Chaudhry Nisar’s Charge Sheet

Chaudhry Nisar on Friday told the National Assembly that the statement of PM regarding Osama bin Laden is “a charge sheet against the defence forces”, and that “it might be used against the defence forces in an international forum or court”. An interesting statement considering his leader Nawaz Sharif told DG ISI Shuja Pasha to his own face, “where there is smoke there is fire”. An especially interesting comment considering Nisar himself has termed Pasha as untrustworthy, earning him a sharp response from the DG ISI. Chaudhry Nisar who claimed he had proof that ISI was supporting PTI. Chaudhry Nisar is also the one who has demanded Gen Pasha’s resignation twice already this year – once after Abbottabad and again a few weeks ago. If anyone has been building a charge sheet against defence forces, it’s Chaudhry Nisar.

But so what? Are military and intelligence agencies sacred cows? I guess the better question is, should they be? How are we supposed to be safe if we can’t ask hard questions of the very institutions that are supposed to be protecting us? The world’s most wanted terrorist was found in our own yard, everyone wants to ignore the obvious problems with that fact.

When PM Gilani spoke before the National Assembly, he was not the first person to ask the question, and he won’t be the last. In May, polling company Rasmussen Reports found that 84 per cent of Americans thought it was likely that some Pakistani official knew where Osama was hiding.

The new national hero Mansoor Ijaz, when he hasn’t been accusing the military of plotting a coup, has been all over the media insisting that Pakistan military was hiding Osama bin Laden.

Apparently even former DG ISI Gen Ziauddin Butt has said that there is evidence that the military his Osama bin Laden with the knowledge of Pervez Musharraf, Intelligence Bureau General Ijaz Shah and possibly current chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Kiyani.

I think with each of these accusers, certain facts must be taken into light – Mansoor Ijaz’s credibility is very much in question. Gen Ziauddin Butt arrested and imprisoned by Musharraf following his coup against Nawaz Sharif’s government, so he may be saying these things just to get revenge.

But if people are out there openly accusing the military of hiding Osama bin Laden, shouldn’t we have an investigation to prove them wrong? This is what I thought the Abbottabad Commission was supposed to be, but, as usual, it quickly swept away the difficult questions and has all but ignored the question of how Osama got here in the first place.

Any ‘charge sheet’ against the military will not come from the PM. Hiding our heads in the sand and pretending that these questions are not already floating all over the world does nothing to improve our image or our national security. Quite the opposite. Isn’t it time we put the questions to rest with a real inquiry? What do we have to be afraid of?

Want the economy to improve? Defend democracy.

As political season gets into full swing, one of the top issues is certainly the weak economic growth that the country has been suffering. Obviously there are many reasons why the economy has sputtered instead of taking off, but one important reason in particular is being overlooked. Arif Habib Group Chairman and CEO Arif Habib warned this week that economic growth is suffering due to negative perception of the country by foreign investors.

Speaking at a reception held in his honour by Ruhi Farzana Shafi, he said that “our capital markets are one of the best in the world providing 31 percent average return in the last 10 years, but it has been marred by image issues.”

Over 100 foreign investors left after Islamabad blast.

Image issues? What issues could possibly mar our image with foreign investors? Could it be the image of two government officials – a governor and a cabinet minister – being assassinated for standing up for minority rights? Could it be the image of lawyers throwing flowers at confessed assassin Mumtaz Qadri? Could it be the fact that Osama bin Laden was found living outside Kakul? Perhaps. And perhaps instead of ignoring this growing threat, the judicary should take notice and put militants in jail rather than allowing them to go around shooting up the streets.
Or perhaps it could be the never ending stream of cynical media reports and political slogans terming the government elected by the people as the most corrupt, incompetent rulers. Or the media predictions that the government will fall any day now. Perhaps it is the statements of anonymous military spokesmen who claim that Army is using the judiciary to unseat a democratically elected president.

Could it be that the ‘image issues’ we have come from the fact that in the modern media age, all of our political hyperbole, constant complaining, and drawing room gossip is now available for the whole world to see? And maybe, just maybe, foreign investors don’t want to risk their money in a nation that can’t hold two elections in a row? Actually, there may be something to this.

According to research by economist Ishrat Husain published in the Columbia Journal of International Affairs, political instability – or the expectation of it – is a key obstacle to economic growth in Pakistan.

The tour d’horizon of the past sixty years of Pakistan’s economic history lends credence to the argument that interruptions to the orderly political process whereby elected governments were dismissed, forced to resign or overthrown further accentuated the tendency of risk aversion. Besieged with a feeling of uncertainty over their future, elected representatives have indulged in distribution of patronage to their supporters as well as to self-enrichment. Both the preoccupation with keeping power—applied to both the military rulers and the elected regimes—and fending off attacks from the opposition by co-opting them through state patronage or by coercion has led to laxity in fiscal and monetary policies and to the concentration of economic and political power. The excessive use of discretion in case-by-case policymaking to favor narrow interest groups has derailed institutionalized decision-making based on well-established rules and transparency in transactions.

The solution, Ishrat Husain says, is obvious:

The lesson to be learned from this experience is quite obvious but worth repeating. Democracy, with such flaws and shortcomings as corruption and patronage, may cause economic disruptions and slow down development in the short-term. But it should be allowed to run its course as the inherent process of fresh leadership and governmental accountability through new elections provides a built-in stability to the system that eventually brings the economy back to equilibrium. Interruptions to the democratic process in the name of economic efficiency have created more problems than solutions in Pakistan.

With Senate elections only three months away, and general elections soon to follow, derailing the democratic process would be gratuitous and self-defeating at this point. Whatever might be gained by installing this mythical government of selfless technocrats would be more then undone by the demonstration of impatience and unwillingness to abide by the rule of law.

If the people want to change who’s in office, let them choose so with their ballot. Economies don’t turn around overnight. If we want the economy to improve, we should elect those who we believe have the best policies to improve it and give them a chance to do so without terming them a failure before they can even start.

Bilawal: On the fourth death anniversary of my mother

by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari

Bilawal Bhutto ZardariTo the world, she was an icon. To me, she was my mother. On the fourth anniversary of that dark day, indelible in the history of Pakistan, when our greatest leader and our best hope was ripped from our lives and our future, I am flooded with emotion. She accomplished so much, but I am most focused on what she might have accomplished had she lived. Like a Pakistan that the Quaid-i-Azam could have lived longer to shape, like the dream she never lived to write, we can never know what might have been.

What we do know is that there are 86,000 more schools because of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto. That, under her government foreign investment quadrupled; energy production doubled; exports boomed. Under her government, 100,000 female health workers fanned out across the country, bringing health care, nutrition, pre and postnatal care, to millions of our poorest citizens. It was under her government that women were admitted as judges to the nation’s courts, that women’s police departments were established to help women who suffered from domestic violence and a women’s bank was established to give micro loans to women to start small businesses. It was under Shaheed Benazir Bhutto’s leadership that cell phones, fibre optics and international media were introduced, and the Pakistani software industry blossomed. And it was on her very first day as prime minister, that all political prisoners were freed, unions legalised and the press uncensored. It was an amazing record of accomplishment, made even more remarkable by the constraint of aborted tenures, by constant pressure from a hostile establishment and presidents with the power to sack elected governments.

She never had a free and fair election. She was always under siege. She would say: “We were in government but not in power.” Yet she delivered so much. And we can only dream of what might have been had she lived. One thing I am certain of — three-quarters of a billion Muslim women all around the world would have felt empowered, would have rejected limits on their opportunity to learn, to earn, to grow and to lead. Almost two billion Muslims around the world would have seen a modern face of Islam belying the caricature of our great religion in the West and the demagoguery of the jihadists within our own ranks.

Modern, moderate, tolerant, pluralistic and, above all, democratic Islam, would have had not just a face, but a voice, a true leader not afraid to challenge dictators, oppressors, bigots or terrorists. That is what we lost on December 27, 2007. That day the country was on fire. It was ready to rip apart at the seams. With my father’s slogan, “Pakistan Khappay”, Pakistan was saved from certain disintegration.

With the slogan, “Democracy is the best revenge”, we chose my mother’s vision of peaceful resolution over violent retribution. We could have demanded a revolution. However, my mother taught me to believe in evolution, not revolution. When she landed in Lahore in 1986, the millions of people who greeted her could have been ordered to storm the dictator’s palace and take Pakistan back by force. Yet the PPP has always been careful to distinguish between the army as an institution and the dictator who abuses his position. We have always believed in a strong military under the control of an elected government. Similarly, following the judicial murder of my grandfather, we chose to condemn the verdict and those behind it, but never ransacked the Supreme Court.

We have always supported an independent judiciary and would never let the abuses of individual judges in the past sabotage our mission of establishing a free, impartial and independent judiciary. This is why we knew in 2007 that we had to distinguish between Musharraf and the army as an institution. A strong military is needed in order to protect our territorial borders and defeat the internal cancer of Islamist extremism. The politicisation of this institution under dictatorship engages it in arenas where it has no place and, as a result, weakens its ability to perform its primary function.

Today, we stand by the same principles: in reconciliation and not violent revolution. The evolution of a transition to democracy has already borne fruit. Under the military dictatorship, when our brave soldiers were martyred by terrorists, they were buried in secrecy in the dead of night. It is only once the elected government gave ownership to the fight against extremists and made it Pakistan’s war that we can bury our soldiers with honour and proudly announce their martyrdom for their country. It is only under a democratic government that Pakistan finally stood up to demand respect from the United States and to do what the dictator with all his military might could not — evacuate the Shamsi airbase. We have onerous challenges before us, but to face those, we need to secure our foundation. The democratic government, through the National Finance Commission Award and Eighteenth Amendment, gives the smaller provinces a stake in their country and a stake in their own resources, which under dictatorship were exploited by the centre, creating resentment against the federation. Yet even this is not enough. The push for economic and energy reform must go forward, as must our promise to build a Pakistan where education is the path to empowerment.

Had we chosen the path of revolution over evolution on that fateful December 27, both the army and the Peoples Party would have been weakened. That would have left the only other armed group, the terrorists, with the opportunity to exploit the situation and seize control of our country. We must remain committed to the evolution of a democratic Pakistan and reject the calls for confrontation between institutions. My mother died fighting for a Peaceful, Prosperous and Progressive Pakistan. I will never give up on my mother’s Pakistan. I will never give up on the woman who sacrificed herself so Pakistan could be free. Her dreams are now my dreams — that is my promise to you; that is my promise to her.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 27th, 2011.

We’re no angels

PTI Karachi jalsa

Imran Khan has done it again. His 25th December rally in Karachi drew crowds of people and added more evidence that those of us who easily dismissed his party as a one-man-show may have spoken too soon. The unexpected rise of Imran Khan, though, actually raises some important questions. Imran’s rising popularity is largely attributable to his never having governed before – or in PTI-speak, his being ‘untested’. This is a fundamental part of his draw because his message is not really that different from any other political party, only with the other parties, nobody believes they are sincere since they have not achieved what they promised when they were given the chance. So my question is, do we have unrealistic expectations about what is politically possible? Is there any politician who can possibly live up to our hopes? And the corollary to that question – is Imran Khan setting himself up for failure?

After years of insisting that there was ‘no place for corrupt politicians in PTI’, Imran Khan himself recently discovered that ‘finding angels to join his party was next to impossible’ and has lowered the barrier from ‘clean’ to ‘repentant’.

When I point out that the ‘bigwigs’ who are swelling the ranks of PTI are the same bigwigs that have been governing for years, the responses I get are interesting. Some say that these people were always clean and virtuous, but were held back by the corrupt leadership of their former parties. The usual saying is that hindsight has perfect vision, but with some PTI supporters it seems more that hindsight is perfectly blind. Otherwise, I’m usually told that, yes, these people were dirty and corrupt, but Imran Khan will teach them morals and ‘clean’ them, as if Imran Khan is not an ex-cricketer but a holy prophet. There are a few still who say that, while they continue to support Imran, they are concerned about what the new, watered down version of PTI is going to end up looking like.

It’s not just what PTI will look like that is unknown. How PTI would actually govern is something of a mystery also. We all know that Imran looks to Allama Iqbal as his ideological inspiration, but who is his governing inspiration? After all, it’s one thing to talk about what government should be. It’s another thing entirely to actually make those changes.

When Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto formed Pakistan People’s Party, he too had a populist message that spoke directly to the hopes and dreams of the people. He spoke of strengthening dignity and national pride while reigning in the military’s involvement in government and of restructuring the economy so that the natural wealth of our nation was more fairly distributed among all Pakistanis. Once in office, though, he found quickly that such promises are more easily made than executed. Bhutto help guide the country to great progress, but he made some mistakes, too. Some of these, like declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslims, were clearly the result of compromises made with religious groups, while others, like nationalising industries, were simply part of the populist economic thinking of the day.

Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N was born in part from deals with the religious parties and military in exchange for the opportunity to undo much of the nationalisation that occurred under PPP and implement a more capitalist economic system. While this too made some achievements, Nawaz quickly learned that structural changes are much easier to promote from a stage than from the desk of Prime Minister. He introduced laws expanding the Islamisation under Zia-ul-Haq to appease his coalition, but when he began to work to repair ties with India by signing the Lahore declaration went against certain interests and even though he started his first term with the blessings of the establishment, he soon found himself in confrontation and, finally, removed.

Today, Imran Khan too seeks to compromise with the religious right and advocates economic policies like rejecting all aid and loans from the World Bank and IMF that are also likely to result in unintended consequences. It’s easy for Imran Khan and many of his supporters to propose rejecting all American aid. After all, it affects them much less directly, if at all. But what about the poor who rely on government programmes like BISP that are supported by US aid? Last year the Americans gave $85 million to support BISP. Will Imran and his supporters pay this much extra in taxes to make up the difference? Or are the poor supposed to starve in the interests of our national ‘self esteem’?

On the other hand, Imran says a lot of things that sound really great. Imran’s apology to Balochistan at Karachi jalsa is welcomed and a much needed recognition of the situation there, but changing national policies and stabilising the region will require much more than applause lines at rallies. He says he won’t allow any militant group to operate from Pakistan. He says that if he becomes PM, the Army and ISI will answer to him. He says he will set up an “e-government system” which will “automatically eliminate corruption from society”. He promises free legal aid, free health care, free education. He promises that the police will treat everyone equally – from the lowest magnay wala to the PM himself. The tax system will be reformed so that it is perfectly just, and everyone will gladly pay. He says that if elected he will transform Pakistan into a Islamic welfare state with a civil society on par with Britain.

The most amazing thing about this list of promises is that my otherwise perfectly rational friends are accepting them with the most delusional excitement. It’s not that I don’t like some of what Imran Khan says, it’s that even if PTI’s ‘tsunami’ sweeps national elections, achieving even a fraction of these changes during one five year term would be next to impossible. Even two terms is unlikely. And how long until the same people who today complain that the present government has been a miserable failure in its three years of governing will decide that Imran has overpromised and underdelivered? Will we then find ourselves hearing that well worn slogan that democracy is a failure and the military is the only competent institution?

Lasting change is incremental, and it requires changes in more than just PM’s house – it requires changes in our own values and priorities. We’re no angels, and Imran Khan is no saint. We have been unsatisfied with the inability of every government since day one to magically transform Islamabad into London “in my lifetime”. Imran Khan is making promises that he must know he cannot deliver. It might work to win political support as the untested saviour against Nawaz Sharif, Asif Zardari, Altaf Hussain and the other regular guests. But what happens if Imran actually manages to get himself elected? Perhaps we should stop placing all the blame on incompetent politicians, and start thinking about whether what we want can ever be delivered by any politician, or whether we’re looking for angels.