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May 8, 2017



The season of sacrifices

The season of sacrifices

One of my relatives is known for his wealth and miserly attitude. During every Eidul Azha, he sacrifices a goat that only a biologist can identify as a member of the species capra aegagrus hircus (ie a goat). The Sharifs may be rich and generous but they have done something similar in response to what is popularly known as Dawn Leaks. In order to ward off evil influences, they are offering sadqa of those leaders who do not fully belong to the political species or the tribe PML-N.

When Dawn Leaks erupted on the scene in October last year, the PML-N decided to go along with the narrative of ‘breach of national security’. Pervaiz Rasheed, the federal minister for information, broadcasting and national heritage, was sacked promptly. My relative would agree that it was a wise decision. After all, marginal characters like Pervaiz Rasheed are elevated to such positions with something like this in mind. He is a middle-class politician without a constituency who has not shifted to a haveli, hasn’t learnt to smoke cigars or made any wealth so far.

The portfolio of a minister may sound very impressive to an outsider but to the ruling family you are hardly superior to the goat mentioned above if you are not part of the kitchen. To get access to the kitchen, you have to be part of the family, a member of the Kashmiri clan or at least from Lahore. Some exceptions can be made for the outliers – who must be at least from GT Road. In the PML-N’s political geography, Pakistan does not exist beyond GT Road. It is Yaghistan, the land without a government.

Last week, we saw a marginal character, a federal minister named Riaz Pirzada, sacrifice himself so innocently without good reason. Nobody even noticed when he resigned in protest against his subordinate officers who he said were his real bosses. Doesn’t it sound a bit familiar? The poor minster failed to get an appointment with his senior cabinet colleague, the prime minister of Pakistan, despite appealing for months through the civil servants who guard the PM House.

When the JIT constituted to investigate Dawn Leaks came up with its report, the Sharifs decided to sacrifice two more marginal characters – Tariq Fatemi, who did not know what office he held and the Principal Information Officer (PIO), Rao Tehsin, who I suspect is not even from the DMG group. We know that these sacrifices have not been accepted. The report has not been made public but we can guess that someone higher on the food chain is required for the sacrifice.

While we are awaiting more information, there is no harm in making suggestions. And I am pleased to suggest the name of the honourable interior minister who holds the unnamed portfolio of civil-military relations. Even if he had nothing to do with Dawn Leaks, I would like to sacrifice him on behalf of our exporters, the tourism industry and the civil society.

It is well known that Chaudhry Nisar wanted to be Pakistan’s foreign minister. Unfortunately, the Sharifs decided that Pakistan can do without a foreign minister and he got stuck in a job that he does not like. However, that does not mean that he cannot lend a helping hand to the Foreign Office.

It is due to his support to the Foreign Office that exporters are crying hoarse over the visa regime imposed upon the foreign businessmen. Our export industry is like a shop without customers. The customers are being discouraged from visiting Pakistan at a time when our security situation has improved and we have every reason to keep our doors open. Though Pakistan’s economy appears on the verge of a turnaround, our exports are declining, giving us a serious balance of payment problem.

Despite all the technological progress, markets remain social spaces where human to human interaction and trust can sway many other factors. Large export orders require personal meetings and face-to-face interaction. Buyers also like to visit manufacturing facilities to ensure that they conform to the required standards.

Pakistan has a 2,430 kilometres open border with war-torn Afghanistan. Pakistan is hosting millions of unregistered aliens and yet it is guarding its tiny airports as if it were Switzerland keen on stopping influx of refugees from Timbuktu and the whole wide world were conspiring to enter into Pakistan with malicious intent.

Let’s look at a couple of examples here. Turkey, our dear friend, is as paranoid as we are and is facing similar challenges – a civil war raging in a neighbourly country, influx of refugees and Western countries hatching conspiracies against it (ie according to its leaders). However, it allows visa-free access to citizens from 78 countries who can stay in Turkey for 180 days for tourism or business purposes.

Citizens of France, Georgia, Germany, Greece (yes, arch enemy Greece), Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and Switzerland do not need to bring their passports with them. They can enter on any identification document. In 2014, Turkey attracted around 42 million foreign tourists, ranking as the 6th most popular tourist destination in the world.

Malaysia, another country we want to emulate allows visa-free access to citizens from 63 countries for 90 days while citizens from another 95 jurisdictions are granted visa-free entry to Malaysia for 30 days.

Pakistan’s visa regime not only restricts businessmen but also tourists. As the icing on the cake, the interior minister has imposed restrictions on foreigners from travelling to Pakistan’s main tourist attraction, Gilgit-Baltistan, an area whose economy relies heavily on the tourism industry. Any foreigner travelling to GB now must get a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the eagle-eyed babus of the interior ministry. I do not have to tell you how the people of GB are feeling.

Another great policy spearheaded by the interior ministry focuses on the civil society. Almost all of Pakistan’s NGOs and the international NGOs working in the country have been declared suspect. They are required to re-register through a byzantine process that is essentially meant to strangulate them. How a democratic Pakistan will benefit from such restrictions has not been explained.

Uneven restrictions have also been placed on NGOs on working in different areas. Always kind to southern Punjab, the PML-N has placed strict conditions on the non-profit sector working in that impoverished area. While the Punjab government deprives this area of public goods through a policy of discrimination, the interior ministry has deprived it of work by the non-profit sector as well. There is hardly any factor that could justify this kind of discrimination.

In today’s world, the biggest security threat is created when people are unhappy and angry. The PML-N should make some sacrifices for the sake of the people.


The writer is an anthropologist and development professional.


Twitter: @zaighamkhan