A Foreign Minister With A Mind of His Own?

Source: Asia Society

I am not saying it has happened for the first time in Pakistani history, but it surely seems something out of the ordinary in the current political atmosphere in Pakistan. After the Pakistani military and bureaucratic establishment realized what a colossal error its favorite dictator General Pervez Musharraf had committed by permitting private TV channels, a regime of media control was brought about.

It was at least too late for Musharraf himself who erroneously started considering himself to be a democratic leader with a liberal economic vision who enjoys complete support by the people of Pakistan. He probably banked too much on his ridiculous referendum numbers and ended up resigning due to the resistance put up by civilians for a sacked judge.

The same political party which had been overthrown by the military bureaucracy returned 14 years later with another overwhelming mandate, only earlier paralleled in its volume by the Awami League in the 1970 election. The Awami League was,, of course, declared as an outlawed and traitorous party in a rebel country.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had his third term cut short by some dimension of the state bureaucracy earlier in July this year. Today, at this situation, it is refreshing to see that the Foreign Minister of the same political party who had delivered a fiery speech against the military establishment in the parliament embarrass it on an international forum. Especially when the current Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi looks like a zombie bullied by the drill sergeant at the Kakul Academy about “What to say at UN manual.”

Here is Khawaja Asif speaking at the Asia Society in New York.

Not only that, Khawaja Asif completely owned the label of a “more liberal foreign policy,” criticizing the opposition party to pandering to the “religious fringes.” Like most liberals of Pakistans, he also reminisced about the “old liberal, pluralistic, tolerant, and progressive Pakistan of the 50s and 60s,” which was taken away due to the Islamization in the wake of the Afghan Jihad. He also thought that Pakistan so openly joining the American camp during the Cold War years was a mistake. At least, it is refreshing to see such an approach taken by a Pakistan government official so openly in an international diplomatic forum.

Khawaja Asif also remarkably admitted that Hafiz Saeed, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and other terrorists like the Haqqani Group were liabilities for Pakistan and that Pakistan needed time to deal with them. He also stated that the dismissed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had put his career on stake in order to improve relations with India, which he considered necessary while also describing the struggle of the Kashmiri youth at the hands of the brutality of Indian military and government.

Khawaja Asif certainly has many flaws. He is an inarticulate loudmouth with a knack of saying inappropriate things every now and then, blame it on his Punjabi male chauvinistic upbringing.  Even was my Idiot of the year 2016. But once in a while, he also ends up doing something right. And to his credit, more often than the broken clock telling the time right. However, he is still the same man who threatened Israel over a piece of fake news when he was the Defense Minister. Read about the underlying antisemitism of his comment here.

Of course, his statements have given indigestion to a lot of nationalist conservatives and military establishment loyalists including the PTI who are accusing him of treason as usual. However, all supporters of democracy and civilian supremacy should celebrate this rare moment in Pakistan foreign policy. State protected terrorist Hafiz Saeed s even suing Khawaja Asif for Rs. 100 million for defamation. Just to give you an idea how bad things are in Pakistan when it comes to the moral authority of the state. It would also not be beyond our deep state if we shortly see the resignation of the minister following the controversy he has stirred. In that case, the Pakistani people should stand by a diplomat that has, for once, truly represented them.

There has been Shah Mehmood Qureshi in the PPP government who chose to dissent but never like this. So a Foreign Minister finally having a mind of his own, or at least saying the right thing, has been rare in Pakistan.

Let’s celebrate that.

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The Most Important Decision by President Trump to Date

Source: The New York Times

More than a year ago, I had written how important it was for a Republican to win this election. There was only one reason behind it. The foreign and military policies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of course, I did not want someone like Donald Trump to make it to the top.

Even though there are plenty of sane Democrats on that subject around as well and Hillary Clinton could easily be one of them. However, since the charismatic victory of President Barack Obama, elected with a massive anti-war mandate, and the pressure from Bernie Sanders progressives, who knew what direction policy would have taken. After President Obama turning the direction of the hands-on American Empire created by the Bush family and growing threats from China and Russia, American influence is only likely to fall in the coming years.

There has been plenty of areas where Trump has displayed how out of touch he is with American people, as well as how inappropriate his response could be to certain tragedies such as the Charlottesville rally. However, in foreign policy, he stuck to the conventional military wisdom of the Republican leadership.

Sure, he has deviated from the intellectualism of furthering the American Empire that has been the legacy of Bush 41 and Bush 43. This solidifies the notion that President Trump is a part of the same sentiment that got President Obama elected, as different both of them may be to each other. But where both agree is that America should not have invested heavily in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and that America should not be nation-building, a Bush era policy widely condemned as neo-colonialism.

But when I indeed wrote about a Republican winning, the precise person that I had in mind was Jeb Bush. Because he would have continued where Bush 41 and Bush 43 left office. While the execution of the military campaigns was flawed, even criminal, under Bush 43, you could say the intention and idea behind it were noble and well-meaning. But then again, you could not possibly ignore factors like business interests affiliated with the military industrial complex. And then there was all the corruption in the Bush 43 administration.

Of course, lacking in detail, but this speech by President Trump is greatly symbolic. And one that even his nemesis in Senate, Senator John McCain would be proud of, as such a policy speech means that the hard work of the latter has been paid off. At least there is assurance that Afghanistan is not going to prove another Vietnam as the enemies and critics of America so frequently like to quote.

President Trump not only reassured that America is going to maintain its presence in Afghanistan, at least there will be no “hasty withdrawals” as in the case of Iraq, he also addressed irresponsible allies. While Pakistanis have been complaining about his tough talk pushing Pakistan to do more, nobody focused that he also pressed India to play its due contribution. Because like China, you would always find India conveniently shunning its due international affairs responsibilities from the war on terror to relations with Iran. Such brutal clarity from American leadership was much needed after eight years of intellectual ambiguity from President Obama.

It is hard to tell what the future holds for the free world in problem areas such as Afghanistan. However, at least the direction has been set right.

Nevertheless, let us not be too excited to proclaim this as a sign of furthering the American Empire.

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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.

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.

Just Like in the Old Days…

Source: Dawn

What is a win but a number?
What is a loss but a figure?
Adding yet another digit to the evergrowing tally.
What does it mean after all?
That the people from here and the people from there spoke for the first time in years.
That our players hugged and shook the hands in the field.

That they helped out the injured from the other side.
That they applauded every time they played well.
Just like in the old days…

New friends were made in the stadium stands.
New names were learned which we never thought were real.
We saluted each other’s flag for the first time in years.
Across the fence, we could see each other’s faces after such a long time.
At least the taunts and jests felt human enough.
Not some distant babbling regurgitated by some noisy talk show host.
Sweetmeats were exchanged whether we won or lost.
Smiles were exchanged to heal broken hearts.
Just like in the old days…

Try to come and see us every now and then.
If only to beat us every time you are here.
Even if you never want to meet us when you are there.
It feels like home again.

Building a PSL Economy

Source: cricketall.com

Source: cricketall.com

Considering how Pakistanis are supposed to be fanatics for cricket, we certainly lack a well developed sports league in this country. And when I say a league, I mean something on the lines of IPL and at least BPL, if not the English Premier League or NFL.

It is not that Pakistani people do not have a sense of sports or the necessary enthusiasm.  Hell, they have fought many a tear gas attack just to get into the stadium for a pathetic but rare one dayer. Particularly the younger generation, who are well versed with all sorts of sports activity around the world, and who passionately and even religiously follow foreign sports franchises.

All of this makes sense. Even if sports bore the hell out of you, you can partake in the PSL Economy by placing a wager or two. After all, what good are sports unless you have something personal at stake? The reason I am raising this point is that the PSL economy must, and absolutely must, go beyond the die hard sports fan for its potential impact. Just like it’s hard to avoid the Super Bowl if you are living in America. It must affect far more people who are not able to avoid it. People like me, who are bored out of hell watching an entire cricket game, but yet would not mind poking their noses in a good competition. It’s all about pretending not to be bored.

Now the official website of the Pakistan Super League has introduced its own fantasy league. But if you take a deeper look at it, it is just filling a contract clause. The league has very low functionality and you cannot even create your private leagues. This means that you cannot invite your friends and coworkers to be a part of the experience, which means a poor experience. Let’s hope this can change. As opposed to that, a more poorly designed and cheaper but more functional private fantasy PSL website could offer greater value.

Hate the neo-liberal in me for saying this, but I commend all the sponsors who are putting in their money for this great cause. And I feel bad for using the word cause here because it is not supposed to be fucking charity. But I say so because the domestic fans deserve a structure like this. In any case, perhaps the investors were always happy to put their money in a venture that people could respond positively to. This is probably the first one put into place by the PCB that has put up the structure for a serious league, albeit very small in size. But the size may change in the future if all goes well and the consumer trends so far are not disastrous.

I have written earlier about the need of addressing the growing market of skilled gaming. This, in all fairness, should be extended to a channel for legalized gambling, though that is a step too far at this stage. There is clearly an appetite for skilled gaming in the market, which would enhance the enthusiasm and engagement for the PSL to a much greater extent by involving stakes for the public.

Meanwhile, the advertising would also become far more aggressive and tribal in the coming days. At least from one of the franchises. Tribalism would and should become a necessary tool for honing the public engagement and to build manufactured rivalries around the franchises, which only came into being a couple of years ago. A better idea would be to capitalize on the sense of mutual urban resentment already present among the natives of Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad.

All of this would initiate giving these franchises a cult following and a vicious fan base, which they don’t enjoy currently. You know, this is how religions work too. When it comes to building the PSL economy, more commercialism is always less. Even though the moralists among our ranks would then later be writing about it mourning the degeneration that is waiting to manifest itself in this fashion. Ah, the little moral sacrifices you have to make in order to build a viable sport economy.

A solidified fan base would then cement the presence of franchises as institutions, creating thousands of jobs which are not going anywhere in an uncertain next year. These organizations would, in turn, become clients of hundreds of businesses, and that is how the PSL economy would roll out its effect. None of this would be possible, however, without increased spending from the fans. And this is eventually not going to be sustainable enough unless cricket is brought to home. Unless the Qaddafi Stadium becomes a real home to the franchise. So unless Lahore Qalanders have to become something more than “Jazz” Lahore Qalanders, before their eventual death.

The eventual goal of the PSL must be the creation of a self-sustaining domestic league within the geographical boundaries of Pakistan. Ideally speaking, it should suffice to nourish the appetite of the Pakistani cricket fan, which has to rely on the mundane international cricket in Dubai or the emotionally distant foreign leagues. Without this, the PSL model would not last very long. Deep down inside, Najam Sethi knows this, but of course, there is not much he can do about the security situation. But still, you need to draw a line somewhere and soon. Pakistani fans are sick of Dubai.

So if the international cricket boards are not sending out teams to Pakistan for security concerns, you could always buy players to come in. Even if that means a very few A-listers. At least it would be a start. I think Pakistan Cricket Board and the franchises should also make it a point to import players from India, even if that means B or C category players.

Another rarely talked about factor in Pakistan and an important part of the PSL economy is the quality of the television. And I am not going to mince my words here. The quality of television in Pakistan, especially when compared to India or anywhere, is shit. In other words, there is no real use of putting up the best show in the country if the eventual optics are going to be pathetic.

An overwhelming majority in Pakistan do not have access to digital television broadcasts, a technology not even used for the coverage of the PSL. So people are stuck with a quarter of a century old technology to watch what is supposed to be the most important sporting event in Pakistan. While the federal government made an attempt to make progress in this regard, albeit in a very wrong way, the local DTH service could have filled the much needed gap in this regard. But let’s hope the consumers become more aware of their own interests in Pakistan one day and stop listening to the political narrative on the “mainstream media” too much.

PSL Chairman Najam Sethi, a noticeable difference, has done a great job in introducing this first serious franchise based model for a sustainable domestic league. Now the key is to constantly up the game when it comes to bringing more money to the PSL economy.

Leave building the PSL economy to the thriving private sector, just bring cricket back home.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.