Tag Archives: saadia Gardezi

Pakistan’s economic underbelly

I was recently researching the extent and measurement of the informal economy in Pakistan for a colleague and the econometric methods used to estimate the shadow economy are pretty interesting and intuitive. For every Rs 100 in taxes, the government receives only Rs 38 and the rest is eaten up by the tax payer, the collector and tax practitioner.

The official description of the shadow economy is ‘unmeasured and untaxed economic activity’ taking place in a country. And this is obviously poorly reflected in official measures of national income and output. Pakistan can very easily fall into the description of the ‘shadow state’ where decisions and actions are taken by an individual ruler and do not conform to a set of written laws and procedures, although these might be present. A history of our politics and the way constitutions and have been torn ad taped together with new paragraphs added here and there is a testament to this fact. In a shadow state rulers ‘manipulate external actors’ access to both formal and clandestine markets, by relying on the global recognition of sovereignty, and are thereby able to undermine formal government institutions’. This weakens bureaucratic structures and manipulates markets. These “informal commercially orientated networks” are created that operate alongside government bureaucracies (The Shadow State in Africa: A Discussion,  Nikki Funke and Hussein Solomon, 2002).

A State Bank of Pakistan study last year (Arby, Malik and Hanif, 2010) makes use three different methodologies to measure the informal economy of Pakistan. The first is the monetary approach based on the idea that higher tax rates induce people to use currency for transactions to avoid tax reporting (known as the ARDL model). The assumptions of this approach are that informal economic activities are the direct consequence of high taxes. Since such transactions are mainly carried out by currency, the overall currency in circulation in the economy has two components: currency used for informal economic transactions and formal transactions. Thus the transaction velocity of money in both the informal and formal economies is the same.

The second method, the electricity consumption method is even more novel. Electric-power consumption is regarded as the single best physical indicator of economic activities in a country. Overall economic activity and electricity consumption can be observed and move together with GDP. By exploiting this relationship, one can have a proxy measurement for the overall economy and estimates of the hidden economy can be found by subtracting official GDP from the estimated overall GDP.

The last method they use is an economic model (MIMIC model) that whereby the informal economy is taken as a latent variable which on the one hand caused by a set of variables and affects other variables on the other. The model they select consists of three causes of the informal economy including tax/GDP ratio, M2/GDP and the regime durability as well as two indicators including currency in circulation (as ratio to M2) and growth in electricity consumption.

The ARDL results show that the informal economy has increased its share in the Pakistan’s economy until end of 1990s and has a declining trend since then. In the 1960s and 1970s it was below 30 percent and increased to 33 percent in the 1990s, and declined to 23 percent in current decade of 2000s. Results of MIMIC model show that the informal economy has been around 30% of the total economy in Pakistan. The growth path remains steady irrespective of the initial values. It is evident that ratio of informal economy to the recorded economy has been fairly stable in Pakistan. Thus we can conclude that the informal economy has grown with almost the same rate as the recorded economy. The electricity approach, on the other hand, shows that the extent of the unmeasured economy was less 5 percent during 1970s which then increased sharply until 1990s and then remained stagnant. However, this approach may not reflect the actual performance of the economy as official numbers of electricity consumption do not incorporate self- generation of electricity by economic agents in the mid 1990s onward due to crisis in official sector of power generation and distribution in Pakistan.

The results are generally close to those obtained by other studies on Pakistan but their remain some concerns as other studies show a rising trend up to the end of 1990s while some show a declining trend. M. Ali Kemal (Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, 2007), writes that if there was no tax evasion, budgets balance might have been zero and positive for some years and we would not have needed to borrow as much as we have.

The impact of the underground economy is significant to the movements of the formal economy, but the impact of formal economy is insignificant in explaining the movements in the underground economy. In the long run, underground economy and official economy are positively associated. Kemal (2007) estimates that the black economy ranged between Rs 2.91 trillion and Rs 3.34 trillion (54.6 percent of GDP to 62.8 percent of GDP respectively) in 2005 and tax evasion ranged between Rs 302 billion and Rs 347 billion (5.7 percent of GDP to 6.5 percent of GDP respectively) in 2005. Underground economy and tax evasion were increasing very rapidly in the early 1980s but the rate of increase accelerated in the 1990s. It declined in 1999, but reverted to an increasing trend until 2003. It declined again in 2004 and 2005. This supports Arby, Malik and Hanif’s ADRL model.

A study conducted by The Lahore University of Management Sciences in 2003 showed that the Rs 720 billion collected in tax in 2005-06 was only the 38 percent of the Rs 2 trillion that could have been collected. Two-thirds of the income earned in the shadow economy is estimated to flow into the official economy. The growth of the informal economy affects everyone.

The State Bank of Pakistan study can be found here.

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Wallowing in sadomasochism- Book Review ‘History of Hate’

History of Hate, Kaniska Gupta. Rupa & Co, 2010. 198 pages.

There is merit to be found in the vivid imagining of such a problem and the attempt to write contemporary noir fiction straying away from dominant post-colonial themes

In Review, Pakistan Today, 6th February, 2011.

Greed for money or power has been what traditionally has led to human nature showing its nasty side, but there are other sides to pain like anger, revenge and then pain for pleasure. Causing suffering just for ‘viewing pleasure’ is a very different aspect of human relations and there is no denying that it exists. Kanishka Gupta’s ‘History of Hate’ is rightly about ‘hate’ expressed through cold calculated harm that two individuals inflict on the people of their Delhi neighbourhood.

This odd couple, Sonny a middle-aged housewife, and Ash a would-be writer in his twenties with suicidal tendencies, have something in common that brings them together. Both being unhappy with life hate the happiness of others and love to watch people suffer by their brutal acts. Their victims keep adding up to include Sonny’s paralysed mother-in-law, a seven-year-old mute maid, a pregnant mother, couples in parks, Sonny’s own sons, and even ultimately Ash by Sonny’s hands. Sonny and Ash have no remorse about the lives they destroy. The victims are punished in strange ways, there is no rage involved, plans and traps are laid out for an almost voyeuristic thrill.

Before you try to pick up this book, beware that you may not be able to understand the motivations of the lead characters or relate to them, unless you have had irrational urges to hurt or humiliate people.

You keep reading till the end, waiting for the realisation that these two characters might have redeeming quality; that the book would give some satisfactory emotional, physical, spiritual justification for the sick crimes of its antagonists/protagonist, but the only explanation one can reach is that Sonny and Ash are sadistic and disturbed. Gupta frames Sonny’s excuse for her mental state as her middle class poverty and jealousy of the success of other people, while Ash’s excuse is that he is a homosexual.

These are not unique problems; there are people in the world who suffer more without it leading to such troubled behaviour. Yet the book touches on the issue of sadism, though not a valid diagnostic category, yet an accepted personality disorder and an important issue in social life to explore.

Kaniska Gupta has tapped into a niche market, where such a dark subject piques the curiosity of people. The content being good or bad is a matter of opinion, of course, but it is definitely a unique piece of work. Of course, there have been other books that have explored disturbances of the human mind like ‘Lolita’, ‘Perfume’ and ‘A Clockwork Orange’, all of which have achieved a cult status. In comparison ‘History of Hate’, though a flawed piece, and maybe not as stellar, may well have the same fate in India.

This unapologetically unpleasant narrative has been well received by many readers and since others have enjoyed this book there needs to be a serious effort to understand why. With its cringe worthy content, it is not a book for everyone to stomach and was rejected by many publishers in India until Rupa publications gave it a chance.

‘History of Hate’ was long listed for the yearly Man Asian Prize that is reserved for literature from 27 Asian countries (including Pakistan); a great achievement for a young writer.

There must be a serious attempt by critics to understand its appeal. With the ambitious title, the book should have explored the dimension of self-hate, and maybe given Sonny and Ash some semblance of normality so that a reader could accept them as multidimensional humans. If our antagonizing pair are ‘in so much hate’ with the world, are they happy with who they are as people and what is their relationship with their self?

Sonny’s character though more despicable is easier to grasp. Ash seems more complex and less threatening than Sonny and remains a bit of a mystery. The power dynamic between the two could have been formulated better. Do they actually love each other or hate each other? It is unclear whether, in their very brief “history”, their hate for other people’s unhappiness could have extended to their relationship with each other.

The author has said elsewhere that: “The novel… is a strong critique of the sadomasochistic, voyeuristic nature of all social interactions.” The book seems not so much a critique as a narrow documentation of the issue. And this is fine as well; there is merit to be found the vivid imagining of such a problem (maybe for the first time by a South Asian writer) and the attempt to write contemporary noir fiction straying away from dominant post-colonial themes.

–Saadia Gardezi is a political economist based in Lahore

Salmaan Taseer: Last man standing

Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer was laid to rest at the Cavalry Ground graveyard in Lahore on Wednesday, January 5. Earlier, thousands of Pakistanis braved the
tense security situation and attended Taseer’s funeral after the country’s most high-profile assassination in three years.

His coffin, wrapped in the green and white national flag, was then flown the short distance by helicopter to the graveyard in the military cantonment in Lahore, where it was lowered into the ground by uniformed rescue workers. Lahore was shut down and authorities deployed security forces to guard against possible unrest after dozens of PPP supporters took to the streets to protest against the killing.

The 66 year old provincial governor had been Pakistan’s strongest voice against religious extremism and one of Pakistan’s foremost progressive leaders. His murder has horrified moderate Pakistanis and supporters of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). The silencing of a temperate and liberal voice has been welcomed by members of the powerful religious right and does not bode well for a already shaky government.

On Tuesday, January 4, Salmaan Taseer was shot in daylight multiple times at close range as he was getting into his car in Islamabad at the Kohsar Market.Investigations are now focused on whether the police commando who confessed to killing Taseer because he opposed the reform of blasphemy law or acted alone, or as part of a wider conspiracy.

According to the preliminary autopsy report, Taseer’s body had 29 bullet wounds, puncturing his vital organs. The assassin Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, was a government-trained commando assigned to the governor on at least five or six previous occasions.

“I am a slave of the Prophet (pbuh), and the punishment for one who commits blasphemy is death,” he told a television crew from Dunya TV that arrived at the scene shortly after the killing, according to Nasim Zahra, the director of news at the channel.

“We want to know who put his name on the duty list. We know he visited the police supervisor to get his name on the list,” Interior Minister Reman Malik told reporters. The supervisor and his deputy are among more than ten people taken into custody for interrogation.

Taseer used Twitter and public appearances to speak out boldly against the blasphemy law, vowing not to back down despite pressure from his ruling PPP and threats to his life from fanatics. He had been vocal in defending Aasia Bibi, the Christian mother-of-five who was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death, declaring that he was confident she was innocent.

“I was under huge pressure 2 cow down b4 rightest pressure on blasphemy. Refused. Even if I’m the last man standing,” reads one of his tweets.

“It is a loss to progressive forces; he stood up for what he believed in,” said PPP lawmaker Sherry Rehman. There are now fears the safety of Sherry Rehman, who has proposed a private member’s bill in parliament seeking to soften the blasphemy law. Salmaan Taseer’s murder will be taken as a warning to any politician who speaks out against the religious parties and their agenda and may end attempts to amend the blasphemy laws in the near future.

The response of the right wing has been intriguing. While JUI-F and Jamaat e Islami have condemned the attacks, several religious groups have termed it as victory for those who want to protect the blasphemy law. After Taseer’s murder, a few zealots created Facebook page in support of Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri which was later taken off.

On January 4, the PML-N added to the federal government’s woes, giving the PPP a three-day deadline, extended for three more days in the wake of the assassination, to accept a list of demands to avert a no-confidence vote. These included a reversal of recent fuel price increases, cuts in spending of 30 percent and the enforcement of a series of court verdicts against governing party officials for corruption.

According to the New York Times (Jan 5) the Obama administration worries that even if Pakistan’s government survives the upheaval, the ongoing turmoil could kill any chance for political and economic reforms. The assassination, one official said, leaves not only the repeal of the blasphemy laws in doubt, but also possible reforms to increase tax collection. Under pressure from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clintonand other US officials, the Pakistani government submitted a new tax law in Parliament. But it may abandon the push as a way to lure back coalition partners.

In a statement, Secretary Clinton called Taseer’s death “a great loss”and said she “admired his work to promote tolerance.” Presidential spokeswoman, Farahnaz Ispahani, spoke tearfully about the Governor’s death and invoked the legacy of Pakistan’s secular founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, using the popular title for him, Great Leader: “Show me another party where the leaders are being murdered, and why is that? Because we are standing up for Quaid-i-Azam’s Pakistan, and against extremism and terrorism.”

Declan Walsh writing for The Guardian (4 Jan) said, “Taseer’s death deprives Pakistan of a colourful politician with unusual reserves of pluck. More significantly, it signals a worrying reduction in the public space for public figures, who cannot even count on their own police to protect them. The country’s liberals have not felt so isolated since the dark years of the Zia dictatorship in the1980s.”

The Friday Times, 7th January, 2011

WikiLeaks’ Pakistan

The WikiLeaks release of diplomatic cables about Pakistan has shed new light on US-Pakistan relations. The leaked communications reveal Washington’s frustration with Islamabad and the civil-military struggles within Pakistan. Dispatches from early 2010, for instance, quote the aging Saudi monarch calling President Asif Ali Zardari the greatest obstacle to Pakistan’s progress: “When the head is rotten it affects the whole body”.

ISI still in the game: The cables from Secretary of State acknowledge that Pakistani senior officials have publicly disavowed support for these groups, but some officials from the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) continue to maintain ties with a wide array of extremist organizations, in particular the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Tayabba (LeT) and other extremist organizations.

Biden and Brown on militancy and aid: According to the cable documenting US Vice President Biden’s March 27, 2009 meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, there was no real possibility of defeating Al Qaeda without also “dealing with Pakistan”. Vice President Biden said he worried that NATO countries in Europe underestimated the threat from the region and viewed the problem as an economic development issue rather than a security issue, despite the fact that Afghan opium is primarily exported to Europe; and Europe has been the victim of several terrorist attacks originating from the region.

During this meeting, Vice President Biden commented that it was difficult to convince Pakistan to commit to developing its counter-insurgency potential as the threat from India made Pakistan devote defence spending to conventional warfare capabilities. Thus in the meantime “we [US] need to develop our relationship with Pakistan beyond its current transactional nature to a long-term strategic partnership. We should begin with $1.5 billion per year in economic assistance that is unconditional and supplement that with military assistance that is conditioned on the modernization of its command structure and active action in the field to combat insurgents. It would be difficult to convince Congress to support such a plan, particularly the unconditional civilian component.”

Biden noted that with the exception of the UK and a few others, very few Europeans were taking action. Brown agreed that there was a significant terrorist as more than 30,000 Pakistanis travel back and forth to the UK each year and two-thirds of the terrorist threats that UK security forces investigate originate in Pakistan. The roots of terrorism in Pakistan are complicated and go beyond the madrassas to, in some areas, a complete societal incitement to militancy.

The Zardari-Kayani-Sharif triangle: US Vice President Biden and US Prime Minster Gordon Brown felt that Zardari’s commitment to combating terrorism was unclear, although “he always says the right things”. The only way to reduce the threat and eventually draw down NATO’s commitment to the region was by increasing the capacity of Afghan and Pakistani security services. The 2009 cable says that Biden commented that Zardari had said to him: “ISI director, and Kayani will take me out”. Brown thought this unlikely and said that Kayani did not want to be another Musharraf; rather he would give civilian leadership room to function. However, Kayani was suspicious of the Sharif brothers and Zardari.

According to leaked cables, Nawaz Sahrif has been telling the US ambassador he was “pro-American”, despite his public stance and thanked the US for “arranging” to have Kayani appointed as the Army chief. US Ambassador Anne W Patterson shot this down by saying that, “The fact that a former prime minister believes the US could control the appointment of Pakistan’s chief of army staff speaks volumes about the myth of American influence here.”

Furthermore, US and General Kayani worried that Zardari would renege on his word of pardoning Musharraf. Patterson’s view according to the cable was that “Zardari is walking tall these days, hopefully not too tall to forget his promise to Kayani and to us on an immunity deal”.

Human rights and the Pak army: Secret cables for the US Embassy in Islamabad address concerns about Pakistan security forces’ human rights abuses against terrorists in Malakand Division and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The cable acknowledges the difficult of accuracy but reports from a variety of sources suggested that Frontier Corps and regular Pakistan Army units involved in direct combat with terrorists may have been involved:

“The crux of the problem appears to centre on the treatment of terrorists detained in battlefield operations and have focused on the extra-judicial killing of some detainees… Revenge for terrorist attacks on Pakistan Army and Frontier Corps personnel is believed to be one of the primary motivating factors for the extra-judicial killings. Cultural traditions place a strong importance on such revenge killings, which are seen as key to maintaining a unit’s honor. This fear is well-founded as both Anti-Terrorism Courts and the appellate judiciary have a poor track record of dealing with suspects detained in combat operations such as the Red Mosque operation in Islamabad and have repeatedly ordered their unconditional release.”

The cable also implicates the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Police in the abuse of terrorist suspects allegedly responsible for attacks on police stations and says that this is a separate problem from those detained by Frontier Corps and Pakistan Army units. The cable highlights areas for assistance in this regard; creation of new ordinances, reform of prison rehabilitation programs and help from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Human Rights Commission Pakistan (HRCP) and the UK government.

Washington worried about Abdul Qadeer Khan: Cables from Hillary Clinton’s office from 2008 say that the US was strongly opposed to AQ Khan’s release and would undermine the positive steps Pakistan had taken on non-proliferation. The document urged Pakistan to consider the long-term gains it could garner from the international community by continuing Dr Khan’s current status rather than the short-term domestic political gains that could result from his release.

Bin Laden and General Musharraf: Anne W Patterson in leaked documents has claimed that Pakistan had concerns that the US would desert Islamabad after they catch Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. Thus Pakistan feels hesitant in fully cooperating with its key ally. Anne W Patterson said that the relationship between the two countries was one of co-dependency: “Pakistan knows the US cannot afford to walk away; the US knows that Pakistan cannot survive without our support”.

In a meeting held in April 2007, Musharraf told Senator John McCain that although he had no solid evidence, he believed Al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri were in Bajaur Agency, since it was in the territory of Afghan militant leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and bordered Afghanistan’s Kunar province. He also spoke about Karzai’s frequent pronouncements about Pakistan’s failure to capture Taliban leader Mullah Omar in Quetta: “Let me tell you, Omar would be mad to be in Quetta – he has too many troops to command in southern Afghanistan to make it feasible. In fact, the only parts of Balochistan with Pakistani Taliban are Afghan refugee camps which we are planning to shut down.”

Musharraf also said that most Pashtuns in Balochistan were traders and had no reason to join the Taliban. They want roads to increase their trade, not to fight. The same could not be said for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Compiled from WikiLeaks archives. The Friday Times, 10 Dec, 2010

WikiLeaks: The Af-Pak conundrum

Nearly as many civilians have died in Afghanistan as Afghan forces.

The Friday Times, 10 Dec, 2010

The cables relating to Afghanistan reveal that beneath public assurances lie deep divisions in Islamabad on issues like Pakistan’s support for the Afghan Taliban and tolerance of Al Qaeda.

‘Stability’ top priority: Cables from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton focus on cutting off the flow of funds to terrorist organizations and achieving stability in Af-Pak as top US priorities. This is to be achieved by effective actions against terrorist fundraising in the Gulf by “Al Qaeda, the Taliban, LeT, and other Af-Pak-based violent extremist groups, all of which undermine the security of the entire international community.” In its ‘talking points’ brief to embassy in Kuwait it is said, “We emphasize the need to prevent the Taliban from using the cover of reconciliation talks to raise funds.”

The Karzai dilemma: The cable’s word on President Hamid Karzai has been far from flattering. Oman’s foreign minister says that he is “losing confidence” in him. A British diplomat says Britain feels “deep frustration” with him, while an Australian official complains that he “ignores reality.” A diplomat from the United Arab Emirates says Afghanistan would be better off without him. NATO’s secretary general speculates that he has a split personality.

Lt Gen Karl W Eikenberry, the American ambassador to Afghanistan in April 2009, was blunt about his criticisms in a July 2009 cable. “It remains to be seen whether Karzai can or will refrain from this ‘blame America’ tactic he uses to deflect criticism of his administration,” he wrote. “Indeed, his inability to grasp the most rudimentary principles of state-building and his deep seated insecurity as a leader combine to make any admission of fault unlikely, confounding our best efforts to find in Karzai a responsible partner.”

An August 2009 report from Kabul complained that Karzai and his attorney general “allowed dangerous individuals to go free or re-enter the battlefield without ever facing an Afghan court.” The embassy was particularly concerned that Mr. Karzai pardoned five border police officers caught with 124 kilograms of heroin and intervened in a drug case involving the son of a wealthy supporter.

Saudi financing: An action request cable from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009 asserts that Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for Al Qaeda, the Taliban, LeT, and other terrorist groups including Hamas. Riyadh has taken only limited action to disrupt fundraising for the listed Taliban and LeT-groups aligned with Al Qaeda and focused on undermining stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“Saudi Arabia has enacted important reforms to criminalize terrorist financing and restrict the overseas flow of funds from Saudi-based charities. However, these restrictions fail to include multilateral organizations such as the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), Muslim World League (MWL) and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY.) Intelligence suggests that these groups continue to send money overseas and, at times, fund extremism overseas. In 2002, the Saudi government promised to set up a Charities Committee that would address this issue, but has yet to do so.”

 

 

WikiLeaks- Middle East out of the closet

Tensions in the Middle East are rising after revelations that Arab states have discussed strikes on Iran with the US. Other anecdotes narrate the friction between the brotherly neighbours, which comprise the so-called Arab world

  • Qatar is using the Al-Jazeera news channel as a bargaining chip in foreign policy negotiations by adapting its coverage to suit other foreign leaders.
  • Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups and the Saudi government is reluctant to stem the flow of money, according to Hillary Clinton.
  • Cables from The House of Commons in London reveal Senator McCain’s assessment of Iraq and his talks with David Cameron in 2008. Senator McCain said the situation in Iraq had improved. He warned that Al Qaeda would put up a fight and the Iranians were “not going to go quietly into the night.” Al Qaeda, said McCain, had taken to using suicide bombers and now to deploying women bombers. He said one woman was asked why she had tried to become a suicide bomber. She replied, “Because my husband told me to.”
  • Iraqi government officials see Saudi Arabia, not Iran, as the biggest threat to their state.
  • A cable to Washington from the US embassy in Riyadh recorded the Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah saying, “Frequent exhortations to the US to attack Iran and so put an end to its nuclear weapons programme.” The memo said that the king told the Americans to “cut off the head of the snake,” and that working with the US to roll back Iranian influence in Iraq was “a strategic priority for the king and his government.”
  • Behind the scenes, the US administration has a tougher attitude to Iran than what we can see publicly; however, this attitude could still be included in the impotence category; Defence Secretary Robert Gates believes that an attack on Iran is hopeless without the US and solves nothing even with the US.
  • Israel is doing and thinking exactly what we publicly see; as far as the leaked documents go, the Jewish State may be described as the most honest country in the world.
  • Arab countries urge America to bomb Iran; they’re clearly more afraid of their Muslim comrades than what they’re ready to openly reveal.
  • Russia is also afraid of Iran and the big Slavic country is actually excited about the missile defence technology; it may be more excited than many Americans; Russia may try to build its own systems and/or shared systems with the U.S. or others
  • Lebanon’s government warned about “Iran telecom” taking over the country after it uncovered a secret communications network across the country used by Hezbollah.
  • Senior Obama administration officials say many millions of dollars are flowing largely unimpeded to extremist groups worldwide and they have received little help in stopping this from allies in the Middle East.
  • All Iraq’s neighbours, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria and Turkey, attempt to interfere with the country in different ways, Iraq’s president told the US defence secretary, Robert Gates.
  • The US was astonished when the European parliament ordered a halt to an American government programme to monitor international banking transactions for terrorist activity.
  • The president of Yemen secretly offered US forces unrestricted access to his territory to conduct unilateral strikes against  Al Qaeda terrorist targets.
  • Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen is seen as a rising threat by the United States and was blamed for a parcel bomb plot in October and the failed attempt to blow up a jetliner on December 25, 2009. The cables do not make clear whether the finances of the Yemen group are tied to Osama bin Laden’s network.

The Friday Times, 10 December, 2010. Compiled from the New York Times, The Guardian and WikiLeaks

Poli-tickle theory

If I had a nickel for every time I told someone that I have a degree in political economy and was met by the response, “Oh, maybe you can fix Pakistan’s politics and economy!”… I probably could fix everything. Truth be told, Pakistan’s politics and economy baffle me. The tangled web of bureaucracy, MPA’s, local politics, corruption, Shahbaz Sharif’s edicts, the suo moto’s sitting in the courts, the pear-shaped police, Altaf Hussain’s rambles… my reaction is to place my fingers on my forehead and stare at my palms. And then Shoaib Akhtar and Shahid Afridi keep scratching and chewing cricket balls.

Though I might be dazed by Pakistan’s politics, the good thing is that everyone else is not. Everybody has a theory, and is kind enough to share it, and keeps sharing it.

It is good that I get to hear so much theoretical analysis of Pakistani politics. As luck would have it, I teach politics to wildly clueless third year students, who most of the time cannot tell their political left from right. They regularly ask me to revise my Weber and Waltz… they’ve absolutely got it wrong, all wrong. And truth be told, which of our current news pundits and analysts have ever tried to apply political theory to the events of Pakistan? Their own theories are enough, who cares about Chomsky and Foucault. Foo-who? Never mind.

So there I was, in the faculty lounge, trying to make out the handwriting of one of my students, when I was interrupted by the new Chief-Administrative-Manager-Head (or some combination of these words).

“Who are you?” he inquired very politely, to which I replied I was a teacher. Hoping he would leave it at that and just assume I taught advanced econometric analysis, I went back to my big red crosses (with a side of student gibberish).

“What do you teach?” he inquired extremely politely, to which I sighed… “Politics.”

Achaaaannnn … then you can tell me what the problem is with Pakistan, ehhh?” I had shot myself in the foot again.

“I am really very busy sir, gotta check these quizzes, clock is ticking,” I responded curtly.

Achaaaannnnn … then we should talk about politics when you are free sometime. But if you have a minute, let me tell you what I think we should do.”

I put my pen down, and stared at him blankly. Nothing would stop him from blurting out THE THEORY. Might as well try to get this over with.

“So once a long time ago I was on a train to Karachi from Lahore. And we were talking about politics the way friends do. And believe you me, Believe. You. Me. We came up with the perfect solution.”

And then the build-up began.

“First, you have elections. Then you form a parliament from those who win. And then… you shoot everybody!”

The punch line was like a wet fish thrown in my face. He smiled, very pleased. I thought it was over, but it wasn’t…

“You see, some corrupt politicos who lost the last election will be left. Also the chamchas andchailas and brethren of those we shot will also be enraged and motivated to do something. Democracy after all is the best revenge. So then you have another election and form a parliament with them. And then…” oh dear, it was coming again, “You shoot everybody!”

Not over yet.

“Then… have another election! But let those people live; the first two shootings will have rid the system of corruption.”

He had just trampled all over that thin line between dull humour and insanity tossed with absolute seriousness. I nodded my head, “Excellent, ha ha, excellent… let’s continue this later,” and hid behind my quiz.

There are so many ideas like this floating around. From meta-theories that say that the US is the Dajjal , to the highly common, insensitive and mindless, “You know what God is punishing people in our north for, don’t you?!”

Another howler has been making the rounds very successfully, brought to my attention through a colleague at an Ivy League institution (and here I thought the best education in the world can cure silliness). Gather round and listen closely friends, the US has a secret weapon called HAARP. It has been using this to cause natural disasters. In fact Hugo Chavez has been quoted saying that the US testing of this ‘tectonic weapon’ led to the Haiti earthquake. The US also caused our 2005 earthquake, and now the floods. Time is nigh. A tsunami is coming. Believe you me.

HAARP, theHigh Frequency Active Auroral Research Programme is apparently an ionosphericresearch programme jointly funded by the US military and the University of Alaska. The purpose, allegedly, is to develop better technology for radio communications and surveillance purposes (such as missile detection) based on the testing of the ionosphere 85km above the earth’s surface as it influences radio waves and transmissions. But I’m no physicist.

You’ve heard them all before. 9/11 was a Zionist conspiracy. Faisal Shahzad’s botched plan was a Zionist conspiracy. The US is a Zionist conspiracy. And Altaf Bhai is an alien.

And rest assured, the Indian Cricket Board was behind the spot-fixing scandal. It was all RAW. We were framed. Believe you me.

Saadia Gardezi is not part of any ideological mafia, and is open to your theories. Do write and send your views to TFT.

The Friday Times, October 15-21, 2010, Vol. XXII, No. 35