Farrukh Saleem: Political Scientist…or Politicised Scientist

Farrukh SaleemFarrukh Saleem’s latest column includes a startling claim. He says that “the estimated amount embezzled over five years of PPP rule” is Rs8.5 trillion. TRILLION. Such a sum amounts to 8.5 percent of GDP during the five year period that PPP was in power. According to the author, this was not only due to the corruption of PPP but also could not be stopped because “Our entire anti-corruption infrastructure is designed and structured to protect corruption“. Farrukh Saleem knows the solution, though, and unsurprisingly it starts and ends at GHQ which if it is not allowed to succeed will result in “wholesale nation-wide disappointment“.

There is not much in Farrukh Saleem’s piece that is surprising. He has been a long-time supporter of the military taking over more and more of the country. What is surprising is the massive number that he is throwing out. Where did this come from? I know it is fashionable to accuse Zardari and Co. of looting everything they put their eyes on, but over 8 percent of GDP may be taking the “Mr 10%” smear a little too far don’t you think? But Farrukh Saleem…excuse me…DR. Farrukh Saleem is a respected political scientist writing for one of the largest media groups in the country. Surely some fact checking was done before this was allowed to be published.

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White Elephants On Parade

circus elephants

Farrukh Saleem’s billion dollar gamble came up short last week, but rather than admit fault, he has simply doubled down. Only this time, he’s beginning to show his hand. After predicting that ‘the price of independent horses is bound to go through the roof’ following Senate elections that saw little evidence of horse trading, the columnist shifts from complaining about politicians being corrupt to complaining about them being ineffective – especially compared to that other power centre, GHQ.

At least Farrukh Saleem tries to be subtle, though. That much cannot be said for his colleague Shaheen Sehbai who rather ham-handedly calls for the military to take over…without actually taking over. Continue reading

Now, about those billions…

Pakistan Rupees

As is so often the case in politics, the lead up to Senate elections has proved to be much more controversial than the actual elections. Accusations of rigging and horse trading abounded, and even PTI has gotten a taste of what it means to be in the hot seat. At the end of the day, however, the high-pitched wailing about ‘billions’ at play were best summed up in less than 140 characters by Cyril Almeida:

And so, as always, the world continues to turn and politicians prepare for the next battle. Now that we have put this chapter behind us, let us return to a question that remains unanswered…where did all those billions go?

No, not those billions…

Those:

Rs5.5 billion foul play in defence funds

The Auditor General of Pakistan has unearthed financial foul play of billions of rupees in spending of funds in Pakistan’s defence sector. The audit report on the accounts of defence services for the fiscal year 2011-12 finds that Pakistan’s defence organisations misused funds or violated prescribed rules during spending of funds exceeding 5490.961 million rupees.

And those:

Defence ministry fails to recover Rs1.5bn from its 81 officials

A defence ministry representative informed the meeting that the 81 military and civilian officials were investigated and found guilty of having embezzled Rs1.53 billion from the accounts of the Military Engineering Services (MES). This sum was siphoned off thanks to fake purchases, fictitious spending and fraudulent payments.

I look forward to reading Farrukh Saleem‘s detailed report…

China, a friend, shouldn’t be our fantasy

The fanfare over PM’s visit to Beijing comes as little surprise. Frustrated with our most allied ally in the West, there is understandable reason for people to see some hope in the East. But I worry that we are making the same mistake with China that we make with US – expecting a benefactor and not a friend.

Our relations with the US go up and down as the US grants aid or assistance and expects something in return. We look to China which seems to expect less – but gives less also. But there is another point that must be examined more closely which is whether China really expects less in return for its friendship.

Consider the recent US raid over our borders. Many people are furious at the US for this unilateral action, but China also praised the US operation that killed Osama bin Laden.

“We have noted the announcement and believe that this is a major event and a positive development in the international struggle against terrorism,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said about the White House’s announcement that bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader who orchestrated the September 11 attacks, was killed in a U.S. raid, Chinese newspapers reported on Tuesday.

This is no surprise. China’s position on terrorism is basically same as US.

In the eyes of the Chinese government and people, bin Laden was a terrorist ringleader,” said Guo. “But I do think we have to understand that his death does not mean the death of al Qaeda — there’s still the real risk of counter-attacks.”

China is a member of the 15-nation U.N. Security Council that on Monday welcomed the news “that Osama bin Laden will never again be able to perpetrate such acts of terrorism”.

“China has always opposed all forms of terrorism,” said Jiang. “China advocates that the international community enhance international anti-terror cooperation and adopt comprehensive steps to treat both the symptoms and the root causes of terrorism.”

Actually, China – an athiest nation – has been concerned with the Muslims community of Uighurs in Xinjiang, many of which are training with Taliban and other militant groups. We can help China to suppress these groups, but at some point we will be faced with the same problem as we are with the US – our “ally” requesting us to “do more” while militant groups attack us demanding that we do less. This is something that journalist Huma Yusuf has warned about for years.

Uighur extremists and members of the outlawed East Turkestan Islamic Movement have already been blamed for sporadic terrorist activities. But if a militant movement that can trace its roots to Pakistan gains momentum in Xinjiang, the ire that Beijing is currently venting on the Uighurs – by detaining 1,400 of them, closing down mosques and upholding economically repressive policies – could be unleashed on Islamabad instead.

Will be then be complaining about Chinese requests to “do more”? Or will we see dark clouds gathering on our “all weather friendship”?

And it’s not only security matters that we need to be realistic about. We also need to recognize that the reality of our economic friendship with China is not going to be radically different from our economic ties to any other power. Farrukh Saleem explains perfectly that China is a friend, not a benefactor.

Gilani is in Beijing with the biggest begging bowl Jiabao has ever seen in his sixty-eight years. Historically, the highest grant assistance that comes to Pakistan comes from the US that contributes around 38 percent of our entire grant pool. Next comes Saudi Arabia that donates 19 percent followed by the UK at 18 percent and Japan at 8 percent.

Jiabao will not give what Gilani wants — budgetary support. China has foreign exchange reserves of over $3 trillion and Gilani is asking for only a couple of billions but China, as a matter of policy, does not dole out dollars for budgetary support.

China built the 1,300 kilometres Karakoram Highway and China doled out $198 million for the Gwadar Port. Jiabao is willing to invest even more in Pakistan’s infrastructure but Jiabao will not give what Gilani is asking for.

Gilani has air defence equipment — especially for our western borders — on his agenda as well. To be certain, Pakistan is critically short on modern air defence systems. Our man-portable air defence systems, like FIM-92 Stinger and FIM-43 Redeye, depend on the US manufacturers. Our Oerlikon 35mm twin cannons have an effective range of only 4,000 meters.

Since 2004, Uncle Sam’s MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers have been raining hellfire missiles into Pakistan’s wild west. So far, there have been a total of 241 strikes and some of those strikes have killed IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) fighters along with Uighur militants. Would Jiabao help Pakistan down a drone? Would Jiabao go against the rest of world to help us out?

PM’s mission in Beijing is to secure important agreements to aid our economic and military needs. This is a vital task. But we should not mistake our friend China for our fantasy China. Pakistan should be working to make agreements with all the world powers so that we can increase trade and improve our security. This idea that China will replace the US is basically Cold War thinking in which there are two sides to play against each other. But the Cold War is over. In the post-Cold War world China and the US are friends despite their differences, and we need to have good relations with both. Pakistan needs strong ties with China and strong ties with the US also. What we don’t need is another fantasy setting us up for a future in which we find ourselves left with no friends left at all.

How the New York Times Keeps Getting Pakistan Wrong

Syed Yahya HussainyThe New York Times is an institution in journalism. Published continuously for over 160 years, the Times has won 104 Pulitzer Prizes – more than any other news organization. In 2009, one of those Pulitzer Prizes went to a team that included Pakistan correspondent Jane Perlez for their coverage of America’s deepening military and political challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan. With this background, how is it that The New York Times keeps getting Pakistan so wrong?

In her latest article, Many in Pakistan Fear Unrest at Home, Jane Perlez suggests that Pakistan is on the brink of takeover by Islamists, comparing the political climate today to Iran in 1979. But is this really an accurate description of Pakistan, a nation that only recently held massive pro-democracy street demonstrations, overthrew a military dictator, and elected a democratic government that for the first time includes all ethnic groups and major political factions at either the state or federal level? Tunisia and Egypt may be shedding the yoke of autocracy, but Pakistan achieved this years ago.

Since 2008, of course, Pakistan has been hit hard by the global economic downturn, been ravaged by devastating floods of historic proportion, and lost thousands of citizens to attacks by terrorist groups. Despite these challenges, the democratic government has remained resilient, implementing political reforms to strengthen the democratic process and the rule of law. So why is The New York Times comparing 2011 Pakistan to 1979 Iran? It turns out the answer may lie in Ms Perlez’s sources.

Jane Perlez has quoted Mr Farrukh Saleem quite regularly over the past few years, though she introduces with different titles in different articles. In her latest article about the possibility of an Islamist putsch, Farrukh Saleem is “a risk analyst”. Last November, Ms Perlez cited him as “a political analyst” in an article about political violence in Karachi. A month earlier, Mr Saleem was “executive director for the Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad”. The one constant in Mr Saleem’s CV is his affiliation with The News, an English-language newspaper that has received international attention for its virulent anti-government propaganda.

In fact, Mr Farrukh Saleem appears in a 2009 article by Jane Perlez praising opposition leader Nawaz Sharif of the PML-N party. Here Saleem is referred to only as a newspaper columnist. Earlier, Farrukh Saleem is quoted by Jane Perlez saying that President Asif Zardari “has an unending desire to control all of Pakistan.”

Later that year, of course, President Zardari transferred power over the nation’s nuclear arsenal to the Prime Minister, and a few months after that signed the 18th Amendment further devolving power that had been consolidated under military dictators. For someone with an unending desire to control all of Pakistan, the president appears to be giving a surprising amount of his power away. Despite this record, Jane Perlez continues to present Farrukh Saleem as an objective “analyst”.

Then there is Ms Perlez’s other go-to source for analysis of Pakistan: Jahangir Tareen. According to Ms Perlez, Mr Tareen is “a reformist politician”. But what claim to the title of “reformist” does Mr Jahangir Tareen actually have? After all, this is the same Jahangir Tareen that served as Minister of Industries and Special Projects under the dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf – a fact certainly known to Jane Perlez as she has been quoting him in her articles as such since at least 2008.

Ms Perlez quotes Jahangir Tareen blaming rich politicians for failing to address the economic needs of the people without mentioning the irony that he is both rich and a politician himself in the opposition party PML-Q. Jane Perlez also fails to mention that Jahangir Tareen’s CV includes such “reformist” tendencies as serving as a cabinet minister during the corrupt Musharraf regime that squandered foreign aid money while incubating jihadi militias. Today, Mr Tareen warns the Times reporter that Islamist forces “will sweep into power”, but Jane Perlez conveniently ignores her sources background and fails to provide her readers important context that might raise questions about his credibility.

Certainly Pakistanis are frustrated with unemployment, inflation, and ongoing attacks by Islamist militant groups. And there do exist residual effects of an institutionalization of Islamism carried out by the regime of 1980s dictator Gen. Zia-ul-Haq and reinforced by the former boss of Ms Perlez’s friend Jahangir Tareen, Pervez Musharraf. But Pakistan’s democratically elected government has proven resilient, and by-election results since 2008 have not revealed any increased support for Islamist parties.

When the curtain is drawn on the election booth, the people of Pakistan consistently reject Jamaat-i-Islami’s candidates and policies. Jane Perlez’s article may represent the prejudices of her rather compromised (and seemingly few) regular sources, but it does not represent the aspirations of the Pakistani people. Let us not forget that fewer than six months ago, Jane Perlez predicted a military coup in Pakistan. That, too, never came to pass.

Jane Perlez’s fearmongering on Pakistan notwithstanding, the democratic system is maturing and growing stronger – a fact evidenced by the unprecedented cooperation between the opposition parties and the coalition government in defense of political stability. It is true that religious parties organize street protests with thousands of participants. But these are demonstrations of frustration, not political support. If Ms Perlez truly believes that the Pakistani people believe in “the failure of representative democracy”, perhaps she should expand her social circle beyond those who have built careers trying to derail it.

The question for The New York Times is whether or not Jane Perlez is actually providing investigative reporting on Pakistan or simply phoning her few friends for juicy quotes to pad sensationalist articles. Following her reporting over the years, Times readers would come away with two things: a close familiarity of Mr Farrukh Saleem and Mr Jahangir Tareen, and very poor understanding of Pakistan.