get carried away with the possibilities it would also be a mistake to miss opportunities just because the Indian-nationalist narrative emphasizes the differences.

This sort of argument is very infuriating to some Indians (it also makes Paknationalists go ballistic, but I lost that constituency at paragraph two).  To be asked to help not because we are fellow human beings or long lost brothers (we already have that group of Indians lighting candles at Wagah border every year and I love them for it) but because if we really truly catch fire we could set the whole neighbourhood aflame? It sounds almost like blackmail. “Internet Hindus” will obviously want no part of this, but even mainstream analysts can be sceptical; but dear think-tankers, think about it. Trade, travel and cultural exchange with India are the least expensive and most “high-return” means of saving Pakistan from a salafist catastrophe. Realpolitik, not sentimental humanism (I personally approve of sentimental humanism, but that is a separate matter) suggests that India actively take steps to prevent Pakistan from going down to the next level. Realpolitik also suggests that it is still possible. Pakistan is not the basket case it is sometimes projected to be; it is a fertile land with hardworking, enterprising people; a large economy with real possibilities of trade and investment; its ancient Indic cultures and shared Indic languages are still alive and provide a basis for deep interaction. India can open channels to help an alternative national myth to take root and survive in Pakistan even as it takes precautions to wall off harmful trends. Without some deft assistance (and precautionary walling off, the two contradictory trends will have to go together; it is crucial to know which approach is needed where) the “good” side is more likely to go down.

The other big player is, of course, Uncle Sam. But that will have to be the topic of another article. Paknationalists had also set their hopes on Uncle Chin, but that may be wishful thinking.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Rupert Murdoch at the Leveson Inquiry

Rupert Murdoch gives away more than planned at Leveson inquiry

The denials never shifted but, under careful questioning from Robert Jay QC, the tycoon made some serious concessions
Rupert Murdoch
Rupert Murdoch often departed from the script in his evidence at the Leveson inquiry. Photograph: Reuters
At one point in his evidence, when he was trying to explain how he dealt with politicians, Rupert Murdoch volunteered: "I'm not good at holding my tongue." It must drive his advisers crazy.
The plan clearly was for Castle Murdoch to be defended with well-constructed walls of obdurate denial, reinforced by occasional bouts of forgetfulness. Certainly, the denials never shifted – and these were big, tough denials: "I've never asked a prime minister for anything in my life … We have never pushed our commercial interests in our papers … I don't know many politicians."

However, in the event, Robert Jay QC kept piercing small gaps in Murdoch's defences. This was partly because Jay had gathered up a prodigious supply of facts, which he fired like slingshot at the castle walls – and partly because the old mogul likes to talk. Jay didn't break in and ransack the place, but he did some damage.

Sometimes the wounds were nothing more than dents in Murdoch's standing, as he acknowledged that it might well be true that he had once listened to Ken Livingstone on television denouncing the "lies and smears of the media" and that he had then declared drunkenly to a roomful of people, "That's me!" Or that he might well have qualified his early approval for Tony Blair by adding that they were not yet ready to take their pants down together.

But sometimes, in the detail behind the denial, he conceded substantial ground. His underlying problem was that he was not listening to Jay and failed to see the subtlety of the allegation that faced him.

Murdoch kept denying that he made deals with politicians, ie, that he simply offered them the support of his paper in return for favours to his business. But Jay suggested: "It operates at a far more sophisticated level, doesn't it?" and went on to quote the reported words of the former Australian prime minister Paul Keating: "You can do a deal with him without ever saying a deal is done."
In the case of Murdoch's relationship with Blair, Jay quoted Murdoch's former editor, Andrew Neil, that there had been "an implicit understanding – never openly talked about between the two men – but an understanding nevertheless".

Murdoch duly put up his well-rehearsed denial – "I never asked Mr Blair for anything, nor did I receive any favour" – and then proceeded to volunteer that he had been in the habit of seeing Blair two or three times a year, as though that were an annual average for most voters to see a national leader.

He described how he had once spent an afternoon at Chequers, telling Blair how much he opposed Britain joining the euro, as though the prime minister had nothing better to do.

To this extraordinary degree of access, he boldly added that he does indeed direct the editorial line of the Sun on major issues, including questions about Europe. And, once again failing to hold his tongue, he went right ahead and admitted what this would mean to a man like Blair: "If any politician wanted my views on major issues, they only had to read the Sun." The Sun relentlessly reinforced the anti-EU message.

Murdoch continued to deny that Blair had ever done anything for him, but then conceded that Blair had "gone the extra mile for him" over European policy, to the point where he had acceded to the Sun's demand that the government should agree to hold a referendum before accepting the new EU constitution.

And Blair had done something very similar by ensuring Britain maintained tough anti-union laws and then underlined the point with an article in the Sun, following which the two men had enjoyed dinner together. Murdoch agreed it was possible he had congratulated Blair on his position.

Similarly, Jay quoted Murdoch's former confidant, Woodrow Wyatt, who was close to Margaret Thatcher and who recorded in his diary that he had once told Murdoch: "Margaret is very keen on preserving your position. She knows how much she depends on your support. Likewise, you depend on her." Murdoch produced his standard denial – "I didn't expect any help from her, nor did I ask for any" – and then found himself accepting that, while the Sun supported her, she had delivered a series of decisions which looked really very helpful indeed, including allowing him to buy the Times and the Sunday Times without referring his bid to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. She also exempted BSkyB from the regulations in the 1990 Broadcasting Act.

With Gordon Brown and David Cameron, he kept closer to the script but, even so, he caused unnecessary trouble.

He denied discussing the BBC licence fee with Cameron. Enough said. Talking to a prime minister about the licence fee might suggest he had some commercial motive. But then his tongue added: "I wasn't interested in the BBC licence fee. I had been through that with previous prime ministers, and it didn't matter. They all hated the BBC, and they all gave it whatever it wanted."

He set the record straight on Kelvin MacKenzie's claim that Brown had reacted to the Sun's endorsement of the Tories in September 2009 by phoning him and roaring down the phone for 20 minutes. That was "a very colourful exaggeration", he said. Enough? No. He went on to quote a version of the call which was highly likely to provoke a response from Brown, who duly issued a statement saying that Murdoch was wholly wrong and should have the good grace to correct his account.

As he left the inquiry for a break, his tongue was still rolling. Dan Sabbagh, the Guardian's head of media, heard him grumble to his advisers about Lord Justice Leveson: "Let's get him to get this fucking thing over with today." If only they could. Murdoch resumes his evidence on Thursday morning.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Predicting how a player is going to perform has always been a tricky business

Who'd have thunk it?

Ed Smith
April 25, 2012

Did you pick them first time? Did you recognise how good they were at first glance? Or did you conveniently revise your opinion much later, when the results started to come in? 

I've been asking myself that question as I've followed the career of Vernon Philander. He now has 51 wickets in just seven Tests. Only the Australian seamer CBT Turner, who reached the milestone in 1888, has reached 50 wickets faster than South Africa's new bowling sensation. I don't mean any disrespect to the legends of the past, but I think it's safe to say that Test cricket has moved on a bit since the days of Turner. So Philander has had statistically the best start to any Test bowling career in modern history.

Who saw that coming? I can claim only half-prescience, and I sadly lacked the courage to go on the record. I first encountered Philander when I was captain of Middlesex in 2008 and he joined the club as our overseas pro. I didn't know much about him beyond what I'd been told - "Allrounder, hard-hitting batter, maybe a bit more of a bowler." Armed with no more information than that, I found myself batting in the nets against our new signing just a couple of minutes after I'd met him.
After the usual pleasantries, it was down to the serious business of Philander bowling at me on a green net surface with a new ball in his hand. So what did I think? Honestly? I thought: "Hmm, I thought they said he was a 'useful allrounder'? Looks more like a genuine opening bowler to me. But I'd better keep it to myself - maybe I've just lost it a bit?"

Philander was just as impressive in matches as he was in the nets. He quickly went from bowling first-change to opening the bowling, then to being our strike bowler. Was he just having a great run of form or was he always this good? Looking back on it, I wish I'd said to everyone - "Forget the fact he can also bat, this bloke is a serious bowler."

When we form judgments of players, we tend to be conditioned by the labels that are already attached to them - "bowling allrounder", "wicketkeeper-batsman", "promising youngster". Once a player has been put in the wrong box, our opinions tend to be conditioned by what everyone else has said. We are clouded by the conventional wisdom that surrounds us.

Look at Andrew Flintoff. It took years for everyone to realise that he was one of the best fast bowlers in the world in the mid-2000s. That was partly because we were distracted by his swashbuckling batting. We were so busy judging him as an allrounder that we failed to notice that he was holding his own against the best in the world, purely as a bowler.

When I played against Matt Prior in his early days at Sussex I thought he was among their best batsmen. The fact that he also kept wicket led him to be underrated as a pure batsman. He could completely change a game in one session and was the often the player I was most happy to see dismissed.

The dressing room is often too slow to acknowledge that a young player is already a serious performer. It cuts against the overstated notion of "He's still got a lot to learn." I have a strange sense of satisfaction at having helped propel the then little-known fast bowler Graham Onions into the England team. Other players weren't convinced he was the genuine article. But he knocked me over so often in 2006 that I had no choice but to become his greatest advocate. I haven't changed my mind: when he is fit, he is one of the best bowlers around.

I played against Tim Bresnan in one of his first matches for Yorkshire. He thudded a short ball into my chest in his first over. "Can't believe that hurt," one of my team-mates scoffed, "it was only bowled by that debutant bloke." True enough. But every top player has to start out as a debutant.

The dressing room is often too slow to acknowledge that a young player is already a serious performer. It cuts against the overstated notion of "He's still got a lot to learn"

The gravest errors of judgement, of course, make for the really good stories. When Aravinda de Silva played for Kent in 1995, he brought along a young Sri Lankan to have a bowl in the nets at Canterbury. What did the Kent players think of the young lad, Aravinda wondered? The general view was that he was promising but not worth a contract.

It was Muttiah Muralitharan.

Sometimes, of course, everyone fails to predict the trajectory of a career. Earlier this month, Alan Richardson was named one of the Wisden cricketers of the year. That is exalted company to keep: Kumar Sangakkara and Alastair Cook were among the other winners.

Richardson is a 36-year-old county professional who has played for Derbyshire, Warwickshire, Middlesex and now Worcestershire. For much of his career, Richardson has had to fight for every game he has played. He started out as a trialist, travelling around the country looking for 2nd team opportunities. It wasn't until he turned 30 that he became an automatic selection in first-class cricket.
Richardson was a captain's dream at Middlesex: honest, loyal, honourable, hard-working and warm-hearted. By their early 30s, most seamers are in decline and have to suffer the indignity of watching batsmen they once bullied smash them around the ground. Not Richardson. Aged 34, he taught himself the away-swinger - typical of his relentless hunger for self-improvement. In 2011, Richardson clocked up more first-class wickets than anyone.

About to turn 37, he says his chances of playing for England have gone. I hope he's wrong. No one could more richly deserve the right to play for his country. Watching Richardson pull on an England cap would be one of the finest sights in cricket - the perfect example of character rewarded. And it would be further proof that some cricketers will always be quiet achievers, inching towards excellence without vanity or fanfare. They deserve the limelight more than anyone.

Former England, Kent and Middlesex batsman Ed Smith's new book, Luck - What It Means and Why It Matters, is out now.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Billions wiped off Europe's biggest companies as political rebellion rocks eurozone

More than £122.3bn was wiped off the value of Europe's biggest companies on Monday amid fears that the eurozone's commitment to austerity was being swept away by political rebellion - just as its debts hit record levels.

A broker reacts at the stock market in Frankfurt, central Germany
Image 1 of 3
Stockmarkets plunged as traders panicked that Angela Merkel could lose her key allies in France and the Netherlands Photo: AP
Stockmarkets plunged as traders panicked that Angela Merkel could lose her key allies in France and the Netherlands and that the debt crisis rescue plans could unravel.
The Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, who is one of the eurozone's "hardliners" on fiscal discipline, dramatically quit in the wake of his coalition's refusal to accept Europe's debt pact. Snap elections could be called as early as June.

Traders were also rattled by Francois Hollande's victory over Nicolas Sarkozy in the first round of the French presidential election. The socialist Mr Hollande has vowed to renegotiate the fiscal pact that including a 3pc of GDP deficit limit.

The political concerns were compounded by data that showed eurozone debt has hit 87.2pc of GDP - the highest level since the launch of the single currency in 1999. Eurostat said that the 17 eurozone members had reduced their deficits from 6.2pc of GDP in 2010 to 4.1pc in 2011 - but overall debt levels had risen by 1.9pc.

Spain, meanwhile, officially sank back into recession as the economy shrank 0.4pc in the first quarter of the year, and German manufacturing shrank at its fastest rate for three years in March. The French composite PMI also fell, according to Markit.

By the end of the day, the Stoxx Europe 600 index has sunk 2.3pc to its lowest level for three months. The German Dax dropped 3.4pc, while France's CAC and Spain's Ibex were down 2.8pc each. In London, the FTSE 100 closed down 1.9pc. In the US, the Dow closed down 0.8pc, the S&P 500 lost 0.8pc and the Nasdaq shed 1pc.

Borrowing costs for the core "sinner states" of Spain and Italy rose back towards "unsustainable" levels. French borrowing costs also rose, widening the spread between oats and German bunds to a record 146.9 basis points. The euro fell almost 1pc against the dollar.

The ECB's bond-buying programme went unused for the sixth week in a row last week, the central bank said. But Brussels moved to reassure markets that the fiscal pact, which Ms Merkel said would "last forever", was still intact.

The European Commission said the pact was signed by states, not governments. "Governments change but commitments on behalf of states cannot be changed without discussion with European partners," said the Commission.

The Dutch finance minister, Jans Kees de Jager, insisted his country would stand by its austerity plans. "The Netherlands will retain its solid fiscal policy and will also show the market it will lower its deficit and also have a path of sustainable government finances," he said.

Crime 'one of the world's top 20 economies', says UN official

Crime generates an estimated $2.1 trillion in global annual proceeds - or 3.6pc of the world's gross domestic product - and the problem may be growing, a senior United Nations official has said.

guns taken out of circulation during a Scotland Yard press conference
Criminal groups have shown 'impressive adaptability' to law enforcement actions and to new profit opportunities Photo: PA
"It makes the criminal business one of the largest economies in the world, one of the top 20 economies," said Yury Fedotov, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), describing it as a threat to security and economic development.
The figure was calculated recently for the first time by the UNODC and World Bank, based on data for 2009, and no comparisons are yet available, Mr Fedotov told a news conference.
Speaking on the opening day of a week-long meeting of the international Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ), he suggested the situation may be worsening "but to corroborate this feeling I need more data".

He said up to $40bn is lost through corruption in developing countries annually and illicit income from human trafficking amounts to $32bn every year.

"According to some estimates, at any one time, 2.4m people suffer the misery of human trafficking, a shameful crime of modern day slavery," Mr Fedotov said separately in a speech.

He also cited a range of other crimes yielding big money.

Organized crime, illicit trafficking, violence and corruption are "major impediments" to the Millennium Development Goals, a group of targets set by the international community in 2000 to seek to improve health and reduce poverty among the world's poorest people by 2015, Mr Fedotov said.

Criminal groups have shown "impressive adaptability" to law enforcement actions and to new profit opportunities, a senior US official told the meeting in Vienna.

"Today, most criminal organizations bear no resemblance to the hierarchical organized crime family groups of the past," Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Brian Nichols said, according to a copy of his speech.

"Instead, they consist of loose and informal networks that often converge when it is convenient and engage in a diverse array of criminal activities," Mr Nichols, of the US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, added.

He said terrorist groups in some cases were turning to crime to help fund their operations: "There are even instances where terrorists are evolving into criminal entrepreneurs in their own right."

Deny the British empire's crimes? No, we ignore them

New evidence of British colonial atrocities has not changed our national ability to disregard it
Mau Mau round-up, Kenya 1954
Members of the Devon Regiment round up local people in a search for Mau Mau fighters in Kenya in 1954. Photograph: Popperfoto/Popperfoto/Getty Images
There is one thing you can say for the Holocaust deniers: at least they know what they are denying. In order to sustain the lies they tell, they must engage in strenuous falsification. To dismiss Britain's colonial atrocities, no such effort is required. Most people appear to be unaware that anything needs to be denied.

The story of benign imperialism, whose overriding purpose was not to seize land, labour and commodities but to teach the natives English, table manners and double-entry book-keeping, is a myth that has been carefully propagated by the rightwing press. But it draws its power from a remarkable national ability to airbrush and disregard our past.

Last week's revelations, that the British government systematically destroyed the documents detailing mistreatment of its colonial subjects, and that the Foreign Office then lied about a secret cache of files containing lesser revelations, is by any standards a big story. But it was either ignored or consigned to a footnote by most of the British press. I was unable to find any mention of the secret archive on the Telegraph's website. The Mail's only coverage, as far as I can determine, was an opinion piece by a historian called Lawrence James, who used the occasion to insist that any deficiencies in the management of the colonies were the work of "a sprinkling of misfits, incompetents and bullies", while everyone else was "dedicated, loyal and disciplined".

The British government's suppression of evidence was scarcely necessary. Even when the documentation of great crimes is abundant, it is not denied but simply ignored. In an article for the Daily Mail in 2010, for example, the historian Dominic Sandbrook announced that "Britain's empire stands out as a beacon of tolerance, decency and the rule of law … Nor did Britain countenance anything like the dreadful tortures committed in French Algeria." Could he really have been unaware of the history he is disavowing?

Caroline Elkins, a professor at Harvard, spent nearly 10 years compiling the evidence contained in her book Britain's Gulag: the Brutal End of Empire in Kenya. She started her research with the belief that the British account of the suppression of the Kikuyu's Mau Mau revolt in the 1950s was largely accurate. Then she discovered that most of the documentation had been destroyed. She worked through the remaining archives, and conducted 600 hours of interviews with Kikuyu survivors – rebels and loyalists – and British guards, settlers and officials. Her book is fully and thoroughly documented. It won the Pulitzer prize. But as far as Sandbrook, James and other imperial apologists are concerned, it might as well never have been written.

Elkins reveals that the British detained not 80,000 Kikuyu, as the official histories maintain, but almost the entire population of one and a half million people, in camps and fortified villages. There, thousands were beaten to death or died from malnutrition, typhoid, tuberculosis and dysentery. In some camps almost all the children died.

The inmates were used as slave labour. Above the gates were edifying slogans, such as "Labour and freedom" and "He who helps himself will also be helped". Loudspeakers broadcast the national anthem and patriotic exhortations. People deemed to have disobeyed the rules were killed in front of the others. The survivors were forced to dig mass graves, which were quickly filled. Unless you have a strong stomach I advise you to skip the next paragraph.

Interrogation under torture was widespread. Many of the men were anally raped, using knives, broken bottles, rifle barrels, snakes and scorpions. A favourite technique was to hold a man upside down, his head in a bucket of water, while sand was rammed into his rectum with a stick. Women were gang-raped by the guards. People were mauled by dogs and electrocuted. The British devised a special tool which they used for first crushing and then ripping off testicles. They used pliers to mutilate women's breasts. They cut off inmates' ears and fingers and gouged out their eyes. They dragged people behind Land Rovers until their bodies disintegrated. Men were rolled up in barbed wire and kicked around the compound.

Elkins provides a wealth of evidence to show that the horrors of the camps were endorsed at the highest levels. The governor of Kenya, Sir Evelyn Baring, regularly intervened to prevent the perpetrators from being brought to justice. The colonial secretary, Alan Lennox-Boyd, repeatedly lied to the House of Commons. This is a vast, systematic crime for which there has been no reckoning.
No matter. Even those who acknowledge that something happened write as if Elkins and her work did not exist. In the Telegraph, Daniel Hannan maintains that just eleven people were beaten to death. Apart from that, "1,090 terrorists were hanged and as many as 71,000 detained without due process".
The British did not do body counts, and most victims were buried in unmarked graves. But it is clear that tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, of Kikuyu died in the camps and during the round-ups. Hannan's is one of the most blatant examples of revisionism I have ever encountered.

Without explaining what this means, Lawrence James concedes that "harsh measures" were sometimes used, but he maintains that "while the Mau Mau were terrorising the Kikuyu, veterinary surgeons in the Colonial Service were teaching tribesmen how to deal with cattle plagues." The theft of the Kikuyu's land and livestock, the starvation and killings, the widespread support among the Kikuyu for the Mau Mau's attempt to reclaim their land and freedom: all vanish into thin air. Both men maintain that the British government acted to stop any abuses as soon as they were revealed.
What I find remarkable is not that they write such things, but that these distortions go almost unchallenged. The myths of empire are so well-established that we appear to blot out countervailing stories even as they are told. As evidence from the manufactured Indian famines of the 1870s and from the treatment of other colonies accumulates, British imperialism emerges as no better and in some cases even worse than the imperialism practised by other nations. Yet the myth of the civilising mission remains untroubled by the evidence.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Aggressive Captaincy

Nathan Lyon and Michael Clarke celebrate after getting rid of Sachin Tendulkar, Australia v India, 4th Test, Adelaide, 4th day, January 27, 2012
Michael Clarke doesn't give his bowlers protective fields by default like many other captains © Getty Images
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Captains: follow Clarke's lead

In the long run, captains who aim to win and set fields that will get them wickets are the ones who will succeed and last
April 22, 2012

Michael Clarke is quickly establishing a well-deserved reputation for brave and aggressive captaincy. His entertaining approach is based on one premise: trying to win the match from the opening delivery. This should be the aim of all international captains, but sadly it isn't.
In every era there are Test captains who prefer to attain a position of safety before they go all out for victory. These captains are frightened stiff of the Michael Clarkes, who make it obvious they are not interested in a draw. At least 50% of international captains consider a draw to be a good result and when that option is removed they easily panic.
The first thing a captain like Clarke understands is that he will lose some matches in constantly striving for victory. Once that premise is accepted the captain has reached the stage where he hates to lose but doesn't fear it. There's a huge difference: the latter is a positive state where the captain will do everything in his power to win; the former a mindset where the captain sets out not to lose.
An important indicator of a captain's thinking is his field placings. A positive captain will always make the opposing batsmen feel their very existence is threatened. Through his field placings he allows his bowlers to turn at the top of their mark and see where a wicket (other than bowled, lbw or through the batsman's stupidity) can be claimed. 

A bowler operating to a purely containing field is like Zorro without his sword; he's not very threatening. There has been plenty of discussion on whether the shorter forms of the game will adversely affect batting techniques and turn bowlers into cannon fodder. What the 50- and 20-over matches have actually had a marked influence on is field placings.

Whereas the No. 1 priority, by a wide margin, used to be taking wickets, followed by saving singles, and then, way off in the distance, stopping boundaries, in the mind of the modern captain the last one has assumed far too much importance.

The almost robotic use in Test matches of a deep cover point and a backward square leg on the boundary, regardless of whether the ball is being played in that direction, borders on mindless captaincy. When a fieldsman is unemployed for half an hour but the captain still retains him in that position, you have to wonder: who appointed this captain?

The change in attitude to field placings is perfectly summed up with some typical Caribbean humour and common sense.

Former West Indies fast bowler Herman Griffith was captaining a Barbados club side in the 1930s once, and called on his debutant offspinner to have a trundle. "Where do you want the field?" asked Griffith politely.

"I'd like a deep-backward square leg, a midwicket on the boundary and a long-on and long-off," replied the youngster.
"Give me the ball," growled Griffith.
Not unreasonably, the young man asked, "Why?"
"You intending to bowl shite," came the forthright answer.

Nowadays, most bowlers would be horrified if the captain didn't automatically give him a number of protective fielders in the deep. Clarke is not such a captain.

Sadly, his latest gambit - a challenging declaration at the Queen's Park Oval, which was answered with equal bravado by Darren Sammy, failed because of inclement weather. Nevertheless, it's to be hoped their positive endeavours have acted as a sharp reminder to the administrators.

In Test cricket the captain is allowed free rein. We've seen in the case of Clarke and Sammy what's possible when two captains use a bit of imagination and have a desire to produce a result. It's impossible to legislate for captaincy imagination. In the 50-over game, which is highly regulated through a variety of Powerplays, and bowling and field restrictions, there is less real captaincy involved.

Wherever possible, the captaincy should be left to the skippers, and those with imagination will prosper. Hopefully those who lack inspiration and the nerve to face a challenge will be quickly replaced by the selectors.
Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator and columnist
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Saturday, 21 April 2012

India's Dharmic Tradition in contrast to Abrahamic Faiths Explained

The Left’s Untouchable

Why was Ambedkar’s critique of caste anathema for Indian Marxists?
It’s an abiding mystery of Indian politics: why the Left has consistently shown an uneasy reluctance to seriously engage with B.R. Ambedkar’s thoughts. When Ambedkar pushed for the Poona Pact in 1932, demanding separate electorates for Dalits, the Indian Left kept its distance from the issue. Symptomatically, E.M.S. Namboodiripad wrote: “This was a great blow to the freedom movement. For this led to the diversion of people’s attention from the objective of full independence to the mundane cause of the upliftment of the Harijans.”

EMS’s reaction to the Poona Pact was in consonance with his reading of Indian history in Marxist terms. Borrowing crudely from Marx’s understanding of the history of slavery, EMS found the caste system, despite its exploitative structure, to be “a superior economic organisation”, which facilitated organised production through a systematic allocation of labour. He didn’t note Ambedkar’s sophisticated distinction between “division of labour” and “division of the labourer” (including the hierarchy within that division) in the casteist relations of production. The eternal fixedness of the labourer with regard to his birth (as the “subject” who “will bear its Father’s name”), and the religious sanction behind such an identity, were deemed unimportant. Being mostly from the upper castes, Left scholars avoided examining the assumptions of caste.

Since before Independence, the mainstream Left framed the class question safely within the nationalist question; for EMS and his comrades, this issue was not a diversion.
Ambedkar had the courage to push for a radical division within the framework of nationalist politics, by asking for separate electorates. By calling Ambedkar’s cause “mundane”, EMS drew a specious distinction between the working class and Dalits, holding the former to be “superior”. Through this, EMS betrayed his predominantly upper-caste mindset. He is an exemplar of progressive casteism in the history of Left politics and thinking in India. This led to lower castes and Dalits not finding a place in the party hierarchy.

The most insidious form of caste solidarity ignores and hides the stark fact that caste is part of what Althusser calls the “apparatus” of ideology and is based in material existence. Every form of social practice (and exploitation) in India is contextually casteist. It creates conditions of multiple prejudice between the bourgeois and the working class (where the scavenging class/caste goes unnamed). And this prejudice becomes part of the relations of production as caste introduces elements of segregation and humiliation within those relations. In the case of untouchables, one might in fact call it relations of waste, where the disposing of sewage, etc, is not accorded even the minimum standard of dignified working conditions.

Ambedkar pointed out how the class system had an “open-door character”, whereas castes were “self-enclosed units”. He gave a brilliant explanation of caste’s forced endogamy: “Some closed the door: others found it closed against them.” The image throws up a phenomenon opposite to the Kafkan idea of law: the (Hindu) gatekeeper of law, in Ambedkar’s explanation, is also the lawgiver, and he allows entry by birth, but no exit. Once entry has been secured in Hindu society, as Ambedkar argued, everyone who is not a Brahmin is an other. Hinduism is a uniquely self-othering social system, whose (touchable) norms are secured by declaring a brutal exception: untouchability.

In his comparison of Buddha and Marx, Ambedkar bypasses Marx’s idea of private property and keeps out the question of capital ownership. He also does not complicate the relation between ‘law’ and ‘government’. These appear to be limitations of the historical conjuncture of Dalit politics. But Ambedkar finds the materialist and non-violent character of Buddhism to be evoking another thinkable historical version of a Marxist society.

Some critics in the Indian Left see the Dalit movement as being merely a ‘politics of recognition’ and having no revolutionary potential. It is a shallow view of the movement against segregated exploitation that seeks to penetrate entrenched hegemony. The politics against untouchability demands more than good wages and working conditions: it asks for a reconfiguration of the socio-cultural space and the elimination of a violated and untouchable ‘bare life’.

Ambedkar had warned that the Indian socialist would have to “take account of caste after the revolution, if he does not take account of it before the revolution”.

In a discussion after the screening of his film, Jai Bhim Comrade, Anand Patwardhan said that even though Gandhi erred on the caste system, he did more against untouchability than the Left. Under the stark light of this observation, the Left must rethink its ideological history. Or else, the crisis of its political legitimacy may not outlive the warnings.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Ways of bidding Farewell - Goodbye, God be with you, Khuda Hafiz, Allah Hafiz...

In Pakistan, saying goodbye can be a religious statement

To some, the growth of 'Allah hafiz' over 'Khuda hafiz', using a Qur'anic rather than Urdu name for God, is a symbol of change
Internet cafe in Peshawar, Pakistan
Pakistanis who continue to use 'Khuda hafiz' see the phrase as 'part of an ideological battle to retain what they see as a more pluralistic approach towards religion'. Photograph: M. SAJJAD/AP
Does it matter what name people use for God? This is the question thrown up as a result of a strange development in Pakistani etiquette.

Until about 10 years ago "Khuda hafiz", which means "God protect you", was the phrase commonly used to say goodbye. But, in the past decade, "Khuda hafiz" began to be overtaken by a new term "Allah hafiz". Now, "Allah hafiz" is used by everyone from religious clerics to fashion models and the country's top TV anchors.

While languages change and evolve with time, and Pakistan certainly has bigger problems such as corruption and militancy, the alteration has unsettled liberals in Pakistan, who say it reflects a wider change in the country's cultural landscape.

Khuda is the Urdu word for God, borrowed from Persian. Yet today, some people claim that Khuda can refer to any God, while Allah is the specific name for God in the Qur'anic scripture. Others have gone so far as to claim the word Khuda may even have pagan origins.

The promotion of "Allah hafiz" first began in the 1980s under the rule of General Zia-ul-Haq when Pakistan was involved in the US- and Saudi-backed jihad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. According to some reports, "Allah hafiz" was first used in public in 1985 by a well-known TV host on the state-run PTV. However it would be years later that the greeting took off.

The arguments used by Muslims who are against using the name Khuda appear similar to the ones used by those Christians in the United States who say Allah is a different God to the one they worship. There is no denying there are key theological differences between Islam, Christianity and other religions when it comes to the nature of God, but these don't necessarily mean people from different faiths can't use the same name, while simultaneously holding on to their own unique beliefs.

A few years back, a Roman Catholic bishop from the Netherlands, Tiny Muskens, attracted media interest after calling on people of all faiths to use the name Allah for God: "Allah is a very beautiful word for God. Shouldn't we all say that from now on we will name God Allah? What does God care what we call him? It is our problem."

And millions of English-speaking Muslims have no hesitation in using the name God to refer to Allah. There are more than 10 million Christians who live in the Middle East who use Allah to refer to God. In Malaysia, there has been controversy on the matter for years about Christians being allowed to use Allah to refer to God, with even churches being attacked by some Muslims who object.

Some have speculated the name Khuda may actually come from the word "Khud" which means "self" ("Khud-a" therefore translating as "self-revealing"). In Pakistan, the name Khuda is rooted in the very culture and history of the country. In the national anthem the final verse makes a reference to Khuda. A few years back a very popular film came out with the title Khuda Kay Liye ("For the Sake of God"). When former president Pervez Musharraf left office in 2008 he famously said in his farewell speech "Pakistan ka Khuda hafiz hai" ("God protect Pakistan").

Some continue to use the "Khuda hafiz" despite the popularity of "Allah hafiz". To these people, "Khuda hafiz" is part of an ideological battle to retain what they see as a more pluralistic approach towards religion, yet for others it is tradition or nostalgia that keeps the usage alive. Outside Pakistan, "Khuda hafiz" is also known to be used in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and among Muslims in India.
Interestingly, while Allah is an Arabic word, the Arabs themselves don't use "Allah hafiz" – which is a purely Pakistani-manufactured invention mixing Arabic with Persian. Rather the Arabs use "ma salama" or "Allah ysalmak" when parting company. And for any who feel there is no need to mention God in a greeting in any language, remember even the English word "goodbye" derives from "God be with you", which was the standard greeting at one time.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

How Pakistan makes US pay for Afghan war

By Dilip Hiro

The following ingredients should go a long way to produce a political thriller. Mr M, a jihadi in an Asian state, has emerged as the mastermind of a terrorist attack in a neighboring country, which killed six Americans. After sifting through a vast cache of intelligence and obtaining a legal clearance, the State Department announces a $10 million bounty for information leading to his arrest and conviction. Mr M promptly appears at a press conference and says, "I am here. America should give that reward money to me."

A State Department spokesperson explains lamely that the reward is meant for incriminating evidence against Mr M that would stand up in court. The prime minister of M's home state condemns foreign interference in his country's internal affairs. In the midst of this imbroglio, the US decides to release $1.18 billion in aid to the cash-strapped government of the defiant prime minister to persuade him to reopen supply lines for US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces bogged down in the hapless neighboring Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

Alarmingly, this is anything but fiction or a plot for an upcoming international sitcom. It is a brief summary of the latest development in the fraught relations between the US and Pakistan, two countries locked into an uneasy embrace since September 12, 2001.

Mr M is Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, a 62-year-old former academic with a tapering, hennaed beard, and the founder of the Lashkar-e Taiba (the Army of the Pure, or LeT), widely linked to several outrageously audacious terrorist attacks in India.

The LeT was formed in 1987 as the military wing of the Jammat-ud Dawa religious organization (Society of the Islamic Call, or JuD) at the instigation of the Pakistani army's formidable intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The JuD owes its existence to the efforts of Saeed, who founded it in 1985 following his return to his native Lahore after two years of advanced Islamic studies in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, under the guidance of that country's grand mufti, Shaikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz.

On its formation, the LeT joined the seven-year-old anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, an armed insurgency directed and supervised by the ISI with funds and arms supplied by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Saudis. Once the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, the Army of the Pure turned its attention to a recently launched anti-Indian jihad in Indian-administered Kashmir and beyond.

The terrorist attacks attributed to it range from the devastating multiple assaults in Mumbai in November 2008, which resulted in 166 deaths, including those six Americans, to a foiled attack on the Indian parliament in New Delhi in December 2001, and a successful January 2010 attack on the airport in Kashmir's capital Srinagar.

In January 2002, in the wake of Washington's launching of the "war on terror", Pakistan formally banned the LeT, but in reality did little to curb its violent cross-border activities. Saeed remains its final authority. In a confession, offered as part of a plea bargain after his arrest in October 2009 in Chicago, David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani-American operative of LeT involved in planning the Mumbai carnage, said: "Hafiz Saeed had full knowledge of the Mumbai attacks and they were launched only after his approval."

In December 2008, the United Nations Security Council declared the JuD a front organization for the banned LeT. The provincial Punjab government then placed Saeed under house arrest using the Maintenance of Public Order law. But six months later, the Lahore High Court declared his confinement unconstitutional.

In August 2009, Interpol issued a Red Corner Notice, essentially an international arrest warrant, against Saeed in response to Indian requests for his extradition. Saeed was again put under house arrest but in October the Lahore High Court quashed all charges against him due to lack of evidence.

It is common knowledge that Pakistani judges, fearing for their lives, generally refrain from convicting high-profile jihadis with political connections. When, in the face of compelling evidence, a judge has no option but to order the sentence enjoined by the law, he must either live under guard afterwards or leave the country.

Such was the case with Judge Pervez Ali Shah who tried Mumtaz Qadri, the jihadi bodyguard who murdered Punjab's governor Salman Taseer for backing an amendment to the indiscriminately applied blasphemy law. Soon after sentencing Qadri to capital punishment last October, Shah received several death threats and was forced into self-exile.

Aware of the failures of the Pakistani authorities to convict Saeed, US agencies seemed to have checked and cross-checked the authenticity of the evidence they had collected on him before the State Department announced, on April 2, its reward for his arrest. This was nothing less than an implied declaration of Washington's lack of confidence in the executive and judicial organs of Pakistan.

Little wonder that Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani took umbrage, describing the US bounty as blatant interference in his country's domestic affairs. Actually, this is nothing new. It is an open secret that, in the ongoing tussle between Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and his bete noire, army chief of staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani, the Barack Obama administration has always backed the civilian head of state. That, in turn, has been a significant factor in Gilani's stay in office since March 2008, longer than any other prime minister in Pakistan's history.

How to trump a superpower
Given such strong cards, diplomatic and legal, why then did the Obama administration commit itself to releasing more than $1 billion to a government that has challenged its attempt to bring to justice an alleged mastermind of cross-border terrorism?

The answer lies in what happened at two Pakistani border posts about two kilometers from the Afghan frontier in the early hours of November 26, 2011. NATO fighter aircraft and helicopters based in Afghanistan carried out a two-hour-long raid on these posts, killing 24 soldiers.

Enraged, Pakistan's government shut the two border crossings through which the US and NATO had until then sent a significant portion of their war supplies into Afghanistan. Its officials also forced the US to vacate Shamsi air base, which was being used by the CIA as a staging area for its drone air war in Pakistan's tribal areas along the Afghan border. The drone strikes are exceedingly unpopular - one poll found 97% of respondents viewed them negatively - and they are vehemently condemned by a large section of the Pakistani public and its politicians.

Furthermore, the government ordered a comprehensive review of all programs, activities and cooperation arrangements with the US and NATO. It also instructed the country's two-tier parliament to conduct a thorough review of Islamabad's relations with Washington. Having taken the moral high ground, the Pakistani government pressed its demands on the Obama administration.

An appointed Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) then deliberately moved at a snail's pace to perform the task on hand, while the Pentagon explored alternative ways of ferrying goods into Afghanistan via other countries to sustain its war there.

By contrast, a vociferous campaign against the reopening of the Pakistani supply lines led by the Difa-e Pakistan Council (Defense of Pakistan), representing 40 religious and political groups, headed by Hafiz Saeed, took off. Its leaders have addressed huge rallies in major Pakistani cities. It was quick to condemn Washington's bounty on Saeed, describing it as "a nefarious attempt" to undermine the council's drive to protect the country's sovereignty.

Meanwhile, the loss of the daily traffic of 500 trucks worth of food, fuel and weapons from the Pakistani port of Karachi through the Torkham and Chaman border crossings into Afghanistan, though little publicized in US media, has undermined the fighting capability of US and NATO forces.

"If we can't negotiate or successfully renegotiate the reopening of ground lines of communication with Pakistan, we have to default and rely on India and the Northern Distribution Network (NDN)," said a worried Lieutenant General Frank Panter to the Readiness Subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee of the US House of Representatives on March 30. "Both are expensive propositions and it increases the deployment or redeployment."

The main part of the NDN is a 3,220-mile (5,100 kilometer) rail network for transporting supplies between the Latvian port of Riga and the Uzbek town of Termez (connected by a bridge over the Oxus River to the Afghan settlement of Hairatan). According to the Pentagon, it costs nearly $17,000 per container to go through the NDN compared to $7,000 through the Pakistani border crossings.

Moreover, US and NATO are allowed to transport only "non-lethal goods" through the NDN.

Other military officials have warned that the failure to reopen the Pakistani routes could even delay the schedule for withdrawing American "combat troops" from Afghanistan by 2014. That would be bad news for the Obama White House with the latest Washington Post/NBC News poll showing that, for the first time, even a majority of Republicans believe the Afghan war "has not been worth fighting". A CBS News/New York Times survey indicated that support for the war was at a record low of 23%, with 69% of respondents saying that now was the time to withdraw troops.

In the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, the PCNS finally published a list of preconditions that the US must meet for the reopening of supply lines. These included an unqualified apology for the air strikes last November, an end to drone attacks, no more "hot pursuit" by US or NATO troops inside Pakistan, and the taxing of supplies shipped through Pakistan.

Much to the discomfiture of the Obama administration, a joint session of the National Assembly and the senate called to debate the PCNS report took more than two weeks to reach a conclusion.

On April 12, parliament finally unanimously approved the demands and added that no foreign arms and ammunition should be transported through Pakistan. The Obama administration is spinning this development not as an ultimatum but as a document for launching talks between the two governments.

Even so, it has strengthened Gilani's hand as never before. Furthermore, he has to take into account the popular support the Saeed-led Difa-e Pakistan Council is building for keeping the Pakistani border crossings permanently closed to NATO traffic. Thus, Saeed, a jihadi with a US bounty on his head, has emerged as an important factor in the complex Islamabad-Washington relationship.

Squeezing Washington: The pattern
There is, in fact, nothing new in the way Islamabad has been squeezing Washington lately. It has a long record of getting the better of US officials by identifying areas of American weakness and exploiting them successfully to further its agenda.

When the Soviet bloc posed a serious challenge to the US, the Pakistanis obtained what they wanted from Washington by being even more anti-Soviet than America. Afghanistan in the 1980s is the classic example.

Following the Soviet military intervention there in December 1979, the Pakistani dictator General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq volunteered to join Washington's Cold War against the Kremlin - but strictly on his terms. He wanted sole control over the billions of dollars in cash and arms to be supplied by the US and its ally Saudi Arabia to the Afghan mujahideen (holy warriors) to expel the Soviets from Afghanistan. He got it.

That enabled his commanders to channel a third of the new weapons to their own arsenals for future battle against their archenemy, India. Another third were sold to private arms dealers on profitable terms. When pilfered US weapons began appearing in arms bazaars of the Afghan-Pakistan border towns (as has happened again in recent years), the Pentagon decided to dispatch an audit team to Pakistan.

On the eve of its arrival in April 1988, the Ojhiri arms depot complex, containing 10,000 tons of munitions, mysteriously went up in flames, with rockets, missiles and artillery shells raining down on Islamabad, killing more than 100 people.

By playing on Ronald Reagan's view of the Soviet Union as "the evil empire", Zia also ensured that the American president would turn a blind eye on Pakistan's frantic, clandestine efforts to build an atom bomb. Even when the CIA, the National Security Agency and the State Department determined that a nuclear weapon assembled by Pakistan had been tested at Lop Nor in China in early 1984, Reagan continued to certify to congress that Islamabad was not pursuing a nuclear weapons program in order to abide by a law which prohibited US aid to a country doing so.

Today, there are an estimated 120 nuclear bombs in the arsenal of a nation that has more Islamist jihadis per million people than any other country in the world. From October 2007 to October 2009, there were at least four attacks by extremists on Pakistani army bases known to be storing nuclear weapons.

In the post-9/11 years, Pakistan's ruler General Pervez Musharraf managed to repeat the process in the context of a new Afghan war. He promptly joined president George W Bush in his "war on terror", and then went on to distinguish between "bad terrorists" with a global agenda (al-Qaeda), and "good terrorists" with a pro-Pakistani agenda (the Afghan Taliban).

Musharraf's ISI then proceeded to protect and foster the Afghan Taliban, while periodically handing over al-Qaeda militants to Washington. In this way, Musharraf played on Bush's soft spot - his intense loathing of al-Qaeda - and exploited it to further Pakistan's regional agenda.

Emulating the policies of Zia and Musharraf, the post-Musharraf civilian government has found ways of diverting US funds and equipment meant for fighting al-Qaeda and the Taliban to bolster their defenses against India. By inflating the costs of fuel, ammunition and transport used by Pakistan's 100,000 troops posted in the Afghan-Pakistan border region, Islamabad received more money from the Pentagon's Coalition Support Fund (CSF) than it spent. It then used the excess to buy weapons suitable for fighting India.

When the New York Times revealed this in December 2007, the Musharraf government dismissed its report as "nonsense". But after resigning as president and moving to London, Musharraf told Pakistan's Express News television channel in September 2009 that the funds had indeed been spent on weapons for use against India.

Now, the widely expected release of the latest round of funds from the Pentagon's CSF will raise total US military aid to Islamabad since 9/11 to $14.2 billion, two-and-a-half times the Pakistani military's annual budget.

There is a distinct, if little discussed, downside to being a superpower and acting as the self-appointed global policeman with a multitude of targets. An arrogance feeding on a feeling of invincibility and an obsession with winning every battle blind you to your own impact and even to what might be to your long-term benefit. In this situation, as your planet-wide activities become ever more diverse, frenzied, and even contradictory, you expose yourself to exploitation by lesser powers otherwise seemingly tied to your apron strings.

Pakistan, twice during America's 33-year-long involvement in Afghanistan made a frontline state, is a classic example of that. Current policymakers in Washington should take note: it's a strategy for disaster.

Dilip Hiro, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of 33 books, the most recent being the just-published Apocalyptic Realm: Jihadists in South Asia (Yale University Press, New Haven and London).

(Copyright 2012 Dilip Hiro.)