New Age Islam Edit Bureau
22 August 2017
Pakistan Is Not Doomed After All
By Hasnain Iqbal
Let Better Sense Prevail
By Zafar Zulqarnain Sahi
How Afghanistan Could Affect Its
By Shahid Javed Burki
As Dark As the Inside of a Needle
By Khayyam Mushir
CPEC in Gilgit-Baltistan
By Zubair Torwali
Above Suspicion at All Times
By Nazeer Ahmed Arijo
Changing With the Times?
By Kamal Siddiqi
Stench of Victory
By Fahd Husain
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Countries age no different from wine as
years add both maturity and taste. 100 years old is better than 70 years old
for sure for the discerning. Time has its own way and pace of dealing with the
young. That said, growing up is inevitable. Let’s be a little more patient,
give our nascent country time and try to distance ourselves from the turbulence
on ground for a dispassionate view of the landscape. Pakistan is yet again
caught in a maelstrom of political instability triggered by the Supreme Court
verdict. Many view Pakistan teetering on the edge of the precipice for the
umpteenth time. I see it all as creative chaos that will eventually blossom
into order. A lot is going Pakistan’s way as the optimist in me refuses to
pander to cynicism and Kafkaesque impulses. I let go of all the opportunities
to settle abroad. Pakistan is now my home till death do us part.
I had always had a vague sense of endearing
mystery about India, infected with a clutch of clichés, enamoured of the
beautiful Indian actresses but weary of the common Indian. That changed when I
went to UK for higher education and had my share of sparring with our
neighbours. To be fair, I found Indians to be no less interested in us,
smacking of a natural affinity due to a shared sense of history, traditions,
values, cuisine, appearance and language. The young and educated on both sides
of the border came across as more curious than apprehensive, unencumbered by
the weight of the historic rivalry, the bloody spectacle of partition and two
full scale wars. We now know that bigger enemies are not on our borders.
Extremism, power crisis, water scarcity and exploding population are the tumors
growing within. Our official relationship with India has, however, stood the
test of time and remains to the pleasure of many, riddled with distrust and
hate. It is time to seriously evaluate the legacy we bequeath to our young as
our national security and foreign policies remain hostage to stasis and
paralysis of thought.
Pakistan is on its way up. There are good
omens and there are many. Terrorism is on the wane and the deafening sounds of
blasts have muffled. PTI and media have politicised the fence-sitters and
elections in future promise to be more representative as women and the middle
class exercise their right to choose. The political landscape is a little
lopsided with no clear Left, but there is definitely more competition in the
space right of center.
PTI has broken the two-party stranglehold,
affording more choice to people. Media is independent and unlike the fabled
mirror of Snow White, ruthlessly reflects the disease infecting our nation, in
addition to enlightening people and shaping public opinion on issues of
national bearing. CPEC has descended and Pakistan is a key stakeholder in the
grand Silk Route tapestry envisioned by the Chinese. Silk Road will connect
Asia to Europe, integrating South Asia, East Asia and Central Asia into one
great grid of countries with shared military and economic interests. Imagine
the tsunami of infrastructure development and business activity CPEC will
unleash. Peaceful coexistence with India will be a huge enabler as a Pakistan
apprehensive of its eastern border will continue to disproportionately allocate
Can we possibly eliminate extremism with
only guns? No, we can’t. It will be a slow, long drawn process to weed out the
rot that took several decades of patronage to entrench. This is a war we have
to wage on multiple fronts: ground operations, reforms and narrative. The
National Action Plan (NAP) should ideally be an all-encompassing exercise
taking tangible, specific and measurable actions in all the three areas. Ground
operation is at best a short-term fix. Building a counter narrative is
long-term, attacking the incubators, from which sprout the perverted notions of
xenophobia, self-righteous madness and hate. There are more than 50,000
public-sector schools in Punjab alone. The need of the hour is to have the
curriculum standardised across Pakistan and dubious sections on religion and
Pakistan history expunged. In addition, we have to disseminate a curriculum
that encourages questioning, tolerance, co-existence and conformance to law.
There is so much good to my Pakistan. And
there is a lot to whine about. I choose to drink from the cup of optimism.
Change is wafting all around, engulfing us slowly but surely. Democracy inching
forward, an unleashed media bent on unveiling the rot, magically touched
bourgeoisie flexing political muscle, a nation finally beginning to rein in the
demon of extremism, CPEC promising renewal and rebirth, all indicate
convalescence. And there is more to my Pakistan. There are frothy seas, lush
meadows, peaks that kiss the skies and plains that stretch into infinity. There
are seasons. Hot summer breathes fire to sweeten the mangoes and the glorious
winter celebrates the marriage of ice and fire, serving ice cream on a warm
plate. Spring is a riot of colours with blooms all around and autumn a saffron
bride, minus the trappings but no less inviting. Monsoon splashes love onto the
parched earth and rainbows descend to the ground. And the romance goes on.
There is a thorn in the lion’s foot and he
is in excruciating pain, he is furious. Pulling it out is not his first
priority, he first wants to burn the bush it grew on.
The mice are scared, they fear for their
lives. Anyone who suggests a way of extracting the thorn is not welcome. Only those
with ideas to chastise the bush may come close enough to be heard. They want to
hammer the thorn in. The lion doesn’t care, he wants revenge.
There may not be a rift in the Sharif
family. There is, however, a clear divide within the PMLN. Voices of reason and
sanity against those of passion, vengeance and ‘glory’. The lion must listen to
From the statement of Azad Kashmir’s Prime
Minister to the decision of filing a reference against Justice Khosa by the
Speaker of the National Assembly, someone wants to hammer the thorn in. Bad
advice is not new for Mr Sharif, it has always been part and parcel of his
political career. Like most men in power, he has a weakness for the glittery
words of abject sycophants. A good sycophant never makes a good adviser. They
may end up hammering the thorn in, albeit with the best of intentions.
The reference, if one is actually being
considered, will only validate the remarks it aims to defy. Justice Khosa had
commented on the Speaker’s bias in dealing with the reference against then
Prime Minister. Inability of the Speaker, along with heads of several other
institutions, to act in accordance with their constitutional role was cited as
a reason for the Supreme Court’s pro-active interference in the matter. The remarks
were taken as a jab at the Speaker’s impartiality, and rightly so. But it was a
remark, not an order entailing any legal or penal consequence.
The reference will be unprecedented; being
the first ever against an honourable Justice filed by the custodian of a House
of Parliament. The ousted Prime Minister and a vocal majority of his party have
been at loggerheads with the five member bench ever since they ousted him. Now
through this reference the Speaker intends to have Parliament lock horns with
the Supreme Court; legislature vs judiciary.
Sharif may not be the Prime Minister
anymore, but he controls the PM's House. His party is still in govt in the centre and two provinces. He seems prepared
for retaliation but the fact of the matter is: he was not a victim of a coup
Mr Ayaz Sadiq, his advisers and the
advisers of Mr Sharif know this move does not add to the prospects of a legal
victory. Nor will it bring any more legitimacy to the vilification campaign
against members of the bench. Why then is it being considered? Is it an attempt
to lay the foundations for a constitutional amendment to tighten the noose
around judiciary’s neck?
Repeal or modification of Articles 62 and
63 is already on the cards. Will Articles 209 and 184(3) suffer a similar fate?
Such attempts are not likely to restore the pre 28th July state of affairs. It
is far more probable that it leads to another October 1999 like situation. But
then again, that may be the whole idea.
While sane advisers may want to devise
strategies that reverse Sharif’s dismissal, others, it seems, wish to complete
the job and have the system wound up or, at the very least, put it in
Those close to Nawaz Sharif know him to be
a calm, non-confrontational person. But he’s hurt and angry. He sees a hidden
hand behind his dismissal, yet again. He feels wronged, betrayed, isolated and
victimised. Naturally he is sceptical of all advice that even remotely appears
to be cutting the ‘hidden hand’ some slack, or not abusing those who ‘wronged’ him.
Only the obsequious seem sincere, only the ‘enemy’ bashing sounds legit. Their
advice must thus appear to be the only advice worth listening to. But it’s not.
Nawaz Sharif never really got to retaliate
in 1999. With him went his party, the Parliament, judges and the executive.
Within hours all his power had vanished and before he came out of the shock, he
was out of the country and its political landscape. This time he has
considerable power even after his ouster. He may not be the Prime Minister, but
he owns and controls him. His party is still in government, in the centre and
two provinces. So he is quite equipped for retaliation. But the thing is; this
isn’t a coup.
It is a thorn in the lion’s foot. You
remove it and try to heal the wound. You don’t hammer it in and go try to burn
the bush it grew on. Burning bushes may lead to burning forests. Some of the
advisers may be fine with taking that risk, but Mr Sharif needs to listen to
the ones who aren’t. The current path may only lead to more isolation and
devastation for Nawaz Sharif, his party and his country.
August 21, 2017
As the new prime minister in Pakistan
extends the federal government’s efforts to areas that did not fully involve
the previous administration, it would be appropriate to bring Afghanistan into
focus. Afghanistan’s present and its future cannot — in fact, should not — be
considered in isolation. The country has already deeply affected its many
neighbours, Pakistan and Iran in particular. But it is not only the neighbours
that have felt the impact of the happenings in Afghanistan.
India has always been involved in Afghan
affairs, in part because of the long-running rivalry with Pakistan. China is
taking interest in the country as a part of what analysts such as Robert
Blackwill and Jennifer Harris in their 2016 book have called “geoeconomics.”
This is the use of economic instruments to achieve geopolitical goals. Beijing
has assigned Afghanistan an important place in its One Belt, One Road programme
of infrastructure development involving scores of countries in three
continents. The Chinese are pouring in massive amounts of capital into Pakistan
and Kazakhstan. Two parallel road corridors are being constructed in these two
countries that would connect China’s west with central and western Asia.
Through these regions, the Chinese would use land to reach Europe and Africa.
When the situation in Afghanistan stabilises, there are plans to connect these
east-west highways with north-south links — thus creating a well-integrated
system of regional highways.
Although the United States is still engaged
in determining what are its short- and long-term interests in Afghanistan, it
appears those will be secondary. It will give attention to Afghanistan as a
part of its policy to deal with the rapid rise of China as a global power.
Russia would not like to see Afghanistan fall into the hands of Islamic extremists
since that would have influence on the countries in Central Asia that were once
included in the cluster of nations that made up the defunct Soviet Union. Such
a development would also affect Russia’s already restive Muslim population.
How to deal with this situation was one of
the questions some of us asked and tried to answer in a book, Afghanistan: The
Next Phase. The book was written by three scholars, including myself, working
at the National University of Singapore’s Institute of South Asian Studies. It
was published in 2015 and I presented President Ashraf Ghani a copy when I
spent several hours with him in Kabul in May of that year. We suggested in the
book that since the resolution of the Afghan problem would affect a number of
states in the geographical space the country occupies, it might be appropriate
to let a group of nations get involved in moving forward this troubled nation.
The group should ideally include all the countries that border Afghanistan
(Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China, Pakistan and Iran) as well as
those that have been involved in one way or the other in the country’s affairs.
The latter group should include India, Russia, Turkey and the United States.
This group of 10 countries, all “friends of Afghanistan”, should be mandated by
the United Nations to manage the Afghan state over a specified period of time,
say 10 years. After that time, the country’s affairs would be handed over to a
constitutionally-created structure of governance.
This approach runs counter to the biases of
the members of the current administration in Washington. While it does not
favour a nation-building strategy and is inclined to leave the Afghan nation to
its own devices, it is not clear how it would like to see the United States to
get disengaged. There are many voices in the on-going Afghan debate in
America’s capital. The Trump White House is divided between two factions with
National Security Adviser H R McMaster seeking to bolster US troops there and
give them greater freedom of action, Stephen Bannon, the president’s chief
security adviser who has stepped down, opposes greater US involvement in
Exasperated by the uncertainty this has
created and noting the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, Senator John
McCain put forward his own proposal. “We must face facts: we are losing in
Afghanistan and the time is of the essence if we intend to turn the tide,” he
said announcing his plan of action. “We need an integrated civil-military
approach to bolster US counterterrorism efforts, strengthen the capability and
capacity of the Afghan government and security forces, and intensify diplomatic
efforts to facilitate a negotiated peace process in Afghanistan and cooperation
with regional partners.” The McCain proposal would broaden the scope of
American involvement in Afghan affairs. By including a negotiated peace process
as an element in the strategy, the senator has recognised that the insurgent
and surging Taliban cannot be beaten on the battlefield. They should be
encouraged to become a component of Afghan society.
It is important to recognise that some of
the moves aimed at the Muslim world made by the US administration under
President Donald Trump have created a chain reaction that might reach the South
Asian sub-continent. Afghanistan would be the conduit though which South Asia
might be affected. The world around the sub-continent is churning too rapidly
for the countries of the region not to be concerned. The ripples from this
churning should be guarded against before they do great and irretrievable
August 22, 2017
The celebrations began two nights before
Independence Day and were much the same as they have been for a decade now in
Islamabad. Draped in green and white, pillion-riding motorcyclists and
flag-mounted cars arrived in hordes from Rawalpindi, their passengers perched
precariously outside car windows or swinging dangerously from iron grills
mounted behind transport vans.
Passengers aboard these vans were seen
shouting, whistling, hooting and gyrating to azadi songs that blared and
crackled through cheap speakers unable to sustain treble or bass, their tunes
rendered further discordant against the din of booming horns, screeching tyres
and the blasts of firecrackers chucked surreptitiously on the road. Cars,
motorcycles, buses and pedestrians coalesced into an unending, thick, pulsing
torrent of jarring noise, neon lights and hysteria that rose to a crescendo.
They eventually choked the main arteries of traffic in the capital on the muggy
August evening of our 70th year of Independence.
Pakistan 70 years on. Independence
celebrations may remain the same, but one wonders: what has changed? If you
live here, then you’re probably less concerned about the evolution of the
country’s sociological and political character or its economic indicators and
more interested in the jubilation of ousting Nawaz Sharif from his prime
ministerial office and his rally along GT Road to Lahore. A time of reckoning
most say, a final moment, a watershed event, the end to corruption and the
historic rounding of a corner to emerge into a glittering tomorrow.
Except that we’ve been rounding corners for
70 years. And thanks to the culture of the 24-hour news cycle, we now round
them every week. Through 70 years of military coups, ousted prime ministers,
humiliated dictators, jubilant chief justices, leaked memos, assassinations,
Dharnas and long marches, Pakistan has always been poised to arrive, yet it
never really does.
But a history lesson is not the purpose of
this article. And for all that we’ve gained – motorways, metros, nuclear bombs,
strategic depth and what not – there are a few other things that we can include
in the calculus of our losses, past and present.
The loss of decency is one. We’ve finally
abandoned all pretense for the need of it – whether in public or private
discourse. Coached for a decade now by an unfettered electronic media – that
runs on ad money and employs uncouth chat show anchors who are paid by their
masters to sit on live television every evening to engage in vulgar calumny,
concoct conspiracy theories, lower the standard of public discourse to mimicry
and lampooning of public officials and whip up public sentiment into a frenzy –
we have arrived at a moment in our history when the only apparent solution to
differences of public opinion is the waging of a zero-sum ‘us vs them’ war of
attrition that is without rules. As a consequence, our polarised civil society
is convinced that principles are dispensable and that every standard of decorum
that was once sacred, is now profane.
The institutionalisation of misogyny is
another thing we can include among our losses. It is clear from recent
experiences, which happen to become the subject of debate in the public domain,
that women are accepted in our patriarchal order as mute subjects of ridicule,
violence and exclusion, with their chastity determined through a licence issued
by male members of society, who further reserve the right to violate that
chastity – verbally or physically – with impunity.
Should a woman dare to step out of these
well-demarcated boundaries, should she dare to question the power structures
that reside within this patriarchal order, she will be hounded into silence and
submission (if not killed), with the morality of her lineal ascendants and
descendants being called up to public scrutiny. That we indulge in public
displays of misogyny to celebrate our machismo was ruefully displayed first in
the shocking live interrogations and dismissals that Ayesha Gulalai was
subjected to on private channels the night after her press conference and then
during her national assembly speech, that was barely audible among the jeers,
catcalls and insults from the gallery.
Similarly, Asma Jahangir was chastised
across the expanse of social and electronic media for raising questions about
the civil-military imbalance in Pakistan. Imran Khan is innocent until proven
otherwise and you may choose to disagree with Asma Jahangir’s view. But both
women’s fundamental right to freedom of speech is protected under the
constitution and our national response is, therefore, abysmal.
This brings me to the character of our
elite. It is often glibly professed by the affluent members of our society that
“Awaam Hai Jaahil” (the masses are uneducated). Following on from this
declaration, a bizarre critique of democracy is presented, which strips the
right of the people to vote until each person has perhaps secured a Bachelor’s
degree from Punjab University or, better yet, passed their Senior Cambridge
examinations. Till then, it is declared that they have no intelligence or basic
understanding of right and wrong and will only choose the worst among them to
lead. Well sir, we must ask: what about the intelligence and wisdom of the
educated elite among us?
The members of this elite club – many of
whom are scions of the feudal and industrial elite – is the class that is
possibly the most literate, if not educated, in our polity, and are today the
flag-bearers of the PTI and the politics of ‘change’. Till a few weeks ago,
they were recommending the formulation of a jirga – a tribal court of elders –
to prosecute Ayesha Gulalai.
Do we really need that kind of literacy
masquerading as education? Are we to salute their wisdom for the hate and anger
that this class has introduced into politics, their display of populism and
fascism and their lack of political maturity as they vilify and deride any and
all political opponents? Moreover, this elite club has supported every military
coup and every unconstitutional move by dictators – from Ayub Khan and Zia to
Musharraf – as long as their business interests and their wealth are protected.
So, should they alone have the right to vote and, if so, what kind of leaders
will they elect? If great change is to come from above, we are in deep trouble.
Finally, we must recognise the failure of
democratic politics. For a party, which has been elected twice with a heavy
mandate, to squander the chances of bringing about positive change the second
time in a row, is just bad comedy. Today, our political scene is riven with
animosity and the promise of mature politics envisaged under the Charter of
Democracy is as much in tatters as the document itself.
If we are back to the mudslinging of the
1980s and the 1990s and if the blueprint of a democracy includes zero
legislation and shoddy governance – not to mention the Achilles heel of the
Panama Papers – then is it any surprise that the hawks and vultures that seek
to undo the democratic project will swoop in for the kill? Seventy years on, on
a wing and a prayer, we can only hope that our future is not, in the words of
the poet Joseph Brodsky, “as dark as the inside of a needle”.
Passu is a beautiful village about 150
kilometres on the Karakorum Highway from the town of Gilgit. It is at the mouth
of the 57 kilometre-long world’s fifth longest glacier, Batura. This beautiful
village is surrounded by peaks that look like cones and are called Passu Cones
or Passu Cathedral.
Passu is famous all over the world because
of the features described above. But at the beginning of this month, Passu
attracted attention for another reason. A good number of intellectuals and
researchers from Gilgit-Baltistan gathered in the village for two days to
analyse the impacts of CPEC on the ecology, sociology, cultural diversity,
economy and political status of the region which is rightly described by
linguist O’Leary “as a mountainous area where the Hindu Kush, the Himalayas and
the Karakorams form a knot” and “a land of geographic and ethnic diversity, one
of the most multilingual places on the face of the earth.”
The Aga Khan Rural Support Program had
organised a formal gathering of researchers and public intellectuals of the
region to discuss whether Gilgit-Baltistan is ready to exploit and sustain, or
repackage, the forthcoming changes on its culture, economy, politics, ethnic
and religious diversity etc in the wake of CPEC which starts in Pakistan from
The underlying concept of starting an
informed discourse around major projects and the socio-economic changes they
can result in was envisaged in one of the core speeches as “the basic purpose
of arranging the conference stems from the basic philosophy of [the] AKRSP,
which takes into consideration the views from the periphery and bring voices
from the margins onto the centre stage of the development discourse”. It
further states that after the opening of the Karakorum Highway the region is
witnessing a major development in the shape of CPEC, which has been called a
game-changer for Pakistan. The socio-economic realities of the region have
witnessed major changes in terms of education, quality of life and the economy.
Conspiracy theories aside, the much
trumpeted CPEC is still shrouded in mystery. It seems the ‘centre stage’ in
Pakistan deliberately keeps this economic corridor away from public discourse.
The idea behind holding the conference in a
village like Passu, a periphery in Gilgit-Baltistan, was to bring voices from
the margins onto the centre stage of the development discourse. Whether
Gilgit-Baltistan, a periphery in Pakistan, has ever been heard while conceiving
CPEC was evident from the key presentation which stated that the greater chunk
of the CPEC budget is going to be spent on energy projects and the
infrastructure of roads and railways. The remaining budget is for fibre optic
work and the Gwadar Port.
There is no mention of any project for
Gilgit-Baltistan apart from the road. Through media reports in June this year,
we also found out that the corridor has also focused agriculture in Pakistan in
addition to industrial zones in mainland Pakistan. The reports also said that
the corridor’s master plan document has only been shared with one province –
Punjab. This makes things further murky.
Another presentation in the Passu
conference revealed that there is only a single paragraph on Gilgit-Baltistan
in the CPEC documents; the paragraph vaguely states that the region of
Gilgit-Baltistan ‘will be developed’.
Gilgit-Baltistan, though overwhelmingly
rural, has undergone many socio-cultural changes because of its distinct
natural and cultural landscapes, and owing to some rigorous but sustained
interventions by humanitarian organisations.
It is unique in the way that one sees
modernisation manifest itself visibly here despite the region being all the way
up in cliffs in the extreme north – away from cities, the centres of
modernisation. The urge for higher education is on the rise here.
Education has produced a great bulk of
unemployed youth who cannot go along the path their traditional society
delineates for them. These youth find themselves disgruntled with their meagre
sources of livelihood, lesser means of expression and lack of opportunities of
employment in the region. Many of the youth of Gilgit-Baltistan are thus
scattered all over Pakistan in search of better education and jobs. They can
hardly be retained back at home now.
The present state of cultural and religious
pluralism is spectacular. However, undercurrents should not be ignored.
Gilgit-Baltistan is not merely a territory
of high mountains and glaciers. It is also host to indigenous and unique
languages and cultures like the Indo-Aryan languages Shina, Khowar, Dumaki and
Gujarati; Indo-Iranian Wakhi; Sino-Tibetan Balti; and the unique Burushashki
language. The area is also the custodian of thousands of rock carvings, inscriptions
and petro glyphs.
It is a pity that a region so significant
is altogether off the radar of the likely benefits of CPEC. Whether Pakistan
just treats the region as a ‘route’ of CPEC or really wants to expand the
promised bounties to this region is still a question worth questioning.
Both the players of CPEC need to think of
ways in which the educated youth, existing social capital and diaspora of
Gilgit-Baltistan can be utilised; and what safeguards can be applied to protect
and promote this unique cultural and natural repository. And internal dialogue
– such as the one held in Passu – should be continued.
Those in positions of authority should
avoid even a whiff of scandal or impropriety. This is a sound principle and
ought to be followed closely, especially by those in public office.
In 62 BC Pompeia, the wife of Julius
Caesar, hosted the festival of Bona Dea (“good goddess”), which was an
all-women party. However, a young and flamboyant patrician named Publius
Clodius Pulcher managed to sneak in disguised as a woman, apparently for the
purpose of seducing Pompeia. He was caught and prosecuted for sacrilege. Caesar
gave no evidence against Clodius at his trial, and he was acquitted.
Nevertheless, after the trial, Caesar divorced Pompeia.
When people questioned the logic behind
Caesar’s decision to divorce his wife, he remarked, “My wife ought not even to
be under suspicion”. Caesar said because she was suspected of illicit
behaviour, his political career as well as ambitions could not allow him to be
associated with her any more. In simple words, the holder of public office
should have unquestionable integrity and morality. This is, and should be, the
yardstick for the rulers and representatives of people ascending to the highest
echelons of power in Pakistan and elsewhere.
On July 28, a five-member bench of the
Supreme Court unanimously delivered its judgment in the Panamagate case,
disqualifying the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, for not being “honest” under
Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution and Article 99(f) of the Representation of
the Peoples Act due to non-disclosure of his employment in Capital FZE, and
chairman of its board on a salary in his nomination papers of 2013 general
elections. It also ordered the main accountability body to subsequently file
references against the disqualified prime minister, his three children;
son-in-law Captain (retired) Safdar and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar. Thus, the
cases of alleged corruption and money-laundering have been sent to the National
Accountability Bureau (NAB) which is the proper forum for prosecution in the
light of evidence collected by the six-member Joint Investigation Team.
After being declared ineligible to hold
office by the Supreme Court, Nawaz Sharif has railed against the decision,
calling it a deep and dark conspiracy. He reached his hometown Lahore on the
heels of the Panamagate verdict in a bombproof container while addressing a
crowd at the Grand Trunk Road while being flanked by PML-N lawmakers and party
heavyweights. While his convoy was en route to Lahore, he directed his guns
against the military and the judiciary alike as the disqualified and disgraced
Nawaz Sharif considers his ouster from the office of prime minister as a
conspiracy against him by the establishment — which was only executed by
judges. This is both inaccurate and misleading. It was a case of corruption,
money-laundering and accumulation of assets, establishment of a vast business
empire and offshore companies disproportionate to known sources of income of
the Sharif family.
All the respondents failed to present
credible evidence to prove their innocence. Was it the establishment that asked
Nawaz Sharif to conceal his assets in his nomination papers? Was it the
establishment that pressured him not to declare his “Iqama” (residence permit)
in his declaration papers filed ahead of the general elections in 2013?
Did the establishment get the records of
Chaudhry Sugar Mills tampered by Zafar Hijazi, the ex-head of the Securities
and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP)?
Did the establishment coax Nawaz Sharif to
produce evidentiary material like the Qatari letter?
Was it the establishment that compelled the
Sharif family to ask their defence lawyers to adopt an evasive approach and
produce bogus documents in court?
This leads us to infer that it is a figment
of his own imagination. The establishment, in fact, has nothing to do with the
judgment delivered by the top court of the country.
This summer, my daughter introduced me to
Kendrick Lamar. It was en education in itself. Not only did the lyrics make me
wince, I wondered whether this was actually music. But then, it caught on. And
I realised that amongst all the cursing, there was a message. A series of
I think one of the mistakes we make as parents
is to try and stay ahead of the game when it comes to our children. One day, I
was told matter-of-factly that most children were not on Facebook because their
parents were. So much for parental control – and staying ahead.
There can be a great debate on what could
be the best parenting techniques. I don’t want to get into that. I just try to
go with the flow and figure out how to make the most of what is offered to me.
Time is of essence. Muqabla Sakht Hai.
I continue to think about how the world is changing
and how different it was when I was younger. That’s usually considered a bad
idea but as a human, one cannot help but think of the bad times we lived in.
Now we marvel at how Pakistan is changing as the millennials, those who became
adults in the early 21st century, are now taking control and making decisions.
In my days, public transport in Pakistan
was really bad. We had to make do. Today we have Uber and Careem. I read in the
paper that Islamabad taxi drivers are protesting against web-based private taxi
companies terming them a security threat. Like many parents, these taxi drivers
seem to have lost the plot.
Technology is overtaking the state’s desire
for control. Pakistan is becoming a different place. Services like Careem and
Uber, which allow hundreds of men (and, hopefully, women soon) to provide a
safe, cheap and clean alternative to the appalling public transport available
is fast becoming the preferred mode of transportation.
In Karachi, every day hundreds of women use
these services knowing that not only are these safer than the average taxi or
rickshaw but there is the added convenience of picking the passenger from their
pre-determined point. Prices are fixed and any complaints that arise are dealt
with swiftly. For those who argue that some of these companies exploit their
drivers, one advice is to see how our conventional taxi and rickshaw system
Technology is challenging us. Imagine some
decades back when we had to watch PTV or a VCR to see some good movies.
Television programmes were strictly controlled. We could not watch what we
wanted. The state decided what was best for us.
Television is another challenge today. The
young do not like regular TV. They want to choose what they watch. Hence the
popularity of NetFlix. They don’t want to watch in the family living room but
on their phones. Live and adapt, I say.
The great hope was the telephone which
helped us immensely with our social lives. I know many a couple who started
their courtship through crossed lines or wrong calls. To own a phone meant
years of waiting. Fax machines needed a separate licence! And then the phones
would get “held-up” for days – with which our lives were also held hostage.
Now we live in the age of Whatsapp and
YouTube. The younger generation spends more time texting on the phone than
actually using it to talk. Again, we can argue about the pros and cons here but
at the end of the day, it is for us to adopt.
Web-based services continue to expand as
the younger generation starts to take control of their spending. Look how the
food ordering business has picked up. From barely one such service ten years
ago, today we see hundreds of food-order outlets in place. Every day you see
one or the other rider whizzing past you at speeds that defy gravity only to make
a few hundreds for hot food delivered to one’s home.
The web plays an important part not only in
mode of service but also in choice as well. There are Facebook pages where
thousands of people share their experiences on restaurants. It is said these
comments make or break businesses. The habits of the new generation should be
studied more carefully and this will help understand how doing business will be
shaped in Pakistan in years to come. That’s my plan. Till then, this ex-editor
lives on a diet of Kenrick Lamar songs for inspiration.
Stench Of Victory
August 20, 2017
The view from outside the bubble tends to
be a bit different.
From this vantage point the ‘system’ that we
all love to debate and defend appears not so holy, not so sacrosanct and
certainly not so humane and paternalistic in its intrinsic nature. And neither
do its primary beneficiaries.
So when elites fight, the grass is not
alone in getting trampled. When elites are inside the system and the system is
inside the bubble, the fight — however epic it may be — remains localised in
its ability to have a wider societal impact. The debris from this intra-elite
fight may scatter across the known landscape but rarely does it break the
perma-frost that divides the elite from the rest.
The events of the last few months have
brought the traditional intra-elite fight into renewed focus. The debate and
discussion on who actually constitutes the elite is an unending — and in many
ways inconclusive — one that usually shapes around the situation at hand. And
therefore it may be natural to ask if the ouster of former prime minister Nawaz
Sharif is a classic case of a power struggle disguised in the lofty goals of
accountability and the rule of law?
The evidence is far from conclusive. The
former PM clearly thinks so and is busy articulating it from every available
platform. Perhaps he does not have the luxury to choose his narrative and he
doesn’t have the time to construct a brand new one. So his opting for a fight
armed with the conspiracy narrative is but natural and far from surprising. But
that’s not the point.
The judgment that formed the sword that
decapitated the former PM is far from a perfect one. And that’s saying it politely.
The grounds on which Nawaz Sharif has been disqualified are weak and therefore
elicit derision from many legal experts. The ensuing trial of the former prime
minister and his children may fulfill the requirements of due process and may
lead to convictions, but that would still not erase the fundamental weakness of
the argument that formed the basis for the disqualification of a sitting prime
minister. But that’s not the point.
The tweet that launched a thousand whispers
and its ultimate reversal formed the climax of the ‘DawnLeaks’ affair — and yet
was it really the climax or the buildup to the final one? The scandal revolving
around the front-page story by Cyril Almeida was more than the sum of all its
paragraphs. Perhaps the publishing of the story resulted in the crossing of
many red lines that are never meant to be crossed within the traditional
matrix. This was made worse by the fact that the lines were crossed in public.
The final catastrophe was the over-the-top reaction that snowballed into a
national security crisis. The fight had to be fought and fought it was. But
that’s not the point.
Was the cocktail of dharnas ever about the
change of system? In a bare-knuckled fight for power, the PTI resorted to
anything and everything that can be used by anyone and everyone to win a
bare-knuckled fight. Did Imran Khan use the system to change the system? Did he
fight the fight inside the ring or outside it? Perhaps now might be a good time
for the PTI high command to read up on Nietzsche (Beyond Good and Evil): “He
who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a
monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”
But that’s not the point.
Inside the Technicolour world of the
bubble, the PML-N has had a good run. In this world it pretended that it had
bought, not brought, progress for the people through projects. In this world
projects completed with efficiency provide an enhanced standard of living to
those who benefit from them. They also attract investment via better
infrastructure and services which in turn triggers greater economic activity
leading to job creation, income generation and ultimately economic benefits at
the grassroots level. Isn’t this what governments are supposed to do, the PML-N
asks. They may have a point — to an extent. And they did deliver — to an
extent. But that’s not the point.
If the whole point of the fight is to win,
then who won? And more importantly, what defines this victory?
In fact, the point is not inside the
bubble. It never was. Within the cozy confines of the bubble, the revolution
has already happened — or is at least in an advanced stage. The great
transformation is unfolding in front of our eyes, swaying to the beat of the
cherished tomorrow breaking its dawn over the horizon. Inside this delightful
world the mighty court has heralded the onset of accountability where no one
will be above the law; where dreams will flower from translucent ballot boxes
and where institutional elite will burn the midnight oil to melt the
perma-frost that separates them from their beloved masses.
Outside the bubble though lies the
smouldering wreckage of the National Action Plan. Here the criminal justice
system is still as rotten as it always has despite loud proclamations from their
Lordships; here the cops still investigate with rods and lawyers dispense legal
services with their fists. Here outside the bubble educational reform is still
measured in bricks and mortar and hospitals are hunting grounds for young
doctors and pharmaceutical predators. Here democracy is still a concept
measured in patronage whose outflow depends on your proximity to the inner
circle. Here joy is nothing more than the distant sound of trumpets somewhere
beyond the hills. Reflected glory is all that is available.
Inside the bubble, victors toast to their
success. Outside, the stench of victory is overpowering.