Wednesday, November 9, 2016

President D J Trump: what next?

Martin Luther King once said that the riot was the language of the unheard; on November 8th in the US Presidential elections it was the vote which became the language of the unheard. From the Clinton perspective not enough of their unheard (the Latin Americans and the African Americans) spoke up in the key battlegrounds states. From the Trump perspective enough of the disfranchised unheard white working class vote spoke up in states like Michigan, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio came to be heard. To some extent this was largely an emotional vote for Trump with the emotions of the unemployed who bought into the hyperbole that Trump threw out enough to drown the concerns about his temperament, character and indeed the lack of policy.

Irrespective of the opinion of what went wrong from the Clinton camp, this is now the moment where the impossible has become the possible. So what next.

The saner view will be that both Democrats and Republicans have to go with the honeymoon of the Trump Presidency; long enough for everyone to feel he is being given a chance. Putting aside his asinine views on immigration, the wall, Muslims and Nato, the bottomline is that his main promise was to restore jobs to Americans and that is the promise he will be held up to. Someone once said that if your promise too much then you have to deliver to the expectation more earnestly than even the expectation. it will be interesting to see if the Trump economic agenda will be able to achieve this because in itself it has dichotomies that pose not challenges but obstacles. While the higher tax bracket people will have the immediate benefit the question remains open how soon will that trickle down to more business investment and more jobs.

Lacking previous experience in public office the main challenge will be to give up a maverick style of  administration and try and build a good team will be one of the most telling challenges for Trump. His personality suggests that the maverick style, which brings to mind questions about his temperament, may well be on exhibition than anything else. On a broader platform his acceptance speech talked of healing, but now he has to convince people that he will not only speak for the white working class but will truly speak to all of America. This may mean a roll back of the rhetoric Trump espoused during the campaign and may well be the most pressing change in the man.

  The hope for many of his supporters who would have grudgingly supported him will be that his domestic agenda will not only be tempered to fit the mood of healing but also have the tools to deliver on it. On the international front is where the biggest concern will emerge. If sense prevails he may well choose a worthy secretary of state and meddle less with foreign policy than he has so far commented upon.

For the cynics, of which I may well be one, the biggest concern will be his character. Does a man who has been sexist and racist suddenly change on becoming the President? As President Obama said the office itself brings out the man you truly are; its not a reality show role, this is the real stuff and what troubles me most is that not once, even in passing reference, has Mr Trump apologised for his comments about Muslims. His apology about his Access Hollywood remarks about women was only an apology that he regretted it he said those words but then washed it off as locker room talk thereby skirting away from categorically apologising to women. For me the big test will be with the man will mature from the locker room to the White House. This is the litmus test of the man, does he truly respect another human being.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Trump's Slash and Burn Strategy.

Faced with a mounting wave of allegations from women about sexually inappropriate behaviour Donald Trump has gone to the trenches to do the one thing he knows best to do; hit back! A characteristic of Trump through this campaign has been to fight criticism with fire and never actually answer the critics. He went after Megan Kelly, perhaps his first tirade which should have made us balk and think what is this man up to? When the father of fallen US soldier confronted Trump the result was an almost all night Twitter tirade against the fallen hero's father. More recently and after a better performance at the second US Presidential debate, Trump thought the most important thing for him to do was to defame a former Miss Universe on Twitter at 3 AM!

In the past four days the Trump campaign has announced the 'shackles are removed' and the result is that the tone and the tenor of the Trump camp and more his words have spiralled into a school boy tantrum. However, school boy tantrums usually start and end in the back yard or the school parking lot. Here we are talking of the GOP Presidential nominee who has blamed the Press, the System, the women who accused him as being 'horrible horrible liars'; almost as if his saying it makes it true. In a final coup degrace he has even gone after those within the GOP political set up who would have dared to have found his lewd remarks on tape as offensive.

This is the profile of a sore loser, but not a sore loser in the making, a sore loser in character and temperament which is ingrained into his personality. His vision of 'make America Great Again', while emotionally appealing lacks his own understanding that the die hard supporters who will ignore his sexual predatory personality or his offensive attacks on the under privileged, are not the only ones who will cast their vote on November 8th.   The electorate Mr Trump is much larger and much more silent than you can fathom at the moment and each of your tirades is alienating them from your cause.

Trump has already started talking of a rigged election and short of saying he will not accept any result other than him being the winner, he has worked up his fanatic (and perhaps gun toting) supporters to believe that his loss will not because he messed up but because the system was rigged against him. Side by side he has gone after the media and accused them of being a part of the fix against him. The result has been for the first time in a US election media attending Trump events have had to have police protection. Many weeks ago when Trump said at a rally, on hearing a heckler "Get him out of here I tell you I would punch him in the face", most of us thought he was being light hearted in and in a strange twisted way funny. Now the reality of his twisted mind seems to be coming to roost as it is clear that Trump has decided that if he is to go down he will make sure a great many other elements of the US political system and some good things about it will also go down with him.

Trumps new slash and burn strategy is aimed and taking down the independence of the media, calling esteemed newspapers as crooked, even when some of them have told him if he wishes he can sue them for their revelations about his predatory exploits. Trump is also taking down tolerance, family values (which the GOP always said was a cherished ideal of their party), openness to debate the issues and most of all he is working more like a dictator of a banana republic telling Hilary that she will go to jail, (not be tried by a court of law). One of the biggest casualty of the Trump anger machine is the Republican Party and many of its stalwarts must wonder what the party will look like in the months and years ahead.

Trumps myopia is such that he believes he is ahead in the polls, he believes everyone is lying, he believes that media is out to destroy him, he believes that only he has the solution and is somehow genetically more intelligent than anyone else and knows how to defeat the ISIS, fix America, and fix the world. All fine Mr Trump, but step back, think if you can through your Twitter temper, and see that all you had to do is stick to a script, stick to the issues, lay out your plans in more than just ideas, engage with the people you would not normally sit with, and just show us that to be President you need a sense of embracing differences more than just slashing and burning all those who oppose you.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

US Presidential Elections: A sad view from the outside.

For decades the message from Washington to the developing world is to embrace democracy and to bring democratic norms and values to their own societies. There was never a doubt in my mind that eventually with education and social responsibility becoming more prevalent in the emerging world democratic norms would also follow. With it came a vision of the stalwarts of US politics, John F Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Franklin Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter and even those who did not occupy of the highest office, Al Gore, John Mccain, Robert Kennedy and many more. More recently Barrack Obama brought back a sense of statesmanship to the White House and then in sharp contrast the current US Presidential election has spiralled into a mud sling match which negates all that seemed so elegant about the electoral process.

Yes there was talk of JFK's escapades with women and the many other stories of US Presidents before. Perhaps we did not live in a world of intrusive media back then or perhaps the press never found their own teeth, but ever since the Gary Hart incident on the boat "Monkey business", the press found its power that it could derail any candidate for the highest office. It would seem that today Donald J Trump and his supporters will say precisely this that the press is out to get him.

However, from the outside, one cannot but notice that the quality of the political engagement that encompasses the current election highlights the depths to which the political squabbling has fallen to. There is also no doubt that both candidates are seriously faulted and the choice before the US electorate is who is more faulted? The question of character is at the forefront of this selection process and even though their character flaws are so wide apart it makes one wonder why could not the political process throw up better candidates. It would seem that both parties just vomited out the two worst candidates that they could think of.

While Hilary Clinton carries the burden of mistakes of her recent past, i.e the emails and the possibility that the established political powers engineered her nomination, the mudslinging would be reserved more for her husband the former President Bill Clinton. For Donald Trump his modus operandi to snatch the GOP nomination was based on a debased, offensive and an appeal to the defranchised white working class. While it may have worked at the primaries the challenge of creating an appeal at the national level based on race and divisive political slogan is much harder to achieve. Yet there was a prayer that he could well have preyed on the discontent within America and might even have pipped Hilary at the post. However, the unravelling of Trump has begun with his offensive comments, albeit from 11 years ago, about women and there seems a promise of more to surface, Trump clearly is committing political suicide.

While a lame apology has come out from Trump he has negated the effect of that with attacks on Bill Clinton and then calling his comments about women as harmless locker room banter, which clearly shows he has no remorse for his behaviour. This will move the debate more towards his character rather than away from it to the issues of the economy and the future of America. For Hilary Clinton and her camp the best would be to avoid commenting on the character controversy letting Trump dig his own grave with his Twitter shovel. Sadly the temptation will remain in Hilary's comment to add a few shovels of dirt onto the Trump political grave and this is where the election process will and is getting derailed into a vicious mudsling.

The broader impact of this is that the Republican party has been totally uprooted from its roots, causing a civil war within from which, the staunch political conservatives will have to wonder how long it will take to repair. Most GOP political figures will be distancing themselves from Trump thus creating a unique precedent that a nominee of a leading party has lost the support of the main political figures of his own party. Sensible voices within the GOP seem resigned to admit that they may not win the White House and must try and ensure that the Congress remains in their hands. This is where the schism between Trump and the party will become wider.

For Hilary the saga of her emails will dog her perhaps beyond this election and each week new leaks will at best distract her and at worst cause her to go on the defensive. It would not be incorrect to stop and think that perhaps Bernie Sanders would have had an easier ride to the White House and most certainly a difficult target for Trump to lash out at. Yet as we see the election from the outside we can only feel sad that a democratic tradition which we all upheld is becoming a reality show with smell of scandal on both sides that can only upset the more sane minds.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

IMG World of Adventures. A Review

Just over ten years back I was involved with both Ilyas and Mustafa Galadari as the plans for the City of Arabia took shape and the various components we detailed out. The plans were ambitious and in line with the mood of the city of Dubai. The downturn in the real estate market washed out many of projects and in a sense separated the boys from the men. I will admit within my own mind I often looked at this wonderful project and thought if it would see the light of the day. For me the interest remained attuned to the theme park elements because that was where I felt the footfall would be drawn. I often believed and said without the draw of a mall the theme park would struggle to survive in a market where no one had ventured to the scale and scope that the two brothers envisaged.

Over the weekend I went in to the newly opened IMG World of Adventures to spend a whole day, and the visit was not planned with the owners or anyone. This I believe would give me the independence to see for myself. First and upfront I will admit I was wrong to believe that a theme park without a mall would struggle. Arriving at 11.30 AM i was pleasantly surprised by the number of people venturing into this world of adventure. As I walked around, experiencing the offerings the rides and talking to the visitors I had to eat humble pie each moment, and at each ride and came to the realisation that the two brothers have done it. Well done Ilyas and Mustafa and your team.

I think I need to elaborate on my views. First of all my guess was that the theme park probably had over 15,000 visitors on the day I was there, and it was not a Friday. Lets start with some details:

The large building is deceptive in terms of how much is inside it. The arrival area is large, well laid out and could easily accommodate the largest possible rush with ease. The entry is subdued and some may argue some screens with a teaser for what to expect would have been nice. Personally I think it worked fine as the surprise that awaited one was not exposed too early.

The offering is amazing in all respects. While when I was involved with the project we had thought of only a dinosaur theme park, which would have been adequate attached to a mall; both the brothers have gone a step further and involved the remit of offering to include the Marvel Adventures and the Cartoon Network offering, thereby adding to the Dinosaur experience with a board coverage of the customer base. Experts may argue that it is too much under one roof? Well that might well be the case if this was in the US or Europe, but here two things make it work wonderfully. In the first place the zoning of the offering is well thought out and not crowded and secondly the rich content makes sure that each age group is well catered for.

I tried out four or five of the dozen and half main rides and I must say the experience was excellent across the board. Yes some rides had a longer wait time and when I see the brothers next time I would suggest that they put some sort of screen at each ride to let visitors know the expected wait time per ride as they arrive at the ride, this will help the flow of the people better. The staff were very good and helpful and efficient in all respects. There was emphasis on safety and most of the staff were good at explaining what to expect on each experience.

The F&B outlets were excellent, we had lunch and dinner there, and found the service to be excellent and the food to be great value for money and good quality. What was also refreshing was that one is spoiled for choice when it came to the food offering, from Arabic, to Chinese, to Indian, to Italian to International and even the quick fast food kiosks were all well manned and a delightful experience.

On reflection and given my age, I would say one day is not enough to savour the experience to its entirety and would strongly recommend that a two day or three day pass be considered. The one ticket for all rides and experiences concept is remarkable and very good value for money and offered the visitors the ease that is essential for a good experience. The fast track option is a valuable offering and I would certainly consider it next time.

I would strongly recommend this on a MUST VISIT list and also consider it for repeat visits. My guess is that IMG World of Adventures will have a major impact on the market place not only in Dubai but the region as a whole. In time the marketing exposure will add to the footfall, which I can believe on a busy day would be over 25,000 per day, however at no time did I have a feeling of being crowded as the planning and lay out of the theme park, all of which is indoors, is such that you are not pushing and shoving with people.

As a final note I want to thank Ilyas and Mustafa and their team for a fabulous job to really create something that the market so desperately needed. Well done you both have done it and full appreciation to your commitment to make it happen.

Friday, September 30, 2016

India and Pakistan inching towards war?

After three wars in the past and over two decades of skirmishes on the Kashmir Line of Control (LOC), events of the past couple of weeks have inched the two South Asian nuclear powers closer to war. The incident of the Uri camp on the Indian side which left 18 Indian soldiers has worked Indian media and the hawks into a frenzy of war mongering. When seen in isolation India certainly would be aggrieved by the attack which was carried out by Kashmiri separatists and India's claim that they were armed and supported by Pakistan.

There are two ways to see the current crisis, a short 3 month to 3 year view, or go back to the genesis of the dispute. There cannot be any doubt that the recent protests within Indian Kashmir against the Indian government control of the area by Indian Kashmiri's has left India embarrassed about their assertion that Kashmiri's were well assimilated into the main body of the Indian Union. The fact that there were curfews and violent protests against Delhi in Srinagar and elsewhere in Indian Kashmir cannot be denied as home grown, even though pro Pakistan elements may well have fuelled the fire.

On the flip side there is also every possibility that domestic turmoil within Indian Kashmir will be exploited by both Indian Kashmiris in exile within Pakistan Kashmir and also by militant elements within Pakistan. For Pakistan the difficult situation has been that while it is combating the terrorists of Taliban, Al Qaeda and other anti Pakistan groups within their country, there is the Kashmir card that some other anti Indian militant groups play to draw support even from those terrorist groups that Pakistan army is battling within the country. Roping in this organisations is not easy and for Pakistan to train them and support them is counter productive. The military in Pakistan does not want to make the mistake they made of training and arming the Taliban for the battles within Afghanistan only to see these former allies turn on their hosts; Pakistan.

The hawks on both sides clearly are not interested in measures to de-escalate the current confrontation which is closely resembling an inching towards a limited war. India has already evacuated over a 1,000 villages on their side, supposedly as a precaution, which Pakistan could well be seeing as a precursor to the Indian army crossing the international border. For both armies it is one thing to have skirmishes on the Line of Control in Kashmir and another thing to cross the International Border. For India the attack in Uri gives them the pretext to talk about Pakistan sponsored terrorism and avoid discussion on the situation within Kashmir. For Pakistan the sabre rattling by India allows the Sharif government to try and divert attention of the opposition, led vy Imran Khan, to further besiege the government on the issue of corruption.

Sadly sensible voices are being drowned in the noise as India, unusually, has upped the ante to talk of further surgical strikes. The last time this happened there was a vicious war in the Kargil area in which neither side came out looking the better. However, the military situation has changed and the belief that Pakistan now possesses tactical nuclear weapons, whether they be depleted uranium ammunition or low yield flash nuclear weapons, gives the Pakistan army the edge that should their international border be crossed in a formal war then such weapons would be used. India's response in this sense would only have to be an escalation to deploying non tactical nuclear weapons. Washington is aware of the risks and it would be important that both sides are encouraged to rein in the war mongering as neither side will win this war.

From a Pakistan point of view to be called a sponsor or terrorism is considered absurd having lost over 54,000 personnel and 300,000 civilian losses, including injuries, over the past 17 years in fighting terrorism. There has to also been an acknowledgement that Pakistan cannot reign in each and every group just as India or the US or any country can ensure that rouge terror attacks will not happen. From India's point of view there has to be a visible effort to reduce the attacks on their territory from elements coming across the border.

Both sides should engage in serious discussions to prevent an escalation and both should consider a 3 mile wide buffer along the line of control and ask for the United Nations to administer the buffer zone. I also personally believe that the Kashmiris really do not want either side and seek an independent state of their own. Pakistani side Kashmiris in this sense have not shown an anti Paksitak bias while in contrast Indian Kashmiris have had their moments of love and hate with New Delhi. For the moment both sides have more to gain by pushing for peace rather than testing their military might in a senseless war where there will no winners.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

US Election: The Final Stretch.

The US election on the face of it is looking closer than most would have thought it to be a month or so back. Based on the electoral college and the key states race it would seem Hilary Clinton does lead the race. However there are a few unique challenges to both sides and the next 50 days is really the make or break. Each candidate has from now on to look more presidential and most of all keep the eye on the ball. It might be worthwhile seeing the issues forward.

For Hilary Clinton:

Plus side: She has kept to her message and her support seems to have galvanised with Obama throwing in more of his weight into the campaign ensure that the Obama factor amongst his die hard supporters comes to the ballot box. In addition Bernie Sanders, in his forceful manner has been imploring his supporter 'to ensure that Trump is not elected' by turning in their support for Mrs Clinton. In addition she has kept the focus of her agenda on educational reform, including reforming college student debt, pushing a fairer tax system, reforming Wall Street, getting immigration reform and controlling gun violence by reforming the gun laws (not eliminating the second amendment). She also continues to play her strong card of a better understanding of world politics compared to her rival and sees a stronger role for the US in world affairs including dealing with ISIS and other terror threats.

Negative side: The email controversy does not seem to go away and while in the scheme of things it is not a major negative it remains to the unfamiliar voter a red herring that she needs to tackle head on. While it cost her the election, perhaps not but she needs to have her camp handle it better.
Her recent short illness while has raised the issue of her health her handling of it so far has been good, but she needs to be careful it does not emerge as a major election issue again. Over all the perception that she is closely tied into with big business seems to have emerged again with questions about the Clinton Foundation. Her camp is not handling this issue with the forcefulness that it deserves and it might continue to stick to her as a smoking gun.

What Hilary Camp needs to do?

Spell out their tax and economic plan in more detail and put forward the numbers to show how they plan to make it work. She needs to close out the email controversy and while she has accepted some responsibility for it, there needs to be a better closure of this matter.  The issue is perceptional given that between Congress and other commissions there has been hours and hours of discussion and hearings on this her camp needs to issue a 'common man' white paper so the average american in the street understands the issues. She needs to push more on the issues of Trump revealing his taxes, clearly that is the achilles heel of her opponent and she is not attacking it enough. She needs to make sure that the Bernie Sanders support base also comes to the forefront as that would eat into some of the rivals support base of white workers who feel that Clinton has ignored them in the past. She also needs to formally step down from any role with the Clinton Foundation now, even though it might have academic value it will do her more good than harm.

For Donald Trump:

Plus side; He seems to have realised his off the cuff style has caused more havoc than good and has stuck to the script more effectively than before. His recent move to spell out his economic plan, and his child care reform bring an element to his campaign, which thus far was high on rhetoric and low on details. His recent trip of Mexico to meet the Mexican President while seemingly a good public relations exercise showing him in a more presidential role, actually showed mixed results apart for an embarrassing disagreement with his hosts. The steps he has taken to spell out his policies is welcome sign and he will need to spell out his policies more in detail. The benefits of his economic plan clearly are his trump card (don't mind the pun), however he has to clearly spell out how will be pay for these benefits. As one would say he has to make the numbers add up. His biggest change that has helped him has been his less mercurial attacks on his opponents and in recent interviews answer questions more than retort to a question with a question.

Negative Side: The biggest problem for the Trump camp has been his propensity to shoot from the hip with statements which either reverse his position or make claims that are contrary to facts. His biggest liability is the earlier remarks he made about minorities and he recent attempts, for example, with the black voters seemed insincere and contrived. While he appeals to the uneducated voter (the not so astute) the larger silent vote bank sees his claims that his opponent 'wants to take your guns away' is simply not true. His weakness on foreign policy issues is glaring with praise for Putin and not even knowing that Crimea was annexed by Russia are the pitfalls of lack of knowledge that cannot be quick fixed so late in the game.

What the Trump Camp needs to do?

Fix the perception that there is a racist bias to their campaign, (reinforced with some questionable appointments to his campaign staff). Spell out the economic plan and how he plans to reduce taxes and still have money to pay the debt and pay for the benefits he has promised. Perhaps appoint a respected foreign policy expert to lead the comments on foreign policy issues or hand over that part of the agenda to his running mate, Pence. Come clean on his misstatements (Iraq war, Muslims etc), like he has on the birther issue and be man enough to simply say "I was wrong" and move on. Most importantly he needs to put aside his silly argument about why he is not releasing his tax returns and should bite the bullet and do it as it is what is expected by all.

On balance the Presidential debates will be interesting and for Trump to keep his cool will be important. Apart from the prepared statements how he handles the questions will be crucial to the outcome of the race. Hilary Clinton on her part will clearly be prone to touch his soft spots and his thin skin might just get him to make one of his infamous gaffs. As for the vote bank it would seem that Trump has alienated the black and hispanic vote to the degree that wining them back is a gigantic task. His recent proposal to ban Western Union transfers to Mexico by illegal Mexican workers with the aim to negotiate with the Mexican government to lift the ban if they pay for the wall- its on the Trump website. Credit to the Trump camp they have tightened the race, the question is whether it is enough to make a difference. For the Democrats the big challenge will be to make sure that their vote bank turns out on the crucial day. Many of the Trump die hard supporters may have an edge in that regard and voter turn out in some key states could well be a crucial aspect of the final outcome.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Abdul Sattar Edhi: The Angel of Mercy

Abdul Sattar Edhi has passed away, he lived his life without fanfare, and in his passing and the simplicity of his life and achievements we have to pause and reflect on the life of the man known as the Angel of Mercy. More often than not people who establish successful charitable foundations do so after making their millions. Its almost like a sort of redemption for them in their act of giving, which is great, but for Edhi, as he was fondly known, giving came at an early age. When he was 19 he lost his mother and vowed to help all those in distress. With his life saving of Rs 5,000 he started a free dispensary in Karachi and convinced medical students to volunteer and started with free treatment of the poor.

Today the Edhi Foundation is the largest charitable Organization in Pakistan and entirely fund by donations. Till a couple of years back it was revealed that the Edhi Foundation had rescued 20,000 abandoned infants, cared for 50,000 orphans and trained 40,000 nurses. Today the Edhi Foundation runs 330 welfare centres all over Pakistan. In addition they run centres for abandoned women and children, clinics and centres for mentally handicapped children and numerous food kitchens for the poor. The Edhi Foundation has more than 1,500 ambulances in the country and remains the most effective emergency medical response force in a land where the Government's efforts in comparison are miniscule.

Sattar Edhi, while a devout Muslim, was shunned by many radical Muslim groups, also perhaps because of his outspoken style. While he shunned publicity the few occasions he was cornered by the media to comment he spoke his mind. When during a wave of sectarian attacks on Christians and Hindu's in Pakistan he was questioned by a radical Muslim cleric as to why does he bother to send his ambulances to save the 'infidels"? Sattar Edhi's answer was very simple "Because my ambulances are more Muslim than you."

His wife, Bilquis, once asked him why on the Festival of Eid he does not sacrifice a goat, and his answer was "It is not about sacrificing a goat or an animal to show God I love him. It is more important to sacrifice greed and our ego and give of ourselves to God, that is the real truth of the message of sacrifice." Throughout of his life he only possessed two pairs of clothes, only replacing them when they were torn and faded. He lived throughout his life in a two bed run down apartment next to the dispensary with an austere lifestyle. He or his family never took a single penny as expense or salary from the Foundation. His trips were specifically planned with donations for just the trip, and that too he was a man who rarely travelled.

Edhi did not like creating controversy, briefly having been arrested in Lebanon by the Israeli's when he was in the South of Lebanon helping the poor. In 2008 he was detained at JFK airport for 16 hours as Homeland Security struggled to figure out if his charity was on the banned list. When asked about the incident he said, 'I don't know why I was detained, perhaps my beard and clothes, but it does not matter they have to do their job and I have to do mine.'

This amazing man, while nominated for the Noble Peace Prize never really begged for recognition or for money, somehow he set an example of his life and effort that made one attracted to his cause. He stayed away from politics and it would be hard to find a political statement by him. He often said they (the politicians) have their agenda, I have mine but mine is between God and him.

How can we remember this man? His funeral at the National Cricket Stadium was attended by General Raheel the chief of the army along with all senior commanders; they knowing more than anyone else that Sattar Edhi was and remain the most sincere Pakistani who walked the earth. It was no surprise that he was given a 19 gun salute at his funeral by the armed forces, something reserved of head of states. In a sense he was the head of state of the humanitarian face of Pakistani's.  Sadly he is gone, and more sad is the fact that the world who see's Pakistan as a land of violence and terror and intolerance CNN would not be running a story on this man'; who saved more lives than anyone in that troubled land.

Abdul Sattar Edhi showed how to care, he set the example of emergency medical care that needs to be emulated, more than anything he told us to be a good Muslim you have to be a good humanitarian; a vital message in a world where many Muslims are too busy tearing each other and people of other faiths to pieces. Edhi was more interested in making sure the torn pieces of flesh from bomb blasts and angry gun fire were put back together; and that too without ever considering a persons religion. He once said to someone who met him that if you are Hindu, a Christian, a Muslim or whatever, the colour of the blood is the same. Do we not see why this is so? Because God wants us to help everyone as we all have the same colour the same faith in Him on the inside."

Monday, July 4, 2016

A Tale of Two Horrors

Ramadan is a Holy Month for reflection, prayers and spiritual closeness to Allah; a month of fasting but also a month were patience and understanding and appreciating the message of Islam is utmost to Muslims. Clearly this was not the message that ISIS or its loosely affiliated groups wanted to give to the Muslims the world over. While there were scattered attacks elsewhere two of them stand out as the tale of horror; Dhaka shooting and the Baghdad blasts. Sure they follow the terrible attacks in Orlando and Istanbul but these two attacks need a fair bit of thought.

Baghdad Attack:

The awful attack in a shopping area of Baghdad killed over 200 Muslims who were busy shopping for the approaching Eid Festival; which is at the end of the month of fasting. For the people of Baghdad since 2003 there has been an undertone always of terror attacks, and this year alone it has been a vicious year of horror. In January 105 people were killed, February 66 killed, March 92 killed, April 32 killed, May 144 killed, June 15 killed, and July 215 plus killed. These attacks in the backdrop of major battlefield reversals for the ISIS in Fallujah and elsewhere in Iraq.

As the pace of attacks on ISIS has increased and have been more successful the battlefield in their eyes has moved to soft targets within the population of Iraq. I doubt given the disarray their command and control structure is in the ISIS would not be directing each attack with the traditional military intent. More likely for some time now the ISIS strategy seems to have been to have various militants prepared to carry out these attacks but leaving the timing and choice of the attacks to their local minders on the ground. These cells therefore would be operating under a very lose structure and little or no communication, other than within the cells, making interception and pre warning of the attacks impossible. This is precisely the most dangerous aspect of these attacks that a direct plan to stop each particular attack is quite difficult to implement.

The question remains what does the ISIS achieve from the political or military point of view?
Frankly from a political view such attacks actually alienate the populous from the ISIS even more given that the attacks kill Sunni, Shia and anyone who happens to be there. Militarily one could argue a small percentage of attacks were directly targeted at army and police targets, but of the 700 odd people killed this year in these attacks almost 80% very innocent civilians. So it would seem the purpose of the attacks is merely to give a message that ISIS may have suffered reversals on the battlefield but it has the ability to hit back whenever it wants.

Iraq is a fragmented country, a weak central government, sectarian discord and a propensity for violence on a scale that is unimaginable. One has to struggle to find a single strong unifying factor that can make Iraqi's, as a nation, say "ENOUGH". Somehow, as horrible as this attack was, I would hope this is the wake up call for the Iraqis to unify to bring peace to their land. Indeed this alone will not stop the attacks, a lot more effort has to be made to change the mind set of the people who get lured into the ISIS ideology, and indeed as ISIS loses foothold after foothold in the country one would imagine their ability to carry out the attacks would reduce.

Dhaka, Bangladesh:

I watch the TV and see images of the attackers posing in front of an ISIS flag, smiling, almost cynically prior to their carrying out their attack on a Dhaka eatery killing 20 people, mostly foreigners. What is alarming is that this attack is perhaps the first in the Indian subcontinent where direct allegiance to ISIS has been pledged by attackers before an attack. The radicalization of the youth in this manner is a surprise but can be explained by domestic political developments within Bangladesh. The Jammat i Islami (JI) party was aligned with a united Pakistan and during Bangladesh's war of Independence they sided with the Pakistan army. Since 2011, forty years after Independence, a series of legal steps were taken to deregister JI as a political party and from 2013 a number of its leaders were tried and sentenced for crimes related to the 1971 war of Independence.

In 2013 many of the JI followers took to the streets to protest the verdicts and attacked not only government buildings but also Hindu temples and other minorities. I believe that given the loss of their leadership and the sense of persecution by the government has driven these right wing elements into the hands of the ISIS recruiters. These attackers did not have the background and profile of the madrassa type indoctrinated youth, but came from middle class homes with a good education. I have always argued that an educated fanatic is the most difficult one to argue with because they have a sense of belief that they believe is intellectually well argued in their minds.

To me of the two trends the developments in Bangladesh are more serious as it indicates a policy and planning of attacks, coming from an educated militia of followers which are going to be hard to combat. This also ties into the passionate politics of Bangladesh and to the rank and file of the JI followers will be seen a just retribution for the verdicts against their leadership. One could argue that the trials of the JI leadership could have been handled differently, but then this is hindsight, for the moment the spectre of the ISIS finding a breeding ground for its twisted philosophy in the delta of Bengal is scary to say the least.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Istanbul Airport: Some thoughts.

Back in 1980's a vicious circle of sectarian violence gripped Karachi, where people were shot in mosques, homes were bombed and people kidnapped and executed by miscreants who from both the Shia and the Sunni sects. The Taliban had not been invented, 9/11 was way over the horizon, the US war on terror was not coined and Gitmo did not exist. I then wrote a piece in which I called this the "Kalashnikov Culture": a deeply disturbing sense of right embedded in the dogma of misguided self styled "religious" figures and in effect stated that this had nothing to do with Islam but merely terrorists hijacking Islam.

A few weeks after the article I bumped into one of the self styled leaders of this sect at the karachi airport and he proudly told me his mission was to cleanse Pakistan. I narrated to him my view that he did not understand Islam and his beard and turban were ideal replacements for the ski mask that bank robbers in the US don during their raids. He was offended and called me an infidel amongst other colourful names.

Three decades on we have seen a lot of senseless killings have taken place around the world, and with it not only has the violence been politicised it has also been steeped into religious labels. The vernacular of the terrorist has become more pronounced and the acts of violence become more senseless. While the self styled leader thirty years back did not have the labels of Jihadist, Taliban or ISIS, his actions were simply violent based on his own self beliefs.

The attack on Istanbul airport highlight the blind nature of these attacks; killing innocent people and while no one has so far claimed responsibility yet seems to be motivated by the same misguided nonsense of the ISIS, and the Taliban. Before my American friends jump on this let it be said emphatically that more Muslims have been killed by these so called "Islamist" radicals than any people of any other faith. These attacks are not on the US, these attacks are against EVERYONE and most of all against the Muslims themselves.

However, we are making the problem worse by styling it as "Islamic Terrorism" and buying into the hysteria of Islamophobia because these attackers are not Muslims. If they follow the Quran and the teaching of Prophet Muhammed then their violent actions are contrary to the principles and teaching of Islam. We have to come up with a new word a new vernacular for these people and this should not be a religious one. If all the people who committed the school shootings were to say they did it because they were Christians we would be wrong to say that Christianity was at fault.

Here are my reasons to say that these attackers are not Muslims:

1. The act of taking the life of a person, and an innocent person at that, is essentially 'murder'. Assume that we buy into the argument of the ISIS that they are at war with the West and hence killing 'western infidels' is fine; here is the problem, even in those conditions the killing of a person who is not an instrument of war, nor a combatant is considered the killing of an innocent person and thus murder. 
Terrorism is above all murder. Qur’an 6:151 says, “and do not kill a soul that God has made sacrosanct, save lawfully.” (i.e. murder is forbidden but the death penalty imposed by the state for a crime is permitted).  verse 5:53 states , “… who so kills a soul, unless it be for murder or for wrecking corruption in the land, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind; and he who saves a life, it shall be as if he had given life to all mankind.” (reference to murder in 5.53 and to corruption, which is spreading terror in the land, means that for such crimes the person committing the crime can be put to death by the 'state'.)

These verses were never abrogated or superseded and form the basic injunctions to Muslims to consider all life 'sacred'. These attackers therefore are violating the injunction of the Quran itself.

2. One common 'logic', much like the man in Karachi, of such terrorists is that they are either 'cleansing' the land of infidels or they are imposing the 'will of Islam' on the people. In Islam it is forbidden to attempt to impose it upon people through force.  The Qur’an says, “There is no compulsion in religion. The right way has become distinct from error.” (-The Cow, 2:256). This important verse was revealed in Medina in 622 AD, at the very advent of Islam and it the foundation for tolerance and the lack of coercion in religious matters. So to paint the acts of terror as a religious act is contrary to the teaching is Islam.

3. Even in a state of declared warfare, (which has to be declared by the established head of an Islamic state) the Quran is very explicit in extolling Muslims to seek peace. The Quran says, “But if the enemies incline towards peace, do you also incline towards peace. And trust in God! For He is the one who hears and knows all things.” (8:61) The Quran in the Surah, “The Cow,” 2:190, says, “Fight in the way of God against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! God loveth not aggressors.”

How can Islam extoll aggressive behaviour when even in warfare it is asking Muslims to seek peace? 

4. There are many other examples of traditions from the life of Prophet Muhammed where aggression and violence were not the norm, so much so that he frowned upon surprise attacks even when war was declared and in one instance warned the adversary four months before an attack. In the conduct of war specific rules were made for his forces which included not harming women and children and non combatants and not destroying the land and trees and crops. 

Indeed in Arabia there was the tradition of 'Ghazu', which were raids on caravans and other tribes to acquire livestock and food, but these 'acquisition raids' had rules that insisted that no one must be killed in these raids. This was a tradition before the advent of Islam and during the Prophet's lifetime such raids were carried out. But the raids were not about aggression to kill the other party but merely to acquire goods and livestock. Western commentators often refer to these raids as a testimony to the violent nature of Islam; in the first place Ghazu was a pre Islamic tradition, and second, very rarely did they result in the taking of a life. 

The events in Istanbul highlight all my arguments that the people who sanction such attacks and carry them out are not Muslims. This was also the very point the Turkish Prime Minister made, all the more when we see that all the people killed in the raid were non combatants and innocent people. The insistence by these terror groups that they are killing infidels is completely wrong because in the first place they kill more Muslims than any other people, and then I must emphasise that Christians and Jews are people of the Book and are not considered infidels by Islam. Jesus and Mary are both highly revered in the Quran, so much so there is a whole chapter on Mary and extolls her virtues and role.

On a broader front two things, both very disturbing are going on in the world; on the one hand politicians like Donald Trump are playing the Islamophobia card with virtually no understanding of the religion or the issues, and on the other hand Muslims themselves lack the understanding to realise that Islam is being hijacked by these terror groups who claim and evangelical purity of their cause. It is time people on both sides of the fence realise that is a battle for the minds of the young people and tolerance, understanding and a common stance to assert that these terrorists are NOT Muslims and we should not label them as such. In such labels lie the damage of labelling all Muslims (ala Trump style) as terrorists.  

In my eyes all that this is an extension of the Kalashnikov Culture of the 1980's  and all that has happened is that these violent people have adopted for themselves a religious label; a label that everyone else has bought into and hence the word 'radical Islam'. My argument is simply that if one is a true Muslim there cannot be a radical Islam it can only be a tolerant and understanding Islam. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit and its impact.

In a close vote the Britons have spoken; they want out of the EU, want to take charge of their own country and its destiny and in the process have created a scenario where the possibilities are endless and the outcomes less than certain. The outcome of leaving the European Union while now inevitable has shown that Britain is a very divided country, surprising many who knew it would be a close vote but the outcome was not entirely expected. So what happens next.

Britain has two years to negotiate an exit deal from the EU, and if there is extension granted to this process then leaving without a deal would spell its own set of problems. This is much like a possible lengthy divorce proceeding, trade agreements to be unwound, new agreements to be made with partners like the US and Japan without the EU umbrella and the key aspects of preparing the financial disengagement costs between Britain and the rest of the EU. Most likely two years is not enough to hammer out the divorce agreement after a 43 year marriage and some EU members might well simply say that you elected to leave the marriage then do so without a favourable exit deal or an extension.

The effect of Brexit is wide ranging, one the one hand there is a strong possibility of a Nexit (Netherlands seeking an exit), and the right wing in France will push for a similar referendum with other members testing the mood for their electorate. In a sense politically the EU will feel stronger as a partner who was not entirely on board with the long term vision of the EU is now out. The flip side is that Germany may remain the only strong EU member wanting a stronger united Europe, while France, Netherlands and Denmark leading the charge for a looser Union arrangement. In essence the main problem for Britain was immigration law and they had wished a more Australia type point system on immigration rather than the current policy. EU leaderships stubborn stance on revising the policy then opened the pandoras box to a plethora of other issues resulting in Brexit.

The key question is will Britain benefit from this decision. There cannot be a serious sensible answer to this because a great deal will depend on the moving parts of the business environment. Yes emotionally the idea of 'winning back the country' has its own charm; but does this put bread on the table and create a strong economy? Personally, I believe till the exit deal is not worked out and new partnership agreements worked out over the next two years the British economy will remain depressed and the economic environment uncertain. A strong British economy will fundamentally rest upon two things:

1. Will the private sector in Britain take advantage of the lesser legislation (from EU) to invest heavily into the economy?

2. How successful will Britain be in negotiating new agreements with the US, Japan and the EU that cover trade, taxes and investments.

The best bet for Britain is that private sector investment will offset the effect of big business moving out of Britain as Brexit takes away the advantage for these manufacturers, like Nissan, to produce cars in Britain. Job losses from these closures will not be the only negative as such measures will effect the secondary and tertiary manufacturing sectors that support the factors supply chain. Can the private sector be strong enough to negate some of this effect is still questionable.

The question of negotiating new trade deals and investment and tax agreements is a more tricky matter. Britain, while the worlds fifth largest economy, now will negotiate from a weaker platform. These agreements are tedious and in some cases require multi level approvals, like in the US, and therefore a three to five year period is not unreasonable before this is sorted out. Britain might want to have a loose partnership agreement with the EU so as to not upset the existing relationship with EU too much, but I suspect that the European leadership may not be that accommodating on accepting such a partnership on terms too favourable to Britain.

If and only if, Britain can over come these two challenges that I have mentioned than perhaps in a period of five years from now Britain may well emerge from the this decision more stable and perhaps stronger. However, one must speculate that stronger does not mean stronger than the EU, but stronger from the position the country has been thrown into now.

In the interim what this means for business and the common man in Britain is that there will be a period of three to five years of uncertainty, higher consumer prices, more unemployment, lower investment into new businesses and the financial markets being in turmoil. While Britain will over haul their own immigration law and perhaps reduce the impact on the large number of EU citizens currently working in UK, there will be shrinking of the financial sector with job losses, manufacturing industry slow down. Yes a weaker pound will mean competitive exports but will this be substantial remains to be seen.

To me at a very personal level it is surprising that the issue of introducing a point system immigration system has been blown up to the extent that Brexit became a reality. In a sense this is a failure of intellect to emotion, a stubborn EU leaderships success over the voice of reason and this lack of flexibility will be the test for the EU in how it handle discontent in its own camp.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Orlando Tragedy and American Politics.

At the outset let me state emphatically that I am against ALL forms of violence and any loss of life under any circumstances is a deplorable act. The tragic events in Orlando where 49 people senselessly lost their lives to a deranged man who attacked a night club armed with guns and the intent to take lives. The tragedy speaks for itself in overtones of grief that cannot be cured by words alone. In the same breath the shooting has been become a political tool for both Republicans and Democrats camps and centres around two crucial issues; the role of radical Muslim militants in this shooting and the issue of gun control.

In essence there is no difference between this attack, in its intent and ferocity, from other attacks in schools and public places all over the United States. What makes this a political issue is that the attacker was a Muslim and purported to call 911 during the attack and pledge his support for ISIS. In sincerity the attacker does not fit the profile of a Muslim radical; yes at times he attended prayers at the local mosque and claimed he had friends in ISIS and in Hezbollah, (which is very unlikely as both those organisations are sworn enemies). What is more likely is that this deranged man had an issue with gay people and exacted his anger by killing people. He was not someone fired up with ISIS ideology looking to carry out their promised attacks on America. In essence his actions in acquiring guns and entering a public place and randomly shot people no different from the actions of the shooters in the cases of Sandy Hook Elementary School and Columbine High school.

Since Jan 1, 2015 there have been 27 school shooting, (SCHOOL not public shooting) in the US, in which 23 people were killed and 52 people were seriously wounded. It may be pointed out that not one of these 27 shootings was carried out by a Muslim attacker or by a recent immigrant. In most of the cases the shooters had either easy access to guns or had no problems in acquiring the guns, and one can say that none of the shootings were politically motivated. No one has come and claimed that there is some form of Christian radical movement behind the killings only because the attackers in each case was a Christian. The fact that Omar Mateen who was the killer in Orlando was a Muslim does not make the act more radical other than giving ammunition to people to play the Muslim terrorism card. There is just as much a chance of a fundamentalist Christian angry about gay rights to carry out such an attack as it was for Omar Mateen to carry out this attack.

Using a paint brush to call all Muslims radical and to assume every immigrant to the US comes with the intent to carry out attack is ludicrous. From an international perspective lets get something very clear, that radical Muslims are attacking more Muslims around the world than targeting Americans. Yes there have been some attacks by them in Europe and the West, but these are minuscule attacks compared to what is happening in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Pakistan just to name a few countries.

Now onto the issue of gun control; why would a man want to buy an semi automatic high powered rifle to shoot rabbits? Why are these guns so freely available to the average man in America? Can we assume a proper sense of responsibility about using guns on the part of each owner? If this was the case then how come we have thousands of gun deaths in the US each year. Simply put the guns need to be controlled and ideally should only be in the hands of the law enforcement people and hunting guns should be better defined and better controlled. Yes a radical or deranged man will still try and get illegal guns but then the access will be more difficult.

I live in the UAE, we do not have guns in the hands of people. We have Muslims, Christians, Hindus and people of other beliefs living here, to the extent that one can argue the non Muslims are over 50% of the population. We have not had one public shooting, not one school shooting, not one attack based on religious hate and to the extent that any religious or ethnic hate talk is immediately dealt with by the law.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

American Politics at the crossroads.

For the first time in US history there seems a probability to elect either a woman, a Jew or an idiot as the President of United States of America. This puts the country at the crossroad of choices that are not going to be easy. Hilary Clinton carries the advantage of holding official roles in Government, even though some of her record may be open to judgmental issues, she does bring a higher degree of acceptability for being in the White House than Bernie Sanders or indeed Donald Trump.

Bernie Sanders, to me, is more an egalitarian than a 'communist' or 'socialist', appealing to the young voters who carry strong feelings of having been disfranchised by the political machinery that runs Washington. Sanders scores favorably for his passionate sense of care over the others in the race, but in reality his political ethos is a few decades before its time for an electorate that misunderstands him more than bothers to be patient about his politics. 

Donald Trump started out as the joker in the race; few bothered to take him seriously enough to even imagine he would survive the scrutiny of the political process. His appeal is, in the words of Stephen Hawkings, to the 'lowest common denominator' of US society. This does not speak volumes for the large number of people who form the platform of his support amongst the rank and file of the Republican Party. His somersaults on various issues where he has made forceful statements are not political sidesteps but outright lying; at times even insisting he never made the statements. While one may find his remarks and sparing with the press funny, underlying all this are symptoms of a seriously bipolar man. Add a large dose of intolerance to criticism and a garnish of arrogance and you get a man with an unstable character that is frightening. So far one can sit back and say "Okay this is all fine but he will become Presidential once elected."

Sadly the streak that is most worrying about the man is his position on Muslims, Mexicans, and most of all foreign policy. His knowledge of the world is limited to the size of a postage stamp, which is surprising for a man who has travelled to many countries but still says he knows Russia very well because he held a beauty pageant there is just one testimony of his idiocy. He wants to bar Muslims from entering the US, (now trying to tone down his position) ignoring that he endorsed a real estate project in Dubai bearing his name and charged a nice hefty fee for lending his name to the project. So Mr. Trump you can take Muslim money but you can't let the people who paid you into the country? 

The crossroads that we stand at are clearly such that by default Trump being close to a fascist alternate to democracy makes both Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders all the more suitable. He wants South Korea and Japan to have nuclear weapons opening the door to perhaps another 20 odd countries saying well if they can have them then why not us. He wants to build a wall, expel people and close borders to Muslims. He wants an all out trade war with most of the world not realizing that wars, whether through the barrel of a gun or through trade tariffs have the same result of chaos of the common man in the street. 

Does this make him an idiot? Yes and more, it makes him a fascist idiot who is on an overdose of xenophobia and laced with a propensity to be a pathological liar. The simple test of this is position of mine is that you watch a speech by President Obama, then close your eyes and imagine Donald Trump in the same situation making a speech; yes a nightmare. Mr. Trump being Presidential does not mean you use words like 'loser' or say 'get him out of here' (to a heckler) or calling people names based on their physical appearance (comments about Rubio). While I may not know much of the domestic politics in the US, I know that Mr. Trump does not know much about the world outside (perhaps he did not enroll in his own scam university), and to prove this Mr. Donald Trump I challenge you to a debate of Foreign Policy and specifically on why Muslims should be banned from the US? Anytime, anywhere!