West’s Containment of Regionalism in Emergent Economies – A Look at the Attack on Russian Envoy in Turkey

Attacks on the Russian envoy in Turkey and attacks on the Chinese workers in Pakistan depict attempt at containing regionalism through kinetic force.

If  Turkey changes its stance towards the war in Syria and joins Russia and Iran to support Bashar ul Assad in the war, just so to end the war sooner by supporting the side that is most likely to win, it will be impossible for the US  and its allies to dislodge the regime in Syria. Similarly, if Turkey weaves an economic regime of greater trade ties with Russia, Turkey will have no more need for supporting NATO in future.  The  recent anti Russian activism on the streets of Turkey had very thin attendance. Considering how politicized the Turks have become as a polity post failed July coup, the level of attendance at a rally denouncing Russian  role in Allepo shows the absence of  wide spread anti Russian sentiment in Turkey. Oddly, it is the Russian envoy who is attacked in Turkey and killed a day before Russia, Turkey and Iran were to hold tripartite talks about Syria. Similarly odd, there have been consistent attempts at attacking and killing the Chinese workers in Pakistan post the forging of greater Pak-China trade ties.

Pakistan and Turkey are commercially important countries. Pakistan connects Central Asia to international markets through the Arabian sea while Turkey connects  Asia to Europe through its commercial hubs called Bosphorus and Dardannelles.

Both Turkey and Pakistan are in the process of forging new direction in their foreign and trade policy. Both are in the process of formulating unprecedented regional trade ties . Russia and China are the pivot of these ties for Turkey and Pakistan respectively.  The former are unquestioned regional hegemons and rising global powers.

The problem for both Turkey and Pakistan is that Russia and China are perceived in the West as foes.

The Soviet era “ideological” frameworks are absent from West’s rivalry with Russia and China. Hence, global bloc formation, cemented by the soft power of multinational economies of scale,  is no  longer deployed in aid of such rivalry. The Eurasian/Asian and western rivalry is happening at the time of declining power of the west and rising power of the Eurasian and Asian states. West can no  longer feed its rivalry with multidimensional soft power tools. Its activity on the containment front is thus dangerously confined to kinetic activity, be it overt or covert.

The west is specifically focused on kinetic activity in Asia and North Africa due to its regional formation called the war on terror. It has become increasingly difficult for the Muslim political elite to explain their collaboration with the west in what seems to be a renewable war on terror.  The war is wrecking the economies of developing countries and destroying their internal equilibrium, yet the west keeps pushing the regional governments deeper and deeper into the quagmire of civil wars with no clear end in sight.

The rise of the ‘new hegemons’ is a neighborly and continental affair for both Pakistan and Turkey. Hence both the Sharif government and the Erdogan government, (the latter especially post failed July coup) have started to promote regionalism in trade ties by forging better relations inside Asia and Eurasia, which would inevitably lead to greater political and military ties between Russia and Turkey and Pakistan, China and Russia.

The west perceives regionalism in trade as a threat to its economic and political interest. All significant commercial sea ports lie in Asia and Africa. Significant commodities are abundant on the two continents as well. However, where previously the trading regimes were built and controlled by the west, now the same are being built and controlled by Russia and China. The west thus must come up with containment strategies to frustrate, delay, or altogether destroy regionalism that is beginning to relegate the west, especially the US, to the periphery of international economic relations in the 21st century. Unfortunately for the masses in the west, their leaders are using traditional military ways  to deal with new, unprecedented threats. They are  using war on terror as a renewable resource in pursuit of containment of regionalism in economic relations.

The Chinese in Pakistan are building power projects and economic corridors. They do not move about with guns, but with hard hats. Yet, there have been several terror attacks on the Chinese workers in Pakistan ever since 2002. The most recent was in Sindh where a remote control bomb targeted Chinese engineers just days ago. Pakistan has raised a special force of several thousand military personnel just to safeguard the CPEC, China Pakistan Economic Corridor. Military supply line for coalition forces in Afghanistan also transits through over a thousand miles of Pakistani territory, yet no need was ever felt to raise a special military force in Pakistan to protect the supply route.

Turkey has traditionally sought a place for itself in Europe.  Pakistan too preferred ties with the west after becoming a sovereign state in 1947. Come twenty first century, those ties have significantly decreased and if Islamabad continues to forge composite regional ties at the current rate, its ties with the west will obviously end as an exercise in self-contradiction (unless of course, the west changes its posture towards Russia and China from confrontation to cooperation).

For now, Pakistan’s natural linkage to central Asia has been temporarily broken by the US occupation of Afghanistan. Greater ties with China is Pakistan’s way of getting round that blockage.  China is Pakistan’s economic hope,  and yet there have been relentless terror attacks on the Chinese workers in Pakistan.

These attacks tell us that the west’s ‘renewable’ war on terror is being used as a source of containment of regionalism in Asian and African economies.

In containment of post war communism, the west utilized a mixture of hard and soft power.  In containment of current regionalism in Asia and Africa, west’s  soft power is starkly absent.

The absence of this ‘healthy’ mix is what is increasingly defining the 21st century as the century of the West and the “Rest,” to borrow a phrase from American academic Zachary Karabel.

The Consistent Pattern of Shattering of Consensus in Pakistan

There is a consistent pattern at work in Pakistan since 2013, (or before, if you date it from Benazir’s assassination in the run up to the 2008 general election). Every time a political consensus evolves regarding core issues, some extraneous event impacts the consensus adversely and shatters it. First time it happened post 2013 election was on November 1st, 2013, when Hakim Ullah Mehsud, the leader of Pakistan’s militant group, the TTP, was killed by a US drone in North Waziristan.  Mehsud was acting as the guarantor and facilitator of the peace deal the newly elected Sharif government was trying to make with the Pakistani Taliban for ceasefire and end to abetment of the Afghan resistance in return for pardon and massive development work in the FATA region.  Pakistanis in general were happy with the peace prospect. All political parties welcomed it. Hopes were pinned on Hakimullah Mehsud as the man with enough clout to make the peace deal stick. His death put a swift end to all hopes of peace in FATA through negotiation. A war followed that continues to this day.

The second time political consensus was shattered was on April 19th, 2014, barely eleven months after Nawaz Sharif’s government was sworn into office and had just begun to get its grip on affairs of governance.

On April 19, 2014, a reputed journalist and one of Nawaz Sharif’s close friends, Hamid Mir, was shot repeatedly in his lower body while being driven to his office in the city of Karachi. Hamid was lying unconscious in the intensive care unit of a hospital when his brother accused the Director General of Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, the ISI, of masterminding the attack on Hamid Mir. Mir’s employer and Pakistan’s largest TV network, GEO, began to show pictures of DG ISI minutes after the allegation was leveled by Mir’s brother. Very quickly, the sensational news was common currency in national and international media without the presentation of any evidence by Geo News Network in support of repeated allegation.

The absence of evidence turned mass sympathy for Hamid Mir into anger at Geo News Network for denigrating Pakistan’s security apparatus without a shred of evidence.  During this rise in mass anger, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called on Hamid Mir to inquire after the latter’s state of health.

Mir is no ordinary journalist. He is Pakistan’s best known anchor person and a friend of Nawaz Sharif. Under ordinary circumstances, the PM calling on such a personality after he is shot by terrorists would be in order. Under special circumstances created post Mir’s employer Geo News Network’s repeated yet baseless allegation, PM’s visit was a serious mistake on his part. The mass anger in Pakistan shifted from Geo News Network to Nawaz Sharif’s person.

At the time of Hamid Mir shooting, the Sharif government was doing well. On its watch, the Rupee had risen ten points against the dollar for the first time in a decade. Nawaz had succeeded in winning a national consensus on his policy of negotiating peace with the insurgents in Pakistan’s FATA area. There was a general hope that peace will prevail under the Nawaz led government.

Nawaz’s unwise response to the events post Mir shooting eroded the above mentioned consensus as the Pakistani street began to question their prime minister’s patriotism. People began to wonder why Nawaz Sharif chose to side with the subversive forces inside a commercial venture (i.e. Geo News Network) rather than defending the integrity of the state’s most vital institutions. Questions rose as to why the PM had never called on any of the bereaved whose sons and spouses had died with their boots on during the war on terror.

Street anger soon crystallized into organized agitation calling for Nawaz’s ouster. In mid-August 2014,  Imran Khan and Tahir Ul Qadri joined hands to stage a sit in outside the parliament. During the four months long sit in with impressive attendance, Imran Khan rose as the national hero. A new national consensus developed as people began to envision Imran Khan as the next Prime Minister of Pakistan. By the end of 2014, the nation began to anticipate the fall of the Sharif government and mid-term election.

This consensus was shattered again by an act of terrorism and Imran Khan’s unwise response to it. A school in Peshawar was attacked by terrorists on December 16th, 2014. The School attack killed 132 Pakistani students in the provincial capital of KPK. On the  heels of the shock and grief caused by the horrific attack,  Imran Khan called off his movement against the government at precisely the time he had promised to take it to the next level – i.e., street agitation all over Pakistan.

Political leaders cannot afford to build hopes and then dash them suddenly. It is the worst thing they can do to their following. Hence on December 18, 2014, as Imran was pictured embracing the very Sharif he had been vilifying for four months, the consensus that had built around Imran Khan began to corrode.  The same has not been rebuilt with similar conviction ever since.

Having weathered the sit in, Nawaz Sharif and his ruling party, the PML-N (or “Noon League” as it is called in Pakistan) began to concentrate on governance. The PML-N seemed to have gotten re entrenched as the local body election results in 2015 and 2016 showed the Noon League in forefront at the grass roots nearly all over Pakistan. The local body election results gave birth to a fresh belief that the PML N will sweep the next general election, to be held in 2018, as no other party in Pakistan seemed strong enough politically to challenge its nationwide strength. PML-N cushioned itself again as a fresh national consensus evolved regarding its leadership prowess.

It was at this juncture that the Panama Leaks, an extraneous event, suddenly catapulted Nawaz Sharif’s leadership into crisis which kept getting deeper and deeper as the ruling Party failed to manage the allegation of money laundering by its leader wisely. Nawaz Sharif denied the allegation of money laundering. His denial lacked cogency.  Despite that, PML-N party cadre supported Nawaz, which brought the integrity of the entire party into question. The case is now in Supreme Court amidst an intensive media trial. Every day there are new revelations regarding Sharif family’s ill-gotten wealth as new witnesses surface to tell their first-hand account on TV channels.

The Panama Leaks have shattered the belief that Nawaz Sharif and his PML –N would continue to lead Pakistan beyond 2018. Because of the political mishandling of Panama Leaks at the party cadre level, should Sharif be removed from office due to court verdict or some other development, the fall of the central government is eminent.

A corrosion of consensus weakens not just a polity but also the incumbents, who must rule in the vacuum produced by the shattering of the very consensus they previously enjoyed in office. In addition to suffering from a repeatedly shattered political consensus, Pakistan is plagued by a government whose top executive is besieged by the investigation of money laundering.

At the time of writing, no political party is strong enough to fill the vacuum created by PML-N’s political enfeeblement post Panama Leaks. Meanwhile, as Pakistan moves away from the US, it is forging regional ties rigorously. Pakistan is forging stronger commercial ties with China through CPEC and with Russia through unprecedented joint military exercises. During this period of transition, two of Pakistan’s immediate neighbors, Afghanistan and India, have joined forces against Pakistan. Both are backed by the US, Pakistan’s ally no more yet a country with strong intelligence network inside Pakistan and unprecedented military presence in Central Asia. Pakistan is thus sitting on two fault lines, each crossing the other at critical political junctures.  One fault line is created by the fact that Pakistan’s structural shift away from its traditional ally, the US, is not accompanied by a shift in software application that would end the operation of intensive and extensive US intelligence within Pakistan. The other fault line is the political power vacuum caused repeatedly by the shattering of consensus through events triggered by forces extraneous to Pakistan’s main political function.

Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are indeed relevant to its defense, but the force Pakistan needs to manage its current risks is that of human intelligence.

Cuba’s Castro No More

Young educated intellectuals from the southern hemisphere emulated Fidel Castro’s looks during the days when beards were associated with communism, not terrorism. Castro was fascinating because he showed the world that leaders of the South can successfully resist pressure from the mighty North; that South can rise despite the odds.

Fidel Castro survived half a century of relentless undercover machinations by America’s Central Intelligence Agency against his rule as well as his personal charisma. He survived overt war waged against his tiny Island by a super power. He survived the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, when Cuba was in the eye of the storm. In the aftermath of the crisis, the American media feverishly tried to convince the Cuban public that Castro was a schizophrenic ideologue, ready to scarify the entire Cuban nation, and it was only Kennedy’s wisdom that saved the Cubans from nuclear annihilation. The heavily funded campaign ended in vain, like every-thing else the US tried against Castro’s entrenched leadership in a tiny island that lay a stone throw away from US’ own landmass. Castro’s ties with his people were so strong that nothing could break them.  His leadership survived the economic hardship caused by the decades’ long US economic embargo. He survived the ending of the Soviet subsidy in 1992 when the USSR collapsed.

The important thing to remember as we mourn the passing of this great leader is his unflinching love of his people. Castro loved his people. He loved the down trodden among them. The plans he made for the development of Cuba stemmed from this quintessential love of the people of  Cuba. No leadership can ever aspire to greatness without such love.

Just as Castro stood against exploitation of the weak by the strong within Cuba, within the international system, he stood against western hegemony and neo imperialism. Castro must have died a satisfied man as he saw the south rising in the world he leaves behind him. Brazil, South Africa, India, China are powers from the ‘South’ that have emerged strong. Neo imperialism is losing its strength as new structures replace it in Asia, Eurasia and Africa.

Castro is no more but Cubans will always remember his governance as the proudest period in Cuba’s history.

TRUMP’S IMPACT ON ISRAEL

 

There is a unique aspect about the event in Israel’s Knesset that made news on November 17, 2016, when Ahmad Tibi performed an azan using the very sound system his Jewish colleagues used to call for a ban on the volume at which Azan is made. For the first time, the visuals of Jewish Muslim tensions coming out of Israel presented the spectacle of a quarrel between brothers, instead of brutal violence between sworn enemies. Some members of the Knesset were smiling at what Tibi did, some were waiving their hands to ward off the sound he made, and some chastised Tibi out loud. Order in the assembly was called to no avail as Tibi, unperturbed, finished the azan in entirety.

Those who watched the video of the proceeding were amused.

Donald Trump has not even entered the White House yet, and the political landscape of Israel is already softening.  The criminality of Israel’s conduct towards the Muslims was sponsored by the American political elite’s need for Jewish financial support. Fearing reprisals, the elite refrained from stepping on the toe of the influential Jewish lobby. Donald Trump’s election campaign halted this trend. Whether it is because he is a man of independent financial means, or because his politics is uncompromisingly tied to the ‘America First’ slogan is beside the point. The significant fact about Donald Trump’s rise in American politics is that Trump neither sought Jewish financial patronage, nor has he shown any deference towards the Jewish lobby during his campaign, and yet he has won the election. For the first time in history, the Zionist nerves are rattled in America, where power has been taken by the nationalists.

The Jewish lobby in the US is by far the most powerful ethnic group.  According to the former director of National Affairs of the American Jewish Community, Stephen Steinlight, Jewish political power and influence is disproportionately concentrated in the television and news industry. That is why Donald Trump is the only President elect who is so scathingly criticized in the US media these days. There is a scientific campaign underway to make it look like a freak has made it to the Presidency, due to a defect in the electoral system, instead of acknowledgement that a smart politician has successfully catered to the popular desire for tough action on core issues. The same media has, in the past, accepted rehabs and alcoholics, senility and frailty of age with equanimity. It predicted Hilary Clinton’s victory with certainty that was no more than wishful thinking, as events latter proved.

It is quite obvious that Trump’s victory heralds an era when the American decision making will not be tied to the Jewish preferences in international affairs.

The hawks in Israel have lost their most comfortable cushion to date. The political consequence of this change is likely to be a positive one for the region Israel is located in. A solution to the Jewish-Muslim problem in the Middle East, (incorrectly labeled as Arab-Israeli problem) may be possible during Trump’s presidency.

 

Trump versus Hillary;Who WILL WIN

 

It is 9:16 a.m on the East Coast in America, Tuesday the 8th of November, 2016,  as I try to extrapolate whose chances of winning are greater in the current US election.

It will not surprise me at all if Donald Trump wins the current election for a very simple reason: he represents  “change. ” In 2008, Americans voted Obama in because they had a strong desire for change. The desire has since become overwhelming as Obama has not satisfied it during the last eight years.

The ongoing slow-down in US economy is relentless. Economy is currently less than half of what it was in fifties and sixties. Productivity growth is less than half of one percent of what it used to be in living memory of those who are now in their sixties. According to a recent study by Harvard Business School, the growth in productivity figure puts America within the group of the last three countries in the OECD. The young urban professionals, who lost jobs and homes during the last eight years, have yet to regain the prosperity levels they ‘believe’ they deserve as Americans. For the next two decades, the Americans will continue to vote for change if things don’t turn around for them, for that is how long it takes a population to accept the fact that its living framework may have changed permanently.

Under the circumstances, it seems poor planning on the part of the Democrats to field a candidate seeped in established ways and so opposite of what Obama represented as a candidate in 2008. Hilary is not likely to win because she is a woman any more than Obama did not win because he was Afro-American. Obama won the 2008 election because of his rhetoric of change.

Trump may not be as media savvy as Obama. Though self-assured, he is no-where near as rhetorical as Obama, but he caters to the desire for change in 2016 just as Obama did in 2008, even more so. Americans long for transparency and truthfulness; Hilary reminds them of Bush era secrecy and lawlessness. They believe their financial institutions have been irresponsible in handling their money and no one has tried to regulate them better because their leaders are “afraid.” Trump appears bold enough to undertake change, even to a seemingly scandalous extent.

Early voting has already shown a 45% turn out, hence the apathy factor is not there. It is telling me that those who were previously yielding are now going to demand that power be shared and their candidate of choice for conveying the same demand is going to be Donald Trump.

Obama campaigned for Hilary with much rigor. Obama’s rhetoric may fail him in 2016.

Pakistan’s Stability Challenge

Prime Minister Nawaaz Sharif’s government is neck deep in trouble over Panama Leaks. He is accused of money laundering amidst evidence from the horses’ mouth in clear and convincing manner. Sharif’s own family and important members of his party have unknowingly made statements that malign Nawaz Sharif.

Imran Khan has threatened a shut down of the federal government through people’s power on November 2nd unless or untill Sharif resigns and presents himself for accountability over Panama revelations. The Supreme Court of Pakistan is in the process of hearing the petition that prays for Nawaz’s disqualification as PM of Pakistan. The religious political parties and non political religious entities such as seminaries are rumored to be joining the force of people Imran Khan has threatened to lead to Islamabad because corruption is against fundamental values of Islam. The military establishment is terribly unhappy over the recent Dawn gate scandal, wherein some member of the civilian government leaked to the media a conversation that took place in Islamabad between the military leadership and the civilian leadership at the highest level. The leak compromises national security and strengthens New Delhi’s campaign against Pakistan at a time the latter is at its highest pitch to distract domestic and international attention from the fact that Kashmir has slipped out of India’s control. The public is angry with the Sharif government for not doing enough to bring Indian atrocities in occupied Kashmir to international attention. Those not thinking politically are also angry because they are hungry and are thus likely to join the agitation against the government.

A show down is approaching on November 2nd, when Imran’s sit in is scheduled to begin in Islamabad. There are whispers that the military will back the sit in. If so, it will be an important determinant of the outcome. Of course, a more important determinant will be the answer to the following question “who will back the Sharif government when the push comes to shove?”

One does not find the Supreme Court inclined to back the government, given the recent pronouncements of the judges in matters related to quality of governance in Pakistan. Political parties are no longer willing to support Nawaz Sharif for the sake of supporting democracy, as they did in 2014, when the PTI and the PAT staged sit in against the Sharif government in front of the Parliament for four months. Imran Khan’s uncompromising stand against evident corruption is lionizing him and will dwarf other parties if they do not join in the call for accountability.

Nawaz Sharif’s government is precariously placed on a very slippery slope. Even if it arrests Imran Khan and the rest of PTI leadership in the nick of time to prevent the avowed shut down of Islamabad on November 2nd, there are other powerful layers of discontent that it will not be able to pack in a sack and cushion itself till the 2018 election.

Corruption is a cancer that prevents progress and prosperity in a nation state. Lack of stability also prevents progress and prosperity in a nation state.  Hence the fundamental question we need to ask ourselves is; can we get rid of the pathogens without endangering the body?

More than Nawaz Sharif is at stake here. There is the political party called PML (N), a competitive political entity that survived years of intense persecution and exile of leadership from 1999 to 2008. Not all its members are involved in Panama Leaks. Some have served their respective constituencies diligently and are capable and honest politicians. Democracy can not happen in a vacuum. It needs political parties to survive and political parties need members with grass root connections to thrive. PML (N) has the same in no small measure, notwithstanding allegations (and some validation) of rigging in the 2013 general election.

Should Panama Leaks be allowed to kill or enfeeble the entire construct called PML (N), or should the party be allowed to survive the accountability process (and outcome) of its principle leader Nawaz Sharif. When tackling questions of this nature, the thought at all levels, and within all entities, must be institutional, not personal.

Were Nawaz Sharif to look at PML (N) as the political entity that must survive the crisis of its leader’s credibility, he would step aside and allow another member to step  in till the next general election in 2018. The stock market will continue operating at its optimal levels. The government will continue its projects to the end (barring the ones stalled by law). The PML (N) public representatives will continue serving their constituencies, even more rigorously perhaps, to prevent the leadership crisis from marring the image of the entire party and to enable its come back in the next elections. As they say, the party must go on.

The country will thus avert a crisis. The Supreme court will still handle what it must, ruling over Nawaz’s fate after examination of evidence. The media must scrutinize the affair of civil-military stand off in Pakistan, leading to either the civilians getting exiled (as did Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif) or the fallen military ruler getting exiled, as General Musharref had to after his civilian adversary made a come back through election in 2008.

The fact is, Nawaz Sharif was financially persecuted when he was removed from office by General Pervez Musharraf, when no scandal regarding financial irregularities was attached to Sharif yet. The media, including the larger civil society, must define the boundaries within which incumbents can deal with their political adversaries by asking some soul searching and necessary questions regarding our behavior at the apex. Political discord must not result in financial persecution of the adversaries by the incumbent. Such conduct is unbecoming of civilized leadership. Political exiles are borne of petty politics that demean an entire nation.

For now, it is Nawaz Sharif’s call to pay his party members back for the loyalty they showed to PML (N) by sticking to the party during all its crises, the most serious of which lasted from 1999 to 2008. Needless to mention, Panama Leaks is a personal crisis for Nawaz Sharif. Sharif has no moral reason to allow it to become a crisis for Pakistan – or an existential crisis for the entire PML (N), a precious political institution that must continue to contribute to the smooth functioning of democracy in Pakistan.

If Nawaz Sharif does not step aside voluntarily, the current government will be forced out of office and its members, who are innocent of any crime, will also get bruised. This time, it may be one hit too many for the party because the moral reason for unity against all odds is no more.

A New Phenomenon is Rising in Pakistan’s Politics

A new phenomenon is rising in Pakistani politics in the shape of 28 year old Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and it is not because he is the scion of the most resilient political dynasty in Pakistan. It is Bilawal’s political astuteness that astonishes one as being beyond his years in politics. He has shown superior acumen in dealing with his chief rivals, Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif. Both are more than twice his age and have been active in politics decades longer.

Bilawal showed up for the All Parties Conference Nawaz Sharif convened on October 5th  to address the Kashmir issue, at a time the latter’s leadership is taking intense heat over  money laundering accusation post Panama leaks. Bilawal was the sole beneficiary of the post conference media limelight as Imran  Khan did not attend the conference. He told media that his cooperation with the government is confined to Kashmir alone as the issue requires national unity. Having established that he is cognizant of leadership priorities, Bilawal then availed the post conference media time as Nawaz Sharif’s most scathing  critic. He did not let his attendance at the APC appear as endorsement of Nawaz’s leadership by predicting that in the 2018 election, his party will be in power while Nawaz Sharif will be in jail over money laundering.

Bilawal thus had it both ways.  He made his first appearance as a leader at a conference attended by all parties, and used it to emphasize his commitment to the cause of Kashmiri freedom from India’s bondage, (thus becoming the voice of the masses) while putting Imran Khan in the dock for choosing to stay out. He then availed the same podium for vociferous disapproval of Nawaz Sharif.

Yet another example of Bilawal’s shrewdness in dealing with his political opponents is the way he appreciated Imran Khan for mobilizing masses against corruption and went on to criticize the latter for not showing the  “way forward” i.e., not announcing the date when the PTI will shut down Islamabad, as promised by Imran Khan at an earlier rally. Imran Khan took the bait and declared the date of 30th of October in haste, it seems, as the 30th of October happens to be a Sunday when Islamabad is closed anyway. PTI has since moved the date to November 2nd.

Bilawal used the information supplied by IK to preempt IK’s mass mobilization derive by starting his own earlier. In doing so, Bilawal has again come across as a shrewd player with the ability to read the political pulse of the masses.  Politicians in Pakistan generally eschew political activity during Moharram,  a month when Shia pakistanis take out mourning processions all over the the country and remember the slain grandsons and other members of Prophet Muhammad’s  (PBUH) family in the most emotive manner.

Bilawal utilized the ethos of mourning during Moharam for political mobilization by declaring the mass rally of October 16th as the commemoration of the martyrdom of Pakistanis who died during the terror attack on his mother’s welcoming caravan in Karachi in 2007, when nearly two hundred people died and many more were injured.

During his address at the rally, Bilawal merged his political narrative with the religious narrative of Moharram, referring to himself as the grandson of slain (shaheed) Bhutto, the son of slain (shaheed) Benazir, and the son of the soil, saturated time and again with his family’s blood. He then addressed not the people of Pakistan but Jinnah, the man who created Pakistan, and wailed that Pakistan had fallen way short of the dream dreamed by the great leader who created it. Bilawal then undertook to fulfill the dream of the great ‘Quaid” and asked people to support him in the process.

Politics is the battle of narratives. Bilawal has pitched his “Quaid’s Pakistan” narrative versus Imran’s “new Pakistan” narrative. Imran can not possibly take on the narrative that “Quaid’s Pakistan must be built” because this is a narrative whose sanctity is enshrined in Pakistan’s history.

Bilawal denigrated his opponents at the October 16 rally with labels that reflect public perception, instead of hurling baseless allegations as is the custom in Pakistani politics. Imran Khan, for instance, is described by his opponents as working on zionist agenda and as the enemy of Pakistan, a description so divorced from public perception that instead of harming Imran Khan, the criticism ends up depriving its very maker of credibility. Pakistanis know Imran Khan as a committed nationalist and a thoroughly honest person. This is an entrenched public perception of Imran Khan. His sagacity, however, is another matter.

A smart politician hits his opponent where it can hurt the most.  Bilawal termed Imran Khan “immature” whose childish style of opposing Nawaz Sharif is actually benefiting the latter. Instead of using the word corrupt for Nawaz Sharif, (which applies to Zardari as well) Bilawal used the phrase “third time in PM office and yet thoroughly incompetent.”  Thus, while dwarfing his opponents, Bilawal preempted the most likely criticism of his own self – lack of maturity in years and political experience.

Political shrewdness notwithstanding, Bilawal exhibits a “passion” that has hitherto been the unrivaled attribute of his grandfather Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. It is this passion that will draw masses towards Bilawal in numbers the precedence of which lies only with ZAB in Pakistan’s political history.

His pasty smile is the only thing one wishes Bilawal did not have when dealing with the public. His handsome young looks are charming enough. He does not need a smile of the kind his father wore his audience down with when he was newly sworn into office.

Twenty eight year old Bilawal is sure to be a “phenomenon” in Pakistan’s politics in near future.  What is remarkable about the resilience of the Bhutto family in politics is the fact that the Bhuttos keep getting younger and younger as leaders of Pakistan. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the founder of the dynasty, was forty two when he assumed office of the President in 1971. Benazir, his daughter, was 35 when she was elected to the office of the Prime Minister.  Bilawal is 28 now and will be thirty if the general election takes place as scheduled. Young Bilawal is likely to reinvigorate not only the PPP but also  Pakistan’s leadership scenario.

Pakistan’s military leadership should heave a sigh of relief at the rising phenomenon of Bilawal as they are in dire need of erudite nationalist leadership that can articulate a winning narrative to counter the narrative of Pakistan’s multiple enemies and keep the polity strong and united within.