New York to Islamabad Memory Lane: Pitstop in Riyadh

“The Presidential form of government’s the solution”

RIYADH; JAN 2, 2012: Irshad Salim – a consultant, journalist/writer and a motivational speaker, who is an American national of Pakistani origin living in New York and currently visiting Jeddah in Saudi Arabia on a professional consultancy assignment gave an informal talk to Pakistani expats, and said he still loves Pakistan, calling himself a “stranded Pakistani in America”.

Irshad, who is also editor/publisher and, was in Riyadh Friday to chat with expatriate Pakistanis. He delivered a thought-provoking and mind-agitating talk to a large and impressive gathering which included some supporters of PPP, PML-N, MQM, ANP, JUI-F, and JI. The rainbow of personalities from Riyadh’s Pakistani expat community was an unprecedented one – all of them had gathered to accord a warm welcome to Salim and to passionately listen to his much publicized talk.

Salim’s talk was primarily focused on Pakistani affairs and Pak-US relations – the crest and troughs of it – and the new phenomena and dimensions in the domestic politics emanating from the emergence of Imran Khan as third force and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Pakistan Justice Party) aka: PTI, on the political horizon of Pakistan.

In his opening remarks, Irshad emphasized on a better working relationship between Pakistan and USA. He said there was a need to “understand” USA and its policies. In this regards he underscored the need and importance of establishing “Think-Tanks” in Pakistan who can understand USA and its politics. He informed the attendees that US had at least 20+ such organizations dedicated to studying and doing research on all aspects of Pakistan – be it the social fabric, politics, military, intelligence, ISI, state of economy, economic outlook, plans and strategies, our strengths and weaknesses, etc. On the other hand unfortunately Pakistan has no institutions that does similar studies on and about USA. Even India has dedicated institutions to study Pakistan. According to Irshad, unless we come out of our own shell and open up to the world we have no sustainable chance of improving our lot and our mindset.

About the Security paradigm, he enlightened that Pakistan happens to be in a hostile environment, including one in the south – the Arabian Sea, which is prone to enemy attack and/or blockade besides its natural tendency to be unpredictable. “We are in a state of war since our birth”, he added. He asserted that we needed to understand that. He further added that in that extension, whatever that goes on in the country – and for that matter outside, where Pakistan gets involved or embroiled – the same should be seen through this perspective — this is a unique situation. This is where the “State” drives most concerns and worries from. And, this is how the military being an important organ of the permanent establishment – and from that extension of the State too – gets concerned about domestic and international affairs.

Focusing on the domestic politics, he mentioned that we as a nation are yet to mature to handle politics. According to him, our political parties have become like our mothers. We respect it and try to stay loyal to it – no matter what is happening in and out of the party. He said that we remain so loyal to our respective political parties that we are not ready to listen to or make any criticism about it – exactly the same way that we do not tolerate bad or derogatory remarks about our mother. “This state of affairs is detrimental to the intellectual discourse and intra-development”, he added. He suggested that we should rise above our party loyalties and be ready to make critical suggestions. Only then our political culture would progress and improve.

He emphasized that the youth of the country have a lot to offer. According to him, they must take part in critical assessment of all political set ups. “They should be allowed freedom of expression and freedom of political association and activities”, he added. He further said that the country is fortunate to have a large youth population and we are in fact blessed to have about 60 % of our population comprising of youths between the ages of 18 to 26 years. There is a huge human capital in them and we must use them to the fullest in a positive direction. “We will only begin to move on the path of progress and prosperity if we tap into the excellent human resources that the youth have to offer”, he added.

January 2012

Commenting on Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, he said both were launched into the Pakistani politics accidentally. According to him Zardari became a politician by virtue of his marriage to Benazir Bhutto. His rise to become the Chief of PPP and eventually President of Pakistan was also accidental. This would not have happened if Benazir was not assassinated. Similarly, he added that Nawaz Sharif did not want to enter into politics but his father Mian Sharif (aka: Abba Jee) persuaded him into jumping the bandwagon. According to him both parties (PPP an PML-N) were following the politics of “inheritance” – and according to him in Pakistan this “inheritance” politics would continue for another 10-15 years before we begin to see a sea-change. On this note he finished his talk and invited questions from the attendees.

Responding to a question about sudden appearance of Imran Khan in the political horizon of Pakistan, Irshad wittingly tried to draw interesting analogies. He said both PPP and PML-N were like mango trees, imposingly visible to all. However, according to him, Imran Khan was like a potato that grows slowly and progressively underground – not visible to the public eyes. According to him the potato has now grown and is visible – ready for the people to eat or throw it away. “Let the people of Pakistan taste the potato – and eat it or throw it away”, he commented.

One journalist asked an interesting question. He remarked, “You have termed Zardari and Nawaz Sharif as mango trees while you called Imran Khan as potato. Would you please enlighten us as to who was feeding fertilizers for this mammoth growth of Imran Khan – alluding to alleged clandestine support from the establishment? His response was a bit serious. “We need to understand why he is getting popular”, he responded. He added that Imran Khan was not popular because of his personal merits but more because of the failures of others leading to unhappy  voters swarming his rank in large numbers. Twitter and Facebook did the rest, Irshad added. He further added, “I would try to draw an analogy between Obama and Imran Khan”. Obama emerged in 2004 when he became a Senator in the State of Illinois, and before that he was literally unknown to most Americans. “However Obama possesses extra-ordinary traits”, he informed. “He is extremely intelligent, has a charismatic personality and is a superb public speaker”, he added. According to him, Obama started to become popular – and people started to view him as an agent of change. And, ultimately the media and the society accepted him and serious people started lending him support. This is how he got elected as the first black President of USA – the most powerful person of the World. “This exactly is true in case of Imran Khan”, he informed. “The State in which security is an inseparable subject has a duty to be part of the destiny of the nation”, he explained. “And, there was no harm if the State was allegedly trying to lend tacit support to Imran Khan. This is quite normal – and happens everywhere”, he explained.

Closing his talk he dwelt upon some solution which in his view can help come out of the political instability that Pakistan finds herself embroiled in since birth.

Irshad said Pakistanis need to own the nation wholesomely. “Unfortunately, we are everything except a Pakistani as a nation”, he commented. According to him, bold steps are needed to create that desired ownership. One of them according to him was to modify its national language – to bring it in line with the local native languages. That is, to insert enough words and expressions from Punjabi, Sindhi, Pushto and Balochi languages Urdu – so that the native people can identify with and relate to it. Thereafter, people should be given 10 years to adopt it – like Turkey did. “This will have a positive effect toward creating desired ownership” and help create an environment for the development of one nation from Karachi to Khyber, he said.

About addressing the Lotacracy and to prevent the defection from one party to the other winning party by the so-called electables, he said there was a need to do away with this present “Constituency Politics”. “The Presidential form of government was the solution”, he commented. “Let the entire nation elect a President via one-man-one-vote”, he said. For the Assembly, he added, that can be elected via proportionate system of election – “like we elect our Senators”, or like it happens in the US, he elaborated.

Written in Jan 2012 by the host Faiz Al-Najdi who is a Riyadh based Professional Engineer and writer.

A version of the article was published in Arab News and South Asia Pulse.