A Force For Change?

A few posts ago, I wrote about my intellectual passion for South Asia. One of my favorite SA news sources is the Foreign Policy/New America Foundation Afpak blog. The contributing writers are smart and entertaining and I love it when multiple news stories are consolidated in one place. I read it every day and here are some recent stories:

Yesterday, protestors led by Tahir-ul Qadri—a Pakistani preacher/former politician who has been living in Canada—took to the streets in Islamabad to demand reform and the resignation of the current, corrupt government officials.

Today, the Supreme Court ordered the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and fifteen other officials for corruption.

All of this is taking place months before elections that would see the first successfully completed term of a civilian government in Pakistan. Whether this turmoil is good (this could be the push for reform that Pakistan badly needs) or bad (or it could turn into a de-stabilizing political crisis) is yet to be seen. Everyone is also wondering, who is this guy and what are his motives?

Is he wrong about the corruption of Pakistani politics? No, he isn’t. But the fact that he intervenes just before elections, that he initially supported the coup of 1999, that he speaks favorably of the military (even though the military denies any affiliation), and that the Supreme Court just ordered the arrest of the Prime Minister (who has only been in office 7 months) makes me wary. As an optimist and a believer in the power of ordinary people to create great change, I want to believe that this man is a symbol for justice and responsible leadership in a country that badly needs both. However, this wouldn’t be the first time (it would actually be the fourth) that the military has snuck up from behind and spoiled things for Pakistan.

This story is still developing and my understanding is nowhere near as comprehensive as the experts. Read on.


  • http://afpak.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/01/14/who_is_tahir_ul_qadri
  • http://afpak.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/01/15/pakistans_supreme_court_orders_arrest_of_prime_minister
  • http://in.reuters.com/article/2013/01/15/pakistan-prime-minister-arrest-corruptio-idINDEE90E06U20130115
  • http://in.reuters.com/article/2013/01/13/pakistan-cleric-idINDEE90C05A20130113?cid=nlc-dailybrief-daily_news_brief-link6-20130115

“He was fond of books, for they are cool and sure friends.”

That quote is from Les Mis, one of my favorite books. I feel like sometimes the word ‘favorite’ looses its meaning with me for books because I describe a large number of books as ‘one of my favorites’. Up until about a year ago, I really disliked reading non-fiction books. Reading non-fiction was something I did in school and so whenever I got the chance to read for fun, I always chose to read fiction. The problem, I realized, was that I just hadn’t found something I was interested in enough to sit down and read a complicated non-fiction book “for fun”. Judging by the stack of books currently on my bed-table, I think I might have found a topic I am interested in… ImageEver since my internship at the National Defense University last summer I have been hooked on South Asia and the war in Afghanistan. At first I think it was the thrill of having a deeper understanding of the war that has consumed our country for over half of my lifetime and then the desire to learn more about this complicated region of the world. Someday I would like to travel to these places and maybe even make a career studying them, but for now this passionate pursuit of knowledge is just that, a passion.

Books I’ve read:

Books I am reading (I know I would get through them faster if I read them one at a time. Oh well.)

Books I want to read:

Will I ever read all of these books? Hopefully. Sometimes I think my mind isn’t big enough for so much knowledge. Then again, I have been told I have a big head (not in the figurative sense–my head is actually large). All right, back to homework.

“A land neglected, brutal, beautiful, flawed.”

On the plane from D.C. to Texas, I finally finished an e-book I started a long time ago called “Afghanistan By Donkey: One Year in a War Zone” by journalist Anna Badkhen. I bought it on Foreign Policy’s website several months ago and even though it does not take long to read and she is an amazing story-teller, I got distracted by life and school (mostly school). But I finally put away all other distractions and finished it. Her writing is as beautiful as the country she is writing about and at certain points she had me smelling the food, feeling the heat, and experiencing the heartache of the people she spoke too.


I recommend this book to anyone—anyone who wants to learn about Afghanistan, who wants a different, first-hand point of view of American counter-terrorism policy, or who wants to read an incredible story about a timeless, war-torn land.

Often I jump back and forth between books, alternating chapters. Its not because I don’t like them each enough to read one all the way through, but usually because I’m so excited to read them both that I can’t read one at a time. While I was reading this e-book, I was also reading “Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America’s Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda” (which I actually had to prioritize because I was reading it for work and had to turn in a chapter-by-chapter summary that my boss was going to use in his case to make the book a part of the school-wide curriculum….no pressure). It was incredible how quickly I became consumed in the book, unable to put it down because I had to know what happened next. I was so filled with patriotism, anger, conviction, and excitement. I wanted to ‘get the bad guys’.

Then I remembered the heartbreaking stories of families destroyed and young men turned toward extremism because of night raids and drone strikes. And then I read “Descent Into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia” by Ahmed Rashid and became so incredibly frustrated with U.S. policy that I just didn’t know what to do. And then I read “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” by Mohsin Hamid, watching how America turned on a young Pakistani-American after 9/11 and his journey towards fundamentalism.

So many competing views and so little time to fully understand all of their intricacies, shortcomings, and virtues.

I guess before I can figure out what to do, I need to learn as much as I can. I want to learn as much as I can, throw myself into situations where I will learn by observation. Maybe I should have been an anthropology major. I think that’s what I love about Anna Badkhen’s book so much. She retains a sense of self-awareness as a foreigner throughout the entire book, but throws herself so completely into this country that it becomes a part of her and she of it. The following quotes are only two examples of how beautiful her writing is:

 It was dusk. Dogs barked at the approaching night; boys whipped the last sheep through sheet-metal gates. Men pressed their palms to their chests in greeting and smiled. A swollen Venus hung over the distant silhouette of the Hindu Kush. At a village elder’s mud-walled guestroom crisscrossed with horizontal smears of smoke from bukhari and cigarettes, after dinner of lamb, rice, and fresh yogurt, I fell asleep to the men’s soft Farsi gossip, to the stars’ eternal lullabies. – Anna Badkhen

There were also times when, by what seemed like sheer force of our will, we carved out of a brutalized landscape moments of immeasurable, unadulterated joy. The evening in August when we went swimming in the satin eddies of the Balkh River to beat our Ramadan thirst. The morning in March when we set out before dawn to a Monday bazaar twenty-five miles away, the desert ringing underfoot like the earth’s belly, Amanullah on his donkey singing the sun out from behind the mountains. The day, last April, when Baba Nazar and I knelt on top of a gold-speckled san dune to eat the season’s first camel yogurt. It tasted like liquid moonlight. –Anna Badkhen

Food for thought…and just some food

Prescriptions for Peaceful Transitions: Is Democracy Mandatory?

This was the title of the panel discussion I went to tonight at SAIS (the John’s Hopkins School for International Relations). The panel included two SAIS professors, a woman who worked for the State Dept, a woman who worked for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the President of the National Endowment for Democracy. What I wouldn’t give to be as smart, experienced, and successful as any of those people. They each had a few decades on me though, so there is still time!

In answering the above question, each of the panelists gave a resounding “Yes, but….”. The truth is that it depends. In every instance of transition, what is necessary for that transition to succeed is dependent on the context, on the conditions on the ground. The reason each panel member said that, yes democracy is mandatory for a successful transition is because it is. Of course a government that is based on free and fair elections and that respects fundamental human freedoms is necessary for peace. However, the specific conditions of each case determine what kind of democracy is best suited for that country and the pace that democracy should be built. Democracy is not one-size-fits-all, it is not easy, it is not quick, it is not easily measured, and it is a not a one time project. Democracy is a messy, complex process that has taken most countries hundreds of years to develop. Our own democracy is filled with crippling partisanship, ugly smear campaigns, bureaucratic inefficiency, allegations of voter suppression, etc., yet we expect other countries with histories of violent conflict and corruption to develop democratically overnight. The panelists made several very interesting points, but two of them really stood out to me.

1) Democracy must be both the cause and effect. In other words, can building democratic institutions birth democratic norms or do norms have to exist before those institutions can be successfully built? On the one hand it seems obvious that states must be built/re-built before democracies can be because people need to be safe before they can vote, but too often the conditions for peace are not the same as the conditions for democracy, especially when power needs to be consolidated quickly to create stability. If states are not rebuilt by those with a desire for democracy or on the foundation of choice and the constraint of power, then those institutions seem doomed to fail and repeat former mistakes. But can these norms and desires, this true demand for democracy, exist in places where it has never existed? This ‘demand for democracy’ is related to point number two.

2) Democracy cannot be externally imposed. Successful, lasting democracy needs to be built by the people who will use it. It needs to come from a true desire to build a government built on equality, freedom, human rights, and choice. That desire, that demand cannot be built from the top down. Not to say that external parties aren’t helpful/necessary at times, rather that those actors must acknowledge and support local social systems, networks, actors, and ideas. What’s ironic about American democracy building is that we tend to promise the fastest, most robust results in situations when we have the least possible control over the outcomes and in an attempt to produce fast, measurable results (how do you even measure democracy?) we produce many unintended consequences that end up making matters worse, be it immediately or in the long-run. But I truly believe America is–and can continue to be–a force for peace, democracy, and human rights. We just need to tread lightly, humbly, and intelligently, stop thinking about everything from a national security perspective, and see our initiatives through.

So the “it depends” answer is both frustrating and exciting to an aspiring peacemaker. It means that finding answers is going to be difficult (if there even are any answers to discover), but it also means that there is room and a need for creativity and change.

Also, this is what I made for breakfast:

Turkey Egg Bake

Adapted from a Trader Joes recipe, this egg bake includes:

  • .3 lbs of lean ground turkey meat (cook in skillet before adding to egg mixture)
  • 6 eggs
  • ¼ cup skim milk
  • ½ cup cheese of your choice (I used part skim mozzarella)
  • A lot of rosemary (definitely my favorite spice to use with eggs)
  • 2 slices of whole wheat bread ripped up and scattered (This is optional, but it gives it a little more texture. I used Nature’s Own Double Fiber.)

It’s like a quiche, but without the hassle of making (or in my case—buying) a crust. It’s super simple, quick, and healthy. Serves about 6-8 depending on how big you cut your squares.

1) Preheat oven to 350° and grease baking pan with fat free cooking spray.

2) Scatter bread in pan.

3) Beat the eggs, milk, and spices together and pour in.

4) Scatter in the meat and cheese.

5) Bake for 25 minutes or until a knife comes out clean.



Enjoy this flavorful protein and fiber filled breakfast as you contemplate America’s position in the world!

Here are some links to other egg recipes I love:

Egg-fruit scramble (from The Skinny Confidential)

Broccoli quiche (from All Recipes)

Quiche-prosciutto cups (from SELF)