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NO MORE PSLs ABROAD

The pulsating cheering crowd in the National Stadium Karachi for the PSL Final, and subsequently for the three international T20s, underscored the return of peace to a city (and country) torn by internal strife.  Bereft of any sports spectacle and living in cold fear for life and limb of their (and their families) because of open-ended threats from terrorists, political, religious and the criminal kind, the people of Karachi had very good reason to celebrate, both their “freedom” and Pakistan’s return from sports “exile”. When the speakers playing the National Anthem failed during its rendition before the start of the match, the entire audience spontaneously started singing the anthem, could anyone have stage-managed patriotism better?,” to quote my articleLest we forgetof April 6, 2018.

Pakistan had not hosted a single game at home in more than four years because of the 2009 terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers’  bus in Lahore. The Pakistan Super League (PSL) launched in 2016 became an instant hit in and outside Pakistan, the real success came with PSL 2017 when the final was played in Lahore. A World XI squad than toured Pakistan in Sept 2017 for a T20 series marking the return of high profile international cricket to the country. In a gesture overflowing with symbolism the Sri Lankans than played the last of their T20s away series in Lahore in Oct.

The good news about the 2019 edition is that the PCB is trying to host the opening ceremony in Pakistan, the bad news is that, including the final in Karachi on March 17, only eight matches are to be played in Pakistan. If the security in Pakistan is safe to host eight matches in Pakistan, does it make any sense to host the remaining 30 odd matches in the UAE?  In March 2018 Ramiz Raja made some rather ridiculous suggestions about (1) attracting better cricketers to PSL and (2) what needed to be done to fill up the stadiums in Dubai and Sharjah. His brainchild “hiring international tour operators to take fans from Pakistan to the UAE to fill up stadiums” was sheer nonsense. To quote my article in the Daily Times “PSL must remain in Pakistan” of March 25, 2018, Can foreign exchange-strapped Pakistan (US$ “spiking” from Rs 110 to 115 only yesterday and now Rs 125) afford the luxury of their cricket-starved citizens spending hard earned foreign exchange on hotels, meals and taxis in cash-rich Dubai for nearly one month long tournaments. UAE stadiums were less than 10% full, even on Thursday nights and Fridays. Would 10000-15000 Pakistanis flown in from Pakistan fill even half the capacity of the UAE stadiums? Can Dubai and Sharjah Stadiums financially survive without the PSL funding them 31 out of 34 PSL matches?” unquote.

Among the handful of Pakistani commentators acceptable to the Indian Premier League (IPL) where Pakistani cricketers are not welcome, was Rameez Raja campaigning on India’s behalf to keep the PSL from being staged in Pakistan?  On the one hand you have Finance Minister Asad Umar struggling to meet the need of the hour in the face of an economic crisis, clamping down on imports to save precious foreign exchange, very rightly carrying out PM Imran Khan’s instructions about an austerity campaign.  On the other we have Imran’s former teammate Rameez Raja strongly recommending the hemorrhaging of foreign exchange from cash-strapped Pakistan to oil rich UAE.

Speaking at the PSL 2017 Final Najam Sethi should have given more than passing mention to the role of security agencies and the tremendous sacrifice rendered by our soldiers and policemen over the years to make Karachi (and Pakistan) safe. Lest we forget, it is these thousands of Shaheeds and many more  wounded which made cricket a domestic happening instead of PSL remaining a Rameez Raja advertised “Yatra” filling Dubai’s coffers. Moreover despite all the heroics and ultimate sacrifice of our brave soldiers, what is the perception the world gets by PCB not holding the PSL in Pakistan? This graphically suggests that our security establishment is not confident about preserving the peace in Pakistan, that is in line with and supports India’s black propaganda against Pakistan.  Staging PSLs outside Pakistan reinforces the adverse perception that Pakistan is an insecure state, the irony is that PCB is inadvertently funding the anti-Pakistan campaign in the world that Pakistan is still not safe for sports.

During the early part of the 21st century, thanks to the dispensation afforded to militant political activists in Karachi by “Pakistan First” Gen Musharraf in 2000, armed criminal gangs took over entire localities in Karachi, with MQM’s sector offices acting as enforcement arms for Altaf’s whims and caprices. With militants belonging to the partners of the Sindh ruling coalition being now “legal” Karachi’s citizens became hostage to their cruelty. This finally evoked a response  operations form the security establishment, and that too with reluctant Federal sanction once things really got out of hand.

From conducting counter-insurgency, in South Waziristan Maj Gen Ijaz Chaudhry was transferred post-haste from his Division engaged in counter-insurgency operation in FATA to DG Rangers Sindh in April 2010.  Re-organising his command Ijaz weeded out undesirable elements and re-trained them for their mission statement and started low-key operations. In September 2011 when the Supreme Court (SC) summoned him, he handed over a sealed list of criminals from the political parties constituting the Sindh Coalition to Chief Justice (CJ) Iftikhar Chaudhry. Stunned by this stark description of “democracy’s” governance mode in the Province, the SC gave DG Rangers the go-ahead to continue with his mission, monitoring the Rangers activity on weekly reports. The by-product was smooth conduct of 2013 elections, at least in the urban areas of Sindh. President Arif Alvi was than a net beneficiary, without the peace imposed by the law enforcement agencies (LEFs) he could have never been elected as the sole PTI MNA in Karachi.  Promoted in Oct 2011 as Lt Gen Ijaz stayed as DG Rangers for six months before taking over as Comd 5 Corps in March 2012. PM Imran Khan’s PTI is now a major beneficiary of the peace process enacted by Ijaz and carried on by successors Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar (who rid us of the 122 illegal MQM office or rather enforcement centres) and Shahid Baig Mirza.    From being 6th most dangerous city out of 300 cities in 2014, Karachi dropped in rank to 50th in 2016, amply demonstrating the sacrifice rendered by our soldiers and policemen done by the Rangers (read the Army).

With a tremendous reputation, PCB Chairman Ehsan Mani brings with him a wealth of experience having served in executive capacities in various cricket bodies. Represented the PCB in the ICC from 1989, he served on the “Advisory Committee” as PCB’s representative during the 1996 and the 1999 Cricket World Cup and on the Asian Cricket Council. In June 2003 he became the ICC President where he served with distinction, leaving this organization in 2006 in a better state for his involvement. Ehsan has “short and long-term strategies” for improvement in domestic cricket and cricketing affairs in general, and to wipe out nepotism from the cricket body in line the new govt’s agenda.

The new PCB Chairman has said that he would like the entire PSL to be played in Pakistan from 2020, Ehsan Mani should do so from the 2019 edition. In 2018 when the last three matches were played in Pakistan as many as 18 international players participated from the West Indies, England, South Africa, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and England. Cricket commentators from South Africa, Australia, West Indies and England were also there. The stadiums for these three matches were jam-packed with hardly any space left to fill. Taking the success of PSL 2018 and foreign cricketers participation as the yardstick, one can be sure that with the money saved from the logistics being presently gifted to the UAE would be diverted to enhance their remuneration and encourage more foreign players to play in Pakistan.

Not only would cost the PCB at least ten times less hosting the event in in Quetta, Peshawar, Faisalabad, Multan, Islamabad, Hyderabad, etc? as compared to the UAE, this will also directly and indirectly provide a boost to the local economy.  With PCB will stand to earn more revenues than what it does in the UAE where stadiums are always almost empty. the huge rentals that PCB doles out for UAE Stadiums should be diverted to improving the cricket stadiums in Pakistan. In fact let the big banks making big banks bid for improving each of the Stadiums.   This moreover give PCB the advantage of possibly doubling or even tripling the amount of money for more incentives to foreign players to play in Pakistan. And what about the indirect benefit to hundreds of businesses in the cities where the matches will be played?  In 2018 PCB earned a profit of $5 million from the PSL, not taking into account earnings from television rights, this will increase manifold if the entire tournament is played in Pakistan. Looked at in any way this is a win-win situation for Pakistan.

For a country that is scarred by several decades of terrorism, the collective activity of the masses cheering for their teams and favorites players will both heal and bind the nation.  Sports captures the dormant patriotism and evokes it to cement the unity of the nation.  Above all it will go a long way in negating the “Hybrid warfare” being staged by India to isolate Pakistan in sports.  Unfortunately PCB has become an inadvertent tool in the hands of Indian machinations and their agents.  The ball is now in Ehsan Mani’s court, no more PSLs abroad please.

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A MATTER OF SHAME

That the wolves would soon be at the door should not have surprised anybody, what is surprising is that Imran Khan’s people were not better prepared to deal with the hungry pack left out in the political cold. Despite the losers’ calling for mass rejection of the alleged July 25 election rigging, they failed to mobilise the streets. Fazlur Rahman’s vociferously fulminated that the new National Assembly (NA) would not be allowed to go into Session, it did (without him). In an act of sheer hypocrisy he tried being elected from the same platform he condemned, what’s new?  Subsequently when the “helicopter to Banigala” story failed to take traction, Usman Buzdar’s selection as the Chief Minister (CM) Punjab was made a point of contention. Barely 12 days into governance incomplete staff homework led to the “Dr. Atif Mian” fiasco. The opposition has been milking this heaven-sent opportunity for all its worth.

Religious extremists lost out to the Pakistan Armed Forces on the battlefield in their bid to take over the country violently.  Wiped out from their sanctuaries the religious extremists also lost out big on the ballot box, however they remain a virulent violent minority. Including the vote tally of the moderate religious-minded parties like the JI, etc, have polled less than 12% of the vote nationally but still retain considerable nuisance value.  This they exercise by clogging up choke-points in cities like Islamabad, there is nothing more potent a religious issue than the “Ahmadi” one.

Discriminating against a minority means violating the Constitution. Grievances are mostly manufactured and incidents staged to enflame public opinion. To quote extracts from my article of Dec 3, 2015, “Falsely accusing its security officer of burning pages of the Holy Quran, a violent mob consisting of people from the adjoining villages attacked the “Pakistan Chipboard Factory” in Jhelum on Nov 20. Claiming most men in the mob were drunk and were only there to steal valuables. MPA Mehar Muhammad Faiz, sent by Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to investigate, said “Though it had nothing to do with religion, they stormed the factory on the excuse of blasphemy allegations.”  In the “Dr Atif Mian” affair the govt headed off a full-fledged crisis in the making by requesting the renowned economist to fall on his sword. To their credit so did two of his colleagues from the Economic Advisory Council (EAC).  All this left a bad taste in the mouth and opened the doors for future blackmail, particularly on the most sensitive issues of religion.

While we cannot accept discrimination on the basis of sect, caste, race, religion, colour, etc, Imran Khan cannot afford controversies threatening his govt less than a fortnight of into governance.  In the prevailing environment discretion has to be the better part of pragmatism.  His excellent credentials notwithstanding, the cause for Pakistan would have been better served by not making Dr. Atif Mian a “cause célèbre” for all the wrong reasons.   The selection of individuals by govt must be by due process, both the advantages and the backlash must be analyzed through active war-gaming.

As for the Ahmadis and their not being good citizens of Pakistan, flashback to midnight Dec 12, 1971. Lt Col (later Brig) Mohammad Taj SJ & Bar, Commanding Officer (CO) 44 Punjab (now 4 Sindh) assembled his “O” Orders Group adjacent to Sanohi village near Chor.  60 Bde from 33 Div had been moved post-haste from Rahimyar Khan to reinforce the Chor-Umerkot Sector because of the overwhelming Indian pressure on the badly outnumbered out gunned 55 Bde under constant Indian air attacks. The mission given to 44 Punjab was rather desperate, capture the ridge overlooking Sanohi Village in a two-company attack before first light 13 Dec so as to deny the Indians physical domination of Chor and the area surrounding by direct fire.  In many ways it was a last throw of the dice, to deny Indians access to the green belt it was do or die! When the CO asked for questions, one of the company commanders excused himself as having a heart pain, another said his ankle was badly sprained.  There was stunned silence in the makeshift dugout!

To quote my article “The Ides of March Again” on March 2013 “Capt Naseer Tariq and 2/Lt Hanif Butt (or Singawala as we affectionately knew him) vociferously volunteered to go with us into the unknown, cheerfully brave, fighting for country and willing to die for it. Being “Ahmadis” they left the Army a few years later as Majors, retiring as outstanding soldiers. One is proud that these courageous sons of the soil are still my friends 42 years later, notwithstanding their shortened career they still swear by the uniform they wore and the country they boldly defended. Where were “the defenders of the faith” (of the warped version that is) when these two were willing to give the ultimate sacrifice?” unquote. And what answer do I now give to these two outstanding and selfless sons of the soil?  That a small group of bigots are ex-communicating them as citizens misusing our religion for their own crass selfish purposes?

And then comes the matter of how Dr Atif Mian became a controversy. Writing in his blog Haider Mehdi says, “This is not as much a failure of PTI or Imran buckling under the right wing threat, it is a manifestation of a serious lack of a professional, thorough, rigorous and robust, decision making process”. unquote. Relying on real-time correct information this comprehensive process must be thoroughly analysed before a decision is made, not to “debate a decision till death” according to Richard Nixon, Imran Khan must be sanitized from bad or motivated advice by a competent staff system.  He cannot afford incompetence, corruption or motivation in his decision-making circle. To quote Haider Mehdi further, “while he (Imran) probably had nothing to do with the initial decision, every screw up, every stupidity, every unprofessional act, every incompetence, every deliberate sabotage by any member of his team, whether deliberate or in ignorance will lie at Imran’s doorstep and tarnish his brand!”, unquote.  In the present circumstances where the Pakistan Army has with great sacrifice won a victory on the battlefield in a sustained campaign against religious bigots and the electorate has given them a resounding blow at the ballot box, we should have been pragmatic and not given them the space they got.

Leaders must take action to protect the minorities, realizing their responsibilities they must have the courage to go with their conviction. To quote David Seabury, “Courage and conviction are powerful weapons against an enemy who depends only on fists or guns. Animals know when you are afraid; a coward knows when you are not”. Those that raise their hand on the weak and helpless are nothing but animals and cowards.

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SOLDIER CITIZEN ALL-AMERICAN JOHN McCAIN

The timing of the death of soldier citizen John McCain has immense ramifications for the dangerous crossroads the US is placed in today. For me personally this extraordinary all-American defender of democracy and freedom symbolized the courage and fairplay that was synonymous with the American persona and character mostly on display in the 20th century, during and immediately after the two World Wars.  That is not to say it does not exist, it does among a vast majority but is increasingly less on display. With emerging threats to its global leadership and to the principles for which the US once stood for in the free world, democratic rule, protection of individual rights and equal justice before law, “his death is either the passing of an era or the rekindling of American purpose”, to quote my good friend Fred Kempe, President Atlantic Council.

Military officer and politician, US Senator from Arizona from 1987 John Sidney McCain III died on Aug. 25. 2018, 81 years of age. Steeped in naval tradition (his father and grandfather both of the same name were Admirals), he graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1958. Becoming a naval aviator, he flew ground attack aircraft from aircraft carriers. Shot down in the Vietnam War over Hanoi during a bombing mission in Operation “Rolling Thunder” in October 1967, he was seriously injured and captured by the North Vietnamese. He experienced episodes of torture as a PW until 1973, refusing an early repatriation offer when his father Admiral John McCain II was commanding all US naval forces off Vietnam and the Vietnamese were hoping for a PR coup with his release. Wounds sustained during the war left him with lifelong physical disabilities.  Even then as a US Senator he later campaigned for restoring diplomatic relations with Vietnam.

Retiring from the Navy as a Captain in 1981 he moved to Arizona and in 1982 was elected to the US House of Representatives. After serving two terms, he entered the US Senate in 1987, winning re-election five times, lastly in 2016. The Republican “maverick” disagreed with his party on some issues. Making campaign finance reform one of his signature concerns, he co-sponsored the McCain-Feingold Act in 2002. One of his unusual (for a politician) trails was his willingness to acknowledge his mistakes and weaknesses. Losing the Republican nomination for President in 2000 to George W Bush, he eventually secured the nomination in 2008. McCain was defeated by Democratic nominee Barack Obama.

Opposing President Barack Obama in most of his Presidential initiatives, particularly foreign policy, was done with logic, reason and civility. Consider his former political opponent speaking at his memorial service at the National Cathedral in Wash DC, “John liked being unpredictable, even a little contrarian. He had no interest in conforming to some pre-packaged version of what a Senator should be, and he didn’t want a memorial that was going to be pre-packaged either. President Bush and I are among the fortunate few who competed against John at the highest levels of politics. He made us better Presidents. Just as he made the Senate better. Just as he made this country better. So for someone like John to ask you, while he’s still alive, to stand and speak of him when he’s gone, is a precious and singular honor,” unquote. That sums up the quintessential McCain, having the ultimate confidence to let his lifelong opponents vouch for his character and integrity.

Some American families are truly great, that is the strength of America.  For me an endearing sight at the Memorial Service was his 100 plus mother Roberta McCain in a wheelchair, his wife Cindy stoically calm and two of his sons in service uniform, Navy and Marine respectively. The McCains remind me of the Perots. Privileged to have Ross Perot Jr Chairman of EastWest Institute (EWI), New York as a close friend, one had the privilege of meeting his father Ross Perot Sr. Despite being billionaires all the Perots, grandfather, son and grandson have served in the Armed Forces.  Also a US Presidential candidate like McCain this man was so committed to the employees of the company he built that he launched a private mission to rescue those who were imprisoned in Iran in the late 1970s. In the McCains, the Perots, and many other American families like them, one sees at first hand the great sense of service and commitment to their country that so many Americans have, whatever their wealth and status. The possibility of upward mobility and the lack of importance of one’s birth is the strength of America.

John McCain’s farewell message was read by a close friend and aide after his death, “There is always the temptation to see in the dreams of others for democracy all of the particular reasons why their struggles are different from ours…But if I leave you with one thought tonight, my friends, let it be this: It is our obligation, as free peoples, to look beyond these divisions. To disregard all the arguments that counsel passivity in the fight for human dignity, and to reaffirm that core idea united us all, and: solidarity with the universal longings of the human soul, for basic rights and equality, for liberty under the law, for tolerance and opportunity. We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down; when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been” unquote.

Ambassador Clint Williamson and Julia Fromholz from the McCain Institute of International Leadership, Washington DC, honoured me with their presence at my family home Amaanibagh, Angoori (near Islamabad) in October 2017 to present to me, in front of family and friends, a signed photograph that Senator John McCain had inscribed  “Thank you for your brave service to Freedom and Democracy”, a treasured possession one displays with great pride.  One does not even dream of comparing myself with this truly great man and wonderful human who was honoured and remembered this past week but given what we had in common, both soldier brats, aviators and POWs, one truly felt his loss.

While being grateful to the McCain Institute and Julia Fromholz for inviting me to the Memorial service at the National Cathedral in Washington DC on Saturday Sep 1, 2018 one greatly regret not being able to avail of privilege, feeling my loss even more seeing the ceremony live on TV.  The memorial service brought home to me how a nation should honour its heroes, the eulogies delivered by friend and former foe alike ample recognition of what a great nation America is, was and can be as long as it keep its civility and fairplay paramount, is not influenced by crass motives and machinations of others and remains fair in its dealings with others. This was more than a memorial for a man who had died, it was a celebration of the life of the man as he had lived it, with honour and dignity, his courage and conviction emblazoned like a shining light on his spirit and soul.  Soldier and citizen all-American John McCain, rest in peace!

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EURASIAN REAL POLITIK

Europe and Asia are geographically one land mass, British geographer Sir Halford J. Mackinder maintained as far back as 1904 that whoever controlled the Eurasian heartland would control the world. Soon after, Nicolas Spyman countered with the thesis that whoever controlled Eurasia’s rim would control the heartland and the world. China’s Belt and Road Initiative’s (BRI) enterprise of six economic corridors shifts the global developmental initiatives from the Indian and Pacific Oceans to the Eurasian mainland.

Straddling 60 countries in Asia, Europe and Africa. BRI’s programme will invest tens of billions of US dollars to augment and upgrade rail, roads, bridges and energy projects. Taking advantage of former Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD) plans, now taken up by an expanded Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) including six former Soviet territories, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is BRI’s flagship project. With power pivoting towards the Eurasian heartland, the rise of China as the world’s largest economy brought hundreds of millions out of poverty, making China the world’s second military power. Given its former territories Russia is still the dominant power in Central Asia and a critical player in the Middle East. It has simultaneously risen Phoenix-like from the ashes, by itself more than a military match for NATO.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (CSO) characterises the reality of the ‘new world order’ in the Eurasian image.  With enormous distances greatly reduced by road and rail connections, saving time and money, the difference between people, economies and cultures east and west of the Ural Mountains is not more than between Eastern and Western European people and cultures.

Most economists agree that impacting nearly every aspect of modern life globalization is an unstoppable force beneficial to the world economy. Pakistan is struggling with the impact of globalization mainly because of our foreign policy. From 1947 Pakistan has been vulnerable being squeezed in between a hostile India opposing partition and an equally hostile Afghanistan refusing to recognize the newly independent state. While the situation seven decades later is not much different, the Pakistan Armed Forces have developed over the past decade into a potent force, their tremendous sacrifices in sweat and blood giving us the option for an independent stance.  The Cold War scenario found Pakistan aligned with the US seeking support for its very existence. Though unavoidable in the circumstances, membership in SEATO and CENTO severely limited Pakistan’s foreign policy options. Nevertheless, US-Pak relations became strained within a decade, during the 1965 war with India the US was neutral, in 1971 it gave only lip-service while Pakistan was dismembered. With Pakistan again becoming “cornerstone of US foreign policy” as its only springboard in the Afghan war in the 80s and then in the 21st century (till even today), US turned it into its “foreign policy gravestone” by imposing sanctions on Pakistan soon after its services were neither needed (1989) or diminished (after 2008).

Situated as a bridge at the crossroads of the Asian mainland between the different regions and powers, Pakistan’s special responsibility is to keep the region stable, our foreign policy commitment must mirror this. With over 1.8 billion people, South Asia has the world’s largest working-age population with a majority work force in the agriculture sector. The workshare of the services sector has increased significantly in the past few years. Sharing borders in Central and South Asia with its four neighbours i.e. China, Afghanistan, India and Iran and the oil-rich Gulf, this geopolitically important region’s natural resources and human capital makes the potential for growth enormous. A national security policy must structure the new geopolitical realities to rethink and create consensus (by public and institutional debate) about our fundamental national interests. The region’s volatility forbids our joining any bloc or having relationships with one country to the exclusion of another. Maintaining our neutral position we must keep balance between our next-door neighbour Iran and an old friend Saudi Arabia as also between our old ally US and our new relations with Russia.   As a concept Eurasianism encourages prevalence of regional relations over distanced ones, the SCO platform holds a promise for stability and options for negotiated resolution of crises for both Pakistan and India.

The Eurasian concept of accumulating economic power is a global-scale strategy that acknowledges the objectivity of globalization and the weakening importance of nation-states. This different scenario entails no unipolar world or united global government but offers several global zones that are not nation-states but a coalition reorganized into continental federations or “democratic empires” with a large degree of inner self-government. An alternative or multipolar version of globalization, the Eurasian Idea accepts globalization as the currently major fundamental world process deciding the main vector of modern history.

The Soviet Union’s disintegration and US’ “clash of civilizations” strategy which resulted in the 9/11 tragedy triggered a new wave of global polarization and warfare that has kept the world disturbed. Having defeated the Pakistani Taliban and eliminating their strongholds in Tribal Areas and Karachi, fencing of Pak-Afghan border, de-radicalization programs for militants and eliminating financing of terrorism, etc. We must promote the peace process in Afghanistan to ward off threats such as Islamic extremism embodied by Islamic State (IS).

CENTO becoming redundant after the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the situation has now reversed.  Though Saudi Arabia and the GCC countries are not as vulnerable militarily that they were 50 years ago, even flexing their muscles in Yemen, they still require a military shield. Can the US with its Israeli and Indian partners provide this?  Two of the three major non-Arab Muslim countries making up CENTO, Iran and Turkey, have sanctions imposed by the US, once CENTO’s major sponsor.   Incidentally all three (including Pakistan) have powerful Armed Forces which are intact despite the turmoil in the region.

Military-military (mil-mil) equations with Japan and India respectively defines US strategy to contain China in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.  One does not see Japan engaging in any war on the land mass of Asia, after its 1962 experience would India ever try taking on China?  More importantly would the US public support any adventure committing American troops in a land war in Asia?  Particularly given a CENTO “in reverse” and the ominous presence of land-based Chinese and Russian forces?  While denying the Pacific and Indian Ocean sea lanes to Russia and China, the US Fifth and Sixths Fleets may as well go on a permanent pleasure cruise. What BRI’s exploiting the land mass means for Eurasia about sums up the new economic and political reality now obtaining in Eurasia (the writer is a defence and security analyst).

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COMMON MAN’S UNCOMMON PM

Imran Khan won over the hearts of the masses by his very candid and honest manner in his address to the nation as PM. Delivered from the heart in plain words, his talking points scribbled in his own handwriting he meant what he said. The nation has been waiting to hear from their leaders for the last 71 years about the poor-rich divide and the vital issues haunting the masses on the poverty line or barely above it. Not attacking the Opposition directly, he held them responsible for the current debt crisis of Rs 28 trillion that 10 years ago (2008) was only Rs. 6 trillion.

Pledging to cut govt spending, end corruption and repatriate public funds,  he promised Pakistani expatriates a conducive investment environment, exhorting them to deposit  their hard-earned money into Pakistani banks through official channels to provide some relief to our current financial crunch. Outlining deficiencies in Pakistan’s human development and the health-care sector, he promised adopting austerity measures to relieve the strain on the economy and tackle foreign debt.  Appealing to the people to team up with him to improve health-care system and provide proper nutrition to children, he said his govt will improve the public sector educational institutions to absorb the more than 20 million children not going to schools. Madaris too would include modern subjects so that students across the broad spectrum could become engineers, doctors, etc.

To symbolise austerity, the PM will himself stay in the 3-bedroom Military Secretary’s residence in the PM’s House keeping only two employees out of the 524 reserved for the sitting premier.  Retaining only two of the 80 cars at the PM house, 33 of them very expensive bullet proof ones, he requested the business community to purchase them at an auction. Promising to convert all existing Governor Houses into public places,  the PM House would be converted into a world class university.

Urging the wealthy to start paying taxes,  a perennial problem with less than 1 percent of the population filing income tax, Pakistan has become notorious for tax dodgers. Instead of trying to rebuild the economy by external loans, he vowed to bring about changes in the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) having lost its credibility because of corruption. Promising to protect the people’s tax money to ensure it is spent on them, he urged the people to start paying taxes not only for a better life but also to lift the destitute out of poverty.

Imran planned to meet the Chairman National Accountability Bureau (NAB)  facilitating making NAB more effective and more transparent in its fight against corruption. Imran Khan hopes to enact a law for “whistleblowers” in the manner he has done in Khyber Pahktunkhwa (KPK), whoever helps identify corruption gets a share of the money that is recovered. The PM has decided to keep the Interior Ministry and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) under himself as “I want to personally oversee our efforts to eradicate corruption”.

Reforming the civil service serving as the backbone of bureaucracy is a priority for the PM, to enforce meritocracy and restore it to its formerly held high standards. “In the 1960s we were considered one of the best in the world,” he said. “It is unfortunate how we have fallen behind. This is largely because of a few corrupt individuals and unbridled political interference” unquote. Dr Ishrat Hussain, former Governor State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has been tasked to form a Committee to bring merit back. Warning that that political interference will not be tolerated in any appointments, the PM announced bonuses for the selfless and efficient employee and penalties for those who failed.

Imran Khan stressed upon transferring the devolution of power saying that previous govts were loathe to introduce local govt or kept creating roadblocks in its implementation, “Power must be given to the bottom-most tier. Nazims will be directly elected in districts, while checks and balances will be kept.” Every attempt to introduce local govts has been met with resistance from the bureaucracy, especially by the District Management Group and the Police Service of Pakistan, who claim superiority over the district administration as a backdrop of their colonial legacy.

The PM stressed increasing Pakistan’s exports by facilitating all the industries to remove bottlenecks and hurdles. He promised to bring back investment into the country by making an environment for investment. Our embassies across the world will engage all overseas Pakistanis (and others) who may wish to take our goods and products. A “Business Advisory Council” is being set up to provide assistance and help address their challenges.

The PM explained his vision of using the examples of governance set by the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) “to bring the nation out of its plight,” in essence creating a Medina-style Islamic Welfare State. Calling the Holy Quran as his fundamental and eternal guide for lifting the country based on such a model, he put forth a five-point agenda 1) Supremacy of law where the law has to be the same for everyone 2) Zakat, where the rich pay more to subsidize the poor 3) Compassion, today this is practiced more in the west where even animals are cared for in ways that would put us to shame, 4) Merit, rulers must be Sadiq and Ameen, they have to be truthful with no conflict of interest and 5) Education, the Holy Prophet stressed education above everything else, even making it incumbent on his people to attain an education.

Treating challenges confronting the nation as opportunities,Imran  Khan spoke aboutrevamping the judiciary, implementing KP model of police in Punjab, repatriate our Pakistanis stuck in jails abroad, increase green cover in cities, water scarcity, building new dams, environmental issues, a crackdown on child sex abuse, etc. In essence all reforms and proposals focussed on safeguarding Pakistan’s resources and their redistribution from the rich to the less advantaged.Such was the sincerity in his tone and such was the power behind his message that even his detractors failed to find any negative aspects, the best they could do was be critical about topics the PM did not dwell upon.

The road to “Naya Pakistan”is littered with challenges and threats which are in fact opportunities. This is indeed a new beginning holding promise for the common man who was energized by hearing Imran speaking the language they wanted to hear. This uncommon man, someone who does not ask for much in return for his promises is now on his way to really becomean “uncommon” PM.

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ACCOUNTABILITY BEGINS AT HOME

A democratic form of govt being accountable to the people, the elected representatives are accountable to the people who elect them. Our enduring constant crisis in governance stems from our inept and corrupt rulers trampling the essential pillars of good governance, rule of law and accountability. This gives rise to unbridled and widespread corruption, low human development and higher poverty levels.

Formed in Nov 1999 “to eliminate corruption through a comprehensive approach encompassing prevention, awareness, monitoring and combating,” the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) record of convicting politicians and civil servants has been hampered by political interference and/or bureaucrats conniving with some NAB officials to cover up white collar crimes. Justice (Retd) Javed Iqbal as Chairman NAB has breathed fresh energy to make NAB as effective as it was during its first few years. Given the space to carry out effective accountability dedicated employees of NAB have made considerable progress in investigating the corrupt dealings of a combination of politicians, bureaucrats, ex-servicemen, etc. Rumoured to be worth Rs. 2.5 billion and still counting. Fawad Hasan Fawad and Ahad Cheema, the blue-eyed of Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif respectively, were loaned billions by some known businessman and financiers, for what consideration? Additionally a matter of concern no one from the judiciary has ever been touched by NAB.

To quote Prime Minister-designate Imran Khan “accountability will start with me” and extends downwards to his cabinet members. Though individuals with political and/or financial strength may be important for Imran personally and/or politically, public perception will be unforgiving him if he continues association with those who may be tainted with corruption be seen in any position of authority. Imran’s success lies in practicing what he preaches.  That the army does not have an internal audit system to curb corrupt practices is wrong. With military promotions merit-based and having an excellent administrational strength, the Army could play an exemplary role by devising an effective information mechanism for making public cases of accountability within the Army. This will encourage/force other institutions to willingly become part and parcel of the anti-graft drive. The judiciary does not have requisite on-board skills, the investigating of white collar crimes must depend upon an “Internal Affairs Division” within the Supreme Court (SC) and the High Courts (HCs) headed by a SC/HC Judge rank respectively with ability to form Joint Investigating Teams (JIT) for curbing corruption, especially in the lower judiciary. Without putting its independence in jeopardy the judiciary’s shortcoming can be filled through overlapping arrangements with investigation agencies, particularly in cases considered to be ‘open and shut’.

Being listed among the world’s most corrupt nations almost every year is a matter of shame. The tiniest positive change in its ranking is not because corruption has declined but because corruption has shot up in other countries in the list. Corruption is entrenched in the political system, having infiltrated deep into the bureaucracy, political parties and into sections of the judiciary. Accountability being mostly selective and used as a tool to tame political opposition or economic rivals makes across the board accountability a dream.

According to Wikipedia, the real estate tycoon, Malik Riaz is currently the 7th richest person in Pakistan, with an estimated wealth of over a billion dollars. How this man has amassed billions without paying taxes? The Federal Tax Ombudsman’s orders in 2013 to recover Rs. 119 billion in taxes owed by Malik Riaz was set aside by then President Asif Zardari. Something is wrong with the Constitution and the rule of law if a person deeply involved in corruption can get away with “pardoning” another. Without embarrassment Malik Riaz admits bribing both senior civilian and military officers and got a “substantial return on his investment”. The Army must investigate all those ex-servicemen (particularly two star and above) working (or associates) with Malik Riaz. Those who have benefitted by having plots, etc gifted to them by Riaz must be public. What happened to the Rs 62 billion (about US$ 700 million) paid to him by Defence Housing Authority (DHA) Islamabad, forcing them to re-schedule re-payments to the banks?

Thanks to Malik Riaz’s stable of high-paid lawyers and retired senior civil and military professionals aware knowing the intricacies of how to manipulate the governance process, he has always got away on legal technicalities. Diverting potable water to Malik Riaz’s Bahria project in Karachi is criminal. Sindh govt officials colluded by laying four three-inch diameter connections. Could they have done this without Zardari’s explicit instructions?  Cutting into the already inadequate supplies to the 20-million plus city, Karachi’s residents resulting in an acute water shortage and making their purchase exorbitantly priced water tankers or stand at communal taps to obtain water for daily use. How Riaz get land in prime locations in lieu of worthless land from barren areas is a saga out of the “corruptions handbook”. Is justice deaf, dumb and blind to this blatant and calculated corruption? One has the greatest respect for Chief Justice Saqib Nisar but Malik Riaz must be laughing himself sick for having got away with only Rs 5 billion deposit.

Every enquiry, every investigation, every trial and every arbitration in Pakistan today reeks of rampant falsification with absolute impunity. Perjury is rampant, why are those disqualified by SC not charged with perjury?  Every elected representative thinks that he is only answerable to their voters after their tenure has expired. Remember Nawaz Sharif ‘s tirade after being removed from office by the SC,  ‘I am only answerable to the people of Pakistan”? Truly independent and autonomous, anti-corruption agencies will allow conduct of across-the-board accountability without any political interference. Surgical restructuring of the entire accountability mechanism must include NAB and other Federal/Provincial anti-corruption entities. This should not defer/delay any ongoing investigation.  Moreover accountability across the board must include the judiciary and the military, a suitable mechanism duly devised so that these institutions are not degraded because of a few hypocrite scoundrels pontificating on TV about corruption.

Without getting involved politically indulging in or interference, accountability working independently is an opportunity for the new govt to cleanse the system.  As a leader of integrity and vision Imran Khan can only develop in the mould of Malaysia’s Mahathir Muhammad or Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew if he is aided by people of integrity around him promoting merit-based decisions at all levels and increasing accountability. With people starting to hope that their dreams can be fulfilled, he cannot afford tainted individuals in his inner circle. Imran Khan compromising on self-accountability adversely affect his vision for governance and Pakistan.

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SETTING THE TONE FOR THE FUTURE

Without significant progress on the political scene for years Imran Khan was mercilessly mocked by many, none so viciously as Declan Walsh, the Guardian’s former correspondent for Pakistan. He went the ultimate in ridiculing Imran in an August 31, 2005 article as a “a miserable politician whose ideas and affiliations since entering politics in 1996 have swerved and skidded like a rickshaw in a rain shower”. I would like to invite my friend Declan to come and ascertain for himself the genuine political appeal and adulation the PTI chairman now universally commands in the country, certainly among friends but surprisingly among some erstwhile foes alike. One should not scribe one’s perceptions from the vibes obtaining on the cocktail circuit.  The popular vote of 16 million plus far exceeds the number of seats the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) should have got on a commensurate basis.

Imran Khan laid out an outline of what his economic and governance reforms as well as his foreign policy priorities a day after the July 25 elections, the positive response, particularly on the social media, was huge. After all the frenetic electoral activity, his calm pep talk touched on almost every aspect of an effective governance system. The manifesto of his party was re-scaled on a prophetic virtual model. Passionate about the welfare of citizens, equality before law, justice and education, he called for uplifting the underprivileged, promising provision for their basic needs and jobs.

Mentioning the difficulties the people of Balochistan faced, he praised their courage for coming out to vote despite the dire imminent threat from terrorism. Imran Khan’s words will be a source of renewed hope and solace for the people of this neglected province. Calling for national unity, the cricketer in him demonstrated a true sportsman spirit. Offering an enquiry into the Opposition’s allegations of vote rigging he called for accountability, starting with himself. Despite being the target of personal attacks and character assassination all through his political career. Imran Khan promised not to engage in political vendetta against his detractors. The national leader resolved to unite the people of Pakistan, making policies for the poor and giving rights to even those who do menial work in homes. A symbol of refusing to give up, he will continue to struggle for achieving national goals. That Imran will abide by his pledge to refrain from political victimizing should not be in doubt, he has a history of living up to his promises.

With our foreign reserves at their lowest, coming under further stress by the day and the current account deficit widening and eroding the reserves, there is talk about approaching the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The bailout package estimated at US$10-15 billion by Finance Minister-designate Asad Umar. An economic crisis looms on the horizon. Rumours about a US$ 2 billion Chinese loan are still doing the rounds. The new govt will have to find ways to offset this problem, Imran Khan explicitly mentioned concentrating efforts for combating tax evasion, strengthening trade relations with neighbors, and reforming dysfunctional state institutions responsible for the economic downturn will give some comfort to the people.

Endemic in Pakistan, corruption has spread like a cancer, in the govt, police force, etc bureaucracy has become a significant risk to all commercial activities. Imran Khan has promised to make NAB, FIA and other institutions truly independent, strengthening the scope of NAB to ensure accountability. Unfortunately selective accountability remained the order of the day with previous govts, accountability was not carried out in a non-partisan manner. In April this year just before the general elections and against strong advice by political aides, he created political sensation by dismissing 20 lawmakers of his own party found selling votes in the Senate elections. While accountability will be a huge challenge, he must do what is right, using it as a unique opportunity to make our present accountability mechanism more formidable to cleanse this nation of the corrupt and the undesirables.

Promising to cut govt expenses, he pointed to the gigantic PM House and said “I would be embarrassed to live in it”, Imran’s decision not to live in the PM House will translate into huge savings amounting to Rs. 1.85 billion annually. Mentioning the Governor’s and Chief Ministers’ residences as being next was extremely symbolic in assuaging the feelings of deprivation and disdain of the poor masses towards the royal lifestyle of Pakistan’s governing elite. No govt tried this the past, except perhaps for the Junejo govt. Living upto promises of conservatism and austerity measures he earned the ire of the bureaucracy and was ultimately dismissed by Gen Zia ul Haq on charges of incompetency and economic stagflation.

In a decidedly conciliatory tone Imran has sought improved relations with India and Afghanistan, offering to take two steps to one from India for the sake of peace and friendship, emphasizing that better trade ties would be beneficial to both. Modi responded to this positive gesture for clearing the way to lasting regional peace by congratulating Imran by telephone. Despite his conciliatory offers, Imran Khan did not forget the core issue of the suffering of the people of Indian Held Kashmir (IHK), suggesting that both neighbours need to sit and try to fix the problem. The crux of his message was that Pakistan desires improved ties, with India a willing partner interested in peace. The problem is that having US patronage, India might not like to review it believing its regional hegemonic designs could be fulfilled.

Impressed by China’s rapid development Imran Khan said he wanted to learn how 700 million people were pulled out of poverty and the measures taken against corruption. The PTI Chairman has taken steps to enhance mutual cooperation by constituting a special “Pak-China Cooperation Unit” aiming to further strengthening bilateral relations. He wants Chinese experience help speed up and widen the scope of the CPEC project.

The performance of the previous government against the targets set in “Pakistan Vision 2025” plan proposing optimal utilization of the country’s resources to achieve sustainable progress fell short in almost all sectors because of lack of commitment and greed. Imran Khan’s predecessors did not exercise caution when making promises and setting targets. Having brought about the downfall of PML (N), PPP dynastical politics, the would-be “conditional” premier brings a strong message of hope unlike any of his predecessors. The aspirations of the people of Pakistan sits on his shoulders to deliver on the promises he has made. His July 25 speech set the tone for a positive future.

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CHALLENGES INTO OPPORTUNITIES

Poised to become the Prime Minister (PM). Imran Khan, Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) will lead a new Coalition govt. Among the acute challenges will be severe distress in the economy. Foreign exchange reserves have depleted due to widening of current account deficit and repayment of previous loans.  The International Monetary Fund (IMF) may be approached for a US$10 to 15 billion bailout package to stabilise the external sector. Rather difficult given that the US has a say in IMF affairs and US-Pakistan relations are at their lowest ebb. Out of the blue came a warning shot, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warning Pakistan, “There’s no rationale for IMF tax dollars, and associated with that American dollars that are part of the IMF funding, for those to go to bail out Chinese bondholders or China itself”. While the coupling of one with the other is mystifying, for the foreseeable future the IMF option therefore appears closed. With the talk of a bailout by China not confirmed, the PTI govt needs engage the US govt with pragmatism, apprising them of the new dynamics emerging in the region and the need for both the countries to have a more constructive relationship.

The first 10 months of fiscal year 2018 saw Pakistan’s current account deficit widening almost 50% to a record high of $14.03 billion. This deficit has taken a toll on foreign exchange reserves sinking to a low of around US$9 billion. Before starting to appreciate after the July 25 elections, the Pakistani rupee depreciated alarmingly against the dollar rising briefly beyond Rs 130. Pakistan’s debt has increased to an unsustainable level of Rs 24.5 trillion or 72% of total size of economy (domestic debt Rs16.5 trillion and external debt Rs8 trillion). Fiscal and trade deficit have recorded an all-time high. Imran Khan promised mass reform, giving top priority to the making of strategy and policies in consultation with the business community and the private sector.

A fiery Opposition does not accept the electoral results, however Imran Khan has already waved an olive branch to the Opposition by offering to have any constituency investigated where they believed irregularities have taken place. A huge dose of pragmatism is now needed, the new govt must do everything in its power to develop a working relationship with the Opposition based on the new realities. Imran Khan must now go the extra mile, taking on the mantle of a mature, non-partisan and patriotic politician having only the best interests of the nation and its people at heart; it is said that leaders must very often manage change, even if the change is unpopular. While a strong  Opposition is vital for any democracy, it must ensure that it plays its role as an alternative viewpoint to proposals and to generate debate. It must refrain from hounding and criticizing the majority only for the sake of it, as has sadly become the norm in Pakistan. The combined Opposition must serve the country by providing honest checks and balances needed in a functioning democracy, shunning opposition for the sake of opposition.

Imran Khan has promised to work towards the success of CPEC and that he wants to send teams to learn about poverty alleviation from China and utilize their model to lift up the poor and downtrodden in Pakistan. PTI’s manifesto also reiterates its desire to take friendship with China to new heights. The presence of any non-state actors in Pakistan is bound to put extra pressure on Pakistan. Another serious challenge that Imran Khan might face will be on the eve the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meeting scheduled for Sept 18 where the issue of non-state actors could be debated.

Speaking in a televised address on July 26 Imran Khan, opened his heart to the nation without the aid of scripts or notes. He came across as someone truly humble and mature, he was conciliatory in not blaming anyone for the past but looked ahead to the future.  He vowed not to pursue political victimization and strengthen state institutions to ensure they were really independent. Setting a personal example he offered himself for accountability and called for having harmonious relations with all neighbours and with major powers, including the USA.  Reaction both in Pakistan and abroad to his speech was largely favourable with many saying that Imran has graduated from being just a politician to a Statesman.

Imran Khan must deliver on promises made i.e. fighting corruption and bringing the looted wealth back to Pakistan, ensuring across-the-board accountability and providing jobs by reviving at least 100 industries. New legislation must ensure that the process is impartial. Strong liaison with foreign governments will be needed for crafting fresh treaties and agreements for extradition of criminals, repatriation of the robbed assets to the country of origin and curb money laundering. The looming water crisis, energy shortages, internal and external security factors, etc, are among the challenges. Foreign policy challenges have multiplied because of the PML (N) failure having a Foreign Minister for four long years damaged Pakistan’s image internationally. The road to “Naya Pakistan” appears littered with pitfalls and obstacles, the job is certainly not going to be an easy one, but the new govt  must have the will to take unpopular and difficult decisions.

Spare a thought for the soldiers of our Armed Forces and the peace that prevails rendered by their blood, sweat and toil. On top of the challenges we were facing only five years ago, terrorism is now more of an irritant to be eradicated rather than any major challenge.  The verdict of voters of Pakistan would not have been possible without our soldiers changing the environment drastically from fear and despondency to peace and tranquility, giving them the opportunity to exercise their choice. Our soldiers went the extra mile ensuring a clean and fair electoral process. Despite the abuse and calumny visited on them by the losers and those domestic and foreign entities having a vested interest in them, not a single shred of evidence has been produced with any credibility.

Setting a high bench mark for himself, Imran Khan and his party members will have to rise above petty personal and political prejudices. Challenges are only a means of achieving goals and vision, an opportunity for renewal and change for those who have the capability, the competence and the will to meet the challenges head on. Imran and his PTI will have to prove themselves worthy of the trust reposed in them by the voters of Pakistan.

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OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE GOVT

The balance of payment crisis has been aggravated by major currency devaluations taking place over the past few months, the Rupee plunging 15% since December last. Surprisingly the currency has appreciated by 4% .e. Rs 7.00 since Imran Khan’s elections on July 25.  The State Bank having had to raise interest rates, the current-account gap widened by 43% in the last fiscal year with foreign-exchange reserves dropping alarmingly to $ 9.1 billion. While a China- sponsored “bailout” is rumoured, the newly elected govt might approach the International Monetary Fund (IMF). These loans come typically with strings attached i.e. curbing fiscal deficits, tighter monetary policy, etc one can expect even tougher conditions given that many structural reforms promised to the IMF were either delayed or not done by the previous govt. The US being front and center in any IMF initiative, one can also expect another boat of “do more”.

With about 40 days plus of cash available for imports,  Pakistan has not enough foreign funds to pay for (1) much-needed imports to keep economic growth going and  (2) for the Central Bank to maintain currency stability. The “current account deficit” (CAD) keeps growing wider at a fast pace, further eroding our scarce reserves. There is an opportunity for the govt to build the foreign exchange reserves and stabilize the local currency by banning luxury goods and those imports that can be substituted locally.

Setting a personal example Imran Khan has offered himself for accountability, his cabinet and then downwards to everyone. His willingness to ensure accountability was in seen in dismissing 20 lawmakers for selling votes in the Senate elections. But in the absence of both sound internal controls and institutionalized accountability, our govt departments have turned into dens of corruption. Accountability requires a survey of those living way beyond their means, recovering looted national wealth stashed away in foreign safe havens must be a priority. Meaningful measures must include strengthening accountability institutions like National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Public Accounts Committee (PAC), etc.

Experts have already warned that Pakistan will become “dry” by 2025 unless some pragmatic and speedy steps are taken in accordance of the new “Water Policy” introduced a la Sartaj Aziz just a few weeks ago. India’s inauguration of the Kishanganga Hydroelectric plant in Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) has compounded over water problem. Among our top priorities would be to ensure water-management and the speedy construction of new dams.  This should not be confined to big dams, even small catchment ones should be made, mainly in Balochistan.

Not having a full-time Foreign Minister for four long years undercut Pakistan foreign policy apparatus. A comprehensive national security strategy must spell out not only the foreign policy but all socio-economic factors affecting national security.  The incompetency of the outgoing govt exacerbated pressing issues including deteriorating relations with India, the Kashmir issue, relations with the US, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan. Explaining the emerging dynamics in the region to our US friends, US-Pakistan relationship must be given priority irrespective of the Trump administration making forceful demands (considerably toned down recently). Saudi and Iran are both important allies of Pakistan, while Iran is a neighbour, the need is to ensure a balanced relationship between them. We must have a genuinely neutral position. While Afghanistan has mostly been negative playing according to India’s tutelage, recently there seems to be significant change in policy towards Pakistan. Imran Khan is on record saying a good relation with Afghanistan envisions open borders reminiscent of those within the European Union. Peace in Afghanistan means peace in Pakistan.

The security challenges prevailing will require highly focussed attention considering that Pakistan has been a target of terrorism and violent attacks for a number of years now. The dramatic decrease is because of two of the world’s most successful major operations recently i.e. Zarb-e-Azab and Radd-ul-Fasad, against militant and criminal elements. This has considerably reduced the violence-related casualties across the country. However, militants still retain both their resources and access, as was seen recently on and before Election Day. To wipe out this menace the new govt will have to gear up “actionable intelligence” coordinating civil security entities with the Armed Forces. The Nation Action Plan (NAP) will have to be re-visited and implemented fully for achieving success against terrorism with India vehemently opposed to the idea. The security of CPEC will be another major challenge for the govt.

The opportunities for development include solving energy crisis, FATA and PATA development, judicial reforms and civil-military relations. The previous govt did try to overcome the energy crisis – more than 10,000 MW electricity was added to the system through various projects. Problems still relating exist to huge line losses, theft issues and up-gradation of the extremely old system that does not have the capacity to handle excess electricity. The FATA and PATA merger was done by the previous govt through the 24th Constitutional Amendment, however effective implementation of FATA reforms at the grassroots level is a must.

On the campaign trail Imran Khan zeroed in on Pakistan’s prevalent culture of tax evasion, only 2% of 200 miles plus population are registered in the tax system. Tax evasion will have to be tackled. Economic efficiency and interpersonal equity are rampant as reflected by the revenue yield. Imran Khan has promised to initiate reforms to broaden the tax base and reform the Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR).

For harmonious civil-military relations Imran Khan must show a high level of pragmatism and not repeat mistakes made by his predecessors trying open confrontation with the Army and the judiciary. The new govt will have to work hard to evolve cordial relations with the Establishment, the entire thrust must be on working together for a truly national socioeconomic transformation.

When one lives in a global economy in this age of electronics and its accompanying social media, we become vulnerable to the influence of decisions made or perceptions gathered outside our country. Adopting being innovative and adapting to circumstances, we need to adjust to the changing realities. The democratic process needs to remain in place and to be strengthened.  The actual countdown in democracy starts with the governance mode after victory in the electoral process is achieved, the govt will have its hands full dealing with a number of challenges.  It will need all the skills, assurance and diplomacy at its command. The challenges are in fact opportunities for positive change, not only to be addressed and solved but taken advantage of for the good of Pakistan.

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DEFINING MOMENT

Pakistan’s third-ever democratic elected process leading to the transition of power took place on 25 July 2018. More than 100 political parties contested the 272 seats in the National Assembly (NA), the balance reserved seats being allocated on a proportionate basis with an outright majority would need to have 172 seats.  A quick look at the unofficial results show that with nearly 115 NA seats Imran Khan’s PTI is capable of making the Federal and KPK govts, but will be hard put to make the govt in the Punjab, even with independents.  As things stand today PML (N) can make a weak coalition govt in the Punjab.  Will PML (N) risk this?

Almost fifty years ago Pakistan’s first general elections were held on Dec 7, 1970 on the basis of adult franchise in both the Eastern and Western wings under Gen Yahya Khan’s martial law. Broken up into three factions, the conservative Muslim League (ML) in West Pakistan campaigned on a nationalist platform, promising to initiate the reforms originally envisioned by the Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah in 1940s. Tested by political pundits and the intelligence agencies to win the elections they went down to miserable defeat. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), led by the charismatic Z.A. Bhutto whose popularity, socialistic ideas and his catchy slogan of “Roti, Kapra aur Makan” (food, clothing and shelter) were factors contributing to the popularity of the party. The forceful style of oration and the raw emotion Bhutto exuded served to instill hope and inspiration in millions. Raising religious slogans and the right wing Islamic parties led by Maulana Maodoodi campaigned on an Islamic platform, promising Sharia laws if voted into power but did not get much traction.

Bhutto’s dynamic leadership and charisma made him popular and influential in West Pakistan. His socialistic ideas and his slogan infused interest among the students, the poor, and the working class. Even then it was a huge surprise when Bhutto managed to get an outright majority in two Provinces and also a simple majority of the NA seats iin West Pakistan, winning 81 seats initially out of 138 seats reserved for West Pakistan in the National Assembly, with some independents joining the number rose to 88. The PPP won the Provincial Assembly polls in Punjab and Sindh. Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (JUI) emerged victorious in Balochistan and the National Awami Party (NAP) in NWFP.  A landed aristocrat himself, Z.A. Bhutto’s victory, was a paradox as the elected in his PPP included powerful landlords alongwith a number of socialists. The perception was that feudalism was no longer the dominant factor in Punjab politics and the “biradari” of caste and tribal connections that controlled the vote/voters had broken down. However, Pakistan voters are still tied as serfs to their landowners and traditionally voted for their caste and biradari. Since no manipulation was done to rig results, the 1970 elections is generally regarded as the most free and fair in Pakistan’s history, however the outcome of the ballot (in both wings) was grossly miscalculated and for different reasons.

Despite the opposition’s claims to the contrary, the ECP must be given credit to ensure that elections are free, fair and unbiased and that the 2008 and 2013 manipulation or rigging/tampering is ruled out from the voting process. However the NADRA part has triggered a major controversy, as it is Chairman NADRA Dr Mobin was accused previously of being a PML (N) stalwart.  Was the delay technically engineered?  The answer is important because knowing they were onto a major electoral defeat the major parties who lost out yelled “foul”.  Reports were received of not being given copy of Form 45 certifying votes count, etc in each constituency.  The total demise of Mustafa Kamal’s PSP was really surprising given the pre-poll surveys.  When the RTS failed, supposedly because of “stress”, it took time to bring the system back on line.   This played into the hands of the opposition who had earlier warned about pre-polls manipulation. To ensure fairplay the ECP had requisitioned the presence of the Army in the Polling Stations, a quick and objective enquiry by a duly constituted JIT is necessary to ensure transparency and accountability about this controversy.

The mercurial rise in popularity of Imran Khan, leader of PTI from 1996 to 2018, particularly in the few months leading to Election Day has come, as a huge surprise to many, particularly the PML(N) and the PPP, 1970 Bhutto like. The mood of the electorate has undergone a drastic change just like it happened in 1970 when even the agencies had almost entirely rubbished the idea of PPP ever sweeping the polls in West Pakistan. Other political parties considered to be strong such as the PML factions were also taken by surprise on having to lose ground with the masses. Today when people have become that much more much aware of their rights and civil liberties as well to the injustice being meted out to them by those in power, corruption has become a major issue among the masses. Corruption within PML (N) by its top leaders and family members is another factor that has led to a sharp decline in popularity of this once hugely popular political party.

With an early unofficial indication of the likely results coming in, those expecting to lose electoral support, they have launched a propaganda campaign to accuse the Army of interference.  The PML (N) and PPP are both crying foul alleging that the playing field was not level for them. Very much like 1970, the military today has resisted direct intervention, allowing democracy to make its own path. Despite the virulent attacks by Nawaz Sharif and his party men the Army has kept its cool and should keep doing so.  A section of the electronic media, duly orchestrated by pets of many has joined in tarnishing the Army’s image. To influence the voters’ choice of their preference as rulers for next five years, a constant drumbeat of lies was disseminated, mainly through paid agents in the electronic media.  With certain international entities bent on making Pakistan weak and pliant, anti-military narratives are proliferating.

Much to the chagrin of our political pundits and despite the vast sums of money used, the party is over, Election Day has delivered the verdict of the people that Pakistan will not be looted anymore. Our sore losers would like to make the whole process illegitimate but one cannot ignore the facts of change.  Affecting this is truly a defining moment in the history of Pakistan.

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