Sunday, December 25, 2011

Sights, sounds & observations from the PTI rally in Karachi

To cut a long story short, participating in PTI’s jalsa on Sunday was a transformative experience for me. Originally, I didn’t want to go because I don’t agree with everything Imran Khan has to say and felt his policy platform was too vague. Plus, there was a small chance that a bomb would go off or something could go wrong. This was Karachi after all.

The tipping point came when Imran Khan positioned this rally as an opportunity to usher in a new era of peaceful politics in Karachi. Sitting with friends the night before the rally, we made an impulse decision to attend. “You’ll tell your grand children that you were a witness to history in the making,” my friend remarked as he made his case for us to attend the rally. 

His advice inadvertently triggered one of the best decisions of my life.

It’s difficult to capture the energy of the crowd at the PTI rally in writing. There were people & PTI flags as far as one’s eye could see. “Please stop climbing the electricity poles,” pleaded one of the PTI speakers, trying to bring order to the sea of people that had thronged the venue. “You may electrocute the electric pole with all your current.”

This was Pakistan at its very best; men, women & children of all ethnicities and economic classes breaking the shackles of fear and coming together to support a political candidate who thinks peace in Karachi is the key to a prosperous Pakistan. There was music, there was dancing, there was laughter and above all, there was a palpable sense of hope. It was unlike anything I’ve experienced before in Pakistan.

Every time a pushto or a sindhi song would play, the tsunami of people would roar unanimously and dance without any discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or economic class. Every speaker would talk about bringing together Pashtuns, Sindhis, Balouchis, Punjabis and Urdu speaking folks under one banner. We are all Pakistanis they would say. 

Almost every leader wished Pakistani Christians a Merry Christmas. This was the politics of inclusion, diversity & tolerance. This was the need of the hour in Pakistan. And it wasn’t just talk, the roaring response of the tsunami was visible proof that PTI is already beginning to unite people who would otherwise be at logger heads with each other. Instead of brandishing guns to show their support, people waved colorful PTI flags. 

Shah Mehmood Qureshi said it best when he remarked that after years of disillusionment, he finally saw hope in the young people around him. There was a sparkle in their eyes. Karachi doesn’t want bloodshed or target killings he said; today Karachi-ites are here to spread the message of love. 

When Imran Khan took to the stage, the crowd was on fire. Imagine young pathan men gushing over Imran like teenage girls at a Justin Bieber concert. It was a magical moment. It could turn out to be one of the most pivotal moments for politics in Karachi in our generation. 

As Imran Khan announced another high profile defection to his party from the PPP, a young man in the audience quipped “ab thori deir mein khabar aye gi kai Quaid – e – Azam nai bhi PTI join kar li hai.”

Imran Khan’s speech was a class act of both political maturity and populist acumen. He said he didn’t want to make any hateful statements against any political party. But he had to respond to Nawaz Sharif who challenged him to a 10 over match recently. “Please arrange this match quickly,” a beaming Imran told Nawaz. “You may not have enough men to make a team at this rate,” he quipped as he referred to the high profile defection of PML-N heavy weight Javed Hashmi to PTI. 

More importantly, Imran promised policy papers documenting PTI’s stance on every important issue from the economy to education in his speech. He pointed out that naysayers have challenged him all his life but he has proved them wrong every time; from winning the cricket world cup to developing his cancer treatment hospital.

In a moving anecdote, Imran told the story of a young man from DG Khan who sold his mobile phone to fund his trip to Karachi to attend this rally. It was an anecdote that serves as a window into many similar stories; people flew in the Lahore, Dubai, London and America to attend this rally. There was even participation from handicapped people on wheelchairs.

The rally was meant to set Karachi and Pakistan on a new trajectory in the course of history. By that measure, PTI’s rally yesterday was a smashing success. Imran has single handedly managed to change the course of our national discourse on Karachi, for the better.

Even without taking a political position, it’s clear that Imran Khan is one of the only leaders in Pakistan whose success is contingent on bringing Pakistanis together rather than dividing them along ethnic & political lines. And that deserves support from all Pakistanis, regardless of our ethnic, economic or political affiliations.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

New Year’s Resolutions for Pakistan

Three days ago, I attended a seminar on “New Year’s Resolutions for Pakistan’s Economy” at IBA and the speakers appeared to fracture into two schools of thought. 

The first school of thought, led by Saad Khan (Vice President, American Business Council) argued that Pakistan needs to develop a long term “vision” for economic uplift. The second school of thought, led by Ishrat Husain (Former State Bank Governor) argued that Pakistan already has many “visions” parading around as white papers in the system, what Pakistan needs is implementation, implementation & implementation. 

All of us like to make New Year’s resolutions. Some want to lose weight, others want to quit smoking. Almost everyone wants to fight their demons and become a better person. The New Year is a chance to get a fresh start on life. Despite the fact that most of us fail to live up to our resolutions, we never fail to make new resolutions. 

Pakistan is no different.

Imran Khan & the 2013 elections promise a “fresh start” for Pakistan. Imran Khan has a bold vision that almost everyone can buy into; he promises to end corruption and offers that as a panacea to solve all our problems. 

The question most of PTI’s critics have is a simple one: does Imran Khan have the discipline and the political muscle to implement his vision or is this another New Year’s resolution that looks good on paper but will never be brought to life?

How do we resolve the tension between developing a vision and having the discipline to execute it? If you don’t execute your vision, does it mean that you didn’t believe in it in the first place? And if that’s true, why do we develop visions to begin with?

Specifically for Pakistan’s case, why are politicians so big on “visions” and short on precise plans to achieve those “visions”?

The answer is simple. “Visions” are meant to inspire and bring out the best in us. Plans on the other hand are cumbersome and require hard work to be executed. Politicians, like us on the cusp of a New Year, like to believe that we can bring out the best in us without working on the discipline needed to achieve our goals. 

Based on the seminar and the subsequent unpacking of ideas for this blog post, I’d propose the following to be Pakistan’s New Year’s Resolutions:
  1. Developing a clear vision for our future that inspires all sections of society – Imran Khan trying his best to do a good job here
  2.  Creating a plan of action that charts the specific steps needed for success – No one is doing this, yet.
  3.  The discipline to execute plans & make sacrifices – this needs to be part of all our New Year’s resolutions.
I’ll end with this beautiful quote that puts the tension between vision & execution into context:

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them.”
Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Shine on Imran Khan: Hats off to PTI supporters

I’ve always respected Imran Khan’s reputation as a cricketer, humanitarian and play boy. As a politician, I’ve always thought he was a bit of a fail. That changed tonight. 

Imran Khan has arrived – with a bang.

In a dramatic show of force, Imran Khan gathered more than 100,000 supporters at a rally in Lahore.  His show of strength was meant to send a clear message: “Those in Raiwind and Islamabad should know that it is not a flood that is coming, but a tsunami.”

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this rally wasn’t Imran Khan but his supporters.

Street power in Pakistan has been monopolized by chest thumping, bearded young men in the recent past. Imran Khan has managed to show a different side to Pakistan. Women thronged Imran Khan’s rally in colorful Shalwar Kameez, some even brought their young children along. There was no flag burning or violence at this rally; instead there was music. The traditionally unresponsive elite class came out in strong numbers to participate in this political rally.

This is a remarkable achievement for Imran Khan. 

To be fair, Imran still has a long way to go. His politicking is high on rhetoric and short on substance (he needs to unveil a specific policy agenda rather than campaign on sweeping promises). 

However, it’s very important to take a moment to give Imran Khan and his supporters credit where it’s due. 

Imran Khan may or may not win the 2013 elections but as a country, Pakistan will certainly win from the momentum and energy that his campaign will bring to the elections. 

This is good news for all Pakistanis regardless of our political affiliation. And PTI supporters deserve a pat on the back for making this happen, despite all the odds.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

On falling off a cliff

There is something so beautiful about falling flat on your face. Its God’s way of reminding you who’s in charge.

Perhaps it’s not a good idea to get too personal on a blog. But then again, this is a subject that needs a plurality of individual voices to kick start a debate.

Pakistan’s national discourse is dominated by religion and yet there are many who struggle to define their relationship with God. 

For those who’ve had life experiences validating their belief in God, the expectations are clear. Individuals should submit their will to God. But what happens, when despite their best intentions, individuals fall short.

There are three traditional responses for this; fight, flight or attempted ignorance.

Ignorance is the easiest of the three options. “It’s only natural to have some weaknesses,” you can tell yourself, “just look around.” This enables us to go about our daily lives while incorporating some religious rituals to keep us grounded. The false promise of a mini Junaid Jamshed style born again conversion at the age of 40 makes it easier to forgive today’s transgressions. “Not thinking too much about it” totally works as long as the gulf between belief and action remains manageable.

Fighting can be fun too. After all, who doesn’t enjoy a complete religious make over? It’s an attractive offer: new friends, a renewed sense of purpose and the chance to give up some worldly responsibilities, in the name of God. Alas, the initial effort to kill old habits can be a downer and sometimes even a show stopper but it’s almost always worth the effort – until you decide you’ve had enough and want your old life back. (To be fair, some people do manage to fight their way out of the pull of “worldly desires” and achieve spiritual contentment & success, with some degree of permanence. Kudos to them.)

Flight gives you the rare opportunity to do what you want without having to justify things to your conscience. It can be incredibly liberating. The beauty of this is that you feel as if you can get away with it. But the party comes to an abrupt halt when the distance between belief and action becomes so large that you fall off the proverbial cliff and wake up one day not being able to recognize yourself. 

What should one do when they lose their center? What should one do when they lose themselves?

The answer is as simple as it is confusing. You pick up the pieces of your faith and re-build your center. It takes hard work, patience and will power. But why would anyone repeatedly climb a cliff only to end up falling off it again? Perhaps this is the point of life itself.

Fight, flight & ignorance are our most visceral reactions to failure. As individuals and as a society, we need to learn to balance these impulses better. 

From the ashes of failure, success always has a real potential to rise.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Oh Karachi

Karachi is on a knife’s edge. Or is it?

A friend of mine currently settled in Dubai, had the following to say about his recent trip to Karachi (his hometown) over Eid:

“Karachi used to be called the city of lights, but recently the stench of death and destruction had extinguished these lights. This Eid, it was great to see Karachi being back to its normal self. Apart from the occasional frustrating traffic jams, it was good to see so many people out on the street enjoying the festivities of Eid. It felt like the old Karachi. It gave me hope.”

“Watching the news and reading newspapers from outside Pakistan, I had started to feel that Pakistan had turned into another Iraq or Afghanistan,” writes Mr. Naqvi. “But this Eid, I realized that this wasn’t the case. Watching so many people out and about; visiting parks, malls and other recreation spots, spending money & enjoying themselves. It never felt like these people were depressed about their future. People didn’t seem that worried.  It felt like there was even a hint of optimism. It felt good. It didn’t feel like being in a failed state, things in Karachi have been bad, but we’re still some way away from being a failed state.”

I agree with most of my friend’s conclusions but I would like to challenge the premise of his argument. The Pakistani people turned out in large numbers to celebrate Eid not because we have a lot to celebrate but because we’re a resilient nation. We needed a break from the doom & gloom and that’s exactly what we were trying to do at Eid. Even the terrorists & KESC took three days off from giving us our daily dose of relentless bad news.

But they returned with a vengeance. Twin suicide bombs killed 24 in Quetta today.

My friend correctly notes that we have some way to go before we become a failed state. The question is… are we headed in that direction or away from it?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Waiting for a Messiah to save Pakistan

We should outsource Pakistan’s governance to China for the next 30 years, argued a close relative at a recent dinner table conversation. “China can turn around our economy and restore law & order in the country,” he said with a straight face, without a sniff of sarcasm. “We could never do this on our own”.

Pakistan’s troubled history is no match for the resilience & resourcefulness of the Pakistani people, many of whom believe that Pakistan can be saved if we’re able to find the right “savior”.

This is how death & hope co-exist in Pakistan; as long our own loved ones don’t die, we fool ourselves into believing that we’re just bidding time until our chosen savior comes to rescue Pakistan, waves his magic wand and makes all our problems go away.

Our life is made all the more easier because there are so many saviors vying to save Pakistan.

We can pick our favorite savior from an open buffet of options. The business elite prefer the stability & security of military “saviors”. Elements of the religious right prefer the “Shariah based justice system” & “freedom from American hegemony” that the Taliban “saviors” promise us.   Disillusioned youth believe a new face like Imran Khan is the answer to our problems, arguing that a new leader could change Pakistan’s future just like a new ball can change the outcome of a cricket game.

This pervasive savior mentality didn’t just drop from the sky in Pakistan. We’ve been taught to believe that only our leaders can help us; that we cannot collectively help ourselves.

Let me engage in some historical blasphemy to make my point.

Whenever we talked about the unfortunate death of Quaid-e-Azam during history class in school, our teachers would almost always wistfully remark that Pakistan would have been a different place had Quaid-e-Azam lived longer.

There is an almost universal belief among Pakistanis that Quaid-e-Azam would have saved Pakistan (from our future problems) had he lived longer. We need to shatter this mental barrier to realize that one leader cannot single handedly change the fortunes of a country, not matter how honest & intelligent he may be. It’s only when a nation collectively decides to improve their fortunes that true progress can be made and honest, intelligent leadership can flourish.  

For over 60 years, this “savior mentality” has wreaked havoc in our country by diluting our sense of responsibility as citizens.

“You shouldn’t pay taxes in Pakistan,” were the words of wisdom I received from a friend, right after I filed taxes for the first time in my life. “The money’s only going to end up in some corrupt official’s pocket,” he argued. “The system is corrupt. The system should be changed first”.  

Unfortunately, the onus of changing the “system” is conveniently placed on our “savior” of choice so we don’t have to take responsibility for our actions. This helps us sleep at night: I don’t pay my taxes because the system is corrupt. When the system changes, I’ll become an honest man. And the system will change when (insert savior name here) comes to power and rescues the country from the mess we’re in.

As a nation, we find ourselves repeatedly clinging to the mirage of a promised savior, who’ll make our problems go away with minimal effort of our own.

The hard truth is that Pakistan doesn’t need saviors; Pakistan needs its citizens to take responsibility for their country. As a society, we can’t put off doing the right thing in our daily lives (honesty, obeying laws etc) until our chosen messiah descends from heaven (or Washington) and decides to change the “system”. We must do the right thing now and consistently if we want to genuinely save Pakistan.

No one else will save our country, with our best interests at heart, unless we take responsibility for this beautiful, broken nation that we call home.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Conversations from Pakistan

The feedback to my last blog post was overwhelmingly critical.

A close friend slammed the post as overly sensationalist and not representative of life in Karachi. “Unfortunately, much of the local media people have used cheap tactics to gain sympathy and build a reputation for themselves at the expense of the country,” he commented on Facebook. Karachi is not a war zone, millions of people live and work here.”

I wasn’t attempting to be sensationalist while writing my previous post but a critical mass of people felt it was unrepresentative of life in Pakistan. My original intention was to raise questions about our lives in Pakistan and whether we’ve grown too accustomed to the “abnormal” being our “normal”. Since that didn’t quite work out, I’ve decided to dedicate this post to sharing a montage of diverse experiences and conversations from Pakistan over the last 30 days.

The purpose of this montage is to offer an insider’s glimpse into a country that is clearly misunderstood. The purpose of reporting anecdotal news is not to hide the bad news that emanates from Pakistan but to place that news within some context instead of adding to meta-narratives about militancy, illiteracy and poverty in Pakistan.

Young businessmen bullish on Pakistan’s future: An overwhelming number of young Pakistani businessmen I’ve met are excited about business prospects in Pakistan. They point to the market fundamentals: a large young population, a consumption oriented society and an out flux of the business and intellectual elite of the country.

The majority of the 180 million people in this country aren’t going anywhere they argue, no matter how many bombs go off in a day. These people need to be fed, housed and clothed. Those businessmen who stay back in the country will do very well because they’ll be in a position to leverage these market fundamentals to their advantage, with less competition from other businessmen.

F-16 versus Youngsters: I was recently mentoring a group of school children in Muzaffarabad (Capital of Azad Kashmir). The kids, aged 9-12, wanted to play something fun so I taught them how to play hang man.

When I asked them to split into two teams and propose names for their teams; the first team unanimously named themselves “F-16” without even discussing it between themselves. The second team also wanted to be called F-16, but had to settle for another name; “youngsters”. I always thought shiny, unaffordable fighter jets had a constituency within the military only, but I was wrong…

When I asked the children what they wanted to do when they grew up, they said they wanted to become Doctors, Politicians, Scientists, Engineers, Imams and Army men. One encouraging common theme in all their discussions was a well articulated and visible desire to serve their country.

In search of good news from Pakistan: As part of the feedback to my previous blog post, I was advised by many friends to highlight and report good news from Pakistan. There are many significant and insignificant positive stories that can be reported from here. For example, there is a bustling new food street in Karachi doing roaring business, which shows the resilience of Karachi-ites to go out and have a good time despite the lack of security, electricity and water. There is a gleaming new 3-D cinema in Karachi as well, playing to packed audiences.

In more significant positive news, the security establishment is being held accountable for the first time in the country’s history by political leaders like Nawaz Sharif, who are saying the unthinkable out loudly (how much longer will he be allowed to speak up before he's silenced forever?). The media has rightfully made a lot of noise on Saleem Shahzad’s case. And heads have rolled (or atleast been transferred) for the appalling murder of a man in broad day light by the rangers. This is certainly progress and a positive affirmation of the strength of the civil society in the country. After all, that’s how things progress in Pakistan; one step backward, one and a half steps forward!

The decency of the Pakistani people:
While driving into Islamabad airport, the incredibly relaxed security protocol at the entrance forced a friend to comment that our country was surviving only on God’s grace. There used to be a popular saying that Pakistan was surviving only because of three A’s: Allah, America and the Army. The Army and America are struggling to assert their influence on the country right now. God’s grace is continuing to help us survive. But another factor helps keep this country together; the decency of the Pakistani people.

Think about it. We’re a proxy play ground for the great ideological battles of the day. Militant ideology spread & funded by the Arabs is wreaking havoc in our country via suicide & non-suicide bombings. We’re simultaneously fighting a war against these militants, funded by the US, which helps the militants justify their attacks on us.

On top of this, we have all the usual problems of corruption, illiteracy, poverty & lack of basic amenities like electricity. And yet, the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis remain law abiding citizens who try to make an honest living instead of taking up arms or resorting to violence. This is a remarkable testament to the decency of the Pakistani people. 
As my uncle jokingly says; God will arrange a special VIP line for Pakistanis on the Day of Judgment. “You’ve been through enough stress in your lifetime,” God will announce to Pakistanis. “Today, I’ll let you off easy for all your trouble.”

Friday, June 3, 2011

Between appearances and reality: Life in the most dangerous country on earth?

After spending a year in New York, returning to Pakistan has been a pleasant experience that exceeded all my expectations. The only thing that threw me off this week was a near death experience that brought the country’s security situation sharply back into focus.

After a year of reading bad news about Pakistan from a distance (frequent suicide bombings, OBL’s hide out, Raymond Davis, attack on PNS Mehran), I was itching to find out for myself how much the country’s security situation had worsened on the ground (as opposed to perceptions from a distance).

Before I share my thoughts on the security situation in Pakistan and my near death experience today, I can’t help but recalling a funny and relevant conversation with a cab driver in California, who was dropping me to Disney Land. My cab driver was a folksy middle aged man with a long white beard.

“Where are you from?” he asked innocently with a thick country accent.

“I’m visiting from New York,” I answered, not wanting to reveal that I’m originally from Pakistan to avoid the usual list of questions about security and life in Pakistan.

“Oh… New York,” he said. “I’m afraid of going to New York because it’s not safe. I hear there are lots of muggers outside Central Park.”

“Yeah… it’s bad but not as bad as they say it is,” I replied with a smile, thanking God that I didn’t tell him I was from Pakistan. If he felt New York was unsafe, Karachi would have freaked him out even more. And I didn’t want that discussion to get in the way of my uncontained excitement about visiting Disney Land for the first time in my life.

Later, as I boarded my return flight to Karachi from JFK, I told myself the same thing about Pakistan’s security situation for re-assurance: “it’s bad but not as bad as they say it is.”

I was excited about coming home. But my operating principle was to arrive with low expectations so I’d be pleasantly surprised when my expectations were exceeded.

For example, I expected there to be no electricity at home when I arrived because of power shortages. But I was pleasantly surprised when I had electricity and power shortages in my neighborhood were not as bad as I had expected (my friends warn me not to say this out loudly, lest our area gets jinxed - fingers crossed).

The security situation in my area has actually improved because of a new security check point in my neighborhood. Petty & serious crime has come down (in my neighborhood). This was great news I thought. Things are much better than I had expected.

And then reality hit me far quicker than I had expected.

Karachi’s security situation took a turn for the worse today. I was driving home and crossing a bridge over a neighborhood that is susceptible to ethnic violence.

As I ascended on the bridge, I could see a fire and smoke in the distance. But there were cars behind me and in front of me. So I kept moving.

A few seconds later, I realized there were tires burning in the middle of the bridge but no immediate indication of violence. That’s not too bad I thought. There was enough space for my small car to cross.

And then suddenly out of nowhere, a speeding caravan of rangers came racing up the bridge, driving full speed on the wrong way. The rangers came to a screeching halt 20 feet from my car. I heard four loud outbursts of gun fire.

At that moment, it was my turn to cross the burning tires.

My first emotion was confusion. Usually when you encounter such scenes (mostly in movies), there is music to cue you to duck your head or keep driving.  But there was no music playing in the background. I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do because I couldn't identify which direction the shots were coming from.

I tried to make eye contact with the rangers to ask if I should keep driving ahead of the burning tires. But they were too busy trying to take their positions on the bridge.

If the rangers were going to engage with gun fire from the neighborhood below, I felt it was best to keep moving instead of being so close to them. So I kept moving.

Once I crossed the burning tires, I could see traffic was moving normally at the other end of the bridge. Fortunately, the rest of the ride home wasn't so eventful.

I’m not sure if this qualifies as a near death experience because amidst all the confusion, I didn’t trigger what should be an intrinsic reaction to say a prayer when I was actually unsafe for a brief few seconds.

In any case, the reason I’m sharing this incident is so that Karachi people take precautions when driving today and over the weekend.

Stay safe Karachi. Stay safe Pakistan.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The President’s Speech (that wasn’t)


I speak to you today as Pakistan finds itself under siege from an extraordinary set of
internal and external challenges. By now, all of us have heard about the dramatic US
operation that led to Bin Laden’s death in Abbottabad.

I would like to begin my address today by apologizing to the people of Pakistan. As
President of the Islamic republic of Pakistan, I personally let this country down by not
speaking out when the country needed its leaders to stand up and clarify Pakistan’s
role and position on Osama’s death. 

With this speech, I hope to change all that.

The truth is that my advisors warned me against publicly discussing Pakistan’s role in the hunt for and eventual death of Osama Bin Laden. I was warned that Osama’s death could spark a series of spectacular terrorist attacks in Pakistan that could result in the death of hundreds if not thousands of civilians. This was a decision that I could not take lightly.

You will all remember that I lost my wife to a terrorist’s bullet. I know the pain of losing a loved one and I didn’t want my people to suffer the same.

But today, we face a collective choice as a country. We can bury our heads in the sand or we can stand up to the challenges that confront us. I’ve made a decision that we can no longer afford to bury our heads in the sand.

I have always argued that democracy is the best revenge and I refuse to keep you, the citizens of this country, in the dark about your government’s actions.

The truth is that Pakistan is at war with militants who have declared Jihad on the Pakistani state apparatus and by extension, the Pakistani people and our way of life. We did not start this war and we don’t want to fight this war.

It’s not easy for any of us to see the Pakistani military killing fellow Muslims, no matter how violent their ideology is.

After the attacks on 9/11, America declared war on Al Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan. Pakistan chose to side with America in this war, without any significant conditions attached to our loyalty.

If I could go back in time, I might have been firmer in my negotiations and not compromised our sovereignty in a wholesale deal. But we can’t go back in time… I can only deal with the cards I’ve been dealt.

Today, Pakistan is at war with militants who threaten our way of life. This is partly because we chose to become allies with the United States in its “War on Terror.” And partly because our state has been playing a strategic double game; supporting militants who could become our allies in a post-US Afghanistan and confronting militants who are directly threatening Pakistan’s security. 

Our double game has been criticized by many “experts” who observe it in isolation, without historical or regional context.

Today... let me publicly reveal why we started this double game. Our security establishment calculated that the US is a fickle partner and would leave Afghanistan and the region at a timeline determined by their domestic political considerations. The US has done this before when it abandoned Afghanistan and our region in the late 80’s, leaving Pakistan to clean up after its mess. We didn’t want to be caught off guard when history repeated itself.

Unfortunately, our double game has back fired.  

We had never expected these “Muslim” militants to start blowing up Pakistani girls in their schools or open fire on teenage boys as they prayed Juma in Rawalpindi. We had never expected the militants to attack the Sri Lankan cricket team, our country’s official guests.

These militants have used Islam as a cover and America’s occupation of Afghanistan as a justification to orphan our children and turn countless Pakistan women into unaided widows.

Enough is enough.

As I told the world in my Washington Post article, more Pakistani soldiers have died in the war than all of NATO’s casualties combined. Two thousand Pakistani police officers, 30,000 innocent civilians and a generation of social progress in Pakistan have been lost in this war.

Despite our country’s sacrifices, the Americans didn’t consult us when they chose to take out Bin Laden. We were later told that this was because the US didn’t fully trust Pakistan. They were worried that some elements within the Pakistani state might tip off Bin Laden.

We have no one to blame but ourselves for this spectacular demise in our international credibility.

And while there is plenty of blame to go around, as the democratically elected President of Pakistan, the buck stops with me.   

The time has come for us as a nation to raise our heads from the sand and confront head on the task that lies ahead of us.

Today… I’m announcing the news of an all-parties roundtable summit to be held later this month in order to build consensus on how together, as Pakistanis, we can fight the challenges that confront us.

I’m also inviting members of the civil society, the academia and our business community to contribute their ideas and take ownership of a counter militancy strategy that has a strong emphasis on economic empowerment, education, an end to double games by our security establishment and re-calibrating our relationship with the US.

Pakistan has paid a very heavy price in this war, with our blood and with our livelihoods. I don’t promise that I have the capacity to solve all our problems. But I do promise transparent decision making in our government.

I would like to end my address by remembering the 30,000 Pakistanis who have lost their lives in this ugly war. Let us make a promise to them today… that we will not let their sacrifices go in vain.

From now on, no more cover ups and double games. For better or for worse, your government will be honest and transparent in its communication. Come what may, we are in this together.

Pakistan Khappay! Pakistan Zindabad!

P.S. The idea for “The President’s Speech (that wasn’t)” was inspired by a blog post
written by my friend and class mate Ahmed al-Omran titled “The King’s Speech (that
wasn’t).” Ahmed blogs on