The Incoming Dawn

By: Agha Haider Raza

The dawn of a new year is about to rise, but despite the passing of another year, it seems Pakistan is stuck in the wrong gear. The passing year has been a tumultuous one. Starting on feeble legs in January due to a battered economy and a power struggle between then prime minister Imran Khan and the previous army chief, Qamar Bajwa. The bitterness created space for the opposition in Parliament to oust Khan’s government in April. Despite a coalition of multiple political parties forming the cabinet after Khan was voted out of office, the country has been sailing through extremely choppy waters. As seen in the movie Titanic, one wonders if the alarm bells which are ringing, are those being sounded before the country hits an iceberg or are they the sounds of the band playing the violin while the ship is sinking.

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Pakistan Craves Stability

By: Agha Haider Raza

I came across a Twitter thread sent to me the other day, highlighting snippets from a book. One particular quote from the thread stood out. “Corruption was rampant, with massive thievery of state property, including illegal tapping of electricity.” “Friendship, especially political ones, determined who got what.” Surely, I thought to myself, the author must be writing about the current state of affairs Pakistan. Today, the country’s economy is in shambles, finance minister Ishaq Dar is gallivanting around the world in an attempt to restructure and refinance Pakistan’s debt, Moody has downgraded Pakistan’s credit rating while inflation in the country hovers around 20%.

The snippets were from Lee Kuan Yew’s book, From Third World to First, written back in 2000 on his observations of Pakistan from the early 1990s. He was shocked at hearing only 21 percent of the Pakistan’s budget was allocated for administering the country, while the remaining amount was prioritized defense and debt restructuring. 

Despite the passing of decades, these problems have only exacerbated, bringing Pakistan to the mercy of global financial institutions and rich countries. The country’s economic and political crises have been staring the country in the face for years, but little has been done by our politicians to resolve or attempt to correct course. With roughly 35 years of military rule, and sporadic civilian governance, Pakistan craves democratic stability.  The dirty politics of the 1990s culminated in the imposition of martial law, ensuring that the dominating Pakistan military continued to remain in power. With the return of a democratic government after elections in 2008, it was hoped that the military would keep itself at bay. Unfortunately, meddling by the military establishment could not be curtailed. In 2011, Imran Khan relished the opportunity to work with the military to find a path to become Pakistan’s prime minister.

Imran Khan – Prime Minister of Pakistan

With the military paving the path, Khan won the 2018 elections and started his reign as the country’s 30th prime minister. Khan’s tumultuous tenure was rigged with political victimization, media censorship, and a sheer obsession of locking up political opponents. Khan’s inexperience of public office saw multiple changes within his cabinet, including four different finance ministers within his first three years in office. Not known to be diplomatic, Khan bungled foreign relations with key allies including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and most importantly, China. Despite the military’s desire to thaw relations with India, Khan stood steadfast on his desire to forego any dealings with his neighbor. With the economy tanking, rampant inflation, and poor governance, the military pulled their support. Khan was forced to relinquish office after he lost a vote of confidence in parliament.

Spewing venom, Khan took the streets, selling a narrative that the new government was ‘imported’ by the US and military top brass, blaming the United States for orchestrating his departure after colluding with generals of Pakistan’s army. The problem with this narrative is that not only is it simply not true, Khan has reignited a suppressed anti-American sentiment to bolster his claims, while charge sheeting military generals of treason.

The only fortunate part of this narrative – like his predecessors Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto – Khan seems to have come to the realization that the military must not have a role in political engineering (unless they support him!). Absolving himself from accountability during his tenure, Khan has hinted it was the military who actually controlled power, forcing him to take unpopular decisions. But Khan has also admitted he used the military and the influential ISI to coerce politicians for various purposes including ensuring their presence in parliament for passing legislation and key votes.

It is certainly welcoming that Khan has realized the country’s powerful military should be kept at bay and not allowed to engineer Pakistan’s political landscape. For far too long the political class has allowed itself to be used as pawns and puppets, dancing to the tune of those blowing the trumpet from Rawalpindi. The problem however is that Imran Khan needs to tend to Pakistan’s economy, and not obsess over arresting his political rivals. The country has barely avoided default, and is teetering on the brink of an economic collapse. The current financial team seems to be running around Washington, DC like headless chickens, the country is immensely polarized, calamity has struck with floods wreaking havoc across Pakistan while the political elite refuse to have any meaningful economic policy debate or discourse.

Pakistan’s Economic Challenges

Pakistan has a huge population which is only growing. More than sixty percent of the country’s population is under the age of 30. Education metrics are extremely poor, Pakistan has a meager export industry with minimum focus on expanding its manufacturing sector. Despite being subsidized, the agriculture sector has one of the lowest yields of crop in the region with hardly any seed development or research over the past few decades. Many look for a quick buck in the real estate industry, by parking money in land holdings, contributing zilch to the country’s GDP. Pakistan relies heavily on imports, but hardly has any foreign exchange reserves to keep up with its purchase bill. To further compound problems, the country faces an acute energy crisis, relying on expensive non-renewable sources.

With such serious issues staring the country in the face, the political rulers are busy playing musical chairs for the prized prime minister seat in Islamabad. The military needs to stop toying with technocrats by imposing their own finance minister. Enough of the scripted politics and backroom deals. Short term gains will not help Pakistan. A country of 230 million people desperately requires stability, with a laser sharp focus on establishing strong economic fundamentals. Such stability can only take place when the military is not allowed to engineer Pakistan’s political landscape anymore.

Agha Haider Raza tweets at @ahraza_

Imran Khan and the Military Musical Chairs

By: Agha Haider Raza

‘Dair aay, durust aay’ is an often-repeated phrase in Urdu, loosely translated to “long time coming to finally getting it right”. Since his ouster from the highest office in the land a few months ago, former prime minister of Pakistan Imran Khan seems to have realized the fatal consequences of being used by the country’s powerful military. Seething with anger at being deposed by a vote of no confidence, Khan has taken to the streets, lambasting the military for their involvement in domestic politics, allowing the opposition to overthrow him and form a coalition government.

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Sri Lanka’s Teetering Economy

By: Agha Haider Raza


Raghu Balachandran frantically roams the streets of Colombo in search of milk powder for his six-year-old son. He has already scouted a few stores, but the shelves are empty. Anxious, Balachandran returns to his office as he can’t afford to stay out for long. Having to make up for lost hours, Balachandran calls his wife to let her know he won’t be able to pick up their son from school. I’ll meet you at your parents’ house later in the evening he tells her.

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Coffee in Burundi

During peak coffee harvest season, Juste Picasso takes a bus for the two-and-a-half-hour journey from his home in Burundi’s capital to Kayanza. He then sits on a motorbike from Kayanza to reach his washing station in the countryside town of Muruta. Despite the mind-numbing repetition of driving and riding all those kilometers, Picasso enjoys the turns of the road as he gets to see a beautiful landscape filled with hills, palm trees, coffee trees, tea plantations and a protected forest. He just hopes it doesn’t rain, as it gets difficult to find a motorbike taxi to get to Muruta.

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A Walk in the Bronx

By: Agha Haider Raza

Continuing his walk on 149th street, Rogers takes a left onto Brook Avenue and notices two men sitting on the pavement.  One of them, wearing a torn dark hoodie and blue jeans is rummaging through a pile of plastic and brown bags. Suddenly, the man pulls out a syringe from one of the bags and rips off the orange cap.

Holding up the paraphernalia towards the sun, the man gauges the dark liquid inside the syringe, gives it a few flicks and seemingly oblivious of his surroundings, he momentarily checks over his shoulder before quickly sticking out his arm and injecting himself.

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Impunity For Religiously-Charged Mobs Is Now An Old Problem For Pakistan

By: Agha Haider Raza

The riled-up mob was chanting. They wanted to avenge themselves on him, they wanted him to come outside. Locked up in a room for protection, he prayed for his life as the angel of death descended from above. The violent mob overpowered the few trying to protect the unprotected. He was eventually dragged outside, pelted with stones and torched to death.

27 years ago, Sajjad Farooq was murdered by this barbaric mob in Gujranwala, an industrial city in Pakistan. This storyline may seem familiar. Last week, in Sialkot, Pakistan, Priyantha Kumara was also dragged outside, pelted with stones and set ablaze. Both men were accused of blasphemy. Neither was charged or investigated for any crime. They were just brutally lynched.

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‘The Pit’ at Penn Station

By: Agha Haider Raza
Cramped for space inside the scrum during evening rush hour, scores of commuters wistfully stare at a screen, either at a television hanging on the walls or at a mobile phone in their hands. Despite wearing masks as a precaution against COVID, everyone is huddled together, standing shoulder to shoulder in what they call “the pit” – the concourse for New Jersey Transit passengers at Penn Station.

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BLM on the Ballot

By: Agha Haider Raza

At first glance, wearing a black tie and pants with a white shirt, Jomo Williams is reminiscent of a lawyer from England. While not a practicing lawyer, Williams did study at John Jay Criminal Justice College in New York City. His time there directed him towards social activism and today he is on the ballot for the District 7 City Council seat on the Upper West Side. What is striking, however, is not his candidacy, but the platform he is campaigning on. Williams is running as a Black Lives Matters Party candidate.

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Politics is ‘Personal’ for Abreu

By: Agha Haider Raza

Running for public office is a daunting task. Meeting community members, fund raising, debating policies and platforms is intimidating.

The boyish-looking, 30-year-old Shaun Abreu is doing all of that in his bid to represent Upper West Side’s District 7 in the New York City Council. So far, his efforts seem to be working. Abreu elbowed out 12 candidates in the Democratic primary to win the coveted spot as nominee for the elections that will be held in November.

The City Council election is Abreu’s first public race. He was born and raised in the neighborhood he seeks to represent. A first-generation college graduate, his parents are immigrants from the Dominican Republic.

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