A LETTER TO SHABNAM

My dear honourable Shabnam,
You must be hearing the uproar in Pakistan about the dacoity case at your house, some 40 years ago. I am not sure how you view it. Perhaps it might have scratched some old wounds, perhaps it disturbed you a lot, perhaps your heart might think you had buried it long ago and now when you were almost over it why is it all coming back again. You are far from us and I am not able to hug you and express my support, but I want to tell you through my letter that you are still very close to us, in our hearts and in our lives.
Please consider the recent uproar on our social media about the rapist and dacoit, Farooq Bandial, as evidence of how much people love and respect you and how angry they still are with that disgusting creature. It all goes to show that Pakistani people still hurt for all the pain you had to go through. Even though Zia ul Haq’s regime and the influential elite protected the rapist, the people have spoken and he has been subjected to the humiliation that they thought he long deserved. Everyone talks about you with respect and love and most of all the honour that you deserve as our legendary artist and a wonderful human being. It is he who has lost his honour (izzat), then, and now.

Rape is something we women, who go through it or work with rape survivors very closely, know takes a long time to heal. It remains fresh if you keep pushing it away and try to suppress. The most effective way to deal with it is to keep facing the pain and allowing yourself to heal. Of all of us who go through this pain, many heal. Perhaps this is an opportunity for you to heal together with your larger family, the Pakistani society. I cried today for your pain and our collective pain that we women have to go through. Please know that we hurt for you and we miss you.

It is unfortunate that rape is not taken very seriously by our society, especially by those in power. Our political parties are still immature, and all have rapists, as well as very good people, in them. They do make such mistakes, sometimes knowingly, braggingly and sometimes unknowingly. They put such dishonorable criminals in positions with power and authority to lord over us. There are ignorant people who support such deplorable rapists and still blame the women. They do not want to use even the new Urdu term for rape, zabarjinsi and keep calling it ziaditi, but we hope to educate them. I want you to know that the majority of our people denounce this crime. With you, they have such a strong bond of love that they will never forgive your culprit and I hope that they are similarly non-forgiving about the culprits of other women survivors.

If this is an opportunity to heal, then let’s heal together. We were very grateful to you when you and your husband returned to Pakistan and later when you came again. We felt that you both had given us respect. We would love for you to come back yet again, for a visit or for good. This is your home and we love you. Facing our fears and pains together, perhaps we all will heal and move forward. We want you to start acting again and enjoy Pakistan as your home. Any government should give you a post of stature so you could contribute to our progress. You are our pride and we love you.
Fouzia Saeed

The confusion ahead

THERE’S little sympathy for the chap except for this: he’s getting it in the neck from all sides because there’s another chap who folk dare not say anything against and one who folk dare not think about saying anything against.

So forget about the buffoon in NAB.

And already forgotten is poor Ahsan Iqbal. Political violence is a familiar scar and around elections, an open wound. But violence seems to have been normalised, an accepted fact of political life. Oh, some dude tried to assassinate the interior minister? Shrug.

Read: For Nawaz, it’s not over till it’s over

Now, if someone had shot at an iqama or, better yet, an iqama had been the shooter — sweet justice and national pandemonium. Then again, poor Ahsan Iqbal is probably better off quickly forgotten. Lest someone try and finish off the job.

Can’t talk about the judge, can’t really discuss the boys and their activities — seen up close, it’s much, much worse than what is mostly whispered — and need to stay the hell away from the kooks and loons acting on divine instruction.

Which leaves the election.

And why everyone will struggle. Struggle to win outright, struggle to break opponents, struggle to cross 100 in the NA, struggle to get some kind of mandate. Because it’s mightily complicated.

It’s too early to know the exact shape the contest will take. The revolving political doors have not yet opened for candidates. The first burst of activity will be soon after parliament is dissolved, the second likely after Eid.

Early July, the field will more or less be settled.

But the general problem is already apparent. Over to Ahsan Iqbal from 2013, in part because anyone who has freshly taken a bullet deserves to be remembered a bit. The key to winning an election at the constituency level:

So, a three-digit code for the three big parties, PML-N, PPP and PTI, and the fourth option, a rabble of independents supported by the boys.

“It’s like a three-digit lock on a briefcase. One digit is the party, the other is the candidate’s personal vote bank and the third is the grouping and dharra. Only when the three are aligned does the briefcase open.

“Development can make you lose an election, if you haven’t done any, but on its own it’s not enough to ensure victory.”

So, a three-digit code for the three big parties, PML-N, PPP and PTI, and the fourth option, a rabble of independents supported by the boys. The most complicated constituencies quite obviously will be the four-way fights.

Possible for several reasons — infighting causing the usual two groups in constituencies to subdivide; the exit of a habitual winner drawing in new aspirants; an intensely politicised constituency electorate — they’re relatively rare.

Usually some kind of deal is reached and the panel — the MNA candidate plus his wings, usually two MPA seats — is adjusted to prevent everyone fighting everyone. Expenses can get out of control in multi-candidate constituencies, so they tend to work out something among themselves.

Plus, you can’t really see the PTI candidate and the boys’ independent going to toe-to-toe. A firm hand will likely be placed on the shoulder of one of the two when the time comes, a sign to stand down for the greater good.

Three-way fights are generally more common and may be even more so this time around. Three consecutive on-time elections, two full-term parliaments, the centre changing hands thrice, all major players with provincial governments.

That’s a lot of politics and a lot of time for new entrants to become legitimate contenders.

Three big candidates, three big parties, three dharras/groupings — it could give all three a sniff. The more rural the constituency, the less the party matters and the more the candidate and grouping do. The more urban the constituency, the opposite is true.

Say, they snatch away Nawaz’s winning candidates. That still leaves him with the party vote. The party vote can also be suppressed, but it would need brute force and polling-day shadiness. That could be costly in other ways.

So, run a smart campaign, combine the ouster narrative with Shahbaz’s goodwill among the people and a few extra seats could be eked out here and there by the PML-N — even after major defections.

For the PPP, a three-way fight is probably its best bet, especially in Punjab. If Zardari plays his cards right, most of the PPP candidates will be left alone and there will be minimal interference in the party’s campaign.

Last time around, Zardari’s occupancy of the presidency took him out of the campaign equation and Bilawal was kept far away from potential danger. Now, a more vigorous campaign by father and son could bring back, say, a baseline 20k PPP voters in quite a few places.

Layer on top of that candidates with constituency profiles and groupings to get out the vote, and the PPP could marginally improve on its collapse outside Sindh in 2013.

But it’s the PTI that could be the biggest winner in three-way fights. The party voter, the guy drawn to Imran’s basic message, is spread thin and wide across many constituencies. By itself, the PTI party vote won’t be enough.

But a favourable electoral landscape and the pick of candidates could hand PTI the three-digit codes it needs to unlock the electoral briefcases in constituency after constituency.

And in two-way fights, the likely scenario in a significant number of constituencies, the PTI could be stronger still if the opponent is the N-League. The rabble of independents could be used to chip away at the PML-N vote, bringing its candidates into range for a takedown by PTI.

Two-, three- or four-way contests, it will be an almighty struggle. For everyone.

May the least-worst man win.

The ‘Salam Centre’ brouhaha

IN another country naming or renaming a university’s physics centre or department would be considered utterly unremarkable. But here in Pakistan — if the name is that of Abdus Salam (1926-1996, physics Nobel Prize 1979) — instant controversy is guaranteed. That’s because, on the one hand, Salam commands the devotion of his embattled Ahmadi community. On the other hand, mere mention of his name inspires religious fury among sections of the population.

Some welcomed it — while others were livid — but all were astonished in late December 2016 when national newspapers and TV channels reported that Quaid-i-Azam University’s physics department had just become the ‘Abdus Salam Department of Physics’ (it had not!). Soon thereafter, that the Nati­o­nal Centre for Physics (housed on the QAU campus) was now the ‘Professor Abdus Salam Centre for Phy­sics’ (again, false!). The putative changes were attri­buted to pre-Panama prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

For 17 months everything went quiet. Then front pages filled up again. A parliamentary resolution tabled by Captain Safdar, son-in-law of Nawaz Sharif and a parliamentarian, demanded that the QAU physics department be renamed the ‘Al-Khazani department’ to honour Mansur al-Khazani, an 11th-century Seljuk-Persian star gazer.

Science suffocates when scientists are judged by their religion, race or ethnicity.

Safdar probably took this initiative because he thought that the QAU physics department had indeed been renamed after Salam. But was his resolution — which came suddenly out of the blue — intended to spite or taunt his father-in-law? To garner election support from Ahmadi-hating radicals of the TLP? Or was it to drum up religious sentiment at a time when Safdar is under a NAB investigation for corruption?

In any case he certainly hit sympathetic religious chords. Safdar’s resolution was unanimously approved by parliament, the text of which states that Al Khazani deserves this belated recognition for having shaken the world of physics with his astonishing works (hairat angaiz karnamay).

This time the reporting was factual (I have the Urdu text). But the exaggerated claim amuses for its plain silliness — Khazani was not a physicist, just a court astronomer known only to a few historians. One wonders who proposed his name. Did our parliamentarians fall victim to some prankster or a trickster?

Sloppy journalism, the intellectual laziness of parliamentarians, a general cultural antipathy to the scientific method, and overtly expressed religious prejudice generated fevered emotions. Over the last week, social media erected yet another Tower of Babel and produced tonnes of trash. Surely it’s time to get the facts straight.

Here’s what actually happened. On Dec 29, 2016, the president of Pakistan, on the summary advice of the prime minister of Pakistan, signed his approval to a document titled, ‘Proposal to Rename NCP at QAU as Professor Abdus Salam Centre for Physics’. The summary had been vetted on Dec 26, 2016, by the minister of state for education and professional training. It was then sent to QAU for necessary action.

One does not know for sure what made Mian Nawaz Sharif recognise Salam’s importance as a scientist, belated though it was. During his first tenure as prime minister, while speaking at Government College Lahore in 1992, he read out a long list of distinguished alumni and faculty but had conspicuously omitted Salam’s name.

The change probably came because in early 2016 (third tenure) Sharif visited Cern (European Nuclear Research Centre, the world’s largest laboratory) to cement the Pak-Cern collaboration. It is said he was much impressed to learn that major parts of Cern’s research — including the search for the Higgs boson — revolved around discoveries made by Abdus Salam and Steven Weinberg. He was also taken for a drive on Rue de Salam, a road named after Salam.

The official order for renaming NCP — duly signed by the Pakistani state’s highest executives, president and prime minister — was received at QAU (a state university) and conveyed onward to NCP (a state-owned centre affiliated to QAU). But at NCP it died a quiet death. More than anything else, Pakistanis should worry when state institutions wilfully ignore executive orders.

About NCP: it is now largely funded and operated by the Strategic Plans Division (SPD) of the Pakistan Army. Although NCP has no connection with nuclear weapons research, the SPD is charged with maintaining and handling the country’s nuclear weapons. It also seeks to widen its influence within civil society, particularly in universities.

Earlier, however, NCP had been an independent centre open and easily accessible to all. Like other centres on campus, it was affiliated with QAU. NCP had been conceived in the 1980s jointly by Salam and his student Riazuddin (1930-2013), a respected theoretical physicist who also became NCP’s founding director. Though underfunded, it started off in 1999 on modest temporary premises on the QAU campus.

NCP’s original goal had been to eventually duplicate, albeit on a far smaller scale, the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Italy. Founded by Abdus Salam, the ICTP (now renamed Abdus Salam-ICTP), hosts thousands of researchers from around the world to work in an open, cordial, and intellectually vibrant atmosphere on cutting-edge scientific problems.

But in 2007, NCP underwent a character change and a change of director. No longer was it an open institution. Instead it has fearsome fortifications and an ambience befitting a military institution, not an academic one. Local professors and students have been frightened away as have been the few visiting scientists from other countries. Several have vowed never to return. NCP is now largely staffed by bored retirees, civil and military. With so much deadwood, it offers little of intellectual value.

The bottom line: the brouhaha is over. QAU is highly unlikely to rename its physics department after a barely known 11th-century star-gazer, and it is highly unlikely that SPD (i.e. the Pakistan Army) will implement the orders of a deposed prime-minister with whom its relationship has been problematic.

Physics — or for that matter every kind of science — needs an enabling cultural and social environment to flourish. Science suffocates when scientists are judged by their religion, race, ethnicity or any criterion other than scientific achievement. Though it was but a storm in a teacup, this Salam episode tells us how far Pakistan needs to travel before our soil can produce science of worth.

Need for a campaign code

WITH the assassination attempt on Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, the nightmare of a potentially violent election campaign has reappeared and underlined the urgent need for all contending political parties to agree on a list of dos and don’ts.

Gratefully, the usually calm, soft-spoken and markedly educated and reasonable politician, whose acquaintance I made in London in the 1990s when he visited the BBC where I worked as an editor, escaped death; however, he still received a bullet injury that will ground him for some time.

Belonging to a conservative political family with right-wing leanings, his mother and grandfather were known public figures in their own right. Following his political career mostly from a distance, I have never heard him utter an impolite word, act in an uncivil manner or lose his composure.

If a person whose family’s religious conservatism is a public fact is not spared the wrath of a fanatic who believed or was led to believe that Mr Iqbal had done something to disrespect his own faith, it would be nightmarish to imagine what could befall a politician with less of a religious profile.

If there is one thing that we seem to be utterly committed to, it is to never learn from history — our own history in particular.

But the attack on the minister did not come out of the blue as a concerted campaign has been going on since the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan’s protest at Faizabad in the federal capital. Although there is considerable speculation about the actual instigators of that sit-in, little concrete evidence has emerged — when does it ever in such cases?

One major political party also chose to exploit the issue and continued to do so at both the constituency and national level, ignoring the counsel of several commentators that this was akin to playing with dynamite. You can start this fire but when it gets raging you cannot extinguish its flames.

If there is one thing that we seem to be utterly committed to, it is to never learn from history. And our own recent history in particular. Whatever the justification, the policy of nurturing religious militancy has cost us dearly. The images of our brave martyrs, uniformed or otherwise, and their loved ones are a slap-in-the-face reminder if one was indeed needed.

Ergo, it was very gratifying to see PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari visiting Ahsan Iqbal in hospital and later calling for unity in the fight against extremism and intolerance. Yet it remains a forlorn hope that all political parties will put their heads together and agree on clearly defined no-go areas for the campaign.

Despite the crying need for such a code, its realisation remains a forlorn hope just because similar appeals to refrain from nauseating public displays of misogyny and contemptuous attacks on women have fallen on deaf ears. The culprits are not confined to one political party alone, even though the governing PML-N must shoulder a major share of the blame.

The last election campaign saw the PPP, ANP and MQM conducting their campaigns under the threat of violence from the now considerably depleted Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. Whether the actual election result, for at least the first two, reflected this more than their performance in office did remains open to question.

Once the term of the current parliament ends and a caretaker setup replaces the incumbent government, electioneering will likely shift several gears particularly after Ramazan. Inevitably in the campaign, heat will be generated to match the searing and often suffocating weather.

All contestants must know that while stoking divisive flames, religious, sectarian or ethnic, may well bring them gains, the temporary advantage of following such a path will lead to hellish consequences.

There can be no issues if various political forces form alliances or even merge with each other in order to enhance their prospects in the elections. But whether such moves are voluntary or the result of nudging by forces variously termed as political engineers or aliens or whatever, the campaign cannot be inflammatory.

Ask the man or woman on the street and you will hear of multiple issues that affect their lives from not having enough food to put on the table to a decrepit state education system that has failed to deliver the least to the most. And the less said about healthcare the better.

Intolerance and extremism are such existential threats that will obliterate any hope of a Pakistan of our dreams where the system may not be entirely egalitarian and yet at least is able to meet the basic, the very fundamental needs of the teeming millions.

What I am trying to say is that the campaign can address genuine, legitimate concerns of the voting public rather than red herrings. Also, there can be no doubt that national aspirations are best served by an accountable (via elections) civilian authority.

However, the concept of civilian supremacy loses much of its meaning when the civilian politician comes to power, calls for it and then happily colludes with forces arrayed against it once in opposition. Principles, if they are dear in reality, must be adhered to at all times.

Let everyone follow the law of the land and uphold constitutional provisions at all times instead of only when it is convenient. Regardless of the machinations of other forces, if all political entities in the electoral fray agree to this ahead of the elections, it would be a dream come true.

Corruption, doubtlessly, is a national malaise and deeply rooted. It can be eliminated only when a mechanism is agreed on in order to root it out fairly, transparently and indiscriminately. If not, those applauding ‘anti-corruption’ measures today, despite their own frailties in the area, will be lamenting them tomorrow.

Given the current political environment, I am aware, what I am calling for is a big ask. But then if you even lose the ability to dream of your ideal Pakistan, what else is there left to do?

Governor’s role

ON Aug 5, 1983, the chief minister of Karnataka Ramakrishna Hegde inaugurated a seminar on centre-state relations at Bangalore at which he fired the first salvo in a campaign which he continued to wage for his next five years in office. He said: “Even the governor has become a glorified servant of the union. An omnipotent and omnipresent union that the present central government has grown into and withering states are the very negation of the democratic policy.”

The governor of Karnataka was stung to the quick. The description fitted him eminently. He angrily retorted that the governors were not servants of anybody. Little did he realise that in Hegde he had caught a Tartar who would make him regret his denial. For, on Aug 17, the chief minister promised the state assembly that he would prove his remarks to the hilt.

The grossness of today belongs to the BJP’s governors.

He did. On Sept 22, he tabled in the state assembly a documented White Paper on The Office of the Governor; Constitutional Position and Political Perversion. Both were proved. A commission on centre-state relations, headed by Justice R.S. Sarkaria of the supreme court appended the white paper to its report in full.

Now, over three decades later, the position is worse. It has steeply deteriorated. Governors vie with one another to please their masters in New Delhi; specifically the power-hungry Prime Minister Narendra Modi, by wantonly needling the chief minister if he belongs to a political party which is opposed to Modi’s party, the BJP.

This is precisely what the Sarkaria Commission’s report had warned against. It said: “It is desirable that a politician from the ruling party at the union is not appointed as governor of a state which is being run by some other party or a combination of parties.”

To be fair, the Congress had set the precedents by flouting this feeble recommendation devoid of any check on power. But the grossness of today belongs to the BJP’s governors. They publicly attack their chief ministers. Their behaviour before their appointment as governors seems to have weighed heavily in the minds of the people who matter as ones who were uniquely qualified to do a hatchet job.

Three stand out from this crowd. Ram Naik of Uttar Pradesh a dedicated RSS man; the governor of West Bengal, Keshari Nath Tripathi, who had won his spurs as one of the most partisan speakers of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly and the crassly loudmouthed Kiran Bedi as lieutenant-governor of Pondicherry.

In the past, gubernatorial misbehaviour consisted of partisan decisions on the appointment of the chief minister in a hung assembly, dissolution of the assembly or refusal to dissolve it despite the chief minister’s binding advice and the like. The centre’s hand was ill concealed in such situations.

In the early decades of Congress rule at the centre, governors openly acted as political instruments of the central government. But they kept silent publicly for the most part. The loud pipsqueaks are recent entrants.

India has now come to such a pass that the office of head of state has been perverted beyond recognition in the states. Parliamentary democracy has been undermined; contrary to the intentions of the framers of the constitution.

In the early days of constitution-making, it was proposed to have elected governors in the states. It was soon realised that the elected governor would be a rival centre of power vis-à-vis the chief minister. It was then decided that the governor would be a head of state governed, like the president, by identical conventions of the parliamentary system. Dr B.R. Ambedkar assured the constituent assembly on Dec 3, 1948, that “the position of the governor is exactly the same as the position of the president”.

But while the president is elected by the central and the state legislatures, the governor is appointed by the president, ie the central government. He has no security of tenure, can be transferred from one state to another and be sacked freely. After every change of government in New Delhi, governors are sacked to be replaced by those of the party that had come to power at the centre.

The supreme court ruled that “his office is not subordinate or subservient to the government of India. He is not amenable to the directions of the government of India, nor is he accountable to them for the manner in which he carries out his functions and duties. He is an independent constitutional office which is not subject to the control of the government of India. He is constitutionally the head of the state in whom is vested the executive power of the state and without whose assent there can be no legislation in exercise of the legislative power of the state”. Politics decide the very opposite.

Only a constitutional amendment imposing checks on abuse can ensure his independence. That requires a consensus which is impossible in the polarised politics of today. Meanwhile, federalism suffers as much as parliamentary democracy.

A dog’s life

IN the end, body parts wear out, and all living creatures enter into decline, ending in death: nature designed us to make room for the next generation once we have fulfilled our duty of propagating our respective species.

This is what happened to our beloved Puffin recently. A handsome, endlessly entertaining Jack Russell terrier, he was a character who dominated us in a way children do. While I was accused of spoiling him rotten, Puffin was convinced that I had been created for his personal comfort.

Whenever I sat in my armchair to read or watch TV, he would hop on to my lap; when I was working at my desk, he would jump on to my knees; and in the car, he would insist on standing on my lap and sticking his head out of the window with his ears flapping in the wind.

Puffin had a particular commanding bark to tell me he wanted something, and his needs ranged from water in his bowl, the door to be opened, or an indication that he wanted to be taken for a walk. Every once in a while, he would swagger in with a tennis ball, demanding that I drop everything to play with him.

In his younger days, Puffin would keep a sharp lookout for squirrels and rabbits that he would instantly chase. His one success was a young squirrel in Hyde Park that was too slow to escape up a tree. As its twitching corpse lay on the grass, Puffin waited for it to get up and resume the game he thought he was playing.

One is sorry for those who haven’t experienced the love of a good dog.

In the country, he would smell a badger and dash into its lair, or sett. Once down there, it could be literally hours before he emerged, covered in mud. We feared that one day, a badger would turn on its tormentor as these animals can be dangerous when cornered.

But the alternative was to walk him on a lead, something that would curtail his freedom to a degree unacceptable to him or to us. So while we could hear him barking underground, he pretended to be deaf to our urgent calls.

Luckily, dogs don’t have a sense of time the way we do. For them, a day can be as long as a month.

When we left him with dear friends who loved him as much as we did to spend most of the winter in Sri Lanka and Pakistan, I felt a sharp pang of guilt.

However, he was just as happy to see us when we returned as though we had gone off for a weekend.

I feel sorry for those who have never experienced the unquestioning love of a good dog. Many dog owners use their pets as objects to exercise power and control, exulting in their ability to follow orders rather than being playful companions. Others are either terrified of dogs, or consider them unclean. In Muslim countries, pet dogs are taboo because of a dubious belief that says that angels don’t enter a home that has a dog. Frankly, I would much rather have my Puffin than any number of angels.

I think it was Gandhi who once said a society should be judged by how it cares for its animals. Whenever I have written in favour of animal rights, I have been rebuked by a few readers who say I should not be wasting space on animals when people are so badly treated in Pakistan. I reply that while people have voices to protest, animals need spokesmen to speak for them.

After 16 years of fun and frolic, we noticed that Puffin had aged noticeably when we picked him up on our return: he was almost deaf and could barely see; most tellingly, he was reluctant to go for walks. And much to his evident embarrassment, he could no longer jump on to our bed as he once did with such practised ease.

A blood test confirmed that his kidneys were failing, and we took the wrenching decision to have him put to sleep rather than prolong his misery.

The late Taufiq Rafat, probably the finest Pakistani poet to write in English, expressed a kinship with flagging powers in The Kingfisher:

“Bird or hovercraft, your angling skill/ proclaims the confidence of repeated success; you flash/ rainbows as you plunge to kill…

“But what about tomorrow? Will they hiss/and boo from the sidelines/as you find, pause, fold and dip towards/the horror of your first miss?

“I’ll learn to love you then, for lost/ causes link all temperaments/What drains my speech of sap will blunt/your keen iridescent thrust.”

Years ago when my father was still with us, a PTV producer who had come to interview him commented that he seemed to love Sundal, his pet collie, very much. “Yes,” replied my father dryly. “Better than most human beings.” That’s pretty much how I feel about Puffin.

Will the real ‘ladla’ please stand up?

IT hasn’t been long since the day when Mian Nawaz Sharif declared that he was ideological — meaning that he steadfastly followed an ideology.

Decoded, the message read that his politics was governed by some principles. It meant he was no longer prepared to fight for his rights as a politician and not available to do someone else’s bidding.

It was a surprise that no one in the vicinity stood up and corrected Mian Sahib for the grave injustice he was doing to himself — until it fell on the shoulders of the redoubtable Chaudhry Nisar Ali to set the record straight.

In one of his more recent press conferences, the estranged Chaudhry has expressed both surprise and disappointment over the Nawaz assertion which hails him as a recent convert to ideology.

Chaudhry Nisar reminds his erstwhile leader, aptly in the dictionary of the old-school political animals in Pakistan, that Mian Sahib has always been — or at least at at one point in time — the custodian of the ideology championed by the right wing in the country.

Should he care to remember, if with help from this staunch right-winger colleague of his from Rawalpindi, Mr Sharif long promoted himself as the guardian protector of whatever the PPP, centre-left to Chaudhry Nisar’s mind, wanted to destroy.

This, the PML-N politician gone adrift explained at the said news conference, entailed strict vigilance lest any mischief-maker threatened the existence and sanctity of the ideology of Pakistan.

This was sufficient ideology back then, but obviously not enough ideology in today’s situation. At least, it is not the ideology that fits some of our top-notch politicians. These are altogether different times that demand new pledges and antics and vows from certain politicians, not all of which are easily explained.

A lot many remain deeply mired in mystery, so much so that within weeks of discovering his true ideology, presumably the real purpose in his life, Mr Sharif himself may be threatened with a brutal, summary dislodging from his exalted ideological seat — and that too by a person none other than his chief rival in the political arena, Imran Khan.

The PML-N leadership has long been taunting Imran Khan by pasting on him all kinds of nasty identities.

The PML-N leadership has long been taunting Imran Khan by pasting on him all kinds of nasty identities. He has been consistently dubbed as the ladla — the favourite, the blue-eyed boy, of the kingmakers — from the PML-N stage. And the intensity of this chorus against the PTI chief has increased proportionally with each impediment against Mr Sharif’s free movement in Pakistani politics.

One explanation about the recent Imran Khan explosion in which he counter-accused Mian Sahib of being an old and original ladla of the establishment would be that the PML-N refrain is taking its effect on Kaptaan.

This line is consistent with the basic theory that projects the PTI chief as an impatient individual eager to blurt out his version of the truth on the day at the slightest provocation.

In more charitable ledgers where tabdeeli is measured, he is supposed to have improved on this count, meaning that it will now take the agent provocateurs a much longer drill to have him running after them. But has he actually?

To give Imran Khan some credit for his acquired patience, the PML-N slogan about ladla has been all too incessant. Also the image of ladla — as if brought out of books detailing the decline of the Mughal empire — is badly unbefitting the mould of the modern reformist leader Imran has chosen to cast himself in.

It may be that there came a point where he could take it no more and finally decided to lay bare some of the privileges he believed Mian Sahib had enjoyed during his, apparently prolonged, ladla-ship in a previous enactment of the periodic Pakistani democratic theatre.

There were additional advantages drawn out of the disclosure. Not only did Imran suddenly remember the name of the original favourite beneficiary of the country’s politics, in the process, even if briefly, he returned to the theme that had sustained his politics following the 2013 general elections. The theme that the 2013 general elections had been seriously rigged.

We now learn on the good authority of the PTI chief that that particular vote in Punjab had been rigged by the establishment in favour of the real ladla, by the name of Mian Nawaz Sharif, whereas we had been blaming it all on the very clever Najam Sethi Sahib and his handy collaboration with some unknown puncture wallah in the surroundings of the governor’s house in Lahore.

This truth, as mostly happens in cases where the truth does make an appearance, has come out at a rather inopportune moment for some power campaigns.

The irritation caused by repeated labelling aside, there are going to be questions asked. Why would anyone refuse the favourite tag, when such a title could only brighten the power prospects of the allegedly chosen individual? This is going to defy logic and also defy all these promises that hail Imran Khan as the rightly selected leader who has taken 22 long years in the making.

One strong view that seeks to establish Imran Khan’s credentials as a mature leader with finality is unavoidably reluctant to blame it on a slip of the tongue. Imran in his 23rd year as a politician, Imran as the popular voice of Pakistani aspirations, could perhaps still have resisted his old instinct, unless he had a message that he wanted to convey to a specific address — like ‘Sires, you didn’t need to count on anyone else when I was around’.

This same thinking can again be found instrumental in the post-haste merging of the Junoobi Suba Mahaz in the PTI.

There may be many choices at one time. The alternative has to be singular.

Mottos and manifestos

PRACTICALLY all political parties have started their campaigns for the general election 2018 which, if held on schedule, should not be more than a couple of months away. They are also indicating the grounds on which they are soliciting the electorate’s support but which cannot be accepted as party manifestos.

Some of the groups and parties are basing their claim to public support on single, catchy slogans. For example, the born-again coalition of religio-political parties, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, or the MMA, wishes to save the state from falling into the hands of secular, liberal, democratic (by Western definition) elements.

This is hardly a new call. All the principal organs of state, the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary and the services (military more than the civil), have been fighting the spectre of a secular democracy whose supporters are completely disorganised. Nobody except some overexcited clerics, driven by their lust for power, finds Islam in danger. Thus, the MMA is taking refuge under a motto and one that is quite outdated. It needs a proper manifesto to find a place in the electoral debate.

Similarly, the PML-N, the party of the grievously wounded tiger, has so far been seeking support on the basis of a single slogan — ‘honour the vote’, despite the advice of well-wishers, including Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, to draw up a proper political narrative. Mian Nawaz Sharif obviously thinks his slogan means that the right to govern Pakistan exclusively belongs to the people’s elected representatives. This is a powerful slogan despite its lack of appeal to the millions of citizens who do not qualify as candidates in elections held under the rules devised by the vulgarly rich.

A manifesto should be a programme of action for the uplift of the state and the people.

Besides, the Nawaz Sharif slogan can also mean a demand for elected representatives to respect the pledges and programmes the people are asked to vote for.

However, the powerful impact generic slogans can have on the electorate cannot be denied. The most powerful election slogan in Pakistan’s history has been roti, kapra aur makan. The PPP may have forfeited its moral right to use it, but for the country’s poor multitudes this slogan is the only measure to judge the promise and performance of elected representatives.

In India, Mrs Indira Gandhi based her bid for return to power after the post emergency defeat and humiliation on a similarly strong slogan — ‘gharibi hatao’ (eradicate poverty). Regardless of her success or failure in fighting poverty, the slogan has haunted all her successors in power and most of them have been obliged to include poverty alleviation in their election manifestos.

The adage that an election manifesto has to be more than a few mottos or ideals strung together has again been confirmed by Mr Imran Khan’s 11 vague mottos that he has presented as his party’s programme if he wins power.

The beauty of a motto-like promise is that nobody can disagree with it. Thus, nobody can reject the PTI chief’s motto-like promise to provide quality education to the children of both poor and rich parents, and a similar promise to create a very vibrant system of generating revenue to ensure that Pakistan attains self-sufficiency. Such promises are meaningless rhetoric unless we are told what is meant by quality education. And do the facilities available to the rich children constitute quality education and how will the promise be fulfilled?

When the PTI chief tries to elaborate on his mottos, he lands himself into trouble. When he states that he will strengthen the federation by creating a new province, merging Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and making local bodies stronger, he could be accused of concealing his plan to roll back the 18th Amendment.

Likewise, when he promises to get women educated and get their inheritance rights recognised, he is seen as clearly trivialising women’s rights and concerns.

What this discussion means is that a party’s election manifesto must not be confined to a generalised statement of desirable objectives; it should be a programme of action for the uplift of the state and the people both. A manifesto should also reflect a party’s prioritisation of the challenges faced by the country and the ways of meeting them.

But what is the value of election manifestos in Pakistan’s politics? Most observers argue that a manifesto is not read by the party leaders concerned and in any case it is forgotten by them as soon as they come to power, and the parties that lose have no use for their manifestos. Much of this is true and reveals a situation that needs to be remedied.

First, in Pakistan’s personality-centred politics, the party rank and file has no role in the drafting of manifestos (there is no evidence that the parties who are disclosing their plans or slogans consulted their executive committees) and the party cadres cannot own these manifestos even if they have read and understood them.

Secondly, all parties should ensure that their workers monitor the political situation during inter-election periods from the perspective of their respective manifestos. The workers of winning parties will be able to keep an eye on their parties’ performance in power. The losing parties too will benefit from looking at politics from the perspective of their manifestos. This will also free political parties of their habit of sleeping in between elections.

It is often said that in Pakistan election manifestos are meaningless as parties make promises they do not intend to honour. True, many false promises are made in the heat of elections. But even false promises are welcome as they are like ropes by which political parties can hang themselves.

Further, while studying party manifestos, the issues that find no mention in them ought to be noted. For instance, nobody is talking about the rights of civil society organisations and this matter in unlikely to figure in party manifestos. Everyone seems determined not to rub the all-powerful establishment the wrong way.

The 4.9 billion-dollar blunder

A BIG round of applause for the honourable chairman of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is due. And following the applause, a medal is in order. Something to recognise and acknowledge Mr Javed Iqbal’s contribution to ensuring that $4.9 billion did not scurry unnoticed out of the country to neighbouring India via ‘remittances’.

In many years of carefully following economic developments in our country, I have yet to see a high official of state make such a laughing stock of himself as Mr Chairman just did. More than 24 hours after the matter erupted on the airwaves, NAB finally came out with a statement explaining how they came to believe that somehow $4.9bn worth of ‘remittances’ supposedly sent to India and Pakistan were in fact laundered proceeds belonging to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif who was purportedly using this channel to send funds to his ‘business partners’ in India.

The explanation deserves a separate round of applause: it turns out NAB based its decision to initiate a probe based on a column written in a newspaper by the title of Daily Ausaf back in February this year. In the meantime, major media had a field day, running wall-to-wall breaking news that NAB had initiated an inquiry into a new scandal just discovered. ‘Nawaz Sharif … money laundering … $4.9bn … India …’ went the refrain on the airwaves, again and again. The official Twitter account of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf tweeted the news with glee. Just as one case is winding up, the impression was created, another is about to start!

This is epic-level bumbling. This is the sloppy way the highest office in one of the most powerful law-enforcement bodies of the country operates. This is the level of degradation of mind at the top levels of our country’s institutions. This is a post-factual world, where what one hears at a dinner party or reads in a WhatsApp forwarded-as-received message from a stranger shapes our thinking more than even a simple Google search would.

Let’s put it in plain words first: there is no $4.9bn worth of remittances going from Pakistan to India.

Because that is all it takes to realise that the supposed ‘news’ upon which this idea of $4.9bn of ‘remittances’ going from Pakistan to India is based, has been profoundly misunderstood: a simple Google search.

Let’s put it in plain words first: there is no $4.9bn worth of remittances going from Pakistan to India. The number is a mere estimate of what the sum could be, if we assume that all those who migrated from India to Pakistan back in 1947 were in fact economic migrants, much like those who have migrated from Pakistan to the Gulf or to Saudi Arabia are. If that mass of people then took up employment in Pakistan, then judging by their income level, and the propensity to remit back to their families a portion of their savings, the figure could potentially be as large as $4.9bn. That’s all.

The $4.9bn figure comes from a table in the 2016 Migration and Remittances Factbook on the World Bank website. A tiny asterisk appears next to the table heading. Go down to the bottom of the page, and the text next to the asterisk reads: “Estimated outflows based on remittance inflows and the bilateral remittance matrix”. There is your first clue that the figure is not a real remittance flow, but an estimate.

Then look up how the “bilateral remittance matrix” is constructed. You will learn that it projects potential remittance flows using variables like stock of migrants, Gross National Income and GNI per capita, as well as some measure from bilateral remittances actually recorded by the relevant country’s monetary authorities (in this case the State Bank) to determine how much of their income migrants from the given country actually send as a remittance and how much they keep for themselves. In short it is a projection of what might be the actual number, provided the migrants in question are indeed economic migrants, but in South Asia, Partition migrants are skewing the picture.

For the purposes of the report that’s alright. They are building a global picture of remittances and migrations for 214 countries, using vast databases and national registries ranging from labour force participation surveys to population censuses, amongst much else, and a few regions with a skewed picture does not change their perspective very much.

The report does provide very interesting insights on a global level. For example, more than 247 million people live outside their home country in 2013, up from 175m in 2000, or about 3.4 per cent of the global population. The United States is the top country for migrants, followed by Saudi Arabia, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Spain and Australia. The top six countries with the highest proportion of immigrants are Qatar (91pc), UAE (88pc), Kuwait (72pc), Jordan (56pc) and Bahrain (54pc).

If one plods through the numbers, and the methodology, to get to the conclusions, it makes for some very interesting reading indeed. Where the advanced industrial countries are host to the majority of migrant populations in the world, it is developing countries that host the largest refugee populations. Between them, Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Chad and Uganda have the largest refugee populations in the world (35pc of Lebanon’s population comprises refugees!).

Between them, these migrants and refugees send remittances back to their home countries totalling $601bn, with $441bn going to developing countries, which is triple the amount of official development assistance provided to the developing world by the advanced industrial countries.

But none of this would be of interest to anybody in our government. As the actions of the chairman NAB have shown, all we are interested in is our local witch hunts. Wonder who’ll write what in which rag to spark the next mob-feeding frenzy. A round of applause please, for the geniuses calling the shots in our country!

Who wants to be prime minister?

EVERYONE. You’d think a job that comes with a mandatory ignominious exit and possibly a jail term would have few, or fewer, takers. But everyone wants to be prime minister.

Legitimate contenders though — candidates with a genuine chance the next time round, after the election in July — are just a handful.

We can stick to them.

The PML-N has three options: Nawaz, Shahbaz or someone acceptable to both. Nawaz is a non-starter. Not because he doesn’t want the job again — you just know that if he could, he would — but he’s the one the system wants out.

For Shahbaz, it’s almost now or never. Shahbaz seems to sense it too because his PR machine is swinging into gear and competition with the elder brother’s camp is intensifying.

But presenting himself as candidate for PM is a hard sell for Shahbaz because he hasn’t exactly demonstrated to the boys that he can be relied on to wrest the N-League from Nawaz.

And while Shahbaz may be willing to be a pliant PM, he first has to convince his brother to back him in the election.

Nawaz may yet do that or circumstances, like a sudden conviction in the NAB court, may force Nawaz to do that, but there’s an obvious problem: Nawaz has shown absolutely no interest in making Shahbaz PM.

If Prime Minister Zardari sounds crazy, remember that so did President Zardari not too many years ago.

Shahbaz as PM means control of the party switches and with that the future of the party will switch too. Even if Shahbaz were to promise to let Maryam have an equal shot at inheriting the party after Shahbaz has had his turn, if your name is Maryam, how believable would that be?

Shahbaz is struggling on the three fronts that matter to his elevation.

The third possibility, assuming the N-League wins or is allowed to win anywhere near the seats it needs, is the compromise candidate: one acceptable to both the brothers and the boys too.

The incumbent PM has been tipped as that dark horse. In the N-League, you’re forced to pick sides: you’re either with Nawaz or you’re with Shahbaz. Over the years only very few have managed to have a foot in both Sharif camps.

Khaqan Abbasi is one of them. Plus he’s seen as someone who can work with the boys and keep his head down. He’s insisted though that he isn’t looking to continue and that otherwise scepticism-inducing claim has been buttressed recently.

The PM’s simmering public anger at the Senate heist and now impolitic words about the upcoming election suggest he’s headed for the exits and that his star has dimmed.

Turn to the PTI. Imran looked like the real deal when he unveiled his 11 points; a proper prime minister-in-waiting. A PM for the times who sketched out a full domestic agenda while scrupulously avoiding foreign policy and national security.

But almost as quickly as Prime Minister Khan arrived, another version of himself, the PTI bridesmaid, pulled him back down. Shooting off about the boys and their alleged shenanigans in the last election is about as senseless and undisciplined as it gets.

If a reminder was needed that Imran is mercurial, cannot be trusted and is liable to clash fiercely and senselessly if he ever ascends to the office he has coveted for his entire political life, Imran served up an instant classic. All by himself and without any prompting.

We, and Imran himself, may have to wait a while longer for Prime Minister Khan to happen.

But that doesn’t entirely eliminate the PTI. You can’t see a version of events in which Imran willingly elevates someone other than himself in the party to the PM slot, but there could be a version of events where someone inside the PTI brushes Imran aside to grab the prime ministership.

After Imran, the ones in the party who make headlines are the brash electables or the raw moneyed type. But there are many with vaulting ambitions, what they believe are the right connections and maybe a willingness to plunge the knife in when the time comes.

The stars could yet align for one of them. Think SMQ or Asad Umar.

And then there’s the PPP. If the N-League is broken up, which is still the most likely option, and the PTI fails to take off, which is entirely possible, the PPP could go from kingmaker to demanding the throne itself.

In that case, don’t look past Zardari so quickly. He has already said he wants to be in the National Assembly and his appetite for the game is undiminished. If Prime Minister Zardari sounds crazy, remember that so did President Zardari not too many years ago.

And then there’s the Sanjrani option. A hung parliament, the N-League broken up, the PTI deflated, Zardari looking to make a deal, it could come down to the choice of the boys.

But perhaps less of a nobody than Sanjrani himself or Bizenjo in Balochistan because it’s harder to catapult a total nobody into the National Assembly. Maybe even someone proposed by Zardari from among the independents. You can see Zardari outmanoeuvring Imran if it comes down to it.

But because the PM wields such enormous power and the only ones who can effectively circumscribe that power are the boys and the court, Zardari or Imran could be reluctant to elevate a Sanjrani type to lord it over them.

There is though a scenario in which the right incentive could be created. After the PM is elected in August, the president’s term expires in September.

President Zardari again, anyone?