The Pakistani Identity

This article appeared in The Dawn Newspaper Supplement on 23rd March 2013:

It is a cross post:

 ArticleYAAYasmeen Aftab Ali

Pakistan continues to suffer from its birth convulsions since 1947, unable to determine a common bond of identity, with other Pakistanis, across the board. To understand the dilemma, one must have a clear understanding of terms involved. The simplest meaning of identity can be defined as a distinctive character marking an individual, group of individuals, an ethnic group, a nation. Most Pakistanis however, remain confused to this date regarding their identity. Some measure it by religion, others by culture, yet some use other varied markers.  Each of these markers are used in exclusion of other elements involved; a fatal mistake.

The first seed of the split was sown when the speech of Quaid-e-Azam for 11th August 1947 was censored by Chowdhery Muhammad Ali. The only paper to publish it uncensored was The Dawn. Chowdhery probably did not agree with the Quaid when he stated, “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques, or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed-that has nothing to do with the business of the State…. Even now there are some states in existence, where there are discriminations, made and bars imposed against a particular class. Thank God, we are not starting in those days. We are starting in the days  when there is no discrimination, no discrimination between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State.”

Little did Jinnah know that the identity that had emerged as a strength in the  pre-partition era would be damaged, molested and torn apart by divisions created by different vested interest groups. It was this understanding of a pluralistic society that gave birth to Pakistan; yet today we stand, in 2015, trying to piece together what exactly that identity is. The identity is not based upon religion to the exclusion of rights of those not following the religion of the majority. The excerpt shared above of Jinnah’s speech stands testimony to that.  Also standing testimony to this thought process is the Chapter of Fundamental Rights of the Constitution of Pakistan 1973, as does Article 19 that deals with Freedom of Expression and Speech and states thus:

“Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, [commission of] or incitement to an offence.”

The term citizen denotes every person holding the citizenship of Pakistan irrespective of the caste, creed or religion. If I may add: exactly as promised by Jinnah.  Freedom of expression is deemed to be a basic human right, that includes; freedom of thought, freedom of press, freedom to express oneself in arts, poetry, architecture, crafts, lifestyles, dressing, eating, culture, music, sculptures, professing one’s faith,  so on and so forth. Every citizen of Pakistan has the right to freedom of expression; also an integral part of the constitution, in line with Jinnah’s philosophy. Pakistani identity therefore, does not offer this gift to members of one religion while excluding others. Nor does it offer an advantage to one sect within the religion to the exclusion of another.

Some promote the theory that there are at least six distinct ethnic races in Pakistan ie the Pathans, the Punjabis, the Baluchis, the Sindhis, Kashmiris  and the Urdu Speaking. They opine that since these ethnic races have a cultural heritage spanning centuries, therefore the Pakistani Identity (whatever it may be) takes a back- bench and has thereby failed to develop. This, as put forth by them; includes not only cultural differences but also difference in language spoken by them. Lack of a common language base is promoted as a major dividing factor by these theorists.

Let me submit here, that nations geographically and demographically bigger than us, have had more cultural diversity in terms of ethnicity than we can imagine, yet they have managed to emerge as one nation. One such example is the US. The US Census Bureau map shows the ancestry of its 317 million people of which Germans are by far the largest with 49,206,934 people. This is followed by the African-Americans. Then there are roughly 4.5 million Irish people settled in the larger cities of the US including New York, Boston and Chicago to name a few. The English-Americans are also sizeable in number. Those claiming a Mexican ancestry are said to be at 31,789,483 in number. Yet, this does not stop any one of them from thinking and acting only as Americans.

In countries having served time under colonial rule, English has more often than not been given a legislative status. Most African states for example, had English as their national and official language to curb ethnic disputes, which would otherwise arise from existence of multi-tribes and ethnicities.

We made the mistake of trying to impose one uniform language; Urdu from top down ignoring the multitude of local languages especially Bengali. A region where few spoke or understood Urdu. The result dear readers, was the 1971 episode. Among other reasons, effort at imposition of Urdu on a Bengali speaking ethnic race led to disastrous results. The educational policies followed by successive governments to create different classes based on language preferences namely the elite and regular (English language being mandatory for good jobs) has undoubtedly created a deep schism within the Pakistani society. We must move towards a solution, as it is high time, not remain bogged down by deterrents preventing us from achieving greatness.

To move towards that solution, we must first address the question posed; what is then a Pakistani Identity?

I believe the Pakistani Identity must be seen in a bigger context as opposed to being relegated to religious, linguistic, or similar levels to the exclusion of other elements at play.

Pakistani Identity evolved in 1947 as a political statement. It is composed of different ethnic groups and different religious groups; further sub-divided into different sects within these different religious groups. Pakistan was and is created for each one of these groups as clearly enunciated in Jinnah’s speech of 11th 1947.

No country can develop as a nation if it negates its component parts. Translated, it means, a Pakistani Identity cannot establish and entrench itself in the psyche of its people minus the identity of being a composition of all its multi-cultural and multi-religious roots. To deny the uniformity leads to a national identity. Acknowledgement and nurturing of sub- cultures making up these layers; does. Imposition of any form that is alien will not create an identity; it will only destroy the existing one leaving one groping in the dark in confusion.  Subscribing to the thought expounded above,  Hywel Coleman, an Honorary Research Fellow of Leeds, did a research paper for the British Council in 2010 addressing the weightage awarded to English Language competency in the Civil Service Exams in Pakistan. He suggested that applicants should need to demonstrate not only competency in English language but also the language generally understood by all; Urdu as well as competency in at least one regional language.  In one stroke of brilliance, Hywel told us that though English is necessary in today’s world based on inter-linking of nations, important too is to link Pakistanis across board under the ‘umbrella’ of Urdu understood by all. He has at the same time awarded equality to regional languages as well thereby emphasizing upon the importance of one’s roots.

The Pakistani Identity is not based on one aspect alone to the exclusion of every other component involved; it is multidimensional and multilayered. It is many things rolled in one.  The objective never was that once the goal of creation of Pakistan was achieved, Pakistanis would meet out the exact same treatment to their minorities as meted out to them in undivided India. At least, that was not Jinnah’s vision. Pakistan is essentially pluralistic in its identity; a society composed of different ethnicities, religions and cultures and as such must be given the environment to nourish, gain strength and grow, learning in the process to love and celebrate their differences. Belittling or nullifying these varieties of flavor will only damage the fabric of our combined identity. Yet at the same time, one needs to understand that all are intertwined as one under the umbrella of ‘Pakistan’ and this; defines each of us!

Multiculturalism is the underlying thread that weaves the Pakistani Identity and holds it together. Emphasizing on the citizenship alone will fail to gel people from different faiths and cultures as one. Accepting and celebrating the differences, initiating serious inter-faith dialogues and appreciation of cultural flavors will create a bonding.

Endnote: In any case Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State — to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non- Muslims — Hindus, Christians, and Parsis — but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan.”(Jinnah  in February 1948 address in US)

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ Her mail ID is and tweets at @yasmeen_9

Pakistan in 68 years!

This article appeared in Pakistan Today on 23rd March 2015

This is a cross post.

ArticleYAAYasmeen Aftab Ali

It has been sixty-eight years to the birth of Pakistan.  Pakistan’s successive governments have failed to ingrain ‘unity in diversity’ concept in Pakistanis by developing policies whether educational, related to economic development, preservation and enhancement of culture, or any other.  This diversity in unity is confirmed by many Articles of the Constitution of Pakistan 1973 whether it is Article 19 that awards freedom of expression and speech to all its citizens or the chapter of Fundamental Rights or many, many others all of which cannot be recounted in this limited space.

Where is Jinnah’s Pakistan?  The shape and form of which he declared in his speech of 11th August 1947, ““You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques, or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed-that has nothing to do with the business of the State…. Even now there are some states in existence, where there are discriminations, made and bars imposed against a particular class. Thank God, we are not starting in those days. We are starting in the days when there is no discrimination, no discrimination between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State.”

Why then Pakistan lie today riddled with hatred, sectarian and religious violence eating away at its innards? Is this the work of common people like you and me or a certain group of people within? One face book user commented thus, “This is not the mindset of general Pakistani population…look around you…how many among you are inter-community hating people? But there  are a few  present in all societies and communities, when exploited by enemies of this nation, then these things happened irrespective of community…..Christians are also part of this nation.” (March 16, 2015)

The above quoted comment came on heels of a recent ugly incident. Reportedly, 15 people were killed and over 70 sustained injuries when two Taliban suicide bombers targeted churches in Lahore on March 15, 2015.  The area chosen was Youhanabad neighborhood housing roughly 100,000 Christians. The question posed is; is this to be seen as Christian persecution per se? I think not.  How can then one describe; “The killing of 61 people in a suicide bombing at an imambargah, as southern Pakistan shut down to mourn the nation’s worst sectarian attack in nearly two years.” (The Newsweek January 31, 2015) How does one describe the Peshawar attack on APS on December 16, 2014? How does one describe innumerable similar incidents on people of different ethnicities and religious beliefs?

According to Satp figures of fatalities in violence in Pakistan from January 1, 2015 till March 8, 2015 are 732 in number and from 2003 till March 8, 2015 is a colossal 567,44. A horrifyingly painful article in The Times of India titled, “Terror attacks drive Pakistan coffin boom” states, “Coffins are not part of traditional Islamic death rites in Pakistan, where corpses are normally bound in a funeral shroud and laid upon a rope-cord bed at the time of burial. But when it comes to the mutilated victims of gun, suicide bomb and IED attacks, whose bodies are often in pieces, there is often little choice but to gather the remains in a box.” (January 20, 2015)

The question that one is faced with is; are we misguided into thinking that these attacks are persecution of one particular sect/religion? It is a mixed palette of ethic terrorism, religious terrorism, domestic terrorism, global terrorism, Jihadist terrorism so on and so forth. One overlaps with the other at some point and sometimes it does not.

A very brief mention of some more recent events mentioned make it clear that this is not the case though it may seem so at times. However, these terrorist attacks point towards one thing: undermining the writ of the state. The reasons of terrorism in Pakistan are briefly touched upon by Muhammad Irshad in his essay “Terrorism in Pakistan: Causes and Remedies, “Issues like poverty, unemployment, lack of health related facilities, illiteracy and lack of justice are considered to be some of the major causes of militancy in Pakistan and elsewhere. According to a World Food Program study, around 89 of Pakistan’s 112 districts are facing many problems including
food insecurity and diseases. The diminishing public expenditures on education and health have forced a sizable population to seek the services of Islamic charities  for their basic needs which make them extremely vulnerable to the various forms of vicious terrorist propaganda. Internally, Pakistan’s  complex socio-cultural makeup presents a conducive environment for  ethnic and religious/sectarian polarization greatly eroding national cohesion, where each group enjoys trans-national affiliations and
sponsorship to flex its muscle at home. Due to the slow moving judicial system, anti-state forces feel encouraged to undermine the writ of the government. Similarly, Pakistan inherited a weak political structure. The problem was further compounded when Pakistan’s founding father died before a political structure could get some maturity. In the absence of mature/visionary leadership after the Quaid’s death, Pakistani nation lost their true direction. Inefficient and highly corrupt successive administrations ruined the basic foundations of the country.”

How does one overcome this state of affairs? Obviously military handling of the issue itself is not enough. Addressing issues at grass root level can no longer be avoided.  What we also need to understand as a nation is that Pakistan Ideology is a fusion of different religions and the multi-ethnicities that form Pakistan. USA, according to a map by the Census Bureau has Germans as by far the largest ethnic group with 49,206,934 in number. This is followed by others like Africans, the Irish, the English and others. Yet this did not stop them from thinking and acting as Americans first and foremost.  We have been Pakistanis since 1947 yet we have allowed ourselves to continue, constitutionally and effectively being anything but Pakistanis. The Act of India 1935  divided the area today known as Pakistan into various ethnic regions. To this division we have subscribed with each succeeding constitution. What is needed to understand  diversity  is our unity. I believe, we are different on a cultural level. We have no reason to be the same. Like many countries are a fusion of different cultures. The beauty of us Pakistanis is the divergent cultures that converge to make Pakistan. Let us celebrate our differences, enjoy them, respect them. As we should respect the different religions within.

The State must nurture and honor cultural programmes. Develop love and appreciation between different cultures via its policies. Simultaneously, handle terrorism with an iron hand.

Was it not Pope Francis who said, “Human Right are not only violated by terrorism, repression or assassinations, but also by unfair economic structures that create huge inequalities”?

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book, ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media and Media Laws in Pakistan.’ Her mail ID is she tweets at @yasmeen_9

Addressing FATA


ArticleYAAGenuine redressal of grievances is a must, at once


A leading newspaper carried news that Sarah Sewall, the US Undersecretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights, argues: “In the Pak-Afghan region, Tehreek-e-Taliban has long exploited local grievances in the tribal belt in order to sustain itself.” (March 12, 2015) She makes a lot of sense, common yet not so common in her submission. She is quoted thus by the paper, “Weak, illegitimate, and repressive governments inadvertently created opportunities for terrorists to capitalise on popular resentment.” She is correct in assessing that the drivers of extremism leading to terrorism can spring from varied reasons. While fighting terrorism militarily, it is equally important to assess and address these drivers, failing which new heads will spring in place of old ones, much like the proverbial hydra.

An interesting study by USAID on “Development Assistance & Counter Extremism” conducted in 2009 also uses the tribal areas of Pakistan as a model. It says, “Ungoverned or poorly governed spaces (e.g., Pakistan’s tribal agencies) may enable VEs to establish sanctuaries or safe havens. At the very least, they may provide room within which violent groups can operate more easily. They may offer pools of recruits, create conditions conducive to arms trafficking and smuggling, and allow for the establishment of headquarters, training camps, and communications facilities.”(Page 22 of quoted research)

The research correctly goes on to state, “Protracted, violent local conflicts of sufficient scale can create chaos, incapacitate government institutions, and result in a power vacuum that VE organisations can exploit. They may facilitate access to weapons, combat experience, and potential recruits. Global jihadists and participants in a local conflict may join efforts in what amounts to a marriage of convenience. Global jihadists may attempt to expand their operations and audience by portraying themselves as the champions of one of the parties involved. They may endeavour to weave local and international agendas together. While in reality they are largely indifferent to the narrow grievances and territorial dynamics that drive local struggles, they seek to graft the jihad onto them.”

This brings us back to Sarah Sewall and her very sensible paper.

It is not enough to combat terrorism militarily. The other side of the coin must be seen and analysed. How are the issues in FATA to be addressed?

In another piece, I had highlighted that on June 25, 2013, on the front page of a local daily English newspaper an advertisement was placed by the FATA Grand Assembly, Peshawar, titled as “FATA Declaration”. This advertisement by the tribal elders, religious clerics, political and social activists, students, women activists, lawyers, journalists, teachers and other citizens from FATA claimed to have come together from all seven agencies and adopted the Declaration. Under Article 247 of the Constitution of Pakistan 1973, special status is granted to FATA, whereby no act of Parliament or the jurisdiction of the High/Supreme Judiciary is extendable to the region. The said advertisement beseeched implementation of the Constitutional Fundamental Rights to FATA that includes right to fair trial, right to freedom of speech, right to access to information, liberty, dignity, equal protection under law, privacy of the home, so on and so forth. Similarly, laws must deal with the principle of double jeopardy, detention without legal counsel, retrospective punishment among others.

Separation of Judiciary from the Executive as another request makes imminent sense as opposed to the de facto judges running the daily administration in FATA. The separation of powers in a democracy is to prevent abuse of power and to safeguard freedom for all. Interconnected is the demand that the jurisdiction of the High Court and the Supreme Court may be extended to FATA. This division of tasks ensures institutions as a check and balance thereby strengthening democracy and ensuring better justice in the society.

Setting up educational institutions, vocational training centres, separate universities for men and women so that both genders can avail good education and progress as an individual and a society is another need quoted in the advertisement.

Infrastructure development in a phase by phase basis is another demand of the Declaration. FATA is a much ignored and backward area in Pakistan, it needs more institutions that offer better education, healthcare, and encourage more micro-investment and generally an improved quality of life for its people.

Press and Publications Ordinance and PEMRA Ordinance too were demanded to be extended to FATA. Others include women seats from tribal belt reserved in National Assembly and Senate, substantial amendment or annulment of FCR to recognise the fundamental rights of the people of FATA, local governments to be established under FATA Local Government Regulation 2002 and so on.

Sarah Sewall’s excellent paper carried on the site of US Department of State hits the nail on the head, “The adaptation of terror organisations highlights the need for us to continue adapting our approach to violent extremism. These realities demand thinking about violent extremism not simply in terms of individual radicalisation but also in the context of dynamics that make entire communities vulnerable to radicalisation, co-optation, or exploitation.”

In case of Pakistan’s tribal belt, an untenable border between Afghanistan and FATA does not help either. Pakistan Today, in a news report, states, “Pakistan plans to register 1.4 million Afghan refugees currently living in the country illegally by July 2015.” Minister for State and Frontier Regions Lt General (retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch is quoted stating that there were 1.6 million registered Afghan refugees and another 1.4 million unregistered Afghan refugees in the country.

FATA is looking towards political and administrative reforms. “It is the demand of the hour,” said Amir Haider Khan Hoti (February 20, 2012), the then Chief Minister of KP.

These much awaited and delayed changes must be based on a well-developed plan and time based strategy. There must be a marriage between short-term and long-term goals. The approach must be a genuine redress of issues involved, not steps taken in haste and upon whims of those in the corridors of power.

Back to Pak-India equation


ArticleYAAMARCH 10, 2015 BY

Resolving core issues is necessary


India’s Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar recently visited Pakistan. The first such meeting since 2012. Hailed as a step in the right direction by the doves, the baggage between both neighbours is too heavy for one visit to be off-loaded. The issues involved would require a will to resolve the questions and a time-regulated strategy to address the task. Something that has yet eluded those in power.

Handling of issues on a superficial level is neither the answer nor the solution to bridging of the schism. Without doubt, the relationship between Islamabad and New Delhi is of crucial importance in terms of maintaining long lasting peace. However, this equation cannot be achieved without facing and settling the problems that irk both nations, leading as a result to a series of actions and counter-actions that continue making muddy waters muddier.

The chief of the army staff had issued a warning ahead of Mr Jaishankar’s visit, promising a “befitting response” to the provocation alleged at LoC. Or LooC (Line out of Control), as dubbed by a friend of mine. It will be pertinent to keep in mind that the foreign secretary’s visit was not restricted to Pakistan but was a part of a series of visits to the capitals of SAARC countries.

The violations at LoC and issue of International Border of Jammu and Kashmir were part of discussions held. Quoting from The Hindu; the violations at the LoC numbered more than 685, claiming 24 lives in the past eight months alone. The report states, “Pakistan has also accused India of “unprovoked and indiscriminate” firing during the same period, and claims Indian troops have killed several civilians as well as troops along the border.” (March 3, 2015)

In my opinion, the issue of Kashmir will not be resolved by India on its own. No government in India can commit political suicide by giving away part of its territory; even if occupied; to any other nation, least of all its arch-enemy Pakistan. One only needs to consider the fact that as late as 2010, Booker Prize winner, “The God of Small Things” Arundhati Roy in a piece in The Hindu raised a pertinent question upon hearing that a Delhi court had directed the Delhi police to file an FIR against her for waging war against the state. The question involved was Kashmir. Roy states, “Perhaps they should posthumously file a charge against Jawaharlal Nehru too.” She gives a list of quotes by Jawaharlal Nehru to support her stance. Only one is being reproduced below:

“In a letter dated 11th September, 1951, to the UN representative, Pandit Nehru wrote, “The government of India not only reaffirms its acceptance of the principle that the question of the continuing accession of the state of Jammu and Kashmir to India shall be decided through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite under the auspices of the United Nations but is anxious that the conditions necessary for such a plebiscite should be created as quickly as possible.”

The importance of Kashmir is intrinsic to Pakistan’s survival. The dispute over water is inextricably interlinked with Kashmir. If one recalls, soon after Independence, India had shut off the canals of Central Bari Doab. The result was damage to crops it being the sowing season. I quote from an article by historian Naveed Tajammal, “Two sets of laws govern the water disputes, first is the Harmon Doctrine, named after ”Judson Harmon”, the Attorney General of USA in 1895,when dispute arose between Mexico and USA over the usage of Rio Grande waters. Mexico was a lower riparian, the doctrine above cited gives ”absolute territorial sovereignty” to the upper riparian, as goes the usage of water resources passing through its lands. Though the matter was resolved by a convention held between USA and Mexico on May 21, 1906, by which Mexico got its share of waters… Indus valley river system is an ‘International Drainage Basin’, as the geographical area extends and covers the administrative boundaries of more than two states, from Afghanistan to Chinese administered Tibet, in the North East and to Indian occupied Kashmir. Technically India cannot claim sovereignty over Kashmir as it remains a disputed state, and matter in reference before the world courts, having over a million troops holding it.” (March 6, 2012)

In my recent talk on Voice of America upon the visit of the Indian foreign secretary to Pakistan I had stated that for peace in the region removing the thorns that cause the bleed between both countries is vital for any normalcy of relationship. In light of the fact that US supports India as a card to be used to deter China’s rise in the region; China’s closeness to Pakistan, an unmanageable border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, India’s expansion of Ayni Air Base and the presence at Farkhor Air Base, support of Afghan Northern Alliance are just some of the irritants causing distrust. Of course, this does not mean to state that India does not have her own reservations. She does.

In my op-ed dated September 23, 2013, I had written, “Pakistan and India’s relationship is a factor that will require particular attention owing to its grave impact upon the region especially post 2014 Afghanistan. The recent coming-to-near-blows on the “Line out of control” between Pakistan and India reasserted once again the real issue of Kashmir and water-war simmers just under the surface, waiting to blow up in our faces at any given excuse. Many other grievances have gained roots sprouting from the main ones. These will be resurrected with fresh vengeance in a not-so-new playground; Afghanistan. An inevitable happening for which India is prepared having honed her tools well while Pakistan has been embroiled in the “war on terror” and her multidimensional internal problems. Kashmir has been the point of focus of conflict as the result of British imperialism’s divide-and-rule partition of the subcontinent when it relinquished direct rule in 1947. This issue stands ignored by international forums; a dangerous approach. The only solution is holding of a referendum, also supported by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif; in his address at a news conference in September 2010.”

Regional peace is necessary. This will not happen without addressing core issues. In addition; resolving them. QED.

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: and tweets at @yasmeen_9.

Over a cup of tea

Reminiscing the rich culture we have


Reminiscing was an activity of our elders, or so I thought. It seems, however, that places change, not the reminiscing.

Browsing through wedding pictures of a friend’s son over on the Facebook, I saw the bride dressed in a neck to ankle heavily worked upon dress. The edge of flaring patloon just peeping from under it. It took me back in time when the bride would wear nothing but thegharara. I have always loved the gharara, as I have stated that earlier in one of my blog posts. A traditionally Lucknowi dress, made up of a loose pant. At the knee it flares into cascading swirl of fabric stitched to the straight pants in pleats and pleats of gorgeously rich fabric. Brocades, Chinese brocades, ‘poat silks’, another one known as the ‘patta-patti’ consists of vertically cut six-inch silks in vibrant colors stitched together to form the swirling ‘skirt’ of the pants and resplendent to behold. All 12 metres of it. It is worn with either a short kurti or a long shirt and a long, trailing duppata (or veil). It is often worked over with traditional zari, dabka, and zardozi.

Once they were worn as a daily wear. The dress would be simpler to suit a daily comfortable wear, plain satins for gharara with a white chicken-fabric shirt and a dupatta(veil) of white malmal (a soft lawn). The duppata would more often than not be of ‘chunnat’. Often, the ghararas themselves would be made of cotton, crisp and fresh to behold.

When I was younger, a lot younger, girls of all ages and aunts all wore this timelessly graceful outfit not only for special occasions but also at the ‘milad’ held at houses, a regular feature. A milad is traditionally a gathering of women, reciting events from the lives of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) coupled with the recitation of ‘naats’. Guests turned up in theirghararas, and the lady of the house, of course, would also be dressed in one. It was a special occasion. White sheets were spread on carpets for seating and to ease an aching back, round traditional cushions known as ‘gao takyas’ were put against the wall.

A low wood stool would hold the books that the ladies would recite. Placed also on the table would be two ‘agar battis’ or incense. On another low wood stool stood a silver ‘gulab pash’. This was used to sprinkle rose water on the guests. The gulab pash has been used since the Mughal Empire (1526-1857). They were used in the Mughal court to sprinkle rose water on the guests upon their arrival. With the gulab pash would be a silver platter containing sweet and ‘saada pan’ (beetle nut leaves) with an alcove holding ‘ilaichi’ and ‘misri ki dali’. This would be passed around to all to sweeten the mouth.

The first formal function of a wedding, started with the ‘mayoun’. The milad would always precede the rasm-e-mayoun itself. The two Eids were other occasions we would look forward to. We all got a new gharara, of course with the accompanying kurti and veil. In those days, all my maternal aunts would work with my maternal grandmother to prepareghararas for girls of the family. They were, of course, identical. Hours of fabric cutting and whirring away on sewing machines, family chitchat and snacks marked the happy occasion of their preparation. One I particularly loved was when I was eight or nine-year-old, maybe. A pale pink taffeta with silver ‘gota’ at the knee of the joining pant-flare with a pink lace and silk kurti and a silk duppata of coordinating color.

It seems gone are the days of the graceful gharara. New fads have taken over. Even the brides seem to wear new-fangled dresses instead of the graceful gharara. As I opened my cabin trunk today to air the gorgeous ghararas I have, I could not but heave a sigh of regret, unwrapping each piece lovingly wrapped individually in a delicate white ‘malmal’ with a silver gota running around it.

Putting down my cup of green tea with a flower of bada’aan khatai, unground black pepper and a squeeze of lemon, I mused over the changing times. Our culture, Punjabi, Sindhi, Balochi, Seraiki, Pashtun and so on, needs nurturing and transferring to the younger generation. The awareness of the roots of the tree we have sprung. Stories and folklore are an excellent source of transmitting culture. Customs, festivals, foods are all mediums of being a part of the circle called heritage. So overshadowed we have become by the cultural invasion that our own seems to have receded in the past.

‘Sassi Punno’ is a famous folklore of Pakistan, loved equally by people hailing from all provinces, lovingly touched upon by leading Sufi poets like Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai and Sachal Sarmast. The former dedicated five surs to Sassi Punno. These were based on different phases of her life. Allan Faqir has sung about Sassi in unparalleled performances for connoisseurs of great music.

Foods and drinks are another manner of preserving and sharing culture. I love Punjabi food made of sarson ka saag with makai ki roti and a helping of melting butter. Top it off with a glass of refreshing lassi. A recipe for a long noon nap.

As for dresses, who can beat the grace and timeless beauty of the ajrak? Renowned designer and one of my favorites, Noorjehan Bilgrami, has discussed at length the making of ajrak in her book, Sindh Jo Ajrak (The Ajrak of Sindh)”. Unique block prints are used to design shawls both for men and women. A later trend has been to use it also in tea tray mats, cushion covers, bed covers etcetera.

The Baloch embroidery is exquisite and distinctive. Their folklore honours their heroes in their songs. Doda, a young Baloch, sacrificed his life in pursuing a thief who had stolen a cow of a rich widow who had sought protection of young Doda’s village. His death made him immortal.

I have particular admiration for the woolen carpets known as ‘kady’. Woven by hand, each piece is individual and in rich, vibrant colours. Reds, turquoise, rich dark browns. The Pashtuns have perfected carpet weaving to an art. Absolutely nothing beats the delicious taste of chappali kebabs of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, with Peshawar being particularly famous for this food. Made from minced beef, chappali kebab is a popular food originating from Afghanistan.

A day cannot begin, nor progress nor end without tea in Pakistan. Whether it’s the start of the day or work time, a cup of tea can refresh one. A day is just not complete without tea. What better than the ‘Kashmiri Chai’, also known as ‘Pink Tea’ owing to its color. I would like to share an interesting extract from a blog site on ‘Kashmiri Chai’, “Traditionally, tea makers also add a pinch of baking soda which turns the tea a pinkish color.” This tea can either be taken with salt or sugar, catering to both tastes. Heavy in drinking owing to quantities of milk added, it is a beautiful beverage, especially for winters.

Over a cup of tea one’s thoughts wander to many an interesting subject. For me, today, it was culture and cultural symbols. Chuck Palahniuk said, “The first step — especially for young people with energy and drive and talent, but not money — the first step to controlling your world is to control your culture. To model and demonstrate the kind of world you demand to live in. To write the books. Make the music. Shoot the films. Paint the art.”

VIP culture and inefficiency

BY  ArticleYAA


How traffic rules are violated and public put through agony


According to a report by Duniya News (Feb 6, 2013) seven thousand flights were delayed, both domestic and international, during the five months prior to the report. The main reason has been owing to the VIPs boarding flights.

It may be reminded here that a woman gave birth to her baby girl in an auto-rickshaw stuck in a traffic jam when police closed roads to let President Asif Ali Zardari’s motorcade drive by during his visit to Quetta in early 2010. The President had the grace to apologise and announced a compensation of Rs500,000 for the family for the distress it went through. The baby came into this world in a rickshaw surrounded by vehicles.

Amir Latif states that VIP movement has caused traffic jams claiming lives. “Last week, a student of the University of Karachi died of an appendix rupture after being stranded in a traffic jam due to presence of General Pervez Musharraf in the city.”(Published PakTribune April 27, 2006)

According to another news report in May 2013, with the arrival of the Chinese premier, residents of the twin cities were once again at the receiving end as mobile phone services were suspended for three hours and roads were sealed.

Incidents like these abound around here. Many go unreported. Yet none of the governments in Pakistan, after having come into power, has tried to address the issue. Ambulances are also among the vehicles that are irrespective of the fact that there can be cases where the sick are being transported in a public or a private transport.

And it’s not only the patients in ambulances that suffer owing to the VIP movement but also the students going to their institutions or exams, and other people hurrying to their places of work. Each and every one is delayed, sometime for an hour or more to allow passage to the VIP.

This “VIP culture” is reflective of a deeper malaise that afflicts our country. It allows those in position special privileges at an extraordinary cost to lesser mortals. Laws applicable to the general people skip steps while being implemented on the VIPs. It pushes the ‘ordinary’ citizens in the ‘Economy Class’ of life, allowing first rights to those in the ‘First Class’. Although a certain protocol may be awarded to the government officials for security reasons, is it fair to do at the cost of a complete disregard to the civilian population? Should the roads be turned into a veritable red carpet for the VIP?

Imran Khan, after heavy criticism levelled against him for arriving at APS School with a 21-car motorcade (an allegation he denied), claimed that only six cars were used for his protocol and that he would no longer travel with heavy security protocol in the future. Six cars is not “only”, Mr Khan, for a nation like Pakistan.

Civilised nations make civilised, workable rules for their people. Such bias in the favour of certain privileged few must be deemed undemocratic.

Muhamad Faisal Ali in a report on protocol states hat 60 per cent of police wastes its energies on protocol duties. Quoting numbers can take up most part but they are mind-boggling. (Dawn Jan 02, 2012)

Then there is the allowance for mushrooming of plazas and malls with absolutely inadequate parking space causing vehicles to spill onto the roads or blocking areas used to park vehicles for such plazas. This inadequacy inevitably causes cars unable to get out due to some other vehicle blocking its way. Mehwish Ahmed, writing in Pakistan Today,says, “The area for parking vehicles, especially in metros, is constantly shrinking under pressure from the rising number of cars and bikes. People don’t have traffic sense. Traffic police and media should play their role in creating traffic sense amongst the people.” (April 11, 2011)

Then there is the issue of a lack of traffic monitoring which has become a nuisance. Most of the times, traffic lights/signals at main crossings fail to work, yet there is no one managing the crossings owing to terrible jams that ensue. Such blockage reportedly caused forty students appear late in a CSS 2015 paper of Pakistan Affairs set for 9am to 12pm. A student of mine, who was also affected, wrote to me, “Coming from Wapda Town, I had to reach BISE Lahore Lawrence Road. Due to traffic jam and no diversion given by city traffic police, I got stuck in traffic for three hours which delayed me in reaching the exam centre. As we reached late for the exam, the invigilator did not allow us to sit in the exam. The traffic police did not provide any diversion before coming up on Canal Road. They did not allow the traffic to pass from the as well. A container had stuck in the Campus Underpass which caused all this mess.”

A TV report states that the container struck in the underpass was from Swat and was being driven by one Qudratullah. One could ask if there was a signboard at a reasonable distance to let the driver know which lane he had to take. But even if there was one (the report claims there was none), was the driver literate to have read the message? Are there any rules to ensure a minimum literacy rate for drivers of such vehicles or a methodology (i.e., signs put up etc) whereby they can understand that they cannot use underpasses with heavy transport vehicles? Being an educationist, this incident has caused me deep sadness as this boy was one of the brightest in my class. I am sure there must be others that day that had much to offer to our civil services but for the inefficiency caused that day.

Should not the government make concession for these students and set another date for their paper instead of allowing them to be victimised for a delay the cause of which is now publically known? The cause is certainly not of their making and I fail to see why their future be put on stake for it. Through this space I make a special appeal to the concerned authorities to do what is just and not let the efforts of these bright candidates go to waste.

Are we trying to convey a message to our youngsters that the world in Pakistan will stop for VIP movement but no one would care if their world stops at an underpass?

Muslim lives matter


All lives matter


Three Muslim students were shot dead in North Carolina a few days ago. Craig Stephen Hicks has been charged on three accounts with first-degree murder. Those dead are Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19. Although an idea has been put forth that the killings may have been due to a dispute over parking as suggested by Chapel Hill Police in a report by The Guardian, to my lawyer mind it seems very strange that, if true, Hicks would choose not to kill one person responsible allegedly in a dispute but all three of the family. The second question this theory raises in my mind is why did he have a loaded weapon on his person in the first place? Third, why were the victims shot in the head which is as cold blooded as it gets? “To have him come in here and shoot three different innocent people in their heads — I don’t know what kind of person that is,” said Namee Barakat, the father of the male victim, Deah Shaddy Barakat.” (NYT, February 11, 20015)

However, the police had not confirmed that the shots were in the head. The same report states the victims were shot inside the apartment. “One 911 caller, at 5:11pm Tuesday, said she had heard five to 10 shots and “kids screaming”. Another, calling a minute later, said she had heard about eight shots and multiple people screaming, then a pause, and then three more shots. The victims were shot inside an apartment, according to one of the calls, and family members said the police told them they had been shot in the head.”

Todd Shea, a musician and humanitarian, founded Comprehensive Disaster Response Services (CDRS) to help the affected people of the northern region in 2005. This organisation and Shea’s personal efforts went a long way in helping the internally displaced persons. He wrote on his Facebook status on February 12, 2015, and I reproduce with his permission:

“’When his son-in-law lived alone in the condominium complex, the family never had any problems. But once his daughter moved in wearing a headscarf, that clearly identified her as Muslim, the trouble started, Abu-Salha said.’

“Daddy, I think he hates us for who we are,” Abu-Salha said his daughter Yusor Mohammad told him.

“I don’t need any media or police or prosecutors or politicians or experts to tell me what to think and how to think and convince me whether or not this was a hate crime. The above information is all I need to come to my conclusion. These are the eyewitness statements of the compassionate, selfless and exemplary Human Beings who looked into the eyes of a terrorist who eagerly and publicly espoused a radical atheist ideology. These are the eyewitness testimonies of the Human Beings who felt the unmistakable burn of the laser-like hatred, derision and disdain this disgusting man held in his heart for anyone who believes that a higher power created us all.

“I trust their impressions a million times more than I would trust anyone else’s. Apparently Craig Stephen Hicks had disputes and run-ins with other neighbours, but it’s quite revealing that in the time and the place he picked to strike with bullets, the neighbours he aimed and fired his prized weapon at were three Muslims — three of the kindest, most gentle and full of life Human Beings one could ever have the good fortune to know and love. Their only ‘offense’ was that they were easily identifiable as the believers he so radically opposed in his incessant online rants against.

“This climate of hate and acute division — which produces the various incarnations of Demons such as Craig Stephen Hicks in our World — is being fueled… the only way to defeat them is with a revolution. Not a violent one, but a revolution of the heart — a transformation of Humanity where ALL good people who want a peaceful future for everyone’s children say NO to the sociopathic policies we allow our so-called elite to pursue and NO to hate and say YES to teaching their children empathy and not to hate ANYONE because of the colour of their skin or who they love or how they dress or where they are from or what higher power they believe in or don’t believe in. And we need to build a World for our children where money and political power and indifferent ruthlessness towards fellow Human Beings are not the most influential aspects ruling over our systems of life, justice, health, education and opportunity.

We all need to be more like Yusor, Deah and Razan and their Family. We all need to be more like Kayla Mueller and her Family. Then together we would make it out of the darkness of these dark times.”

Yahoo News states, “The killings are fuelling outrage among people who blame anti-Muslim rhetoric for hate crimes. A Muslim advocacy organisation pressed authorities to investigate possible religious bias. Many posted social media updates with the hashtags #MuslimLivesMatter.” (February 13, 2015)

Norman Baker, Minister of State for Crime Prevention, has written a beautiful document titled “Challenge it, Report it, Stop it”, a government’s hate crime action plan. The ‘ministerial foreword’ states, “Addressing anti-Muslim hatred remains a central theme and our dialogue with local communities is already underway through the roll out of a number of regional roadshows.” Well done, Minister! Acceptance of the malaise is the first step towards its remedy. (Norman Baker is a British politician who has been a Member of Parliament for Lewes in East Sussex)

“What is extremely important in a world bombarded with hate material spewed on a regular basis by media, both mainstream and non-mainstream, is an immediate assurance by the country head to address the concerns of the community wounded. Now this is the truly sad part. If Obama has not spoken because the investigation is not yet concluded, this stance is at variance with the stance taken at the Fergusan killings, way before any investigation were completed. An excerpt of his address is reproduced, “Ours is a nation of laws: of citizens who live under them and for the citizens who enforce them. So, to a community in Ferguson that is rightly hurting and looking for answers, let me call once again for us to seek some understanding rather than simply holler at each other. Let’s seek to heal rather than to wound each other.

“As Americans, we’ve got to use this moment to seek out our shared humanity that’s been laid bare by this moment. The potential of a young man and the sorrows of parents, the frustrations of a community, the ideals that we hold as one united American family.” (WSJ,August 18, 2014)

What Obama sought to do then was to reassure the affected community of the continued support of his government to apply justice and fairness. This is what was expected from the leader of a superpower that is the United States of America. Yet this expectation was met with silence — until he received flak from “the likes of Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his ‘silence’ on the Chapel Hill shootings”, reports a local newspaper on February 14th, 2014. Belated, the statement from the White House read, “No one in the United States of America should ever be targeted because of who they are, what they look like, or how they worship.”

In the meanwhile, soon after the incident, the campus of UNC, a local plaza, was flooded with thousands to express solidarity with the family. Remembrances were offered by those who knew those slain. One ended her speech with, “Muslim lives matter. All lives matter.”

I borrow the title of my piece from the speech.

Death of the liberal


There is no such thing in Pakistan


Terms that label people and put them into boxes always confused me. It posed so many questions, like can people hold ‘mixed’ views? Some of the ‘liberal’ streak, others of the ‘conservative’ while some their own? This approach throws off those who can only work by putting people in neat compartments. But people are never black and white. They are better described as shades of gray.

John Perazzo, writing on being progressive and on being a leftist, quotes Ted Kennedydefining a liberal as “someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions” and “someone who cares about the welfare of the people”. But is it so? The English professor, philosopher and author Maurice Cranston states, “A liberal is a man who believes in liberty.” John Locke states that humans are in “a state of perfect freedom to order their actions as they think fit without asking leave, or depending on the will of any other man.” However living in a society with interlinked relationships and a networking between countries where relations become more complicated, is a state of perfect freedom a reality as propounded by Locke? Was it ever a reality? I am no philosopher by long shot, but painting neat boxes to fit in people throws me off. Locke’s theory is in line with the “roots” of the very word stemming from liberalis, Latin for “pertaining to be a free man”.

For a better understanding, we need to grasp that liberalism was born out of reaction to conservative philosophy that supported the absolute monarchies, and not just the monarchs but all those associated with the monarchy. For better understanding: the status quo.

Liberalism upon emergence in the beginning of the 18th century meant a belief in the rule of law, individual rights, right to private ownership and property, relatively limited role of governments in the lives of private citizens, and a strong support of laissez faire economies. By and large, these values were what defined the school of liberals. An extremely enlightening paper by Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy discussing the liberal ethics quotes Mills from On Liberty, stating, “Individuality is the same thing with development, and it is only the cultivation of individuality which produces, or can produce, well-developed human beings. What more can be said of any condition of human affairs than that it brings human beings themselves nearer to the best thing they can be? Or what worse can be said of any obstruction to good than that it prevents this? (Mill, 1963, vol 18: 267)

Can this philosophy of placing all goodness with individuals alone apply across board? Does it not rest heavily on a huge assumption that every individual will develop on the same level equally despite the unequal distribution of intellect, wisdom, wealth, education and other variables involved?

The term ‘liberal’ is often used as interchangeable with the leftists today. ‘Leftism’ is actually, historically, the opposite of all that liberalism stands for. Leftists sprang from France in the early 1900s. They held that the root cause of decadence in the society came from private wealth and capitalism. This became the basis of the philosophy to get rid of the capitalism existing then and replacing this failed form of thought with socialism where all are equal. This thought too, of course, is repeating the same mistake i.e., painting little boxes to fit people in with labels. Here the question that pops to the mind is: is not socialism itself rule of a certain elite to the exclusion of everyone else denying them the right to better choices and thereby negating the will to strike for a better quality in terms of material possessions and the comfort it brings?

To further the debate we must discuss the concept of conservatism.

The Oxford Dictionary puts forth an interesting defining example, “(Of surgery or medicaltreatment) intended to control rather than eliminate a condition, with existing tissuepreserved as far as possible.” It also describes a conservative as, “A person who isaverse to change and holds traditional values.” Simply put, conservatism would mean supporting the traditional in the face of forces of change that aim to change the social order. This relates to all aspects of societal and individual holdings and beliefs i.e., cultural, religious, and political. Conservatism is more prone to orthodox religious views, rejecting any deviation or non-orthodoxy. Edmund Burke, the Anglo-Irish philosopher, is widely seen as the originator of Conservatism. The theory was born as a reaction to the French Revolution and is discussed at length in his book, Reflections on the Revolution in France.

Let’s visit Pakistan with the satchel of these ideas and try painting political parties and politicians and people at large and try determining who’s who. The problem is one cannot. Liberalism or Conservatism in Pakistan generally excludes all other levels to centre around one aspect alone: religion. Though this is an important element of determination of any individual’s or party’s leaning, it is not the only one. Since increasing bars of religiosity permeating in the society, it becomes much easier to overlook the barriers that merge the difference between liberals and those supporting conservatism i.e., those of class and economic barriers.

The division between urban and rural classes of Pakistan is not only sharp, it’s increasing. Even in the urban areas, the division between the elite and the dilapidated is increasing at an alarming rate. The educated middle class has all but disappeared. It is a society in a state of flux. This leads to a greater need to develop strong policies aimed at bridging the divide. Yet, one does not see any policies aimed at dealing with the realities of the common person. If political ideologies held roots in Pakistan, we would not be witnessing politicians changing political parties. We would not witness the support for ‘status quo’ on all-inclusive levels by political parties.

This gap takes us back to the very concept of liberalism.

What we see on ground is neither conservatism nor liberalism (not to be confused with leftism) serving the people at meaningful levels. What is needed is to join hands as one nation, and work towards making Pakistan a country to be envied.

Pakistan Zindabad!

Contours of a new relationship


The implications of India-US getting close


Hugging President Barack Obama upon his arrival to India and pouring tea for him over chats, Prime Minister Narendra Modi conveyed the message strong and clear: India wants to redefine its relationship with America. What is very clear is a clear-cut decision by India, its long term close relationship with Russia notwithstanding, to move close to USA as a proactive partner in the former’s ‘pivot to Asia’.

An excerpt from the joint statement expounding the vision of both nations is very revealing: “Regional prosperity depends on security. We affirm the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea. We call on all parties to avoid the threat or use of force and pursue resolution of territorial and maritime disputes through all peaceful means, in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

Especially in the South China Sea (term) caught my eye. Let’s examine this a little further. The NYT reports, “For years, American presidents have tried to enlist India, the world’s largest democracy, in a more robust partnership, partly to offset China’s rising power. India has had a long history of suspicion and rivalry with China, which allied with New Delhi’s archenemy Pakistan during the Cold War. But it has long insisted on being an independent actor in world affairs and resisted aligning itself with the United States against its giant neighbour. Mr Modi, by contrast, seems not only willing but eager to redefine India’s relationship with the United States at a time China is on the rise economically, militarily and politically.”

India’s bold stance on this issue, in a joint statement with USA, is an alarming bell for China, with it being involved in disputes over this area with Vietnam, Philippines and Japan could mean triggering off escalation of these disputes with greater interest from Washington. This dispute has roots in history and can be traced back to 1894 Sino-Japanese war. Japan was defeated and this in turn led to claims over the islands. Its New Delhi’s coming out of shadows to take a clear stance with Washington on the issue is what is worrisome for China; their concern itself is not new. In this backdrop the use of the word ‘especially’ in the joint statement has great significance.

Interestingly, Russia’s agreement “to speed up work on a fifth-generation military aircraft,” (Reuters Jan 22, 2015) days before Obama’s visit is telling as it shows cracks in the armour. New Delhi will need to perfect its balance between Moscow and Beijing at one end and Washington on the other. Senior Programme Associate for South and Southeast Asia at Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars Michael Kugelman is quoted bySputnik as stating, “It is “unclear” how India will react in terms of how it “leads its relations with Russia”. (27/1/2015)

What did happen was that Modi stood by silently with Obama criticising Russia and Putin’s actions in Ukraine. If one recalls, India had backed Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Zachary Keck, writing for The Diplomat, stated, “Local Indian media noted that Menon’s statement about Russia’s legitimate interests in Ukraine made it the first major nation to publicly lean toward Russia. Ukraine certainly appeared to interpret India’s endorsement of Russia’s legitimate interests as far more hostile than Beijing’s position on Russia’s actions.” (March 08, 2014) Modi’s bear hugs and tea pouring notwithstanding, this is a direct put-down by Washington delivered to convey its disapproval of Russia and thereby India’s support on the stance.

India has made an effort to resolve glitches to the India-US nuclear deal of 2008. It was first introduced in a joint statement between President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on July 18, 2005. In return, per terms agreed by India, USA will allow India access to its dual-use nuclear technology. It can either reprocess potassium or enrich uranium. This potentially creates material for nuclear bombs. The Council for Foreign Relations India writes, “Proponents of the agreement argue it will bring India closer to the United States at a time when the two countries are forging a strategic relationship to pursue common interests in fighting terrorism, spreading democracy, and preventing the domination of Asia by a single power.

Ashley Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who was intimately involved in negotiating the civil nuclear agreement with India as senior adviser to the US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, said in Congressional testimony in 2005 that the deal recognises this growing relationship by engaging India, which has proven that it is not a nuclear proliferation risk. Other experts say the deal lays out the requirements for India to be recognised as a responsible steward of nuclear power. “This is part of a process of making India a more durable and reliable nuclear partner,” Schaffer says.

Obama’s visit offered the first breakthrough over the logjam between the two regarding the nuclear deal. According to a report, “The US has agreed to withdraw the tracking clause in India-US nuclear deal.” (Debobrat Ghose for F India on Jan 25, 2015)

Pakistan, predictably, has reacted by stating it had “taken careful note of statements made and agreements reached” in New Delhi.” (Wall Street Journal) It goes on to state Pakistan must not face discrimination by USA in enactment of deals between both neighbours. Pakistan has also decided to raise concerns about Indian hand in the terrorism on Pakistani soil, especially in Balochistan, reports a local daily. Though this concern may be genuine, the timing brings the genuineness in question. This is something Pakistan should have done with all the information at its disposal way before and not when pinched.

A local daily states, “The Pakistan government recently shared a ‘dossier’ with the US on the Indian involvement in terrorist acts here. The security official said it included some strong evidence of the Indian involvement in Dec 16 Peshawar school carnage which left 149 schoolchildren and teachers dead. The attack was claimed by the banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).” (January 29, 2015)

What Pakistan desperately needs from its leaders are strategies aimed to bring Pakistan out of the corner due to the mismanagement of both local and foreign policies (or lack of them) that it finds itself in.

The King is dead



Long live the King!


King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud dies. RIP. Ailing Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud takes over as the King of Saudi Arabia. Long Live the King!

His Highness Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, 79, has been the Governor for Riyadh for five decades, give or take. People speak well of him as managing “the delicate balance of clerical, tribal and princely interests that determine Saudi policy, while maintaining good relations with the West,” as notes Pakistan Today in a report on January 22, 2015.

If some people are holding their cumulative breaths for any monumental changes in the days to come, relax, breathe in and breathe out. Nothing is changing in a hurry. Some things will not. This includes a strong anti-Iran stance, a partnership with USA that is based on mutual security interests and its commitment to ensure a strong and stable oil market.

USA and Saudi Arabia go back a long way. Till 1945, to be exact, when the late King Abdullah’s father Abdulaziz bin Saud met with President Roosevelt and reached a mutually beneficial understanding of Saudi Arabia being the supplier of regular oil whereas the USA would ensure security for the Kingdom. An understanding that has weathered decades since.

Saudi Arabia is uncomfortable with USA’s recent overtures to Iran. Saudi Arabia may be fearful of an American administration that allows softening towards Iran’s nuclear programme. Of course Saudi Arabia would not want Shi’ite Iran go nuclear. Michael Crowley, writing for Times, says, “In recent months, the American approach to three regional hotspots – Iran, Syria and Egypt – has shaken the US-Saudi relationship to its core. Obama’s diplomacy with Tehran, the hated Shi’ite Muslim enemy of devoutly Sunni Saudi Arabia, has alarmed Riyadh no less than it has Jerusalem. Obama’s failure to follow through on his threat of military strikes on Syria last year inflamed worries about Washington’s willingness to use force in the region. And Saudi leaders deride Obama’s criticisms of the Egyptian generals who seized power last summer and are cracking down on their rivals. Throw in America’s growing energy independence, shrinking military budget and talk of a strategic shift toward Asia, and Saudi Arabia is wondering whether it can still rely on Washington’s longtime security guarantees or if it needs to form new alliances – and perhaps go nuclear itself.” (Published March 27, 2014)

The same article also shares, “The Saudis see Iran’s hand in stirring up the Shi’ites of Yemen and neighbouring Bahrain, where Saudi forces helped quash Arab Spring protests in 2011. A US diplomatic cable leaked in Obama’s first term revealed that as far back as April 2008, Abdullah implored American officials to launch a strike on Iran’s nuclear programme. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s top buyers of American arms. In late 2011, the US inked a $29.4 billion sale of F-15 fighters to the Kingdom, and last October – just as Saudi grousing about Obama’s Syria policy was peaking – the Pentagon announced an $11 billion deal to sell cruise missiles and bunker-buster bombs to the Saudis and the neighbouring United Arab Emirates. Those and other American-supplied arms, including Apache and Black Hawk helicopters, come with teams of US trainers and technicians who help keep the governments in close touch.”

In years to come Saudi Arabia will face many issues because times change and communications are fast, geographical barriers notwithstanding. These include greater female empowerment and job availability for young Saudis. According to a report in Al-Monitor, there are shortages of water, energy and housing that need to be dealt with in due course of time.

Saudi Arabia maintained the quantum of oil production in a hope that it will maintain its market share and it will be the high cost of oil producers in the west who will lose their market share as a result of falling oil prices. Resultantly, prices of oil have fallen drastically.

Saudi Arabia’s policy on oil is not likely to change in short term. On January 6, 2015, news flashed, “Saudi Arabia’s heir apparent Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz said that his country would stay the course as it dealt with the “new developments” that had appeared on the oil market – an oblique reference to the recent price collapse.” (Argus News)

Saudi Arabia may stick to this course of action as a lesson taught to them by history. Back in early 1980s, prices of oil crashed. Saudi Arabia cut back on its production of oil in order to arrest the falling prices based on the theory of supply and demand. However, this did not happen and the prices still fell. What did happen then was that Saudi Arabia lost its market share to other oil producing nations. Understandably, Saudi Arabia would want to avoid making the same mistake again.

A report at CNBC states, “While the short-term plan is likely to attempt to hurt frackers, Iran and Russia via an over-supplied market, the longer-term implications are for oil supply policies that are more hostile towards western consumers. In addition, the appetite for bringing the proxy war to Iran and other Shi’ite factions in the region will rise, which will result in a return of the geopolitical risk premium in the years ahead.” (January 22, 2015)

Decisions on Saudi oil policy is made by a Supreme Petroleum Council. The Council is headed by the King and members comprise of ministers, leaders of the industry and members of the royal family. With a reported 46 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s GDP coming from oil revenue, any decision relating to the subject has to be made very, very seriously.

“I think (Salman) will continue with Abdullah’s reforms. He realises the importance of this. He’s not conservative in person but he values the opinion of the conservative constituency of the country,” said Jamal Khashoggi, head of a news channel owned by a Saudi prince, states Reuters. (Jan 23, 2015)


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