From the short-lived euphoria of a recent graduate

May 21, 2006

Coming to think of it, those times of regularly updating Safrang may have had something to do with blogging being more exciting than doing schoolwork! No, I am not yet in the used-to-profusion-catchphrase ‘Real world’ to be too busy to post. Just that I am being generally lazy, living up the life of a recent college graduate, catching up on sleep, reading Number 9 Dream, voraciously consuming hollywood (most recently United 93 in theatre, Capote on DVD), listening to everything from Jagjit Singh to Jethro Tull, shooting (mostly photos of a beautiful lake by the house), being with friends and family, and going to one lavish Afghan wedding ceremony. All those promises made to myself while doing schoolwork and preparing for exams till late at night and somehow still managing to regularly post here that Safrang shall never go un-updated again?
Such inconsistency, such lack of loyalty.
But I am genuinely touched by your consistency, the kind visitor here. Thank you for the regular visits and the kind messages (which I hope to reply in another post.) It all encourages me to return and update. Somehow I feel like I owe it to however small a number of people who happen by here to let you know what befell me since last, and yes, to share how I internalize events and occurences in our common reality. For now I am still in that honeymoon stage, the short-lived euphoria of a recent college graduate.
Oh, and here is the evidence. (Yes, that is a pin of Afghanistan’s flag, also appearing to my right in the picture above taken on campus -wanted to make sure everyone understood that I hail from the war-torn place, shall return to it, and wish that my small achievements will one day hopefully contribute to the prosperity of its people.)

In for a heartbreak

May 12, 2006

Speaking of Temporary Autonomous Zones…

The Times reported that 80 members of a primitive Amazonian tribe named Nukak-Makú left their ancestral way of life to join the modern world.

No, they did not leave a jungle.
They just entered one.

“Welcome to the jungle!
It gets worse here everyday
Ya learn to live like an animal
In the jungle where we play
Welcome to the jungle
Watch it bring you to your shu n,n,n,n,n,n knees, knees
It’s gonna bring you down!
Ha! “
-Guns n’ Roses, Welcome to the Jungle

The Nakuk-Makú are reportedly unfamiliar with the concepts of money, property, government, and the future. One thinks that they should have weighed the decision to join civilization more critically. Maybe they sould have consulted with a more insightful diagnostician of our modern maladies, S. Freud and his Civilization and its Discontents. Or with Hakim Bey and his Temporary Autonomous Zone, just to get a sense of why there are ample and good reasons to be doing precisely the opposite. As a doctor who has been working with them put it, “The Nukak don’t know what they’ve gotten themselves into.”

An editorial in today’s Times said:
“The Nukak have every right to make this decision for themselves. But it’s hard to escape the feeling that their self-sustaining existence — which went almost entirely unnoticed by the rest of the world — was holding something open for us, something that has now been lost.”

What a heartbreak.

Hamesha Replies

May 12, 2006

Sorry for not replying your TAZ question earlier. I did not mean to leave your question unanswered; just that I am not sure about my answer. But I see that it has upset you, so I will try to describe how I feel about Hakim Bey.
Ever since reading some of his aphorisms and quotes and then a bio of Hakim Bey somewhere, I was intrigued by his ideas. I was especially intrigued by what I understood to be his insolence in subverting certain aspects of mystical Islam (I hope I have not misunderstood this point.) Many in the fundamentalist and even mainstream Islam regard Sufism a heresy and dervishes are persecuted with impunity and sanction (as recently as last month in Iran.) Hakim Bey’s potent blend of mystical Islam, anarchism, and neopaganism makes for a consistent and total rejection of all that people take serious today and are uptight about and are willing to kill and die for, wether in the West or the Muslim world.
Though I do not have the guts for his brand of poetic terrorism (of course I don’t, my most recent attempt at poetic expression of angst attracted reproach -not to say that it was niether poetic, nor expressive), within the sphere of my own privacy I find the concept of TAZ very liberating. Out in the society? No… horrors no! hell no!
Coming from a background of social censorship, parental intrusiveness, and overall widespread religious hypocrisy (ریاکاری) that plagues Muslim societies wherever I have lived (Afghanistan, Pakistan, even the US -actually more so here) you long for such liberation, and when you find them in Nietzsche, in Hafez, in Hakim Bey, you feel fulfilled. I find that in conceptualizing TAZ (and more generally in conceptualizing ontological anarchy) Hakim Bey borrows from and builds on Sufism, Hafez, Nietzsche, Nasir Khusrow, and on the the poet-Ayyar and Rend (عیاران و رندان) (sorry, no equivalent concept in English) of yesteryear’s Khurasan, and it fills me with an unbearable nostalgia and and an intolerable sorrow. I guess I just see Hakim Bey as the last member of an endangered (or long-extinct) species of men who saw the world as a different domain than what it has become, and he recommends temporary autonomous zones as a remedy and a way to turn your small corner of it (in the real or virtual world) into what you want it to be. While poilitical anarchism of the sort that breeds political parties and quarterly newsletters and metro-handouts and punk t-shirts and satiates sophomoric rage repulses me (god forbid if this is precisely what I myself am guilty of), the Ayyar attitude of Hakim Bey is attractive to me in its maturity and sense of tragedy.
Maybe I have completely misunderstood Hakim Bey. Maybe how I see all of this has to do more with what I want to see rather than with what is out there. In which case, I beg of you to not disturb my illusion, I’d rather live with Hakim Bey the mythical figure of my own imagination then.

Thanks mate for the infusion of masculine shame and pride and that Ghayrat غیرت افغانی that only we understand. It keeps me in check. If not for the homophobia and shame that regulates social interaction in Afghanistan (and really everywhere) some of us sentimental types may even come close to expressing ourselves. What horrors!
But I honestly admire your goal of outraging the Afghan sensibility. Your methods (mixing…) may be a bit extreme, but not to worry, as an English blogger you have little chance of reaching your real audiences. I know, I know, it still helps just to think it does. Yes, too many Aflogs are cliche but I recommend visiting some of the Farsi blogs on my blogroll. Hatif’s is always a delight.

Thank you. You understood without judgement.
And the fact that you were the only female visitor who did makes me think that Slug may have a point after all!

Scream فریاد

May 12, 2006

Scream فریاد
Originally uploaded by Hamesha’s Afghanistan.

I feel suffocated.
This blog was to serve merely as an outlet, and I feel that it has graudatelly evolved into something less (or more) than merely an outlet.
This is NOT good.
I opened this under an alias, hoping to express whatever I want. Hoping to scream, if that is how I feel like. I tried to note it on the blog so that I do not forget and others do not expect otherwise: “occasional outlet for existential angst.”
But I feel inhibited now.
What am I to do now?
Open another blog, under another alias?
Until gradually there too I lapse into a routine, a set of expectations, a set of inhibitions, and then I will have to open yet another blog under yet another alias.
Why do we feel the need to hide? Why alias? Is it just me? Only I am ashamed of laying bare my inner self at its most rotten?
My friends, globalvoices readers, muddville gazette readers: sorry to disappoint. Sorry to be distasteful. Sorry to insult your kind presence here.
I need to scream…
But what about?
I don’t know. I cannot name it.
Or, what is more likely, after all of this, I am still not able to do it. I feel inhibited, suffocated.
That’s it. I am opening another blog, reserved for nothing but pure existential angst, and I am not going to write its address here.
You may safely expect another Afghanistan/current affairs/etc. etc. -related post here by next week.
Or maybe not.
I am graduating soon, my exams are over, and this blog, which comes to life only spasmodically and only when I have tons of schoolwork to do, will dwindle and die. We will see.

Rambling Lolita in Tehran

May 8, 2006

(a much denser version than Nabokov’s)

In the first instance of personal correspondence at the level of heads of state between the two countries since 1979, on Monday President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran sent a letter to the American President George Bush.
After being briefed on the contents (no, he did not read it) Dubya found it of little interest and has shrugged it off .

The letter, which is 18 pages long, is reportedly riddled with “history, philosophy, and religion”.

My question is…

…what was Ahmadinejad thinking?


As for Ahmadinejad, he has outdone himself yet again in eccentricity and disdain for the conventions and pretenses that define diplomatic protocol.

I would like to think what lies ahead:

Mr. Ahmadinejad goes to Washington!

(and catches Bush by surprise in the Oval Office, whereupon he performs his favorite trick on him:)


Speaking of which…

Wouldn’t the two leaders make perfect …uhm…buddies? Think of it: the two rival each other in their love of simplicity, lack of concern for pomp and formalism, unpretentiousness, and straightforward, down-to-earth attitude.

My God! That’s it! Imagine the possibilities! As the late John Lennon would sing:

Imagine all the leaders,

kissin’ and makin’ love…

You may say I’m a rantin’

and maybe you are right.

But let me say this first: we can be sure that finally a d’etente would be at hand on this whole nuclear issue.

Well, there is no guarantee that in that case the French will not declare a war, but everyone knows that they would surrender soon.

Ok, I will stop here.


This had to happen…

May 6, 2006

For years now Indian-Americans have outdone themselves. From elementary school spelling bee contests to senior level government and corporate positions, and everything else in between, Indians have demonstrated that they have got the Touch of Madras.
Over-achievement has become the norm, and a damaging spirit of ethnic competitiveness -albeit unspoken and implicit- has been exerting undue pressures on the younger generation (some of whom fit well in the aptly named category ABCD: American-Born Confused Desi).
Had it gone unnoticed, the case of the second-generation Indian teenager-cum-novelist Kavyaa Viswanathan would have only raised the bar farther. Financial Express reported recently:

“Little Brown & Company, a respected 109-year-old publishing house offered Kaavya a $500,000 two-book deal with the first one to be out next spring titled How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got In. Considering that first-time writers get $10,000, Kaavya sure made a killing.” (more)

But it did not go unnoticed, large sections of the paper were shown to have bene plagiarised, and Kavyaa Viswanathan got busted. Thankfully so, as a fellow Indian-American explains in an open letter to Kavyaa:

“Dear Kaavya Viswanathan, …as one Indian-American to another, I say thank you. I have to confess to a sneaking sense of relief when Opal Mehta’s life came crashing down around you. It’s not schadenfreude. It’s just this relief that finally we can fail, that we can screw up spectacularly and live to tell the tale.
Only we Indian-Americans know it’s hard out there for an overachieving Indian-American. It was bad enough that we were the anointed model minority. Now we are expected to excel at everything we do. We are the first-class first minority. ‘Doesn’t anyone’s kid ever come
second in anything anymore?’…”

I only hope that this is not the end of everything for young Kavyaa. Great expectatios and tremendous pressure from all sides -parents, ethnic community, society- led her to take an extreme measure. She paid dearly for it and hopefully learned. Let’s not go for any sort of overkill here. You hear me Harvard?!

The Failing State in a State of Denial

May 6, 2006
(Published at Chowk)

THE RECENT RELEASE by two US think-tanks of the second annual Failed States Index seems to have stirred strong passions in the Pakistani intillegentsia and blogger community. Using 12 social, economic, and political indicators, the index lists Pakistan as one of the top 10 at-risk states, with a score higher than that of Afghanistan! Now that is serious cause for distress among Pakistanis, from the general down to the layman.
One of the country’s leading papers, the Daily Times, responded on May 4th with a contradictory polemic that dismisses the rankings at the same time as it gives very good reasons for why Pakistan should have scored so high. The editorial, defiantly titled Failed State? What Failed State? starts in a dismissive tone:

“Needless to say, it is always insulting to hear that the state you are living in is doomed to ‘failure'”

“Being placed next to some countries in Africa whose population would migrate to
Pakistan given a chance is not a pleasant experience.”

While the bitterness is understandable in light of the injury to the Pakistani national pride that the ranking has caused, the condescending tone of this comment is particularly disturbing.

However, after this initial venting of indignation the editorial dives into explaining, rather convincingly, why Pakistan is a top failed state:

“Pakistan’s largest province Balochistan, forming over 40 percent of the state’s territory, is without a proper policing system… The next ‘buffer area’ that Pakistan has retained includes the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), an area of about 27,000 square miles with a population of over three million living in seven ‘agencies’ the size of one-third of the NWFP but without any law that could give them recourse to the Supreme Court of Pakistan or the parliament in Islamabad… Add to this the 850-kilometre long katcha area in Sindh, from Kashmore to the sea, where the dacoits live and which remains ‘no go’ for the police, and you have more than half of Pakistan without proper writ of the law.”

The bitter truth that many Pakistanis cannot bear to stomach is that their country has fared ill under the current regime. Its 25 place jump in rankings from no. 34 last year to no. 9 this year is one of the sharpest in the overall index. A glance at some of the indicators, and Pakistan’s performance on them, can help clarify this deterioration:

  • Demographic pressures (Pakistan’s score 9.3/10): Troubles in N.Waziristan and Balochistan come to mind. The resurgence of Baloch nationalism and the taking up of arms by the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) is a significant development on this front.
  • Refugees and IDPs (Pakistan’s score 9.3/10): The tragic October earthquake and the paltry response from the government and the international community can explain a paricularly poor performance on this indicator.
  • Group grievance (Pakistan’s score 8.6/10): A combination of the above two factors explains a relatively high score on this indicator.
  • Human Flight (Pakistan’s score 8.1/10): Once again the negative outcomes of the October quake and the displacement of millions contributed to a deterioration on this indicator.
  • Uneven Development (Pakistan’s score 8.9/10): Socio-economic disparity has been a hallmark of Pakistan’s society in recent decades and is bound to remain high in the foreseeable future.
  • Delegimization of the State (Pakistan’s score 8.5/10): With presidential elections scheduled for next year, the opposition -if we are to use such a term in the context of Pakistani politics- has revamped its noise-making machine and has made calls for free and fair elections -calls that have been unequivocally backed by the US. Being in favor with Washington is usually a reliable ampere of overall legitimacy for Pakistani powerholders, and with the Bush administration’s recent overtures to New Delhi on one hand, and nothing but straight talk to Islamabad on the other, things don’t look good on this front.
  • Violation of Human Rights (Pakistan’s score 8.5/10): The damage done by the Mukhtar Mai case (which is a shameful and tragic episode in its own right) and its bringing to light the status of women in Pakistan in general can be expected to have caused a spike in ratings on this indicator.
  • Security Apparatus (Pakistan’s score 9.1/10): Measures whether the army functions as “a state within the state.” Enough said.
  • Rise of Factionalised Elites (Pakistan’s score 9.1/10): In particular the distancing of ISI from some of Musharraf government’s policies in its Waziristan campaigns may have tipped the scales on this one.
  • External Intervention (Pakistan’s score 9.2/10): While still rudimentary in comparison with the tsunami relief, international aid provision and relief efforts seem to have undercut the state’s role as the responder of the first order and the last resort.
  • Other indicators that registered relatively lower scores in the 7-range included Economic Decline (Pakistan’s score 7.0/10) and Public Services Deterioration (Pakistan’s Score 7.5/10). Indeed Pakistani economy has done better under the current government than before, and the country still has a well-educated (although underpaid and corrupt) civil service.

All in all, the state of the Pakistani federation does not look good in 2006. In fact, it may be experiencing one of the bleakest periods of its short history, and the months and years ahead hold much in store for its powerholders and peoples. Such moments of realiation and crisis may represent the punctuated equilibrium that is a normal part of the socio-political evolution of any emerging nation, and Pakistan is a nation where many members of the generation that saw its creation are still living. The residual euphoria of that glory-filled episode which sustained Pakistan for the first few decades of its history -albeit feebly- may be bottoming out, and we are seeing the results. This may explain why so many Pakistanis are in shock and denial about their young nation’s ranking among the world’s most unstable, unviable, and risk-prone states.

There is reason to take heart, however. The Daily Times offers important advise in internalizing the disappointing showing of Pakistan in the Failed States Index:

“The ‘failed state’ list should not become an additional factor in
our general mood of pessimism, nor should we go into our familiar mode of denial
linking the list to a Jewish conspiracy and accusing America of actually wishing
the Muslims dead.”

Good, as long as we are clear on that.

Afghanistan’s New Parliament: Premonitions and Reality

May 5, 2006

Remember those exciting days in the run-up to the parliamentary elections in Afghanistan?
Remember when people were concerned about the parliament’s future make-up?
And about the infamous Single Non-Transferable Voting (SNTV) mechanism that prevented the emergence of viable political parties with real agenda, but that was insisted upon by the country’s Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) ?
And about the independence of the JEMB itself?
And about the process of vetting of candidates with histories of human rights abuses and other crimes?
And remember the embarassment that followed after the voting was over, resulting in weeks of delay in announcing the outcomes, and the dismissal of tens of election workers on charges of fraud and ballot-stuffing?
And remember when people were concerned about the disproportionate strength of the executive vis-a-vis the legislative branch, as laid out in the constitution?
Or about the fact that the new parliament would be a largely symbolic, ceremonial, rubber-stamp, weakened, divided, disorganized assembly of ragtags, warlords, political appointees, and other assorted scoundrels and incompetents?

Well, you don’t reckon those concerns probably meant…

1. That the new parliament would include in its make-up such criminal figures as those who oversaw the massacre of innocent civilians (as documented by the HRW), the indiscriminate shelling of the capital Kabul (as evidenced by one MP’s illustrious last name!), and the barbaric destruction of the Buddhas, as well as other ex-commanders, Taliban figures, and warlords. (Profile of an Infamous Member) and (more on this disappointment)

2. That the parliament would be strong-armed and then completely sidelined in its advise and consent role in cabinet appointments.
When the parliament objected to the position of a “senior minister” on constitutional grounds, the executive just shrugged it off and appointed the minister regardless. It even said that the senior position was open to the prerogatives of the president and that the advise and consent role of the parliament’s was irrelevant in this case! (more on this outrage)

3. That nobody would show up!
It seems that when I wrote a few days back about classes being cancelled on account of the ill-named National Education Day, it was not only the students who thought they had the day off. The speaker of the parliament forgot to tell the MPs that the parliament was in session, and so a mere 20 out of more than 350 MPs showed up to see the session cancelled and a crucial budgetary debate delayed. (more on this embarrassment)

It turns out those concerns were not so baseless after all. Some who just don’t give up on squeezing good PR juice out of it have likened the new parliament to a “newborn baby”. All indications seem to suggest to me that this one must be an awfuly grotesque newborn riddled with deformities.

And all of this, in its first few months…betcha ya ain’t heard the last of this baby!

The Surayanarayana Saga: Curiouser by the Day

May 3, 2006

The Surayanarayana Saga is finding newer twists. It is usually not a good sign when stories like this find a life of their own, and I am getting suspicious that there is more to it than we know. It was not good to begin with. It was tragic, shameful, and barbaric how this Indian telecom worker was held hostage and later beheaded on the highway between Kabul and Kandahar- Taliban remnants claimed responsibility.

What has ensued is a chaotic blame-game: everyone blaming everyone else -India blaming Pakistan, who is blaming both India and Afghanistan, who is blaming Mr. Surayanarayana for being neglectful and not heeding to cautions from the security personnel, who are being blamed for not providing neither security nor precautions.

Add to this the questionable practice of many international agencies in dispatching expats into the dangerzone assorted by skin-tone and country of citizenship -as suggested by expat aid worker and blogger Vasco-Pyjama (who, by the way, is in turn blamed for and has been getting negative reviews for suggesting something so distasteful.)

And to top it all off, the intrigues of a newly exposed marital triangle has engulfed the Suranarayana posterity as a woman and child have come forward to claim part of the compensation for Surayanarayana’s death, thus prompting Mrs. Surayanarayana (the first) to down a bottle of some strong insecticide in a failed attempt to committ suicide.

With the case getting fast out of hand, I guess we all understand how a journalist compatriot of Mr. Surayanarayan felt when -presumably because of the national significance of this story- decided upon an emergency suspension of certain rules of English grammar and reported that “Suryanarayana’s death gets curiouser“.

Sign the Petition about Freedom of Speech on the Israel Lobby

May 1, 2006

I hope this does not overshadow the important question that I have raised in the previous post, but it is also important that I pass the word along on this one.

This is my third post on the subject of Mearsheimer & Walt’s study on the power of the Israel lobby. I posted on the subject at first because I was taken by the authors’ intellectual honesty and courage -given the subject, a rarity in the American ivory tower. Now, however, it is clear that an insidious attempt is underway aiming at character assasination and branding of the two scholars as antisemites.

The intention is clear: to teach a lesson to anyone in the future who would be naive enough to venture off the charted course.

The danger is clear too: that might very well happen, and the American academia will thread even more carefully -and one-sidedly- on this subject. And not only on this subject: this will be a slippery slope that will end only in the academia’s total subjugation to pressure groups and lobbies. (In fact, the situation is already so desperate that Prof. Cole has complained of a general neglect of the petition by academic bloggers.) That state of affairs is something that nobody can afford regardless of what side of any question you are on.

Therefore, it is important that you take about half a minute of your time to sign Prof. Cole’s petition:
“Freedom of Speech on the Israel Lobby”
For some of my fellow blogistanis, here is a summary of Mearsheimer & Walt’s study in Farsi:
سياست خارجي آمريکا زير سايه لابي های اسرائيل

Hijood ?!

May 1, 2006

I was recently censured for saying that this thing looked “rediculous.” While I concede that I should have employed different phrasing such as: funny, silly, hilarious, or buffoonish, my position remains.

Tell me what you think.

Depending on your answers, I will do one or more of the following:
a) Pat my back and say I was right all along,
b) Concede that you have a point, but give you the reasons why I think it looks rediculous,
c) Close down this blog, change my location and I.P. address, be thankful that I wrote this blog under a pseudonym all along, and go into hiding.

No seriously, I would like to know what everybody thinks: