On Democracy and Martial Law

*On Democracy and Martial Law*
By Syed Haider Raza Mehdi

(With reference to the Posters asking Gen. Raheel to take over.

Some principles.

1. In the long term and even the short term a genuinely empowered capable, representative and accountable public governance structure is always better than a dictatorial, autocratic, non accountable one.

2. If the above does not have accountability of action and decision all other attributes become meaningless and  it morphs into a dictatorship as it has now under Nawaz Sharif. Using the trappings and symbols of democracy and ruling with the coercive reality of latent fascism.

3. A dictatorial and autocratic governance structure by virtue of its “one person” rule by fiat, while in the short term delivering quick decisions and actions, especially if that one person is also capable and honest, invariably ends up by passing existing processes, both good and bad, institutional gateways to deliver quick results. Thereby letting loose a whole system of adhocism and weakening and whole scale destruction of disciplined governing frameworks and processes as we have seen in Pakistan.

4. While ML governments delivered quick value, in the long term they destroyed or weakened our civilian institutional and governance frameworks. Which spelt disaster when corrupt and incapable civilian political leaders like Benazir, AZ and NS took over. As we see now.

4. One of the worst fall outs from a dictatorship is the loss of civil liberties and human rights. So along with speedy summary trial courts of hardened criminals and militants comes the misuse and abuse of power by the state of others who oppose, in belief and value,  a non representative governance, and becomes commonplace. Harsh arbitrary punishments are the norm, to stifle criticism and opposition.

6. But the worst is when in this totalitarian system the reps of the state machinery use the same principle to start settling scores with others, personal, professional, political. Only people with direct recourse to state henchmen have help.  All others are completely at the mercy of the state’s institutions of coercion. Police. Army. Intelligence and their own version of the judicial system.

7. In an electoral structure. However corrupt the MNA or MPA is, the common man either directly or through somebody can still reach this guy for for their Thaana, Kutchery, Naukari, needs.

Try reaching a lowly Captain in a Martial Law administrative office!

Hence we should we very careful of what we ask for when we say this country needs a *”real Martial Law”*

Unfortunately there’s no such thing as a *”real Martial Law”*.

When we use this phrase we are in fact giving voice to our inner desires of a magic wand which will change things and make them picture perfect. Far from it.

Autocratism and Dictatorship are not what this country needs. It needs *representative* good governance.

And ML is not the answer.

I’d personally like to see NS hang from the same lamppost which Shahbaz Sharif chose for Zardari. But if they are removed by other means, these terrible thugs and looters and plunderers will get another lease of political life.

If there is one thing GRS and other powerful institutions can do is to apply pressure and the fear of God for action.

Supreme Court can take action.

High Courts can take action.

NAB can take action.

Rangers can take Action.

FBR can take action.

FIA can take action.

Anti corruption can take action.

Agreed, many have sold their souls to NS. I know. But some will move and budge.

And above all, we the people have to take action.

We all look for the easy way out, always looking askance at the Army to come and change the system.

Where are we in this whole equation?

Why didn’t we hear a peep on the roads when Panama broke?

No sir, we the people must take our destinies in our own hand and come out to become the catalyst to throw the corrupt out.

Let’s not go back to the dark draconian days of ML OR dictatorship.

There’s no such thing as a *”good and real martial law”*

A possible solution?

Read my article on Electoral and Governance Reform.


A perspective only.

The Killing of Burhan Wani in Occupied Kashmir – Home grown Intifada or Pakistan sponsored uprising?

By Syed Haider Raza Mehdi
Two days ago when the Indian security forces gunned down 22 year old Burhan Muzaffar Wani, in Anantang, in Indian Occupied Kashmir, they may have, yet once again unleashed a bigger threat then the one they eliminated in the shootout. 

Burhan died in an intelligence laid operation along with two associates. Here is what is known about him. He belonged to Tral, in Southern Kashmir, the son of the Principal of a local government run school in Tral. His mother was also well educated and economically the family were fairly well off.

At 15 he joined Hizbul Mujahideen, a group fighting for Kashmir separatism and strong pro Pakistani leanings. Founded by Mohammed Ahsan Dar, in 1989, following the Indian government hijacking of the election mandate in 1987 and installing a rigged Congress government.

This group was at one time considered the biggest Kashmiri group fighting for Independence,  numbering over 10,000 fighters. The group later developed serious internal differences and it’s original founders were assassinated between 2001 and 2003.  Currently it is lead by Sayed Salahuddin. 

Burhan became a famous Social Media sensation with his pictures in battle fatigues, weapons and videos urging young  Kashmiri youth to join the fight against Indian occupation. He was young, handsome, charismatic and hugely popular, and used Social Media very effectively to the cause of Kashmir’s right of self determination. 

As such he acquired a sort of modern day Robin Hood persona for these angry youth and his exhortations began to attract large numbers of Kashmiri youth to the cause of Independence. 

Conversely this was seen as a big threat by the Kashmiri Government and the Central Indian Government and a decision was taken to kill him, which finally took place two days ago on 8th July.

The sketchy details available indicate that Burhan was killed in an encounter on July 8, 2016 along with two other fighters later identified as Sartaj Ahmad Sheikh and Pervaiz Ahmad Lashkari.

All were killed in Bundoora village of Kokernag, by a joint team after being cornered by Special Operations Group of the Jammu and Kashmir Police and 19 Rashtriya Rifles.

From what is known,  Burhan actually had never taken part in any militant actions against Indian Security forces but had become a big thorn in the sides because of his ability to rally people behind the Cause of Kashmiri independence. 

His videos on social media attracted and inspired many Kashmiri youth and hence his elimination became a necessity for the Indian Administration. 

But the events that followed his killing were perhaps unprecedented in recent times, and quite unexpected, certainly by the Indian administration and their security forces.

His death and funeral became a rallying cry for Kashmiris and extreme violence followed with 21 deaths, including an Indian policeman,  and over 400 injured in rioting.

The Indian policeman drowned when an enraged crowd pushed a police armored vehicle into the River Jhelum!

At his burial Burhan’s body was wrapped in a Pakistani flag and buried amid slogans of JEEVAY JEEVAY Pakistan.

So back to the question.

Is this a spontaneous indigenous home grown Kashmiri response to Burhan’s killing, manifesting the festering anger of Kashmiris, especially its youth. Or is it a planned Pakistani lead orchestration?

Clearly the Indian media and government response would be to blame Pakistan, bring in ISI, and the Pakistani military establishment.

This would  then be followed by people like Hussain Haqqani and Tarek Fatah, adding their voices to these claims and once again portraying Pakistan as a base of terrorist activities out to destablise Indian Held Kashmir.

Indian lobbyists and supporters in USA and European governments and media would then join this chorus and drown out Pakistan’s response and position.

Pakistan’s response in such cases, in the past, has generally been poorly worded, disjointed, desultory, stilted, poorly presented and ineffective. Given our history and coupled with ineffective messaging, Pakistan looses the International media narrative battle.

The reason. Two part time Foreign Ministry advisors both pretending to be Foreign Ministers, vying for influence and the PM’s ear. The PM, less said about him the better. A person completely at sea about the finer points of effective governance and foreign policy, and now desperately struggling for political survival.

Advised by an inner circle of close advisers and cabinet members more remniscient of a monarch’s loyalist or a mafia dons close circle of  sycophants.

What else can one expect but a limp, lack lustre, ineffective response, barring a few high sounding statements.

Local Pakistani media talk shows are no better. Beyond superficial rhetoric more for internal audiences, they lack either the intent or the capability for serious deep analysis being presented to the outside world, worthy of their serious consideration and ear.

So how should we take our view to the world?

First the facts.

Based on information currently available about the killing and the subsequent unfolding of events, one thing seems quite clear. This was not a Pakistani planned, supported or orchestrated event or series of events, either at the state or non state levels.

For starters,  Pakistan would not have known of Indian plans to kill Burhan.  It was a secret intelligence based operation carried out by Indian security forces, unless of course they were hand in glove with the ISI!

Two. The spontaneous upsurge of support by Kashmiris at his funeral and the violence that followed did not have the hallmarks of a planned operation.

Three. The Indian mainstream media is also cautioning that his killing may lead to an indigenous uprising. Here are the headlines on this story from The India Express

*”……..In his death, security and political observers say, Burhan could become the rallying point of a renewed indigenous militancy and give rise to a potent theme for fresh recruitment….*

Four. The statement by the current Indian occupied Chief Minister is hugely significant. Reading between the lines is her stark warning of an indigenous uprising ….here’s what she said.

*”……… The pain of Kashmiris has reached a level where the hope of peace is sure to gain substantial local support if tangible confidence building measures are taken to address the issues concerning the state and its people,” Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said in a statement issued on Saturday night*.

Five. The former Occupied Kashmir Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah publicly acknowledged that Burhan’s killing by Indian Security forces are fraught with serious consequences for Kashmir.

…In a tweet, he raised questions on the operation to kill top Hizbul commander Burhan Wani.

*”Mark my words. Burhan’s ability to recruit in to militancy from the grave will far outstrip anything he could have done on social media,”   the National Conference leader tweeted*

*He further  said that he did not recall any terror incident attributed to Wani while he was in office.*

*”………….For all (of) Burhan’s social media activity, I don’t recall any militancy incident attributed to him while I was in office……”*

So one thing is clear. Pakistan is not involved.

Two. It is a very strong indigenous Kasmiri movement fighting for their rights of self determination and independance, unleashed by Burhan’s very tragic and unfortunate killing

But what is even more dangerous for the Region is that once again this completely indigenous uprising in Occupied Kashmiri may be exploited by extreme right wing militants who could easily convert this into a highly militant and violent movement, as we’ve seen in Iraq and Syria.

And in the process this genuine cry for freedom is engulfed in a fire maelstrom, loosing the support of the International Community and their influence to bring India to the table for a workable political solution. 

Pakistan must be very very wary of such a development and ensure that this movement is not hijacked by DAESH like elements.

India must realize that it can never play it’s role in the International community and be seen as a great democracy while at the same time brutalizing a community with Nazi like occupation tactics, which simply wants it’s right for self determination and freedom.

By keeping close to 1 million army and security forces in Occupied Kashmir is no less horrifying than the brutal Nazi Occupation of France and Europe, or the killing, torture and abuse of helpless Palestinians by Israeli security forces.

For India to stand tall as a responsible democratic state, it must give the people of Kashmir their right of self determination.

It is in their own interest in being seen as a responsible nation, and in the interest of the region and peace between Pakistan and India. 
For the longer they keep the lid closed by force the greater the explosion when it will happen.

And the greater the danger of this turning into another bloodbath like Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan, where everyone looses and their are no winners.

And this is the narrative that the International Community must hear!

The author is the current Convenor of The Strategy Study Group, founded by the late Col. S.G.Mehdi M.C. former Group Commander of the Special Services Group (SSG) of the Pakistan Army. Haider is also a former Pakistan Army officer, Corporate leader, serial entrepreneur and Management Consultant. Now based in North America. Deep insights about, Pakistani,South Asian and Middle Eastern Geo Politics.

Major Changezi’s Shahadat at Torkham

In loving memory of Maj. Changezi who I met only after he sacrificed his all for Pakistan. 

I have often written about how challenging it is for a non military person to understand what a soldier goes through in the Army. And once again Its this sacrifice by Maj. Changezi.

To many or most, the passing away of a Soldier in the line of duty giving the ultimate sacrifice of their life in a remote God forsaken outpost in FATA or Balochistan or Kashmir or somewhere in Pakistan is a mere statistic, a temporary flash in the pan news headline, a fast moving ticker, a talk show discussion and at best, a whatsapp comment (which is where I first posted these lines several days ago)

But to the soldier, even someone like me who shed the Khaki nearly 35 years ago, the passing away of a fellow brother in arms, epitomizes the whole symbolism of this great profession.

To many civilians who have a beef with the Army, and I don’t say it in any patronizing or derogatory manner, the Pakistan Army is confined to and understood through the filters of either Martial Law or the ISI.

The limited horizons, superficial understanding, pedestrian analysis, subjective biases and prejudices, about the institution, by many so called political pundits, does not even scratch the most basic fundamentals of the Pakistan Army and what it really is and stands for.

From their high heeled, sari clad, suited booted or kurtaad crisp shalwar kameez pretentious high horses, these so called “liberattis” run down this great institution, day and night.

They do not, and cannot ever know what a soldier feels, does and dies for.

Never. Ever.

Unless they’ve worn the Khaki or been very close to someone who has.

Rest in Peace dear Maj. Changezi.

We sleep better and in peace, because of your sacrifice!

May Allah Bless your Soul in the Eternal Abode. Aameen.
Haider Mehdi.

Is the Pakistan Army in Nawaz Sharif’s Crosshairs?

As a former Khaki man for some years, and then civvies for most, one thing was and is quite clear. It is well nigh impossible for a person who hasn’t done two years of PMA and several years or an entire military career in the Pakistan Army to understand even peripherally the psyche of the institution and it’s members.

All that the so called military pundits in the civilian sphere have to go on are the 4 Martial Laws and the “dreaded” ISI to fill their columns, and their rhetoric.

Our Army and our officers and jawaans are much more than the politics of Martial law or the shenanigans of ISI, real or perceived.

We go through deprivations and pain and labor which no one can understand. We are away from our loved ones and spouses and children not for days or weeks or months but years. And for a pittance in financial terms. The vast majority of our officers and jawaans really have nothing.

And yes, we made these choices willingly and for our country.

Since 2004 the institution has defended the integrity of its country. Yes it’s senior leaders in the past did make questionable and even catastrophically wrong choices, but to lambast and pillor the whole institution is an act of criminality and treason, at least in my eyes.

When I read or hear from the likes of Hussain Haqqani, Asma Gilani, Marvi Sirmed, Aqil Shah, Najam Sethi, et al and marvel at their intellectual brilliance, of which there is no doubt, I’m equally surprised at their pedestrian and extremely superficial treatment of the institution. And joined in this chorus by much less and poorly endowed but aspiring pseudo intellectuals, like Hamid Mir etc.

While I’m no blind lover of the Army, right or wrong, I do believe there is an insidious and very calculated move ( don’t want to say conspiracy) supported by many main stream politicians, including Nawaz Sharif to weaken this institution, which is seen as the only bulwark or barrier to their unrestricted and unchallenged rule, loot, rape and plunder.

And if I may add the only institution which may be standing between efforts to denuke us.

While the ever intellectually endowed phoo phoo the denuke conspiracy as a ….well, figment of a hyperactive imagination…all that I’ve seen happen these last three decades in the Region, clearly indicates a desire to bring Pakistan to heel.

If I were the USA and India or represented the very right wing ultra conservative Israeli lobby lead by Netanyahu…the only thing keeping me up awake at night would be Pakistan’s Nuclear Arsenal.

And I would do everything possible to remove this threat. So while direct ways are impossible, the only options available to me would to weaken institutions who stand in the way. In this case the Pakistan Army.

I would seek out pliant and anti Army national politicians who have a common interest in weakening that institution. I would then make the country economically hostage and eventually when all three ducks are in line, to go for the kill.

Weak Army.
Pliant political leadership.
Economic bankruptcy.

It’s quite clear to me.

So hopefully someone’s listening.

Martial Law in Sindh -1978 – Inspector Shah’s Punishment and Nawaz Sharif’s Panama Leaks

It was close to 2 am on a hot humid night in Johi, Sind. Several officers, including me, had just finished work and were about to crash, dog tired after a long day, sifting through tons of documents. 

It was 1978. Gen. Zia’s Martial Law was in full flow. My batman, Ali Afsar, with his permanent half smile which only an officer’s batman can forever carry, depicting both amazement and utter disbelief, at the kind of people God Blesses to become officers, informed me that a truck driver was outside the Martial Law Headquarter and insisting on seeing the “Afsar” right now!. Bold man or incredibly stupid, I thought.

Being the Adjutant, the unenvious task fell on me, and I hustled back into my uniform and met him in our makeshift offices.

He was clearly agitated and also a bit scared ( you don’t walk into a military martial law office at 2 am in the morning and expect to be garlanded! ). After the pleasantries and an offer of a cup of tea and a chair, both nervously declined, he stammered out an incoherent babble.

With some coaxing to calm him down, I was finally able to understand that earlier that night, a certain Police SHO, Inspector Shah (name changed) had charged the truck driver double the usually agreed “monthly”. “Monthly” being the “unofficial fee” charged by the police from these truck transporters.

He indignantly showed me a greasy page in an equally greasy diary with a few strange squiggles, supposed to represent a rupee amount, a signature and a date of a week ago!

” ….Look at this saheb…. This (followed by a choice phrase describing the offspring of a pig) Inspector Shah has now asked me to pay again…..I’m fed up of this man and want to launch an official complaint against this (some more choice words)……Inspector…….”

Long story short….Inspector Shah was tried and sentenced by a military court. It was an open and shut case. The evidence against Shah was overwhelming. A trap was laid and he was caught red handed. He pleaded for mercy and leniency, citing his excellent record. This was true. He was actually one of the most efficient and effective SHO’S in that area. Crime in his area was very low and he ruled his domain with an Iron fist. We actually quite liked him. But the case against him was crystal clear

“……Shah saheb”..he said turning towards me wistfully….” You know I’ve done some really nasty things in my career but to be caught, tried and sentenced for this petty act is an insult and a disgrace to me and my reputation”……and off he went to jail, handcuffed, stripped of his police rank, to serve time.

I was reminded of Inspector Shah earlier today, as I watched Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif deliver his fiery Panama Leaks sermon in the National Assembly.

‘You complain about Western exploitation but tell me what have you done about your despotic rulers’ – A Lunch with Tim Sebastian

In 2004 in Abu Dhabi I had the opportunity to spend some time with Tim Sebastian, the renowned anchor.
He was an invited guest of the Higher Colleges of Technology at an International Conference of Noble Laureates. I was, for want of a better label, his chaperone and “Minister in waiting” so charged because of my employment with the University/ College, as Chair of their Business Programs at the Abu Dhabi Campus.
Later that day over lunch, several passionate Arabs and an equally effervescent Pakistani laid into the poor chap, lashing out at “what the West had done to the Muslim world”.
I saw him nodding politely and as the rhetoric from our “brave hosts” reached, perhaps a level tad beyond gracious social conversation, some meek quiet rats, now also jumped into, what was turning into, a free for all.
Tim turned red.
And as the poor deprived representatives of the “colonised” Muslim world became louder and louder against the representative of the “evil” British Empire, Tim looked at the most active Rat.
What’s your name Sir? He said in his most soft yet incredibly intimidating style.
The poor soul stopped in mid air as he was narrating the horrors of what the “West” ( read USA and Britain) and mumbled his name.
Said this man from UK….Mr. ( whatever the name was) I accept that the West has done what you say it has…terrible terrible things….but please tell me what have YOU and your forefathers done in the past and even today (Saddam, Qaddafi, Hosni were still in power) to fight for your rights against colonization and today to replace the dictators who are ruling these Muslim countries with arrogance.
Please tell me why do you allow a family monarchy to rule over you?
He turned to the Pakistani gentlemen. Your country is under military rule today. You’ve had three military dictators before. What did you do to stop them from continuing to rule over you?
I am not here to defend what the West has done. I’m asking you all, what have you done to safeguard your own independance and your rights and get rid of your corrupt rulers.
By this time Tim was on a roll.
The fault, he said, is entirely yours. You people allow foreigners to rule over you. You allow despotic dictators to rule over you. You allow dynasties to rule over you and you have the audacity to blame the west.
We took King John to task in the 13th Century! So my dear friends he said, my apologies for my answer, but you people are responsible for your own misery through your cowardice.
It was a pretty silent lunch after that!
I thought of this conversation, as I heard our PM on TV today.
He is where he is, because we allowed him and others like him, to hijack our system and come into power. And now, unable to muster the guts to remove him, because he will not go otherwise.
We couldn’t stand up to military interventions and allowed a corrupt electoral process to elect corrupt leaders.
We’ve honoured crooks, murderers, money launderers, corrupt politicians, by electing them to our highest offices of President, Prime Minister, Chief Ministers, Governors, Cabinet Ministers.
So why now the hullabaloo? From the comfort of our rooms we look at the Army to “get rid” of Nawaz Sharif, yet unwilling to do anything ourselves.
Sleep well my friends as more sleep is in the offing.
The sleep of the shameless, the spineless and of the cowards!

An open letter to the Chief Justice of Pakistan

An open letter to the Chief Justice of Pakistan.

9th April 2016.

Honourable Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mohtarem Anwar Zaheer Jamali saheb

Assalaam Alaykum from a deeply concerned citizen of Pakistan, perhaps voicing the pain and anguish of millions of helpless Pakistanis.

Helpless, because our Prime Minister, has hijacked all instruments of state, it’s administrative machinery, it’s law enforcement agencies, it’s lower judiciary, all its state run institutions and most sadly,  it’s so called democratically elected parliamentary bodies.

Except for the Pakistan Army and perhaps the Supreme Court, everything and everybody of consequence is under the thumb of the Prime Minister and his cronies, both in and out of government. I have used the word “perhaps” for the Supreme Court, because the deathly silence from your quarter is both unnerving and scary.

Hence, we the people of Pakistan are not sure where you and your Honourable court stand on this issue of daylight robbery, conflict of interest, blatant corruption and brazen and arrogant misuse of power, privilege and authority vested in Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif by the poor, hapless and If I may say, servile and spineless people of Pakistan.

The people of Pakistan look askance at you and your court for justice and fairplay and to put into motion, transparent investigation, by professionals of unimpeachable integrity and technical competence in white collar crime investigation into the charges against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter, Maryam Safdar who has now changed her name back to Maryam Nawaz Sharif, and two of his sons Hassan Nawaz Sharif and Hussain Nawaz Sharif, and others such as Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, for the following charges as brought to light by the Panama Leaks.

1. Money laundering.
2. Tax evasion.
3. Lying on record.
4. Illegal transfer of funds outside Pakistan
5. Acquiring public office by misstatements of facts about their assets.
6. Misusing public trust and using his authority as Prime Minister to acquire assets and business projects in a brazen display of conflict of interest and promote his personal business interests and acquire wealth through illegal means.
7. All others associated with the above crimes, especially  Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and Mian Mohammed Mansha, owner of MCB Bank of Pakistan.

We the people of Pakistan request you Honourable Chief Justice of Pakistan to kindly establish a commission of legal experts, criminal and forensic investigators, through suo moto action tasked with ascertaining all details about the information made public by the Panama Leaks.

If you sir, fail to act now, and only pontificate in your speeches etc about the ills of corruption, nepotism and terrible misgovernance that have befallen this incredibly wretched nation, then you Sir, are as guilty, if not more, through your silence, inaction and obvious act of omission, of being as much a part of this rot as this person who styles himself as the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

This person, Nawaz Sharif, has tainted the office of the Prine Minister to such an extent that today it stands for and symbolises nothing but unbridled greed, never ending corruption, abject and deliberate misgovernance, gross misuse of authority and total failure in protecting the public trust entrusted to the incumbent.

If you do not Sir, then we the people of Pakistan will then turn to the only other institution which has fortunately saved itself from the Prime Minster’s dirty hands and clutches. The Pakistan Army.

We will openly request Gen. Raheel Sharif  to step in and investigate and throw out these knaves, crooks, criminals who have looted this hapless country in the name of Allah and Democracy and Public Good.

This intervention Sir, while not advisable will be inevitable and certainly not in the long term best interests of Pakistan.

Unless of course Gen. Raheel Sharif does not take over but seek advice from you and your Honourable court to initiate and implement wide-ranging electoral and governance reforms to stop people like Nawaz Sharif and his like from ever coming into power and betraying the sacred public trust they were entrusted with and to prosecute and punish without fear or favour all those responsible for looting this country including Asif Zardari and company.

Honourable Chief Justice, the Nation looks askance and expectantly towards you and your august court for justice.

Please do not fail us!

For evidence, the show by Arshad Raschid, appended below, pretty much says it all.

Ary Talk Show of 9th April by Arshad Raschid

Yours Sincerely

Syed Haider Raza Mehdi
On behalf of the good and helpless people of Pakistan.

Nawaz Sharif coming out of the Cold?

Nawaz Sharif – Coming out of the Cold? By Syed Haider Raza Mehdi

An attempt at an objective review of Nawaz Sharif’s performance as his government completes more than half its term. Something like a mid-term report!
For a long time I’ve been a very strong critic of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s governance and politics, and hopefully will continue to retain that right.
But in all fairness and trying to be objective they’ve navigated the 2.5 years much better than expected.  Fight against terrorism, general law and order, large scale infrastructure spending and foreign policy, the military “Operation Zarb e Azb” in FATA against the TTP and other terrorist groups,  the crackdown against urban militancy and terrorist financing in Karachi by the Pakistan Rangers and the apple of everybody’s eye, the game changing $47 billion Chinese investment in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Of course he couldn’t have done anything without the Pakistan Army and for that he also must get some credit.

Firstly by appointing a very competent, highly professional person in Gen. Raheel Sharif as the Army Chief and secondly by working closely together with him and not getting embroiled in unecessary conflict and power struggles with the Army.  An attempt to try former President Gen. Musharraf badly backfired and he eventually gave in. Latest reports indicate that Gen. Musharraf may be allowed to leave the country.

Gen. Raheel, the gruff, silent and highly professional soldiers went steadily ahead without disturbing Nawaz’s fragile democracy and upsetting the apple cart at the peak of Imran Khan’s 127 days of public agitation. Gen. Raheel deserves great credit as well.

What it has shown that the Pakistan Army has more than redeemed itself from all its past deeds of omission and or comission and clearly today the only institution which has stood between what seemed like an impossible situation facing the country and its slow turnaround today towards progress and we’ll being. Economic and social progress is only possible when there is peace.

To all those who continue to discredit the Army, it is now evident that the Pakistan Army, under the brilliant and professional leadership of Gen.Raheel Sharif, has shown how the institution can influence and effect change in a country where other institutions are fairly dysfunctional. The Pakistan Army has paid for a better Pakistan with the blood and sacrifices of its officers and men.  Only those who know what the Army has been through in their fight against terrorism and militancy can appreciate the immense toll it has taken on the institution. Here’s a powerful and moving article which opens a window to the type of sacrifice the Pakistan Army has given. The Martyrdom of Capt. Umair

So before they rant about the past and Martial Law regimes, let them now also look at our present.

And if somehow the Army can influence deep rooted political and administrative reforms without direct intervention, then we can look forward to a future with greater hope and confidence.

But back to Nawaz Sharif.

Despite the ongoing controversy over several seriously misdirected priorities such as the Qatar LNG project, the two metro bus projects in Lahore and Rawalpindi, and the Lahore Orange train, the Karachi Green line being an exception, one has to accept that these projects have added to urban transportation infrastructure and gas supply. True, whether we like it or not.

Personally, in my opinion, these funds could certainly have been better spent on poverty alleviation, health care, education, job creation, vocational skill building, micro finance funding, rural farm to market roads and many other more pressing and urgent priorities.
But what’s done is done, and these projects did add jobs and money into the economy.
Coal powered power projects and LNG import will also create jobs, put money in the economy and provide fuel and power. Albeit at much higher costs.
Macro economic indicators in Pakistan are looking good. Current account deficit down to 4% of GDP in 2015, from a high of nearly 9% in 2012. Due to low oil prices windfall and some prudent economic planning, our foreign exchange reserves today stand at $23 Billion, the highest ever in Pakistan’s history. A rising middle class of about 40 Million with annual consumer spending growing at 10%, twice that of Asia. The $47 billion CPEC has all the hallmarks of being a game changer. Annual GDP growth is projected at 4.5% in 2016. The documented economy has grown to $270 billion and if the undocumented portion is added mushrooms to over $400 billion with a per capita income of nearly $2200!
Perhaps one area where Finance Minister Ishaq Dar faltered was getting funds at very high rates in the international sukuk and bond market. He could have done better.  However our total public debt though still quite high and worrisome is still better than many developed countries at 62% of GDP. External public debt is 22% of GDP. Over 80% of external public debt is Long term, low interest multilateral or bilateral debt. Only 20% is from the Paris club.
So most of our macro environment indicators are positive and one must give credit to PM Nawaz Sharif, for this.  
One area which will come to haunt him is the $22 Billion Qatar LNG 16 year contract. This contract reeks of corruption, incompetence and a very short term approach. Pakistan, in my opinion and that of most energy experts ( I’m not one)  could have gotten the same pricing perhaps slightly higher on short term and or spot based LNG  contracts rather than sign a long term contract with LNG prices linked to the Brent crude oil rate. In this case at 13.7% of Brent crude and take a huge gamble that low oil prices will remain low for the forseeable future or the next 15 years. 
Pakistan is the ONLY country this year to have signed a long term LNG contract. Even Japan, the world’s largest LNG importer chose to buy LNG on spot prices and not sign long term contracts. Thailand another huge LNG importer also decided not to renew a long term LNG contract with the same country Qatar, with whom we signed contract.  
The reason these countries have not gone for long term contracts is because LNG prices are expected to remain low for a very long time, unlike oil, which will rise. Furthermore, LNG is in major over supply and progressively losing demand due to switching to coal based and nuclear based power generation. 
All this has serious financial consequences. According to Muddassir Iqbal, an acknowledged Pakistani Energy expert, Pakistan’s long term pricing contract linked to Brent crude oil means that just in the last 30 days our price has increased 31% from $ 4.03 / MMBTU to $5.35 / MMBTU because of increase in Brent crude from 30$ to 40$ today. His detailed analysis can be accessed at The LNG contract controversy.

According to Forbes …”LNG Spot prices in Asia have dropped from just over $20 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) in February 2014 to $4.95/MMBtu for delivery this March…….And today we are paying even more than the prevailing spot price. 

This decision will come to haunt PM Nawaz Sharif,  Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and  Energy Minister Shahid Khaqan Abassi and unfortunately the people of Pakistan who will eventually pay the heavy for this decision. 
However its only saving grace is on the demand side to ensure continous supply of LNG gas to industry, homes and transportation.
Foreign Policy has been sane and prudent.  While it’s a great honour for Pakistan Army Chief, Gen Raheel Sharif, his family, Pakistan Army and Pakistan to be offered the (ceremonial) post of Commander in Chief of the 34 nation Saudi sponsored coalition against terrorism, accepting it would be poor decision. One. It’s a toothless role. History is full of such examples of Coalition Commanders with no powers with their subordinate commanders taking orders only from their own country.
Secondly. It’s a partisan coalition and seen by Iran as anti-Shia and anti-Iran. If Saudi Arabia can swing the addition of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon then it will acquire much greater power.  This however will not happen because Iran and Saudi support opposing camps in the Syrian conflict.   Saudi Arabia supports 5 of the 6 major groups fighting Assad.  Jubhat Al Nusra ( Al Qaeda in Syria) Jaish Al Islam, Jaish Al Fatah,  Ahrar Al Sham (also funded by UAE, Qatar and Kuwait) all being splinter groups of Al Qaeda espousing the same theological and political philosophy of Militant Jihadism and Islamism and the secular Free Syrian Army. The 6th being DAESH.
Iran on the other hand supports President Basher Al Assad, along with Russia and the Lebanese Hezbollah. They are fighting the 5 groups supported by Saudi Arabia as well as DAESH. So a very remote possibility of all countries coming to the same table to fight Daesh.
So far Pakistan has navigated this well by staying out of Syria and officially stating that the legal government in Syria is that of President Assad. By not joining the Saudi lead coalition against Yemen. And by moving cautiously on joining the second Saudi lead 34 Nation coalition against terrorism. And by giving assurances to Iran that Pakistan will not join any military alliance against them.
So Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan Army Chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif and Pakistan must continue to walk this tightrope and not be seen as taking sides.
It’s a difficult one for Pakistan and the Prime Minister.  Despite his close personal ties with the ruling Al Saud family, his known right wing conservatism and natural bias towards Saudi Arabia, Nawaz Sharif has done a good job in walking this tight rope, so far.
He’s managed, it seems, to have placated ruffled Saudi feathers, a country which has helped Pakistan many times with generous financial support. It appears from his recent trip to Saudi Arabia that much damage has been controlled resulting from the hiccup of Pakistan’s refusing to join the Saudi lead Coalition against Yemen. And at the same time, Nawaz Sharif has also reached out to Iran as evidenced by the visit of the Iranian President to Pakistan, later this month.
The reality of Iran being a neighbor and potentially a great trading partner post the nuclear sanctions, a country which at one time, along with China, was one of the few countries which supported our Kashmir Cause in the UN, even after the Revolution. The real schism with Iran started when both countries found themselves in opposite camps during the Afghan Civil War following the Russian withdrawal in 1989.
So it is unlikely that Gen. Raheel and or Pakistan will accept the appointment to head the 34 Nation Saudi coalition!
Finally there’s this recent, overt and very visible distancing by Nawaz Sharif from his traditional conservative right wing position.
Whether it’s a political ploy, a temporary Machiavellian adjustment or long time in coming, brilliant statesmanship, whatever it be, it has earned him the grudging support of many not positively inclined towards him earlier.
This was manifested in three recent actions of his government. First the Women’s protection bill passed by the Punjab Provincial assembly. While it is a provincial bill but would never have been tabled and passed without his assent.
Secondly inviting Sharmeen Chinoy to the PM house for the screening of her Oscar winning documentary on women rights.
And finally doing the unthinkable. Allowing the execution of Mumtaz Qadri the person who killed Late Governor Salman Taseer because Mumtaz believed Governor Salman had committed blasphemy by calling into question the Law of Blasphemy in the Pakistan Penal Code.
Qadri’s execution was a brave action, many predicting widespread violence if he was executed. Nothing happened. All Pakistani Media, at the Government’s advice, blacked out reports of the thousands that turned up for the executed murderer’s funeral, thus diluting the widespread and anticipated negative effects of the funeral. So some serious spine!
Whether he’s doing these things on his own or under advice from Gen. Raheel or as some say his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, the actions are very symbolic and positive.  If he’s listening to Gen. Raheel then it’s again good news that not only does he actively listen to wise counsel, he also acts on it!
 If it’s his daughter Maryam Nawaz, then clearly Maryam deserves much more credit than she currently gets. If Nawaz Sharif is doing this on his own then we perhaps are seeing a transformation in the thinking of this man, perhaps not conceived or expected.  So are we to see some more unexpected rabbits from his Prime Ministerial hat?
Clearly the Prime Minister has the 2018 elections in his cross hairs and hence does not want to do anything to upset the situation and put elections at risk, knowing that he’s peaking at the right time.
5000 MW of power are expected to be added to the National Grid by end 2017 early 2018. CPEC should be in full swing. The TAPI oil pipeline as well. Perhaps even the Iran Pakistan pipeline. Maybe an Afghan Taliban peace accord. Controversial as it may be and questionable, the Qatar LNG contract will ensure no “negative political optics” as the political pundits say, of long lines  queuing for gas and the people and industry up in arms because of furl shortages.  
So if he’s lucky he’s going to go into 2018 election year on a huge high.  Despite the charges of misgovernance, political gerrymandering and corruption!
What he didn’t do well?
Moving forward on the National Action plan against terrorism.  Whilst the army lead portion of the NAP as in Operation Zarb e Azb in FATA and the Rangers operations in Karachi, have been very successful, very little seems to have been done on the civilian front, despite the high sounding rhetoric from Interior Minister Ch. Nisar Ali Khan. The National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) is still seen as another toothless agency, paying lip service to the National Action Plan. A more appropriate move forward is to transform NACTA into a USA type National Homeland security structure, under a military officer, seasoned and experienced in Counter Terrorism with access to intelligence and agencies from both the civilian and military establishments. 
The Prime Minister must finally not be afraid of shadows and whisperings of military dominance and have faith in the military and law enforcement infrastructure under him.  Abdul Aziz of the Red mosque, though now slightly chastened still has strong support from his government, including his interior minister, Ch. Nisar, otherwise a sensible person. While it is understandable that the issue is volatile and there is fear that it may blow up like it did in 2007 when President Musharraf launched the operations against Abdul Aziz and his late brother, times have changed.  
Today there is overwhelming support for actions against militants and terrorists like Abdul Aziz, who took up arms against the State and caused the martyrdom of 14 military officers and troops.  Like Operation Zarb e Azb in FATA, delayed because of a fear of blow back, but very successful when Gen. Raheel Sharif took this bold action, similar bold action needs to be taken now under the National Action plan to destroy the sources of terrorist support and thought in urban centers such as southern Punjab and Islamabad.  The Prime Minister needs to take action sooner than later and must understand that the Army and the Nation are fully behind him in this resolve.
Relationships with India. An area of weakness and questionable because of the perception that his personal business interests with leading Indian houses drive his desire for better ties. Also one area where his working relationship with Gen. Raheel Sharif and the army was in question. Also whilst the so called Pakistani “establishment” are quite willing to turn a new leaf in improving ties with India, Prime Minister Modi of India, sweeping into power on a huge wave of ultra conservative right Hindu nationalism is unwilling to do so.
Expanding the tax base to increase government revenues and promoting exports.  Here he is clearly limited by his fear of offending his business and trader constituency and the tax amnesty scheme further shows their inability to address this serious issue. On exports. The absence of an Export Credit Agency (ECA) or an EXIMP bank, though there is talk that its being set up, is essential to extend export trade financing and insurance to exporters, using receivables as collateral vs the traditional use of property, inventory etc as collateral by banks.  The latter significantly limits the credit available to Exporters and hence limits their ability to finance exports.

Very poor and shoddy performance in impacting the lives of the common man. Health care and education in shambles. The police, other than KPK, behaves like a private militia especially in Punjab and Sind. 

Governing with an autocratic style and showing complete indifference to democratic institutions. His record of attending the parliament and Senate abysmally and embarrassingly low.
An unwillingness to institute electoral and governance reform and create empowered Local bodies.
Unable to shed charges and repeated allegations of non-transparent expenditure of public funds on grandiose schemes. Appointment of cronies and close family members to public sector institutions. Serious allegations of conflict of interest in furthering personal business interests using his position as Prime Minister. A governance style very close to what appears to be serious misuse and abuse of power. One big glaring example of this misuse is the LNG contract with Qatar!
And finally an inability or lack of desire to conduct objective, across the board and transparent accountability of all those suspected and or charged with gross corruption and abuse of power.
What can go against him?
Accountability in Punjab and the Center. A much more aggressive intrusion by the Army in matters of corruption and misgovernance. Supreme Court rulings against him and Ishaq Dar on charges of corruption. The Model Town massacre in Punjab. Corruption charges against his close political and business cronies. Urban violence by the ultra-conservative right, especially his former constituency of Kashmiri jihadists. If he can navigate these successfully, especially the Kashmiri Jihadists, he rides a high horse into election year.
What can earn him a place in history?
Active, visible and uncompromising action against terrorists and militants in southern Punjab and other urban centers such as Lahore, Bahawalpur, Multan, Islamabad, Rawalpindi.
Deep rooted Electoral and governance reforms. Restructuring country into more provinces and a local bodies governance structure with full financial and administrative powers. Complete revamp of the judiciary and law enforcement institutions. Transparency in governance, and in the judicious use of public funds.
Merit and transparency in making public sector appointments, with competency and integrity being the two factors. This is a big area where the Prime Minister can make huge economic impact by doing away with nepotism in public appointments in three areas. Bureaucracy.  Police and the Governance of the 200 odd public sector state owned business enterprises. A simple solution with deep impact would be to establish completely independent executive boards with independent professional technocrats heading these enterprises and free of political and bureaucratic control and influence and interference .If so done, the vast majority will become financially viable and fetch greater value if also tabled for privatization. PIA privatization is again a good step, though initially mishandled but nevertheless a good step.
Across the board Accountability and eliminating corruption. Eliminate his own misuse of power to further personal business interests. 
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif governs in interesting times, as the Chinese say!

The Gen Raheel Sharif extension issue.

An Institutional and sustainable answer to the Gen. Raheel Sharif extension issue.

As the country went into a frenzy of “Will he..Won’t he” the good general in his typical no nonsense soldier style (remember his …cold start ho Ya hot start ho..hum Thayyar haen… speech)  gave his view. “No I’m not”.

So while most would agree it is in our national interest that he stays on there is significant divergence on “The Extension”. Clearly institutional strength far outweighs stop gap arrangements tailored to individuals. Our history is replete with such follies. So an extension to him would have  added to these long line of follies and its very negative consequences.

Hence is there a solution? I believe there is. For many years there have been discussions about two things related to the Army Chief’s role.

1. The tenure of the Army Chief and the other two Service chiefs. Air Force and Navy.
2. The nature of the role of the 4 star Chairman  JCSC Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.

1. First the tenure of the Army Chief.  It has been long debated that this should be increased to 5 years.  This becomes even more critical and important now given the nature of our internal and external threats and the on going deployment of the army in its active combat roles. From an administrative and governance perspective as is true for all senior leadership roles, especially one as complex as the Army, year 1 is about understanding and year 3 is “lame duck”. Essentially leave the Chief, one effective year to do his thing. By increasing to 5 years he now has a longer term perspective and three solid years to do his thing. Even from a leadership research  perspective the minimum a leader needs to be effective and implement effective strategies is 5 years.

2. Now the Chairman JCSC’S role. As it stands today the incumbent though theoretically senior to the three service chiefs is no more than a “Dak Khana” or the “proverbial post office” or a “Coordinating office” between the three services. Army, Airforce and Navy. If this role was taken away tomorrow no one would miss it. In today’s extreme warfare conditions and even under normal circumstances a nation’s military machine is expected to perform in step and in complete harmony. Hence all major countries such as the USA and UK for example have empowered this role with an operational command responsibility with all service chiefs reporting to him and not the Country’s chief Executive. In Pakistan the three service chiefs, while technically reporting report to the Minister of Defence, in fact report to the PM. This role needs to be upgraded with operational and command authority over the three services and re-designated as the Chief of Defence Services, similar to UK and Canada and many other countries.

So what does this all mean in the current context of Gen. Raheel Sharif.

1. The Army Chief’s tenure and those of the Air Force and Navy to be increased to 5 years.
2. The Chairman JCSC role be made into an operational “Command” role and re-designated as the Chief of Defence Services (CDS) with all three service chiefs reporting to him and also with a 5 year tenure.

Gen. Raheel Sharif to be appointed in the new operational command role of the beefed up powerful Chief of Defence Services.

The new Army Chief who will take over will henceforth have a 5 year tenure.

This is good for the military institutions and most importantly, good for the country.

And to set any conspiracy theorists at rest. I dont write anything at anyone’s bidding. Those who know me, know. Those who don’t will have to accept this disclaimer!

Who will rid me of this meddlesome Priest? Murder Most Foul – Is this the start of a Shia – Sunni War?

“Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?” spoke King Henry II sometime in November 1170, about Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Becket was a deeply religious and ascetic person as well as someone who refused to endorse the King’s religious desires. At one time the King’s childhood mentor and close friend, but now arch foe, he was murdered in December 1170, by the King’s henchmen.
Such type of thinking most likely prevailed in the corridors of the Saudi leadership and power structures of recent years as a means to rid them of “their meddlesome priest”, Shaikh Nimr Baqr al-Nimr. 
Sentenced to death in October 2014 on charges of “sedition, seeking foreign meddling, disobeying Saudi rulers and taking up arms against the security forces”, a murder most foul was committed on 2nd January 2016 when Shaikh Nimr was executed by Saudi authorities.
Why would Saudi Arabia take such a step, especially now, and risk the ire of both friend and foe? An action which was certain to weaken the already strained relations with Iran which have since collapsed. An action that has and will henceforth significantly rachet up the level of geo-sectarian armed conflict ravaging the region. Geo-sectarianism, a phrase coined by Kamran Bokhari, the eminent authority on jihad and political Islam, very aptly describes how religion and geo-politics have merged in the battle for regional dominance between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
While the phrase is, thanks to Kamran, fairly new, the phenomenon itself isn’t. History and Christianity, who had their heyday of mass scale murder in the name of God, is replete with such examples. 

The most famous being the terribly destructive “30 Years Christian sectarian War” in Central Europe from 1618 to 1648 primarily between the Christian Catholic Austrian Habsburgs and the Christian Protestant King Gustav of Sweden, each supported by their respective sectarian allies. 
The causes were many.  Following the Peace of Augsburg in 1566 to end the Protestant / Catholic based sectarian conflicts plaguing Europe, the principle of “Cuis regio, euic religio” was adopted. Literally this meant that a realm would adopt the religion of its ruler.  However the Holy Roman Emperor, a Habsburg, wanted to restore the power of Catholicism in the region and started to break away from this principle. The Protestant power structures revolted, entering the fray under the garb of sectarianism to acquire more power thus signaling the start of a conflict which converted Europe into a wasteland.  Europe was a free for all during these thirty years.  Mercenaries, brigands, criminals – in fact anyone with a weapon and/or a horse – joined this blood laden saga of terrible pillage, plunder and unspeakable violence, committed by both Catholics and Protestants, resulting in the mass slaughter of millions. All in the name of God and Christian Europe’s sectarian beliefs.
The estimated casualties of this conflict are horrifying. 8 million were killed in the name of God. The population of Germany, then divided into 224 states, was reduced by 40%! Males by 50%! The Czech population was reduced by a third or 33%.  And all for geo-sectarianism. The desire to extend power and influence by using sectarian religious sentiments. Strangely, it also resulted in some peculiar bedfellows where geo-politics overcame sectarian biases. For example, Catholic France, which had earlier sided with the Catholic Habsburgs, jumped ship and joined Protestant King Gustav fearing Habsburg domination in Europe. 
The result was the rout of the House of Habsburg as the dominant world power.
So are we headed for a geo-sectarian, Shia – Sunni war?
The answer lies in the actions of the Al Saud. Why did Saudi Arabia, (and when one says Saudi Arabia, we really mean the Al Saud ruling family, as others don’t really have a say and don’t matter) resort to this highly nuclear fissionable act in the form of executing Shaikh Nimr?  Is this the foolhardy and desperate act of a dying regime leading to a “tipping point”, the “beginning of the end”, an “imperial over reach” or a “murder too far”? Or is this a cold, calculated move to create favourable circumstances for themselves?
While it is clearly a complex issue with many dimensions, one reason clearly stands out. To win the hearts and minds of their own people in Saudi Arabia, many of whom are virulently anti #Shia and also silent supporters of Daesh.  Furthermore, to ingratiate themselves with the other Salafi / Wahabi terror outfits fighting in Syria and Iraq  such as the Al Qaeda militant group, Jubhat Al Nusra, Jaish Al Islam, Jaish Al Fatah and Ahrar Al Shams who can at a future date fight alongside  the Saudis against DAESH when that time comes. Little do they know that these same proxy’s will be fighting them as all proxy’s do. The Tehrik e Taliban is a most recent example of how a splinter group of a Pakistan sponsored proxy turned against the State. 

Finally, it is an attempt, to reach out to the larger Sunni world in general, especially of the Salafi and Wahabi ilk and be seen as the leader of an Arab Sunni world against a so called “intemperate” “aggressive” and “demonic” Iran. 
But the bigger question is why do they need to ingratiate themselves with their own people who they have ruled with an iron fist for nearly 90 years? 

Let us not forget that King Abdul Aziz, father of the present ruler, first declared himself the ruler of the two “Kingdoms of Nejd and Hejaz” in 1925-26 and then renamed it as the “Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” in 1932 after mercilessly slaughtering (with British provided machine guns) the very people (the Ikhwan) who brought him to power in the infamous Battle of Sabila in 1930.  
The answer to this lies in the strategy of their biggest enemy. No, not Iran but Daesh, who has the ideological potential to overthrow them.  Daesh is extremely smart. Very smart. Their each and every move is calculated to do two things.  First, to raise their brand internationally so they can recruit more people and gain more funding. Hence, the Paris Attacks which then inspire lone wolf acts like San Bernardino, both trying to achieve the same objective of attracting global supporters.
But secondly and far more sinister from Daesh’s perspective is to show the people of Saudi Arabia, specifically the die-hard Salafi/Wahabi who hate the Shia, that the Al Saud are weak and not as harsh on the “takfiri” Shias as Daesh themselves are.  Hence they must be removed from power and the country ruled by Daesh to create a truly pure Caliphate. Daesh also aims, as part of this strategy, to widen the Shia – Sunni schism and exacerbate the animosity between Iran and Saudi Arabia, thus bringing about a conflict between the two.  A conflict, which will weaken both countries and certainly bring about the downfall of the Al Saud regime.
So what does Daesh do? It attacks Shia mosques with suicide bombers in Saudi Arabia.  An Ismaili mosque in the south was not spared either. This puts the Al Saud in a quandary.  If they don’t go after the perpetrators of these acts then the whole world sees them as complicit with the terrorists. If they do go after them, which they did, then they are seen as being “weak and supportive” of the “takfiri” Shias and against the interests of the Salafi/Wahabi Sunnis who are upholding the faith by killing the Shias of the land.  So it’s really damned if we do, damned if we don’t. Brilliant. Just brilliant. 
So how do the Al Saud handle it? Due to the fact they have to execute 43 Sunni terrorists, they balance this by executing 4 Shias with Shaikh Nimr, a highly revered international Shia figure, being one of them. This “meddlesome priest” who had become a thorn to the Al Saud, inspired young Shias in the oil-filled heartlands of the Eastern provinces to rise up for their rights.  The Al Saud’s underlying message to the Wahhabis at large and their own people in particular was that while we do not support terrorism in our country (Syria being another matter) we most certainly do not support Shias.  “Please continue to support us and not Daesh!” is the Al Saud motto. So many birds with one stone! Simple. 
So what now?
Will the country, in the hands of a stripling, clearly unstable, 28 year old, Prince “Reckless” Mohammed bin Salman, the deputy crown prince and son of the King, slide down a suicidal slippery slope to their destruction and play into the hands of Daesh?  I think there is a great possibility. As said Prometheus “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad”.  
Will Iran also play into the hands of Daesh and escalate its fight with the Al Saud to avenge Shaikh Nimr’s murder? I don’t think so and they should not.  The country has suffered tremendous deprivations and the sanctions have crippled them.  They will and should remain sensible and coherent and watch the Al Saud self-destruct. 
Will the “30 years’ war scenario” now also play out in the Middle East starting a genocidal Shia – Sunni conflagration?  A serious possibility, if a Daesh like group takes over the Arabian Peninsula.
Will the USA and the Western powers continue to watch and support the Al Saud’s march of folly and the potentially horrific consequences of their actions? I don’t have a ready answer.  Too much money and interests are at stake. If the American and Western defence and oil lobbies can be held at bay and better sense prevails, they should intervene diplomatically and set in motion actions for regime change.  There are still many sane voices in Saudi Arabia who are appalled at the way their country is governed.  But many, as the Saudi saying goes, are “put behind the sun” never to be seen again.  They must be supported. Pakistan and Turkey can play a very important part in ensuring the country does not fall into the hands of DAESH or something similar. They should focus on transforming it into a stable democracy and not a rabid entity as it is becoming now. 

While forcing regime change has serious negative fall outs the options are very limited. Kamran Bokhari author of “Jihad and Political Islam” thinks Saudi Arabia has over reached itself in murdering Sheikh Nimr. He says The Al Saud monarchy is beset with many problems all of their own creation. 

I think they have finally run their course and also running out of options. Hence taking extremely risky, confused and contradictory decisions and actions with no long term clarity, except survival. 

According to Kamran, for example in the early days of the Egyptian Tahir square the Saudis issued a Fatwa on 24th January declaring the uprising and Democracy as “Fithnas” and that it was illegal to rise against Hosni Mubarak. On 28th January sensing the mood they reversed the Fatwa. They then literally created and funded the Nour party of hard line Salafists to take part in the Egyptian elections and become part of Morsi’s Government. But then not finding Morsi a willing tool, they actively and generously funded his downfall. At Saudi instructions the Al Nour party turned against their former ally, Morsi and joined General Sisi and the army and very strangely the secularists, in ousting President Morsi.

In Bahrain, they also created and funded the hardline Salafist Al Asalah party to support the Emir of Bahrain against the Shia majority populace, represented by the Al Wefaaq party. Through the Bahraini Emir, they have attempted to dilute the 70% Shia majority of Bahrain by importing tens of thousands of Sunnis from the Region and Pakistan and granting them Bahraini citizenship. 

And all the time denying their own people the option of elections and self governance.  

Their Yemen adventure is in tatters. In fact the Houthis have captured Saudi land in three places. 

Thus their attempt to portray themselves as the leader of the Sunni and Arab world against a “terrorist” Iran has miserably failed. Tiny Bahrain and starving Sudan were all they could muster. No other Gulf country broke off ties with Iran. Even UAE only downgraded ties. Some more like Qatar and Kuwait have followed suit by recalling ambassadors, but falling short of breaking ties. More to show symbolic support in the short term. 

The USA and Europe are confused and now wary of Al Saud’s actions and do not blindly endorse them as they did before. 

In fact they are now looking towards developing a much stronger and positive engagement with Iran.  The Obama administration has sent clear signals on Iran. Sanctions lifting will provide Iran with over a 100 Billion Dollars in currently frozen assets. It’s oil out put will increase from 1 million to 2.5 million barrels a day, post sanctions. As a result oil prices will continue South adding to Saudi Arabia’s economic woes.

So the Saudis entire strategy to keep Iran isolated has also a failure. 

On the economic front the picture is pretty bleak. A failed oil policy to reduce oil prices and force closure of Shale oil and hurt Iran has backfired with oil sliding to the mid thirties much below the 90 dollar benchmark they had planned and budgeted for in 2015. 

According to Bloomberg, Saudi Arabia may run through its Sovereign Fund in 5 years at   current and projected budget deficits. As of today it has reduced from 650 Billion to 520 billion. So either oil prices rise or they cut expenses and spending. The latter laden with serious internal political consequences where a young massively unemployed population is becoming more restive.

And on top of all this misery and pressures are DAESH, baying and barking at their doorsteps, sensing blood and a kill. A 600 long kilometer border with Daesh held Iraqi territory must be giving them nightmares. 

Thus the Al Saud are desperate and hence dangerous and their actions fraught with grave consequences. 

Will sanity return to them? Will they allow deep reform in their own country and give up much of their power to their own people? Unlikely. 

No Dictator or Military strongman or Monarch has willingly given up power in recent times. On the contrary they resort to even greater violence and draconian measures to remain in power. Shah of Iran, Qaddafi. Saddam. Hosni Mubarak. Ben Ali to name a few.  Each either fled or tried to flee and or faced the wrath of their people. 

So doesn’t it make sense to create  conditions for a more peaceful and or less violent transfer before the inevitable happens and they have to flee and leave the country in the hands of a DAESH like entity ?

 It really is not about whether one is Sunni or Shia, a supporter of the Al Saud or an opponent. It’s about what happens after them.
Who will emerge victorious from this madness? Iran or the Al Saud.  I personally don’t see Iran coming out of this any worse for the wear. But one does see the very real possibility of the Al Saud going down in flames taking with them the last vestiges and semblance of Muslim unity, leaving the world to deal with the nightmarish scenario of a DAESH like structure replacing them.
Unless, of course, better sense prevails and the Arabian Peninsula transforms itself from a monarchy into a democracy before the wolves come in as they did in Syria and Iraq!