Pakistan Democracy: The Long March, The First Step

What a difference a day makes. What an even bigger difference a week can make.

What an amazing and exciting week this has been for Pakistan as a nation. Its elected leaders had just recently squandered a historic opportunity to set Pakistan boldly and directly on the path to institution and nation building.

On more than one occasion, on TV and radio, I had compared Pakistan, as a nation and especially as a government, to the ship Titanic, except that this one had deliberately hit every iceberg it could find.

Just when it seemed that the current government in Islamabad had completely forgotten the lessons of history – of merely one year ago – something changed. It had appeared that the policies of Islamabad were surely and not so slowly pushing Pakistan in the direction of chaos and eventual return of martial law.

As someone who has told his share of lawyer jokes, for the last one year I have had nothing but praise and kudos for the barristers and attorneys of Pakistan. Theirs is a career dependent upon daily earnings, made from daily work outside the court houses of Pakistan. One could not have been imagined that profession as the consistent and unstoppable source of the year-long protest movement. What the lawyers of Pakistan carried out was doubly special, as they did it against not one but two tyrants within one year.

Besides self-inflicted wounds, almost exactly of the kind that General Musharraf suffered from, perhaps there was some hubris or misconception in Islamabad. Maybe there was a feeling that people in Pakistan have become immune to tyranny. Perhaps it was felt that when push comes to shove Pakistanis are so used to having people in power do what they please that nothing would come out as protest against any power grab carried out by Islamabad.

But just when it seemed that our ship PNS Titanic was headed straight into a minefield, surrounded by icebergs, in the midst of the perfect storm, the most amazing opposite perfect storm arose in response. The nation became a nation.

The Long March, as it was called, was the best example of a peaceful (at least by Pakistani standards) uprising by the people of Pakistan to have their way with an elected ruler trying to cling to, and expand, his power.

I was in Lahore in 1977 when it happened the last time. I remember driving past puddles of blood covered with ash in dozens and dozens of locations on The Mall where anti-PPP protesters had been killed by the government at that time. This time however, thankfully, the perfect storm that arose was one of common sense, decency, courage and people power.

In particular in addition to the lawyers of Pakistan, there are many people I, even as a New York-based Pakistani, want to give thanks to.
This includes Prime Minister Gilani for his understanding of which way the wind was blowing and helping President Zardari see some light. General Kayani must have had to fight the urge not to take over the government. It must have been difficult when the elected leaders were themselves creating a situation that was going to endanger not just law and order in Islamabad but bring chaos across the nation.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has grown in stature not just within Pakistan but also abroad. He is being praised for taking a stand on principle, showing patience and then being very statesmanlike in his response to broken promises from Islamabad. To then show courage and refuse house arrest to march upon Islamabad put him on a much higher level of leadership than he was at before.

Even the police officers who, after some “kaarwai“, showed common sense and decency, either to resign or to let the protesters begin their march towards Islamabad, should be considered heroes of democracy. As most of my readers and fans know from my background, during my days at the University of Engineering and Technology in Lahore, in the early 1980s,

I was a student leader and chief organizer of QSF. The Islami Jamiate Taliba, as well as its parent, the Jamate Islami, were considered the mortal enemies of liberal organizations like ours. They even murdered Anas Choudhry, a final year student member of QSF, the year I joined UET.

But, today, as during the previous year, I am happy to give credit to this party for its principled stand against tyranny and dictatorship.

I never thought it possible, but even a member of the very political party and inner circle of Islamabad, Ms. Sherry Rehman, deserves praise for her decency, courage – and good timing – in resigning her position. It can be argued that she did it because there were others interfering in her ministry rather than what the government was doing to the independent media. But I, and the people, still give credit for her resignation.

Many of these things would not have become possible had it not been for the courageous, first-time in the life of our nation, stand of the real Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Choudhry, and his fellow judges, who resigned under General Musharraf.

They stayed out of office and jobs, despite pressure, incentives and other tricks that governments have at their disposal in Islamabad. I will avoid passing comment on the people who sold out their souls to get the appointments that they got. But I hope that this new chapter in Pakistan’s history will also be the time when we start naming our villains for future generations to remember and spit on the names of.

Another hero, an entire industry really, that is among the less respected professions around the world these days, including America, was the Pakistani media. I say this not as a member of the media but as a proud Pakistani American who was ashamed of the silent acquiescence of American media in George Bush and Dick Cheney‘s shameless rape of the American Constitution and human rights around the world.

American media cannot be shut down by any government. Yet the media here quietly let the Bush government do whatever it wanted.

The Pakistani government, through many of its Stone Age laws curtailing freedom of expression and press, can shut down almost any Pakistani media entity. The bigger they get in Pakistan, the more the government can squeeze them. Even as a teenager I know how many magazines Prime Minister Zulfiqar Bhutto, whom I then admired, shut down for being critical of his policies. Urdu Digest was one that frequently had to reappear under other names.

I was a member of the press in Pakistan when vile dictator General Zia-ul-Haq gave many journalists a taste of what a dictator can do. He had writers’ nails pulled with pliers to make them stop criticizing him.

For the Pakistani media to have stood up, first to General Musharraf and then to the current Zardari government in Islamabad, at great risk and financial loss to themselves, is another element to celebrate in this great victory of the people. A lot of credit goes to GEO TV, Jang and many other media.

Lack of space and time prevent me from individually thanking every single group or individual, like Mr. Aitezaz Ahsan, who played a central role in this great turnaround. God bless you all, for being the new heroes of a new democracy that can still rise in our nation.

The long march may have been intended for Islamabad, but it may turn out to be something far more important.

The Long March may have become The First Step in a thousand-mile journey – to the true destiny of Pakistan – as a great, free, democratic society ready to take its place in history.

“Qadam Barhao Saathio, Qadam Barhao”

Imran Anwar is a New York and sometimes Florida based Pakistani-American entrepreneur, Internet pioneer, inventor, writer and TV personality. He can be reached through his web site http://imran.com and imran@imran.com . You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/imrananwar

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Hoping For Good Luck, On Friday The 13th

This has been quite an eventful week in New York. The previous few weeks of economic decline, bad financial news, increasing unemployment numbers and other news of global distress had been pushing the New York Stock Exchange consistently and constantly lower and lower.

Things were so bad that people would have preferred a return of the stress-filled yo-yo stock market days, where one at least had a 50-50 chance of making or losing money!

From a high of almost 13,000 the NYSE reached 6500 and there was talk of it even heading lower. There were fears that it might even fall below 6000 before all is said and done.

This decline continued while the flood of bad news also continued unabated. The only silver lining one could see around these ominous dark clouds was that most companies were choosing to do greater layoffs than they need and reducing costs as much as they can.

Even though each job lost is something that can mean the destruction of dreams of a family, sadly, for big businesses it is all a numbers game. Companies generally prefer to dish out all their bad news in one lump rather than dish it out piecemeal. It is generally easier to recover from a massive jolt and negative dip in stock prices over a few weeks or months. It is harder to get over the malaise that can cripple a company’s stock price if the bad news, no matter how small, just keeps coming every few weeks.

What’s that suggests to me, and keep in mind that I’m no financial adviser, is that most companies may be gearing up to have better than expected results at the end of the March quarter. Or, at least results that are less terrible than the market anticipates. Either one of these could potentially mean a rise in stock prices in April.

Even before the end of the quarter, a few pieces of good news have come out. One of them was that Citibank has been profitable for the last two months. This is the giant global behemoth that is one of those banks considered too large to be allowed to fail. This news came shortly after the bank’s stock was trading at as low as one Dollar per share, a far cry from nearly $60 per share it used to be.

Anybody who bought those shares at the ridiculously low price of one Dollar literally made a profit of 35% in one day, as investors suddenly found their greed outweighing their fear.

Financial company stocks in general benefited from this uptick in the stock market. Most major stocks have been rising consistently for the last few days, though I expect some drops as profit-taking starts again.

Even though it is far too early to claim that the market will not plumb new lows, but more than likely, one year from now economists and other so-called experts will analyse and say that the recovery had begun at an anaemic but measurable rate in these weeks.

President Barack Obama and his team have had most of their focus on the American economy – as well as the global recession that still imperils the world. But in the meantime other serious matters of the world continue to demand attention.

As is consistent with Pakistan and its self-destructive ways, once again American media and Pakistan bashers have gotten ample opportunity to raise the specter of Pakistani nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists – should the country spill further into anarchy.

The recent blatant and brazen terrorist attacks in the metropolitan city of Lahore, the despicable attempts to kill the Sri Lankan Cricket team and the evil murder of police officers and innocent bystanders there showed how almost no part of Pakistan is safe. This was an attack obviously not carried out by Taleban type thugs but by some well-organised but equally evil professionally trained gang of killers.

The Taleban continue to remain in the news, especially Pakistan ceding control of Swat and other regions to what are perceived as extremist groups. American drone and missile strikes continue to kill Pakistanis, innocent or otherwise, with disturbing regularity. India continues to rattle its sabers in the guise of demanding justice for the Mumbai attacks. In other words, there is no possible threat, internal or external, military, economic, political or social that Pakistan does not face.

Yet our shameless, spineless, gutless, clueless and witless politicians continue to fight over who sits at the head of the table – while this ship of state is rapidly sinking. Unlike even the Titanic, Pakistan is like a ship whose captain has been aiming it at every single iceberg he can see. On top of that, the ship has been torpedoed from behind. Its own crew is setting fire to cabins and furniture while others are busy looting what they can.

It is no wonder therefore that foreign powers, including America, find that the only way to control Pakistan, even to keep it from self-destructing, is to manage it not as friends but as masters. And, Pakistani politicians are quite OK with that.

From politicians, I want to shift to lawyers. Every country in the world has its share of lawyer jokes. For the last one year, and once again this month, it happens to be Pakistan’s lawyers and barristers, who have taken up the challenge to restore democracy and justice.

A profession that relies not on regular salaries but on almost daily work in the courthouse has once again stepped up, at great cost to its self, economically, professionally, personally. Today I must salute the lawyers and other professionals of Pakistan, not just for bringing down one dictator, but for ensuring that Pakistanis as a nation see that they can choose and control what the government can or cannot do when an elected person tries to act as a dictator.

Will democracy rule or will Pakistan sink into the abyss of chaos and anarchy?

The fact that things have come to this stage in itself is a tragedy. For the first time in more than 60 years we had an opportunity to establish state institutions. This was a historic opportunity because so many forces lined up in a once in a century series of events. The sacrifice of Benazir Bhutto, the professionalism of General Kayani, the sensibility of some political leaders and the great courage of Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudhry and fellow judges. Rarely had so many forces lined up to restore true democracy to Pakistan. And, sadly, rarely have historic opportunities of such greatness been grasped in Pakistan.

As I am writing these lines in New York – on this 13th of March – I am hoping for some good luck for Pakistan. The only positive news is that some sort of compromise may be in the works in Islamabad. I, like millions of Pakistanis, can only hope and pray for that miracle and some Good Luck, today, on Friday The 13th.


This article was in client publications on Friday the 13th, 2009.

Imran Anwar is a New York based Pakistani-American entrepreneur, Internet pioneer, inventor, writer and TV personality. He can be reached through his web site http://imran.com and imran@imran.com . You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/imrananwar

Playing The Blame Game

The historic election of president-elect Barack Obama is complete. Jockeying has begun for positions in the new Cabinet and the new administration – which will take oath of office in early 2009. Democrats who have worked hard for Obama’s success are lining up.

On the Republican side, the blame game continues on who was responsible for the disastrous showing of the Republican Party in the recent elections. Not only did a relative newcomer to politics, but an African-American on top of that, manage to beat a far more established political rival John McCain, Democrats also increased their significant majority in Congress and now even the Senate. It’s going to be a difficult 2-4 years for the Republicans.

While the Republicans are still licking their wounds, they are still not an agreement on whether the defeated vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was an asset or a serious liability.

There are some who admit that Sarah Palin was a terrible selection. Even the unofficial mouthpiece of the Republican Party, and the ultra-right-wing as well as neo-con movements of the United States, Fox News Channel, had one of its reporters rattling off a litany of Sarah Palin weaknesses.

Of course this was done after the election. This included apparently amazing, and downright scary, facts like the candidate for vice president of the United States, one heartbeat away from the presidency if the physically challenged John McCain was to die while in office, could not name the three countries that make up North America! Canada is to the North of us Americans, and Mexico is to the South. She did not know that! She did not know that Africa is a continent and not a country. The list goes on.

What is even more shocking than such an apparent moron being a major political party’s candidate is that some people still do not seem to have learned a lesson from this defeat. It appears that some part of the Republican Party still does not get it. There are people who are already positioning Palin for a presidential run in 2012. They seem to think that extreme right-wing ultraconservative bible thumping hockey mom small town Christian mentality is what America needs. Heaven forbid!

These people are quite clear in their thinking that she was a great candidate who was simply defeated because the media did not like her. Blaming the media is nothing new, as we know in all countries. Most parties and candidates do it, especially if they are falling behind or defeated.

However, even as a writer who worked for a newspaper (Jang Group & MAG Weekly) in Pakistan that was constantly attacked by the left and right asking for greater coverage than the other side, I find the Republican Party’s blaming the media laughable.

I am all for being fair and balanced, for real, unlike just as a dumb slogan, and giving equal coverage to all parties – especially at the start of the race.

The media’s job is not to be a mouthpiece of either party, nor should it try to influence people in one way or the other, when the choice is between two equally strong candidates.

But, it is ridiculous to assume that the media should be giving equal coverage, or writing equal number of "positive stories" if one candidate is running an awesome campaign and the other just cannot seem to get his foot out of his mouth.

Another amazing thing that is happening now, post-election, is that the same Sarah Palin who was unavailable to do any interviews, or take any press conferences except with carefully chosen friendly journalists, is now all over the media.

One of my favourite TV anchors is Campbell Brown over at CNN. She is bright, beautiful and bold. That is why it is great to see her run a show called "No Bias No Bull". In a recent episode I loved it when she declared that during the elections they could not get Sarah Palin to speak to them and now, post-election, Palin does not ever seem to "shut up!"

Suddenly the same Republican Party that was attacking the media elite, while not making its candidates available to speak to them, is actively courting the media.

John McCain made his first TV appearance after losing the election on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno". To his credit McCain has been a gentleman in defeat. He has been gracious and even funny. He told Jay Leno that after losing the election he has been sleeping like a baby. He sleeps for two hours, wakes up crying and goes back to sleep.

In the meantime Sarah Palin, who was calling Barack Obama a socialist, is now gushing with praise and kind words for him and his family. The same man that she was trying to label a terrorist-friend is one she is suggesting should be selecting opponent republicans to be members of his Cabinet. Nice try.

Only time will tell if the Republican Party will continue down this destructive path of courting the ultra-right-wing, fundamentalist Christian, extreme elements of American society.

I, for one, am hoping that the American public and the American media will continue to keep an eye on what and how the Democrats do in the next two years. If it looks like they are foolishly squandering the historic opportunity that American voters gave them, it would be an opportunity for the Republican Party to find its footing, and its place in history again. But that cannot be done just by playing the blame-the-media game.

As a member of the media, I also feel it is our responsibility, to now report accurately, fairly and with an eye to the future. America, and the world, stand together on the brink of disaster but with great and bright future days still within sight. It is up to us to work together to make that brighter future a reality.

[Continued…]

Imran Anwar is a New York and Miami based Pakistani-American entrepreneur, Internet pioneer, inventor, writer and TV personality. He can be reached through his web site http://imran.com and imran@imran.com . You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/imrananwar

Random Thoughts, Comments & Quips On FaceBook

Seema Kalia wants volunteers who want to answer my 6 yr olds Q’s on any of the following: Evolution, War, God’s absence in the face of poverty and Civil Rights. Anyone?
35 seconds ago – 1 Comment

Imran Anwar at 10:51pm November 12
I can’t answer but can tell you who can best answer:

Evolution: Sarah Palin
War: George W. Bush
God’s absence in the face of poverty: Prada wearing Pope
Civil Rights: Any millionaire basketball player.

Hope that helps.

Imran

Ziana Bethune is thanking God for the wisdom to accept that which she cannot change, and the power to change that which she can…and for the gift of great friends.
15 minutes ago – 1 Comment

Imran Anwar at 10:52pm November 12
God said “You’re welcome.” According to George Bush, coz God doesn’t call me directly.

Ninelle Efremova is excited to see a sky completely covered in stars. prettttyyy.
42 minutes ago – 1 Comment

Imran Anwar at 10:54pm November 12
A full moon here was making stars less visible but a short while ago I was enjoying looking at Orion’s Belt. Good thing stars are not like men, or that waist would be expanding. Wait a second, the universe is expanding. Does that mean Orion’s belt and waist are also expanding. OK, I give up. Back to seeing stars. LOL

Imran
http://www.flickr.com/photos/imrananwar/sets/

Malcolm Lawrence Begich leads Stevens by 3 votes with 10,000 ballots to be counted.
about an hour ago – 1 Comment

Imran Anwar at 9:37pm November 12
WOW. That’s close. Can’t believe Alaskans want a crook to keep representing them. Explains a lot

Malcolm Lawrence So satisfying to see “free marketers” try to fix YOUR mess with socialistic remedies before “socialist” Obama even starts his term. D’oh!
about an hour ago – 1 Comment

Imran Anwar at 9:37pm November 12
Yes, and making it worse by mucking up even the bailout. Is there a bailout possible for bailouts?

Steven Alexander : Can President-Elect Obama govern the way he Campaigned?
about an hour ago – 5 Comments

Imran Anwar at 9:38pm November 12
I just saw in my Inbox but didn’t read yet an article (summary appeared to be suggesting he ran a No Drama campaign but to get people to do their best he may want to mix things up.)

Jose Outtellect Guzman III at 9:40pm November 12
Obama will do whatever illuminati tells him to.

Steven Alexander at 9:43pm November 12
“illuminati”?

Jose Outtellect Guzman III at 9:48pm November 12
Illuminati it’s in the dictionary. Small group of wealthy individuals. Who own all the land, oil, gold, knowledge, information, corporations, media,resources, etc. Your rockefellers, buffets, murdochs,gates, etc.

Imran Anwar at 9:49pm November 12
I think supporters of current “administration” and Bush and Palin-2012 want dark forces (like Cheney), voices in the President’s head (preferably Jesus now starts calling next Republican instead of Bush), and obliterati (bomb anyone to divert attention from domestic issues).

Miles O’Brien On the US-285 btwn Roswell and Albiquirky. Road flat and straight speedometer reads 90. Cell service spotty. Stars about to emerge.
2 hours ago – 8 Comments

Lisa Farrell at 8:45pm November 12
are you texting while driving 90?
Show 6 more comments…

Imran Anwar at 9:40pm November 12
Be careful, if you see large shiny object hovering in the sky – it may be Sarah Palin’s halo.

Stephanie Green is disturbingly disorganized, and thinks Melissa Ethridge is a bad-ass. Power to the gays!
2 hours ago – 1 Comment

Imran Anwar at 9:40pm November 12
Maybe she has a constant craving to be organized. LOL

Harry McCracken Four words: WebEx on a Phone: http://tinyurl.com/59yltz.
2 hours ago – 1 Comment

Imran Anwar at 9:43pm November 12
Even better, 2 words – “WebEx iPhone” LOL

Malcolm Lawrence Gee, Detroit, maybe its time to start making Green cars and finally dealing with your labor costs mess. Immediately. Come on, get crackin’!
6 hours ago – Comment

Imran Anwar at 11:09pm November 12
Not until they get rid of the cancer of unions (which enable people barely qualified to flip burgers to make $100K) they can’t be saved and I don’t want my tax money going to bail them out.

Imran nytimesbusiness reports Glass Makers Fined $1.6 Billion for Price Fixing. High fine breaks glass ceiling? Glass half empty now? Cracks me up.via Twitter – 5:24pm – 5 Comments

Ziana Bethune at 5:47pm November 12
ROFLMAO! Cracks you up, Imran? Oh, God…maybe I’m twisted but I love your puns. lol!

Imran Anwar at 8:22pm November 12
Thanks, Ziana. It’s CLEAR to me that you can SEE THROUGH my humor. LOL. Of course, I enjoy your POURING on the compliments into my JUG sized ears – hopefully without my getting GLASSY-EYED. I know you are TWISTED. But, are you twisted enough to want to be the PRETZEL that a certain President choked on? LOL.

Ziana Bethune at 8:55pm November 12
ROFLMAO! Uh…maybe I’m twisted enough to be the President that the pretzel fell prey to. lol. 🙂 If you’re nuts enough to prey to pretzels, that is. *Groan.*

Seema Kalia at 10:17pm November 12
GAWD. This is so transparent.

Imran Anwar at 10:48pm November 12
I can see clearly now.

From Frank:
re: Redistribution of wealth in simple terms

Give it some SERIOUS thought! Not far off.

Today on my way to lunch I passed a homeless guy with
a sign that read ‘Vote Obama, I need the money.’ I laughed.

Once in the restaurant my server had on a ‘Obama 08’ tie,

again I laughed as he had given away his political
preference–just imagine the coincidence.

When the bill came I decided not to tip the server and
explained to him that I was exploring the Obama redistribution

of wealth concept. He stood there in disbelief while I told him

that I was going to redistribute his tip to someone who
I deemed more in need–the homeless guy outside. The
server angrily stormed from my sight.

I went outside, gave the homeless guy $10 and told him to
thank the server inside as I’ve decided he could use the
money more. The homeless guy was grateful.

At the end of my rather unscientific redistribution experiment I
realized the homeless guy was grateful for the money he did not

earn, but the waiter was pretty angry that I gave away the money

he did earn even though the actual recipient deserved money more.

I guess redistribution of wealth is an easier thing to swallow in
concept than in practical application.

OR IS IT…REDISTRIBUTION OF SOMEONE ELSE’S
WEALTH IS A GREAT IDEA…..

Imran Anwar
November 4 at 1:14am
Frank, I am no Democrat, supported McCain in 2000 and proudly voted Obama in 2008. I am hoping my fellow Americans will vote to make history tomorrow. McCain’s already history unless my countrymen are racist at heart and give false info to pollsters.

Imran

Frank Profeta
November 4 at 10:29am
Imran
There is much more at stake than the Presidency, don’t forget about the supreme court, appx 2-3 justices. I just woke up, I’m our in Phoenix for another week. Weather is great out here.
Frank
Sent via Facebook Mobile

Imran Anwar
November 4 at 6:04pm
Like anyone could get bigger crooked judges like Roberts that Bush shoved in there. Enjoy Phoenix. My condolences (I hope 😉 ) to McCain. Weather cloudy in DC. I’ll be here another couple of days.

Be safe.

Imran

Imran Anwar
November 5 at 1:50am
I’m glad the rednecks racists bigots Bush lovers were defeated by great Americans. Looking forward to people staying engaged in politics and elections n throwing Dems out if they do bad things.

Bush now officially the used toilet paper of American history.
Sent via Facebook Mobile

Frank Profeta
November 5 at 8:55am
Imran
I wouldn’t call McCain supporters, “rednecks racists bigots Bush lovers,” we are all great Americans and participated in a very intense campaign for many months. This kind of talk is what divides America, not unites America. You might want to reconsider your comments.

Imran Anwar
November 5 at 12:35pm
Hahaha, Frank. Really – now as losers even the bigots and racists and other regular Republicans like you yourself are all great Americans but your beloved Sarah Palin said Obama supporters were not real Americans or America loving. LOL

New Day, New Dawn, New Era, A Renewed Nation

There are dark clouds on the horizon, as the damp chill of an early November rain looms over Washington DC. It is unlikely that anyone awake at this dawn hour will see even a single ray of light of sunshine. Yet, Washington, DC, as well as all the United States of America are bathed in a warm glow and bright light. It is the sunshine of a new day, a new dawn, a new era, and a new chapter in the history of a great nation renewed.

To paraphrase a recent advertisement, published by CNN in The New York Times and other reputed newspapers, the United States, as well as the rest of the world, were caught in a magical moment on the night of November 4, 2008, as the US elections came to a close.

The past was leaving, but still threatened to continue into our future. The future beckoned, the hope of a new day, but the dawn had not yet arrived and could still elude us. For a brief moment in time, you, I, the United States, as well as the whole world, were caught in a moment of curiosity, wonder, concern as well as sheer, innocent, daring hope.

Yesterday the nation stood at a crossroads, the brink of expanding disaster or a new beginning. As the election results came in, it became obvious that Hope had won the day. The past was going to be sent far into the past. In that brief period of time, between the end of polling in the United States, Senator McCain conceding defeat and President-elect Barack Hussein Obama giving his victory speech, many amazing things happened which many of us had not expected to see for a long time.

Americans themselves appeared to close the door on the jingoistic, brutal and bullying faux but failing empire that George W. Bush and his henchmen had tried to build over the last eight years. Americans of all colors, ages, races, religions, ethnicities and backgrounds came out in larger numbers to vote than at any time in the recent history. They also found that they had made a dream come true surprisingly quicker than they themselves had expected.

Dr. Martin Luther King, the black slain civil rights leader, was killed for his preaching equality for whites and blacks. His amazing "I Have A Dream" speech is known to all Americans, and I urge readers of this column to read, or even better, to hear it for themselves. (It is easily available on the Internet). Many Americans can even quote words from that speech. But few had believed it possible that they would see parts of Dr. King’s dream come true in such a real and shining manner.

Americans found their country once again beginning to be the bright beacon of light, hope, equality, justice, greatness and ideals that the rest of the world looks up to. Above all, Americans themselves woke up to realize that from being a good, yet imperfect, country overnight they had matured into a renewed nation, achieving greatness again, surprising themselves and the world in unison.

Let there be no delusions. We have not suddenly achieved some racial-nirvana, some miracle of overnight solutions to eons old human emotions. The results from various states, and parts of the country, including so-called redneck areas, show that despite the massive failure of George W. Bush, and his friends, voting for a black man was still too much for the Bush-supporting people to do.

No society in the world, at least in our lifetimes, can achieve the Utopian ideals of having no racism at all. However, with this vote Americans resoundingly proved that if there is any country in the world that can come close to living up to its own ideals, and the ideals of most human beings, it is the great nation of United States of America.

The country that had a history of slavery, abuse and even murder of black people today elected its president who is not only black, but is the son of a Kenyan immigrant, raised by a single mother, with an extended family of Africans, Christians and Muslims. And they did not install this man by some technical election, or by some narrow margin. They did so in such a resounding manner that there was no doubt left in anyone’s mind. It was clear. America had come back to its rightful place on the world stage – as a nation to be respected, admired, looked up to and – perhaps one day soon – loved again.

The irony is that this next to impossible election of Barack Obama was made possible by the disaster that was George W. Bush. It was hastened by the brink of disaster faced by the United States as well as rest of the world. Yet, the challenges that Barack Obama faces on taking the oath of office will make his getting elected seem like a walk in the park.

One of the interesting elements of United States elections is the significant time period between the results of elections and the new government taking over. In most circumstances it is a good thing – as it allows for a smoother transition from one administration to the next. However, in today’s serious geo-political and socio-economic meltdown situations, Barack Obama faces a new dilemma.

On the one hand he cannot be overly aggressive in pushing for his own policies while lame-duck George W. Bush is still in office. On the other hand, he cannot simply wait for 2 months for the situation to get worse, or the wrong policies or "solutions" from being applied or tested – by an administration already having seen itself rejected to the dustbin of history.

The major challenge that President-elect Barack Obama is sure to face is the issue of unrealistic expectations.

Being able to inspire people to believe that solutions are possible, being able to suggest that change is coming and getting people out to vote are far easier than solving the actual problems in some miraculously short timeframe. On top of that, as can be seen in any country where the party comes back into power after a long time, it’s supporters (jialas), power players and constituents expect to be rewarded for their support. The thing that can save Obama from this problem is the huge turnout in the elections and the very broad range of people who swept him into power. That makes it easier for him to resist the pressure or blackmail tactics of any particular constituent or support group.

An additional challenge that he and his Administration will face is that there are no easy solutions to the problems that are faced by the United States economy, as well as the global economy. Nor is it very easy to get out of the war in Iraq – if that is what people expect to be a short and easy fix to all problems.

Another thing to keep in mind is that one of Obama’s strengths is his ability to think coolly and rationally about issues, analyze the situation, make a decision and communicate his plan. The problem is that it can also lead to analysis paralysis, especially for a relatively young, inexperienced, new leader.

It is possible for Obama to also try to please as many people as he can and end up displeasing a lot more. Even worse, being someone who appears to want to be liked by everybody, it is possible that he may want to tiptoe around some of the tough decisions that need to be made. That, in my humble opinion, would be a disaster.

The biggest strength, the biggest advantage, the biggest opportunity that Obama can leverage is the huge mandate he was given in this landslide victory. It is for this reason that his first 100 days will be far more important in real terms than in the usual symbolic terms that they are looked at for new presidents.

If he’s smart, and a man of action, he will find a strategic way to have Congress, with its Democrat majority further strengthened in this election, influence and force George W. Bush’s outgoing administration to embark on the path that Obama would like to follow. This would enable him to get the ball rolling even before his inauguration, avoid the impression of imposing himself before he assumes office and also save him from any blame that can come about from George Bush and his team still screwing things up.

Another advantage I see is that this clear mandate, given to a visionary leader with the ability to inspire his nation, is just the right shot in the arm needed by the US consumer, business and stock markets.

As I have written in these pages before, there are serious threats to the United States and global economies, but the biggest threat is a crisis of confidence. Obama’s ascension to power is sure to help revive that confidence.

As I write these lines at 5 AM on November 5 in Washington DC, I am confident that, barring any external economic events, an economic resurgence, including a stock market rebound, shall start soon. More credit will start becoming available, thawing the economic freeze that had left Main Street shuddering and Wall Street with pneumonia. I even hope that a recovery and expansion may be on the horizon as happened when the last great American President Bill Clinton came into office replacing another weak economy under another weak Bush.

So, economic recovery will be of paramount importance to Americans and the whole world. The weak economy is what helped Obama get elected, but the biggest challenges before, during and even after an economic recovery will be foreign affairs and undoing the damage done by the Bush Administration.

My advice to President Barack Obama would be to therefore embark on aggressive efforts to resolve the Middle East and Palestinian, as well as the Kashmir issues. I would also encourage him to immediately start dialogue with Iran and other countries that George W. Bush was busy burning un-built bridges with.

But Obama has to do so in a friendly yet firm manner. It is time for America to assume its place as leader of the free world, willing, able and ready to use its power and influence to do good and effect real positive change around the world and achieving things that no past American President had the willingness or courage to do. That is the audacity of my hope for President Barack Obama.

Imran Anwar is a New York and Miami based Pakistani-American entrepreneur, Internet pioneer, inventor, writer and TV personality. He can be reached through his web site http://imran.com and imran@imran.com

America’s Choice: Brink Of Disaster, Verge Of Destiny – Election 2008

Brink Of Disaster, Verge Of Destiny

By Imran Anwar

The United States won victory in World War II, but 50 years later it was the vanquished Germany and Japan that won the economic war. The United States won the Cold War, but even fewer years later it is Communist China, and a Resurgent Russia, that are growing economies and global political players again.

The world today stands on the brink of an economic disaster of historic and global proportions. The United States today stands on the precipice, also on the brink of an economic meltdown but also with a historic opportunity. On November 4 Americans will elect their new president for the next four years. At no time in modern history has this election been of greater importance to the American people, as well as citizens of the world.

The clearly disastrous and mismanaged administration of George W. Bush will also be a factor. Under this most unpopular president in modern history, and the most reviled American leader in the world, America went from being the sole, respected, superpower in a unipolar world to one of the most despised, jingoistic, aggressive, yet weakened and threatened countries in the world.

The choice today that the American voters will make is actually one of historic importance and significance for everybody. The choice American voters will make shall determine whether America continues to pursue the same failed economic, foreign and domestic policies of George W. Bush or embark on a new road to peace and prosperity worldwide.

Americans have to choose between two candidates for our next President.

The Republican Party candidate is Senator John McCain, a man in his 70s, with health issues and a mixed bag of experience, respect, scandal and lack of personal ethics in his past. The Democratic Party candidate, Barack Hussein Obama, is the son of the Kenyan Muslim immigrant, a black male, born and raised in poor circumstances. He also has possibly the worst name any candidate could have to run for election in the United States in a post 9/11 America (with its fear and dislike for Muslims with names like Saddam Hussein and Osama)!

In general it has been seen that any election held during the time of economic crisis, especially one as serious as the current one, will most likely lead to the defeat of the incumbent party. Add to that the unpopularity of the current president and you would almost think the Democrats have it made. However, the unique, and interesting, twist in this election was the breakdown of several historic barriers.

Democrats set the agenda, and the new standard, when their final two candidates were Senator Hillary Clinton, a woman, and Senator Barack Obama, a black man. In effect, the Democrats knew they were going to make history through the first ever nomination of either a woman or a black man to be a major party candidate for president.

The entire Republican field, meanwhile, as usual, was comprised of the same good old white men’s club.

After a bitter, and tough, primary election fight Obama won over Hillary Clinton. A lot of Democrats were hoping for the “dream ticket”, in which Obama and Hillary Clinton would be the presidential and vice presidential candidates respectively. However, the bad blood between the two of them was too much to overcome until recently. Obama made a wise choice anyway – by selecting the experienced and well-liked Senator Joseph Biden to be his running mate as vice president.

On the Republican side, after many ups and downs Senator John McCain prevailed over many smarter and more desirable candidates. He waited to announce his running mate until after Senator Obama had announced his VP. One of the things John McCain likes to claim, and at one time had been, was a maverick. However, in this particular case he chose Sarah Palin, the poorly vetted, little-known governor of a sparsely populated state of Alaska, to be his VP. (She was recently found guilty of ethics violations, her underage daughter is pregnant out of wedlock, her husband belonged to an anti-America organization, but no one seemed to notice!).

In the end, America and American voters have to choose between two men and their running mates.

John McCain was relying on his non-stop support for the Iraq war, and his having been a “war hero”, as a prisoner of war in the Vietnam War, as his strengths as a candidate. Running as a Republican candidate, which also espouses Conservative values, he of course would not like people to remember his adulterous background, his dumping his first wife as she was being disfigured by cancer, going on to marry a rich woman who makes her money from a booze distribution business. He wants people to ignore his getting involved with the well-known crook Charles Keating, and helping protect Keating while his fraud brought about a massive financial crisis 20 years ago.

Very few people also seem to remember that McCain was Fourth from the bottom of his class of almost 900 students. He was shot down as an air force pilot not because he was being a hero but because he was just not a good pilot. His poor piloting destroyed at least 4 planes that he was flying! Of course, Americans should honor him for having being a prisoner of war, and a decorated war hero. But, by that token, people should also have elected Senator John Kerry as president in 2004. We know that did not happen.

But the biggest thing, the alignment of external factors beyond John McCain’s control, which may doom his run for the White House ended up being something he had the least knowledge, confidence, and ideas on – the economy.

He was literally giving speeches declaring that the fundamentals of the American economy were sound and everything was fine – on the same day that Lehman Brothers, the large respected bank, collapsed and the economic meltdown began. Even during the three presidential debates with Senator Obama, Senator McCain has had no particular ideas, or proposals, other than a mantra of anti-democratic party rhetoric and trying to label his opponent through words of fear and innuendo.

While all this was happening John McCain was also losing one of his core constituencies, independent and fiscally conservative Democratic leaning voters. He lost them by chasing after and begging for the support of the very same people he had called “agents of intolerance” in his previous attempts at the White House. He went out of his way to cater to the needs, and demands, of the neo-Conservative, fundamentalist, right wing Christian and evangelical groups.

The more radically right he went, the shriller his attacks on Senator Obama became. The final nail in that coffin of the so-called original John McCain came with his selection of Sarah Palin to be his running mate. Initially seen as a breath of fresh air, the young, attractive, confident, well-spoken former beauty queen shook things up – especially in the core base of the Republican Party.

However, in just a few weeks, thanks to mismanagement, to saying the most ridiculous and foolish things during TV interviews, unsuccessfully trying to label her opponents as socialists or communists, she has ensured that she is now showing up in surveys as costing John McCain several percentage points of support among likely voters.

Senator Obama, on the other hand, despite belonging to the usually very disorganized Democratic Party, has run one of the most successful, and best managed campaigns of modern elections. He and his supporters have rewritten the book on fundraising, raising awareness, getting voters involved, staying on message, and exciting the electorate.

Despite coming from humble beginnings, Obama attended the prestigious Columbia and Harvard universities. He has been an excellent orator and came as a breath of fresh air to the American voter. Despite his having much lesser experience in politics, he literally burst on the scene in the 2004 elections, as a speaker at the Democratic National Convention. Most people expected him to one day be a national level candidate, perhaps 12-16 years. However, the historic opportunity came sooner than expected. First he got elected to the Senate and within two years he is within touching distance from the White House.

He has been able to focus on the economy and also on his best-known policy stand, which was his firm opposition to the war in Iraq. With his charisma, his speeches, his ideas, he was able to inspire great supporters and major respected adviser to join him. He was able to excite the electorate like few candidates have since Bill Clinton. He was able to raise money directly from the people, enabling him and his party to spread their message of hope, change, and a new beginning. This was like magic for the masses who were sick of George W. Bush and his policies. His campaign made McCain’s supporting Bush 90% of the time a major issue. In essence, they have made McCain’s candidacy a continuation of the Bush campaign. They have made the election a referendum on Bush – a man so unpopular even his own party candidates for any state or national seat have not invited him to even be in the same city as them!

Will this be a referendum on Bush? Will it be a victory of hope over status quo? Will it be the dawn of a new era or the same old same old?

While we wait for voting to begin, and the results to come in, we have nothing but polls, surveys and interviews with people who have gone for early voting. (Several American states allow people to vote early). By almost all polls it almost appears that the die has been cast. A huge, historic, unprecedented level of early voters has turned out. The vast majority of them are said to be voting for Obama for President. However, as they say, it ain’t done till it’s done.

There are many things that can go wrong during this election.

Polls can be wrong, especially in this case. The reason is that many people may claim that they will vote for the black candidate, but being racist at heart, will actually vote for the white candidate on election day. Another factor can be overconfidence by Obama supporters, who may decide not to go to vote because they will think they have already won the election.

Voting machine errors, especially in the new kinds of electronic machines being used in some states, also have people concerned. Fraud is a real possibility, as has been seen with so-called mis-calibrated voting machines. Even in areas not using electronic voting machines, who can forget the disaster that was Florida voting George W. Bush into power in 2000, because of poorly punched paper ballots. The fear of “hanging chads” still hangs over democratic heads.

In essence, America faces a choice. On the one hand it faces economic ruin and a disastrous war in Iraq continuing for years to come and more of the same by John McCain. On the other hand it faces overcoming its biggest challenges, including a history of slavery and racism. Most analysts and polls suggest that America is ready to make a historic decision. Most expect Obama to become the first black president of the United States and lead this country to a great destiny.

Brink Of Disaster or Verge Of Destiny? Which choice will the American voters make? It will become known to us in 24 hours. Stay tuned.


Imran Anwar is a New York and Miami based Pakistani-American entrepreneur, Internet pioneer, investor, writer and TV personality. He can be reached through his web site http://imran.com and imran@imran.com

Voter, Voter, In The Hall; Who’s The Brightest Star Of All?

I have always found it interesting the way politics and show business have mixed in recent years not just in Pakistan but also in America.

In the good old days, for example, when John F. Kennedy was President of the United States, the tendency was for politicians to have secret affairs with movie stars. Over the years the relationship between movie stars, TV actors, show business personalities and political leaders became more open.

It started with politicians getting married to show business personalities and eventually to movie actors entering politics and running for office.

One would have assumed that developing or so-called Third World countries like Pakistan were more likely to have movie stars, cashing in on their popularity and name recognition, become successful politicians. One would also have assumed that a supposedly more educated country, or society, like the United States would be less likely to allow such cashing in of fame and celebrity, especially at the national leadership level.

So it is interesting and ironic to see that in Pakistan, in general, movie stars, or even renowned celebrities (who also happened to be great people), like cricketer Imran Khan, were not truly able to make a successful transition to politics at the highest level and at the highest office.

Sure, respected and popular people like the late actor Muhammad Ali, did run for seats in parliament. Cricketer Sarfraz Nawaz, with his relationship to a movie star, also made a play for a seat in an Assembly seat.

Maybe there are a few other examples. But I do not recall anyone who was able to make a serious play for the highest office in the land, whether Prime Minister or President of Pakistan.

In the United States, on the other hand, the same forces of celebrity, fame, name and face recognition, as well as hero worship were at work – but surprisingly at a much higher level.

One does not have to see too far back into recent history to see how quickly American politics moved from having a president having an affair with a movie star (like JFK and Marilyn Monroe) to actually electing Ronald Reagan as president of the most powerful nation on earth.

On top of that, the same Ronald Reagan, that many people claimed to despise during his presidency, considering him nothing more than a talking head, all recognize that he ended up being one of the most powerful American presidents ever.

To this day almost every single American candidate for the presidency, especially from the Conservative or Republican side, has always gone above and beyond to prove how much like Ronald Reagan he or she is – even if they themselves had nothing in common with Ronald Reagan, or even having been closer to a movie studio than a visit to Universal Studios theme parks!

This hero worship was also apparent when Arnold Schwarzenegger, also known as The Terminator, was elected "governator" of California. The reason this is important to note is that California is more than just one of 50 states in the United States. Even as a stand-alone economy it would count as the 12th largest country/economy in the world. And Schwarzenegger is still running that state. So, quite clearly it is more than just a temporary bout of celebrity worship that puts and keeps people like him in office in America.

Of course, there are other cases of movie stars dabbling in a political activity, but more as activists than as candidates. Some of them do this even at great personal cost.

After all it is the public that gives them their wealth, fame and career, and the public can take it away. That is why I have such immense respect for showbiz personalities like George Clooney, Sean Penn, and others, like Oliver Stone. They have boldly spoken out against George W. Bush and his idiotic policies which have turned a global superpower like America almost into a Third World country, on the brink of economic ruin.

Who can forget the lovely, and talented, Dixie Chicks, a wonderful trio of singers from Texas, who apologized to the world for the idiotic Bush being from their state and country, USA. They lost Millions of Dollars in record sales for their bold action from the rednecks that used to buy their CDs.

One also has to acknowledge some of these movie stars and even their producers who not only speak their opinions boldly, they even put their money where their mouth is. Oliver Stone‘s latest movie, "W" is a clear attack on Bush and exposing his inner circle of crooks and cronies. I plan to watch that movie after the elections.

Most recent examples of such personal and business risk-taking in movies include the movie Syriana, in which George Clooney exposed the evil so-called foreign policy that the oil companies and Washington use to control regimes in the Middle East.

I am surprised that more Americans, more Pakistanis and more Muslims/Arabs have not seen that movie. If you haven’t I strongly urge you to rent it out on DVD. Your viewing it will not help the producer make his money back, but it will give you a great appreciation for such creative people who risked their personal, financial and career assets on the line for their beliefs and to speak the truth.

Coming back to the topic of politicians and their connection to movie stars or showbiz, by the time you read these lines a new president will already have been elected in the United States.

I wish I could predict right now the words I will be saying on November 4 while covering the US presidential elections for Geo TV and MAG. But one of the interesting things to see will be what role, if any, movie stars’ supporting presidential candidates will have had.

John McCain appears to be on the losing track. But, I do not trust the American masses to look beyond Barack Obama’s race and skin color, as well as Muslim sounding name, to elect him president.

To get more of that so-called redneck vote out in his own support, the Republican’s latest rally brought out Arnold Schwarzenegger to root for John McCain the white candidate.

On the other hand Barack Obama is no slouch in the celebrity endorsement department either. Not only does he have the support of movie stars like Mark Wahlberg, several of the above-mentioned celebrities, Oprah Winfrey, as well as having his own star power – he also has the charisma of Bill Clinton now apparently on his side. That does not even count the increasing number of renowned Republicans like non-movie star but multi-star General Colin Powell endorsing Obama. 

And, in another illustration of how things can go full circle, Bill Clinton’s "boring" vice president, and democratic party candidate in 2000, Al Gore, has gone from being almost the President of the United States to almost being a "movie star" himself  – with his very popular documentary on global warming. As you can imagine, Al Gore is also rooting for Barack Obama.

We will wait and see which candidate’s ideas, personal magnetism, or movie star support wins this election. So we have to ask the "VOTER, VOTER, IN THE HALL; WHO’S THE BRIGHTEST STAR OF ALL?"

We’ll find out on November 4, but stay tuned and follow my coverage on GEO TV November 3-5, 2008, live from Washington, DC!

Imran Anwar is a New York and Miami based Pakistani-American entrepreneur, Internet pioneer, inventor, writer and TV personality. He can be reached through his web site http://imran.com and imran@imran.com