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The foreign problem

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WELL, knock us over with a feather and tickle us all over — Raheel is going to do what? And for whom?

And why, exactly?

Once the appointment fandango dies down and the hysterical conspiracy theories dissipate, we’ll probably be left with a whole bunch of ordinary.

An ordinary decision for ordinary reasons by an ordinary man, who until recently was cheered by many as extraordinary.

But we may all end up saying thank you one last time to the chief because he may have done us a favour.

Pakistan has a foreign problem.


Sheikhs and potentates will have offers aplenty for the Sharif business empire.


It’s been creeping up on us for a while, but Nawaz and Raheel have now helped make it public.

It’s not about personal relations with foreign governments — those are as old as the republic. And it’s not about enriching yourself through a shady deal or two — those are older than the republic.

But between Nawaz’s Qatari prince and now Raheel’s Saudi benefactor, we’re seeing something that we shouldn’t:

Doing business here — where state and individual are distinct, or at least should be — along lines that the Arabs do business there, where the line between state and individuals is deliberately blurred or non-existent.

Rewind to last March. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was in Pakistan and, after the Iran-US nuclear deal and lifting of some Western sanctions, there was hope that maybe Pakistan too would seek an opening.

There was even wild, woolly talk of finally getting the Iran-Pakistan pipeline moving.

But then something spectacular happened. The ISPR put out a couple of sentences effectively claiming that Raheel had rebuked Rouhani for allowing India to use Iranian territory to destabilise Balochistan.

Instantly, the air was sucked out of the trip. Rouhani didn’t even wait to get back to Tehran to react, rejecting the ISPR claim while still in Islamabad.

It was hard to see the point to Raheel’s undiplomatic diplomacy back then and the best anyone has been able to come up with since is that it was an example of why diplomacy should be left to the diplomats.

Until this week, that is. There’s zero reason to believe Raheel was motivated by anything other than the profound need to urgently share with the Iranian president his concern over Indian meddling in the region.

But that matters a little less now because there’s the obvious conspiracy theory: Raheel’s diplomatic faux pas — a mistake compounded by having the ISPR make it public — was designed to push the Iranians away to please the Saudis.

It matters not how utterly untrue that may be. What matters now is that a perception has been created — and by Raheel himself in choosing to take a job so soon and so directly for a foreign power.

Likely, the Raheel move won’t further complicate ties with Iran — we have kept Iran at an arm’s length anyway and Iran hasn’t exactly been convinced that a great breakthrough is imminent.

But why are we even in this place to begin with?

Turn to Nawaz. It’s not his fault that he was sent into exile and forced to spread the family business empire abroad.

But it’s not our fault — you and me, the ordinary Pakistanis — that he chose to get into business with seemingly every damn royal family he and his family have ever had the luck of being in touch with.

Plus, exile was more than 15 years ago and Nawaz’s return to Pakistan is almost a decade old. In today’s world, in today’s Pakistan, Nawaz is eying a decade-long continuous stretch in power. Fifteen in Punjab.

The game has changed and the rules must too.

Nawaz, prime minister or not, will always be an honoured guest in several Arab states. Sheikhs and potentates will have offers aplenty for the Sharif business empire.

What they, the foreigners, do, they will do; what we, Pakistanis, can accept is for us to decide.

Rewind to April 2015. Pakistan said no to sending troops to Yemen and a potentially tragic foreign quagmire was avoided.

But why was it such a close matter to begin with? Because Nawaz was in power and because the Saudis had given him a home in exile?

Or because Nawaz was in power and Nawaz had been given a billion and a half dollars no questions asked a year earlier to shore up his government/the economy?

Seemingly every year now brings a fresh case of conflict of interest between a Pakistani high official and an Arab state.

Slowing that down is possible. In the Raheel variation, the counter measure would be relatively straightforward: a ban on serving a foreign power for at least two years after leaving office, and preferably longer.

If after that, employment is still sought, the need for governmental and perhaps even parliamentary approval can be mandated.

In the Nawaz variation, the counter measure would be significantly more complicated — but political pressure is a wonderful thing.

Maybe it’s impossible to create a water-tight rule — presumably Arab rulers and determined family empire-builders know how to run circles around any law — but the existence of a rule would create its own jeopardy.

No more business with foreign rulers — and off with your (political) head if you’re caught in this age of leaks.

If change does happen, we should thank Nawaz and Raheel — it usually takes an exploitative sort to compel change.

And if change doesn’t come, Nawaz and Raheel should thank us — for letting them get away with it.

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a@gmail.com

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, January 8th, 2017



The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


Comments (55) Closed



Jawad Jan 08, 2017 02:13am

What a gem of an article from Mr. Almeida. They only care about their own wealth and prosperity.nothing else. To say it on the face someone needs guts and brevity. Cyril is the best patriot I have ever seen by illuminating civilian population with the truth and the real destiny. I wish there is another patriot like him in my ancestral land India.

Rahul Jan 08, 2017 02:21am

Cyril is 10 years ahead of everyone with his thinking.

Imran khan Jan 08, 2017 02:53am

First of all we ordinary Pakistani are happy with the decision which General Raheel has taken and please name our great leader with respect do not call him just Raheel. This is the first time, Pakistan has taken a right decision why you are against General Raheel. If once again Pakistan could turn towards fiasco no matter, so_called leaders since the inception of Pakistan, have been destroying us. We ordinary Pakistani are always with General Sahab whether he promotes Pakistan or not. Long live General Raheel Sharrif and General Qamar Bajwa. We are extremely glad that for the first time Pakstan has been bestowed with such great leaders......... BY an ordinary Pakistani.....

Harmony-1© Jan 08, 2017 03:45am

Now Raheel is an ‘ordinary man’ with many other wrongs he is guilty of suddenly – as soon as someone half decent goes nitpicking starts - bravo!

Sunil K Jan 08, 2017 03:48am

Excellent opinion.

DKM Jan 08, 2017 05:15am

As usual....hitting the nail squarely on its head.....admire you sir.

Mango Man Jan 08, 2017 05:33am

Brilliant, as usual Cyril. That statement when the Iranian minister was visiting was an awkward move. Time has revealed why it may have happened!

Jawaid kamal Jan 08, 2017 05:43am

Long live Pakistan , Cyril you are best.

NonAME Jan 08, 2017 05:59am

Brilliant as ever. Hit the nail in the head.

waleed Jan 08, 2017 06:01am

"You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain"

General should not have gone for the post. Such respect he already had. Pakistan army chief was way more prestigious position , one should not demote one's own self.

Ghani K Jan 08, 2017 06:26am

Cyril , as always with your cerebral comments you told it as it is. We all remember when with great hoopla Iran- Pak cooperation in building a pipe line , carrying gas from Iran to Pakistan was announced.Iran completed its share of construction up to Pakistan border. Then we all knew why Pakistan abandoned the project . Thanks for bringing it to the limelight.

Mayuresh Jan 08, 2017 06:33am

What an article!

Fareed N Jan 08, 2017 06:40am

Cyril - an agreement between Pakistan and Iran was signed by AAZardari during last 4 months of his rule. Pakistan reneged on its commitment. Surprisingly, AAZardari has kept his mouth shut, as if there was no agreement.

OBSERVER (Beijing) Jan 08, 2017 07:54am

Magnificent Almeida as usual, the best part is "undiplomatic diplomacy". An African friend of mine says that the slavery always resides in the minds and when minds become slaves, then, humans can be moulded into any shape the master wishes. If people have already assumed and world has already presumed the fact about the leaders, commanders and above all, the people of this country, then, whatever happens now or has happened in the past, is not important but the fate of a nation.

Hemant Jan 08, 2017 08:01am

I think everyone must be awestruck by this frank article, With implacable records of Cyril, no one can doubt his analysis.

kanwarch Jan 08, 2017 09:21am

Wise and sane analysis this time Cyril. Two brilliant lines

"along lines that the Arabs do business there, where the line between state and individuals is deliberately blurred or non-existent."

"But it’s not our fault — you and me, the ordinary Pakistanis — that he chose to get into business with seemingly every damn royal family he and his family have ever had the luck of being in touch with"

Brilliant and true. Well done

MALEEHA Jan 08, 2017 10:05am

His writing are too vague to be unclear!

jalaluddin s. hussain Jan 08, 2017 10:13am

It is a glaring conflict of interest on the part of a retired General. It is a bad decision and must be revised immediately.

Idle_talk Jan 08, 2017 10:24am

Cyril, your clarity of thoughts is Amazing !!! Brilliant price of writing!!!

Sheeda by stander Jan 08, 2017 11:20am

Getting bolder aren't we,Cyril.

Zak Jan 08, 2017 11:28am

It is a great honour for Raheel and Pakistan to be chosen to lead Islamic military alliance and we Pakistanis are very proud of it.

Ganesh Jan 08, 2017 11:59am

Wonderful article Cyril... You are certainly best in Dawn.. one of best in this part of world...

wisdom Jan 08, 2017 12:19pm

@MALEEHA: And in your comment, you've picked his style ... great comment from you!

wisdom Jan 08, 2017 12:17pm

@Zak: Have you pondered about as to whom he will be serving ... Who will be his pay masters ...

And, there is a concept of Cooling-off period, after one reliqnuishes a public office ...

Aati Jan 08, 2017 12:23pm

A good article indeed.. Certainly the decision, of Pakistani democratic government to accept the slot, would have long lasting effects on our foreign policy. Either the millitay alliance work in positive direction to curb the menace of terrorism or becomes a political strength to be used against political rivals. Raheel sharif's extraordinary vision for the betterment of democracy in dwingling pakistan,s democracy is praisworthy. Hoping that Raheel will do his best to decrease tensions among muslim nations.

bush Jan 08, 2017 12:36pm

@MALEEHA you are brilliant to be noticed.

ali Jan 08, 2017 12:39pm

finally an article worth reading from the writer.

RIZ Jan 08, 2017 01:26pm

its time to change,, why we are eager to make new enemies,,

Syed F. Hussaini Jan 08, 2017 02:06pm

Whether they thank us for it or not, as a foreseeable change, we can expect a spate of early retirement requests.

It is a huge, lucrative job market out there.

ADNAN MAZHER khan Jan 08, 2017 04:16pm

Clarity of thought process and vision to look beyond horizon. Author has shown us mirror. Lets face it.

Shahid Jan 08, 2017 05:23pm

Changing rules is easy. Actually they are bent almost to the point of breaking every moment. Isn't it? And it is always foreign problem, particularly any time heat is on someone. Escape is to some foreign land. Why cannot we clean our own house? Is it too hard or away from home is always better, occasionally?

Masood Hussain Jan 08, 2017 06:47pm

We have a habit, of over reading any thing,it is a simple matter of any govt.employeeor a retiree going abroad to serve a foreign Govi.as so many serving or retired doctors and engineers go either on deputation or on their own.

Sehrish Mushtaq Jan 08, 2017 08:17pm

And apparently change does not seem to happen at all, so thanks to "ALL OF US"

Sehrish Mushtaq Jan 08, 2017 08:22pm

And even you are quite late to indicate what happened back in March 2015, I remember lamenting myself for so long on how stupidly the whole matter was dealt with. From every common man to every diplomat, every civil and military official ,in fact every one in Pakistan need to realize that, for a small underdeveloped country there must not be any foes or friends in foreign relations but only some good diplomatic relationships.

Agha Ata Jan 08, 2017 08:57pm

And, the worst tragedy is that in our culture relationship is more important than rules (The main cause of corruption: Murawwat and Lyhaz)

Khalid Riaz Bhatti Jan 08, 2017 09:28pm

Author has presented all possible perspectives and it seems that in all cases, it will be good for us ordinary Pakistanis because either cat(s) will be out of the bag or the characters involved will be cut to their right size.

BUT HE HAS MISSED one scenario, which is admittedly remote but with the financial strength of oil behind it still within the realm of possibilities. What if he is able to do what he is asked to do i.e. He is able to reign in the ISIS. In that case the thank you Raheel will be at much grander scale and will put him at par with Mc Arthurs, Montgomery and Eisenhower of the world giving his mother institution legitimacy it cannot even dream of.

Like it or not, he is a doer and the thing with doers is that just do it. So may the odds are not that off provided his Saudi masters do not do what they do best i.e. get into his way.

Jawad Jan 08, 2017 09:56pm

@Rahul I agree

Parvez Jan 08, 2017 11:55pm

There are are times when you are very good........this is one of those times.

arslan Jan 09, 2017 12:57am

Retired Military personel must have a post service period when they cannot be employed by foreign/private sector. It is especially important for high serving officials like COAS.

Syed F. Hussaini Jan 09, 2017 04:43am

He coerced the Parliament to amend the Constitution.

He admonished his superior, the prime minister, over Panama papers.

He controlled the foreign policy and the domestic policy.

Now, he would be saying nothing but 'Yes, Sir!' whenever the Saudi prince barks a command.

The foreign problem.

Baldev chandpuri Jan 09, 2017 06:01am

cyril is a good lad and dawn is a good paper

Ind Jan 09, 2017 04:05pm

Remember this force is anti terrorism, not to fight against any positive thing.

Iran should also join this anti terrorism force and General Raheel will be best to lead the force.

khanm Jan 09, 2017 05:12pm

CYRIL ALMEIDA... You have boldly gone where no man has gone before... Pal the bottom line is what choice do we have, we have gotten our liberties from British empire and have now being enslaved by the Arab empires..The bottom line is beggar are not the choosers besides do we have a tiny winy self respect..I think the reward for conformity is that everyone likes us except our self..folks..It's easy to run to others. It's so hard to stand on one's own record. You can fake virtue for an audience. You can't fake it in your own eyes. Your ego is your strictest judge. They run from it. They spend their lives running. It's easier to donate a few thousand to charity and think oneself noble than to base self-respect on personal standards of personal achievement. It's simple to seek substitutes for competence--such easy substitutes: love, charm, kindness, charity. But there is no substitute for competence

zeea Jan 09, 2017 05:42pm

An ordinary decision for ordinary reasons by an ordinary man, who until recently was cheered by many as extraordinary. Cant agree more.

AdHawk Jan 09, 2017 05:47pm

Great point by Cyril. Funnily, the U.S. is struggling with a similar dilemma in the business dealings of President-elect Trump.

zeeshan baryar Jan 09, 2017 07:24pm

General Raheel had done his job, now its our duty to save pak?

Hamesh Jan 10, 2017 12:40am

Distinct point of view...

Farhat Jan 10, 2017 12:39am

@Jawad well said

talat Jan 10, 2017 12:18pm

As if Iran is dying to assist Pakistan. Hail the Gen Raheel Sharif. He should join alliance and donot worry the people taking against as they have their own agendas and no standing in gen populace

Wasif Jan 10, 2017 02:27pm

Bravo; calling a spade a spade

IMTIAZ ALI KHAN Jan 10, 2017 02:30pm

All is well, but when it comes to Gen (R) Raheel Sharif not Raheel that is just simply disrespectful. He will never be an ordinary man for majority of Pakistanis. Always and always he will be a hero to us, for bringing us shanti and stability in every city of Pakistan. Pak Fauj Zindabad, Pakistan Paindabad. Pakistan First!

IMTIAZ ALI KHAN Jan 10, 2017 02:31pm

@Harmony-1© Right even attacking Gen RS. Sad. What a classy man and professional soldier love ++++ Gen (r) Raheel Sharif. Salute!

Muhammad zahid Jan 10, 2017 08:49pm

Brilliant

Muhammad Cheema Jan 11, 2017 04:38am

Well written article Mr. Almeida. We need to advise our Elite to chose to serve Pakistan or Foreign Powers. They use their positions to get personal favors from foreign countries.

Rashid Jan 11, 2017 04:55am

Cyril you are spot on. I am amazed how the people in Pakistan have no concept of conflict of interest, specially people who holds the highest positions in our establishment and politics.