Friday October 20, 2017

Book Review: What will be Pakistan’s Fate? Toxic Legacies and Structural Weaknesses

Tilak Debasher's new book on Pakistan deals with a handful of debated issues related to the country

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A Pakistan Navy soldier stands guard while a loaded Chinese ship prepares to depart, at Gwadar port, about 700 kilometers (435 miles) west of Karachi. Pakistan, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016. VOA

– by Vikas Dutta

Jan 5, 2017: Title: Pakistan – Courting the Abyss; Author: Tilak Devasher; Publisher: Harper Collins India; Pages: 472; Price: Rs 599

What will be Pakistan’s fate? Acts of commission or omission by itself, in/by neighbours, and superpowers far and near have led the nuclear-armed country at a strategic Asian crossroads to emerge as a serious regional and global concern while creating many grave internal faultlines that raise doubts about its viable existence – or even existence for that matter.

Could Mohammad Ali Jinnah, as he left New Delhi for ever on August 7, 1947 have visualised the “moth-eaten” country he obtained in less than a decade with his iron determination, the machinations of the imperial power and mistakes of his opponents, “would within twenty-four years be broken into two?”

Or that the “rump come to be variously described as ‘deeply troubled’, ‘in terminal decline’, ‘in crisis’, ‘failing’, ‘on the edge’, ‘on the brink'”, unable to “provide minimum safety and law and order to its citizens” or “survive without repeated external financial support”, become “a hotbed of terrorism, both internal and external” or “a nuclear proliferator?” asks Pakistan expert Tilak Devasher.

Devasher, who retired in 2014 as Special Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat where he specialised in security issues in India’s neighborhood (and continued to maintain the interest), goes on, here, to undertake a full-scale and clinical examination of the various ills plaguing the country.

His research and analysis indicates that the roots of many of Pakistan’s problems lie in its past, in some cases, stretching back to before its founding. Also at fault, he finds, is the nature of the party that accomplished the work, the tactics used by the founding father, probably without much thought to their future implications (rather atypical of the forensically precise Jinnah), other structural weaknesses that were ignored, besides the latter errors.

Devasher admits his “fascination” with Pakistan doesn’t stem from being of a Partition-affected family or even Punjabi, but from the stories told by his air force officer father, about two of his superiors who later on headed the Pakistan Air Force. His interest was further strengthened by his own reading of Indian history, especially the freedom struggle, but this also raised questions about the two countries’ different courses.

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As a history student, he was not content to “skim the surface” and went deeper to know more about how Pakistan’s creation impacted its future, and the “real issues that plagued the country and its people”, beyond the “exciting issues” figuring in the headlines.

This, Devasher seeks to bring out in this “holistic book” which encompasses both “exciting issues” like terrorism and the roller-coaster course of relations with India as well as “boring”, but no less vital, ones like ideology, economy, environment, demographics and other internal dynamics. He however stresses it is not a comparative study with India.

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Beginning, most methodically, from the foundations, comprising the movement for Pakistan and legacy, he goes on to the building blocks, or the Pakistani ‘ideology’ and provincial relations, the framework, comprising the army and its relations with the state and society, and the superstructure which covers Islamisation and the sectarianism that also ensued, the role of the madarsas and then terrorism.

Then, he outlines the worrying state of the crucial “WEEP” sector – water, education, economy and population, and takes up relations with four key states – India, Afghanistan, China and the US.

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Devasher, who ends almost every alternate chapter with how the discussed issue is leading Pakistan to the abyss, is quite gloomy in his conclusions, mostly arrived at careful and reasoned analysis, quite free from prejudice.

The main, he singles out, are the weakness of Islam as a uniting force (as the Munir Commission found in the 1950s), of hate (and why) and quest for parity with India, and the weakness of the political culture (due to the spells of military rule), which in turn affects society, economy and security.

Though he gives no dramatic prescriptions or ways to deal with the eventuality of an implosion, which he gives a decade or so, what makes this book essential reading is its warning against emulating any of Pakistan’s failed, fatal choices – especially the role of religion and hate of the’other’ for nation-building – which some of its more stable neighbours could well pay heed to. (IANS)

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Book Review: Author Tim Harford’s “Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy” deserves Plenty of Plaudits

But economist, columnist and author Tim Harford does not only seek here to list of 50 specific inventions but also to tell us the singular stories behind their inception

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Tim Harford
Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy cover. Facebook
  • Author Tim Harford has written a new book titled ‘Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy
  • Tim Harford is also an economist and a columnist

New Delhi, August 22, 2017: The i-Phone may seem the pinnacle of human endeavour, ingenuity and technological prowess — but while Steve Jobs deserves the plaudits, the range of technologies making it possible were a collective effort, facilitated by a surprisingly unexpected benefactor. Such tales are discussed in Tim Harford’s “Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy.”

When we think of the wonders of our modern world, we may cite these flashy hand-held devices that enable us to communicate, entertain ourselves and find information instantly. But they are merely one facet, for our lives now owe to a range of inventions and discoveries stretching from the humble plough to Google, and from the elevator to intellectual property, and achieved in several unusual and unexpected ways.

And while the i-Phone does make a list of 50 such inventions, so do concrete, clocks and infant formula as well as limited liability companies, public key cryptography and the welfare state — and many others, including some which may seem surprising.

But economist, columnist and author Tim Harford does not only seek here to list of 50 specific inventions but also to tell us the singular stories behind their inception — the iPhone especially — and how they affected us socially and economically from the beginning of civilisation to workings of the world economy now. Or rather in laying its foundations.

These 50 inventions, he says, range from those “absurdly simple” to ones which became “astonishingly sophisticated”, “stodgily solid” to “abstract inventions that you cannot touch at all”, profitable right from their launch or, while others were initially commercial disasters.

Also Read: Book Review: Hinduism in Ancient India and the Various Aspects of its Traditions by Greg Bailey

“But all of them have a story to tell that teaches us something about how our world works and that helps us notice some of the everyday miracles that surround us, often in the most ordinary-seeming objects. Some of these stories are of vast and impersonal economic forces; others are tales of human brilliance or human tragedy.”

Harford, known for his “Undercover Economist” series, does stress that he doesn’t seek to identify the 50 most economically significant inventions for some seemingly obvious entrants — printing presses, airplanes, computers — are missing. And there are good reasons why.

He also promises that while zooming in closely to examine one of these or pulling back to notice the unexpected connections, will provide answers to questions like the link between Elton John and the promise of a paperless office, how an American discovery banned in Japan for four decades affected women’s careers there, which monetary innovations destroyed Britain’s Houses of Parliament in the 1830s.

Harford also explains how all these inventions have two facets — they may not be always benign — in the longer run, or ensure a “win-win” scenario for all.

While it is easy to see inventions as solutions to problems, he warns against seeing them as only solutions, for they “shape our lives in unexpected ways — and while they’re solving a problem for someone, they’re often creating a problem for someone else”.

These attributes are best shown by the case of an ostensibly well-meaning American inventor who is responsible for poisoning our environment twice-over though his two contributions were initially helpful, and then by both the beneficial and baleful impacts of the plough — or banks for that matter.

Harford also shows that there is more to an invention than its inventing, and even for any one of them, “it’s often hard to pin down a single person who was responsible — and it’s even harder to find a ‘eureka’ moment when the idea all came together”.

Dealing with such aspects in the brief interludes between the inventions, placed in no discernible chronological or thematic order, Harford also seeks to put them together at the end to pose the vital question of how we should think about that often used and often misunderstood buzzword “innovation” today.

“What are the best ways to encourage new ideas? And how can we think clearly about what the effects of those ideas might be, and act with foresight to maximise the good effects and mitigate the bad ones?” he asks.

But as his incisive but illuminating and entertaining sojourn through centuries of human activities and endeavours show, there are no easy or definite answers. (IANS)

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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

ALSO READ: Flashback to Terror: 1993 Mumbai Blasts Judgement to Hail on June 27 After 24 Years

Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)

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India’s Textile and Fashion Heritage now part of Google project

Google's project 'We Wear Culture' is collaborating with 183 renowned cultural institutions from all around the world including India and its objective is to let people explore history of clothes dating as early as 3,000 years ago

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we wear culture
Google's new art project 'We wear Culture' digitizes fashion, Wikimedia
  • Google’s project ‘We Wear Culture’ is collaborating with 183 renowned cultural institutions from all around the world including India
  • It intends to trace the story and importance of Indian textiles from ancient sculptures
  • Its objective is to let people explore history of clothes dating as early as 3,000 years ago

June 15, 2017: To a certain extent, a culture is defined by what is worn by its people. In a country as diverse as India, vast and varied spectrum of cultures and clothes is one of the specialties. Google’s latest virtual exhibition project now provides us the opportunity to explore and know more about it.

Google’s project ‘We Wear Culture’ is collaborating with 183 renowned cultural institutions from all around the world including India and its objective is to let people explore history of clothes dating as early as 3,000 years ago, from the ancient Silk Road to the unmatched elegance of the Indian Saree,  from the courtly fashion of Versailles, to the Victorian ballgowns with intricate thread work.

According to Amit Sood, director of Google Arts and Culture,”We invite everyone to browse the exhibition on their phones or laptops and learn about the stories behind what you wear. You might be surprised to find out that your Saree, jeans or the black dress in your wardrobe have a centuries-old story. What you wear is true culture and more often than not a piece of art.”

Culture is defined by what is worn by its people. Click To Tweet

The company also mentioned that noteworthy collections from Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) and varied weaves from across India, from Gharchola to Patola to Temple to Ikat sarees will be included in the online project, as it intends to trace the story and importance of Indian textiles from ancient sculptures.

ALSO READ: New Google Project Digitizes World’s Top Fashion Archives.

According to PTI reports, the world fashion exhibit also includes designs from north-eastern India including the weaves of tribes such as the Nagas, Meitis. it will showcase the traditional attire from Meghalaya called ‘Dhara’ or ‘Nara’ worn by the Khasi women as well.

As a part of the exhibit, Sewa Hansiba Museum has brought the unique colorful and rich embroidery arts, applique and mirror work from different communities such as the Ahir, Rabari, Chaudhury Patel and many others from the western part of India online.

The exhibition conducted by Salar Jung Museum brings to light the Sherwani and its journey of becoming the royal fashion statement of the Nizams from 19th century Hyderabad. Fashion and textiles enthusiasts can revisit Colonial Indian attires with Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum. Over 400 online exhibitions and stories sharing a total of 50,000 photos, videos and other documents on world fashion are open to exploration as well.

The ‘We wear Culture’ initiative highlights significant events in the growth of the world fashion industry; the icons, the movements, the game changers and the trendsetters like Alexander McQueen, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Gianni Versace, Audrey Hepburn and many more.

– prepared by Durba Mandal of NewsGram. Twitter: @dubumerang