Happy New Year

Happy new year, readers. May 2004 be better than 2003 in every way.

I haven’t been blogging lately. I have been sick, busy and lazy. Also, I am not exactly in a blogging mood. Expect me back when I return to Atlanta on sunday.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, everyone. Enjoy the holidays.

Regularizing Immigration

Via Mark Kleiman and Perverse Access Memory comes this statement from Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has called for millions of illegal immigrants in the United States to be given some sort of legal status short of citizenship, a proposal suggesting that the Bush administration might revive an ambitious legalization plan that was sidetracked after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In comments on Tuesday at a town hall meeting in Miami, Mr. Ridge said, “The bottom line is, as a country, we have to come to grips with the presence of 8 to 12 million illegals, afford them some kind of legal status some way.”

[… He] said the government might consider legalizing the status of illegal immigrants already in the country on a one-time basis.

[…] Mr. Ridge’s spokesman, said, “The secretary acknowledges that we have several million people here illegally, and he understands that for homeland security reasons, at some point in time, there needs to be a better way to identify those who may be a threat to our country.”

[… Mr. Ridge] insisted, however, that the protections would not included citizenship.

I am glad someone has finally noticed our big illegal immigration problem. We have to realize that our immigration system needs a lot of fixing. It is clear that having 8-12 million illegal immigrants is a problem. They form about 3-4% of the US population. We have to do something about it for humanitarian, economic and national security reasons.

I don’t think there is the political will to actually find and deport all those illegal immigrants. Therefore, we have to think of alternate arrangements. Giving them some sort of legal status qualifies as a good idea. I am however conflicted on this since it does sort of reward illegal behavior and it would be bad if we got into this cycle where there was some sort of amnesty for illegal immigrants every few years. But a one time measure along with other measures to discourage illegal immigration (border control, punishing businesses who hire illegals, etc.) would work. As Mark Kleiman points out, employer sanctions might be the best route for enforcement.

Mark Kleiman also points to a news item which says that the Bush administration is thinking of an agricultural workers legalization programme, a la Reagan in 1986.

Musharraf The Savior

Conrad Barwa requested me to write about the assassination attempt on Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf.

A high intensity bomb wrecked the bridge near 10-Corps Headquarters moments after President Musharraf’s motorcade crossed it on Sunday night [Dec 14] while on its way to Army House from Chaklala airport, security sources said.

The device, which had been fitted beneath the Lai bridge (Ammar chowk), exploded with a big bang at around 7.15pm – about seven seconds after the last vehicle of the presidential convoy passed over it. The last vehicle was occupied by the DSP Security, the sources said.

I obviously don’t know any more than what’s in the news, but I am a bit skeptical of Musharraf’s timelines ever since his timeline for his 1999 coup which didn’t make much sense to me.

I don’t have much to say about the assassination attempt, but there are some related issues on which I think American opinion gets it all wrong.

Also, there has been news about Pakistani nuclear cooperation with Iran, Libya and North Korea which has brought forth the same sort of uninformed commentary in the blogosphere.

The Talking Dog, like most American bloggers, wishes to keep Musharraf because

Musharaff may be one of the few things standing between Islamist nuts gaining the reins of Pakistan, and its… nuclear weapons.

I am somewhat misrepresenting the Talking Dog here with this excerpt, so you should read his post and the comments. But it does represent a general opinion that Musharraf is the only one keeping Pakistan from becoming an Islamist1 state.

This impression is terribly wrong. I’ll admit that I don’t like General Pervez Musharraf [Disclosure: I voted against him in the referendum in April 2003]. I first noticed him during the Kargil fiasco. Amber’s and my considered opinion then was that Musharraf should have been court-martialled over that. In October 1999, Musharraf overthrew the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif [Disclosure: We had voted for his party as the least bad option in 1997]. He thus followed in the footsteps of General Ayub Khan (1958-1969), General Yahya Khan (1969-1971) and General Zia-ul-Haq (1977-1988). As you can see, the military has been in power in Pakistan for 28 of the 56 years of Pakistan’s existence. The Pakistani military is sometimes called the only effective institution in Pakistan. It is nationalist and realist but with somewhat grand ambitions and a hand in everything in Pakistan: politics, business, even sports bodies and even the drug trade during Zia years.

Contrary to popular perception, Pakistan has a number of civic institutions and a much better political atmosphere than most Muslim countries. It also has numerous secular parties on the left and the right. Most people think the religious alliance (Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal or MMA) is the only opposition to Musharraf, but there are also the parties of the two former Prime Ministers, Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N and Benazir Bhutto’s PPP. They are both part of the anti-Musharraf alliance, ARD (Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy). PML-N got about the same number of votes (with a lot less seats because of first-past-the -post system) and PPP was second to the ruling PML-Q in the last election in number of seats but got more votes.

Considering the last election, it is clear that the religious alliance MMA (more specifically its component JUI) won big only in the Pashtun areas of NWFP and Baluchistan. This gave them a majority in the NWFP and a plurality in Baluchistan. This win was possible because of a number of reasons:

  1. The US attack on Afghanistan was unpopular among the Pathans/Pashtuns.
  2. The electoral decimation of the Pashtun nationalist parties which had held the balance with the religious parties.
  3. Musharraf’s efforts to keep his two major opponents, Sharif and Bhutto, out of power.
  4. The public’s dissatisfaction with both Sharif and Bhutto who had been in power twice each, but never completed a term.

You might notice that Baluchistan and NWFP are the two smaller provinces. Punjab is the largest one in population with about 60% 55.63% of Pakistan’s population. The religious parties did not do too well there, though they did win a few urban seats. These seats were won not by JUI but mostly by Jamaat-e-Islami which is the party founded by Maudoodi.

Overall, I don’t see any scenario other than “clash of civilizations” where the religious parties could become the major party/alliance in Pakistani politics.

Regarding some Islamist army officer seizing power in a coup against Musharraf, I have mentioned before that this is not a plausible scenario. The army in Pakistan might be crazy but they do speak with one voice. Every military coup in Pakistan was engineered by the army chief and was helped by the corp commanders (The general commanding 10 Corps is the most important since that is based in Rawalpindi, right next to the capital Islamabad).

Let us check Pakistani history. Other than the successful coups, there have been a few allegations of coup plans. The first one I know of was the Rawalpindi conspiracy case in 1950 (?). It involved Faiz Ahmed Faiz, a very good poet, and some others including a retired Major General. It was said to be communist-inspired. Another one was a plan in the 1970s by some junior military officers to overthrow Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. They were caught and jailed but later pardoned by General Zia, the army chief, who overthrew Bhutto some time later. Finally, there were the arrests and trials of some Islamist officers, including a Major General and a Brigadier, during Benazir Bhutto’s rule. One thing is common in all these cases: They were more like talk than actual plans or attempts. I am pretty sure that no coup attempts by junior army officers, whether they are Islamist or secular, are likely to happen any time soon.

Going back to the Talking Dog:

My point is simply that, as a dictator, he most assuredly has NOT left an orderly succession plan in place if he is knocked off. As such, what would happen had been killed is entirely unpredictable, with a number of potentially unthinkable outcomes. Sure— the likely result is that some senior military guy would take over. But that’s just it: its up in the air.

But, but if you knew Pakistani history, you wouldn’t say such a thing. See there was this guy, General Zia-ul-Haq, ruling Pakistan when I was growing up. He overthrew Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in July 1977 and had him hanged after a murder trial. In 1985, after party-less elections, he brought in a parliament and a hand-picked Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Junejo. Then in May 1988, Zia sent Junejo and the national and provincial assemblies packing under a provision of the constitution that he had amended. The Senate, being a permanent body, still existed. Then fate intervened and Zia died in a plane crash on Aug 17, 1988 along with Gen Akhtar Abdur Rahman (the ex-head of ISI) and a host of other senior officers and the US ambassador and military attachee. There were two options: Either the military could take over under Vice Army Chief Gen Aslam Beg or under the constitutional rules of succession the senate chairman would become acting President. Gen Beg decided not to take over and Ghulam Ishaq Khan became President. Khan, Beg and the ISI did do a lot of intrigue etc. but elections were held a couple of months later and democracy, though corrupt and somewhat clipped, came back to Pakistan after 11 years.

BTW, do you know that no government in Pakistan after Zia has completed its term? Every single one was dispatched by the President or the army chief (in 1999). This was done under Article 58-2(b), a stupid idea introduced by General Zia.

Here are Ikram Saeed’s comments in this Matt Yglesias post which are pertinent to this post.

I am seriously puzzled by puzzlement here. Pakistan has regularly been a democracy, and has many democratic (and secular) parties. It also has a strong civil society movement (Shehri — an urban renewal society, the Edhi foundation, the various Human Rights Committies of Hena Jilani and friends, many more).

The solution is quite simple — push for democracy and an end to the military domination of the state. Unlike most Islamic countries, Pakistan has an electoral record of rejecting religious parties (the JI, JUI, and JUP win few seats in the most important provinces of Punjab and Sindh). In fact, Islamist parties usually make the most gains in times of military dictatorship.

As for the trope that Pakistani’s have been indoctrinated to hate the US — I think you need only look at the mass of Pakistanis illegally immigrating to the US. Pakistan is as anti-American as Noam Chomsky (whose post-911 lecture in Islamabad was oversubscribed).

Anyway. There are plenty of Enlgish language media in Pakistan. Much of it is relatively uncensored. And the US and Canadian press cover it fairly well. Barry Bearak had good NYT Magazine story recently, and anything by John Stackhouse is excellent. (And if you only trust news from blog, there are many of them too —religious, secular, gay, straight.)

The Pakistani army is primarily realist and nationalist, not religious. It has been called the only effective institution in Pakistan (though I would argue the army contributed to making other institutions ineffective). It sees its role as safeguarding the interests of the state.

The one big religious gambit of the PK army, the Talibs, were really a realist measure. The PK state demanded a stable Afghanistan, for geostrategic and pipeline reasons. Godliness was an incidental benefit. Now that the US has made clear that overt godliness is verboten, the PK army will work within the new parameters both within and outside the country.

So if Mush-man fell, he would be replaced by another senior General, who would safeguard Pakistani ‘interests’ the way the military always has. (And PK has a disciplined army — coups are always lead by the most senior personnel. No Master-Sargeant dictators here.)

Pakistan has a lot of problems, best encapsulated by the description I once heard: “Pakistan has too many billionaires for such a poor country”. In my view, though Zack may disagree, at some point in the future, a mass revolution is possible. People are just too poor and the economy is too bad for the present situation to continue. To forestall that, the country’s institutions must be more responsive, and to me, this means democratic.

But an ISI rogue coup? Not going to happen. It is unPakistani.

I agree mostly. Regarding a mass revolution, I am not sure. I have gone back and forth on this quite a few times. Currently, I think it won’t happen. The reason is that enough good happens in Pakistan to keep it from falling apart completely. Also, some of the political frustrations of the people are released in some sort of democracy now and then.

UPDATE: You might want to read an NY Times Magazine article on Pakistan (here’s a free link).

But if elected governments have been disappointing, military ones have been disastrous. And the eventual bridge to cross is more than Musharraf. It is the army itself — and its dominance, whether onstage or behind the scenes. Some way or another, Musharraf’s time will pass. The great fear in the West has been that the next general will be much harder to deal with, someone with a long beard and no taste for whisky. But the greater likelihood is that after Musharraf simply comes another Musharraf, a slightly different model but still a man with the same loyalty to military pre-eminence.

Continue reading “Musharraf The Savior”


It seems like I have got that martian flu that’s doing the rounds right now. The only place I can think of where I could have gotten it from is PhotoDude. But flu viruses can’t travel through cyberspace, can they?

I’ll be back when I am better.

UPDATE (12/20 7:49pm): I am feeling much better. Still feeling tired flu-like but no fever since morning. This is the strangest flu I have ever had. Hope it’s gone.

Embargo on Editing

Via Through the Looking Glass, I found out some news about my own backyard (IEEE). I know the news is old (October/November timeframe), but this is my weblog and I never promised timely coverage of news and events.

As you might know, the US has sanctions in place against several countries and organizations. Among the countries embargoed, there are Libya, Cuba, Iran and Sudan. The sanctions are monitored by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in the US Treasury Department.

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) publishes a lot of the journals and organizes a lot of the conferences that we Electrical Engineers use. They found out about how the sanctions regime affected them only recently.

Ironically, IEEE became aware of OFAC just before 9/11. IEEE staff were first alerted when the organization tried to pay for expenses related to the International Symposium on Telecommunications, a meeting that IEEE cosponsored in Tehran in the summer of 2001. “Our bank notified us—-Do you realize this isn’t allowed—-and we started looking at the regulations carefully,” Adler recalls.

Here are the services that IEEE cannot provide to its members in embargoed countries.

  • Access to editorial services related to publishing in journals.
  • Access to Web and e-mail alias accounts, online job listings.
  • Discounts on meeting registration fees.
  • Eligibility for awards and elevation of membership.
  • Use of IEEE logo and name to promote meetings and other activities.

I am not going to argue whether the overall idea of sanctions is a good one or not. I think there are times when it works, for example in South Africa, and times when it doesn’t work, like in Cuba.

What I find strange is the sort of stuff IEEE is not allowed to do, as compared with what is allowed, for members in embargoed countries. You would have to construct a really strange scenario in which the comments of journal editors and reviewers would affect things materially for the sanctioned country. Realize that, for example, Iranian members can publish papers in IEEE journals, but the review and editing process is not allowed. The result is that very few papers from those countries would be published, but in the end those papers which could be published as-is would be.

On 30 September, the U.S. Treasury Department (Washington, D.C.) informed the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) that it must continue to limit members’ rights in four countries embargoed by the United States: Cuba, Iran, Libya, and Sudan. The ruling means, among other things, that the IEEE, the world’s largest engineering association (and the publisher of this magazine), cannot edit articles submitted by authors in those countries, making it effectively impossible for most such work to appear in IEEE publications.

If IEEE wishes to edit and publish the work, the Treasury Department informed IEEE, it will need to apply for a special license. That ruling could in turn have far-reaching consequences for hundreds of other U.S.-based scholarly publishers and professional organizations.

[…]In his letter to IEEE, OFAC director R. Richard Newcomb stated that “U.S. persons may not provide the Iranian author substantive or artistic alterations or enhancement of the manuscript, and IEEE may not facilitate the provision of such alterations or enhancements.” Such enhancements include “reordering of paragraphs or sentences, correction of syntax or grammar, and replacement of inappropriate words.”

The members in sanctioned countries also cannot get web access to journals or conference proceedings, but can get printed versions of the same. What exactly does that accomplish other than a delay of a month or two and the inconvenience of print as opposed to digital? I should also note that quite a lot of papers are available online at author’s websites etc.

I did some original reporting for this post as well. Actually, it involved talking to my Iranian friend(s). They are obviously pissed off at this and a lot of the members in Iran have left IEEE as a result.

In January 2002, when the IEEE first imposed its restrictions, it had over 1700 members in the embargoed countries, nearly all of them in Iran; only about 200 are still members. IEEE has about 380,000 members worldwide.

Also, since my Iranian friends are in the US now, they don’t fall under this sanctions regime and can do all this neat stuff that was prohibited to them when they were in Iran. it also seems that the prohibitions are country-specific, so let’s say a Britisher in Cuba would have the same restrictions.

What I also find strange is the cavalier attitude of the government departments entrusted with enforcing these sanctions. IEEE only found out about the sanctions in summer 2001. I am pretty sure that the embargoes have been there longer. Other professional organizations are following other prohibited items lists of their own or not.

Although the IEEE is drawing heat for observing the sanctions, in fact the rules would apply to any professional society having exchanges with embargoed countries. An informal survey of a half-dozen other science and engineering organizations found wide variation in their compliance, and familiarity, with the sanctions. For example, one group refused to send any publications to embargoed countries but did allow researchers living there to publish in its journals. Another group said it placed no restrictions on members living in embargoed countries, but its online membership form did not allow Libya or Cuba to be selected as one’s country of residence.

And finally, I know a lot of Iranian students, professors and researchers working in sensitive fields in the US. Wouldn’t that be more problematic than an IEEE email alias? It would, if sanctions regimes were rational.

The Return of the King

We drove more than 2 hours yesterday in late rush hour New York traffic to New Rochelle to watch The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Seeing the movie on an IMAX was definitely worth it.

As Teresa Nielsen Hayden writes, it is one “swell movie.” The battle scenes were better than Helm’s Deep. The Shelob felt very realistic and Eowyn kicked ass. There was no Saruman and no scouring of the Shire, but that is understandable given the length of the movie (3 hours 21 minutes). The movie does continue until almost the very end of the books which is something that I liked.

The trilogy together probably makes for one of the best movies of all time in my opinion. Among the three movies, I would rate ROTK as the best. I can’t wait to see the extra footage in the extended edition next year.

Now, it’s time for some small nitpicks.

  • Arwen sucked. I couldn’t get her extended role in the movies as compared to the books. It probably was to give a romantic sidekick as well as motivation to take up royal heritage for Aragorn.
  • The extended edition of The Two Towers explains the reasons Faramir took Frodo and Sam to Gondor, a deviation from the book. However, looking at the overall portrayal of Faramir in the movies, it does not have the same contrast from Boromir that the books had. I am still not sure if it was the best thing to do.
  • Gimli is the comic relief for the movies. This diminishes his character somewhat. However, I do understand that a long movie like this one might need some laughs and Gimli seemed to be the most well-suited of the main characters.

My award for the most interesting character (in all kinds of ways) goes to Gollum/Smeagol, played by Andy Serkis. The graphics, the dialogues, etc. related to Gollum were all extremely fascinating.

Moth Smoke

Moth Smoke : A Novel is, I think, Mohsin Hamid’s first book. It is a tale of an educated middle-class guy Dara Shikoh1 who goes from a banker to a drug addict and criminal. It is a story about drugs, sex, corruption and betrayal.

Mohsin Hamid writes well and could become a great Pakistani author of fiction in English. However, in Moth Smoke, his characters lack some complexity. They are more one-dimensional than I would like. Mohsin does present parts of the story from the point of view of the different characters, but that doesn’t work as well as it should.

What this novel is not is a documentary of Pakistani urban life. Some reviewers on Amazon think this novel will provide them an insight into Pakistan. No single book, fiction, or non-fiction, can do that. The book certainly does show a side of Pakistan: drugs, sex and corruption among the elite, for example. However, it is a work of fiction and should be taken as such.

Here are a few other reviews:

Continue reading “Moth Smoke”

Saddam Captured

It is definitely good news for the Iraqis. Their future is still uncertain, but a brutal thug of a dictator is now completely out of the picture. Like I said before, one of the positive outcomes of this war was the removal of Saddam. I started out as anti-war because that’s my default position. I believe war is rarely justified and always the last option. However, just before the war started, I flirted with the idea of supporting it because of Saddam. In the end, I couldn’t bring myself to trust the Bush administration on this.

Brian Ulrich captures my sentiments on the news of Saddam’s capture.

Today, the United States military captured one of the worst dictators of the 20th century. He was dug out of a pit on a farm near Tikrit. So much for the man who killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to stay in power, not to mention starting wars of aggression that killed hundreds of thousands more. Say what you will about President Bush’s ultimate intentions in Iraq, but no regime we install will be as bad as Saddam Hussein, and if we play our cards right, when future generations look back they will see this as another example of the U.S. acting in the world as a force for good.

Juan Cole recounts Saddam Hussein’s many atrocities.

I remembered the innocent Jews brutally hung in downtown Baghdad when the Baath came to power in 1968; the fencing with the Shah and the Kurds in the early 1970s; the vicious repression of the Shiites of East Baghdad, Najaf and Karbala in 1977-1980; the internal Baath putsch of 1979, when perhaps a third of the party’s high officials were taken out and shot, so that Saddam could become president; the bloody invasion of Iran in 1980 and the destruction of a whole generation of Iraqi and Iranian young men in the 1980s (at least 500,000 dead, perhaps even more); the Anfal poison gas campaign against the Kurds in 1987-88; Halabja, a city of 70,000 where 5,000 died where they stood, their blood boiling with toxic gases, little children lying in heaps in the street; the rape of Kuwait in 1990-91; the genocide against the Shiites that began in spring of 1991 and continued intermittently thereafter; the destruction of the Marsh Arabs; the assassinations, the black marias, the Fedayee Saddam.

I hope that Saddam is tried by an Iraqi or international court and given the worst possible sentence for his crimes.

Patisserie Recommendations

It’s snowing here and all I can think of is some nice French pastry.

I am looking for some real good patisserie recommendations in New York city. Something to remind us of our trip to France last year.

POSTSCRIPT: I am looking for a patisserie, not a French restaurant with good dessert, preferably in Manhattan. Can any New York city bloggers help?