The Asad Umer Debacle

Source: Public TV News

The PTI mandate on the election date as its voters saw it seems to be falling apart. Last Thursday, the Prime Minister asked the Foreign Minister, the main star of the team, Asad Umer to step down. Asad Umer was touted as the economic solution for the country for about the last 7 to 8 years by the party. The problems started to mount when people realized that the foreign minister of the populist communitarian party that had promised “the Medina welfare state” in the manner of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Islamic Socialism was too right-wing liberal for their liking. His changes, along with an aggressive anti-money laundering drive, resulted in a decline in economic growth, slow stock and real estate markets, and high inflation due to dollar appreciation.

Hungry and desperate for power, PTI promised just about everything under the sun to their voters ever since their antics during the 2014 sit-in protest. Burning power bills due to a hike in energy prices, it was no wonder that the people were not having anything from them when they applied the same policies. Always telling the people that the foreign debt was not the way to govern, PTI had little choice but to turn to the IMF for financing a bankrupt country.

Of course, PTI and Asad Umer did the right thing to turn to the IMF. They just had a hard time getting rid of a populist, anti-corruption narrative that they got elected on and which is still a big part of their campaigns targeting opposition leaders. Especially because they considered governance by foreign debt a part of corruption too. Many of their uncompromising fans, who were taught by them to be uncompromising, felt cheated.

You could argue that Asad Umer should be given the benefit of doubt. He was doing what he considered right as evident by his recent commentary. He said that PTI decided that they would not resort to populist politics and that the value of the Rupee was artificially appreciated by the PML-N foreign minister Ishaq Dar all this point. But as far as the inflation rate and fuel and power prices are concerned, people could only take so much and the deep state was not having it.

The problem is that as much the country has been right wing ever since the execution of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, it has always been keen on subsidizing the “basic necessities” for the underprivileged. Even President Ayub’s popular term was challenged due to public protests over the increase in the price of sugar which eventually led to its downfall. With such a history, the bureaucratic state in Pakistan fears to go Marie Antoinette on the Pakistan people, since they accept other modes of repression happily like curbing freedom of speech. But most people agree that this cabinet change came at a very inappropriate time, particularly Asad Umer’s position.

But does Imran Khan really lack judgment to this extent? His critics who always doubted his intelligence are not surprised. But he did have a lot of flair and sense during the early part of his political career as evident by these old clips. He used to openly criticize the role of the military and the security agencies. But in Pakistan, things change when you get to govern. But is it really his government?

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However, some people are offering some other reason why the Thursday cabinet reshuffle occurred. Some are calling it a coup. Others pointing toward a possible transition to the (Islamic) Presidential System. It could be that the cabinet reshuffle came as the eventual shift that the alleged installers of a weak administration wanted on their terms. Or it could even be a power move to remind Imran Khan not to attempt to make too many powerful decisions. Whatever may be the case, it either shows an indecisive Prime Minister unsure of his vision of governance or a toothless executive following the narrative of the deep state.

Some would argue that abandoning his stubborn and morally constipated political stance has finally earned him the position of Prime Minister and that he is finally acting like a politician as his critics had earlier wanted him to. Whatever may be true, it is evident that General Bajwa enjoys undermining his position as far as their body language in joint appearances is concerned.

What is particularly embarrassing for Imran Khan is the appointment of Brig. (R) Ijaz Shah, who now takes over Imran Khan’s Portfolio of Federal Interior Minister. Shah, whose appointment as ambassador was refused by the Australian government due to alleged terrorist group connections, He is also alleged by some to be among those responsible for the death of Benazir Bhutto. With such appointments, making the cabinet almost the mirror image of the state establishment sanctioned PPP cabinet, and raises a lot of question marks about the credibility of PTI.

Not sure if Imran Khan will reflect on the gravity of the situation, but at least the youth voters of PTI have tasted the consequences of their ballot for the first time. It has left them shaken and has induced self-doubt, if not buyer’s remorse. It did indeed cause a division in the loyal nationalist fanbase of the party.

Let’s just hope they learn to differentiate between idiotic rhetoric and the real world to make a fresh start. And also that a change in ministries doesn’t matter if the problem lies in the leadership.

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How Pakistan is Treating Its Hindus

Source: geo.tv

It is an open secret that the hate against the Hindu community and the larger idea of Hinduism are well ingrained into the hearts and minds of people all over Pakistan. This is particularly true for Punjab where the percentage of Hindu population is almost non-existent with the exception of a handful of prominent active temples. Even in the school textbooks, the tone used against Hindus in history mentioning ironically the time of the Arab and Turkic invasions is often antagonistic if not on the verge of being purely hateful. This upbringing indeed has its consequences.

This probably should not be the case when it comes to Sindh where the Hindus make a majority of the population. But you don’t have to be an expert on Sindh to know how the community is largely treated over there. But things enter a different, surreal zone when it enters the realm of the federal government expressing its views on this community. Earlier this month during the confrontation with India, such an incident occurred.

PTI Information and Culture Minister for Punjab Fayyaz-ul-Hassan Chohan has developed a bit of a reputation of being a loudmouth. In his state of fury and emotions, he forgot to censor himself enough during a public speech and ended up spewing insults against Hindus that many Pakistani Muslims like him casually believe.

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Now he ironically himself is from Hindu ancestry, as are most people living on the eastern banks of the Indus river, if he is really from the family with that surname (Chauhan as shared by the Rajput warrior Prithvi Raj Chauhan). He represents the converted native Hindu people who have become self-haters and have started imagining themselves a part of an invader’s foreign culture.

Pakistan used to be a part of the larger Hindu culture of India and many important Hindu sites are located in the country. The land occupied by the Pakistani state has undeniable Hindu cultural roots. But ever since independence, it is safe to say that the community has been systematically cornered and driven out of the country. Only a few years ago, mass exodus of dozens of families to India occurred due to the trend of abductions and forced conversions that target teenage Hindu girls.

So when Fayyaz-ul-Hassan Chauhan says something like this, it is the reflection of the mindset of a nation which is effectively eliminating a people who are supposed to be a part of it. Chohan later apologized and Imran Khan’s ruling party PTI momentarily did some firefighting by immediately sacking the minister. People appreciated the gesture across the board but like most PR shenanigans of the party, this one had a short-lived effect too. Recently, Chauhan has been reinstated as a Minister, this time for the Local Bodies. This move should have people wondering, especially the morally constipated followers of PTI, whether the party was wrong to sack him earlier or was it wrong to “promote” him, in columnist Marvi Sirmed’s words.

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Meanwhile, the Hindus in Pakistan continue to be targeted by the majority Muslim community with forced conversions of young girls of the community. Recently, the case of Reena and Raveena will be the

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The sisters Reena and Raveena, who were allegedly abducted on Holi Day, appeared at the marriage with the men who had taken them. Apparently, it was a case of the girls eloping. Many of the social conservative and nationalist Muslims are saying that the conversion was voluntary. Nevertheless, people who have reported from the courts where they appeared and had the first contact with their parents have a different story to tell. But the problem remains that the girls are underage and their marriage remains inappropriate and legally dubious, to say the least.

But this was hardly a solitary case. Even since the Holi day, quite a few girls have been abducted for the same reasons too. And only teenage girls are targeted by Muslim boys. The Hindus of Pakistan have no choice but to find themselves at the mercy of the majority community and watch what happens next with frustration. And while people will invoke all the violence and intimidation the underprivileged Muslim population of India is facing these days in the Hindu Rashtra mania triggered by Modi’s administration, unlike the Muslims in India, there is no one to stand for them in Pakistan.

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The good that could possibly come from this situation is that the civil society and the Hindu community itself have decided to speak up and protest. They are pressuring the politicians to legislate a ban on forced conversions and underage marriage. They are letting Pakistanis know that they have had enough of the nonsense. So whether Pakistan moves to become a Secular State or start pursuing the mirage of the “Medina State,” the sort of mindset that has resulted in the culture of forced conversions, it needs to address the protection of the Hindu community. In an Islamic Republic, the Hindus will take any political deal they can get.

Shooting Yourself in the Foot

Source: Foreign Office/DNA India

Right after Pakistan had a hint of diplomatic upper hand over India by announcing to hand over the captured pilot Abhinandan Varadhaman as a peace gesture, it returns to petulant and self-isolating behavior again. What the ruling party obviously considers its diplomatic victory, Pakistan decides to boycott the Organization of Islamic Conference held in the UAE out of protest because Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj had been invited. Because obviously if we did not do something like that, it would not be Pakistani foreign policy.

Of course, the corrupt but the comparatively visionary President Asif Ali Zardari had some better ideas about foreign policy on the National Assembly floor.

The OIC in its tradition has given a more of a pro-Pakistan statement on the Kashmir issue but it is important to notice that the only person who was heard on both Kashmir and terrorism in India and Pakistan was Sushma Swaraj.

 

 

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Despite the relevance of the mention of terrorism at the OIC platform, Pakistan’s commitment to eradicating the menace from the region remains dubious. The way the Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has been dodging questions about the involvement of Jaish-e-Mohammed has been embarrassing, to say the least.

Despite the Foreign Minister and the DG ISPR denying time and time again refusing and embarrassing himself about the presence of terrorist groups that initiate attacks from the Pakistani territory, Pakistan finally decided to take action against certain groups including the brother of Maulana Masood Azhar of Jaish-e-Mohammed.

If indeed the Jaish-e-Mohammed was not behind the Pulawama attack and had not taken responsibility, then surely the timing of these attacks is curious. Of course, these could be considered to be among the “any measures to deescalate the situation” as promised by Foreign Minister Qureshi. But what exactly prompted the Government to take this action all of a sudden is interesting. Perhaps it is the upcoming deadline for the FATF grey list review in May.

Of course, the PML-N supporters had a field day with the government taking action against Islamist militant outfits, something that was a part of the controversial Dawn Leaks which became the bone of contention between the military establishment and Nawaz Sharif administration. Former Pakistani Ambassador Hussain Haqqani, often accused of treason back home, had his own words to offer about it.

Others like Pakistani journalists targeted by the local agencies were not buying any of Pakistan’s claims and shared this clip that was critical of releasing the captured Indian pilot Abhinandan. It is abundantly clear through evidence examined by the international media that the Indian claim of targeting a terrorist training camp in Balakot was a gross exaggeration but it is difficult to argue that groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed have not been spawning and thriving in Pakistan.
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The Pakistani government and security establishment should finally get serious in substantially dealing with these Islamist militant groups if they care about the people of Pakistan. The UN Security Council is all set to vote on Jaish-e-Mohammed and if China does not come to Pakistan’s rescue again, more than just diplomatic isolation and embarrassment will become Pakistan’s fate.

We do not expect the Pakistani security establishment to have any regard for our relations with India, which is causing misery to millions in the Indian subcontinent, or even to care for the financial losses its citizens will suffer, but at least they must watch their own interest. They will probably not care as much for the common citizen but greater diplomatic isolation on terrorism with India’s stronger case will not bode well for the financial and economic future of the country. It is something that is going to impact their own ability to attract finances to a fiscally challenged country.

The new regime focusing on the tourism of the country should not forget how any subsequent developments can hurt the country on that front.

New Pakistan, Old Donors

Source: PTI Official

The faux populist and communitarian ruling party PTI has been touting a narrative of piety and financial purity. Inseparably entwined with this narrative of fiscal responsibility is the age-old push to curb financial corruption. Pushing false populism has always been the weapon of the Pakistani bureaucratic establishment to fool the politically unconscious people of Punjab and the rest of urban Pakistan. In its latest term, the PTI is following similar trends that the formerly pro-establishment PML-N had been following until the very recent past. That is feeding the narrative of corruption of politicians and targeting the other political party and enabling the bureaucratic establishment to manipulate politics in the country.

PTI entered the government with high hopes of the urban middle class of the nation. Not very different to the Islamic Socialist delusion offered by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the PTI populism is also full of empty slogans and misdirecting promises. But I guess that is how you win elections.

The talk about the mini-budget that supposedly offers vulgar relief to potential tax evaders, considering all the hullabaloo they made on the Panama Papers and the self-righteous tweets of the Prime Minister, and the possible rise in GST, only speaks volumes about the PTI. It is reporting losses of revenue in the budget while resorting to the same old financing activities such as bail-outs from Saudi Arabia and UAE and borrowed oil shipments. So much for turning the country on the path of self-sufficiency. The gulf between their ideological rhetoric and the reality is too painful to ignore.

But before we pathologically go too hard on PTI, the good thing is that the party is made up of people who don’t actually believe in the nonsense they vow about. Just like your average Pakistani, whose actions don’t match their beliefs. Though unlike average Pakistanis, they are a bunch of profiteering opportunists not genuinely interested in democracy in Pakistan. All the best to the PTI government for doing a great job for fixing the finances of the country. I guess rechecking public spending patterns for advertising is right on principle, even the media has taken a big hit because of that and they are on the right path on tourism. However, any amount of governance effort will only disillusion the party base because they are discovering that the things they consider financial corruption are simply acts of governance.

However, the hypocrisy of creating a false narrative of financial piety can only last for so long, especially considering every political entity falls out of the establishment’s favor sooner or later in Pakistan.

My Pakistani Person of the Year 2018: Asma Jahangir

Source: United Nations/RFE-RL

A lot of people may not feel this way but perhaps there was not a Pakistani that was more important and critical to the country than Asma Jehangir. And this realization has become even greater with her death earlier this year. Asma Jehangir was easily the leading activist for secular democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression in Pakistan. The realization of this void has only made the secular liberals and progressives in Pakistan realize about the grave challenges ahead of them.

Asma Jahangir was the brains behind the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and has also served as the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights for the United Nations. It is most remarkable how women tend to stand out in Pakistan for human rights efforts. While there is a long list of women who have broken through the shackles of an authoritarian, patriarchal state, the courage and initiative of Asma Jahangir were exceptional. She was also post-humously awarded the UN Human Rights Prize. Her work has inspired a generation in terms of the awareness of democracy and fundamental human rights, especially that of the oppressed women of the country.

One of the factors behind her position of moral authority was her non-partisan status. Not only was Asma Jehangir the leading crusader for human rights but she was also the biggest critic of the military establishment and their interventions in the political landscape of the country. However, it is only left to our imagination how she could have influenced the political landscape of a country in a partisan political position with a more authoritative role in the government.

The pro-democracy activists and political workers who have been left no choice but to clash with the military establishment is her legacy and that of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The organic support that Benazir Bhutto. Asma Jehangir was keeping the spirit of Benazir Bhutto and that of the scattered Pakistan left progressives alive in our times. This is why you will only find center-left groups mostly celebrating her and mourning her loss in Pakistan.

Source: Dawn/AFP

Another figure who has been instrumental in resisting and pushing democracy in the legacy of Asma Jehangir and the great Benazir Bhutto is Maryam Nawaz Sharif. The daughter of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been influential in changing the face of PML-N from a traditionalist center-right party to perhaps the only popular establishment political force in Punjab. Maryam Nawaz Sharif has currently taken the role in a struggle that Benazir Bhutto was going through in 1996 and throughout the rest of her life in exile. Nevertheless, confident in her father’s ability to make a political come back, she is standing her ground against the military establishment for civilian supremacy.

Maryam Nawaz Sharif has remained defiant in the face of incarceration for controversial accountability court verdicts, which are nothing new in Pakistan’s political history, along with her father who was dismissed from the position of Prime Minister in July 2018. This was the 3rd interrupted term of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has been elected to the office more than any other person in the history of Pakistan. Like 1997, his election in 2013 also occurred with a landslide majority offering them legislative freedom that was only limited by the control of the upper house by the PPP.

Source: Dawn

Maryam Nawaz is perhaps going to be the most important political figure in the years to come. However, her commitment to democracy and civilian supremacy will remain to be tested in the years to come, especially with regressive leaders such as her own husband Captain Safdar contaminating an otherwise reasonable party.

Of course, the winners this year were the First Couple, and the year of the triumph of Imran Khan finally came in 2018. His influence on Pakistan and especially that of his First Lady and the Army Chief in shaping the first six months of his administration and will remain to be pivotal in the years to come.

Happy New Year and here’s to another year in Pakistan.

Read about my Pakistani of the year 2017 here.

Another Defeat for the State?

Source: samaa.tv

So the Pakistani state capitulated to the religious extremists again?

Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah won again.

However, the best part is that it only took us 3 days of mindless violence and rioting to get there. At least it saved the nation the weeks of inconvenience that the PML-N government had subjected the citizens to last year. At least this time we did not see a shutdown of the social media.  And especially because there was no attempt of a violent police operation against them. Actually, politically it works perfectly for PTI.

You know, it’s wise to settle these matters more tactfully and avoid violence on the protesters at all cost. Even if they burn the entire city down. It is very important not to stir any tensions or hurt any sentiments.

And it is perfectly fine to tolerate a “political party” that is calling for the death of alleged committers of blasphemy in their party anthem.

This time the protesters did something even cooler than before. They called for open rebellion against the State of Pakistan, asked for the 3 justices who acquitted Asia Bibi to be murdered and asked the military to impose martial law after deposing the Army Chief who is alleged to be an Ahmedi. Especially after this sort of rhetoric, forget the almost billion dollars they managed to waste with all the rioting, that they will not be forgiven this time around.

The difference is that instead of dispensing stipends among the miscreants, our security institutions are now in the hunt for people who did all the damage. And that is in strike contrast with the military not moving in despite requests from the defeated Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal last year, and particularly with the infamous optics of a Rangers official distributing money among the TLP protesters to apparently pay for their trip home.

But what has not changed and what will probably not change in the near future is that the state is not strong enough to stand up to the blasphemy cult, which is essentially Islam as sanctioned by the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

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The daring speech of the Prime Minister turned out to be dud after all as he, holding the Interior Ministry portfolio, had left for China for a reprimand debriefing for his previous stance on the CPEC before the TLP matter could be resolved. The matter resolved on its own with the PTI government conceding to most “reasonable” demands of the TLP and pushing them to apologize for killing a couple of people and destroying a billion dollar worth of property of innocent and defenseless private citizens and of the government.

Also, the government in principle agreed to the idea of putting Asia Bibi’s name on the Exit Control List to ensure that she is killed by a Pakistani civilian even if the state acquits her.

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All liberals were able to achieve was getting the twitter account of Khadim Hussain Rizvi blocked.

Meanwhile, the fate of Asia Bibi continues to hang in balance.

And Khadim Hussain Rizvi keeps on getting stronger every day.

The Mockery of the Law and Constitution

Source: The News

Probably never before in Pakistan have we witnessed such a reckless and irresponsible judge. A deluded man from the bureaucratic elite who considers himself to be a godsent Messiah for the people now stands on the edge of criminal violations of the Constitution of Pakistan.

There is an entire history of the ridiculous statements that he has made which has brought disgrace to the office of the Chief Justice of Pakistan. However, he sunk to a new low by threatening to try the dissenters who might resist the construction of dams under Article 6 or the charge of treason. He also added that he has “begun to study” the Article 6 of the Constitution.

He made these statements while taking action against water bottler corporations. While we wish that everyone from the elite bureaucrats would have such a bleeding heart for the common people, he can spare us his twisted sense of populist justice. He should instead run for office after he will thankfully retire, hopefully on the due date in January.

Considering the concerns about the Indus Delta shrinkage, it only makes sense for people to raise questions about the dams he so fiercely advocates. Dams can be environmentally disastrous and there are certainly better ecological solutions than the large and wasteful dams, which can adversely alter the natural flow of rivers.

The honorable Chief Justice even ups the ante by vowing to build the controversial Kalabagh Dam which has been the bone of contention in Pakistani politics for decades. Now whether that is the bureaucratic establishment’s way of reinforcing the Punjabi supremacy. However, it remains to be seen if the unspoken military establishment has yet become strong enough to force the construction of the Kalabagh dam despite the protest from Sindh and the ANP.

But you wonder when is enough going to be enough. You wonder when will people have enough of this insane man at the helm of the highest judicial body in the country. You wonder when people will start challenging his nonsense. Which is particularly becoming difficult with a spineless Prime Minister paying tributes to his dam fund and has actually called for donations for building the dam himself.

Where is the outrage?

Where are the protests? Where are the dharnas?

We either are too afraid to see the inside of a local jell cell or probably we all have just stopped believing in Pakistan.

There is no reason why both can’t be true.