Keep Talking and Keep Listening!

They say listening is more difficult than talking. But what is even harder in today's world is to communicate - an intense process of listening and talking and listening and responding........
This is a forum for people to engage in a conversation which is an art that many people don't know. Lets listen to others while maintaining the courage of conviction.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

State-of-the-art Dumbness in DC

Just met a young aspiring Pakistani mediademic in Washington, DC. He was searching for a way to enter and then make it big in DC's think-tank circle. His presumption was that being from the Frontier province of Pakistan, which borders on the tribal areas and is extremely sell able in the US, he could make an entry into the world of regional experts. He seemed a bit confused as he mumbled something about doing independent research. Little did he realize that the experts in Washington, DC don't care about independence but about who has better information and contacts in the government to sell. Resultantly, every so called Pakistan expert in the US, especially in DC, owns a couple of Pakistani general if not more. Not surprisingly, one Pakistani army brigadier FK, who was connected with the nuclear establishment during the early days of Musharraf and is also related to the former Pakistani army chief, decided to sell himself to an American expert of sorts who currently is big in American intelligence setup. In return Brig. FK got himself a nice house in California. 

Pity, the young man didn't understand the trick of trade in Washington, DC, or, perhaps, I failed to gauge his capabilities. But he represented the cross-breed (of course illegal) between a media person and an academic. These are the new generation of media persons imagining themselves as academics or academics hoping to get famous overnight. As a result one gets this terrible combination which results in the travesty of the noble art followed by Plato, Aristotle, Ibn Khuldoon and many others. In short, the world, especially South Asia is full of such public intellectuals or mediademics. This category seriously believes it can change the world.

But that is a separate debate which we'll continue later. For the time being, wanted to tell you about my conversation with this aspiring mediademic about finding a niche in the US. My suggestion to him was to look at some other geographic area for study especially if he wanted to study issues pertaining to national security. A mediademic cannot develop independent expertise because he/she is too eager to become a public figure and seeks quick info which can only be sought through those who have control of sensitive segments of the state. So, the option is to engage with those who control information or develop expertise which takes time which a mediademic definitely does not have. 

All states control information on national security and Pakistan is catching up to the game very fast. Traditionally, media persons and academics in Pakistan did not have the ready access so people made wild guesses about the military but did not have sufficient information. An opening to national security issues started to be provided as a result of post-Kargil Musharrafian glasnost. This meant that a new breed of mediademics was to be created both be design and default. The design lay in the fact that information was released selectively to trusted people and default means that such a category of public intellectuals got created because such people thought they knew better than everyone else. The state created an interconnected structure comprising of: (a) ISI, (b) ISPR, and (SPD - Strategic Plans Division).

Headed by a brash three-star, the ISI reaches out to people. The three-start talks about John Adams and political philosophy with people over a glass of whiskey. WoWW.... how impressive. It certainly gets the enlightened moderates. Then there is the lovely ISPR which is deeply entrenched in the media through familial relations. The general has a network of family members spread all over (thank godness for mothers who produced more than one child!). Now, even the Gen. ISPR son is getting trained to join the media and is happily using one of the English dailies to polish the art of a mediademic. Not to forget retired military mediademics who are an informal subsidiary of the ISPR. These old generals, who are good at flirting as well as being prominent, ensure defense of military's interests. 

But the SPD takes the cake. The organization was set up as the secretariat of the National Command Authority and is in the business of nuclear weapons management. However, given that they have a lot of time and are headed by another 'ants-in-pants' kind of general, the SPD team does a lot of things including making of intellectual missiles, upgrading intellectual missiles to ballistic missile category and searching for intellectual nuclear fissile material. Its head General Kidwai's men can be seen around town in Islamabad and in international academic circuits in their Armani suits flirting reasonably with both men and women and scouting out potential partners at home and abroad. 

Nationally (within Pakistan) it always helps if you are an attractive, young female with a flair for foreign clothing, long hair and lots of charms. The SPD can set you up in your independent shop or help you find a career in one of the many national think-tanks. Today, there is not a single young scholar who is not linked with the SPD in one shape of form. The civilians are being trained as junior partners until the time that military personnel in the SPD get trained and retired so they could take positions in the media. The organization even approves setting up of foreign NGOs in the country. Recently, the head of an American foundation, which was opening office in Islamabad, was advised to have a friendly tete-a-tete with one of the Armani-suited SPD gents. The meeting was meant for seeking common understanding. Technically, the approval for setting up an NGO comes from the Economic Affairs Division (EAD). But EAD is more like a figurehead. The matters are actually controlled by the SPD.

This is a highly evolved structure due to which military has managed to completely penetrate the media and academia. Retired and/or a few serving military personnel along with civilian partners can be found in all organizations. The establishment has now control editorial of all media outlets. 

But the more interesting scam pertains to Pakistan's ISI-ISPR-SPD intellectual combine making in-roads in the US capital. Since America never had an expertise on Pakistan due to its temporary interest in its South Asian ally, American experts have never looked at the country beyond their own security needs. So, Washington really doesn't have experts which is to Islamabad's advantage. So, the military has happily tried to create space to its advantage by injecting its own people, buying budding experts and co-opting big names who are non-experts. 

In the first case, three-and-a-half people were injected into American academic circle. There is one highly connected woman who was injected with the help of friendly financiers. These are military's clients, who are mainly expatriates or the corporate sector that, in any case, is friendly with the military. They fund the project of bringing GHQ-friendly people to other countries. The other is a gent from a well-known military family who briefs American regarding the benefits of trusting the military rather than the political forces in Pakistan. A third is a new entrant inserted at almost entry level in a think-tank, who worked as a consultant with the SPD, and probably continues to be one. The half, of course, is a Pakistani mediademic injected into an American university. The reason he is considered as half is because his job is limited to defending the military's credentials as the US's partner in the war on terror. 

The second category relates to young Pak-American budding mediademics. One chap, who is well placed in American military think-tank, sells the military in Washington (it must be mentioned that he doesn't market Pakistan but just the GHQ). He is so well-entrenched in Pakistan army's system that he was even party to getting his sibling married off to a Kashmiri leader. How cooperative! The reward is get access to Pak military officers. This helps the chap build his credibility at home and retain his job in his think tank. For those who understand the doggy-dog world of capitalist society, they will understand the significance of retaining a job. 

The third category is of old experts who are wined and dined on their trips to Pakistan. This is called co-option which means show carefully and take out the stickiest portions while revealing the rest. This also shows a change in attitude. The military does not hide everything any more. It allows for some criticism as long as the end result is that people's belief in the army is restored. 

No wonder if some think that the war on terror is a tough fight for the US to survive. 


  1. A bit pessimistic. More than in DC, it is necessary that people be shown the real face militarism. We may not serve their(DC) purpose anymore and they wont give it a damn who is who in Pakistan. The ultimate solution lies with masses. Fight must continues. Truth prevails and lies perishes.

  2. I love your tone: satirical and not afraid of delving into the muck. Great post!

  3. Hi,

    Good piece.

    Part of the problem is that Washington is the capital of what is in effect a huge empire. The US elite doesn't like to acknowledge the existence of this empire, nor does it want to take the time tp develop the kind of expertise that would be needed to understand what would happen before taking action. So the shortcuts you describe are an attractive substitute for studying the situation well enough to acquire real understanding of it.

    Also, to the extent that anyone is in charge of US Pakistan policy, CENTCOM is in charge of that policy. Generals and admirals from different countries often have more in common with each other than they do with the civilians in the countries they nominally serve.

    So the people in the US making Pakistan policy tend to place entirely too much faith in the judgment of military officers.

    Liked Military Inc. Keep up the good work


  4. @Rashid: this is not about being pessimistic or optimistic. We suffer from the problem of a 'parallel state'. Its most dangerous because it can play with the mind and the heart which is more lethal than anything else. Of course, the solution rests with the masses but how will one activate them if the mind is controlled. We are divided along the lines of nationalism, religion or something else. Such lines are deliberately created for further exploitation.

  5. @Ray:

    I agree with you. The problem, in fact, is that Military Inc seems to take over US national security planning as well. I wonder what the decision would be if the Cuban Missile Crisis were to happen now?

  6. Hi,

    Just as happy not to find out what would happen if another Cuban missile crisis happened today.

    Sorry I am not particularly representative of US opinion. My father was a Navy warrant officer between WWII and 1968. This led to my very strong interest in military history. Being a teenager at the time of the Vietnam War did a lot to reduce my enthusiasm for war, though. This led me to become am the only peace activist of my acquaintance who reads a lot of military history.

    Military officers are often quite admirable, but a country is likely to last longer if they aren't calling the shots. England in the 19th Century, the US in the 19th Century, India now, China now, none of these countries were or are ruled by a military elite. These countries look to have been reasonably successful to me. Pre WWI Germany and pre WWII Japan were arguably ruled by their military elites ... look where it got them. Not that I have a good theory to account for this, but it is somewhat suggestive.


  7. Ayesha, Are planning to stay in the US permanently?
    Articles like this would make life very difficult for you in back home.
    I did not see a mention of a so-called historian who is also a brother of a former, now dead, COAS of the army. Is brigadier FK the same person?

  8. Reposting with corrections.

    Ayesha, Are you planning to stay in the US permanently?
    Articles like this would make life very difficult for you back home.
    I did not see any mention of the so-called historian who is also a brother of a former, now dead, COAS of the army. Is brigadier FK the same person?

  9. Hossp: the historian brother is mentioned in the 'obituary of a democrat' FK is someone related to Musharraf.

    Also, I am returning to Pakistan at the end of my term in the US

  10. @Ray: military can come into power in several forms. The US military piggybacks on the shoulders of the corporate sector. The military has emerged more powerful during and even after Bush. Apparently, Mullen and Patraeus don't hear anything negative about General Kiyani. God help you and us. Given that China, Russia and Iran will jump in the Afghan fray (if they haven't already done so), US will remain committed to Pakistan's military. Besides ourselves, I also pity the Indians who will also get screwed once the war on terror is outsourced to the PK GHQ

  11. Hi,

    No offense, but the objections to General Kayani also apply to General Petraeus. They are both skilled military officers, but they are both a little too willing to disobey the orders of their nominal civilian superiors, and are also a little too willing to engage in intrigues against the civilian government that is nominally calling the shots.

    So General petraeus is not going to sympathize with accurate criticism of Kayani. But this is just my opinion, and the evidence available is not nearly strong enough tp prove it.