Wednesday, November 29, 2023 | Daily Newspaper published by GPPC Doha, Qatar.
 Kamran Rehmat
Kamran Rehmat
Kamran Rehmat is the Op-ed and Features 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.
IN THE EYE OF A STORM: Salman Khan, left, has spoken out against banning Pakistani artistes, one of whom, heartthrob Fawad Khan has been forced to leave Bollywood.
Spare art and artistes, please!

Even as India and Pakistan spar over the semantics of last week’s attacks on Pakistani soil, the first visible collateral damage is evident in the form of cultural disengagement with the banning of Pakistani artistes in India and a tit-for-tat screen scrapping of Indian films in Pakistan. If only this was some figment of imagination and not bleeding reality, but such is the fate of more than one-fifth of humanity that makes up the nuclearised South Asian neighbourhood that trouble often finds them like a curse. It should never have come to this, but clearly, with the onset of another winter of discontent, it appears that piece of mind is going to replace peace of mind. Consider. Superstar Salman Khan is at the receiving end of an incredibly vicious campaign with even his identity being questioned for merely making the distinction that the banned Pakistani artistes weren’t terrorists! After being pointedly questioned by a female journalist in New Delhi what he felt about Pakistani artistes being ordered to leave India, Khan said: “They are artistes. We have killed the terrorists. Artistes are not terrorists. These are two different subjects. They come to our country after acquiring visa, and it’s our government which allows them the work permit.” Khan, then, threw back the same poser to the journalist, asking her if she thought “artistes were terrorists”, leaving her speechless. But this was enough fodder for the media to unleash a storm, familiarly led by agent provocateur Arnab Goswami on prime time, and ultra-rightwing parties like Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) to fuel it. At a subsequent presser, MNS chief Raj Thackeray launched into the Bollywood icon, thus: “If Salman Khan loves Pakistan so much then he should go and shoot there. He should seek a work permit from Pakistani authorities.” The MNS has since threatened to ban Khan’s films if he continued to back the banned Pakistani artistes. During the tirade, Thackeray also took a pot shot at Khan’s assertion that the Pakistani stars, who came to work in Mumbai, were “artistes, not terrorists”. “They may be informers, if not terrorists. They must be passing on information about India back home,” the MNS chief bristled. Shiv Sena leader Manisha Kayande went a step further, suggesting Khan “needs to be taught a lesson” and that “if he has so much love for Pakistani artistes, he should migrate there.” But Khan is not the only one in a corner, if unbowed; renowned filmmaker Karan Johar is fretting after being pressured to remove Pakistani heartthrob Fawad Khan’s essay from his forthcoming release Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (Oh, Heart, I’m In A Quandary), giving his predicament a literal meaning! Johar also questioned the wisdom of banning artistes as a solution, pleading with ultra nationalist forces to leave the film fraternity that, he said, only “promotes and sells peace and love”, alone. But in a reflection of how stressed he feels, he admitted in an interview to being scared, and has, reportedly, dropped plans to host Fawad Khan as the first guest in the new season of his popular TV show Koffee With Karan. Interestingly, the Indian Motion Picture Producers Association (IMMPA), which passed the ban resolution at their annual general meeting, were not as severe in reaction despite setting the ball rolling. They simply asked the members “henceforth, not to work with any artistes, singers or technicians from Pakistan until the situation of hostilities between Pakistan and India subsides and the government of India declares that all is well with Pakistan and India.” Not everyone buys into the ban, however. Rahul Aggarwal, a member of IMMPA, resigned from the association in a poignant letter that will strike a chord with the art loving people of both India and Pakistan, and it deserves to be quoted, in part, if only to make hawks on either side trying to throw art with the proverbial bathtub heed sense. Taking up the cudgels, Aggarwal wrote: “Art is above politics and as the custodians of this art; it is our responsibility to bring people together rather than divide them.” In a bold departure from the sabre-rattling on either side of the divide, Aggarwal painstakingly, pointed to what united the people of the two countries than pander to the base sentiment: “The people of these two nations are one and alike, thus it is the need of the hour for us to stick together. The Indian and Pakistani people are suffering from the same plague, which is fundamentalist terrorism. It is more important than ever for us not to fall prey to this calamity.” “Banning one another is not the solution, rather bringing everyone together and showing the world that terrorism cannot divide these two great nations can become a beacon for acceptance and hope, two characteristics that are the complete opposites of the fundamentalists that want us to go to war with one another,” Aggarwal drove home. Like its Indian counterpart, Pakistani media, too, has been swayed by hyper-nationalism lately, and as a result of the bedlam, Indian films have been temporarily banned although several Pakistani artistes – like the courageous Salman Khan, Karan Johar and Rahul Aggarwal on the Indian side – have spoken out against treating art and artistes as a “soft target”. One of the saddest parts of this harvest of hate sown by warmongers is how artistes have fallen prey to a war-like situation not of their making. They are being coerced to condemn the other to prove their identity and patriotism and when they choose to stick to their artistic roots, they are called names and asked to leave. Pray, what have they done to deserve this? Whatever happened to art not knowing boundaries? Are they not supposed to be over and above notions of war? Are they not reckoned to be ambassadors of peace, love and goodwill through the most creative tools known to us? It’s a cinch once the dust settles — as geography so dictates, the two countries will have no choice but to bank on this very route to restore goodwill — soft CBMs — eventually. So let’s recognise and respect these borderless assets, not put them through an ordeal! *The writer is Community Editor.

VOICE OF CONSCIENCE: Farhatullah Babar is arguably the most important legislator in Pakistan.
Erudite champion of public interest

It is hard to imagine a more genial politician in Pakistan, who means business, but in the politest form possible. Doing politics as politics should be done, speaking to power, representing people’s aspirations – Farhatullah Babar is arguably, the most important legislator in the country. Politics is hard in Pakistan. Those dedicating their lives to it and who manage to reach the apex as elected leaders often have to pay the direst of price for it. They have been often vilified, hounded, jailed and sometimes exiled. Think Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, Asif Zardari, etc., to name a few party leaders. They publicly fight Pakistan’s public fights to keep the dream of national, pluralistic participation and self-rule from being snuffed out. These are politicians that keep politics alive in a country where manipulated opinions and perceptions are habitually shaped by non-representative forces. Then, there are the ones that don’t necessarily set the pulses of the public racing but without whom the ancient but noble fight for representational politics would be doomed despite the heroics of the people’s leaders. These are the ones who do the technical grunt work, keeping the machinery of procedural democracy – the committee work and languorous legislative agendas – oiled enough to lend functionality to parliamentary politics. These are generally the publicly unwept, unsung heroes of democracy without whom even public political leaders would flounder. Even within this crucial category of political technocrats, there is a tiny minority that commands respect across the aisles of Pakistan’s fractious and raucous polity. Every party virtually owns them as one of their own. This is the closest that comes to a universal admission of their hero status within the political elite – no mean feat considering every politician by nature wants the near-total annihilation of their rivals. Such is the quietly dignified Farhatullah Babar. He once said of arguably the country’s foremost intellectual and much beloved I.A. Rehman sahib: “He is about the only person in Pakistan who can say the most controversial of things while remaining uncontroversial – for he has always spoken with sincerity and without any greed”. One can imagine Rehman unflinchingly saying the same thing about Babar, for he has been one of the hardest working legislators Pakistan has ever known, an intellectual champion of public interest on the floor of the House, an ardent campaigner of human rights in stuffy committee rooms, a nit-picking advocate of principled legislation. He speaks the softest but is heard the loudest. His measured tone, his diction self-edited to perfection, his political logic rooted in universal principles and his unwavering focus on reformative politics makes him not only one of the most popular legislators amongst his peers but arguably, the most distinguished legislator in parliament. It is easy to be envious of Babar’s political pedigree. His import comes from his proximity to unfolding history. He has served in some of Pakistan’s most turbulent times – mostly forever on the cusp of saving democracy from the jaws of Establishment’s machinations. Whether it was serving with Benazir Bhutto in the Prime Minister’s Office or with Asif Zardari in the President House, Babar has been privy to all the diabolic pressures that come with trade. As spokesman of these leaders, he also had the unenvious – and onerous – responsibility of fighting their fight with gentle but firm public narratives to disavow malicious conjecture and therefore correcting the much distorted public political record in Pakistan. Babar does not come with the usual politician’s thick skin that nature provides to carry on, despite being a politician himself. Or with a journalist’s trademark sneering cynicism despite a past stint as a media practitioner himself. Or even with the citizens’ chronic pessimism who steadily inch closer to the graveyard of their withered hopes. Instead, he goes about his politically-rewardless task with an engineer’s perfection – maybe because he is, by formal qualification, a chemical engineer with enough practice and competency to go on to serve as the president of Pakistan Engineering Council and even a stint with the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission before he embraced politics. The causes that Babar has repeatedly espoused on the floor of the House, in newspaper columns, in civil society functions and talkshow debates constitute the very charter of Pakistan’s statehood. Whether it is the issue of reigning in the establishment for greater transparency and accountability, amending the blasphemy and allied laws to divorce them of their pre-determined guilt of the accused, restoring constitutional faith in the minority religions to be vested in equal humanity, urging disbanding of the Council of Islamic Ideology for its outdated place in the polity and instead allocating all its budget and resources to the National Commission on the Status of Women, urging the state to officially recognise its globally adulated citizens like Nobel laureates Dr Abdus Salam and Malala Yousafzai instead of pretending they don’t exist, undertaking the next stage of devolution from the provinces to the districts, a federal right to information law would bring the powers-that-be in the citizen’s reach, greater detailing of the defence budget, an enhanced role for the Senate in policymaking – you name it, he has fearlessly embraced these issues. Babar has not just forcefully championed these causes, he has put his money where his mouth is by bringing in private bills, tabling resolutions or raising these issues on the floor of the House on these subjects. This is more than most hard-nosed politicians in Pakistan have been able to do in their careers put together. And this, essentially, is why Babar is arguably the most important legislator in the country, who works in the real national interest as opposed to one which is self-righteously imposed. Babar is Pakistan’s voice of conscience; one, which people should not just pay heed to, but even protect and strengthen. * The writer is Community Editor.

BLAST FROM THE PAST: A view of the replica of Chaghi mountain u2014 associated with Pakistanu2019s six nuclear explosions in 1998 u2014 at the Faizabad Interchange in the federal capital Islamabad.
Zeroing in on Pak N-programme

Pakistan’s nuclear programme is in the spotlight once more. An international wire story circulating over the weekend originating from Islamabad but quoting Western defence experts was thick on the speculation that the country may be up to stirring the nuke pot again. The report based on commercial satellite imagery analysed by IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review said Pakistan could be building a new uranium enrichment complex in Kahuta some 30km from the federal capital Islamabad to boost its nuclear arsenal — often bandied in the Western media as the world’s fastest growing nuclear stockpile. The analysis is purported to have been conducted using satellite images taken by Airbus Defence and Space on September 28 last year and April 18 this year. The dates here, one may emphasise, is a kind of a giveaway in this story to which one will return in a moment. “The area of interest is approximately 1.2 hectares and is located within the secure area of the Khan Research Laboratories (KRL), in the southwestern part of the complex,” the wire says quoting the statement. Karl Dewey, a proliferation analyst at IHS Jane’s, goes on record to say, “It is sited within an established centrifuge facility, has strong security and shows some of the structural features of a possible new uranium enrichment facility. This makes it a strong candidate for a new centrifuge facility.” The statement adds: “The structure of the site also bears strong resemblance to facilities built by nuclear fuel company Urenco which also operates several nuclear plants in Europe”. What follows is a rather interesting — if premised — mention about how Pakistan is seeking to join the coveted 48-member Nuclear Suppliers Group that seeks to prevent nuclear proliferation by controlling the export of materials, equipment and technology that can be used to manufacture atomic weapons. Ian Stewart, head of research group Project Alpha at King’s College London, is then quoted, to give the thumbs down to the whole idea. “It is difficult to see how these actions are consistent with the principles of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a group of responsible nuclear exporters which Pakistan is seeking to join,” Stewart observes. The only Pakistani source reported is a physicist — A H Nayyar — who goes along with the theory that if the site was indeed a centrifuge, then it’s all about weapons grade even though he throws in a caveat about not setting too much store by “imagery” alone. To return to where this piece began, ramping up choreographed clatter about Pakistan’s nuclear programme by the Western media and its practitioners at opportune times is hardly news. Not for the first time, it has come at a rather interesting juncture. Consider. The report immediately follows the conclusion of a two-day conference in Washington where the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (P5) urged other states to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The report citing satellite imagery about a new uranium enrichment site also fashionably coincides with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to the United States for the UN General Assembly session where he is slated to meet a number of world leaders pushing for a desirable treaty (CTBT) that many of them are themselves loathe to either signing or ratifying! The timing of the clamour about a stirring pot in Kahuta in the context of these two developments is also interesting given that the purported sightings courtesy the Airbus Defence and Space noted in the IHS Jane’s were made last year and early this year. There is obviously no bar on coincidences! To be sure, non-proliferation goals are pertinently desirable and cannot be over-emphasised in the interest of securing a conflict-free world for present and future generations, but all of this cannot be achieved if the big fish, having got their own pound of flesh, decide to cut the small fish down to size. That said, Pakistan’s case is not exactly cut and dried in line with the script handed out by the NPT regime. To understand its bona fides, it is imperative to start by taking into consideration the country’s geography. Islamabad did not take a sudden fancy to gatecrash the nuclear club, like say, North Korea. Its nuclear programme evolved over time as a result of — and in direct response to — its security needs. With India conducting its first atomic test in Pokhran in 1974 — which was ironically coined ‘Smiling Buddha’ — Pakistan knew it would have to do more than just smile back to safeguard its territorial integrity. The 1998 round of nuclear explosions — Islamabad responding with six of its own in response to New Delhi’s five — was also not a tennis score in jest. If at all, it reinforced Pakistan’s security paradigm as directly linked to geographical considerations and a history of wars that underline the importance of deterrence. Islamabad may have followed what to the outside world appears to be an ambitious nuclear programme with a zero-sum bent with regard to India, but what is undeniable is that it is all rooted in deterrence. In a conventional war scenario, Pakistan would be hard-pressed to match its neighbour both in terms of resources as well as land mass to cover, but nuclear capability gives it the much needed parity to ward off such threats. A case in point is the reported attainment of a second strike nuclear capability more recently which has done its bit to allay fears at home about being at the losing end in the hypothetical event of a first strike against the country. But to return to the non-proliferation goals, as much as Pakistan remains concerned to upgrade and enhance its deterrence — that being an inalienable right, it is just as committed to achieving an equitable world order. Islamabad’s willingness can be gauged in how it first voted for the CTBT when it was adopted and unilaterally, announced a moratorium on further nuclear testing before offering last month to consider transforming that moratorium into a bilateral agreement with India on banning nuclear testing. *The writer is Community Editor.

GRAND:  The palatial office of the Sheikhul Islam in the suburbs of Bangkok.  Photo by the author
Faith in Thailand

The Muslim connect remains a less explored subject and one that holds  a special interest in the context of growing ‘Islamic tourism’, Thailand’s halal industry expertise and, last but not least, medical tourism. Kamran Rehmat reports from the Land of Smiles The jury is still out on exactly how many muscles it takes to smile, and frown, and which one pips the other. In Thailand, regardless of the muscle tussle, smiles take the miles! No wonder, it’s dubbed the Land of Smiles. It is hard not to wilt with that constant appearance wherever you go — right from the immigration desk out to the market place. While there’s little that has escaped the roving eye of a keen traveller to Bangkok or the more popular tourist resorts in terms of their allure, there is this other — more formal — side to the Thai kaleidoscope that held its attention for me on a recent study tour to the country. It should be of particular interest to travellers from the Middle East, and closer home, the Gulf. The Muslim connect remains a less explored subject and one that holds a special interest in the context of growing “Islamic tourism”, Thailand’s halal industry expertise and last, but not least, medical tourism. Sek Wannamethee, Director-General, Department of Information, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, puts liberty and tranquillity at the heart of Thai societal fabric. “The peaceful essence of Islam coincides with Buddhist teachings. In Thailand today, Islamic teachings and prayers are broadcast on Thai television network. The Azaan can be heard from as far away in the north, through the central plains of (the former capital) Ayutthaya all the way to the south, where Islamic family law is practised,” he says. It says a lot about the high values Thais place on tolerance and religious harmony when you consider that the very term “minority” is abhorred. The idea is to accord the same level of recognition to all religions and ethnicities. Sheikhul Islam “Muslims enjoy full liberties and rights in our country, and it is all constitutionally mandated,” Assistant Professor Dr Abdullah Numsuk, Representative of the Sheikhul Islam, says. Outlining the salient features of state backing, he informs that under constitutional obligation, the monarch has to lend his support to every religion and that is also reflective in his continued patronage of Islamic activities in Thailand. “The king has an important role in supporting Islam and has authorised translation of the Holy Book into several languages at state expense. He is a regular presence in our midst,” he points out. “We have the Islamic Bank of Thailand (a state enterprise with 26 branches across the country), and a dedicated 24-hour cable TV, which should say something about the rights we enjoy in this land,” Sheikhul Islam’s representative emphasises. Explaining the raison d’etre of the office, the representative says it is the highest Islamic authority in the land whose decisions are binding for all Muslims. The appointment is made by the king himself and it follows an intense participatory process with 39 provincial committees across the country involved in the selection. He is also sanguine about the role played by Muslims in the country’s development. “Our fellow brethren continue to contribute meaningfully to nation-building. There is exemplary coexistence amongst various religions and even sects of Islam here. Indeed, we remain very proud of being Thai citizens,” Numsuk says, emphatically. Responding to a question about the number of mosques in Thailand and how and where Muslim children acquire religious education, he puts the number at 3,700 — majority of these in the south — and says they learn at Islamic schools run by Muslims, but also private educational institutions. The Islamic schools are also subsidised by the government. According to a Ministry of Thailand estimate, there are 800 Islamic schools in the country, most of which are concentrated in the southern border provinces. The Foreign (Office) factor Like with other countries, the Thai government is reaching out to expand the relationship with the Islamic world, particularly the Gulf. There is a strong Muslim connect here which has perhaps, not been explored enough for its range and depth. Suvat Chirapant, Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs — one of four such high ranking positions in the ministry — is himself a Muslim and informs that Thailand has had a foreign minister, who served as the secretary-general of Asean; parliamentary speaker, who was also the deputy prime minister and interior minister; and even a commander-in-chief of the army from the same faith. He says the country, which has the highest Muslim population of all Asean countries, has much to offer to potential trade partners in the Middle East and Gulf — not in the least trade in its certified halal food industry. With its significant Muslim population (approximately, 5.8 million of the nation’s 67 million), Thailand also sits on the Organisation of Islamic States (OIC) with an Observer Status, enjoying observer membership of the Islamic Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (ISESCO). The Thai Islamic Trade and Industrial Association, too, is a member of the OIC Islamic Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Explaining the role of the Foreign Office, Chirapant, who has served in Qatar for three years, says, it works in close co-ordination with Sheikhul Islam, whose role he likens to that of a counsellor to the king in Islamic affairs. The government has a longstanding policy of providing financial support for the construction or renovation of mosques. Thai Muslims are allowed to practice and dress according to their faith in public places, including schools and government offices. The Foreign Office official also hails the role played by Thai Muslims in the development of the country, and says he, along with his colleagues, regularly visit provinces across the country to interact with the Muslim population — 30 per cent of which is concentrated in the south — and inquire after their well-being. Currently, it is engaged in co-ordinating the first batch of Haj pilgrims to Saudi Arabia. Annually, the government facilitates 13,000 Thai Muslims to undertake the pilgrimage with a one-stop service for documentation and medical exams.

DISTINGUISHED:  Dr Erik Fleischman, an American physician who has worked with infectious diseases in over 20 countries throughout Asia, Africa, the Americas and Eastern Europe and is the Assistant Medical Director-International at Bumrungrad, during an interactive session, with an Iraqi co-ordinator by his side. Photo by the author
What makes Thailand tick

In recent years, tourists have flocked in their thousands for reasons other than partaking merely the enthralling Thai night life. In particular, Muslim tourists find an immediate appeal in its growing “Islamic tourism” potential, with halal hotels, food and the opportunity to see the lifestyle of Thai Muslims. The other eyeball grabber is medical tourism, where one hospital particularly offers a fascinating insight. Bumrungrad International Hospital Cliched as it sounds, the name says it all. Pronounced bahm-roon-RAHT — meaning “care for the people” in Thai — Bumrungrad is a virtual one-stop medical facility that attracts you immediately for its calm un-hospital like ambience. In fact, I’m prompted to ask the flawless fact-reeling PR guide, the secret of its lack of hospital smell; she tells me it is a regular drill with helpful chemicals to keep the odour at bay. Hospitals of the world, take note! An engaging session with the director, marketing officials, doctors and nurses leaves one with plentiful adjectives for what makes the Stock Exchange-listed Bumrungrad one of the best in the business. Since medical tourism has taken on a new sheen, it is just as well. To cut to the chase, the 21-storied 580-bed Bumrungrad with 55 specialty centres, 19 operating theatres, internationally certified lab and pharmacy, clinical research centres, advanced imaging facilities and automated labs onsite is the largest private medical facility in Southeast Asia. Also with one of the world’s largest private sector outpatient clinics, Bumrungrad has long enjoyed the coveted US-based Joint Commission International accreditation, the first in Asia, in 2002. Talking of medical tourism, Bumrungrad was also the first to receive Award for Excellence in healthcare tourism category in 2008; the first to grab “Thailand’s Most Innovative Company” award in 2008; and take the top position for “Best Website for International Medical Travel” at the 2008 Consumer Health World Awards, USA among a slew of similar distinctions.   If figures alone tell the whole story, which would not do much justice to be honest, it is pretty imposing. With 1,400 physicians, over 1,000 nurses and an American-led international management team that oversees 4,800 employees, Bumrungrad treats over 1.1 million patients every year, including both outpatient and inpatient. Of these, nearly half are international patients from more than 190 countries. In 2015, it saw the second highest number of patients from the Middle East region (144,772), including more than 15,000 out-patient visits from Qatar, after Southeast Asia. The year-to-date (June 2016) figure is over 7,600 visits. When asked about the specialties Qatari patients seek, Duangrudee Somboonruangsri, Manager, International Marketing, points to five areas, namely; (a)preventive medicine, (b)gastroenterology and hepatology, (c)obstetrics and gynaecology, (d)general surgery and (e)cardiology. Overall, patients coming from the Gulf mostly seek treatment for cancer, spine surgery, robotic joint replacement, cataract surgery as well as paediatrics and neurology. Bumrungrad also made news for successfully treating Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) patients from Oman in the last two years despite their advanced age (both in their 70s). Interestingly, a large number of Americans themselves come here for treatment “because it costs 70-80% cheaper”, according to Sudi Narasimhan, Corporate Director of Marketing and Business Development. Overall, he says, it costs a third of what it would in the rest of the world. He also claims that the large turnover is thanks to Bumrungrad’s success rate of treatment being “twice as good as other US hospitals for JCI-accredited disease specific specialties”. Asked if it is the most expensive option in Thailand given its stature, Narasimhan says, “Actually, there are five hospitals which are costlier in Thailand itself!” It has Referral Offices in several countries, including Qatar (Souq Waqif, Doha). In recent years, the influx is notable and what drives the patients, especially those coming from the Gulf is confidentiality. The patients are called out by codes than name. To facilitate patients who may have language issues, there are 150 interpreters, international/airport concierge service, embassy assistance and visa extension counter. For Muslim patients, there are prayer rooms and halal food on offer. What’s endearing to see are the specially made out paediatric facilities. The PR guide tells me it is configured in a way as to distract the kids from any fear of medical procedure with even the nurses wearing colourful uniforms with cartoon characters. It almost seems like an indoor playground!

From left: Ahmad Hussain, president of Pakistan-Qatar Business Forum; Wajahat Hashmi, first secretary, embassy of Pakistan; and Mehmood Arshad, chairman of Pakistan-Qatar Business Council of FPCCI, at the event.
Pakistan ‘Agro Food Festival’ a huge draw

“If the world’s peace depended on mangoes, you can rest assured, Pakistan would be one of the go-to countries. The king of all fruits — and probably, even ‘queen’ if Sindhri from the country’s Sindh province is taken into account — does not taste as sweet and succulent anywhere in the world than Pakistan,” Ahmad Hussain, President of Pakistan-Qatar Business Forum (PQBF), said in his opening address at the two-day Pakistan ‘Agro Food Festival’ at Ezdan Mall, Gharaffa. Themed ‘Taste of Pakistani Delicacies’, the show was jointly organised by Trade Development Authority of Pakistan and Zaoq Restaurants, Qatar, under the umbrella of PQBF. Held in a festive atmosphere, the event was attended in large numbers and graced by Qatari dignitaries, government officials, Pakistan embassy officials, foreign diplomats, senior officials of catering companies and supermarkets besides importers. Members of PQBF were also present on the occasion. It was aimed at creating awareness amongst the stakeholders and importers by demonstrating and promoting the quality and taste of Pakistani agro-food products. A number of major exporters from Pakistan, who are already established entities in GCC, Europe and the US were present on the occasion and displayed their range of products as well as publicity material. The festival saw dedicated kiosks to enable Business-to-Business (B2B) meetings between prospective customers and exporters from Pakistan. Dominated by mango, rice and meat, the fruit had the easier of other draw, with Hussain explaining to an eager participant why its summer arrival across the globe made headlines: “fertile soil, tropical climate — with plenty of sun — and organic methods of growing”. “There is a reason why ‘mango diplomacy’ even assumed such a halo — Islamabad manages to keep leaders in important world capitals in good humour thanks to its sweet after-taste. Now, if only disputes could be resolved over a Chaunsa basket,” he suggested. It was opened to the general public on Friday, where people of multiple nationalities in vast numbers savoured the delights of the Pakistani fruit. The annual mango production in Pakistan is over 1.8mn tonnes on average with yearly exports reaching 120,000 tonnes. With more than 30 listed varieties, the country remains one of the preferred choices for global export. Mehmood Arshad, chairman, Pakistan-Qatar Business Council, an apex body of Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FPCCI), invited potential investors to profit from Pakistan’s rich growth base, citing the surplus citrus chain as an example. He felt Qatar’s proximity to Pakistan in terms of physical reach with a barely two hour-flight meant the access was a huge advantage. In all the mango hysteria, rice did not lag behind in making an immediate impact — Pakistan is the world’s fourth largest rice exporter, turning 9.1% of the global export last year alone. A few interested consumers after sampling a dish wanted to know how and why Pakistani Basmati rice with a “fine texture, long grain and distinguished taste was so light”. Another enthusiast wished to know how not to lose its taste to spices. The short answer was to be content with the “natural aroma” and not to spice it up, literally! It was explained that the “open secret” lay in the lexicon — “Bas” means fragrance and “mati” queen; in other words, the “queen of rice”! A pitch was also made for increasing the volume of halal meat given its demand in Qatar and the quality associated with Pakistani livestock. Responding to a question, a Pakistani embassy official informed that the annual trade volume with Qatar was approximately $380mn, of which food component of the export from Pakistan alone was around $80mn, with rice constituting 60% of it. In response to a poser, the PQBF president trotted out three salient reasons for why Pakistan would hold the potential investor’s interest in Qatar: “One, the consistency in quality and taste; two, affordability since Pakistan is in an advantageously close reach; and three, availability, which in many cases means surplus produce.”

UNEXPECTED BOOST: The triumph has provided Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif a vital breather from the belligerent opposition campaign.
Making sense of PML-N sweep in AJK

If there’s one corollary that can be drawn from the Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) Legislative Assembly elections held last Thursday, it is that Project Democracy is not only alive, but kicking. Some 2.6mn votes were cast in a largely peaceful milieu, auguring well for participatory politics. A total of 423 candidates contested 41 seats on the basis of direct adult franchise, the 10th time such an exercise was undertaken. Out of these, 29 seats were meant for all 10 districts of AJK and 12 for Pakistan-based refugees from Kashmir valley, Jammu and other areas. According to the AJK Election Commission, there were 26,74,586 registered voters in all 29 constituencies of AJK’s 10 districts, including 12,28,930 male and 10,06,772 female voters. The election commission set up 5,429 polling stations with 8,008 booths in the constituencies. The polls were held under tight security with 17,000 personnel from the Pakistan Army and Rangers co-ordinating with the local civilian law enforcement agencies, including the AJK police, the Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provincial police and the Frontier Constabulary. The elections came at a particularly testing time given the prevailing situation in neighbouring Kashmir, leading to much cynicism about how the voters would react. In no small measure, this pessimism was accentuated by the divisive nature of political campaigning. The turnout was reportedly between 40-50% in most constituencies, but still vigorous in form. The two old war horses, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which was also the ruling party going into the vote, and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), ran an acrimonious campaign and they were not left behind by the firebrand opposition Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) taking a first real shot at attracting the popular vote since gaining traction in the 2013 general elections. However, despite the usual white noise, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N not only won, but did it in grand style, stunning pre-poll predictions of a split mandate giving way to a coalition arrangement. The PML-N grabbed 31 of the 41 seats on offer, leaving both the PPP (three seats) and PTI (two seats) licking their wounds; moreso the former, since it had fielded a newer face to make a resonant pitch! The results have thrown up questions aplenty for the old ruling party (PPP) as well as the aspiring new one (PTI), but before that some significant observations are in order. First and foremost, even though the PML-N tore the script spectacularly in winning virtually all before them – including nine of the 12 reserved seats for Pakistan-based Kashmir refugees – their victory follows a now familiar pattern that sees the party in power at the Centre (Islamabad) clinching the honours in AJK as well. In that sense, it is more of the same. The simple explanation for this is that the voters follow the aforementioned trajectory because they feel their best bet in getting their base local level issues resolved effectively lies in electing people from the same ruling party at the Centre since those elected are reckoned to exercise control and have easier access to funds. However, the sweeping curve has made its presence felt because of the situation the PML-N found itself going to the hustings. The prime minister was away from the country for more than one-and-a-half months for health reasons during which time, he had an open-heart surgery in London as well. For more than three months, Sharif has also faced the brunt of a belligerent opposition since three of his children were named in the Panama papers for having off-shore accounts and being the beneficiaries of properties abroad allegedly bought from this wealth. With both the PPP and the PTI – the latter has already announced a public campaign beginning next month to force Sharif to face accountability — taking that ammo to their respective campaigns, doubts began to surface if Sharif would regain his mojo in AJK. The PPP dispensed with the tried and failed methods of the recent past to pitchfork Bilawal Bhutto, the young scion of the grand old party and its chairperson, to infuse a youthful zest to its campaign and electrify the disappointed old party voters. However, in the end, his amateurish rhetoric based on branding Sharif as a “Modi yaar” (pal of the Indian PM), and the failure of the ruling PPP in AJK to deliver combined to put the party out to pasture. The resort to the unflattering analogy appeared to undercut the 27-year-old Bilawal’s own stature, and seemed the kind of populist sloganeering associated with the far right, not secularist PPP. It was rejected quite decisively. The PTI was also cast away in inglorious fashion – making light of its much hyped “Naya Pakistan” (New Pakistan) mantra. In fact, the humiliating defeat its regional chief, Barrister Sultan Mehmood, the supposedly powerful former AJK prime minister (when he was with the PPP), suffered was a sobering enough lesson for PTI chairman Imran Khan to tweet a somewhat surprising message of felicitation to the arch rival PML-N on winning the election. Perhaps, that was the only saving grace which made PTI look less embarrassing than the PPP, which invited ridicule by blaming the results on rigging – that familiar refrain of losing candidates and parties in Pakistan. Since then, Mehmood has also deemed it fit to hide behind the bogey of  rigging to explain his Waterloo, but Bilawal seems to have chastened since famously warning Sharif of a more telling street agitation than the one instigated by Imran Khan in the fall of 2014. But it goes without saying that both the PPP and PTI have their tasks cut out to revive their political fortunes before the 2018 general elections. As for the PML-N, the triumph should reinvigorate the resolve to get down to business and reward the people in AJK for standing by them against all odds. With a sweeping majority, they have the option to even go against the run of play and explore the prospect of a coalition in good faith for the larger Kashmiri cause. *The writer is Community Editor.

Moral of the story: The Misbah-ul-Haq-led team has shown the world needs Pakistan cricket to flourish, not just survive, for its own greater good, not just Pakistanu2019s.
A glorious redemption at Lord’s

For reasons of history, nothing beats giving a good old-fashioned hiding to the old colonial masters. But with the Pakistanis getting their own noses in front at Lord’s on Sunday, it was more than a victory at a game their fans probably love more than themselves! Lording it over at the home of cricket this time transcended the sport itself although the entire global cricket fraternity was watching this contest primarily for the poetic return of Mohammad Amir, the young fast bowler from Pakistan who was banned for half a decade after being found guilty of spot-fixing at the hallowed turf back in 2010. Then, the hottest property in the game with allusions that made him out to be even more talented than the one and only Wasim Akram – indeed the great himself admitted as much – Amir was making a comeback to Test cricket, something that naysayers had, at one stage, given up as an idle dream. To be sure, until last month doubts surfaced if he might even get a British visa. But the transcendence referred to, here, is not limited to Amir finding his feet again. This is much bigger than him. The Lord’s triumph is also about the resilience of a cricket-mad country that has long been reduced to a pariah status – and not just because a terrorist attack on the visiting Sri Lankan team in Lahore in 2009 put an end to international cricket at home. It is also a rejoinder to the so-called Big Three of the International Cricket Council, who have virtually left Pakistan out in the cold to fend for itself – in that the world needs Pakistan cricket to flourish, not just survive, for its own greater good, not just Pakistan’s. The Lord’s chapter, therefore, symbolises a never-say-die mien that is truly, madly, very Pakistani in its avatar: defiant, flamboyant and fiery. But the surprise package is that this is not founded in some Shahid Afridi edge-of-the-seat thriller. On the contrary, it owes almost entirely to the methodical Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s greatest unsung hero in the game, and perhaps, even beyond. Some 1,252 days after an impressionable Amir was lured into stepping over the line, Misbah has presided over a redemption that has forced the world to sit up and take notice. Handed charge at 36, when he was actually considering retirement from the game after years in the wilderness, thanks in no small part to an insecure Inzamam-ul-Haq, who felt Misbah’s inclusion could upend his own career, the Pakistan Cricket Board’s decision was, then, dismissed as a counterproductive and backward move. Even before Misbah, 42, led with a dream hundred on what was his debut at the home of cricket in the Test arena, becoming in the process the oldest Test centurion in 82 years, most of the English media were already acknowledging him as a leader worthy of his stature. The “redemption” rhapsody is bound to ring louder with the result at Lord’s. Pakistan and England have a history of bad blood involving highhanded administrators, players flying off the handle, umpires getting into the act, fans going berserk and even pitches being blamed for ill-intent. Even when it seemed slightly more kosher this time around, England captain Alastair Cook seemed eager to ratchet up the summer heat on Amir, by almost egging on the spectators at Lord’s to get under his akin! In the end, it seemed of little consequence, because while England focused on Amir, who did not quite set the stage alight – he did get Cook on third attempt after two dropped catches off his bowling in the first innings and fittingly, delivered the knockout punch that ended the hosts’ resistance on the fourth day – leggie Yasir Shah rattled the pickets on an unresponsive track to steal the thunder. But it is a measure of respectability Misbah has brought to his stewardship and how he has restored Pakistan’s pride that for the first time in living memory, the notoriously bad English press has resisted whinging and whining thus far, and sportingly lauded the Pakistan captain’s yeoman services as a leader. The appreciation has not been restricted to just connoisseurs of the game. Even fans have acknowledged the good. Consider the appraisal of these two English fans on the Guardian’s website following Sunday’s outcome: “This match was a redemption story, but not that of one player, as the press has made out, but of Pakistani cricket as a whole. Pakistan slunk away from Lord’s six years ago in disgrace, annihilated on the pitch and derided by the crowd after turning the hallowed ground into a gambling den. Today, they left the field in triumph and to universal acclaim, even affection, after a skilful and engaging performance in a game played in good spirit. It’s a testimony to the work they’ve put in to clean up their act and overcome the other misfortunes that have dogged their cricket, most not of their own making. It’s a cliché to say a certain victory is ‘good for cricket’, but this one certainly is. And good for Pakistan too,” one fan opined. Another one chipped in: “It was also wonderful to see the spirit of unity in the Pakistani team and their evident enjoyment of being a team. They seem well led at all levels and were marvellous ambassadors for sport, not just Pakistani cricket. For many Pakistanis at home and those of Pakistani origin in the UK it must have been a sense of both hope and pride and for many others, a feeling that not everything has become sour.” Apart from providing his compatriots hope in what are decidedly dark times in general, not only for Pakistan but the world at large, Misbah, the cool, calm, collected captain chose to provide a bit of mirth by pioneering a new form of celebration – the military salute and press-ups – in appreciation of a regimented fitness that is likely to become the standard in future. More importantly, by dedicating the victory to Abdul Sattar Edhi – perhaps, the world’s greatest humanitarian – who passed away early this month to much grief in Pakistan, Misbah only raised the bar of his own immortality in the people’s reckoning. *The writer is Community Editor.

PHILOSOPHY: u201cWhat use is education when we do not become human beings? My school is the welfare of humanityu201d - Abdul Sattar Edhi
The beloved distributor of hope

Meray mulk ke ghareebon ka khayal rakhna (look after the poor of my country). Famous last words of the man Mother Teresa famously called a saint. When someone has looked after the poor and the dispossessed selflessly, relentlessly, obsessively for more than six decades, words begin to fail. A bit like how daily Pakistan Today’s profound epitaph of a headline on the passing of perhaps, the greatest humanitarian in modern history suggested:  Abdul Sattar Edhi:  Too big for words  If you want to get a measure of the man  - not that evidence is needed - Pakistan stood still, infectiously united in grief, on Friday when news of Edhi’s demise finally broke. One says ‘finally’, because rumours to this effect had surfaced in the recent past, more than once, given his rapidly deteriorating health. Only last month, the Foreign Office blundered in issuing a condolence message following one such call. This time, there would be no going back. For all the inevitability surrounding death - and in Edhi’s case, a seemingly closer call given his precarious condition - the reality begins to bite when those larger-than-life shadows begin to assume sepia tones. The sense of grief in Pakistan is palpable because in a nation often riven by fissures and hopelessness springing from a lack of governance, there has never been anyone like Edhi, the absolute last man standing where humanity, love, selflessness and trust is concerned. But being Edhi, he wasn’t done. Not with literally, making his own grave a quarter century ago, and a will to be buried in the same clothes he last wore - all he ever kept to himself were two pairs of a tunic all his adult life and a pair of shoes worn for two decades, repaired whenever needed, and making a windowless room with a bed, sink and a hotplate his assets! As well as making that last clarion call about his beloved poor on deathbed, Edhi donated his eyes - bequeathing any other organ was implausible as these had been rendered unproductive - corneas of which were successfully transplanted in two blind persons, hours after his death. Post-surgery, they are set to see the world for the first time in a week from now. Remarkable that A Mirror To The Blind (Edhi’s acclaimed biography) would on take a literal meaning here!  Edhi’s life in the phenomenal service of humankind - even if the Nobel Prize Committee never noticed it to the great resentment of millions, but only a shrug from Edhi himself - cannot be possibly encapsulated in one piece. But the least one can do is to make an attempt to pay one’s due. This was a man who single-handedly established a network of charitable homes, including an emergency service that provides ambulances and other assistance for the needy. The hotline fields an emergency call, on average, every 8-10 seconds - some 10,000 in a day with 6,000 in Karachi, the world’s second most populous city, alone. Before kidneys failed him in 2013, Edhi would often pick up a call himself and be the first to arrive on the scene in that familiar white coloured, horn blaring ambulance - one of over 1,800, the world’s largest such service. The Edhi Foundation also boasts three dozen rescue boats, two fixed-wings planes and a helicopter. So enormous was the respect and reverence Edhi was held in that often when an ambulance arrived on the scene in response to an SOS call - smack in the middle of an ongoing shootout between notorious political gangs and the police in a Karachi cauldron - they would cease fire before resuming battle once the ambulance left! Replete as Edhi’s life was with incidents that brought home a converted soul, he was once robbed by a gang of thieves, but just as they were about to leave, one of the them recognised Edhi and a profuse apology later, immediately returned the spoils, and himself pulled out a hundred rupee note to donate, telling astonished fellows in the gang: “We can’t do this; this is Edhi, who is the only one who will come to our rescue even when our family would have forsaken us!”.  But ambulance service is just one, albeit more visible, of the chain of charity work rendered by the Edhi Foundation. The ‘Angel of Mercy’ did more with shelters for the homeless, the sick, the physically and mentally challenged and orphans. According to 2014 figures, there were 17 shelters for women seeking refuge from domestic violence and other abuse, nursing homes, hospitals and blood banks. His centres are abroad, too, in the US, Canada, Afghanistan, Nepal and the Middle East. From reaching out to refugees in Afghanistan to famine victims of Ethiopia and even victims of Hurricane Katrina in the US, the Edhi Foundation has made its presence felt. The Foundation also has the largest morgue in Pakistan which can accommodate 300 bodies at a time. The free kitchen in Karachi affords meals for 30,000 people every evening. A large animal home where abused, sick and abandoned animals are taken care of and fed is just another hallmark of the saintly Edhi’s legacy. None in modern history however, rival his work in giving dignity to the dead. He brought back bloated, drowned bodies from the sea - black bodies that crumbled with one touch - and others from rivers, inside wells, accident sites and hospitals. As his biography notes, when families forsook them and authorities threw them away, he picked and brought them home to his work force to give them a decent burial. But perhaps, what outdoes everything else was his decision in the 90s to take in abandoned babies, ignoring an outcry from the clergy, which would rather brush it under the carpet than address the deep-rooted problem. Up until 2014, partnered by his equally devoted wife Bilquis, Edhi had helped save more than 40,000 unwanted babies; feeding, nurturing and educating them. Many of them rose to be in positions of advantage in society, while still others chose to return to Edhi homes to take care of the dispossessed, in turn. Still Edhi did not have an easy life, facing the wrath of the mullahs and political mafias in Karachi, who resented the citizenry’s deep sense of loyalty to him in giving alms and trusting him with their money which they wanted for themselves and did so by force. This never stopped Edhi from giving them two hoots, and carrying on with his mission undeterred. Not only did he shun them and any activity that smelt of pomp and ceremony, he refused to take money from the rich or foreign organisations, often turning down millions. “If the common people are the givers, it will last forever,” he used to say. More recently, he declined an offer from former president Asif Zardari - infamous for his alleged ill-gotten wealth - to be treated abroad, gesturing with a frail hand that he was content to be home. All this was reflected in what he said years ago about his country, people and rulers. “Pakistanis give wholeheartedly. They give tens of thousands and they don’t even take a receipt. They just walk in and give. This is a good country. It’s just run by bad people.” Much said. With the typical soul and simplicity of an Edhi. RIP. The writer is Community Editor.

Gulf Times
Drone transparency long overdue

Pakistan on Friday reiterated a call to immediately nix the controversial CIA drone programme that it sees as a violation of “territorial integrity and sovereignty of states”. Dr Maleeha Lodhi, the country’s permanent representative to United Nations, drove home at the General Assembly that counter-terrorism measures violating territorial integrity and sovereignty of states could be counterproductive while also fuelling violent extremism. Pakistan is top of the pile where casualties - a significantly high number of civilians amongst them - from drone strikes are concerned. Lodhi’s reaction followed Obama administration’s decision to release information about a civilian casualty count - a departure from its longstanding unwillingness to even recognise any such occurrence - during the period 2009-2015. The administration released the data - three years after it first promised to do so - estimating that between 64-116 civilians apart from 2,372-2,581 militants (in 473 strikes) were eliminated as a result of the unmanned predators’ target-shooting. The tally, it said, included those outside the war zones although no country was specified. Independent watchdogs, non-governmental organisations and rights groups weren’t taken in by the administration’s math; they could hardly be faulted since not only does the count appear significantly smaller than what has been reported in the international media and accounted for by these dedicated scrutinisers - despite the obvious difficulty in obtaining an accurate scorecard thanks to the very secretive nature of the programme and accessibility - the continuing ambiguity was akin to that proverbial inverted finger in terms of probity. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), an independent not-for-profit organisation based in London that pursues research, investigations, reporting and analysis, in collaboration with renowned global media houses, and which boasts critical acclaim on the covert drone programme, puts the civilian death count as a result of the strikes in Yemen, Libya, Pakistan and Somalia at 380-801. “While any disclosure of information about the (US) government’s targeted-killing policies is welcome,” Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, told the BIJ, “the government should be releasing information about every strike - the date of the strike, the location, the numbers of casualties, and the civilian or combatant status of those casualties. “The public has a right to know who the government is killing - and if the government doesn’t know who it’s killing, the public should know that,” he said. Jennifer Gibson, staff attorney at Reprieve, a London-based human rights organisation that works with the international media to help the most vulnerable on the planet and raise awareness about the unlawful CIA drone strikes, felt Washington may have missed the boat. “For three years now, President Obama has been promising to shed light on the CIA’s covert drone programme. Today, he had a golden opportunity to do just that. Instead, he chose to do the opposite. He published numbers that are hundreds lower than even the lowest estimates by independent organisations. The only thing those numbers tell us is that this administration simply doesn’t know who it has killed,” Gibson said. “Back in 2011, it claimed to have killed “only 60” civilians. Does it really expect us to believe that it has killed only four more civilians since then, despite taking hundreds more strikes? The most glaring absence from this announcement are the names and faces of those civilians that have been killed,” she said. In Pakistan, drone strikes have been a sticking point in relations with the US. The sovereignty breach is seen as a betrayal for all the monumental losses that the country has suffered for fronting the US-led global war-on-terror. Pakistan has lost more than 60,000 lives, including civilians and military; and $120bn in material terms, according to unofficial but widely quoted figures, since it was coerced to join the war 15 years ago. Talking of drone strikes alone, according to the BIJ, there have been 424 strikes in Pakistan in this time - a remarkable 373 under Obama, who was handed a Nobel Peace Prize less than nine months into office to his own surprise - with more than 2,500 killed, including 350 civilians. This includes 69 children in one single strike on a seminary in Chenegai (Bajaur region) in 2006 alone! The contrast with former president George W Bush - with a pronounced war-mongering repute and under whom the drone programme was initiated - couldn’t be starker. Where Bush authorised 51 strikes in seven years, Obama ratcheted it up to 373 -  128 in 2010 alone - in a still unfinished eight-year presidency, according to BIJ. Despite the surge, the civilian casualty percentage remains low for Obama - 5.6%  to Bush’s eight. When citing the “illegality” of the action, critics, in particular, point to the noncombatants running the covert programme. The indiscriminate use of force has led to large-scale civilian casualties with the profound disadvantage that it breeds extremism and anti-Americanism - when innocents die and are dismissed as “collateral” - against the intended purpose of quelling it. Nevertheless, the executive decision by President Obama to institutionalise a reporting process on the drone programme - following pressure from foreign governments and rights organisations/groups - for the next commander-in-chief suggests there may be some light at the end of the tunnel. The willingness to recognise that some sort of transparency is in order, is welcome - as noted by Naureen Shah, director of Amnesty International USA’s Security and Human Rights Program. “(The) disclosure is a crucial shift away from the Obama Administration’s longstanding policy of concealing information about civilians killed in drone strikes,” she said in a statement. “It is a vital step in dismantling the dangerous precedent of a global, secret killing programme. President Obama’s willingness to comprehensively assess the impact of (the) drone programme and to apologise and compensate victims, will ultimately influence his human rights legacy and set a clear benchmark for the next administration and the one after that,” Shah noted. “This is not the end of the public conversation on US drone strikes, but just the beginning,” she enthused, in what many hope, will find a more receptive ear in the White House. - The writer is Community editor.

Two to tango: Sartaj Aziz, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharifu2019s advisor on foreign affairs, right, with Indiau2019s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.
Time for a joint Indo-Pak NSG bid?

The decision of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to not accept India’s application for the membership of the coveted 48-nation club in Seoul has pretty much followed the script. The build-up to the summit had been frenzied with all eyes on China, which was reckoned to hold the key to the final outcome. As expected, Beijing held firm on the opposition despite Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bid to persuade his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping otherwise on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting in Tashkent ahead of the NSG summit. A few other surprises were thrown up as well with countries that had earlier promised to back New Delhi’s bid eventually holding back, citing the mandatory requirement of signing the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Both India and Pakistan - which, too, had applied for membership - have not signed the NPT. The NSG is committed to limiting nuclear arms proliferation by overseeing the export, re-transfer and protection of sensitive materials that could foster nuclear weapons development. India had been granted a special waiver for trading in sensitive nuclear technology with NSG members back in 2008 following a civilian nuclear deal with the US. Pakistan’s endeavour to be treated on par did not find favour in Washington despite its tremendous sacrifices in the US-led war-on-terror. While India has been seeking NSG membership since 2010, Pakistan joined the race only two months ago. If an application for membership is accepted by the NSG, a vote follows. All members of the club have to vote in favour since only a consensus can pave the way for inclusion. If even a single member votes against the application, the motion does not go through. The Seoul setback, predictably, led to contrasting reactions in the two neighbouring nuclear capitals, New Delhi and Islamabad. While disappointment, even bitterness at China’s “stonewalling”, was evident in the former, a sigh of relief at not being at the receiving end of discrimination was palpable in the latter. Islamabad had only recently picked up the diplomatic thread to push its case, and that, too, without any high profile pitch; New Delhi, on the other hand, had been feverishly working up the circuit. While India had publicly received unequivocal support from prominent NSG members, led by the United States, Pakistan was realistically banking on China to hold the fort even though it felt it had a strong case, too. Media reports say sharp divisions were evident among the NSG members at the plenary session with some insisting on adhering to the NPT signature pre-condition, and others, for putting in place a uniform criteria-based process for new admissions - which is what Islamabad’s stance on the issue is. Ambassador Wang Qun, China’s top negotiator at the NSG, was quoted as having said there were “many differences on admitting non-NPT members”, which were described as “a matter of principle” - broadly, sticking to the NPT regime, that is. Even though the NSG did not close the doors for India and Pakistan, in saying it would continue deliberations on the issue of accepting non-NPT states in its fold, it did not explain how it would proceed. A communique issued at the end of the two-day meeting said the participants “had discussions on the issue of technical, legal, and political aspects of the participation of non-NPT states in NSG and decided to continue with that”. The pointed assertion that “full, complete and effective implementation of the NPT” would remain the basis of the non-proliferation regime suggests any forward movement on the inclusion of non-NPT states would be a tough call. Interestingly, while both India and Pakistan pursued their gambits with some zeal in the lead up to the Seoul summit - some pundits felt it had a zero-sum mien to it - both eventually, took to suggesting they did not object to each other’s similar ambition! Islamabad went a step further by urging the NSG to consider entry applications of Pakistan and India simultaneously, and in an even-handed manner, keeping in view the region’s strategic stability. In India, the ruling BJP ignored the opposition Congress’s stinging criticism of what it called the Modi government’s diplomatic “haste” that led to “equating India with Pakistan” in the NSG case, with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj saying India would have no objection to the entry of Pakistan into the NSG, based on merit. But while that is what parties in opposition are wont to do, perhaps, the time has come for both Pakistan and India to turn the corner and exhibit maturity by supporting each other’s bid, if not jointly putting up papers. If this sounds like an idle man’s pipe dream, the setback in Seoul should allow for some good old-fashioned soul searching! As for Pakistan, it had better embrace proactive, not reactive, policy any which way. Munir Akram, a former ambassador to the UN and an expert on the subject, certainly thinks there are no two ways about it. In a four-pronged strategy outlined last week, he called for an active diplomatic campaign at the UN, in major capitals and the media, “to expose the false premises for discriminatory restrictions against Pakistan and double standards on disarmament and non-proliferation”. Akram also thinks it would be worthwhile to engage India for reciprocal arms control and strategic restraint, which he feels, would put Pakistan’s larger neighbour on the “diplomatic defensive” and help ward off US pressure to accept unilateral restraints. His third proposal for Pakistan is to expand leverage by making offers of peaceful nuclear cooperation, under IAEA safeguards, to Saudi Arabia, Iran and other Muslim and developing countries. Akram suggests this may invigorate the NSG into considering Pakistan’s inclusion with the seriousness it deserves. Finally, he says, Islamabad should build its case as a meaningful and credible player by initiating genuine disarmament with China and other developing countries, including treaties “to halt the current multi-billion dollar upgrade and miniaturisation of US and Russian nuclear weapons and bans on the development and deployment of laser, anti-satellite and other space weapons”. - The writer is Community editor.

Underwhelming: Sartaz Aziz, who has been a foreign and finance minister in Prime Minister Nawaz Sharifu2019s two earlier terms, is now only adviser on foreign affairs.
Needed: a full-time foreign minister for Pakistan

Islamabad remains one of the world’s pre-eminent capitals for its geo-strategic gravitas. As one of a handful of declared nuclear powers alone means it ultimately, retains business interest for the world, but there is a question mark over how much Islamabad itself is doing to advance those strategic interests. The long absence of a full-time foreign minister is not helping Islamabad’s cause at all and a belated move –  reported by Reuters last week – to hire lobbyists in Washington after an eight-year hiatus to fill up the diplomacy gaps and influence movers-and-shakers on the DC circuit is an acknowledgment of how far have US-Pak ties slipped, of late. The pinch was also felt more recently when Pakistan’s largely security driven foreign policy goals were gingerly pursued even as its rivals moved at a frenetic pace to convince any leftover skeptics around the world for a place in the coveted 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group. Sartaj Aziz, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s adviser on foreign affairs, did make a few calls to key world capitals, but it was never going to be enough, and remains unlikely to deliver the results that would be a decent bet, if say, Islamabad had a fulltime foreign minister manning the beat. To be sure, there’s just no substitute for pro-active diplomacy that physically takes the top diplomat places, or have these foreign capitals reach out to — as opposed to making do with poor ad hoc cousins. Trepidation is apparent in Sharif’s decision to not appoint a full time foreign minister in his third stint as prime minister. There is an interesting background to this of course, but whether it is also justifiable is a moot point. It stems from his uneasy relationship with the powerful security establishment during his previous two aborted terms. But it is the relatively more recent episode pertaining to how Shah Mehmood Qureshi served as foreign minister at a crucial juncture in the last government of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and his exit that so alarmed Sharif that he chose to keep the portfolio with himself upon assuming office in June 2013. Qureshi refused to oblige his own party (PPP) – insiders suggest, after a nod from the security establishment – in the infamous Raymond Davis case. Davis, a covert CIA contractor, was arrested by the authorities in Lahore after he killed two Pakistanis on mere suspicion they were chasing him. The PPP government wanted the American released citing (unfounded) diplomatic immunity (after the Obama administration pressured Islamabad). The Qureshi dissent so annoyed Asif Zardari, the-then president and also PPP co-chairman, that he resorted to a cabinet reshuffle soon after a negotiated settlement - reportedly, between the Americans and the Pakistan military – led to Davis’ eventual release. In the reshuffle, Qureshi was offered the agriculture ministry, which he reckoned to be beneath his “stature”, and therefore, declined. Weeks later, Qureshi, who was a major contender for the PM’s slot when the Zardari-led PPP returned to power in 2008, quit the party and joined the emerging opposition Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf of firebrand cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan. He is now its vice-chairman. This episode, more than anything else, insiders say, made Sharif wary and as a consequence, he decided beforehand that he would not be appointing a foreign minister. Initially, Sharif also held the defence portfolio before reluctantly, handing over charge to his confidante Khawaja Asif in the winter of 2013. Interestingly, Asif has found it difficult to endear himself to the security establishment because of his damning remarks against its role during General Parvez Musharraf’s reign. The PM, however, does not seem to have the same level of trust when it comes to the foreign affairs portfolio. What bewilders the pundits is that Sartaj Aziz has been a foreign minister – and before that the finance minister – in Sharif’s earlier two terms. But this time, the veteran with a known ambitionless mien, was not even given a ticket to the Senate – upper house of Pakistan’s bilateral legislature – which would have constitutionally, enabled him to take the full minister’s charge. In what appeared to be a further dilution of whatever powers Aziz would have enjoyed, if at all, Tariq Fatemi, another aide, was also appointed special assistant to the PM on foreign affairs, which predictably, sowed confusion and some heartburn to boot. Riaz Khokhar, a much respected former foreign secretary, admitted in a subsequent piece on the subject that this move created confusion at the Foreign Office and even foreign delegates appeared clueless in whom to approach for what. Even though Aziz did gain the upper hand in a match of wits with Fatemi, it still does not hold water since foreigners – in world capitals and delegates visiting Islamabad – remain sceptical of the pointman’s essential reach. They cannot, of course, talk to the PM directly because of protocol even though they routinely make courtesy calls with the only leverage left with perhaps, a visiting US secretary of state. With the PM also away for treatment and recuperation in Britain for weeks now – and rapid developments pregnant with far reaching repercussions at home, in the region and elsewhere on the globe – Islamabad was never more in need of a full time foreign minister as it is now. The declining state of relations with the US, worrying border tensions with Afghanistan and the need for a viable diplomatic strategy to deal with the Nuclear Suppliers Group zeitgeist makes it incumbent upon Sharif to find a quick solution. Reluctant half measures are no longer an option. Any apprehensions surrounding a “Qureshi” encore are, in effect, meaningless and counterproductive because nothing can be achieved by creating a vacuum. In fact, the “vacancy” makes it difficult for Sharif to direct and exercise steady control over foreign policy. While hiring lobbyists in DC may help plug some of the gaps that have allowed disenchantment to grow manifold in Washington in the last few months – to speak of just one of the most critical bilaterals in the international arena; it does not, on its own, fill the void at the Foreign Office in Islamabad. - The writer is Community Editor.

DOTING DAD: Muhammad Ali looks at his two-and-a-half-week old daughter Laila, who later rose to become a world champion as well, in 1978.
Muhammad Ali, the people’s champ

The spirit never wavered whoever he faced: be it opponents in the ring or opponents out of the ring, or debilitating disease As if proof was needed, the immensely poignant inter-faith memorial that followed Muhammad Ali’s funeral on Friday showed his universal appeal. Like elsewhere on the globe, Ali’s passing left Pakistani fans grieving, too. But it also rekindled memories that are unique for a reason: he remains probably the most famous convert to the Muslim faith in modern history, and was deeply admired beyond the sport, which really has no base in Pakistan to speak of. Ali came to be lionised across the world for taking a high moral ground in refusing the Vietnam draft and going to the extent of giving up his World Heavyweight Champion title for his beliefs. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s first popularly elected prime minister, even offered him to come live in the South Asian country when he was being ostracised in the US for refusing military service. Eventually, Ali came for a visit in 1988 and was predictably, jubilantly mobbed. One would like to also make an own recollection in trying to figure out what the most famous athlete of the last century meant to the world. Watching I Am Ali - the 2014 documentary that provides rare access to audio journals spanning hundreds of hours that he had maintained over the years - was insightful. Whilst going through the paces and looking at his frail form in the face of Parkinson’s fist, the fear when we would hear the last of him - he had been hospitalised for mostly pneumonia and urinary tract infection a few times - was all too real. Many Pakistanis of my generation have blurred images imprinted on the mind of the black-and-white live feed on the state broadcaster (Pakistan Television), bringing the glory of Ali at often ungodly hours. Even though he always seemed and remains larger than life, one didn’t always reconcile with his bombast about being “The Greatest” but paradoxically, that’s the sweeping legacy of sport he has left behind. He was lightning quick on his toes as we all know, but in later years, did debunk the “myth” of any human being the “greatest”, saying it was the sole reserve of God. For me, what first made him a hero was learning through a chapter in the English curriculum at school in New Delhi, India, about him throwing away his coveted Olympic medal in the Ohio River. Ali (then Cassius Clay) was only 18 and wore the distinction with pride all the time! He felt deeply hurt and outraged after being refused service at a small dinner party in the US just because of his race. Ali’s iconic life from thereon - particularly, a stinging rejoinder to the Vietnam draft on a principle so profound it pierces through the heart - will remain etched in memory. “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?,” retorted Ali. Considering that boxing was his bread and butter, he took a massive risk in taking the fight away from the ring for people of his race, who desperately needed a voice. Forsaking self - and three prime years of his career - until the US Supreme Court overturned his conviction ensured the people’s hero found a halo that has, for its import, a certain Nelson Mandela streak to it. A more effusive side of the champion browbeater - that of a loving father - was visibly drawn by his photographer Michael Gaffney in one interview. With a lump in his throat, he recalled asking The Champ if he could take a picture of him with daughter Laila - then only two-and-a-half weeks old - and was given a go-ahead thus: The out-worldly conceited Ali knelt down, holding the tiny baby in his big brawny hands as if he had eyes only for her and the world stood still. There’s one amazing dichotomy governing Ali’s legacy. We’ve always been taught that sport is bigger than the player - that no player, however great, can rise above the game itself. Ali perhaps, was an exception. It is difficult to recall a single other instance where such a large assembly of connoisseurs agrees that his aura then, and legacy now, transcends the sport itself! Probably, it has to do with his powerful persona and prowess outside the ring more than inside it. Finally, a confession: one has always found it difficult to reconcile with a “sport” that, by design or default, may bring down a competitor with sometimes fatal consequences. History is littered with boxers dying of body blows or becoming the walking wounded. In his prime, he had the gift of gab, the sense of occasion and unbridled chutzpah that gelled well with his handsome figure. Ali’s demise will remain one of the saddest days for his legion of admirers. But of course, it’s not for his prowess in the ring that he always endeared himself to us, although to start and end with, that’s why we’re even talking about him here! The 32-year fight with Parkinson’s could not make light of his heavyweight legacy. But it’s a relief that he’s past it - as his now-retired world champion daughter Laila admitted last week: “I have been sad for a long time, just watching my father struggling with Parkinson’s disease. (But) I have comfort knowing that he’s not suffering anymore.” Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer may have been slightly overwhelmed when he called Ali a “supernatural figure” - but the rest of the tribute was on message - “who crossed all kinds of boundaries, from athletics to art, to humanitarian activities, from black to white, from Christianity to Islam, and he belongs to the world.” R.I.P., Ali. In life, you were sometimes knocked down, but not knocked out - the spirit never wavered whoever you faced: be it opponents in the ring or opponents out of the ring, or debilitating disease. May you now find peace that you richly deserved! - The writer is Community Editor.