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.

Pandering to the Authoritarian Ally

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

In perhaps a not so unprecedented move, the Pakistani interior ministry has ordered the shutting down of Pak-Turk schools and the staff to leave the country by November 20.

It was not too long ago that the same Interior Minister ordered the Save the Children organization to shut down, only later to reverse the decision. But there are many ways this case is far worse.

In an utterly shameless manner, the Turkish President claims that the organization of his rival is a threat to Pakistan’s national security. The Turkish President accused Fatehullah Gulen to have orchestrated a failed military coup in July 2016, apparently all the way from Pennsylvania. This also resulted in a cruel purging of dissidents from government service and arrest of political workers.

The PTI had called for the boycott of the Turkish President’s address to the parliament out of spite for the Prime Minister, or perhaps because he is “disqualified” now. I would have had much more respect for them, or for any other Senator or MP, had they expressed their protest when such humiliating and unacceptable language was being used by the Turkish head of state. But more than that his pressures for banning the Pak-Turk schools should be condemned.

What is even more outrageous is his defiant behavior toward the Pakistani press rightfully criticizing the ban. Typical despotic behavior from him that has not been unheard of. While his government may not welcome the criticism from the Pakistani press, our press and our people supporting freedom should not welcome his comments and actions either.

The fact that the Sharif brothers would go to any degree to appease their personal allies is one problem. But what about Pakistan’s sovereignty? That would have already been invoked had the demander would have been the United States.

Just like we have done so many times before, we have ensured an authoritarian ally that no one is safe in our country as long as they are opposed to them. So, it is not just about Fatehullah Gulen, if you are Dalai Lama, you better not enter Pakistan or we could hand you over to China.

The question remains if we are to give up our sovereignty of offering safe shelter to the Turkish employees of the Pak-Turk schools, then what exactly is our argument with India? Why are we not listening to India about which terrorist group should be taken action against or not? And it appears that India’s problem with Hafiz Saeed holds a lot more weight, even if he happens to be a natural citizen.

If our moral compass really supersedes our political and territorial sovereignty, then what is the resistance to not listening to India, signing an extradition agreement and handing over the likes of Hafiz Saeed? If diplomatic relationships are everything and more important than the freedom of local and foreign citizens staying in the country,  then why not take this necessary step to put an end to the current diplomatic crisis with India? Purely because of their grievance with Hafiz Saeed. Other than the fact that Pakistan thinks that he has not done anything wrong.

This may be a false equivalence, but enough of an argument that would never work on deaf ears. Let us talk about our loyalty and devotion to the Turkish people instead, arguably the most loyal allies Pakistan would ever have.

It could be argued that the Pakistani government would not have a choice considering the diplomatic pressure from Turkey. However, at what cost are we strengthening our diplomatic relations?

The question is not even about political and territorial sovereignty. Again the problem remains to be our government’s insensitivity to the right of freedom of access. Not only have they deprived the Pakistani people of an independent service entity, but they have taken away an option for education, which violates the freedom of education. Especially in a country in which the government is not doing much about education anyway, despite passing the meaningless free education clause.ee

Our stance, as a nation and as a people, remains with the rule of democracy in Turkey, no matter who is elected.   For that reason alone, even the most liberal commentators would support the regime of President Erdogan and his party. However, we must never become a party to his partisan vendetta against his rivals.

Our loyalties in terms of alliance and friendship should remain with the people of Turkey regardless of their political and religious leanings. What is more important is that our loyalties must remain with all the Turkish people and not just those who are in power.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Pakistan’s Turn to the Dark Side

Source: ARY News

Source: ARY News

If the recent foreign policy developments for Pakistan did not have you worried, then it is time for serious reflection. Ever since President George W. Bush left office, you can feel a distance between Washington and Islamabad. The differences between the two countries were particularly seen at their worst when Pakistan decided to carry out nuclear tests in 1998 during the term of the Clinton administration.

While Pakistan and China have always had very strong ties since the 1970s, but nothing like the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has ever been seen before. It promises great prosperity for the future, but skeptics see it as yet another neo-colonial scheme in the region which could bring more harm than good. Not to mention the control it could possibly offer to the Chinese authorities in Gwadar.

Of course, the irony is not lost on the Pakistani left progressives and former communists who have been struggling against the military establishment since the 1950s. They recall how Afghan Jihad was mobilized by Pakistani military and masterminded by American National Security experts, out of fears of Soviets reaching the shores of the Persian Gulf. They also recall the harsh bans they had to endure during the Cold War years.

But let’s face it. The CPEC is too grand to be said no to. The magnitude of the project is so grand that even India would have agreed to it, had it been a primary beneficiary. The fact that Pakistan is turning to partners other than the United States and Great Britain for its economic and trade development sounds perfectly fine. Though you can’t help but wonder if the economic development comes at the cost of military alliances and other illegible footnotes.

Especially since the killing of Osama Ben Laden at the hands of US Navy Seals in Abbottabad, a humiliating episode for the Pakistani state, Pakistan’s position in the Western alliance has never been more precarious. The difference of interest between Washington and Islamabad on military action against certain militant groups in Afghanistan and within Pakistan have even worsened the tensions in the Obama years.

With the gulf of military cooperation apparently widening with a more disinterested US administration, Pakistan is apparently seeking new avenues with more sinister powers. On the surface, it was a welcome development that President Zardari paid a rare visit to Moscow in 2011 and that for the very first time, the Russian military participated in joint military exercises with Pakistan on Pakistani soil. Such an occurrence would have been unimaginable in the 1980s.

There is only one problem. Vladimir Putin and his open intimidation of the Western world. Not only that, his close association with Iran and the brutal Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad. At a time when Aleppo has become the greatest battlefield for the conscience of the world, it may not be the best time to favor Russia over the Western world. So let’s just hope the military exercise is just a harmless affair of two old rivals on the road to friendship.

Probably it has been a long while that Pakistani nationalist commentators have been dreaming of Pakistani statesmen standing up to the US authorities on an equal standing. Even though we have had a tradition of strong diplomatic figures from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Abdullah Hussain Haroon. So you could expect that Senator Mushahid Hussein Syed’s recent comment at a Washington think tank about the United States no longer being the superpower of the world would see much appreciation.

The only problem is that the statement of the Prime Minister’s envoy could be tantamount to an needless provocation. It could work all very well in terms of harnessing diplomatic leverage and probably it would be unwise not to make soft threats, but if behavior such as this is overdone, it could surely affect Pakistan’s future with the Western world.

Furthermore, it is important to choose your words. Not sure how calling the United States “a declining power” is so flattering, no matter what your objectives are. It has only been a slight sign of Pakistan drifting away from and slipping into the Chinese and Russian camp, other than the usual cockiness of Senator Mushahid Hussain, who is free to get carried away after retirement as much as he wants. It is just that the China-Russia camp does not offer the best of values in human civilization.

It is only a fair point to make that it takes two to tango. Perhaps the United States does not require the partnership of Pakistan as it used to during the twentieth century or perhaps it is sick and tired of nurturing the Pakistani military without the satisfactory fulfillment of its objectives. However, the United States still favors Pakistan enough with its more traditional and liberal politicians largely refraining from supporting a Liberty Caucus resolution in the Congress to declare Pakistan a terrorist state.

Even though the situation is far from being apocalyptic, the direction Pakistan is heading is certainly not that bright. There is nothing wrong in stating that we are living in a multi-polar world today, neither is there any harm in pursuing trade and commerce ties with the likes of China and Russia. But it would be wise not to burn bridges with long-time allies, whose values and humanitarian record we need to identify with more than authoritarian powers.

On the other hand, Pakistan’s greatest strategic concern India has been significantly improving its diplomatic standing in the West, even reaching out to Israel, since the fall of the Soviet Union. At the same time, India has not been alienating rival China and old ally Russia in its pursuit toward a freer and more vibrant economy and strong defense. Pakistan surely needs to take its diplomatic lessons from its bitter rival, despite India’s petulant insistence to isolate Pakistan diplomatically. At least the missed diplomatic opportunity with Israel cannot be emphasized enough.

As citizens, we can only hope for Pakistan to pursue more liberal and democratic policies and to stand with global forces representing such values than otherwise.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.