How voters are disrespected in Pakistan

Durdana Najam

‘Give respect to vote.’ The PML-N has raised this slogan to counter the avalanche of lawsuits, blames, and accusations of corruption resulting in the dismissal of Mian Nawaz Sharif from power. The slogan has helped PML-N in its political revival among its voters. People are told that their right to vote is not respected, as the ‘intervening forces’ always hijack the exercise the voters undertake every five years. From a realist lens the justification holds water and cannot be easily thrown aside. However, in the perspective of Pakistan’s political history and the behaviour of political parties towards their voters, the other side of the slogan needs equal attention. If vote should be respected so are the voters. What does it mean to (dis) respect voters? We shall return to this later.
The strange thing about our political parties is that they blame everyone The five years that the PPP ruled Pakistan, from 2008-13, hardly a day passed without any terrorist attack. The country plunged into more darkness because the party made no real effort to tackle the electricity crisis. And whatever attempts were made, they were challenged in the Supreme Court on corruption charges, like the rental power project. All the relevant departments to fight terrorism such as the NACTA were hardly revived. Lawlessness was at its peak in Sindh, especially in Karachi, because of target killings. The terror of MQM was insurmountable and PPP was in no mood to harness it. To keep its party intact in the center, where it lacked numbers to keep afloat, peace in Sindh was sacrificed on the MQM alter. The circus of MQM of leaving and joining PPP in Sindh went on with every reunion coming about by giving something more to the MQM that strengthened the party in terror and intimidation. Until then it was not proved that, the Altaf-run party had links with the RAW. The spadework to unmask this reality kicked off when the former Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, started hearing, in July 2014, the petition filed by Malana Tahirul Qadri about target killings in Karachi.
On the procedural side the PPP may have bridged gaps for effective democracy but at the normative side their performance was disappointing. The 18th Amendment cut out the clauses inserted in the constitution by the military dictators. The new constitution resembled to some extent the original draft of 1973. However, one area that was left untouched was the 8th Amendment—-the religious voice of the constitution—-this mistake has already come home to haunt the parliament. However, the parliamentarians were overall satisfied that, with the new amendment the constitution could be no more be used, to connive against the sitting government. But, like always, civilians’ dream, to have it all, was cut short, by their own deeds. The provision of the military courts through the 21st Amendment gave power to the army to try terrorists. This provision also meant that the terrorism courts in Pakistan were not functioning optimally, and that the criminal justice system had ceased to be effective. The politicians were scarcely alarmed by this new development. Other than shedding a few tears, like Raza Rabbani did, no real effort was made to over haul the justice system, neither in the remaining tenure of the PPP, nor during the present regime, when the 23rd Amendment was introduced to extend the tenure of the military courts. When the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Saqib Nisar, was shaming the executive for not doing its job, the courts were told that their own house had been in shambles. Why did the ruling party have to wait, until the axe of inefficient justice system fell on its back, to hold the courts accountable? Could not it realize that at the end of the day it’s the voters’ life at stake, if a country’s justice system is not delivering.
It is, indeed, a clever move by the PML-N to demand respect for votes without respecting the voters’ genuine expectations from their representatives.
How are voters disrespected? One, when both the education and health sectors are kept expensive and moth-eaten, so that the masses remain stuck in the vicious circle of poverty. Two, when the people are not provided with the basic amenities of life: the citizens of Karachi are running from pillar to post to get one glass of clean water and one Megawatts of electricity. The same is true with many cities of Pakistan, including Lahore. Three, when the promises made during elections are not fulfilled and the constituents are hardly looked back at once the election is over. Four, when people are induced to sell their votes against petty rewards. Five, when taxpayers’ money is used on unprecedented perks of the military-judicial-civil complex, businessmen turned politicians and absentees landowners, when more than 60 per cent of the people in country are leading a sub-human life. Six, when the poor are taxed through indirect taxation system that amounts to two-third of the total tax collected, and the rich are given amnesty, as is given recently. The tax on ultra-rich was brought down from 35 per cent, to 15 per cent, through a Presidential Ordinance, on April 8, 2018. However, the crushing sales tax on the general masses that ranges from 18 to 35 per cent has not been touched. It is a total misguide that Pakistanis do not pay taxes. The whole truth is that the poor, the middle-class, the salaried people, are the victims of the oppressive tax regime, whereas the ruling elites——those demanding respect for the votes——are flourishing on the taxpayers’ money.
Every government is judged by two functions: Rule of law and tax collection. With the existing performance in both these areas, do our politicians really enjoy the liberty to demand respect for vote.

Human psyche The ‘Immediate Men’

Human psyche The ‘Immediate Men’

Give them orders. They will follow. Take their orders. They will bloat. Give them food. They’ll do your bidding. Take food from their hands. They’ll feel godly. Give them power. They’ll want more. Have power over them. They’ll be your mouthpieces and pawns. Welcome to the world of Immediate Men. A world where truth, honesty, brotherhood and humility are all relegated to the fringes for the greater good of greed, dishonesty and dog eat dog mentality.
Power in general and political power in particular has an uncanny ability to corrupt the hearts and minds of individuals. Countless books, even treatises, have been written to make sense of why power is such a potent force of corruption. Thus, to sum up, such an eternal debate in space of a column would be unjust at most, and careless at least. We can, however, try to make sense of a very tiny cog in the mighty machine of power, namely the Immediate Men. If one looks at the annals of history, one cannot escape the glaring number of Immediate Men serving the dictates of power, privilege and pelf rather than paying heed to the dicta of their consciousness. Or maybe just maybe their conscience consists of serving the dictates of power, privilege and pelf. The entire kingdoms of the almighty kings of yore stood on and were sustained by Immediate Men selling their expertise, their minds and their souls to serve their masters. A king can do no wrong, we were once told. After a few centuries of political upheaval, rise and acceptance of social contract theories of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau we were told Sovereign, be it Leviathan or masses, are always right. And in the media-inundated 21st century of ours, the rise and rise of strongmen the world over tells us more about the resilience of Immediate Men than anything else.
They are everywhere. These little Pharaohs in their tiny little bite-sized kingdoms run the side shows. Their ultimate aim; to perpetuate what little power they have indefinitely. You choose a place, look a little deeper and ultimately you’ll chance upon a number of Immediate Men. They come in all shapes and sorts. They can be seen whispering mighty secrets when their Supreme Leader is giving a speech on the dice. They can be seen walking at light speeds, to and fro to run the mighty business of their master’s states. They can be witnessed saving their masters from the wrath of some other master. To put it simply, the Immediate Men has been the only constant in the ever-changing world of ours.
The question then arises, what are the alternatives to Immediate Men. Well, look at the philosophers, from Socrates down to Noam Chomsky, who refused to give in to do the bidding of power and interest. Look at the poets of present and past, from around the world who preferred exile and jails than the comfort of golden cages. Look at the saints, called mad men by authorities in their time, like Sarmad and Mansoor Al-Haj. These individuals stood loyal to ideals not individuals, their allegiance was to serve the idea of good not amassing goods of gold and silver.
Man is, as it is repeatedly pointed out, an acquisitive animal. Things perpetuate in him a sense of worth and value. Possessions, whether as a means to further ones well-being or as a shelter in times of hardship and poverty, have a proven track record of saving an individual, even if for the time being, from want and need. However, sacrificing at the altar of possessiveness all that is humane, all that is holy and all that makes man the man is a sin beyond pardon, beyond forgiveness.
One needs not to go beyond our motherland in order to look for Immediate Men. Since Pakistan’s inception, whether through the dark reign of military janta or during the rule of civilian masters, the Immediate Men from bureaucracy, military, landed gentry, financial sector and intelligentsia in order to protect what they have and perpetuate what they possess conveniently fit in the role of Immediate Men whose cover story always rhymed perfectly with whoever was at the helm of affairs.
As a student of human psychology, I have this habit of observing myself and fellow humans with a keen eye. An ordinary, normal well-adjusted citizen in a state has a fixed set of needs and priorities. After satisfying the needs of food, security and shelter, the ambition to power seeps in. It is institutions of governance, law and order and checks and balances in place that tame the wild, feral ambitions of a power-drunk individual. The question then is: Do we have the adequate system of checks and balances in place to deter the Immediate Men? I’ll leave the answer to my reader’s intellect and observation.

Policing truth in Trump era

Policing truth in Trump era

On Oct. 6, U.S. President Donald Trump posted a tweet claiming that the common flu sometimes kills “over 100,000” Americans in a year. “Are we going to close down our country?” he asked. “No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with COVID, in most populations far less lethal!!!”
Trump’s first claim is true: The flu killed over 100,000 Americans in 1918 and 1957. “We have learned to live with it,” is a matter of opinion, while his claim that COVID-19 is “far less lethal” than flu in most populations is ambiguous (which populations, and where?).
There seemed nothing particularly unusual about the tweet: Trump’s fondness for the suggestio falsi is well known. But, soon after it was posted, Twitter hid the tweet behind a written warning, saying that it had violated the platform’s rules about “spreading misleading and potentially harmful information related to COVID-19.” Facebook went further, removing an identical post from its site entirely.
Such online controversies are becoming increasingly common. In 2018, the now defunct political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica was said to have wilfully spread fake news on social media in order to persuade Americans to vote for Trump in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Since then, Facebook and Twitter have removed millions of fake accounts and “bots” that were propagating false stories. This weeding-out operation required the platforms themselves to use artificial-intelligence algorithms to find suspicious accounts.
Our reliance on firms that profit by allowing “disinformation” to take the lead in policing the truth reflects the bind in which digital technology has landed us. Facebook and Twitter have no incentive to ensure that only “true” information appears on their sites. On the contrary, these companies make their money by harvesting users’ data and using it to sell advertisements that can be individually targeted. The more time a user spends on Facebook and Twitter, and the more they “like,” click, and post, the more these platforms profit ― regardless of the rising tide of misinformation and clickbait.
This rising tide is partly fuelled by psychology. Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that from 2006 to 2017, false news stories on Twitter were 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than true ones. The most plausible explanation is that false news has greater novelty value compared to the truth, and provokes stronger reactions ― especially surprise and disgust. So, how can companies that gain users and revenue from false news be reliable guardians of true news?
In addition, opportunities to spread disinformation have increased. Social media have vastly amplified the audience for stories of all kinds, thus continuing a process that started with Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the movable-type printing press in the 15th century. Just as Gutenberg’s innovation helped to wrest control of knowledge production from the Roman Catholic Church, social media have decentralized the way we receive and interpret information. The internet’s great democratizing promise was that it would enable communication without top-down hierarchical strictures. But the result has been to equalize the credibility of information, regardless of its source.
But the problem is more fundamental: “What is truth?” as the jesting Pontius Pilate said to Jesus. At one time, truth was God’s word. Later, it was the findings of science. Nowadays, even science has become suspect. We have put our faith in evidence as the royal road to truth. But facts can easily be manipulated. This has led postmodernists to claim that all truth is relative; worse, it is constructed by the powerful to maintain their power.
So, truth, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. This leaves plenty of latitude for each side to tell its own story, and not bother too much its factual accuracy. More generally, these three factors ― human psychology, technology-enabled amplification of the message, and postmodernist culture ― are bound to expand the realm of credulity and conspiracy theory.
This is a serious problem, because it removes a common ground on which democratic debate and deliberation can take place. But I see no obvious answer. I have no faith in social-media companies’ willingness or ability to police their platforms. They know that “fake” information can have bad political consequences. But they also know that disseminating compelling stories, regardless of their truth or consequences, is highly profitable.
These companies’ only incentive to tackle the problem of fake news is to minimize the bad press it has generated for them. But unless and until telling the truth serves the bottom line, it is futile to expect them to change course. The best one can hope for is that they make visible efforts, however superficial, to remove misleading information or inferences from their sites. But performative acts of censorship like the removal of Trump’s tweet are window dressing that sends no larger signal. It serves only to irritate Trump’s supporters and soothe the troubled consciences of his liberal opponents.
The alternative ― to leave the policing of opinion to state authorities ― is equally unpalatable, because it would revive the untenable claim that there is a single source of truth, divine or secular, and that it should rule the Internet.
I have no solution to this dilemma. Perhaps the best approach would simply be to apply to social-media platforms the public-order principle that it is an offense to stir up racial hatred. Twitter, Facebook, and others would then be legally obliged to remove hate material. Any decision on their part would need to be testable in court.
I don’t know how effective such a move would be. But it would surely be better than continuing the sterile and interminable debate about what constitutes “fake” news.
—The Korea Times

Why the West needs a new Eurasian strategy

Artem Kvartalnov

After the Ukraine crisis, Western policy towards Russia was simply extended to include Russian-led integration projects: the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) was denied recognition, whereas European Union (EU) and EAEU economic cooperation was and is out of the question. Is this policy worth it?
Strictly speaking, when it comes to elaborating a Eurasian strategy, non-EAEU countries have a limited range of policy options to choose from. First, they could actively resist Eurasian integration through supporting alternative integration projects and inciting conflicts among EAEU nations. Second, they may passively counteract integration processes by means of neglecting the realities ensuing from the EAEU’s existence. Third, they could recognize the EAEU’s right to exist and establish comprehensive relations with the Union. Finally, they may use Eurasian integration to advance their own interests. The Board of the Eurasian Economic Commission, which is one of the key EAEU bodies, is composed of 10 commissioners representing 5 member states, and the Board’s decisions are made by a qualified majority. Other governing bodies of the Union make their decisions by consensus. This means that Eurasian integration can serve as a check on Russia’s economic policies: Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Kyrgyzstan can collectively block any official decision of the Union. Moreover, there is no indication that the EAEU ensures Russia’s effective leadership in the post-Soviet space: the Eurasian Economic Union lacks a positive agenda for the future, which actually makes Moscow’s role fairly contextual. Therefore, the perception of the EAEU as subordinated to Russia and its interests appears to be misleading: incredible as it seems, Western countries could effectively use EAEU institutions to promote their agenda instead of counteracting Eurasian integration as such.
To put it bluntly, any new international institution can be described as an empty vessel that needs to be filled with a particular content. Eurasian integration is a very young project, and its future identity is contingent upon many internal and external factors. Instead of serving as an instrument of Russian expansionism, the EAEU may well be transformed into a mechanism of Russia’s modernization and Westernization. Few people would argue today that ASEAN is hostile to Western countries, although the Association was initially conceived to keep South-East Asia away from both Soviet and American influence and involvement. So is there any reason to portray the EAEU as hostile to America and Europe? As of 2020, Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, which are EAEU members, maintain cordial relations with the West. These are the very countries that could serve as conduits for reshaping the EAEU according to Western interests and ideals by blocking unfavourable decisions and pushing a more pro-Western agenda, and they do have institutional capabilities to do so.
The second assumption underlying the resistance strategy is that Eurasian integration is a very weak project driven by the momentary interests of the Russian Federation. Hence, it is inferred that there is no point in maintaining the dialogue with the EAEU because the whole integration project is doomed to failure in the long term. This perception is emblematic of a very limited understanding of post-Soviet politics in Western countries: in reality, it is highly likely that the EAEU will outlast the political regimes that currently govern EAEU countries, as Eurasian integration is conducive to quite a few forces and interest groups present in the region. The third assumption of those opposing Eurasian integration is that the EAEU is a potential competitor for European and Euro-Atlantic institutions. This argument has a solid basis, since the intensification of Eurasian integration processes in the 2010s can rightly be characterized as Russia’s response to NATO enlargement and to the EU’s Eastern Partnership project. Samuel Charap and Mikhail Troitskiy refer to this competition between Europe and Eurasia using the term “integration dilemma.” They argue that “[b]y promoting engagement with the states of post-Soviet Eurasia largely through integration initiatives that are de facto closed to one another, the West and Russia have (often unintentionally) forced these states to make zero-sum choices.” The “integration dilemma” can strike at almost any post-Soviet country: Belarus, Moldova, and Armenia can fall victim to this dilemma, just as Ukraine did in 2014.
However, following the logic of the “integration dilemma” is a flawed strategy. What we have seen in practice is that a country’s accession to the EAEU has little impact on its relations with external actors. For instance, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) freely operates in Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, although these countries are frequently described as belonging to Russia’s sphere of influence. The Open Societies Foundations operate in Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, although George Soros, its founder and chair, has a bad image in Eastern Europe. This once again proves my point that influencing and shaping the EAEU is more effective than counteracting it.
Since the integration dilemma is still there, let me assume that the resistance strategy is a perfect fit. If so, counteracting Eurasian integration requires creating and nurturing alternative identities, which would be strong enough to defy the Eurasian core. This resembles the all too familiar strategy of isolating Russia through detaching it from other post-Soviet states, which was one of the roots of the ongoing crisis in Russia’s relations with the West. Although Russian state media contends that the West has been adept at nurturing anti-Russian sentiments in the post-Soviet space, it can be said that the resistance strategy has been less successful and effective than is often supposed. First, while surveys show that strong pro-Western sentiments exist in Ukraine or Armenia, the situation is quite different in Central Asian countries, where Russia continues to enjoy unquestionable moral authority. Second, European integration is a more difficult path than Eurasian integration when it comes to institutional, political, and economic prerequisites, which means that popular support for European integration might erode over time if there is no or little noticeable progress in the integration process. Finally, detaching Russia from its neighbours is quite costly, since it requires this very progress, which presupposes conducting comprehensive political and economic reforms in post-Soviet countries and stimulating these reforms through financial aid.
All this means that the strategy of resisting Eurasian integration is unlikely to achieve its objectives at an affordable cost, whereas the policy of wisely influencing it seems to be more fruitful and less bellicose. Then why not adopt this policy for the good of America, Europe, and Eurasia?
—Modern Diplomacy

Deepening calamitous crisis

Deepening calamitous crisis

Pakistan today is in the middle of an economic and political crisis which is why people witness and experience failed administrations, political instability, destroyed economy, moral bankruptcy in public institutions, the rotten bureaucracy; overdependence on revenue from utility bills and taxes, public office allure – which has attracted more thieves and charlatans to politics; the ceaseless plunder of the national treasury, lack of public accountability, religious and ethnic bigotry.
Our ruling class, both political and bureaucratic desires power not so much to serve the people but to access the privileges of public office demonstrating the moral bankruptcy that exists in our leadership. The ineptitude of the present PTI-led coalition government to provide their citizens basic and essential services such as public safety, control corruption and criminality, mitigate violation of human rights and bridge the ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots is due to an inherent moral bankruptcy. The moral bankruptcy fuels our so-called leaders and authority persons to plunder and pillage state and organization for personal gains. In reality, nothing else is on the rise in ‘ Naya Pakistan” of Prime Imran Khan, but Food inflation, unemployment, criminality, ethnicity and polarization. How and why should common citizens believe in this narrative of the present rulers that there is economic growth, renaissance and transformation when they experience the worst type of inflation, the structural corruption, the crushing debts and the fatal addiction of the rulers to the IMF aid and loans?
Not only the monster of corruption, but also population explosion, hyperinflation, unemployment, lawlessness are a few biggest threats to our society and the state. Even in “Naya Corruption” , like “Purana Pakistan” corruption continues, We just see a little bit of change in the ways and means of corrupt practices. Even in “Naya Pakistan: corrupt individuals with political power enjoy a lavish life, millions of Pakistani are deprived of their basic needs like food, health, education, housing, access to clean water and sanitation
Like “ Purana Pakistan” Sexual deviance and gender disparity continue in the society. The scandals that surround politician and authority persons are numerous and of varying severity. However even female members of the Parliament are not immune to the atrocities of unchecked sexual assault or gender bias. The alarming rate of sexual violence in “ Naya Pakistan “shows that representation of women alone will not have an impact without structural change.
Disdain for the law is evident in the public sector organizations and society. Authority persons display complete moral bankruptcy in the execution of their responsibilities in upholding the laws of the land. People only from a particular province and ethnic background are placed in authority positions. Sindh and Balochistan provinces are being ignored as done in the past. A classic example is of public sector varsities, training institutes and academies, regulatory bodies, among others. All promises of the Prime Minister Imran Khan are in jeopardy.
The solution lies in visionary and ethical leadership, strong and enforceable laws against corruption, and severe sanctions for corruption crimes underpinned by a national culture of promoting ethics from family to national level.
It is only ethical and just leadership, not ethnic and prejudiced, which can transform the potential of this vibrant and valiant nation into a success story. Why and how long my country the most beloved should, be groping in the dark? A mammoth PDM anti-government rally in Gujranwala reflects that the present government has lost its moral legitimacy and new polls are needed in the country to take the country out of deepening crisis during the winter of discontent. General elections are needed to secure a fresh mandate based on acceptable values and on integrity. Otherwise, this country and the countrymen will suffer the most, not the present rulers because the emerging moral and political crisis is almost as calamitous as the economic one. Above all, to avoid disaster in various public sector organizations, we need extremely capable and non-corrupt management, as well as the political stability to facilitate that management. How long this nation will tolerate morally and fiscally corrupt persons who promote lying, perjury, smoking and other moral ills and evils n our public sector organizations, in particular, training institutes and academies?

Covid-19 Working from home is here to stay

Covid-19 Working from home is here to stay

The COVID-19 pandemic has crushed economies, sent joblessness soaring and killed more than a million people worldwide. But there are a few ways in which the pandemic may prompt society to improve, and one is remote work.
Though it was initially necessary to keep employees from getting sick, remote work promises to make people more productive and happy while helping the environment and preserving infrastructure.
When the coronavirus struck, those who could do their jobs remotely often did. The number has gradually declined as our understanding of safety measures increased, but it’s still substantial.
And while many people will go back to the office after the pandemic is over, part of the shift will probably be permanent. A recent survey shows a substantial increase in the number of workers who say they won’t go back to the office full time.
There are certainly drawbacks to the remote trend. Those working from home are far more likely to be in higher-income, professional occupations, such as engineers, lawyers, financiers or consultants. Most lower-income jobs can’t be done remotely, such as those in food service and brick-and-mortar retail. That has created inequality in terms of both unemployment and exposure to COVID-19. And when high-income workers become accustomed to staying home and ordering online instead of going out to eat and shop, it’s lower-earning local service workers who bear the brunt of the shift in demand.
The trend has also taken a psychological toll. People who work remotely often end up putting in more hours than when they go into the office. With the boundary between job and home life blurred, there’s no obvious signal that it’s OK to stop working, which can make it hard to relax. As any graduate student or entrepreneur can attest, the nagging anxiety of whether you should be working more can easily lead to burnout.
But there are good reasons to think that these negative effects will be mostly transitory. As countries that have dealt successfully with COVID-19 show, engineers and lawyers will go back to restaurants and shop at stores when the pandemic is over. While a few industries such as movie theaters may suffer permanent decline, home delivery is not a true substitute for most retail experiences.
Psychological stress will probably also ebb as the coronavirus threat eases. People who work remotely will develop strategies to segment their jobs from their personal lives, and budget their time in ways that leave them less anxious. Professors, writers and other people whose jobs have always been semi-remote show that this can be done. And most workers will eventually alternate between home and the office.
This kind of part-time remote work promises to bring substantial benefits to society. Flexibility will add to work-life balance: If a working parent needs to stay home to take care of a sick child or supervise home repairs, they’ll be able to do that without sacrificing income or productivity. Vacations will be easier, too. Remote work could even increase productivity, by reducing the number of hours wasted by people trying to look busy for their bosses.
Remote work will also benefit society economically. Fewer days in the office means less time spent commuting. A recent blog post by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis looked at falling commute times in three suburban counties in the United States and calculated that about 1 million to 1.5 million hours were probably saved in each county between April and July. Going forward, the amount saved will be less, but still substantial.
Long commutes are associated with unhappiness, so more days spent working at home will make for an emotionally healthier populace. It will also save workers money and reduce wear and tear on transport infrastructure. Reduced greenhouse emissions will be yet another plus.
To maximize the benefits from the shift to remote work, government policy should aim to ease the transition. Since more people will be toiling out of their houses instead of office buildings, cities should change zoning codes to facilitate conversion of commercial real estate to residential. Government can also subsidize service workers to move to new neighbourhoods to follow high-income jobs, since that’s where the new demand will be. It can also help retrain people displaced by long-term shifts in demand (such as the decline of movie theatres). And it can gather information from big companies that successfully managed a shift to partial remote work, and share those strategies with small businesses that might otherwise have a tougher time managing the transition.
In the long run, especially with smart policies, more flexible work arrangements will be a good thing. COVID-19 has wreaked terrible damage on society, but in this small way it will end up moving things in a healthier direction.
— The Japan Times

Gujranwala outburst, beginning of the end or end of the beginning?

I do not know where to begin and where to end. The PDM rally in Gujranwala was expectedly large and charged no matter what Ministers and PTI spokespersons may say. And how much one hopes they say less and think more. That city and the cities and towns around it have been PML-N country for over three decades. To expect anything else there last Friday reflected ignorance bordering on stupidity. The speeches were charged, too. Very much charged. One, particularly not even printable. So, how will it roll on from here? Where and how will it end? It is not PTI or the IK government that is the target now. The stakes are much higher. For Mr Nawaz Sharif, sitting pretty in London, the issue is not of what happens here in Pakistan today. As far as he is concerned it is no holds barred because if there is chaos and a breakdown, he has nothing to lose. He can let everyone stew until it is all over and keep waiting for a turn of events. The turn like the one that came his way following Benazir’s unexpected landing from Dubai at the end of October 2007.King Abdullah then told President Musharraf that after her return, he could no longer keep Nawaz Sharif away from Pakistan. Thus the unexpected happened and he too returned for another decade of Sharif’s rule. As Pakistani politics is full of the unexpected, one would not hazard a hasty conclusion except that this time he is not targeting the government or PTI but institutions. And I haven’t witnessed its like. Two institutions which are the country’s last hope. Specially, an institution whose members are getting martyred every other day so the country stays safe. In the past two weeks alone, scores of officers and men have laid down their lives. The country buried twenty of them on the day of the Gujranwala rally and not a word was mentioned about those martyred. Strangely, there is a sudden jump in such strikes and ambushes as it is in the political temperature. The last time Mr Sharif returned, President Musharraf was toothless. His powers had been clipped and someone else was calling the shot. Today, it is different. Those laying down their lives to keep the country from the harm’s way belong largely to the Punjabi heartland as does Mr Sharif. What will be their sentiments in a situation we are witnessing? I shudder to imagine. Way back in 1999, as Kargil was happening, Mr Sharif was on a different wave length.
Whether Kargil should have happened is not under discussion. It is the institution. Most countries would have a different attitude. In Pakistan, the state and its army are intertwined for various reasons. It is integrated because of the way Pakistan was truncated by the departing British and the resultant insecurity. The situation in Jammu and Kashmir is not of Pakistan’s making. Blunders were committed no doubt. But the blame has to be co-shared. Whatever the past, it is the present we are discussing and what we heard at Gujranwala in the wee hours of Saturday would be music to the ears of those on our east. Now, will the PPP and even Maulana be willing to co-share what was said from London? That and the sentiments within the institution will determine the course and progress of the PDM movement. Any political movement needs an orchestrated direction. An unified one. Here, the unity is only to the extent of throwing Imran Khan out. Beyond that nobody except Mr Sharif and Ms Maryam would know. Maulana only to an extent. The principal loser here will be PPP. Given Mr Zardari’s political skills, it is hard to believe he will rock his floating boat. As I have said earlier, it is not difficult to launch a movement in Pakistan. Keeping it in order is a rarity. It can break lose and get out of every one’s control. Let us hope and pray it does not bring everything down as Pakistan is already very stressed on many fronts.

Time for Europe to listen to Iran

Time for Europe to  listen to Iran

Over the last four decades, European governments have implemented various policies toward Iran, but one thing has been made clear in this period: Appeasement of the ruling clergy only helps advance their hard-line agenda.
In 1992, the European powers experimented with a precarious policy toward Iran. They wagered that negotiating with the fundamentalist rulers of Tehran may end up changing their egregious behavior, especially at home. The regime’s human rights record was so appalling that Europe tried to rationalize its dicey rapprochement by pretending to have a “critical dialogue.” At the end of the fatal experiment, however, not only had the regime not modified its behavior, but it had ramped up its human rights violations and conducted bold terrorist attacks on European soil. The critical dialogue policy was suspended in 1997 after the German judiciary indicted senior Iranian regime officials over terrorist killings in that country. Even the most basic realpolitik lesson learned should have been that appeasement emboldens the regime and makes the situation worse. Following that logical line of thought, dialogue should have been replaced by holding the regime accountable for its past actions in order to prevent future provocations. Shockingly, however, the European capitals doubled down on a more conciliatory approach, engaging Tehran in even broader negotiations beginning in the early 2000s, ostensibly tackling Iran’s clandestine nuclear program. A few short years after the conclusion of that attempt in 2015, the Belgian judiciary is on track to repeat what German courts found 23 years ago, but on a much larger scale. Next month, regime diplomat Assadollah Assadi will be put on trial in a breathtaking case that sees him accused of direct involvement in a terrorist plot in France.
Prosecutors say that, in June 2018, Assadi delivered 500 grams of the powerful explosive triacetone triperoxide to his accomplices with the aim of bombing an Iranian opposition rally in Paris. Had the plot not been discovered at the very last minute, the terrorist act could have left hundreds dead, including international dignitaries and many European parliamentarians.
Those parliamentarians and many of their colleagues are now furious that the EU is continuing with its failed policies on Iran, even as the regime’s terrorist plots become more daring and the human rights situation worsens by the day. More than 40 European Parliament members, as well as national MPs in Poland and Germany, last week addressed the issue in Brussels and Berlin, respectively.
They vociferously condemned the regime’s terrorism and ongoing crimes against humanity. Insisting on action rather than words, they also urged their governments to live up to Europe’s political and moral obligations by adopting a firm policy toward the regime, including shutting down its embassies.
The keynote speaker and one of the main targets of the regime’s terrorism over the past two years, including a plot in Albania and the one in France, was Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). She echoed the parliamentarians’ sentiments and insisted there should be no doubt that the regime is inherently incapable of moderating its behavior, and that it should be overthrown by the Iranian people. This further highlighted the legitimacy and international recognition of the opposition as a viable democratic alternative. The NCRI’s message has had a meaningful impact both inside and outside Iran, forcing regime officials to warn about the growth of its reach and the drawing of the younger generation to its democratic 10-point plan.
Iran’s ongoing crimes against humanity have been swept under carpet by the EU for far too long. They are simply ignoring the massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in the summer of 1988, the executioners of which continue to hold senior positions in the Iranian government. And, when Tehran last year killed 1,500 protesters and arrested and tortured 12,000 others, Europe simply watched from afar, contenting itself with occasional statements of condemnation. More importantly, after several failed and costly rounds of dangerous experimentation with policies of appeasement and negotiations, the Europeans continue to make the same mistakes. As the famous quote reminds us, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Individual European governments and the EU as a whole would do well to listen to the voices of the Iranian people. To stop Tehran’s provocations, especially its terrorism, Europe must hold the regime accountable for its foreign adventurism and its reprehensible repression of dissent and peaceful protests at home. What should a firm policy include as its core measures? The EU should adopt legislation to expel Iranian “diplomats” and intelligence agents like Assadi, who may be plotting further terrorist attacks. They should consider closing down Iranian embassies. And, most importantly, they should designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its proxies as terrorist organizations.
When it comes to human rights, the EU should seek to send an independent international mission to investigate Iran’s ongoing crimes against humanity and visit the country’s prisons. It must tell Tehran that it should stop its executions before any further diplomatic engagement.
For once, Europe should adopt a sane policy on Iran: A policy that better detects Tehran’s threat while hearing the legitimate calls for democracy of the Iranian people. Otherwise, European insanity will continue to breed Iranian terrorism.
—Arab News

Protests amid pandemic

Protests amid  pandemic

The pandemic assumes strange forms under strange conditions. No one knows who will be next to catch the bug. It’s difficult to criticize the rules set forth in Korea for making as sure as humanly possible that COVID-19 won’t spread. For the second time this year, I’ve been quarantined for two weeks at my place in Seoul, under orders not to leave for so much as a cup of coffee or a stop at a convenience store.
This time, though, the system was slightly different from when I got here in April. Rather than test me at the airport on arrival and send me overnight to a youth hostel that the government had taken over for those awaiting test results, I was free to go home with instructions to get tested at the local health center within three days. A large special taxi had to whisk me there and back, for a rather hefty fee. The driver was shielded from the passenger by plexiglass, and I was warned not to get any ideas about straying on the way to or from the center.
I knew the system was working when an app installed at the airport, as on my previous arrival, flashed a message shortly after I got to the center. The wording was clear: You have left your address.” In other words, if you think you can simply walk out the door for no good reason, you’ll be in trouble. Some people have gotten around the rule by leaving their phone at home before going out.
Not a good idea. Watchful neighbors have been known to report the miscreants, leading to fines, jail time and, in the case of foreigners, expulsion from the country. I, of course, promptly messaged that I was in the center getting tested. No, I would not join those clamoring that the whole process is an infringement on basic liberty, freedom of movement, maybe free speech too.
The question gets tougher to answer, however, when it comes to mass rallies. The issue here is what takes precedence, personal or political freedom or anxiety about the bug.
The answer is not simple. Is there really a need for scores of buses, backed up by thousands of policemen, to stop mass movement into central Seoul? And how zealously should the police block small groups of demonstrators, many quite elderly, all social distancing and wearing face masks, determined to meet and shout slogans before getting tired and going home?
The police would appear to have overstepped their authority by seizing some of the flags that protesters were carrying. Many were waving the “Taegukgi,” the national flag, not just a proud symbol of Korean heritage and nationality but also of allegiance to conservative extremism.
The Taegukgi people have long stood out as right-wingers protesting what they consider the leftist outlook of the government of President Moon Jae-in. Aging military veterans, often wearing their old uniforms, also like to wave American flags to show their support for the Korean-American alliance, formed soon after the Korean War in which U.S. forces rescued the fledgling Republic of Korea from North Korean invasion.
Whatever the police do, whoever issues the order to stop the protests is going to be criticized as too severe or too weak. Freedom is difficult to define or categorize by rules and regulations. What do you do, for instance, about “car parades” or even “bus parades” in which activists would love to careen around the city, their loudspeakers going full blast? As long as they’re in moving vehicles, can they harm anyone? That’s a tough one. They may attract attention, but they also block traffic and draw crowds standing unhealthily close together.
And then there are religious leaders. As impassioned messengers of the Lord, they believe they have a higher cause than simple political demonstrators. The congregations of some of Korea’s churches rank among the biggest in the world. Hundreds of thousands of Korean Christians, Protestant and Catholic, would like to go to church every Sunday but are warned to stay away. Many, impassioned in their beliefs, would prefer to ignore the warnings. Some evangelical sects may seem extreme, but mainline denominations also attract believers who place full faith in the power of prayer. Preachers and pastors, priests and ministers have pulpits from which to spread the Word, doing “God’s work.” Hopefully their prayers will be answered and they will be saved.
—The Korea Times

Rooster pair comforts Receding waters flushes fortunes in sea

Rooster pair comforts Receding waters flushes fortunes in sea

They have past their prime, they are old, weak and have survived many years as their utility in meat is also not servable.
The feathered pair with rooster made a gesture which melted over a million hearts besides as many clicks and more on the social media as Karachi mega city of the world unfolded many a stories during floods.
The lesson for human beings come in many forms and those who seek inspiration, it is but a sign, a line or a signal that lift the spirits to another level.
The care and compassion showed by the feathered pair depicts the unfathomable commitment which is honored and cherished with every passing day and together it reads ‘till death do us apart’.
It is not known what happened to the feathered pair afterwards. Did it survive the rains or not?
This viral video a month ago has sent a message across globe for humans to learn from birds which unlike humans are with pure and unadulterated spirits.
The two have been on the street and they are finding solace in eachother’s company. The rain has made the ground wet and they are finding a higher spot by a couple of inches to sit together and not to get drenched.
The two also depict the societal decay which in order to progress leave and dump their old behind.
The small video is of Karachi, provincial metropolis of Sindh province which faced massive devastation during rains a month ago.
The rooster along with his pair, an old hen is all soaked in rain and both are keeping themselves warm.
The receding water flushed away fortunes of thousands. The exact details as per official statistics are always fudged very much the trumpeted arrest of Abid Malhi who voluntarily submitted to police while the news stated otherwise with police arresting the most wanted criminal and taking maximum of airtime on a false pretext.
How many houses were gutted, how many people lost their life belongings, how many people were electrocuted and how many were drowned and how many committed suicides and how many died of disease are all some of the facts if collected would result in a dark picture unlike the picture painted by the authorities.
Still no respite the federal government and the Sindh government are at logger heads and there is no respite for the poor. The first and foremost is the wheat crisis that has gripped the nation and the prices of flour has gone up which is causing an unrest in the public.
People in power somehow fail miserably in getting answers as how many flour mills, sugar mills, steel mills and oil mills etc. are in total in the country and how many are owned by people in government and in opposition. How much is the production, how much gets exported and how much is imported. These simple queries make serpents and dragons hissing and striking which results in public perishing with the venom which seep into their blood and life stream.
How many adulterators have been put behind bars and fined who have fed people on edibles not fit for human consumption. The stories for media are but a show piece in which public emotions are culled on false pretext.
So much is there to write about but empathy lacks from policy makers who make project presentation in power point and present a report which shows all is good. The fact of the matter is all that is projected is absolutely wrong and there is no one to check.
All the lives lost along with material is unaccounted for, a natural calamity swept away the fortunes ending up in the ocean.
The old and weak rooster pair sends a message if interpreted correctly and is deciphered for the ‘big wigs’controlling ‘land of the pure’ is to show sympathy towards the ‘lowly subjects’ who have very little to live on.
Governments the world over give relief and in the current time the uncontrolled mafias and cartels are hell bent in making money from the public which is very little and next to nothing purchasing power.
All is not lost Prime Minister Imran Khan with his vision and thought which encompasses the poor in all his national addresses should look closely at his team members especially the people who are mill owners and ask them what relief measures they can adopt for the masses who are faced with hunger.
Men, women and children jumping in rivers and canals are daily news items and the only reason for doing this extreme act of suicide is ‘hunger’.
What steps are underway to curtail the most deadly of disease which is identified as ‘hunger’? Is there any remedy taken?
The food basket nationwide stays empty and has soiled fruit and vegetables which happens only because empathy added with compassion stays missing from top to bottom from people who have dual loyalties and nationalities.