Author

Wednesday, February 08, 2023 | Daily Newspaper published by GPPC Doha, Qatar.
 Kamran Rehmat
Kamran Rehmat
Kamran Rehmat is the Community Editor at Gulf Times. He has edited newspapers and magazines, and writes on a range of subjects from politics and sports to showbiz and culture. Widely read and travelled, he has a rich background in both print and electronic media.
STANDING TALL: Malala Yousafzai standing in front of the Teen Vogue cover board.
Opinion
Teenager Malala radiates aura of a ‘stateswoman’

“When you educate girls, it adds up to $30 trillion to the world economy. It creates more jobs. It helps us protect our climate. It reduces poverty; it reduces the likelihood of wars in developing countries. So when you look at those advantages, then you say, “We have to invest in girls’ education.”’ — Malala Yousafzai, to Teen Vogue From becoming ‘The Bravest Girl in The World’— to borrow the cover description of Newsweek magazine — in 2012 and pinned as one of the World’s Most Influential People by the Time Magazine with one cover dedication in 2013 to being declared last week as the ‘Most Famous Teenager in The World’ in the second decade of the 21st century by the United Nations in its ‘Decade in Review’, Malala Yousafzai picks up awards and accolades as if she has a birthright on these. And yet, the UN pronouncement may just be an understatement: Malala arguably, is already the most famous teenager known to modern history, if not its entirety. No sooner had this latest and very predictable proclamation been made, the US Department of State swiftly joined the chorus with an emphatic declaration of its own: that the 22-year-old Pakistani education rights activist was “one of the most significant people of the decade”. “As we approach the end of 2019, we join UN in looking back on most significant people and events of the decade, including Malala, who received the 2014 Nobel Prize in recognition of her struggle against oppression of young people and for the right of all children to education,” Alice Wells, the principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, noted. The UN ‘Decade in Review’ noted: “From a young age, Pakistani student Malala Yousafzai was known for speaking out in favour of the educating girls and highlighting the atrocities of the Taliban. Malala’s activism and profile have only grown since the assassination attempt. She won several high-profile awards, including the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize and became a UN Messenger of Peace in 2017, with a special focus on girls’ education.” Chances are you’re only going to exhaust superlatives in trying to describe what mettle Malala is made of — and to think she is probably only getting warmed up given that she’s still only on the fringes of completing her university degree means the world has, by all intents and purposes, yet to see her best!  I first floated the idea of a global Malala Fund in 2012 during a conversation with Sheikh Waqqas Akram, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Education, during the time I edited Pique, a news and current affairs magazine, owned by him. To his credit, he carried it to Asif Ali Zardari, the-then president. In a matter of days, the idea blossomed into a landmark MoU between the Government of Pakistan and Unesco, with Islamabad providing the seed money of $10 million for ‘The Malala Fund for Girl’s Right to Education’ globally. It was signed by Akram and Unesco Director General Irina Bokova at the UN’s headquarters in Paris in December that year. The event was held in connection with ‘Stand Up for Malala — Stand Up for Girls’ Right to Education’ conference in the French capital where the president made a symbolic reference to the braveheart’s fight for the cause. “Two months ago... a young determined daughter of my country was attacked by the forces of darkness. Malala stood for the right to education, not just for herself but for a bright, progressive future of Pakistan.” The Malala Fund is now a fully-fledged entity headed by the world’s youngest Nobel laureate herself. A mission related passage from the Fund quotes her as saying thus: “Now, I am studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the University of Oxford. And every day I fight to ensure all girls receive 12 years of free, safe, quality education. “I travel to many countries to meet girls fighting poverty, wars, child marriage and gender discrimination to go to school. Malala Fund is working so that their stories, like mine, can be heard around the world. “We invest in developing country educators and activists, like my father, through Malala Fund’s Gulmakai Network. And we hold leaders accountable for their promises to girls. “With more than 130 million girls out of school today, there is more work to be done. I hope you will join my fight for education and equality. Together, we can create a world where all girls can learn and lead”. Two years ago, whilst speaking at the Canadian parliament following Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s welcoming speech after being bestowed the honorary citizenship of the country, Malala took the opportunity to remind the world of what was possible with an action plan for girls’ education whose core points still resonate: l If all girls went to school for 12 years, low and middle income countries could add $92bn a year to their economies ($30 trillion over all, according to World Bank). l Educated girls are less likely to marry young or contract HIV — and more likely to have healthy, educated children. l The Brookings Institution calls secondary schooling for girls the most cost-effective and best investment against climate change. l When a country gives all its children secondary education, they cut their risk of war in half. The world is clearly better off with Malala leading the cause. Her ‘stateswoman’ like stature is evident in the latest Teen Vogue interview, where she talks on a whole gamut of current issues, especially with regard to youth activism on a global scale, which she argues, is now assuming a game-changing proportion. The US publication chose her to be on the cover of its last issue of the decade and disclosed that it had decided to “reflect” the last 10 years with the education activist. “Saying her life has been incredible feels understated; there is a quality to her that is beyond what words can describe, a profile in courage unmatched. As we put together our final package for the decade rooted in the brilliant, world-changing demands of teens across the world, we knew there was no better person to sit down and reflect on this wild decade with,” Teen Vogue suggested — in stating the obvious. * The writer is Features Editor. He tweets @kaamyabi

YEAR-ENDER: Clockwise, Prime Minister Imran Khan addressing the UN General Assembly session; Sikh pilgrims throng the last resting place of Baba Guru Nanak in Pakistan following the inauguration of the Kartarpur Corridor; General (retired) Pervez Musharraf, who was awarded capital punishment; and the victorious Pakistan cricket team during the Test match against Sri Lanka in Karachi, which marked the first time in a decade that a Test was played at home.
Opinion
A tumultuous year but hope rises in Pakistan

With just a few days left for the advent of the New Year, it’s time to look back at what has been a tumultuous year by all counts for Pakistan and its relatively new government led by Imran Khan.  It has been marked by two major areas: foreign policy and domestic politics. Given the demanding situation, it was no surprise to see the Khan government struggling to balance the scales. In the first major challenge of the year, a suicide attack on February 14 in Pulwama district of Jammu & Kashmir on a convoy of Indian security personnel just weeks ahead of the Indian general elections, saw the already fragile bilaterals nosedive. New Delhi quickly blamed it on Islamabad, which condemned the attack, denied it had anything to do with it, and offered swift action if Delhi provided credible evidence. The attack however, snowballed into a major crisis. Amid a cacophony of war drums, Indian fighter jets crossed the Line of Control 12 days later and claimed to have conducted a “surgical strike” in Balakot area and demolished a terrorist camp with 300-350 casualties. Pakistan denied the claim — saying neither was there any camp nor any casualty. Independent reports, including high resolution satellite images reviewed by Reuters, contradicted the claims of any damage. The very next day however, Pakistan Air Force jets also crossed Indian territory, in a symbolic reprisal, but whilst returning its fighter jets were engaged by Indian Air Force jets. In the ensuing dogfight, an Indian MiG-21 was shot down on the Pakistani side of the border and its pilot captured. In a goodwill gesture, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan returned the pilot four days later. However, ties remain in cold storage throughout the year. In keeping with their longstanding dispute over Kashmir, the revocation of Article 370 in August by New Delhi startled Islamabad, which launched a campaign to highlight the issue, resulting in that resonating speech by Prime Minister Imran Khan at the UN General Assembly. Khan warned that if the world did not intervene, he feared the two nuclear-armed countries could easily be drawn into a dangerous confrontation with catastrophic outcome. He also used the opportunity to raise a clarion call against Islamophobia and exhorted the West to try to understand the sentiment of Muslims, especially when it comes to acts of deliberate sacrilege of their beloved Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). But the major foreign policy success was the return to normality in ties with Washington. Evidently, the Trump Administration had little choice but to re-engage with Islamabad to seek its leverage on peace in Afghanistan after exhausting all options. The comeback trail was pronounced with Prime Minister Khan twice holding widely followed talks with Donald Trump at the White House and on the sidelines of the UNGA session. But his shiniest hour was the much celebrated inauguration of the Kartarpur Corridor in November to facilitate Sikh pilgrims from all over the world, including India, to visit the last resting place of Baba Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism. It drew global attention amid scenes of emotional reunion that had eluded his followers for decades.  On the domestic front, Khan’s government had its hands full. Islamabad eventually opted for an IMF bailout, which did not win Khan, who had vociferously opposed it as an opposition leader, any favours. However, at year end, Pakistan’s economy is showing signs of a recovery with the Moody’s returning Islamabad to “stable” status. The country also jumped 28 spots to 108 in World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 Study which made it among the world’s 10 top business climate improvers. Far more contentious was the white noise over tax reforms. The government relaxed the terms of engagement but defied strong-arm tactics from the usual suspects — the traders — to put the absentees on notice. As a result, there was a considerable surge in tax filers. Prime Minister Khan also found out in the course of his first year in power that governance was no cricket field where he enjoyed iconic status. All year through, he faced the brunt of an opposition that simply did not allow his government any breathing space. The highlight was a Long March led by Fazlur Rehman, a firebrand cleric and leader of his faction of Jamiat Ulema Islam, who is still smarting from losing his contested seats in the 2018 general elections. Rehman led a sit-in in Islamabad and vowed not to leave without seeking the PM’s resignation. But he announced a sudden exit only 16 days later with a largely empty rhetoric of having achieved his ‘objectives’. The government was also under pressure to let convicted and jailed former prime minister Nawaz Sharif leave for the UK on medical grounds after a court released him conditionally. But while Sharif’s flight hogged the newsbeat for a while before being relegated to the sidelines, Khan was soon faced with the rigmarole that the extension in service he signed for the army chief and taken for granted assumed a life of its own at the Supreme Court when a petitioner challenged its bona fides. Long story short, the apex court decided to hand in the benefit of doubt with a six-month timeline for the government to legislate the decision. But the death sentence awarded to ex-army chief General (retired) Pervez Musharraf in a case of high treason appeared to set the cat among the pigeons with the army publicly questioning the verdict — a first on both counts. The government is slightly under the weather after declaring it would challenge the ruling in what is seen as an appeasement. The biggest draw for Pakistanis however, was in the realm of what is their biggest uniter: cricket. The return to Test cricket at home after Sri Lanka defied the odds to play the first such series in Pakistan in a decade lifted the national spirit. Winning it handsomely almost paled in comparison to the significance of the development as hope began to find newer grounds. Sri Lankan captain Dimuth Karunaratne, who had only three months earlier pulled out of a much shorter trip, declared Pakistan “200 per cent” safe for cricket. As if a stamp of approval was needed on the ease of business, Condé Nast, the world’s premier luxury travel magazine, ramped up the volume and declared Pakistan the No.1 destination in the world for the year 2020! * The writer is Features Editor. He tweets @kaamyabi

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Community
Day that shook the world

There is always that one life-turning incident that haunts you. For many, it could be for life. December 16 this year marked the fifth anniversary of what remains one of the most gruesome tragedies of all time and certainly, the most horrific one where schoolchildren are concerned. Nothing comes close to the hell that was unleashed on unguarded schoolchildren and staff of Peshawar’s Army Public School (APS) that day in 2014. I have vivid memories of the day, waking up from a nightmare, turning on the television on impulse, and spending the next few days, weeks and months wallowing in unspeakable grief. The reason? It didn’t take much to relate to it. As a parent, it’s your worst nightmare: your children going to school and not coming back. It may happen in other parts of the world; indeed, it has several times even in far more secure First World countries like the United States with its history of random shootings (mostly with a deranged gunman at work), but nothing quite like what happened in Peshawar.  In the capital of Pakistan’s northwest Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, half a dozen militants stormed the school and butchered students, teachers and staff indiscriminately, emptying several rounds on even the already dying or dead before setting the valiant principal of the school, who tried to save as many students as she could, ablaze in a targeted operation whose sheer depravity left the South Asian nation reeling from a trauma whose scale knew no bounds. TV anchors broke down during bulletins and live beepers, and programmes had to be halted every now and then because the emotional current simply spiralled out of control. Many of the medical staff at the hospitals in Peshawar themselves collapsed at the sight of what they saw in emergencies. Just to get a gist of the human side of the tragedy, sample this from a post one compiled after the first day: n A grief-stricken mother who went to school every single day for three months with her son’s school bag, only to be brought back home each time by her distraught husband. She’s now bed ridden. n A mother who regrets she didn’t give her son 25 rupees (less than 25 cents) to nibble junk food that day. n A mother wallows in guilt for cajoling her son — reluctant to go to school that day — so that he could chill. Now, there’s a chill down her spine. n A father despairs he admonished his son to go to school after he twice demurred. So near, yet so far! n Hiding from a militant, he lied to his mother on phone that he was fine when, in fact, he already had a bullet in his chest. n He (15-year-old Dawood) overslept (skipped school) and survived: all his classmates of Grade 9 didn’t and have gone to sleep forever. Then, there was the case of a father, who, a year after the tragedy disclosed that the family hadn’t cooked food at home since they lost their son. Another said he couldn’t bring himself to eat the foods his son savoured. I remember writing this first post at the turn of events, which is still fresh in memory: “Today was the kind of day, when your perspective on — and about — life changes. I looked at my children differently, if you know what I mean. I’m sure many of you would have, too. And felt somehow relieved they were not where hell was raised this morning.  But wait a minute. The children who died today could just have been ours — HOW difficult is that to surmise. Ah, that changes the equation completely: terribly, strenuously, painstakingly unimaginable, right? Well, then, try even imagining how the grieving parents would have felt in Peshawar tonight. Life will never be the same again for them; it will be a forever, achingly haunting pain they will have to deal with for the rest of their lives. So what are we going to do about it? Will we dishonour their memories of their children and our memories of their children by sitting on our haunches and resigning ourselves to fate and move on like we mostly have until now or rise and FORCE the stakeholders to change and eliminate the last militant and their like on the land without discrimination? Short of this we all will be just waiting for the bell to toll.” To their credit, the government, the opposition and the political parties united with the armed forces to agree on a National Action Plan, which led to a decisive military operation against terrorists across Pakistan. But even braver were the schoolkids, who, rejoined the school a month later with even greater resolve and vigour. Having said that even though the students, their teachers, principal and the staff are remembered every year with an outpouring of rich tributes, it is hard to get past the bare knuckle reality of what happened that day — the day that shook the world. Five years on, Pakistanis of all shades and opinion are still wont to get emotional about the tragedy. Community reached out to a few expatriate Pakistanis for their opinion.  Riyaz Bakali, Director of The Next Generation School in Doha, tried to make sense of the horrific episode. “Education is one of the building blocks of nations. I feel it was a soft target for terrorists. However, targeting such young kids was an extreme step by even this yardstick”. Away from the emotional trauma, Bakali thinks their martyrdom is what paved the way for Pakistan to attain peace. “The graves of our youth became the steppingstone to reach the hideouts of these cowards. History will always remember these brave children as game changers,” he concluded in reference to the decisive cleanup operation that Pakistan’s armed forces launched after the APS tragedy to break the back of terrorism. Mohsin Mujtaba Rizvi, chairman of Pakistan Professionals Forum Qatar, felt it was like humanity that failed on the day. “When I first heard the news, the event was still unfolding. I was shocked, it was horrible. It felt as if humanity had failed. As a Pakistani I was annoyed, enraged and ashamed at the same time. We had failed our children. We paid a very high price for extremism that had turned into a Frankenstein of terrorism. Verses of (poet, author) Faiz Ahmad Faiz were echoing inside me: Tujh ko kitnoñ ka lahu chahiye ai arz-e-vatan  jo tere ariz-e-be-rañg ko gulnar kareñ  Kitni aahoñ se kaleja tera thanda hoga  Kitne aañsu tere sahraoñ ko gulzar kareñ (O Motherland, the blood of how many do you need? That blood which will impart a rosy hue to your pale cheeks How many sighs will soothe your heart? How many tears will cause your deserts to bloom?)  Shehar Bano Rizvi, writer, speaker, photographer, but above all a mother, encapsulated the horror like only a mother can. “A massacre in a school? Six gunmen opening fire at innocent kids? Why? How can any human being have the heart to pull that trigger on children?”  A longtime resident of Doha, she recalled how the APS tragedy left her utterly speechless and heartbroken.  “Partly, my faith in humanity died that day along with those innocent children. A horror unheard of for any parent! When we send our kids to school, no-one in their wildest imagination can think of them being subjected to such barbarism,” Shehar Bano said. “My heart as a mother, a human still bleeds for the families of the victims and the survivors who witnessed such an act of horror. My prayers are with them”. The tragedy still disturbs the deep recesses of the mind of many. Omer Azad, who is in the construction business, and has spent a better part of his life in Doha, says, “A shiver runs down my spine whenever I think of that moment. Without a shadow of doubt it remains the darkest hour of our country, if not the modern world. Never had I conceived that humans would do such barbaric things. They were all kids with shining dreams. They were all like angels. To think that they went to school and their bags, shoes and  uniform dipped in blood returned to their homes; their parents and loved ones — it still gives me chills thinking about that moment.”  Rida Omer, a housewife, looked askance — even five years later. “They had goals to achieve. They had dreams to conquer and a future they could not see. Their hands were to make paper planes yet they left behind history. They had a life to cherish, a life that was meant to be, but they sacrificed it for generations to come and generations to see.”  “Today, I pay tribute to all those flowers that withered in the gaze of another bloom. May their souls rest in peace,” she said with melancholy. 

YESTERDAY ONCE MORE: Current Pakistan captain Azhar Ali and Sri Lankan skipper Dimuth Karunaratne holding the trophy with Bandula Warnapura, left, and Javed Miandad, right, before the start of the first Test in a decade which began at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium yesterday. Warnapura and Miandad led their respective sides in the first ever Test between the two countries in 1982.
Opinion
River of goodwill runs deep in Test return

Cricket is seriously pursued only in a handful of countries; indeed, the full members of the International Cricket Council number only 12. Pakistan is one, but the game in this cricket-mad country is only second to religion. To be dead honest, that is how the nation and Pakistan cricket were woven for a long time. In the last decade that interest has waned a wee bit, but not waned enough to lose its status of the ultimate uniter. Yes, Pakistanis may bicker over anything under the sun, but when its cricketing fortunes are on an upswing, life can be ridiculously calm! The decline in fortunes thanks to a lack of nurseries is owed massively to Pakistan losing hosting rights after the visiting Sri Lankan team came under a terrorist attack on March 3, 2009 as they headed for an ongoing Test match in Lahore, Pakistan’s cultural capital and cricket headquarters. The shocking episode in which eight people died and left a few Sri Lankan cricketers injured as their bus was fired upon by gunmen, effectively robbed Pakistan of international cricket at home, depriving fans of watching their heroes in action — some of whom never featured at home before their international careers ended! What led to the unfortunate incident is well documented, including the heroic rearguard action by the Pakistani bus driver, whose presence of mind and gumption in speeding the bus out of a hail of gunfire prevented the worst possible. He later visited Sri Lanka on a special invitation and was hailed as a hero. But it was obviously not enough to save international cricket at home! The irony of the matter is that Pakistan was fronting the global war-on-terror and that included countries which were both part of the war theatre as well as the ICC. Pakistan meanwhile was the biggest victim of this war’s fallout in terms of human and economic losses. Yet, no member country of the ICC was willing to consider treading the beaten path for all the sacrifices rendered despite offers of state-level security. In Pakistan, during this time, fans felt embittered. Allowing for the failure to prevent the unfortunate attack in Lahore at the time of a politically charged atmosphere, they have long contended how terrorist attacks in other countries could similarly neither be prevented nor did these deprive them of hosting rights. The attacks in England, India, Sri Lanka and New Zealand are cited as examples. Wednesday, December 11, 2019, therefore, will etch itself in history. Pakistanis are unlikely to forget who the tourists are, once again. Just months after they returned to feature in a limited overs series against Pakistan at the very venue (Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium), which led to all this heartburn, Sri Lanka became the first international team to feature in a Test match on Pakistan soil after more than a decade — 3,935 days to be precise — yesterday. Perhaps, the fans can be allowed the liberty to see it as poetic justice. The venue this time is Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium. The stadium itself holds some significance: the first international played here was also against Sri Lanka. It was also the first ever international covered by this scribe, and the frenzied interest of the fans meant that a seating capacity of about, 28,000 fell abysmally short and led to overcrowding with the result that one was left trying to save young female fans caught in the melee than focus on the action out in the middle. Later, a reward and certificate for ‘hardship’ reporting was probably consolation enough! This encounter in 1992 also turned out to be Imran Khan’s last international on home soil before he went on to lead Pakistan to a fairytale triumph a few weeks later in Australia. Incidentally, Khan is now the country’s prime minister, and it is fair to assume that he would have more than a passing interest in the game. While the long-suffering Pakistani public’s emotional attachment to the resumption of Test cricket at home is understandable, it is important to get to the dénouement in the context of history. The uninitiated can be forgiven for thinking why has Sri Lanka chosen to tide over widely circulated apprehensions surrounding the “security” situation in Pakistan — even when the country has come a long way after successfully fighting the menace of terrorism on its soil. The bilaterals play a significant role here and are evident in the strong political and defence ties as well as the ‘first love’ that binds the nations, historically: cricket. Pakistan’s steadfast and active support helped Sri Lanka overcome challenging situations in the region and, talking specifically of cricket, Pakistan manoeuvred to get the island nation full membership of the ICC by rallying other Asian nations in 1981. In subsequent years, Pakistan stood by Sri Lanka, and in a particular episode when Australia refused to play a fixture of the 1996 World Cup there, teams from Pakistan and India travelled to Sri Lanka to show solidarity. Pakistani fans openly backed the Sri Lankan team in the final against Australia in that edition in Lahore — an act of generosity that the World Cup-winning Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga never forgot and has since consistently, supported the return of international cricket to Pakistan. Two months ago, when Sri Lanka’s key players pulled out of the limited overs series and the visiting board president complained about being “fed up of security”, Ranatunga blasted him and exhorted his board to take a history lesson. “People running the game at present perhaps, do not know how much Pakistan helped us during our early days,” he said. Regardless of the on-field results, what is certain is that a full strength Sri Lankan team for this tour has signalled Colombo’s intention to play its part in reviving the good old times in a country with whom its river of goodwill runs deep. * The writer is Features Editor. He tweets @kaamyabi

MAKING A STATEMENT: A student rallies fellow participants as they march in the federal capital Islamabad to demand the reinstatement of student unions last Friday.
Opinion
Pakistan student march eyes revival for survival

There’s never a dull moment in Pakistan. After last week’s pulsating conclusion to the case surrounding the army chief’s extension in Supreme Court, another issue of considerable interest — the restoration of student unions — is generating momentum. Given the recent uneasy sail, it would seem we’re on the heels of another storm, but it needn’t be so. There is a tendency to view every movement as a sort of threat to national security, if not outright challenge to the status quo. The vibrant youth making themselves heard, in a decidedly democratic expression of their rightful demands in a peaceful way only strengthens the foundation of a just society, not burn the house down. If anything, it only reinforces the ideals of an alive and kicking polity. The Student Solidarity March, led by the Student Action Committee, came out last Friday in 50 cities across Pakistan to present a charter of demands for the restoration of student unions and better educational facilities. They were joined by teachers, rights activists and members of the civil society, who thronged to the venues to lend support. Many of these mixed marches saw young female students in the vanguard, raising slogans, holding placards and reciting azad nazm (free verse) of legendary poet and author Faiz Ahmed Faiz, to the beat of drums. There was plenty of festive air to the whole campaign — a pleasing sight when compared to the often rough, ultra-political, life-disturbing yet much tolerated sit-ins in the federal capital. In stark contrast, all participants of the student march dispersed peacefully after a few hours and made light of the exaggerated predictions of a showdown spun by the detractors. Perhaps, a show of nerves was evident because it has been a long, long time since students made their presence felt. Military ruler General Ziaul Haq, who overthrew the elected government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in a bloodless coup in 1977, left a lasting legacy of disenfranchisement and radicalism, one of which was to place a ban on student unions on the pretext of violence on campuses in 1984.  Practically speaking, it has been 35 years since the student unions were in business — barring the brief period when Benazir Bhutto lifted the ban upon assuming charge as Pakistan’s youngest — and Muslim world’s first female — elected prime minister in 1988. She was herself shy of 36 at the time. Poignantly, the next year was the last time elections were held in colleges and universities. Benazir was ousted from power on corruption charges by a hostile president in 1990. In 1993, the year she returned to power, the Supreme Court prohibited the formation of student unions and called for a proper mechanism for their revival. Unfortunately, successive governments deemed it safe to live in the long shadows of the verdict, treating it little more than a fait accompli. Bhutto’s own Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) did not live up to the promise of reviving the unions after returning to power yet again in 2008, riding a sympathy wave following her assassination days before the general elections. A fresh attempt was made in 2017 to address the issue following a motion tabled by PPP senator Rubina Khalid to this effect and taken up by Raza Rabbani, the chairman of the upper house of Pakistan’s bicameral legislature, who, then gave a ruling, calling for their immediate revival. But the PPP was no longer in power, and despite noises in unison, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government was too busy fighting for survival after losing its prime minister to a court conviction. Fast forward to the present. The days and weeks of burning midnight oil in corner meetings by office-bearers of the Student Action Committee and solidified with a resonant march last Friday, seem to have paid off with Prime Minister Imran Khan hinting at the possibility of reviving the student unions. Despite the assurance coming by way of only a tweet, it reflects positively on both the parties — the youth, who felt dejected by this long dark night of denial, and the PM, who, it must be emphasised, owes majorly to the dynamic young voter base which helped him and his party reach the corridors of power. However, it would be erroneous to presume — from a political standpoint — that the revival would benefit only the party in power. At the same time, it is important to understand the distinction between a student union and a student organisation (or wing of a political/religious party). By its very nature, a union is a more rounded, inclusive entity fighting for and upholding the rights of its members (students, in this case) — for better education, facilities, an environment free of coercion on the campuses (that has been one of the demands placed on record) and harassment issues, to name a few. Talking of student wings, it is common knowledge that despite the official ban some religious outfits have long had a stranglehold in many college and university campuses through them in trying to drive other students to a certain way of life. So an average student has to contend with both this menace and the challenge itself of attaining his or her education goals for a rewarding career. A revival will hopefully, not only create a more enabling environment but also give way to plurality of views and perhaps, alternative political discourses. A body of opinion exists, which remains wary of the idea of what it calls “politicising” students, but that may be a rather cynical inference. A society is already ‘political’ if it is alive to its rights, knows how to attain these in a peaceful realm, and responsibilities. The PM is on message when underlines the need for a code of conduct to groom the youth as future leaders. “We will establish a comprehensive and enforceable code of conduct, learning from the best practices in internationally renowned universities, so that we can restore and enable student unions to play their part in positively grooming our youth as future leaders of the country,” he tweeted. Time now, for some action. * The writer is Features Editor. He tweets @kaamyabi

CRITIQUE: US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Alice Wells made an unusually specific critique of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project at the Wilson Center in Washington DC earlier this week.   (File photo)
Opinion
Pakistan, China dismiss US clamour over CPEC

When a $62bn project, rich in economic and infrastructural dividends, with a 3,000km network of railways, oil and gas pipelines, and renewable energy schemes connects two countries, some attention is only inevitable. On the flip side, it will invite the envy of those who will be hard-pressed to match it and therefore, unable to stomach it. Early this week, it was evident in the unusually specific speech that Alice Wells, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, delivered on the subject at the Wilson Centre, a Washington think-tank before a host of diplomats, scholars and media persons where she basically warned that Pakistan was unwittingly priming to be at the receiving end of a Chinese juggernaut. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor — or CPEC as it is simply referred to — is the jewel in the crown of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that involves partnering with dozens of countries around the world through trade and infrastructure projects such as shipping lanes, railroads and airports. A project as grandiose as BRI is not without its share of detractors and given the undercurrents of China’s rapidly expanding global reach and power was always bound to create unease for its rivals in the region and across the globe. The top American diplomat for South Asia isn’t, of course, the first one to draw the red line on CPEC nor would likely be the last. However, her rather public and calibrated presentation is interesting for both its timing and a clear sense of desperation in Washington over its own considerably shrinking influence across the globe. The timing is significant because a chastened US is attempting to revive ties with Pakistan after a long period of distrust and what is evidently the latest retreat to a historically transactional relationship. The Trump administration initially, disparaged Islamabad whilst vainly trying to secure a face-saving exit from Afghanistan after an 18-year-old draining war. It has since returned to siding with pragmatism, and only last week Trump called Prime Minister Imran Khan, with whom he has since built an equation, to thank him for the role Islamabad played in securing the release of two Western hostages, including an American, held by Taliban since 2016.   This is not to suggest that Wells did not raise pertinent posers, which would be par for the course in any project of this scale and, fundamentally speaking, economic sense. Two top ministers of Prime Minister Khan’s cabinet — Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and newly installed Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar — quickly rebutted Wells’ argument that Islamabad was getting a raw deal from CPEC, which she claimed would push it to the edge in terms of a stifling debt and foster corruption whilst repatriating jobs and profits to China. While Qureshi simply chose to reject Washington’s concerns as unfounded in a decidedly diplomatic mien, Umar held a presser to pointedly address the questions raised by the American diplomat whilst candidly agreeing that the questions were valid in certain respects but incorrectly posited for lack of intent or information. He spelt out, with facts and figures, how and why these fell short of passing muster.   Asserting that Islamabad would never back out of CPEC given its time-tested relationship with Beijing that had defied the odds since its inception, Umar said the country would never again become a “collateral damage” in a conflict between two major powers. While agreeing with Wells that the external debt had considerably impacted the economic progress over time, he dismissed the suggestion it was contrived by China. “Our total public debt right now is $74bn, out of which the CPEC debt is $4.9bn — not even 10% of the total debt,” Umar pointed out. He also rejected the notion that it was a one-way street. “Both countries have benefited: Chinese firms got business as their machinery was exported to Pakistan. The lack of infrastructure in Pakistan, especially in the power sector, was where a lot of the country’s needs were met. Besides, CPEC became a source of financing in large amounts which was previously unavailable. So a base was laid out in the first phase and now further developments will take place in the next phase,” the minister explained. Umar disclosed that special economic zones will be in business in about two months. While admitting that the first phase did not generate too many jobs, he explained it was important to understand that when the objective is infrastructural development, it happens. However, he expects once the industrial development takes off, it will line up jobs.  Meanwhile, Chinese ambassador to Pakistan Yao Jing expressed his “shock and surprise” at the US critique of CPEC, saying Washington should not be casting aspersions over something about which it does not have accurate information. At a presser in Islamabad, he also countered why the US had suspended its promised aid to Pakistan (in 2018, the Trump administration suspended $2bn military aid, including what it owed to Islamabad as service charges for on ground assistance in the anti-terror war in Afghanistan) and not invested in its power sector despite knowing about the country’s dire shortfall. “When in 2013, the Chinese companies were establishing power plants, where was the US,” he bristled. “If Pakistan was in need, China would never ask it to repay loans in time,” Ambassador Jing declared. He also dismissed Wells’ accusation of underwhelming Pakistani workforce, saying that 75,000 Pakistanis were employed in CPEC since 2015 — a number that he projected would grow to 2.3 million by 2030. In a parting shot, the envoy said he would be more than happy to see more investment coming from the US to Pakistan. Reinforcing Islamabad’s position on the subject, Umar clarified the deep rooted ties with Beijing were not aimed against anyone. “We wish to have better relations with all countries. I can assure Alice Wells that American companies were welcome, are welcome and will continue to be welcomed to invest in Pakistan”. * The writer is Features Editor. He tweets @kaamyabi

FLIGHT OUT: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif is back in London for treatment. Reuters
Opinion
Heat over Sharif court reprieve

Finally, weeks after the uncertainty surrounding Nawaz Sharif’s departure from Pakistan for treatment abroad, the former prime minister is back in London.  The days leading up to his eventual but conditional exit from Pakistan had all the makings of an engrossing drama that is staple for a Pakistani audience honed on twists and turns of fate before lady luck intervenes to bail out the protagonist. Except that this is real life and it tested the mettle of key actors to the hilt before the air ambulance took off from Lahore, Pakistan’s art and cultural capital! All of last week the news cycle in Pakistan was hooked to what seemed like a battle of attrition between the main opposition party — the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) named after Sharif but one which he no longer can lead in official capacity after being disqualified from holding public or party office by the Supreme Court for concealing assets and false testimony in poll nomination papers, and the ruling Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) government. Sharif is currently serving a seven year-prison sentence for conviction in one case, is on bail from two other corruption cases and facing another reference from the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). Interestingly, the current NAB chief, who remains vocal about uncompromised accountability, was an appointee of the Sharif government, which consulted the-then opposition leader from the Pakistan People’s Party to put him in office — a legal requirement.  Prime Minister Imran Khan has had a tightrope walk over the issue after medical reports emerged about Sharif’s deteriorating medical condition, which a panel of medical experts also verified as being serious enough to merit intervention.  The three-time former PM, who will turn 70 next month, is suffering from an immune system disorder, highlighted more recently by diving blood platelets, which caused an alarm necessitating taking him from the prison to hospital. Reportedly, diagnosis became an issue to the extent that the idea of seeking treatment abroad gained ground swiftly. As a result, his party approached the court which granted him an eight-week release. Prime Minister Khan, whose entire political career and capital is pivoted around the anti-corruption mantra, and who relentlessly pursued the so-called Panama Papers case that first revealed Sharif family’s unexplained wealth and assets abroad and which eventually led to his ouster from power, put up the issue of any permission for Sharif’s treatment abroad before the federal cabinet where it ran into major opposition and made it difficult for the PM to simply issue a carte blanche.  Although the premier had wisened up to the reality of Sharif’s medical emergency and even hinted at it publicly in probable anticipation of being forced to ease him out, he was wary of the public backlash from his own constituency in the backdrop of rumours surrounding a possible “deal”. What made it more pronounced was the PM’s claim in the recent past that he had fended off pressure from some foreign powers to bail out Sharif. After marathon meetings, the PTI government decided to allow the PML-N supremo to proceed for medical treatment abroad conditional to submitting an indemnity bond to the tune of Rs7.5 billion (or its equivalent in UK/US currency). The one-time permission would be for four weeks starting from the date of departure.  Announcing this in a presser, Law Minister Farogh Naseem spoke on various legal aspects of the decision which however, did not include removing Sharif’s name from the Exit Control List (ECL) since “under the law, the name of a convicted prisoner cannot be removed from the ECL” — a decision the government has stuck to despite letting out Sharif. The minister also dismissed the notion that the indemnity bond was a political move, saying it was being sought as a guarantee only for Sharif’s return to fulfil legal requirements. He countered that the court and public could foreseeably question the government on what guarantees it had sought to allow a convict to proceed abroad.  That having said, the general impression is that despite drawing strong criticism from the PML-N over it what it called ‘playing politics’ over Sharif’s health, apparently, the PTI government threw in a proviso to dispel notions of a sell-out with a gambit to push the ball out of its court — and into the real one, on form. Expectedly, the PML-N moved Lahore High Court (LHC) to seek a judicial reprieve rather than being seen to pay what it publicly bemoaned as “ransom” to the government. The LHC swiftly took up the case and, on an off-day, handed PML-N a convenient route by overruling the indemnity bond sought by the government.  In the end, Shahbaz Sharif, the younger brother of the ex-prime minister and current opposition leader, submitted a written guarantee to the court for his return after treatment, which paved the way for his flight to London on Tuesday. While the LHC ruling has generated heat with the running interpretation amongst critics being that there was one set of law for the mighty and another for lesser mortals, Prime Minister Khan would be hard-pressed to completely ward off notion of a political compromise.  At a public meeting following the verdict, he seemed unhappy with the verdict and made it a point to appeal to the current chief justice of the Supreme Court and his forthcoming successor — by name — to “restore the confidence of the public in courts” by removing the perception that there is discrimination between the powerful and the weak, and that the application of law is equal for all. However, two days later the chief justice retorted that it wasn’t appropriate to criticise the judiciary and that it was the government that allowed (Sharif) to go. While admitting that no institution was “perfect”, he said there was “a silent revolution in the judiciary”. Before the top adjudicator’s response, the premier seemed to have tided over any remarkable adverse reaction because the LHC verdict was being largely interpreted in two ways; a humanitarian gesture or one that reinforced the ‘discrimination’ divide. He would now hope the optics of apparently taking a stand bears fruit with Sharif returning home at some stage. l The writer is Features Editor. He tweets @kaamyabi

DIVIDENDS OF PEACE: Thousands of devotees from India at the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, Pakistan, after the opening of the corridor on Saturday. (Reuters)
Opinion
Kartarpur: Winning hearts and minds

Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive! Saturday, November 9, 2019, will go down in the history of the subcontinent not only as a milestone but also a sterling reminder of what is possible when the human spirit soars over manmade borders and barriers in an all-conquering flight of imagination.  The day, closer to home in Kartarpur — the last resting place of Baba Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism — also represents perhaps, Pakistan’s biggest and now its most celebrated peace initiative in the 21st century, completely overriding tense relations with neighbouring India, which also signed to pave the way for his disciples to cross over into Pakistan.  The 9-km corridor links Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Narowal district of Pakistan’s Punjab province, Guru Nanak Dev’s birth and final resting place, to Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Indian Punjab’s Gurdaspur district. For this past week, emotionally charged stories of reunion or simply return to roots following seven decades of separation that followed the bloody Partition of 1947 — the harbinger of the single largest exodus of humankind in history — continue to dot the media landscape. Several videos have since also gone viral; some funny, others sober, but nearly all endearing. Previous attempts to build a corridor and open the religious shrine for Sikhs, particularly from India, which is home to the largest population of faithfuls, often became a collateral for the up-and-down nature of the bilateral relations.  As has been described several times this past week, it was a classic case of ‘so near yet so far’ — with Sikhs able to merely spot the holy site some 4km from the international border but, tragically unable to cross it.    Since living up to his promise of opening the Kartarpur Corridor in less than a year after laying the foundation stone, Prime Minister Imran Khan has been hailed as a peacemaker and showered with love even across the border in India, with a rare public note of thanks also coming from his counterpart Narendra Modi.  This was amply demonstrated by a stirring speech at the Kartarpur inauguration delivered by Navjot Singh Sidhu, former Indian Punjab minister and current MLA, who roused the audience with his signature poetic depiction, only this time it had a sweeping tremolo.  Describing Khan as a “lionhearted” peacemaker immune to the idea of counting political gains and losses and concerned only with uniting people, Sidhu thundered: “For four generations, our people paid the price of the partition-wrought bloodletting. In 72 years, no-one did for our nation what Imran Khan has done”.      Turning to his one-time cricket adversary, Sidhu said: “Khan Sahib, you have made history and nobody can deny your place in it. You are the sikandar (conqueror) of hearts. And while Sikandar (Alexander the Great) had won the world with fear, you have conquered the world by winning hearts.” Prime Minister Khan in his speech reiterated the peace offer he made to his Indian counterpart even before assuming office in August last year and hoped one day the two countries would find their calling as neighbours coexisting in peace. Khan said he was humbled by what he could do to facilitate the world Sikh population and likened their long decades of yearning to how Muslims would feel if they were able to see Madina, the last resting place of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) from a distance, but not being able to visit it. Another prominent presence at the Kartarpur ceremony was former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, who made a poignant return to the land of his birth. The journey took Singh 72 years; despite remaining in office for 10 years and receiving several official and unofficial invitations, he could not make it, which again, is put down to political compulsions.   Last Saturday, Singh led the first delegation of Sikh pilgrims as they entered Pakistan through the Kartarpur corridor. Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi warmly received him and his wife Gursharan Kaur, and recounted to him how the former first lady herself made tea for him when they last met. The ex-Indian premier called the Kartarpur opening a “big moment” and even before entering Pakistan had stated at a special session of the Punjab Assembly to mark the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak that the “Kartarpur model” had the potential to resolve future conflicts. “Peace and harmony is the only way forward to ensure a prosperous future. The Kartarpur model may be replicated in future, too, for lasting resolution of conflicts,” Singh said at the session. For the uninitiated, Kartarpur marks the most significant and constructive phase in Guru Nanak’s life. It was here, on the banks of the Ravi, that he laid the foundations of a new faith. Nanak came to the town between 1520 and 1522 after he had travelled extensively across continents. He spent the formative years of his life at Talwandi, a town 90km west of Pakistan’s cultural capital Lahore, where he was born in 1469. It was later renamed Nankana Sahib in his honour. Today, it is the capital of Nankana Sahib district. Guru Nanak spent the next 10 years at Sultanpur Lodhi where he attained enlightenment. And for the next 20 years, he travelled across many countries and continents before coming to Kartarpur.  Interestingly, Pakistan hosts the three most important shrines that directly connect Sikhs to Guru Nanak and therefore, the ‘land of the pure’, which is what Pakistan literally means. The first is the Nankana Sahib, where he was born 550 years ago; the second is Panja Sahib, which marks the site of a major episode during his travels; and the third Kartarpur Sahib, built on the banks of the Ravi, where he spent the last 18 years of his life. Notably, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in his speech said the Imran Khan government was now moving to work on the restoration of 400 Hindu temples that had been identified for the purpose and open them to religious tourism in the future as well. The writer is Features Editor. He tweets @kaamyabi

BOXED INTO A CORNER: Fazlur Rehman addressing the JUI-F sit-in in Islamabad. AFP
Opinion
JUI-F: Which way will the cookie crumble?

Fazlur Rehman, chief of his faction of the right-wing Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), currently holding Islamabad to ransom with thousands of his followers to force Prime Minister Imran Khan to resign is a wily old politician with a near unparalleled streak of finding himself into the corridors of power, any which way. Until now, that is. The JUI-F supremo is demanding that Khan resign because in his view the incumbent has come into power through a rigged election and failed to deliver. Rehman himself lost both his seats in the National Assembly — lower house of Pakistan’s bicameral legislature — in last year’s general elections. The portly 66-year-old lost the seats to much younger contestants from Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI). Rehman also lost heavily in the subsequent presidential polls to the PTI’s candidate Dr Arif Alvi in a failed attempt to enter the parliament through other means. He has since rallied the two main opposition parties namely, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), both of whose leaders are incarcerated over corruption charges and abuse of power (ex-PM and PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif is already convicted) and have their own axes to grind, in a studied endeavour to revive his and their political fortunes. Interestingly, despite publicly supporting Rehman and his campaign to oust the Khan government, the two parties have baulked at the idea of forcing the issue through extra-constitutional means and refused to be a part of the JUI-F’s sit-in, leaving Rehman isolated and on the edge. The general perception is that the two parties are doing so to seek concessions for their own jailed leaders, one of whom, Sharif, has already been released by court for eight weeks on medical grounds. So why is Rehman bent on trying to upset the applecart and why now when the Khan government has painstakingly fronted multifarious challenges to navigate the country to some form of political and economic stability? The commentariat in Pakistan has a near consensus on the running theme — Rehman’s desperate but mostly vain attempts to stay politically relevant. His political scorecard makes for not only interesting reading but serves as a valuable guide to understand where he is coming from. Since succeeding his cleric father Mufti Mehmood in 1980 — an event which itself caused a split in the party since the much senior cleric Samiul Haq refused to work under the-then 27-year-old — Rehman’s ability to somersault for a share of spoils has meant he has trucked with almost all key political allies and rivals with the finesse of a gymnast. Consider two examples. After raising the political heat on General Pervez Musharraf for his decision to sign with the US on the war-on-terror post-Nine Eleven, driving support for Taliban against Western forces in Afghanistan and pushing for enforcing Shariah, he conveniently dropped the “ideology” to suit his ambition for power. He even didn’t let Musharraf putting him under house for almost half a year come in the way of getting the Opposition Leader’s slot as he cut a deal to support the general’s controversial Legal Framework Order that enabled the strongman to give legal cover to his extra-constitutional steps and stay on in power! Similarly, the cleric at one time opposed the rule of a woman in Islam — two-time prime minister Benazir Bhutto, in this instance — but then conveniently, settled for a role as chairman of the National Assembly’s Kashmir Committee under her government where he effectively, used a large number of foreign visits for joy ride at public expense as well as other perks. But nothing quite beats the infamous WikiLeaks cable of November 27, 2007 from Anne Patterson, the-then US ambassador in Islamabad, which offers a fascinating insight into the mind of the JUI-F chief and his insatiable lust for power. The said cable indicated to the US that his “still significant” number of votes were “up for sale” even if his party’s voter support dropped in the 2007 general elections. Patterson’s cable provided details of a meeting between JUI-F leaders Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, Senator Talha Mahmood, Senator Azam Swati and Malik Sikander Khan and US diplomats, in which she wrote: “Fazlur enjoys being courted by both Musharraf and Bhutto and sees himself increasingly in the lucrative position of being kingmaker, if not the next Prime Minister, because of JUI-F’s voter strength in what may be a three-way vote tie among Pakistan’s major parties. Even if JUI-F’s voter support drops, he has made it clear that, free and fair elections notwithstanding, his still significant number of votes are up for sale.” The ambassador acknowledged that JUI-F wanted to be a major party and wanted to be “more engaged with the US”. The cable added: “At one point in the conversation, Rehman asked the Ambassador if the USG (United States Government) would deal with him if he was elected as Prime Minister and cautioned the USG not to put all of its eggs in the basket of Benazir Bhutto. Ambassador noted that it was not USG policy to crown any particular leader in Pakistan….Rehman indicated his desire to travel to the US and suggested he could lobby the Congress and American think tanks “as well as Benazir Bhutto.” Ironically, for someone who relented on his declared opposition to the late Benazir for a share of spoils, he and his party have an abiding misogynist streak and publicly disapprove of women’s participation in public rallies in a country where just a tip over half the population is female. Even women journalists were forced to leave their ongoing sit-in! So will a desperate Rehman eventually carry out his threats to march on the PM House and force his exit? Even as a government committee engages regularly with the opposition’s Rehbar Committee — and more recently, the entry of wily political cousins, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, who have his ears — for a peaceful way out, the powerful military’s public pledge earlier this week “to support national institutions at any cost” would likely have chastened Rehman to the outer limits of a misadventure. lThe writer is Features Editor. He tweets @kaamyabi

GAME-CHANGER: Pakistanu2019s Sana Mir seen here at the Asia Society event in New York last week has infused a generational change in parents with daughters through her exploits, including exceptional leadership skills.
Opinion
Mir-roring change through leadership

Female empowerment is a universal subject regardless of where the action is — the First World or the Third. In that realm, the degree of freedom and inalienable right to seek and achieve excellence is relative. In a more pronounced way, it is reflective of the odds women all over the world have to face — and eventually, overcome — to make their mark. Pakistan is no different even though it has produced a fair share of daughters of substance who could hold their heads high for what they came to represent on a global scale. From Fatima Jinnah, the resolute sister of Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah living a life of self-denial to realise the dream of an independent state, to Benazir Bhutto, the Muslim world’s first female chief executive, and from Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel laureate (just a schoolgirl when she captured the imagination of the world with her courage and activism for the right to education for the girl child) to more recently, Sana Mir, the game changing cricketer of merit, there’s plenty of inspiration. An inspiring figure in the international women’s game, 33-year-old Mir was contemplating retirement after passing on the baton of leadership in an unprecedented transition of power in Pakistan to a younger teammate only two years ago but mercifully, she is not done yet. Last week Mir was honoured with the prestigious 2019 Asia Society Game Changers award in New York — the second Pakistani after Malala — in the latest recognition of her stellar work beyond the cricket field that first made her famous. Founded in 1956 by John D Rockefellar 3rd, the Asia Society is the leading educational organisation dedicated to promoting mutual understanding and strengthening partnerships among peoples, leaders and institutions of Asia and the US in a global context. The Society’s Game Changers award identifies and honours true leaders who are making a positive contribution to the future of Asia. What makes Sana Mir’s inclusion amongst this year’s honourees special was that it marked the first time since the awards were instituted five years ago that all the awardees were path-breaking females! The list this year included Japan’s Yuriko Koike, the current and first female governor of Tokyo; China’s Jane Jie Sun, the leader of Ctrip, a $25-bn travel company in China; Sheikha Hoor al-Qasimi from the United Arab Emirates, a pioneer in the art world; Chhaya Sharma, a senior Indian police officer in charge of a team of investigators that solves some of New Delhi’s toughest crimes; and last but not least, Kung Fu Nuns, a group of Buddhist nuns, who have harnessed their mastery of martial arts and are also widely known for their social activism and humanitarian work. While presenting the award, Asia Society Co-Chairperson Ambassador Chan Heng Chee said: “Sana Mir is first and foremost a true champion in her field, she’s also a champion for millions of girls and young women on the field and off. As a child growing up in Pakistan, Sana Mir saw few other girls — and even fewer women — playing the national sport: cricket. Refusing to let that stop her, Mir joined the country’s fledgling women’s cricket team and went on to become its captain and eventually, (amongst) the top female cricketers in the world”. The citation underlined her leadership métier thus: “She led (Pakistan) to gold medal wins at the Asia Games in 2010 and 2014. Mir recently became the world’s top-ranked bowler for one-day internationals; and, the top wicket-taker for spinners ever among women in ODIs. She has been decorated with the Pakistani medal of excellence known as the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz, similar to the US Congressional Medal of Honor; won the People’s Choice Award at the Pakistan Sports Awards; and, was recently inducted into the ICC Women’s Committee as one of three female players’ representatives to the preeminent cricket body. And in 2017, she became a member of the Asia 21 Young Leaders network”. Mir, who was declared the first Pakistani ‘Woman Cricketer of the Year’ in 2013, is also her country’s first female player to take hundred ODI wickets, first to feature in 100 T20s as well as the highest wicket-taker in both formats. She has also been ranked in the Top 20 for nine years and under her captaincy, 8 Pakistani players featured in the Top 20 ODI rankings. Mir’s succinct acceptance speech truly reflected her selfless conduct and world vision (https://asiasociety.org/video/cricket-star-sana-mir-accepts-asia-game-changer-award). Typically, she eschewed revelling in her glorious hour and instead dedicated it to those standing up for climate change, women helping each other and children of war-torn nations. She did this by poignantly evoking Sir Allama Muhammad Iqbal, Pakistan’s national poet, whose famous verses underlining a universal message of seeking the light of education and staying the course of humanity and compassion most Pakistani children learn at school. Saying that she was truly humbled and honoured to receive the award, Mir implored the world to comprehend the scale of global issues by seeing it through a child’s eyes. “My prayer today is that the leaders of today and tomorrow see the world through the lens of the child, the way the child sees the world, so we can safeguard their rights without regard to the colour of their skin, race, religion, or nationality”. Holding on to her values, Mir has refused to endorse beauty products throughout her career, and famously called out adverts for associating being beautiful with success in sport.  The takeaway quote? “Make no mistake: you need strong arms, not smooth arms, on a sports field”. But her best gift to the cricket-mad nation lies in the generational change she has infused in parents with daughters. “When I started in 2005, people would ask me why I’m doing this, it’s not a women’s game,” Mir recalled recently. “But now when I talk to people they say, ‘We are so proud of the team. We want our daughters to be a part of this team.’” * The writer is Features Editor. He tweets @kaamyabi

Tailor-made: The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during a meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan at his official residence in the federal capital Islamabad.
Opinion
Royal charm in a transformed country

That Pakistan regularly gets a raw deal in the international media thanks to a lopsided portrayal with negative undertones is nothing new. In particular, the country’s epic struggle to emerge from a terror war that was foisted upon it following the direct actions of the US-led coalition in Afghanistan, and which continue to manifest in ways that may have tested the mettle of more equipped states, often reeks of condescension. In this narrative, even the basic understanding and recognition of the sacrifices Pakistan has made — over 70,000 casualties and economic losses amounting to about $150bn — rarely makes even a guest appearance. Perhaps, it is convenient to typecast the same old imagery and just roll the ticker to the latest breaking news! It is in this context that the recently concluded five-day royal visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to Pakistan proved an exception to the rule, the disclaimer about the so-called “complexity” of the undertaking notwithstanding. In the end, Prince William and Kate Middleton reached the same conclusion visitors often do about a thoroughly warm and welcoming, if resilient, country that continues to defy the odds and is forever embracing anyone with a smile. To give them credit where its due, William and Kate were more than willing to walk the talk as the late Lady Diana, the former’s mother, famously did on her last visit to the country in 1996 to support the cancer hospital of cricket legend and philanthropist Imran Khan, the current prime minister. William’s father, the Prince of Wales, and Duchess of Cornwall followed the track in 2006 but with far less fanfare. Thirteen years later, the son and daughter-in-law of Prince Charles and Diana can claim to have played a reasonably decent part in redressing the balance of a fair appraisal. Both William and Kate acknowledged they were in a transformed country, with the former making it a point to both recognise the sacrifices Pakistan had made to come this far, and the deep connect Britain had in a relationship in its own interest. At a reception hosted by Thomas Drew, British High Commissioner to Pakistan, the Duke of Cambridge drew the scorecard with this tribute: “For a country so young, Pakistan has endured many hardships, with countless lives lost to terror and hatred. Tonight, I want to pay tribute to all those who have endured such sacrifice and helped to build the country that we see today”. William also contextualised the relationship in a security paradigm. The UK, which is one of Pakistan’s top investors, is home to some 1.5mn people of Pakistani heritage. “The UK and Pakistan share unique bonds and so it will always be in our best interests for you to succeed. What happens here in Pakistan directly correlates to what happens in the streets of the UK. The fact that we’re here today, and witnessing UK-Pakistani security working together shows you how important it is. You can rely on us to keep playing an important role as a key partner and your friend,” he said. As well as holding the fourth review of Pakistan-UK Enhanced Strategic Dialogue recently and boosting co-operation in other spheres, the British Airways restored air links to Pakistan earlier this year after a hiatus of a decade in a significant recognition of the changed environment. Cricket is never far when it comes to the two full members of the International Cricket Council. What better advertisement could there have been than getting Pakistan’s only World Cup winning captain, who, ironically scripted the fairytale triumph at England’s expense, and once studied, played, lived and was even married to a Briton, in the same frame! The royal couple was evidently pleased to meet the man at the centre of all that history and is now the country’s prime minister: Imran Khan. But this was more than a customary courtesy call, for, Khan and his former wife, Jemima, were friends to Diana, who had once taken William, then a teenager, to meet him in London in 1996, where Khan announced his political ambitions — and was met with a laughter bordering on disbelief. The premier later recalled the episode — and his 22-year-old struggle to get here — in an interview with CNN and paid glowing tributes to William’s mother for her charity work, including the dedicated last visit to his cancer hospital in Lahore for fundraising in 1996. Recollecting her sudden death, he said he was surprised how even people in the rural heartland of his constituency in Mianwali in the Punjab province were shocked and saddened when he thought they wouldn’t have even probably known her! Iconic images of Diana holding a poor cancer child in her lap at Khan’s hospital still evoke emotion amongst Pakistanis nearly a quarter century later.  Following in the footsteps of the much loved ‘Queen of Hearts’, Kate charmed Pakistanis with her demeanour and elegant choice of trademark local couture as she crisscrossed the country. Green with its hues was a recurring theme — symbolised in Islam, with a darker shade perhaps the Pakistani flag, and made its presence felt as intended. But predictably, it was a two-way street with love given and received. At a children’s home, Kate admitted the couple were “moved and touched” by their experiences. “Being here in Pakistan, William and I have seen on several occasions how family is at the heart of your culture”. Kate was equally effusive in an interview with the CNN, paying tribute to the welfare work at the children’s home and, of the royal tour, in general. “It’s been fantastic, we’ve seen a lot of Pakistan, a huge variety. It was amazing seeing some of the geography, but then to see some of the community activities like this has been really special”. The tour may have been designed to promote the country’s business and tourism profile, but it clearly did more. A personal touch was evident throughout the tour and saw the couple highlight climate change, quality education, welfare work and even indulge cricket — all with a smile that would have made Diana very proud. *    The writer is Community Editor. He may be reached at [email protected]

President of Huawei Wireless Solution Edward Deng making a point during the unveiling of the Chinese technology giantu2019s 5G full series solution in Zurich.
Business
Huawei presents latest 5G full-series solution for optimal 5G experience

Zurich The 2019 Global Mobile Broadband Forum here made a few exciting statements, including the latest 5G full-series solution for optimal 5G experience by Huawei. Unveiling the solution, Edward Deng, President of Huawei's Wireless Solution, dilated on the imperatives of using the technology and reaching the desired goals. "5G has come. Powerful networks deliver optimal user experiences. Advanced algorithms ensure optimal performance. Autonomous driving networks empower the most efficient operation and maintenance. This is what we aim to help operators achieve with 5G," Edward Deng told the media. Massive MIMO ­– multiple-input, multiple-output – an extension of MIMO, which essentially groups together antennas at the transmitter and receiver to provide better throughput and spectrum efficiency is key to expanding the limits of Shannon's Law and achieving a significant capacity increase on mobile networks. The said law relates to a formula in the information theory of American mathematician, electrical engineer, and cryptographer Claude Shannon that determines the maximum, error-free rate of a digital communications channel. Massive MIMO has been broadly recognised as a standard configuration for 5G mobile networks. Its performance directly determines the quality of 5G networks. Huawei released its second generation 5G Massive MIMO, the first in the industry to support large-scale deployment to leverage a 5G carrier's high bandwidth and overcome the coverage limitation of C-band. It was also the first of its kind to support a 200 MHz bandwidth and a transmit power of 200 W, while simultaneously boasting a lighter weight and curtailed dimensions. This efficiency has led to a shipment of over 400,000 units, and the figure is projected to soar to 600,000 by the end of 2019. It provides operators with a crucial foundation to ensure Gbps experiences on 5G networks. With 5G becoming the new wave what with large-scale deployment all around the world, Huawei has released its third generation 5G Massive MIMO. Combining industry-leading technologies and processes, such as 7nm chips and new compound materials, this product embellishes its prowess over previous models. The Massive MIMO product supports up to 400 MHz bandwidth in all spectrum scenarios, which again is the highest in the industry. Its transmit power has risen by 320 W, also the industry's highest, allowing for wider C-band coverage. Weight-wise, the Huawei product once again takes the cake, coming in at only 25 kg, enabling it to be deployed by a single person in most scenarios. Its power consumption will eliminate the barriers to global deployment across all scenarios and become a new standard in large-scale 5G deployment. The latest 5G full-series all-scenario products include BladeAAU, Easy Macro 3.0, BookRRU 3.0, and LampSite Sharing, as well as mmWave macro sites, pole sites, and small cells. BladeAAU supports single-pole installation and offers the industry's highest integration, allowing all sub-6GHz bands to be deployed in a single box in which both active and passive antennas are integrated. Easy Macro 3.0 and BookRRU 3.0 are pole site products utilizing multi-antenna technology for the first time. LampSite Sharing is the industry's digital indoor solution, supporting 400 MHz bandwidth to ensure noteworthy capacity for indoor hotspots. Edward Deng unveiled the industry's first ADN Mobile solution. This solution includes the Artificial Intelligence (AI) training platform iMaster NAIE, the cross-domain AI unit iMaster AUTIN, and the MBB network AI unit iMaster MAE. These three elements are hierarchically autonomous, with each working independently as a minimum closed loop while also vertically coordinating with each other. Not done with these innovations, Deng hinted that Huawei will also launch an entire series of Level 3 applications based on this solution next year to implement autonomous driving mobile network. These will include Site Express for auto-deployment, and Alarm Turbo. They will greatly improve operation and maintenance efficiency. Going a notch higher, Huawei will also provide scenario-based APIs and programmable environments based on ADN-powered platforms. Operators and industry partners can use them to rapidly develop and customise automation applications in line with the varied requirements. With the new decade in sight, mobile networks are primed for a new era with powerful 5G networks delivering optimal user experiences.

Huawei Deputy Chairman Ken Hu speaking at the Global Mobile Broad Band Forum in Zurich
Business
Needed: Cross-sector collaboration to spur 5G

Zurich *Experts debate the promise and realisation of a revolution in the making  5G is the first network designed for man and machine alike, at the same time. If one were to encapsulate the 10th Huawei Global Broad Band Mobile Forum 2019 staged with the usual fanfare here, it lay in the wisdom reinforced by Ryan Ding, Executive Director of the Board and President of Carrier BG, Huawei, who drove home that “the best way to predict your future is to create it”. The stakeholders seemed in sync and enlightened the excited audience over the two-day forum that concluded on Wednesday on the progress of 5G technology and the challenges in the way of implementing the most exciting next phase. Taking the opportunity, Huawei deputy chairman Ken Hu urged the mobile industry, authorities and enterprises to collaborate to create an environment to accelerate the next stage of 5G development. This year’s event is focusing on the future of mobile connectivity, from the introduction of 5G, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, cloud-based virtual and augmented reality, the Internet of Vehicles, and robotics. Hu was sanguine about the success of early deployments of 5G disclosing that 40 operators in more than 20 countries had launched 5G services as of mid-October. The sgtandards were finalised last year. He noted rapid consumer adoption and increased data usage, supported by a plethora of device launches. But he also underlined the need to ring in a switch in mindset to drive the next phase of development, which he said was needed “not just for vendors and carriers but also for regulators”. “To make the most from 5G we have to work together to meet some real challenges: spectrum; site resource; and cross-industry collaboration,” Hu emphasised. A “better, affordable spectrum”, he said was necessary, including flexible pricing models and incentives for operators, which would lower initial capex and enable them to provide a higher standard of services. Hu also touched on the importance of regulation to improve provisioning of network equipment. 5G projection Although much of the talk related to early 5G successes have centred on consumer adoption, Hu said there had also been many early industrial deployments. To realise further growth in this area, he called for cross-industry collaboration to explore what works and what doesn’t in terms of business cases and ultimately enabling 5G to meet its full potential. He underlined the fact that 5G was not simply faster 4G. “It will play a completely different role in our lives, so as an industry, we all need to have a fresh mindset to drive its future development," Hu said. Spurt in 5G use South Korea is a fine example of how 5G has seen a supercharged user experience. The first market to launch a commercial 5G network in April this year, it has seen local carriers sign up more than 3.5 million 5G subscribers in less than six months. Much of this growth can be attributed to new services like 5G-powered AR/VR and live 360º HD sports broadcasting. With these services alone, data consumption among early 5G adopters has shot up by a factor of three, up to 1.3 gigabytes per month! But this is not merely one vertical rise; carriers are seeing more revenue streams as well. For example, South Korean carrier LG U+ released 5G-powered VR/AR services as part of their premium data plans. In just three months following the 5G launch, their proportion of premium subscribers grew from 3.1% to 5.3%. It is already evident that industries are deriving new value from the first round of industrial 5G applications. Hu said even though it can’t be said for certain what type of applications could be seen in the future, it's was beyond doubt that every single industry would benefit from 5G technology.   Outlook for spectrum and sites Hu noted that spectrum resources, specifically the cost and availability of spectrum, are one of the most significant barriers that carriers face moving forward. "We hope governments can provide more spectrum resources to carriers and consider more flexible pricing models. This will reduce the initial CAPEX burden on carriers as they rollout their 5G networks." Hu also recommended that governments start actively planning to meet new spectrum demand over the next five to ten years, noting that 6GHz spectrum bands are a good starting point. "Our industry also needs more support for site resources," Hu continued. "Costs are still too high, and site availability always falls short of demand. Regulators should step up and improve the situation by opening up more public infrastructure for sharing and providing guidance on site construction." In Shanghai, for instance, the city government has set standards for multi-functional utility poles. By the end of 2020, they will install these poles along 500 kilometers of public roads, which will be used to support 30,000 additional 5G sites. That's 75% increase on the total number of mobile base stations currently built throughout the city.  In Europe, the government is working directly with carriers to identify co-use requirements for 5G sites and other forms of public infrastructure (such as traffic lights, signs, and bus stops) to drive down costs for everyone through infrastructure sharing.   Cross-sector cooperation In a studied endeavour for cross-sector innovation and greater regional collaboration, Huawei opened its first 5G Joint Innovation Center for Europe in Zurich. The center is a joint effort between Huawei and Sunrise. It will serve as an innovation platform that helps European companies come together across sectors and develop industry-specific 5G solutions. “Every country has its own economic strengths. These are the areas we can focus on and combine 5G technology with industry-specific solutions to enhance each country's competitiveness,” Hu concluded. The 10th edition of Mobile Broadband Forum brought together more than 1,500 representatives from carriers, vertical industries, equipment manufacturers, standards organisations, analyst firms, and the media. The exhibition hall showcased 5G technology, commercial solutions, and a rich array of 5G applications for individual consumers, households, and businesses, including 5G-powered cloud AR/VR, 8K broadcasting, cloud gaming, machine vision, and 5G-powered remote-control solutions.

Undeterred: Prime Minister Imran Khan, with Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa sitting next to him, making a point to Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit to China last week.
Opinion
FATF: Groundwork and geopolitical maths

All eyes in Islamabad are riveted on Paris as the long-awaited verdict on Pakistan with regard to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) – the abbreviation has assumed a common parlance of sorts – compliance report will be out this week. Listed on its grey list, the country is hoping to get back into business by regaining normalcy after the latest review. As always, the issue is marked by heavy political overtones, which is what Islamabad has also maintained with regard to the clamour about doomsday speak. The Foreign Office in Islamabad remains optimistic about a stable outlook as a result of the FATF review. To determine the credentials of a positive sentiment, it is imperative to look at the scorecard of compliance that the world body had placed on Islamabad. It would appear considerable work has gone into addressing the highlighted shortcomings. A report prepared by the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan claims that thanks to its comprehensive guidelines, financial institutions have been able to produce 219 Suspicious Transactions Reports (STRs) in the last year as compared to just 13 in eight previous years. After developing a set of regulations – Anti-Money Laundering/Combating Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) – to align itself with the FATF’s standards and its 40 recommendations, the SECP conducted 167 inspections to determine compliance. These include 72 cases of securities brokers, 27 of non-banking financial companies, 13 of insurance firms and 55 of high risk non-profit organisations. Talking of compliance, it is worth mentioning that it is not just the SECP that has taken up the cudgels to ensure that financial institutions are in order with their business by imposing penalties, but the entities themselves have also taken remedial measures to stay on the right side of law. To this end, the said financial institutions have deployed automated screening software to keep a tab on proscribed individuals. These entities now also have access to the Go AML system of the Financial Monitoring Unit (FMU) of the State Bank of Pakistan for online filing of STRs. To show it means business, the SECP has moved on from the convenient one-size-fits-all method to executing a risk-based approach for a robust AML/CFT regulatory framework. Stock and commodity brokers, NBFC, Modarabas as well as insurers and Takaful operators are all on the radar. Not content with this, a National Money Laundering/Terror Financing Risk Assessment has been undertaken this year to scrutinise the risks and vulnerabilities that are inherent within the financial sector including banks, NBFCs, brokers and insurers.  The Financial Monitoring Unit is collaborating with stakeholders including ministries, law enforcement agencies, State Bank of Pakistan and SECP to check potential abuse by money launderers and terrorist financiers. This, along with awareness campaigns, has had a chastening effect – leading to improvement in compliance level by regulated bodies. The FATF imbroglio and the challenging economy inherited by the Imran Khan government may have given the impression that market sentiment would border on circumspection with potential investors staying away but quite to the contrary, the situation has come to represent a measure of stability thanks to a raft of difficult and unpopular steps to streamline the economy. For instance, the market is on a winning spree – spanning 24 trading sessions, gaining 11.6% in the benchmark index last Friday to drive investor confidence. The National Assembly – lower house of the country’s bicameral legislature – recently passed a bill to amend Foreign Exchange Regulations (FERA 1947) in a bid to streamline the foreign exchange movement and prescribe severe punishment for money laundering. A recent meeting between Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and a group of prominent members of the business community could well be considered a give-away. A report in Dawn citing an unnamed business tycoon says there were plenty of assurances to draw from the horizon. The army chief was said to exude confidence with regard to the FATF review, reportedly eyeing a return to normal category. Coming from the army chief, it was unlikely just an expression of positive intent. Islamabad has publicly urged the FATF task force to come out with a “fair and unbiased” evaluation in the face of hectic lobbying from New Delhi to have it blacklisted. Significantly, the IMF, which was said to have held the FATF issue as a structural benchmark, hinted at a positive turnaround when its country representative for Pakistan endorsed Pakistan’s efforts to ensure compliance with the FATF guidelines. Compliance apart, the FATF maths makes for interesting reading. All Pakistan needs is a minimum of three votes to avert the blacklist. Islamabad is said to be counting on three particular allies namely, China, Turkey and Malaysia, to stand by it and given the context of recent developments in the region for form, it can be predicted with reasonable assurance that the three countries would be happy to keep the all-weather relationship warm. Prime Minister Imran Khan has already visited all three countries with a certain reciprocity seen to be the order of business. In fact, the relationship has moved to the next level with Khan able to develop a visible bonhomie with the leaders of these countries. Army Chief General Bajwa has also cemented defence ties with China and been a force multiplier for the PM. But this begs the question: does Islamabad have a plan B in the unlikely event of an undesired result at the FATF review? The blacklist would likely have little impact on domestic banking as income from global trade makes up for only 3% of total revenues. Media reports suggest Islamabad is prepared for the worst and while a negative sentiment would hurt the economy given the inherent pitfalls of the global trade order, a few important countries with a geopolitical interest in a stable Pakistan would be loathe to the idea of watching from the sidelines. *    The writer is Community Editor. He may be reached at [email protected]

Re-engagement: Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi (fourth right), with the Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (fourth left) and his delegation at the Pakistan Foreign Ministry in Islamabad last Thursday.
Opinion
Pakistan mediation moves into high gear

Donald Trump can claim to have a nodding acquaintance with cutting a deal. After all, he co-authored the 1987 The Art of The Deal – part memoir, part business-advice book – with journalist Tony Schwartz, and which apparently, announced his shrewd capital to most Americans, if not the world.  However, it would seem the Taliban have either not heard of it or don’t set too much store by it. To be fair to Trump, they have tested the mettle of mightier negotiators and held their own against war machines the like of which the world hasn’t seen for nearly two decades. If there’s something they have in reserves which trumps brute military power, it is the nagging ability to bide time and wait in on their perceived enemies in classic warfare. And so, despite the earlier bombast about annihilating them, the Trump administration – much to its chagrin, but like its predecessors chagrin has had to come around and try to negotiate a settlement of the Afghan imbroglio. It has proved elusive so far, but his keenness – desperation, to others – is apparent despite a sudden halt to the negotiations last month after a bombing in Kabul killed an American soldier. This happened as Trump was readying to host, by his admission, a secret Camp David rendezvous that would have reportedly brought “major leaders” of the Taliban face-to-face with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who, the militia have until now refused to acknowledge as legitimate partners in the negotiations.  The drive was kicked into high gear last year in December when President Trump wrote to incumbent Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, seeking Islamabad’s help to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table as it eyed a troop pullout from Afghanistan following a draining war that has cost the US an estimated $975bn until now, according to The Balance website. The Balance is renowned for expertise in the field and is engaged monthly by 24mn visitors. Its research data – reported by Forbes – indicates that the US was spending an annual budget of $52bn by 2018, to stay in business. President Trump is widely known to have tired of America’s longest war – and the most costly since the inflation-adjusted $4.1tn spent in World War II – and would rather get into a re-election bid for the White House next year with the ‘trophy’ of bringing his servicemen back home safely.  Washington would, of course, retain an essential contingent to help with the rehabilitation process in the post-pullout scenario. Currently, there are approximately, 14,000 US troops on the ground in non-combative role, but the Trump administration wants to pull out the troops from its five bases in Afghanistan.  Some 2,400 US troops have been killed since the American invasion of the war-torn country in 2001, including 16 this year, according to Al Jazeera.  After several months, the talks reached an advanced stage and the extensive round in Doha recently paved the way for an impending peace deal. Qatar, as always, was instrumental in taking the process forward by playing the role of a peacemaker in graciously hosting the partners to help them find a durable and peaceful solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.  Just when an agreement appeared in sight with US Special Representative on Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad even going on record about a deal “in principle”, and the withdrawal of 5,000 American troops within 135 days of it becoming final, the Kabul bombing early last month so incensed President Trump that he cancelled the reported final negotiation in Camp David.  Given to form, he tweeted the talks were “dead” and vowed no negotiations hence. However, as predicted by many pundits at the time, there are strong indicators of an impending official resumption of talks after a flurry of activity in Islamabad last week which first saw Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi hold talks with a Taliban delegation led by the co-founder of the group, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, even though for official purposes, the talks were said to be wide-ranging including the fate of more than 1.5mn Afghan refugees in Pakistan, and then, Khalilzad meeting the group. It was no coincidence that the US envoy, who has held nine rounds of talks with Taliban negotiators during the past year, spent considerable time in Islamabad meanwhile, meeting senior Pakistani officials in what the US Department of State described as follow-up meetings to the ones held in New York during the UN General Assembly session last month.  Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is a longtime proponent of a settlement away from the battlefield, had then, pronouncedly pushed with President Trump for the resumption of the dialogue, reasoning that there was no military solution to the problem. During his dozens of meetings with key US stakeholders and interaction with think-tanks on the New York circuit, he had vocally advanced his favoured mantra.  The Taliban, which was also unrelenting in sticking to its stand after the Kabul fiasco – at least publicly – has been working the windmills to find a meeting ground. Its delegates have visited China, Russia and Iran in the weeks following Trump’s sudden red card.  Few details have emerged following Khalilzad’s “informal” meeting with the Mullah Baradar-led Taliban delegation in Islamabad, and then, too from an unidentified Taliban member of the delegation, who was not authorised to speak. The State Department and Taliban spokesperson have both refused to comment. But there are strong indicators that a resumption may be in the works, including the presence, at the time, in Islamabad, of the Commander of US-led mission in Afghanistan, General Austin Miller, according to The New York Times, though it is unclear if he attended the “informal” session.  However, given how fragile even the semantics are, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani sacked his foreign ministry spokesperson Sibghatullah Ahmadi after he welcomed Pakistan’s talks with the Taliban to push the peace process forward. Ahmadi has since been referred for prosecution. Until now, the Taliban refuse to accord any recognition to the government in Kabul, which is wary of any settlement without its participation.    The writer is Community Editor. He may be reached at [email protected]

ADDRESS: Prime Minister Imran Khan gesturing during his address at the 74th session of the UN General Assembly in New York.
Opinion
A resonant appeal to world’s conscience

Last Friday, Imran Khan outdid himself with a stirring extempore speech on the floor of the UN General Assembly that is likely to go down in history as one of the finest manifestations of statesman-like leadership.  For its pulse on the stark choices facing the world — starting with a resonant call to address the imbalances and hypocrisy of world powers on climate change to the end note on the humanitarian crisis in the world’s most dangerous flashpoint, it had virtually everything in sight for most stakeholders. The usual form book at the UNGA is one of filling in the customary reiteration of rather staid policy outlines by heads of state. Circa 2019 has been no different. Except that the Pakistani prime minister had other ideas. In true Julius Caesar mould, ‘he came, he saw, he conquered’. But of course, that would be an easier explanation that does not necessarily take into account the hard yards Imran Khan did on the New York circuit like a man possessed before reaching the podium.  He made some sort of a record with dozens of meetings at maddening pace, including a prized presser with US President Donald Trump; key leaders of the US House of Representatives and Senate; ivy league American think tanks, environment and trade officials; and the top international media apart from routine sit-downs with world leaders on the sidelines.  But to return to the world’s highest forum, the Pakistani leader shone like never before. Certainly, one would be hard-pressed to recall any of his predecessors making so much as a quarter of his impact, save for foreign minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s dramatic pitch in 1971 in much more turbulent times. Imran Khan began with a clarion call on climate change, recounting his own country’s vulnerability to the phenomenon. As well, he listed his ruling Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf party’s singular contribution to the environment with its signature billion tree tsunami in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province to global acclaim, and the ambitious plan to plant 10 billion trees in its stint in power now that it is in the Centre as well to counter the effects of global warming. But Khan expressed his disappointment at those world powers who are directly contributing — and massively, at that — to carbon emissions, and resultantly, evading responsibility to come clean.  “Perhaps, some of the leaders who can do a lot do not realise the seriousness of the situation. There are a lot of ideas but they are nothing without funding. If nothing is done, humans are (prospectively) facing a huge catastrophe,” he warned. The prime minister was also outspoken about another less spoken international crime: money laundered by the ruling elites, especially of the Third World, which then finds safe havens in the Western world.  “Corrupt elites must not be allowed to park their money abroad. Why do we have these tax havens? Why shouldn’t rich people pay taxes? Why are they legal, these secret accounts? This is devastating the developing world. The rich-poor gap is growing because of them,” he bristled. He wondered how could poorer countries spend on human development if their monies were siphoned off in off shore accounts and urged the global powers to show political will to stem the rot. “Sooner or later, there will be a crisis if the rich keep getting richer and the poor poorer. I hope the UN takes a lead on this. The IMF and ADB must find a way,” Khan drove home. But purely from the Muslim world’s perspective, the most emotional part of the prime minister’s speech was a deep dive into Islamophobia. In a detailed dilation on the subject, and drawing from his personal journey as a cricketer and later philanthropist-turned politician who has lived long periods in the West, Khan explained in lay terms the deep cleavage between the East and the West on Islam that has led to so much heartburn amongst more than 2 billion Muslims across the world. Citing deliberate provocations in and by the West following the events of Nine Eleven that pointedly denigrated the Prophet (peace be upon him) sometimes disguised as satire, Khan said the West largely did not comprehend the scale of damage they had wrought in hurting sentiments of the Muslims in whose hearts lives the Prophet (peace be upon him).  “It started after Nine Eleven and has grown at an alarming pace, and it started because certain Western leaders equated Islam with terrorism (by employing labels like “radical Islam”). There is no radical Islam or moderate Islam. There is just one Islam,” Khan emphasised. The PM said the very concept was inherently contradictory, because “no religion teaches radicalism and the basis of all religions is compassion and justice.” Khan felt the use of “radical Islam” by Western leaders created an association between a whole religion and terrorism, leading people to suspect all Muslims. “How is a person in New York, in a European country, or in the Midwest of the US going to distinguish between who’s a moderate Muslim and who’s a radical Muslim,” he asked. But at the same time, he candidly admitted the Western leaders weren’t solely to blame for the rise of Islamophobia. Muslim leaders, he said, were equally at fault, as the fear of being labelled as radical made them embrace the concept of so-called “moderate” Islam. The touchstone of his address however, was the nearly two-month old lockdown in Indian-administered Kashmir. Moving beyond Islamabad’s known stance on the burning issue, Imran Khan made an impassioned appeal to the UN Security Council and world powers to heed their responsibility in preventing a potential face-off between two nuclear-armed neighbours in the event of things reaching a point of no-return. The tremolo to his heartfelt submission was unmistakable as he sidestepped the formal to engage in a more informal, if direct, pitch rooted in deep concern for the victims. So resonant was his message that its vibes were felt across the world as he immediately shot to No. 1 on Twitter’s global trends with no other leader even in the top 10.  * The writer is Community Editor. He may be reached at  [email protected]

Re-engagement: Prime Minister Imran Khan shakes hands with President Donald Trump ahead of the annual UN General Assembly session in New York.
Opinion
Emerging Khan-Trump bonhomie boosts ties

President Donald Trump’s joint presser with Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday ahead of the 74th UN General Assembly session in New York is a strong indicator that his administration is deeply interested in keeping Islamabad on its side. The evident personal bond between the two leaders augurs well for the bilaterals and reinforces the relationship reset which has been in order for some time now.    To his credit, Imran Khan has been able to get Pakistan back into business against all odds and every engagement since his epoch-making visit to the White House two months ago has remarkably improved ties, which lay in virtual cold storage at this time last year with heated exchange of tweets between him and US President Donald Trump over Islamabad’s role in the fight against terror.  With little consideration for diplomatic rulebook, Trump had back then accused Pakistan of not doing anything for the US despite all the aid, he felt, his predecessors lavished on Islamabad in the war on terror. But unlike the past when Islamabad’s official reaction was mostly guarded, Khan responded in kind and drew the full visage of the sacrifices his country rendered in helming the global fight against terror with negative consequences for political and economic stability at home.  In a series of tweets, the prime minister laid out the scorecard of losses, in man and material terms, that Islamabad endured to help the US-led coalition in Afghanistan and flayed the ungratefulness in no uncertain terms.  With the moribund state of relations, it would have been considered foolhardy to bet on a turnaround at the time. Yet, Trump began to realise in the succeeding months that the narrow path he had initially taken to shut the doors on Islamabad would be completely counterproductive to his long-held desire to recall American troops from a draining and morale-sapping war in Afghanistan. With an eye for presidential re-election next year, he felt his best chance would be a re-engagement with Pakistan as a calibrated partner to solve the Afghan imbroglio. Despite his earlier strong rhetoric on taking the Taliban to the cleaners, Trump was finally drawn to the conclusion that his administration would be better off negotiating with the Taliban. In this studied endeavour, Islamabad’s role was deemed crucial thanks to its influence over Taliban. A re-engagement eventually paved the way for the unlikely White House rendezvous between President Trump and Prime Minister Khan in July, and which led to a surprisingly candid meeting. It was preceded by a rock star-like reception in Washington’s famous Capital One Arena for the celebrity prime minister, whose reverberations were felt deep with even Secretary of State Mike Pompeo making that his first point of reference in talks with him. It appeared to make an impact on Trump as well, who, referred to the Pakistani leader’s “popularity” and “leadership” role in charting a new course.  The surprise package, of course was the claim Trump made about having been asked by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for “mediation” on the Kashmir issue, which New Delhi swiftly denied. But in what appears to be a crafty attempt to raise his global profile as a peacemaker, Trump has continued to offer his good offices, mostly at Khan’s bidding — as was evident in the New York meeting  as well — “should both Islamabad and New Delhi be willing”.  Monday’s meeting also saw Khan making yet another attempt to convince Trump to re-engage with the Taliban after the latter called off the talks in an apparent huff over the killing of an American sergeant in the Afghan capital Kabul in a bomb attack claimed by the Taliban earlier this month.  Political pundits however, conjectured it was done to offset the impression that Trump had ceded too much ground to the militia after he disclosed in a tweet that he had planned to host peace negotiations at the presidential compound in Camp David, Maryland, involving Taliban’s “major leaders” and the Afghan president as well.  The move is seen as a setback with key stakeholders, Islamabad in particular, keen to see their investment of more than a year in making it possible for both the US and Taliban to resolve their differences with give-and-take in a post-pullout scenario. Prime Minister Khan, of course is an avowed proponent of a peace deal since his early days as a firebrand opposition leader. With him at the helm now, and strong backing from the powerful military, there is a fresh impetus to obviate any possible fissures. It would appear Trump comprehends the scale of adversity American forces and its allies would confront in the event of things going south. His decision to meet Khan again and lend gravitas to it by holding a joint presser appears to be consistent with the idea of leaning on Islamabad to provide a peaceful exit and hold on to the gains in its aftermath.  Moving on to other issues of enormous geo-political importance, even though Trump has continued to raise a fever pitch about Iran with the ongoing tensions in the Middle East; creditably, Khan is proactively pushing for sense to prevail on all sides, warning of the dangers of instability in its wake whilst holding forth in a number of key engagements with American stakeholders and think-tanks.  With his much awaited address to the UN General Assembly on Friday, stakeholders back home will draw considerable satisfaction from Prime Minister Khan’s efforts to solidify the recent gains in Islamabad’s foreign policy reset whether President Trump realises his desire for winning a Nobel or not! * The writer is Community Editor. He may be reached at [email protected]

Challenging year: Prime Minister Imran Khan has been trying steadfastly to shore up the economy against all odds.
Opinion
PTI’s first year in power: Retrieving the economy

If anything, Imran Khan — the wildly popular opposition politician who would be prime minister — has found out, in his very first year in power, the chasm that exists between the dream and reality of governing Pakistan. Few question his sincerity. But pitched political battles at home and a troubled neighbourhood on their own are enough to test a leader’s mettle.  As always, in the Pakistani matrix, it is the economy that determines the strength and sustainability of a government. To be fair to the PTI, it inherited an account deficit of epic proportion — with the foreign debt amounting to approximately $20bn — and borrowing that bordered on gross fiscal irresponsibility.  In classic ‘scorched earth’ mould, the last government of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) appeared to take steps that were completely out of sync once it became apparent to the party leadership that its deck of cards had fallen and there was little chance of returning to power. PML-N supremo, Nawaz Sharif, had been convicted and disqualified by the Supreme Court and later jailed; the embattled party had lost ground after a draining and ill-directed defence in the Panama papers case involving unexplained properties and wealth stashed abroad by the Sharif family; and last but not least, the in-house struggle for power with Sharif’s younger brother, Shahbaz, and his daughter, Maryam, jockeying to call the shots, but getting nowhere in the end. However, the PTI has been far from successful in trying to redress the balance despite desperate attempts to shore up the economy. It began with an initial refusal to go to the IMF and instead lean on friendly states to ride out the crisis. And while it seemed to stem the tide for a while, the ballooning balance of payment crisis with other setbacks that saw the stock market see-sawing following rupee devaluation and a surge in inflation brought the situation back to Square One.  Ultimately, the prime minister replaced the finance minister, Asad Umar, one of his confidantes, even before the first year was out with the experienced Abdul Hafeez Sheikh in his stead. Since then, Islamabad has negotiated a $6bn IMF package.  While the economy reset is a long drawn out process and will likely remain a headache into the foreseeable future, the PTI government did take the painful but daring step to introduce tax reforms to expand the collection base and bring tax evaders into the net. It has been a longstanding bane with successive governments until now since it is fraught with unpopularity and likely alienating voters. In a nutshell, the idea was to change the bad national habit.  Despite the challenges ahead, the government has been able to raise the bar significantly. The Federal Board of Revenue has met its target of raising Rs236bn in taxes with a success percentage of 99.2 for the fiscal ending July 2019. The Inland Revenue domestic taxes have also shown an increase of 60% over the last year.  In a heartening development — far more still needs to be done though — income returns for the tax year 2018 have reached 2,404,371 as compared to 1,486,756 for the previous year, a growth of 62%. Correspondingly, the number of new tax filers during fiscal 2018-19 stood at 348,140; the figures for 2017-18 were 146,096 — an increase of 137%. So while we may be some distance from claiming that there is now a ‘tax culture’ in place, what is clearly evident is that people are now willy-nilly drawn to the idea that there may be little escape from addressing their fiscal responsibility to the state. As the prime minister rightly pointed out after going on a spree of public pronouncements and the odd ‘appeal to conscience’, the “business of the state cannot be run without its citizens paying taxes”.  To the government’s credit, it has taken a number of steps to increase revenue and widen the tax base by making it easier for the citizens to even file the returns themselves with user-friendly initiatives. It also launched a tax amnesty scheme to lift investor confidence — going to the extent of twice deferring deadlines to allow more people to stand on the right side of the law. This enabled previous evaders to benefit from lesser penalties by documenting their assets and filing returns thereafter.   Mindful of the need to front up to the economic challenges, the military, for its part, came to the party, too, with Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa emphatically stating that it would forego an increase in the defence budget. This provided more than a semblance of relief to the government.  Even though there is a measure of economic stability after a trying first year to redress the financial mess left behind by its predecessors, the PTI government faces a slew of challenges to make the cut. It won’t be a smooth ride, especially given how quickly public patience wears thin, but it will have to hold its nerve and stay the course.  * The writer is Community Editor. He can be reached at [email protected]