Indian Elections – A Primer

The impending elections of India, which is an important South Asian country, is the latest event in the rich democratic tradition of South Asia. On this occasion, I join the pious citizens of Islamic Emirate of Pakistan in their dismay about India’s latest fascination with religious nationalism and religious identity-based politics. Around the living rooms, TV shows and street corners, whenever Pakistanis take a well-deserved break from “Is Sharia the best choice for whole of Pakistan or just the best choice for a part of Pakistan?” debate, you can hear their concern and trepidation that the Indian electorate might not make a choice that is religiously impartial, secular, multicultural and tolerant. To understand these issues better, I have presented an essential primer of the chief actors in the fray, so Pakistanis can make better and informed choices in the impending South Asian election.

Narinder Modi: The Burning Hot favorite.

He is the chief Minister of Gujrat and the Prime Ministerial candidate of the Bharatia Janata Party. He is credited with rapid economic development of Gujrat. However, some people rightfully point out that if you take the economic growth of Gujrat, subtract the number of bicycles, divide it by the number of cows and adjust for the number of cricket matches played there in backyards, the resulting number is much worse than the national infant mortality rate. Which goes on to show that when really pressed hard, some math also does not share everyone’s enthusiasm about his skills as an administrator. Then there is the elephant in the room – Modi presided over a massive massacre of Muslims during his watch. No political party has ever won national-level elections after instigating religious riots not involving the Sikhs and a section of Indian electorate is determined to keep it that way. This might prove to be his greatest liability. I have analyzed his electoral prospects in greater detail here.

Political Advice: In the remaining weeks, provoke riots against the Sikhs. Might prove to be an effective tactic to confuse part of supporters of the other party into voting for you.

Rahul Gandhi: The Underdog.

Remember Bollywood movies where the underdog kid from the poor family stands toe to toe against the rich, dumb kid surrounded by a sycophantic coterie and you are moved to rooting for the underdog? Rahul Gandhi is like that. Except he belongs to the ruling party and is not the underdog. And he is rich. Is dumb too. Is surrounded by a sycophantic coterie and the other kid is from a poor background. Very confusing. The main thing is that for some reason he is the underdog — This bollywood movie is about a not-underdog, rich, dumb kid, surrounded by a sycophantic coterie standing toe to toe against a kid from a poor background, but somehow you are moved into supporting the rich kid. Very confusing. Moving on…

Rahul Gandhi arrives with an impressive and long resume. Part of which reads “Father, Mother, Uncle, Grandmother, Great grandfather, Great Great Grandfather…..” but his biggest asset is that he is not Modi and appeals to the “Please not Modi!!”  voters. Which means that his party will not win any admiration for good governance either, which is his biggest liability.

Political Advice: Stop talking. Start praying. Talking only confuses your supporters into voting for the other guy. Praying might prove to be an effective tactic to confuse part of supporters of the other party into voting for you.

I recognize that all this can be very confusing and therefore have made a table for you:

Decision Matrix

If you say “But I dont like any of the options!! Why cant I just take a SMS poll of my friends and ask them who to vote for?!”. Well you are in luck. Let me introduce:

Arvind Kejriwal: The Joker in the Pack

Leader of the Aam Admi Party, the Indian equivalent of Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf (without the embarrassing love for the taliban, and without the confusing xenophobia mixed with foreign trips). His biggest appeal is to the “Please not Modi!! Too embarrassed to support Rahul” voters. His biggest asset is that he is not Modi. The consequent lack of impressive administrative credentials is balanced by the fact that is not Rahul Gandhi either and hence lacks horrible administrative credentials. The man without riots and without any governance record.

Political Advice: None. In fact, i’d like to take his advice on getting so many twitter followers.

Whatever be the choice, this elections will be keenly watched, contested and commented upon by the Pakistani polity who have always shown a keen interest on matters of good governance, democracy, secularism, multiculturalism and minority rights in foreign countries. One thing is certain, democracy will be the winner in this keenly fought contest in South Asia.

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Make Coups Not War

Unless you are hiding under a rock in some cave somewhere, you have probably heard about the huge debate on whether to talk to the Taliban. Since Pakistan is most famous for producing terrorists and newspaper columns about terrorists, I too wanted to add to the national products in more ways than one. Today I will handle the pressing question facing the nation

What to do with the Taliban? Should we fight them or talk to them?

To answer the question, as usual, we have to think what the Quaid would have wanted. Since he is not around, we have to answer it based on our values: Who we are and What we want.

1. Who we are: We are liberals and bitterly oppose capital punishment.

Conducting law-enforcement operations against the Taliban would mean some might get captured and they might even be sentenced to death by the courts after a judicial process. This is unacceptable to most liberal Pakistanis, many of whom bitterly opposed and spoke out against capital punishment for people like Kasab. Therefore, like all liberals in Pakistan, I too favor airstrikes as a means of punishing terrorists instead of inhumane capital punishment after due judicial process.  Airstrikes have been conducted against the Taliban and have had some use — Since the airstrikes began, drone attacks have ceased, because airstrikes have unambiguously demonstrated to the the world that there is no need for US to bomb Pakistan, when Pakistanis are so much better at aerially bombing Pakistan. However unless followed by a military ground offensive, airstrikes are of no use, and I have my reservations against Ground offensives.

2. What we want: Taliban  packed off to other countries without any bloodshed.

Only the most unperceptive would have missed the trend: A reduction in the attacks by Pakistani non-state actors outside Pakistan has coincided with an increase in the attacks by Pakistani non-state actors inside Pakistan. In purely economic terms, this is a case of production piling up in factories due to lack of export opportunities and blockage of trade routes. Exporting  Taliban outside the country can be achieved by a military operation, but is military operation the best choice? Pakistan Army is among the most fearsome in the region, having earned Silver medals in all its wars, but there is an institution which has a much better record of winning contests than even the Pakistan army. It is Pakistan cricket team. To assure success against the Taliban, first they should be invited to a cricket match where there is huge odds that Pakistan cricket team might beat them. Suitably demoralized, we may then conduct negotiations with tough conditions: a Taliban government in exchange for peace. Here is the icing on the cake — Then they can be easily handled by the Army.

While Waziristan is difficult and treacherous terrain for the Army, Islamabad is not. Ask yourself: How many wars has Pakistan army won? Zero. How many Coups have Pakistan army won? All of them! Taliban then can easily be packed off in a Coup, the pliable Taliban sent to neighboring countries and the irreconcilable elements exiled to Saudi Arabia where they belong. This is the best and the least bloody way of handling the Taliban. People who call for immediate ground offensive against the Taliban forget one basic golden fact in Pakistan’s history: Pakistan’s wars have been bloody, but coups have been peaceful. So

Make coups not war.

Editor’s note 1: Next column will answer the pressing question “After Pakistanis have conquered all of Pakistan by 2016, should we conquer India or Afghanistan next?”

Editor’s note 2: “Should we have a Waziristan operation” debate was first held by people of Indus Valley Civilization, after which they have been holding it regularly every year ever since. Young reporters should cut their teeth covering the Waziristan operation debate, as it provides steady employment year after year, all year round.

September 2009: No decision on Waziristan operation yet: Malik

Pakistan has yet to decide whether it should launch a full-scale military operation in Waziristan to tackle the Taliban, says Interior Minister Rehman Malik. But he told Reuters in an interview in London on Sunday that Pakistan would take whatever action was needed to flush out the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which he described as “the front face of Al Qaeda”, from tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

April 2010: Pakistan, in Shift, Weighs Attack on Militant Lair

The Pakistani military, long reluctant to heed American urging that it attack Pakistani militant groups in their main base in North Waziristan, is coming around to the idea that it must do so, in its own interests.

May 2010: Pakistan, US agree on Waziristan operation

Diplomatic sources in Washington, while talking to Dawn, also confirmed this, saying that Pakistan had agreed in principle to extend its military operation to North Waziristan and other areas identified by the Americans as militant hideouts.

November 2010: Pakistan hits back at American support for India by stopping al-Qaeda offensive

Pakistan military chiefs say they are unable to open a fresh front while they are still heavily committed to operations elsewhere in the country’s lawless border regions. “The main reason is that they would need about three divisions to be successful, and there would be political and terrorist attacks to deal with,” said a military official. “How many more problems can Pakistan cope with? “On top of that, Obama’s recent trip to India is rather unhelpful and has dampened any enthusiasm there might have been.”

December 2010: Operation in Waziristan underway, no need for another: Gen. Asif

Core Commander Peshawar Lieutenant General Asif Yasin, on Monday, ruled out rumors regarding a fresh offensive against terrorists, saying that an operation in North Waziristan is underway. While speaking with journalists, he said that the army is targeting terrorists already.

May 2011: Pakistan to launch operation in North Waziristan: Report

Pakistan has decided to launch an air and ground military offensive in North Waziristan, the main sanctuary for al Qaeda and Taliban on the border with Afghanistan, a report in The News said on Monday.

June 2011: Reports about N. Waziristan offensive denied: Operation not imminent, says corps commander

One of Pakistan’s top military commanders ruled out on Wednesday an imminent offensive in North Waziristan, contradicting reports that the country had agreed to assault the militant-infested region following pressure from the United States.

September 2011: North Waziristan: Army brass votes down Haqqani manhunt

Pakistan will not take military action against the Haqqani network, despite intense US pressure over the past few days. The decision was taken at a special meeting of top commanders on Sunday and is likely to chip away at the deteriorating relationship between the two countries. The commanders vowed to resist US demands for an offensive in North Waziristan but also discussed the possible implications of unilateral action by the US on Pakistani territory, said a military official. “We have already conveyed to the US that Pakistan cannot go beyond what it has already done,” the official told The Express Tribune on condition of anonymity.

August 2012: Pakistan preparing for Waziristan operation: Panetta

On Monday, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta told AP news agency that Pakistan had decided to launch a military operation against the Pakistani Taliban in North Waziristan. Also on Monday, Pakistan’s Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani called for national unity “in the battle against terrorism.” Earlier this week, a Pakistani security official urged US and Nato forces to seal the Afghan border from their side if Pakistan launched an operation against the militants.

October 2012: North Waziristan operation under consideration: Malik

Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Friday said that the government was considering a military operation in the tribal badlands of North Waziristan, DawnNews reported. Speaking to reporters upon his arrival at the Karachi Airport, the interior minister said that the tribal region of North Waziristan agency is the hub of terrorists. Malik said that the entire nation was united against the “Zaliman”, an Urdu term meaning “oppressors” which he used to describe Taliban militants.

October 2012: N. Waziristan operation put on hold again?

Talking to journalists on Monday, Interior Minister Rehman Malik conceded that no operation in the area was being planned.

His response followed military’s statement over the weekend that a political decision was needed to launch the offensive for dislodging Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TPP) and its local affiliates from their headquarters in the tribal agency.

January 2013: Govt prefers dialogue to military operation: Kaira

Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said on Thursday the government generally preferred holding talks with militants to launching military operation against them because negotiations were the preferred mode of dispute resolution.