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INTERVIEW: Pak-US Relations - an Interview with Dr Rodney Jones (2007)

Published in the POST & VISTA Magazine 5 March 2007 in 3 parts

By: Afrah Jamal & QS

PART 1

Dr Rodney Jones is President of Policy Architects International and has served as Senior Advisor to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START II) project of the Carnegie Moscow Centre and as Senior Advisor and Counselor to the Keystone Centre’s National Commission on Nuclear Threat. Policy Architects International is a private research, consulting and advisory services organisation in Reston, Virginia that concentrates on services needed in international policy areas, including international security, economic development, technology transfer, trade controls, public and private assistance and direct investment. Following is an interview with Dr Rodney Jones.

Q: Since quite a bit of confusion among Pakistanis, amongst the majority at any rate, stems from the fact that they do not understand how we are perceived from across the Atlantic, so let us begin with the basics - the American mindset.

Dr. Jones: Speaking of Americans at large, the American mindset on this part of the world has changed; before this, it was very passive and ignorant by and large of what life is like in this region, but 9/11 has really changed things in terms of alertness to and feelings, positive and negative, about this part of the world. But the knowledge of the US government official about this region is much greater than that of the average person.

Q: You are talking about public perception or the establishment?

Dr. Jones: Let me start with the mindset of the people; that I think governs how most Americans look at your part of the world. The previous popular mindset in America was very ignorant about this region in the sense that most Americans had very little knowledge about your region. Now people have strong feelings about this region without necessarily having a lot of knowledge about it either. So ignorance remains, especially about the deeper aspects of society in your region. I should add though that there is in the US a rapid expansion of immigrant communities including from South Asia and the Middle Eastern countries. The Muslim part of that is also growing quite rapidly, so mosques are going up and the Muslims present are more visible.

9/11 has had a rather powerful effect in making people more aware of them and therefore to have feelings about them. Broadly speaking, American reactions in the larger public are very open and not negative but 9/11 has tended to create negative perceptions or apprehensions about Muslims to some degree.

I should also say something that is generally true, which is that immigrant communities are pushing their way in to domestic American politics; they are becoming exceptionally active in the US elections. So there is now factionalism developing as first generation immigrants tend to be more closely conscious of and partisan about their origins. So Indians tend to be very active in promoting Indian causes in the US-India relations and this is also true of Pakistanis.

Frankly, though, I think Pakistani immigrants are more divided than their Indian counterparts. Certainly Arabs are from different Arab countries, so there is less homogeneity or cohesiveness of perspective, but there tends to be a similar kind of tendency, which is to become active in the support of relations with their parts of the world and to get a voice in the US government that reflects that.

In terms of other trends, the American establishment view of Pakistan and India in this region has shifted (leaving out 9/11 at the moment). In broad terms, since the post-Cold War emphasis has been increasingly on globalization, therefore the view is less on who is a security partner and more focused on who is more capable of promoting the expansion of global benefits.

Pakistan, to some degree suffers from being in India's shadow; Pakistan's role and appeal in the US in the globalisation sense is weak. It is getting better, it is not going downhill, but it is relatively weak by comparison with India. In an average American's eyes, Pakistan's major liabilities come from the security problems; 9/11, going after Osama bin Laden, things like that. This view of this part of the world has been coloured by the May 1998 declarations and testing of nuclear weapons.

Since the Cold War the quality of many people recruited into American policy making has gone down. That may eventually be addressed, but I think this is one aspect of why things have gone so badly for the Bush administration on foreign policy. He has had people who were experts in the Cold War issues but were not the best for post-Cold War issues; people who tend to be displaced from their regions of former expertise into areas where they really do not have sound judgments. Over time this could change, hopefully it will for the better.

Q: You mentioned the presence of a strong Indian lobby in the US; should their growing influence be as much of a concern to Pakistan as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee-AIPAC was to Saudi Arabia in the early 80s?

Dr. Jones: It is a good question in a way to ask, but I cannot give you a quantitative or precise answer. I should say something about the nature of the Indian lobby in the US so that it is not misunderstood to be all that similar to the Jewish lobby. There are similarities but also differences.

The Indian lobby is of two kinds: Indian expatriates, people who have migrated to the US with Indian backgrounds and what is interesting about them is that those who stay interested in politics are still very much concerned or preoccupied with India. They keep their Indian concerns and connections. Most Americans over time lose their previous ethnic origin and become more concerned with the mainstream issues. The Indians do become concerned with the issues around them as they become naturalised citizens but they remain very much focused on their concerns in India so that is the most powerful part of it. As they become more involved in the country, some of them become very wealthy and they put money into elections.

The second aspect of the lobby is big business; the big business corporations are looking for markets and China and India are the emerging markets where many things are not yet earmarked. The big US corporations have a corporate working group, the US-India Business Council, and Indians have corporate people who participate in a bilateral working group or commission.

Q: So this would explain the recent tilt of the US towards India?

Dr. Jones: It has a lot to do with it. The Bush administration's carving out this US-India civil nuclear cooperation agreement was not done with the broad involvement on the part of the US public, or even with members of Congress ahead of time. It was simply handed to the Congress as a fait accompli. This is very unusual in American politics. So there's a lot of technical criticism, reaction and resistance from professionals in the American arms control community, because this agreement undercuts the whole basis of US non-proliferation policy by making a monumental exception in US laws related to atomic energy. Once you have made such an exception in those laws, the whole basis for the non-proliferation effort becomes shaky and questionable. The people who pushed hard to get an agreement negotiated at the executive level and then through Congress are the pro-Indian constituency. Many experts in the non-proliferation area were horrified but were unable to prevail as they were overshadowed by people using money who are part of the electoral process.

The other side of it is that some of them are caught up with the notion that India is where the future is for their purposes. Some former Congressmen, Steven Solarz, for example, became advocates for India after they lost their positions in Congress; there were others who became active as consultants. They formulated post-Cold War concepts about why this is good for the US and worked to win people over to those concepts, so there is a process that looks reasonable but there are major drawbacks to it. Those who make it look reasonable get out there to push for it and there is no question that US-Indian business investment and interchange are going to be very good for both sides. But there have also been false or misleading propositions advanced in this process. One is the proposition that the agreement will open up the Indian atomic energy area to US business sales in India. While this is true in a limited technical sense, it is unlikely to be true as a political reality.

Q: So the fact that Pakistan is not as strongly represented in the US should in fact concern us?

Dr. Jones: It's a political reality that those who have a strong view of what the US should do in a positive way for Pakistan are fewer in numbers, they are far less wealthy and in that sense they are far less influential in American politics where these groups matter. If you go back 30 years, this kind of influence mattered, but not as overwhelmingly as it does today because it has so much to do with the cost of elections. What has really changed there is the cost of the media. You use the media to get elected, it is expensive, there are huge amounts of money raised, a lot of it is media advertising. That is a big business.

Pakistan's leverage in the US during the Cold War did not depend on the size of any lobby, but rather on the way the US and Pakistani interests dovetailed on geopolitical and security matters. India had less leverage on the US than it might have had otherwise, because it favoured the Soviet Union. That has reversed since the end of the Cold War, except that the war on terrorism has made Pakistan one of the most important partners in combating the terrorist threat.

END OF PART I

PART II

Q 1: How do you see the future of US-Pak relations in the next decade?

Dr. Jones: It's only a best guess but if the incumbent problem which we call 'terrorism' is reduced, the relationship goes up, if not, it is going to go down. If the issues have to do with proliferation, and if we are at odds, then the relationship will go downhill. A lot of this has to do with how Pakistan conducts itself. A lot of has to do with how the US conducts itself. The relationship will continue to basically be solid where we meet on common ground. I think it will never again have the emotional commitment that old timers remember nostalgically; this is unlikely to be rekindled on either side because too much has happened. This is my opinion. In the next 10-20 years, I cannot imagine that there will be rebuilding of emotional positive commitment by either side. However, a broadened relationship that both sides invest in officially and in a sustained way could be a solid relationship that is not easily disrupted.

Q 2: Even if the pressing problems are worked out?

Dr. Jones: I am saying that the relationship will be solid but the depth of commitment that once existed within certain channels in the Cold War, the chances of reviving that are not very likely. Here too, I think what has also changed is that Pakistan is a more differentiated society and it is unlikely that Pakistanis will under any government feel a large degree of collectively positive emotion about the US. Will they want to send their kids there to school? Yes, definitely. Will they want to travel there? Of course, but will they feel a positive overall orientation to the US? I do not think that will ever happen again. Basically you have developed a dialogue within Pakistan which now is a mantra, that the US betrayed you; that has become real and I will not even deny that there is a certain basis for it. This is now well seeded in your educational system and in people moving up in bureaucracy. So if you are looking at this on both sides, you have to admit that about Pakistan. I'm not saying that there is no basis for it. That's my prognosis for the next 10-20 years.

If you talk about how things could become genuinely good (that can occur if) terrorism is gone, countries become prosperous, there is interchange and things that cause division or anger among us become so small that positive feelings are revived. I do not want this to sound condescending but the US deals with a lot of countries and in current circumstances will not take sides with just one country against another. It tilted towards India but still does not view all its investment there as something which would never go bad. This tilt towards India makes it harder going between our two countries at the moment. We need to be realistic about that, in terms of recognising what is in our mutual interests, so that working on them may make the relationship feel better.

See I have dealt with Pakistan long enough to know about some of the complexities. If you read Ayub Khan's book Friends not Masters, and he was the one most close to the US, it was very clear that an unbalanced relationship on the basis of this idea ”can you have unequal relationships where only one side demands and the other gives” does not work with Pakistan. Generally speaking, this is not how things work in international relations and does not work that way for sure with bigger countries. And Pakistan may have its liabilities but it is a big country. It is not going to be easy to deal with and you have people who look at things in different ways. You may believe that India has malevolent and aggressive tendencies and fine, I understand that, that is how we felt about the Soviet Union and back then things warranted that outlook. Since then, conditions have changed and I can understand they have not changed yet the same way in the Subcontinent. That is the reason that a legitimate and arguable case can be made for that.

One of the ways Pakistan, as a state, can improve the relationship is to do things that are beneficial for the present Iraqi condition, such as to be engaged in the training of their security forces, Pakistani entrepreneurs engaged in helping others get on their feet there without being viewed as outsiders trying to take what belongs to the Iraqis. Iraq has very advanced medicine and so does Pakistan and the Iraqi hospitals are in a bad shape. This is an area where things can be done at the government or sub-level basis as a project. Things like that can help you. They will help the Iraqis. They will also help the US in its current involvement in Iraq.

Q 3: Help us in which context?

Dr. Jones: By simply doing good things for Iraq.

Q 4: Why Iraq in particular?

Dr. Jones: Why, that is where the disaster is.

Q 5: Yes, but there are disasters in other parts of the world, Darfur for instance?

Dr. Jones: Yes, there are other disasters, and human rights problems, we can talk about them. Depends how you view them, but I would say that If you accept what the US has stated publicly that the Sudan regime has been engaged in a genocidal programme against the people living in Darfur, if you can accept that and adopt the same point of view publicly, the US and others will be very heartened by Pakistani statements about what they believe, in the UN setting and elsewhere.

Actually, one of the most productive things Pakistan has done for itself, that the US can be very complimentary about, is its participation in the peace keeping forces. They are not necessarily directly connected to with US-Pakistani relations but because they have international prominence, Americans who learn about them can become very supportive of Pakistan for having that kind of capability and Pakistan for being willing to undertake whatever sacrifices are involved in that.

Let us take another area where I am not sure how Pakistan can do much about it in terms of acting as a major regional power, but it is worth exploring. This is the area of energy security. It is how we make sure that energy delivery from Middle East stays there, is available and not broken down. Oil production in Iraq is still not yet back to levels it was before the war and what Saddam did to his own infrastructure have held them back from doubling. They could easily have doubled in the period from the first Gulf War to the second; I am talking about the output, you know, the amount of oil produced. Saddam was fighting the sanctions instead of trying to develop the country but that is another part of the story. However, the point is that there is a lot that can be done in Iraq which will make Iraq healthier and then if the oil is available and out there, that is important for the countries that need to import it and Pakistan is becoming more dependant on imported oil for energy, for electricity generation and also for manufacturing processes. You have a big issue now facing you, which is what will happen if the natural gas deposits from Balochistan area, which currently provide this country with sufficient resources, start to decline? And they are declining and not being replaced.

Q 6: Because of the situation on the ground?

Dr. Jones: Well, partly that, partly lack of foresight and partly because countries sometimes have a hard time getting their act together, but also partly because you may have assumed that imported natural gas from the Middle East will become available from Iran and I think from Turkmenistan. You may have assumed that the problem will be solved in a different way. That is my best guess. Iraq is a part of this picture. The more oil there is available, the less is the strain in meeting your energy requirements, and the US talks about this as an energy security issue.

Today, for the first time the US is becoming the champion of ethanol. In my opinion, ethanol is not a cost-effective alternative energy source when it is made out of corn. But it may have a limited place in an overall energy strategy. If Pakistan wants to join the bandwagon, that would be interesting. Ethanol as a gasoline or petroleum substitute and the proportion of 15 percent ethanol to 85 percent petrol means you can extend the use of the petrol and it will still work OK in a car. The ways in which it could be obtained in Pakistan that would be easy to visualize are from sugarcane wastage after the juice for sugar has been extracted from the cane. Crushed sugarcane waste is a natural way to do this. The US is looking at doing this with corn, which is not a good idea; this will drive the corn price up around the world. But the idea of using ethanol has gained ground because Brazil has made it a significant part of its automobile fuel supply, maybe about 30 percent.

Q 7: What in your opinion are the areas Pakistan needs to focus on to maintain its ally status with the US?

Dr. Jones: There are lots of things that are pretty obvious in that light. Some of them have to do with Pakistan running itself well; some of the things have to do with helping prosecute effectively the terrorists out there, especially al Qaeda; some of them have to do with Pakistan being able to contribute to a positive and constructive set of regional relationships.

Q 8: Positive and constructive regional relationships? Such as?

Dr. Jones: Well, one thing, for example is to support the healing of Afghanistan and reconstruction and the other thing that would be viewed that way by the US would be not to give others nuclear weapons. I mean some of these are so basic and obvious, but I know there are many Pakistanis who do not think these are so obvious.

Q 9: That is precisely why such issues need to be addressed, to get your point of view.

Dr. Jones: Yes, well, if you want the relationship to go up in smoke just go give nuclear weapons to somebody.

Q 10: And what should the US do? Is 100 percent blame with us then?

Dr. Jones: Where is the blame? I believe the issue is how you would move the relationship forward and I think that the US also needs to be attentive to what it can do in a constructive and positive way in this region. It has done a lot of things for Pakistan in the last few years, and they have not been unimportant things, they have to do with debt relief which has been a very major factor in re-stimulating the Pakistani economy and how it is dealt on the Pakistan side is in your hands. Other issues can be in the educational development, but the crying need is to become less dependent on the madrassas that are out there in the Afghan borderland and create real schools there and it is not something the US can fund without these being treated as outposts of US influence. It has got to be a Pakistani project. But that does not mean there cannot be significant US and Western resources, both in the public and private NGO sector going into that. They are going into that where circumstances allow them to in Afghanistan. I think a lot can be done in that area. Another area which we need to work together is in blocking the smuggling of narcotics, heroin from poppies in Afghanistan, the largest producer again of opium and heroin.

END OF PART II

PART III

Q: Nuclear non-proliferation being your specialty, what would you say on Pakistan's nuclear ambitions and why censure Pakistan from going nuclear?

Dr. Jones: I can look at it at different levels and I have to view it in terms of what my own commitment was: if I was a missionary it was to try to prevent the spread of nuclear arms and thereby reduce the risk of nuclear war.

Q: We all agree that there should be nuclear disarmament all around but asking one to disarm when the other retains it makes it seem - well, a bit too idealistic?

Dr. Jones: Not at all. During the Cold War it was vital to keep this in very few hands…

Q: Why keep it in a few hands?

Dr. Jones: Because of the danger of them being used. The danger multiplies by the number of people who have them.

Q: Five declared countries had it in the Cold War. Why would these declared countries have them still? Why not destroy them? If you are talking about idealism then that would be the ideal scenario?

Dr. Jones: If the 'why' on your part is a serious question then the answer, in part, that is a serious answer, is that the US actually has pushed very hard for nuclear disarmament in a staged way, particularly with the START Treaty and the INF Treaty. The INF Treaty took what are called intermediate range nuclear forces, for the US. It was Peshing missiles, for the Soviet Union it was SS 20s and several older generations of ballistic missiles, and got rid of them completely. The START Treaty, in that context, brought about deep reductions in strategic missiles and warheads and also in heavy bombers. In addition, the US has unilaterally denuclearised its army entirely.

The US army used to have nuclear weapons, but it no longer does. The US also denuclearised its surface ships. In the US Navy, there are still submarines with strategic missiles but surface ships carry no nuclear weapons. So most remaining nuclear weapons are either on strategic missiles or available for the use of long-range aircraft, but the numbers are drastically reduced. Our ability to continue reducing depends in part from Russian reciprocity and cooperation. Russia had built 25,000 tactical nuclear weapons. When the process of reducing really took hold, they still had between 15,000 to 17,000. I'm talking of early 1990s.You can not get a clear report today of how many they actually have. We negotiated strategic reduction and elimination of the intermediate. We did not negotiate on tactical nuclear weapons directly. So you know getting things down depends on cooperation. Arms control is a cooperative process. You decide you do not need all of those or you decide to do without them. So in terms of moral consistency we have been actually been fairly steady there and in terms of non proliferation, we have had a fairly consistent course.

There are problems of double standards and of course Israel has been treated differently in some ways. It has not had the world come down on it because it is being protected to some degree against that but the number of countries success stories that have turned away from this proliferation is significant. These include South Africa, which under the previous white regime developed a few nuclear weapons, but even as it moved on the way to becoming a majority rule government , decided to give them up, went to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and a process of elimination began with South Africa joining the NPT. Other countries that have moved away from this are Argentina and Brazil in quite definite ways. Then there is Taiwan. Japan of course is a country that in terms of security apprehension you would think is the one to worry about but they stayed fairly consistently in the non nuclear fold. With South Korea, it took more effort but we managed to keep it from going in this direction. So now we have mainly Iran and North Korea as new proliferators, and a few years ago, before the 1998 tests, Pakistan and India were in that category.

So this original system of very small numbers is breaking down but the logic of it is not gone, it is just that other countries are defying this system of small numbers. It is understandable in some cases. In Pakistan's case, the apprehension about India as a mega country, 5-7 times the size of Pakistan, causes Pakistan to feel certain imperatives in this matter. But this imperative was geared to India going nuclear. It should be noted that India did not go for nuclear weapons because they needed them for security reasons; they went for them for status. That poisons the whole meaning of arms control and it is how you guys came into it. “You have it, why cannot we have it,” that thought is poisonous. You have to have a way of keeping these things from being more numerous and it will be very likely that some day something will go badly wrong and I will not have to explain why. But today I do have to explain why, because the younger generation has no memory of the non proliferation reasoning.

Q: Going back to 1998, when India went nuclear, some of us were in favour of restraint and we, of course have little interaction with our Indian counterparts but our friends in the relatively open Middle Eastern society who do interact with them, detected a not so subtle change in the Indian community's attitude after their new found status, and consequently, within a week people like us also became unanimous on the nuclear issue; this is where we believe the US did not play its role. How could the US have helped?

Dr. Jones: The US offered Pakistan F-16s in much larger numbers and other things too if Pakistan took a decision to not go nuclear. This was not at the public level. The US actually tried to buy Pakistan off.

Q: Then why not try to buy India off?

Dr. Jones: India was not ready to be bought off. It was determined to impose a new perception of its status on the rest of the world.

Q: Who would India target? Pakistan? China? Certainly not the US?

Dr. Jones: Well, India has programmes that have an inherent capacity to target the United States. Inter-continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) could target anywhere. Although they have not come into material reality in India yet and there are folks in the US military community who worry about Indian ICBMs and say that maybe it's not such a good idea to let this happen. But those systems do not exist yet and that would require a different kind of intervention; you could hope that with diplomatic and other initiatives we could dissuade India from creating things of that sort. You can look this up on the internet, type in Surya, which is basically the name that was earlier on given to the idea of a very long range ballistic missile in India. You know, in India sometimes things take forever to materialise. They have been working on a nuclear submarine prototype since 1982; we are 25 years beyond that and they still have not succeeded. But they are likely to succeed eventually.

Q: Moving on to something that keeps cropping up in most conversations nowadays, the word 'terrorism', how would you define terrorism?

Dr. Jones: Individuals or private groups using violent force to achieve their political ends, for example in the name of religion, as often occurs in this region. Take away the word 'religion' and you have a more abstract version of the definition of terrorism.

It is where people use violent force to create fear (terror) in order to achieve political objectives. Terrorism is where people go outside the political system to impose their will. Usually this means a small minority imposing its will on the majority. It is most clear when it operates against ordinary people who are not combat people.

Q: So would you say that Pakistan has done enough on terrorism?

Dr. Jones: I think it has, to date but maybe it is now falling behind the challenge. The challenge is growing from the revolutionary push of the reconstitution of the Taliban to try to take power in Afghanistan by armed force and intimidation and some of these resources are coming from Pakistani soil and Pakistanis are involved. So in a sense, that has to be dealt with.

Q: Is that pure inference or a known fact?

Dr. Jones: I know it. I do a lot of research on this. It is also being declared as a fact by those who make U.S policy; their views are changing in that direction. Just in the last few months, for example the agreements that the Pakistan Government negotiated in South and North Waziristan, (that was in September/October) were supposed to help check the support in Pakistan for the Taliban. But by November/December, reports from the White House and in the testimony by intelligence agencies in Congress, show that there is a real sense that Pakistan is not yet succeeding in doing what it now needs to do in that area. It is actually a very difficult challenge and the most effective approaches may not yet have been tried. Shahid Javed Burki wrote an op-ed in a national newspaper that points to what really could be a sensible direction forward, which is a combination of economic, military and security law and order approaches in the Pashtun tribal areas where much of this support for the Taliban occurs. The FATA and the tribal economy are now anachronisms. Healthy nation states need something different. The question is how do you get there?

The development approach, economic resources , schools , health, education, which will be partly resisted, partly accepted, partly some people will really want it, but if that is done I think it will alter the conditions of being able to get people there to resist the Jihadi tendencies surrounding them. These current jihadi tendencies against Afghanistan are not supported by all the people throughout the whole region there. There are the outposts of militancy. But they are supported by some of the people there because fighting outsiders is the way things have been looked at. Some people say that the tribal areas do not want any development; it is a problem that they do not want it as much as some other areas do because it unsettles tribal traditions, especially Pakhtunwali. However, change is coming. The movement of the Pushtuns into the wider Pakistani economy, and many of them working overseas in the Gulf has changed the expectations of what will be done in their region.

They no longer expect to keep just things as they are; they are open to sensible development, water projects expanded cultivation opportunities, other mercantile opportunities. One related problem is that drugs are likely to be one of the easiest things to pursue for livelihood in the farm economy. The economic initiatives are not easy to get political support to make them work that way; it is tough but I think the US government is likely to be open to looking at it that way, if that is also the way that Pakistan authorities are eager to proceed. I do not think it can be done without military and security involvement. People engaged in terrorism have to be stopped and people who are engaged in basically educating people to be terrorists, unless they change their ways, have to be cut down when they take up arms. You have no choice. It's like bandits; it's an anachronistic behavior, no longer part of what is acceptable. FATA is going to become healthy and whether it can do it effectively on its own is doubtful but at least there are forces there working on it and by the way the development efforts in Afghanistan will be much more effective and substantial if these Taliban attacks were not taking place. They are simply cutting the NGO humanitarian and economic development efforts to shreds.

The End

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Demigod fans who bade farewell to Percy – (son of Poseidon) & the Olympian franchise a few years ago must have wondered what the writer was up to as they came across a ‘final’ Prophesy conveniently left unresolved at the end of the saga.

The Last Olympian’ concluded the five part series wrapping up Percy Jackson & his merry band of demi-gods' extended arc with a high-octane finale and an emotional send-off. Though Rick Riordan had moved on to explore Egypt in ‘The Kane Chronicles’, he wasn’t done with Olympus, its ever shifting centre of power or its hoity-toity god population for that matter.

The cryptic warning heard in the final pages is used to establish the credentials of this spin-off. The gods return in the ‘Heroes of Olympus’ series - distant as ever and in Roman form heralding a brand new dawn with the promise of new crusades, a shiny new quest, fresh faces and an ancient threat. And Percy is b…

BOOK REVIEW: How It Happened

Published in Daily Times / Sat 9 Feb 2013

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal
Author: Shazaf Fatima Haider

Thanks to Liberty Books for the (temp) review copy

Gwendolen: I am engaged to Mr. Worthing, mamma.

Lady Bracknell: Pardon me, you are not engaged to anyone. When you do become engaged to someone, I, or your father, should his health permit him, will inform you of the fact. An engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant, as the case may be. It is hardly a matter that she could be allowed to arrange for herself . . .”
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The Importance of being Earnest (Oscar Wilde)


Characters chasing ‘happily ever after’s’ are often pulled aside by enterprising elders who try to flag all but the most traditional road to the altar. A fiendishly funny narrative pounces on the retreating figure of Cupid and explores his cultural relevance in the sport they call match-making.

The saga of the Bandian clan comes with a perpetually scandalized, formidable old lady fiercely protective…

BOOK REVIEW: Kasab, The Face of 26/11

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Thanks to the Writer for the lovely emails despite the 'scathing review'

Published inDaily Times / Saturday, February 12, 2011

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Author: Rommel Rodrigues

November 26, 2008 was India’s 9/11 — or so they say. It was the day 10 gunmen held one city hostage for over 60 hours. A day that sent accusations flying across the border, and the fear of something deadlier being traded saw the international community scrambling for cover. India was breaking news for days. Pakistan also made headlines around that time but not for the same reasons.

They caught the perpetrator. Ajmal Kasab is exhibit A in the case against the country of his birth. What little is known about Kasab (the name literally means butcher), beyond his nationality (Pakistani) and vocation (deadly pawn) comes from a hastily complied sketch leaked to the media in the early days of the attack. The rest came from following the trail of breadcrumbs, obligingly l…