Sunday, 22 September 2019

Pakistan's Kashmir obsession: unhealthy and unrealistic?

As the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan arrives in New York for the latest session of the United Nations General Assembly it's necessary for Pakistanis to ask exactly what the country can do about Indian Kashmir.

Muzaffarabad is the largest city and capital of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. It is located near the confluence of the Jhelum and Neelum Rivers and is a four hour drive from Islamabad, Pakistan's capital. (Source: Wikipedia: Obaid 747) 
The country's economic managers are walking around with a begging bowl because the country cannot pay its bills leave alone spend money on national development. The Pakistan Banao (Bachao?) Certificates launched with great fanfare early in Khan's term and designed to raise Pakistan's foreign currency reserves have done little to strengthen reserves.

The economy is in the midst of a serious downturn with no recovery in sight for at least the coming 18-24 months. Large scale manufacturing is shrinking while small and medium sized enterprises labor under the effects of increased taxation, a sharp drop in the value of the Rupee and an emasculated consumer struggling to make ends meet while losing more discretionary income with each passing day given an official inflation rate above thirteen percent.

The country is running out of water but has no money to build dams. Despite arm twisting and 'forced donations' (e.g. via each Pakistan Railways ticket sold) the Supreme Court's Dam Fund is nowhere near numbers required to seriously assist with the urgent building of dams across the country. Indeed, the much hyped Dam Fund has become a hazy memory for most and an embarrassing one for those promoting crowdfunding as an alternate means to pay for massive national infrastructural projects. 

The electricity situation is no better. Despite suffering shortages and brownouts for the last several decades, Pakistan has been unable to fix its electricity load shedding problem until today. Much of the country suffers hours without electricity daily in both Winter and Summer months. Even when electricity is available it is not stable with voltage fluctuations playing havoc with machinery; a disincentive for manufacturing concerns requiring stable, uninterrupted electricity for normal operations.

The country has no proper waste management systems. Without a drastic betterment in urban sanitation levels improvements in preventive healthcare will remain wanting. (Picking up litter from urban areas and dumping it on the outskirts of cities so it is out of sight does not constitute proper waste management.) It's not surprising Pakistan is one of the only countries where polio still afflicts children. 

The air quality in Pakistan's cities is rapidly deteriorating due to pollution. Indeed, Lahore is blanketed by haze virtually on a daily basis with air quality moving into the healthy range an exception to the daily norm. Islamabad and Karachi are not far behind. This is the air Pakistan's infants breathe daily – and there is no shortage of infants given the country's fertility rate.

Pakistan cannot provide adequate food, housing, education or medical care to the majority of Pakistanis. In many households, animals are more precious than women, who have few effective social or economic freedoms. 
All these problems are compounded by Pakistan's unbridled population growth with its population increasing exponentially every few decades.

So as PM Khan travels back to Pakistan in a few days on on a borrowed Saudi luxury jet he may wish to ask himself what's more important for Pakistan's two hundred million plus citizens: ratcheting up Kashmir hysteria a few more notches or implementing a national development agenda on a war footing?

Imran is a Singapore based Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. Imran has lived and worked in several countries during his career as an international banker. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram(@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Hong Kong: heading towards irrelevance?

A few days ago a friend in the United States asked for my opinion on recent events in Hong Kong (HK). He prefaced his question with Chinese claims about international (read ‘Western’) involvement in stoking the unrest.

Admittedly, my response is not an essay worthy of Foreign Policy magazine. Nonetheless, for interested readers I have reproduced my response below.

Surely, there are 'agent provocateurs' within the HK protest scene. Intelligence agencies directly or at least indirectly are involved with the unrest. There is also a cyber war underway and both parties are pushing their respective narrative through social media.

However, the scale, depth and duration - it's been three months now - suggest genuine underlying grievances garnering popular support from a broad segment of the Hong Kong population.

A view of the protest demonstration in Hong Kong on June 9, 2019 (source: Wikipedia)
HK has historically been a society divided between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ so perhaps the fear of being left behind among those not in the civil or business elite, especially in light of recent increases in property prices is one major factor?

However, in a general sense Hong Kongers have not mentally accepted their accession to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). That psychological transformation from a British colony to a Special Administrative Region(SAR) of the PRC has not yet been made.

The reality for Hong Kongers is there is no going back to the previous status quo.

There is virtually no possibility of HK being given significantly more autonomy leave alone independence. That parts of the international community are providing 'hope' to protesters suggests, at least to some extent, these protesters are being used by segments of the international community to further their political agendas.

HK had lost its privileged position as a gateway financial hub for the PRC some years ago. PRC 2019 is not the PRC which (re)acquired HK in 1997. 

In the larger context, these protests are accelerating HK’s irrelevance. Within a decade or so HK will simply be another Chinese regional city, like Nanjing, Tianjin, Xian, etc. Surely, like all these smaller Chinese cities, HK will maintain a unique identity based on its own history.

But will HK remain a global, regional or international financial powerhouse and privileged gateway to mainland China? No. HK will become merely another wealthy, entrepreneurial Chinese coastal city.

Ideally, Hong Kongers should embrace their fate (some might even suggest good fortune?) as an SAR within the largest - and still growing - economy in the world. Subsequently, HK can consolidate its competitive strengths within the PRC context to secure a brighter future. 

However, time is fast running out for Hong Kongers to change the current trajectory.

Imran is a Singapore based Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. Imran has lived and worked in several countries during his past career as an international banker. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram (@imran_traveller) and can be contacted at