New Age Islam Edit Bureau
31 August 2017
Superstition and Society
By Kamila Hyat
By Sarmad Ali
Afghanistan — Churchillian Ungrateful
By Harlan Ullman
Rhetoric And Reality
By Tariq Shahzad
The End Of Bhuttoism
By Ammar Ali Jan
To Trump, With Love
By Abdul Basit
A Disenchanted Relationship
By Mushtaq Rajpar
Women’s Economic Empowerment
By Dr Shenila Khoja-Moolji
Census, Future And Girls’ Education
By Muhammad Hamid Zaman
Civilian Supremacy: Earned Not
By Zulfiquar Rao
Populating With Purpose
By Syed Rizwan Mehboob
Pakistan’s Diaspora — Untapped Potential
By Adam Weinstein
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
August 31, 2017
The events triggered in India by the
conviction of the maverick spiritual head of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect, Gurmeet
Ram Raheem Singh, on rape charges have demonstrated the extraordinary hold that
superstition, blind belief and the power of self-proclaimed holy men still have
over millions of people.
In a country that claims it is poised to
become a leader of the world within the next few decades, tens of thousands of
people poured into the streets in various towns of Haryana and New Delhi
following the verdict delivered by a special court based on charges levelled
against the spiritual leader in 2002. Rather than condemning the act of rape
committed against two female devotees, thousands sided with the man who had
declared himself head of the sect in 1990 and who was known for his flashy
lifestyle that involved participating in rock concerts, films and a love for
He had also accumulated a large amount of
wealth. At least 36 people were killed as the police and troops attempted to
control his followers who went on a rampage. They destroyed cars and property
and even attempted to burn government buildings. This is hardly a comforting
glimpse of a country that houses one of the largest populations in the world.
It demonstrates just how little has been achieved in terms of breaking away
from medievalism and irrational ideas.
There are, of course, other gurus across
India who have a large following and, in some cases, have committed crimes of
one kind or the other. The tradition arises from the number of religions that
find their home in India and from a history that is based on saints – the other
people who draw in followers.
Perhaps a lack of faith in any modern
system, which can bring them a better life, continues to draw people towards
such men and women. This is certainly a Subcontinental phenomenon. Similar holy
men or pirs operate in our country as well. They perform rites, claim to have
abilities to heal the sick or offer spiritual leadership on all forms of
personal, professional or business matters. We know that our top political
leaders have consulted such pirs on key occasions to seek guidance and help.
While holy men play a benevolent or even
beneficial role in some cases by offering emotional help, others seem capable
of inflicting the worst forms of injury. In April, a custodian called in
devotees at a shrine close to Sargodha and proceeded to hammer or violently
stab them to death without anyone apparently attempting to stop the killing
spree or call on others for help. A pair of devotees who escaped did finally
report the incident to the police. As a result, an investigation was opened
into how the shrine had been built on a piece of private land and what
motivated the murder of so many people within a short period of time.
The same custodian had also been
responsible for other violent events in the past. These include the brutal
torture of people who continued to visit him in addition to beating, burning
and stripping others in order to ‘heal’ them of various diseases or seek a cure
for family members. Such practices are not uncommon at other places, with
spiritual healers responsible for rites of exorcism that involve lashings
people with leather straps, sticks and other forms of terrible violence. People
have died as a result of these practices. Over the years, there have been
multiple charges of sexual assault at the abodes of these pirs.
Despite the obvious dangers inherent in
these practices, the pirs or other faith-healers obviously fill a niche in
society. Perhaps they meet the needs of people who have nowhere else to turn
for help when they run into personal or health problems.
But there is something stronger than helplessness
that drives blind belief. Even the rich and the wealthy frequently visit holy
men or women and insist that they hold magical powers, which can deliver
something akin to miracles. This history of superstition and worship goes back
a long way. But it is worth considering how it shapes society.
One of the ways in which it does this is by
fostering the idea among people that they on their own can achieve very little.
Instead of turning to their own strengths, gathering together other people in a
similar situation or even seeking scientific help from doctors, people believe
only magic and special mysterious powers will be of assistance to them.
These ideas appear to hold people back from
making more fervent attempts to organise their own lives or come together in
groups to achieve goals. There have been a number of studies about this
phenomenon in India and the impact it has on the lives of people who refuse to
believe that they themselves hold power in their own hands and can exercise
this through the use of reason and by organising themselves in various forums
such as a farmer’s commune.
The pirs, who have existed through much of
the Subcontinent’s history, have drawn their power from the need of the people
to find some means to rescue themselves without turning to whatever resources
they possess themselves. To do so, these pirs use charisma and, in some cases,
elaborate backdrop settings against which to pose. In other instances, they opt
for deliberate displays of abject poverty and use every psychological prop they
Their mastery of this art gives them the
ability to influence thousands, sometimes even millions, of people. There are,
of course, many pirs who use this for the general good and whose words do not
aim to destroy or cause pain. But many others utilise the role that they hold
in society for dubious purposes. Fortunes have been built by holy men and
ruthless methods are put into play to protect their place in society.
It is sometimes difficult to imagine a
society without gurus or pirs. Some connect themselves to orthodox religious
beliefs in one way or the other while others deviate from it.
The man who many Indians hope will remain
behind bars for a significant number of years was believed to have ordered
murder and used severe brutality to build the group that stood around him.
Others have done the same. It is difficult to know how to challenge such
individuals or groups that act as cults.
All citizens have a right to freedom and to
make choices. But given the manner in which so many holy men prey on ignorance
and illiteracy, there is also a need for a stronger sense of awareness of the
dangers that lurk at shrines and the
abodes of those who make claims that they can achieve the impossible.
Desperation and helplessness drives many to
these shrines. People are simply convinced that they can offer wisdom from
beyond the world. The mystic sufi traditions of the Subcontinent have, in some
cases, been abused by false pirs. Others carry them forward. Awareness needs to
be built into society so that we do not see the madness that descended over
northern India and has, in the past, been seen within our own country in one
form or the other.
In the wake of rapid of terrorism and
unrest across Pakistan, the need of an hour is to de-weaponise Pakistan. The
newly elected PM of Pakistan — in his maiden address — had shown his eagerness
to introduce laws relating to de-weaponisation of Pakistan. His eagerness could
be applauded and should also be welcomed. To restore peace and deter violence
across Pakistan, the policies and laws on de-weaponisation need to be followed
honesty with full force across the board. It is also relevant to state that the
authorities should cancel all licenses issued by it to citizens for keeping
prohibited and non-prohibited weapons in last ten years, in order to re-verify
and renew these licenses.
Furthermore, the Government must also
recover all weapons, prohibited and non-prohibited, and take them into custody.
It is here pertinent to state that having a possession of any sort is
prohibited in Australia, UK, China and Japan. Pakistan could follow a policy
plan which was introduced in 1966 by Australia which was buyback policy plan
for the country’s de-weaponisation, and since then, the ratio of crime has been
decreasing. It is a great successful example of a de-weaponsation program.
Despite the fact that Article 256 of the
Constitution of Pakistan forbids private armies in the country, there are
thousands of private armies which the rich and influential have kept for
themselves. In Sindh and Punjab, members of legislative assemblies — and I
include tycoons as well — allow their private security guards to equipped with
lethal and dangerous weapons. It is important for the government to introduce
stringent measures to ban the unauthorized production, illicit trafficking, and
possession, use and display of arms and weapons in order to control the
unleashed criminal activities that are being carried out in the province
explicitly and without any fear of punishment. This measure is essential for
restoring peace, tranquillity, sanity and public order in the province.
It is important for the government to
introduce stringent measures to ban the unauthorised production, illicit
trafficking, and possession, use and display of arms and weapons in order to
control the unleashed criminal activities that are being carried out in the
province explicitly and without any fear of punishment
In Punjab, the Punjab Arms Ordinance 1965
was previously known as The Pakistan Arms Ordinance. Its name was amended with
the Punjab Arms Amendment Act 2014. In 2015, Punjab Arms Amendment Ordinance
2015 (III of 2015) was passed which made some drastic changes in this
legislation. Previously, the offence of carrying unlicensed arm was punished
with “imprisonment for a term which may extend to 7 years or with fine or with
both” but after this latest amendment now the punishment for carrying
unlicensed arms under section 13(a) is “Imprisonment for a term which shall not
be less than two years and which may extend to 7 years and with fine”.The
practice in the courts regarding offences under 13/20/65 is to punish the
offender with minor fine but after this latest amendment now court is bound by
law to give imprisonment of minimum of 2 years along with fine. This amendment
of 2015 is made due to deteriorating law and order situation in country along
with rising threat of terrorism. This law should be practiced effectively in
Punjab so that general public get aware of it and take it seriously. Similar
laws are in effect in other parts of the country, and those laws should also be
administered effectively by the law enforcing agencies.
By Harlan Ullman
Five years less than a century ago, when
Winston Churchill headed Britain's Colonial Office, what is now called the
Middle East was in as much turmoil as it is today. Churchill, confronted with a
losing war in Mesopotamia, turned the campaign in Iraq over to the Royal Flying
Corps, arguing that it should use mustard and other poison gas, as the best
means to defeat the enemy. In a letter to then Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin,
Churchill declared Iraq an "ungrateful volcano" that was costing HMG
millions with nothing in return.
Afghanistan may be today's 'ungrateful
volcano' although that appellation is not uncontested. In outlining his new
strategy for Afghanistan, President Donald Trump, no doubt was very much
influenced by his Secretary of Defense and National Security Advisor, both with
extensive experience in that country. The president declared that the United
States will remain 'as long as it takes' to win and has authorised the
deployment of 4-5,000 additional American forces in conjunction with more
troops from NATO allies.
Whatever one thinks about this president,
Afghanistan offers no good choices. Least worst is perhaps the better metric.
Clearly, as promised in the campaign, the US could withdraw. Withdrawal does
not mean that some residual forces could not remain to train the Afghan army
and police and conduct selective counter-terrorism operations. But in this
case, Afghanistan's future would reside solely on the ability of its government
to govern all its people.
The second bad choice was not merely to
remain but to deploy more forces. The arguments for this choice were clear.
American withdrawal would lead to the collapse of the Kabul government and a
victory for the Taliban probably further destabilising the region. Afghanistan
could serve as a sanctuary for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups in attacking
the West. Unfortunately, despite moving to a "conditions based" framework
for assessing future US policy and calling for Afghanistan (and Pakistan) to do
more, to succeed whatever that means, this commitment will take decades.
The aim of any strategy must be diplomatic
negotiations between the government and Taliban forces that lead to a political
settlement. The White House believes this strategy will achieve this outcome.
And while a withdrawal that incurs much higher risk might also produce a
diplomatic solution sooner, both Republicans and Democrats would berate any
president for cutting and running.
The harsh reality is that no strategy other
than an even larger buildup and a commitment of three or four decades will
work. And I doubt that solution would be effective. Sixteen years of errors and
mistakes cannot be overcome by military means. And nation building likewise is
a false promise. Afghanistan will succeed or fail based on its politics,
culture, society and actions. History, dating back to Alexander the Great and
subsequent military campaigns by Britain, Russia and then the Soviet Union,
cannot be ignored. Those defeats were not accidental.
Unfortunately, despite moving to a
‘conditions based’ framework for assessing future US policy and calling for
Afghanistan (and Pakistan) to do more to succeed, whatever that means, this commitment
will take decades
The exclusion of Iran; a constitution
modelled on Western democracies that attempted to centralize power in Kabul in
a country that had existed on a decentralised political basis; corruption;
drugs; the absence of a unified legal and justice system; and the unworkable
sharing of power between President Ashraf Ghani and his rival and competitor,
Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, are some of the reasons that explain
why Afghanistan is an 'ungrateful volcano.'
Assuming Western casualties remain low and
the expense does not become a drain on already tight budgets, this war will
continue for years. The most optimistic hope, and it is a hope, is that the
warring parties will become exhausted. Then some form of compromise might be
Still, this is an active volcano whose lava
will spill over. The demarche to Pakistan by the administration is regarded in
Islamabad as a de facto declaration of war. The lever of a US tilt to India
will exacerbate and not calm Pakistan's paranoia about its giant neighbour.
Iran, Russia and China will follow their own interests in Afghanistan. Indeed,
Russia will draw a certain ironic pleasure in supporting the Taliban as the US
did for the Mujahedin.
At some stage the US will withdraw. The fear
that Afghanistan is the preferred training grounds for jihadis to attack the
West will prove superficial. Africa, the Middle East and sadly Europe are riper
and more fertile places where al Qaeda and the Islamic State can operate. And
the ungrateful volcano will continue to erupt.
Eventually the fear that Afghanistan is the
preferred training ground for jihadis to attack the West will prove
superficial. Africa, the Middle East and sadly Europe are riper and more
fertile places where al Qaeda and the Islamic State can operate
The second bad choice was not merely to
remain but to deploy more forces. The arguments for this choice were clear.
American withdrawal would lead to the collapse of the Kabul government and a
victory for the Taliban probably further destabilising the region. Afghanistan
could serve as a sanctuary for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups in attacking
the West. Unfortunately, despite moving to a "conditions based"
framework for assessing future US policy and calling for Afghanistan (and
Pakistan) to do more, to succeed whatever that means, this commitment will take
The aim of any strategy must be diplomatic
negotiations between the government and Taliban forces that lead to a political
settlement. The White House believes this strategy will achieve this outcome. And
while a withdrawal that incurs much higher risk might also produce a diplomatic
solution sooner, both Republicans and Democrats would berate any president for
cutting and running.
At some stage the US will withdraw. The
fear that Afghanistan is the preferred training grounds for Jihadis to attack
the West will prove superficial. Africa, the Middle East and sadly Europe are
riper and more fertile places where al Qaeda and the Islamic State can operate.
And the ungrateful volcano will continue to erupt.
Rhetoric and Reality
The political situation in Pakistan has
been tense since the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif. During his GT Road
rally, Sharif asked the people: “The two hundred million people of this country
are the real owners of this country. A few cannot over rule them. Did you not
send Nawaz to Islamabad after making him prime minister?” he asked. “But he was
thrown out by someone else. Is this decision acceptable to you?”. To the
crowd’s “NO!”, he asked, “Shouldn’t
there be a revolution?” “Will you stand by Nawaz Sharif in the revolution?”, he
asked, inviting cheers of “Yes!”
In the last four years that Nawaz Sharif
has been in office, his policies failed to serve the wider interests of the
working class, peasants and the poor in Pakistan. In fact, most economic
policies have instead led to a deterioration of the living conditions of the
Pakistani masses. This is why wider sections of the Pakistani masses do not
have any trust in any of the establishment parties or the political elite.
Nawaz Sharif however still enjoys support
among his party members and some workers who remember well the difficult life
under military dictatorships and want to defend civilian rule. Sharif has also
been reminding the public of this. But then again, Nawaz Sharif also came to
prominence as part of the General Ziaul Haq-led dictatorship in the 1980s.
Later he also led the right-wing Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (Islamic Democratic
Alliance) to topple Benazir Bhutto’s government.
Yes, we need a revolution. But what type of
revolution is Nawaz Sharif calling for? This is not the first time that the
ruling elite has used terms like ‘revolution’. Before Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan,
Tahirul Qadri and PPP leaders have also used such demagogic rhetoric. But, of
course, all of them failed to explain what kind of revolution they are aiming
to achieve. All of them benefit from the exploitive economic system and are not
revolutionaries by any stretch of the imagination. They invoke the idea of
revolution to cling on to power by raising the hopes of the masses.
Revolution is not just a word; it is meant
to change the entire prevailing system. Social revolution means changing the
economic relations of society. The ruling class’ politics is only about
protecting their economic interests. They introduce legislation to protect
private property and to make exploitation legal. Lenin, in ‘The State and
Revolution’, pointed out that “the exploiting classes need political rule to
maintain exploitation, ie in the selfish interests of an insignificant minority
against the vast majority of all people. The exploited classes need political
rule in order to completely abolish all exploitation, i., in the interests of
the vast majority of the people, and against the insignificant minority
consisting of the modern slave-owners – the landowners and capitalists.”
The rhetoric of ‘revolution’ that ruling
class parties and their leaderships use is for specific purposes. Mostly they
use such rhetoric in periods of economic uncertainty to channel the anger of
the oppressed classes that are bearing the burden of the economic crisis due to
policies of the ruling class. The ruling class’ talk of revolution is limited to
political infrastructure and they want change only to maintain their grip on
Nawaz Sharif has also talked about
‘civilian supremacy’ in his public rallies, saying that no prime minister of
Pakistan has completed their term in office. It is true that, in the 70 years
since independence, Pakistan has been under military rule for almost half the
time. On the other hand, the Pakistani people have an inspiring record of
resisting martial rule, as in the 1968-69 uprising against Ayub Khan’s military
regime, the 1983 MRD struggle against the dictatorship of Gen Ziaul Haq, and
the 2007 struggle against Gen Pervez Musharraf’s regime.
During these periods, a section of the
political elite either collaborated with the regimes or remained silent. Those
from the elite who were expelled or were in opposition paid mere lip service to
change and did not directly challenge the military. They waited for their
opportunity to return to office to take the crown for themselves.
The unfortunate fact is that ‘civilians’ do
not have a real say in economic or political decisions. Just the right to vote
is not a solution for the people. They are inherently having to choose between
‘the devil and the deep blue sea’, as the old saying goes. The elite, which
control politics on behalf of the capitalist system, make economic decisions on
their own behalf. In the ultimately analysis, politics is ‘concentrated
economics’. So the question of ‘civilian supremacy’ is linked to the economy of
the country, and which forces control and own the economy.
The End of Bhuttoism
From Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto’s judicial murder
to Yousuf Raza Gilani’s dismissal through the courts, the Pakistan People’s
Party has had a tortured relationship with state institutions. Benazir Bhutto
and Asif Ali Zardari were repeatedly imprisoned and exiled in their political
careers. Add to that the countless, and often nameless, PPP activists who
endured the worst excesses of military regimes, and we understand the
persistent antagonism between the party and sections of the state.
The recent string of luck for PPP leaders,
including Asif Ali Zardari’s acquittal from corruption cases, comes as a point
of departure from this history. This change in fortune has also generated
suspicion that the party leadership has dropped its traditional opposition to
the country’s powerful establishment in exchange for relief through the courts.
We have no way to verify such speculation, but it does reflect the sentiment
that the PPP’s timidness on the political stage signals a shift in the nature
of the party.
The PPP’s emergence as a political force in
the late 1960s was a major disruption in the elite-centred political culture of
Pakistan. Not only did the party lead a popular campaign against Ayub Khan’s
dictatorship, propelled by an explosive combination of the working class and
students, but it did so on an ideological agenda. ZAB’s calls for the
introduction of ‘Islamic socialism’ was consistent with the ‘Third World
Populism’ in the era, and won him a broad range of supporters in the country.
The constitution of Pakistan formed during the PPP government contains traces
of this mass upheaval, with constitutional guarantees for issues such as employment
and housing, themes that curiously remain missing in debates around the
There has always been an enormous debate on
the merits and failures of the Bhutto regime. What is beyond doubt, however, is
the mythical stature acquired by ZAB in the eyes of the public after the
overthrow of his government, and his subsequent hanging. For my parents’
generation, which was politicised under the Zia dictatorship, Bhutto’s death
was not simply another unfortunate event in Pakistan’s political history. The
sheer arrogance of murdering a popularly-elected leader was considered a
personal insult. The deep sympathy for Benazir Bhutto and Nusrat Bhutto also
stemmed from the images of despair and resistance that these two iconic women
The name ‘Bhutto’ turned into a mirror
image for a large number of young people in which they saw both the indignity
they themselves experienced and the possibility of revolting against it.
Careers, families, and friendships became secondary to the quest for healing the
wound opened by Bhutto’s death, as activists charted a path that took them to
prisons, exile, and at times, death. It was indeed a difficult task for me to
read the ‘underground’ literature produced by PPP activists during the Zia era
from the vantage point of a politically timid present. Facing a military
dictatorship externally backed by the mighty American Empire and internally
supported by extremist forces, the chances of overrunning the Zia regime were
There was, however, something breathtakingly
innocent about the resolve to continue fighting, even symbolically, in order to
deny the regime the satisfaction that its power was complete. These activists
displayed a firm indifference to the consequences of their actions, as if
giving up on their commitments was not even an option. This affirmation of
one’s dignity in the face of an authoritarian order is an essential element of
Pakistan’s political history that is yet to be written. The term ‘Bhuttoism’ is
intertwined with this longer history of finding dignity in a dehumanising
world. The language of ‘interests’ is simply inadequate for writing this
history, since no self-interested individual would suffer for a party that came
to power from 1977 to 2007 for a grand total of four years. This was a pure
labour of love, one that can put any contemporary rhetoric of ‘revolution’ to
The failures of the PPP governments in 1988
and 1993 damaged the trust in the party’s ideological commitments and its
ability to govern. Yet, it could not take away from the party’s symbolic status
as simultaneously representing a crisis, and a promise. The crisis is the
refusal of the elites to acknowledge the sovereignty of the people, a situation
that has plagued Pakistan since its inception. On the other hand, it is also a
promise that when the will of the people coalesces around a leader, an
organisation and an idea, it has the capacity to make the mighty tremble. It is
the unfinished task of asserting popular sovereignty in Pakistan that kept the
PPP’s appeal alive till late, despite the obvious shortcomings of the party
The history of defiance associated with the
PPP is the reason why the trajectory of the party over the last decade has
troubled many of its sympathisers. The packaging of ‘conciliation’ by the
current party leadership as its ‘novel’ idea in Pakistani politics is
embarrassingly naive. In fact, Pakistan has an excess of politicians, generals,
journalists etc, who are willing to reconcile with any political actor if their
interests are safeguarded, a tradition inherited from the colonial era. What
was unique about the PPP was its ability to disrupt this consensus and identify
the antagonisms obfuscated by the cynical use of ‘patriotism’ by state
It is not surprising that the PPP has not
been at the forefront of any movement on the burning issues of the day. The
indifference of the party to the plight of peasants in Okara, slum dwellers in
Islamabad, missing persons in Sindh and Balochistan, and the shocking silence
around Mashal Khan’s murder confirm the party’s lack of interest in grassroots
mobilisation. Instead, the focus seems to be on wooing political influentials,
or holding innumerable ‘cake-cutting ceremonies’ to celebrate the various
milestones in the personal lives of the Bhutto family. It is sad to witness
such degeneration of a party that once contained the psychic investments of an
There is a palpable sense of frustration
among those activists whose political becoming occurred during the anti-Zia
movement. The contradictory impulses of regret and pride shape their sense of
self today. This contradiction is a direct result of a disrupted dream,
shattered by those who were supposed to be its guardians. If the PPP of
yesteryears was a conduit for the passions of a rebellious youth, today’s
compromised PPP represents nothing more than the absence of dreaming in
contemporary Pakistani, an absence that paradoxically maintains a heavy
presence in its ability to produce widespread disorientation in our social and
The PPP is in power in Sindh, and it may
return to power in Islamabad someday. But it is fast losing the charm that
turned it into a part of our region’s folklore. And every generation needs its
folklore and dreams to sustain its commitments. Inhabiting a world structured
by a generalised suspicion that envelops even personal relations, we are a
generation averse to commitments outside the ones imposed on us by the family,
the state and the market system. In the wake of such tragic betrayals from the
past, we must ask if there is still a point in holding onto ideals bigger than
our individual selves. How we answer this question will have profound
consequences for how we view history, politics, and ultimately, life itself.
Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing
the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” This sums
up Pakistan’s perspective of US President Donald Trump’s Afghan policy. After
sixteen years of war costing one trillion dollars to the American exchequer,
Trump has opted for the tried, tested and failed formula of conflict
militarisation in Afghanistan. At the same time, he has accused Pakistan of
“harbouring terrorists”, and urged India to play a larger role in stabilising
Trump’s convenient but unsurprising
scapegoating of Pakistan for American failures in Afghanistan is unfortunate.
Instead of blaming Pakistan, the US needs a reality check and serious
introspection. It is not Pakistan’s but America’s inconsistent policies and
impatient approach that have destabilised Afghanistan.
Since 2009, the US policy in Afghanistan
has changed every year. For instance, in 2009, the Obama administration opted
for troop surge arguing there were not enough boots on the ground to win the
war. In 2010, the US focus shifted to poppy eradication, which was deemed as
the main factor that fuelled the Taliban insurgency. Then in 2011, the US
developed an obsession with the rampant corruption in Kabul that undermined the
US nation-building efforts.
Unable to break the deadlock of the Afghan
conflict militarily, in 2012, the US reached out to Pakistan to pursue
political reconciliation with the Taliban. The then Pakistan army chief, Gen
Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, handed over his White Paper to President Obama as a blue
print for Afghan reconciliation. In 2013, the US paradoxically adopted the
policy of fight-and-talk simultaneously. In 2014, the US and Nato forces
started pulling out from Afghanistan and handed over the security
responsibilities to the Afghan forces. However, in 2015 and 2016, as opposed to
his original plan of keeping 1,000 US troops in Afghanistan, President Obama
stationed 8,000 US and 4,000 Nato troops under the Resolute Support Mission.
With his Afghan policy, Trump has revived
the fight-fight approach as the war in Afghanistan comes full circle. It is not
hard to imagine that 15,000 foreign troops would not be able to gain what
150,000 international troops failed to achieve. It will give the Taliban all
the more reasons to continue their armed struggle. Trump will deny the Taliban
an outright military victory with 15,000 troops, but he is unlikely to gain a
position of strength to force the Taliban to the negotiation table.
It is over-simplistic to assume that the US
lost the war in Afghanistan because of Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan. The
cross-border sanctuaries are not a game changer for the Taliban’s battlefield
victories in Afghanistan. Today, more than more than 40 percent of Afghan
territory is under the Taliban’s control and they do not need safe havens in
Pakistan to continue the war. In addition, the Taliban have diversified their
regional links with Tehran, Moscow, Beijing and Qatar to minimise their sole
reliance on Pakistan. Given this evolving regional dynamics of the Afghan
conflict, expanding Afghanistan’s war inside Pakistan will be
Notwithstanding Pakistan’s efforts to
facilitate Afghan political reconciliation, on the US insistence, it was
backstabbed twice. In 2015, the disclosure of Mullah Umar’s death during the
Murree Peace talks between the representatives of the Taliban and Afghan
government derailed the peace process, which had been looking promising. The
jury is still out on who leaked the news and who benefited from it. On the
second occasion, Islamabad was betrayed when the US droned Mullah Umar’s
successor Akhtar Mansour to death in Balochistan when he was returning from
Iran. Following Mansour’s death, the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG)-led
peace process – comprising China, Pakistan, US and Afghanistan – crashed.
The American demand of increased
cooperation from Pakistan while ignoring the latter’s legitimate security
concerns in Afghanistan is foolhardy. Washington’s backing for New Delhi to
play a larger security role in Afghanistan will fuel the India-Pakistan proxy
Moreover, the US threat of blocking
military and civilian aid cuts no ice with Pakistan. Aid is a political tool
that the Trump administration is leveraging to force Pakistan for desirable
cooperation. Of all the American financial assistance that Pakistan has
received since 9/11, 60 percent is military and 40 percent is civilian. The
military aid paid under the Coalition Supports Fund (CSF) is reimbursement of
the expenditure that the Pakistan Army spends in counter-terrorism operations
in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. As far as civilian aid is concerned,
80 percent of it goes back to the US in consultancy overhead cost and only
15-20 percent is spent in Pakistan. Moreover, the aid that Washington provides
Pakistan is not for egalitarian reasons, but to enhance its own security and
Everyone wants peace in Afghanistan but on
their own terms. Pakistan believes the path to Afghan reconciliation goes
through Islamabad and requires power sharing with the Taliban. The Trump
administration believes it can kill its way to victory by ramping up the war
effort and keep the Taliban out of power. Similarly, New Delhi and Kabul want
peace in Afghanistan sans the Afghan Taliban.
In such a situation, Afghanistan requires a
new political vision at the local, regional and international levels. The
Taliban are a hard reality that will not evaporate into thin air with Trump’s
Afghan policy. Eventually, Kabul and Washington will have to sit with them on
the negotiation table.
Conflict militarisation is
counterproductive and the mutual blame game will only embolden the peace
spoilers in Afghanistan. All wars have ended with negotiations and the Afghan
war is not an anomaly to this historical reality.
Undoing what Obama stood for is one thing
that US President Trump has been on course to accomplish – whether it is on the
domestic front, foreign policy affairs or climate change.
Trump’s new Afghan policy is perhaps the
only element of the new administration that has been largely endorsed within
the US. Even media outlets that have criticised him seem to view it the right
After eight months in office, Trump has not
accomplished much. He is at war with the media through his tweets on
healthcare, climate change and, more recently, the surge in white supremacist
violence. His ‘wisdom and values’ are not just being questioned but are also
being challenged. People like him, when let loose on the domestic front, launch
wars, create crises and seek political gains.
The US has already spent $1 trillion over
the past 16 years in Afghanistan and there is no end to it. According to a
report by The New York Times, “the Department of Veterans Affairs has more than
to 350,000 employees since 2001. And its budget has swelled to more than $185
billion a year, up from about $60 billion in 2001”. The Obama administration
had requested more than $44 billion for fiscal year 2017 for the Afghan war – a
figure that is to likely increase with the presence of US troops, which Trump
is expected to boost by about 4,000. Experts in Washington believe that 4,000
additional troops might raise the cost of the Afghan war from $2 billion to $4
billion a year.
The Afghan occupation has cost the lives of
more than 2,300 US soldiers and $828 billion has been already spent. The US
government has reached the debt ceiling, with five percent chances of default,
and the treasury will soon be unable to pay salaries if the debt ceiling is not
raised. This is a US president who is caught in the worst domestic opposition
in the first year of his term that no other American president in modern
history has found himself in.
American newspapers are flooded with policy
prescriptions on Pakistan and Afghanistan. Last month, a commentator termed
Afghanistan “a disease” and not a country. This was a disgusting and derogatory
statement rather than an analysis that was published by a leading newspaper.
Afghanistan under the Shah’s rule and Najib’s takeover was a far more stable
and educated country until the US, Saudi Arabia, China and Pakistan threw it
back into the stone age.
Trump’s new policy has clearly abandoned
the peace talks agenda with the Afghan Taliban. A few indirect rounds of talks
were aimed at buying more time to weaken the Taliban, depriving them of their
military might and forcing them to accept the current Afghan parliamentary
democracy and become part of the government. Talks with the Taliban were never
on their agenda. Instead, making them accept democracy, disarm and participate
in the political process is nothing less than what Washington expects. So do
reconciliation talks have any future? Clearly not.
Washington cannot give up its support to a
political system in Kabul that it has built over the past 16 years at a huge
cost to financial resources and human lives. The Trump administration has shown
a willingness to invest more resources in Afghanistan to disarm the Taliban and
sustain the current political order. A withdrawal from the country anytime soon
will create a space which the Taliban, Isis and other forces that are hostile
to the US will occupy. Trump’s remaining term in power won’t allow this to
happen. The American course in Afghanistan is, therefore, pretty much clear.
Pakistan must outline its own course of
action on Afghanistan by keeping in view the fact that Washington’s boots will
continue to be grounded in Kabul. The failed myth of strategic depth no longer
holds utility. The Indo-US nexus in Afghanistan means that the country will
remain neutral in case of any military hostility between India and Pakistan.
Pakistan is left with tough policy choices
in the current situation. It is up to the Pakistani leadership, both military
and civil, to opt for a choice that ensures sustainable economic and political
stability in country. Any external shock would be hard to handle. When Trump
says Pakistan has much to lose, it immediately means that if the country
requires another IMF bailout, loans would be hard to obtain without an American
Since the 1980s, Islamabad’s dependence on
foreign flows (financial injections) has increased. An annual $13 billion worth
of debt-servicing could be disturbed if there is a change in loans required and
the sustainability of remittances. Our alliances, whether it is China or
Russia, do not have a history of providing cash loans to economies like ours.
CPEC involves funding for infrastructure, expenditure on the labour force and
equipment to be imported from China and not all the pledged money will land in
Islamabad’s strategic experts have
experience of dealing with a hostile India. But they are not equipped to deal
with a superpower that has the capability of striking in different parts of our
country and the ground forces of our Western neighbour with Nato allies.
Securing our own security and economic interests should be the top priority. We
won’t achieve this by escalating the current blame game as both countries know
very well how they view each other.
Postponing diplomatic interaction is unwise
on the part of Pakistan. The new foreign minister, Khawaja Asif, is inexperienced
in the art of diplomacy. His first reaction to Trump’s speech was uncalled for.
Whoever may have provided the policy draft, it does not matter. The
much-awaited policy review came to the surface only after an intra-agency
review. Don’t we know what the Pentagon wants in Afghanistan and from us?
Keeping the communication channels open is
in our best interest. If there is anything for us to gain, it is through talks
with Washington. Eight months after Trump was voted into office, the US State
Department extended an invitation to the foreign minister for the first time.
However, the opportunity is lost. Diplomacy and foreign policy are not a form
of constituency-based politics as the stakes are high and of a lasting nature.
Like Washington, Pakistan also needs an
Afghan policy review. This review should include politicians as it is important
to listen to them because they are more experienced than the pundits. It is in
Pakistan’s interest to engage Washington in a dialogue. Our Afghan policy is
not helping us. It has not even enabled us to secure our own country. Armed
non-state actors are nowhere considered to be a source of stability and
August 30, 2017
It is often argued that women’s
contributions to the labour force can be an important driver for economic
growth in Pakistan. This is represented not only in government reports but also
by transnational organisations and NGOs. Indeed, one of the major themes
driving girls’ education campaigns in the country is that educated girls will
be able to secure jobs and thus contribute to GDP.
According to the latest available data
(2014-2015), female labour force participation in Pakistan is at 22 per cent.
Given that nearly 40 per cent of the population lives in poverty, it is likely
that actual figures are much higher, implying significant participation of
women in the informal economy.
While women’s entrance in the workforce and
their economic independence are worthy ideals to pursue, it is also critical to
inquire into the kind of work available to women and their actual ability to
experience empowerment through work. In fact, research shows that it is not
‘waged work’ in and of itself but the ability to save and create wealth that is
emancipatory for women. Likewise, the 2014 World of Work report by the
International Labour Organisation (ILO) puts emphasis on the quality of work as
key to alleviating poverty.
What then are possible pathways for women
in Pakistan? And how can those pathways be made secure so that women can
participate and thrive in them?
We often hear about entrepreneurship as an
innovative avenue not just for women and girls but also for men to make an
income. Rural women are advised to hone their skills and create a business at
home. While this may be the pathway for some, it is not ideal for all.
In fact, according to the ILO, workers
employed in family businesses are twice as likely to be “trapped in a vicious
circle of low-productivity employment, poor remuneration and limited ability to
invest in their families’ health and education.” This, in turn, “reduces the
likelihood that [their] current and subsequent generations will be able to move
up the productivity and income ladders” (emphasis mine).
During a recent visit to Gilgit-Baltistan
(G-B), I learned about how middlemen from metropolitan cities such as Karachi
as well as outside Pakistan exploit poor women in home-based cottage
industries. These women are dependent on middlemen for bringing their products
to market, which limits their ability to negotiate better rates for their toil.
They are thus compelled to sell their products at unfairly low per piece rates,
with the additional margin accruing to the middlemen. This finding,
unfortunately, is not new. Anita Weiss’s work with women workers in Lahore
during the late 1980s points to similar uncertainties for women.
What’s required thus are mechanisms that
protect the interests of these women and provide alternative means to access
markets. The Aga Khan Rural Support programme in G-B, for example, provides
crucial mentoring services to women and gives them an opportunity to take their
products to exhibitions in cities. The state needs to not only encourage such
efforts but create additional channels, including leveraging technology so that
women can market their products online. In addition, programmes that enable
women-run businesses to obtain capital, tax codes that are favourable to women,
efforts to create pay equality and access to affordable childcare for women are
all measures that can significantly enhance women’s ability to progress
When supported, women can thrive not only
in small businesses but also in professions dominated by men. Consider the Aga
Khan Cultural Services’ Women Social Enterprise project (recently renamed
CIQAM) in G-B, which models yet another pathway for women’s economic
empowerment. In the village of Altit in Hunza, the project trains women in
professions dominated by men, such as carpentry, furniture making and woodwork.
Entrance in these male-dominated professions translates into better incomes for
these women than would otherwise be possible in feminised professions such as
Projects like CIQAM, however, are rare in
Pakistan because they not only require initial capital but also extensive
effort in the community to create an authorising environment for women to work
in otherwise male-dominated professions. Such projects call for a commitment
that is long term and participatory, and thus require state involvement to
achieve scale. The government can replicate such successful models of training
and development elsewhere in Pakistan. This would entail not only creating new
training programmes for women but also leveraging local social mobilisers and
agents who can circulate messages about women’s contribution at the grassroots
If we want women to be economically
productive members of society, we have to create an enabling environment for
them to flourish and thrive. Low-paid, contingent, exploitative wage-work is
not the answer to women’s economic empowerment.
Census, Future and Girls’ Education
August 29, 2017
The fact that we finally got a census done
is very good news, and credit should be given to the various stakeholders for
this. But that is where the good news ends. The census numbers are alarming.
There is little comfort in knowing that both the raw numbers and national
growth rate are well above what the economic surveys had indicated. Successive
governments had claimed that the national growth rate was under 2, and the rate
was falling. We now know that both of these claims were inaccurate and misleading.
Not surprisingly, there already are
discussions in political quarters about what this may mean for National and
provincial assembly seats and the resources that go with them. The Leader of
Opposition has suggested that the census is a conspiracy against the people of
Sindh, who make the base of his party. He unfortunately provided no basis for
his claim, or any data to back it up. He also failed to mention that while his
party was in power, no effort to have a national census was ever undertaken. Beyond
the conspiracy theories, there are important questions that economists and
demographers are asking, including the dated and questionable definition of
urban and rural. Observers are also worried about the current growth rate and
likelihood of having nearly 400 million people before 2050. Pundits have also
questioned the lack of will, ability and honesty in our population control
For a moment, let us now turn our attention
from the future to the present. With the current population, we are facing a
fundamental crisis: a crisis of access to a decent life. Basic necessities
including water, education and health services are not getting to millions. A
study published last week, on the quality of groundwater in Pakistan, in a
prestigious journal (Science Advances) shows that nearly 60 million people
(about 29% of the total population) are at risk with the presence of alarming
levels of arsenic in groundwater. This is well above the previous estimate. In
the education sector, a recent national study had estimated that about 25
million children are out of school in the country. In the domain of health and
hygiene, about 68 million do not have access to toilets or basic sanitation in
So the question to ask is how do we handle
the current crises and plan for the near- and long-term future. While a
multi-pronged strategy is needed, awareness and education remains one of the
most reliable and proven method to control population and improve the chances
for better decision-making. First, educated mothers are less likely to have
very large families, even in cultures where large families have historically
been encouraged. Multiple studies in Africa, particularly in Ghana, Ethiopia
and Kenya have shown that women with no education have, on average, 5 or more
children whereas this number falls to about 3 with secondary education and
close to 2 with college education among women. Closer to home, decades long
studies have shown that there is a strong correlation between population
control and education in Thailand and South Korea. Educated girls are not only
more likely to have smaller families but are also likely to contribute to the
economy. Scandinavian countries have benefited tremendously from increasing the
presence of women in the workforce. A balanced and diverse workforce in Norway,
Sweden and Denmark has helped create strong social structures that have
strengthened the economy and have improved the overall social cohesiveness.
Finally, educated mothers are far more likely to ensure that their daughters
get educated and hence the chain reaction starts to take off. Similar positive
outcomes are also seen in healthcare (e.g. in vaccination and hygiene).
The population growth issue is not just an
academic discussion or a policy debate. It has now become an existential
question. Serious and sustained investments in girls’ education is not a
Western conspiracy against our values, it is the only way to ensure our
Earlier in August, we heard Raza Rabbani,
Chairman of Senate, urging for an inter-institutional dialogue — mainly
involving the judiciary, military, executive and legislature — to salvage the
country out of its prevailing crisis and tackle ongoing issues. He insisted on
this multiple times before media and in the Senate sessions he chaired. His
statements were obviously seen in the backdrop during the removal of Prime
Minister Nawaz Sharif. While Sharif’s political rivals hailed the verdict as
historic, others found the decision of the court marred by lack of due process,
and controversies around the thin basis for his disqualification, formation of
JIT via secretive ‘WhatsApp’ call, and the inclusion of members from two
military intelligence agencies.
Mr Rabbani’s appeal for inter-institutional
dialogue has also been considered important in view of the impression that it
was military establishment, which had connived with judiciary to oust Nawaz Sharif.
It can obviously not be said with certainty — such impressions make their way
among public and political analysts since democratic governments and
politicians have suffered at the hands of overt and covert actions of these
institutions. Starting from Justice Munir’s ‘doctrine of necessity’, which
legitimized dissolution of Pakistan’s constituent assembly in 1955 to court’s
validation of all military coups. From the tragic hanging of Zulfikar Ali
Bhutto to the sentencing of Nawaz Sharif in ludicrous hijacking case following
his removal through military coup in 1999 — all reminds us of a deplorable
nexus between judiciary and the military establishment.
From the tragic hanging of Zulfikar Ali
Bhutto to the sentencing of Nawaz Sharif in the ludicrous hijacking case that
saw him removed by a military coup in 1999 — this only serves to remind us of a
deplorable nexus between judiciary and the military establishment
So when one sees removal of yet another
popularly elected prime minister, the situation demands not an
inter-institutional dialogue but introspection and will amongst politicians to
fight it out for a primacy which is otherwise so naively desired. In democracy,
a system of checks and balances is incorporated so that not only different
institutions can work without any intrusion but also so that they function
within the constitutional bounds. Wherever this system of checks and balances
is weak or needs amendments, it’s only the electorates in the parliament who
can rightfully make them.
However, if our politicians think that this
can be done through inter-institutional dialogue, they are short of
understanding on how power and authority work in society and polity. Why would
a text-book definition of patriotism and respect for constitution motivate those
institutions, that enjoy relative power and liberty to coerce and influence one
another, to withdraw from such a powerful position? The situation in Pakistan
is completely in favor of judiciary and military at the expense of political
offices and leaders. Over the decades, the capture of power by the courts and
military bureaucracy has only expanded; with courts ordering the executive what
to do, and military calling shots not just in defence, security but in foreign
policy matters as well.
Therefore not dialogue but as the saying
goes ‘to acquire power you must possess or control a form of power currency’,
political leadership will have to first be power literate in institutional
terms as the prime movers and shakers in any democracy, and then govern beyond
personal greed. Primacy of political institutions in a democracy comes with a
huge responsibility. Although a lack of confidence doesn’t legally justify
military takeovers and judicial hyper-activism, it makes such institutional
incursions palatable to gullible masses and anti-democratic forces.
More often than not our political
governments have opted to appease the two institutions by keeping them scant,
or removing them where it existed, parliamentary oversight and of functional
accountability. Politicians have also failed to neutralize the constitution of
unjust amendment dictators; the article of the constitution under which Nawaz
Sharif was disqualified is just one of the draconian changes the military
dictators inflicted upon our constitution. Likewise, isn’t our system of
recruitment in judiciary the most bogus? Who’s responsible to fix it? Surely,
politicians sitting in parliament have to do it. And if the military
establishment has drawn itself beyond its contribution in defense and national
security matters, who is to fix it? Of course, it’s the politicians’
In order to see civilian supremacy, the
political leaders need to show maturity; have a dialogue among them to
formulate and commit to a political contract of democratic pledges.
Unfortunately, that’s nowhere on the political horizon as even now political
leaders aren’t ready to stop conniving with powerful state institutions against
Nearly bewildered by Pakistan’s ascent up
the global population ladder after latest census, I hurriedly looked at my
jungle friends — to see if the wild have something to teach on matters related
Loads of wisdom on population control and
population welfare, just as I anticipated. How to manage numbers in the wild?
How to stay within reasonable limits to best benefit from nature’s bounties?
How to conserve the balance and rhythm on the face of earth by honoring the
prescribed and proscribed limits? Production patterns in the wild are strictly
circumscribed by millennia old codes of conduct.
Mother Nature — through its unwritten codes
in population control and population welfare — has successfully ensured
survival and procreation of thousands of animal species over millions of years.
And that, too, in strict accordance with the carrying capacity of nature’s
indigenous resources. These cardinal canons on population control and welfare
are religiously adhered to by all children of nature — except of course, Homo
Procreation is not an automatic right in
the jungle. Only the best and ablest have precedence in matters related to
raising new generations. Dogged fights, often with bloody outcomes, decide the
most suited and fittest amongst the herds or prides to carry the genes from one
to the other generation.
And after newborn arrive, the topmost
priority has to be the well-being and immaculately planned rearing, against all
odds of the young ones. Mothers in the wild will stay away from repeat
production unless weaning of the young has been completed and finished to the
best satisfaction of Mother Nature. No male can intrude or interrupt the
extremely painstaking drill of raising the young by their doting mothers, meant
to fully equip the new arrivals to ably fight along the road to survival and
successful, meaningful existence.
But this is not the end of story. Young
ones in the wild are reared and nurtured till a specific, stipulated time —
when they are out of many dangers; when they can fend for themselves, having
learnt the millennia old art of survival in the wild. And here the jungle code
enforces another graduation.
The moment, young are reasonably grown up,
these very doting mothers will next day, near callously, throw them out of the
herd or pride. Guarded against all dangers by risking mother’s own life for
years and then thrown out suddenly in an extremely rough manner — unaltered law
of nature with no exceptions. The banishment of grown up from mothers and
sisters in the wild carries great wisdom — minimizing and plugging any
possibilities of inbreeding which can typically result in congenital faults in
the next generation.
So the wisdom of the wild is plain and
impressive in matters of population control. Only the best, ablest and the
fittest are allowed to procreate. Production cycles are also meticulously
regulated to ensure health and well-being of the females. This is followed by another
devoted period of rearing and nurturing of the young by mothers during which
time they will strictly stay away from male until such time that the earlier
born young one are fully capable of survival in the wild. Every possible
precaution is exercised to forestall inbreeding for ensuring healthy mixture of
gene pool. On their part, young ones are taught best possible lessons on
successful survival and existence, before they are sent away to fend for
As a result, Mother Nature — through its
unwritten codes in population control and population welfare — has successfully
ensured survival and procreation of thousands of animal species over millions
of years. And that too in strict accordance with the carrying capacity of
nature’sindigenous resources. The moment, numbers in any species in the wild
cross the prudence limits imposed by nature, dire consequences follow in a
mechanical manner to bring back balance in populations of the wild.
These cardinal canons on population control
and welfare are religiously adhered to by all children of nature — except of
course, Homo sapiens.
And here, I will like to interrupt and take
you back to the days of an earlier census in 1998 where I was involved as a
sub-divisional officer. It was a distant village on outskirts of beautiful
district of Badin. I reached this village by way of snap checking the census
and house enumeration work and stumbled upon a small homestead alongwith census
A typically shabby village house in lower
Sindh where we were met with hero of that day: a proud head of the family who
also happened to be the proud father of eleven — yes, eleven — kids, ranging in
age from six months to seventeen years; and to complete the picture, he was
flanked by his bewildered looking, “expecting again” poor wife.
Tilling a land measuring hardly a few acres
and sustained by an erratic livelihood, augmented here and there by left-over,
small quantities of prawns collected from local mangroves — he was the true
face of a typical son of the soil. His malnourished wife and visibly under-fed
children told the story of his unabated, prolific spree of productivity in
total disregard to the prudent laws of nature on population welfare.
Needless to say, he had his side of the
story which he told gleefully to justify his “numbers”. Once grown up, the
“boys” will be a great help in the decades’ old, local blood feudinvolving
Chandios and Mirbahars — he belonged to one of these tribes;the daughters will
share the burden of household and livelihood chores; bonds in the family will
be further strengthened by inter-marriages (six teenaged boys and girls out of
his eleven kids already stood betrothed): and to cap it all, number of PPP
voters will increase - “Jeeay Bhutto”, the good Samaritan proudly thumped his chest
as we beat a hasty retreat.
I am not in the least surprised to see the
figure touch 20.7 crores in 2017 but tremble in awe as I try to imagine present
“numbers” around my old Badin friendfrom 1998.
Over the next month thousands of young
Pakistanis will begin to filter into universities across North America, Western
Europe, and Asia. Many will do everything in their power never to return home
but if Pakistan is willing to adapt then it can receive the full benefit from
its growing diaspora.
In Dubai, Pakistanis, who now outnumber
Emiratis, find a gateway to the West through intra-company transfers or by
saving money for education. The privileged of Pakistan, especially nearby
Karachi, sometimes take the two-hour flight to Dubai just to attend a concert,
making the city feel like a distant suburb of Sindh’s financial hub.
In the West some neighbourhoods have become
synonymous with South Asian culture. Think Toronto’s Girard Street or Chicago’s
Devon Avenue. Jackson Heights, a neighbourhood in Queens, New York, even became
the name of an Urdu-language serial. Posh Manhattan nightclubs host
Bhangra-themed evenings that cater to Punjabis from both sides of the border.
Grocery stores with dhaba-esque dining areas encircle universities and provide
students with an alternative to white-linen Indian fusion restaurants that tone
down the heat and jack up the prices. And, non-resident Indians and Pakistanis
co-host professional networking groups.
But the impact of intolerance and terrorism
on emigration is also apparent. Every year families from the English-speaking
Catholic community of Karachi’s Garden East neighborhood gather for a Toronto
picnic in numbers that rival those back home. If you drive past the Imam Khoei
Foundation, a Shia mosque in Queens, you’re sure to see groups of Pakistani men
in shalwarkameezes gathered after namaz. And, in Philadelphia the Ahmadiyya community
recently completed construction of a brand new mosque to serve its growing
Still, most leave for economic
opportunities. According to the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis and Human
Resource Development only 51.3% of the working age population are employed and
for women it is only 23%. Approximately one-third of youth are neither employed
nor in school. Even for those with access to good jobs there is a strong
incentive to leave. An unofficial network of Pakistani medical residents in the
US is ready to host the next batch of graduates as they look to match with US
hospitals. After receiving a faster and cheaper education in Pakistan they can
make far more money abroad. This route is especially appealing to the 70% of
Pakistan’s medical students who are women but make-up only about a fourth of
registered doctors. Also among the diaspora are a plethora of artists, writers,
and academics who express that their passions are more appreciated abroad.
Upward social mobility is also a factor. I
recall meeting a successful businessman who purchased a house in the US as an
investment but with no intention of relocating. Back home he enjoys a driver,
cook, and nanny all at a steep discount. It is Pakistan’s inequality that makes
life so good for the wealthy but drives one in five Pakistanis to desire
permanent relocation according to a Gallup.com poll.
In the short-term, Islamabad should look
beyond big corporations and create incentives for entrepreneurs in the form of
small business loans and grants. Pakistanis returning from abroad are forging
new ventures such as cross-fit training and tech firms but millennials often
work from home to avoid taxes or because they lack capital. Growth is then
limited to the informal economy. Foreigners can step-in as partners with
startup capital or form businesses themselves but they are subjected to absurd
red tape from company registration offices and slow clearances from the
Ministry of Interior. Despite a security situation that has led multinational
board meetings to often be held in Dubai, Pakistan has a less saturated market
that should be low-cost to enter, making it ideal for small businesses and
startups. Thus Pakistan cannot afford to continue making business difficult.
In the short-term, Islamabad should look
beyond big corporations and create incentives for entrepreneurs. Pakistanis
returning from abroad are forging new ventures such as cross-fit training and
tech firms but millennials often work from home to avoid taxes or because they
Tourism could also jumpstart the economy.
The old excuse that Pakistan is too dangerous or not of interest for Westerners
is moot when tourists are flocking to visit Lebanon, Sri Lanka,
Indian-administered Kashmir, and Iran. Pakistan must follow other regional
countries and issue online or airport visas. Exploring the beauty of Pakistan
should not be dependent on an invitation letter nor does this antiquated
process protect national security.
Lastly, Islamabad must do more to engage
with the diaspora and mobilize young people. Non-resident Indians and Indian
Americans have been pivotal in improving Washington’s relations with New Delhi.
More than just sending remittances, Pakistanis abroad can serve as a tool in
helping the world engage diplomatically and economically with Pakistan.