New Age Islam Edit Bureau
24 August 2017
Delivering For the State
By Kamila Hyat
The Emperor Has No Clothes
By Ammar Ali Jan
A Recycled Agenda
By Abdul Basit
Imran, Nawaz Walk Into A (Sheesha)
By M Bilal Lakhani
Producing Pakistan: ‘Just Say It’s
By Daanish Mustafa
Afghanistan In Isolation
By Adam Weinstein
By Obed Pasha
By Mashaal Gauhar
What If A President Must Go?
By Harlan Ullman
Trump’s Enigmatic Afghanistan Stratagem
By Naveed Ahmad
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
August 24, 2017
Within a period of two years, two state
funerals were held in Karachi for Maulana Abdul Sattar Edhi and, more recently,
Dr Ruth Pfau – both of whom were honoured for their services to humanity.
Certainly, they deserve this honour.
But did the dignitaries who had gathered at
these funerals consider the fact that these individuals – with their limited
resources and boundless commitment – had, in reality, taken on precisely what
the state should be doing for its people and bore the responsibility for it
themselves? These humanitarians demonstrated that it is possible to create a
better welfare setting for the people and achieve what appear to be virtual
miracles, such as the eradication of leprosy.
Dr Pfau played a pivotal role ensuring that
Pakistan is declared a leprosy-free state by WHO in 1996. Many other countries
– including India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Ethiopia, Congo and Brazil – are still
struggling to eliminate this disease. We should remember that Pakistan has not
yet been able to eliminate polio despite the mass drive and state-run
programmes carried out in all four provinces. And yet, one woman, who worked
with a small team of volunteers and a dedicated staff, achieved what the state
had failed to do.
Through his astonishing network of shelter
homes, ambulance services, drives to recover missing children and other charitable
efforts, Maulana Edhi also managed to go far beyond anything that the state has
achieved. We still do not have government-run soup kitchens or other services
running in a country where 24 percent of the population suffers from
malnutrition and 50 percent of children are stunted.
Edhi saved children who had been abandoned
by their families silently offering a space where they could be left in safety.
His wife, Bilquis Edhi, has pointed out that when offered state help on various
occasions, the Edhi Foundation maintained that it was, in fact, already
performing the services of the state and, therefore, did not require assistance
There are other examples in our society as
well. Malala Yousafzai, who came so tragically close to requiring a funeral in
2012 – when she was shot near her school in Mingora – has done a great deal
more than most ministers or state representatives to propagate the education of
girls. Despite the vilification she has suffered in her own country – barring a
few exceptions, such as a moving tribute from boys at a Shangla government
school after she gained admission to Oxford University that demonstrated far greater
generosity than what is shown by others who have demonised her – Malala has
shown us what teenagers can achieve when the spirit and will exists and there
is true belief in what they are attempting to achieve.
There are other people who are performing
similar services on a smaller scale. A housewife in Karachi began a food
service for those who are unable to obtain a meal when she saw their situation.
Others have opened schools for the most deprived children in their communities
– sometimes even in their own homes.
Doctors set out to serve people who have no
or limited access to care. Dr Shershah Syed, an obstetrician in Karachi, offers
an example of this through his effort to change the lives of thousands of women
who are unable to obtain any other kind of help after suffering childbirth
complications, such as fistula. There are others like him who can be found
across the country.
The state has been unable to match the
feats of any of these individuals. Just consider where we would stand in terms
of social welfare if the achievements of Edhi, Pfau and others were replicated
on a large scale, utilising the vast resources and infrastructure of the state.
Certainly, the situation would vastly improve. Edhi alone brought hope to so
many. On a larger scale, others could have received similar assistance. All
this requires is empathy, concern and a giant dose of commitment.
These factors seem to be missing in the
running of the state and the delivering of good governance. Something has gone
terribly wrong somewhere. Yes, perhaps infrastructure projects, such as new
roads and transport systems, are important. Lahore today has witnessed giant
bridges and the pillars that support them along its considerably changed roads.
There are some questions over whether the
altered traffic systems have improved vehicular flow. Yes, cheap, fast
transport systems have helped people. But would more essential needs have been
met if the same resources had been used to also improve operations at a few
hospitals, refurbish even some government schools, train teachers and save
children from the monotonous education they will be receiving as they return to
schools after the summer break?
These are questions that we need to think
about and find answers to. The reason why people like Edhi, Pfau, Malala and
others have succeeded is simply because they are convinced of the need and
necessity of what they do. Maulana Edhi repeatedly urged the state to do more
for the people. His pleas brought no change in the functioning of this entity.
We have not seen change over the many decades during which Pakistan has been in
existence. As a result, people depend on individual efforts – at whatever scale
they can be mustered up – on charity and their own incredible survival
instincts which enable them to manage in the most impossible of conditions.
We still have people who live in little
more than caves or the weakest of shacks. Yet, despite this, no effective
state-level housing programme exists. Those which have been attempted have run
into multiple problems tied with corruption, mismanagement and a lack of
honesty in allocating homes. As a result, there are millions of homeless people
across the country who sleep on pavements every day regardless of the weather
and, for years, have no permanent address.
Apart from organising state funerals and,
by doing so, honouring those who have taken on its work, an honourable state
should attempt to address these issues on its own. So far, we have not seen
such attempts being made. Occasional schemes have been launched. But in the
ocean of misery, which has spread out across our nation – partially as a result
of failures of planning and administration – these matter very little.
In some cases, actions taken by the state
have added to people’s misery as it has demolished homes in order to set up
other more lucrative projects or mine for resources, even though this can
result in massive losses to communities who inhabit the area.
The relentless cutting of trees to widen
roads is a miniscule example of this. The loss of trees culminates in high
temperatures, more pollution and the threat of environmental havoc that we are
already told lies ahead. Most of all, it often translates into worsening
conditions in the lives of the people and the failure of governments to deliver
to these people is one of the reasons for our failures.
Determined individuals such as the
German-born Dr Pfau and the Gujarat-born Maulana Edhi demonstrated how much
could be achieved with relatively little. They have shown us that there is a
very real possibility of change and have often provided succour to the most
deprived and the most ostracised.
Beyond the funerals, the real challenge is
to take their work forward and demonstrate that we are indeed capable of
replicating or building upon the efforts of these individuals and, by doing so,
creating a more stable, stronger country.
The latest outburst by Trump, threatening
serious consequences for Pakistan for providing “safe havens” for terrorists,
has stirred a mix of emotions, including surprise, fear and anger. It is
particularly intriguing since Trump was an advocate for the withdrawal of US
troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and made it an important pillar of his
foreign policy statements during the presidential campaign. With the looming
escalation of US military involvement in the region, it is time for us in
Pakistan to have an open debate on the changing nature of the US Empire, the
emerging global order, and our own place in it.
Pakistan’s political and security
leadership has oscillated between either complete capitulation to US interests,
or a cynical use of its strategic position to pursue an ideologically-driven
agenda. Capitulation to Empire resulted in the doling out of military and
financial patronage as a ventilator for an authoritarian and decadent political
order, particularly strengthening military regimes in the country. On the other
hand, when the state occasionally tried to ‘assert’ itself, it did so to pursue
fantasies of regional domination, in particular the desire to control
Afghanistan, a policy that has caused immense suffering to that country, as
well as to us.
With Trump’s belligerent posturing, we must
reassess our strategy and consider treading the paths not taken. But before we
do that, it is essential to understand where the US Empire stands today,
especially militarily and ideologically.
The planned escalation of the war in
Afghanistan by the US comes as the superpower acknowledges the embarrassment of
participating in the longest war in the country’s history, and that too against
a “ragtag army” of guerrilla fighters. While the US can lay the blame of its
defeat in Afghanistan on Pakistan, that can in no way explain the colossal mess
it has created in the Middle East. While Iraq was no paradise under the
authoritarian regime of Saddam Hussain, the country has today deteriorated into
one of the most dangerous places in the world, and a threat to the region
because of the widespread presence of terrorist organisations.
The same is true for Libya, where a
knee-jerk and ill-conceived military intervention devastated the country’s
economic and political infrastructure and led to the proliferation of warlords
and terrorist outfits. The spectacular collapse of the country’s economy in the
aftermath of the military intervention has also fuelled the immigrant crisis
stemming out of the Middle East and North Africa. Similarly, the indecisive,
chaotic, and at times outright cruel, US policies in Yemen and Syria have
placed the entire region in an endless spiral of war and destruction. This is
the reason Trump’s recent threats of a military intervention in Venezuela were
met with a unanimous rejection by Latin American countries (including
Venezuela’s primary opponent, Colombia), since the past two decades have shown
that the destruction caused in the wake of US interventions are seldom
contained within the boundaries of a specific country.
What is noteworthy about America’s
interventions post 9/11 is the growing gap between its capacity to cause
immense destruction through its latest weaponry, and its ability to place an
adequate amount of resources and skills for reconstructing societies. Unlike
the post-Second World War scenario, where the US provided massive financial
assistance under the ‘Marshal Plan’ to counter communist agitation in Western
Europe, recent administrations have demonstrated little appetite for any such
imperial generosity. In fact, the continuing economic crisis in the US and the
fragility of public opinion in the face of US casualties has generated the
dangerous dynamic of the ‘privatisation of war’.
Private security companies are playing an
increasingly important role in combat operations around the world, particularly
in Iraq and Northern Africa. Aljazeera recently reported the use of former
child soldiers from Congo by American firms; these children are deployed in
various war zones, including Iraq. The policy is aimed at cost-cutting since a Congolese
soldier costs $250 per month without additional benefits (significantly less
than the cost of an American soldier), and helps avoid US casualties in wars to
ensure public support. In other words, the wretched of the earth now spill each
other’s blood on the streets of the Global South to ensure the safety and
security of the American Empire.
We are witnessing the emergence of a new
imperial logic. Empires have always been concerned with the management of
violence on a global scale, but in previous eras (pre-colonial, colonial and
post-war imperial), there was an ideological commitment to reconstructing
societies. Couched in racial or civilisational discourses such as the ‘White
man’s Burden’, it nonetheless entailed a long-term physical attachment to the
lands being governed by such Empires.
In contrast, contemporary Empire manages
its interventions without a concomitant duty to re-stabilisation. Today, the US
Africa Command (Africom) and Special Operations Command in Africa (SocAfrica)
are engaged in nearly a hundred shadowy combat missions in Africa, without any
public scrutiny or reciprocal commitments to economic or political development
of these societies. Moreover, the US state and corporations (as well as of
other countries) have become adept at cutting deals with private warlords and
militias to get access to the required resources, bypassing even the need for
any form of sovereign states. This is an Empire on a truly planetary scale, yet
without any sense of responsibility associated with previous imperial orders.
Already under Bush and Obama, the
strengthening of the surveillance state, support to brutal dictatorships in
Egypt, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and failed military interventions in
Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, had eroded America’s prestige in the eyes of the
global community. With the Trump administration’s tacit support for neo-Nazi
groups and outright disregard for constitutional norms at home, one can now
explicitly see the sinister machinations of Empire that were obfuscated by the charm
of previous US presidents. The emperor today is truly naked!
That does not mean that we in Pakistan
should resort to a sophomoric rhetoric of anti-Americanism that we have
witnessed over the last two decades. What this analysis suggests is that we
have to chart an independent path from the trajectory of a declining Empire.
Fundamentally, if we were to improve
relations with our neighbouring countries, we could play a pivotal role in
regional integration due to our historical and cultural ties with India and the
Islamicate world, and our friendly relations with China. For this to happen,
however, we will have to give up our embarrassing fantasies of regional
domination that have hindered even the acknowledgement of our diversity, let
alone its utilisation for political and economic ends. It also means
encouraging a more open and transparent debate as we engage with emerging key
actors on the global stage, including China, something unfortunately missing
from the shadowy nature of negotiations on CPEC.
The big lesson for progressive forces is
that they made a mistake in believing that US pressure can become an adequate
substitute for popular engagement to induce the structural changes needed in
state-citizen relations in Pakistan. The US neither has the capacity nor the
desire to bring freedom to other countries. In fact, the rise of fascist
currents in American political life has raised questions on the future of
freedom even in its own domestic politics.
It is the citizens of Pakistan that have
the primary responsibility of safeguarding popular sovereignty, and for
ensuring a frank discussion on the future trajectory of our country.
Considering the interests of our elites in the perpetuation of Pakistan’s role
as a petty rentier state in the global system, such calls for a reasoned
exercise of sovereignty may seem like an impossible task. Yet, we have no
option but to fight for it, since the costs of past mistakes are too high for
us to allow their eternal repetition.
Amid ongoing political turmoil in
Washington that has seen several White House top officials dismissed from their
positions, US President Donald Trump has announced his new Afghan policy.
Trump’s policy is in sharp contrast to his electoral promises of a complete
disengagement from Afghanistan.
The US policy choices in Afghanistan were
from bad (moderate troop surge to postpone the defeat) to worse (complete
withdrawal precipitating immediate defeat) and Trump has opted for the former.
While Trump’s Afghan policy is a departure from his predecessor’s approach in
its boldness. But the broad parameters remain, more or less, the same.
Apparently, the tone and tenor of the new policy is quite Clausewitzian as it
seeks to combine the military, political and diplomatic components. However, in
reality, it is only the military component that is preponderant.
The key features of Trump’s Afghan policy
operate on a condition-based approach instead of a calendar-driven policy. No
more peace talks with the Taliban, holding Pakistan accountable for providing
sanctuaries to the Afghan militant groups, working closely with India to
stabilise Afghanistan and the deployments of an additional 4,000 US troops are
the main elements of this policy. The addition of 4,000 troops will take the
total number of foreign troops in Afghanistan to 15,000 (12,000 from the US and
3,000 from Nato) who will advise, assist and train the Afghan forces. Moreover,
America’s open-ended commitment to Kabul will ease some pressure on the
embattled National Unity Government (NUG) of Ashraf Ghani.
The policy seems to be a compromise between
Trump – who wanted a complete withdrawal – and his generals – who wanted to
ramp up the war effort in Afghanistan. The policy lacks a clear articulation on
how its various components will break the strategic deadlock in Afghanistan,
stabilise the deteriorating security situation and improve the prospects for
peace-building. It raises more questions instead of providing answers. For
instance, it is not clear what outcomes the Trump administration aims to
achieve in Afghanistan by implementing the new strategy.
Despite a more assertive tone and a
muscular outlook, Trump’s Afghan policy exposes Washington’s policy paralysis,
lack of imagination and viable political options. It guarantees neither a
decisive victory nor military gains that are significant enough to force the
Taliban to come to the negotiating table.
President Obama, more or less, did the same
during the final months of his administration. Obama’s original plan was to
reduce the number of US troops in Afghanistan to 1,000 to protect the US
Embassy in Kabul. But he twice modified the planned reduction on the advice of
his military advisers to leave more troops in deployment.
Afghanistan needs intensified political and
diplomatic efforts to explore a negotiated settlement of the conflict. Instead,
Trump has further militarised the conflict, which is a recipe for endless war.
From the strategic point of view, an indefinite commitment to a protracted and
asymmetrical war is a poor policy choice.
A military strategy is employed to create
favourable conditions, which could be exploited politically. However, it is
unclear how this policy of militarisation will create a political opening. It’s
not rocket science to understand that 15,000 foreign troops will not be able to
achieve what 150,000 Nato/Isaf forces could not achieve, barring a few tactical
Trump’s policy pronouncement is a clear
indication that Washington is scaling down its commitment from stabilising
Afghanistan to preventing a terrorist attack on US soil which originates from
Afghanistan. The issue with this kind of muddled mindset is that preventing
Afghanistan from turning into a fertile ground for terrorist groups requires
nation-building, which the Trump administration is shying away from.
Unfortunately, as long as the government in Kabul remains dysfunctional, the
Taliban will remain a hard reality.
Ideally, an overall political strategy was
required for Afghanistan that should have guided its military component, among
others. Instead, Washington has outsourced the Afghan policy to Pentagon opting
for a militarised policy that offers little hope for conflict resolution. At
best, Trump’s new Afghan policy will deny Taliban an outright military victory.
At worst, it will further harden the Taliban’s insurgent attacks and fuel fresh
The Trump administration has taken an
oversimplified, static view of a complicated, dynamic and fluid regional issue
that has changed dramatically since his inauguration in January 2017. The
Afghan Taliban has diversified the regional linkages, minimising their sole
dependence on Pakistan.
Today, the Taliban have a working relationship
with Iran and Russia and, to a lesser extent, with Beijing. Islamabad, Tehran
and Moscow consider the continued US military presence in Afghanistan to be a
threat to their security and detrimental to their regional interests. So, while
the Trump administration has taken a tough line on Pakistan for providing
sanctuaries to the Taliban, it has fallen short of pointing out the support for
the latter from Russia and Iran.
Scapegoating Pakistan for its policy
failures in Afghanistan will not ease the US predicament in Afghanistan. The
buck certainly does not stop at Islamabad. It is rather ironic that with its
less than half-hearted commitment, Washington expects Islamabad to do more
while it is the former who needs to do more.
The hard-line towards Pakistan is not going
to change its Afghan policy. On the contrary, the increased Indian engagement
in Afghanistan – as envisaged by Trump in his speech – will further strengthen
Islamabad’s threat perception and add to its strategic anxiety. Consequently,
Islamabad will continue to pursue a policy that aims to minimise the Indian
influence in Afghanistan to avoid strategic encirclement.
Unfortunately, the endgame in Afghanistan
has become more uncertain, with no end in sight to America’s longest war. With
its new Afghan policy, the Trump administration can manage the conflict in
Afghanistan but cannot resolve it. Consequently, the current status quo in
Afghanistan is likely to persist. Notwithstanding recent battlefield gains, the
Taliban will not win and Kabul will not lose, despite the breakdown of
governance and the economic meltdown.
Imran, Nawaz Walk into a (Sheesha) Bar
The year is 2019. In a daring coup, the
Pakistani cricket team exiled all politicians from the country. Meanwhile,
Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan take a trip down memory lane by walking into a
Sheesha bar on Edgeware road in London.
This is a satire piece. Any resemblance to
actual persons, living or dead, is purely intentional.
Imran Khan: Nawaz Bhai, I thought I would
be the first Pakistani cricketer to become Prime Minister. At least when you
did Dhandli, I could stage a Dharna and bring the house down. But the
PCB establishment just kicked all us politicians out of the country. All it
took was an umpire’s finger and we’re out... we didn’t even get a review!
Nawaz Sharif: Stop crying like Umar Akmal,
Imran! Politics was never for a clean man like you. We should have played
politics like cricketers. You should have led like Shahid Afridi, with an all
or nothing, governance style. I should have played the long game, with a Misbah
style tuktuk knock. Think about it, you go after the shiny things, like a
billion tree tsunami and I try to restore the civilian-cricketer imbalance.
Instead, all you wanted to talk about was match fixing.
Imran Khan: It’s funny how we realised too
late that we’re playing for the same team — Pakistan. Misbah and Afridi had
dramatically different styles but they were always playing for the same team.
We forgot that in politics. We always disagreed on approach but we were both
fighting for a better Pakistan. We should have taken the temperature down ahead
of the 2018 elections. It cost our country too much. You should have never
spoken out against the PCB establishment.
Imran Khan: It’s funny how we realised too
late that we’re playing for the same team — Pakistan. Misbah and Afridi had
dramatically different styles but they were always playing for the same team.
We forgot that in politics
Nawaz Sharif: Speaking of establishments,
what would you like me to order for you... a Virgin Pina Colada?
Imran Khan: Very funny Mian Sahib, you know
they don’t serve Nihari at Sheesha bars, right?
Nawaz Sharif: Yaar, your sense of humour
has really gone down since you started hanging out with Sheikh Rashid. How’s he
Imran Khan: I have to give it to him.
Somehow he always manages to become a minister, whenever there’s a technocratic
government in place. Always pulling a surgical strike on my heart, that man.
Nawaz Sharif: Lolz. Who would have thought?
With Shahid Afridi in government, our growing foreign debt will pause itself
like the man’s age.
Imran Khan: And with the Rawalpindi Express
getting the contract to build metros and motorways in Punjab, your brother must
be thinking why he didn’t think of this while he was in power. Name the metros
and motorways after a popular cricketer and people won’t protest or trash the
Nawaz Sharif: You know, I never understood
why we spent so much time fighting each other versus fighting together for the
Imran Khan: It was good politics but we
would have been far more effective governing together. Imagine my energy,
leadership and a no nonsense attitude to corruption coupled with your experience
as a three time Prime Minister and influence to keep the cricketers playing in
the stadium versus the streets.
Nawaz Sharif: Yeah, if I could build a time
machine and go back in time, that’s the one thing I would change. Tone down the
rhetoric against the PCB establishment and your burger friends as well as the
media. But you gave me such little breathing room with your aggressive street
politics. I had no choice but to go on the attack.
Imran Khan: Yaar Mian Saheb, I know a
Qatari Prince, who’s good with time machines. Want me to give him a call?
Nawaz Sharif: Very funny. I also have
Gulalai on speed dial. Let’s not go there.
Imran Khan: Yaar, aik tau aap fouran
personal ho jatay hain.
Nawaz Sharif: Acha, by the way, I have to
tell you, for all my anger about you destabilising my government, I really
admire your unrelenting persistence and campaign against corruption. You were a
force for good in Pakistani politics, despite my differences with you. We made
a good team for Pakistan.
Imran Khan: Nawaz bhai, I still don’t like
you but I can finally understand your point of view in exile. The beauty of
democracy is that we can argue with each other as much as we want. We should
have built on each other’s strengths, rather than exploiting each other’s weaknesses.
You represent the voice of millions of Pakistanis, as do I. We should have
tried to unite our supporters versus trying to make them fight each other.
Nawaz Sharif: If only we could go back in
time and lead by example; passionate but polite.
Imran Khan: If only we could go back in
Producing Pakistan: ‘Just Say it’s
On a recent trip to Deosai Plain in Skardu,
my British friend, Franklin Gin and I, briefly stopped over at Sadpara lake,
Skardu. We stepped out of the car, took a look at the lake and jokingly said to
each other, ‘it’s a dam and it’s a lake. Not much to see. Let’s go’. As we were
walking away a Geo News correspondent accosted us, and wanted to get my
friend’s impressions about the place for their Independence Day transmissions.
The dialogue took place as follows:
Geo News: What do you think of this place?
Franklin: Well, it is a dam that has created...
Geo News: No, no, just say it’s beautiful.
Franklin: OK. It is beautiful.
Geo News: Thank you very much.
The above exchange is representative of how
the middle class oriented information brokers want to produce Pakistan —
foreigners agree that the lakes of Northern Pakistan are beautiful, as are the
mountains and its fair skinned people. There is little room for contemplation
on how and why the lake is there, and what might be its history or its economic
or environmental costs and benefits. In every officially sanctioned and media
promoted image of Pakistan, Northern Pakistan always takes a prominent place, as
do a smattering of Sufi shrines down country, and a few exotic looking shots of
camels and colourful dresses of the denizens of Cholistan. Pakistan is
increasingly being produced, and in fact, almost has to be produced in the
international visual grammar of globalised depoliticised, and somewhat
racialised and orientalised aesthetics. Millions of visuals, and stories they
represent, across the vast human and natural landscape of Pakistan are occluded
by the a few trite images, sanctioned and promoted by the popular media and the
state. Those images promote a unidimensional view of the country: of
breathtaking, mostly mountainous landscapes, Sufi shrines, colourful trucks,
and odd desert forts here and there.
Pakistan is increasingly being produced
and, in fact, it has to be produced in an international visual grammar of
globalised, depoliticised, and somewhat, racialised and orientalised aesthetics
The fact that in dominant Pakistani
imaginary, Sadpara is beautiful and Manchar is not, Lahore fort is iconic and
Ranikot fort is not, Kanghi palm is ornamental and date palms of Khairpur are
just desi khajoor, is consonant with the stories that Pakistanis tell about
themselves, and about each other. A housing society in Lahore, for example,
advertises itself as a place where it is ‘almost like living abroad’ — thank
God not Pakistan. Pashtuns are beautiful and brave, other Pakistanis by
implication less so. Baloch are quite brave too, but a little shaky in their
loyalty to Pakistan. Sindhis have a rich culture, but have too many Hindus
living amongst them — and they are dark. Kashmiris are beautiful too, but a
little cowardly. Baltis and Gilgitis — they are Agha Khanis and make good
waiters. Punjabis? They are, ahem, just Pakistanis, though in the view of
others overbearingly imperious, devious and sadly, dark skinned. All of these
stories and images are not separate from the challenges of deepest injustices
in Pakistani society along ethnic, gender and class lines. The disappearances
of the Baloch youth in Balochistan, to the general indifference of the
Pakistani society, is one such manifestation, as is the exclusion of poor
Bengalis, Pashtuns (for being suspected Afghans or Talibans), Hindus,
Christians, women and trans-sexual to name a few, from the Pakistani polity.
The seventieth Independence Day
celebrations were a manifestation of the narrow bandwidth being imposed upon
the national discourse. Watching the glorification of the armed forces, you
would be forgiven to think that Pakistan was created by the armed forces, and
not by a Gujarati lawyer politician. Unless the Pakistani polity is able to
expand the space for alternate stories told through words, images and action,
it is bound to be rent asunder by the forces of the Islamist ‘ideology of
Pakistan’ brigade, militarist national interest, xenophobic, but pathetic
posturing of the identity politics constituency, and the neo-liberal globalist
fantasies of the, so called liberals, thrown in there for good measure.
Is Sadpara Lake beautiful? It depends. Is
Bahria town beautiful? Is a petrol station beautiful? They can be beautiful, if
you want to live in Bahria Town, or are low on petrol. Every square inch of
this planet is beautiful. It is us humans who have the singular capacity to
turn this beautiful planet ugly, just as we also have the capacity to create something,
well—sublime. To find the beauty in the utter physical and human diversity of
this world, we have to draw upon a wider lexicon than the global image making
machine would allow. We also have to draw upon a wider trope of ideas than
ossified ethic, religious, gender or national identity regimes would allow. We
need to allow Franklin to talk about the dam, the lake and what Sadpara says to
President Trump has finished his
comprehensive review of ‘Afghanistan and South Asia’ policy and delivered his
findings in a speech. Like his predecessors he has failed to address the
fundamental problem and the very phrase ‘Afghanistan and South Asia’
demonstrates a myopic obsession with a lost war to the detriment of an entire
region. US strategy in Afghanistan must be ancillary to a comprehensive South
Asia policy rather than its sole focus.
During his speech, President Trump said
‘someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to
have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in
Afghanistan.’ But if a political settlement is predicated on the success of a
military effort than the US might as well quit now because its relationship
with the Afghan National Army (ANA) is dysfunctional and the cost of fighting
an insurgency is too high.
It is true that there are many diligent
Afghan soldiers. But there is a total trust deficit between the ANA and US
military. During my 2012 deployment fears of Taliban infiltration were so high
that ANA cell phones were often confiscated in the lead-up to an operation and
coalition soldiers were warned not to be ‘too trusting’ of them. At my first
base in Helmand province there was an overnight guard post with the sole
mission of protecting Marines from the section of the base belonging to the
ANA. At night, we slept peaceably knowing there were sand-filled HESCO
barriers, barbed wire, and two Marines with an M249 machine gun between us and
our trusted partners. Later I moved to Tarin Kowt and as talks of a drawdown
ensued some expressed concerns that containers designed to resist mortars might
benefit the Taliban when the ANA inevitably fled.
Indeed, worries about insider attacks
proved valid and on August 30, 2012 an ANA soldier killed three Australians at
a patrol base in Uruzgan province. This is a good example of the immense cost
of an insurgency and comparative advantage the Taliban have in Afghanistan. It
did not matter that the Australian soldiers were better trained or had the
advantage of air-support and encrypted radios. All of that was for naught
against a Taliban sympathizer who shot the defenceless Australians at
close-range and then escaped. What followed was a massive manhunt in which I
played the very small role of helping to cordon off a road. But there were
dozens of missions despite there being only one fleeing Taliban fighter. This is
the exponential power of an insurgency. Eventually the suspect was arrested
inside Pakistan which is a fitting end to the story because this is where the
US strategy really begins to unravel.
The US has excluded Iran from the dialogue
entirely, chosen to ignore conflicts in Kashmir and Balochistan, viewed
Pakistan more as a useful enemy than an equal partner with independent
interests, and portrayed the Taliban as a foreign element altogether
You cannot choose your neighbours much less
someone else’s. Yet for most of the war the US has excluded Iran from the
dialogue entirely, chosen to ignore the conflicts in Kashmir and Balochistan,
viewed Pakistan more as a useful enemy than an equal partner with independent
interests, and portrayed the Taliban as a foreign element altogether. Trump’s
answer to this conundrum was to give a backhanded acknowledgement of Pakistan’s
contributions during his speech, scapegoat it for the region’s terrorism, and
then prod at Islamabad’s deepest insecurities by prioritizing a strategic
relationship with India. This is likely not what General Bajwa meant when he
said he wanted recognition from the US. A heightened role for India in
Afghanistan might be productive if the US were willing to also admit that the
conflicts in Kashmir and Balochistan are real and need to be resolved.
Meanwhile Iran was missing altogether from the speech even though it has a
vested interest in keeping ISIS out of Afghanistan.
So, the US war in Afghanistan continues
unchanged. Perhaps US troops will temporarily enjoy more resources and less
restrictive rules of engagement. Maybe India will increase its already robust
investment in the country. And it’s even possible that Pakistan will take a
harder line against the Haqqani Network. This may initially produce some gains
but ultimately the Taliban will adapt and absent any leadership from the US the
regional tensions that prevent a political solution to Afghanistan will remain
unresolved. In all likelihood ‘Afghanistan speeches’ will be a centrepiece of
US presidencies for years to come.
What Nawaz Sharif experienced on GT road a
couple of weeks back is the solidarity of the masses towards the leaders who
challenge the establishment. Time and again, the masses have put their weight
behind any leader who has rebelled against the deep state throughout our
history. Before Nawaz Sharif, the mantle of anti-establishment politics was
with Benazir Bhutto owing to her struggle against Zia-ul-Haq. Earlier, her
father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto gained an overwhelming adulation from the masses for
defying General Ayub Khan. Much like what is happening today, people thronged
to greet Benazir Bhutto upon her return in 1986 and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto during
his 1967 visit to Lahore.
By hailing rebels as heroes, the masses
demonstrate their anger toward an extractive system which enriches the
ultra-powerful establishment and its cronies in the urban professional class at
the expense of the poor and less educated. Simmering public frustration against
police, patwaris, local judges, and revenue collectors concludes into mass
movements against the established order and the rebel leader serves as a focal
point, a personality to coalesce around and forge collective action against the
Our current establishment is a descendant
of the British colonial government whose purpose was to subjugate the masses to
enrich the empire. In such a system, the masses are held in contempt by the
state and their resources are squeezed through legal means and complex
institutional manoeuvres with the help of local elite and the professional
class. If someone thinks the masses do not comprehend this intricate web of
legal plunder, they are badly mistaken. Rural and urban masses are very much
cognizant of the system imposed over them. They understand how their rights to
better education and healthcare are stolen by the establishment through its
narrative of national security and perpetual animosity with neighbouring
History tells us that being on the wrong
side of the establishment comes with grave consequences, but the war can be
won. Many Latin American countries like Bolivia and Chile have defeated their
respective establishments for good
History of anti-establishment revolt in
this region is much older than Pakistan. Who can forget Bhagat Singh and Pir
Sibghatullah Shah Rashidi’s ultimate sacrifice for opposing the empire. Even a
dacoit like Jagga Jatt is revered in folk songs for standing up to the local
state structure in early 20th century. Bacha Khan’s legacy of peaceful
agitation against British and Pakistani establishments is still very much
relevant in Pakistani politics. Heroes of our folklore defied imperial powers
much before the British colonial government.
Sufi Inayat Shaheed of Sindh led a
rebellion against the Mughals and Kalhoras on behalf of the peasants in the
early 18th century and created a community of independent farmers under the maxim
‘Jo Khere So Khaye’ (The one who ploughs the land, is the rightful owner of the
produce). His shrine in Thatta attracts numerous people every day. And let’s
not forget the 10-year long rebellion of Dulla Bhatti against the Mughal
Emperor Akbar. Dulla Bhatti remains a hero in Punjab and ‘Lohris’ are still
sung in his name even after centuries of systematic suppression from the state.
All these protagonists had distinct ideologies and intentions, but had one
thing in common: they all rebelled against the establishment of their time and
became heroes to the masses.
Given his past, Nawaz Sharif is probably
the unlikeliest of leaders to have joined their ranks. He belongs to the
business elite of Pakistan which has exploited the system over decades. He
remained a key instrument of the establishment as it conspired against the
peoples’ true mandate throughout the 1980s and 1990s. His party has always
remained a right-wing conservative organisation, often supporting militant
outfits and espousing reactionary views against India. Since the last couple of
decades, however, his world view has slowly been absorbing values of
socio-economic progress and equity.
Whatever his past and however reluctantly,
Nawaz Sharif is currently the most popular leader in Pakistan who has gained
tremendous support from the masses due to his anti-establishment stance over
the last few months. The tide of mass support he received during his GT road
rally will not allow him to sit quietly in Lahore and he will continue touring
cities and town all over Pakistan until the next elections. But the path he has
chosen is extremely perilous. The deep-state has infinite control over the
society. It has access to numerous means to frustrate a challenger. History
tells us that being on the wrong side of the establishment comes with grave
consequences, but the war can be won. Many Latin American countries like
Bolivia and Chile have defeated their respective establishments for good.
Turkey and Bangladesh are also good examples in this respect.
The question is, will Nawaz Sharif embrace
his destiny to help bring true democratic rule and civilian supremacy to the
country, or will he succumb under pressure and allow the status quo to
continue? It is certain that the people will stand by him so long as he is
willing to be a rebel. What he does next with his newfound popularity will
define the future of Pakistan.
Karachi’s recent ranking on The Economist
Intelligence Unit Index as one of the world’s least liveable cities only
confirms what the people of Karachi have known and suffered for a long time.
Despite the city’s importance as the country’s primary economic hub for trade
and investment, Karachi has been the victim of chronic negligence and poor
Although the law and order situation has
improved in recent months, violence has been a hallmark of everyday life for
the people of Karachi. Renowned economist, the late Dr Mahbubul Haq stated,
“Economic advancement in the city has been curtailed by conflict along ethnic
and sectarian lines, however the roots of such conflict have more to do with
dysfunctional urban development than simply, ethnicity and religion. The social
and economic division of the city into planned and unplanned areas, the
competition over resources and public services and the interplay between
political parties and interest groups have tainted the city to a considerable
Dr Haq’s observations about the damaging
consequences of “dysfunctional urban development” highlights the importance
addressing Karachi’s civic issues, particularly as the city’s population
continues to swell inexorably.
The coastal city of Jeddah provides an
interesting benchmark. Jeddah too suffered the ravages caused by an
overwhelming surge in population, outdated infrastructure and a lack of
planning. Like Karachi, Jeddah would suffer from water shortages as well as
devastating floods. In the 1970s, the city’s administration embarked on a
project of major urban renewal led by its dynamic mayor Mohamed Said Farsi.
In addition to providing basic new
infrastructure, sufficient water, electricity, sewage disposal and
telecommunications services, Jeddah was beautified through the development of
parks and green spaces. Art works were installed throughout the city to create
a virtual open-air art museum. This was called the Jeddah Beautification
Project and has led to the city being recognised internationally as a leading
hub for art and design.
Unregulated and speculative construction
continues ceaselessly in Karachi. This along with a dilapidated infrastructure,
high pollution levels, inadequate sanitation and unreliable water and power
supply has marred the lives of the city’s residents
Given Karachi’s wealth of creative talent,
the same feat can be achieved as in Jeddah. Karachi’s problems can be overcome
as master plans have been drawn up but have failed to be implemented. The
city’s leading architects and urban planners like Arif Hasan have formulated
road maps envisioning the way forward for Karachi
A lack of urban planning has left Karachi
prey to haphazard and unsightly expansion. Today, unregulated speculative
construction continues ceaselessly. This along with dilapidated infrastructure,
high pollution levels, inadequate sanitation and unreliable water and power
supply has marred the lives of the city’s estimated 20 million residents.
In October 2016 Sindh Chief Minister Murad
Ali Shah announced the Karachi Liveable Improvement Project to restore the
city’s rundown heritage buildings. Primarily funded by the World Bank, the
project also promises to build pedestrian access ways, roads and parks.
As the late Dr Mahbubul Haq highlighted,
communities supported by well-designed public spaces are better positioned to
harness social problems such as crime. As a city that provides a quarter of the
nation’s GDP, Karachi must be afforded greater priority.
After seven months in power, given the
performance and record of the forty-fifth president of the United States, the
question of fitness to retain the office is no longer an idle one. The Trump
White House seems in perpetual chaos and incapable of restraining the
president’s lesser angels in word, deed and twitter account. Each week appears
to be worse than the previous one.
Whether threatening war with North Korea or
stubbornly refusing to sanction neo-Nazis, white supremacists and the Ku Klux
Klan, Mr Trump seems incapable or unwilling to act presidentially. But in
fairness, virtually all presidents stumble in their first year in office.
Franklin Roosevelt assumed the presidency
in 1933 as America was in the throes of the Great Depression and the cancer of
Nazi Germany was beginning to metastasize. Harry Truman had never been briefed
on the atom bomb before FDR died in April 1945. An exception was Bill Clinton.
By 1993, the Soviet Union had collapsed. George H.W. Bush had moved to make
Europe whole, free and at peace and driven Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. And the
economy was recovering.
Yet the first months of the Clinton
administration were tumultuous. An ill-advised attempt to allow homosexuals to
serve openly in the military turned into a political disaster. Whitewater,
“TravelGate,” health care reform and the suicide of Vince Foster, a White House
aide close to the Clintons, roiled the administration. The president’s
popularity was about as low as President Trump’s is today.
George W. Bush had to confront September
11th and the subsequent war on terror and interventions into Afghanistan and
Iraq—-the first conflict unresolved after sixteen years and the second arguably
the greatest strategic disaster since the Civil War. Barack Obama inherited the
financial collapse of 2008 and the two unfinished wars. And Donald Trump
assumed the presidency with American forces still at war, a sluggish economy, a
nation profoundly divided along partisan lines and a government that was at
Yet, so far, President Trump has not
matured. Nor has his temperament and performance reassured a majority of
Americans that he is fit to continue as chief executive. But replacing or
removing a president from office is made purposely difficult by the
constitution. Presidents can leave office through half a dozen means.
First, presidents can resign or refuse to
run for re-election. Harry Truman called it quits in 1952. Richard Nixon,
facing certain impeachment by the House of Representatives for “high crimes and
misdemeanours” and conviction by a 2/3 vote of the Senate chose to resign
making Vice President Gerald Ford his successor. Lyndon Johnson, tormented by
Vietnam would not accept the nomination of his party for a second term.
Second, the Twenty-Second Amendment limits
a president to two elected terms enacted after FDR was thrice re-elected.
Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama
left office as mandated by this amendment.
Third, presidents can die in office.
William Henry Harrison succumbed to pneumonia after weeks in office. William
McKinley and John Kennedy were assassinated.
Fourth, presidents can be impeached and
convicted by the Congress. Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were the only
presidents ever impeached by the House. Neither was convicted by the Senate.
Finally, presidents can be removed if
incapacitated under the Twenty-Fifth amendment. This amendment was sensibly
approved in the nuclear age so that the duties of the commander-in-chief were
temporarily passed on to the vice president if the president were incapacitated
either by a stroke or other medical condition or if undergoing surgery in which
anaesthesia was administered. Normally, the president would sign a letter
temporarily assigning power to the vice president. Then, after surgery in the
cases of Ronald Reagan and later George H.W. Bush, the president would reassume
However, and this is a big however, should
the vice president and a majority of the cabinet agree that a president was
incapacitated, after informing the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and the
Speaker of the House, a president could be temporarily removed. But the
president has the penultimate say. He (and one day she) can inform Congress
that the incapacitation was temporary and reassume duties. Only then would a
2/3 vote of both Houses remove the president.
These are uncharted and dangerous waters.
Unless President Trump can change his personality and temperament in his eighth
decade and the Russian allegations prove baseless, those waters do not seem to
becoming any calmer
Further, while the Constitution specifies
removal for “treason, bribery and high crimes and misdemeanours,” only in
approving the articles of impeachment can the House define what high crimes and
misdemeanours mean. Incompetence and temperament do not easily fall into this
category. Here, the “emoluments clause” could come into effect.
The emoluments clause states in part: “…
And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without
the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or
Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.
President Trump is already facing several
lawsuits over this clause. The question remains——suppose he continues to
stumble and demonstrate an unfitness to govern. What next? The new chief of
staff, General John Kelly and Trump’s closest advisers—his daughter Ivanka and
son-in-law Jared Kushner—-have had little overt impact in tempering
presidential temperament and conduct. Or suppose collusion and illegality over
Russian entanglement resulted from one of the current investigations?
The most rational case would be a
delegation of senior citizens, probably Republicans, privately meeting with the
president to put him on notice about his conduct. The problem is who would fall
into this category? With Richard Nixon, the House and Senate had many stalwarts
particularly Howard Baker. Who would fill this role?
These are uncharted and dangerous waters.
Unless President Trump can change his personality and temperament in his eighth
decade and the Russian allegations prove baseless, those waters do not seem to
becoming any calmer.
August 23, 2017
US President Donald Trump stood true to his
reputation. His Afghanistan policy is vague, devoid of deadlines and other
details. He was addressing his critics at home on Monday while spelling out
American anguish to a complex problem, Washington’s toolbox has failed to fix
in 16 years.
Prior to the Friday huddle at Camp David,
with cabinet and generals, Trump had even mulled over firing General John
Nicholson – US troops’ commander in Afghanistan – without ever holding a
one-on-one meeting during his seven months in the White House.
The other option on his table included
handing over Afghanistan’s security to private security forces comprising
military veterans. The intelligence lobby pleaded a broader role for CIA in
counter-terror operations. The far-right anarchists like Steve Bannon had done
their bit to make the case for complete withdrawal and abandoning the country,
the original line Trump had taken for years including while on the campaign
Nothing could have served Russia’s Putin
and Iran’s expansionist agenda better than Washington bidding farewell to Kabul
when its security forces are demoralised and the militants are on the rampage.
Trump’s near-orbit generals – Chief of
Staff John Kelly, Defence Secretary James Mattis and National Security Adviser
General HR McMaster – prevailed but not quite fully, considering opacities in
Trump’s speech. They could get the embattled president’s nod for a military
campaign to continue with replenishment and an open time frame (until the
return of satisfactory conditions).
Besides, the White House has opted to make
the military’s assessment process less stringent than it used to be.
He minced no words while pronouncing
Pentagon’s sole objective to eliminate terrorists. A notion of state building
involving institutional capacity building for efficient self-governance has
been dropped. The same goes for the timeframe.
The trigger-happy Republican president has
shelved the political option of dialogue while declaring “to change the
approach in how to deal with Pakistan”. His spokesperson stated that the president
has put Islamabad on notice. No words of warning for Iran and Russia though,
both of which happen to most ambitious disruptors in the country.
The US president said, “Pakistan has much
to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by
continuing to harbour criminals and terrorists.”
Disregarding its gradually lessening
leverage on Islamabad, Washington plans to end military aid in the future. It
is already withholding $350 million due to reservations over Pakistan’s counter-terror
actions. Though military hardware sale has gone through steep decline over the
years, the Islamic republic is still among the so-called major non-Nato allies,
making it eligible for the US aid and access to advanced US military hardware.
Trump’s references to India may seem out of
place in his speech but sounded like music for New Delhi. They were aimed at
invoking Pakistan’s concern of encirclement with explicit White House nod.
Islamabad and Rawalpindi did not tremble
with shock waves. Despite US Central Command chief’s successful visit, that
also included a briefing on Waziristan, the expectations were low. Like much of
Trump’s decisions, the major powers will not be signing up on Afghanistan
strategy without reservations. Financially weak it may be, yet the threat of
1990s era sanctions or end to American aid will not bring Pakistan to the
knees. Neither the punitive curbs work before nor will they deliver in the days
The elephant in the room is a resurgence of
the Taliban and the ISIS in Afghanistan and multinational failure to help
establish robust security apparatus to stem the tide. Notwithstanding en masse
desertion of troops and policemen, green-on-blue attacks have surged again,
resulting in casualties of the US troops.
Afghanistan’s future political stability
may not be a concern for the Trump administration but it sure is an important
The White House must have taken stock of
deepening political fissures in the unity government. Infighting between Afghan
President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah-Abdullah trickled down to the very end,
with mostly governors and police chief at odds with each other.
Besides, rampant corruption has taken the
toll on the institutional capacity building as well as service delivery. The
Taliban and ISIS have benefitted from feuding bureaucratic elite to unabated
poppy crop and demoralised deserting troops alike. Already, Afghanistan’s 90%
of the national budget is financed by foreign aid. A World Bank report noted
that the country would be incapable of surviving without foreign assistance
until at least 2024. The steep southward slide continues.
Washington’s disarray will aggravate in the
months to come. Trump’s attention span is limited even on the most pressing
national and global issues. He will neither hold regular video conferences with
Ashraf Ghani nor take stock of the on-ground situation from General Nicholson.
Thus, the US military will not endanger its
working relationship with the Pakistani counterpart. Otherwise, it jeopardises
the vital logistical corridor, intelligence sharing and other less discussed
but crucial means of cooperation in place since the start of the Afghan war.
The relations between White House and Pentagon may worsen with prospects of
Kelly and McMaster either quitting at some or reactively digging in deeper to
safeguard establishment’s interests.
Meanwhile, China and Pakistan may enhance
effort for pushing the Taliban and the Afghan government to resume talks with
the militants. Gulbadin Hekmatyar’s embrace of mainstream politics resulted
from the negotiation instead of a military action. China has already rejected
Trump’s speech, and will not wait for the neighbouring country fall victim to
mindless hawkish policies of the US.
Pakistan, nonetheless, must continue its
operations against extremists’ ‘safe havens’ as was witnessed during operation
Khyber IV. The fencing of Durand Line will ensure relative security from back
and forth infiltration. Resumption of drone operation and killing of any
operatives of Haqqani group will be detrimental to Islamabad’s claims of ‘no
safe havens on its soil’. Better intelligence cooperation and effective
preparedness and action cannot be compromised due to a hawkish speech of an
Without Afghan security forces’ commitment
and capability, military victory in Afghanistan is a distant dream. Similarly,
without an active cooperation with Pakistan, America’s chances of stabilising
the war torn country remain dim as well.