January 4, 2010

...but I have no fear

The president of Pakistan tells Seymour Hersh why his army won't do anything silly with nuclear weapons:

Our Army officers are not crazy, like the Taliban. They're British-trained. Why would they slip up on nuclear security?

Not entirely convincing, given that every military coup in Pakistan's history has been led by a British-trained general. Worse still if you start to wonder precisely which tips they might have picked up:

...until they were retired in 1998, the RAF's nuclear bombs were armed by turning a bicycle lock key. There was no other security on the bomb itself.

Meanwhile Bruce Sterling has started his annual state of the world interview, an open Q&A which he concocts a grotesque (but plausible) interpretation of the zeitgeist. Always brilliant, it's especially entertaining this year because his contrarian instincts compel him to be optimistic while everybody else is full of gloom. So far, he's completely failing.

June 4, 2008

Gated Communities

Bangalore's government has an excellent solution to the social problem of gated communities: simply abolish them by fiat.

It is noticed that several layouts within the old BMP area and the erstwhile CMC area have established barricade preventing entry of vehicles and pedestrians and have also put up boards mentioning that entry is restricted.. They have even posted guards to prevent people from using the road. Such layouts generally call themselves as "Gated community". It is hereby brought to the public notice that under the Town and Country Planning Act, there is no such concept of a "Gated Community". Once when any layout is formed, the roads in the said layout automatically come under the jurisdiction of the respective municipal corporation the general public has free access to use the roads within the layout. Hence, establishing barricades and preventing general public from using the internal road of a layout is against the law.

It makes me sad that this kind of thing is unimaginable in Europe or the US.

[via the sarai urban-study list]

January 3, 2008

Sterling on Pakistan

Bruce Sterling:

Pakistan could very easily smash to bloody pieces in 2008. If it does, nobody anywhere is gonna try and stitch Pakistan back together. Pakistan has a bigger population than Russia. It is just too big for any of the other power-players to handle. So if it ignites, it'll burn.

I'm not entirely convinced - China benefits from Pakistan's existence, and a breakup of Pakistan would be '47-scale messy. But it's well-placed cynicism, nonetheless.

November 21, 2006

When Hu meets Musharraf

When Hu Jintao finishes in India, he's going to move on to Pakistan. Below the cut is a quick summary of what he's going to be talking about with Musharraf.

Continue reading "When Hu meets Musharraf" »

November 9, 2006

How Pakistan wins in Central Asia

Pakistan is quietly setting itself up to do very well out of Central Asia, slightly underneath the radar. Despite being a significant power it itself, militarily and population-wise, Pakistan's playing the typical game of the small state. It's piggybacking on the aspirations of China, America, and even India, being bankrolled and supported by them without ever quite becoming a client state.

China and the oil

China is famously desperate for oil, and Pakistan is doing well by helping it get at what's in Central Asia. At the core of this is Gwadar, a fishing village that Pakistan is furiously turning into a port and transport hub - funded by over $400m of Chinese money. It might be a grim place to visit, but it's also the site of a fascinating convergence of superpowers.

Remember the oil pipeline through Afghanistan - the one some people claimed was behind the US invasion of Afghanistan? That was going to end up in Gwadar - and still will, if it ever goes ahead. It might end up being extended at both ends, to Azerbaijan and India, with Pakistan sitting happily in the middle taking transit fees. If that pipeline doesn't come off (building anything through Afghanistan seems pretty dubious), there's another one waiting in the wings: the Iran-Pakistan-India gas route - which would again go through Gwadar.

China has been considering building another pipeline on from Gwadar into China - and even if that doesn't happen, they'll be able to ship oil out by sea. Meanwhile the Chinese are building one railway to connect Gwadar to the Karakoram Highway, have already built a road linking it to Karachi, and are looking at linking it to Iran.

So, China gets a little more energy security, Pakistan gets road, railways, a new port, earnings from transit fees, and Chinese interest in keeping Pakistan stable.

America and the Taliban

Then there's America - an even clearer case of Pakistan selling off its foreign policy, but getting a good proce for it. In September 2001 Musharraf managed to spin Pakistan's foreign policy 180 degrees, abandon the Taliban, and let the American army use Pakistan to invade Afghanistan. And boy, were they rewarded - with money, with weapons, with a trade deal and with general support for the regime.


Pakistan can't use quite the same approach to dealing with its greatest enemy - but even here there are pragmatic elements. It's just that here Pakistan's deal-makers are competing with the populists and the nationalists, and they only come out on top some of the time.

Let's take the populists first. India-bashing always goes down well, and if there's an election coming up the politicians will say some nasty things about India. But this isn't all that important: sometimes politicians get boxed in by their rhetoric and forced to do something, sometimes talking tough affects the situation by itself - but in general, the grandstanding doesn't amount to much.

More important is the body of nationalistic, paranoid, anti-Indian opinion which dominates Pakistans army and intelligence services. These are the people who got Pakistan involved in supporting the Taliban to provide 'Strategic Depth' - that is, having friendly space for Pakistan's army to regroup in the face of an attack from India, and avoiding India and her allies encircling Pakistan. These people get nervous when they see India stationing a dozen MiG-29 fighter planes in Tajikistan

But then there's the third group, who want to cut the same kind of deal with India as they've made with China and the US. That is, let India use Pakistan as a route to Central Asia (and Iran, in this case), and on the back of that get money and an Indian interest in keeping Pakistan stable. The big avenue for this is a proposed gas pipeline running from Iran to India, through Pakistan. From that idea, it's only a short step to getting India a share of what comes off any pipeline between Turkmenistan and Pakistan. When gas is involved, even the arch-enemy can be turned into a friend.

Keeping everybody happy

It's not easy keeping three superpowers in bed together, but Pakistan is navigating through the straits pretty well. The US didn't like the look of China's involvement in Gwadar - they saw it as a listening post and a way for China to project naval power into the Arabian sea. So they leant on Pakistan to push China out of the deal. What did Pakistan do? They raised the price of Chinese involvement, demanding $1.5bn per year from Beijing. So Islamabad turns a conflict into a win: either China coughs up and they're in the money, or they back out and the US takes over Gwadar (which they'd find useful for browbeating Iran and for supplying trops in Iraq) When Pakistan chooses to defy the superpowers, it can, because every power involved has an interest in propping up the Musharraf government. Most obviously, the US is still relying on their support in the War on Terror. But nobody wants to see a nuclear power in civil war, and both China and (especially) India know that a disintegrating Pakistan is infinitely worse than a stable Pakistan.

Going it alone?

Apart from being everybody's accomplice, is Pakistan getting involved in Central Asia? Well, they've tried a little, but not enough for anybody to care much. According to RAND:

In the early 1990s, many Pakistani firms and the Bank of Pakistan moved into the region expecting rapid liberalization and acceptance of their services. After attempting to conduct business in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan for several years, many firms re-sorted to looking for an exit strategy.1

Pakistan's government has made a few attempts at promoting business in Central Asia, but it's mostly trivia. In 2003-4, Pakistan's exports to Central Asia and the Caucasus amounted to just 1.2bn rupees - or slightly over US$20m!

There's no much worth mentioning militarily, either: Pakistan's army may be the 7th largest in the world, but it's pointed entirely at India. The ISI (Pakistan's intelligence service) reputedly has agents all over the region, but they don't exactly do a great deal. In the past they were accused of stirring up Islamist movements in Uzbekistan and elsewhere, but that was mostly a by-product of what was happening in Afghanistan - and has stopped since 2001 in any case. It doesn't matter much, because Pakistan is doing far better from helping superpowers than it could do by itself.