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The Unkindest Cut Of All

Declaring “no confidence” in Chief Minister Sindh Arbab Ghulam Rahim, MQM’s Provincial Ministers handed over mass resignations, for good measure their Federal Ministers also resigned from PM Shaukat Aziz’s Cabinet. Everyone and his uncle knows the MQM is posturing and will withdraw their threatened exit from government, the timing of their protest is of some consequence. Synchronising with a well orchestrated western media attack against Musharraf and Pakistan, it gives the perception of their ganging up with forces inimical to Musharraf and Pakistan at worst, and at best being opportunists in taking advantage of the crisis Musharraf and Pakistan face, both internationally and internally.

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A Time To Unite

The terrorists who strike South Asia (mainly India) from time to time have a precocious propensity to do so close to a noteworthy event, e.g. whenever a US President (or someone likewise important) is about to visit the region. Despite the fact that India has a fair number of militants, Naxalites, Mizos, Nagas, Manipuris etc with several thousands of square miles under their control and who are certainly not Islamic, any major terrorist activity is blamed immediately on Pakistan, lack of evidence notwithstanding! That it also puts Pakistan on the defensive as a terrorist-ridden State (if not a sponsor) is not a coincidence anymore. Whoever thought up the Mumbai blasts (targetting first class railway compartments?) did not have mayhem only in India’s economic capital in mind, Pakistan’s image in the world (and existence as the only muslim nuclear entity) was the real target. No mean coincidence that for the past four weeks the Economist, the Atlantic Monthly, Time, Newsweek, etc etc have been running remarkably similiar articles attacking Musharraf and Pakistan, in that order, much before the Mumbai blasts. The coincidence goes on when you note the “accusations” list against Pakistan are strikingly in sequence.

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The Road Ahead

As we approach election year 2007 (or will it be early 2008), the Musharraf regime has to decide very soon what political garb it has to cast itself in to fight the elections successfully. While there is no meltdown of the government, if what we read in the media and hear at private gatherings from neutral observers is true than in the run-up to general elections we are headed for political in-fighting within the government coalition, with every partner holding out to get the best possible deal for themselves. That is to be expected, with each constituent utilising this opportunity for crying for more seats than its share, before deciding upon the consensus candidate for each National and Provincial Assembly seat, mostly at the last minute. PML (Q) is a heterogeneous outfit that will be beset from within to an extent, particularly in the Seraiki belt, it will still be the majority party in Punjab, based namely on the strength of individual candidates rather than party affiliation. However both PPP and PML(N) will also do well in their strongholds. In Sindh, NWFP and Balochistan. PML(Q) is almost non-existent without official manipulation We are in for an era of backroom politics, may not be exactly smoke-filled and whisky–laden but there will be a potent power-play nevertheless.

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The Demise of Objectivity

The fag end of the 20th century saw freedom of the Press run on a fail-safe line in many first world countries. One of the major casualties of the 21st Century is objectivity in (and of) the media. Objectivity for the most part remains an endangered species in third world countries run by authoritarian rule, raising its head as an aberration for brief periods. Paraphrasing Mark Twain, while the rumours of its demise (in the free world) are greatly exaggerated, there are increasing signs that the media torch the Viet Nam generation lit in the US in the 60s and early 70s has come a full circle. In the wake of 9/11 the conservatives who tried to muzzle the free media in the US in the 50s using the bogey of communism (McCarthyism) are now increasingly active again. In the late 20th Century, Fox TV would have gone bankrupt with its hard rightist stance, today one of Fox’s leading anchors has become the US President’s Press Secretary.

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US, South Asia and China

The end of the Cold War has brought about a flourishing relationship between the US and the billion and a half people of South Asia, albeit on a pro-rata basis with India as the priority. People in this region value human rights, oppose terrorism, and want to protect their increasingly endangered environment. Free markets in South Asia are relatively new, but economic reform has strong intellectual support, and a growing middle class is committed to opening the economies of the region. A little over a decade ago South Asia was regarded by the United States as a third-class backwater, today it stands on the brink of becoming a major economic and military power. The dependance of many multinational firms a the service sector has made India (and increasingly other regional countries) a permanent priority to American policy makers.

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Changing Geo-Political Equation

Five years after the annunciation of the Bush Doctrine in the 2001 US National Security Strategy, the US has started to implement its new strategic direction first outlined fully 31 years ago in the famous May 25, 1965 Galbraith Memo. The 5-year hiccup happened mainly because of 9/11. Even though that watershed initiated wholesale changes in conventional geo-political direction, the main thrust of post-Cold War US strategic thinking since the Galbraith Memo has been to contain China within Asia, using India as a proxy. In the 60s the containment was meant to be mainly military, inclusive of geographical and ideological borders, with ideological differences blurred by socialism’s downfall and the meteoric corresponding rise in capitalism, China’s containment has now to be both economic and military.

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Rescuing Fact From Fiction

Pakistan’s economy is on the move, and why not? We are a geographical crossroads country blessed with (primarily) an agriculture economy and increasingly finding our industrial bearings. In the high-tech and services sector we are poised to take a quantum leap forward. We have a long coastline waiting to be exploited and a vast hinterland that can be developed for agriculture. The stock market is overvalued but not by much, the present benign govt attitude is of “letting a hundred crooks bloom” in the hope that the benefits of the booming economy will “trickle down” to the masses, the players who control the market and manipulate the “corrections” are not about to be corrected. Take NAB’s hasty withdrawal from investigating sugar shortages! It is in the political arena that we are badly mired, reliance being placed on corrupt elements who will pocket the goodies of “trickle-down” economics themselves rather than allowing it to fitter down to those who really need succour. Such chameleon loyalty does not mix well with the image of honesty that Gen Pervez Musharraf brought with him when he came to power. They are the ones who need Musharraf’s patronage, it is not the other way around. They cannot (and will not) deliver for anyone except themselves.

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Five Decades as a Republic

Pakistan chose not to become a republic till March 23, 1956. Five decades on (and 35 years almost to the day the “First Republic” came asunder), we must take stock of where we are today, and where the “Second Republic” will be in the future. One may take lessons from the past, it is no use lamenting the many mistakes made, they are the stuff of history and fortunately, despite our best efforts we are still in existence. Predictions range from dire pessimism to the optimistic “feel good” churned out by the establishment’s propaganda machine, it would be in the scheme of things to hold that the truth is somewhere in-between, but would that be true? Most developing nations without access to windfall oil revenues (or some cash resource along that kind) face problems of varying magnitude and are coping with them. There have been some gains and some losses. Simplistically stated, the gains are mainly in the economic field, the losses mainly political. Defying the laws of nature, we are geo-politically stronger than ever before, due (with some individual credit to Pervez Musharraf’s decision-making) to favourable circumstances than our own abilities and performance thereof.

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Forcing The Gates

There can be no approbation strong enough for the demonic act of the cartoons caricaturing our beloved Prophet (Peace Be upon Him (PBUH)). The muslim reaction is only a reflection of the deep-rooted suspicions that other religions have ganged up in a well-thought out conspiracy, the disrespect for our Prophet (PBUH) meant as a deliberate provocation. An idiot of an Italian Minister wore the despicable cartoon on a T-Shirt, very correctly (and swiftly) the Italian PM and his cabinet sacked him. Before enraged protestors could overwhelm and burn the Italian Consulate in Ben Ghazi, Libyan internal security forces killed eleven (including some foreigners among the Libyans).

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That Davos Feeling!

One can describe the Davos feeling till Kingdom Come, you cannot capture it in words (or video) for others. A truly unique gathering of Heads of State and Government, senior ministers (mainly of finance and commerce), the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) includes world renowned academics and intellectuals (including quite a few Nobel Prize winners), nearly a 1000 of the major companies of the world represented by their Chief Executives, 200 or so of the topmost media personalities of the world (both print and electronics) and selected non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The 2006 highlight was an address by former US President Clinton. Among the Heads of State, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, Nigerian President Obasanjo, German President Angela Merkel, etc. Among the celebrities, Muhammad Ali and Shabana Azmi received Crystal Awards in recognition of excellence in their respective fields. I was extremely impressed by the natural humility and grace of Shabana Azmi. Admiring her as a beautiful and outstanding actress is one thing, her contribution to the social sector is really amazing, but to have her mix without any shred of arrogance was really captivating. One wishes there are more like her, the world is a better place because of people like Shabana Azmi.

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