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  • cbarwa 9:33 am on February 16, 2010 Permalink  

    This is interesting, the UK seems to be taking the development of Islamic finance products seriously; though how feasible it is and whether it can really provide a doctrinally sanctioned alternative remains unclear:

    Dubai-based trading company Surgi-Tech has awarded Aston Business School £1.5m ($2.3m) to set up an Islamic Finance and Business Centre at its campus in Birmingham.

    The centre will allow Aston to increase teaching and research into Islamic finance, which has been expanding as Muslims seek alternatives to western finance that are compliant with sharia law.

    • plimfix 9:51 am on February 16, 2010 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      Cf. Financial Services Authority Islamic Finance in the UK: Regulation and Challenges (November 2007)

      • cbarwa 4:42 pm on February 16, 2010 Permalink | Log in to Reply

        Thanks for that plimfix, will make interesting reading.

    • thabet 3:00 am on February 17, 2010 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      The centre will allow Aston to increase teaching and research into Islamic finance, which has been expanding as Muslims seek alternatives to western finance that are compliant with sharia law.

      There are several university departments doing this sort of research. Or, based on what a couple of friends involved in IF tell me, claiming to do research…

  • cbarwa 4:32 pm on February 7, 2010 Permalink

    Bit late to this story, about a US outpost being overrun by the Taliban, which is a little alarming

    Combat Outpost Keating in the Kamdesh District of Nuristan Province, was attacked by insurgent forces on Oct. 3. Because the outpost was located in a deep bowl surrounded by high ground, the attackers were able to pin down defenders and prevent them from using mortars to repel the initial attack. In addition, air support was at least 45 minutes away.

    The insurgents quickly overran the base, entering the perimeter through a latrine area, setting fires that burned down most of the barracks, and managing to kill the 8 soldiers and wound 22

    As a colleague of mine pointed out, this was something the muhajedin never managed to do, during the anti-Soviet jihad. Though admittedly the outpost was a relatively small one. What really boggles the mind is the in the executive summary of the report on the incident, the US army claims this as a “severe tactical defeat” for the Taliban. If this is what a tactical defeat looks like, I sure would hate to see what a decisive tactical victory looks like.

  • cbarwa 10:48 pm on January 22, 2010 Permalink
    Tags: Pakistan Democracy   

    My good friend, Umair Muhajir, has an excellent review of Mohammad Asghar Khan’s latest book, My Political Struggle, Khan is a former Air Marshal of Pakistan’s airforce, who retired in the 1960s and entered politics to oppose military rule and campaigned on greater accountability of government a return to democracy. Umair’s review not only probes the weaknesses and shortfalls of his books, but also makes some very pertinent comments about some of the reasons why a democratic and progressive political discourse did not take root in the Pakistani elites:

    An indifference to ideology means that political discourse in Pakistan remains mired in technocratic questions of efficiency, “development,” and “corruption”–rather than those of (e.g.) social justice, fairness, and the relationship of the state to its citizens–thereby privileging and perpetuating the essentially bureaucratic model of the nation-state inherited from the British Raj. This problem is hardly unique to Pakistan, but the country’s particular historical experience means that the stakes might be higher for it. Simply put, a preoccupation with “efficiency” and “honesty” can all too easily become a preference for the orderliness and authoritativeness of military rule, as opposed to the unglamorous horse-trading, venality, and sheer messiness of “normal” politics. This attitude was clearly visible in the response to Pakistan’s most recent military coup, when far too many in the country’s urban intelligentsia signed on to Pervez Musharraf’s 1999 deposition of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s spectacularly corrupt civilian government. Nor can anyone say with confidence that Musharraf’s 2008 exit has settled once and for all the question of military involvement in Pakistan’s politics. As long as the intellectual horizon remains an essentially bureaucratic one, the likelihood of support for a military intervention by the very social groups who have benefited from the status quo cannot be ruled out.

    I don’t agree with everything Umair says but he raises some important questions as to why democratic pressures have been so weakly instituitionalised in Pakistan compared to other South Asian countries; though other factors such as a weaker tradition of political organisation and much weaker party structures also go some way n providing more functional explanations. However, he is prescient in explaining why appeals to ‘good governance’ and middle class periodic attempts to mount political campaigns based solely on anti-corruption or govt mis-management have a limited appeal, and here his analysis can easily be extended to India which also sees this phenomenon amongst its middle class and sections of its urban elite.

    In the absence of any serious ideological engagement with the politics of Pakistan (as opposed to with mere events), My Political Struggle leaves the reader with such generalities as Khan’s opposition to military rule, and his proposal for how power might be decentralized from the central government to the individual provinces. These are eminently sensible ideas, but in the absence of a coherent program, they skirt banality, and are reducible to little more than exhortations to good governance. Ultimately, and likely unwittingly, Khan appears to share the worldview of a cultural and bureaucratic elite that has historically set far greater store by the appearance of decisive action, than by the appearance of democracy; by the slogans of honesty and wiping the slate clean, than by those of social justice and redistribution. In other words, like so many others, Khan’s call is for a renewal of the dispensation symbolized by Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a vision of the country as an ordered rule-of-law state where politicians would strive to serve the people with honesty and selfless dedication: “[i]f the values that the founder of Pakistan had given us were to be summed up in one word, it would be ‘honesty’” (p. 519). An ideology, in short, that presents itself as neutral political virtue, and the practitioners of which do not even feel that they need to make any case for its relevance to Pakistan’s socioeconomic realities, much less recognize the status quo elements the ideology encodes.

    The difference in India of course, is a rather different ideological basis for the legitimacy of the state and the fact that democratic politics draws its strength very much from the lower socio-economic classes, as opposed to the middle classes and elites.

  • cbarwa 12:45 am on January 13, 2010 Permalink  

    Stacey Philbrick Yadav, a scholar specialising on Yemeni politics and history, and also a good friend and colleague of mine, has an excellent article in Foreign Policy on the recent developments in the relationship between the US and Yemen as well as some pertinent warnings for US policymakers:

    An increase in aid and intelligence will provide him with more fungible resources to use as he sees fit. In contrast, the democrats struggling to challenge him stand to suffer irrevocable damage. “What [Washington] doesn’t understand is that Yemen doesn’t need more arms or equipment to monitor the telephone lines and Internet connections,” one senior official critical of Saleh explained via email. “Saleh sucked hundreds of millions of dollars from the budget to buy arms that were [only] used for internal purposes to secure his rule and his family. We need a better government and more real democracy.”

    Simply put, providing more aid to Yemen will make the situation worse. The war on terrorism has already provided Saleh with a pretext for the surveillance and persecution of journalists and opposition activists. Plus, he has cultivated ties with radical clerics despite paying lip service to working with the United States.

    One can only hope that this advice is heeded, since this dance has not played out well historically in the region.

  • cbarwa 4:22 pm on December 14, 2009 Permalink
    Tags: Revisiting the Che Guevara-like days of Baloch resistance:   

    I thought this article might be of interest, given the recent developments in Baluchistan. It reveals several things that would be of relevance to those intrigued or reading on Pakistani history, most notably the 1971 Baluch uprising, the relationship between nationalist politics in Pakistan and socialism and the min-adventures of a group of middle-class, (largely) Punabi socialists, from the London Group, that participated in that war.

    Of particular interest is the mention of Ahmed Rashid’s participation, amongst several other current intellectual luminaries and their activities during the guerilla war.

    Unfortunately, Ahmed was not a good rifleman. He could not shoot very well. In the Baloch culture, they expect you to do all these things but when you are unable then you stand out as somebody who is alien to the culture and life style.

    Given the combat performance described, I think we can all be grateful that Rashid put down his AK-47 and picked up a pen!!!

    • johnpi 4:38 pm on December 14, 2009 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      That’s fascinating stuff. Rashid’s qualities laid elsewhere, that’s for sure, though he certainly has not lacked for courage given the places he’s been and the people he interviews…

      • cbarwa 1:06 am on December 15, 2009 Permalink | Log in to Reply

        Yes, whatever one thinks of his arguments, no one can question his courage or his willingness to take difficult positions and go out on a limb for them!

        • thabet 1:50 am on December 15, 2009 Permalink | Log in to Reply

          • cbarwa 3:07 am on December 15, 2009 Permalink | Log in to Reply

            I think that is a later parting of ways, Tariq Ali praises Rashid in his book “The Duel” and that was the first reference which I came across about Rashid’s part in the Baluch 1971 uprising. Ali describes the episode as one where Rashid and others upheld the ‘honour of the Pakistani Left’!!!!

            I guess the comrades disagree now though ;)

            I have to say though, that I don’t agree with a lot of Rashid’s later and current writing on Afghanistan, though his sources and command of facts are very impressive.

  • cbarwa 2:37 pm on November 21, 2009 Permalink  

    This is an excerpt from a great article in the Journal of World History, entitled “Global Politics in the 1580s: One Canal, Twenty Thousand Cannibals, and an Ottoman Plot to Rule the World” by Giancarlo Casale:

    All of these events, despite the vast physical distances that separated them, impinged directly on the Ottomans’ ability to maintain “soft power” in the Indian Ocean. Even more ominously, they all took place alongside yet another emerging menace from Mughal India, where the young and ambitious Emperor Akbar had begun to openly challenge the very basis of Ottoman “soft power” by advancing his own rival claim to universal sovereignty over the Islamic world.

    Of all these newly emerging threats, the Mughal challenge was in many ways the most potentially disturbing. Unlike the others, it was also a challenge mounted incrementally, and as a result became gradually apparent only over the course of several years. In fact, it may have begun as early as 1573, the year Akbar seized the Gujarati port of Surat and thus gained control of a major outlet onto the Indian Ocean for the first time. Less than two years later, he sent several ladies of his court, including his wife and his paternal aunt, on an extended pilgrimage to Mecca, where they settled and began to distribute alms regularly in the emperor’s name. Concurrently, Akbar became involved in organizing and financing the hajj for Muslim travelers of more modest means as well: appointing an imperial official in charge of the pilgrimage, setting aside funds to pay the travel expenses of all pilgrims from India wishing to make the trip, and arranging for a special royal ship to sail to Jiddah every year for their passage. Moreover, by means of this ship Akbar began sending enormous quantities of gold to be distributed in alms for the poor of Mecca and Medina, along with sumptuous gifts and honorary vestments for the important dignitaries of the holy cities. In the first year alone, these gifts and donations amounted to more than 600,000 rupees and 12,000 robes of honor; in the next year, they included an additional 100,000 rupees as a personal gift for the Sharif of Mecca. Similar shipments continued annually until the early 1580s.

    To be sure, none of this ostensibly pious activity was threatening to the Ottomans in and of itself. Under different circumstances, the Ottoman authorities may even have viewed largesse of this kind as a sign of loyalty, or as a normal and innocuous component of the public religious obligations of a ruler of Akbar’s stature. But in 1579, in the midst of the complex interplay of other world events already described above, it acquired a dangerous and overtly political significance—particularly because it coincided with Akbar’s promulgation of the so-called “infallibility decree” in September of that year. In the months that followed, Akbar’s courtiers began, at his urging, to experiment with an increasingly syncretic, messianic, and Akbar-centric interpretation of Islam known as the din-i ilahi. And Akbar himself, buttressed by this new theology of his own creation, soon began to openly mimic the Ottoman sultans’ posturing as universal sovereigns, by assuming titles such as Bādishāh-i Islām and Imām-i ‘Ādil that paralleled almost exactly the Ottomans’ own dynastic claims.

    Against this incendiary backdrop, Akbar’s endowments in Mecca and his generous support for the hajj thus became potent ideological weapons rather than simple markers of piety—weapons that threatened to destabilize Ottoman leadership of the Islamic world by allowing Akbar to usurp the sultan’s prestigious role as “Protector of the Holy Cities.” Justifiably alarmed, the Porte responded by forbidding the distribution of alms in Akbar’s name in Mecca (it was nevertheless continued in secret for several more years), and by ordering the entourage of ladies from Akbar’s court to return to India with the next sailing season. These, however, were stopgap measures at best. In the longer term, it was clear that a more serious reorientation of Ottoman policy was in order if the empire was to effectively respond to Akbar’s gambit.

    Thus, by the end of 1579, a perfect storm of political events in Istanbul, the Western Mediterranean, Ethiopia, Southeast Asia, and Mughal India had all conspired to bring an end to the existing Ottoman system of “soft empire” in the Indian Ocean. As a result, the Ottoman leadership was faced with a stark choice: to do nothing, and allow its prestige and influence in the region to fade into irrelevance; or instead, through aggressive military expansion, to attempt to convert this soft empire into a more concrete system of direct imperial rule. Because of an ongoing war with Iran, and because the 1580s were in general a period of political retrenchment and economic crisis in the Empire, many in Istanbul seem to have resigned themselves to the former option as the only feasible alternative.

    Unfortunately you need to be a subscriber to have access to the full article online but a larger excerpt can be read at Far Outliers which has excellent articles on Asian politics and history from time to time! Though I am less convinced by the arguement that this is replayed in the challenges to Saudi ‘soft’ power by the Iranian Revolution of 1979. However, of late several historians of the early modern period, such as Muzzaffar Alam have began to compare the jostling for influence during the 16th and 17th centuries between the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal empires in the region and for pre-eminence as the power in the Islamic world of the time.

  • cbarwa 3:47 am on July 23, 2009 Permalink
    Tags: , ,   

    My good friend and general associate,Vikash Yadav, has had one of his blog posts picked up as Himal magazine’s Vocies of the Week, with his note on ‘Colonial Exhaustion’ in Afghanistan . I highly recommend Vikash’s posts on Afghanistan, probably some of the most thoughtful and perceptive writing one can read in the public sphere on the subject ( I am biased of course but also correct). I find the following excerpt to be specially interesting, in light of the accusation of ‘macho liberalism’ revelling in the use of force to acheive its aims:

    Unlike the Iraq War, the demand to gain a command of the language of command is weak. In fact, the entire cultural project of control, which is so essential to domination and subordination of foreign peoples, seems highly underdeveloped for such a prolonged conflict. Of course, there are well rehearsed talking points which circulate on the need to liberate women from their burqas, the imperative of brining modernity/development to this traditional society, and the revival of a colonial pseudo-anthropology on tribes, but these are half-hearted and generally lack the support of the academy.

    Only the most gullible, provincial, and stupid of Westerners believe that their governments actually care about the welfare of women in foreign societies. One would only need to look at rates of reported rape in Western countries to question whether these governments even care about gender repression in their own societies. Moreover, the discourse of modernity generally rings hollow to an enemy and an occupied population that takes fierce pride in its customs and selectively appropriates what it deems valuable. An end to warfare is prioritized even higher than the promise of economic development amongst many (if not most) Afghanis. In any case, few in the West believe that after thirty years of constant war, Afghanistan will be a functional polity or economy by the end of the next decade.

    I don’t have the same views on the link between power-knowledge that Vikash does; but this is a minor difference; the concept of ‘colonial exhaustion’ is one which I think will severely limit the ability of most Western powers (in reality pretty much the USA) from being able to influence events decisively in regions where it meets with cohesive resistance and where imposing its diktat is costly both in terms of men and resources. This doesn’t mean that such attempts won’t be made; just that they will be largely unsuccessful.

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