Where is the Ideological Defense of Privatization?

Source: channel24.pk

Source: channel24.pk

In Pakistan, the intellectual superiority of the center left is almost taken for granted. The legacy of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is considered a holy cow without which the idea of democracy could not have existed in the country and without which the middle class could not have possibly existed. Of course, in order to achieve these much necessary goals, it was necessary to nationalize some industries and to initiate others a la Soviet Union. Ah, what a wonderful place Soviet Pakistan would have been, oozing with social justice and equal opportunity misery.

Why blame the center left political workers for their passionate ideological beliefs from high school years? It is misguided criticism. These are merely political positions after all. Our civil and military bureaucratic philosopher-kings are great believers and pushers of these opioid myths themselves. The only difference is that unlike the well meaning socialist political workers who seriously want to change the world for the better, they want and extort welfare for their own ruling class. This has been the story of the Pakistani welfare state for six odd decades.

In the tradition of the allure of the distant social welfare state, which happens to be as elusive as the Jannat-ul-Firdaus itself, the people of Pakistan continue to be hooked on myths about the role of the government in their lives. It’s more like a theory of everything in terms of solutions. Somehow these stories always help enable the establishment and expansion of bureaucratic agencies, even at the cost of avoidable billions on the debit side of all sorts of financial statements. However, only a diabolical neo-liberal without a conscience could dare question these excesses and stand by wasteful luxury urban mass transit projects at the same time.

Many of us would have thought so, but members of PML-N are certainly not made of any such material. Supposed to be center right fiscal conservatives, because you have to label the other side with something, they are nothing of the kind. Pretty much like their opposition. They probably far outspend any other liberal or center left parties who have ever had the chance to present a fiscal budget. They also pretty much don’t care about the national debt. They are happy to add on external debt as much as possible, not that anything is wrong with that, probably because they can actually get hold of the money from international donors for a change.

What the heartless part of this very heartless political party does get right about governance, and let’s not even get into the economy, is their alleged commitment to Privatization. An evil word that brings out the Che Guevara in every sophomoric philosopher in Pakistan. Releasing schools of red herring, pun intended, about the slippery slope of crony capitalist takeover and rants about selling off the law enforcement. How dare you speak of selling our mother’s jewelry to crony capitalist burglars? Especially if they happen to be Arab or Jewish.

In a country with army generals and civil bureaucrats constantly aspiring and conspiring to become business tycoons, who can blame them for being so cynically skeptical? It’s simply common sense. This is why it is indeed important to appreciate their opposition to privatization to national liabilities such as the PIA and the Steel Mills. This is why I am such a fan of the bicameral legislature. For political parties such as the PPP, it is the last thread of relevance that they are hanging by.

Nevertheless, substantial ideological opposition to the intellectually bankrupt center left political parties is almost absent in Pakistan. The slightly-right-to-the-center-of-left PML-N has managed to win repeatedly in Punjab on the basis of perceived performance, but they would hardly stand up to them because most of them don’t even believe in privatization themselves. Primarily disciplined by the autocratic Sharif brothers, most of them would be jumping up and down the Constitution Avenue if the opposition party were proposing similar terms when set loose.

It would be such a relief that instead of defending their pathetic departmental record as a solution, (you have to pander to the voters) they would try explaining that the government simply does not have business running some corporations. Also, nationalizing industries is not how you prevent crony capitalist monopolies, it is how you ensure them. This bit of ideological purity could have been ignored if the corporations in question were not such living pictures of the failure of government administration. Even most apologists for nationalization agree on remedial action and the impossibility, if not the irresponsibility, of their sustenance.

This brings us to the question of our public unions who make a living out of blackmailing the hard earned money of the taxpayer. Institutions which are ensured and protected by the corrupt idea of nationalized corporations. There is a reason why the deadwood freaks out at the very mention of private sector because they know they would run out of financiers of their incompetence. They would also miss patron politicians like Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari reinstating employees laid off decades back, with benefits. Political hiring and political firing. Sounds like a plan for eternity.

Of course, the forever held hostage taxpayer is obviously not able to offer much resistance to the similar excesses by the military state capitalism complex, and is bound to hope for some change promised by the “right wing” majority federal government. Probably because they seem to be the only ones agreeing to do something about it. However, the good folks at the PIA and their regressive center left allies are at it again resisting the privatization of their corporation on life support, as is their democratic right.

This is where the PML-N government needs to ignore the much misguided popular opinion in Pakistan and stand up to the public unions. No harm in threatening to fire them, instead of firing at their chests, and actually acting on it unless they get their act together and return to work on reasonable terms. Otherwise, the taxpayer does not owe them any obligations to support their per-hour loss that runs in hundreds and thousands of US dollars. Otherwise, someone would prescribe disinfectants for this parasite-infested body sooner or later.

It is time to grow a spine, kill public unions, completely privatize PIA and stop taking every word from the center left as gospel.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Right to Gambling and Online Paid Skilled Gaming

Source; profootballspot.com

Source; profootballspot.com

It is always a bad idea to invite the government into the areas of the internet where it is absent to prevent the abuse of regulation. However, avenues that are already eliminated by the government with decades-old theocratic legislation require a corrective intervention. Online gambling and skilled gaming are one such area.

If you are a fan of fantasy sports or are even fond of gambling your hard earned income every now and then, you would have a hard time pursuing such recreational activities in Pakistan. At least at a legal concern or on the internet, unless it happens to be a government sanctioned prize bond scheme or a race course.

Currently, The Prevention of Gambling Act 1977 governs and prohibits such activities in Pakistan with various penalties. The provincial versions of the law were enacted in 1978, while The Public Gambling Act of 1867 under the British law, which it was largely based on, was repealed in Islamabad and Punjab later.

Now there is a good reason why online gambling is banned in many countries. Gambling can be highly addictive and could expose citizens’ capital to great risk of loss.

Nevertheless, despite the risks and dangers involved, it is better to leave it to the citizens to decide about their morals and the disposal of their savings. The best trade-off between freedom and order remains in softening of the Gambling Act to decriminalize and legalize such activity.

There is no doubt that the government should protect citizens from fraudulent practices, eliminate money laundering and prevent organized crime to dominate such activities. This is why legalization of such activities not only offers safe and legal channels for citizens for such recreation due to regulation, but could also help generate considerable public revenue.

Just like every other “moral” issue in Pakistan, you cannot help but notice that the ban on gambling is not without its due share of contradictions, or even hypocrisy. Without going into the embarrassing reasons why, most of us are aware that horse racing is legally protected in Pakistan. Let’s just say that our bureaucracy and feudal class would always make an exception for their lifestyles.

However, thanks to the outdated laws governing anything remotely close to gambling within the boundaries of Pakistan, citizens indulging in the vice are not safe from harassment from the state. This also impacts the online space as betting websites would not open their operations to Pakistan, or even if they do, making transparent financial transactions to such entities would only land you in legal trouble.

Normally, I would hardly advocate the action of legislators as a much needed solution, but repealing is as much their job as enacting new laws. Especially in this case, when the laws in place are such terrible sweeping bans that take away the breathing space from the citizens. If law enforcement authorities were to target civilians, they would even charge citizens under the suspicion of gambling on the possession of dice and cards under the current draconian laws. Countries such as the United Kingdom have modernized their local gambling laws to provide for online gambling. It is about time the rest of the world followed suit.

Prohibiting gambling is one thing, since it is so evil. The taboo against it even sweeps skilled gaming involving financial transactions under the label. Even state attorneys in the United States are insisting on it in the wake of the latest controversies pertaining to insider trading among leading fantasy sports companies. However, bans in states such as New York sound more like prohibiting trading of a commodity due to an instance of financial fraud.

Any sports fan remotely familiar with the activity would know that fantasy sports, while dependent on actual results, rewards calculated risks and the knowledge of the sport. Fans not being able to participate in such paid skilled gaming due to local gambling bans is simply unfortunate.

Pakistani fans, like those in the rest of the civilized world, should be no exceptions when it comes to online skilled gaming. While local fans may not be enthusiastic about NFL or MBL odds, they sure take a keen interest in EPL and cricket related leagues. With the advent of Pakistan Super League, Pakistani cricket fans would be missing a legal means to put their money on their favorite franchises.

The bottom line is that there is no reason why an adult Pakistani should not have access to gambling and skilled gaming, online or offline, whenever they want to entertain themselves. The access to gambling and paid skilled gaming could possibly be considered as a right to the citizens, and when done responsibly can really prove to be a joyful activity.

We have a choice of being blindly morally uptight as usual, or actually make it safer and legal for the citizens to enjoy paid skilled gaming, if not gambling.

A version of the post was published in The Nation blogs.

The Bronchitis Post

Source: healthtap.com

Source: healthtap.com

For the second straight year, at this very time of the year, I have been hit with the terrible condition of Bronchitis. Now that I think about it, it was perfectly avoidable, regardless of the fact that I have seen many people in the community exhibiting similar symptoms.

The dry roughness of the parts from the nasal cavity all the way down to the trachea makes this condition absolutely unbearable for the initial days, not to mention the brain-paralyzing fever. And not sure if it gets any better unless you pursue aggressive treatment proactively. I am not sure if you can leave this condition as it is and wait for it to get better. Maybe you can, but not sure. I was prescribed antibiotics and an NSAID. In any case, I guess this must be the closest you get to pneumonia.

Sickness can really paralyze your body and mind, but it has its due share of pleasures. It offers you the reshuffling of brain cells required for the much needed clarity every now and then. Not to mention the freshness of perspective and a renewed sharpness for concentration. Or maybe it’s just the drugs that I am heavily under the influence of these days. Though I am still pretty dizzy, 7 days and counting. So probably you do need a jolt like this every now and then to get your act straight and wear down the lethargy of being healthy.

However, the note to myself following this experience is what I would probably be ignoring around this time of the next year. Cover yourself properly when winter gets at its worst. Especially when you don’t have the most enviable heating around, if at all.

Cold kills people. It kills hundreds of people in this part of the world, by which I mean, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Afghanistan. Particularly the homeless without adequate heat and shelter. It has even killed at least a dozen on the US East Coast following one of the worst blizzards in history.

And this is probably how the cold kills.

Saudi-Iran Conflict: Just the Sort of Diversion the Islamic State Needed

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

Despite an almost unanimous agreement about the evil that the Islamic State embodies, the world is still having a hard time forming a military alliance to take substantial action against the group. From lamenting the consequences of unrelated past foreign military intervention to equating ISIL with other Arab states, there is no shortage of absurd political opinions making excuses for inaction.

At a time like this, it was probably not surprising that the usual suspects of the region were busy making matters even worse in the Middle East. Through some very deliberate measures, Saudi Arabia and Iran have chosen to strain their already tense diplomatic relations seriously.

Things started getting worse when Saudis executed dissenting Shia scholar Nimr Al-Nimr, sparking violent anti-Saudi protests in Tehran during which protestors set the Saudi embassy on fire. As a reaction, Saudi Arabia, followed by UAE and Bahrain, expelled Iranian missions to their respective countries. The region started worrying about a new conflict and Islamic State found just the sort of relief they needed.

Of course, whenever relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran suffer, you can expect increased pressure on Pakistan, both from the Saudi government and from the people at home. While the careful approach the Government of Pakistan has taken in this regard is the way to go, it must be warned to move a step forward in terms of its commitment to fight ISIL. In an ideal world, a military operation against ISIL with Pakistan’s participation should have been underway.

The Gulf states have been facing much criticism for their inaction against ISIL, which have been regularly resisted by Shia militia in Iraq. As a matter of fact, people have been speculating Saudi hand behind ISIL since the extremist group share the brand of Sunni Islam practiced in the kingdom. Now that they have made a military alliance, it is being condemned by some for being meant for exclusively targeting Iran and its sponsored militant groups.

While protesting the Saudi-led anti-terrorism alliance makes little sense, this is the expected consequence of choosing to join a coalition led by Saudi Arabia. Probably for spiritual reasons, the local Sunni and Shia population have linked their religious fervor with the terrible political entities of Saudi Arabia and Iran respectively. This is why commentators with this concern have been calling for Pakistan to join a US-led alliance to fight the Islamic State.

So far we have seen a lot of talk about the anti-terrorist alliance but little action. Only substantial military action by the Saudi led alliance would put the conspiracy theories to rest. The lack of action is yet another reason for Pakistan to wonder if it is in the right camp. But then again, fighting ISIL proactively is hardly a priority for nations around the world, and Pakistan seems to be no exception.

This is where the United States and other Western powers would have to lead and work with Saudi Arabia and Iran to focus on eradicating the Islamic State. Unless a comprehensive global alliance is formed for the purpose under the leadership of the United States, it would be difficult to organize the much required military efforts.

We are at a point in history when extraordinary measures are required for the elimination of the evil Islamic State. Global and regional powers, which are otherwise adversaries, need to come together to get rid of this common threat to human civilization, but the local Muslim population is busy squabbling about the power struggle of Iran and Saudi Arabia instead.

This will severely hurt any possible military campaigns that had any chance to be initiated by Muslim majority countries in the Middle and adjoining regions because everyone would need to take a side in this conflict. I appreciate the passion of everyone who wants their countries to remain neutral in the Saudi-Iran conflict, but that would not be the case for long if the situation escalates further.

The recent episode only proves the irresponsibility and recklessness of Iran and Saudi Arabia as regional powers and goes to show that they should be the last countries leading other Muslim majority nations. While it is a good idea expressing solidarity with them and offering military aid for necessary defense and peacekeeping, it would be a disastrous mistake to follow their lead in shaping foreign policy.

This is why it is important for global powers to avoid the distraction of Saudi-Iran conflict and refocus their attention on the threat of ISIL by rallying a global alliance. Pakistan must also play its part as a responsible nation and must distinguish itself with significant participation.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Thank You for the Music, David Bowie

Source: David Bowie/urbanmilwaukee

Source: David Bowie/urbanmilwaukee

So what if that distant star in the sky that you love dies out?

And here we are, with grief thrust on us, numb-minded trying to make sense of the incomprehensible emotional torrent in our electric bags of fluids.

The only consolation perhaps is that I am not alone in this moment, yet everyone grieving this moment in their own private way. Probably that is how it is meant to be.

Everyone has their own journey of Bowie’s music, as is the case with all greatness. And everyone is saying that it is his music what will live on.

I would not talk about how great David Bowie was an artist, as a singer and songwriter and an actor. That he was a genius showman and a renaissance man, as an artist should be. That there was probably no parallel of his talent and career. There are plenty of other tributes to make the case, but you can only talk about the fingerprints of an artist on your heart, and on your life.

I have never connected with most music the way I did with Outside, which has a curious theme, and some of the most mesmerizing tracks you would ever hear. With just the subtlety and darkness to give a voice to the passing moments of your life. Hours of mental miles covered in the mesmerizing, magical, warping wormhole of “I’m Deranged.”

All this music coming from a man who understood that he had limited time, that we had limited time. Despite a career spanning five decades. What it meant to cease to exist, and to give up everything you have ever worked for, and everyone you ever loved. And that probably art is just one small but significant human effort to express existence in a senseless void.

A void that is only intensified by a sea of other souls.

Source: ISO/RCA/Columbia

Source: ISO/RCA/Columbia

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03f5cyt/player

So what do we miss about David Bowie?

He was pretty much reclusive for the final years of his life anyway, and was hardly seen in public events or media. It’s not that we saw him on TV everyday.

However, we always had the hope of hearing more from him, and seeing more of him, as in Prestige (2006), if not as in Labyrinth (1986) as Jareth the Goblin King. There probably was so much more, decades of audio and visual art in that wonderful mind and we never thought it would ever end.

His latest album Blackstar (2015) is proof he never quit until his last breath. But probably it was meant to be like this, a final gift. A final goodbye.

That’s what stars do. They shine for a while, and then fade away.

Thank you for the music, David Bowie.

Thank you for your  life. RIP.

My Pakistani Person of the Year 2015: Malala Yousafzai

Source: REUTERS/Cornelius Poppe/NTB

Source: REUTERS/Cornelius Poppe/NTB

Much to the chagrin of our nationalist critics, Malala Yousafzai keeps on achieving great things. And she is destined for even greater things.

If she is a foreign paid agent, then God knows we need thousands more like her, and would thank the generous foreign power for allocating such funds to a Pakistani girl. But if only the world were such a magical place.

2015 was the year in which Malala transcended the Pakistani nationality, and became what every human individual ought to be. A Citizen of the World. In the true sense of the expression.

Focusing on just one country does not even matter anymore, neither does justice to her vision for humanity.

On the turn of this year, Malala Yousafzai became the first ever Pakistani and Pashtun woman and the youngest ever person to receive the Nobel Prize for Peace.

Malala Yousafzai is my Pakistani person of the year for showing Pakistan what the right to education really means and for teaching adults how to raise their children, especially girls. In many ways, she always will be because we would hardly see an individual as brave and as bright in any time to come.

Malala has earlier worked for the education for Nigerian girls, particularly those affected by Boko Haraam. She is now working for the education of Syrian refugee children, which are probably the most troubled individuals in this world. She is leading by example for not waiting for others to take action by founding the Malala Fund.

It is only ironical that Malala comes from a country where the lawmakers have declared education as a right of all citizens, without providing any plan for it, or even understanding what that means. Malala’s critics are not aware that she is only echoing the ideals of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Don’t worry too much if Malala Yousafzai is not working for Pakistan in your opinion.

She has beaten death to fight for her cause. Shrugging off these taunts and allegations are not going to bother her, though these words could be sharper than bullets and blades. But then again, demanding education for girls is a serious crime in a society that constantly laments about the lack of it rhetorically.

Your opinion judging her nationalistic loyalty does not even matter anymore.

She has moved on to do greater things.

Happy New Year.

Donate to the Malala Fund here.

Read about my Pakistani person of the last year here.

Pakistani Free Speech Hero of the Year 2015: Sabeen Mahmud

Source: The News

Source: The News

There were quite a few Pakistanis braving their way through threats, intimidation, discrimination and hate, but who could equal the couragee that Sabeen Mahmud has inspired us with. She used to do things where others like me only talked from behind the closed doors of their comfortable lairs. She interacted with people and reached out instead of resorting to convenient misanthropy.

While most people thought she was targeted by people trying to silence, her fundamentalist killer confessed that he was offended by her Valentine’s Day movement, for which she was my hero in 2013. While some folks can still argue about what caused her untimely death, there is no argument over her brilliant resolve to say and fight for the right thing in an environment very hostile to free speech.

She is a free speech hero in the true sense of the word. Others can make claims, but she lived that and probably proved the point with her death-defying lifestyle. What makes her special was that she was a woman of action, not just words. Her death, by far the worst shock of this year, shook us to the core. But still, it is hard to express in words how proud I and many of my friends are of Sabeen. Long live her cause.

Source: Laal

Source: Laal

However, she is by far not the only free speech hero this year. In countries where curbs on free speech are a norm, there hardly ever is. Not unrelated to her accommodation of the talk about Baluch rights featuring Mama Qadeer at T2F in Karachi is Taimur Rehman of Laal, a professor of Political Science in the LUMS affiliated with the Communist Mazdoor Kisan Party. Taimur is known for speaking out about unpopular causes such as rights of minority religious groups and labor rights in a country very hostile to leftist parties.

What made matters even worse for Taimur Rehman was the smear campaign run against him by pro-establishment nationalists for speaking about Balochistan, particularly on mainstream media while he had no access to any such platform to clarify his views. The campaign largely condemnded him as a traitor and accused him of having links with Baluch nationalist separatists. It certainly takes courage to express political dissent as openly as Taimur does, but it goes to show how dangerous doing so still is in Pakistan, particularly with the history of bans on the Communist Party.

PervezRasheed-dawn-p-1

Source: Dawn

Another reminder why democracy is so important. Speaking of which, it is not everyday that a member of the government wins a nod in the Free Speech hero of the year post, but this year is an exception. Pervez Rasheed, the soft spoken but expressive Senator and Minister of Information from PML-N attracted the ire of the clerics and religious conservatives by his speech promoting rational education and condemning madrassahs or religious seminaries as “Universities of Ignorance.”  It’s a big deal coming from a government official of an Islamic Republic.

As expected, Pervez Rasheed was bombarded with condemnation, rather damnation of excommunication from the religious clerics, who bestowed all sorts of titles on him including Ahmedi, infidel, atheist and non-believer, not that anything is wrong with all that. However, that is a fundamentalist Muslim’s way of saying they hate you, and well killing you is alright.

This only goes to show that even government officials are not free from the attacks of religious conservatives for speech, that can potentially cost them their lives if not their positions. I am just glad that protests against him did not escalate as much as in the case of Pakistan’s first foreign minister Sir Zafrullah Khan for being Ahmedi. Because it very easily could have. The good news is that he is undeterred and still serving in the same position, and is a good example for the rest of the leaders in the government to follow for criticizing the role of religion in public life.

Read about the Pakistani Free Speech hero of the last year here.

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