Archive for January, 2010

Video: The Phantom Dog

By , 19 January, 2010, No Comment

I’m back on BloggingHeads today, this time talking up my work in Pakistan with Zeke Webster (alias: Don Zeko) of the blog Discord. We cover counterterrorism and counterinsurgency in general, US counterterrorism/counterinsurgency in South Asia, what Pakistan is really thinking, and the rights of South Asian women. Though they just posted this to BHTV, we filmed in mid-December, when I was in Karachi, and before the last wave of attacks in Pakistan and in the U.S. Some of this is outdated, but hopefully it still informs and entertains.

Comment here.

*Title Character is revealed at 10:28, 24:05 and most hilariously, at 42:00.

A Spoonful of Sugar

By , 17 January, 2010, No Comment

I’ve got a piece in this week’s edition of Forbes on the real crisis in Pakistan—the systemic failures of government, particularly on economic issues. My case study is the mismanagement of the nation’s sugar supply:

The sugar crisis has its roots in the fragmentation of Pakistan’s sugar sector. Growers, millers, wholesale distributors and retailers each have their own regulatory overlords offering protectionist perks and their own cartels to defend such gains. Though this structure goes back to the 1950s, recent policy decisions and the worldwide spike in prices of commodities like sugar have aggravated its effects.

…Economic problems provide rallying cries for opponents like Sharif and radical insurgents eager to bring down the government, while a weak and dysfunctional state contributes to economic distress. In the case of sugar, whose consumption in Pakistan is approaching developed-country levels, the danger is acute: In 1969 a sugar shortage helped bring down the rule of military dictator Ayub Khan.

Read the piece in full (and comment!) here.

Keeping Busy

By , 15 January, 2010, No Comment

I really am. Just not at this blog. Here’s what I’ve been up to.

1. Trying to keep up with the latest wave of attacks in Pakistan:

These questions remind us that the Pakistani Taliban does not have its eye on a concrete goal or purpose. Structurally, that makes them a weaker adversary than the Afghan Taliban, who are united behind the goal of an Islamist state in Kabul. But strategically, this paradoxical mix of interests makes the TTP harder to fight. In Afghanistan, the U.S. and its allies have at least been able to define victory as reclaiming Kabul and making it impossible for the Taliban to regain, even if the strategy for doing so leaves much to be desired. If victory is conclusively denying the enemy his goal, what constitutes a Pakistani victory over the TTP?

2. Getting my head around the major security threat to India.

The biggest threat to India’s security thus lies not with those left out, economically, from its growth, but with those disconnected, politically, from its democracy. Most of the people–officials, journalists, professionals, and academics–I’ve spoken to believe the unevenness that matters is not monetary, but geographic: between the central government and various provinces interested in running their own affairs.


These range from the Telangana separatists who wish to split off into their own province to the Maoists who who wish to rule several existing provinces according to cowboy populism, to the North-eastern provinces that demand to leave India altogether. Though these movements recruit followers from the economically down-and-out, their central demand is a political one. It’s the political nature of the movements that makes even their economic claims lethal.


Read both posts in full at Untold Stories.


The Aughts

By , 8 January, 2010, 1 Comment

I really meant to write a New Year’s post. But to be honest, the New Year somewhat passed me by: even though my computer and two phones remind me of the date, moving as I am every few days, and in such warm weather, it’s been hard to keep track of the passage of wintertime.

I’ve also kept quiet because I have little to add to the mountain of essays on what the aughts were really about. Terrorism, Technology, Climate, and Globalization were certainly the major themes of the decade, but trying to suss out which of these stories matters most strikes me as a futile exercise. Ask me again in 2050. As for my take on 2009, it’s been more or less dominated by the Obama presidency, and we all know how I feel about that.

Looking forwards, I’m predicting more of the same: individualists will continue to triumph politically, while governance, the work of institutions suffers. As states cede power, ‘non-state actors’ will gain. But the real power in the emerging era will belong to the few institutions–nations and companies–who can, through aggregation, reap success from the failures of others and who may even encourage those failures as a means to the end. It’s not a trend I welcome, but it’s one I recognize.

Personally, the aughts were a swell decade for me. I grew out of my awkward stage. I got out of my awkward high school. I spent five years getting my intellectual ass-kicked by people who wound up my best friends. I worked at three great magazines in what might be the final apotheosis of the newsmagazine economy. And I got this great boondoggle of a trip to South Asia. If 2010 brings more of the same to my own life, that’s fine by me.