Saturday, October 16, 2010

Oman, Baluchistan, and Pakistan

Nicholas Kristoff has an article about Oman - and how it has changed drastically in the last 40 years. The change has been positive and he credits a lot to education - and especially to women's education. By the way, I have an especially soft spot for Oman as I remember a particular fad in Karachi in the early 1980s to improvise television antennas (and I mean improvise - even aluminum plates could sometimes be seen hanging from the antennas) to catch Omani television station. Not that it was any good and plus it was in Arabic and only ran from 5pm to 10 or 11pm. But just the mere fact that we could detect it, increased the number of available channels by 100%. Even the static signal in the off-hours was exciting - there was a signal! My brother made an antenna at the time and it was actually quite efficient without the help of any plates. Okay - back to Oman:

Oman was historically similar to its neighbor, Yemen, which now has become an incubator for Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists. But, in 1970, Oman left that fundamentalist track: the sultan’s son deposed his father and started a stunning modernization built around education for boys and girls alike.
Visit Oman today, and it is a contemporary country with highways, sleek new airports, satellite TV dishes and a range of public and private universities. Children start studying English and computers in the first grade. Boys and girls alike are expected to finish high school at least.
In short, one of the lessons of Oman is that one of the best and most cost-effective ways to tame extremism is to promote education for all.
Many researchers have found links between rising education and reduced conflict. One study published in 2006, for example, suggested that a doubling of primary school enrollment in a poor country was associated with halving the risk of civil war. Another found that raising the average educational attainment in a country by a single grade could significantly reduce the risk of conflict.     

Probably (actually, most certainly) there are other factors at play as well. Nevertheless, it is hard to argue against the call for wider education levels. Read the full article here.

Now talking about ignoring basic education, NPR has a short piece on Baluchistan. There has been a low-level insurgency going on there for the past six decades. But this also the most neglected province of Pakistan and education rates are dismal. Often, the blame is affixed on the opposition to education from Baluch tribal leaders. But that must be the only place where the central government is acceding to their demands. In any case, the NPR piece is about the new "Great Game" being played out in Baluchistan between China and the US. This is actually a pretty good piece - and it addresses some of the Chinese interests there. However, it does not mention that the US has an airbase there - and I think think this is where the drones are launches for north and south Waziristan. To make things more interesting, the Mullah Omar and his "Quetta Shura" are also supposed to be in hiding in Quetta - the capital of Baluchistan. If this is not enough, Iran is also worried about Baluchistan (Baluch live on both sides of the Pakistan-Iran border - just like Pashtuns in Pakistan and Afghanistan). In fact, there have been couple of bombings targeting Iranian National Guards near this border area, and Iran has accused US and Pakistan of supporting Iranian rebels there. Phew!!

So here is the NPR story on Baluchistan: Modern Day "Great Game" Plays Out in Baluchistan.

Well, if you have read this far, then you must be interested in the complicated situation in that part of the world. Here are two very sane articles about the Pakistan-US alliance(?) against/for the Taliban:
Allies in War, but the Goals Clash from last week's NYT. It correctly observes that one cannot find the solution to Afghanistan without some concessions from India to placate Pakistan's fears of post-US Afghanistan.

And the second piece is from NPR: Strong Anti-American Sentiment Persists in Pakistan. Just like the NYT piece, it also clearly lays out different goals of Pakistan and the US in Afghanistan (US is talking about the "end-game" in Afghanistan, whereas Pakistan has to live in the neighborhood). But I think Musharraf Zaidi, the guest in the story, does a fine job in laying out the causes of anti-American sentiment despite the hundreds of millions of dollars in aid that the US has given to Pakistan after the floods:

And, Mosharraf Zaidi, this row over the flag logo seems to capture the American conundrum in Pakistan. Here you have the U.S. giving hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to help the flood victims and, still, the U.S. brand is so toxic that aid agencies there don't want to touch it.
Mr. MOSHARRAF ZAIDI (Columnist, The News): Yeah, it's a terrible sort of conundrum. I think that it's difficult to want to be popular in a classroom where, occasionally, you have machines dropping things from the sky that are killing people. And I know that there are some pretty compelling reasons for why the U.S. uses drones. But the point is that the image that that leaves in the eyes and the minds of Pakistanis is one which is difficult to overcome.
You can't use aid to sort of brush over or hide under the carpet the fact that there are aggressive military sort of actions that are being taken by the United States on Pakistani territory and against Pakistani citizens.
KELLY: Here in Washington, what you hear from officials is this insistence that Pakistan needs to do more to crack down on terrorism and needs to recognize that terrorists inside Pakistan pose an existential threat to Pakistan, not just to the U.S.
Do most Pakistanis buy that?
Mr. ZAIDI: I think most Pakistanis are deathly opposed to terrorism. And the reason for that is quite simple. It isn't an ideological sort of a case that anybody made to them. It's that the Pakistani people have suffered in blood. Pakistanis feel tired and exhausted and bloodied by this fight. And so this idea that we need to own the fight, well, the fight is ours. You know, we're the ones that are getting crushed here. We're the ones that are getting blown up at mosques, at the tombs of saints, at universities, you know, in the marketplace.
This is happening. This is already happening in Pakistan. And so that's part A. And part B, of course, is that there's a generic national pride issue. And that is that, you know, when NATO helicopters breach Pakistani airspace and kill Pakistani soldiers - soldiers who've already put their lives on the line to fight the Taliban, as it is - when they get taken out by NATO helicopters, I think that's when everybody here begins to get really worked up about the U.S.
What a complicated mess. Listen to the full story here. While at it, you can look at this editorial from today's Dawn: American Pressure.


Snuze said...

Thanks for the links. I live in a Muslim country but I am still struggling to comprehend the complexities of politics and society in other Muslim nations; so these are very helpful.

Don said...

Very interesting reading in the NPR links. I'm curious as to the Muslim (not just Pakistani) perception of the Chinese government, especially in western China. Let's see if I have time to look a few things up...

Salman Hameed said...

Thanks Snuze.

Don - remember that these are comments from the Baluch perspective.

In general, China is considered (and it is) a very close ally of Pakistan. This is one of the reason how it gained access to the Gwadar port in Pakistan - and there is a long history of close collaboration.

Thought I'll chip this in...

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