A Conversation On Pakistan Affairs In Riyadh, December 2011

“Irshad Salim, a consultant, journalist, writer, motivational speaker, and a dual national from New York, is currently in Jeddah on a consultancy assignment. During his interactive session with overseas Pakistanis in Riyadh, Salim said (in fact) he was a “stranded Pakistani in America.”

The interactive session was conducted in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (December 2011)

IRSHAD SALIM — My interactive session (in Riyadh, December 2011) with compatriots it dawned on me later was like me watching with them a silent 16mm black and white reel movie run on a vintage projector. But there were some frames in color too. The apt silence was occasionally dotted with smiles, grins and yeas and nays and lasted nearly five hours– samosa and chai (tea) and prayer breaks included. Running the interaction (first in Saudi Arabia) in memory still is a delight more slumbering than Saudi Champagne (non-alcohol) or Pina Colada (pineapple shake) in the US. They hit you, as much as a glassfull of Lassi (a yogurt drink like laban) takes the oomphs out of me and I doze off.

Here’s what I found in print and online (thanks to Google) on the session, briefly. Very relevant still, and in fact up and close (nothing personal)…

ARAB NEWS — Irshad Salim, a consultant, journalist and motivational speaker and an American national living in New York, was delivering an informal talk to Pakistani expatriates in Riyadh during the weekend. He is currently visiting the Kingdom on a professional consultancy assignment.

During the lecture, he mentioned that it was very important for both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to improve bilateral relations and take them to the heights achieved by the late former Pakistan Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and late Saudi King Faisal.

He also praised the current leadership of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, who he said has played an effective role in interfaith dialogue.

“Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have both suffered at the hands of the terrorists and have worked together with the international community to fight terror,” he said. He added that he still loves Pakistan, calling himself a “stranded Pakistani in America.” The program was hosted and anchored by Faiz Al-Najdi.

The talk was primarily focused on Pakistani affairs and Pak-US relations and the new phenomena and dimensions in domestic politics emanating from the emergence of former cricketer turned politician Imran Khan as a political force.

In his opening remarks, Salim emphasized the need for a better working relationship between Pakistan and the US. He said there was a need to “understand” the US and its policies. He underscored the need and importance of establishing a think-tank in Pakistan that could provide an understanding of the US and its political principles and policies.

He informed delegates that the US had at least 200 such organizations with some dedicated to studying and conducting research on all aspects of Pakistan, “be it social fabric, politics, military, intelligence, state of economy, economic outlook, plans and strategies and our strengths and weaknesses.”

He said Pakistan does not have a single institution that can carry out similar studies on the US.

December 2011: Interactive session in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

“Even India has dedicated institutions to study Pakistan. Unless we come out of our own shell and open up to the world we have no sustainable chance of improving our community and our mindset.”

He said Pakistan happens to be surrounded by hostile borders on all three sides, including a fourth in the south — the Arabian Sea, which is prone to enemy attack or blockades. “We are in a state of war since our birth,” he added.

He emphasized that the youths of the country have a lot to offer. “They must take part in an analytical assessment of its political system and should be given freedom of expression, political association and freedom of movement,” he added.

The author was based in Saudi Arabia for five years. He is a business consultant, analyst, and Editor-in-Chief of PKonweb and DesPardes– presently based in Islamabad

“The country is fortunate to have a large youth population and we are in fact blessed to have about 60 percent of our population comprising youths between the ages of 18 to 26 years. We must harness this huge human capital for the benefit of the country.”

Commenting on Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, he said both came in Pakistani politics accidentally. According to him, Zardari became a politician by virtue of his marriage to Benazir Bhutto.

“Nawaz Sharif did not want to enter politics but his father Mian Sharif (aka: Abba Jee) persuaded him to jump into the bandwagon.”

According to Salim, both parties (PPP and PML-N) were following the politics of “inheritance” and according to him, this would continue for another 10 to 15 years before a change occurs.

December 2011: Interactive session in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

SOUTH ASIA PULSE ADDS: 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.”

Responding to a question about sudden appearance of Imran Khan in the political horizon of Pakistan, Irshad drew some 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 and therefore 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.

On a question during the interactive session, Irshad 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 said, “I would draw an analogy between Obama and Imran Khan. Obama emerged in 2004 as 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 establishment accepted him and serious people started lending support. “This is how he got elected as the first black President of USA…the most powerful person of the World.”

Irshad said, the Pakistani nation needs to own the country. “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 could be to modify its national language to bring it in line with the local native languages. That is, insert enough words and expressions from Punjabi, Sindhi, Pushto and Balochi languages in the present Urdu language so that the native people can identify with and relate to Urdu, just like Turkey did after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. “This will have a positive effect towards creating desired ownership and help create an environment for the development of one nation from Karachi to Khyber,” he added.

About Lotacracy and preventing the defection from one party to the other winning party by so-called electables, he said there was a need to do away with the 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 further added. For the Assembly, he said, that can be elected via proportionate system of elections like we elect our Senators, or like it happens in the US, he further elaborated. He also mentioned that the Pakistani society has come a long way and it now has three relief-valves in terms of judiciary, media and the civil society. “Given the situation, Martial Law in the country would be a far cry now,” he added.

(The author was based in Saudi Arabia for five years. He is a business consultant, analyst, and Editor-in-Chief of PKonweb and DesPardes– presently based in Islamabad)