My Pakistani Person of the Year 2013: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif

Source: geo.tv

Source: geo.tv

For reasons right and wrong, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is my Pakistani Person of the Year for 2013.

He has taken office after a massive victory in the May 2013 elections in which people, of the Punjab at least, have clearly voted for economy ahead of any other issue. And his party PML-N had heavily relied on promises of economic prosperity in its election campaign too. Since government is the sole provider of many utilities, it was just a change of subscription from the same source.

While his party, like every other party in Pakistan, believes in big government and big spending and has to offer its fair share of idiotic socialistic election stunts, it still happens to be the best hope for greater economic liberalization in Pakistan.

Perhaps, another hope is its conservative sister PML-Q, which may or may not vote to support many economic reforms out of political rivalry, while PPP and PTI could oppose based on their ideology. It is a shame that both parties have parted ways on anything but issues, and it is mostly Nawaz Sharif’s fault.

To be fair to the Prime Minister, he has inherited a financial wreck from the PPP led coalition government, which doubled the total debt in its term ending in 2012-13. So it is hardly a surprise that the PML-N government is desperate to finance the state any way it can and adding on further debt.

However, Pakistanis have grown sick of excuses and passing on the blame to the predecessor. The PML-N government will have to make tough decisions and it partially seems headed that way as well, at least in terms of reducing the size of the government. But it could damage the economy to some extent in its own right by irresponsible spending.

At the same time, Nawaz Sharif is far from perfect. He has a reputation of a democratically elected dictator, whose second term legacy is still crippling democracy in Pakistan. His party tolerates Islamic fundamentalism, though there is no other way to win an election in Punjab, and he almost became the Emir-ul-Momineen.

I can never forgive his 14th amendment and never will. But if you still look at him with hopeful eyes, it tells you of how bad things are. Perhaps he is the wrong choice, but I am not liberal, or idiotic, enough to think someone else would be a better choice at this point. I didn’t vote for his party, but would have voted for him had the Prime Ministerial ballot been there.

There is this fool’s hope of keeping your fingers crossed that he has learned something from the second term mistakes. And so far, he has not managed to offend my sensitivities.

Given the usual election cycles in Pakistan, most people are likely to vote for a more populist and pro-socialist government in 2018 in any case. While PML-N can compensate its loss of reputation with its trademark wasteful infrastructural and welfare stunts, even though it could either carry out those schemes or control inflation effectively without widening the deficit, it should at least do the needful about the economy on the larger scale in the mean time. Regardless of the cost.

If PML-N is able to privatize major departments currently administered or influenced by the government, especially PIA  and the Steel Mills, and partially at least, it would leave government with a productive legacy.

I would rather have much lesser government control in the oil and power market as well, though this is harder to achieve. The privatization is the easiest measure and would go a long way in the improvement of the economy and standard of living of Pakistanis.

But he has just rejected a recommendation of OGRA to increase oil prices. I don’t even mind the continuous subsidies if either the size of the government is drastically reduced or the income tax revenue is drastically increased. Failing to make one of the two unpopular decisions would mean continuing the same old disaster.

You cannot have big government without a lot of taxes and cannot expect government to look after every single aspect of the economy without paying taxes. Pakistani people do not seem to understand this.

Most Pakistanis are under the impression that a “good government” can solve all their problems. To them, a “good government” should be like a messiah that would come to their rescue. Can you blame them?

But this is why there is an excess supply of messiahs in Pakistani politics.

This is why you have MPs walking out of the legislature all the time, including PML-N, whenever oil and power prices are increased, so that the government can further subsidize these commodities.

This is why you have parties restoring laid off employees in ancient history with pay and benefits in retrospect at the taxpayer’s expense and call it a fulfilled promise.

And this is precisely why Nawaz Sharif is the best man to lead the country at the moment, until we can find someone better and less messianic. At the moment, only he is really able to bring about the changes that the Pakistani economy actually requires. He could fail, but his direction does not look too bad.

We can put off whatever political correctness we are missing right now to a later year.

My Pakistani person of the year for 2012 was Malala Yousafzai.

Happy New Year.

Pakistani Free Speech Hero of the Year 2013: Sabeen Mahmud

Source: inc.com

Source: inc.com

A right that is almost taken for granted and even denied in Pakistan is that of free speech, and any honor for its promotion is barely ever acknowledged.

Since no one else would bother to say this, at least I would have to. And I am upset with myself for not acknowledging a free speech hero last year. Anyway, partially, that hero was also prominent this year, that is, Malala Yousafzai. No surprises there.

Apart from Malala, a number of people like assassinated politicians Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, journalists Saleem Shahzad and Umar Cheema, Oscar winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and alleged blasphemer Asia Bibi, who everyone has conveniently forgotten, have been prominent in years prior to 2013. It is also important to acknowledge PPP co-Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari for publicly expressing his wish to see a non-Muslim as the Prime Minister of Pakistan in his lifetime, contrary to the provision in the constitution.

But more important free speech heroes are the ones who are in close proximity to threats and yet take the initiative to speak their minds, even if that means challenging the blind authority and unreasonable norms of the society.

To my mind, the Pakistani free speech hero of the year 2013 is social activist and entrepreneur Sabeen Mahmud.

Sabeen took flak after she started a counter initiative to respond to the anti Valentine’s Day campaign of Tanzeem-e-Islami. Her campaign involved rather amusing messages promoting love, such as “Pyaar Hone De” or roughly ‘Let there be love’, in front of the billboard messages from the religious movement prohibiting Valentine’s Day celebrations, citing verses and traditions. It immediately became controversial.

The content cannot be found any more on the Express Tribune website, the publication which primarily covered her campaign, because it is considered in bad taste by a number of Muslims. The publication even issued an apology for the campaign slideshow.

However, I have seen the pictures from the campaign and can testify that there was hardly anything about the campaign that was offensive. It would have been seen in a completely different light, if many of us had a little sense of humor.

Yet Sabeen was harassed by random people on social media, which included death threats, apart from coarse and abusive language. She was even threatened with a fatwa.

Her apt and enterprising response to the hate speech onslaught was the Nafrat Aggregator, an online tool that quantifies reported hate speech on social media.

Sabeen Mahmud has also been the driving force behind other initiatives such as the Pakistan for All campaign with Muhammad Jibran Nasir and Taimur Rehman, which involved the formation of human chains around Cathedrals and churches to express solidarity with the Christian community in major cities around Pakistan, the Hug YouTube campaign and Pakistan’s first hackathon in Karachi. She is also the founder of T2F in Karachi and is the Director of PeaceNiche.

It is a shame that such individuals are harassed instead of being admired by our society, as it is supposed to be in a democracy, just because they have a dissenting voice on certain issues.

But this is precisely why she is an inspirational free speech hero. I fully support and endorse her, even if I am not half as enthusiastic to legislate against hate speech.

While I admire all her work, this acknowledgment is primarily for her stance in the Valentine’s Day campaign controversy.

To quote her: “Fear is just a line in your head”.

Pakistani Idiot of the Year 2013: MP Mujahid Ali Khan

Source: pakistanileaders.com.pk

Source: pakistanileaders.com.pk

After a hotly contested race in a universe of idiots and after much consideration, the coveted title of Pakistani Idiot of the Year 2013 goes to PTI MP Mujahid Ali Khan, the incumbent National Assembly or federal legislature member for NA-11, Mardan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).

Mujahid Ali Khan demanded the release of Mumtaz Qadri, the self-confessed and proud assassin of late Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer on the legislature floor. His idiocy was given fierce competition by the Sunni Ulema Board for their passionate support and appreciation of his demand, but all the parties can agree that the honors should go to Khan for his courageous initiative.

Another nominee in contention for the coveted title was the incumbent Minister for Information Technology and Telecommunications Anusha Rehman, for floating the idea of blocking Google. Other idiots in the race included former MP Zamurad Khan for his idiocy disguised as half-baked courage against the infamous Islamabad gunman Sikander, which almost resulted in him getting shot and arguably indirectly caused the gunman’s wife getting shot, apart from Sikander himself, PPP Chariman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari for his not-so-liberal tweet defending blocking messaging apps during operation against terrorists in Karachi, Interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar for evading security questions on Senate floor and blocking cellular signals after vowing not to and Rana Sanaullah for a myriad of hilariously ridiculous statements which are so many, I have lost count.

Even though some of you would be missing Syed Munnawar Hassan and Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman among the nominees pertaining to their statements about who can be shaheed or “martyrs” and who does not qualify, let me clarify that both of them are perfectly intelligent individuals who know what they are talking about, despite their religious ideology. Besides, I assign very low weight to statements about imaginary concepts.

A special mention is also due for Ansaar Abbasi and Orya Maqbool Jan, aka OryaAbbasi, for their televised inquisition of Pervez Hoodbhoy for his ambiguous views on Salman Rushdie’s controversial novel “The Satanic Verses“. But the idiocy of this action is highly debatable and subjective, though deemed by some as an invitation to murder.

I deeply regret if I am missing anyone though covering the entire list of possible nominees is beyond the scope of this post or even the capacity of human endeavor, so feel free to add to it. I am sure I have said a lot of idiotic things myself during the course of this turbulent year.

For a second, PTI minister Amin Ali Gandapur‘s statement about not being happy about not enough policemen getting killed while defending the Dera Ismail Khan prison against a terrorist attack was also considered. However, in retrospect the statement did not seem all that outrageous in its context and its degree of being outrageous is also debatable.

Despite such great company, the clear and obvious winner is HE Mujahid Ali Khan for his absolute audacity to bring up such a taboo demand in such a public and legal forum. Even though the PTI MP was only voicing the opinion of a good majority of pious Pakistanis, since Mr. Qadri is a cult hero, he was clearly calling for a complete acquittal of a self-confessed murderer who would be considered fit for incarceration in most judicial standards around the world, especially for death penalty in Pakistan.

Having said that, I personally strongly oppose death penalty to Mumtaz Qadri, but most probably would equally disapprove of his acquittal in most circumstances. I would also strongly recommend mental health rehabilitation of the passionate murderer to cure his excessive religiosity.

Even though the Pakistani Idiot of the Year title has gone to a politician from the KP province for the second consecutive time, for the sake of political correctness I would like to give a disclaimer that the selection is not based on any prejudice whatsoever, but purely on merits and performance.

The Pakistani Idiot of the Year 2012 title went to ANP Minister Haji Ghulam Bilour.

Sheepthink: Presenting Problems as Solutions

Source: godtreasure.net

One of the most fundamental aspects of politics that you can observe is that it works mostly by the manipulation of human emotion.

And why not. With its practitioners being the guardians, as well as traders, of morality and justice, it becomes all about addressing the grievances of the wronged, given the incessant tendency of the human kind to be drawn to conflict and violence.

The imperfect state of affairs and the injustice and inequality caused by the abuse of power and authority all over the world in one way or another only fuel the tensions among people who feel they have been deprived and cheated.

Therefore, since there are always people who are deprived and even oppressed in some way, there will always be platforms that would offer help, genuinely or not. And often those platforms would ultimately resort to the same ills they have been claiming to liberate people from, should they have their way.

Such is the terrible cycle of politics, call it a deliberate system or a natural random occurrence.

However, in a bid to change the society for the better, greater control of the government is often proposed as a remedy to the prevalent inequality and injustice. Yes, what but the government is the solution to every wrong on earth?

Government control is absolutely necessary when it comes to providing security and protecting fundamental rights, consumer rights and the environment from abuse and malpractice. But more often than not, invitation to greater regulation results in taking a yard when an inch is offered. Arguably the same is true for certain private entities, but it remains to be the very occupation of the government.

Often the solution which is supposed to liberate people from the clutches of evil capitalistic oppressors are the very vehicles of the corruption ensuing this misery.

So is completely abolishing either private enterprise or government regulation the solution?

In the meantime, people would continue to be exploited by political emotional blackmail in one way or another. I would not mind as long as they would at least understand the value of their individual liberty, which they are gladly willing to give away in exchange of an imaginary utopian orgasm.

Establishing social justice by infringing on people’s right is nothing but sheepthink.

Maybe the only solution is just not dropping your guard.

Why Mandela is a Symbol of Freedom

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) - Source: history.com

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) – Source: history.com

Nelson Mandela is a symbol of freedom.

These are not hollow words as the true meaning of freedom can only be understood by those who are incarcerated and harassed by authoritarian forces and those who are constantly discriminated for one reason or another. Especially when it is the color of the skin.

Some people learn the price of freedom, peace and democracy the hard way. Even if they would apparently not even understand these ideas fully. Nelson Mandela became the greatest embodiment of this realization over time.

Nelson Mandela is a symbol of freedom because he experienced authoritarian oppression first hand and in one of the cruelest of ways that any political leader of the modern times could suffer.

Nelson Mandela was a Democratic Socialist by political persuasion, who had been a lifelong communist, therefore gathering the criticism from the anti-communist West at the time, who would demonize communists at any opportunity that presented itself.

His critics in the West may have a point, but Mandela did not establish an authoritarian government in South Africa on the abolition of Apartheid. But it also goes to show the hypocrisy of the democratic West, which would support Apartheid regimes while trumpeting principles of liberty and democracy.

But more than his later commitment to non-violence, it is his struggle against colonial and racist captors of his people that immortalizes this great man. Arguably, the greatest since Gandhi.

Who but Mandela could be the greatest inspiration to the West and to everyone else for how demonizing someone for their ideology is wrong, and authoritarian in its own right.

But this is not the first time, or last for that matter, that you would find people taking refuge in an authoritarian ideology in order to fight the persecution from another. Anything that offers some hope. In this case, social equality and justice.

Most sympathizers of authoritarian ideologies are kind, well meaning and passionate people, who just don’t know what they are taking about. Some of them then end up discovering the price of freedom the hard way.

Who but Mandela would know the price of freedom. Who but he can tell what authoritarianism and totalitarianism mean.

RIP Nelson Mandela

It has been a privilege to be alive during your lifetime.

I hope you keep on inspiring for the pursuit of freedom, which continues to elude those who value it.