Wagah Warning

Wagah mourning

Sunday’s attack at Wagah border killed over 50 people and injured hundreds. It was the worst attack since months in Pakistan, and serves as a terrible warning of the direction the country is headed if the existing national security strategy is not radically changed.

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Beggars, Dacoits and Jalsas

In a curious attempt to appeal to national sentiments, Shahbaz Sharif claims that PML-N’s jalsa is a “war to save the country” from the present government which has made Pakistan into a beggar state “despite having nuclear weapons”. This begs the question, how do nuclear weapons make money?

I suppose one answer would be to use nuclear weapons as a threat to extort payments from other countries. But extortion is the work of dacoits, not beggars. Surely Shahbaz is not suggesting that we sink to the depths of global armed robbery. So, then, how does he propose that nuclear weapons solve our financial woes?

The fact is, nuclear weapons don’t make money, they cost money. And lots of it. Shahbaz has his complaint backwards. We’re not a beggar state despite having nuclear weapons. If we’re a beggar state (and I hate that insult), it’s because we have nuclear weapons. It was ZAB who famously said that “If India builds the bomb, we will eat grass or leaves, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own”. Perhaps that made sense when we felt that we could not allow India to hold nuclear weapons over our heads. But we now have over 100 nuclear weapons. And according to the UNDP Human Development Report 2011, we rank 125th for population in poverty. We got our own nukes. For how much longer must we continue eating grass?

I would actually take Punjab CM’s complaint and rephrase it.

Despite being one of only four polio endemic countries globally, we continue spending money on nuclear weapons.

Despite having literacy rate of 57 per cent, we continue spending money on nuclear weapons.

Rather than holding street rallies, why doesn’t PML-N provide some leadership on the issue? Why not ask how many nuclear weapons we need to feel safe so that we know when we can stop spending on devices to kill our enemies and start spending on programmes for loving our children. Instead of protesting against increased power tariff, why not protest against continued resistance to reporting and paying taxes by the privileged elites.

Pakistan is not a ‘beggar state’, but we are a state with severely misplaced priorities. We would rather be number one in nuclear weapons than number one in literacy. We would rather sit in the dark than pay taxes. We would rather complain in the streets than make difficult decisions in Majlis-e-Shoora. Being a nuclear state means that we have the resources and the intellect to get rid of things like polio and illiteracy. What we lack is political will.

Politicians love slogans about how it’s time for Pakistan to take responsibility for itself and stand on its own feet. Okay. But responsibility requires more than slogans, and standing on your own feet means having the courage to get off of your arse. So why, despite having the opportunity to help build support for spending reform and tax reform, PML-N is sitting in the streets chanting slogans again?

Elections for you…but not for me

This is what drives me crazy about Nawaz Sharif. First he gives a really impressive speech calling for moving beyond the past and improving relations between Pakistan and India, something that could have important benefits for our economy especially. But then, it’s like he can’t help himself, and he has to go and do something politically stupid.

In this case, Nawaz demands snap polls
Nawaz Sharif demands elections...for others

In a move that has been a long time in the making, the main opposition party – the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) – has demanded that the government call snap elections.

…but not in Punjab.
Shahbaz Sharif...no elections for us please!

They said the new move to extend the tenure of the administrators was a clear indication that the provincial government wanted to control the local councils through administrative chain till the expiry of its own term after around one and a half years, and was not serious in holding the next elections on two main grounds — conditions are not suitable for them or the PML-N is not in a position to win.

It is precisely these types of political games that the people are tired of – putting the interests of your own political party ahead of the interests of the nation. 2013 elections are getting closer every day. Why not just wait? By demanding snap polls…but not in Punjab, it becomes obvious that it’s not a principled stand for the good of the nation but a political strategy for the good of PML-N. I know that old habits die hard, but please Nawaz, just cut it out.

Corruption, Courts, and Cynical Melodramas

Shahbaz SharifIf you want to know just how out of touch the Sharifs have become, a perfect example came yesterday when CM Shahbaz Sharif dragged out the old bogeys of corruption and ‘war on the judiciary’. Meanwhile, body counts continue to rise from target killings in Karachi, bodies continue to disappear from Balochistan, and even more bodies walk through markets never knowing if they will be the latest victim of Taliban blood lust. With no answers to these problems facing the nation, Sharif is reduced to dusting off last year’s talking points once again.

Of course this is an old political tactic. When Muhamman Khan Junejo was dismissed in 1988 it was due to charges of corruption. Same with Benazir in 1990, and Nawaz in 1993. Corruption.

After Benazir was dismissed in 1996, the Ehtesab Commission was established by the caretaker government to clean up corruption in politics. Chief Ehtesab Commissioner Mujaddad Ali Mirza started investigating and it was announced that no exceptions would be made for any politician or civil servant. Such a clean sweep was more than anyone had bargained for. Getting rid of your political rivals is one thing, but actually sacking everyone who did some favours?

When Nawaz Sharif formed a government the next year in 1997, he quickly neutered the watch dog. Chief Commissioner Mirza complained that FIA and Anti-Corruption Police stopped cooperating, files began to disappear, cases got moved off of high court dockets, and eventually everyone lost interest.

And when Mushy made his coup against Nawaz Sharif in 1999, what was the reason given? Of course is was the old corruption charge. And now it is Musharraf who finds himself in the hot seat as FIA is investigating his assets and still no one knows who paid for his £1.4 million (Rs199 million) London home.

The Sharifs are singing an old tune that they have merely updated with a chorus about war on the judiciary. But even this takes on a certain note of cynical political gamesmanship if we take a moment to remember the Sharifs’ own recent “war on the judiciary”.

This is why I have a hard time taking seriously this latest outburst of concern about corruption and respect for the judiciary. It is just more politics for the sake of politics, not for the sake of the people.

Is there corruption? Yes there is. Is there contempt for judiciary? Yes of course. But these are reflections of larger social issues that can be found throughout the country, but even these are minor issues compared to the need to stop the violence in Karachi, to respect human rights in Balochistan, and to put an end to extremist militancy.

I’ve said before that we need leaders with the courage and principles to play by the rules instead of trying to upend the table when they don’t like their hand. If the Sharifs have some answers for the issues facing the nation, please let us hear them. Until then, stop boring us with these worn out melodramas.

Heading For Divorce?

Our elected representatives and our people must realise that it is not the drones or national sovereignty or American aid that is the main issue. It is that termite of the extremist mindset that kills Muslims in mosques that has permeated our society and converted it into the rotten mess that it is in today. It will take a concerted effort at de-weaponising house by house and legislators, civil society and the media to galvanise and work tirelessly for decades on a thought revolution to ensure the extermination of extremism and the preservation of Pakistan.

Dr Mahjabeen IslamCaught sleeping on the job, the Pakistan government has turned its machinery to bite the hand that feeds its face. Nations evolve, and one would have thought that rousing nationalistic songs and hot-button phrases like “invasion of sovereignty” would have been dropped in favour of unvarnished facts. Time was that dictators spewed nonsense and one yearned for democracy and a wonderful array of elected legislators who would arm themselves with data and speak with accuracy and vote with conscience. But our kismet is crossed with parliamentarians who come with their own personal agendas.

The two things that galvanise Pakistanis of all hues are cricket and the kursi (chair). Strange bedfellows and stranger sums of money exchange hands for both. It is in times of crisis that a person and a nation’s mettle are tested. A la Goebbels after the in-camera session of parliament, the Information Minister stated that the ISI chief had “surrendered” himself to parliament. We have now taken to messing with the nation’s psyche. The parliamentarians got together and drew up a 12-point agenda, the primary thrust of which was to stop the drones or else the NATO supply lines would be cut and to initiate an independent inquiry commission with regard to the bin Laden fiasco.

Around the same time, US Senator John Kerry visited Pakistan; and interestingly he roared in like a lion and left quite the lamb. For it seems that soon after the bin Laden fiasco, American and Pakistani voices questioned their union in the fight against terrorism. The slur of infidelity was thrown around and both sides felt violated: $ 3.2 billion in aid, screeched US Congressmen and media, what is going on in Pakistan? In the depth of the night, in all of 40 minutes, with helicopters and Navy SEALs, Osama and all multimedia files are gone, wondered the whiplashed Pakistanis.

The Pakistani media went into overdrive. Only a minuscule few honed in on the actual invasion of sovereignty that has occurred over the last quarter of a century in Pakistan and one that we have accepted with gratitude and smiles for this invasion came laced with money and religion. We welcomed Uzbeks, Chechens, Arabs, Afghans and more. It is alternately sad and stupid to realise that the real serpent that has permeated and become one with the fabric of our society is so completely ignored and like petulant children we are kicking and screaming at the US.

Extremism is born and perpetuated by poverty and unemployment. The hungry, disenchanted teenager is much more likely to be ensnared by the charms and monetary temptations of the radicalised. And when the radicalised are your neighbours, your servants, your co-workers, your teachers, or essentially anyone, and you collapse your economy further, you simply guarantee extremism.

Ensconced in ultra-luxury, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has decided that the Punjab province shall refuse the American dole. While it is true that Pakistan has not accounted for its billions in aid appropriately and a good part of it has not made it to its intended purpose and has probably lined many a private pocket, it is factual that American aid is used for a large number of governmental and non-governmental educational, administrative and developmental projects. These projects will simply dry up as the aid does. Chucking charity is not as simple a choice as the ghairat (self-respect and pride) of Shahbaz Sharif might dictate.

Perhaps it was this Punjabi indignation or the graphic posters displayed by protesters in front of the in-camera parliamentary session that caught the eye of the Americans, for now their tune is decidedly different. Senator Kerry may have wagged his finger at Kayani behind closed doors but in public the story is conciliatory. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says that this is not the time for the US to flex its muscles at Pakistan, rather it should withhold judgement. Senator Mitch McConnell says that disengaging with Pakistan now was not a good idea. And most surprising is the statement by House Speaker Richard Boehner, who said that Pakistan was a real asset and had lost more troops and more individuals in the fight against terror than the US.

The US-Pakistan partnership has been one of those uncomfortable but necessary alliances for both parties. So analogous to human relationships when you realise with this gnawing deep inside that you share little now except an interwoven past and an inextricable convenience.

Our hypocrisy must stop. The drones fly from Pakistan’s airfields and we have given our express permission for this. Our president does not even think the non-extremist civilian deaths are collateral damage. Regardless of American intelligence, drones do not rain down on Iran, Turkey or Malaysia. They do not froth at the mouth about “national sovereignty”; they protect it by simply refusing.

Our elected representatives and our people must realise that it is not the drones or national sovereignty or American aid that is the main issue. It is that termite of the extremist mindset that kills Muslims in mosques that has permeated our society and converted it into the rotten mess that it is in today. It will take a concerted effort at de-weaponising house by house and legislators, civil society and the media to galvanise and work tirelessly for decades on a thought revolution to ensure the extermination of extremism and the preservation of Pakistan.

The writer, Dr Mahjabeen Islam, is an addictionist, family physician and columnist. This article was originally published in Daily Times on 20 May 2011.