Friday, 28 February 2014

Pakistan's bearded brigade, bombs and cricket

Pakistan's Bearded Brigade, as represented by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), recently lost their best shot at establishing a new foothold in the state's corridors of power. By shunning the opportunity to negotiate with Pakistan's elected government by indulging in non-stop violence during the talks, the mullahs have further alienated popular opinion away from the Taliban. The Taliban will never find a negotiating partner as willing to make 'Islamist' concessions as Sharif!

The battle between one set of Islamic Holy Warriors (Pakistan Army)
and another set of self-proclaimed Islamic warriors (the Tehrik-e-Taliban) continues
Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League party, which won the most seats in Pakistan's May 2013 general elections, is well known to have Islamist ideological tendencies. In May 1991, during one of Sharif's earlier (disastrous) tenures as Prime Minister, he tried to enforce a Sharia Bill in order to impose a version of Islamic law in the country. Sharif's second tenure in 1998 saw him nominate former Justice Rafiq Tarrar, as President of the Republic. Tarar's nomination as head of state revealed  Sharif's  politico-religious underpinnings.

The recent botched negotiations between the government and the mullahs underscore some realities within the Pakistani political landscape.

1.   Much like Al-Qaeeda, its ideological cousin, the TTP is not a unified, monolithic entity. Instead, the TTP is a loose coalition of forces which either oppose the legitimacy of the Pakistani government and / or desire the enforcement of a strict version of Sunni Islamic law across the country. Hence, the TTP's 'leadership' exercises limited control over the various militant factions which fall under its umbrella.

2.   The Pakistani state, at least in its present format, and the TTP cannot coexist. Several of the TTP's fundamental demands fly in the face of the (already Islamic!) Pakistani Constitution, including curbing women's rights and other basic freedoms.

3.   Despite being religiously conservative, Pakistani Muslims are unable and unwilling to wholeheartedly accept Salafi Islam. Several influences, such as Barelvi thought, Sufi tendencies, inculcation of Hindu practices / beliefs into local culture, differentiate Pakistanis from Saudi religious reactionaries. Not to mention the considerable influence of Pakistan's combined 25-30 percent Shia and non-Muslim minority population. Importantly, the Shia minority is prominently represented within the country's armed forces.

Now that talks between the Taliban and the Pakistani government have broken down, one hopes the authorities will again get serious in battling the militants. The recent violence inflicted by the TTP and its partners on Pakistan's security forces and civilians signals the lack of intent on the TTP's part to compromise. Frankly, one hopes there is also no desire by the authorities to compromise the personal freedoms of Pakistanis.

After all, can a nation obsessed with cricket ever accept a Taliban leadership which has unreservedly expressed its abhorrence for the nation's one unifying force! "These [the government] secular people want to distance our youth from jihad and Islamic teachings through cricket. We are strongly against cricket and dislike it."

Source: Taliban refuse Pakistani minister's cricket match peace offer. February 25, 2014. AFP. Emphasis added by author.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of regional businesses. He can be reached at

Friday, 21 February 2014

Karachi, history and Pakistan's mighty Indus River

In Pakistan the mighty Indus River historically nourishes life around the country. To Singaporeans, the river may not be important enough to include in the menu of the zoo's River Safari attractions but it was important enough to spawn the Indus Valley civilization during 3300 - 1300 BC. At its peak, the civilization may have cradled up to five million people - a phenomenal number for its day.

A tributary of the Indus River in Pakistan's norther Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province
However, unlike Singapore where the Singapore River is never far from view, the Indus River is not normally visible from Pakistan's largest city, Karachi. (But then Pakistan is not a kampong, city and nation-state rolled into one entity!)

Fortunately, the Indus River cannot be blamed for the historical aberration, i.e. development of a large metropolis built away from the river's banks.

Karachi is a new city. The city's present population of twenty-three million is a far cry from the Karachi's 500,000 residents in 1947, the year of Pakistan's creation. Sindhis and Baloch, the historical inhabitants of Sindh province of which Karachi is the capital, are now virtually a minority in the province. Surely, this has created tensions between the city's 'old' and the 'new' (sound familiar Singapore?). These stresses will be worked out naturally over time, as a national 'Pakistani' consciousness develops over the course of a few more generations.

But a region's history stays with its people irrespective of their rulers or the color of its passport. Since the 1500s, Pakistan's territories have seen the Mughals, the British and umpteen 'independent' dynasties rule different areas for varying periods of time. Unfortunately for Pakistanis, many parts of Pakistan have historically been 'frontier' regions with violent warfare between different parties almost a part of the cultural landscape. Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province, formerly known as the Northwest Frontier Province, and Balochistan are cases in point. Both zones were frequently contested between Delhi and the Afghan / Persian kingdoms respectively.

Some of the warring continues to this day. The ideological battle between militant, bearded Islam and ordinary Pakistanis has spilt much blood during the last decade. While Pakistan's Fashion Week takes place in one part of Karachi, the 'jahil' mullahs' self proclaimed 'enforcers of civilization' attack polio vaccination teams in other parts of the city and country!

The good news: forces of progress and moderation are in the ascendancy while the religious bigots are desperately seeking to hang on to the limited space made available to them through intimidation and threats. The bad news: the physical and ideological battle will continue for years to come. The soil around the Indus River will soak in much more innocent - and not so innocent - blood before the war ends.

The banks of the river Indus are hazy with clouds and dust
Added to it is the fire of war
Kindled by us, we burnt each other
Now that it has spread far and wide
We are too weary to put it out

Poem by Mir Bijar, a 16th century Balochi poet.

Translated from Balochi by Parveen Talpur. 'Footnotes: Selected Verses of Great Poets,' Parveen Talpur. Ferozsons, 2006.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of regional businesses. He can be reached at

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Singapore's Women's Charter and reverse discrimination

The emancipation of women is a critical pillar of modern society. Without a solid foundation built upon women's rights, it is virtually impossible to build a just and equitable society.

In Singapore, the Women's Charter is a seminal piece of legislation designed to protect women's rights. The only serious shortcoming with the Charter is that it does not apply to all segments of Singapore's female population. Currently, significant parts of the Charter do not apply to persons married under Singapore's Sharia or Muslim law.

But that is altogether another debate.

Today I write about one aspect of 'reverse discrimination.' I am not talking about claims that Singapore's courts favor females in harassment or 'outrage of modesty' cases. Instead, I refer to hiring practices by some employers.

As a member of a minority group (actually, a minority within a minority!), I am well aware of the pitfalls of not speaking Mandarin Chinese and the implicit and explicit advantages being Chinese brings in Chinese majority Singapore. However, this post is about employer(s) who discriminate against a particular sex in their employment practices (see photo below).

Advertisement posted on shop door in Singapore. (Photo taken in February 2014.)
Excluding men from any job is unfair. It is as unfair as excluding women from certain occupations. Surely, this is not a controversial statement? Nonetheless, it seems an employer of a retail outlet in Toa Payoh does not agree. For reasons known only to themselves, the shop does not wish to employ men - only women!

It bothers me to know there is no debate about such hiring practices. I can only imagine the furor over an ad stating 'women need not apply?' Undoubtedly,  umpteen women's rights groups will (rightly) turn the company's hiring policies into a national debate on female rights.

To date, Singapore's authorities have taken a 'laissez-faire' approach towards discrimination in the labor market - more often than not by practically addressing specific cases brought to their attention. So far, the approach has proved sufficient. However, with a more sophisticated labor force and an economy moving higher up the value chain, it is time the authorities consider studying the need for legislation to address specific issues, including age and sex discrimination.

Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of regional businesses. He can be reached at