Notes in Circulation # 1

This is the first entry in a series of experimental posts which could evolve into a brief newsletter. These posts, and perhaps the newsletter, will be called ‘Notes in Circulation’ – i.e. my notes on what I’m seeing, hearing, reading and on whatever is in circulation. It is also a reference to the circulation of promissory notes.

Pakistan: security, media, leadership

The news that senior officials in the Pakistani government, including a senior federal government minister, have been paying extortion money to the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) is alarming. If the TTP can extract money using the threat of violence, it is not a far cry to consider the very real possibility that they may also extract information, if they are not doing so already. This needs serious investigation from the Pakistani security and law enforcement agencies (SALEAs). It tells us of the troubled and alarming state of affairs where even officials and ministers in power, with greater access to security resources and personnel than your average Pakistani citizen, are not safe. That they would rather pay the money than report these threats to the SALEAs tells us how little confidence they have in the SALEAs. It tells us how little trust and confidence there is in the capacity of the state and government as a whole.

In light of this, the statements coming from the the public relations messaging, specifically through the ISPR, reads like something out of dystopian fiction, reminding us to not worry, to remember that everything is ok. People are being told that “the country has transitioned from uncertainty to peace”. This is obviously problematic because it is simply untrue. I do not see how this messaging fits with the furthering of a democratic spirit and culture in the country. Lynne O’Donnell has written in Foreign Policy that “[t]he Pakistan Army is entrenching its control over the civilian administration, courts, media, and civil society, justifying its actions with traditional anti-India rhetoric as well as the uptick in homegrown terrorism.” See my previous blogpost about Pakistan’s recently published National Security Policy document being about power and subsuming the economic management of the country within the traditional security apparatus of the country.

And media freedom is being certainly being curtailed. As Madiha Afzal of Brookings has noted, “the only reporting on Balochistan is based on ISPR releases.” But the present government with the PTI in power is also playing its part. The PECA amendment ordinance, widely being condemned as an effort to stamp out dissent, criticism and free-speech, is also being challenged. The irony is, of course, that it was the PML-N — the boogeyman in the PTI’s worldview — which had passed this legislation in the first place when it was in government which is now being amended by the current government. The PML-N is now calling these changes “draconian”. What goes around certainly comes around. But none of it bodes well for democracy in Pakistan. And it all comes right at the time when a general close to Zia ul Haq has been named in the Suisse Secrets. It further brings into question the statement repeated commonly and lazily in Pakistan that the military is the only professional, meritocratic, competent institution in the country untainted by corruption.

Complementing the put-on-your-blinders messaging from the ISPR and the present governments efforts to hurt freedom of expression, there is of course the consistent toxic positivity of the PTI’s influencer-like style of communication. That style comes from the top of the party from the Prime Minister himself, who landed in Moscow on the eve of war in Europe, smiling and expressing his excitement about being in Russia. He had earlier been interviewed by a Russian journalist who had done her homework very well and fully encouraged the Prime Minister to express himself, at one point even agreeing emphatically with his claim that nobody knows India better than him. This was the same interview in which, referring to “this Ukraine conflict”, he stated that “I cannot really believe that there is any chance, any possibility of a conflict.” Head. Sand.

About neoliberalism

Rana Foroohar has written in the FT that: “We’ve left the age of neoliberalism behind. We know now that markets are not perfect and that consumers and large multinational companies aren’t the only economic stakeholders.” Heterodox economists and historians knew this all along. Even Adam Smith knew it, with his model of three classes of income earners and suspicion of the capitalist class. But it is still not clear to me that we’ve left the age of neoliberalism behind. It will not be left behind until the ideas orthodox neoclassical economics have been left behind. And we are nowhere close to putting those ideas to bed. To consider only one example, Aqdas Afzal has written recently about the endorsement of neoliberal ideas in the National Security Policy document. Foroohar concludes by saying “What comes after neoliberalism? This is, after all, a political economy, stupid.” A political economy indeed. And the question is excellent.