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Archive for April, 2011

Neutral Kabul

Mazar-i-Sharif’s fall set off a chain reaction, militarily untenable Provinces, east, west and south of Balkh, fell like dominoes. The speed of a sudden military collapse can always be disconcerting, what had charitably been labelled as a tactical withdrawal turned into a full-fledged self-inflicted rout after the hurried abandoning of Kabul. Except for the drive to Mazar which was led by their best combat commanders, the Alliance’s claim about battlefield “victories” should be taken with skepticism, yet they are now in possession of vital real estate because the Taliban could not (or did not want to) defend them. Afghanistan is effectively divided into areas viz (1) controlled by the Taliban (2) by the Northern Alliance and (3) by “tribal elders”, better known as warlords, acting independently of each other.

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Emancipating South Asia economically and politically

Considered at one time to be the region of the most concentrated misery, on a pro-rata basis the world’s most industrious people come from South Asia, its entrepreneurs an optimistic bunch that tends to see more often than not an half empty glass as a glass half filled with water. With barely adequate education facilities, a very great percentage of doctor and engineers in the world come from South Asia. If 21% of all Microsoft’s engineers are Indians, at least 6% are Pakistani, making 27% from these two countries of South Asia alone. On the other end of the spectrum most cab drivers in New York are from South Asia, the oil-rich Middle East being mostly built on the strength of the sweat of South Asian labourers, mostly Pathans from Pakistan. India and Pakistan having mastered nuclear knowledge, one believes that Bangladesh could easily join the club. South India is well advanced in information technology, Bangalore becoming the second computer software city to Silicon valley. One can take an even bet that in two years Pakistan will play catch up, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka will not be far behind. The downside is that 35-40% of the population of South Asia is well below the poverty line. Adding the one billion plus population of India with the 130-140 million each of Pakistan and Bangladesh, with about another 40 million making up the rest of South Asia, percentage-wise a cool 500 million plus are thus living in sub-human conditions. Only about 300 million (give or take 10 million) enjoy more than reasonable comfort, the lower middle class lives on a fail-safe line between poverty and comfort, prone to both human and natural disasters.

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US-Pakistan relations – Cornerstone to pariah?

Two centuries and some after its birth, the United States still follows the dictums of one of its founding fathers, George Washington, to quote, “it is our policy to stay clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world”, unquote. The first US President elaborated on this in his farewell address to the American people, admonishing them as a nation, “never make inveterate friends or inveterate foes”, unquote. Unfortunately our unswerving loyalty to the US against the Soviet brand of communism during the period of the cold war has fallen prey to this long-standing Presidential advice, why it rankles is, that even though that is not the US intention, the nouveau friendship of the US with India is seen in Pakistan, rightly or wrongly, to be at the cost of Pakistan. India gave unstinted support to the Soviets during the cold war and on Afghanistan, it was recipient of more defence material than any Warsaw Pact ally during this period but it has not stopped them from becoming darlings of the west. The US post-cold war strategy in the new millennium is primarily economic, yet the present scheme of things is alien to the individual American character that stands up for the underdog against a bully and never forgets a friend. Policy issues may be cut and dried, may be unemotional in content, what makes a nation great is the humanity its leaders inculcate in the policy making. Make no mistake, the US just happens to be the greatest nation on this earth at this time and not by that token alone.

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