Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saturday Video: Spiderwebs and a flight over the Earth

by Salman Hameed

Before we get to space, first here is a stunning picture of spiderwebs around trees in Sindh, Pakistan:

The picture was taken by Russell Watkins and here is his description for the Guardian:
Russell Watkins: 'I was in Pakistan a year ago for DFID, looking at the impact of British aid in helping people affected by the floods. In northern Sindh a vast area had been flooded, but the waters had finally receded enough for local communities to start to return. While we were there the local NGOs told us about this odd phenomenon: miles and miles of flooded land, where every piece of vegetation was shrouded in these spider webs, like candy floss. It was stunning – a surreal sight. The trees were the only things above the water, so it was a very strange landscape, definitely ghostly'
And in case you wanted to have an experience of flying over the Earth, here is a short video of a compilation of 600 pictures taken from the International Space Station (you can catch some lightening in the pictures as well): 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Irtiqa off until Dec 31st. But here are some things to keep you busy...

by Salman Hameed
Irtiqa and Billy the Kit are on the same page on this one...

For much needed self-rebooting, Irtiqa will be off until Dec 31st. In the mean time, here are couple of things to keep you busy: A book about Karachi, a hilarious Christmas song, a book about searching for God, and a film autopsy of the new Almodovar's film.

A NYT review of Eric Weiner's book, My Flirtations with the Divine:
Eric Weiner’s “Man Seeks God: My Flirtations With the Divine” nimbly and often hilariously straddles the fence between the two genres. A former war correspondent for National Public Radio, Weiner is also the author of “The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World.” In that best-selling romp, he ditched the hellhole beat for a year and wandered the globe, from Bhutan to Iceland to Switzerland, looking for countries with a high “happiness index.” His new ramble begins after doctors mistake a nasty bout of intestinal gas for something far more dire. Weiner gets the scare of his life, and after a nurse confronts him in his hospital room (“Have you found your God yet?”) this self-described “Confusionist” sets off on a journey through five countries and eight religions to figure out which faith fits him best. 
As Weiner explains in his introduction, he was born into a family of “gastronomical Jews” whose sense of a divine presence began and ended in the kitchen: “If we could eat it then it was Jewish and, by extension, had something to do with God. As far as I was concerned, God resided not in Heaven or the Great Void but in the Frigidaire, somewhere between the cream cheese and the salad dressing. We believed in an edible deity, and that was about the extent of our spiritual life.” 
But that period of apathy ends with Weiner’s fear-of-death experience. Each subsequent chapter begins with a ­Craigslist-style personal ad, a plea from a “CWM” (Confusionist White Male) looking for divine inspiration.
Here is an article about Karachi and the new book by Steve Inskeep, Instant City:
Rome dominated the ancient world. Paris starred as the cultural diva of the 1800s. And New York soared as the steel-and-glass incarnation of the American Century.
So what metropolis best defines our restless, rickety present age — Shanghai; Mumbai, India; São Paulo, Brazil? 
In his first book, "Instant City," Steve Inskeep, co-host of NPR's "Morning Edition," constructs a compelling case for bestowing the title on Karachi, Pakistan, a destination that usually rates higher among battle-hardened news correspondents than pleasure-hunting tourists. 
With an estimated population of 15 million, and a litany of urban ills including dodgy infrastructure and periodic outbreaks of ethno-religious mayhem, Karachi is among the planet's most chaotic mega-urban areas. In an odd way, Inskeep believes, it's also one of the most representative.
Yet, despite Pakistan's pivotal role in current geo-politics, Inkseep's book isn't really about the country's relations with the U.S. or its problematic assignment in the so-called war on terror. Rather, "Instant City" posits Karachi as a metaphor for the developing world, teetering between modernity and tradition, democracy and authoritarianism, East and West.
Karachi, the country's former capital until Islamabad was built practically from scratch in the 1960s, sits at the crossroads of those tensions. It is a place where no amount of U.S. military cajoling and political arm-twisting has been able to impose the American way of thinking, although some affluent neighborhoods wouldn't look out of place in Southern California. 
It's a place where the best-laid plans of urban designers and social engineers tend to be overwhelmed by the city's anarchic vitality, including those of Constantino Doxiadis, the Robert Moses of Karachi, a Greek architect who was hired to oversee Karachi's modern face-lift after World War II. If the book has a secondary theme, its author suggests, it's the unforeseen consequences of those repeated attempts to refashion Kariachi into something it's not. 
"I've chosen a deeply troubled place," Inskeep said. "But I think it's symptomatic, it's normal, in more ways than we realize."
For your entertainment purposes, here is perhaps one of the best (and hilarious) Christmas songs ever: Tim Minchin's Woody Allen Jesus [it was cut from the show as it was considered to be too controversial. Oh c'mon. This is really funny!]

And here is our film autopsy of Almodovar's The Skin I Live in:

And if interested, you can also watch the autopsy of the new Jason Reitman film, Young Adult.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Conference on Knowledge and Values in Indonesia

This is a weekly post by Nidhal Guessoum (see his earlier posts here). Nidhal is an astrophysicist and Professor of Physics at American University of Sharjah and is the author of Islam's Quantum Question: Reconciling Muslim Tradition and Modern Science. 

A ‘first conference on knowledge and values’ was recently organized by the Center for Religious and Cross-Cultural Studies (CRCS) and the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS) at the University of Gadjah Mada (UGM) at Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The two-day conference (Dec. 16 and 17) was titled ‘Methodological explorations of the encounters of science, religion and local culture’. It gathered a dozen or so speakers with some 100 students, most of them graduate students in the humanities, with a predominance in religious studies.

The format of the conference was interesting in itself: the first day was a series of sessions where two speakers presented their views on “the encounters of science, religion and local culture” in the natural sciences, the social sciences, and various areas of methodological study; the second day was devoted to short presentations by students whose essays had been selected, followed by lengthy discussions with the speakers, in parallel sessions of about 30 participants.

On the first day, I was “paired” with Prof. Etty Indrati, a biologist at UGM. I spoke on the challenges posed by modern science to Islam (and theism more generally), particularly methodological naturalism, reviewing the spectrum of Muslim thinkers’ reactions to modern science, and presenting my own position (the Averroesian harmonizing approach that I presented in my recent book); I also pointed explicitly at the worrisome trends in today’s Muslim culture, namely the dominant creationism, the popularity of I`jaz (“miraculous” scientific content in the Qur’an), and the mediocre state of science education and research in this part of the world. Prof. Indrati, while alluding to it once or twice, preferred to avoid the topic of evolution and creationism and focused instead on how science affects living standards and life expectancy and how cultural/religious norms can and should allow people to harmonize their worldviews and lifestyles with the scientific knowledge. In the end, she made the audience happy by proclaiming that a scientist, if s/he excels in his/her pursuit of scientific research, will be led to God. (Prof. Indrati is of Christian background.)

The discussion period for this session saw a spirited and rather high-level series of exchanges, particularly on the topic of “islamization of knowledge”. I later was told that this proposition is still quite popular in that part of the world, particularly among Muslim social scientists. I was asked about the situation in the Middle East, and I replied that the concept and “research program” of the “islamization of knowledge”, which was so popular and strong in the eighties and early nineties, has clearly dwindled in the last decade. Not so in South Asia, I was told. We discussed the flaws (in my view) of that “program” and what valid responses can be brought up to counter that dead-end.

The afternoon sessions were even more interesting, with very diverse talks given by Prof. Adam Seligman (a specialist of religious studies at Boston University), Prof. Mark Woodward (an anthropologist from Arizona State Univ. currently visiting UGM-CRCS), Prof. Heddy Shri Ahimsa Putra (a specialist of cultural studies at UGM), and others.

Prof. Seligman is an orthodox Jew; he characterizes himself as a traditionalist. He tried to stress the importance of understanding rituals as a momentary shift from our corrupt world to an ideal one, and how performing rituals helps us strive toward that ideal life and state of being. He also stressed the importance of keeping to traditions and not allowing “modernity” to make us arrogantly dismiss the ways of our grandfathers and ancestors, just because “we know better”. Needless to say, another spirited discussion ensued.

Prof. Woodward addressed two topics somewhat briefly (talks were 20-30 minutes long): a) what is “post-modernism”, and what principles in it are methodologically productive; b) how does one keep to highest levels of objectivity when studying a social “phenomenon” to which one relates (being from that culture, believing in those dogmas or practices, etc.).

And last but not least, the most unorthodox talk (to a modern mindset) was given by Prof. Putra, a talk he titled “Prophetic Paradigm”. In it, he fused elements of the islamization of knowledge/science program, the Nasrian worldview of “unity” (of knowledge, cosmos, being, etc.), and some local (Javanese/mystic/Sufi, I was told) philosophy. He insisted that “intuition” and mystical inner capabilities, combined with the information that one can extract from scriptures, can lead to knowledge that “science” is incapable of reaching. He presented a proposal on how all that can be integrated in this new “paradigm”, though he admitted that these are merely ideas, and that more specific approaches and applications need to be produced by researchers. Another spirited discussion ensued.

I was quite impressed by the energetic participation of the students. It is true that most of them were graduate students, but the conference was conducted in English, a language they do not fully master, and they were dealing with professors from highly respectable foreign universities, most of whom have published numerous works. Yet the students were not passive at all; they were always polite and grateful for all the discussions, asking to take pictures with the speakers and whatnot, but they were not afraid to voice their opinions and ask pointed questions.

I was also happy to see how the format of the conference (with relatively few speakers) made ample space for discussion, which greatly benefited the students. Most importantly, the discussions focused strongly on methodological issues, which I believe is the crux of the matter in all those debates, and the students were made very fully aware of this aspect.

I wish the CRCS and the ICRS continued success in their programs, and I look forward to more such “encounters” and debates.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Iran's increase in science publications in 2011

by Salman Hameed

This week's Nature has a nice map of top 40 countries in terms of the number of scientific publications. Turkey, Iran, Egypt and Malaysia are on the list. Iran also shows a 20% increase compared to its 2010 publication record - the largest increase amongst the top 40 countries. These numbers are just for 2011, but Iran, Turkey and Egypt have been showing a consistent increase in their science papers over the past 10 years or so.

Here is the map:

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

Naturalizing Buddhism

by Salman Hameed

Buddhism poses a challenge for the standard - or stereotypical - discussion of science and religion. The most prominent debates today are rooted in the Judaeo-Christian-Islamic concept of God and are a result of a millennia of interactions over the way to understand the natural world. But the debates in Buddhism have been very different in nature. So here is a review of two books about Buddhism and science:

Buddhism is a distinctive world religion. It lacks an 'omnigod' — an omnipresent, omniscient, all-powerful creator — and a notion of humans as complexes of physical bodies and souls that ascend to heaven after death. Could it be mingled with the scientific culture of the twenty-first century to produce a new philosophical outlook on the world, the mind and our values? That idea lies at the heart of these two contrasting books on Buddhism and science. 
In The Bodhisattva's Brain, philosopher of mind Owen Flanagan wants to change Buddhism to fit better with the scientific world view. In Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic, Buddhist scholar and monk B. Alan Wallace wants to alter the scientific world view so that it meshes better with Buddhism. Both tease out the contrasts between Buddhism and materialism — and both stumble when it comes to defining the latter.
From the review, it seems that Flanagan's book is the one to get (though in this case we should really not judge the books buy their covers.  No seriously. Flanagan couldn't find any pictures or any other design for the cover? Kindle may be helpful in this case...)
For Flanagan, the world is fundamentally physical, and thus explicable by natural science, at least in principle. But Buddhism seems inconsistent with this materialistic world view. It may have no place for a creator god or ascending souls, but as Flanagan notes, it is “opulently polytheistic insofar as spirits, protector deities, ghosts, and evil spirits abound”. He points out, too, that in east and southeast Asia, a belief in rebirth among Buddhists is as common as a belief in heaven among North Americans. So Flanagan sets out to 'naturalize' Buddhism: to see what Buddhism would look like without the “hocus pocus” (as he cheerfully puts it). 
The result is a wide-ranging discussion of the neural and cognitive basis of mental states such as meditation and the achievement of enlightenment or nirvana, which are central to Buddhism. Flanagan outlines a plausible moral philosophy based on an idea that he takes from Aristotle but reinterprets in the light of Buddhist teaching: eudaemonia, a sort of happiness that, in Flanagan's view, is the proper aim of a good life.
Oh - and if you are inclined to induce some "hocus pocus"from Buddhism into the sciences, then Wallace's book may be for you:

Wallace adopts a contrary view, even urging the many scientists and philosophers who embrace materialism to change their minds. His book is in part a compelling and clear statement of key Buddhist ideas, but its main point is to advocate a distinction between science and a materialist interpretation of it. Materialist science, Wallace thinks, cannot get to grips with the reality of consciousness, free will or values. Science inspired by Buddhist experience might. 
In both books, however, the concept of materialism remains blurry. Wallace notes what materialism isn't: the ancient 'atoms and the void' notion of the Greek philosopher Democritus, which is inconsistent with modern physics. But rather than clarifying what it is, he uses materialism as a placeholder for his dislikes — variously, a nihilistic rejection of moral values, a desire for more possessions and the denial of consciousness and the mind altogether. A more explicit statement from Wallace about what he is rejecting would have given his manifesto more muscle.
Read the full review here (you may need subscription to access the article).

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Saudi Innovator to help Mideast Scientists

by Salman Hameed

I have in the past lambasted Saudi Arabia for a number of things (for example, on mindless executions based on sorcery charges, or for their efforts to buy academic prestige) and will likely continue doing that until the women there have at least some modicum of equality. But here is a positive and inspiring story about a female Saudi innovator. Hayat Sindi, who has now launched her own Mideast foundation, The Institute for Imagination and Ingenuity, to help scientists from the area (tip from Darakhshan). She actually has an interesting story about how Hayat got educated:
Sindi, who dresses in a traditional headscarf but also in trendy heels, relishes the details of making her own way in science. It started with a fib to her family after her first year of college in Saudi Arabia
Keen to continue her studies abroad, she told her father some good news: She had been accepted at a prestigious university in London. Her traditional Muslim father said it would tarnish the family name for a young woman to live overseas alone. “He told me, ‘Over my dead body,’” Sindi recalls. Still, she persuaded him, and off she went to England. 
The truth is, she hadn’t been accepted at any university. When she landed in London as a teenager in 1991, she says, she spoke only Arabic, no English. “My first night there, I went to a youth hostel,” she says. “I was in an attic room. I panicked. I looked at my plane tickets—my father had bought a return ticket. I thought, I’ll go home tomorrow.” Instead she went to an Islamic cultural center and got a translator to help her meet with college officials. “They told me, ‘You’re crazy,’” she says. “I was naive. I thought they would just let me in.” 
After a year spent cramming on English and studying to pass the “A-levels,” the U.K.’s college-admission courses, she got herself in to King’s College, where she graduated in 1995 with a degree in pharmacology. She went on to get a Ph.D. in biotechnology from Cambridge in 2001. She says her family didn’t learn about her lie until years later, when they were surprised to hear her mention it in a speech.

This story is quite amazing and she seems fantastically driven (though this is still not the advertisement for Saudi Arabia: You can get well-educated if you can get out of there by lying. Okay - I have to suppress my cynical side on this feel-good story). And now she is planning to provide help for scientists in the middle east:

Sindi recently wrapped up a stint as a visiting scholar at Harvard, where she co-founded Diagnostics for All, the organization developing the disease-diagnosing paper, which changes colors when dabbed with bodily fluids from a person who is ill. The idea is to make it simple even for someone who isn’t a doctor to quickly and cheaply diagnose disease in places where doctors or clinics might be nonexistent. 
Sindi currently is a fellow at PopTech, a U.S.-based nonprofit that provides fellowships to scientists in an effort to foster global innovation. On October 21, at a PopTech conference in Camden, Maine, she will launch her own Mideast foundation, the Institute for Imagination and Ingenuity, which will help scientists write business plans, and find investors for their ideas. “I picture scientists finding new ways to purify water, or diagnose disease,” Sindi says. 
A big obstacle for Mideast scientists, she says, is that they aren’t savvy about putting together a business plan; as a result, venture capitalists in the region are wary of investing in science. Sindi says she hopes to eventually expand her foundation to the U.S., and plans to split her time between both places. 
It’s clear that she already dwells in both worlds, although Sindi has been living in the West for her adult life. Sitting in a coffee shop near the PopTech offices in Brooklyn, she wears a blue headscarf, suede heels and silvery eye shadow and jokes that scientists need not be geeks. And she describes her deep respect for her culture. “I’m very proud of where I came from,” she says. “Sometimes people think they need to completely discard their culture. But you have to hold on to your identity.” 
In Saudi Arabia, the number of women in the workforce has nearly tripled since 1992, according to a study by consulting firm Booz & Company. But the number is still low for the region: The female participation rate in the Saudi workforce is 14 percent, compared with 59 percent in the United Arab Emirates. Saudi culture doesn’t make it easy for women to work. A male guardian must give permission if a woman wants to get a job. Sindi hopes she can help change that.
Read the full article here. Also, you can see a video of her presentation at PopTech 2009 here.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Foreign Policy’s 100 Top Global Thinkers of 2011

This is a weekly post by Nidhal Guessoum (see his earlier posts here). Nidhal is an astrophysicist and Professor of Physics at American University of Sharjah and is the author of Islam's Quantum Question: Reconciling Muslim Tradition and Modern Science. 

The respected and influential US monthly Foreign Policy (FP) published a long list of “top global thinkers of 2011” in its December issue. The list actually contains some 130 names, as many of the ranks included several people. For each person, FP gave a one-sentence justification/explanation, a short (or for the most important ones, somewhat long) description of their importance and influence, plus a small sidebar where the thinkers were asked to: name their muse; choose between America and China; give their current reading list; and name their choice of the best and worst idea of the moment.
In addition to the list, this special issue contains several interesting long articles on current trends and background analyses, including: “The big think about the Arab spring”; “Does Facebook have a foreign policy?”; and “16 global cities to watch” (Cairo is the only one from the Muslim world).
I thought it would be worthwhile to extract the names of the Muslim individuals who have made the list and to analyze that (sub-) list. (One must keep in mind, however, that this list comes from Foreign Policy.) But before that, there are some interesting statistics about the entire list that the magazine points out; for instance:
·    33 of the selected individuals are women (25 %);
·      21 % are economists;
·      31 published a book this year;
·      9 are heads of state;
·      8 are Nobel prize winners;
·      5 were arrested this year;
·      6 were released from prison;
·      5 are billionaires;
·      the average age of these global thinkers is 56, the youngest being 27, and the oldest 94.

Now, while the 3 “most influential global leaders” were: Obama, Merkel, and Erdogan (FP reminds us that last year, it was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Lula da Silva, and Hu Jintao), this year’s top spot for “global thinkers” was given to “the Arab Revolutionaries”, which includes 12 Arabs, plus one Serbian activist and one US academic, whose previous writings have (according to FP) been influential in the strategies used by the Arab revolutionaries on the ground.

The list starts with a big surprise: Alaa Al Aswany. Many readers of Irtiqa (and most educated people in the west) will probably not have heard of him. He is an acclaimed novelist (and a dentist!), whose books (with big and bold stories) over the past decade have been very successful both in the Arab world and the west, one of them at least has been turned into a movie, The Yacoubian Building. Now, why would a novelist be listed as a top “global thinker” (in relation to the Arab spring revolutions)? “For channeling Arab malaise – and Arab renewal”, FP tells us.

The rest of the “Arab revolutionaries” are:
·      Mohamed ElBaradei (FP reminds us that a year ago, just before the Arab spring started, ElBaradei said of the Mubarak regime that “it will fall sooner rather than later”, and at the time this sounded like wishful thinking, and that he moved back to Egypt to challenge the regime), and Wael Ghoneim, the young Google regional executive who played an important part in making social networking a crucial instrument in the Egyptian revolution. 
·      Ali Ferzat, the Syrian cartoonist who was badly beaten up to try to prevent him from making his eloquent drawings, and Razan Zaitouneh, the young Syrian activist/attorney who produced an important website to document the Syrian uprising and who has been in hiding for months – FP says “for speaking truth to a bloody power”. 
·      Rached Ghannouchi and Khairat El Shater (the Tunisian moderate Islamist leaders), “for working to reconcile Islamism and democracy (we hope)”. 
·      Tawakkul Karman (the Yemeni activist, one of this year’s Nobel Peace prize laureates), “for keeping the spirit of the Arab spring alive against impossible odds”. 
·      Wadah Khanfar (the former head of Al-Jazeerah), “for turning the Al-Jazeera revolution into an actual one”. 
·      Eman Al Najfan and Manal Al-Sharif, “for putting Saudi women in the driver’s seat”; Al Najfan (a Saudi blogger, graduate student, and mother of three) gets to pen a long article titled “What do Saudi women want?”. 
·      Fathi Terbil, a Libyan human rights lawyer, “for believing that no massacre should go unpunished”. 
·      Srdja Popovic and Gene Sharp, the Serbian activist and the US academic, “for writing the how-to manuals for this year’s revolutions”.  
In the rest of the top-100 list, we find another 10 Muslim individuals (I use “Muslim” here in the cultural background/origin sense, not in the religious affiliation one): 
·      At the 16th rank, Ahmet Davutoglu and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, “for imagining a new role for Turkey in the world – and making it happen”. 
·      At the 24th rank, Sami Ben Gharbia, a Tunisian activist, “for shaping the new world of government transparency”. 
·      At #28, Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, “for forging a path between violence and surrender”. 
·      At #54, Mohamed El-Erian, the CEO of Pimco (the largest bond fund, based in California), “for delivering economic tough love to a world in denial”. 
·      At #70, Zaha Hadid, the famed Iraqi-born British architect, “for creating new forms for a new age”. 
·      At #75, Maria Bashir, the Afghani prosecutor, “for aspiring to an Afghanistan ruled by law, not men.” 
·      At #84, Mustafa Barghouti, the Palestinian politician in the West Bank (not Marwan Barghouti, the jailed Farah leader), “for believing in a different politics for Palestine”. 
·      At #85, Pervez Hoodbhoy, the Pakistani physicist (who needs no introduction to readers of Irtiqa), “for his bold secular defiance”. FP further explains that Hoodbhoy “has become a powerful voice in denouncing his country’s growing religious fundamentalism”, and highlights his statement that “Muslims need freedom from dogmatic beliefs and a culture that questions rather than obeys”.
Looking at the list (at least the one relating to the Arab-Muslim world), I think it is clear that there is a certain agenda or at least mindset here. We may very well find the agenda (of promoting political programs that are rather western-friendly and highlighting and publicizing secularism and anti-traditionalism) commendable, or at least agreeable to us and our standpoints, but it is an agenda nonetheless.
For example, Mahmoud Abbas, Salam Fayyad, and Mustafa Barghouti (the moderate Palestinian politicians) are considered “global thinkers/leaders”, but not the Emir of Qatar and his wife (the famous Sheikha Moza), who are incomparably more influential?!
And the only Muslim writers/thinkers that FP could come up with are Al Aswany, Hoodbhoy, and Al Najfan (the Saudi blogger)?!
Now, last week I presented a ranking of the “top 500 most influential Muslims” produced by a Jordanian institution that we found to be so strongly biased and boldly agenda-laden that it became ridiculous in the choices that were often made, especially when unqualified individuals were placed in categories (Science & Technology, in particular) where the criteria should have been much more rigorous.
The list produced by Foreign Policy is certainly better informed, and intelligently presented and argued. It also clearly has a certain mindset/prism, if not a specific agenda.
But such exercises are often, if not always, interesting and useful.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A reasonable NYT article on Pakistan

by Salman Hameed

If we want to solve a problem, we have to understand it. Unfortunately, Pakistan is now such a hot-button political issue in the US that we are seeing more and more jingoistic and simplistic narratives in political debates and in major newspapers (and the same is true for the image of US in Pakistan). I had collected some decent articles on Pakistan's political situation in a recent post, A Cornucopia of Articles about the Complexity of Pakistan. Today's NYT Magazine section has another good article: The Pakistanis Have a Point. In all of this, one thing is becoming quite clear: There is a significant split in the strategy of the State Department versus the Military and the CIA regarding Pakistan. You pile on top of it the coming 2012 Presidential election politics, and you have foreign policy mess that you see in Pakistan.

Here is the bit of the NYT article where it talks about Pakistan's grievances:

The Pakistani version of modern history is one of American betrayal, going back at least to the Kennedy administration’s arming of Pakistan’s archrival, India, in the wake of its 1962 border war with China. 
The most consequential feat of American opportunism came when we enlisted Pakistan to bedevil the Soviet occupiers of Afghanistan in the 1980s. The intelligence agencies of the U.S. and Pakistan — with help from Saudi Arabia — created the perfect thorn in the Soviet underbelly: young Muslim “freedom fighters,” schooled in jihad at Pakistani madrassas, laden with American surface-to-air missiles and led by charismatic warriors who set aside tribal rivalries to war against foreign occupation. 
After the Soviets admitted defeat in 1989, the U.S. — mission accomplished! — pulled out, leaving Pakistan holding the bag: several million refugees, an Afghanistan torn by civil war and a population of jihadists who would find new targets for their American-supplied arms. In the ensuing struggle for control of Afghanistan, Pakistan eventually sided with the Taliban, who were dominated by the Pashtun tribe that populates the Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier. The rival Northern Alliance was run by Tajiks and Uzbeks and backed by India; and the one thing you can never underestimate is Pakistan’s obsession with bigger, richer, better-armed India. 
As long as Pakistan was our partner in tormenting the Soviet Union, the U.S. winked at Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons program. After all, India was developing a nuclear arsenal, and it was inevitable that Pakistan would follow suit. But after the Soviets retreated, Pakistan was ostracized under a Congressional antiproliferation measure called the Pressler Amendment, stripped of military aid (some of it budgeted to bring Pakistani officers to the U.S. for exposure to American military values and discipline) and civilian assistance (most of it used to promote civil society and buy good will). 
Our relationship with Pakistan sometimes seems like a case study in unintended consequences. The spawning of the mujahadeen is, of course, Exhibit A. The Pressler Amendment is Exhibit B. And Exhibit C might be America’s protectionist tariffs on Pakistan’s most important export, textiles. For years, experts, including a series of American ambassadors in Islamabad, have said that the single best thing the U.S. could do to pull Pakistan into the modern world is to ease trade barriers, as it has done with many other countries. Instead of sending foreign aid and hoping it trickles down, we could make it easier for Americans to buy Pakistani shirts, towels and denims, thus lifting an industry that is an incubator of the middle class and employs many women. Congress, answerable to domestic textile interests, has had none of it. 
“Pakistan the afterthought” was the theme very late one night when I visited the home of Pakistan’s finance minister, Abdul Hafeez Shaikh. After showing me his impressive art collection, Shaikh flopped on a sofa and ran through the roll call of American infidelity. He worked his way, decade by decade, to the war on terror. Now, he said, Pakistan is tasked by the Americans with simultaneously helping to kill terrorists and — the newest twist — using its influence to bring them to the bargaining table. Congress, meanwhile, angry about terrorist sanctuaries, is squeezing off much of the financial aid that is supposed to be the lubricant in our alliance. 
“Pakistan was the cold-war friend, the Soviet-Afghan-war friend, the terror-war friend,” the minister said. “As soon as the wars ended, so did the assistance. The sense of being discarded is so recent.”
And here is an example of the two different sides of the story:

The official American version of the current situation in Afghanistan goes like this: By applying the counterinsurgency strategy that worked in Iraq and relying on a surge of troops and the increasingly sophisticated use of drones, the United States has been beating the insurgency into submission, while at the same time standing up an indigenous Afghan Army that could take over the mission. If only Pakistan would police its side of the border — where the bad guys find safe haven, fresh recruits and financing — we’d be on track for an exit in 2014. 
The Pakistanis have a different narrative. First, a central government has never successfully ruled Afghanistan. Second, Karzai is an unreliable neighbor — a reputation that has not been dispelled by his recent, manic declarations of brotherhood. And third, they believe that despite substantial investment by the United States, the Afghan Army and the police are a long way from being ready to hold the country. In other words, America is preparing to leave behind an Afghanistan that looks like incipient chaos to Pakistan. 
In Peshawar, General Malik talked with polite disdain about his neighbor to the west. His biggest fear — one I’m told Kayani stresses in every meeting with his American counterparts — is the capability of the Afghan National Security Forces, an army of 170,000 and another 135,000 police, responsible for preventing Afghanistan from disintegrating back into failed-state status. If the U.S. succeeds in creating such a potent fighting force, that makes Pakistanis nervous, because they see it (rightly) as potentially unfriendly and (probably wrongly) as a potential agent of Indian influence. The more likely and equally unsettling outcome, Pakistanis believe, is that the Afghan military — immature, fractious and dependent on the U.S. Treasury — will disintegrate into heavily armed tribal claques and bandit syndicates. And America, as always, will be gone when hell breaks loose. 
General Malik studied on an exchange at Fort McNair, in Washington, D.C., and has visited 23 American states. He likes to think he is not clueless about how things work in our country. 
“Come 2015, which senator would be ready to vote $9 billion, or $7 billion, to be spent on this army?” he asked. “Even $5 billion a year. O.K., maybe one year, maybe two years. But with the economy going downhill, how does the future afford this? Very challenging.”
American officials will tell you, not for attribution, that Malik’s concerns are quite reasonable.
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