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.

PTI, PAT vs PML-N: Sagacity in short supply

The following article has been published in the Sunday Edition of Pakistan Today, dated 24th August 2014
(For online version: http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2014/08/23/featured/pti-pat-vs-pml-n-sagacity-in-short-supply/ )

(For Published Version, Page 9:   http://issuu.com/abidoon/docs/dna_issue_38/9?e=3820687/9038422 )

PTI, PAT vs PML-N: Sagacity in short supply

Take the third umpire’s advice seriously

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

A small problem that could’ve been resolved easily has been turned into a national crisis. It’s often said that to understand complex issues one should go back to the root-cause of the problem. The current political crisis began with Imran Khan’s very reasonable demands of investigating four selected constituencies for rigging and taking corrective action for the shortcomings. The government logically asked for same number of PTI won constituencies to be investigated too and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) readily agreed to that. Unfortunately there had been no concrete development on the issue since which has led to the stance of PTI getting much more stiffer with the ultimate demand now of PM Mian Nawaz Sharif’s resignation and mid-term polls under a reformed Election Commission after the alleged “culprits” of rigging in 2013’s General Elections are punished.

The government on its part was worried that if there were any issues to be found in the four constituencies, it may lead to the calls for mid-term polls as the legitimacy of the set-up would be called into questions. However the crisis has lead to exactly that situation and this could’ve perhaps been averted had the Government took positive actions before. What’s been interesting is the changing narrative of the incumbent Government which claimed that it was not authorized to and cannot open up the four constituencies after Chaudhary Nisar, the Federal Minister for Interior agreed to open up “40 constituencies” in National Assembly. However as the crisis peaked, the same Government proposed asking Supreme Court for forming a commission to investigate the allegations of rigging while there were also proposals of bringing “Ordinance” to open up the four constituencies initially selected for audit and verification by Mr. Imran Khan’s PTI.

Certain quarters claim that atleast some of the four key ministers, Speaker National Assembly Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, Federal Minister for Railways Khawaja Saad Rafique, Federal Minister for Planning and Development Mr. Ahsan Iqbal and Federal Minister of Defense Khawaja Asif did not wish to let their “victories” be examined and as such used their influence to push the PMLN Government to a harder line by selling the above narrative within PMLN in order to ensure their own seats were not in danger.

It wasn’t as if the pressure of the campaign re four constituencies by PTI was sufficient to bring matters to the current boiling point. If we recall, things were actually looking quite comfortable for PMLN Government until that fateful incident of Model Town slaughter. Operation “Zarb-e-Azb” was announced, differences with Military Establishment were substantially reduced, public opinion was against protests during such an important operation, PTI had already announced cancellation of its Bahawalpur Jalsa while Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) was about to do so. Than somewhere, someone decided to “teach a lesson” to Mr. Qadri and set an example for opposition as accepted in less straighter words by ex-Minister for Law (Punjab) Rana SanaUllah during television programs. However the operation on Minhaj-ul-Quran cum PAT secretariat to remove barriers backfired and gave blood of unarmed civilians to the opposition. From there on, the anti-government movement gained momentum culminating into “Azadi” and “Inqilab” marches.

That momentum should make one wonder that how the opposition lost the steam going into the marches. PAT was always going to be the determined religious cult beefed up by the Minhaj associated youth and workers. It was PTI who was deemed the bigger player, the game-changer on its own. However over the past eight days what we’ve witnessed, though unprecedented in terms of the determination and zeal shown by PTI supporters, has left many surprised by a less than expected show of power by PTI. So let us examine what exactly went wrong?

Firstly the administration was ill-planned and organizational communication minimal if any. The arrangements were redundant. Several PTI’s office bearers left Islamabad on 15th owing to a lack of even basic arrangements, non-presence of party representatives/organizers and no-communication from party as to the expected arrival of the main procession led by Imran Khan. A prime example of the mismanagement was that despite the extreme weather forecast, the organizers didn’t bother to arrange for even a basic and cheap item like umbrellas which would not only have protected the participants from elements but also provided shade and sense of safety without the need to hold sticks. Furthermore post the infamous intra-party elections, the losing party workers who are in majority as only one of the five to ten contestants won, feel disgruntled. This majority was not taken on board or reached out to. As a result they didn’t attend or work for the success of the “Azadi March” nor did they ask their supporters to do so.

Against all mainstream analysis and despite all the internal setbacks and unprecedented failure of march organizers, Imran Khan’s own determination, resilience and charisma has done wonders in not only getting a very decent number of supporters out but motivating them enough to stay on the streets for an unprecedented eight days till now. Most of the analyst believed that PTI’s supporters were too soft to stay on roads for long and that too in extreme weather conditions. However the determination of highly motivated PTI cadre has been no less than PAT’s religious zealots.

This whole situation, however, has serious implications for the country. The pride and stubbornness of the Government has resulted in missing key moments for resolving the conflict. For fourteen months PTi kept asking for audit of just four constituencies which was ignored, the deadline by Imran Khan during Ramadan was also brushed aside and more foolishly instead of capitalizing on an initially weak show by PTI on arrival in Islamabad, PTI by mocked by key ministers of PMLN. PTI has since gained much of the lost ground. Khan has now repeatedly stated that he won’t accept anything sans PM’s resignation while PM is as likely to resign as Imran is of backing off his own words. The negotiations ended in cruel joke when Government suddenly decided to put up containers back and IG Islamabad was transferred for allegedly refusing to use force on protestors.

While PMLN rightly states that majority of the parliamentary parties are on its side, this stalemate virtually melting down the economy cannot go on forever. If this situation is not resolved amicably, the army will intervene which may even lead to wrapping up of the whole system. The responsibility for such a disaster would lie more with the incumbent government as not only it has the power, authority and responsibility but also more on stake than the protesting parties. It should therefore act more magnanimously to accommodate rather than ridicule PTI and PAT. Letting loose its own workers would only exacerbate the situation more. As the “third umpire” recently said let sagacity and maturity prevail.

Hero of Islamic World Dr. A Q Khan’s Felicitation message for Millat Thinkers’ Forum

Below is the felicitation message sent by Honorable Dr. A.Q. Khan, Hero of the Islamic World & Father of Pakistan’s Atomic Program on the auspicious occasion of the inauguration of the first indigenous, independent and international standard think-tank of Pakistan and Millat-e-Islamiya,

“Millat Thinkers’ Forum”

                               18th July 2014

Mr. Omer Zaheer Meer,                                                                                                              

Director,

Millat Thinkers’ Forum.

 

My dear Meer Sb,    Assalamo Alaikum,

I would like to congratulate you wholeheartedly on the formal inauguration of the Millat Thinkers’ Forum. It was the need of the hour that a forum be established where top professionals, successful businessmen, entrepreneurs, scholars, academics, media personalities, parliamentarians, lawyers, social workers, etc. can have discussions and brainstorm on matters of national importance and inform the public and the rulers of possible recommended solutions.

Most Western countries have such Think Tanks, which play an important role in advising the government on important matters. I hope that the Millat Thinkers’ Forum will be able to play the same positive role in Pakistan.

With my best wishes for the success of your highly commendable and nationally important initiative, I congratulate you once again on this auspicious occasion.

With profound regards.

 

Yours sincerely,

Dr. A.Q. Khan

NI & Bar, HI

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.

Azadi march

The following article is published in the Sunday edition (DNA) of Pakistan Today, dated 13th July 2014

(For online version: http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2014/07/12/featured/azadi-march/ )

(For published version: Page 6 at:   http://issuu.com/abidoon/docs/dna_issue_32/7?e=3820687/8589798  )

Azadi march

Sane heads should prevail, or the fallout can be disastrous

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

Once again Imran Khan takes a stand that will take serious convincing for many even within his ranks to go along. Decisions made out of necessity are understandable, but fully believing in them is an entirely different phenomenon.

Let us revisit some recent history. We’re not prepared for this yet. Think about it, we just had a massive success in Lahore which can go to waste. Going to Karachi after this is just too risky. That’s MQM’s territory. We don’t even have a proper organisational structure there. MQM is too strong and its militants would never allow us to hold a successful “Jalsa”.

These were some of the “rational” responses from senior Karachi-based PTI politicians when Imran Khan’s intent to go to Karachi after the infamous 30th October Jalsa in Lahore was made clear to them. None of them could comprehend it. It just did not make any sense to them. Why take such a big risk when you had it your way and that too after a long wait? Khan’s response to them was not to think what may be lost but rather to think what may be gained. He turned out to be the eventual winner that time. The same story was repeated in different manners earlier in Lahore and later in Quetta, Rawalpindi, Waziristan, etc. All those times he turned out to be a winner though the odds always seemed to be stacked against him.

He has now announced a million-march towards Islamabad on the independence day of Pakistan, 14th August 2014. Many within and outside Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf are questioning the timing for the call of this long-march. They point out the human tragedy unfolding from the displacement of over 800,000 IDP’s (per recent reports), possible ramifications for operation Zarb-e-Azb, and limited time available to prepare for such a mega event. Some even point towards the possibility of another coup.

We need to remember that a million-strong show is something that even PTI, despite its massive popularity, has not achieved to date and if successful would add another dimension to the perception of its street-power, leaving every other party behind by miles.

Khan’s formal stance is straightforward. He’s been asking for verification of votes in four (4) constituencies for over a year to no avail and is not prepared to give this government any more time. Imran’s reason is that if the federal government does not have anything to hide than why did it go to such pains to ensure that the verification of the symbolic four constituencies did not take place? The treatment of the presumably independent ex-head of NADRA is cited as are the verification results of NA-118, proving manipulation and the disgraceful act of stuffing up bags with fake votes, which was proved in court. Furthermore, 14th August holds special significance. The potential for coup seems a distant possibility with over-stretched establishment as well as a relatively active judiciary. Also, Khan seems to believe that the IDP issue has been manipulated by the federal government by keeping not only him but also the provincial government of KPK in the dark regarding the operation, thereby not allowing them to prepare for the fallout. An interesting question here would be how aware and in control of the operation was the federal government, but it warrants detailed analysis.

We need to remember that a million-strong show is something that even PTI, despite its massive popularity, has not achieved to date and if successful would add another dimension to the perception of its street-power, leaving every other party behind by miles.

Having said that, perhaps there is more to this “tsunami” march which was more recently termed “Azadi” march by Imran Khan at an event hosted by PTI Punjab. After all, what difference does waiting for another month make after waiting for fifteen months?

First and foremost, by raising its voice PTI has given an outlet to the masses suffering from rising inflation, high load-shedding during an extremely hot summer and the ever-increasing menace of unemployment. The pressure on the government in Islamabad can be taken to the boiling point. The recent series of successful “Jalsas” have rejuvenated faith of some key leaders within PTI who were badly shaken following the 11th May election results. Also, perhaps lesser known is the fact that internal rifts within PTI have also subsided. As is natural, the key support-base of PTI, particularly the youth, has been motivated to face an external “foe”.

By raising its voice PTI has given an outlet to the masses suffering from rising inflation, high load-shedding during an extremely hot summer and the ever-increasing menace of unemployment.

However what concrete political mileage can PTI gain from this march is not clear to many. What makes sense is the “competition” with Tahirul Qadri. Although not a match for PTI, either in terms of popularity, street-power or even parliamentary strength, Mr Qadri posed the threat of swaying at least some of the PTI support base as well as the disgruntled general populace. By announcing the Azadi march before Qadri, PTI and has out-maneuvered the latter.

There are, however, important considerations that PTI should to take into account too. One key lesson any student of politics can highlight is that mere agitation has never been able to shake any government in Pakistan without the implicit or explicit support of the establishment. As of now, the establishment is not only bogged down in a multitude of serious problems but over-stretched too. The Nawaz government’s relationship with it has also improved and it is not as sour as it was a few weeks ago. If anything, the placating of the establishment, particularly regarding Operation “Zarb-e-Azb” by PMLN, has helped bring them out of the negative ambit they were in. Therefore clarity is needed as to what PTI plans to achieve from this Azadi march politically and what exact road-map they want to follow. Not many seem too certain about it right now.

PMLN’s government is also in a political fix over this issue. If they cede to Imran’s demands they risk opening up a Pandora’s box which may put in question the legitimacy of the entire electoral process and thereby the government itself. If they continue to hide behind technical excuses such as claiming the issue at hand should be dealt by the Election Commission, while pressuring, transferring and even removing key officials including tribunal judges, then they have to face a possible barrage of street protests by the most popular party of the youth of this country. Add to this the Qadri factor and it makes for a perfect quagmire for the incumbent government. How PMLN deals with it would define what course the matter would take. One hopes wisdom prevails and a repeat of the Model Town incident is avoided.