PPP & PML-N’s “Top 10 PR Ailments”

PPP’s Populist Paranoia vs PML-N’s Punjabi Paralysis

PPP: Populist Paraonia

1. Your co-chairman is the most hated man in the country. This is unfortunate for the tactical present and the strategic future. He may be a ‘yar of yars’ – with a Thatcher-like grip over the party as well as the only Head of State in our history to give up vested powers – yet he is widely detested. One doesn’t need the International Republican Institute’s sophisticated polls to foresee that as long as Mr. Z plays El Presidente, you might not get another crack at government. Holding honest town-hall style meetings with key stakeholders as well as broader audiences – an approach that made John ‘Almost Dead’ McCain the cool straight-talker in the ’08 US elections – might yet help Asif ‘Talented But Hated’ Zardari. People should get to know Zardari: the Man, Single-Dad and President – not Mr. 10 Percent: the Playboy, Widower and Financial Houdini.

2. You’ve overplayed the BB and ZAB cards. Stop putting up billboards on their graves. Develop a new leadership brand and move on. That means less sponsoring PTV-style documentaries and more forward thinking. And no, the Benazir Times doesn’t do justice to the Daughter of the East.

3. The PM is not premier-like. At one point, his ‘middle of the road’ style was favored, but that was a fad of Spring/Summer 2009. Currently, he’s running low on inspiration and empty on charisma. Gilani needs to work on his oratory and fire his speech writer (two weeks ago, he put 200 of the country’s brightest military minds to sleep in a live graduation ceremony). Also, the ‘huh’ look, grandpa glasses and light socks on dark suits have to go. Seriously.

4. FM Shah Mahmoud Qureshi is the best spoken man in your party. Unfortunately, SMQ makes his best speeches where no body cares for them: abroad. Use him in a bigger PR role at home. Meanwhile, seeing Fauzia Wahab and Qamar-uz-Zaman Kaira as your public faces is like watching Inzamam in a post-match interview: painful. Perhaps the reason you’re cornered by media is simple: your specialists have low savvy and high pitches.

5. Rehman Malik is officially Pakistan’s most unwanted politician. This is evident by the fact that the Indian media has called him Pakistan’s ‘best dressed and most controversial minister’ (Indianese for ‘connected guy everybody hates’). If the Indians like the color of your tie, something’s off about your domestic political standing. Move fast.

PML-N : Punjabi Paralysis

1. There’s something wrong about men with implants. It doesn’t sound and look right. The modern politician should be worried about his appearance, but not at the cost of acting like a new-money uncle who’s rediscovering himself. Both the Sharifs need to bald again, like real men.

2. You need some women in your party who are not professional credit-card defrauders. Female presence will aid in diluting the macho-Punjabi image that irks most of the rest of the world about you. Remember: you still remind people of Zia-ul-Haq, and that’s a bad thing. The Q-League has Marvi. The PPP retains Sherry. Hamza is about as effete as you get, but he ain’t that pretty. Please, modernize.

3. The younger Impant has to learn to tackle Taseer’s distractions for that ‘Iron-clad Administrator’ reputation he had in the 90s – it worked for him then. Meanwhile, the older Implant needs to get his mojo back – nobody jokes about his yearnings for Nihari or Payas anymore. I recommend a detour run for Kunna Nan on the next helicopter trip to a natural disaster area.

4. Your PR guy, Pervez Rashid, is mean. He doesn’t call reporters back, unless they beg him in the Punjabi-medium – but the real secret is to send him Zardari jokes via SMS.

5. Speaking of Punjab, you will only stop being treated like the party of Lahori shop-owners when you stop hanging out with Lahori shop-owners. Visit the other provinces for a change. I know of a great fish joint in Karachi, a fantastic kebab place in Quetta and the world’s best karahi in Peshawar. You wont miss the lures of the Punjab, trust me. Just get out there and get to know the rest of Pakistan. We have opinions. You should hear them.


An Open Letter to All Mutineers (abridged)

Dear Mutineers

We haven’t seen or heard from you in a while, thus this letter. Rumor is that you’re worried about the state of affairs in our land, grieved by the failures of the current dispensation . You claim that this country’s largest political party and its allies have been unsuccessful at tackling our existential issues: Water, Power, Economy and War. Of course, the reasons for this government’s fallibilities are many. Most are quantifiable, some inexplicable. Several are attributable to its own lethargy, a few to the Establishment’s tenacity.

But, back to planning coups: if you succeed, you will not enjoy any constitutional cover, nor much acceptance by the civilian political apparatus, the judiciary, or the international community. Your foreign and domestic enemies will summarily slam your actions as barbaric and undemocratic, isolating you further. Yet, if you don’t do anything, the current arrangement looks like it will collapse anyway. Thus, you face the ultimate political paradox, and it goes by the name of Pakistan.

So you love this land but loath the system and want to change it? Perhaps a look at the broader geo-political landscape will amplify your views…

Start with our ‘Brother Nation’. Turkey’s martial machine is as powerful as its counterpart here, but with critically different levels of public acceptability when it comes to political interventionism. Why does Turkey’s ‘national military‘ enjoy more political reception than Pakistan’s ‘professional military‘? Perhaps because all able-bodied Turk males serve with their armed forces, and are, in effect, a ‘part’ of the defense arrangement. Sure, most of them leave after a brief stint, letting the full-time corps conduct the serious soldiering, but the bond of militarized fraternity resonates across Turkey’s polity, much thanks to mandatory service. In effect, their ‘Deep State’ establishment is seen as a guarantor of national values (not the Constitution, thanks to several coups) with an accepted, even expected, level of intervention. Thus, it is a presence everyone can identify with, essentially because most Turk men have seen and served it from within. This makes for easy politicking, but more importantly, also injects a dose of nationalism that goes beyond banning fez hats.

Then there is Egypt, a quintessential police-state, which relies on two, interlinked commodities to survive: P.R. and Aid. The Pyramids, belly-dancing and Red Sea resorts bring in tourists, international goodwill and investment, while a working relationship with Israel guarantees State Department dollars. Were there no ties with Israel (a bullet that Anwar Saadat had to bite, literally) the Sphinx would have become another Moenjodaro: famous, unvisited and decayed. Thus, Hosni’s highhandedness is tolerated by the rest of the world, including most Egyptians themselves. Unless you’re in the Muslim Brotherhood or a liberal blogger, you learn to live with Mubarak’s regime. Why? Because you won’t get invaded like the Iraqis, you can’t rely on oil like the Saudis (you have none), and you are benefiting (albeit fractionally) from being the largest recipient of U.S. aid in the world, second only to…Israel.

Finally, there is the Thai military, which in 2006 overthrew a corrupt yet elected government, only to have its tanks welcomed into Bangkok with flowers! Why? Because the revered King had given the generals a tacit thumbs-up to bring in ‘clean’ professionals to run things. Only recently did those military-backed technocrats feel the heat of that coup though violent protests, but the dual tactics of money and force, backed up with a smart televised statement (in English) from a good-looking Prime Minister and business-as-usual incentives to its thousands of tourists and investors, ensured the Thai regime pass off what seemed to be a massive upheaval as a hiccup.

Thus, three global precedents: gain political acceptability by inducting ‘the people’ into your ‘nationalistic fold’, like the Turks have done though mandatory service. Walk like the Egyptians and ‘bite the bullet’ to normalize ties with your mortal enemy – it will only earn you global acceptability that can be converted into tangible benefits for your people, and of course, emulate the Thai by finding some sharp professionals to ‘front the office’.

But the question remains: who is going to be your approving King?



Originally Published in The Express Tribune as “An Open Letter To All Mutineers” on June 3, 2010

Wrote This After 9/11 (And Then Got A Call From The Feds…)


Originally Published in The Michigan Daily, September 19th, 2001

Time bears culture. Culture defines people. People usually dictate events. Events stir commentary. Commentary thrives on opinion. Opinion is strengthened by the populace. The populace, that last link in this chain of drawn-out logic, needs corrective knowledge, especially so in times of crisis. In effect and essence, the populace needs to know. It also needs to have its say. It seems our turn to contribute has arrived.

This column initiates the effort to grip the realities behind what CNN is cynically calling “America’s New War.” It is not meant to be high-profile commentary involving geo-strategic zeal and military-intelligence punditry. It is meant to be an exercise of opinion — reflective, analytical, interviewed, and of course, free. Experts will be questioned, but their opinion will be held in the same light as others’. There will be no necessity to title arguments as pro and con, or right and wrong, at least as far as social norms go. We will try to facilitate every sort of view. Due to limited space, more noteworthy commentary will be printed. Consider this a call to arms, if you will. I’m laying down the gauntlet of opinion. My personal views, ambivalent at best, might be a starting point for many…

“Declaration of war,” says Bush. But against whom? Twelve year-old rock throwers in the West Bank? Peasants in Kabul? “Faceless coward,” he says again. But was not Osama bin Laden, the globally recognized Mickey Mouse-like icon of international terrorism, involved in facilitating the Arab volunteer effort of the Afghan Mujahideen in the ’80s, against that “Evil Empire,” the Soviet Union, all under CIA acquiescence? “Times change,” says Bush, as Congress nods in conformity. Judy Woodruff sheds a tear. Peter Jennings bows those famous eyes. They all agree: This is not justified. Alright guys, then what is? When was geo-politics ever fair? Why do you put together a 33-nation coalition and roll over the Iraqis for invading Kuwait, while you “advise caution” to Israel when it does the same to the Palestinians or the Lebanese? Why do you create, finance and train a standing army of Muslim radicals to fight the Soviets, then leave them to fight each other and then, inevitably, to battle you. I might understand. People with answers have sat me down, opened up case-books, and crunched numbers. They might even have made sense, in some narrow aspects. But where are the real answers for the people who really want them?

There is going to be no extensive dwelling on the short-sighted courses of action America has taken now and again to alienate millions. The University could actually dedicate a semester to U.S. foreign policy blunders and still run out of time. The job at hand is not to deconstruct the U.S. geo-political Harry. It is rather to redirect our views outwards, towards this new faceless and borderless threat to civility. Please note that I did not cite this as a war against “civilization.” The U.S. already declared that war long ago. So did the USSR. So did Great Britain. So did the Ottoman Empire. So did ancient Rome. Every time a global power has connived to gain strength at another nation’s expense, the clash of civilizations has been declared inevitable.

Still, this is not justified. Not in any sense of the word. Not if you pull on a single logical strand and make it bend on the whim of our current predicament. Not even if you label the people who did this brave, or selfless to their cause, or adamant for their goals. If there ever was such a concept, last Tuesday was a moral no-go.

But not a political one. Not even a little bit. People in glass houses should not throw stones. Nor should they have short-term memories. Samuel Huntington writes stridently in The Lonely Superpower:

“In the last few years the United States has, among other things, attempted or been perceived as attempting more or less unilaterally, to do the following: pressure other countries to adopt American values and practices regarding human rights and democracy; prevent other countries from acquiring military capabilities that could counter American conventional superiority; enforce American law extraterritorially in other societies; grade countries according to their adherence to American standards on human rights, drugs, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, missile proliferation, and now religious freedom; apply sanctions against countries that do not meet American standards on these issues; promote American corporate interests under the slogans of free trade and open markets; shape World Bank and International Monetary Fund policies to serve those same corporate interests; intervene in local conflicts in which it has relatively little direct interest; bludgeon other countries to adopt economic and social policies that will benefit American economic interests; promote American arms sales abroad while attempting to prevent comparable sales by other countries; force out one UN secretary-general and dictate the appointment of his successor; expand NATO initially to include Poland, Hungary; and the Czech Republic and no one else; undertake military action against Iraq and later maintain harsh economic sanctions against the regime; and categorize certain countries as “rogue states,” excluding them from global institutions because they refuse to kowtow to American wishes.”

To reiterate: although morally reprehensible, the actions of last Tuesday seem politically inevitable. America has to wake up from the unipolar day-dream its been reveling in since its post-Cold War emergence as the only global hegemon. Kings have to act like kings, not bullies or hypocrites. Sadly though, this song has long been sung. In recent trends, terms like “national interest above everything” from people like Condi Rice have readily become a part of political pop-art. Then some F-14s fly over northern Iraq, cluster-bombing missile sites and/or villages. Tony Blair sends in some Harriers, putting in his ten pence worth. CNN, bored by all of this by now, doesn’t even give this a 15-second segment. Major League Baseball has more precedence. Meanwhile, the people who are a part of the equation, but who don’t necessarily fit in this relative gains network, at least not positively, see their independence compromised. Omnipresent America, which sells global hot-dogs topped by the free-market and liberal democracy relish, doesn’t keep the same prices for all its customers. And then millions of fingers point west, planes get hijacked, and sky scrapers tumble. But what don’t tumble are the human elements of wisdom, reflection, and morality. Let this column be dedicated not just to the many who died, but also to those left behind who strive to bring a solution to this predicament of our time.