Monday, February 19, 2007

An article on the Pakistan-Afghanistan Border (dated 2000 AD)

In the context of last week's discussion on small, distrustful groups, let's examine the crazy world as it was before it recently got crazier:

Every person I interviewed was sullen and reticent. One day a crowd of men surrounded me and led me to the back of a pharmacy, where they took turns denouncing America and telling me that the Taliban were good because they had restored security to Afghanistan, ending mujahideen lawlessness. The "external hand of India" was to blame for the local troubles between Sunnis and Shias here, I was told. Conspiracy theories, I have noticed, are inflamed by illiteracy: people who can't read rely on hearsay. In Pakistan the adult literacy rate is below 33 percent. In the tribal areas it is below that. As for the percentage of women in Parachinar who can read, I heard figures as low as two percent; nobody really knows.


[T]he West spends its political capital [in Pakistan] demanding a return to the same parliamentary system that bankrupted the country and resulted in the military coup. Given that the Subcontinent is a nuclear battleground where defense budgets are skyrocketing, and at the same time it is home to 45 percent of the world's illiterate people, I can see few priorities for the United States higher than pressuring governments in the region to improve primary education. Otherwise the madrassas will do it. What was so frightening about Mufti Naeem
was the way he used Western information-age paraphernalia in the service of pan-Islamic absolutism.

"The Lawless Frontier," Robert Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly September 2000


My editorializing begins here:

The basic phenomena of small, distrustful groups of humans poses a fundamental challenge to "libertarian" or "classical liberal" ideas. It is a fact that small political units do not get along. With that fact, transactions of business and mutual interest become distorted... And because these small groups are basic, they cannot be abolished by any theoretical fiat. Quite possibly, they can only be abolished by political force. So:

Does someone have to win through force before "everyone" benefits from the market? Or, is education a possible way out? Is "classical liberal" thought limited by this impasse? A successful synthesis would significantly increase the applicability and realism of classical liberal thought- so, let's get to it!

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