The Deflated Balloon of a Strong Trump Presidency

Source: Independent

After President Obama’s weak reaction to the Russian interference in the Syrian civil war, the Russian annexation of Crimea, the world started wondering about an American leadership on the backfoot. The more hawkish of commentators even saw this as the beginning of the end of the American Empire or at least a President unwilling to further it.

President Obama had his own vision of a multilateral world, which was dovish to the extent that he ended up letting Russia dictate the direction of the Syrian civil war. He was a Wilsonian, albeit one skeptical about American moral superiority, who lacked the will to enforce his vision. A philosopher President who was even skeptical about his own convictions at times. President Obama also failed to follow his own red line for the Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad for carrying out chemical attacks on his own people by opting to deflect the decision to a vote in Congress. It was no wonder that many hawkish elements, many of them Republicans, were looking forward to a Republican Presidency.

However, everything changed with Donald Trump becoming the Republican frontrunner. Clearly, the American voter had a different mood this time around and was not taking anything from leaders making promises of globalization. With all the populist and anti-globalist rhetoric in the air, there was still one lasting factor traditional Republican view that Trump strongly promoted. The destruction of the Islamic State and deposing Bashar Al-Assad as the leader of the regime in power in Syria.

Trump came across as a strongman to many. Someone who would take tougher stances and establish America’s dominance over the world. However, President Trump’s completely spineless attitude toward Russian President Vladimir Putin and especially dealing the ceasefire in Southern Syria destroys the myth of a strong Trump Presidency. Now, we have an American Empire coming to terms with a precarious position in Syria.

The latest is that the Russia has signed an airbase deal with Syria, solidifying the presence of its troops for at least half a century to come. Instead of moving ahead with confronting the Islamic State, getting rid of Assad and confronting Russia, he reached a ceasefire deal for Southwest Syria with Russia. This development only points toward further military disengagement in the region. He does not seem to have any intention to confront the shrinking American influence either, as he too will apparently kneel before the Russian and Chinese aggression. He is more interested in creating an isolationist America than one leading from the front during the terms of Bush 41 and 43. Just because it will get you the votes in today’s political atmosphere.

It should be a great embarrassment to the Republicans for standing with Trump for his atrocious policies. While they are doing it for purely political reasons, they are going to lose the moral high ground that they are used to taking in front of the public. Politicians like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who remain more concerned about the situation in the Middle East, should be particularly alarmed with the manner of the President they are standing by.

To many, the decline of America started with the election of a pompous narcissistic billionaire like Trump. It actually started with President Obama, elected on an anti-Iraq war mandate, withdrawing the United States from the global theater. To withdraw the role of actively policing the world for American values. While polar opposites ideologically and in terms of personality, both were symptomatic and also representative of the extreme polarization and a direction of international disengagement in American politics.

Supposedly someone with a liberal background, Donald Trump is going all out to pander to the hard-right conservative Republican base that has brought him to power. While those issues are going to cause much unrest domestically, his international stances, such as exiting the Paris Environment Treaty, are only going to undo the American moral leadership around the world.

Donald Trump and the politicians of his kind are taking the people of the United States back to the era of isolation and disengagement. They are taking America to the pre-Wilsonian era, which brought about great ideas such as the League of Nations and the United Nations to reality. Unlike the Republican tradition, they will not be the stalwarts of American moral leadership around the world. They are withdrawing America from the leadership of the world and leaving it in the hands of darker powers.

I know it’s still early days for the Trump Presidency, and given his unpredictable nature, anything is possible in the near future. However, the way he has handled the Syrian civil war so far takes out all the air that inflated the image of his leadership.

The post was published in The Nation blogs.

The Lesson from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Fall

Source: geo.tv

There are several lessons that could be learned from the fall of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Poor leadership, terrible strategy, abandoning allies, pride, hubris, arrogance, narcissism, myopia, and having the little foresight of the inevitable. However, the most important lesson is meant more for the Pakistani people who seem to be repeating some of the mistakes of the ill-fated triple term Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was brought to prominence during the reign of the mighty General Zia-ul-Haq, arguably the worst military dictator in Pakistan’s history. A reluctant Nawaz Sharif was introduced as the Chief Minister of Punjab, who then rose to power as the leader of establishment-backed Islamic Democratic Alliance in the 1990s against the staunchly anti-establishment liberal visionary Benazir Bhutto.

As Prime Minister Sharif got comfortable in his Jihadi, Islamist social conservative cradle, he would soon attempt to declare himself the “Emir-ul-Momineen.” Who would have thought the one who almost became the Emir-ul-Momineen cannot even qualify as a Sadik and Amin now.

However, he probably never one at heart himself. The trader and entrepreneur in him was always more loyal to productivity and money than religious mirages and made him lean toward peace with India. The secular leader in him switched the national weekly holiday to Sunday from Friday amid protests of his Islamist allies. And perhaps went further to confront the military on counter-productive measures such as the 1998 nuclear tests and certainly the disastrous Kargil War.

Of course, Sharif crossed a lot of limits and does so habitually but you don’t have to do much to fall out of favor with the bureaucratic establishment. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif himself made the mistake of trusting them the third time around while living dangerously throughout his term, surviving rioting protests from PTI and PAT. Of course, you cannot say that he does not realize who his enemy is but you know there is only so much you can do to save yourself or please them.

While the people do not have the luxury to do much about them either, they also consistently make the mistake of taking their ruling bureaucratic tyrants as their saviors. They also consistently make the mistake of rejoicing over their assault on their right to vote. Many of them cannot wait to completely give up all their rights to their bureaucratic overlord whose meritocracy could not have been a fitter fit for the ignorant Pakistani masses who can’t think for themselves.

Nawaz Sharif may as well be history. But the people of Pakistan need to wonder if they can afford any more lapses in their democratic process. They need to wonder if they are willing to relinquish any more of their rights to the security state.

They need to wonder how the bureaucratic machine has not even bothered to promise to deliver free education as in the 18th amendment. They need to wonder how the bureaucratic machine has looked the other way when it comes to a national health insurance program while paying their bills out of public money. They need to wonder how the bureaucratic machine has systematically dismantled the honor of their own voice.

They need to do some serious soul searching.

Because the only ones that the bureaucratic machine cares for are themselves.

And that is the biggest lesson.

 

A version of this post was published in the Dunya blogs.

An All Too Familiar Face of Accountability

Source: BBC Urdu

Pakistan is a unique country in terms of governance and politics. Not everything is as it seems and you can often have a hard time discerning who is really at the helm of policy. The case with accountability is not any different. It is often used as a moralizing political tool than a dispenser of justice.

Ever since the office of the Prime Minister was created in Pakistan, the civil and military bureaucrats have been busy inventing excuses to dismiss it. And whether they have not been creative enough in coming up with those excuses, they most certainly have been effective in the ultimate objective.

Ever since General Pervez Musharraf resigned as President, it seems that the coup-ready military of Pakistan has changed its decades-old strategy. It apparently has realized that explicitly taking over the government in Pakistan is either not good for its image internationally or does not garner enough support at home. So now they prefer to move the strings from behind the curtain.

The Pakistani people have been fed a singular dimension of accountability. That the elected office holders or the politicians are the embodiment of all the corruption in the government, while the civil and military bureaucracy is the most efficient machinery in existence. Not only that, they are also the most suitable entities to hold the politicians accountable.

Ever since the revelation of the Panama Papers with the mention of the offshore companies of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, we are seeing the familiar face of accountability surface. As it came as a welcome relief after the drama around electoral rigging died out. And as before, when the military lies dormant, the judiciary plays its part to be the entity ready to stage a soft coup as in the case of Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani. The very tone used by judges, in this case, speaks volumes of their intent. It may or may not materialize, but the way the wind has been blowing is unmistakable.

At least for moral reasons, there have been calls for the Prime Minister to step down. Apart from not qualifying on the mystical constitutional standards of “Sadiq” and “Amin”, there is hardly any reason to until a definite proof of money laundering is produced on his person, as opposed to the conjectures listed by the JIT. But if the Prime Minister does not step down, it would be interesting to see how far his opponents go to bring about his demise. In that case, it is probably better for his purpose to play the victimization card.

However, where his governing achievement surpasses most other parties, his poor political leadership is costing him dearly. The problem with the PML-N has always been that it mistakes its heavy mandate as a carte blanche to alienate political stakeholders around the country. Of course, the incurably cynical PTI is on a saboteur mission to take democracy down with themselves but the rest of the parties can at least listen to the majority party and come to its rescue in case of bureaucratic threats.

What the PML-N does not realize is that its overwhelming majority that it takes for its strength is its greatest weakness. Because it has always been targeted by the bureaucratic establishment for such powerful popular support that no other party has enjoyed over three decades. The way it has been targeted is evident from all three terms of Prime Minister Sharif.

Unfortunately, there are elements in our civil and military bureaucracy, as well as the intelligence community, who do not want democracy to flourish in Pakistan. Not only do they not believe in democracy as a system of government, they strongly resent any hint of power in the hands of the public. The bureaucratic rule has been presented as a solution for the Pakistani people since independence and sadly, a good number of people buy into this narrative surviving since colonial times. And who better to hold the politicians accountable than bureaucrats, as evident from the JIT, which has now rendered military intelligence as an extension of the judicial branch.

Nobody has bothered questioning why the JIT has officially become an extension of the Supreme Court. Nobody has bothered questioning why the range of investigation has been extended beyond the revelations of the papers. Nobody has bothered asking why military intelligence officials are investigating the first family. And above all, nobody has bothered questioning why in Pakistan a panel of judges can undo the mandate of the people instead of impeachment by elected officials.

Of course, accountability should be a part of a strong democratic system. And a fragile democracy is hardly any excuse to forego the crimes of the political class. However, it would have been far easier to trust the high office of judiciary and bureaucracy in Pakistan had they enjoyed a cleaner political track record.

So, who is going to hold who accountable?

Well, let’s start from the politicians again. Now and forever.

 

The post was originally published in the Dunya Blogs.

A Missed Opportunity of Our Own Making

Source: Hindustan Times

Narendra Modi made history by becoming the first sitting Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel. We already know that India has been a buyer of Israeli arms in the recent years, but this visit goes far beyond anything we have ever seen in the history of their relations.

Modi and Netanyahu brought together their private sector which has signed deals worth $4.3 billion. These deals cover sectors as broad as information technology to water treatment and from startups to innovation. But more alarming for Pakistan is India’s investment in an Israeli missile defense system among other defense contracts worth $630 million.

India and Israel have come a long way, while Pakistan can only shed tears at this alliance.

Now, this might seem like the vindication for the anti-Semitic “Brahmin-Zionist nexus” conspiracy theory proponents. However, the fact remains that India has overcome a lot of resistance as well as the internal struggle to come to terms with Israel. You could argue that even today, a good number of Indians are critical of friendly relations with Israel. Especially when Modi is snubbing the Palestinian leadership during the visit to Jerusalem, unlike most world leaders. The message sent to Israel is that India stands with it unconditionally.

For those who are not familiar with the background of the Indian stance on the Israel-Palestine issue, India has been surprisingly anti-Israel. Both India and Pakistan voted against the 1947 resolution for the partition of Palestine and creation of the Jewish majority state of Israel. India and Pakistan refrained from voting because of perfectly legitimate reasons.

Both the countries considered the creation of a Jewish state inappropriate and an invasion on the rights of the local Arabs. However, once the resolution passed, both the countries at least should have shown the decency to accept it and recognize Israel. At least they should have helped the infant Jewish state against acts of aggression by the neighboring Arab states right after its creation.

In any case, particularly due to the Cold War, India refrained from friendly relations with Israel due to its close ties with the Soviet Union and the Arab states. Pakistan, even though in the same camp as Israel with the United States, chose to anticipate Israel as an enemy. Pakistan’s foreign policy has been heavily influenced by Gulf Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia, leading to such irrational policies which continue to this day. In addition to that, Pakistan became one of the few countries whose citizens cannot travel to Israel.

Source: junaidghumman.wordpress.com

Now back in the day, straining relationships with Israel made sense with India and Pakistan aligning with Arabs. And as Israel continues its brutal behavior toward the Palestinian people, it still attracts the rebuke of the world. However, in terms of the recognition of its right to exist around the world, Israel is not in a precarious position anymore. And with Pakistan’s archrival India softening its stance toward Israel, and using it to potentially put Pakistan at a disadvantage strategically, it is finally time for the Pakistani state regime to wake up.

With successive right-wing governments in Israel and more uncompromising and irresponsible behavior from the Palestinian leadership, the Israel-Palestine conflict has grown worse. However, you could argue that recent events such as the excessive use of force in Gaza wars could be good reasons to penalize Israel diplomatically, as Turkey did briefly. But none of these events are terrible enough to convince a country to not establish diplomatic relations. And for this sort of protest, you need to establish diplomatic relations in the first place.

Some of the biggest foreign policy lessons for Pakistan remain to be those concerning India. We must learn from India overcoming its anxiety when it comes to establishing friendly relations with Israel. Pakistan chose to ignore their Israel problem by printing a statement on national passports reading, “This passport is valid for all countries of the world except Israel” and Indian leadership finally realized to make the most of this weakness. But more than a weakness, it should be considered a missed opportunity for Pakistan, born out of anti-Semitism and paranoia.

It is a missed opportunity of our own making.

 

A version of this post was originally published in The Nation blogs

 

Why Pakistan Should Have Lost the Champions Trophy Final

Source: Dawn, Reuters / Paul Childs Livepic

This happens every single rare occasion that we so triumphantly score a victory in the world of sports. The Pakistan cricket team’s comprehensive victory against India in the Champions Trophy was not any exception.

Of course, I was delighted at the performance of our underdog cricket team slaying the Indian giants as well. But a couple of days later, I wondered if I should have been. While I enjoyed this opportunity for this rare contact between India and Pakistan, perhaps I should have anticipated the mass hysteria that defines both these nations.

The Prime Minister announces PKR 10 million to each player. Of course, such brutality with the taxpayer money is not something new. Who does the Prime Minister think he is? A Mogul king?

Furthermore, Malik Riaz offered a residential plot of around 600 square yards to the centurion Fakhar Zaman in his supposedly private property project Bahria Town. Well, you don’t want to get anyone started on the monstrosity of the state-capitalist Bahria Town thing, which is a nightmare for even the staunchest anarcho-capitalist.

And well, it does not necessarily have to be the world cup or anything. A win in an event smaller than the Champions Trophy final has resulted in such behavior in the past. If they are receiving such prizes for winning the Champions Trophy, I wonder what would happen if they win the world cup again.

Alright, alright. I get it. Our victorious sportsmen are our national heroes. They should be rewarded. At least the Bahria Town corner plot sounds good especially since our “public servant” generals, politicians, judges, and bureaucrats are going to occupy them before long anyway.

However, is there any sense at all in offering such rewards to players already earning handsomely? I mean, isn’t there a better use of taxpayer money amounting to something like PKR 100-160 million. Or is there a clarification that the sum is going to be paid for from the hard earned money of the Sharif family?

In a country which has very irresponsibly vowed in its constitution to offer free education and not even remotely coming close to deliver it, this does not sound good. Especially in a country which is badly in need of a comprehensive national health insurance program. It goes to show our priorities.

At least our government needs to act a little responsibly in this regard. There is no doubt that the hardworking high risk-high reward cricket players deserve all the compensation in the world. But why burden the taxpayer further? The PCB prize money makes sense. Let their prizes

In other words, an Indian win in the finals would have been far more in the interest of the people of Pakistan.

For a moment in the thrill of the game, especially during the wonderful lethal spell of Muhammad Amir, I had forgotten about this brutal reaction to a Pakistan win. What exactly are we celebrating? Paying for a reward we never approved of.

Perhaps I should keep these consequences in mind when I am rooting for a team in a Pakistan game in the future. ‘

Perhaps I would be rooting for a Pakistan loss in the next world cup final against India

The post was originally published in Dunya News blogs.

Feeling Sorry for Iran? Not Me

Source: abc.net.au/Saudi TV

There is very little doubt that the US-Arab Summit was a vulgar display of power and malice on the part of Saudi Arabia and the United States primarily. There is also very little doubt that the conference where Pakistan had to ensure its attendance was an openly anti-Iran in its agenda.

All of this does not sound right and I agree with the criticism.

There are a lot of folks who are criticizing Pakistan for even being in the conference. Other than the fact that Pakistan was humiliated by not getting an invitation to speak, despite its former army chief being the Commander of the new alliance. You get the criticism.

But not being in the conference would have been an even greater blunder. And siding with Iran diplomatically against the Arab-American coalition even more so.

But is it right for all the powers in the world to gather for its condemnation? It surely does sound bad.

But having said all that. Do I, unlike many others, feel sorry for Iran?

Absolutely not.

I take Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif’s cocky demeanor as an occupational necessity, considering he completely ignores the moralistic holes on his side of arguments. His criticism of the pompous US-Arab Summit and the massive $110 billion US-Saudi arms deal was absolutely spot on and strikes a never even if you are siding with the allies. However, the fact remains that Iran is living in a world it created for itself. And sadly, even President Obama’s nuclear deal cannot change that.

Nobody has ever pushed Iran to behave the way it has since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

So, the big question is this. What exactly is there to like about Iran?

Iran is probably the only country other than the terrorist organizations of Hamas and Hezbollah which openly vows to destroy Israel as a policy. Death to the United States is a regular rally chant approved by the Ayatollahs and they have particularly maintained an antisemitic stance on Israel.

Of course, this is where the civilized world draws a moral line when it comes to relations with Iran. Otherwise, there really is no reason for the entire world to go out of their way to isolate and target Iran. After all, the Bush administration almost handed over the entire country of Iraq to their proxies following the 2003 invasion. Something that only pushed Iraqi Sunnis to reveal their dark side in the Islamic State.

Especially there is no reason to favor the obviously regressive Saudis over a people who many deem culturally superior. But unfortunately, none of that culture has had any effect on softening Iran’s uncompromising collective nationalistic ego.

What is worse, Iran fully backs the brutal Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad and has been one of the reasons why he is still hanging by a thread. They have also been allegedly backing militant activity in a few Arab states and has also been behind the plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States. The US State Department has already declared them the biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world, as reiterated by President Trump in the summit.

It’s not as if they have their women liberated if compared to the Saudi driving ban on women. However, the fact remains that Iran has significantly higher women participating in the workforce relatively speaking. Nevertheless, the dreaded veil in public remains to be the bane of the existence of women in both countries.

One way or the other, I am not surprised by this anti-Iran coalition and if Iran does not mend its ways, I am not sure if it deserves too much of our sympathy. In any case, its distant allies in the EU and India would dare not come for its help if this military alliance ever intends to target it. Especially if it comes remotely close to threatening a strike on Israel or Saudi Arabia.

But if there is any consolation for the pro-Iranian Saudi hater out there, here it is.

If there is a road to the downfall of the House of Al-Saud at all, it passes through the destruction of Tehran.

 

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

CPEC Marks the End of Free Speech in Pakistan

Source: par.com.pk

The latest provocative Dawn story about the CPEC might as well be a pack of lies but what about things unfolding right in front of our eyes. It is very hard, and almost feels immoral, to remain silent at the Interior Minister’s crusade against dissenting bloggers and social media activists. Since Zia’s period, we have not seen the Pakistani state practice such blunt and open crackdown against free speech and dissent in the countries. What are you to say of authorities who treat their own citizens, whose taxes pay for their livelihood, like the enemy?

It is deeply disappointing.

There is a reason why people are skeptical of China. The Chinese Road and Belt initiative does sound very good to the ears and who in their right mind would oppose economic cooperation beyond borders? But the reason why people find it hard to trust them is because of the political culture and ideology they practice in their country. They do not practice the freedom they have preached in this initiative. There are no Google and facebook in China and that is precisely why I am not too excited about the cross border optic fiber cable network from China border to Rawalpindi. The Chinese ideals are not shared by the Pakistani youth struggling for freedom of expression.

The Chinese cultural push in Pakistan also sounds more than just a rumor, with their political culture seems to be creeping into the country. You see, in Pakistan people like to dissent, even when it comes to the blasphemy law. They like to vote for other parties, speak ill of the people of other sects and ethnicities. And considering the totalitarian trends that are also creeping into Pakistani politics with unanimously passed constitutional amendments, it is important to remind that we are not a one party country and would never be no matter what happens. It is only sad to see that these values of the Pakistani people are not being shared by those cracking down on dissenters.

We can only beg our higher authorities to please think about the people of Pakistan above everything else and stop crackdown on dissenters.

Ever since the CPEC has started, the government has been responding very aggressively and reactively to any criticism, without trying to understand what the concerns might be. In good conscience, you cannot possibly support that, especially when the democratically elected officials stand behind such policies. China may genuinely have a very encouraging vision of the regional economy but the questions that the local Pakistani businessmen and cultural critics have are worth listening to.

The Pakistani dissenting bloggers may criticize or insult the Pakistani armed forces all they want, at least we knew that their higher echelons appreciated finer things in life. At least they valued some freedom for themselves, some of which trickled down to us mortals. But with an authoritarian influencer in the picture, are we even going to have the little freedom that we used to enjoy? The future looks uncertain and scary.

Also, please do not mistake these lines to be a contradiction to the title of this piece. The more frightening aspect is that now the Pakistani authorities do not even fear if their reputation gets affected by openly targeting dissent. And that is precisely the effect of the CPEC.

Consider this and all the pieces to come from hereon to be heavily self-censored.

Long live Pakistan.

 

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.