Why ‘bans’ are worse than futile

Welcome to BanistanOur proclivity for banning things for one reason or another resulted in the hastag #Banistan appearing on social media a few years ago. During this time, YouTube was banned, though it was easily accessible to almost everyone with a little work around. This caused many to note the futility of our obsession with ‘banning’ things that we don’t like. However banning is often worse than just futile, as was noted in an excellent letter to Dawn on Monday.

APROPOS the letter ‘Liquor Shops’ (Nov 23). The writer maintains that liquor shops in Sindh should remain sealed because alcohol is bad for health.

What our perpetual sermonisers do not take into consideration are the following: 1) alcoholism in Pakistan after prohibition was imposed in April 1977 has always remained higher than what it was before prohibition; 2) the curbs have given birth to bootlegging mafias, or worse, those selling tainted alcoholic beverages; and 3) very rarely have any serious crimes been reported in which consumption of alcohol was involved.

Third, many Hindus and Christians known to me are forced to buy alcoholic beverages on the black market since the court ordered the sealing of the licensed wine shops. Interestingly a non-Muslim friend tells me that people meet their needs by driving to Hub, where the sellers are making hay while the sun shines.

The Sindh government must make a more realistic law regarding the sale of alcohol as the current law was made in 1979 and has lost its relevance. Last but not least, should we not be more concerned about the bad health effects of things like extremism, bigotry and domestic violence?

M.M.D.D. Karachiwala

As this person correctly points out, a ban can not only be worked around, but there are also unintended consequences from the workarounds that may make the cure worse than the disease.

Same can also be said not only about bans on alcohol but Bollywood films also. Some argue that such bans will not only protect Pakistani culture but Pakistani film industry also. But does banning Bollywood films actually get rid of them? Obviously it does not, it only takes them out of the legal economy and pushes them into the illegal economy of bootleggers and pirates.

‘Black economy’ of Pakistan, or the informal economy of goods and services that escapes the eye sight of authorities, is estimated over $100 billion. This is where criminal gangs and militant groups get much of their funding. So when we ‘ban’ alcohol or foreign movies, we are really just pushing them into the black economy and providing more funds for terrorists and mafias. In other words, we not only fail at the stated goal of stopping the thing we are banning, we are actually making our society worse by funding the worst criminal and extremist elements.

Should we care if China uses CPEC to increase trade with India?

When I was growing up there was a boy who lived near us who one day received a very special gift. It was a toy that all of us had wanted, but no one had. It was very expensive and no one’s family had the extra money to buy such a luxury. He was given the gift by an uncle who was visiting from overseas, and it made him the star of the whole neighborhood. Only one condition was given that he had to share the toy with his sister. When the uncle first mentioned this the boy nodded but wasn’t really listening. He was completely entranced by the toy and wasn’t really paying attention. But soon, his father reminded him: Beta, that toy is not just for you. You must let your sister enjoy it, too. The boy’s eyes darkened. No, he thought, this is MINE. After another week had passed, his father told the boy to go and fetch the toy and bring it for his sister to play with. The boy stood still, pretending as if he hadn’t heard. His father repeated and this time the tone was clear: If you do not get the toy now, I will get it myself and give it to her. The boy looked down and turned to go get the toy while his sister stood grinning with pleasure. Soon, he returned. A dark look on his face, and his hands behind his back. His father smiled, ‘Good boy. Now let her play with it some.’ His sister reached out and the boy brought his hands from behind his back. In his palms were the smashed pieces of the toy. He poured them on the ground and turned his back.

I was reminded of this tale when I read today that Senators have been discussing their fears that China may use CPEC to enhance trade with India also! Since day one, CPEC has been predicted to be an economic game changer for Pakistan. It has already provided a much needed boost to investor confidences as well as calming some fears of important international organizations like IMF. Not only this, but it has renewed a sense of hope for the future that was missing since long. CPEC is not an economic miracle, and there are still details to be worked out and concerns to be addressed. But one of those concerns should not be whether or not India gets some benefits from it too! We must stop looking at issues from a ‘zero sum’ strategy where anything good for India is bad for Pakistan. If CPEC is good for Pakistan, that should be our only concern. If someone else benefits too, it does not harm us.

Demanding land rights is not terrorism

By Farooq Tariq

Army's anti-farmer operations in OkaraA massive repression of the peaceful peasant movement, the Anjuman Mozareen Punjab (AMP), is underway. Most of its leadership has been arrested under false anti-terrorist laws. Dozens of members are missing, while over 50 remain behind bars. All have been declared “terrorists” by the Okara district police, working hand in hand with the Military Farms administration, which mainly serves military officers.

The source of the problem is that while 14000 acres of land in the Okara district is owned by the Punjab government, it is occupied by the Military Farms administration. Since 2001, the tenants of the Military farms have refused to turn over half of their crops (bitai), which they and their families had been paying for over 90 years. How could ordinary people dare to say no to the military officers? That is their real “crime”; their demand of their land rights.

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Chinese Riches, Pakistani Dreams

China Pakistan BillboardChinese President Ki Jinping left as quickly as he arrived, but not before inking deals worth $46 billion – an eye popping sum. For Pakistan, this investment promises to deliver critical energy and infrastructure projects. This is a huge achievement for Nawaz Sharif, who had been facing concerns that the nation’s energy crisis could bring about the government’s premature demise. The Chinese premier’s visit and the important investments that he brought have received high praise and appreciation, and deservedly so. However we should not allow our gratitude get in the way of our ability to think rationally. Once the excitement wears off, do we know what we’re really getting?

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Money Talks: Why India is getting closer to US while Pakistan is not

Obama and Modi

A Tweet by Jang Group correspondent Murtaza Ali Shah caught my attention this morning.

Unfortunately, the link clicked through to an article by Ansar Abbasi reporting the worn out claim that Jamaat-ud-Dawa is a welfare organisation and that anyone who says otherwise is parroting Indian propaganda. Abbasi gained this information from “highly placed sources” with inside access to what was communicated to US Secretary of State John Kerry during his recent visit. The fact of the matter is that anyone with eyes and ears can see and hear what kind of “charity” Hafiz Saeed and his JuD have been operating – No propaganda necessary. So unless JuD itself is being sponsored by RAW, Abbasi’s report is not only baseless, it’s comedic. But what this has to do with US and India and business deals? That is what I was interested in. If Murtaza’s link would not provide the information, though, my interest was piqued enough that I would have to look for it myself.

It didn’t take me long to find a better fitting link for Murtaza’s Tweet, a recent article from Forbes about President Obama’s upcoming trip to India that reports that the US president will be joined by a cadre of American CEOs. Now this is interesting.

CEOs from top U.S. companies are joining the President on his trip this weekend to the world’s biggest democracy.

When President Obama flies off to India this weekend for a historic second trip to the newly-arrived economic giant, he’ll have a blue-chip roster of CEOs in tow.

The delegation of business chiefs so far includes Ajay Banga of Mastercard MA 0.01% , Dave Cote of Honeywell HON 3.13% , Bob Iger of Disney DIS -0.45% , Indra Nooyi of Pepsi PEP -0.37% , Arne Sorenson of Marriott MAR 0.04% , and Vivek Ranadive of Tibco TIBX , Fortune has learned.

Officially, Obama is traveling to attend India’s Republic Day celebrations as the guest of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (the President even scrambled scheduling of his State of the Union address to accommodate his attendance). But the presence of the corporate captains the White House hustled to recruit for the mission indicates the economic stakes. Warming diplomatic ties between the world’s oldest democracy and its largest are encouraging American companies seeking expanded access to India’s $2 trillion economy.

Modi is pushing to make his country friendlier to foreign investment with new incentives and regulatory reforms. He unveiled a “Make in India” campaign in September aimed at promoting the country as a manufacturing haven. And the US and India are chasing a five-fold increase in bilateral trade, to $500 billion, by 2020.

This is eye-popping, and should serve as a wake up call to our national strategists and policy makers in Islamabad.

India has never been America’s close ally. Actually, quite the opposite has been true. This doesn’t mean that the Indians haven’t tried to warm relations with the US, just that their attempts have usually received a cool response as the Americans have treated India with a healthy suspicion since their non-alignment during the Cold War. Washington saw Indians as always looking out for themselves, and therefore untrustworthy. This is why India’s attempts to poison relations between Pakistan and the US have never been successful – their machinations were always too obvious. Now, however, India has discovered the way to America’s heart, and it’s not through “national security”, it’s through “national exchequer”.

Here is the one area where American can accept that the Indians are looking out for themselves. In business, everyone is looking out for themselves. But in business, even though everyone understands that they are looking out for themselves, they are also looking to work together to improve their returns. In business, US and India can work closely together without any pretense of brotherly affection or timeless bonds. The only “bonds” they will be discussing will be the financial kind.

Meanwhile, Pakistan continues to base its relations with the US on issues of national security. We are a “strategically important nation” because of our geolocation in a dangerous part of the world. America needs to work with us because we are the front line in the war on terrorism. Problem is, this is the same rationale we have been using since over 50 years, and the Americans have started asking when they’re going to see returns on their investment. As the state dithers on questions about jihadi groups like Jamaat-ud-Dawa, our relationship looks less and less like one of mutual benefit and more and more like extortion. As a sovereign nation, we have the right to decide whether or not certain groups are actually supporting our national security objectives, but other countries also have the right to decide that they don’t support those objectives and to pull out of their investments.

The one area where everyone has the same interest is in business. We want to make money. They want to make money. This is the one area that all nations have in common. It is why historical enemies like India and America can become allies. It is even why nations like China and America can overcome all odds of being enemies and become allies – or at least develop an understanding that precludes military conflict.

Our national security strategy has failed us. We are not only not safer, we are becoming less and less secure almost daily. It’s time to re-think a national security strategy that prioritizes military strength and begin to develop one that prioritizes economic strength. American is not as large as India or China, but it far outpaces them in military strength because it first built its economic strength. Moreover, it has neutralized those countries who might challenge its hegemony by placing economic interests in the way. This is a proven model of success, and one that we should be following.