Giving Pakistani professionals a chance to shine

An article published in The New York Times and Geo’s Meray Mutabiq (Part I and Part II), hosted by Maria Memon & Sohail Warrich, got my attention today. Both looked at what is going on in Turkey, the fifth largest Muslim country by population – but the largest by per capita income. I started thinking of the lessons that we could take to produce new possibilities for Pakistan’s growth.

The New York Times piece tells us that the Turkish government has announced that it will return properties confiscated from religious minorities by the state, and will pay compensation for those properties that were seized from 1936 onwards and then were later sold. Turkey’s current government is not strictly secular but in fact is an Islam-inspired. The Prime Minister, Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is the leader of Justice and Development Party, known as explained a few months ago, Turkey is an excellent example of reaching a benchmark for Pakistan because of various similarities that include adapting to an amalgamation of ethnicities, religions and cultures. Turkey can be a great role model for how to develop a successful democracy without giving up religion and culture.

From an economic perspective, it would seem that what Mr. Warraich talks in depth about goes hand in hand with what Irene Khan talks about in her article for Daily Star: Turkey’s significant transformation over the past decade.

Turkey’s economy is booming. A member of the G20 group of developed and emerging economies, last year its GDP grew by 9%. The Organization for Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD) predicts Turkey will have the fastest-growing economy in the OECD until 2017. Unemployment has fallen from 14.4% in 2009 to 11.5% this year, and social development programmes are beginning to tackle poverty in some of the more remote and troubled areas.


Under nine years of AKP rule Turkey has changed radically, shedding its military past in favour of liberal democracy and combining strong economic growth and social development with Islamic conservatism and an assertive foreign policy.

From a social stand point, it seems that Turkey has found an excellent balance between Islam, nationalism and democracy. Religious and secular parties within have found common grounds and, as explained by Mr. Warraich, Pakistan’s political and religious parties too had come to a similar ground in 1973 and had the martial law not been put in place in 1977, we too could have a strong democracy today.

Europeans countries have started to take Turkey as a serious contender for economic trade within the region since Turkey has opened up its market economy to outside. Several investor friendly policies have also recently been made there. Mr. Warraich also explains that till the last decade or so there was high inflation (up to 70%) but the emerging middle class produced professionals in various fields, and once there was a balance between nationalism, religion and democracy, it opened the doors for these professionals to govern matters. Though it took some time, once these professionals came up, the country prospered.

Every nation has conflicts and disagreements within its people. Turkey too has conflicts but they are slowly getting better as the political leaders look for balanced solutions to disagreements. There are many similarities between Turkey and Pakistan. With more than one third of the population under 30 years of age, Pakistan has an emerging middle class and a love for education as well. By taking a path based in balance and consensus, we too can provide our young Pakistani professionals a chance to shine. And then, Pakistan too shall prosper.

Mosharraf Zaidi: ‘The Unthinking Pakistani’

Mosharraf Zaidi

The following piece by Mosharraf Zaidi was published in today’s The News. It is re-posted here to further what is a discussion vital to the national cause. 

Why is Hafiz Sayeed, the head of a UN-sanctioned organisation, being provided an audience with some of Pakistan’s most prestigious talk show hosts? Why is the US ambassador to Pakistan being detained at Islamabad airport, if even for a few minutes? What explains the appearances of fiction script writers and comics wearing red topis on serious news television talk shows?

We don’t need an inquiry commission to explore these questions. We just need a healthy respect for Pakistan. A country of almost 200 million people is not a disposable bag of Halloween tricks. It is serious business. How serious? A brazen raid of a city that hosts Pakistan’s most important military academy should raise structural questions. The presence of the world’s most wanted terrorist in that city should raise existential questions. The unchallenged destruction of key military hardware, purchased with hard earned foreign assistance should raise capacity questions. The torture and murder of an intrepid investigative journalist should raise moral and legal questions.

That’s exactly what happened. The US raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad raised questions. Bin Laden’s presence there raised questions. The P3C Orion attack at PNS Mehran raised questions. Most gruesomely, Saleem Shehzad’s torture and murder raised questions.

Unfortunately, the universe’s response to these questions leaves much to be desired. Whatever Pakistan’s elected leaders, bureaucrats, technocrats and generals may be saying to the rest of the world, the basic message being conveyed on television, through press releases and by proxy is very simple: “Osama bin who? Pakistan is a fortress of Islam. Got questions? You’re a traitor.”

This may represent an adequate defence for a 10-year-old facing down schoolyard bullies. But Pakistan is not ten. It is 64. International relations demand something slightly more sophisticated. Parading clownish conspiracy theorists and internationally-despised terrorists on prime time television is so bush league, it beggars belief. If the best response Pakistan can conjure to India’s incredible capacity for propaganda is a bumbling faux historian that wears a red topi, Pakistan is in serious trouble. It is as if Pakistan wants to insist on bringing a knife to a gun fight. A blunt, boring butter knife. Made of plastic. In Gujranwala. If the best response that Pakistan can conjure to American hubris and myopia in the region is to harass the US ambassador, Pakistan is in really, really serious trouble. It is as if Pakistan insists on wearing Bermuda shorts, and a tank top with nihari stains on it to board meetings in which everyone else is dressed in Armani suits.

What motivation could there possibly be for Hafiz Sayeed to magically appear on television other than to scare the people who are watching Pakistan closely? Last time we checked, the JuD (or its spin off Falah-e-Insaaniat Foundation) had yet to achieve a greater name in welfare work than the Edhi Foundation. Nor had 80 odd JuD madrassahs begun to dispense education that could hold a candle to the stellar learning experience under-privileged Pakistani kids enjoy at The Citizens Foundation’s 660 schools. What exactly is going on?

The impulse in Pakistan, as always, is to conjure up a conspiracy of genius. In a dark and smoke-filled room in Aabpara somewhere, the cunning machinations of the ISI are hard at work. The truth is probably a lot scarier. Public service has not been a first, second or third choice for Pakistan’s best and brightest young people for over two generations now. This raises a simple, but damning problem. The people analysing the state of the world and helping the Pakistani state make decisions are not going to win any Nobel prizes for physics or chemistry anytime soon.

Yet for decades, the most important decisions Pakistan has made, both in state and across society, have in fact been made by the owners of less than stellar intellects. The results are there for all to see. The dubious distinction of having as many as 40 million children out of school in Pakistan is not an empty slogan. It is a real problem. This is reflected in a profound and growing inability across Pakistani state and society to think. Forget critical thinking. Pakistan’s systemic underinvestment in education and knowledge-generation, and its sustained overinvestment in sentimentality, zealous pride and empty slogans have real consequences.

One of them is the stoppage of the US ambassador at Islamabad airport. Another is the mysterious popping up of Hafiz Sayeed on big time talk shows. Yet another is the nonsense and tripe spewed by clownish conspiracy theorists. These events may be entirely independent and coincidental. Or they may be painstakingly well coordinated and timed. In either case, they represent the sum total of creativity and tactics employed by a state and society that simply doesn’t have any answers. Pakistan keeps doing less than optimal, and more than surreal things because that’s the best it can do.

At home, body bags pile sky high in Karachi and across Khyber. The fighting sons of Landhi, Orakzai, Lyari, Wazistan, Orangi, Bajaur, Surjani Town and Mohmand. Taking shrapnel and bullets. Taking hammers and tongs. Taking ball bearings and fire. Bearing the brunt of citizenship in a country that provides only 35,000 policemen to a city of 18 million – but somehow manages to afford an airline with one of the world’s highest employee to aircraft ratios. Adding insult to injury are constant ads from military affiliated foundations, recruiting policemen. Not to shut down the violence in Karachi or Khyber – but to shut down dissent in Bahrain.

Away from home, Pakistan constantly seeks financial aid from other countries. Pakistanis then want to turn around and call those countries names. The military is the primary recipient of foreign assistance, while political governments and NGOs have received a mere pittance. Yet somehow this results in the military being lauded for its “nationalism”, and the political class and civil society being dragged through the mud for their “treasonous” habit of dissent. This too is a product of a profound and growing inability to think.

It doesn’t stop there. Much of the obsession of both so-called liberals and so-called conservatives in Pakistan with religion is a dislocated zeal for arguing about God and the role of faith in public life. That’s a great topic for a Christopher Hitchens debate with any reasonable person, but it is not primary to Pakistan today. The most problematic manifestations of faith in Pakistan are not shampoo ads for women that observe hijaab. The most problematic manifestations of faith in Pakistan are terrorism, public sympathy for contract killers, a twisted national legal framework that incentivises the exploitation of minorities and ridiculous “piety” laws being implemented by a dysfunctional legal and judicial system. In short, exactly the kind of problems we would expect to see in a society that is increasingly bereft of the capacity of discerning thought.

The manner in which manifest religiosity has been mixed in with manifest nationalism, and a dangerously superficial ability to quote Allama Iqbal is germane to the unthinking Pakistani society. Harassing representatives of foreign governments, parading alleged terrorist masterminds, and deploying nutty conspiracy theorists has no basis in either South Asian tradition, or orthodox Islam, or even notions of Pakistaniat. But the unthinking Pakistani society isn’t thinking. Ahistoric and anachronistic, there is no way out for society. It has to begin thinking. The effective Pakistani state will remain an elusive and impossible dream until it does.

Mosharraf Zaidi is a political analyst who advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy. This column was originally published by The News on 27 August.

Hazare Economics

According to an article in The Telegraph, Pakistan is about t0 get our very first Anna Hazare clone. Former Minister Human Rights Ansar Burney is planning to don the latha shalwar kameez and sit on a pedestal as a living shrine to purity in the land of the pure. Actually, Mr Burney is not the first but the second Anna Hazare clone to pop up in Pakistan following the announcement by Raja Jahangir Akhtar that he will observe a hunger strike “till death” unless his demands are met.

The corruption that most directly affects people and that is most often complained about is the petty corruption that demands small bribes. Listen to the stories that people tell about rampant corruption in India and tell me that it does not sound the same as Pakistan.

Vishal is an ordinary man with an ordinary story of corruption in India. He lives in east Delhi, part of the traffic-choked sprawl of India’s capital. He owns a fried chicken takeaway similar to thousands of others that have sprung up in recent years to serve the new tastes of the burgeoning middle class.

And he faces an ordinary Indian daily routine of petty corruption. The number of people Vishal has to pay off is bewildering. There are the local beat constables who take free lunches, and the more senior police officers who can cause problems with opening hours. They take 10,000 rupees (£130) on the 10th of each month to allow Vishal to stay open late.

Then there are the officials from various local authorities who also receive regular payments – around £50 per month – to ensure that health, safety and hygiene inspections go smoothly.

“Of the 40,000 rupees (£520) I earn a month from my restaurant, I pay at least a third in bribes,” Vishal, 26, said. But bribery also extends into his personal life. Vishal has two young children and to get the eldest in to the best local school he paid a “donation” of 25,000 rupees (£340) in cash to the headmaster.

A driving licence needed another bribe. Getting an appointment with a competent public doctor cost a substantial amount. And then there are the traffic police. Every other week Vishal says he is stopped, told he has committed an offence and made to pay 100 rupees (£1.25), the standard fee to avoid “too much bother”.

Beat constables…senior police officers…health and safety officials…driving license officials…doctors office…birth certificate…death certificate…

And there are plenty more that can be added. How many times have I paid a small bribe to help a package be ‘found’ at the post office? Last year my friend Ahmad got tired of hearing one of my late night speeches about how we’ll never end corruption until we stop participating ourselves. My passport needed renewing and Ahmad said, ‘Okay, I challenge you to get your passport renewed without paying any bribe or asking for any favour. 100 per cent corruption free.’ I took him up on this challenge.

The procedure for passport renewal seemed pretty simple. First I had to take a token from the token window, then wait for my number to be called. When my number was called, I was supposed to submit my application, get my fingerprinting done, get my picture taken and finally submit all my documents to an officer before I was done. Renewed passports were usually available after a month to pick up from the same location.

The passport office opened at 9 am the next day. I arrived at 8 am and found the line had been forming since 7 am. No matter, I’m still in the line and it will be moving soon. It was 11 am and I was still standing outside in the line waiting to get a token number before I could even enter the building. Ahmad came by with some other friends and had a laugh. ‘How does it feel in corruption free Pakistan, yaar! Rather hot isn’t it?’

Hours continued to pass. At 2pm, I was still waiting for the clerk to call out my number. Ahmad came back. ‘Come on, let’s go. You proved that you are the holiest man in Pakistan. Here, I know times are hard so I will even pay for you. Come on.’ I refused. Not because I’m the holiest man in Pakistan, though, but because I’m the stubbornest (if that is even possible). I was going to prove a point if I had to bake all day in the sun.

By 5 pm I was done…well, almost. I was told I would have to come back the next day for getting my photo taken and final submission of documents. The officer looked into my eyes and I knew that if I handed him a thousand rupees, I would be done with all this then and there. My wallet began to feel heavy in my pocket. Surely I had proven my point by now? But no. I smiled and said, ‘Yes sir I will be back first thing.’

When I got home I was actually black from being in the sun all day. I was covered in dirt that had mixed with my sweat to form a paste that smeared on my ankles and wrists like marks left by the shackles of my pride. My mother took one look at me and began yelling, but I could barely hear her. I was exhausted.

The next day I went in and got the rest of the things done by the afternoon. Ahmad came by later in the evening and started telling me how lazy he was the entire day. With a smirk on his face he especially emphasized on how he woke up late in the afternoon because he didn’t have anything to do early in the morning.

A month later both of our passports were ready. Ahmad held his passport next to mine, comparing them in detail. ‘I don’t know…Looks the same, yaar. No special seal for piety. If you would have paid 500 rupees to the clerk at the window and 500 to the clerk inside, you would’ve saved all your troubles and be done the same day. For a thousand rupees more, I was out of the place in a matter of hours and was watching “Jab We Met” as you were getting a “perfect tan” outside’. I wasn’t laughing.

The funny thing is, what Ahmad said stuck in my mind. The more I thought about it, I began to realize – this isn’t about corruption at all. It’s about economics. When I showed up at 9 am, there was already a line formed down the street since 7 am. That line never let up all day. There was a lot of DEMAND for passports. But there were only 3 clerks working. That’s not nearly enough SUPPLY to handle everyone quickly.

So, what happens? A new product is offered. ‘Speedy processing’ passport renewal service for only 1,000 Rs. I got my passport without paying any bribes, but it took longer. It’s not that you can’t get anything done without paying, it just takes forever.

And there’s another side to the economics of corruption in society. Why do people send their kids for tuition? It’s because the teachers are not teaching them in the schools. And why aren’t the teachers teaching? Because they don’t get paid enough. So what do they do? They make themselves available after school for tuition. Is it any coincidence that tuition is always paid in cash? Tax free, anyone?

The answer to corruption isn’t an army of megalomaniac Ghandi wannabes, and it isn’t another anti-corruption agency. If you put the President, PM, and all the cabinet in prison, guess what? You will still pay extra to get your passport faster. Do we put every police officer, civil servant, postman, teachers and bureaucrat in prison, too? What about the jailers who take some small bribe to pass along letters and packages to prisoners? Put the jailers in jail!

Does this mean that we should let corruption run free? Of course not. It means that you can hold all the dharnas and hunger strikes and form all the lokpals that you want, but it’s not going to do a thing about corruption unless we grow the economy first. If the government does not have the resources to meet the demands of the people, black markets will fill in the gaps. If people’s salaries are not enough to feed their families, they will naturally turn to other means.

Anna Hazare, Ansar Burney, Jahangir Akhtar and all the other newly minted saints can publicly starve themselves all they want. But the fact is that without the economy of petty corruption, the entire nation would be starving to death. And there’s nothing heroic about that.

Is Pakistan Governable?

Mohammad Waseem, professor at the prestigious LUMS, asks in Dawn today, ‘Is Pakistan Governable?‘ His piece echoes the fear and despair that has sunk into the hearts of many of our brothers and sisters as it seems we are living through a period when bullets are easier to come by than electricity. The good professor is understandably frustrated with the state of the nation, but I’m afraid his frustration is clouding his judgment.

Professor Waseem expresses his frustration by laying the blame for all society’s ills at the feet of the present government, accusing political leaders of being “grossly engaged in the game of survival in office” and unable – or unwilling – to deliver to the people. But is this true?

Writing in the same newspaper three years ago, Professor Waseem noted that the newly elected Zardari-Gilani government inherited dysfunctional institutions and an abused public.

The PPP government faces an uphill task in terms of addressing issues relating to the inflationary spiral and the much-feared economic meltdown. What is required is the qualitative input of the best available talent in the country in the formulation of policy and the allocation of resources. The ruling set-up very much needs to cultivate its profile as a government by policy not patronage. It needs to develop the potential to swim through contradictory currents of agenda in the war against terror on the one hand and the political and religious sensitivities of the public on the other. While the formal transition from military to civilian rule is complete, the government needs to address substantive issues relating to the bar and the bench and the Seventeenth Amendment.

All governments are tasked with reform. Greece is struggling with debt, India is struggling with corruption, the Americans are struggling with political gridlock, Mexico is struggling with security. Our government was immediately tasked with not one major task of reform, but all of them. Despite these challenges, the government has managed to make some progress.





National Security


The most important point, however, remains the fact that high drama projected from media, the coalition has not fallen apart, and opposition parties have chosen to use the political process and not try to upend the chessboard to seize power. Even the so-called ‘war’ between the executive and judiciary was proven to be nothing but a TV drama when Justice Iqbal declared that “all differences will be settled with consensus rather than conflict”.

Obviously, this does not mean that there are no problems still facing the nation. Law and order situation in Karachi must be solved. While the extension of Political Parties Act and amendments to FCR is a good start in FATA, still more must be done to integrate the region’s citizens. And more must be done to address concerns in Balochistan also. Questions about how the world’s most wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden was living in Pakistan must be asked and answered honestly, even if the answers are embarrassing. And we need a national dialogue on the prejudice and sectarianism that underlies so many of these issues that tear at the fabric of our nation.

But just as serious problems remain, it’s not quite fair to suggest that our political leaders regardless of party are ignoring the problems of society. What Professor Waseem identified as areas that needed to be addressed by the present government have largely been addressed, even if incrementally. If the present government is bowling yorkers, the professor is moving the wicket.

In another 2008 piece, Professor Waseem noted that the nation’s institutions had suffered “an enormous beating at the hands of the fourth coup-maker in the history of Pakistan”, and warned that “If Musharraf strikes again, he will do so with the support of this unrepresentative and career-oriented elite which is imbued with a supremacist ideology rooted in paternalism”.

Today, he says “Only a strong, authoritative, confident, legitimate and responsible government can deal with the turbulence all around.” It is easy to wish for a more perfect government, but governments are made of people, not angels. The present government was elected by the people, and in less than two years, the people will return to the polls to decide who will take over and carry on. Whether that government is led by the PPP or some other party, it will face the same complicated and difficult problems, and easy answers will remain the elusive smoke of campaign speeches.

Whether the choice of the people meets the hopes of Professor Waseem, I would only remind him of his own words written three years ago: “A move backwards to the age of non-representative rule cannot and should not be allowed ever again.”

Gender and Justice

Women reject criminal justice system

For many, expressions of solidarity with Mukhtar Mai and calls for justice in her case were dismissed with the trendy oxymoron term “liberal fascism” and shameful accusations that the victim was somehow using her case to ‘get attention’. But it’s not just liberals who can see the painful injustice in this case. Even President JI Women’s Wing Samia Raheel Qazi termed the case as “unfortunate, cruel, and unjust” in a recent interview with Newsweek Pakistan. In the same interview, she complains that “Pakistan is a little too male dominated” and calls for greater education and freedom for women.

It might come as a surprise that a conservative Jamaati would be so outspoken against injustices faced by women, but it should not. Actually, a recent poll by Abu Dhabi Gallup Center found that only 40 per cent of women have confidence in the judiciary compared to 41 per cent who said they have no confidence.

What is the reason for this lack of confidence among women? Mukhtar Mai’s case may have received national attention, but there are countless other women whose abuses go unpunished across the nation. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan 2010 report, the bulk of rapes were reported not in the tribal villages but in Punjab. Violence and inhumane treatment of our own mothers and sisters has been on the rise across the country.

Last March, President Zardari signed the Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Bill, and just a days ago he signed a draft law to expand political and legal rights to FATA that will help improve access to justice for women in the tribal areas. This year we also saw women parliamentarians crossing party lines and uniting to pass the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2011, formerly known as the Acid Control and Acid Crime Bill 2010. These are all positive steps, but we must do more.

While political leaders should continue fighting to protect women’s rights in the National Assembly, this does not mean that we do not have our own role to play. Here, I am speaking specifically to my fellow men who must do more to speak out against the treatment of our sisters. It is a promising sign of progress that women leaders are willing to cross party lines and stand up for the basic human rights of Pakistani women. It will be a day of rejoicing when men find the courage to do the same.