As the Year Ends

Being my last column of 2016, the temptation is there to pontificate on the state of the world in general and Pakistan in particular – what went right and did not. After all, the world is going to be confronted with an extremist, a racist and a Muslim-hater as the next president of the US in the person of Donald Trump. For Pakistan, with a virulent Modi already in power in neighbouring India; a US that has sewn in its strategic partnership with India and is seeking new ways to tie all crumbs coming Pakistan’s way with new demands and conditionalities; and a new more aggressive Saudi regime demanding its pound of flesh from its Muslim “allies”, the arrival of the Donald presidency bodes ill for it. Not that the Donald presidency bodes well for global stability either but obviously as a Pakistani my concern will focus on my country.

As for holding forth on Pakistan and 2016, it is difficult to know where to begin and where to end. However, 2016 showed more starkly than ever before how all public enterprises have been deliberately destroyed by successive governments and how corruption has become endemic in our ruling elite, especially our leadership. 2016 also revealed rather distressingly how security-related issues have lost their relevancy in affairs of state and governance with even the establishment turning a blind eye to what they themselves saw as a “security breach”! Is this the new “cool” approach to security-related issues? Disturbing indeed, given the Indian military belligerency along the LoC and Working Boundary and Afghan hostility along the Pak-Afghan international border.

Also, in case our sleeping beauties of the Foreign Office, led by the tweedle dee-tweedle dum duo of Aziz and Fatemi, thought we had gotten past the issue of India’s membership into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) thanks to China, they should wake up and read what the Nuclear Intelligence Weekly (NIW) of December 23, 2016 has to say on the issue – should give them a few sleepless moments. Apparently the NSG chairperson, South Korea’s Song Young Wan held an informal breakfast meeting in Vienna on 19th December to try and get some agreement on the India and Pakistan membership to the NSG. So far a number of countries led by China are still insistent on a criteria-based approach but the US continues to push for Indian membership before a decision on this criteria-based approach. While no decision would be reached it seems before the Donald is sworn into office, there is every possibility of things moving India’s way before Song relinquishes his Chairmanship in June. Song wants to move ahead on this issue and he may force some countries’ hands on it – including the US, France and the UK, who want to admit India without any agreement on criteria. According to NIW, now some other countries like Japan, Turkey, Italy, Mexico, Norway and Brazil, have signalled support for the US position with some conditionalities. My point is simply to ask if our diplomacy will finally get active preemptively for once or will we keep hoping that China would continue to hold out for us in the NSG?

Since the Foreign Office has come up, what was Fatemi doing traipsing off to the US at the taxpayers’ expense supposedly to meet the Trump transition team when no meetings had been arranged and neither was he able to meet anyone from that team? Is there absolutely no accountability of how the taxpayers’ money is being wasted by these less-than-useless advisers and assistants? As for the ministers, given the recent antics and irresponsible remarks of the likes of the defence minister, the less said about this merry band of the PML-N, the better.

Which brings me to our National Assembly where the PML-N’s overwhelming majority remains a shadow hovering above the empty government seats depriving the house of a quorum. This government has, so far, been all about ordinances and amnesty schemes and one wonders how they will tackle the issue of the sunset clause of the military courts that is about to set in. Let us not forget the Panama Papers, which continue to haunt the PM and his family and which have brought all effective governance to a halt while the whole PML-N army is deployed in full-time defence of the Sharif family. Sadly for them, the contradictions of what was said in PM Sharif’s speeches to the nation and the National Assembly were out of synch with what his lawyer stated on his behalf in the Supreme Court, where suddenly the Qatari letter created yet another scandal. Incidentally, we also learnt that statements read out by the leaders in parliament are mere “political speeches” – presumably not to be taken seriously or having any veracity. Talk about giving politics a bad name!

To ensure 2016 ended with another political ‘surprise’ we saw the PPP back out of its promised street agitation against the PM and his Panama scandal and in support of their four very valid demands. The reverse gear was not unexpected, but the manner in which it was done was uniquely Zardari-ish. The father and son will now opt instead for contesting by-elections from safe Sindh constituencies and be part of the opposition in the National Assembly. So street protest is out through a unique style of “muk muka”? Will they match up to playing the role of an all-out opposition as the PTI did in the last session? Should be interesting to watch. Nevertheless, one thing is for sure: this is not a move designed to encourage a grand opposition alliance.

Life, of course, is not only about politics. 2016 saw us lose so many good souls in Pakistan, some through terrorism; and it was a particularly bad year for artists not just in Pakistan but also across the world. The fragility of life always seems to become more acute as a year draws to a close. So despite the temptation to pontificate, I cannot do so. There are too many thoughts and too many scenes that have been played out and are going to be played out in 2017 – some repeats, some new; some partially visible, others unseen so far.

One prediction can be made: the world will become more racist, more hate-oriented and more violent. The US will have the Donald presidency; the EU will have more barriers against refugees and asylum seekers; the UK will have Brexit and new ways to profile Muslims as the May government announces a new “experiment” to check “voter fraud” by having voters show ID to take place in an immigrant-heavy constituency – more like an experiment in racial profiling; and the Muslim world will have more violent conflicts and wars.

Perhaps one should let the anchors and ‘analysts’ pontificate about what should be done as they berate those in power and policymaking for falling short of expectations because they lack the abilities and foresight these critics have. Have you ever wondered why the pontificators never move into politics to see how they can rectify the wrongs they see with such clarity from the outside? I used to wonder too till I entered the fray!

 

The writer is DG SSII and a PTI MNA. The views expressed are her own. Email: callstr@hotmail.com

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