Archive for ‘South Asia’

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.


When is Corruption Justified?

By , 21 December, 2009, No Comment

Latest Pulitzer blog post on the bubbling cauldron of political corruption in Pakistan:
When a society’s primary loyalties are local and clannish, rather than national, robbing the nation to serve the clan is normal, even honorable.The takeaway from the public outrage over corruption today is that local ties are giving way to a national consciousness, the kind of consciousness than can and will be offended by the theft or manipulation of its resources.

Read the rest at Untold Stories.

A Subcontinental Water-Fight

By , 18 December, 2009, No Comment

I’ve got a short item in this week’s Newsweek on control of Afghan water:
What alarms Pakistan most is the possibility that India will gain control over the water from two Afghan rivers that flow into the volatile Pakistan border regions, where water shortages could inflame local insurgencies. Indian investment in Afghanistan has doubled since 2006, to $1.2 billion, and up to 35 percent of that is going into canals for local irrigation, as well as hydroelectric dams that will supply power to Iran and Turkmenistan, India’s gateways to Central Asia and the Gulf.

Read and comment here and see the write-up on my project at the Columbia J-school website.

The Things that Matter

By , 11 December, 2009, No Comment

Third video of the week: my interview with Gallup’s pollster Ijaz Gilani, Part 2, on the economy, terrorism and civil strife.

Read my analysis at Untold Stories.

Survey Says, Zardari will stay

By , 9 December, 2009, No Comment

A video update from Islamabad:

Why Af-Pak is really just Pak

By , 6 December, 2009, 1 Comment

The latest, cross-posted from my Pulitzer Center blog:

It’s been a big week here in Islamabad. First off, there have two more bomb attacks, one at the naval compound down the street from where I am staying and one out in Pindi, the next town over. Secondly, Barack Obama finally announced his plans for the war in Afghanistan: 30,000 more troops now; phased withdrawal started in 18 months. Thirdly, Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gilani completed a tour of Germany and Britain.

The three incidents shared space on the front pages of the Islamabad dailies and in the national mind. After all, while Americans heard the speech live on Tuesday night (7 am here), most Pakistanis watched it on replay later on Wednesday, and many Pakistanis did not begin responding to the policy until Thursday. Conventional wisdom did not form till the weekend, by which time the capital was also dealing with the bomb blasts and with the developing story in London, where, in a Thursday morning press conference, the PM pushed back against British intelligence reports that some 60% of global terrorist plots emerge from Pakistan.

To most people here, the West is a fair weather friend. While waging a war in Afghanistan that sends militants over the border into the Pakistani frontier, the West complains that Pakistan harbors too many terrorists. While insisting that Pakistan both aid that war effort and crackdown on its consequences, America announces that when Afghanistan—and just Afghanistan—is secure, it will pack up its bags and leave. This imbalance certainly anger those who have a knee jerk opposition to the United States or paranoia about American-Indian conspiracies. But the most passionate criticism of this policy has come from elite liberals who have supported and defended the Afghan war and feel, to put it simply, betrayed.

Continue reading “Pakistan: Why Af-Pak is really just Pak” »

Holiday Weekend

By , 29 November, 2009, 1 Comment

If there’s one thing I really regret about the timing of this trip, it’s that it overlaps with some of my favorite American holidays. This weekend, I found myself pining for my aunt Susan’s Thanksgiving dinner, and in particular, the hot fruit stew she serves over turkey in lieu of cranberry sauce, the crumbly buttery goodness of her stuffing and the addictive sugar high of her almond tarts. One important thing about Thanksgiving, however, I managed to salvage, even though I’m thousands of miles away from the nearest roast turkey dinner: the madness of family gatherings.

See, I’m here in Pakistan squatting at the homes of various relatives, and in a strange convergence of the Gregorian and Islamic calendars, it’s a holiday weekend here too.

Lessons from Strange Places

By , 27 November, 2009, No Comment

This week, I’ve been reporting on the violence in Pakistan’s Baloch province, and I’ve picked up on some fascinating insights that I think have relevance to American thinking about our strategy in Afghanistan–namely, the relative merits of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency:

When Americans hear about violence in Pakistan, they think mostly of the Taliban or of jihadis on the Kashmir border. But the single greatest threat to Pakistan right now is a third insurgency: of ethnic separatists in the Baloch province, who have been pushing for secession for years.

This week, the embattled government announced its proposal for a settlement with Balochistan…As often happens with peace offerings, the federal government’s proposal pleases no one…

Read the full post at Untold Stories.

Live with Talat

By , 25 November, 2009, 4 Comments


As I’ve written previously, one of the joys of being an American abroad is the experience of encountering fellow expats: overwhelmed by our minority status, we tend to band together and overcome geographic or class barriers that divide us at home. There’s a similar experience I’m having as a journalist abroad in a country that is notoriously unsafe for journalists. At home, different publications compete for scoops; here, I’ve had correspondents from rival American papers and local media fall over themselves to hand over their sources and their leads. In no instance has that humbled me more than in the case of Talat Hussain, a local TV host whose program I’ve been watching on our home satellite subscription in New York for ages. In addition to giving me advice on my stories, he generously allowed me to sit in on a taping of his show. Here’s the episode I saw: