Memories of Ukraine – Posted on February 27, 2022

“As I am writing to you now, a siren is going off telling everybody to go down in the basement. It all still seems unreal and crazy,” wrote my friend and former colleague who now lives in Lviv with her family. She wrote this message on Friday, February 25. Lviv is a...

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The Return of the Native

Thoughts on The Return of the Native A British immigrant reluctantly decides to escape the tumult of Trump’s America By Rebecca Mead The New Yorker, August 20, 2018...

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Opinion Pieces at the News International Pakistan

Minority Rule – Published on Dec. 22, 2021

In the last nine elections for the president of the United States stretching across 30+ years, the Republican Party candidate has only twice been able to get a majority of the votes cast – yet the candidate for the Republican Party has won four of these nine elections

Winning the election with a minority of votes cast in a two-party system is due to the quirks of the US electoral system. Such a result is possible because the US constitution calls for indirect election of the president and vice president with disproportionate weightage to the smaller states.

While the intent of the founding fathers may have been to balance out the power dynamic between smaller and larger states, the net result is a system increasingly out of step with the will of the voters. Read more…


Backsliding Democracy – Published on December 8, 2021

International IDEA, a European think tank which tracks progress of democracies across the world, has in its recently released report assessed the US as a ‘backsliding democracy.’

This assessment was based on a study of 28 indicators of democracy during 2020-21. The five core pillars studied by IDEA to assess the state of democracies are: representative government, fundamental rights, checks on government, impartial administration, and participatory engagement.

Other countries listed as ‘backsliding democracies’ are Brazil, India, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia; all countries considered functioning democracies at different levels that are seen to have taken a step back in the last year or two. Read more…


Biden’s Ten Months – Published on November 24, 2021

The US political scene continues to be rife with acrimony, and negativity. Discussion in the political press these days is mostly focused on how much Joe Biden’s approval ratings have dropped in recent months. While this discussion started with the ill-conceived US withdrawal from Afghanistan back in August, lately the focus of the press has been on how the Democrats have been unable to deliver on their promises.

With the recent approval of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and the passage of the $1.8 trillion Build Back Better (BBB) plan in the House of Representatives, the criticism is starting to temper down a bit. The infrastructure bill represents badly needed funding for projects that have been neglected for years. Promises made by former president Trump to improve the US infrastructure yielded nothing except boastful meetings with more empty promises. Now that the funding has been approved and signed into law, instead of applauding the accomplishment, the rightwing press is urgently looking for other Biden priorities to criticize. Read more…


Political Circus – Published on November 10, 2021

In early November a handful of states, among them Virginia and New Jersey, conducted elections for governor and other key positions. Both these states had been reliably in the hands of the Democratic Party for the past several election cycles.

However, in these elections the governorship of Virginia switched to the Republican Party in a surprising result, and in New Jersey the incumbent Democratic governor barely squeaked through. These results have caused much soul searching within the Democratic Party. After all, it was less than a year ago that Joe Biden won in these states with wide margins. Read more…


A Good Soldier – Published on October 28, 2021

On October 18, retired American general Colin Powell passed away due to complications from Covid. He was 84 years old and had been treated for blood cancer which had compromised his immune system. Powell was one of the most respected figures from recent American military and diplomatic history

Over the years, Colin Powell served as national security adviser to former president Ronald Reagan and as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, the highest military rank in the US, under former president George H W Bush.

In 2001, then president George W Bush appointed him as the secretary of state, making him the country’s highest diplomat. Read more…


Dysfunctional Democracy – Published on October 14, 2021

Last week, after much back and forth, the US Congress passed a resolution to increase the government’s borrowing limit so it could continue to operate. Republicans in the Senate had been blocking the effort, threatening a shutdown of the government and potential default on US government obligations. Had that happened, the impact on the US economy would have been severe, even catastrophic. This drama plays out every time a Democrat is in the White House.

While the Democrats have a narrow majority in both houses of Congress, Senate rules allow a minority to derail most legislation. In recent years, getting anything passed through Congress has become a near impossibility. All actions by Congress members are taken with an eye to the next election. And, with elections every two years, this turns out to be a true recipe for ongoing dysfunction. Read more…


A new cold war? Published on Sept. 29, 2021

On September 21, US President Joe Biden delivered his first address to the UN General Assembly. In his speech, he laid out the vision for how the US plans to lead the world with more engagement and collaboration, with a view to building back a better world.

Most of the world seems to have been relieved at not having to put up with the bluster of the former US president, Donald Trump. Yet, eight months into the Biden Administration, allies and foes alike are still trying to get the measure of the new president and his approach to the world. While Biden has been in public life and leadership roles for almost five decades, his approach to the presidency is still evolving. While his rhetoric is one of collaboration and shared goals, his actions are starting to worry some. Read more…


Lessons Learnt? – Published on Sept 15, 2021

The past few weeks have been tumultuous for the US. The abrupt and ill planned withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years of war, and the rapid takeover by the Taliban, sparked soul-searching in the US – what exactly was accomplished by the tremendous loss of life and treasure.

The project to modernise a deeply traditional and tribal society turned out to be futile in the end. Of course, a section of the Afghan society was touched – and perhaps Kabul was transformed – but most of the Afghan society saw little benefits from the vast sums of foreign money that flowed into the country over the past 20 years. Read more…


Uncertain Future – Published on Sept. 1, 2021

The rapid collapse of the US-supported government in Kabul and take over by the Taliban has taken everyone by surprise. The US was caught entirely flatfooted. Having just evacuated the last of its troops from the country, it was forced to send back thousands of soldiers to run the largest evacuation operation in recent memory. Even the Taliban themselves were not expecting to be in a position of governing the country so soon.

Tens of billions spent by the US government in training and establishing a professional military in Afghanistan seemed to have been for naught. President Ashraf Ghani himself took a convenient flight out of the country to the horror of the US leadership. Read More…

In Memoriam – Aftab Hassan Usman (1954-2021) – Published on August 25, 2021

Aftab Hassan Usman (1954-2021): on August 6, I received a message from Seher Usman, my friend Aftab Usman’s daughter, simply stating “Papa has passed away.” Aftab had been struck by the coronavirus just a few days earlier and had been hospitalized. I had remained in close touch with the family and was hopeful all would turn out fine. But, in the end that wasn’t to be. I lost one of my closest and dearest friends.

Our friendship went back over 50 years, from the time we had both been teenagers, studying at Gordon College in Rawalpindi.

Over these many decades, our lives took many twists and turns. Aftab moved to Brussels with his parents, and I went to Ankara for studies. Yet we always managed to keep in touch. Aftab built a successful career at a prominent public relations firm in Europe and then moved back to Pakistan in the 1990s. Read more…