Coming back from a meeting at work I found my colleagues huddled around one of the televisions. It was Gordon Brown making his speech that he will leave resign soon. He looked tired and drained out and didn’t seem too pleased that his political career was coming to an end. From the TV debates a couple of weeks ago it seemed to me that he felt he had much more to contribute to British politics, Europe and to the world. Once the elections result came out, it was only a matter of time before he announced his elections. Even then I was disappointed and felt like it is the end of an era. Inspite of all his failings, I don’t think any of the current crop of wannabe prime ministers match to his experience and his level of seriousness. He is more of the pre-TV debate stock of leaders and like someone said that he has a ‘radio face’. It’s still all to play for the next government and Nick Clegg has had the hardest political decision of his life so far. If he goes for Labour then it risks being called the ‘salon de refuses’ and the progressives could see themselves voted out for a generation, if he goes for Labour then he risks losing his core constituency not to forget the left leaning papers who back him. He could decide not to support anyone and face opposition from both sides.

The interesting questions are – who will form the next government ? what will be the main planks of the coalition ( on economy, election reforms, education and EU) ? how long will it last? and who will get the most out of it (one or both the coalition partners or the opposition) ?

Its been hard for me not to be distracted by the issue of the Pakistani American , American Pakistani, trying to plant a bomb in Times Square. What was even more interesting was Hillary Clinton’s threat about ‘consequences’ if such an attack was to be traced back to Pakistan. I am not sure what is she threatening here. What exactly will the US do if the attack was indeed traced back to Pakistan ?  Impose economic sanctions on one of its largest aid recipients ? What do the tea party goers make of the fact that billions of their taxes are going to Pakistan as aid ? It is hard for me not to feel sorry for Pakistanis here. Millions of them live in a country where the government only seems to have 3 ministries (foreign, defence and interior) , no economy to speak of, indebted to the IMF and other creditors and completely dependent on foreign aid.  The government isn’t interested at all in the country’s development and neither are the country’s elite. They are bent upon converting every problem into a foreign conspiracy. Their reason why the country is in an economic, social and political mess after 6 decades of independence is because of US, India and Israel. I rarely find in Pakistani papers any news on economic and social reform. Everyone has an opinion on Afghanistan and Kashmir but no one has anything to say on the state of education in the country.

Where does Pakistan go from here?


Waking up to a rainy London morning sometimes makes me feel oddly content. Looking out into the grey sky with a big mug of tea I feel at peace and totally incapable of any verbal communication. If I have to talk now I feel I will have to summon all my energy to string words together into a coherent sentence. I also feel glad that I am not in the Indian foreign service and so I don’t have to be ready to talk to Pakistan any time even though I don’t really want to.

I have been following Indo-Pak relations more closely since the past 15 years and I am tired of this snakes and ladders game. Both sides can climb many ladders and all it needs is one snake to bring everyone down to the beginning. It is a game which never ends and it keeps a lot of people in India – Pak and around the world in jobs. It provides Bollywood producers with ready made scripts, newspaper editors with ready made editorials, useless peaceniks get a lot of attention that they wouldn’t get otherwise, petty criminals turned jihadis and right wingers in India get another reason to exist, arms manufacturers a ready made market and armchair bloggers like me their first lesson in realpolitik.

So when I heard of the Feb 25 announcement my first reaction was that it is a good thing. It is one step forward and if either sides would have a reason to withdraw then atleast they can stop talking. If the sides are not talking then withdrawing further usually means diplomatic action or even war. So from a basic survival, nuclear war prevention, perspective this is good. But that is like the social development equivalent of the poverty line and that is not enough. How do India and Pakistan break this consciously built up hate and distrust of 60 years. How do you unpick the deliberately picked fights and confrontations of these years. How does India learn to trust Pakistan and how does Pakistan trust that India is not interested in another division of Pakistan. Have no illusions that these divisions are really strong and well entrenched. How else do you keep away two groups of people who have a shared history, culture, language and family links so apart for all this time? We constantly talk of a world of open communication, of collaboration, of networking and yet nothing seems to impact this division. Pakistan still unites India like nothing else  and vice-versa.

The difference this time is that the characters are different on both sides and they both seem keen to come some sort of a resolution. In Manmohan Singh and his foreign secretary (Nirupama Rao) I see a good tag team. I ignore SM Krishna because I don’t take people who wear wigs seriously ! Manmohan is an out of the box politician who because of the fact that he doesn’t have a political constituency is capable of pretty much anything. In Pakistan, Yusuf Gilani seems to be the empowered Prime Minister and the army chief is much more pragmatic than Musharraf. There seems to be realisation on both sides that this can’t go on forever. The only thing which is missing is a neutral referee but I dont think India will ever agree to it and you could argue that there is no such thing as a neutral referee in international politics.

And so we talk again.

As I sit here watching the rain pour down in London, it feels like any other tropical storm except it is also cold. I constantly look up to the skies for any break in the clouds. I also hope to see a special aircraft flying from India on the way to Washington DC. The plane is carrying Manmohan Singh on his first state visit to the US. But my expectations of this trip are rock bottom. I had more expectations from the G20, or even   summit. This trip is going to be all about symbolism, about reiterating stuff that has been many times in the past, about just keeping in the status quo in so many ways. At the end of this week, it’s going to be like a Hollywood movie which I sometimes call as ‘good’ but not sure what it was really about. I am going to try and make sense of some of the issues that might be on the menu.

US and India have steadily upgrading their relationship in the past 18 years or so. US understands the language of money better than any other country in this world. For the US , India signifies money and it also signifies less effort (as compared to China) to get to that money. Less effort in the sense of political and policy shenanigans that need to happen on the side for that money to come out. I use the word shenanigans because I like it (reminds me of 80s sex romps) and also because Obama’s treatment of the Dalai Lama issue was nothing short of one ! So US absolutely have to be in India no matter what and it is in India even in areas it never though it could ever be (defence industry, nuclear energy etc). Yes there is scope to enter even more areas and make even more money but all in due time. So in the economic sense not sure what Obama has to tell to Manmohan that he doesn’t know already. Obama is committed to Asia , as is Manmohan committed to the ASEAN and so there is already a lot of common ground. I can’t see a major new agreement coming through.

On the issue of Kashmir which is now again quite dear to the US because their friends in Pakistan like to use it from everything ranging from their need for a N-bomb to the problems with Taliban. I wonder what will happen to Pakistan when the Kashmir issue does get resolved. So there will be the usual statement to get Kashmir resolved through bilateral means and India will probably update the US on what is happening with the latest on the back channel diplomacy.

But the one issue which might be interesting will be the Afghanistan issue. This is not because Obama has a burning desire to consult India, but more because Obama ia about to arrive at a decision and India has economic interests in Afghanistan and plays the soft power role. It also has reasonably good relations with Iran and there could be the scope of these two countries joining up forces against the Taliban with the quiet blessing of the US which needs all the help it can get in Afghanistan. Manmohan was interviewed by Newsweek just before his trip and there are two things that stand out for me. One that the majority of the interview is about Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran ( the 3 major worries of the US in Central and South Asia) and also about what has been left unsaid. I am still not sure exactly what was the Iranian foreign minister doing in India just before this trip. The second bit was about the economy and how little attention was paid by the interviewer to economic matters.

Which finally brings me to Pakistan. Whatever I read about Pakistan, it seems to point towards a change of power. Zardari and his clique seems to be on the way out and Nawaz is the only other popular politician around, assuming that the army doesn’t want to come back to power in these politically correct times. It has all the trappings of power anyways without the abuse. That could be another point of discussion of what does India think about Nawaz. Both him and Manmohan speak Punjabi but that is where the similarity ends. They both seem to come from completely gene pools. Manmohan is the economist turned reluctant politician who can write theories of trade in his sleep, Nawaz thinks he has a God-given right to govern and is a businessman although his style may not be too endearing to an economist. But better India deal with a Lahore based Punjabi than a Karachi based Sindhi. I am half and half of either so I know what I am talking about !

So the visit is going to be Obama talking about a special/really special/deeply special – you get the drift- with India, the state banquet in cold DC outdoors and the wives talking about how to bring up daughters. If I was a fly on the tandoori chicken I would be paying attention to the Pashminas.

The other day while watching the so called ‘friendy’ cricket match between India and Pakistan, I asked myself the question – what is my first memory of Pakistan. I don’t remember clearly, but I am quite sure that it has to be someone from my family telling me about their life before partition, in what is now Pakistan. This memory recall almost always had something around how rich their families were over there. They had huge landholdings, bricks of gold (!) and lots of servants. I heard no one say that they were not so well to do or were just about ok. Everyone was very rich which I find hard to believe. I think it was ingrained in everyone’s mind that they were rich because this way they could convince the refugee settlers to give them a good deal in India.

At some point in my life I became quite fascinated with Pakistan.  The idea behind the fascination I think was that here is this country of 160 million people who are of exactly the same gene pool as Indians, who speak the same language, who consume the same culture and I know know more about its intelligence agency than its 5 major cities ! Indian media was of no use and all it could talk about was how Pakistan was meddling in India’s affairs. They had to be more to the country than that. Sitting in India there was not much I could find out except read Pakistani media. For almost a year, I think, I read Pakistani newspapers as often as I could. I mostly read Daily Times, Dawn and Friday Times. All of these made fascinating reading. Over the months a few things became clear. Day to day life in Pakistan was similar to the grind that a lot of Indians go through everyday. There was the usual gripe about prices, jobs and lack of development. There was a lot of talk of the nuclear deterrence and how Pakistan is the first Muslim nation to get it. Foriegn policy was mostly restricted to India, US, UK, China and the Arab world. India was as poorly represented, or rather misrepresented, in the media.

I now have the oppurtunity to speak to more Pakistanis and read more of their news. I still think that there is a lot of big talk without any attention being paid to the some of the more boring day to day stuff. The big talk is about Pakistan’s right to have nuclear weapons, Kashmir issue, the Af-Pak politics, military strategy, debates on islam etc. The boring stuff about poverty, development, employment, trade is somehow glossed over.  It irritates me to no end that the country can’t get its act together. The nation is rich in national resources, it has demographics on its side, it is neighbours with two of the fastest growing economies in the world, next door to most of the oil and gas in the world and yet the country’s leaders are always so involved in the ‘big stuff’ that this gets neglected. If the anecdotal evidence of support at international cricket matches is  anything go by then it also has a diaspora willing to engage in the country’s development.

The image in my head is of a man standing on an island, that is being slowly washed away in a flood, and lecturing the world on how to manage its affairs. The world’s standard response to the man is that if you are so smart then why are you still stuck on that island.

Last night I saw Charlie Wilson’s war. I have seen it before and every time I see it I am amazed at how easy is it for a few smart people with a lot of money to start a war sitting thousands of miles away. Once the war is over the smart people move on to the next challenge. Almost like moving onto the next level on a gaming console. I went to bed thinking it is so easy that it is unfair. I woke up in the morning to Hillary Clinton calling Pakistan a global threat and it was almost like a continuation of the movie. Its the same area, the same problem, except this time over the good guys have become the bad guys. But I wonder what is she really trying to achieve by this. Is it to get the attention of Pakistan leadership, is it to put on the world agenda, or is it something else. This almost feels like the beginning of the buildup to Iraq where the talk was then of how many nukes rather than if they have any.Also this statement to me is different than the earlier ones which focussed on the northern areas and on the border with Pakistan. The statement called on the Pakistani people to speak out “forcefully” against their government’s policy. I am not sure what this means really.

Most developed countries are seized of this threat of Pakistan. The UK has almost developed an annual ritual to catch some Pakistani nationals and deport them back, but even they don’t call Pakistan a ‘global threat’.  But some other people have a slightly different take on things. So what does Hillary know that no one else knows ? And more importantly, what does she plan to do about it. Is this setting the ground for another military takeover by the Pakistan army ? Will the army be forced to finally look away from its eastern frontier and face Taliban ? I suspect that the  answers to these questions are coming very soon.

I promised myself after my last post that I will not blog in this year. I am on a holiday and I promised myself to leave my mind at the nearest dustbin, sorry recycling centre. I didn’t. That with the fact that I have not made single promise in my life that I haven’t been tempted to break. So the mind which refuses to go on a holiday combined with the thrill of breaking a promise and hence this post.

Before I get into my major rant, first a mini rant. The holiday is happening in India and I now believe more than ever before that as much as I feel connected to this land, I feel disconnected with most Indians. I never understood them before, and to be fair they never understood me, and now I wonder how we share the same nationality. But more of this in another post.

And so the drama endeth this week The drama of whodunit in Mumbai. India started to blame Pakistan within hours of the attack and Pakistan around the same time started to deny it , blame Hindu terrorists or both. And then India mounted this so called diplomatic offensive to put pressure on Pakistan. The net result of it was one organisation got banned, Zardari came under even more pressure and the country united against the common convenient enemy. All this while the army was playing the card of an imminent Indian attack.

All this masked the problems inside India. Walking in the streets of different cities in India I heard more than one person say lets attack them and finish it once and for all, lets do what the US did after 9/11, lets do this, lets do that. What disturbs me more than these opinions is how we look to resolve very complex issues with simplistic solutions. And the problem is not with the people, but also starts with the government who I hope knows better than what gets bandied around by ministers. The media doesn’t ask the right questions and dutifully toes the government line, the opposition looks to score cheap political points and the people of the country have no one to turn to.

So when the end of the drama came this week no one saw it coming. When it did end the media was confused as was everyone else. I think the government ran a fantastic propaganda program which successfully diverted the attention to external factors. Now that program has come to an end as there is general acceptance that even if Pakistan is to blame there is not going to be much concrete action.

Will the government now muster up the courage to focus on internal issues. Do we even know what are those internal issues ? Does this government have in it to jump over one last hurdle of its 5 year sprint or will it run around it ? My cynical mind says the government will do a lot of song and dance, some window dressing and hope for the best at the elections. So watch out for another propaganda campaign starting soon at a newspaper near you.

I really need to get rid of my mind !

The image is in my head is of an orchestra slowly getting into its rhythm as the conductor calls the intruments into action. It was only a matter of time before all of them came to the party. The different players are government of india, people of india, pakistan, the terrorists, the media, US, and other interested parties. Here is the story as I see it.

The tune is being played out at different levels. There was the ground zero which is now over. Now the ground zero has shifted to the interrogation rooms and to the different thanas across the city. There is the other bit that is played out in North and South block in Delhi. The external affairs the ministry called the high commissioner of pakistan and gave him a list, no a demarche, no a copy of the 2001 parliament attacks list. No they just had samosas and hot tea and wondered how to wrangle that UN appoinmtent. The ministry which was extremely active in capitals around the world during the nuclear deal is suddenly quiet.  As has the home ministry gone quiet. Six months to go before the elections, what can be done to salvage the votes. While the people of India hold candle vigils across the world, when they are home they junk the saas bahus and watch news channels trying to discuss the aftermath.  The hot issues being discussed are should we attack Pakistan, is Pakistan a terrorist state, is our govt useless, and should the Taj hotel be nominated as a wonder of the world.  Ok I admit, I made up the last one.  I don’t know how agreeing on any of these options saves us.

While the government of Pakistan mounts a foriegn policy operation that would do Georgia proud. Its ambassador in the US gets himself on all shows and defends his country while a year ago all he did was criticise. Are things so different now ? The country that was divided a month ago now unites under the banner of defending against India.There are statements of patriotic Taleban vowing to fight against an Indian aggression. While the country burns from Karachi to Peshawar, they find time to show the middle finger to India. The so called terrorism list that was handed over in 2001 was probably used to serve samosas. And as for handing some people over, don’t we know it is one way traffic with our ministers accompanying men to Kandahar. And then we nicely ask them to hand them back. If only was it so easy ! All this while the people of Pakistan are treated to an India 101. They are told that the incredible India is hounded by Naxalites, Kashmiris, Indian and now and Deccan Mujhaedden. And so they wonder there is actually an India outside of Kashmir and Bollywood.

The US sends its secretary of state to india and a pentagon reprsentative to Pakistan. She makes one big statement, of which India media carries one half and the Pakistani media carries the second and the world media carries the entire story. India rejoices to the fact that she spent a night in India instead of spending a night in Pakistan. Same statements rehashed over and over. India knows it can’t do anything. Pakistan knows tha tIndia can’t do anything and its first priority is Afghanistan and the US is well overstretched to put it mildly.

In India, under the harsh glare of the world those old wrinkles reappear. Someone says that this has become a big issue because the elite are affected. Someone says this has happened as a reaction to the 1993 riots, Babri masjid, bhagalpur, partition , aurangzeb. Someone says this is because of Kashmir and that we are weak state, because we still haven’t brought the accused in the parliament attacks to justice. While the memories of those men and women who died slowly fade as the last of the candles die out.

Will my country see this through. I say yes. But it will need more than one billion candles.