Tuesday, February 1, 2011

An economic mess

That the Pakistani economy is in tatters is no secret. However, what is being kept a secret is exactly how the government plans on remedying this economic free fall. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has, of late, been running from pillar to post to convince the public that the government, its economic team and the political parties are elbow deep in consensus and dialogue to chalk out a ‘comprehensive’ economic reform plan. In a recent meeting with senators in Islamabad, the PM assured all stakeholders that an economic turnaround was imminent. He also met the Board of Investment (BOI) Chairman Saleem Mandviwala to assure potential investors of the government’s commitment to safeguard foreign and local investments, aimed at boosting the country’s economic welfare. All this sounds very good, but traditional rhetoric is not going to get us anywhere. Pakistan has come to a state where, until solid results are not seen, no one will believe that this new round of efforts to revive the economy will bear fruit.

In this entire scenario, the ordinary people are worst hit with prices of commodities getting out of their reach. Alarmingly, reports are filtering in that the health ministry is looking for a massive seven percent increase in the prices of various medicines. Only the over-burdened masses will suffer if this move is approved. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is withholding the next tranche of cash promised to us because of the government’s failure to get the reformed general sales tax (RGST) approved by parliament. Therefore, a mega 50 percent cut in the country’s development programme as part of the new economic plan has been proposed. How does the government hope to get the economy back on track without money being spent on vital infrastructure such as roads, bridges and the uplift of rural areas is beyond comprehension.

The country is devoid of electricity and natural gas. Industries are shutting down left, right and centre with the textile industry going bankrupt because of irregular power supply. The Obama administration is discussing a preferential trade access programme for Pakistan in the Congress, especially for its textile sector. If the Congress approves this programme, it has the potential to provide a boost to the economy by creating jobs. It remains to be seen what we will export when the industry is shutting down due to the inability of the government to develop our power resources and infrastructure.

The PM can attempt to assure potential investors, but the fact remains that they are highly suspicious of Pakistan’s security and profitability. Daily corruption scandals traced back to the incumbent government are sending red signals to all those who could inject the country with a healthy dose of investment. Until some concrete plan is approved with transparency and accountability being main priorities, no investor will come to our aid.

It is bordering on vulgarity that in a country where the flood victims are sleeping out in the cold without food, warm clothes and shelter, the PM recently gave the go-ahead for luxury parliamentary lodges that will cost the national exchequer a dizzying Rs 3 billion — a move the PML-N is opposing. When the government is contemplating cuts in development, when the masses are facing massive inflation, when even simple medication might become out of reach and when electricity and gas have become privileges, such trivial pursuits further disillusion the public and the investors.

It is time the government introduced some credibility to its words by following them up with actions. No exports or new investments are possible without addressing the issues at hand.

The new world balance

At the dawn of the 21st century, the US was the undisputed global superpower with no apparent peer on the horizon who could challenge its interests in trade, diplomacy and military might. In the last decade, after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, when the US was engaged in its twin wars, aspiring new powers were slowly and gradually building their spheres of influence. China, Russia, Brazil, Turkey and India are the five emerging powers ready to take their place in world affairs.

China, throughout its history, has played a dominant role in South and Southeast Asia. Although China has competed with Japan for regional influence for over a thousand years, its one key distinguishing characteristic has been never to go beyond its seas. This has changed; for the first time in its history China may be extending its reach beyond the South China Sea. The Chinese have carefully chosen their expansion plans to include countries that are rich in mineral resources to satisfy the hunger of their vast manufacturing appetite. They have executed plans to have direct influence in Africa and Asia while they have formed a strategic alliance with Brazil and Turkey for an indirect influence in South America and Europe respectively. The first phase of their strategy was to use their vast cash resources to build a network of seaports in Asia and Africa. These ports are fully financed, built and operated by Chinese companies. The next phase in their development is just starting, which is to have trade and security pacts with these nations to ensure a smooth sailing of Chinese merchant ships from these ports. The recent naval influence exerted by the Chinese navy in the South China Sea is a message to the world to be aware of their activities in their backyard.

The US embarked on the strategy of expanding NATO during eight years of President George Bush to induct the former Soviet state Ukraine as a member along with plans for a missile defence system in Poland. This produced an angry response from Russia, so much so that it had to create a military crisis in South Ossetia to express its intent to use force if needed. When President Obama took oath of office, he immediately embarked on mending relations with Russia.

From the media polls it is quite clear that Prime Minister Putin, a passionate Russian nationalist, might emerge as a leading contender to grab a second tenure as the president of Russia in 2012. If that happens, there would be no doubt that Russia would accelerate the creation of a regional organisation of former Soviet states to create a cartel of commodity-rich countries. The recent signing of a currency deal between Russia and China is a step in creating an economic collaboration between this emerging bloc and China.

India, in recent weeks, has been in the limelight because of visits of world leaders starting with US President Obama, who endorsed India’s candidacy for the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) permanent membership. This was followed by Angela Merkel of Germany, Nicolas Sarkozy of France, David Cameron of UK, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China and ended with Dmitry Medvedev of Russia who also endorsed India’s candidacy for the UNSC. These visits clearly indicate that India is recognised as a player on the world stage but not yet fully capable to handle the diplomatic and military requirements of an international power.

This would mean that during the next few decades India has to align itself with one of the three dominant players, i.e. the West led by the US, Russia, which is an old ally, or China, which is a traditional rival. Their long history of alliance until the dismemberment of the USSR and the socialist character of Indian society would suggest that Russia is a natural partner. But this time around, economic growth has been the main driving force of Indian foreign policy to maintain its annual growth of seven percent. With the adoption of capitalism, large numbers of non-resident Indians (NRI) in western countries and a democratic government, it is likely that India will align itself with the West in the form of trade and security alliances. There is a possibility that NATO will remake itself to be a global alliance with India as its member in South Asia.

The two minor powers with long histories of regional influence are Brazil and Turkey. Former President Lula da Silva’s economic policies have produced a strong Brazil, which is confident in its roots and culture. Brazil has traditionally competed with the US to have influence in South America. This rivalry has created an opening for China to form trade relations with Brazil with an eye towards increased cooperation in other spheres of influence. For the foreseeable future, Brazil will focus inward with an occasional role on the world stage like the recent tripartite, along with Turkey, agreement with Iran to contain its nuclear ambitions.

Turkey was an alliance partner with Germany in World War I, which ultimately resulted in the disbanding of the Ottoman Empire that existed for 700 years. This long history of global influence has endowed Turkey with deep knowledge of diplomatic, military and trade relations. For most part of the 20th century, it focused inward to improve its economy and strengthen its social fabric. At the dawn of the 21st century, Turkey has emerged as an important player in the region that can play a significant role in the resolution of conflicts. In almost all negotiations in the last five years, Turkey has played a major role. Whether it was a back channel discussion between Syria, Israel and the US, or negotiations on the containment of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, or a summit meeting between the Afghan and Pakistani presidents, Turkey has been centre-stage. On the other hand, Turkey has reached out to Russia and China for trade pacts to strengthen its position as a gateway to resource-rich Central Asia and Europe.

While these relationships and players emerge, the most important development that would establish the balance of power will be the reorganisation of the UNSC. The negotiations are already underway for this purpose, but it is clear that the opening will be for more than one new permanent member and that the veto power will be democratised. There are many formulas in play to promote candidates but one thing is significant. Representation of the Muslim bloc will be important to provide a voice to over 33 percent of humanity that are connected by a shared system of beliefs. Turkey meets many requirements as representative of the Muslim world. First, it was a global player during the Ottoman rule for over 700 years. Second, it has a long history of relations with the West. Third, it has the diplomatic goodwill among the Muslim countries to represent their interests. And last, it understands global diplomacy to resolve conflicts.

Almost all countries have Muslim communities and most conflicts involve their interests. Radicalisation of Muslim societies is a political phenomenon and results from the absence of their voice on the world stage to resolve these conflicts. It is important for world peace that the voice of Muslims is heard by seating them at the UNSC.

Corruption and economic development

An overwhelming body of empirical evidence suggests that the impact of corruption on economic growth and development is highly devastating. Corruption impedes foreign and domestic investment, and increases transaction costs. It raises uncertainty and is responsible for low incomes and underdevelopment as it sands the wheels of economic growth. Validity of the literature that sprang up in the context of the ‘Asian paradox’, i.e. miraculous growth of most East Asian countries despite the prevalence of corruption stands discredited in the light of the latest empirical studies on the subject. There are a number of channels through which the negative effects of corruption are transmitted to the economy.
Corruption misallocates talent and resources, and distorts technology choices. People, being rational human beings, join the fields of employment that possess maximum potential for rent seeking. For example, university graduates may prefer to become tehsildars or police station house officers (SHOs) rather than agriculturists and business entrepreneurs.
Public sector employment in Pakistan is a pertinent example of this misallocation of talent. Up until the last few years, a dominant majority of the graduates appearing in the civil services examination hailed from medical and engineering backgrounds — students who had burnt the midnight oil to become ‘pen pushers’ despite having good qualifications in the fields of medicine and engineering. Although other factors such as respect for the civil service in society (which is fading now), security of service tenure and passion for public service delivery should not be ruled out as motivating factors, yet the fact remains that rent-seeking by grabbing power remains one of the potential reasons for joining the public sector in Pakistan.
As regards sectoral misallocation, huge deals in arms by developing countries are pertinent examples. Scandals have surfaced from time to time in several developing countries (like the Bofors scandal in India and Agosta submarine deals in Pakistan) where allegations of receiving fat commissions were levelled against politicians and those at the helm of affairs. If the incentive for commissions had not been there, there is every possibility that the funds would have been funnelled to other sectors like physical infrastructure development, directly related to economic growth and development.
Corruption also distorts technology choices. One of the motivational factors for imports of capital-intensive technology by developing countries stems from the potential opportunities of corruption attached to such deals. It may be pointed out here that most developing countries are abundant in labour, so labour-intensive technology generally is the best fit for these countries as it creates more employment opportunities. The health sector presents another glaring example of distortion in technology choices. Big hospital infrastructures and sophisticated medical equipment are generally preferred to rural health clinics specialising in preventive care even in the poorest countries.
Corruption hampers the ability of the state to raise taxes, encouraging informal businesses. The reasons are obvious. Due to corruption in the tax machinery and complex procedures of tax collection (upon which corruption thrives), businesses avoid getting registered for tax purposes. This direct correlation between corruption and the informal economic sector is easy to understand. In countries where corruption levels are high, informal sectors of the economy are huge. Again, Pakistan is a pertinent example. According to various estimates, the informal sector constitutes 50 to 60 percent of our total GDP.
Further, corruption impacts decisions to start businesses because you need information on bribes to start and run the business in a corruption-ridden set-up. Thus potential entrants to business face uncertainty as to what bribes to pay and when to pay. In this way, corruption acts as a barrier to the entry of new firms into business. Additionally, it acts as a heavy drain on existing businesses as well. Whenever there is an upward increase in tax revenue targets, it is the existing tax-paying businesses upon which the hammer falls, as governments are unable to tax the businesses operating in the informal sector. This eventually harms economic growth. We can also say that the low tax base has a direct link with corruption.
Moreover, the impact of corruption is differential and discriminatory. It falls heavily on small businesses and disadvantaged sections of society. Corruption deepens the chasm between the poor and the rich, big businesses and small enterprises, the powerful and the powerless, the big man and the small fry. It is a well-known fact that strict enforcement of the canons of rule of law is lacking in developing countries. The elite are well connected socially as well as politically. They can buy public services/goods like utility connections, access to law enforcement agencies for redressal of their grievances and dispensation of justice, whereas the cost borne by the less powerful for such public goods in a corrupt institutional set-up is very high. Corruption is regressive for small businesses as well. One of the potential reasons for the less developed small and medium enterprises (SME) sector in Pakistan can be traced to corruption. Corruption creates, sustains and perpetuates poverty and inequality traps in society.
The question is: why is corruption so widespread in developing countries? Surely it is not due to difference in the quality of human beings. The reasons are many but the chief reason is over-regulation of the economy. Over-regulation basically stems from the fact that developing countries are low-trust societies. Unnecessary rules, procedures and multiple layers of checks and supervision are common in developing countries. Added to this, accountability mechanisms are weak.
Our understanding of the corruption issue is fallacious. If corruption is high and the state feels that it needs to tackle it to recoup its eroded legitimacy in the eyes of the public, an immediate prescription is to set up one more anti-corruption agency, which is generally as corrupt as other institutions. Rather, in some cases, the level of perceived corruption about such watchdogs is higher when compared to the institutions they are supposed to oversee.
Corruption should not be viewed merely as an administrative problem. The corruption issue has economic dimensions as well and requires economic insight for its solution. Economic reforms aimed at simplifying cumbersome laws and procedures, doing away with inefficient regulations and redesigning the incentive system for the civil services can go a long way in reducing the levels of corruption, both real and perceived, in the ‘land of the pure’.

SECP registers 23 cos having foreign investment

The Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan registered 23 companies having foreign investment in December. In addition, 3 foreign companies were also registered.
Out of these 23 companies having foreign investment, 5 have foreign investment by foreign nationals from Singapore, 4 from China and the remaining from the UK, the US, Australia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Spain, Iran, Egypt, Germany, and Oman.
Among these, 11 companies were registered in Karachi, while 6 in Islamabad, 4 in Lahore and one in Quetta and Multan. As for the sector-wise breakdown, 7 companies were registered in the transport sector, followed by 4 in trading sector, 3 in miscellaneous sectors, 2 each in services and communication sector, and 1 company each in IT, chemicals, education, food and beverages and mining. Of the three foreign companies, 2 companies have South Korean origins. They plan to do business in engineering and construction sector each, while one company has Netherlands’ origin and it works in the IT sector. Two foreign companies were registered in Lahore and one in Karachi.

The republic of silence

“We were never more free than during the German [Nazi] occupation. We had lost all our rights, beginning with the right to talk. Every day we were insulted to our faces and had to take it in silence. Everywhere, on billboards, in the newspapers, on the screen, we encountered the revolting and insipid picture of ourselves that our oppressors wanted us to accept. And, because of all this, we were free” — Jean Paul Sartre, La République du Silence (The Republic of Silence).
Jean Paul Sartre writing about the Nazi occupation of France said that the occupation and oppression made the French more conscious of the freedom that they possessed than they ever were. Pakistan today faces similar occupation, similar oppression and consequently similar freedom. Like occupied France, venom today has seeped into our society, our thoughts, into our beings; every accurate thought is now a conquest. Tyranny today coerces us to hold our tongues; every word takes on the value of a declaration of principles. As we are and increasingly will be tracked and hunted down, each and every gesture has the weight of a solemn commitment. The circumstances, as atrocious as they are similar to Nazi-occupied France, have finally made it possible for us to live without pretence or false shame. Salmaan Taseer’s martyrdom has compelled us to be free.
Hegel writes in The Phenomenology of Mind, that it is solely by risking life that freedom is obtained; the individual who has not staked his life may, no doubt, be recognised as a person, but he has not attained the truth of this recognition as an independent self-consciousness. Salmaan Taseer’s martyrdom has obliged us to achieve this self-consciousness, has forced us to be humans.
Unlike Salmaan Taseer, most of us do not possess the courage to willingly sacrifice our lives, but like Salmaan Taseer all of us have Qadris confronting us every day. According to Sartre, the very cruelty of the enemy drove the French to the extremities of this condition by forcing them to ask themselves questions that one never considers in times of peace. For the secret of a man is not his superiority complex or his inferiority complex: it is the limit of his own liberty, his capacity for resisting torture and death. Salmaan Taseer was an exceptional warrior; he pushed the boundaries of these limits. Today, in times of war in Pakistan, we are painfully aware of the limits of our liberty.
Many of us want a compromise; we are afraid of defeat, pain and death. We want to be non-confrontational, to blend in. The choice is no longer ours to make. Qadri sees right through our deceit, he will never accept us as one of his own. Qadri today constrains you and me to be liberated. The choice of being an apologist is not available to us anymore. The battle will continue, whether we choose to actively participate or not is only relevant to the extent of determining if it will be combat or slaughter. After Salmaan Taseer’s martyrdom, Qadri frightens no one; he no longer even has the means to intimidate: he is beginning to horrify, he is just grotesque, and that is all.
The Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP’s) stance today puts Brutus and Judas to shame. Many of us have voted for and supported Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Benazir Bhutto’s PPP; we will fight Babar Awan’s party. Many of us have nowhere else to go, but we will go nonetheless. The choice of going back is becoming increasingly difficult; if the trajectory does not change, soon the place we are from will not exist anymore. The PPP does not only betray Salmaan Taseer it betrays the legacy of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed. BB preferred martyrdom over compromise. The PPP I know of and support is one where BB recites “main baaghi hoon” (I am a rebel) in 1988. The sermons of Babar Awan and the diabolical statements of Rehman Malik are surrealistically insulting to BB’s memory. The ostensible reason for compromise by the PPP is self-preservation, ignoring a countervailing consideration of infinitely superior magnitude; the liaison is vile, it is indecent.
Protect, support and cherish Sherry Rehman. Bending over backwards and kneeling before tyranny will not get you Qadri’s vote; it will certainly lose you mine. I personally would want them on board, but the PPP needs to understand that this fight will go on with or without them. Freedom is no longer optional.

Oil down as dollar rises, Brent close to $100

Oil slipped on Monday while the dollar strengthened and equities faltered as OPEC said the market was well supplied and inventories should build in the first half of the year.
North Sea Brent crude futures on the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) consolidated around $6 above US crude oil futures and were not far below $100 per barrel, a level not seen since the beginning of October 2008.
US crude for February fell 40 cents to $91.14 by 1243 GMT, while ICE Brent for March lost 50 cents to $97.88.
The spread between the two futures contracts has narrowed since the ICE Brent contract for February expired on Friday. At one point on Friday, the spread between the two February contracts hit more than $8.00 a barrel, its widest in 23 months. US markets were closed for the Martin Luther King holiday and traders said that was likely to help keep oil futures within fairly narrow ranges on Monday.
Christopher Bellew, at broker Bache Commodities, said the stronger dollar had put pressure on commodities markets: “The oil price has been in an uptrend since the middle of November and now we are getting close to $100. The weather in the northern hemisphere has turned a bit milder, and the end of winter is in sight,” Bellew said.
OPEC said on Monday the world oil market remained well supplied and inventories should build in the first half of the year, even it raised its 2011 global oil demand growth forecast. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries increased its global oil demand growth forecast by 50,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 1.23 million bpd in 2011.
OPEC said in its monthly report the early onset of winter weather and an increase in investment flows into commodities were among the factors behind a recent surge in prices. The group maintained its view that consumers have enough oil. The UAE’s oil minister said fluctuating prices were not a worry: “The price keeps going up and down and all I can say for now is that we are happy,” Mohammed al-Hamli told reporters.
Al Hamli said markets were well supplied and prices reflected market conditions. But the head of the International Energy Agency, Nobua Tanaka, said on Monday oil prices were alarming at current levels and would have a negative impact.
OPEC Secretary General Abdullah al-Badri told an Austrian newspaper that, while the organization was ready to act to address supply shortages in the oil market, it would not intervene if prices were driven by speculation..
At this stage, higher output would not stem a rise in oil prices, as the climb is driven by increasing demand in emerging countries, chief executive of French oil major Total Christophe de Margerie told Reuters on Sunday. News a key Alaskan oil pipeline was about to reopen after being closed for over a week also put some extra pressure on oil prices, analysts said.
The operator of the 800-mile (1,280-km) Trans Alaska Pipeline System, which has been struggling with a leak in piping at the Prudhoe Bay intake station, said the oil artery would resume normal operations later on Monday. “We are seeing the end of exceptional support due to supply disruption on this pipe, and also the weather has become much warmer than usual both in Europe and in parts of central and eastern United States. So we are losing some support from cold temperatures,” said Christophe Barret, oil analyst at French bank Credit Agricole.
Asian shares mostly fell on Monday, led by Shanghai after China’s latest attempt to contain inflation. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index closed down more than 3 percent. The index lost 1.7 percent last week amid fears over monetary tightening steps.

Euro falls on fading hopes for bailout fund

The euro fell broadly on Monday as hopes for an increase in the eurozone’s bailout fund faded and as investors reassessed a recent rise in European Central Bank interest rate expectations.
Uncertainty about whether Germany would support an increase in the lending capacity of the rescue fund, known as the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), clouded sentiment.
Europe set up the safety net fund, which can borrow on the markets with eurozone government guarantees of up to 440 billion euros, in response the debt crisis that forced Greece and Ireland to take bailouts last year. But a new package of anti-crisis measures is seen as unlikely to come any time soon.
Attention on Monday was focused on a meeting of eurozone finance ministers, at which an increase in the effective lending capacity of the rescue fund is expected to dominate discussion.
Senior European sources told Reuters the sense of urgency in Berlin for boosting the fund had diminished after successful bond auctions last week in Spain and Portugal, the two countries seen most at risk of needing any further bailouts. Instead Germany is pushing for broader anti-crisis measures to be agreed at a summit of European Union leaders in March.
“It’s becoming increasingly apparent that Germany doesn’t want an increase in the rescue fund and that’s weighing on euro sentiment today because there were positive expectations building last week,” said Manuel Oliveri, currency strategist at UBS in Zurich.
“We believe the euro is a sell on rallies because investors are not minded to buy euro-denominated assets while structural problems in the eurozone persist,” he added. The euro traded at $1.3270, down about 0.8 percent on the day after falling as low as $1.3243 on trading platform EBS.
It was off a one-month high of $1.3458 hit on Friday when speculators went long after solid debt auctions from Spain and Portugal, hawkish comments on inflation from European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet and hopes that eurozone policymakers may expand their rescue funds. ECB policymaker Athanasios Orphanides played down rate hike expectations, saying last Thursday’s statement was not overly hawkish and that there was sometimes an overreaction to the underyling message.

SBP injects Rs 33.85bn in money market

The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Monday again injected Rs 33.85 billion in the banking system for four days through a reverse repo (open market operation). Whereas on last Saturday the central bank injected Rs 19.95 billion.
The primary dealers have offered Treasury bills worth Rs 42.5 billion, but the central bank accepted bids of Rs 33.85 billion at 12.85 percent per annum.
The banking system is facing a liquidity shortage for the last few days because of higher outflows, the dealers said. The rupee has been supported by higher remittances sent home by Pakistanis working abroad.
According to SBP this week, remittances rose more than 24 percent to $4.531 billion in the first six months of the (July-June) financial year.
The dealers said that the rupee might further lose strength to more than 85 percent to the dollar if global oil prices start rising again.

Jinnah’s Pakistan as a rallying cry

Salmaan Taseer was a man of great moral clarity whether his detractors care to admit as much or not. He was from an increasingly rare breed of idealists who believed in Pakistan as envisaged by Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, i.e. a liberal democratic state where faith would be a personal matter. I submit that it was this belief in Pakistan’s destiny that drove Salmaan Taseer to stand up for the rights of minorities in Pakistan. Therefore, when his children write that their father died for Pakistan, Pakistan’s self-appointed guardians of ideology should take note and learn a thing or two. The need of the hour is for Pakistanis to stand up for that ideal, for this is our only homeland and if we do not save it, no one else will.
It is for these reasons that I found Ammar Rashid’s article ‘Moral medievalism and the state’ (Daily Times, January 13, 2011) to be most disturbing. At a time when Pakistanis should be united in realising that Salmaan Taseer’s death and the subsequent polarisation around the assassination is indicative of state failure and the state’s abdication of responsibility for its people, self-proclaimed intellectuals regurgitating a flawed interpretation of Marxist ideology are in the forefront of efforts to sabotage all attempts to gather the less fortunate on a platform against bigotry and hate. To begin with, the reasoning of the author is entirely muddled. Blaming modern information-age capitalism and its confluence with the historical memory and ‘logic’ of the Pakistani state is akin to making excuses for an abandonment of common sense and reason. The “historical memory” of the Pakistani state as it were is much warped and distorted. The great leftist historian Hamza Alavi examined the causes and the events leading to the creation of Pakistan in many of his works and rejected in entirety the state-sponsored narrative introduced largely during the Zia era. In his enlightening paper Pakistan and Islam: Ethnicity or Ideology, Hamza Alavi traced the formation of the ‘salariat’ or the secular Muslim middle-class, which became the engine for the Pakistan Movement. He showed how the basic ideas of Islamic modernism had moved into the sphere of conventional wisdom for this group. Therefore, far from arguing a moral superiority based on Pan-Islamic religious identity, Muslim nationalism as it emerged was the attempt of a nascent Muslim bourgeoisie in the subcontinent to secure a foothold economically and politically. It was also indicative of an internal struggle between the professional and secular-minded classes amongst Indian Muslims led by Jinnah and the clerical class that opposed them. This is what prompted Jinnah to declare in 1938, “What the League has done is to set you free from the reactionary elements of Muslims and to create the opinion that those who play their selfish game are traitors. It has certainly freed you from that undesirable element of maulvis and maulanas.”
Salmaan Taseer was the foremost symbol of the professional and secular-minded Muslim bourgeoisie that created Pakistan. He was a self-made man, a professional and a businessman. The late governor was the physical embodiment of the confluence of Pakistan’s genuine historical memory and modern, information age capitalism.
There is no reason why we should complicate a simple issue. I submit two points: a) all nationalisms are exclusionary and, as Eqbal Ahmad said, “the ideology of the other”, and b) states are duty bound to be above issues of identity and nationalism and this is precisely why we have constitutions. Secularism, historically, has developed from confessional societies, and pluralism is almost always a desired by-product. The example before Jinnah, as the creator and the first governor general of the new state, was Britain which he alluded to in his famous August 11 speech, which, mind you, was not the only speech he delivered where he outlined in clear terms his idea of what the Pakistani state should be. Great Britain’s history is defined by the protestant nature of its monarchy and the struggle between the clergy and the state. It has in its history seen gruesome violence on religious questions including blasphemy. In due course of time, however, the Protestants and Catholics did learn to live together as citizens of Great Britain.
So what is Jinnah’s Pakistan and why is it increasingly becoming the rallying cry of all Pakistanis who want to bring about a change? Jinnah’s Pakistan means a Pakistan where dialogue and constitutional means are the only available choice when resolving disagreements and discord. How then can today’s Pakistan be Jinnah’s Pakistan when the very essence of the man is sacrificed in the name of political expediency and the doctrine of necessity? Jinnah’s Pakistan will remain the only credible answer for positive social change because Jinnah represents something much more substantial than a dead secular politician. He is, for most Pakistanis, a deep structure of identity that remains on a higher pedestal for them. It is for this reason that Jinnah’s Pakistan remains the only viable option for this state to dig itself out of the hole it finds itself in. Without Jinnah, the liberals of Pakistan are like fish out of the pond.

Pak-US: bridging the trust divide

President Asif Ali Zardari was in Washington to
attend the memorial service of US Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke. At the service, US President Obama said, “Richard is gone now, but we carry with us his thirst to know, to grasp and heal the world around us.” Mr Holbrooke was a great advocate of Pak-US friendship and was of the view that for a viable solution in Afghanistan, the US would have to bring Pakistan on board. As Britain’s former foreign secretary, David Miliband, wrote: “The key [to success in Afghanistan] is, and always has been, a political settlement that can make withdrawal possible on terms that protect regional and global interests. Holbrooke is gone, but we must learn his lessons.”
Apart from attending Mr Holbrooke’s memorial service, President Zardari held a meeting with President Obama and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. According to Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, Mr Obama and Ms Clinton assured Mr Zardari that “the US will over the next few days find ways to strengthen Pakistan’s economic reform process, while taking into consideration social and political factors”. If the US wants to help Pakistan economically, it will have to use its clout to persuade the IMF not to cut off Pakistan because of the RGST imbroglio. The reason this government has not yet been able to implement RGST is political. Despite the fact that the RGST would in effect be good for Pakistan’s economy, most of our political parties are not ready to support the PPP-led government because of an anti-RGST sentiment amongst the masses. Without a political consensus, the government cannot move an inch on economic reforms.
The US is one of the biggest aid donors to Pakistan. However, there is a rise in the anti-American sentiment in our society. One of the reasons is because of the way the US abandoned Pakistan after the Afghan jihad in the 80s. The US has always been dubbed as a ‘fair-weather friend’ but it is imperative that now that the Americans do not have any plans to leave us in the lurch, cooperation in all fields is forthcoming. Through USAID and other such initiatives, the Americans have been giving developmental aid to Pakistan. In November 2010, USAID officials lodged a complaint with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) after receiving a significant number of complaints about the misuse and misappropriation of funds by the NGOs under the Kerry Lugar aid package. International donors have been reluctant to give money to the government directly because of corruption charges and instead rely on local NGOs to disburse aid money. But this idealisation of NGOs and demonisation of the government is not without fault. This is not to say that all NGOs are dishonest, but donors need to implement a proper mechanism system to monitor aid money. It is also important that our government and media project the efforts by the US government in an honest manner so that all the positive steps taken by them are properly highlighted.
President Obama vowed to “continue to work toward building a moderate, democratic Pakistan, which is the strongest guarantee against the success of terrorists”. In the past, the US has supported military dictators like General Ziaul Haq and General Musharraf instead of democratic dispensations. Now that democracy has finally returned, the US and other countries must stress the importance of a democratic set up in Pakistan and in case of any undemocratic move, they must rally against it. Democracy in Pakistan is not just important for the local populace but for the international community as well. *

Lest we forget

Qambar Chakar’s story begins on July 10, 2008 when he, Khurshid Baloch and Qayyum Baloch, then studying in Balochistan University of Information Technology and Management Sciences (BUITMS), began a hunger strike unto death to protest the discriminatory admission policy. Based on open merit for the entire Balochistan, it meant that students from backwaters could not even hope to enter BUITMS. Qambar and his protesting companions wanted the open merit to be devolved to district level to afford equal opportunities to all areas.
This university, then six years old, had some 3,000 students enrolled in five faculties. Seventy percent of the students were from Balochistan. Its stated policy, “Admission is purely on merit without any distinction of race, religion, colour or ethnic origin provided the learner meets the entry requirements,” was deceptively just and fair. Certainly, a student from Dalbandin could not compete with a Quetta elite school student.
Qambar Chakar and protestors believed it was aimed at excluding Baloch students from acquiring higher education. He elucidated his stance candidly: “Though 70 percent open merit is fixed for the entire province, 62 percent of the seats were secured by the Quetta city students where the majority of the population is that of the non-Baloch elite.” He added that only nine percent students admitted to the 2008 BUITMS Spring Programme were Baloch. He said this merit system deprived 70 percent of Baloch districts of higher education because those students, unable to compete with elite school students, would always remain deprived.
His co-hunger strikers also articulated the reasons for their extreme measure. Stating that the open-merit at the Bolan Medical College and the Engineering University in Khuzdar, both professional schools just like the BUITMS, had been devolved to the districts, thus giving opportunity to students of all districts, they demanded a similar policy at BUITMS.
When the condition of the hunger strikers worsened, they were taken to the Governor’s House by the protesting students on stretchers. The governor asked the representatives of the protestors to meet him but the protesting students demanded that negotiations should be held in front of everybody. He eventually came out to meet the protestors but rejected their demands and said a committee consisting of all political parties would meet and discuss it soon. The protesting students reaffirmed that if the Baloch students did not get the opportunity to study, they would not willingly allow others to reap the benefits. They were ready to sacrifice their careers as examinations were scheduled for July 21.
On July 21, after 11 days of fasting, when the condition of the striking students deteriorated further, Balochistan Assembly Speaker Aslam Bhootani and some members came with a notification and constituted a committee in which representatives nominated by the Baloch students were also included. They also agreed to change the existing system, so the strike was called off. They may have honestly promised change but they do not decide, so, to date, that policy remains unchanged.
Qambar Chakar was now a marked man as were other activists including Qambar Malik and Tariq Karim. These two were named in the FIR of burning of buses. Qambar Malik was arrested and later released while Tariq Karim went underground; unfortunately, he was arrested on October 21, 2010 and is still missing. His brother Asim Karim, a student in Multan, addressed a press conference in Quetta on October 26, protesting his brother’s arrest. On his way home from a wedding on October 30, he was injured by the security forces’ firing and taken away. His dead body was recovered from Khanozai area on November 1, 2010.
Qambar Chakar Baloch, 24, member of the Baloch Students Organisation-Azad (BSO-A) central committee, was an economics student at BUITMS. He was first abducted on July 10, 2009 in Quetta on trumped up charges of possessing a grenade, but released on April 22, 2010, after a long series of agitations and protests. You certainly cannot expect the tortured to sing paeans of their torturers. He was abducted the second time on November 26, 2010 from Shahi Tump Turbat with his cousin Irshad Baloch.
On January 5, 2011, the brutally tortured dead bodies of Qambar Chakar Baloch and Ilyas Nazar Baloch were recovered in Pedark near Turbat. Ilyas Nazar was also a journalist. The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) termed it an act of barbarism and said killings had made it almost impossible for Balochistan journalists to perform their professional assignments without fear.
The tragedy that the Baloch people face due to enforced disappearances of their loved ones came across ever more poignantly with the death of Qambar and Ilyas because a day before, when General Kayani had turned the Sui Cantonment to a military college, which he termed as a gift from the army to the Baloch people, making it even more permanent and therefore more disagreeable to the Baloch, Governor Magsi had surprised all, perhaps himself as well, by his demand that steps be taken for the recovery of missing people. He had said, “It is a very serious and important issue of Balochistan and should be resolved without any delay,” and asked, “Where are these missing people? It is the right of their families to know their whereabouts.” He stressed if they were in the custody of a civilian agency or with the ISI and MI, they should be handed over to police and tried in a court.
What message this appearance of two prominent activists’ bodies after his appeal was supposed to deliver could be better interpreted by Governor Magsi, but the Baloch think that it was meant to emphasise that no appeal is likely to be heeded. The issue of missing persons deserves attention and condemnation of all but is, sadly, ignored. No one, not even Governor Magsi, uttered a word about these killings. This horrible silence accords legitimacy of sorts to the atrocities.
Zakir Majeed, Abdul Hamid Jamal, Mehboob Wadhela, Faiz Mohammad Marri and hundreds of other Baloch — it is impossible to name all — are missing. The unrestrained impunity with which they are disappeared, tortured and then thrown along highways just shows the epoch that the perpetrators suppose they live in. The greater tragedy is that they have transformed it into a reality and can get away with it. The pain, agony and trauma of the missing persons and their families should never be forgotten. We all would do well to remember that:

Three faces of love

Farzana Ahmad is a short story writer who is routinely published in leading Urdu periodicals. She is the wife of Feza Aazmi, a writer, social and political analyst, lawyer, journalist and poet of great repute. He emerged as the founder of a new genre of poetry, i.e. a series of book-length poems on major national and global issues in their historical and analytical perspective, and has written seven book-length poems on wide ranging topics. The book Poet, Beloved and Philosopher is Farzana Ahmad’s translation of the captivating and lyrical book-length ghazal ‘Shair, Mehboob aur Falsafi’ by Feza Aazmi. Here, I would like to mention that it is extremely difficult translating a book, and that too a good book, into another language and when the book involved is one of poetry, this difficulty increases manifold. More often than not, when people have taken up this crucial task, they have ended up either falling short of the original texts or exceeding them. However, Farzana Ahmad has done a commendable job translating this ghazal and has succeeded in keeping the lyrical formation and meaning of the original text intact.
The book begins with a few reviews by Dr Farman Fatehpuri, Sardar Zaidi and Anis Ahmad. I agree with Dr Farman Fatehpuri’s opinion that unlike all other professions, there is no qualification, no education and no training that can turn one into a poet. Poetry is an art that one is born with — you either have it or you do not — and good poetry is the result of uncontrollable emotional tumult and sensitivity, and not of deliberate effort or acquired knowledge. Dr Farman states in his review that Feza Aazmi is a true poet and has quoted some of the verses from his ghazals to confirm his statement. One of my personal favourites among these verses was, “Mujh ko bhi ho chala tha wafa’on ka kuch yakeen/ Lekin wo muskura diye ehd-e-wafa ke baad” (On her pledge of love, Almost convinced was I/ But for her parting smile, that was winsome but wry). This verse was unique in nature as it was marked with simplicity yet it carried a deep meaning. I have always believed that a good poem is one that brings a smile to your face, one that you might not even be aware of or have a reason for but you just cannot resist the urge; let me just say that this particular verse did the trick.
The poem Poet, Beloved and Philosopher can best be described as a philosophy of life where Feza Aazmi has taken up the role of all three, poet, beloved and philosopher and has explained life through the perspectives of a romantic, idealist poet, a teasing, tantalising beloved and a curious and rational philosopher. How he has brilliantly switched from one role to the other throughout the poem is commendable. As a poet, lost in his own world of fantasies, he writes, “Mein uske paas hoon aur woh hai mere pasih-e-nazar/ Haseen, shoakh, dilaawaiz, misl-e-shams-o-qamar/ Hazar baar who khoya hai mujhsay mil kar/ Woh kaun hai, yeh khayalon ko hai har aan khabar/ Magar nazar se nehaan hai ke chha raha hai kaun” (So close in proximity her I behold/ Like the sun and moon her enchanting allure and charm unfold/ She crosses my path often yet I fail to capture, to hold/ Aware is my heart of a luminous presence untold/ But woebegone! My eyes are oblivious/ Of that which my heart is desirous). As is evident from this verse, Feza Aazmi’s ghazals have been composed in rhyme and meter, yet he has not fallen victim to replicating his thoughts, which proves his mastery over the art of ghazal writing. His use of idioms, e.g. the sun and moon, to describe his beloved’s beauty is a quality that only a real artist possesses and, together with the way he has expressed his desire for her, without appearing even slightly vulgar, is a trait that distinguishes him from many other poets of his time. Moving on to the role of an iconic, elusive beloved, he writes, “Tujhe talaash hai meri tou mein ayaan hojaon/ Teri nigaah mein khursheed ka nishan hojaoon/ Wagar na kehtay rehkar hazaar pardon mein/ Teray khayal ki khatir teri zaban hojaoon/ Hayat-e-zauq-e-nazar ke siwa mein kuch bhi nahin” (I will reveal myself surely, if you so desire/ Dazzle your eyes like the sun’s blinding fire/ Or make myself obscure behind a thousand veils/ And let your pen weave magic in your tragic tales/ I exist not but, as a treasure-house of life’s yearnings entire). Here, Feza Aazmi has exquisitely described the behaviour of a beloved who is cajoling her lover into proving his devotion to her, to tell her how much she is desired and, in the end, she humbly accepts that she is everything beautiful that life has to offer. Then suddenly, he transforms into a rational but thoughtful philosopher and writes, “Meri nazar ko tamanna hai teri kurbat ki/ Meri khirad ko zaroorat hai teri soorat ki/ Mere khayal sulajh jaa’engay tujhe paakar/ Ke inko aaj talab hai teri haqeeqat ki/ Nazar ke vaastay tera shabab leloonga” (My eyes in their search crave your vicinity/ My reason demands you be in close proximity/ The aura of your presence will calm my turbulent thoughts/ My contemplations command you surrender before my majestic mind’s onslaught/ Your charisma youthful I will steal to be the cynosure of my eyes).

Living in Karachi

Every evening in Karachi we hear bursts of gunfire. We sleep armed behind locked doors with guards and guard dogs patrolling the ‘moat’, which separates the house from the street. ‘Brinks’ alarms and ‘panic’ buttons in each room add not to the sense of security, but rather the contrary. Police patrols pass by now and then, but no one feels reassured because they are as likely to be filled with criminals as the police who, in Karachi, are often one and the same. Only the poor are safe because they have nothing to offer bandits.
Three houses in the neighbourhood have thus far been pillaged, at the cost of one dead, a chowkidar (gatekeeper), who was beheaded. The other two houses escaped comparatively lightly. In one the bandits had the wife of the owner cook them breakfast, as they were loading her generator on to the truck which they had thoughtfully brought along; and in the other they left with the belongings although not all because they returned some weeks later to pick up the rest.
Even the president is wary. Whenever he arrives to survey his properties, whole streets are blocked off and new forts spring up in our midst. When he moves, it is as if a war is ongoing. However, considering the speed with which he decamps the battlefield, this war appears to be yet another war that we are losing.

The killing of Benazir Bhutto and the havoc that followed her death made us Karachiites yearn for the democracy dividend for which she had so bravely given her life. And it was not long in coming, in the form of daily targeted killings of scores of city dwellers. The authorities had no explanation or none that were remotely plausible.
So now it is taken as a given that you can be shot at anywhere and hence must take your own precautions. One of which is that, before assaying out for work every day, we Karachiites phone each other to ascertain the score. If one side has lost appreciably more men than the other in the previous day’s killings, then those areas where the ‘victors’ live are best avoided lest one should get caught up in the ‘surge’ mounted by their opponents to even the score. Because, curiously in our kleptocracy, money is not the only item in demand; taking a life on whim, fancy, party and belief is more so. Actually, it is the vogue, nay it has become a fad. Pakistan, one is happy to announce, no longer has an image problem. We have finally succeeded in doing away with our image problem. It is reality, which is the problem now.
As there is no ‘image’ left to project, and because reality is better conveyed by embedded journalists, certain cost-cutting measures come to mind. The first of which is that scores of our embassies abroad that are meant to project a non-existent ‘image’ can be closed. In any case, all that they do is provide subsidised holidays for our diplomats. Why on earth, for example, do we have an embassy in tiny Ireland, which has more horses than people, and much better bred to boot, unless it is to ensure that Amin Fahim’s daughter appointed as a First Secretary out of the blue has a job. Or is it out of some kind of solidarity with the Irish, who, it is said, like us, never speak well of one another; or perhaps because the Irish too do not know what they want but are prepared to fight to the death to get it. But surely in these cash-strapped days that is a luxury, which we can ill afford.
At least 40 of our approximately 60 missions abroad serve very little purpose. Of course, the prime minister’s recent directive that henceforth Pakistani officials travelling abroad should, as a cost-cutting measure, kip down in embassies and consulates suggests that embassy buildings will double up as hotels and hostels. This has intriguing consequences, considering the rush of officials wanting to visit Rome and Paris, one of which is that hoteliers, rather than those versed in international relations, can now also be considered for appointment to our embassies. And why not, if convicted felons, shore-based admirals, amateur chefs and shrine devotees are already in situ or in the running for such jobs?
A corollary of mission closures would be to downsize the Foreign Office, which sports as many as 1,000 or more babus of all grades. If downsized by 70 percent, it would still be more than the strength that existed in 1971, when Pakistan was united and our population was very roughly the same. Anyway, having outsourced foreign policy to the military, there seems little justification for further expenditure on the Foreign Office. Such an exercise would account for savings of tens of millions of rupees. The moneys so saved could be divided up between our main cities with Karachi getting the lion’s share for obvious reasons.

One other benefit of living in a city like Karachi, which is run akin to a criminal enterprise, is the savings that could be made on security. Law and order in designated areas could effectively be outsourced to forces best able to establish their writ, which, as it happens, is not the police. Thus privatised, it would be more effective and cheaper. In fact, had the government not decided to retain the police force as an excuse to provide jobs for its supporters at the expense of the taxpayer, the proposal may have won acceptance. After all, the Karachi police today are armed mostly to protect themselves from irate citizens and fundos or from deserving candidates for police recruitment who were turned away for lack of patronage rather than to safeguard the common man. Hence, yet more millions saved.
Guarded and preserved for very different reasons by the Americans and the Taliban, Karachi could become a thriving metropolis. And with the savings thus effected, water, gas, oil and electricity could be had for the asking. There may even be some left over to ensure that the Edhi centres continue to run and the drug addicts wallowing in filth under the many underpasses be relocated elsewhere and be provided clean needles. And, finally, there would be a modicum of security for the hapless inhabitants to look forward to.

What was he thinking?

Addressing envoys from various western countries in the capital on Thursday, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani seems to have forgotten a few basics when it comes to reassuring Pakistan’s donors about how we plan to spend their aid money. Urging donors to fulfil the pledges made to Pakistan after 2010’s devastating floods, the PM rather carelessly said that checking corruption would be like walking a “tightrope”. He further went on to elaborate that balancing matters like development activities, resolving outstanding national issues and tackling corruption simultaneously would be “difficult”. Now, it is common knowledge that the government has plenty on its plate that it must take care of, but was it really necessary for the PM to reiterate this to international guests whose job it is to assess whether or not Pakistan actually deserves the money it has been promised?
The fact that Pakistan received pitiful little after the worst floods witnessed in recent history spoke volumes about the lack of trust that western countries have in us. It is because of debilitating incidences of corruption that Pakistan, ravaged by extremists, plagued by natural disasters, depleted of natural resources and on the verge of economic collapse, has seen an international community that has not been generous in coming to our aid. In such a climate, for the PM to state that handling corruption would be a tough task is a very negative message to relay. It is worth reminding our incumbents that to remedy the malaise that has seeped so deep into the national fabric, it is corruption that has to be dealt a firm blow. Without corruption being minimised if not eliminated, development will suffer as all projects will be affected by siphoned off money.
One just needs to see the rulings delivered by the Supreme Court (SC) lately to understand just how pervasive corruption has become. The SC has ordered rental power companies to give back with interest the millions they had taken as advances from the government for their failure to initiate power generation projects. It is little wonder then that citizens live in the dark. The SC has also ordered three retired generals to reply to allegations concerning the leasing of lands belonging to Pakistan Railways allegedly for a pittance during the Musharraf era, costing the national exchequer an astounding Rs 25 billion. This case may have been a legacy of the previous incumbents but the problem has not stopped there. As the rental power case exemplifies and, whether true or not, the recent reports pertaining to the Hajj scam that point an accusatory finger at the PM’s own family only show that even the highest ranking officials in this country are not going to be easily trusted by international donors. Frankly, who can blame them?
The task, as stated, will definitely be a hard one. However, it is not impossible and it certainly is a task that needs a serious beginning to be made and demonstrated. Corruption may well prove the straw that broke the camel’s back if it is not wiped out. It was imperative that the PM, during this visit of foreign delegates, show how committed his government is to cleansing the system but, alas, they have been sent back probably even more sceptical than before. The ruling incumbents still have two years to implement some vestige of a policy to rid us of the corruption menace and to clean up their own act. We hope that they manage to convey such a commitment to the international community soon. *

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Vietnam redux

Torrey Pines, California: today, against the beautiful backdrop of a US open links course with all of the excitement the best golfers in the world can bring to a major tournament, a simple wedding took place spanning two cultures. My 28-year-old nephew married a lovely Vietnamese lady. Finishing a two-year Fulbright fellowship she returns to Vietnam in 10 day’s time to honour the commitment to use her newly acquired skills at home. The groom, a double master’s degree graduate student at Duke’s Fuqua Business School, finishes this spring and will leave for Vietnam where he expects to find employment too.
His parents are concerned about having a son and daughter-in-law literally halfway around the world in a country that is as foreign to most Americans today as Mars. No doubt, both parents are reminded of and cautioned by my Vietnamese experiences some 45 years ago as the US began its military build-up and, to quote a well-worn phrase, “to pay any price and bear any burden”, which we surely did.
As a Swift boat skipper, my crew and I were assigned to our northern most base in Da Nang, South Vietnam with an operating area ranging from the 17th parallel that divided north and south (and which we would more than occasionally cross, violating the rules of engagement as men or boys of a certain age will do) to some 100 miles south to the infamous Cape Batangan peninsula and a small village that became more infamous in 1970; it was called My Lai. Even then, Batangan and My Lai were very dangerous places, producing casualties while we operated there. Indeed, a Naval Academy classmate was killed nearby when his South Vietnamese junk base was overrun by Viet Cong.
Our training in San Diego for that war ranged from the absurd to ridiculous. Much of my time was spent commuting to San Francisco to be with a then-paramour. Counter-insurgency class work mirrored the absence of understanding that ultimately doomed the Vietnam venture though one lecture remained permanently embedded in my mind. The lecturer was retired Army Lieutenant Colonel John Paul Vann who would come to prominence as a civilian advisor subsequently killed in Vietnam and the subject of a highly critical biography by Neil Sheehan called A Bright Shining Lie.
Vann extolled the virtues of the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong, turning them into adversaries of heroic proportion while decrying the incompetence and frequent cowardice of our erstwhile South Vietnamese allies. I asked Vann why the North seemed so well endowed with effective fighters and the South so sparse in comparison. His answer was unforgettable. “I guess,” he said, “God put all the good guys on the other side”.
We lost. They won. But the Vietnamese have had a rather unusual record of success, first against the Chinese a millennia ago. While it took about a century defeating the French, culminating in what the famous French historian of Vietnam, Bernard Fall, termed, “Hell in a very small place” (the battle of Dien Bien Phu in the Spring of 1954). General Vo Nguyen Giap, North Vietnam’s most capable and famous soldier, ferried over nearly impossible terrain artillery that for eight weeks bombarded the fortress into surrender. After commanding French General Christian DeCastries’ capitulation, France would withdraw from Indo China, and North Vietnam would be created.
Twenty years later, Giap defeated the US. That war cost us 58,000 dead and unknown numbers of Vietnamese on both sides killed with many more maimed and wounded. In 1979, Vietnam mauled an advancing Chinese army intent on teaching Hanoi a lesson.
Today, Vietnam’s some 90 million people are able, industrious and entrepreneurial. Economically, Vietnam is one of the so-called Asian tigers with an annual GDP growth that is between six to nine percent. A small anecdote underscores this transformation.
Hoi An was a small village near our operating base in Chu Lai. Fire fights and casualties for sailors, marines and finally army units stationed there were frequent. Today, Hoi An boasts one of the finest restaurants in the world.
As the US completes its withdrawal from Iraq and presumably starts a staged builddown from Afghanistan this summer, we can only hope that some 40 years from now, both countries will evolve as successfully as Vietnam has. Never a democracy, Vietnam is a stable and growing emerging state. Young people such as the two married today will no doubt contribute to that growth.
Whether or not Vann was correct and God put all the good guys on one side, the US needs to stand back and examine closely its role in the world and the propensity to use force too often and excessively. Our record since World War II is not good. It has taken decades for a united Vietnam to overcome the scars and ravages of war. How long it will take for us to find the right policy mix of soft and hard means to get our way still remains a very open question.

Pakistan and its tenacity of spirit

The partition of Punjab is an event, which occurred prior to the existence of a fair market share of the modern readership of the Daily Times. But what is written on the souls of men and transferred by human tongue to the succeeding generations continues to impact the manner in which communities relate to one another.
The upheaval of the human anthill, which was both anticipated and precipitated by the Radcliffe Award, brought about, in tumultuous manner, the birth of a modern nation. Too many nations are birthed in water and blood, symbolic of the elements of cleansing and carnage. But what a blood-covered baby it was, when it was born! With nary a midwife nor a breast to suckle from the onset of first hunger, the cry, which rose up from the face of the earth echoes within the ears of historians to this day.
Politically, the first signs of hunger were seen during the 1920s when the All India Muslim League (AIML) underwent a metamorphosis from a fairly sturdy and compact political organisation concerned with adequate Muslim representation within the public government sector to an entity seeking political purchase on a much grander scale. Having acquired modest regional gains, the AIML experienced the political bifurcation which occurs when diversity of views and strong parallel opinions begin to emerge amongst the players. And, as with all such internal struggles, leadership begins to rise to the top. The names are familiar and there is no need to recount the leadership grid.
It was during the 1930s when the seeds of self-determination began to sprout within the Muslim populations emerging from under the shadow of colonialism. Whether considering the nascent political structure of Al-Ikhwan in Egypt, or the rustlings of change in Algeria in a post-WWII environment, the Muslim world was experiencing a shifting political landscape, where fertile ideas clashed with harsher realities.For the Muslims of India, the possibility of a separate piece of real estate, where a national taproot could flourish and the expression of a cohesive national identity be cultivated, exploded from the imaginations of the few to the hearts of the many in the early 1940s. There is nothing quite as tantalising and seductive as the call to freedom. And there is nothing quite as disastrous and tragic as flights to freedom accompanied by anarchy.
Aspects of the ill-clad policy — of all involved — were brought home to me in the last two months whilst I provided my skill as a copy editor to a friend. The 500-page manuscript on the partition of Punjab offered a most compelling reason for me to share my thoughts. Men were butchered, women were dishonoured and family trees stripped of their branches for the sake of Pakistan. These pictures are brutal enough. But there is one memory, which must never be forgotten. It is the memory of the many babies who were lifted aloft on spears during the birth of a nation.
Most people are not inherently brutal. Were that true, our world would not be so vastly populated. But history shows that with a certain mix of societal ingredients the mass is reduced to animal herd and mob mentality prevails. Policy measures lacking implementation capabilities harm community amity and cohesion. They are the messengers without legs. Sectarian division is a mere rumoured whisper or solitary incendiary act away when conditions are volatile enough for communal crisis. Such was the nature of the birth of the bloody baby.
Pakistan moved along in somewhat of an orphaned status from the beginning. This produced the tenacity of spirit required for survival. In more than the 60 years since the birth of a nation, the poor have done what the poor do best: procreate. This is not necessarily bad. Children are a blessing. Minus a citizenry there is no true national treasure. But the geometric nature of population requires policies, which work in a multi-streaming manner to reach all the layers of society. Citizens must be reminded of an overlay of governance with the shadow of paternal guidance to retain their belief in the good of the state.
Pakistan has many challenges, which exist as ground floor opportunities for improving the lives of the poorest of the citizens. My own childhood was spent within an indigenous tribal belt of Mexico where nine distinct tribes with their own dialects, manner of dress and traditions taught me basic lessons regarding the nature of poverty and the propensity for happiness. Leaning back on my heels whilst squatting inside cane huts to savour blue corn tortillas with fried grasshoppers, or perhaps, Oaxaca hot chocolate served in a chipped clay mug, taught me the lessons of life. The poor require a source of water, a plot of ground for a small ancestral home, and education sufficient against functional illiteracy. These things made life bearable and kept desperation at bay. My mother tells the story of visiting a home high in the mountains of the Sierra Madre where a baby less than 24 hours old had been placed in a crate and wrapped in an old shirt. The child’s mother was busily preparing a meal for the family. I have often wondered if the baby survived. My heart likes to remind me that the spirit to survive is strong, even amongst the smallest of humans.
But what must be done for Pakistan? The strength was there for the birth. But where are the political midwives to monitor the labour and birth of new policies which stream out into the communities? And where is the breast of nourishment for today? Turning populations from liability to asset requires wisdom. It also requires the hard work of policy implementation. But all that I have written today is the simplest of gifts: that of a pen dipped into an inkwell of love.

China, India and Pakistan

The Pakistani media gave a lot of attention to Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s recent visit to India and then Pakistan. Since we consider our friendship with China to be higher than the mountains and deeper than the oceans, it was understandably a matter of concern for us how such a friend would relate to a country with which we profess enmity that, by the same token, may be higher than all the known mountains and deeper than all the known oceans. Reliance on superlatives rather than normal expression is indeed our forte. I do not understand why we need to exaggerate some relationships and oversimplify others. The problem is that hyperbolic descriptions of our friends and enemies are delusional.
Foreign relations and foreign policy cannot reasonably be based on poetic licence, though there is no reason to ground them on cold-blooded instrumentalism either. A middle course based on facts and enlightened pragmatism is always better. Was it not so that we were once calling ourselves the most allied-ally of the US? The Americans, on the other hand, never at any stage encouraged us to make such declarations of love. Even during the Eisenhower period, the Americans were very clear that India was the paramount power in South Asia and also the only democracy.
In my forthcoming book on the role of the military in Pakistan, I have demonstrated that by the 1960s the Americans were very clear that we had entered military pacts with them to deal with India and not because of our zeal to fight communism. Of course, the US-Pakistan courtship warmed up after the Soviet Union sent troops to aid their beleaguered comrades in Afghanistan, but even then both sides were allied to each other for purely instrumental reasons.
Another example of our extravagance is the way we suck up to the Saudis. Some years ago, when one of the Saudi Kings expired, former President Musharraf declared one week of national mourning. The Saudis themselves did nothing of the sort because, from the Wahabi point of view, any such display of feelings for a human being is heresy. I think these examples should suffice to establish the point I want to make.
So then, what happened during Wen Jiabao’s recent visit to India and Pakistan? China and India agreed to increase their trade to $ 100 billion by 2015. The Chinese also promised to rectify the trade imbalance between them; at present, China exports much more than it imports from India. The Chinese premier said that there was room for both India and China to grow and therefore there was no need to go down the path of confrontation. He did not, however, make concessions on their border disputes. About India’s ambitions to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the Chinese were reticent.
The Chinese probably want to keep the pressure on India in case India gets too cosy with the Americans. The Chinese also did not agree to mention a Pakistani hand in the Mumbai terrorist attacks of November 26, 2008. Even more significant was that China advised India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir dispute through negotiations. China is no less worried than India about Pakistan becoming a springboard for a Taliban type of jihad. That could entail the Muslim-majority Xinjiang being destabilised.
Pakistan does enjoy a special status in terms of Chinese strategy to maintain a presence in South Asia. The port at Gwadar and prospective minerals in Balochistan make Pakistan dear to the Chinese. We are going to benefit from Chinese investments to the tune of $ 25 billion. China has sold us MIG aircraft and other armament and it is commonly believed in both Washington DC and Delhi that China also assisted us in becoming a nuclear power. From the Chinese point of view, an overbearing India in South Asia is not good for them. However, from this it does not follow that China would risk its own security or economic interests if we provoke a conflict with India.
In the 1965 war, the Chinese ambassador to Islamabad was advising guerrilla warfare to Pakistan when both Ayub Khan and Z A Bhutto were worried to death that the Indians could walk into Lahore anytime. I am sure the Chinese knew that the Pakistani leadership was not even remotely capable of fighting guerrilla warfare so their advice only won them brownie points and nothing more. It is foolish to believe that it was because of China that India did not invade East Pakistan in 1965. The Indians are not stupid. At that time, the Bengalis were still not alienated from West Pakistan. Equally, in November 1971, when Z A Bhutto was sent to China to solicit help in case of war with India, he returned home without any Chinese guarantees because that could have meant war — it being drawn into a war with the Soviet Union, with which India had recently entered into a 20-year treaty of mutual help.
Keeping these facts in view, if China and India can put their border disputes aside and the contentious issue of Tibet can also be set aside while they increase their trade, why can we not follow suit? Pakistan’s economic prosperity is dependent largely on us normalising relations with India. Of course it takes two to tango and we have to find out how serious India is about fair and equal trade with us. I have met many Pakistanis who say that the Indians talk with a silver tongue when it comes to generalities about trade and so on. However, when it comes to actual practice, Indian bureaucracy is narrow-minded and mean and creates such hurdles that Pakistani traders give up in frustration.
Recently, I learnt that Pakistan has challenged in Indian courts the fact that a special variety of basmati rice called Super Basmati, developed by Pakistani scientists, is now being grown in India. According to the gentleman who informed me, this is not acceptable behaviour and constitutes a breach of the law. This is only one case. More examples can be given.
Equally, Pakistan’s security depends upon normalising relations with India. One cannot reasonably claim that India constitutes a threat to us when out of the four wars with India, three were initiated by us: 1947-48, 1965 and 1999. Since we are now a nuclear power, India cannot hit us with impunity. Therefore, a reasonable basis exists for us to work out a new relationship with India. Let us find out what India really wants. This we can do without worrying about Chinese and American reactions. Pakistan is not that important for either of them.

Predictions, past and future

My first column in this newspaper every year is about predictions I made the previous year, how right I was, and then about predictions for the new year. So first about my predictions for the past year (‘Old predictions and new’, Daily Times, January 4, 2010) and how well I did.

“President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani and all the chief ministers and provincial governments will stay essentially where they are right now. Of these, the only person who might be at risk is PM Gilani, but I believe that he will continue in his present position.” And I was right about all of them.
“Basant of course will again be cancelled.” Right about that again.
Now to what I called the more dicey predictions. “The CJ and the higher courts will settle down into a state of ‘judicial restraint’ after their initial activist exuberance of the past year.” Wrong about that.
“The fallout of the disappearing National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) will however escalate, slowly but surely, and some of the former ‘beneficiaries’ of this law will either be forced out of government for good or at least be forced to resign until such time that that they are cleared by the courts or settle with the authorities.” Wrong about it, but perhaps we have not seen the end of this yet.
“The recipients of major loans that were ‘forgiven’ during successive past governments will be the next major category of people to be brought under investigation.” Probably not entirely wrong about it.
“The 17th Amendment will eventually go this year but not until the PPP, without whose parliamentary support no new amendment can be passed, has extracted its ‘pound of flesh’ (and blood) from the N-League leadership. I do not believe that Mian Nawaz Sharif will contest for a national assembly seat as long as the 17th Amendment is still in place.” Definitely not wrong since the amendment is history and Mr Nawaz Sharif has done nothing to upset the PPP applecart nor has he contested any bye-elections since the passage of the 18th Amendment. “A precursor to the repeal of the 17th Amendment in my opinion will be the return of the PPP as an active part of the Punjab government.” Wrong about this.
“Since I do not see any ‘mid-term’ elections happening this year, therefore I do not foresee any important structural changes in any of the major political parties this year either.” Right about that one as also about not getting a ‘national government’ during the year that just went by.
“I predict that some form of healthcare legislation will be passed this year that de-criminalises medical ‘malpractice’ with a simultaneous increase in surveillance of private medical centres and of the lax ‘certification’ process of private medical colleges and universities and of their graduates.” Right about that but no real implementation of these laws.
“Concerning load shedding, I actually believe that by the end of this year it will really become much less of a problem.” Wrong!
“It is my considered belief that the recent spate of terrorist activity will settle down as the Pakistan Army continues to put pressure on the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).” Wrong.
“About the US ‘surge’ in Afghanistan I do not think it will succeed in pacifying Afghanistan.” Right about that. “And I do not think that the Chief of Army Staff will get an extension.” Could not have been more wrong on that one.
However, nobody could possibly have predicted the disastrous floods last year. In spite of dire predictions, there have been no reports of major corruption associated with the relief efforts. Therefore, the resettlement of the displaced victims of the floods has not become a political problem and the aftermath of the floods will probably have little bearing on the political scenarios that unfold during this year.
About future predictions now. First, the easier ones. Mr Zardari will continue as the president and I do not think that there will be any ‘in-house’ change or a non-PPP government at the Centre. Also I do not foresee that the PML-N government in Punjab will be replaced by a PPP-PML-Q coalition but Mr Salmaan Taseer will most likely stay on as governor and continue to be a thorn in the side of the PML-N. Also, the MQM will stay in coalition with the PPP until such time that the assemblies are dissolved and a new election is called for.
As far as the assemblies are concerned, I think that they will be dissolved by the end of this year and elections will be held early next year. This prediction is based on the assessment that the major problems facing the country, especially terrorism, inflation, power shortages and corruption are not going to get better any time soon. Therefore, the PPP government would like to call it quits earlier rather than later and call for snap elections. The PPP would like an interim government to take over and come out sort of unencumbered to contest the next election. The only variable is going to be the duration of an ‘interim’ government since this might depend on factors that are difficult to predict at this time.
Also the blasphemy laws are here to stay and no politician in his right mind is even going to try and tinker with them. And I can predict with reasonable certainty that the most honourable superior courts of Pakistan are not going to take any suo motu actions to protect non-Muslims being falsely accused under the blasphemy laws. However, the superior courts, especially the honourable Supreme Court, will continue to pursue all wealthy ‘evildoers’ with ever greater vigilance and will in the process make Pakistan an even less business-friendly place than it is at this time.
Finally, the Pakistan Army will eventually have to take action against the ‘miscreants’ in North Waziristan once this winter is over. Not because the US wants it but because it is necessary.

China’s long march towards capitalism

The spectacular growth rates, massive commodity production, gigantic infrastructural projects and overtaking Japan as the world’s second largest economy has brought China to the world centre-stage. Yet all these enormous advances eclipse the intense social and political tensions that are rampant in this most populous country of the planet. The Chinese economy is surging ahead with a growth rate of around 10 percent, has a huge trade surplus, holds the highest forex reserves, technologically is catching up or even surpassing the west, and has built up a formidable military machine. It also has the largest gulf between the rich and the poor, stark regional disparities and excruciating working conditions of its toilers. The scourge of unemployment has reached a figure of 150 million. A large number of workers are caged in the factories. Privatisation of land has struck havoc for the rural population. Most of the ranting about China’s development obscures the real reason for this ‘miracle’ — the revolution of 1949.
China experienced three revolutions in the 20th century. The first was the bourgeois democratic revolution of 1910-11, which was led by Sun Yat-sen. This was defeated after the Wuchang uprising was crushed. In any case, the belated bourgeoisie was economically and politically incapable of carrying out the tasks posed by history. The second revolution was that of 1925-27, which was proletarian in its nature. It was led by Ch’en Tu-hsiu, the founder of the Communist Party of China (CCP) who remained its General Secretary till 1927. This revolution was drowned in blood by the nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-shek. It is an irony that under pressure from Moscow, the CCP was forced to merge with the Kuomintang led by Chiang as it was in a conflict with Japanese imperialism. Ch’en and other Chinese communists had opposed the fusion with the Kuomintang. As soon as the CCP entered the Kuomintang, Chiang abandoned the fight against the Japanese and crushed the CCP, killing thousands of its activists. The third Chinese revolution of 1949 was led by Mao Zedong. It was a peasant revolt led by the Red Army, which had been organised mainly in the countryside by Mao and Chou En-lai after they had fled the urban centres in the autumn of 1927. The expropriation of landed estates was being executed during the famous Long March. This gave a large social base to the Red Army amongst the peasantry. However, it was the industrial proletariat of Nanjing, Shanghai, Canton, Peking and other cities who occupied the factories and capitalism was overthrown. But the regime that emerged was not based on the model of the Moscow of 1917 but that of the 1940s. This was a bureaucratic caricature of a democratic socialist regime set up by the Bolsheviks after the October Revolution. Still the Chinese Revolution of 1949 was one of the greatest events of human history. Capitalism and landlordism were overthrown and the imperialist yoke was smashed. It was this planned economy that brought China out of the extreme backwardness imposed by its reactionary ruling classes and the imperialist repression and plunder. China had already achieved growth rates of 11-12 percent in the 1950s. Soaring growth in a planned economy, as opposed to the market economy, rapidly uplifts society. Although many mistakes and blunders were made, rapid development took place in the fields of health, education, technology, agriculture and industry. It was this social and physical infrastructural expansion, high level of skill and vocational training that has been the root cause of the present growth in China. However, a planned socialist economy needs workers’ democracy as a human body needs oxygen. Devoid of the methodology of Marxist internationalism, isolated in a nation state, the economy began to stagnate. Mao’s strategy of the ‘Great Leap’ and the ‘Cultural Revolution’ in the 1960s failed to impede the economic decline.
The turn toward capitalist restoration started in 1978 when the right wing of the CCP led by Deng Zhao Ping was able to take charge after Mao’s death. Initially they tried to follow the policy first put forward by Nikolai Bukharin during the debate on the New Economic Policy in the Bolshevik central committee around 1920. In Russia, the Bolsheviks had rejected this policy but Deng pursued this policy of opening up the planned economy to foreign capital vigorously. They called it ‘market socialism’, which was a contradictory term in itself. The 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising and massacre startled them. They also studied the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin wall. Hence their approach became more gradual and they tried to maintain the state domination of the economy. But with the opening up of China, the imperialist monopolies rushed in with massive investments. The totalitarian nature of the state was a bonus for these corporate vultures. With workers under strict control, they had a better chance of extracting higher rates of profits. The gains of the revolution through obliteration of capitalism were now being used to prop up the system in deep crisis on a world scale. An hour’s wage of a Volkswagen worker in Stuttgart equalled a month’s salary of the worker of the same company in Shenzhen. However, wherever capitalism penetrates it brings along its vices of corruption, selfishness, prostitution, crime and exploitation. After the capitalist restoration has set in, China is in the throes of ruthless exploitation and social instability. Paradoxically, through this industrial expansion the Chinese working class has become the world’s largest proletarian bastion. The strikes and struggles of this young proletariat are on the rise. In 2010 there were threefold more strikes than in the previous year. Some achieved significant victories. There are mounting pressures on the CCP from below. The CCP is neither ‘communist’ nor a ‘party’. It is a bureaucratic elite where billionaires are leeching the system and awarding themselves a heredity status in private property and ownership. With massive export of capital, it assumes an imperialist character. This is a blatant desecration of communism. Splits in the ruling elite are sharpening. The process of capitalist restoration has been the cause of volatile contradictions in society. They will explode with volcanic eruptions. Once the mighty Chinese proletariat enters the arena of class struggle, a revolutionary socio-economic transformation will be inexorable. As Napoleon once said, “When China awakes, the whole world will tremble.”

2010: a year of turmoil

The year 2010 was a mixed bag for Pakistan. There were some positive aspects, but mostly the year was one of sorrow and pain. Pakistan faced political turmoil, economic woes and terrorism. The positives of 2010 included the 18th Amendment and the NFC Award, both of which empowered the provinces. The passage of the 19th Amendment with consensus averted an executive-judiciary clash. Renowned human rights activist Asma Jahangir’s victory in the SCBA presidential elections raised hopes that the judiciary will maintain its independence but will not destabilise the democratic process. It remains to be seen what 2011 has in store for the country, but a recap of events in 2010 might shed some light on the shape of things to come.
It is quite interesting to note that on the first day of last year, this paper carried a headline: “‘N’ not a friendly opposition: Zardari” (Daily Times, January 1, 2010) and on December 31, 2010, the headline read: ‘PML-N won’t support PPP govt: Nawaz’. Coming full circle, are we? The coalition government led by the PPP is facing some trouble after the JUI-F decided to call it quits. On top of that, the MQM opted to give up its ministries in the federal cabinet but will continue to sit on the treasury benches and remain part of the coalition government in Sindh for the time being. Efforts are underway by President Zardari to save the coalition. Right now he is in Karachi to discuss matters with the MQM and address their grievances. Meanwhile, the PPP is also trying to woo the JUI-F back into the coalition but Maulana Fazlur Rehman is proving to be a tough nut to crack this time round. Critics are now describing the PPP’s policy of reconciliation as ‘appeasement’. Instead of giving them short shrift, the PPP seems to be inclined to contemplate giving in to even some unjustified demands of its coalition partners. This shows the level of insecurity the PPP is feeling right now. President Zardari apprised PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif about the current political imbroglio and has asked for his help in assisting the government to pull the country out from its crises. Though Mian sahib has said that his party will not support the PPP government, he does not want the military to come back to power either. So far, the PML-N is honouring this part at least of the Charter of Democracy (CoD) as far as civil-military relations are concerned. Mr Sharif seems to have learnt his lesson and is now one of the most vocal voices against military dictatorship. With the exception of the MQM, whose chief Altaf Hussain called for “patriotic generals” to save Pakistan, all political parties are on the same page vis-à-vis martial law. Even the MQM had to backtrack on its call as it did not fly well.
WikiLeaks recently revealed the ‘strange’ civil-military relations that were discussed in the US embassy cables. The cables hinted at the backdoor political moves by army chief General Kayani. Despite that, a three-year extension was granted to General Kayani. With all the misgivings about the resentment within the military and the bad precedent that it sets for people who do not retire when the time comes, our security situation demanded sticking to General Kayani. General Kayani publicly has been supporting the democratic government and the system.
Apart from the political situation, the economy seems to be facing a downward spiral and inflation has increased at an alarming pace. It has become difficult for the masses to survive under the circumstances. The IMF may have given us a lease of life by extending their Standby Arrangement for another nine months but unless the government is able to create consensus on the RGST, the government’s revenues will take a hit. The government should set its own house in order by exercising belt-tightening and not go on merrily as before. This would create credibility for the government and may assist in creating a consensus on the RGST. The government also needs to sort out the state-owned enterprises with better management and tackle the energy crisis that is causing misery for the people at large.
The economy was hit hard by the worst ever floods in our history, due to which more than 20 million people were affected. The flood affectees are still waiting for rehabilitation because of donor fatigue and corruption charges against the government. The people of Pakistan must not forget their fellow citizens who are in need of utmost help.
The situation in Balochistan is going from bad to worse, what with the number of missing persons increasing and targeted killings of the Baloch continuing. The sad truth is that the elected politicians are not in control in the province and the FC is running a parallel government there. The Baloch insurgents are fighting for their just rights unlike the terrorists in other parts of Pakistan. The Baloch imbroglio is basically a political issue and can only be tackled through a political settlement, not the use of military might.
The terrorists wreaked havoc last year. Not only did they attack the security forces, markets and processions, many Sufi shrines were also attacked. Most notably, the attacks at Data Darbar in Lahore, Baba Farid Ganj Shakar’s shrine in Pakpattan, and Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s shrine in Karachi not only killed dozens of people but also sent a message that the terrorists considered the people’s Sufi traditions as an obstacle in the imposition of their extremist agenda. On May 28, 2010, two Ahmedi worship places were attacked by the religious zealots in Lahore. Though the attacks against a minority were condemned all across the nation, the mullahs showed their usual apathy when it comes to the Ahmedis. It was a shameful day in our history because we were unable to protect an already persecuted community.
The only silver lining is that the PPP has been able to form a political consensus in favour of the war on terror. Apart from the religious parties, all others are on board and oppose the Taliban. We saw an increase in the number of drone attacks last year. WikiLeaks confirmed the ruling elite’s complicity in the drone attacks despite their public disapproval. Now the task ahead is to launch a military operation in North Waziristan. But if recent reports are correct that the militants are being shifted to Kurram Agency, the North Waziristan operation, if and when mounted, is unlikely to yield the expected results.
The case of Aasia Bibi once again brought into the limelight the Blasphemy Law, a flawed law open to abuse, which should not be retained on our statute books. The mullahs have shown their strength by putting the government on the back foot through pressure tactics, but if the extremist religious right continues to be appeased, our minorities and citizens generally will continue to fear for their lives. It is time to repeal or at the very least amend this law.
Our political class may have matured to a certain extent but there is no room for complacency. Far more needs to be done for the consolidation and progress of democracy. The sorry history of military dictatorships needs to be done away with and democracy, despite its flaws and warts, must be allowed to flourish. Our survival depends on it.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Do you know popcorn bursting with nutrients?

There's no doubt broccoli, watercress and acai berries are overflowing with healthy vitamins and minerals, but what about the foods we actually want to eat? As a new study reveals that the once-demonised egg should be regarded as a 'superfood' (it's packed with vital antioxidants and nutrients).
The humble cinema snack could prevent cancer and help dieters.
'Most people don't know that popcorn is a wholegrain shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, and just a 30g serving - that's half a small box of popcorn in the cinema - is equivalent to one daily portion of brown rice or whole-wheat pasta,' says Catherine Collins, chief dietician at St George's hospital in London.
Popcorn also contains three times more fibre by weight than sunflower seeds, keeping you feeling fuller for longer, as well as balancing your blood sugar levels (so no mood swings or cravings for sweet snacks) and helping to lower 'bad' LDL cholesterol. It even has a dose of B vitamins to boost your energy levels.
A study presented last August to the American Chemical Society suggests the real health benefits could lie more in its 'surprisingly large' polyphenol content, antioxidants thought to mop up free radicals, the potentially damaging chemicals that cause diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Time to Relax

Nowadays, more and more sports and fitness buffs are taking massage seriously as a part of their conditioning programs. But, many of us are of the opinion that it's meant for just the professional athletes. That is so not true. Massage is for everyone, even for you. It has a greater number of benefits which we fail to see otherwise, considering it as a luxury.
Benefits of massage can be acquired by anyone. Commonly massage can help you by providing you with include relaxation, improved blood circulation and relief of muscle tension.
As for fitness athletes, massage can greatly help in improving their flexibility and reduces the angst of athletic competition. Massage helps get better performance, boost endurance, and help lower fatigue levels.
There is a variety of massage you can choose from. A good massage therapist may use many different styles and help in providing you with a good sense of relief and relaxation.
How many of you think a good massage can have a positive impact on your overall performance? Is it a luxury or need after working at stretch for 8 hours for six/seven days a week?