Schools in Pakistan a step to regional peace
Calgary HeraldAugust 14, 2009 9:53 AM
Canada's pledge to support public education and social development in Pakistan is an encouraging evolution in NATO's war with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The move is in harmony with the Obama administration's newly articulated "regional" approach, that recognizes terrorists recruit on both sides of the border and that it is thus as important to develop alternatives for local populations in Pakistan, as well as in Afghanistan. Canada announced Wednesday it will now make public education in Pakistan a priority, and expand financial aid to include $25 million for food, water and emergency shelter in the Swat Valley, badly damaged in recent counter-insurgency operations conducted by the Pakistani army. Refugees who fled the military offensive are now returning, straining resources and reconstruction efforts.
In particular, Pakistan's notoriously weak public school system needs improvement, lest the social factors that fuel religious extremism continue to flourish unchallenged.
Education reduces poverty and ignorance, and opens the door to improved quality of life, (especially when women, whose education was banned under Taliban rule, are included. But Pakistan's impoverished school system --especially in remote rural villages -- is often blamed for the growing influence of Muslim clerics. The situation has made it easy for Islamist extremists to fund their own schools--known as madrassas -- that offer free education but lace it with their own interpretation of Islam.
When the poor have the option of a good, free, well-rounded education, the madrassa will look much less attractive. Not that it will be easy. Extremists, after all, aren't really interested in an educated population, and burn down schools they don't like: Just this week, the Taliban just destroyed seven primary schools in northwest Pakistan -- three boys' and four girls' schools.
But, the effort must be made: Education, economic prosperity and above all security are the best ways to loosen the terrorists' grip on the people.
If peace is ever to be achieved in Afghanistan, Pakistan must have it too.
Hunza’s success story shows that difficulties can be overcome if the leadership has political will.
By Dr Shahid Siddiqui
NO doubt Hunza, known for its fruit orchards, lofty mountains, panoramic meadows and breathtaking beauty, is a major tourist attraction, but it is equally interesting to explore the educational initiatives that have empowered the local community there and set an example for other areas.
Those who are familiar with the difficult terrain and relatively scarce resources in Hunza would be pleasantly surprised to know that the literacy rate in Hunza is around 77 per cent. This must have been unthinkable when the first primary school was established there in 1913 by the British in India. The single-most important factor that transformed the educational scene in Hunza was the contribution of Aga Khan III, Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, who convinced the then Mirs of Hunza state to place greater emphasis on education.
It was in 1946 that some 16 schools were established. They were called the Diamond Jubilee schools and they set the right momentum for bringing changes to education in Hunza.
The second important initiative came when the Pakistan government started opening public schools in the Northern Areas, including Hunza. The demand for education grew but the number of schools did not meet educational requirements. With people finding that schooling was accessible two more problems were becoming visible: the quality of education and education for girls.
The third important initiative in Hunza was the establishment of a quality school for girls whose sole criterion of admission was merit. The Academy, with hostel facilities, was founded in 1983 when Karim Aga Khan laid the foundation of the academy. He said he hoped that the Academy would, “provide a genuine foundation for self-generating progress in the future”. The establishment of the Academy was a strong motiva tion for the opening of private schools focusing on the quality of education.
The fourth initiative to have an impact on educational life in Hunza was the establishment of community schools. These schools were a welcome addition as they gave the local community a sense of participation and ownership. In 1991 a model community school, Al-Amyn Model School, was established in Gulmit, a beautiful village of Hunza. This school helped re-establish the broken linkage between school and home. Here parents and grandparents are invited to share their wisdom with the younger generation. Parents come to know that their knowledge is not obsolete and that the younger generation can benefit from it. The success of AlAmyn heralded the establishment of a number of community schools over the years.
The fifth initiative was the establishment of the Karakoram University in Gilgit. A number of students of Hunza are benefiting. The university may also create jobs for the local population.
The sixth factor contributing to the quality of education is the role of the different Aga Khan organisations that have played an effective role in the improvement of education by establishing schools and empowering them through capacitybuilding measures, and by facilitating students through scholarship. One initiative was the establishment of the Professional Development Centre in Gilgit. The centre helped train a number of teachers from Hunza by offering short- and long-term courses.
The seventh factor is the rising awareness among the local people who have come to view education as the passport to enhanced opportunities in life. There seems to be urgency in terms of acquiring education. Parents in Hunza are convinced that the best thing they can do for their children is to help them get a good education. There is a growing interest in higher education for girls. Parents are willing to send their daughters to distant cities e.g. Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar etc. for quality education. It is an approach that distinguishes Hunza from the rest of the Northern Areas.
Lastly, there is a cordial relationship among the different stakeholders. There seems to be a good working relationship between the directorate of education, the Aga Khan organisations, the local community and foreign funding agencies. It is this collaborative approach that makes things happen.
Hunza’s educational story has many lessons for other areas of Pakistan where talent is not properly exploited. It shows us that difficulties and challenges can be overcome if the leadership has political will and if the community is trusted and involved in planning and the execution of educational plans. ¦ The writer is director of Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore School of Economics and author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan.
If there were any doubts about the ephemeral nature of human concerns, a report this month from Nature on water supplies in India ought to put them to rest. Rather than being a yawner for hydrologists, the report makes it clear the world's largest democracy faces a test it is spectacularly ill-equipped to pass.
That test will be water shortages in the face of a rising population, increasing consumption and an endlessly pressing drive for development. Suddenly, the tricky questions of relations with Pakistan, the fight against terrorism (from which India suffers on many sides), the future of the disputed region of Kashmir and the balance of Muslim-Hindu relations seem to dwindle almost to triviality. Without ready access to fresh water, India's careful stability, the product of complex coalition-building between a mind-boggling assortment of castes, ethnic groups, states, ideologies and faiths, will dissolve into anarchy.
According to Nature, India is draining its groundwater resources at a prodigious rate. The number of districts overexploiting water resources has nearly quadrupled in the past 15 years to 15 per cent. India will be annually short by 320 billion cubic feet of water by mid-century. This is grave news for an underdeveloped and highly diverse nation which is already home to around a sixth of humanity and is projected to surpass China as the world's most-populous nation at roughly the same time as the aforementioned crippling water shortage.
Averting such an impending catastrophe is on a lot of minds, but the effort is complicated by the same structures that enable Indians to keep their sprawling country in one piece. Indian governments are, of necessity, huge and ungainly creatures composed of a mixture of parties from across the political spectrum, often with competing interests. These often manage to stumble along awkwardly by catering to each other's pet projects, but even this degree of co-ordination comes at a price. Achieving a timely, unified consensus often verges on the impossible-- someone's interests gets trampled and nearly endless talks are required to iron things out.
And even unambiguous agreement is a potential problem for Indian water conservation. At the national level, India's political scene is dominated by a pair of rivals: the centrist Congress Party (led by Gandhi's descendants) and the right-leaning Hindu nationalists of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), both of which must resort to this sort of coalition-building.
One of the few major policies the two parties and their array of lesser partners can all support is the need for continued development to lift as many Indians as possible out of poverty. Indeed, large blocs of mostly poor voters routinely offer support in exchange for local development and favours.
However, not only will development increase water consumption, it will stymie attempts at long-term planning for water conservation. Parties large and small will not want to risk support and swing votes in crucial areas by forcing anyone to go short, meaning yet more talks and endless searching on how to spread the pain of restricted development at the lowest possible cost to politicians.
Expect Indian politicians to further complicate the issue. In this spring's general elections, roughly a fifth of candidates had criminal charges pending against them, as did a quarter of sitting members of parliament. So entrenched is corruption that many politicians are utterly flagrant about it, wasting money in plain view while retaining support among voters by painting themselves as Robin Hoods fighting for the poor. Kumari Mayawati, a leader from the untouchable caste and Chief Minister of one of India's poorest states, has spent more than $400 million building giant statues of herself and other untouchables in the midst of a drought as part of what she calls "the politics of dignity."
India needs to make tough decisions to avoid disaster, but looks more as if it will do anything to avoid them.
Timothy Giannuzzi Is A Calgarybased Writer Specializing In Foreign Affairs.
I found myself back in the Northern Areas of Pakistan recently — not to be confused with the vague sounding ‘north of Pakistan’ where the army is currently fighting the Taliban. The Northern Areas territory is far away from Swat and Buner and is an oasis of peace in these troubled times. In fact, the people of the Northern Areas are lobbying to have their territory renamed ‘Gilgit-Baltistan’.
Thanks to the community development pioneered by the Aga Khan Development Network in the early 1980s, the local people have learnt about community participation first hand and since there is a large, progressive-minded Ismaili community living here, there is no sympathy or support for the intolerant and backward Taliban.
I was invited by the Aga Khan Cultural Service-Pakistan and our mission was to visit the renovated forts in Shigar, Khaplu and Hunza (all projects undertaken by the AKCSP in recent years). A veritable treasure house of ancient forts, the Northern Areas of Pakistan lost most of their heritage in the 19th century as a result of destructive attacks by the Maharajah of Kashmir (who eventually ended up ruling this area until the partition of the subcontinent when the local population rebelled and decided to join Pakistan).
In fact, the fort we visited in Khaplu near Skardu was actually moved down the mountain to its present location on the insistence of the Dogras, who ruled from Kashmir. They compelled all the mountain rajahs to bring down their forts and live in the main towns so that they may not be able to revolt against them. Hence, the Raja of Khaplu had to rebuild his fort as a palace at the present location in the town with little modifications. The AKCSP is now renovating this dilapidated fort and turning it into a hotel along the lines of the Shigar Fort Residence Hotel, which is also located in Baltistan.
We met up with several ambassadors (of Norway, Germany and Argentina) and the Aga Khan network officials in Shigar earlier. I was accompanied by Masood Khan (the lead architect responsible for most of the renovations) and travel writer Salman Rashid. We reached Shigar from Islamabad in the Aga Khan’s new helicopter and there is no better view of the mountains than out of the window of a chopper as it weaves its way through the Indus gorge up to Skardu. The journey takes an hour or so and the helicopter soon touched down in a rocky field located near the river — all around us were rugged peaks. Shigar, a picturesque valley around thirty minutes’ drive from Skardu, the capital of Baltistan, lies on the way to the Baltoro glacier and K-2.
In Shigar, the AKCSP has restored the local Raja’s fort palace, converting it into an exclusive hotel. But unlike other commercial hotels, the Shigar Fort Residence ploughs back its profits into the local community. Already, Shigar Valley is benefiting from this project as locals are trained and employed (20 out of the 22 employees are from Shigar) and local handicrafts are sourced for use in the hotel. This up-market hotel had great success last year when it was turned over to the Serena chain of hotels for their experienced management. The hotel is now doing very well and continues to attract tourists to this culturally rich region, which is also home to some of the tallest mountains on earth. Recently it was given the UNESCO award for excellence for preserving heritage as a “living thing… for future generations with the participation of the local communities”.
From Baltistan, we flew over the mountains to Hunza, landing in a terraced field below the town of Karimabad (the capital of Hunza). The mountain kingdom of Hunza became a part of Pakistan in 1974 and the Mirs’ (rulers) traditional seat was the Baltit Fort in Karimabad, which has been renovated and converted into a museum. Prince Karim Aga Khan initiated the restoration efforts for Baltit Fort in 1991 when Mir Ghazanfar Ali Khan (now the Chief Executive of the Northern Areas) agreed to donate the fort to the Baltit Heritage Trust, a public charity formed for the purpose of owning and maintaining the fort. The AKCSP carried out extensive work on the fort, which took six years to complete. Baltit Fort was inaugurated in a glamorous ceremony that took place in 1996, with the Aga Khan and President Farooq Leghari in attendance.
Baltit Fort was the property of the Mirs for several centuries and it was certainly a wise decision by the current Mir of Hunza to hand it over to the public, for now it is the main tourist attraction in the area. Unfortunately, there are not that many tourists in Hunza these days. Mir Ghazanfar told me on this visit, “You must tell people how peaceful this area is. There are no Taliban here”. The lack of tourists (both foreign and domestic) has affected the economy of Hunza, and the hotels and bazaar lie empty. The last time I was here, Karimabad was full of Japanese tourists!
Hunza is in fact, the perfect get-away with its affordable hotels, stunning views and plenty to do during the day. Aside from visiting the well-maintained Baltit Fort and the bazaar where one can buy goods from China, there is also the lesser-known Altit Fort, also located in the valley. Perched high above the valley on a precarious cliff, the Altit Fort is older than the Baltit Fort. Indeed, Altit was about to topple over the cliff when its owner, Prince Amin Khan (Mir Ghazanfar’s brother) donated it to the AKCSP in 2001. They carried out immediate emergency repairs and now they are restoring the fort, which they plan to hand over to the community to use once it is ready later this year. In return for the fort, they built Prince Amin a new house in the picturesque orchard just below the fort. The AKCSP will soon be opening a café in the orchard where visitors can have tea and rest under the old, shady trees.
Altit Fort is over 800 years old and is said to be the birth place of the Hunza kingdom and the first fort of the region — it is also much smaller than Baltit. The fort clearly has its own natural defence system. When the capital shifted to Karimabad, Altit fort was only used in the summers, and during the British era it became a guest-house. Then around thirty years ago, when the kingdom of Hunza became a part of Pakistan, it was completely abandoned. Like the other forts, it would have decayed and crumbled had the AKCSP not stepped in. Now these renovated forts are helping to revitalise the region.
September 5, 2009
Drought Puts Focus on a Side of India Left Out of Progress
By JIM YARDLEY
PIPRI VILLAGE, India — Two very different recent scenes from India: At a power breakfast in New Delhi for many of the country’s corporate leaders and top economic officials, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee declared that India had “weathered the storm” of the global economic crisis and was witnessing “green shoots” in industry and services that signaled a return to more rapid growth by next year.
Hundreds of miles away in this farming village in Andhra Pradesh, in the south, weeds were the only green shoots sprouting in the black soil that belongs to the widow Chandli Bai. Her field went 12 weeks without rain during India’s annual monsoon season before showers finally arrived on Aug. 23, splattering down too late onto the dry dirt. Her summer crop of lentils was stillborn in the ground.
“We eat once a day,” said Mrs. Bai, 65, explaining how she and her family had survived the lack of rain.
For the past year, as the economic crisis convulsed much of the world, India wobbled but never tumbled over. And now that the world is starting to pull itself out of the mire, India seems poised to resume its rapid economic expansion. Government officials are projecting that growth will reach or surpass 6 percent this year and approach 8 percent next year, almost the pace that established India as an emerging global economic power second only to China.
But the cautious optimism about the broader economy has been tempered by a historic summertime drought that has underscored the stubborn fact that many people are largely untouched by the country’s progress. India’s new economy may be based on software, services and high technology, but hundreds of millions of Indians still look to the sky for their livelihoods; more than half the country’s 1.1 billion people depend on agriculture for a living even though agriculture represents only about 17 percent of the total economy.
Economic opportunities in Bangladesh attract interest from the Jamat abroad
Decades ago, Bangladesh — then known as East Pakistan — was home to a thriving Jamat. Ismailis were active in key industries including jute, textiles, steel, aluminum, leather, construction, and food processing, as well as trading, banking, insurance and hotels. The community was spread across the country, including major cities — Chittagong, Dhaka, Khulna, Mymensingh, Narayanganj, Rangpur, and several others.
Layed in 1959, the foundation stone of Karimabad Jamatkhana recalls a thriving Jamat in Dhaka and throughout Bangladesh. Photo: Ayeleen Ajanee Saleh“We had a large and active Jamat and were known as a strong business community,” recounts one long-time resident. Many still remember Mawlana Hazar Imam’s first visit to Dhaka in 1958, which filled up an entire stadium.
But in 1971 war broke out, resulting in the flight of millions of civilian refugees to India and West Pakistan. Some even fled further afield to Canada and the United States.
One member of the Jamat recalls: “I was the only member of my family who stayed behind to look after our house, while my parents, brothers and sisters left for India.” During the war, he provided a shelter to fellow Ismailis whose homes were destroyed or taken away.
After liberation, various industries were nationalised under the economic policies of the government of the day. The impact was felt by many Ismailis, whose businesses were forced to close. The country struggled to rebuild itself and even those Ismailis that remained had few options but to seek a brighter future abroad for themselves and their children. “The combination of the war and the lack of resources to cope with cyclones had crippled the country,” said one member of the Jamat.
Karim Noorddin stands in front of three buses from the transport business that he and his brother established in 2007. Photo: Ayeleen Ajanee Saleh
Despite the difficult challenges of the period, the Ismaili Imamat and the Jamat maintained a presence in Bangladesh. In 1980, the Aga Khan Foundation began working with local partners on projects in rural development, microfinance, and education. The Aga Khan School in Dhaka, founded by the Aga Khan Education Services in 1988, established itself among the top academic institutions in the country. Other civil society institutions such as the Grameen Bank and BRAC (formerly the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee), as well as the enabling policies of the Government of Bangladesh, also contributed to improving the country’s economic conditions.
Today, Bangladesh is re-emerging as an area of economic interest to both the Jamat and the wider international community. With the advent of globalisation, many of the world’s largest corporations have sought to leverage the country’s low-cost labour pool. Foreign remittances have also fuelled the growth of local businesses, raised household disposable income and savings, and drawn the attention of Bangladeshis who had migrated to the West. Ismaili entrepreneurs have begun moving back into the country as well, sometimes with the facilitation of the Ismaili Council for Bangladesh.
Karim Noorddin moved to Dhaka from Cuttack, India in 1998, soon after he graduated from university. He joined his brother Nizar, who had moved to the city three years earlier. Karim was attracted by employment opportunities in Ismaili-run businesses. “Learning Bangla was a challenge,” he recalls, “but factors like Bangladesh’s proximity to India, the opportunity to gain practical experience, and also the success stories and support from friends, made it worthwhile.”
Initially working at an Ismaili business, the brothers went on to start a transportation business in 2007 with the support of the Ismaili Council’s Economic Matters Committee.
A view of the busy factory floor at the Currimbhoy family’s growing garments business. Photo: Zafar Currimbhoy
Former Dhaka resident Nazir Currimbhoy, decided to move back to the country in 1996 to pursue opportunity in the growing garments business. In 2007 he was joined by his son Zafar, a recent MBA graduate from the London Business School.
Walking away from recruiters from corporations in the United Kingdom and the United States, the younger Currimbhoy decided to follow his father’s entrepreneurial path. “Adjusting to the business culture was a challenge,” he says, “but since Dad’s business was already set up, it was much easier to get started.”
One advantage that he brings to the business is that clients in the West can communicate with him easily, and are comfortable dealing with someone who follows professional standards that they are familiar with. The Currimbhoys’ business employs over 130 employees and sources garments from over 70 factories and other suppliers in Asia for clients in Europe and North America.
But no opportunity is without risk. Even for those who have lived in Bangladesh in the past, and who speak the language and understand its business culture, the environment can be challenging.
A view of the Dhaka city skyline. Photo: Amyn SalehOne member of the Jamat who had moved back in 2008 says: “Things often move slowly when dealing with government permissions so you have to be patient.” He continues to push ahead with optimism, but advises people considering Bangladesh to do their research and ensure they are confident before making the move.
More Ismailis have been back to Bangladesh since Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Golden Jubilee visit in 2008. Former residents like Karim Rahim, whose family moved to Los Angeles in 1991 when he was only 10 years old, are seeing the country in a new light.
Driving through the streets of Dhaka, Rahim noted that despite the need for long-term improvements in key areas such as infrastructure and energy, he “saw a completely different Bangladesh.” In parallel with recent projects and investments of the Ismaili Imamat, such as the Aga Khan Academy in Dhaka and a new Ismaili Centre, the country’s development continues to unfold in a promising direction.
September 8, 2009
Japan Comes of Age
By RYU MURAKAMI
LAST week, some news outlets called it a revolution when the Democratic Party of Japan unseated the Liberal Democratic Party, which had been in power here almost continuously for a half-century. The old guard was out, replaced by a breath of fresh air. So why don’t people look happier?
The Japanese people are realizing that no government has the power to fix their problems. But this is a good thing — Japan is finally growing up.
Our news media have been dispatching reporters to ask men and women on the street what they hope for from the new administration. Citizens lean into the microphone and answer with simple honesty: “I want them to improve the economy” or “beef up social security” or “solve the unemployment problem.” But the melancholy expressions on their faces belie their stated expectations.
In the past, the government was able to fix our problems. After World War II, Japan’s growth was largely state-directed. The people expected the government to build roads and hospitals, to protect their businesses and to guarantee their employment. Today, in part because of our aging society and our troubled pension system, the government simply doesn’t have the money to make everything better.
Many people in the Liberal Democratic Party seemed to conclude that the Democratic Party didn’t win, the L.D.P. lost. It’s the same sort of distinction a Red Sox fan might make when his team is defeated by the Yankees. Some have yet to grasp the simple fact that the Liberal Democrats can no longer deliver happiness to all the people. Or perhaps it’s a fact that they’re just not willing to face.
The party bought the support of provincial voters by shoveling money to farmers, builders and small- and medium-sized businesses. Early in the postwar era, bringing public and private enterprises to one’s own district through connections and backroom deals seemed to be the main occupation of politicians. They functioned more as lobbyists than as politicians, and it’s hard to imagine a softer job. That’s why they love to have their sons and daughters follow in their footsteps.
The days of plenty eventually disappeared, but competing demands for the government’s largess continued. One group in a given district might want the government to subsidize highway construction while another wishes to see the local hospital rebuilt. A major problem here today, amid the worsening business climate, is that hospitals are under financial stress.
But a landslide victory won’t give the Democratic Party the money to both construct all the roads and finance the hospitals. National and local government finances are on the verge of collapse. The Japanese are not naïve enough to rejoice over a change of administration at a time like this, or foolish enough to believe that their lives are about to improve.
The depressing truth is hitting home. Though one stratum of Japanese society may benefit from the change in government, others may be hurt. Major corporations may be rescued with tax cuts while workers’ wages remain stagnant. If the minimum wage is raised, then corporations will shift production overseas.
The days when everything worked like a dream and everyone’s standard of living kept rising are over, and have been for a long time. Now that there is no longer enough money, the Japanese public has to make some hard choices.
Deep down, we all know this. That’s why the gloomy expressions on the faces of Japanese on the street haven’t changed. But this does not mean we are on the verge of decline or decay. We’re merely experiencing the melancholy that any child goes through as adulthood approaches.
Ryu Murakami is the author of the novels “Coin Locker Babies” and “In the Miso Soup.” This essay was translated by Ralph McCarthy from the Japanese.
September 16, 2009
Indian Women Find New Peace in Rail Commute
By JIM YARDLEY
PALWAL, India — As the morning commuter train rattled down the track, Chinu Sharma, an office worker, enjoyed the absence of men. Some of them pinch and grope women on trains, or shout insults and catcalls, she said. Her friend Vandana Rohile agreed and widened her eyes in mock imitation.
“Sometimes they just stare at you,” said Ms. Rohile, 27.
Up and down the jostling train, women repeated the same theme: As millions of women have poured into the Indian work force over the last decade, they have met with different obstacles in a tradition-bound, patriarchal culture, but few are more annoying than the basic task of getting to work.
The problems of taunting and harassment, known as eve teasing, are so persistent that in recent months the government has decided to simply remove men altogether. In a pilot program, eight new commuter trains exclusively for female passengers have been introduced in India’s four largest cities: New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Calcutta.
The trains are known as Ladies Specials, and on one recent round trip in which a male reporter got permission to board, the women commuting between the industrial town of Palwal and New Delhi were very pleased.
“It’s so nice here,” said a teacher, Kiran Khas, who has commuted by train for 17 years. Ms. Khas said the regular trains were thronged with vegetable sellers, pickpockets, beggars and lots of men. “Here on this train,” she said, as if describing a miracle, “you can board anywhere and sit freely.”
India would seem to be a country where women have shattered the glass ceiling. The country’s most powerful politician, Sonia Gandhi, president of the Congress Party, is a woman. The country’s current president, a somewhat ceremonial position, is a woman. So are the foreign secretary and the chief minister of the country’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, and the new minister of railways. India’s Constitution guarantees equal rights for women, while Indian law stipulates equal pay and punishment for sexual harassment.
But the reality is very different for the average working woman, many analysts say.
Since India began economic reforms in the early 1990s, women have entered the urban work force, initially as government office workers, but now increasingly as employees in the booming services sector or in professional jobs. Over all, the number of working women has roughly doubled in 15 years.
But violence against women has also increased, according to national statistics. Between 2003 and 2007, rape cases rose by more than 30 percent, kidnapping or abduction cases rose by more than 50 percent, while torture and molestation also jumped sharply.
Mala Bhandari, who runs an organization focused on women and children, said the influx of women into the workplace had eroded the traditional separation between public space (the workplace) and private space (the home). “Now that women have started occupying public spaces, issues will always arise,” she said. “And the first issue is security.”
India’s newspapers are filled with accounts of the frictions wrought by so much social change.
Last week, a husband in Noida was brought in by the police and accused of beating his wife because she had cut her hair in a Western style. In June, four colleges in Kanpur tried to bar female students from wearing blue jeans, saying that they were “indecent” and that they contributed to rising cases of sexual harassment. After protests from female students, state officials ordered the colleges to drop the restriction.
For many years, women traveling by train sat with men, until crowding and security concerns prompted the railroad to reserve two compartments per train for women. But with trains badly overcrowded, men would break into cars for women and claim seats. Mumbai started operating two women-only trains in 1992, yet the program was never expanded. Then, with complaints rising from female passengers, Mamata Banerjee, the new minister of railways, announced the eight new Ladies Specials trains.
“It speaks of their coming of age and assertiveness,” said Mukesh Nigam, a high-ranking railway official.
Many men are not thrilled. Several female passengers said eve teasing was worse here in northern India than elsewhere in the country. As the Ladies Special idled on Track 7 at the station in Palwal, a few men glared from the platform. The Ladies Special was far less crowded, with clean, padded benches and electric fans, compared with the dirty, darkened train on Track 6 filled with sullen men. Vandals sometimes write profanities on the Ladies Special, or worse.
“The local boys will come and use the bathroom on the train,” said Meena Kumari, one of the female ticket collectors in flowing blue saris who patrol the train along with female security officers. “They do it out of contempt. They do not want the train to run.”
As the train began moving, one woman sat meditating. Nearby, an accountant read a Hindu prayer book, while college students gossiped a few rows away.
“If you go to work, then you are independent, you earn some money and can help the family,” said Archana Gahlot, 25. “And if something happens to the marriage, you have something.”
“Even on this train,” Ms. Gahlot continued, “men sometimes board and try to harass the women. Sometimes they openly say, ‘Please close the Ladies Special.’
“Maybe they think the government is helping out women and not men,” she added.
The eight new trains represent a tiny fraction of the nation’s commuter trains. Only one Ladies Special serves New Delhi, though the Railway Ministry has announced future Ladies Special service. Dr. Ranjari Kumari, director of the Center for Social Research, said the service was a politically astute move, if not a long-term solution.
“You really need to make every train as safe as the Ladies Specials,” Dr. Kumari said.
Men are hardly the only ones unnerved by the changing role of women in Indian society. Namita Sharma, 39, remembers that her mother advised her to become a teacher to balance between work and family; instead, she chose a career in fashion. Now that Ms. Sharma has a 14-year-old daughter with ideas of her own, she worries about crime.
“She has her own point of view, and I have my own point of view for her,” she said, smiling. “Let’s see who wins. She talks of independence. I am independent.”
But, she added, “Let’s talk of a secure kind of independence.”
Then the train stopped, and Ms. Sharma stood up. Asked what more the government could do for women, she laughed.
“Oh my God, it is a long list,” she said. “But I’m sorry, this is my station.”
October 1, 2009
On Day for China Pride, Little Interest in Ideology
By MICHAEL WINES
BEIJING — Xie Jun, 23, is a modern Chinese patriot. On Thursday, when thousands of soldiers and rows of tanks and caissons move in perfect order past Tiananmen Square to commemorate 60 years of Communist Party rule, his heart will skip a beat and a lump will rise in his throat.
“I’ve learned from textbooks the history of China — how we were invaded in the past by foreigners,” he said this week as he sold bananas and persimmons from a fruit cart in a leafy downtown neighborhood. “How, in order to survive, we had to band together in love of country. I’m proud that China has turned from a backward country into a country with international standing in such short time.”
Few would deny him his pride in China’s miracle. But ask Mr. Xie to explain China’s core values — not what his country achieved, but what it stands for — and he is dumbstruck, a student called on in class to report on the book he forgot to read.
“The ability of China to adapt,” he said after a long silence. “To learn from the West.” And, in a phrase that sounds plucked from a pamphlet, “the diligence and industriousness of the laboring masses.”
China’s ruling Communist Party is throwing itself a huge and meticulously choreographed anniversary party on Thursday, a celebration whose overarching theme echoes the words Mao spoke after forcing the Nationalists to surrender Beijing in 1949. “Ours will no longer be a nation subject to insult and humiliation,” Mao said. “We have stood up.”
From the displays of advanced weaponry to the celebration posters highlighting Shanghai’s forest of skyscrapers, the unmistakable message of this celebration is that Mao was right and that the Communist Party is carrying all China to prosperity and worldwide respect.
But prosperity is a condition, not a value. And on the eve of a great patriotic celebration, at least a few Communist leaders must be wondering whether lashing patriotism to eternal prosperity is not, at least a little, like riding a tiger.
“There is no ideology in China anymore,” Zhang Ming, a professor of political science at Renmin University in Beijing, said in an interview on Wednesday. “The government has no ideology. The people have no ideology. The reason the government is in power is because they can say: ‘I can make your lives better every day. I can give you stability. And I have the power.’ As long as they make people’s lives better, it’s O.K. But what happens on the day when they no longer can?”
The issue is not whether the Chinese people have reason to love their country. Beijing residents, asked this week about why they love their country, frequently talked about its economic strength and rise in global status, but they also often referred to China’s 5,000 years of history, a vibrant culture and the ethnic unity of a nation in which 9 of 10 citizens are of Han descent.
Those are national narratives that bind Chinese just as surely as melting-pot Americans are bound by Thomas Jefferson’s stirring calls for liberty and the transformative experience of the Civil War.
But despite insistent effort — patriotism is a staple of the education system, and citizens are exhorted to equate the state and the homeland — none of the Chinese narrative bears on the Communists and their government.
And the official ideology of socialism and the revolutionary struggle against capitalist roaders, though still taught in universities and factory halls, is treated as dull propaganda by all except a dwindling number of true believers.
Historians and sociologists say that socialist ideology once was a bedrock of Chinese patriotism and support of the government. Paradoxically, it was killed by the reform and opening of China that began 30 years ago and brought the economic miracle of today.
What inspires loyalty today is not ideology, but the government’s competence at raising China from poverty.
“I am not a member of the party,” said Rao Jin, a writer whose Web site, Anti-CNN, is a symbol of Chinese nationalism and rejection of Western criticism. “But I believe that you should love the party at the same time as loving your country. Everything that China has right now is because of the C.C.P.,” the Chinese Communist Party.
“History has proved that no other regime can govern China,” he said. “If you change the ruling entity, if the C.C.P. were suddenly not in power, most people agree that it would be total chaos.”
It is a view embraced by most Chinese patriots interviewed this week, within limits.
“The party is doing a pretty good job of running the country, so we’re pretty happy with it,” Li Yuqian, a 30-year-old student at Capital Sports University, said as he munched French fries in a local McDonald’s. “But what we love is this country — and loving this country is very different thing from loving the party.”
Which didn't mean, he hastened to add, that he was not loyal. “Don’t write that I don’t love the party,” he added. “O.K.?”
I found so many articles today in western newspapers about China’s 60th anniversary of founding PRC and Great Mao. Most of the reporters had that hypocritical and aching or belligerent tone that probably would hurt themselves more than China or anybody else.
October 11, 2009
Racing Time and Taliban to Rebuild in Pakistan
By SABRINA TAVERNISE and IRFAN ASHRAF
NAZARABAD, Pakistan — The fighting is over and the villagers have returned, but life here remains suspended. Villagers’ buffaloes are gone, and their harvests are spoiled. Power is still out in many areas. Schools, blown up by the Taliban, lay in heaps. Even the bricks have been sold.
“We are orphans,” said Akbar Khan, a school principal. “No one has come to ask about us.”
This is the upper Swat Valley, ground zero for the Taliban in northern Pakistan. While urban areas farther south are bustling and back to life, the real test of Pakistan’s fight against the Taliban in Swat will take place here, in the impoverished villages where the militant movement began.
But more than two months after the end of active combat, with winter fast approaching, reconstruction has yet to begin, and little has been accomplished on the ground to win back people’s trust, villagers and local officials say.
The lag, they argue, is risky: It was a sense of near-total abandonment by the government that opened people to the Taliban to begin with, they say, and the longer people are left to fend for themselves, the greater the chance of a relapse.
October 12, 2009
On Cluttered Ballots of India, Families Proliferate
By JIM YARDLEY
AMRAVATI, India — Rajendra Shekhawat, nicely polished in a pressed white shirt and neatly parted hair, his face sunburned from campaigning in the south Indian sun, says he is running for office as a common man. His pink cheeks suggest otherwise, though, since common men in India usually toil outdoors without requiring sunscreen.
Another clue is the elephant in every room in which he campaigns in this city in the state of Maharashtra: Mom. She is Pratibha Patil, the president of India.
“I’m not using my parents’ name at all,” Mr. Shekhawat, 42, stated in an upstairs office in his parents’ home, which he is indisputably using as a campaign headquarters. “I’m running on my own. But for sure, being in a political family for so many years does help me, and gives me easy accessibility for doing the work of the people.”
Democracy is built on the oft-tarnished ideal that any man or woman can get elected, but in India, home to the world’s biggest democracy, it helps to be part of a political family. The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, scions of the governing Congress Party, is India’s version of the Kennedys. But other political dynasties, large and small, have proliferated so rapidly that many analysts believe nepotism is corroding the political system.
India’s chaotic politics can sometimes seem democratic to a fault: the election cycle rarely pauses and the country has roughly 1,050 registered national and regional political parties. But most of the major parties, including the majority Congress Party, are internally undemocratic; there are no primaries and party leaders discourage public dissent. Party bosses select candidates and have shown an increasing tendency to select their own relatives.
Here in Amravati, the decision by Congress Party leaders to run Mr. Shekhawat for Tuesday’s elections in Maharashtra State has provoked an angry backlash. He is running for a state assembly seat in the same district where his parents once held elected office. But to put him there, Congress leaders pushed aside Mr. Sunil Deshmukh, a former radiologist and two-term Congress incumbent with broad local support. Leaders offered Mr. Deshmukh the chance to run elsewhere, but he rebelled and is seeking his own seat as an independent.
“This is a fight against injustice,” declared Mr. Deshmukh, warming to his role as political insurgent. “If he is defeated, that will send a very strong message to all parties, no? If the person is only the son or daughter or a nephew of an important person, you can’t just thrust him on the people.”
Across India, political families are entrenched at every level of government and politics. At least nine of the 32 members of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s cabinet either descended from political families or have children seeking or holding office. Parliament is littered with political families; a recent study found that 31 of the 58 women elected had a husband, brother, father or father-in-law in politics.
The trend is even more glaring at the state level. In Maharashtra, analysts estimate that 30 or more party candidates running this month are from political families. The state’s chief minister, the top executive post, is the son of a former chief minister. This is also the case in two other states while the Congress Party is strongly considering replacing the late chief minister of Andhra Pradesh with his son.
“It has gotten into the DNA of the Indian political system,” said Jagdeep Chhokar, a founding member of the Association for Democratic Reform in New Delhi. “To control the workings of the party, the leader depends on trusted people. And one of the traditions of Indian culture is that you trust family members more than outsiders.”
Indian politics have a high turnover rate and voting blocs can be defined by region, religion, caste or community. Yet analysts say Indian voters favor a familiar family pedigree, partly because of a cultural reverence for the family and because of habits in some regions that trace back centuries. Several of the royal families who ruled over feudal states have today evolved into political families.
Modern India’s political marketplace is so crowded with parties and candidates that the “brand” of a familiar family name can bring an advantage, several analysts say. And the closed nature of political parties often perpetuates the dynastic problem; in several cases, rebels who broke from one party have formed their own and installed relatives around them.
Few political families are eager to step away from the power and lucre of office. In the state of Haryana, which has several local political dynasties, a recent study concluded that incumbents running for re-election had increased their personal wealth, on average, by 388 percent during their five years in office.
“Every political family these days is keen to keep someone in the field,” said Suhas Palshikar, who teaches politics at Pune University in Maharashtra. “Lots of resources are involved. Lots of networks are involved. And to put it crudely, a lot of money is involved.”
Mrs. Patil, 74, the Indian president, has less than three years remaining in her term. The position of president is largely ceremonial, with real power invested in the prime minister and his cabinet, though the presidency does command deference. Mrs. Patil’s press officer said the president had not been involved in her son’s candidacy but that the son, like anyone, has a constitutional right to seek office.
Her son’s opponents belittle any suggestion that his family did not orchestrate his candidacy and call him a carpetbagger who has spent much of his life away from Amravati, returning only in the past year after his political ambitions had been kindled.
“His only asset is his mom,” said Dr. Pradeep Shingore, 56, a cardiologist who is the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate for the seat. “Politics is being used as ancestral property.”
On a cloudless morning in one of the city’s slums, the incumbent, Mr. Deshmukh, led supporters on a padyatra, or foot march, a ritual in Indian politicking. Sprinkled in the crowd were the mayor and 20 other local officials from the Congress Party who are defiantly supporting him.
“People are very angry,” said Ashok Dongre, the mayor. “These families are not good for democracy because the common person, the party worker in the field, should be encouraged to go for higher positions. If you do not do that, how will the party succeed?”
Many observers consider Mr. Deshmukh the favorite in the race, though he faces practical obstacles. Every candidate on the ballot is accompanied by a party symbol, which provides a guide for illiterate rural voters. The Congress symbol, an open hand, is iconic in India. But as an independent, Mr. Deshmukh had no symbol; after considering choices offered by the election bureau, he decided upon an image of a television.
“He has come to seek your blessing!” a campaign worker shouted in the slum as others waved banners with the television image. “His symbol is television! Tee-vee! Tee-vee! Tee-vee!”
For his part, Mr. Shekhawat, the president’s son, brushes aside criticism of his candidacy. He is making his first run for office after working for an educational institute controlled by his family and has spent more than a decade working inside the Congress Party. He says Mr. Deshmukh has failed to promote development projects adequately and accuses him of the political sin of disloyalty.
“This kind of defiance shows indiscipline,” Mr. Shekhawat said. “Nobody is above the party. Nobody.”
Nepotism presents an especially complicated question for the Congress Party and the Gandhi dynasty. Rahul Gandhi, the presumptive heir to the party, has been visiting poor villages while promoting the idea of making the party more open and internally democratic. As part of his tour, Mr. Gandhi appeared Friday in Amravati for a rally with local Congress candidates.
Maoist Rebels Widen Deadly Reach Across India
By JIM YARDLEY
BARSUR, India — At the edge of the Indravati River, hundreds of miles from the nearest international border, India effectively ends. Indian paramilitary officers point machine guns across the water. The dense jungles and mountains on the other side belong to Maoist rebels dedicated to overthrowing the government.
“That is their liberated zone,” said P. Bhojak, one of the officers stationed at the river’s edge in this town in the eastern state of Chattisgarh.
Or one piece of it. India’s Maoist rebels are now present in 20 states and have evolved into a potent and lethal insurgency. In the last four years, the Maoists have killed more than 900 Indian security officers, a figure almost as high as the more than 1,100 members of the coalition forces killed in Afghanistan during the same period.
If the Maoists were once dismissed as a ragtag band of outdated ideologues, Indian leaders are now preparing to deploy nearly 70,000 paramilitary officers for a prolonged counterinsurgency campaign to hunt down the guerrillas in some of the country’s most rugged, isolated terrain.
For India, the widening Maoist insurgency is a moment of reckoning for the country’s democracy and has ignited a sharp debate about where it has failed. In the past, India has tamed some secessionist movements by coaxing rebel groups into the country’s big-tent political process. The Maoists, however, do not want to secede or be absorbed. Their goal is to topple the system.
November 13, 2009
Rural India Gets Chance at Piece of Jobs Boom
By LYDIA POLGREEN
BAGEPALLI, India — Under harsh fluorescent lights, dozens of heads bend over keyboards, the clattering unison of earnest typing filling the room. Monitors flicker with insurance forms, time sheets and customer service e-mail messages, tasks from far away, sent to this corner of India to be processed on the cheap.
This scene unfolds in cities across India, especially in the high-tech hubs of Bangalore and Gurgaon, places synonymous with the information technology revolution that has transformed India’s economy and pushed the country toward double-digit economic growth.
But these workers are young people from villages clustered around this small town deep in rural Karnataka State in India’s southwest. They are part of an experiment by a handful of entrepreneurs to bring the jobs outsourcing has created to distant corners of India that have been largely cut off from its extraordinary economic rise.
Only about a million workers are employed in the buzzing call centers and pristine tech company campuses that have come to symbolize India’s boom — a drop in the bucket, given the country’s more than 1 billion people.
Almost all of those jobs are in cities. But 70 percent of Indians live in rural areas. India largely skipped — or never arrived at — the industrial phase of development that might have pulled the rural masses to cities. Over the decades a Gandhian fondness for — some say idealization of — rural life has also kept people in villages, where the bonds of caste and custom remain strong.
India has struggled unsuccessfully with the question of how to lift this vast underclass out of poverty. Some economists argue that India still needs rapid urbanization if it is ever to become a major economic power and provide jobs to its vast legions of unemployed. But the founders of Rural Shores, a company that is setting up outsourcing offices in rural areas, say it makes more sense to take the jobs where the people are.
“We thought, ‘Why not take the jobs to the village?’ ” said G. Srinivasan, the company’s director. “There is a lot of talent there, and we can train them to do the job.”
Rural India was once seen as a dead weight on the Indian economy, a bastion of backwardness embodied by the frequent suicides of farmers eking out livings from arid fields, dependent upon fickle monsoons. But Indian and foreign companies have come to see India’s backwaters differently, as an untapped market for relatively inexpensive goods like low-tech cellphones, kitchen gadgets and cheap motorcycles.
Now some businesses have begun looking to rural India for an untapped pool of eager and motivated office workers. Rural Shores has hired about 100 young people, most of them high school graduates who have completed some college, all of them from rural areas around this small town. The company has three centers now, but it aims to open 500 centers across India in the next five years.
Most of the center’s employees are the first members of their families to have office jobs. They speak halting English at best, but have enough skill with the language to do basic data entry, read forms and even write simple e-mail messages.
With much lower rent and wages than in similar centers in cities, the company says it can do the same jobs as many outsourcing companies for half the price. A Bangalore office worker with skills similar to those of workers here commands about 7,000 rupees a month, or $150, Mr. Srinivasan said. In small towns and villages, a minimum-wage salary of about $60 a month is considered excellent.
Here in Bagepalli, the Rural Shores office hums through two shifts a day. One set of workers answers customer service e-mail messages for an Indian loyalty card company. Another processes claims for an insurance company. In one room, workers capture data from scanned timecards filled out by truck drivers in the United States. They record nights spent in Abilene, Tex., deliveries in Kansas City and breakdowns in Salt Lake City, all of which the workers decipher and enter into a database.
Amid the clatter of slender fingers hammering at keyboards, R. Saicharan, 24, a business school graduate from Chennai, explained the frenzy of typing. “Every morning we get a download of images of time sheets,” he said. “By 7 p.m. we need to process 13,000 of them.”
The time sheets belong to American truck drivers, and Rural Shores has been hired as a subcontractor for a larger outsourcing company in Bangalore to do the data entry portion of the work. Deciphering scrawls on the scanned documents, the 20 workers on Mr. Saicharan’s team race to earn bonuses for being the fastest typist.
The current champion is S. Karthik, 20, a high school graduate who worked briefly in Bangalore but found city life too hectic and expensive. “Here I can live with my family,” Mr. Karthik said.
Like many here, he is working on a college degree by correspondence course. Most of his friends had either moved to Bangalore or were unemployed. “There are no jobs in Bagepalli for a young man,” he said.
Most of the workers are the children of farmers and often the first generation to finish high school. For many, a job at an outsourcing center is an unimaginable opportunity.
K. Aruna, 19, lives with her widowed mother and younger sister in a two-room house on a narrow, muddy lane in a small village on the outskirts of Bagepalli. Until Ms. Aruna got a job at the Rural Shores center, the family subsisted on what their two-acre farm and two cows could produce. Sometimes they struggled to earn $20 a month among the three of them. They could scarcely afford vegetables and fruit to supplement dull meals of lentils and flatbread.
With her new job Ms. Aruna now makes more than $70 a month. The family has bought some furniture — a wardrobe — and new saris and jewelry. When she came home with her office identification badge hung around her neck, the whole village gawked.
“I am the only person in this village to have an office job,” Ms. Aruna said, fingering the teardrop-shaped gold earrings she had bought herself. “I never thought it would be possible.”
November 22, 2009
Survey of Pakistan’s Young Predicts ‘Disaster’ if Their Needs Aren’t Addressed
By SABRINA TAVERNISE
LAHORE, Pakistan — Pakistan will face a “demographic disaster” if it does not address the needs of its young generation, the largest in the country’s history, whose views reflect a deep disillusionment with government and democracy, according to a report released here on Saturday.
The report, commissioned by the British Council and conducted by the Nielsen research company, drew a picture of a deeply frustrated young generation that feels abandoned by its government and despondent about its future.
An overwhelming majority of young Pakistanis say their country is headed in the wrong direction, the report said, and only 1 in 10 has confidence in the government. Most see themselves as Muslim first and Pakistani second, and they are now entering a work force in which the lion’s share cannot find jobs, a potentially volatile situation if the government cannot address its concerns.
“This is a real wake-up call for the international community,” said David Steven, a fellow at the Center for International Cooperation at New York University, who was an adviser on the report. “You could get rapid social and economic change. But the other route will lead to a nightmare that would unfold over 20 to 30 years.”
The report provides an unsettling portrait of a difficult time for Pakistan, a 62-year-old nuclear-armed country that is fighting an insurgency in its western mountains and struggling to provide for its rapidly expanding population. The population has risen by almost half in just 20 years, a pace that is double the world average, according to the report.
The despair among the young generation is rooted in the condition of their lives, the report found. Only a fifth of those interviewed had permanent full-time jobs. Half said they did not have sufficient skills to enter the workplace. And one in four could not read or write, a legacy of the country’s abysmal public education system, in which less than 40 percent of children are enrolled in school, far below the South Asian average of 58 percent.
While most do not trust their government, they attach their loyalty to religion. Three-quarters identified themselves primarily as Muslim, with just one in seven identifying themselves as Pakistani.
The demographic power of this generation represents a turning point for Pakistan. Its energy, if properly harnessed, could power an economic rise, as was the case in many East Asian countries in the 1990s, Mr. Steven said in a telephone interview.
But if the opportunity is squandered by insufficient investment in areas like education and health care, the country will face a demographic disaster, the report said. To avoid that, the authors of the report calculated that Pakistan’s economy would need to grow by 36 million jobs in the next decade — about a quarter the size of the United States economy — an enormous challenge in an economy that is growing by about a million jobs a year.
Pakistan has a long way to go. The study interviewed 1,226 Pakistanis ages 18 to 29, from different backgrounds across the country, in March and April. More than 70 percent said they were worse off financially than they were last year. This year’s budget earmarks just 2 percent of the economy for education, about half the percentage spent in India and Turkey. Life in rural areas is rudimentary. The report cites data showing that 40 percent of households have no electricity, and that animal dung and leftover waste from crops account for more than 80 percent of the country’s energy use.
Young people’s biggest concern — far above terrorism — was inflation, which rose to 23 percent in 2009, pushing 7 percent of Pakistanis back into poverty, the report said. More than 90 percent agreed better quality education was a priority.
There were bright spots. The young people were civic-minded, with a third saying the purpose of education was to create good citizens. They were also more interested in collective action and volunteer activities than their parents. But they were deeply disillusioned with politics, which they saw as corrupt and based on a system in which personal connections mattered more than merit. That sentiment is borne out by the global competitiveness index of 133 countries produced by the World Economic Forum, which in 2009 put Pakistan in slot 101, two notches below Nigeria.
“Here a student struggles day and night but the son of a rich man by giving money gets higher marks than him,” the report quoted a young man in Lahore as saying.
That led to one of the report’s most surprising findings: Only a third of those polled thought democracy was the best system for Pakistan, equal to the fraction preferring Islamic law, in what David Martin, director of the British Council in Pakistan, called “an indictment of the failures of democracy over many years.”
Only 1 in 10 said they were “very interested” in political events in Pakistan, while more than a third said they were not interested at all. The highest-ranking institution was Pakistan’s military. Sixty percent of those interviewed said that they trusted it. Second highest was religious educational institutions, trusted by about 50 percent of respondents. The national government came last at 10 percent.
If the government has failed to channel the energy of Pakistan’s youth, militant groups have succeeded, drawing educated and uneducated young people with slogans of jihad and, in some cases, of social justice.
The findings were sobering for Pakistani officials. Faisal Subzwari, minister of youth affairs for Sindh Province, who attended the presentation of the report in Lahore, said: “These are the facts. They might be cruel, but we have to admit them.”
But young Pakistanis have demonstrated their appetite for collective action, with thousands of people taking to the streets last spring as part of a movement of lawyers, who were demanding the reinstatement of the chief justice, and Mr. Steven argued that the country’s future would depend on how that energy was channeled. “Can Pakistan harness this energy, or will it continue to fight against it?” he said.
November 29, 2009
India’s Eternal Crisis
By PANKAJ MISHRA
ON the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, I hurried through a dark apple orchard to the nearest television in this Himalayan village. My landlord opened his door reluctantly, and then appeared unmoved by the news I had just received by phone. I struggled to explain the enormity of what was happening, the significance of New York, the iconic status of the World Trade Center — to no avail. It was time for his evening prayers; the television could not be turned on.
I did not witness the horrific sights of 9/11 until three days later. Since then, cable television and even broadband Internet have arrived in Mashobra and in my own home. Now the world’s manifold atrocities are always available for brisk inspection on India’s many 24-hour news channels. Indeed, the brutal terrorist assault on Mumbai that killed 163 people a year ago was immediately proclaimed as India’s own 9/11 by the country’s young TV anchors, who seem to model themselves on Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly. Yet, on the first anniversary of “26/11,” it seems as remote as 9/11 to the inhabitants of this village.
There is no great mystery behind this indifference, which is distinct from callousness. India, where most people still depend on agriculture for a living, has just suffered one of its most serious droughts in decades. The outlook for winter crops is bleak; many farmers have committed suicide in recent months, adding to the epidemic of rural suicides over the last few years.
Politically, too, India has lurched from one crisis to another in the last year. Prudent financial regulation saved India from the worst effects of the worldwide economic recession. But the rage of people who feel themselves not only left behind but victimized by corporate-driven and urban-oriented economic growth has erupted into violence; the Indian government has called for an all-out war against the Maoist insurgent groups that now administer large parts of central India. Anti-India insurgencies in Kashmir and the northeast continue to simmer, exacting a little-reported but high daily toll.
Geopolitically, India’s room to maneuver has shrunk since the Mumbai attacks. Last November, middle-class nationalist fury, though initially directed at inept Indian authorities, settled on Pakistan, where the attacks were partly planned and financed. The writer Shashi Tharoor described “India’s leaders and strategic thinkers” as watching Israel’s assault on Gaza last winter with “empathy,” and wondering “why can’t we do the same?” One hopes Mr. Tharoor, who has since become India’s junior foreign minister, is today more aware of why India can’t do a Gaza or Lebanon on its nuclear-armed neighbor.
As Western anxiety about nuclear-armed Pakistan’s stability deepens, India can barely afford aggressive rhetoric, let alone military retaliation, against its longtime foe. Pakistan remains vital to Western campaigns against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Aware of its strategic importance, Pakistan has been in no hurry to accede to India’s demands to prosecute those it holds responsible for the Mumbai massacre. (One hopes the charges filed against seven radicals on Wednesday mark a real change.) Islamabad has also upped the rhetorical ante by accusing India of backing the violent secessionist movement in Baluchistan, in western Pakistan.
India’s seeming impotence enrages those in the new right-wing news media who are eager to commemorate 26/11, and to make that ersatz shorthand signify India’s unavenged humiliation and shame. Prabhu Chawla, the editor of India Today, the country’s leading newsmagazine, expressed the frustration of many middle-class nationalists: “India, divided by politics, doesn’t know what to do with its enemy or with its much-mauled nationalist soul. We are as clueless as we were on that dreadful November night one year ago.”
That may be true, but in a country where 400 million live without electricity, it isn’t easy to manufacture, or sustain, a national consensus. In any case, things are not as bad as the pundits make out. The lone surviving Mumbai killer is already on trial; his accomplices are being gradually apprehended. There have been no major retaliatory attacks against Muslims. There are stirrings of a civic, even political, consciousness among rich Indians who, until the Mumbai massacre, were largely unaffected by our frequent terrorist bombings.
India may have been passive after the Mumbai attacks. But India has not launched wars against either abstract nouns or actual countries that it has no hope of winning or even disengaging from. Another major terrorist assault on our large and chaotic cities is very probable, but it is unlikely to have the sort of effect that 9/11 had on America.
This is largely because many Indians still live with a sense of permanent crisis, of a world out of joint, where violence can be contained but never fully prevented, and where human action quickly reveals its tragic limits. The fatalism I sense in my village may be the consolation of the weak, of those powerless to shape the world to their ends. But it also provides a built-in check against the arrogance of power — and the hubris that has made America’s response to 9/11 so disastrously counterproductive.
Pankaj Mishra is the author of “Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet and Beyond.”
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