The problem with blogging about Pakistan is that there’s no dearth of topics and issues to write about. Turning on the television hits you with drama, intrigue, and conspiracy theories as caricatures scream in vain and to no one in particular.
And that’s just on our news channels.
Rather than be overwhelmed by the multitude of things I could write about, and hence, um, not actually write anything, I decided to spare you the excuses and just package them as a list. With a bow. And a rainbow. You’re welcome.
1. Gilani went all Jadoogar on the military. If you don’t know why Harry Potter should be jealous of Gilani Sahib, check out this past post. This week, media outlets and Twitter feeds alike were abuzz after Prime Minister Gilani fired Pakistan’s Defense Secretary [retired] General Lodhi. (Poof! He was gone. Jadoogar! Ooh!) According to media outlets, the controversy resulted from Lodhi’s statements during his Memogate investigation, claiming the Ministry of Defense (MOD) had no control over the ISI or Pakistan military.
Not surprisingly, coup rumors were abound after said news went public, as the Express Tribune reported Gilani allegedly made a “panicky” phone call to a British diplomat to support the PPP government. The British Foreign Secretary appealed for calm today, urging that all parties respect “the constitution and help ensure stability.” So military coup in the making? The jury’s still out, but I highly doubt it given the proximity (hopefully) to elections as well as the military’s own capacity to perform a coup. Al Jazeera English quoted analyst Moeed Pirzada who further iterated, “The Pakistani military is not the political player it used to be. It knows it’s not in a position to capture political power in Islamabad … not with the Supreme Court being the biggest impediment.”
But why such a high octave of rumors now? There are obviously many reasons, but one factor [purposefully?] upping the notch is…
2. The controversy known as #Memogate. Gah. I recently wrote about the first iteration of the Memogate scandal here, when Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz alleged that he was asked by [now former] Amb. Haqqani to pass a memo to former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, asking for help in reigning in Pakistan’s military establishment. The military, particularly COAS Kayani & ISI chief Pasha claim there is truth to the document & urged the judiciary to investigate its origins. Gilani claimed that Kayani & Pasha were violating the Constitution by submitting statements to the Supreme Court. ISPR responded by calling Gilani’s statements false and could have “very serious ramifications.” Gilani responded by saying the Army’s statements were – wait for it – released with his consent, i.e. “Just kidding, guys! I totes let the Army make allusions to a military coup, that would hence usurp my power!” Hee! [Note: read this great piece by Mohammed Hanif on how the military uses rumors over force.]
As the three-member judiciary panel gears up to for the memo inquiry this coming Monday, “A separate bench of the Supreme Court is scheduled to convene that day to hear the government’s explanation for failing to comply with earlier court orders to reopen corruption cases against Mr. Zardari,” noted the NY Times. Raza Rumi said it well when he noted, “The real threat for the government is a proactive Supreme Court which has taken a serious notice of noncompliance with its orders. The civilian government is stuck between two powerful institutions, which are no longer comfortable with business as usual.”
The ironic thing, though, is that this cacaphony still is business as usual. Politicians are not the only players who reign over politics, they are joined and often challenged by the judiciary and the military. This politicized warring, this blurring between the lines, mean we are also distracted from *real* issues like…
3. The Gas Shortage. Hello, McFly! The gas crisis in Pakistan isn’t so much a shortage as much as it’s the result of horrendous management. Or as Khurram Hussain noted in his piece for Express, it’s the result of an addiction. As CNG stations ran short on fuel and/or shut down in the country, protests broke out as people voiced their discontent. The gas shortage became visual as you would drive past rows of cars waiting at the CNG stations. But beyond the lines, beyond the protests, the crisis goes much deeper. Take away gas, and citizens are immobilized. They can’t drive their cars, they can’t take buses to get to work, they can’t cook their food. This has impacted industries, where, in Punjab, rows of factories have had to shut down. It’s affected jobs and livelihoods. In my opinion, that more than coup rumors is worrisome.
Also while you were watching Memogate…
4. The Saleem Shahzad Report came out. And it was inconclusive. The Pakistani journalist was abducted, tortured and found dead outside Islamabad last year, two days after his report on connections between Al Qaeda and the Pakistan Navy was published. Although several facts pointed to an alleged connection to the ISI, the Saleem Shahzad Commission did “not hold any institution or individual responsible for his death,” instead blaming “belligerents” for the incident. Given this lack of accountability, it’s no wonder the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) once again said Pakistan was, for the second year in a row, the most dangerous place in the world to be a journalist. CPJ’s Bob Dietz told AJE,
[The media in Pakistan is] free and vibrant, but let me qualify that with saying that they are under tremendous amounts of pressure from all sides. There’s been a lot of emphasis on intelligence services attacking journalists, but the fact, if you look at the journalists slain in the last few years, is that the ISI is only one of the actors that is putting pressure on journalists, threatening them and responsible for their deaths as well.
The news about Pakistan is, as always, eventful. The negative developments couched in this list are a reflection of the ground reality, but they are also a snapshot of what’s in the news. My work convinces me every day that Pakistan is a country with tremendous potential that has been horrifically managed. We are the victims of poor leadership, institutions that care more about pointing fingers outwards than looking inward, and a number of inefficiencies in our national value chain. Peel back that rotten layer, and you see the positive stories of opportunity, innovation, and energy. It may not completely overcome the bad, but it’s enough to be the silver lining. At least in my opinion.
And if you ever need further proof of change, check out this preview for Pakistan’s Next Top Model (PNTM). Because nothing says “Pakistanis, they’re just like us! Yay!” quite like reality television franchises & model wannabes smizing. What ups, #FAT (Fashion Against the Taliban).: