Thursday, January 22, 2015

Hanging by a thread

Weekly article in Daily Times - Hanging by a thread - - January 22, 2015

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Comedy in tragedy

Unlike what the mainstream media believes, portrays, or covers, I have always found a PML-N government to be a comic affair. Ever since their first stints of power in my teen years to today, every time they have been in power, in their desire to look ultra-smart they end up providing comic relief to the observers. This time around, however, the affair seems to be on steroids. And if that was not enough what followed APS attack has sealed the deal for someone looking for ultimate comic relief. And the magnitude of tragedy that it follows and the problem that we face makes this comedy even more tragic.
We are dealing with a government that seems to have no clue of the problems and how to deal with them. And in all seriousness trying to solve them without clue, it is creating a classic comedy. On security policy, all it is resorting to is a series of All Parties Conferences. Even that would have been fine had the agenda been initiated by the government. But the missing entity from all these conferences is the government itself. Yes Mr. Prime Minister does make a feeble-toned speech with strong rhetoric (that actually makes it look all the more comic) but in the end one does not see government in agenda setting or even contributing to agenda setting. Even in its perilous, pathetic state, from politicos, it is Pakistan Peoples Party that seems to be leading and the APCs seem a dialogue and consultation between PPP and the Army. The government in power seems to have yielded it all to the armed forces on policy front.
And this indeed is even more comic because flash back 10 months and this government was trying to hold the armed forces by their throat. From Geo incident to Musharraf trial, it was bent on nabbing the power of armed forces. 10 months down and the government has fallen on the feet of armed forces in what is the most complete surrender of any civilian government in the history of Pakistan, from holding by throat to falling on feet with nothing in between.
And this main comedy affair is followed by comedies on the peripheries. In response to one of the worst terror attacks in the country, the interior minister wanted to regulate the amount of bread loafs one could buy at the bread shops. And then he appears in Senate ending his boycott of the upper house and roars at the ministers who are not attending the session (which by the way is more or less the entire cabinet). Pressers by information minister make even the serious sort go tipsy laughing. And then there are speech writers of Prime Minister and Chief Minister of Punjab who are bent on dragging fight against terrorism into every speech of theirs, be it related to revamping of the sewer system of Jia Bagga, without naming Taliban.
If this was not enough, after lifting of moratorium on capital punishment, one of the first to be hanged turns out to be a juvenile charged on a petty family feud, making the mockery of the entire process. Courts of Punjab come to the help of government and release mastermind of Mumbai attack leading to more embarrassment for the country at this critical juncture. And then right under government’s watch a deal is brokered between two sectarian terrorist outfits to pardon each other’s’ killers. We could have afforded the antics of comedy on issues like bread loafs and Jia Bagga sewer system but capital punishment was introduced to give a stern message to the terrorists and it turning into a laughing stock undermines the effectiveness of the measure to begin with.
This comedy of errors make some doubt that PML-N may deliberately by trying to do all these to undermine Army’s proactive push against the terrorist post-Zarb-e-Azab and particularly post-APS attack. Just when I, too, am very apprehensive of PML-N’s historic terrorist connections, I have more faith in its ability to act humorous (for the lack of a more polite expression). When Kamran Akmal got cleared of match fixing charges for famous Sydney Test, the best comment was: ‘hence proved he is actually a lousy wicketkeeper’. With these comedies of PML-N, I would tend to subscribe to a similar opinion about it too.

With the sword of allegations of electoral rigging hanging over its head, if rigging is proved, PML-N will be on its way out. If not, it should be allowed to complete its term respecting the mandate. However, it is imperative to attack and correct the myth of PML-N’s competence. In 90s and now, it has been a party known for comedies of errors. From its decisions on economic and energy front to its handling of foreign policy and security policy, it is one big bunch of inept sorts. We need to register this, remember this, and keep reminding everyone of it. We and our generations can ill afford such stand up comedies at the very top of national decision-making.

Edited version appeared in  - Comedy in tragedy -  January 15, 2015

Thursday, January 08, 2015

How South Asia can crumble

Weekly article in Daily Times - How South Asia can crumble January 8, 2015

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Military courts: missing perspective

Weekly Article in Daily Times - Military courts: missing perspective - - January 1, 2015

Saturday, December 27, 2014

When life is light

Some debts have to be repaid. Not because they matter to the one they are owed to but because they are essential for the cycle of life.
It is seven years into the end of the life that was Benazir Bhutto. A life that inspired many in my generation and the generations that followed. A life that can be marked in one word – hardship, lived with a character that, too, can only be summed up in one word – brave.  It is tough to encompass a life as yours Bibi, and yet I owe it and so I will try.
You were born in a life of luxury, a life that turned upside down on a night of July 1977. What followed was a life that was marked by hardships, a disintegrated family, struggle, hopes dashed, dreams broken, and the loss of near and dear ones. Such misery and hardship could make anyone insane. And yet you came out of it not only sane and composed but dignified and compassionate. What you went through could make anyone vengeful and yet revenge was never on your mind. During your second stint in power, when few working under you attempted resorting to revenge, you would intervene and mend. Bearing the hardship and misery with dignity and compassion, alone, could qualify anyone as a superhuman and yet this dignity and compassion was only the inception of your legend.
When I was a child, raised in a Muslim household with strong emphasis on good and bad, and reward and punishment, I would always wonder how one can be judged on something that is not of one’s choosing. It was in the later years that I reconciled that the hardships come to us for the path we choose. We choose the path and the path has a price.  Once those choices are made, walking along the path, we need to deal with the troubles of it. The harder the path, the more the price one pays. Once chosen, abandoning it leaves us condemned; carrying on we pay the price. But it is these choices, bit by bit, that make the universe move forward. It seems, at some point in those last months of 70s, you chose your path too. You could have abandoned it all and lived a life of luxury in Oxford or Boston or anywhere and yet you chose to take up the fight, making it your calling. And once you did, you were ready to pay any price for it, fully knowing it will be painful and hard, but it will be the right thing to do.
For those living larger than the ordinary, they needs not do things that they desire, nor do things the social or any other code asks them of, but they should do things for they are the right things to do. Your fight was one such and in your struggle the mindfulness of it oozed out of your aura.
Anyone who followed your life would know that you had a strong spiritual inclination. In fact, to a supporter like me, it sometimes irked me. But spirituality is not something you ever flaunted. You were accused of being a heretic, an anti-religious, a “Westernized” (as if the word means anything) and what not and never in response to it did you ever try to emphasize on your religion or spirituality. And this is precisely how it should be. If one believes one is doing the right thing, it has to be sold on the power of the idea, for the rightness of what one is doing. It need not have crutches of piety, moral code, or conformity to tread. If something is right, it will inspire on its own. If one needs to invoke (and in most cases exploitatively) religion or honor to sell an idea of new age, the idea has some inherent wrong in it. You were not a saint but a beautiful human being who would keep treading what you believed was right; keeping your faith, belief and spiritual enlightenment to yourself, never misusing them for a fight that was yours, a fight for the right cause.
The bravery that summed up your life could not be understood better than in your last months. Mindful of the threats that were ahead, you chose to do what was to be done. You were the only leader who would openly call Taliban a threat to Pakistan, who would openly take on the government on surrendering Pak territory to extremists. You were the only leader who had the courage to support operation on Lal Masjid for the writ of the state, and when dictator’s own party turned cold feet, you were the one to endorse and support Women’s Protection Bill because all those were the right things to do. The conviction of doing the right thing was not deterred by the blames of colluding with Musharraf or the West, neither was it deterred by the threats to your life.
Amid the threats you moved on with a firm conviction that your idea will succeed sooner, that the time is on the side of your idea. On one hand is the force that wants to hold these lands to the regression and manipulation through ideas that have run their course but the ideas which are central to their hegemony. On the other, those who are fighting for the order here that will unleash the forces of liberty, progress, human dignity and innovation, your side. You fought for it bravely and compassionately, and through your fight you have pushed us closer to attainment. The fight continues. It will have to be fought hard but we must move on with the conviction of victory, a victory inevitable for being on the right side of the history.

These debts are to be repaid. Those pledges are to be kept. That light needs to be protected. The march continues with the feet falling firm on the ground.

The piece is also published in Daily Times on December 27, 2014 with some modified proof. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014


Rage is all I have felt for days. Sadness I don't feel, shock one will be a fool to feel at this after so much that has happened. That they butchered innocent souls in the broad daylight is not what causes this rage. They are savages, I knew it. So no rage over that, no shock. That I and most likely we all knew this is coming is what causes rage. But what causes even more rage is the fact that the butchers have done what they intended to do, and even then we may still not put our act together.
We had this coming and my fear is we still will not get it.
I say to you, the common man, woman, young, old of Pakistan, in whose heart is Pakistan. The solider who feels the love of the country in his heart and fights with valor for its honor. The officers of security forces who feel the pain for the country and love it every bit. Urbans, rurals, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis, Sunnis, Shias, Barelvis, Deobandis, Ismailis, all of you who have the gentle hearts. I say to you that the pain and suffering you are going through, the sorrow that you feel, the anger that you have will all be in vain if you do not get it right. The tragedy, the massacre, the blood of many innocent souls has provided you with, probably one last, opportunity to get it right or else there will be unending regret and misery. It is time that you get the perspective right and use it to have the right narrative to fight the monster that you face.
I do not know whether you have known these things and were conveniently ignoring them or you have been unaware till now but somethings cannot be ignored or left unattended any more.
"You cannot keep snakes in your backyard and expect they will only bite your neighbors" has been said time and again. Earlier your standard response was to shoot anyone down who utters such thoughts as liberal fascist, CIA agent, RAW agent etc. When I stress on them again, I risk being labelled the same. But let me tell you a few more things, which may, just may, help you in finding the right perspective. I am not a peace-quack who would suggest offering your left cheek if you have been hit on the right on the premise that the inherent goodness will lead to regional peace. I am very mindful of the security challenges Pakistan faces in the region. I am also mindful that India and Pakistan is effectively a zero-sum game and thus unless and until some miraculous statesmanship emerges in the region, the conflicts are not going away. I am mindful that Pakistan needs a stable, friendly regime in Afghanistan that will not let it turn into sanctuaries for destabilization in Baluchistan and KP. I am also mindful that Pakistan has a broader political, economic, and humanitarian stake in Kashmir. But then, above all, I am mindful that this militias strategy which was envisaged by the Zia and ilk has been a complete disaster. Yes countries keep their proxies for diplomatic and regional gains but none, and I repeat none, harbors them on one's own soil. This is precisely why when we unleashed them, their impact was hard on those on whom we intended to launch them on. And when it subsided, we are being blown apart piece by piece by the sheer intensity of them. The snakes we harbored have come to bite us. And it is time that we indiscriminately act against them. No Taliban, no Lashkar, no Sipah, no Jaish should be allowed to operate on Pakistani soil. We are a smart nation and if we put our minds to it, we can devise power plans that can protect our interest in India, Afghanistan and beyond. But if state does not restore its monopoly on violence, we are months away from a complete blow up where we will destroy all we have, to protect our interests and depths in Afghanistan and India.
You - you need to be also mindful of another thing. Mixing religion with state is a slippery slope. When the state starts deciding who is a Muslim and who is not, the next thing that comes is which Islam? So make Islam state religion and next will come the pressure to decide the fate of Ahmadis. Do that and the next question will be Islam of which fiqah. If State acts on these demands, it will alienate many throwing them to fanaticism in the name of religion, if it does not it will alienate many others to the same course. So let us make it a point to separate state from religion. You can choose to hold onto any faith. You can opt to think of anyone as heretic but state should have no business in it. And the moment your belief takes you onto a violent route, the state intervenes and ensures swift punishment.
Also, you, stop saying you think terrorism is Pakistan's no. 1 problem if you vote for Taliban apologists in the name of anti-corruption of development. You did not believe in the intensity of the problem. No - I do not want to blame you for voting PTI or PML-N, but I do want to blame you for letting your leadership off the hook when they openly sided with these butchers, when they advocated their cases, and when they advocated inaction against them for years. Do vote for PTI or PML-N or whosoever, but if you believe terrorism is a serious issue, your test is how much you hold your leadership accountable on its record on terrorism.
You - you should have seen what pressure on Lal Masjid did in recent days. So make it a point to name and shame any apologists of these savages. Make it a point to hold anyone and everyone accountable who spreads hate and calls for violence in the name of religion or sect. It is time to reclaim our country for our state, a state accountable to us. It is time to ensure no one is allowed to spill blood on our streets in the name of any ideology or cause.
And last thing that you need to realize is that every drop of blood and every life is as precious as the life of the children who died in APS. We all have the same red-colored blood. All our lives come as a gift from the same Grace, the same Mercy, the same Benevolence. So, your response has to be the same if the blood is spilled at a volley ball match in Lakki Marwat or at Data Darbar in Lahore or of Ahmadis in Lahore or at Karsaz in Karachi. Let your political, sectarian, ethnic, religious differences not blind you of the sanctity of human life. Respect life if you want the life to nurture on these lands. As one small starting gesture, hang terrorists (and terrorists alone) but do not cheer their hanging, in respect for sanctity of life.
I am enraged more by yours and mine follies, by us letting happen this death foretold. But let this be a moment for us to rise and say enough is enough. Let us reclaim the society and state that is ours, with the ultimate focus on sanctity of human life.
You - the last thing I have to tell you is the scariest. You know what, whether you act or not, the ills that I have highlighted have to go. Your choice of action or inaction will only ensure how painful this will be for you. Rise and embark on changing them yourselves and you will control the transition making it less painful. Stay still and universe will find its way to eliminate the wrongs I have highlighted above. You, of course, will pay a very heavy price for it with pain and suffering. The choice is yours and mine; and from where I see it, it has never been easier. And yet my rage stems from my apprehension that we may still make the wrong choice, the decades gone by have made me fearful. Please prove me wrong here.... 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Next phase of US expansion

Weekly article in Daily Times - Next phase of US expansion - - December 18, 2014