An erratic coalition

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

geust-contPakistan has done many stupid things within the rubrics of foreign and domestic policy. And joining a coalition of predominantly Arab states against ‘terrorism’ where the terrorist and the nature of the activity are defined ad lib could prove one of the most regrettable. There is such a thing as rational neutrality, but it seems to be something with which we are non-aligned.

Of course we are financially indebted to Saudi Arabia (the coalition’s convener) more recently and currently than we are indebted to Iran: But that could also be because Iran has been sanctioned out of prosperity; rather the way Saddam’s Iraq was. And the coalition’s focus is on Iran and Shi’ite ‘insurrectionary’ segments or regimes Iran may be sympathising with in the very troubled Middle East and Gulf states. Iran has never taken a side that is overtly or covertly hostile to Pakistan or vice versa. Are we coalescing to create adversaries for ourselves and foster sectarian differentiations? Continue reading “An erratic coalition”

14 August: A Day for Sombre Reflection

By Adil Zareef
guest-contributorAugust 14, is traditionally a day for rejoicing, much fanfare, military parades, display of firepower and nukes. Symbolically, the patriotic chest thumping and feet stomping at the Wagah border between the erstwhile “traditional enemies” touch a feverish pitch as hysterical crowds on either side cheer their highly charged and battle ready soldiers, hoisting their national flags amid fierce expressions in a crescendo of sloganeering at sunset – the climax of the existential confrontation refuses to ease or ebb with time, despite the epoch making history that has transformed the greater part of our world.

Perhaps we are condemned by history or by geopolitics, or both, keeping us embroiled in a state of perpetual confrontation as other regions have prospered and progressed and long buried the hatchet of hate. Meanwhile, both India and Pakistan are competing in exclusion and exploitation of their respective population, as their state policy inch towards nihilism.

Continue reading “14 August: A Day for Sombre Reflection”

Mind-Boggling Conundrums in the Middle East

By Zubeida Mustafa

The Obama administration has decided to go slow on its troop withdrawal program in Afghanistan. A substantial American military presence is expected to remain in this strife-stricken country until the end of 2015. President Obama said that this was necessary to make Afghanistan more secure.

However, geopolitics in this region is more complex than the American media make it out to be. Now is the time to set the record straight before a new conflict erupts in the Afghanistan-Pakistan (AfPak) area and ill-conceived explanations are offered to confuse public perceptions. To begin with, Americans should know that many of the wars in Asia have their roots in American geostrategic shenanigans. Continue reading “Mind-Boggling Conundrums in the Middle East”

Book, not Facebook

By Zubeida Mustafa

IN his newly published book, Baar-i-Shanasaee, Karamatullah Ghori, a retired Pakistani diplomat, recounts incidents from his professional life that make an interesting read. The book comprises character sketches of nine personalities who are dubbed in the book’s sub-title as the “history makers and history breakers” of Pakistan.

The book is by no means an objective historian’s analysis of its subjects — all of whom were politicians/military rulers, with the exception of Faiz Ahmad Faiz, the Lenin Prize winning poet, and Prof Abdus Salam, the Nobel Laureate scientist. The publication is more in the nature of reminiscences and the author vouchsafes for their authenticity as he was witness to or participant in the events narrated.

An anecdote from Ghori’s account of his encounter with Gen Pervez Musharraf struck me as worth recalling. Soon after seizing power in October 1999, the general visited Turkey where he had spent seven years of his childhood. The author was at that time Pakistan’s ambassador in Ankara. On seeing the ambassador’s personal library and on being told that Ghori was an avid reader, the general commented, “Mujhay parhnay ka shauq naheen”. (I am not interested in reading.) Continue reading “Book, not Facebook”

A leading light

By Zubeida Mustafa

HENRY Wotton famously said, “An ambassador is an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.” Leave aside the pun in this quote, not many of the ambassadors we have produced have lied for the country and maintained a discreet silence about their subterfuge. Many have gone further and lied to promote themselves.

Yet in this complex world of diplomacy there was one ambassador who was too principled a man to lie, yet found ways to safeguard his country’s interests. And he chose not to boast about it. That was Saidullah Khan Dehlavi — Said to family and friends — who lost his battle with death last week in Karachi.

Said was the chairman of the board of trustees of the Aga Khan University, an honorary position he assumed in 2001 after his retirement from the Pakistan Foreign Service. In the obituary announcement issued by the AKU, he was referred to as Ambassador Dehlavi and it is an ambassador in the true and best sense of the word that he remained till the end. In a condolence message, the Foreign Office described him as the leading light and a role model. Continue reading “A leading light”

The Past Was My Country Once

By Nikhat Sattar

guest-contributorSherlock Holmes is credited with the saying ‘the past is another country’. In my case, it was mine, to begin with. Forty two years later, I still find it difficult to comprehend that I am no longer a citizen of the place that reared me and instilled in me the love of all that is beautiful in God’s world. I had to leave it as a child, vowing to return, as I looked at its receding coastline. Return I did, as an adult, several times, and each time as if I had never left. I was frozen in time, 1971 and space, in Chittagong, the second largest city in what is now called Bangladesh.

Chittagong is thousands of years old, and has a rich history of Roman, Arab and East Asian trading by sea. Indeed, its name is supposed to be an Arabic derivative of Shetgang, which comes from Shatt-al-Ganga, meaning Mouth of the Ganges. There are other sources that claim that the name comes from the Bengali Chatt-Gaon, meaning rock and village, referring to the hilly landscape. A sleepy town-village of outstanding beauty, it was a magical place of winding streets going up and down the hills, huge lakes, dense foliage, large fields and pristine beaches. The overwhelming colour was green, but with heavy rains and salty sea, buildings often took on a dark hue that somehow attached itself to my memory. The Kaptai Dam, Foy’s lake, Rangamati, Faujdarhat and Karnaphuli Paper Mills , each a few hours heavenly drive away from settlements are etched into my mind like fairy tales. Continue reading “The Past Was My Country Once”

Oh those Taliban!

by Rifaat Hamid Ghani

guest-contributorIt is more than a decade since the post 9/11 invasion of Afghanistan.
America now intends to withdraw from there, leaving only a token presence. If the elimination of the prospect of Taliban rule and extirpation of ‘Talibanism’ was the objective of that invasion it has not been achieved. It is also unlikely that America will subsequently be indifferent to Taliban resurgence becoming truly effective, or complaisant about its consolidating. So whose boots will stay on the ground to keep Taliban foothold from gaining space? There is a certain rationale to the speculation that America may find proxy warfare serves its unattained ends. Mercenaries cost, and international peace-keeping too has a running upkeep. Also, factor in that the world’s great powers past and present, collectively and separately, in competition as well as alliance, have more than a century’s working experience of strategic use of the porous borders between Afghanistan India and what in 1947 became Pakistan. Pakistan is in the middle whatever the perspective.

It has consistently and unabashedly been a facilitator of America’s Afghan activities and objectives. Before 9/11 it complemented CIA’s furtherance of the ethos of jihad to contain the ‘godless’ Soviet Union. Post 9/11 it too re-orientated itself and deprecated ‘jihadism’ as potentially terroristic. In 2001 it endorsed toppling the Taliban regime it had earlier furthered and rushed to recognize. Continue reading “Oh those Taliban!”

Houbaras at risk

By Zubeida Mustafa

LAST Wednesday, a little over 20 Karachiites gathered in front of the Sindh Wildlife Office to raise their voices to prevent the extinction of the houbara bustard, the elegant and colourful bird that makes its appearance in parts of Sindh and Balochistan in the winter months.

The houbara story in this country is a long one and the size of the demo in that context was not big enough to attract public attention. But being in the designated Red Zone (the Governor’s House is in the vicinity of the Sindh Wildlife Office) the protest was at once noticed by the custodians of the law.

Deeming the protesters to be harmless the police allowed them to stand there for a while before they moved on to the Karachi Press Club on the suggestion of the law enforcers. That was a clever step as anything happening at the KPC has a better chance of getting some media coverage. Continue reading “Houbaras at risk”

Tax reform, not aid please

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE BBC has reported that a group of British MPs have asked the British “government to withhold extra aid to Pakistan unless the country does more to gather taxes from its wealthier citizens”.

This will evoke a strong reaction in many circles in Pakistan. It is shocking that we have shameless people here — many having been associated with policymaking — who treat foreign aid as a yardstick to measure the success or otherwise of Islamabad’s foreign policy.

They have no qualms about going with the begging bowl in hand to foreign capitals. They will be irked by the British MPs’ statement no doubt. Some will see it as an anti-poor stance. Continue reading “Tax reform, not aid please”