Tough Love

jalebiWhen I was a boy, my friend Hasan LOVED jalebis. I don’t know many people who don’t love jalebis, but Hasan really went nuts for them. I distinctly remember one day daadi grabbing my friend Hasan by the ear and telling him that he was going to be fat and get diabetes if he did not stop eating so many sweetmeats. He cried home to his mother who came around wanting to know who daadi thought she was yelling at her son and telling him how to live. My grandmother looked at her with crossed arms and said, “Look here, I have known you since you were born and I have known your son also. Our families have always been close and I call Hasan my own son. Do you think I would scold him if I did not love him also?”

This is what my mother always referred to as ‘tough love’. She had no patience for mothers who lied to themselves while their sons were getting into mischief. “Angels are in heaven”, she used to say, “on Earth I have to deal with regular boys.” Today, too many of our analysts and commentators are like the mothers who lied to themselves about what was going on under their very roofs. And, like Hasan’s mother, they are quick to take offense when someone points out the unpleasant truths.

I was reminded of my mother talking about ‘tough love’ when I read Christine Fair’s column in Daily Times, “Choosing sovereignty over servitude”.

There are a few popular talking points used by the Ghairat Brigade. The most common of these is ‘SOVEREIGNTY’. This was the repeated phrase during the debate about Kerry-Lugar bill. It is the phrase repeated whenever there is discussion of drone strikes. Now it is again coming up as some American Congressmen have threatened to cut aid due to the standoff over Raymond Davis. This has created the expected howls of unfair “American pressure” from the same circles.

And then in walks an American, Christine Fair, and says, “If you won’t stop eating jalebis, don’t complain that you’re getting sick.”

What does it mean for a state to be sovereign? Apart from exercising monopoly of force and writ of law, more or less homogenously over the state territory, one of the most important elements of state sovereignty is the ability to pay its own bills. While Pakistan is making strides in the former, it has made no progress in the latter.

To free it of international meddling, Pakistan’s political leaders need only to subject themselves and their patronage networks to an agricultural and industrial tax, a move which Pakistan’s leadership has steadfastly avoided throughout the state’s entire history. Of course, it must improve income tax compliance too.

Now, accusing elites of not paying taxes is another favourite pastime of the Ghairat Brigade, but they don’t really mean it. The same reason you hear so many of these guys wishing for another military government even though they always turn out horribly is also why they’re constantly talking about kicking out the Americans and relying on China and Saudi Arabia. They hate feeling like servants of America, but they still have a servant mentality.

The Ghairat Brigades are like the mothers who lie to themselves that their demon son is actually an angel. Christine Fair is having none of it.

What has China done for Pakistan? It did not help Pakistan in any of its wars with India in 1965, 1971 or the Kargil crisis of 1999, when it took the same line as the US and even India. It did little to help Pakistan in the 2001-2002 crisis with India and it even voted in the UN Security Council to declare Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) a terrorist organisation in 2009 in the wake of the Mumbai terror outrage.

The roads and ports and other infrastructure that the Chinese are building in Pakistan principally benefit China. Pakistanis are an afterthought. The Chinese obtain contracts on favourable and profitable investment terms, use their own employees, and contribute little to the local economy ultimately to build projects that facilitate the movement and sales of cheap (but also dangerous and poorly crafted) Chinese goods and products into and through Pakistan.

It is a sad fact that China uses Pakistan for its foreign policy aims as well. It provides Pakistan nuclear assistance and large amounts of military assistance to purchase subpar military platforms in hopes of sustaining Pakistan’s anti-status quo policy towards India. By encouraging Pakistani adventurism towards India, Beijing hopes that India’s massive defence modernisation and status of forces remain focused upon Pakistan — not China. China wants to sustain the animosity between India and Pakistan but it certainly does not want an actual conflict to ensue as it would then be forced to show its hand again — by not supporting Pakistan in such a conflict.

What about Saudi Arabia? The increasingly broke US citizen provided more assistance to Pakistan’s flood victims than Pakistan’s Islamic, oil tycoon brethren in Saudi Arabia. While the US government has not figured out how to give aid in a way that minimises corruption and maximises benefit, Pakistanis should note that at least the US tries to do so in contrast to Saudi Arabia, which simply abdicates.

Saudi Arabia does fund madrassas, albeit of a highly sectarian variety. Yet, Pakistan does not need more madrassas. In fact, the educational market shows that Pakistani interest in madrassa education is stagnant while interest in private schooling is expanding. Unfortunately, those madrassas and Islamic institutions that Saudi Arabia does support have contributed to a bloody sectarian divide in Pakistan that has killed far more innocent Pakistanis than the inaccurately reviled US drone programme a thousand times over.

In short, Saudi Arabia too uses Pakistan to isolate Shia Iran and to promote the dominance of Wahabiism over other Sunni maslaks (sub-sects) and over all Shia maslaks. Pakistan has paid a bloody price for the Saudis’ assistance.

Today’s pain in the national gut is Raymond Davis. Here’s an American who shot two Pakistanis who were either robbers or intelligence agents (or both) and apparently took some photos that would certainly make a strange addition to a tourist’s photo album. Asif Ezdi writes in The News that,

The government will do a great service not only to the nation but also to itself if it does not bow to US demands on Davis. It will give some credibility to our claim of being a sovereign country and do a lot of good to national self-esteem. God knows we need it badly. Countries that succumb to the first signs of international pressure never attain their national goals.

Great. We thumb our nose over Raymond Davis, hang him in the street – or better yet, bravely shoot him 26 times in the back. Then what? We all feel better for a few days, maybe a week, and we will find that nothing has changed. Actually, things would probably even be worse.

Regardless of what is said by those who have made fortunes hawking conspiracy theories and stories about secret American designs on Pakistan, the best way to get rid of the Raymond Davis’s in Pakistan is to get our own issues under control ourselves. Here’s what Christine Fair says:

If Pakistanis genuinely want to toss off the yoke of financial servitude and gain a genuine stake in their government, they should stop howling at the US government. Instead, the street power mobilised to support a flawed law and a murderer should be redirected to policy issues that are critical to the state’s survival. And rest assured, financial sovereignty is one such issue.

Perhaps such advice is not as easy or as fun as burning effigies or shouting and stomping our feet outside the LHC. But if we’re really worried about Pakistani sovereignty, it might be the best advice there is. And it came from an American. I guess they understand the concept of ‘tough love’ also.

Is ‘Corruption’ The Problem…Or The Excuse?

Judging by the media coverage lately, the most serious threat to Pakistan and Islam is a reality TV show in India. While this seems to have raised the blood pressure of much of the nation’s intelligentsia, it should be relieved that if Pakistan’s greatest threat is an Indian reality TV show, we must be doing pretty well. The second most serious threat to Pakistan remains the old stand by issue for uncreative commentators facing a pressing deadline – corruption.

This past week has seen the return of corruption to the spotlight in the nation’s media. Presumably this is because the issue of rising extremism has been solved and all the flood affectees have been provided new housing and good jobs.

Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif termed corruption ‘the root cause of poverty and unemployment’ in the country.

Corruption has become a convenient excuse for politicians and intellectuals who are too scared or too lazy to formulate concrete suggestions for how to move the country forward. It is the way that these leaders avoid responsibility for their own failures. After all, everything they are doing would work just fine if it were not for ‘corruption’.

Think about Shahbaz Sharif’s statement. He says that:

Pakistan can be strengthened economically and put on the road to progress and prosperity through good governance, curtailing expenditure and eradicating corruption.

This is a nice statement to print in the newspaper, but it is completely lacking in specific policies or solutions. Yes, we all want ‘good governance’ but please explain what exactly you mean. Curiously, the CM then claims that Punjab government “had promoted a corruption-free culture in the province and every rupee of public money was being used in a transparent manner in the execution of development projects.”

Well, this should be a good test, then, shouldn’t it? If Punjab government is corruption-free and EVERY SINGLE RUPEE OF PUBLIC MONEY is being spent corruption free, then Punjab should be a shining example of prosperity and security. Just look at this model of Shahbaz Sharif’s ‘corruption free’ education system!

Lahore students studying under the open sky

Jamil Nasir also describes corruption as the worst of the nation’s ills, but at least he comes to the discussion with some specific policy proposals that could be tested to find out if they could help limit bad practices in the future. These include simplifying rules and increasing accountability mechanisms. In this way his column is more useful than Shahbaz Sharif’s beating the drum of corruption to excuse his own failings.

Economic reforms aimed at simplifying cumbersome laws and procedures, doing away with inefficient regulations and redesigning the incentive system for the civil services can go a long way in reducing the levels of corruption, both real and perceived, in the ‘land of the pure’.

But even though Jamil Nasir presents some interesting ideas for reducing corruption, it still should be asked if corruption is actually the root cause of all of our problems.

Recently we looked at how corruption exists in the US and even in its government programs such as USAID. Yet the US does not suffer from suicide bombings and assassinations and load shedding and children studying under the open sky due to lack of a proper school room.

Yahya wrote last month about how not only the US but India also suffers from corruption, and yet they are experiencing economic growth. And it’s not just the US and India but China which is rapidly becoming the world’s largest economy next to America has corruption “ingrained in the system” according to a report in BBC.

“Since the relevant mechanisms and systems are still incomplete, corruption persists, with some cases even involving huge sums of money,” it says.

“The situation in combating corruption is still very serious, and the tasks are still abundant.”

Yet neither is China suffering from the maladies that continue to plague our country.

The truth is that the worst form of corruption in Pakistan is not economic or government officials but it is the intellectual corruption that has replaced serious discussion of our problems and the appropriate solutions. It is too easy to accuse someone as ‘corrupt’ without providing any evidence of corrupt acts. It is too easy to avoid responsibility for failing to produce solutions by simply blaming some nameless, faceless ‘corruption’ as the bogey man.

As the US, India, and China prove, economies can grow and improvements to governance made over time even while there is corruption – even at ‘serious’ levels. But no matter how clean are the books, there will never be investment in a place where industrial leaders do not know if they will be murdered in the street or blown up while at the market. Corruption should not be tolerated, and sensible solutions should be adopted to prevent corruption from taking place. But before any progress will be made, we must stop using ‘corruption’ as a convenient excuse for a lack of ideas.

In Pakistan, A Tale of Two Women

There is no doubt Pakistan has experienced a tumultuous 2010. Heartbreaking reports of terrorism filled the headlines as floods submerged one-fifth of our nation. Our great country is working to better itself on multiple fronts – social, political, and economic – and our current place on the world stage allowed the entire world to bear witness to our progress. Two women, in completely separate instances, have captured some of the biggest challenges we must overcome. They are Dr. Aafia Siddiqui and Aasia Bibi. These two women would become respective symbols for right wing and liberal groups, as activists on both sides sought to define Pakistan’s national identity.

Aafia SiddiquiThe arrest, trial and verdict in the case of Dr. Aafia Siidiqui captured the world’s attention. An American-educated neuroscientist, she was convicted after a jury in a US federal court found her guilty of intent to murder Americans in Afghanistan. In September 2010, she was sentenced to 86 years in prison. A Muslim who engaged in Islamic charity work in the US, she moved back to Pakistan in 2002. It was reported that her second husband’s uncle, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (the infamous alleged planner of the September 11th attacks) mentioned her name to his interrogators, saying she was involved in similar activities, and thus led to her own interrogation by authorities.

Asia BibiAasia Bibi has nothing in common with Aafia’s background or the terrorism links. But her situation too, captured the world’s attention and brought sharply worded criticism towards the Pakistani laws that seemingly punish minorities.  Her story begins in the blazing summer heat of 2009, when other rural workers refused water from her because she was a Christian. The 45-year old mother of five was charged under Pakistan’s archaic and cruel blasphemy laws. The case has drawn international condemnation, and even Pope Benedict XVI has called for her release.

With the issues highlighted in both cases, we can see Pakistan faces challenges on all fronts – security, political, and social.

Multiple protests and riots have erupted all over Pakistan as supporters of Aafia Siddiqui, as her case has added to the fuel to the “Hate America” fire. She has become the poster child for the idea that Americans hate Pakistanis, and have framed an innocent woman. In a country overflowing with conspiracy theories, it is hardly surprising that Aafia’s tale has proven to intensify the right wing base.

Aasia Bibi’s case has brought to light the vicious anti-minority laws on the books, and a movement to amend those heinous laws has begun. But just as the right wingers sought to capitalize on this issue as well (a cleric has offered 500,000 rupees to anyone who kills Aasia), it seems the PPP has stepped up to honor its platform of equality for all.  Punjab’s Governor, Salmaan Taseer, has been outspoken on this issue, and will seek a pardon from President Zardari to stop the order of execution. We can only hope the appeals court will spare her life.

Terrorism, security issues, minorities’ rights are some of the many issues Pakistan has to face in the coming year. The hope and prayer will always be that in the end, we have created a more perfect society, one that treats all its citizens well.

Ardeshir Cowasjee: Hypocrites to the Core

Ardeshir Cowasjee

THE local outrage over the WikiLeaks exposure is as hypocritical as is the hypocrisy of our civil and military so-called leaders who cosy up to the Americans in private whilst expediently criticising them publicly.

For far too long, Pakistanis have abused the Americans while simultaneously seeking help from them. Those who have attempted to acknowledge our dependence on the US have been slammed by the ridiculous ` ghairat ` lobby. Why the unwillingness to recognise that our military needs US-made hardware and our economy needs US aid and investment? Does ghairat demand that we publicly abuse the US and those who openly acknowledge Pakistan`s dependence on Uncle Sam?

We all know how Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan pursued the US seeking aid, as have done all their successors. Let us look at the response to the country`s fifth prime minister, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, who tried to be honest and explain the realities of the world to the ghairat -obsessed. S.M. Burke, one of Pakistan`s earliest diplomats, who died recently aged 94, in his book, Pakistan`s Foreign Policy: An Historical Analysis describes truth telling thus:

“Suhrawardy frequently defended his pro-US foreign policy in public with a frankness unheard of in Pakistan till then. In one such extempore performance he faced a large gathering of East Pakistani students in the Salimullah Muslim Hall at Dhaka and decried the fact `that if we say anything in favour of America or the UK we are called “stooges of imperialism” and if we say anything in favour of Russia we are called “independent”`. He would try to compare the differences between various Muslim countries but it must be remembered that all the existing Muslim governments were weak. `The question is asked: why don`t we get together rather than be tied to a big power like the UK or America? My answer to that is that zero plus zero plus zero plus zero is after all equal to zero. We have, therefore, to go farther afield rather than get all the zeros together`.”

Nationwide protests ensued against the prime minister`s insult to the ummah. His resignation was demanded, and the Muslim League and religious parties dubbed him an imperialist agent.

WikiLeaks on Pakistan are merely premature. Most State Department cables become available after a few years following declassification. Access to old cables aptly illustrate the hypocrisy of Pakistanis towards the US.

Ayub Khan publicly spoke of wanting Friends not Masters. But what did he say to the Americans in private? In 1953, “Ayub Khan visited Washington `at his own volition,` ahead of a visit by Pakistan`s civilian head of state and foreign minister. He sought a `deal whereby Pakistan could — for the right price — serve as the West`s eastern anchor in an Asian alliance structure.” State Department declassified cable quoted in Shirin Tahir-Kheli`s book The United States and Pakistan : Evolution of an Influence Relationship.

“In the quest for US support, Ayub Khan went so far as to tell a US official, `Our army can be your army if you want.” Dennis Kux . United States and Pakistan, 1947-2000.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto made a career out of being anti-American. He even wrote a book titled The Myth of Independence after leaving the Ayub government to score the point that whilst others compromised sovereignty, he would not. But let`s look at the text of Department of State Telegram from American Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State, Secret Cable No 861 dated 22 December 1971. ( Also included in Roedad Khan`s book, The American Papers Secret and Confidential, India-Pakistan-Bangladesh Documents 1965-1973) . It talks of Bhutto`s visit to the US ambassador two days after he took over. “Surprisingly and quite independently, I received a phone call late afternoon of Wednesday, Dec 22, from the president`s office asking if I would receive the president at my residence in the evening. President Bhutto arrived at 2130 hours local and conversed with me for 35 minutes. He was accompanied by Mustafa Khar, recently announced governor and martial law administrator of Punjab. Khar took virtually no part in the conversation which ensued.

“After exchange of social amenities, and after noting that his call upon me was most unusual from the standpoint of protocol, Bhutto said that he was so acting to signal strongly his reaffirmation of a whole new period of close and effective relations with the United States. He said whatever criticism the United States may have had regarding his past posture, he now hoped that it would be forgotten as our two countries `with mutual interests` came closer together in common cause. He said that he again wished to express his appreciation for the assistance which the United States had extended to Pakistan during its greatest crisis, and added that it would not be forgotten.” There is much more but space is short.

Things haven`t changed since 1956, when Suhrawardy made his remark. Pakistan`s present often reviled ambassador the US, Husain Haqqani, has read and learned a lot since his birth in 1956. He attempted to do as did Suhrawardy.

Soon after becoming ambassador in a June 2008 in a TV interview with one of the ghairat champions Haqqani was asked, “Why don`t we look the US in the eye?” He responded, accurately, “To look someone in the eye, you have to be approximately the same height.” Haqqani`s name has not yet cropped up in any embarrassing WikiLeaks cables but he is still unreasonably abused for seeking what Pakistan has always sought from the US — military and economic aid.

Originally published by Dawn on 19 December 2010.

Taking Responsibility For Ourselves

I hear a lot of people saying that we should quit relying on foreign aid, specifically from America, so that we can loose our country from the obligations that come with it. Shafqat Mahmood gets it 100% correct in his column for The News today: taking responsibility for ourselves means more than saying ‘No’ to America – it means being honest about the root causes of the problems facing our nation and making the sometimes uncomfortable decisions required to solve them. Mahmood also makes clear that, unless we want to be isolated and miserable like North Korea, calls to cut-off relations with the West are self-defeating. We need to learn to cooperate with the world community in a way that teaches the rest of the world to respect our interests just as we will respect theirs. Then our relations will be more than ‘bi-lateral’, the will be mutually beneficial.

Global perceptions and our disconnect

While there may be good reasons to get hot and bothered about the Wikileaks disclosures concerning our ruling elite, the real story lies elsewhere. It is the steep decline in our global image and the corresponding lack of care within the country that should really keep us awake at night.

Expressions like pariah state or rogue state can be attributed to the propaganda of our adversaries, but this should not stop us from looking within. If we get into the mode of attributing everything negative to Indo-Israeli-American conspiracies, it will take us further away from reality.

This is not to say that our adversaries do not conspire to do us in. But to imagine that Messrs Obama (who can hardly be characterised as an adversary), Manmohan Singh and Netanyahu wake up every morning and start wondering what they can do to punish Pakistan is a bit farfetched.

Every individual is naturally the centre of the universe to himself or herself because reality as it exists can only be perceived by one’s own senses. But, to imagine one’s country to be the nucleus of global politics or intrigues is slightly ridiculous to say the least.

This also stops one from taking a hard look at our own behaviour. Blaming others becomes an excuse to avoid self-analysis. Self righteousness is the next step, where it is easy to believe that we are right and everyone else is wrong.

And this becomes a disaster for our global perceptions. It is easy to say, “why should we worry about what the world thinks of us,” – and easier still to get on the high horse of national honour and say go to hell to everyone.

If this is done with solid reality and beliefs backing you up, the possibility over time of being vindicated is high. But, if the stance obviously denies reality then the talk becomes nothing more than hot air. It convinces no one and is childishly self-destructive.

This is what we see a lot of in the media. People who otherwise seem quite intelligent make outlandishly self-serving and self-righteous arguments. The gist of them all is that while there is little wrong with us, the world has conspired to do us in.

Take the issue of militancy and terrorism in the country. There are two ways of looking at it. One is to recognise that we have a serious problem and it is not confined to the tribal areas. The other is to blame it on the Americans, Indians, Israelis, or justify it as the consequence of drone attacks etc as Mr Imran Khan and some in the media do.

Why don’t we recognise that while there may be some outside interference – and drone attacks certainly don’t help – we have a home-grown problem? For reasons too often enumerated, a slice of our population has been radicalised and is willing to resort to all means to have its way.

If this were to be confined within, the world might have sympathised but not made too much of it. This is the attitude generally taken towards the Maoist insurgency in India. But, our radicals do not only have a national agenda. They have targeted the West and have been involved in Indian-held Kashmir and Afghanistan.

The sad part is that in the past elements within our state have egged them on and although they now forswear any role, the world finds it hard to believe us. It still thinks that either the ISI or elements within it have some connection if not outright control over them.

This perception has been heightened by various aspects of the 26/11 Mumbai tragedy. India of course insists that the ISI is involved but let us leave its perceptions aside. It is after all an adversary. The sophisticated nature of the operation, the training and preparation also convinces many in the international community that it could not have been managed by non-state actors.

We made a good start to refute this propaganda. There was genuine anguish among the government and the people of Pakistan about what had happened. The words of sympathy emanating from here were not fake.

The Federal Investigation Agency then led by the much-admired Tariq Khosa also carried out a thoroughly professional investigation and worked out the exact sequence of events. As a consequence, some arrests were made and evidence and dossiers exchanged with India.

And then nothing.

It is true that our court system is not particularly quick or effective but after two years, at least some move forward should have been made. It is in our interest to do so. If those arrested have committed what is called cross-border terrorism, they have damaged Pakistan internationally and not India.

A fair trial and conviction is the easiest way to tell the world that we as a state are a part of the international effort to combat terrorism by non-state actors. This has nothing to do with India although a move forward on this matter would immeasurably help to improve relations with it. It has everything to do with Pakistan’s global image of being a responsible state.

And also not a failing state. The second thing that people worry about us is that our state institutions have deteriorated to such an extent that we are not able to subdue non-state actors even if we want to. This has a great deal of truth in it because even regarding the trial of the Mumbai accused, what worries us is the reaction within and whether we will have the capacity to control it.

This is where the provincial governments have to raise their hand and indicate that they are willing to take on the challenge. It is their law enforcement institutions, particularly the police and the courts, that have to take the lead. They have to be on the frontline and not just rely on the army or federal intelligence agencies to do the job.

Whatever method we take, it is in our deep national interest to send a message to the international community that we are in line with global thinking on non-state actors and terrorism. Any ambiguity on this issue will not be acceptable and will go against us.

Lastly, to those who are ready to thumb their nose at the international community all the time, please understand the times we live in. The world is now interconnected and interdependent. Isolation is a disaster particularly for a country that has serious economic and governance problems.

We don’t need to become anybody’s lackey or do exactly what others want us to do. It is important to clearly state our national interest and logically argue its underpinnings. But at the same time, we cannot afford to have a global image of being a rogue state. Our survival depends on it.