Thursday, October 17, 2013

Talks with Taliban – A false narrative

With clock ticking to a NATO withdrawal end next year, the talk of talks with Taliban in Pakistan is diverting attention from a much needed military operation against militants. Confused by their surreal expectations, political opportunism, and lack of understanding of regional security paradigm, PTI and PML-N are pushing Pakistan to a security black hole.
For one, those advocating the dialogue have got the diagnosis wrong. For successful dialogue, first thing worth knowing is the demand of the other party. And the advocates of talks seem to have no clue of Taliban or their intentions. 
First things first, Taliban are not tribal Pashtuns. True, many Taliban are Pashtun tribesmen but then there are equal number of Punjabis in their ranks and then sizable number from South Balochistan (Jind Ullah recruits) and Kashmir. And then, of course, is the foreign element of Middle East and Central Asia. So bracketing their struggle with Pashtun grievance is a gross mistake, and with it goes the argument of link of terrorism with drones.
Second, Taliban's demands are fuzzy at best. Move out of US's war on terror is one of them. Question one needs to ask is what will be the parameters of disengagement that will satisfy them. Will they be happy if Pakistan stops NATO supply lines? If so, why didn't terrorism end when Pakistan had the supply line blocked for many months post Salala? Will they be happy if Pakistan takes on drones? But drones were few and far between in 2005 and 2006 and a lot happened even then. In fact, some of the bombings took place (e.g. attack on New Zealand Cricket Team) even before the drones actually started. Do they want us to severe diplomatic ties with US and other NATO countries? Or do they want us to actually fight the NATO occupiers in Afghanistan? We do not know what they want and neither their advocates are shedding any light on it. And also, despite this fuzzy/slippery set of demands, even if Pakistan complies, will they be fine with Pakistan Army remaining in tribal areas and operating against the armed militias? Will they lay down their arms as a precondition or alongside? Anyone who answers yes to them is seriously mistaken.
Third demand is closest to their true intention. Agree or not, but they have a system of Islamic Shariah in mind and they want to impose it across the globe. The motives may be political or ideological, but this is the gist of their movement. So let's talk Shariah. For one, are we fine with their interpretation of Shariah and ready to let go our way of living, no schooling for girls, women confined to homes, beard/ dress code imposed? And even if we are and say Nawaz Sharif reintroduces 15th amendment and becomes Amir-ul-Momineen, will their struggle end there? If your answer is yes, you need a reality check. If their guns impose a system, it will be they who will be ruling. So once Shariah comes, next demand will be that Nawaz Sharif or Munawar Hassan or Imran Khan or even Sami Ul Haq, for all their pity, step aside and let the true Men of Shariah (Taliban) rule. If you yield to the demand of the gun, it is the barrel of gun that will rule, it is this simple!
And then, even if all of it is sorted out, are we ready to be fodder of a global invasion through Jihad that they propagate. They surely would not stop at conquering Pakistan. Their ambitions are global and thus we will be dragged into it.
Another key thing to realize is that for their military operations, Taliban rely on a network of drug-dealers, arms suppliers etc. According to estimates of intelligence agencies, Taliban and their local affiliates patronize a drug trade worth US$ 5bn or more per year. Their base is in it for mafia operations. A state can talk with insurgents and separatists but it cannot talk with mafias.
So putting the choice in naive terms of dialogue vs. no dialogue and our men blowing us for their anger against Americans is naive. The real question that we need to ask and the real debate we need to have is: are we ready to let go our way of life to comply with a system of living under Taliban and are we ready to be the fodder of a Global Jihad against the whole world? Or do we cherish our way of living and want to preserve and protect it while being engaged with the world at large? Are we ready to surrender to mafia or the only way out is to fight it? An honest answer is important but from naive or deceitful Imran Khan and Ch. Nisar one must, at least, ask for some honesty in framing the right question.
And then the biggest problem with this dialogue initiative is the timing of it. By the end of 2014, NATO intends to leave Afghanistan. In the post-NATO Afghanistan, to have relevance (and relevance we need there) Pakistan needs to have support of most of 8 key power players there (Karazais, Haqqanis, Mullah Omar, Dostam, Punjsheris, Hazaras, and Kabuli establishment and business class). To reach this, support of Mullah and Haqqani is a must. But if TTP is strong and Pakistan cuts a deal with Mullah and Haqqani, the bargaining hand of the State of Pakistan will be very weak and because of their TTP connections, it will be Mullah and Haqqani who will be dictating terms to Pakistan and forcing us to support them for complete dominance of Afghanistan; a dominance they will eventually use to dominate Pakistan. So it is important for the State of Pakistan to get rid of TTP so that it is State of Pakistan that has a dominant upper hand in dealings with Haqqani and Mullah. With this, it can prevent them from dominating Afghanistan and force them to a broad-based power-sharing agreement that involves at least 5 of 8 power players and can protect its and its allies interests in Afghanistan. Window for that closes in December 2014 and Pakistan needs to break TTP's back before. Those advocating dialogue are buying time for TTP when time is what we do not have. In the guise of peace, to an Armageddon we are being pushed to!!!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Conspi - F***ing - racy..................

Pardon me for my language but I cannot help it. Chairman of PTI, the wizard of Wisdom said that killing of Maj. General Sanaullah is a conspiracy to sabotage the peace talks with Taliban. Conspiracy?, when the responsibility has been claimed by the Taliban officials. 
Who conspired then? You offered Taliban peace talks. If they kill your men, that means they are not interested in peace and are bent on settling old scores. It is commonsense which probably is not taught at Aitchison and Oxford or may be someone was bunking the classes there.  Idiocy and idiosyncrasy cannot go farther than this.
And when PTI is busy in this idiocy, Ch. Nisar was talking to Wazir-Mushir of Taliban, maulana Ansar Chief Justice Abbasi, that certain influential forces in the country (read Pakistan Army) are bent on creating misunderstanding between Govt. and Taliban. And the next day, Taliban oblige him by killing three Army men including a Maj. General?
So may be another explanation to this idiocy is cowardice. Leadership of PTI and PML-N is so scared of Taliban that they want to appease them at any cost. Kill citizens, kill army men, kill Generals, and we will remain silent for please spare us. Way to go tigers (both cornered and white). What Shame!!!!!!! Even more so, what Gelly Spine!!! We, my countrymen, can do better than this lot of tigers.....

Sunday, September 08, 2013

President Zardari - What's ahead?

Today ends the presidential tenure of President Zardari. He leaves the presidency with a mixed bag of achievements, and with the strongest democratic credentials of any head of state yet. But it is the party in shambles he is returning to that makes the event more intriguing for the future polity.
In my last post, I talked about the uphill task that is ahead of PPP if the party wants to revive her fortunes. Yet a very important question for that revival is whether the party should do it with President Zardari or without him? Put simply, is his innings over or not?
So here are my two cents. For one, if PPP has to revive her fortunes, presently, no one can do it except President Zardari. He is the only central figure who has the capital (personal legacy and family link to Bhuttos) and the outreach and connection with party's base. More importantly, he seems most politically apt of the lot that PPP possesses. If this is not enough, he understand the policy agenda better than anyone I have known/ seen in present PPP. Just when Aitzazs and Rabbanis may be more acceptable ideologues, they lack any sustainable policy message. Just when Wattos and Gillanis may be good at political dealings, they lack the broader party vision. And just when President's children may have more appeal with party's base, they lack the experience and political understanding of Pakistan's political minefield for now. So, any hopes of revival of PPP rest on Zardari and it is he who is most likely to revive the fortunes of PPP, if party plays her cards well and has luck on her side.
And apart from analytics, there is one more reason that makes me believe Asif Zardari's real innings has yet to begin. And that stems from my belief (yup, not analytical reasoning) that good intentions are never wasted. President Zardari practiced reconciliation and tolerance, and promoted democracy with a firm conviction and belief. He did it not because he had to but because he absolutely wanted to. He believed in moving economic bounty to have-nots and this, too, was driven by his conviction. And it is these for which he will be rewarded. And so, I believe his and his party's political role is not over.
Well played Mr. President. You have given us democracy and strong democratic traditions, and we look forward to your innings as the one who will deliver other bounties in that democratic system. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Reviving the narrative, not PPP

The title says it all and highlights the flaw in the approach since Elections. In fact, it highlights the flaw in the approach for last few years, especially since 2009. And it is important to emphasize on this because after elections, PPP, and the progressive politics in Pakistan, has entered a zone where the dangers are eminent for it and for the broader social structure and political order.
First things first, let me clarify one thing on the onset. In my view, the elections of 2013 were neither free nor fair, and in the event of free and fair elections and an opportunity to campaign freely, PPP had the support base to add 30-40 seats to its current tally. But having said that, what happened has happened and now we stand at a juncture where the future of this left-leaning, liberal, progressive party faces serious threats and challenges. And with this, of course, is in question the future of a progressive, federal narrative in Pakistan's politics.
What the election results have done is it has made PPP pretty much irrelevant in Punjab. Having reduced to the number 3 party in Punjab, it will not be the party of choice when people want to oust PML-N. People, in any eventuality, will look towards PTI. And this narrative holds true for most of Punjab, except some pockets of South Punjab, where the party is still relevant. And the irrelevance in Punjab means that party's chance of forming a government in Islamabad will be close to zero. And this, ultimately, will start making the party irrelevant as a nationwide federationist party.
So can PPP bounce back before the journey to irrelevance is completed. Well, it is difficult but not improbable. But one thing is for sure, to accomplish this feat, the party will need to change its narrative. Or to be precise, to stay relevant, the progressive politics in Pakistan will need to change its narrative.
In fact, they should have changed it a few years ago. What PPP (and for that matter ANP too) focused on defining themselves was in terms of their liberal credentials around War on Terror. Part of it had to do with the fact that though these parties enjoyed massive public support, they needed to play to the western audience to force Pakistan's regressive establishment to allow them space. But once the space was given to them, they needed to tone down the liberal side of their polity a bit.
Again, in no way I imply that PPP's stance on liberalism is flawed or unrealistic or opportunist. I support PPP because it believes in having progressive, liberal values and is clear in fighting war on terror. I also know and realize that fighting terrorists is the only way to Pakistan's survival and WoT is our war first and last. However, asserting liberal values is an issue that is not at the priority of most people. In fact, liberalism and things like WoT are very low on the priority of most Pakistanis, of those who vote PPP and of those who do not. And it is for this marketing reason, the party did not need to brand itself as a liberal party fighting the menace of Taliban.
What Pakistanis care for the most is their own economic condition. And, unfortunately, that is where PPP, despite having a very sound message, failed to brand itself. Rather than drawing the battle lines on grounds of liberal vs conservative, they should have been, and should be, drawn between a crony capitalist political ideology that favors rich and urban, and a more equitable Pakistan where state acts as a catalyst to uplift the economic condition of havenots.
Even in somewhat abysmal tenure of last 5 years, PPP has done a lot for the havenots and it is disturbing that it could not capitalize on its performance in its election campaign. According to numerous studies, anywhere between PKR 1 trillion to PKR 1.8 trillion,additional, moved into rural economy during PPP's last tenure and yet this was, almost, no where to be seen in party's marketing campaign. BISP, Tractors, Land, Waseela-e-Haq, support price for crops etc were all success stories and yet party failed to market them and kept defining itself as a party fighting Taliban. Fighting Taliban is noble but it is not what the voters wanted to hear.
Shahbaz Sharif in Punjab distributed 300,000 laptops and it was a major marketing feat. 8 million households were getting PKR 1,000 every month and it was no where to be seen, no ceremonies, no minister highlighting the significance of this, no media coverage. Not because it could not but because party thought it needed to be vocal on issue of terrorism more. Do not believe me, listen to the speeches of President and Chairman of last three years, and terrorism was the main thrust.
One needs to assess why party shunned its economic message. Part of the reason may be its international compulsions but I think even bigger reason is lack of understanding on part of most of party's leaders in government of economic issues. Party think tanks feel closer to liberal agenda than to an equitable economic one and this reflects in the message. Want a check, pre and post-election, almost all the press talk, Op-eds coming from party's thinkers are on issues of liberalism. If Benazir was alive, she, most likely, would have made the correction once in power. Without her, execution is crisp but long-term strategic thinking is facing a big setback.
Party can still revive itself but for that it will need to change the message. It needs to highlight its equitable income distribution, affirmative action credentials. It needs to emphasize on its pro-agriculture, pro-employment, pro-poor policies. It needs to present itself as the party of equitable, just economic management that it actually is.
It was economics on which the party was created and became a force, it is economics on which progressive politics in Pakistan has been thriving, and it will be economics where it will survive. If people see economic rationale of supporting PPP, through indifference or conviction of masses, the liberal agenda will follow.

Friday, September 07, 2012

What is happening in Pakistan? - 8


This crisis is existential crisis of Central Punjab. If Central Punjab does not manage to tackle these changing realities facing it, it will be one of the worst disasters in human history. With around 70 million people possibly on the verge of economic collapse, water shortage and possibly famine, the consequences are not hard to predict.
Unfortunately, for now, no one realizes the root cause of Punjab’s (and thus Pakistan’s problems).  Punjabi leadership is blaming all the wrong entities for its woes and is devising all the wrong solutions while being unaware of what has struck them. This lack of clue for what has struck is a strong reason behind blaming all for our woes.
If Punjabis think the colonization of “loose area” resources leading to subsidized energy and raw materials can continue, they are mistaken. Punjab is surrounded by resource rich entities in this country. And their resources will very soon draw other regional and international players, in case, a resistance movement to Punjabi-dominated states colonization drive emerges. These international and regional players, at any given time, will offer those regions a better deal than Punjabi colonization. Well we have nukes. But then we will not be fighting with Iranians, Indians, Afghans, Emiratis, or for that matter Americans, Chinese or Russians. If it comes to showdown we will be fighting Sindhis, Balochis, Pashtuns, Saraikis, Baltis, Wakhis with players at their back and using nukes is not an option there.
This reality makes Punjabis a minority in the new emerging power structure of Pakistan, and to maximize their power, they will need to cut deals with other parts of the countries. One institution that realizes this reality is Army (though it still has to do a lot to cut its size and its business enterprise to be fully in sync with new realities). In these emerging realities, a wise businessman will be better of making other regions offers they cannot refuse.
Also, revoking Indus-basin will not solve the problem either. First, Pakistan does not have enough muscle to force India out of Indus-basin. Even if, hypothetically, it does, it will make Indian north (from Punjab to Bihar) facing same energy and water crisis make more vulnerable to ultimate disaster. This potential disaster across border shall be another cause of concern for Pakistani state for it might lead to massive migration pressure on our Eastern border, just as collapse of Punjab (if we fail) will lead to on India’s Western border.
So what is the way forward? Pakistani economy needs a combination of shock-therapy and compassion. Devolution, political and fiscal, to the provinces and districts is the only deal which can keep external powers away from our resources. State shall withdraw all subsidies and protections from businesses and let non-competitive industries (like automobiles) die, so that the resources could be diverted to industries/businesses that can survive paying full energy price and price of raw materials. This must be coupled with targeted subsidies for vulnerable to tame the social impact.
And we need to cut the size of the government significantly in all areas except health, education, and law and order. To tackle the menace of mafias and violence, we need to expand the writ of the state, and that expansion of writ shall quickly be followed by establishing a strong localized governance structure. 
Punjab has to play a vital role if the country has to survive. Punjabis are hardworking and enterprising. They have been held hostage by elite which in their name is exploiting the resources of Pakistani state. It has turned the enterprising, hardworking Punjab into rent-eater, providing Punjabis with delirium of worthless subsidize. As has happened in every economy in the world with enterprising communities, after slight pain, ordinary Punjabi too will thrive in the new economic landscape. Pakistan needs to be ridden of crony capitalism for its people to harness their full potential.
More so, Punjab needs to act for its own survival. It needs to focus on sources of electricity it can afford (for now I can think of Solar and Nuclear). It needs to put resources into research on solar energy and low-loss transmission of electricity. It needs to modernize the grid. It needs to focus on low-energy designs of machinery/houses. It needs to focus on low-water crops/irrigation methods. Punjab needs to be at the fore of energy revolution that is taking place in the world. And it needs to do so for survival. Enterprising Punjab needs to innovate, innovate, innovate. And for this it needs to rise against bureaucratic permit raj and controlled economy. It is in Punjab's interest to ask for opening up of economy. Punjab, in the long run, will benefit if the economy is deregulated and subsidies and permits are removed. Only such environment will allow it to reap the benefits of its hard work and enterprise, the only, yet valuable, sell-able Punjab has in emerging Pakistan and world. 
I am a Punjabi and I am worried. If Punjab fails, the displacement of 70 million people because of hunger, water shortage etc will make many a states collapse. It will impact not only Punjab but adjoining provinces and states. But my hope stems from the enterprising ordinary Punjabi and from the fact that the prospects of this disaster will unite us. It will make Punjabis have a just bargain with other stakeholders in Pakistan. And it will make other stakeholders internal and external to accept such just bargain.
For now, under the hegemonic leadership and state machinery, Punjab is bent on old ways. These ways will not succeed. Soon, Punjab has to awake to the reality and flow like water, finding path along the way. This will make Punjab flow and this will make Pakistan flow. It is time to reclaim our Punjab, it is time to start the fight for survival. Failure is not an option!

What is happening in Pakistan? - 7


That said, the loud chorus of chants of religion and nationalism could not change the course of time. Just as the logical conclusion of independence had to be industrialization of Punjab and rise of a Punjabi business class, similarly the independence and industrialization ultimately had to lead to awakening of loose areas and their demand for control of their resources.
Wise men running the show would have realized where things were headed. The state, above all, should have focused on a more equitable resource distribution through taxation, upgrading of loose areas, and targeted subsidies to the underprivileged. On the contrary, Punjabi business class dominated state subsidized non-competitive industries, kept increasing the size of federal government, and tried diverting natural resources in favor of those same business classes at the expense of locals. Feudalism is long dead, it is the crony capitalism that has ailed Pakistan and so we reach the juncture where the strain of changing time is on us the hardest.
The strain is particularly hard because Central Punjab in the process has evolved into a dense population belt extending till Bihar which faces challenges of water-supply and energy. When Pakistan came into being, in our region, the biggest energy source people were striving for was food and Punjab, being the bread-basket of the region, had plenty of it. However, since then, with rapid industrialization and new global economic realities, food is not the only energy need men have. There, in fact, is a more critical energy needed and that is the energy that runs machines. Punjab is the only region in Pakistan that does not have indigenous energy sources (except solar which for now is not commercially feasible). It neither has fossil fuels nor hydal (though smart planning to exploit gradients at the time of Indus-basin would have helped a bit in this regard). Since independence, State of Pakistan has subsidized the local and imported energy sources to facilitate businesses (mostly Punjabi and of Karachi). With time, as the people of areas with energy sources are becoming more vocal about control over their resources and industrialization and modernity is spreading to more and more “loose areas”, the subsidies are becoming hard to sustain. More so, cost of subsidy on imported energy is killing the national exchequers and thus the whole model has become unsustainable. The power crisis we are facing is a structural issue and can only be fixed if people are made to pay full price of energy. But this will be a huge strain on the biggest consumer groups of energy (Karachi and Central Punjab). Karachi has two advantages going its way. First, it is in Sindh (the largest energy reservoir of Pakistan) and secondly the business there is already more competitive and, based on my personal feeling, has more elasticity to adapt to revised energy cost structure. In Punjab, however, shifting the economy to real energy costs will be a very painful process.
If energy woes were not enough, Punjab is also on the brink of an intense water crisis. The drying of five-river channel is lowering water tables. With more irrigation activity on Indus Channel; Punjab, now, has competing claims to the only water source of Pakistan. If this was not enough, the urbanization will soon cause competing claims on available water sources from agricultural and industrial/commercial sectors.

What is happening in Pakistan? - 6


As a result of industrialization in adjoining areas and migration to Middle East and Europe, the loose areas came in contact with modernity, initially weak and then strong voices of control over regional resources started emerging. In response, the slogans of nationalism and federalism were used to strengthen centralized control over the resources. These chants not only suited the dominant Punjabi/Karachi business community thriving on loose area resources and migrant communities in search of space in Pakistan but also suited the military and civil bureaucracy, and thus emerged the genesis of Pakistan’s great divide. This all has shaped up the reality of Pakistan and narrative in which we have been living for past few decades.
In the midst of emerging voices for control of resources from loose areas, benefactors of crony capitalist system started patronizing voices of “nationalism” and “Islamism” to continue on the route of a centralized system. Here lies support of Martial Laws in Punjab’s Urban Centers and Karachi (particularly business community).  Just when the dominance of Central Punjab in the power structure of Pakistan was governed by economic factors beyond anyone’s control, these crony capitalist mistook it for their brilliance and maneuvering. And those, at the helm of patriotism and Islamism, started attributing any achievements that Punjabi business class had because of end of colonization and their economic superiority vs. the rest to Islamism and nationalism. 
Unfortunately, when religion and patriotism is used for hegemonic designs, the consequences do not end there. Things ultimately lead to erosion of state and decay of society. The extremist and militant tendencies take root and rational analysis of issues and their practical solutions become the victim. From Europe to China, every human society has been on this path at some point in their evolution to industrial revolution and those who have sorted it out have reaped the rewards of modernity. What made this worse for us was the fact that the rise of Islamism coincided with Iranian revolution and a counter extremist assault by vulnerable Arab regimes. If that was not enough, Afghan Jihad provided the perfect backdrop for militancy and violent Islam. The crisis of terrorism at the root is crisis of establishment of writ of state.

What is happening in Pakistan? - 5


Here the question arises whether it was intentional on part of Punjab to be the hegemone? Looking at the evidence, it seems Punjab had no intention to be the hegemonic but circumstances led a way where Punjabi aristocracy found itself in a place where it could wield influence to control economic/political policy and resources through a centralized system of government.
To be fair to Punjabis, Punjabis never wanted Pakistan. They were the most well-to-do ethnicity in British India, growing food and paid handsomely in real-wealth terms. More so, they had access to the most lucrative of Raj’s jobs, the military ones. It was this prosperity that made them among the best local allies of British. Till partition, Punjabis were not as enthusiastic about Pakistan and Muslim League as Muslims from other areas of subcontinent including Bengalis and Sindhis were. When partition became inevitable, it was only then that they switched fully to the idea of Pakistan.
What followed was even more nightmarish. Punjab was divided and the transfer of refugee populations between Muslim-dominated Pakistan and Hindu-dominated India took anywhere between half a million to million lives. It could never be worse for Punjabis. The fear of being uprooted and losing their lands and livelihood had made Punjabis compromise with invaders for centuries. Thus the concept that their livelihoods will survive any eventuality was as strong in Punjabi mindset as was the concept of Middle Kingdom in Chinese mindset at the cusp of 20th century.
With partition, on one hand Punjabis' sense of stability and security was challenged. On the other, having most fertile land and most amount of real wealth, in a newly independent State offered them the opportunity to prosper through industrialization along with the farms they owned and operated.
Also, since Punjabi migrants and Karachi migrants were a dominant part in the earlier establishment of Pakistan, for their own legitimacy, they stressed on the need for having Islam as the reason d’être of Pakistan. This was the only way they could find space for themselves in a land that was traditionally inhibited by West Punjabis, Saraikis, Sindhis, Balochs, Pashtuns, Barahwis, Potoharis, and other natives. One will not be surprised to find that the most of leaders of Anti-Ahmadi riots and other Islamization drives were migrant Hindi-belt/Punjabi leaders.

What is happening in Pakistan? - 4


The reason Punjabis gradually rose to dominance in Pakistan’s power structure had to do with the fact that Punjabis had the most real wealth among all entities in Pakistan. In Raj, Punjabis produced stuff which was least controlled by colonizers and was consumed locally rather than being sent to British manufacturers. What they produced was sold in local market and so they were likely to get the best return for the produce, thus accumulating wealth in the form of assets and savings. More importantly, land distribution among Punjabis was more equal which enabled most to share the reward on the produce. This enabled them to be the segment of population with the most real wealth at the time of partition. This real wealth enabled them to catch on commercialization bandwagon as they saw opportunities appearing in post-Raj Pakistan. Also, this combination of wealth and numbers, and the fact that the state dominated economic opportunity in Pakistan, made them focus on dominating the civil services in Pakistan. Thus began their rise in bureaucracy and judiciary. More so, since Punjab was the bread basket in early days of Pakistan in an agrarian economy and then became the industrial hub, it was in interest of Central government to divert resource to Punjab. So as Punjabis industrialized; Pakistani establishment which initially comprised Urdu Speaking bureaucracy, Punjabi Army, Gujrati/Marwadi business community, and Punjabi Agriculturists, started becoming more and more Punjabi dominated.
Since most rapid of industrialization and urbanization was taking place in Punjab and Karachi, most of the resources at the disposal of state were diverted to these areas. With Punjab having the bulk of urbanization, it got the most of resources.
One instance of diversion of resources was Indus Basin treaty. Pakistan realized soon enough that the water flowing from India cannot be reclaimed. So it agreed to a compromise where the world was asked to help Pakistan divert the water from Indus and tributaries (Kabul, Swat, Gilgit) to traditional five rivers. Plan made perfect sense at that time because Five-river basin was the backbone of Pakistani economy, still agrarian in late 50s, and also because there was little or no cultivation across Indus’ channel.  
Same happened with other resources including natural gas and other natural resources. Punjab thriving on wealth generated from agricultural resources could move quicker on the ladder of urbanization and industrialization than the rest. Federal Govt. that was centralized saw it as a quick fix. The process led to economic advantage further shifting in Punjab’s favor.

What is happening in Pakistan? - 3


However the biggest factor that enabled the transformation mentioned above was economic and had started shaping up right after the partition. The economy in Raj comprised agriculture, resource extraction, merchandise in settled areas, and govt. service. Govt. Service and Merchandise, the jewels were reserved for denizens of settled areas by the virtue of system design. And any outsider jumping in was an exception not the rule. And these exceptions too, mostly emerged from children of feudal, nawabs, or government servants working in loose areas. One instance of this was sports. Entire cricket team of Pakistan came from three cities of Karachi, Lahore, and Rawalpindi many decades into independence, and used to have most of captains from first Central Model and then Aitchison College.
With Pakistan now in control of her own resources, the privileged classes started creating a new economy. This invariably led to utilizing and using of the resources of loose areas (both agricultural and mineral). But there was one problem. Earlier the resources were controlled by policies of Raj (colonial govt control) and were shipped to factories in Manchester and Brimingham, now the opportunities could only be created in Lyalpur and Karachi and Lahore. More so, it was the “loose area” resources that were needed to run these factories. On one hand this industrialization and trading required workers from loose areas while on the other, this allowed people of loose areas to see the real worth of their assets.
The industrialization and commercialization of Pakistani economy was initiated by Gujrati and Marwadi communities of Karachi who were dominant in merchandise during Raj. While the white-collar consumer segment, still relying mostly on government jobs, mostly comprised migrants classes of urban areas of old Awadh and Haiderabad urban centers.
The question, why Punjabis ended up dominating Pakistan, has never been answered. A simplistic vision attributes it to dominance in Armed Forces. Problem with this view is that in Army north Punjabis were dominant while it is central Punjab that wields more influence in Pakistan. Another explanation attributes influence to population size but then Bengalis had more numbers than anyone. A combo of dominance in Army and population is another explanation but this too fails to explain why Punjabis were not the most dominant players in Pakistan till late 50s, early 60s. In early decade of Pakistan, it was a combo of UP bureaucracy and Gujrati/Marwari businessmen that yielded comparable, probably even more influence than Punjabis. So what made Punjabis dominate?

What is happening in Pakistan? - 2


More so, the concept of state having modern (industrial revolution onwards) laws, and commerce and constitutional framework was a concept that was imported from abroad. It was Brits who introduced India, then living in pre-modern social/legal code, to the concept of modern state. From Eastern Europe to Pacific to Turkey, one thing is clear that this framework is essential if a society wants to develop in post-industrialization era.
However, for reasons of their own convenience, British did not extend the concept of modern state to entire India. They introduced the modern state framework in large cities and across key trade/defense routes but left the rest of India under the ambit of feudal/princely framework, having loose control through loyalties of feudal lords and local nawabs. This created two parallel societies living side by side, one living in modern world and the other in pre-modern world.
Since inception, India tried to expand the writ to earlier loose-framework zones. It has not succeeded in reaching length and breadth of India for a number of reasons, most of which are beyond the scope of our discussion.
In Pakistan, the elite, mostly dominated by migrants (Hindi belt) and Punjabis (Central Punjabis and Punjabi migrants), decided to continue with our variation of one country, two systems. This system allowed trader communities, big industrialists, feduals, civil and armed government servants, and urban elite to live in a world that was almost at par with modernity while the rest of Pakistan was managed as a remote fiefdom through a loose feudal/bureaucratic system. The areas farther from the urban centers (like FATA, Balochistan, Interior Sindh, South Punjab, South NWFP, most of East Pakistan) were the most loosely governed areas in this system.
Then came 60s. At the time, when Asia was ripe with talk of red revolution, politically mature Bengalis were running out of patience. In the bastion of the order, West Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto took the politics to small towns and villages and to the masses. Not only that, but rise of Middle East, and economic opportunities for working classes in Europe and Middle East, brought to villages and towns of Pakistan, a new found wealth. The firewall that was created between order and chaos by British started crumbling. Modernity had knocked at the door of a society that was living in 17th century sub-continental system.

What is happening in Pakistan? - 1


Sometimes, I make predictions and they have, occasionally, been proven right. Some around me attribute it to the company of my friends. I do not deny having the privilege of being in an intelligent and influential company of friends but I think some correct calls are both the cause and the effect of such company.
I think to help some understand why I say what I say, it will be a good idea to share my views on what is happening in Pakistan. Because once one understands the context, it becomes a lot easier to see how things are and where they are headed. This piece is an exercise in explaining how I see. While analyzing issues, I have tried to rely on unbiased judgment. I think my beliefs emerge from such analysis and not the other way round. Another thing important to note is that things are constantly in a flux, and so no ism, no political theory, in its totality can be relevant for a longer period of time. Times change and with them the challenges and so should the solutions. Lastly, this is my understanding of the issues and I will invite opinions/ comments on it to help me refine my view but for now I will narrate things the way I see them.
The fundamental crisis in Pakistan is the crisis of bringing to modernity a society and creating the concept of a state that has not historically existed. Just when transformation to post-industrial revolution world is what every part of the world has been through, what makes it more complex for places like Pakistan is the fact that Pakistan as a state and coherent society is very young.
Probably in every single respect, India faced the same challenges as Pakistan did. Like Pakistan, India too, though culturally and geographically interlinked, was never a state in its present boundaries. On three occasion when the rulers tried to create a union of India in the past (Asoka, Aurangzeb, and British), it has been viewed by others in Indian subcontinent as an imperial design and has hardly lasted more than a century or so. This has built defiance to centralized authority in Sub Continental DNA. This, also, has never allowed the sense of state and individual are the same to develop here.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

What is happening in Pakistan?


Sometimes, I make predictions and they have, occasionally, been proven right. Some around me attribute it to the company of my friends. I do not deny having the privilege of being in an intelligent and influential company of friends but I think some correct calls are both the cause and the effect of such company.
I think to help some understand why I say what I say, it will be a good idea to share my views on what is happening in Pakistan. Because once one understands the context, it becomes a lot easier to see how things are and where they are headed. This piece is an exercise in explaining how I see. While analyzing issues, I have tried to rely on unbiased judgment. I think my beliefs emerge from such analysis and not the other way round. Another thing important to note is that things are constantly in a flux, and so no ism, no political theory, in its totality can be relevant for a longer period of time. Times change and with them the challenges and so should the solutions. Lastly, this is my understanding of the issues and I will invite opinions/ comments on it to help me refine my view but for now I will narrate things the way I see them.
The fundamental crisis in Pakistan is the crisis of bringing to modernity a society and creating the concept of a state that has not historically existed. Just when transformation to post-industrial revolution world is what every part of the world has been through, what makes it more complex for places like Pakistan is the fact that Pakistan as a state and coherent society is very young.
Probably in every single respect, India faced the same challenges as Pakistan did. Like Pakistan, India too, though culturally and geographically interlinked, was never a state in its present boundaries. On three occasion when the rulers tried to create a union of India in the past (Asoka, Aurangzeb, and British), it has been viewed by others in Indian subcontinent as an imperial design and has hardly lasted more than a century or so. This has built defiance to centralized authority in Sub Continental DNA. This, also, has never allowed the sense of state and individual are the same to develop here.
More so, the concept of state having modern (industrial revolution onwards) laws, and commerce and constitutional framework was a concept that was imported from abroad. It was Brits who introduced India, then living in pre-modern social/legal code, to the concept of modern state. From Eastern Europe to Pacific to Turkey, one thing is clear that this framework is essential if a society wants to develop in post-industrialization era.
However, for reasons of their own convenience, British did not extend the concept of modern state to entire India. They introduced the modern state framework in large cities and across key trade/defense routes but left the rest of India under the ambit of feudal/princely framework, having loose control through loyalties of feudal lords and local nawabs. This created two parallel societies living side by side, one living in modern world and the other in pre-modern world.
Since inception, India tried to expand the writ to earlier loose-framework zones. It has not succeeded in reaching length and breadth of India for a number of reasons, most of which are beyond the scope of our discussion.
In Pakistan, the elite, mostly dominated by migrants (Hindi belt) and Punjabis (Central Punjabis and Punjabi migrants), decided to continue with our variation of one country, two systems. This system allowed trader communities, big industrialists, feduals, civil and armed government servants, and urban elite to live in a world that was almost at par with modernity while the rest of Pakistan was managed as a remote fiefdom through a loose feudal/bureaucratic system. The areas farther from the urban centers (like FATA, Balochistan, Interior Sindh, South Punjab, South NWFP, most of East Pakistan) were the most loosely governed areas in this system.
Then came 60s. At the time, when Asia was ripe with talk of red revolution, politically mature Bengalis were running out of patience. In the bastion of the order, West Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto took the politics to small towns and villages and to the masses. Not only that, but rise of Middle East, and economic opportunities for working classes in Europe and Middle East, brought to villages and towns of Pakistan, a new found wealth. The firewall that was created between order and chaos by British started crumbling. Modernity had knocked at the door of a society that was living in 17th century sub-continental system.
However the biggest factor that enabled the transformation mentioned above was economic and had started shaping up right after the partition. The economy in Raj comprised agriculture, resource extraction, merchandise in settled areas, and govt. service. Govt. Service and Merchandise, the jewels were reserved for denizens of settled areas by the virtue of system design. And any outsider jumping in was an exception not the rule. And these exceptions too, mostly emerged from children of feudal, nawabs, or government servants working in loose areas. One instance of this was sports. Entire cricket team of Pakistan came from three cities of Karachi, Lahore, and Rawalpindi many decades into independence, and used to have most of captains from first Central Model and then Aitchison College.
With Pakistan now in control of her own resources, the privileged classes started creating a new economy. This invariably led to utilizing and using of the resources of loose areas (both agricultural and mineral). But there was one problem. Earlier the resources were controlled by policies of Raj (colonial govt control) and were shipped to factories in Manchester and Brimingham, now the opportunities could only be created in Lyalpur and Karachi and Lahore. More so, it was the “loose area” resources that were needed to run these factories. On one hand this industrialization and trading required workers from loose areas while on the other, this allowed people of loose areas to see the real worth of their assets.
The industrialization and commercialization of Pakistani economy was initiated by Gujrati and Marwadi communities of Karachi who were dominant in merchandise during Raj. While the white-collar consumer segment, still relying mostly on government jobs, mostly comprised migrants classes of urban areas of old Awadh and Haiderabad urban centers.
The question, why Punjabis ended up dominating Pakistan, has never been answered. A simplistic vision attributes it to dominance in Armed Forces. Problem with this view is that in Army north Punjabis were dominant while it is central Punjab that wields more influence in Pakistan. Another explanation attributes influence to population size but then Bengalis had more numbers than anyone. A combo of dominance in Army and population is another explanation but this too fails to explain why Punjabis were not the most dominant players in Pakistan till late 50s, early 60s. In early decade of Pakistan, it was a combo of UP bureaucracy and Gujrati/Marwari businessmen that yielded comparable, probably even more influence than Punjabis. So what made Punjabis dominate?
The reason Punjabis gradually rose to dominance in Pakistan’s power structure had to do with the fact that Punjabis had the most real wealth among all entities in Pakistan. In Raj, Punjabis produced stuff which was least controlled by colonizers and was consumed locally rather than being sent to British manufacturers. What they produced was sold in local market and so they were likely to get the best return for the produce, thus accumulating wealth in the form of assets and savings. More importantly, land distribution among Punjabis was more equal which enabled most to share the reward on the produce. This enabled them to be the segment of population with the most real wealth at the time of partition. This real wealth enabled them to catch on commercialization bandwagon as they saw opportunities appearing in post-Raj Pakistan. Also, this combination of wealth and numbers, and the fact that the state dominated economic opportunity in Pakistan, made them focus on dominating the civil services in Pakistan. Thus began their rise in bureaucracy and judiciary. More so, since Punjab was the bread basket in early days of Pakistan in an agrarian economy and then became the industrial hub, it was in interest of Central government to divert resource to Punjab. So as Punjabis industrialized; Pakistani establishment which initially comprised Urdu Speaking bureaucracy, Punjabi Army, Gujrati/Marwadi business community, and Punjabi Agriculturists, started becoming more and more Punjabi dominated.
Since most rapid of industrialization and urbanization was taking place in Punjab and Karachi, most of the resources at the disposal of state were diverted to these areas. With Punjab having the bulk of urbanization, it got the most of resources.
One instance of diversion of resources was Indus Basin treaty. Pakistan realized soon enough that the water flowing from India cannot be reclaimed. So it agreed to a compromise where the world was asked to help Pakistan divert the water from Indus and tributaries (Kabul, Swat, Gilgit) to traditional five rivers. Plan made perfect sense at that time because Five-river basin was the backbone of Pakistani economy, still agrarian in late 50s, and also because there was little or no cultivation across Indus’ channel.  
Same happened with other resources including natural gas and other natural resources. Punjab thriving on wealth generated from agricultural resources could move quicker on the ladder of urbanization and industrialization than the rest. Federal Govt. that was centralized saw it as a quick fix. The process led to economic advantage further shifting in Punjab’s favor.
Here the question arises whether it was intentional on part of Punjab to be the hegemone? Looking at the evidence, it seems Punjab had no intention to be the hegemonic but circumstances led a way where Punjabi aristocracy found itself in a place where it could wield influence to control economic/political policy and resources through a centralized system of government.
To be fair to Punjabis, Punjabis never wanted Pakistan. They were the most well-to-do ethnicity in British India, growing food and paid handsomely in real-wealth terms. More so, they had access to the most lucrative of Raj’s jobs, the military ones. It was this prosperity that made them among the best local allies of British. Till partition, Punjabis were not as enthusiastic about Pakistan and Muslim League as Muslims from other areas of subcontinent including Bengalis and Sindhis were. When partition became inevitable, it was only then that they switched fully to the idea of Pakistan.
What followed was even more nightmarish. Punjab was divided and the transfer of refugee populations between Muslim-dominated Pakistan and Hindu-dominated India took anywhere between half a million to million lives. It could never be worse for Punjabis. The fear of being uprooted and losing their lands and livelihood had made Punjabis compromise with invaders for centuries. Thus the concept that their livelihoods will survive any eventuality was as strong in Punjabi mindset as was the concept of Middle Kingdom in Chinese mindset at the cusp of 20th century.
With partition, on one hand Punjabis' sense of stability and security was challenged. On the other, having most fertile land and most amount of real wealth, in a newly independent State offered them the opportunity to prosper through industrialization along with the farms they owned and operated.
Also, since Punjabi migrants and Karachi migrants were a dominant part in the earlier establishment of Pakistan, for their own legitimacy, they stressed on the need for having Islam as the reason d’être of Pakistan. This was the only way they could find space for themselves in a land that was traditionally inhibited by West Punjabis, Saraikis, Sindhis, Balochs, Pashtuns, Barahwis, Potoharis, and other natives. One will not be surprised to find that the most of leaders of Anti-Ahmadi riots and other Islamization drives were migrant Hindi-belt/Punjabi leaders.
As a result of industrialization in adjoining areas and migration to Middle East and Europe, the loose areas came in contact with modernity, initially weak and then strong voices of control over regional resources started emerging. In response, the slogans of nationalism and federalism were used to strengthen centralized control over the resources. These chants not only suited the dominant Punjabi/Karachi business community thriving on loose area resources and migrant communities in search of space in Pakistan but also suited the military and civil bureaucracy, and thus emerged the genesis of Pakistan’s great divide. This all has shaped up the reality of Pakistan and narrative in which we have been living for past few decades.
In the midst of emerging voices for control of resources from loose areas, benefactors of crony capitalist system started patronizing voices of “nationalism” and “Islamism” to continue on the route of a centralized system. Here lies support of Martial Laws in Punjab’s Urban Centers and Karachi (particularly business community).  Just when the dominance of Central Punjab in the power structure of Pakistan was governed by economic factors beyond anyone’s control, these crony capitalist mistook it for their brilliance and maneuvering. And those, at the helm of patriotism and Islamism, started attributing any achievements that Punjabi business class had because of end of colonization and their economic superiority vs. the rest to Islamism and nationalism. 
Unfortunately, when religion and patriotism is used for hegemonic designs, the consequences do not end there. Things ultimately lead to erosion of state and decay of society. The extremist and militant tendencies take root and rational analysis of issues and their practical solutions become the victim. From Europe to China, every human society has been on this path at some point in their evolution to industrial revolution and those who have sorted it out have reaped the rewards of modernity. What made this worse for us was the fact that the rise of Islamism coincided with Iranian revolution and a counter extremist assault by vulnerable Arab regimes. If that was not enough, Afghan Jihad provided the perfect backdrop for militancy and violent Islam. The crisis of terrorism at the root is crisis of establishment of writ of state.
That said, the loud chorus of chants of religion and nationalism could not change the course of time. Just as the logical conclusion of independence had to be industrialization of Punjab and rise of a Punjabi business class, similarly the independence and industrialization ultimately had to lead to awakening of loose areas and their demand for control of their resources.
Wise men running the show would have realized where things were headed. The state, above all, should have focused on a more equitable resource distribution through taxation, upgrading of loose areas, and targeted subsidies to the underprivileged. On the contrary, Punjabi business class dominated state subsidized non-competitive industries, kept increasing the size of federal government, and tried diverting natural resources in favor of those same business classes at the expense of locals. Feudalism is long dead, it is the crony capitalism that has ailed Pakistan and so we reach the juncture where the strain of changing time is on us the hardest.
The strain is particularly hard because Central Punjab in the process has evolved into a dense population belt extending till Bihar which faces challenges of water-supply and energy. When Pakistan came into being, in our region, the biggest energy source people were striving for was food and Punjab, being the bread-basket of the region, had plenty of it. However, since then, with rapid industrialization and new global economic realities, food is not the only energy need men have. There, in fact, is a more critical energy needed and that is the energy that runs machines. Punjab is the only region in Pakistan that does not have indigenous energy sources (except solar which for now is not commercially feasible). It neither has fossil fuels nor hydal (though smart planning to exploit gradients at the time of Indus-basin would have helped a bit in this regard). Since independence, State of Pakistan has subsidized the local and imported energy sources to facilitate businesses (mostly Punjabi and of Karachi). With time, as the people of areas with energy sources are becoming more vocal about control over their resources and industrialization and modernity is spreading to more and more “loose areas”, the subsidies are becoming hard to sustain. More so, cost of subsidy on imported energy is killing the national exchequers and thus the whole model has become unsustainable. The power crisis we are facing is a structural issue and can only be fixed if people are made to pay full price of energy. But this will be a huge strain on the biggest consumer groups of energy (Karachi and Central Punjab). Karachi has two advantages going its way. First, it is in Sindh (the largest energy reservoir of Pakistan) and secondly the business there is already more competitive and, based on my personal feeling, has more elasticity to adapt to revised energy cost structure. In Punjab, however, shifting the economy to real energy costs will be a very painful process.
If energy woes were not enough, Punjab is also on the brink of an intense water crisis. The drying of five-river channel is lowering water tables. With more irrigation activity on Indus Channel; Punjab, now, has competing claims to the only water source of Pakistan. If this was not enough, the urbanization will soon cause competing claims on available water sources from agricultural and industrial/commercial sectors.
This crisis is existential crisis of Central Punjab. If Central Punjab does not manage to tackle these changing realities facing it, it will be one of the worst disasters in human history. With around 70 million people possibly on the verge of economic collapse, water shortage and possibly famine, the consequences are not hard to predict.
Unfortunately, for now, no one realizes the root cause of Punjab’s (and thus Pakistan’s problems).  Punjabi leadership is blaming all the wrong entities for its woes and is devising all the wrong solutions while being unaware of what has struck them. This lack of clue for what has struck is a strong reason behind blaming all for our woes.
If Punjabis think the colonization of “loose area” resources leading to subsidized energy and raw materials can continue, they are mistaken. Punjab is surrounded by resource rich entities in this country. And their resources will very soon draw other regional and international players, in case, a resistance movement to Punjabi-dominated states colonization drive emerges. These international and regional players, at any given time, will offer those regions a better deal than Punjabi colonization. Well we have nukes. But then we will not be fighting with Iranians, Indians, Afghans, Emiratis, or for that matter Americans, Chinese or Russians. If it comes to showdown we will be fighting Sindhis, Balochis, Pashtuns, Saraikis, Baltis, Wakhis with players at their back and using nukes is not an option there.
This reality makes Punjabis a minority in the new emerging power structure of Pakistan, and to maximize their power, they will need to cut deals with other parts of the countries. One institution that realizes this reality is Army (though it still has to do a lot to cut its size and its business enterprise to be fully in sync with new realities). In these emerging realities, a wise businessman will be better of making other regions offers they cannot refuse.
Also, revoking Indus-basin will not solve the problem either. First, Pakistan does not have enough muscle to force India out of Indus-basin. Even if, hypothetically, it does, it will make Indian north (from Punjab to Bihar) facing same energy and water crisis make more vulnerable to ultimate disaster. This potential disaster across border shall be another cause of concern for Pakistani state for it might lead to massive migration pressure on our Eastern border, just as collapse of Punjab (if we fail) will lead to on India’s Western border.
So what is the way forward? Pakistani economy needs a combination of shock-therapy and compassion. Devolution, political and fiscal, to the provinces and districts is the only deal which can keep external powers away from our resources. State shall withdraw all subsidies and protections from businesses and let non-competitive industries (like automobiles) die, so that the resources could be diverted to industries/businesses that can survive paying full energy price and price of raw materials. This must be coupled with targeted subsidies for vulnerable to tame the social impact.
And we need to cut the size of the government significantly in all areas except health, education, and law and order. To tackle the menace of mafias and violence, we need to expand the writ of the state, and that expansion of writ shall quickly be followed by establishing a strong localized governance structure. 
Punjab has to play a vital role if the country has to survive. Punjabis are hardworking and enterprising. They have been held hostage by elite which in their name is exploiting the resources of Pakistani state. It has turned the enterprising, hardworking Punjab into rent-eater, providing Punjabis with delirium of worthless subsidize. As has happened in every economy in the world with enterprising communities, after slight pain, ordinary Punjabi too will thrive in the new economic landscape. Pakistan needs to be ridden of crony capitalism for its people to harness their full potential.
More so, Punjab needs to act for its own survival. It needs to focus on sources of electricity it can afford (for now I can think of Solar and Nuclear). It needs to put resources into research on solar energy and low-loss transmission of electricity. It needs to modernize the grid. It needs to focus on low-energy designs of machinery/houses. It needs to focus on low-water crops/irrigation methods. Punjab needs to be at the fore of energy revolution that is taking place in the world. And it needs to do so for survival. Enterprising Punjab needs to innovate, innovate, innovate. And for this it needs to rise against bureaucratic permit raj and controlled economy. It is in Punjab's interest to ask for opening up of economy. Punjab, in the long run, will benefit if the economy is deregulated and subsidies and permits are removed. Only such environment will allow it to reap the benefits of its hard work and enterprise, the only, yet valuable, sell-able Punjab has in emerging Pakistan and world. 
I am a Punjabi and I am worried. If Punjab fails, the displacement of 70 million people because of hunger, water shortage etc will make many a states collapse. It will impact not only Punjab but adjoining provinces and states. But my hope stems from the enterprising ordinary Punjabi and from the fact that the prospects of this disaster will unite us. It will make Punjabis have a just bargain with other stakeholders in Pakistan. And it will make other stakeholders internal and external to accept such just bargain.
For now, under the hegemonic leadership and state machinery, Punjab is bent on old ways. These ways will not succeed. Soon, Punjab has to awake to the reality and flow like water, finding path along the way. This will make Punjab flow and this will make Pakistan flow. It is time to reclaim our Punjab, it is time to start the fight for survival. Failure is not an option!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

European Crisis - End of Colonial Economic Legacy