Monday, December 27, 2010

2010 in Review: Between Brilliance, Bizarrity and Buffoonery

Another year has come and gone, and surprise, surprise, Pakistan is still around! So, how did we do this year? Well, for a formal review you should go to a more serious blog/publication. For a more irreverent take, read on as we call out the brilliant, bizarre and buffoons who graced the country in 2010!


2010 was the year Aisam ul Haq broke the long-standing monopoly held by Pakistan's cricketers, by becoming the country's most celebrated sportsman. More than his achievements on court (reaching two Grand Slam finals, becoming the highest-ranked Pakistani tennis player in history), what was more impressive was the manner in which he went about attaining the honors. He partnered with an Indian at a time of great anti-Indian opinion back home, then delivered a stirring, post-match speech at the US Open in New York (great symbolism), and finally topped it of by becoming a UNDP ambassador and visiting flood-affected areas long after the issue had disappeared from public memory. In a difficult year, Aisam gave everyone something to be proud of.

Who takes over the country's Test captaincy, says all the right things in the run up to a critical tour, promises to be a role model to younger players, and then quits after one game? Who else but Mr. Boom Boom himself. That he won this honor over other bizarre freak shows like the Zulqarnain Haider escapade, Ijaz Butt's match fixing counter-accusation-and-then-back down, and his own ball-biting episode in Australia, is a testament to Afridi's religious adherence to eccentricity.

Enough said.

When it is all said and done, the current PPP government will be remembered for orchestrating the most comprehensive constitutional reform in the last 30 years. That they achieved it with broad political consensus made it even more impressive. Kudos to the brilliant Raza Rabbani and the Parliamentary Committee that worked diligently to satisfy all the warring interests and doing what few people thought was possible.

When Pir Pagara, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed joined hands to launch this alliance, many thought the country's political landscape would change. Instead, what followed was the most bizarre sequence of events. First, the Chaudhries backed out of the proposed coalition, to be replaced by their PMLQ rebels (called the 'Like Minded Group' whatever that means). Then Zafarullah Jamali, the proposed leader of the steering committee, resigned after failing to convince Nawaz Sharif (who theoretically would be the party's main opponent) to come on board (?). To add more confusion, the party changed its name to the 'Muttahida Muslim League', and its leader claimed that Bilawal Bhutto would become its secretary. All this while, Pir Pagara's party remains a part of the government and recently said it would not be a part of any attempts to topple it. Seriously, WTF.

We all know that Pakistani governments are corrupt. I mean its a given, like the color of milk is white, and the sky is blue. But which idiot actually goes out and says they 'deserve' their share in corruption? Well, this guy:


Despite a last-minute smear campaign by a despicably-low lobby, Asma Jehangir became the country's first female Supreme Court Bar Association President. Even more importantly, she is the first President in recent times to live up to her job title, and not act as the Court's spokesperson. A woman of character and courage.

A woman petitioned a district court in Lahore against a verse in the lyrics of one of Rahat Fateh Ali Khan's brilliant songs sung in India. She accused the singer of blasphemy and hurting her 'religious sentiments and that of other Muslims'. While there were many blasphemy cases in the country this year (none of which were funny), this one takes the cake for its inanity!

Justice Ijaz Chaudhry of the Lahore High Court banned Facebook in Pakistan for a week after controversial content pertaining to Prophet Muhammad appeared on the site. To be fair to him, thousands of Pakistanis also marched against Facebook and there was a user-led week long boycott of the site as well. That most of these users were secretly on Facebook (yeah, we know you turned off Chat), and would promptly return en mass to the site within a few days ensured that this fiasco left a collective egg on the face of Pakistan.


The addition of two major newspapers in a year has meant an almost claustrophobic wealth of English-language op-eds and opinions. Which makes Cyril Almeida's brilliant weekly column in Dawn even more impressive. Rising over the pervasive clutter with incisive and consistently on-the-mark thoughts, Almeida made Pakistani politics simpler for all of us scratching our heads.

So awesome that we ignore his weird Dawn avatar.

The $200 billion corruption story was plastered across the Internet by all and sundry. In fact, it was possibly the most shared story on my Facebook feed. The sound of billions of dollars of corruption and Asif Ali Zardari had people salivating with anger. If only they had researched more. That's because the instigator of episode was Mr. Shaheen I-Hate-Zardari  Sehbai, reputed for his ridiculously wild brand of journalism. Thankfully, Cafe Pyala was there to puncture the hype and bust Mr. Sehbai and The News' anti-government hormones.

Read this gem of an op-ed by Ansar Abbasi, appropriately titled 'Hypocrite, coward Musharraf blows hot air but will never return', following the launch of Pervez Musharraf's political party. Now we know Mr. Abbasi is not the biggest Musharraf supporter, but this hate letter masquerading as analysis was something else. How this made it to the front page of one of Pakistan's leading English language newspaper is really beyond me. In fact, reading it convinced me that somewhere along the line, the author must have thought of inserting the phrase, 'F**k you Musharraf', but better sense probably prevailed. Because knowing The News' editors, it might just have made it to the papers.


Great story by Sabrina Tavernise on how the lack of taxation is hurting Pakistan.



Excellent rebuttal here.
In a year when a fifth of Pakistanis were affected by the worst humanitarian catastrophe in recent times, many in the country rose to fill the gargantuan hole left by ineffective government. In particular, the Pakistan Youth Alliance, a group of incredible individuals, has worked tirelessly, long after both local and global coverage of the floods faded. As the winter gathers steam, the group continues to function, deliver aid to areas, and belie the notion that Pakistan's youth is aloof. Hats off to you, good sirs.

Watch this Pakistan, and pray something like this comes up next year:

Happy New Year to all!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Imran Khan: The Hypocrisy and the Greatness

After a few jibes from my beloved co-authors of the rickshaw, I finally am getting around to blogging again, but - more than guilt - what got me to blog was an article I read in the paper the other day, which got my blood boiling. I simply HAD to write about it. The one and only Imran Khan the other day was reported in Dawn News, saying Pakistan should wait on hearing the verdict on Asif and Aamer to see if they would be able to participate in the upcoming World Cup. The article is fairly innocuous, and was only really an after-thought in the side of the paper, not headline news or anything. However, it caught my eye and drew my fury. Imran Khan, the supposedly ‘clean’ politician, who has built his utterly unsuccessful political career by taking the high road, is implying that we should welcome back these two bastards with open arms as, “without these two bowlers, our attack is not potent.”

To quickly re-visit the issue of spot-fixing, I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that the 3 players currently under investigation are about as innocent as O. J. Simpson. The only thing that remains to be seen is how harsh the ICC wish to be. In a previous article, I called for jail time for all those involved, though that is unlikely bans seem a certainty at this point. And hopefully this isn’t the PCB style ban which lasts about as long as the attention span of a 2-year old. Yet despite this, Mr. Khan is willing to overlook how these two bowlers shamed the nation and went against everything Pakistani cricket should stand for so that we have a more ‘potent’ bowling attack.

Of course, Imran Khan is not alone in his sentiments and even I will admit that it would be awesome to watch them bowl again. Let us not, however, forget the fact that Aamer and Asif disgraced the nation by participating in unlawful activities to indulge their own personal greed. I can’t think of anything more un-Islamic two representatives of the ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan’ can do.

Now here is what really gets me. Of all the people to be guilty of this oversight, Imran Khan should be the last one. Over the last couple of years, he has become less of a politician and more of a stand-up comedian. All he can ever talk about is Zardari’s corruption. Granted, there is probably no one as corrupt and un-qualified to run a country as our current president, but harping on about it hasn’t done anyone any good. 2 years on and Mr. Zardari sits very comfortably in his home on Constitution Avenue while Imran Khan becomes even more irrelevant on the political scene. I remember one particular talk show where Imran Khan was on alongside a young representative of PPP and Mr. Khan put the simple question to the youngster of how Zardari is the second richest man in Pakistan without ever having worked a day in his life. The young man tried to reply but before he could get two words in, the arrogant ass that is contemporary Imran Khan interrupted him. He seemed so utterly overwhelmed and amused that anyone could even think to defend Zardari. Instead of allowing the guy to trip and fall on his own, Imran Khan decided to hog the limelight and his point was lost in satiating the demands of his burgeoning ego.

I’m rambling on here about my many grievances with Imran Khan but the point is: for a guy who claims to be honest and ridicules others for not being so, it is the height of hypocrisy to be suggesting that Aamer and Asif be considered for team selection. He should instead be condemning their behavior so as to discourage future generations of Pakistani cricketers from going down the same path that Salim Malik, Ata-ur-Rehman, etc. and many others have walked.

The saddest part about Imran Khan is that he truly is a misguided great man. No matter how much stupidity he seems to display he will in my mind - as well as the mind of others - be remembered foremost for his contributions to Pakistan, which include winning a World Cup, building a free cancer hospital, and a university in Mianwali. He was also at the forefront of the flood relief efforts and he is one of - if not the most - trusted figures as far as charity work/philanthropy goes. If I had a million dollars to give to charity, I would give it to Imran Khan. I say all of this not as an afterthought but as a reminder of how great Imran Khan can be, and how hurtful and disheartening it is to see him spend his days doing stand-up comedy of how his dog is insulted by the comparisons to Zardari.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Winner of the 2010 Ballon d'Or!

So I was thinking who would win this year's Ballon d'Or, and I found myself in the same conundrum as many footballers playing against them: who to pick, Xavi or Iniesta? They're both World Cup winners with Spain, everything-possible-winners with Barcelona, and arguably the best midfield duo to have graced the game. Their telepathic exchanges are stuff of legends. So if I were FIFA, I'd do the honorable thing and give it to:


Yeah, both. This might sound silly, but choosing between these two fine men is unjust. Would Xavi be Xavi without Iniesta? Would Iniesta be Iniesta without Xavi? Would Barca or Spain win it all with just one of them? Hell, just watch this:

And that's why FIFA should make an exception this year, and give the award to both of them. Like a joint award. Just say the managers poll was tied or something. I mean they're FIFA, and based on what we saw and heard about the World Cup 2018/2022 selection process, pretty much everything is possible in football's headquarters! This time though, I'm sure the world will understand.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Top 10: Ways in Which Pakistan is Still in the '90s

One of the standard narratives emerging from the 24-hour news channel era is that modern-day Pakistan is a very different country from the past. The frame of reference in this case is the 1990s, the last time the country experimented with democracy. As most political analysts will tell you it is a very different country. It has a lot more people to start off with. Add to that a shift in geographic, economic and cultural trends, and you cannot help but embrace the whole idea.

But how much has Pakistan actually changed? Perhaps more importantly, how much have those who matter in Pakistan changed? A good way to check is to compare events, headlines and popular perceptions between the two eras. Here's a list of 10 such things we heard most often in the 1990s. We hear these today as well, albeit in different shapes and forms. It might just be me, but there is certainly a case for some irony here.

To be clear, this is not a list of our opinions. It’s just what the standard narrative was back then. Now keep in mind some of the stuff you hear today, and compare how similar it sounds to the 90s. Whether this is history repeating itself, is a question we'll leave for you to answer. Without further ado, let's get into the time machine:

1. The PPP is no longer the party of Bhutto

BB is nothing like her father. She is corrupt, inept and has sidelined all her father's closest advisors. This party is doomed and will be wiped out in 5 years max.

2. The MQM is Evil

The MQM is an establishment-run mafia controlling Karachi via gunpoint. Their hobbies include ethnic warfare, listening to Altaf bhai's speeches and dreaming about entering Punjab.

3. Nawaz Sharif is with the with the with the Saudis..or US..

No one has a clue who Nawaz Sharif is with. It might be entirely possible that he is cahoots with all four of those actors. I mean at one point during his second reign, he handed the civilian administration to the Army, declared intentions to become the Amir-ul-Momineen and was also BFFs with Bill Clinton. All at the same time. Or perhaps different times. No one knows. Speculation is that neither does he.

OK, maybe some things have changed.
4. The Army has rebuilt its image and is back in control

After the disastrous decade of Zia’s dictatorship, which ended with mass protests and a yearning for democratic rule, the military retreated to the barracks. Within months though, it has not only rehabilitated its image but also grabbed control of its favorite toys, the defense and foreign ministries. For good measure, it has also brokered a conclusion to a political dispute involving the judiciary, Prime Minister and President (circa 1993). Not surprisingly, many are calling for an outright coup.

Sometime in the future.
5. The Judiciary is a political actor

It is used various times by the government, military and by the President to undermine, dismiss or even restore incumbency. The relationship between the government and the Supreme Court is uncomfortable with the constant threat of corruption charges being taken up by the apex court. Prominent examples include 1993 and 1998.

6. Extremism and militancy threaten the soul of the country

Shias and Sunnis are killing each other. Extremist organizations are gaining strength, most enjoying the patronage of the intelligence agencies. There is an assasination attempt on the life of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The world fears what a fundamentalist-run Pakistan would look like.

7. The economy is in the midst of an IMF-overseen disaster

The combination of the IMF's austerity plan and a clueless Finance Ministry has ensured that the economy is moving laterally, not forward or backward. There is a debt crisis on the horizon and soon the only way to get out of the IMF's grip will be to take on another IMF plan.

8. Our eyes are on India but our legs are in Afghanistan

According to the concept of strategic depth, we must have a pliant government in Kabul to achieve the GHQ’s dream of parity with New Delhi. Except that Kabul is a quagmire and New Delhi is and will always remain a bigger, stronger entity. Crucially, no one in the GHQ is concerned about the domestic repurcussions of this policy. So while the country is awash in guns and drugs, the generals barter for more F-16s and geopolitical recognition for their role in Afghanistan.

9. The best cricketer in the land is a left-arm fast bowler with a secret power

Wasim Bhai is the finest left-arm fast bowler in the world. He wins a World Cup at a very young age and then proceeds to destroy England in a Test series. He also has a 'secret power’. And no, it’s not that inswinger.

Wasim bhai and some dude who also bowls left-arm fast.
10. The Jang Group is a (insert curse word here)

Yeah. They always were.

Postscript: So yeah, some things never change. Or they do, but via design or accident, are pulled back to look like replicas from history. Next time: 10 Ways Pakistan has Changed from the 1990s!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Change Can Happen... just need Photoshop. Or, in the case of the esteemed Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), just Microsoft Paint.

Now, in case you've grown tired of tire-burning lawyers and haven't been keeping up with developments in the legal world, let me give you the background: polling for the SCBA executive council elections are today, which is particularly interesting since it pits human rights activist Asma Jehangir against the right-wing 'Professional Group.'

But the elections themselves aren't as fascinating as the election poster they've put up on the website (

Why does it look familiar?

Is it:
(1) the red-and-white stripes of the American flag in the top-right corner?
(2) the all-too-familiar and hopeful message of "change"?
(3) the African-American man raising a hand to acknowledge the struggle of lawyers?
(4) The Caucasian dude pointing out the failures of the PPP government?

Now let's look at another picture:

Indeed, sir, change can happen.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Help Me Help Fatima Bhutto!

There was a time when a lot of people thought that Fatima Bhutto was the future of the Bhutto dynasty and, by extension, the future of Pakistan itself. After all, she was smart, articulate, popular, pretty (hey, just saying) and mercifully lacked the ego-maniacal gene of her family. Did I mention she was critical of Pervez Musharraf when most of us were in a love affair with him? That she wrote a beautiful collection of poetry about the 2005 earthquake? Clearly an ideal future leader, right? Well, not quite.

This story starts the day Asif Zardari became Pakistan's President and Fatima's world (and some say her brain) turned upside down. Zardari is the man she blames for her father's assasination; Mir Murtaza was tragically killed in a  'police-encounter' during Benazir Bhutto's second reign. Despite sufficient evidence, the allegations were never proven in court and as Fatima's half of the family watched in anguish, Zardari not only found himself out of bars, but then miraculously traded prison for presidential palace.

Not suprisingly this did not sit well with dear ol' Fatima. But few would have imagined how her immaculate public composure would plummet. Her incisive columns in The News turned into meaningless rants against a toothless and rather new government. The fact that she did it from the platform of a staunch PPP opponent made the critique biased and ruthless. Everything from the lack of public schools to the proliferation of mosquitoes in the country was blamed on the Presidency. Interview conversation switched from her knowledge of the country's problems to her childhood trauma. Loyal followers (and there were many) grew tired, some started turning away and others (me) started complaining.

So like every self-respecting journalist (which is what she calls herself) faced with an objective dilemma, she did the obvious. She decided to write a book! Now I didn't read the book myself, but based on her last few columns, I have a very strong hunch that it is more or less composed of three lines:

Benazir and Zardari had my father killed.
Benazir and Zardari really had my father killed. 
Benazir and Zardari actually had my father killed.

The cover of Fatima's book. Kidding!

Suffice to say, few read the book. Most domestic reviewers gave it scathing reviews. To make matters worse, the West had an opposite view, devouring it as a heroic tale. The global feting and book signings convinced Fatima of a pre-conceived conspiracy against her back home. Hence, she stopped talking to Pakistani journalists or writing in Pakistani publications altogether. The News was out, The Daily Beast was in. When that didn't sit well, she went on to claim that everyone in Pakistan criticising her was actually a PPP agent. When Declan Walsh, the Guardian's Afghanistan- Pakistan editor, joined the chorus, Fatima called him a PPP agent too. At this point, no one seemed immune from being labelled an agent of the country's largest political party. Many wondered who'd be next to receive the treatment from Fatima's famous Twitter account.

Three names came to mind:

1. Cafe Pyala, a blog that called out Fatima for getting her anthropology wrong. They are anonymous too, a hallmark of PPP supporters and of course agents too.
2. Mohammad Asif, a man who brought shame to Pakistan via his corruption. Just like another guy. Who also shares his name, starting with an A? Get it? Good.
3. Five Rupees, who admitted to being on the PPP payroll, and once even put it on top of their blog! Jeez. Also, switched from a popular, easy-to-access blog to an ugly, impossible-to-comment-on blog. Much like what Zardari did to the PPP.

But then somewhere along the line I also feel sorry for Fatima. I mean, what is she supposed to do? As a journalist people question her objectivity. As an author, they question her creativity. As a politician, they question...wait what she's a politician too?! Well, she's a Bhutto so you cannot not be a politician, and despite poor Fatima's dreams of being an apolitical crusader, by her own admission she was campaigning for her mother's party when Benazir was assasinated.

So readers, the question is what should Fatima do now? I don't want her to be irrelevant and a laughing stock. She's too good (and pretty) for that. Plus, the other Bhutto kids are kind of uncool, and not fun to talk about. So it really would be a tragedy if she just fell flat. I suggest a career change. On top of my head I could think of three possible ones: 

1. She should become a full-fledged politician ala Sassi Palejo or Marvi Memon. Both of them make a lot of noise, and in the grand scheme of things are rather irrelevant, but they're still important. If that makes sense.
2. She should join the ISI's Zardari Defamation League. She'll have friends there too! i.e: the entire staff of her former employer, The News.
3. If all else fails, she could ask Shoaib Mansoor to replace Iman Ali with herself. She looks like her, and could have pulled off Iman's hilariously bad British accent in Khuda Kay Liye better than her. Fact.

There's still hope Fatima. Atleast, I'm pulling for you!

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Change Pakistan Needs...Now!

So while I have been lazy and not writing anything, my cousin has been at it and came up with this interesting article about the need for more competence in the civilian government:

Pakistan is at a very crucial junction in her short and warped history. With the annual monsoon rains wreaking havoc and the armed forces stretched thin from providing relief to citizens from floods and militants, we are at our wits end. The irony here is that the political elite ceases to wake up and smell the rotten political air that has clouded Pakistan. Bickering over whether the Army should take over or how corrupt the current crop of politicians are, seems to have become a permanent feature in our national discourse. But the real question to be asked is – how do we pick ourselves up once our political elite has pounded us into the ground?

Why are 180 million held hostage to our politicians? With the National Reconciliation Ordinance hovering in the background in 2008, mixed with the unfortunate assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the PPP managed to garner enough votes to form the Federal government. They started of by installing the largest cabinet in history with tens of Federal Ministers, along with granting Minister-at-large status to many PPP stalwarts. I believe that although these Ministers carried with them a vote from the people, their appointment to some of the crucial Ministries is questionable, and detrimental.

In a Parliamentary form of democracy, the Prime Minister enjoys the right to appoint any elected politician to a particular ministry. Why does our democratic system – which should epitomize transparency and accountability – not have a vetting process for those members nominated to take charge of critical ministries? Why has such a process been absent from our political discourse when appointing Federal Ministers?

What needs to be condemned is the lack of professionals taking part in the political process. There are over 60 members of Parliament who enjoy the status of a Federal Minister within Pakistan today. Unfortunately, only a few are technocrats who have secured a portfolio to bring back Pakistan from the abyss. Information and Technology, Commerce, Industries & Production, Law, Education are only a few Ministries that require the need for adept candidates. These Ministries need to be taken over by qualified, skilled professionals who know the intricacies of such dense portfolios. Leaving them to be looked after by shrewd politicians will only confine us to the black hole we are stuck in today.

The question then arises, how should professionals be incorporated into the political system where they match the legitimacy of those who have secured a mandate from the electorate? A few options come to the forefront. First, technocrats become part of the ballot and seek votes to become a Member of Parliament. The second option is to enhance the capabilities of the Civil Service, which has brutally been ignored over the years and is currently being left to rot. Such an institution would groom competent and proficient individuals who would have the capacity to run the affairs of Ministries that require delicate attention. The third alternative is an amendment to our Constitution that would empower the Parliamentary Committees. This would allow elected officials to thoroughly scrutinize a nominee for a Federal Minister. Such individuals could be political or apolitical, but will gain legitimacy after having being vetted by those representing the electorate. Introducing this clause can provide specialization of labor, demand for greater qualifications and increase the quality of those seeking to be Ministers.

The above-mentioned solutions to our fractured Parliamentary system are farsighted but not out of reach. However, with the current state of affairs, we need to achieve a more viable resolution that would reform the current battered methodology of appointing Ministers.

Pakistan is not deficient in professionals. For the fiscal year 2010, Pakistan received $8.906 billion in the form of remittances. In order to bring about a game-changing solution – by addressing issues of the middle class – the Federal government (political parties) needs to seek out professionals. The Senate could be used to elect certain professionals in order to allow them to become part of the Cabinet. Thus, political parties need to utilize their political capital and assist proficient individuals in securing votes.

By bringing professionals into the arena, the Federal government can create efficiency within the Cabinet, free itself from big governance, empower the middle-class, gain public support and have a better chance of getting re-elected in the general elections. Such a move would allow elected members to devote greater time in their constituents (the reason for their election) by addressing social issues, while not having to delve on the intricacies of running critical Ministries.

The practice of placing subordinates to essential Ministries – who will toe the party line and uphold the status quo – can only cause more damage to a weakened nation. Our feeble and fragile democratic system needs to be challenged, but challenged through the political system. The Army is not a solution – and those with ranks on their shoulders need to be kept at bay. It is due to the incompetence of many Ministries across the board that has increased the call for a change in government. I am not endorsing such a policy, as it would be detrimental for the country - at this point in time. What Pakistan requires is a change within the political set-up that would cater to public sentiment and give power to an evaporated middle-class.

Monday, September 27, 2010

TBR: Last Week In Charts

So I’m trying out a new kind of post: compressing the week gone by into charts.

Why am I doing this? Maybe because it makes the three of us look smart. But mostly because it’s amusing and I admit I wanted to test out some new graphs and models before I tried them out at work.

The events I chose from the past week are as follows, listed by alphabets:

A. Ejaz Butt and his foot-in-mouth moment;
B. Petrol scarcity across Pakistan;
C. Violence in Karachi following the murder of Imran Farooq;
D. SC -warranted arrests of Brig. Imtiaz, former head of Intelligence Bureau/OGDC MD;
E. PPP reconsiders alliance with MQM;
F. Pakistan’s economic ranking falls;
G. PILDAT study of MNA assets and reaction from politicians;
H. Faculties protest, shut down universities over higher ed. cuts;
I. Introduction of private high treason bill in NA;
J. PAC denied information over ambiguous ISI spending;
K. NATO admits to pursuing militants across Pakistan border;
L. PM discusses future of Pakistan with Bilawal;
M. Alliance of PML factions suggested;
N. Musharraf reported to enjoy widespread support in Pakistan;
O. Indian FO offers talks with Pakistan over Kashmir;
P. Aafia Siddiqui sentenced to 86 years in jail;
Q. New competition bill passed;
R. Minister Jatoi sacked for remarks on Army, CJ; and
S. NRO beneficiaries reported to face axe.


First, here’s graph 1, which maps out the progression of political drama as the week went by (click image to enlarge).

How to read the graph: The high-drama events are shown by a dark-blue bar that heads upwards. The low-drama events (the ones you would want to see hyped, debated and deliberated but weren’t) are shown by lighter-blue bars headed downwards from the top of the dark-blue bars, cutting into the total drama. The letters used in the list above correspond to the relevant bars in the graph.

So, some interesting points to note: drama last week was at its lowest when university faculty rallied against cuts to higher education funding, shutting down university campuses across the country. At the same time during the week, the opposition introduced a rather controversial bill that, if passed, would allow citizens to initiate legal proceedings against individuals for high treason.

The high point, on the other hand, comes at the end of the week: with news that Pakistanis now support Musharraf overwhelmingly being followed by the Afia Siddiqui verdict, Minister Jatoi’s sacking and the news that NRO beneficiaries may be headed out of the government.

At the end of it all, we see that cumulative drama was +190, which shows that our politicians are drama queens and we are a willing audience.


Now let’s translate this graph into another (graph 2) to see how hype corresponded with actual significance (click image to enlarge).

In this graph, look at quadrant IV – here are the usual suspects: higher education, the economy and changes to legal frameworks. These are all aspects that actually count and make a difference in the way the state interacts with people.

Quadrant II has important political developments, which actually shows that about half the things causing a frenzy last week were actually important.

Then there’s quadrant I: the useless consultations with Bilawal, Ejaz Butt putting the proverbial foot in the mouth, issues of sovereignty as NATO admits to crossing over the Pakistan border (face it, it’s probably happened before) and, of course, Afia Siddiqui. These are the things that captured our imaginations but had little real significance.


The lesson: I’ll leave you free to draw your conclusions. But there’s one overarching lesson – obvious but often forgotten – to be drawn from all of this: that the developments that draw the least attention in the media and the political scene are often the ones most significant.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Standing Up for the Wrong Reasons

While surfing the news this morning I came across two stories dominating the American news scene which were focused on the ‘radical’ perspective.

First, BBC’s headline ‘Obama condemns Koran burning plan’ and in the subsequent two lines that follow the headline to draw the reader in ‘US President Barack Obama says a small church's plans to burn the Koran are a "recruitment bonanza" for al-Qaeda.’ Now while I applaud President Obama’s stance to condemn such an awful, disgusting act the take away point here is not the ‘recruitment bonanza’ the Al-Qaeda is going to have. The planned burning of the Quran is a slap in the face of every Muslim not only in America but everywhere around the world. It is wrong to do because it is insensitive, disrespectful and quite honestly appalling to even be thought of. It is also furthers the growing misconception in America of equating Islam and Muslims with terrorism.

Now to be fair, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda members do claim to be Muslims but as far I or any other Muslim with half a brain are concerned, they are the farthest thing from it, and we must make a concentrated effort for people to realize that. By burning the Quran to denounce terrorism, one automatically equates the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims as terrorists. That is wrong, and that is why this pastor should be stopped, by persuasion and legal methods of course. What the international media and in particular the American media seems to be focusing on is that the pastor should be stopped so as not to add further fuel to fire that is Al-Qaeda. The impression that one gets is that the main and perhaps only reason to not burn the Qurans is so that Al-Qaeda doesn’t have more incentive to carry out attacks. The fact that American lives are at risk more because of this is an unfortunate truth, and it is not just American lives, Iraqis, Afghans and Pakistanis suffer the most casualties as far as terrorism is concerned.

But that is not a reason to do anything, one point I do agree with this deranged Florida pastor on is that we cannot bend to the terrorists will. So don’t take their feelings into consideration. Don’t burn the Quran because it is wrong, not because it will cause Al-Qaeda and others to have more incentive carry out more attacks, but because you offend an entire population of 1.2 billion people. In fairness to President Obama, I do believe that was his main point, and he added the ‘recruitment bonanza’ point as a side note, but that is the point the press seemed to latch upon.

The second piece of news that I came across was in relation to the ongoing saga ‘Park 51’ or the ‘Ground Zero mosque’. Now enough has been said and written about this already but this latest piece in the New York times describes how again the Imam of the mosque says that changing of location could ‘spur radicals’. Refer to all arguments above for why the focus of any policy decision should not take the Al-Qaeda perspective into consideration. Park 51 should not be moved because the developers have every constitutional right to build a community center. It is further away from ground zero than a prayer center that already exists, and about the same proximity to ground zero as some fast food joints amongst other things.

But you all have heard these arguments before, the point here is that why is the Imam talking about how Al-Qaeda will react to changing the location. If we start to thinking about what the radicals want in every step of our lives, might as well move to Mecca for the rest of our lives. Just a sidenote about the imam, described as at one point radical by various American news channel, he closed his Larry King Live interview from which the New York Times article was based on by wishing all Jews a happy Rosh Hashana. Wow, real radical stuff there Imam.

The purpose of the article is not to undermine the threat that radicals pose. President Obama and Imam Rauf are probably spot on in their thinking of how the Al-Qaeda and similar organizations will react to the burning of the Quran or moving of Park 51, but we cannot let that dictate how a policy decision should be made, one way or the other.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Top 10: Myths About Pakistan's Cricket Scandal

As Pakistan's cricketers find themselves in a hole due to spot-fixing charges, a disappointed fan base has gone from being angry, to being ashamed, and finally into downright denial about the whole episode. I'm not saying the cricketers are guilty, but there is plenty of evidence, and unfortunately most of it points in one direction. Here are ten things I've heard, all of whom portray an incorrect version of what is going on. Most of it is common sense, but then not a lot of people seem to see through that lens when it comes to cricket.

10. The 'innocent until proven guilty' defense. 

How wonderfully convenient. Going by this logic, guess who else is innocent? Yeah, this guy:

Also, innocent until proven guilty?
How many of us have not taken potshots at him in the last 2.5 years? Didn't quite remember the golden ideal of law then did we? There is enough evidence against Butt & co. to guarantee an interrogation by EVERYONE - that means the media and you and me.

9. This is an elaborate conspiracy to bring down Pakistan cricket.

Unless I was sleeping all this time, Pakistan isn't the West Indian team of the 80s or the Aussies of the previous decade. In fact, this is a team that has won a grand total of 1 Test match in the last 3 years, until this summer. There does not need to be a conspiracy to bring them down. They're pretty down already.

8. This ALWAYS happens to us on tours to England.

For starters, we've been accused of ball-tampering in England, but never of match-fixing. In any case when something wrong does happen to us on tours to England, we've fought for it and come out on the winning side. At the Oval in 2006 Inzamam took the right stand, because he was innocent, and eventually Pakistan cricket came out with its head held high. Ditto Wasim and Waqar in 1992 and Imran vs Botham before. If Butt & co. were innocent, they would've done an Inzamam and come out with guns blazing protesting their innocence. Instead, the crisis is a good 7 days old and not yet have any of the accused come out and said three simple words: 'I am innocent'. That says alot.

7. News of the World is a trashy tabloid. Don't believe in it.

Contrary to popular opinion, Mazhar Majeed did not come on the media's radar via NotW. He came on it via good ol' Jang. In a report on July 27th, veteran journalist Abdul Majid Bhatti clearly pointed at Majeed and warned that he was involved in match-fixing with the team. So the buck started at home, not NoTW. In any case, Mazhar Mahmood, the reporter at NoTW, who uncovered this saga, has a pretty good resume in this craft. He has helped blow the lid of British parliamentarians and the country's immigration policy amongst other things. Most of these stories proved to be true. So I wouldn't base my opinion simply around a newspaper's reputation.

6. The video could have been dated after the no-balls were bowled.

Does it not occur to anyone that if we were smart enough to think of this point, it would also be the FIRST thing the Scotland Yard might have also looked at? Unless, you think the Yard is also part of the conspiracy, at which point you should stop reading this.

5. This is a RAW conspiracy to use Indian bookies and bring down Pakistan.

Head, meet wall.

4. Mohammed Aamer is a kid, he didn't know what he was doing.

My 12-year old sister thinks what Aamer did was wrong. If she can think of this, so can Aamer. Should he be banned for life? I don't think he will, because the ICC's laws take past record and a player's age into account, but for God's sake, stop pretending as if he's a little kid who did not know what he was doing. If anything his precocious talent and off-field interviews show that he's not a naive, shorts-wearing, lollipop-eating infant many in Pakistan are projecting him as.

3. A lack of education and a village background is responsible for corrupting cricketers.

Two words: Salman Butt. The alleged ringleader of this scam is an educated, relatively affluent Lahori boy from Beaconhouse (one of Pakistan's best schools). Greed is universal, not restricted by education or income. In any case, saying that what Asif and Aamer did was because they were raised in a village is an insult to the 60% of Pakistan's population who live in rural areas, and make a living of honest means.

Not very uneducated, or is he?
2. It's just 4 or 6 guys, the rest are OK.

If it was so easy for an 18-year old to cheat, I doubt if someone older and more experienced wouldn't dab into this once in a while. This is when you feel sorry for Butt & co. Everyone was doing it forever, it was just they who got caught.

1. Pakistan cricket is ruined.

In my 15 years as a fan I have seen Pakistan cricket 'ruined' more times than I can remember (often in the space of a few months!). Each time we grew a crop of talented players, beat an England or an Australia, won a tournament or two and all was good. Rest assured, it's gonna be this way again. As the 'who-the-hell-is-she' individual in this scenario, Asif's ex-girlfriend Veena Malik, says, there is a 'Mohamamd Asif in every street of Pakistan'. She's right ( though I feel highly disturbed at the thought of agreeing with her). Point is, we lost a couple of fast bowlers, we'll get more. If we can replace Wasim and Waqar within months of their retirement, we can replace Asif and Aamer in much, much less time. Have some faith.

In the end, just to clarify, I'm not passing a judgement on the players' fate. I just feel those defending them need to be more creative (and realistic).

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Case for Pakistani Authors in Op-Ed Pages

Among the aspects of the international coverage of Pakistan's catastrophic floods appears to be an increased appetite for perspective from the country's stellar cast of fiction writers. Hence, opinion pages of the New York Times, The Guardian and the Financial Times have recently featured the likes of Mohammed Hanif, Mohsin Hamid, Daniyal Mueenuddin and Kamila Shamsie.

This makes for interesting reading, primarily because much of the conversation in the Western press usually revolves around the country's militancy problem, and is thus dictated by journalists, political scientists and policy-makers.

The writers trained in those disciplines provide great insight and analysis, but are often hampered by an inability to capture the humanitarian angle. Some rely exclusively on cold, hard numbers (i.e. 20% of Pakistan is under water), others use a token quote from a randomly-selected subject. The focus is on establishing facts. The faces that make up those facts don't really figure.

That makes for compelling reading for someone who goes through 12 newspapers everyday and understands the difference between North and South Waziristan. But for the vast majority who don't, such analysis is informative but disengaging, and thus ultimately ineffective.

Which is why during a tragedy as vast and destructive as the floods, it is good to see fiction writers capturing the raw humanity of the crisis in thoughtful prose. It might be fluff for those who formulate policy, but for the rest of the world it is eye-opening and often underpins donor aid, based on the sheer emotion it elicits.

Of course, not everyone agrees. Cafe Pyala recently featured an argument against the exclusivity (a valid claim but one that I feel has more to do with the international reputation of the authors rather than a bias against others) and naivety of fiction writers on opinion pages. The core of this argument was:
The more insidious problem is that some of these writers end up believing their own hype and think they actually have it all figured out, going beyond humanizing stories with anecdotes and observation to presenting solutions. So we have Shamsie blaming these floods on the timber mafia, Hanif trying to make a point against the Taliban scare by claiming that there is no indigenous word for terrorism in Sindhi or Seraiki, and Mueenuddin raising the specter of the radicalization of and revolution by the displaced and hungry to explain why those people should be helped out.
In a way Pyala is correct. Those solutions are not backed by facts or meticulous analysis. They are simplistic, and often, miss the point altogether.

What they do though, is broaden the narrative about Pakistan for those in the West who don't have an interest in its complexities. Let's put it this way: say you're a casual reader who comes across an op-ed about Lithuania written by an economist. He describes in detail the bond spreads, balance of payments and industrial productivity of the country. Assuming you don't have a sound grip over economics,how much of this would you take away at the end of the article?

Hence, when Hamid says that the tax net should be broadened, an economist might nitpick at the simplicity of his statement (like I do), but I don't believe it is wrong, either. If anything, I believe the average reader might pay more attention to it if it comes on the back of his vivid observation of inequality, rather than a purely economic argument I might make.

A further example of this comes during an anecdote in Ali Sethi's journey in a flood-ravaged part of the country, published last week in the New York Times. He writes:
In one place our car ran into the flood. It was swallowing the road. There was another way out — a six-hour drive west to the city of Quetta. Unfortunately, Baluch separatists had struck: they were stopping vehicles, pulling out Punjabi passengers and shooting them. Most of the men in our crew weren’t Punjabis, and they took that route. But I am a Punjabi, as are two of the reporters, and we had to find another way.
This identifies a problem of critical importance, ethnic disconnect, contextualized in a manner that embeds it into the current conversation about the floods. As a result, it also introduces the issue into the wider discourse on Pakistan, specifically amongst the uninformed, but also amongst those who might have lost sight of it in lieu of the more pressing issue.

Perhaps such a matter could have been explained better by a historian or a political scientist. 9 out of 10 times  it probably would have been entrusted to them. But in the backdrop of a human tragedy, and with Pakistan's sympathy deficit as it is, let's just say I'd rather have Mohammed Hanif on the op-ed pages than Ayesha Siddiqa.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Another Dark Day for Pakistan Cricket

The last time I wrote about Pakistan cricket we had just beaten the Aussies in a test match after 15 years. What a different story this time around. For those of you not up to speed on the matter, members of the Pakistan team have been accused of spot-betting, that is, they acted in certain ways that were told to them before the test match in return for money. Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif, the two star bowlers of the cricket team bowled no balls at specific times, these times were disclosed by Mazhar Majeed, the agent orchestrating the whole thing to an undercover ‘News of the World’ reporter. Salman Butt and Kamran Akmal are also involved as well as three other unknown Pakistanis.

What a bloody disgrace. Salman Butt’s statement that at the moment these are simply ‘allegations’ are the furthest thing from the truth I have ever heard. It is a fact that spot-betting took place with at least the four mentioned people and most likely even more involved. What the investigation must now uncover is to what extent have the Pakistani team members been involved in match fixing. According to the bible magazine of cricket, Salman Butt was asked straight up at the press conference if the Sydney Test was fixed. He declined to comment. He was asked if he was innocent, he declined to comment. He was asked if he would resign the captaincy his response was ‘why?’ Why? WHY? I’ll tell you why. Because you have disgraced a country at a time when we needed cricket the most. In the post match ceremony of the previous test that Pakistan actually won, Salman Butt dedicated the win to the flood victims and said they would try to win the next test for the flood victims as well. Is this what you mean by dedicating a victory? Taking money to ensure spot-betting took place? He claims no allegations against him have been leveled besides having his name thrown about in the media. Really Salman, you being the one bloody semi-educated chap on the team can’t figure this one out? Mazhar Majeed clearly said that Aamer will bowl the first over and Asif will bowl the tenth. Sure anyone could tell you that with 90% certainty, but Mazhar guaranteed that will happen. The only person who can guarantee that Aamer would bowl the first over and Asif the tenth is our glorious captain, Salman Butt. So there is your allegation dumb ass.

Wahab Riaz’s name is somehow escaping the media by and large. Even loyal cricket supporters may be confused by that name. Wahab Riaz who just made his debut in the last test match is also involved. Included in the ‘News of the World’ report is a video where he exchanges jackets with an agent, the one he gets in exchange for his has a nice wad of cash in the inside pocket which was clearly shown to him before the switch took place. Wow, a guy who has played two test matches is already knee deep in shit.

The most heartbreaking part of this whole fiasco is the confirmed involvement of the 18 year old Aamer. Billed as the next Wasim Akram, Aamer has exploded onto the international cricket scene in the last year and has been a joy to watch. Yet here is, knee deep in shit. According to reports in the local media, the agents link to Aamer was through Asif, who I will get to in a bit. On Express News yesterday, reports suggested that Asif, being a well known bastard of the first order, was initially contacted exclusively to indulge in spot-betting. He was then asked how well he knew Aamer, and that is where the youngster got roped in. Now, objectively viewing the situation, if an 18 year old thrust into fame coming from a poor background was offered 20 lakh rupees simply to bowl one no ball, you could understand why he would say sure, why not. It is by no means acceptable, this was only the start, maybe by next year he would be willing to throw away the World Cup final. However, out of all of those involved, he is the least accountable, which means he deserves to be pelted with stones and not bullets.

The involvement of Aamer in this brings to my next point. Team manager Yawar Saeed said that Pakistan is not institutionally corrupt. Really? Is that why a debutant and an 18 year old are involved in spot-betting? Is that why the captain and vice-captain of the team are involved, because we are NOT institutionally corrupt? Bull. Shit. The PCB is under the Government of Pakistan, which is the most corrupt body on the planet. Pakistan is the only country to have had more than one person banned for life for match fixing, Saleem Malik and some nobody called Ata-ur-Rehman. Of course there was the Qayyum report with hero no. 1 in Pakistan, Wasim Akram heavily involved. Our current coach Waqar Younis has had his name thrown in the mix, along with everyone and there brother in the Pakistan cricket team (Im serious about the brother part, Wasim Akram’s brother is an alleged bookie). So yes, the PCB is most definitely institutionally corrupt, get it out of the governments control, get rid of this moron Ijaz Butt, who as far as I can tell his only qualification is being related to the current Defense Minister.

I round off this piece by putting before you the chief culprit of it all and moving on to suggested punishments. Our captain is as much if not more to blame than in this, except for maybe the no. 2 ranked ICC Test bowler, Mohammad Asif. The swine has already been caught TWICE for doping with the same substance AND he has been held prisoner in Dubai for a couple of days for possessing opium. If you are a bookie and you want to get a foot in the door with the Pakistan team, the first person you go to is Mohammad Asif and that is exactly what happened. The professional thief was even bargaining his price for his involvement in the spot betting nonsense. It is fitting then to lead off my suggestions for what should happen that I start with none other than Mohammad Asif. People have called for repeating the horror scenes of the Sialkot lynching for the Pakistan cricket team. Now while that may be slightly over-doing it, it is a symbol of the anger people have.

So justice must be done. Asif should get the maximum punishment. On Sky News it was said that the maximum punishment by law for fraud is 10 years in jail, so that is what he should get. And he should be kept in jail there, not here, here he will just find his way out like he has with all the other shit he has done. Salman Butt should also get the maximum punishment. Kamran Akmal’s involvement is still unclear, but he sure as hell is guilty and a very senior player, so 5 years should do it. Aamer is young and a first time offender but he needs to serve time, 2 years I think, after which he should be allowed to return to the game of cricket if so chooses. Wahab Riaz is a nobody, ban him for life, get him behind bars and honestly I don’t care for how long. As for the current series, call the entire Test squad home and have an investigation to who else was involved. In the mean time, send the Pakistan A team to join Afridi to play out the rest of the tour. God only knows if Pakistan cricket will ever recover from this.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Glass Half Full

I've said plenty of mean things about Pakistan's media in my time, but I can truly say that they have proved me wrong with their coverage of the recent floods, and to a lesser extent, the lynching of innocent boys in Sialkot.

Cameras and reporters were quick to arrive on the ground in affected areas. The real-time information served the dual purpose of directing attention where it was needed, while providing a warning to areas where the flood appeared to be heading. In the process the tragedy was transmitted into our homes and worldwide where it took time to register.

Analysts were spot on with their criticism, whether it be on the President's European adventures, the initial weakness of the response in comparison to the 2005 earthquake or the apathy of the international community.

The media's pressure greatly contributed in turning these wrongs into rights. The President and his government slowly moved into action (not as we would have hoped of course but better than their preliminary slumber), the Pakistani public, especially the youth, mobilized brilliantly, and the world was shamed into opening its wallets.

IVS Flood Victims Support is an initiative by Students Council and Rahnuma at the Indus Valley School or Art and Architecture. Photo Courtesy DAWN.

Surprisingly even the much maligned television anchors, forever accused of sensationalism, put their influence to constructive use. Kashif Abbasi (ARY) and Talat Hussain (Aaj News) started their own fundraising campaign, urging those people who complained of a lack of trust in the government, to donate to them instead. The initiative and transparency shown by the two is a model for the entrepreneurial spirit shown by many others in the country.

Similarly with the Sialkot lyching, the media was quick to report the incident and quick to urge the concerned authorities (the provincial government, the local security apparatus and the judiciary) to bring the accused into the dock. Many heads have rolled since and hopefully many more will.

These are tough times for Pakistan. We are in the midst of the worst natural disaster of this century. Such tragedies do take their toll on national morale, and inevitably lead to an air of resignation. But this resignation should not be a cry for self-defeatism. That is where I have a problem, particularly with the newspaper of choice these days it seems, the Express Tribune. In the aftermath of Sialkot, the Tribune has published a series of op-eds which portray the incident as a reflection of society itself, and a sign of inconvertible moral decay.

I don't have a beef with the articles themselves, but I do feel that in a newspaper with an international reputation, they seem awfully out of place. Sure you can put them in a blog where it is OK to be controversial or rude or whatever, but you can't label a nation as 'human cockroaches' or even worse (and I'm quoting directly here) call it a 'barbaric, degenerate nation reveling in bloodlust', however sarcastic you are, in a widely circulated publication. Then again maybe it's my fault, after all I shouldn't expect much of a newspaper whose opinion pages resemble a chaotic blog and whose wisest writer is a standup comedian.

My point is the incident was gruesome and condemnable for sure but I am not prepared to believe that it is a microcosm of the conscience of a 170 million people. The fact that the killings were brought to light, condemned by all and sundry, and are leading to protests for an improved system of justice and law (here's a report and a video of a rally held in Islamabad today), is a sign that Pakistanis are not barbaric as Fasi Zaka will have us believe. Saying that the mob that killed those boys is representative of all of us is like the international notion of saying that most Pakistanis are with the Taliban. Simplistic and patently untrue.

As a friend on Facebook put it, the violence is as bad as normal people walking into a school and killing dozens of kids, or priests molesting children, both of which happened in some of the most developed countries in the world. In the aftermath of those incidents the requisite outrage was coupled with a desire to understand the problem and put it into perspective. But there weren't any op-eds in the New York Times saying that the Columbine killer represented all of America, or that the Church's sins were all of Europe's. Again, this is not a defense of what happened, no one in the right mind would do that, but let's please manage the emotion and vitriol, and spare the majority of Pakistanis who do not conform to such violence and brutality.

If anything, the 'we are the mob in Sialkot' theory can be put to bed by something else happening right now. It might just be me but I believe we are witnessing one of the extraordinary events of recent times: the remarkable mobilization of Pakistanis, taking the challenge of dealing with the biggest natural calamity in years into their own hands. From donating to fundraising to volunteering, thousands of ordinary citizens, young and old, poor and rich, are showing outstanding character and spirit.

Amidst the ruins, this is a story that also needs to be told.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What It Will Take to Save Pakistan's Flood Relief Effort

The response to the devastating floods across the country has been noticeably muted, both at home and internationally. There are multiple reasons behind this: Pakistan’s vilified image, a lack of contingency planning on the government’s part, inadequate infrastructure, lack of information regarding channels for donation, citizens’ lack of confidence in state-sponsored relief efforts, amongst others.

As this incredibly detailed database from the Guardian shows, international aid – while insufficient at present – is flowing in directly to local NGOs, international organizations operating in Pakistan and regional government agencies/bodies. The main agents in disbursing aid and engaging in relief efforts are (i) NGOs, (ii) locally-based INGOs, (iii) religious charity groups, (iv) government agencies (federal, provincial and regional), and (v) the Army.

Now it is increasingly evident that the relief efforts, if not altered or organized, will prove to be insufficient, discursive and inefficient. And the primary reason is organizational, not political. To illustrate this, I’ve attached a chart showing the organization of relief efforts at present.

At the moment, the disbursing agents receive donations but act as a single, disconnected entity, with the exception of the Army (which is because its capability is vastly superior to the rest).

This presents two (2) overarching problems:
(a) Individual NGOs pursue their own agendas using the funds they have been provided, which is commendable and may provide those affected with considerable comfort in the short-term. But this arrangement is likely to make long-term infrastructure development difficult and increase the likelihood of misdirection of already scarce resources. Any development projects carried out at the moment – or indeed, immediately after the water has been cleared, ad hoc and unsustainable, for the most part. Projects that will be considered successful would be limited in scope. For example, an effort by a local NGO to build new houses in one city would be successful but would hardly prove sufficient in providing widespread relief, which might have been achieved in collaboration with other organizations working in the same locality. More on that a little later.

(b) There’s little accountability for stand-alone NGOs working at a micro-level for flood relief.

What I’m trying to say, in a nutshell, is: without a collective agenda, the efforts of all these organizations and the support of the international community will not be enough. Second, what scarce resources are available will not be used efficiently. Finally, the onus, once immediate relief has been provided, will be on the civilian government and the Army, backed by an economy that has only just begun to show signs of recovery. So the future really doesn’t look too bright for the rehabilitative efforts or for the country, for that matter, since expenses will only mount.

The Solution:

In the absence of a credible state sponsor or emergency relief organization, NGOs have to fast shed their individual agendas to act in unison if flood relief is to be provided efficiently. Here’s a chart for the ideal situation:

The NGOs, under an overarching common platform, are allowed – based on internal capacity – to form task forces or associations with other NGOs in the area. This allows for a more concerted effort in redevelopment in selected regions. The rest of the disbursing actors – apart from religious charities, which are unlikely to engage in infrastructure development – will act, in such a structure, in collaboration with this platform.

There are plenty of advantages in adopting this structure:

1. Resources, when pooled and directed towards a collective agenda, are likely to generate institutionalized and better results. Various projects, performed under one umbrella will also be linked and developed in relation to one another. Low-income housing provision by one NGO, for example, when linked to a project on healthcare will better serve the social and infrastructure needs of residents.

2. NGO collectives will allow credible channels through which Pakistanis can donate, knowing where their money is going and for which cause.

3. Accountability. International donors are more capable of following the progress of larger projects, carried out by a collective. They act as oversight bodies for the recipient NGO and for the larger platform. The umbrella platform will also act as a secondary oversight body for task forces/associations as they pursue redevelopment/relief activities.

4. In theory and in practice, if NGOs are run properly, the platform will give civil society a larger say in the relief efforts, supplementing government and military relief efforts, making the entire process a more nationally-owned effort.

5. Local NGOs, operating in affected areas, are more likely to create policies and carry out reform efforts suitable to local needs as compared to the military, international NGOs operating through Islamabad or, for that matter, the government.


For all these possibilities, it’s very unlikely that such a platform will ever be created or even considered by the NGO leadership or the government. For one, it requires effective governance at multiple levels within the NGO platform and a selflessness that is ironically hard to find in the NGO community. Second, the government – even if it shows the will to act as mediator – is unlikely to be viewed as an honest broker. Third, larger NGOs are likely to be unwilling to partner with smaller, less resourceful NGOs on the ground. Finally, creating a sustainable platform for NGOs is a massive undertaking. Within the platform, bureaucracy will probably creep in to delay projects, generate internal politics and waste resources.

But here’s the sticking point: if such a structure succeeds, the gains are enormous, for civil society as a political actor, public policy, NGOs as an intermediary between the state and its citizens and, most importantly, for the millions affected by the tragedy.