Friday, 14 September 2012

Africa's radical Islam: Benghazi and Cairo as harbingers of the future

It is not easy to best the fury of Pakistan's mullahs but several post 'Arab Spring' nations have done so in the last few days. In normal times, Pakistan's radical clerics will be the first to rile up people to destroy public infrastructure whenever there is a 'threat' to Islam. So far, Pakistan's mullahs have been unusually quiet.

However, the furor over the anti-Islam film has caused widespread unrest within other parts of the Islamic world. The US ambassador to Libya was killed allegedly by an outraged mob in Benghazi. Additionally, the US embassy in Cairo was overrun by protestors who burnt the US flag and replaced it with an 'Islamic' flag. Protests have also spread to Tunisia and Sudan.
Clearly, Pakistan's radical clerics have other things on their mind these days. Either they are busy preparing for the forthcoming general election, due by March 2013. Or they have agreed a separate 'deal' with President Zardari to keep the peace. It is impossible to believe that Pakistan's clerics have changed their stripes. They must have calculated this not a politically opportune time to raise the heat in the country.

The new face of Egyptian state television
On the other hand, the politics of post 'regime change' Libya and Egypt have become clearer following the reaction to the film, "The Innocence of Muslims." Undoubtedly, the alleged identity of the key filmmaker being a Coptic Christian makes the issue more sensitive in Egypt, given the size of the country's Christian Coptic minority. Nevertheless, in Mubarak's Egypt the storming of the US embassy in Cairo would have been a remote possibility. Egyptian state's machinery was good not only for repression but also for maintaining order on the country's streets.
Likewise in Libya. Unless 'attacks' were intentionally orchestrated by Colonel Gaddafi own apparatus, foreign diplomatic missions in Libya were safe. In this instance, not only was the US consulate in Benghazi overrun but the US ambassador was also killed - an act of war in normal times.
As time progresses, the real face of the Arab Spring reveals itself. Egyptian state television news presenters donning scarves is simply the presentable face. The real danger lies in the unseen elements lurking behind the revolutions: these are the people who conspire to impose wahhabi Islam on all Muslims by force or threat of force.
The attacks on US interests in Libya and Egypt were neither random nor isolated. The world can expect more upheaval as radical Islam seeps into the mainstream political structure in African countries like Egypt, Tunisia, Mali, Nigeria and Libya.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Pakistan's half full glass

The Pakistani state is at a crossroads. Few can be faulted for assuming Pakistan is perpetually on the brink. The country faces a low level insurgency in on its border with Afghanistan. Sectarian killings, particularly in Balochistan are frequent. Electricity is in short supply, hobbling economic growth and investment. Irresponsible fiscal policies mean inflation is stubbornly high, eating away at the middle class. The list is endless - if one wishes to see the glass half empty.

However, there is more to Pakistan than news headlines suggest. Following the end of President Musharraf's  rule, Pakistanis are indulging in politics like never before. Ordinary people are not simply attending rallies but also preparing themselves for the next General Elections due by March 2013. Most everyone I meet plans to vote in the forthcoming elections - nearly all are making the effort for the first time.
For a change, government institutions play a role in encouraging voters to participate in the next elections. The Pakistan National Database Authority (NADRA) has computerized the electoral rolls. Citizens can check via sms whether they are registered to vote, or change their registered constituency easily.  
Politics is not the only change. The depth and breadth of quality educational institutions is clearly on the rise. To be sure, many of the new institutions are in the private sector with expensive fee structures, but there is no dearth of able and willing students to fill their registers. For example, the Karachi School for Business and Leadership (KSBL), established in strategic collaboration with Cambridge University, opens its doors this year.
Culture is another area seeing a renaissance. Literature, music, visual arts are also seeing a revival of sorts. Perhaps artists are generated in times of social transition when differing ideas are vying for ascendancy? Perhaps a more open, creative environment engineered by former President Musharraf is finally paying dividends. Nonetheless, Pakistani artists are producing more quality content today than any time in the recent past.
Economically, a bright light shines in the form of better trade relations with India. India is a huge market, but Pakistan is no minnow either. Already, Pakistan is amongst the top three international markets for Bollowood movies. (It was not for charity that Salman Khan wished to visit Pakistan to help his most recent film be cleared by the Pakistan Censorship Board.) Indian industrialists and businessmen are as eager to establish themselves in Pakistan as many Pakistani counterparts are to enter the Indian market.
The international media may continue to bash Pakistan every chance it gets - and the country certainly provides plenty of opportunities. However, Pakistan's dynamism has not disappeared. Neither has the country's optimism. Nor will the mullah's easily reverse gains made by Pakistani women.
Now if only the country had more electricity, Pakistan might return to the glory days of steady and high economic growth. Build, borrow or buy: Pakistan needs more electricity to sustain its historic vibrancy. Economic growth alone will help soothe many of Pakistan's current social issues.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at