Pakistan at 70: Whither Good Leadership?

There is no gainsaying the fact that without the visionary and charismatic leadership of the founder of the nation Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah the dream of an independent country would have been impossible. It is difficult to imagine that a person so frail of physique could have singlehandedly achieved a separate homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent. One can gauge his vision from the fact that having pleaded his case on the basis of two separate nations, he was quick to add at the eve of independence that he wanted an inclusive homeland, where everyone was free to practice his or her faith. He had reassured everyone: “You’re free to go your mosques, you are free to go to your temples or any other place of worship that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”

Today is Pakistan’s 70th birthday. Its detractors weren’t giving it 10 days let alone 70 years to survive. The country has come a long way from its early days. To begin with the challenges were grave. At the time of its birth its share of the army was spread all over the world and there was no single Muslim unit for the defence of the country. There was no industry, no trade and no trained manpower. Its share of money and weapons had been stopped. It was inundated by an unending stream of refugees. War had broken out in Kashmir and the British commander in chief of an independent Pakistan wasn’t willing to take the orders of the Quaid to support Pakistan defend its legitimate rights.

Looking back at these 70 years Pakistan’s has had its share of successes and failures. It lost half of its territory in just 25 years. It has been through wars, natural disasters and multiple political crises. The common thread visible throughout these upheavals has been a leadership that did not measure up upto the myriad challenges faced by the nation. Unfortunately after the Quaid’s death just one year after the birth of the nation, no one could replicate his standards of good leadership. The ship of state was allowed to flounder against the rocks that it encountered in its progress as an independent state.

Often but not always good leaders are an accident of history. Muhammad Ali Jinnah was one such leader. He was a messiah, truly a gift of God, who did what he was ordained for. This, however, begs the question whether it is the end for us? Are we such an unfortunate nation that we will remain bereft of good leadership even after 70 years? Such thoughts can lead to despondency? I don’t believe that we are fated to be ruled by third rate leaders. We can have our share of good leaders provide we have a long term plan for it. First and foremost we need to allow to the agreed system of governance to take root. Whatever, democratic norms that we have adopted for our country must be allowed to blossom and bear fruit. The early fruits may be bitter at first but eventually there would be sweeter crop that comes out if the system is allowed to filter out those not fit for leadership roles. The important thing is that the system of filtration should not be extra-constitutional. The Quaid was a constitutional lawyer per excellence. During his visit to the Staff College in Quetta he had reminded the military leadership of the oath that they had taken to protect the constitution. He was absolutely clear that if the country had to flourish there ought be no coups either military or judicial. Leadership like wine takes time to mature. So lets be patient and give time for a merit based leadership to emerge from an archaic and decadent system based on feudalism and dynastic rule.  Time is not far, when we will have our own Thomas Jeffersons and Abraham Lincolns.


New Globalization: The Asian Model

Recently a delegation of the Chinese Association of Social Sciences (CASS) visited our University in Islamabad. The visitors were given a thorough briefing. During the Q & A session, a high ranking Chinese lady, well conversant in English language, wanted to know about our opinion on the new globalization? A colleague, who is an economics professor gave an impromptu presentation. He said that indeed a new Asian model was emerging and that the existing one based on the Bretton Wood institutions such as IMF and the World Bank was on its way out. The new system he said would eventually be replaced by the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). This, however, may take time. In the interim smaller countries like Pakistan would still be going to IMF to get loans. If the old institutions knows that their members were preparing to join the new system, they would crush them by lending money on very high rates. Therefore, he recommended the new Asian economic model of globalization should not be based on harsh lending rates because that would devastate emerging economies. The new economic world order he suggested should be more humane, in order to allow poor countries to prosper. The point was well taken.

There is no denying the fact that we are witnessing a great change in global leadership. It may still take time before a complete change takes place because of a number of reasons i.e. the US is still militarily the most powerful country on earth and its technology and education and the system of governance is still vastly superior to all its immediate competitors such as China and Russia. However, the writing is clearly on the wall. The US is a retreating power. The ascension of Donald Trump to the White House hasn’t helped matters. He is vastly unpopular at home and is under investigation by federal agencies for his alleged collusion with Russia to manipulate the results of the presidential elections. Cracks are also appearing between the whites and non-whites. The rally by the white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia is a case in point. Abroad, the foreign policy challenges are not being addressed in a cogent and clearheaded manner. The showdown with North Korea, a poor country led by an unpredictable leader, does not behove a mighty country like the US. Trump’s response to Kim ICBM plans has spiked tensions. Threats such as “you’ll witness fire and fury of the kind that he has not witnessed before” and that all his “weapons are loaded and locked to fire” is a very dangerous trend of saber rattling that can endanger the international peace. The policy on Afghanistan remains unclear and Trump’s advisers have yet to give him policy options that would allow a face saving exit. All this is weakening the American hold on the global leadership. So we are seeing is the emergence of a new world order in which the global leadership would shift from North America and Europe to Asia.

It is a time of great circumspection. The new global leaders should not blindly follow the capitalist norms. The new world order should be based on ancient wisdom of the East. It should be based on integrating all nations of the world. The resources of the poor countries should not be exploited mercilessly by powerful nations without making them a stakeholder in the profits earned. The harsh lending system should be replaced by one that encourages the poor countries to not become entangled in a vicious debt trap. Instead they should be encouraged to stand on their own feet and through prudent economic policies build their economies that will help them integrate with the global economy seamlessly. This is not a Utopian model and it has all the chances of success.

In search of Col Mehboob Ahmed

0bae700e148c9ad2f326faafae38d5ca--azad-hind-colonial-indiaWhen I was commissioned into the famous 7 Frontier Force Regiment in October 1976, I was quite overwhelmed by its rich history and traditions. Raised by Captain John Coke on 18 May 1849, a few years before the war of independence of 1857, the ‘paltan’ had come a long way from being part of a mercenary army to a truly nationalistic one. It fought with distinction in the first Kashmir War in 1948 and was rushed to hold the line in Lahore and Sialkot in the 1965 War. One of its officers earned a sitara-i-juraat for gallantry in East Pakistan in the 1971 war. In the early 1990s it would have the honour to be the first battalion in the world to land in war torn Mogadishu as part of the UN operations in Somalia (UNOSOM). In recent times it has had multiple tenures of duty in the restive tribal areas.

As a young subaltern I spent many happy hours browsing through the regimental history and going through the sepia photographs in the well preserved regimental albums. Making my way around the ante room of the officer’s mess in Multan I would look wonder struck at the regimental silver and the photographs adorning the walls. One photograph of the officers of the unit on the eve of war in Malaya showed one incongruous native officer, among a bunch made up entirely British men. The name below said he was Second Lieutenant Mehboob Ahmed. “Who is he and where did he go?” I remembered asking Rahman, the old waiter, who had served with the battalion in Malaya. “He remained behind in India and became an ambassador.” I never probed any further but something didn’t add up e.g. why didn’t he re-join the unit and why did he opt for India. The battalion had become prisoners of war in the Far East early in the Second World War. The British officers had been employed to construct what was known as the death railway to connect Burma with Thailand. Most of the Indian soldiers had joined the Indian national Army of Subhash Chandra Bose. Second Lieutenant Mehboob Ahmed was lost. He didn’t find any mention in the regimental history and wasn’t there, when the unit was re-raised after the war in 1945 in Rawalpindi. Something did not add up.

As I read more about military history I discovered about the Indian National Army (INA) and the charismatic personality Netaji (the leader) Subhash Chandra Bose. Bose, a leading Congress politician from Bengal had escaped from captivity in Calcutta and made his way first to Germany and later to Japan.  He had raised the Azad Hind Fauj or the Indian National Army from among the Indian prisoners of war held in captivity by the Japanese. One thing distinct about the INA soldiers was that their cause defied religion, cast and creed. Hindu, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians were all joined together by their overwhelming desire to liberate India from the British. Unfortunately, after the War they found themselves to be on the losing side and once again became prisoners. The famous trials held in the Red Fort in Delhi made them a cause celebre among Indian nationalists. The British sensing that their end was near cashiered them from service. The armies of independent India and Pakistan were loath to rehabilitate their comrades, who had joined INA because they had defied their oath to the King and the Empire.

So much for INA, where did Mehboob Ahmed go? By a stroke of luck an acquaintance, whose passion is to research about freedom fighters belonging to the Ghadr party and INA gave me a photocopied autobiography of one Colonel Mehboob Ahmed, who was the military secretary to Netaji. The book is a fascinating account of Mehboob Ahmed for his love of his country and for his adulation of Bose.  Nowhere in the book does he mention the time he spent in his British unit but he clearly recounts his defection in Malaya. He recalls in detail INA’s military campaign in Burma and Netaji leading from the front. It is poignant and moving to read his refusal to believe that Bose had been killed in an air crash. Towards the end Mehboob Ahmed appears to be disillusioned man because an independent India had not lived upto his expectations.

Last summer I checked into the British Archives in Kew Gardens in London to look for Mehboob Ahmed. My search yielded no results. First I was told to go to the British India Library, where all records of the erstwhile British Indian Army had been transferred but again I turned a blank. I was then told by the archivist that I should try the South Block in New Delhi, where all accounts of the Indian officers reside. With the kind of relations that our two countries have, I’ve momentarily put my urge to write to the Indian Army on hold.

All that I know about Second Lieutenant Mehboob Ahmed of 1/13 FF Rifles (now 7FF) and Colonel Mehboob Ahmed of INA is that in 1945 he was the military secretary to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. In 1946 Captain SK Sinha (later Lt Gen and governor of Assam and Jammu & Kashmir) met him in a PoW camp in Insein jail in Rangoon. He had known Mehboob Ahmed from his hometown Patna. He recalls Mehboob being very proud of having fought for India’s Independence and he considered those fighting for the British as mercenaries. He was inspired by Netaji’s personality and worshiped him immensely. After the infamous INA trials held at Red Fort, Mehboob was freed and was given a hero’s welcome in Patna.

In 1972, Mahboob Ahmed, then a senior official of the ministry of external affairs deposed before the Khosla Commission and stated the Japanese respected Bose and their common interest was to evict the British from India. In 1991 Mehboob Ahmed gave an interview to Sugata Bose, a relative of Subhash Chandra Bose for his book His Majesty’s Opponent: Subhas Chandra Bose and India’s Struggle against Empire. If by any chance Col Mehboob Ahmed is alive today he must be a very old man. If he has passed away, perhaps he lies buried somewhere in his native Patna. I hope he is at peace with himself for having fought for the right cause.


Pitfalls of the Social Media

There are always two sides of the coin. This is particularly true for technology. There are obvious uses and utilities of the social media. It has to a very large extent empowered the ordinary folks to send their messages across to a very large audience. This liberty in some cases is being used to spread hatred and disinformation.

I have been added by friends, relatives and colleagues to become a member of a number of Whatsapp groups. I thought these sites would provide like minded people to catch up on news about each other and be a support system, when one was down in the dumps or needed genuine help or sincere advice. Unfortunately this is not the case. Most of these places spread negativity at a lightning speed. The rumor mills works effortlessly to spread false information, once a message becomes viral on social media. Many if not most of these messages spread baseless and useless information through unwitting accomplices. The purpose of these messages is mostly to spread hatred and disharmony. Packaged in a subtle and convincing manner, these appeal to political, sectarian and moral senses to those on the social media. When these messages strike the sympathetic chord, sensible people do not even take a nanosecond to pass on second hand information without verifying the veracity or source of these messages. Most of this recycled information has been planted in the first instance with sinister motives and apparently sensible people become part of these campaigns.

I’ve tried my best to leave some of these groups but caring and sometimes concerned friends have very sympathetically added me right back thinking that I had accidentally left and did not do so on purpose. To be frank, I do not have the gumption to tell them real reason for my departure. In a final act of surrender I’ve become a silent spectator of the goings on in the morbid spaces of social media.  The most I do now is to clear chat, as soon as I find the thread become too large for the memory of my smartphone.

The Government in power is afraid of the propaganda launched on the social media to expose its wrongdoings. In desperation it threatens to prosecute those behind these campaigns under the Prevention of Cyber Crimes Act of 2015. Cyber rights activists have crusaded against the indiscriminate application of these laws and have been to a large extent been able to win some important concessions. Threats of incarceration hasn’t stopped trolling or harassment in cyberspace.

There is a need to sensitize the users of the social media to act as responsible citizens in cyberspace. The state, the people’s representatives. Opinion-makers, the clergy, the role models, teachers and parents all have a role to play. Everyone is a stakeholder. Sometimes the messages being uploaded are striking against the very vitals of the state and our family values and ethics. Rules of the game have to be defined and all concerned must be asked to abide by these. Group admins should not moderate the conversation and under no circumstances be allowed unsubstantiated information to be uploaded on groups that they’re managing.  If they are not careful in their responsibility they’re party to the crime and last but not least they should learn not to add anyone without his or her consent.

We need to act before it is too late!


Call me Bwana

call_me_bwanaRemember the movie Call me Bwana from the 1960s. It was a crazy mad cap adventure of Bob Hope masquerading as the great white hunter. NASA falls for Hope’s pretenses and recruits him to find a lost spacecraft in Africa before hostile forces could lay hands on it. Bwana in Swahili means master. It has its roots in Arabic word Abu’na (our master). The whites were Bwanas – the masters in Africa. In many ways they still are. Their legacy and influence is still very strong and visible. Take for instance the drive from Nairobi to Lake Naivasha. You drive on the left hand side on the narrow single road and all the signs that you find along the way are in English. You would find nary any sign in a local language and the odd one out in Swahili is written in English script. I could detect only three such signs in the two hour ride. One was for a brand of chapatti. Another showcased a trakta (tractor) and another was a campaign poster extolling the virtues of a candidate for the local elections. It was quite evident that the white masters have totally suppressed the African languages. The villages are shanty towns with small churches dotting the landscape. The Africans still believe in voodoo and black magic and other indigenous beliefs but subscribe largely to the white man’s faith. There is no wild life visible. Most of it is now restricted to safari parks and resorts. Most that you see in the countryside are cows, sheep, hens and ducks. You can also see donkeys grazing or pulling heavily laden carts. I’m told the Chinese are importing these animals for purposes other than as beasts of burden. So I suppose we are not alone in earning from this asinine business practice. Sacks of khat, a mildly narcotic weed, line the road to be exported to countries like Somalia. The Somalis are addicted to this niswar like intoxicant. Our famous addiction is the Kenyan tea. A substantial amount of our foreign exchange is spent on importing tea from Kenya. Tea was bequeathed to us by our colonial masters the way they gave opium to the Chinese.

In the 1950s and the 1960s as the age of colonialism was ending and countries in Asia and Africa were gaining their freedoms. There was a great deal of hope. Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kuanda and Jomo Kenyatta were being hailed as the new breed of African leaders set to lead their nations to a journey of prosperity. The great African dream did not materialize the way it was expected to unfold. Africa is still mired in poverty and is being thoroughly manipulated by former colonial masters. Resource cursed countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone of the “blood diamond” fame are experiencing civil wars, internal disturbances and bloodshed. Africa is hopelessly divided along the linguistic lines bequeathed by the colonial masters. Francophone and English speaking Africa look at each other with suspicion and hatred. Arbitrary lines drawn in the sand cut across ethnic and tribal lines creating wars which have no end in sight. Smaller colonial powers like Belgians exercise great influence over former colonies like Congo. Contemporary Africa has the largest number of conflict zones.

While individual Europeans own large plantations and their governments are indulging in a new kind of land grab in Africa. They are not only obtaining licenses for large blocks to prospect for oil but are also buying huge swathes of land to grow agricultural produce for their own national food security.  Ironically food for the Africans is in short supply and many African countries are experiencing famine. The Bwana in Africa is perpetuating a new age of colonialism.

Badli sha

“Badli sha” said the receptionist at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Nairobi to the bellboy. She was telling him that the room had been changed. This sounds familiar to the traveler from the South Asia. Badli means change. In Pakistan ‘change’ has a political context as well with Pakistani politician Imran Khan shouting hoarse about Tabdeeli or change for years now.

Kenya is a multilingual country. The most spoken languages are Bantu  Swahili and and English, the latter was inherited from the British colonial rule, are widely spoken as lingua franca. They serve as the two official working languages. Including second-language speakers, there are more speakers of Swahili than English in Kenya.

Swahili, also known as Kiswahili, is a Bantu language and the first language of the Swahili people. It is widely spoken in the African Great Lakes region and other parts of eastern and south eastern Africa, including Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The closely related Comorian language, spoken in the Comoros Islands, is sometimes considered a dialect.

Estimates of the total number of Swahili speakers vary widely, from 50 million to over 100 million. Swahili serves as a national language of three nations: Tanzania, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Shikomor, the official language in Comoros and also spoken in Mayotte (Shimaore), is related to Swahili. Swahili is also one of the working languages of the African Union and officially recognized as the commonly spoken language of the East African Community.

A significant fraction of Swahili vocabulary is derived from Arabic through contact with Arabic-speaking Muslim inhabitants of the Swahili Coast.  The word Swahili has its roots in the Arabic word Sahel or coast. Badli sha no doubt must have its etymological roots in Arabic. The Muslim influence in East Africa is pronounced. Somalia, one of the largest country on the coast of East Africa is almost hundred percent Muslim. Kenya also has a significant Muslim population. Barrak Hussein  Obama, the father of former President Barrak Obama was a Muslim hailing from Kenya. Obama visited his Kenyan family as a senator and later as President.

There are a number of mosques in Nairobi. The Jamia Masjid is located on Banda Street, Nairobi, in the Central Business District. It is one of the most prominent Islamic religious structures in the country. It was founded and first built by Syed Maulana Abdullah Shah between the year 1902 and 1906. The Mosque has since been extended since its original construction.

The word of greeting in Swahili is Hujambo or just Jambo. Another common greeting is Habari gani. If you want to be extra polite you can say Shikamo, which literally means “I hold your feet.” This greeting is for your elders. Young children will often mutter Shikamo under their breath when you walk by. The reply to Shikamo is Marahaba. Literally translated to something like “I am delighted, I don’t get that every day.” Marahaba, now doesn’t that sound familiar? Asnate is thank you. I think this was the title of a song sung by Nazia and Zohaib and before I sign off remember the Safari film Hatari. It means danger or snake. I don’t have a clue if it has its roots in Arabic or is it just a native African word.

Water Shortage in Islamabad

There is an acute shortage of water in Islamabad and hardly anybody is paying attention to this growing problem. In Sector G14/4 for instance there is no piped water and every house has sunk a well to draw this precious commodity from underground aquifers. The subsurface water is decreasing at a very fast rate. Underground water is not being recharged as fast as it is being depleted and often no water is found even at the depth of 300 feet. People constructing houses end up sinking more than one bore at exorbitant expense ranging from Rs. 750 to Rs. 1000 per foot. The cost of sinking a well can cost in excess of Rs one hundred thousand. Most of the people living in the fast expanding sprawl have already stopped drinking water supplied by the Capital Development Authority (CDA). Bottled water is the norm. Islamabad today has a population of roughly two million people – a fourfold increase in the last few decades. The civic authorities are supposed to provide the essential utilities like electricity, water and security to the denizens of Islamabad. Like many other cities of Pakistan this obligation to the citizens has been abdicated by the city managers. The shortage of electricity is covered through generators or inverters, most commonly known as Uninterrupted Power Suppliers (UPS), private security guards provide protection to those, who can afford and almost everyone tries to dig a well in his or her home because the municipal water supply is uncertain or too little.

Recently a protest launched by the common people to highlight the shortage of water to the Mayor of the city but no one knows if this led any fruitful solutions. According to water experts the designed capacity of the available water resources for Islamabad is around 107 million gallons per day (mg/d). The major source of surface water is Simly dam. Groundwater is obtained from tube wells installed in the National Park area. Spring water is diverted from springs located at Saidpur, Nurpur and Shahdra-hills. These calculations discount the wells that everyone is sinks in one’s home. Water shortage to urban households is also being made up by water tankers that sell water at their own price that vary from Rs 1000 to 1200. There is no regulation on this private supply of water.

Unregulated water tankers must be brought under the law and so should the practice of boring wells for households. This will dry up aquifers and ground will rapidly sink causing a huge ecological disaster. However, stopping this practice will not be the solution for those needing regular water supply. The growing population of Islamabad needs water and new and dependable sources need to be discovered to keep the citizens supplied of this urgent commodity. Hot weather and frequent droughts will only exacerbate this situation.