Choose the best available option

The following article has been published in the Sunday Edition of Pakistan Today, dated 7th September 2014
(For online version: http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2014/09/06/featured/choose-the-best-available-option/ )

(For Published Version, Page 6:   http://issuu.com/abidoon/docs/dna_issue_40/7?e=3820687/9210255 )

Choose the best available option

Learn from history

Prof Dp

 By: Omer Zaheer Meer

The author is a Director of the think-tank “Millat Thinkers’ Forum”. He is a leading economist, qualified accountant and anti-money laundering expert with international exposure who can be reached on Twitter and www.myMFB.com @OmerZaheerMeer  or omerzaheermeer@hotmail.co.uk

It was a harsh winter, like winters in Russia are. The mighty advancing army was not only unaccustomed but also ill-equipped to deal with the extremities of climate. The officer in charge contacted his commander in chief detailing the ground realities and proposing a retreat and re-assault in summer. The response was a firm no with orders to march on, citing that their forces had never retreated, defeating all the global forces till then. Soon, the same army was buried in the graveyard of history along-with the commander in chief and his empire.

This is not a fictional story but the real account of the turning point in the history of Adolf Hitler led Nazi Germany. This is not the only example, rather history is filled with such disastrous actions repeated by otherwise brilliant leaders. Refusing to realise ground reality and not saving one’s strength in adversities to fight back later often led to obliteration, as has been the law of nature.

Timing is crucial in politics. But the ongoing fiasco in Islamabad has been a comedy of errors, where political blunders were committed and key opportunities missed. For example, the whole crisis started with the Model Town tragedy for which there was no need or logical basis. Everything was under the government’s control with operation Zarb-e-Azb in place. Though certain PML-N sections claim there was a conspiracy in “police fire” and some firing from the Minhaj secretariat, the decision to send police force to “teach a lesson” to protestors was solely PML-N’s.

When angry protestors who clogged the streets of London were calling for trial and hanging of Tony Blair due to his invasion of Iraq, the British government did not fire, use tear gas or arrest them.

Similarly, there were many missed opportunities. The government denied some logical and basic demands despite making commitments. When the protestors led by Imran Khan were attacked by a mob led by the brother of sitting MPA of PML-N in the constituency of Khurram Dastagir – a powerful MNA deemed close to the PM – there was more bad blood. When the protestors landed with less than expected numbers due to various reasons in extreme weather conditions, key government ministers started mocking instead of showing goodwill by providing food and shelter to co-citizens and Mian Nawaz Sharif taking a delegation to meet Imran Khan at that time. Though some food was sent later on, the moment was missed, and it was returned.

As if that was not enough, brutal police action was used on protestors including women and children. The government’s claim that since protestors had gas masks and sticks, they were akin to dangerous terrorist’ makes one wonder about the state of mind of those in charge. Also an argument was constantly repeated that no one is allowed to protest with cranes, sticks and gas masks anywhere in the world and that prior permission for protests is always taken in the civilised world. Unfortunately even our ‘learned’ electronic media anchors failed to correct this false narrative.

There had been several protests in the west including UK, USA and France where protestors took to streets without any prior permission. The black rights’ movement is a famous part of American history while riots in cities of France including Paris are not too old, and who can forget the infamous million march in the streets of London that choked and effectively closed down the city. None of the above countries used containers to block their own cities or used deadly force to kill the protestors despite even serious havoc in the case of French protests. Yes the protestors are not expected to and should not have sticks or cranes but if we analyse honestly, what are they supposed to do in the face of brutal assaults by the state machinery and road-blocks using containers?

When angry protestors who clogged the streets of London were calling for trial and hanging of Tony Blair due to his invasion of Iraq, the British government did not fire, use tear gas or arrest them. Nor did they use containers to siege entire areas and their own cities. They let the protestors steam off and it ended peacefully. On the other hand when the French authorities used police force to try to quell protests, though avoiding live bullets or cranes for blockades, the protests turned violent and spiraled out of control. This should be a lesson for the government, to let protestors exercise their democratic right of protest instead of using fascist measures that turn protests violent.

When key organisers fail to provide even basic arrangements and when office-bearers could hardly pull out a 100th of the pledged numbers despite widespread support, Imran needs to re-evaluate his options.

Another unfortunate fact is that political divisions in Pakistan have reached the point where it’s believed there are only two views, ones’ own view and the wrong view. This needs to change. Opinion makers, analysts, anchors, leaders and even the general public needs to have an open heart and a receptive brain enabling them to listen and neutrally analyse facts.

The fact of the matter is that PAT never had a widespread following or legitimacy but PTI does command both. Unfortunately despite Imran Khan’s resilience, determination and honesty it has pushed itself in a situation where there are no truly winning options. In such a situation when most of the party is disenfranchised and internal issues warrant serious attention, when key organisers fail to provide even basic arrangements and when office-bearers could hardly pull out a 100th of the pledged numbers despite widespread support, Imran needs to re-evaluate his options.

At the time of writing this we’ve reached a political stalemate, with some positive indications from Shah Mehmood Quraishi’s eloquent address in the joint session of parliament. In the situation detailed above, and with a few dozen elected MNA’s, if Imran can ensure legislation inducing reforms and closing the loopholes in the system, get the election commission reformed and re-constituted with well-reputed and competent officials, and get an independent Supreme Court tribunal to investigate alleged rigging in 2013 elections, it’ll be a very good situation to be in for PTI under the circumstances and the only possible way out of the political impasse Pakistan finds itself in.

What PTI has achieved is unprecedented in Pakistan as thousands of people have braved extreme weather and continue to sit in for three weeks, sacrificing their jobs, family lives and personal comforts for the sake of a merit based system in Pakistan. Let’s hope all this was not for nothing.

Azadi & Inqilab Marches

The following article is published in the Sunday edition (DNA) of Pakistan Today, dated 10th August 2014

(For online version: http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2014/08/09/featured/azadi-and-inqilab-marches/  )

(For published version: Page 8  at:   http://issuu.com/abidoon/docs/dna_issue_36/9?e=3820687/8887323    )

Azadi & Inqilab Marches

Game Over?

By: Omer Zaheer Meer

The author is a Director of the think-tank “Millat Thinkers’ Forum”. He is a leading economist, qualified accountant and anti-money laundering expert with international exposure who can be reached on Twitter and www.myMFB.com @OmerZaheerMeer  or omerzaheermeer@hotmail.co.uk

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) announced its million march towards Islamabad for 14th August calling it the “Azadi” or freedom March whereas “Shiekh-ul-Islam”, “Allama”, Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri’s Minhaj-ul-Quran (MUQ ) cum Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) is yet to announce a date for its “Inqilab” or revolution march towards federal capital. A lot has been written over the past few days about both these marches and hence I’ll focus more on the lesser explored aspects.

While PMLN ministers and supporters are arguing the marches to be unconstitutional, one wonders whether the same would apply to Mian Nawaz Sharif’s long-marches including the one in recent past against the Zardari government on the issue of restoring judiciary which returned from Gujranwala. If they were constitutional, and they were than how can these marches be termed unconstitutional just because they’re against PMLN?

Settling that question, let us examine the two marches. Mr. Qadri’s march has a precedent from the dying days of Zardari rule when hundreds if not thousands of women, children and elderly were kept waiting in dire cold while Qadri was leading from the comforts of what some termed as a “five-star” container. It ended in a non-conclusive and long-forgotten agreement with “Yazeedi” government amidst chants of “Mubarak Ho” “Mubarak Ho” meaning congratulations by “Hussaini” Qadri. Word within sensitive circles has been that a gift from Zardari government amounting to tens of millions of Rupees was awarded to Qadri for “service” of the country via Minhaj ul Quran. It is not too surprising than that during the early hours of Thursday, 7th August while blockade of Model Town was underway, the ex-Interior Minister of PPP, Mr. Abdul Rehman Malik tweeted whether this was a consented action providing face-saving to Mr. Qadri. It may not be so but history has left serious doubts about the intentions, capabilities and persistence of Tahir-ul-Qadri. Perhaps this is one of the main reasons that despite PMLN’s unprecedented blunder of the infamous model town massacre, PAT has not been able to garner the kind of support PTI would have in a similar situation.

Contrary to Dr. Qadri’s controversial image, PTI’s chairman Mr. Imran Khan enjoys a formidable reputation of being honest, upright and steadfast. Though there is a section within PTI as well as some allies including Shiekh Rashid who argue that an alliance should be forged to direct united force towards the incumbent government of PMLN for the sake of achieving political goals. This, however ignore the questionable repute of Tahir-ul-Qadri often criticized for hypocrisy in his statements on religious issues while in Pakistan and 180 degree opposite ones when in west particularly Canada, amongst other things. A lot of the educated and rational populace which forms the core support base of PTI has a very negative view of Qadri and any such alliance would definitely benefit him at the cost of PTI.

Whether PTI and PAT will overcome their differences and eventually forge a united front is something time will tell but for now PTI has played its cards quite right. It has been successful in mounting pressure on PMLN, has united party workers for a common cause, garnered public support and made its position of “stolen mandate” re 2013 elections widely accepted. The government has now approached PTI showing willingness to not only open four constituencies but reform the electoral process too should PTI call-off its “Azadi” march. All of this seems pretty impressive for a party reeling from a huge psychological setback just about a year ago. The problem, however, is that PMLN has made and not kept similar promises before. Hence not many in PTI and certainly not Imran Khan are too willing to take the bait this time.

Seeing that Khan is in no mood to budge or even listen to his old friend Chaudhary Nisar, hawks within PMLN proposed plan B. There were no offers for Tahir-ul-Qadri before either but an FIR for inciting violence and uprising against the state followed by encirclement of his house cum headquarters were a far cry from the response expected from a government still reeling from the infamous Model Town fiasco. But PMLN’s blunders continue with arrests and harassment of not only PAT workers but those from the much bigger threat of PTI.

Infact the crackdown has been harder on PTI whose workers are rounded up in huge numbers while those harassed numbers even more. As if that wasn’t sufficient, thousands of motorcycles including those belonging to ordinary citizens were locked up following an announcement by PTI that 100,000 bicycles will form the vanguard of its march. Add to that PMLN’s plan of closing down fuel supplies close to the march and you have a very scared and immature reaction at hand. As if that’s not enough Islamabad and Model Town Lahore (having both the secretariats of PTI and PAT) are besieged with containers, some of them sand filled.

What these strictures are actually doing is not only motivating the workers of PTI and PAT but also ensuring the incumbent Government is fast losing its moral authority. Arrest of workers and blockades may actually serve to fuel the fire of rebellious passions of the aggrieved masses already reeling with rising inflation and a stifling power crisis. Even if these measures results in a prevention of the marches, that may be a temporary success for the government, not only setting a dangerous precedent for its future but ensuring another future assault on its rule with more vigor and consensus among the opposition. If you remember the underlying just demand of election reforms by PTI, the PMLN’s response in allowing the situation to reach this stage exposes the bewildering state of mind of its decision makers.

Last but not the least; my sources have revealed that the establishment will intervene if the situation gets out of hand. Though the preferred option, a technocrat setup is not decided upon as yet. Perhaps PMLN needs to take a democratic pause and let the people exercise their democratic right to protest.No hell will break loose from that while oppressing it may actually lead to the very results, PMLN government wants to avoid.

As for my sources, they’re not “chiryas” but you may choose your pick from amongst bat, arrow, lion and/or boots.