Monday, March 25, 2013

The Return of Musharraf

Former President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, is all set to return to Pakistan by March 24th, after the interim government takes over the reins of Pakistan. Listening to the numerous interviews being broadcast on Pakistani channels, one gets the impression that he fervently believes he will don his shining armor, mount his white steed and ride into the country to save it. But does he ever once pause in his righteous declarations to ask the question: Does Pakistan want him back or does he believe that Pakistan needs him back?

The Pakistan of today is a country rocked by tragedies on a daily basis. It is a nation cruelly divided along religious and sectarian lines. The rich and the poor are separated by an ever widening gap, and the middle class is slowly disappearing. Despite all of these tribulations, the people of Pakistan are resilient. They still look towards the future with optimism and courage. This one trait is repeatedly exploited, especially by eloquent, chest-thumping, yarn-spinning politicians.

When Musharraf left Pakistan,  it was considered a win for the democratic forces in the country, a country stunned and reeling by his draconian measures. At that time, all his actions seemed to be concentrated on securing maximum powers with the presidency and securing himself as the President. The NRO, the suspension of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, all contributed to events that led to his hurried departure before possible impeachment proceedings and in his wake he left behind a deeply divided and heavily armed people.

The government that followed proceeded to weakened the country further and now the people of Pakistan are, once more, ready to welcome as savior the person whom they sent into exile. Is this hopeless optimism  or is it surrendering to what may be considered the lesser evil?

For arguments sake let us not dwell in the past. Lets ignore the adage that those who do not learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them. Let us put the NRO, Lal Masjid and the assassination of Nawab Akbar Bugti aside and look at what Musharraf is promising now. Well, one thing we know for sure is that he promises to return to Pakistan within a week after the interim government takes charge and then he plans to participate in the upcoming elections.

Musharraf promises that,  given a team of citizens selected by him, he has the capability to put Pakistan on the path of progress within the year but he doesn’t outline any specific programs or the names of those he would wish to work with. When asked about his support in Pakistan, he invariable quotes the figures from his facebook page. He does not name potential allies, individual or parties. Either he has no plans or he is holding his cards close to his chest. But until the big reveal comes, at times, it seems that his entire campaign is held together with spit and prayers.

With all this ambiguity it is sometimes hard to put faith in a potential leader, especially someone who has been tried and been found wanting. But sometimes a political span becomes relative in its success or failure when compared to even worse situations. Sadly, Pakistan is at such a crossroads.

Musharraf does have his positive points. He seems to be unafraid of articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution which will ascertain his eligibility to be elected. He claims that he knows how to lead from the front and cites his performance in the army as proof. That is irrefutable. He says that he can bring Pakistan back on the path of prosperity without showing any specific plans and expects the masses to follow him. I have to commend his optimism and faith.

I, for one, am cautiously optimistic. He plans to give the people of Pakistan the option of a third party in the elections. He hopes that his return will give APML the boost that it needs to play with the big boys. That, in itself, will be positive development. I hope and pray that, even though he doesn’t admit it, he realizes that he did make a few mistakes when he held power. These mistakes should be key in formulating his new playbook. And even though we are used to giving everyone second--and sometimes third chances-- for once I hope that the one whom we chose as our saviour actually makes it his job to save Pakistan.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Halal Nail Polish.....Finally

For the past many years I have been living a life of chromatic deprivation.
“How so?”, you ask.
Well, allow me to explain. I have been going about, living my life, without nail polish!

When I was in my teens, an undisclosed number of years ago, I loved nail polish. I was never a fan of a lot of color on my face but I loved painting my nails. I made sure that my nails were filed and healthy and my polish was never chipped. If I wasn’t wearing color I had a clear coat on. My nails were never naked...never.

Then came the day when I was told that wudu could not be performed while wearing nail polish as water did not penetrate the varnish.

I, like many others, have a very healthy fear of hell and so, sigh, I gave up painting my nails.

Until now........

The Polish cosmetic company, Inglot, has introduced a new line of nail polishes which lets moisture and air to pass through. In this way it is considered--dare I say it--halal! There, I said it.

Yes, ladies, I kid you not.  This is not a dream. Stop pinching yourself.

Wojciech Inglot, a researcher as well as the founder of the company, developed this brand as a healthy alternative to regular nail polish. He named the line O2M, for oxygen and moisture. These polishes are made with the same polymer used in making breathable contact lenses.

The implications were not lost on all the Muslim fashionistas who had been depriving themselves of painted nails. As soon as the brand’s properties were advertised, questions were asked: Is it really true? Can we really wear this polish and still perform wudu?

Shaykh Mustafa Umar, Director of Education and Outreach at the Islamic Institute of Orange County, conducted experiments to prove that water did, indeed, permeate through the polish and reached the nail.Therefore, one could paint their nails, look fabulous and do wudu.

Once I read the fatwa by Mustafa Umar I had to get this miracle product for myself. Inglot is not a mainstream brand and therefore some efforts were needed to locate an outlet but I remained resolute and undeterred. Finally after much effort and some travel I found myself standing in front of the Inglot cosmetics station. There, in front of me was a display of the entire palette of the  O2M line. And it was glorious.

I think I heard violins and I’m sure that I saw a flock of white doves fly off into the sky.

The salesgirl quickly informed me that the Inglot line was 100% halal and went into a detailed spiel of how I could perform wudu while wearing it. I think that at some point she noticed that I wasn’t listening to her as I was totally focused on the nail polish display. She leaned in and said: “You know, those are all testers. Why don't you go on and try some colors”.  

That was all the encouragement I needed and soon I was smiling ear to ear with each fingernail on my hand painted a different color.

Happiness often comes from the smallest of life's surprises. On that particular day it came in the shape of a little rectangular bottle full of breathable nail polish.

Since the popularity of the nail polish skyrocketed the brand and its revenue into hyperspace, Inglot has outlets in nearly all muslim countries around the world. They are also looking into other products aimed at Muslim women. One such product is an alcohol-free perfume. I am sure that with the success of Inglot other companies will also follow suit to find a place in this lucrative niche. Nothing spurs on a research department more than the promise of increased revenue. Until then, enjoy Inglot.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Adios, El Comandante.

Hugo Chavez, the revolutionary, charismatic, socialist leader of Venezuela succumbed to cancer on Tuesday, March 5th. He was 58 years old.

As a skinny twelve year old, with big feet, played with his siblings in the Venezuelan border town of Sabaneta, he must have had hopes and dreams for his future. But who would have had the foresight to imagine that this ambitious boy would grow up to be one of the most electrifying presidents the region had seen.

Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías was born on July 28th, 1954. He was raised by his grandmother after he and an older brother were placed with her following allegations of abuse by their mother. Television was a large part of his life growing up and lessons learned from the entertainment industry remained a part of his showman persona throughout his life. He was influenced heavily by the father of one of his friends. A man who was a teacher, an historian and a proud communist. Here young Chavez was introduced to the teachings of Ezequiel Zamora and Simon Bolivar. Bolivar, whose struggles led to the freedom of the people of Latin America from the Spanish Empire, would become Chavez’s role model.

After graduating from Military Academy, Chavez often found his socialist ideals in opposition to his military duties. In 1992 Chavez and his underground Bolivarian Revolutionary Army attempted to overthrow President Perez in a coup. The coup failed and resulted in Chavez’s imprisonment. He was pardoned and released from prison in early 1994, by Perez’s successor, Caldera.  He emerged with a stronger following than before. Soon afterwards Chevez began his campaign for the highest office of the land. He formed a political party, the Fifth Republic Movement, and began his journey upwards.  His platform--using oil revenues to end poverty.

These popular promises secured him the presidency in 1998, but following through was another ballgame altogether. Though some oil revenues were funnelled towards the poor, a large chunk was siphoned off to Cuba. Chavez also used some of the revenues to support terrorist organizations like the FARQ to destabilize neighboring Colombia.

One of his initial acts in office was nationalizing the oil industry, including the assets of Exxon-Mobil. He gained further resources to promote his agenda but lost the ability to produce at capacity as experts left due to the failing infrastructure and rampant corruption.

Similar effects plagued the farming industry when farms and ranches were nationalized and smaller parcels were allotted to the poor. Over the years these measures have forced Venezuela to import food where previously it was a proud exporter.

His popularity fell but his showmanship knew no limits. He made long speeches full of grandiose rhetoric. He appeared on a weekly TV show called “Alo Presidente” (Hello, President), on which he would speak for hours without the benefits of any scripts. He rants about capitalism were often and long and his criticism of American presidents, both W. Bush and Obama, were talked about for ages. But as his ratings fell he had to struggle to be eligible for re-election. In 2009, he was finally able to win a rigged referendum which would allow him to run indefinitely.

He leaves behind a limping nation for his successors. A nation made weaker by cronyism and nepotism. Whether Chavez’s vice president, Nicolás Maduro, continues as the president, after the state mandated elections in 30 days or the  probable opposition leader Henrique Capriles forms a new government, Venezuela will be facing challenges.

Chavez’s Venezuela has an inflation rate which stands above 22%. There is a culture of violence with prevalent firearms and a crumbling infrastructure. Every part of the country, including the judiciary and the army is severely politicized and it will be a challenge for anyone, without the relentless charm of Chavez, to hold them together.

On the international front, Chavez aligned himself with  China, Russia, Iran, Syria, Libya and Cuba as he moved away from the USA, a major importer of Venezuelan oil. A new successor may see better relations with the US as a way to ease some of the economic problems of the country.

Hugo Chavez passed away unremarkably, ravaged by cancer. He took every opportunity to assure his adoring people that he would beat the disease but in the end  lost the battle. His quiet end was quite unexpected, given a life full of dramatic performances. It seemed that throughout his political career he couldn't quite decide whether he was an activist or a politician. But he certainly was an entertainer on the international stage. Adios, El Comandante.

An Everlasting Echo......

An everlasting echo....

Raymond Allen Davis has worn many hats. A soldier in the US Army, an employee of a private security firm, a contractor for the CIA and a cold-blooded killer. On Jan 27th, 2011, Davis shot and killed two men in Lahore, Pakistan. Another man died, as the SUV rushing to help Davis plowed him down. The wife of one victim committed suicide when it became evident that she would never get justice as her government was planning to let Davis return to the US. The wife of the other victim was killed by her father over an altercation regarding the blood money she had received. All these people had to die because the killer was protected by his government and the victims were not.

So, if a gunshot in Lahore, Pakistan, is heard all over the world, why is it that the sound of exploding bombs shaking the roots of Pakistan and washing away scores of lives in their deadly shock waves fail to register in Islamabad?

Where is the efficiency, displayed by the Pakistani government to save an American, when it comes to finding the perpetrators of the massacre of Pakistanis in Quetta and in Abbas town? Are we supposed to shake our heads at the injustices of the universe and go about our business, as usual, as expected?

As buildings collapsed in Abbas Town and lives snuffed out, our leaders shrugged their shoulders and continued to pack for trips to foreign lands. It seems that nobody informed them that the job, that they fought so valiantly for, is not a licence to travel-- it actually has a description: public servant.

But how can we fault the Prime Minister for leaving Pakistan in the aftermath?  A little over a year ago the President refused to cut his trip to India short while our brave soldiers lay dead or dying under the unrelenting ice of Siachen. What is this siren song of India that makes our leaders dismiss our blood soaked soil as not even worth cancelling a trip over?

Violence is seldom the answer and yet it permeates the air around us. Tragedy does not end with just one act. It billows out and engulfs all those around it. People are affected in unpredictable and unforeseen ways. There are no limits to the lives destroyed by a single heinous act.

Until we have evolved enough to realize that perpetrating violence makes us lesser humans and the use of force makes us weaker, we need protection. We need to come up with a system of checks, balances and  the presence of a force that will protect the innocent bystanders from becoming collateral damage. In the civilized world this system is known as law and order and it is a concept that we should seriously look into.

Believe it or not,  the government is put into place to provide protection and oversight for the good citizens who placed them there.Go ahead, enjoy your finery, but please at least try to do the job you were hired for.  Being a person of power should be a humbling experience by the sheer dint of responsibilities that it comes with. It is not the entitlement that it is treated as. Pakistan has seen enough terror in its short lifespan. Children are being raised in an atmosphere of fear and violence. We desperately need the young generation to lead us towards a bright future, full of hope and prosperity. But if our governing continues as it has and this hostile environment persists, we will be looking at a generation who will either embrace this culture of violence or will be cowering in fear of it.

We need good governance and accountability, And so, Pakistan puts this question to all present and future elected leaders: Shall we begin?