The Curse of Messianic Government: Big Claims Mean Big Responsibilities

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

Let’s face it.

Pakistani people’s concept about the government is all over the place. Probably the supposedly illiterate rural population is more sensible and realistic in its expectations of the government than the idealistic and educated urban demographic that lives in a fantasy world.

However, there is nothing wrong with expecting that the government should help its citizens and make their lives easier. It is supposed to. After all, what else is the purpose of a government?

But surely there are limits to it. Especially when everyone agrees that the government is controlled by a bunch of incompetent jerks, who also happen to be corrupt and the biggest thieves in the world, by the way.

The government is not really some superhero entity like Flash or Superman that would instantly fly over to prevent a traffic accident from occurring. As a matter of fact, it is also not Batman and would even not be able to prevent your commonplace mugging on the street. It can improve the policing, improve law and order, but not necessarily stop a crime from occurring in real time. It is just not in its power, as much as you would like to think otherwise.

And frankly, for people who make laws, this entity takes way too much responsibility on its shoulders. Certainly more than it can ever come close to carrying. Surely, they should look after policy concerning everything, but what’s their business with running corporations?

Frankly, we would be much better off if the government was out of the business of generating power for the most part and left it to the free market. That way, at least we would be getting the product in full that we are paying for. However, let’s go with the argument that it is a public utility, and the government needs to oversee every step of the way from its production to delivery, and that it needs to be subsidized for the lower income groups. Which brings us to our politicians.

Our politicians, even the supposedly more conservative ones of them, absolutely have no intention in explaining this as an ideological point during their campaigns. They would keep on bombarding the people with more Messianic claims, more Messianic promises, and they would simply promise miracles and no less. And that’s what gets them elected in this country, believe it or not. Because people love Messiahs over here, which is ironic because Imran Khan lost. But who knows, he may win next time.

PML-N was also elected for its claims of turning around the power crisis in Pakistan, which it has failed to do so as yet, because let’s face it, the government has no concrete solutions to offer. The best thing about that party is that it is apparently the only major pro-privatization party in the legislature at the moment, but it is throwing the same old public control crap at the people as solutions. In part, you cannot blame them for the audience they have to play to.

But with big claims, come big responsibilities.

The government has made the claim to deliver the goods of the public utilities, and the goods it must deliver. And on a low price too, as promised. So it must produce something with the money it does not have, and then sell it at a loss.

But if it is not possible, then can they please stop making the claims?

So that is why the government is responsible for failing to produce power and supply it to Karachi, worsening the conditions in the middle of the worst heat wave this region has ever seen, leading to over a thousand deaths. Not because it was something that the government was supposed to do, but because they had made that claim.

The Sindh government of the champions of public ownership and Messianic Islamic Socialism, the PPP, failed on the same account. But thankfully, they are in more of a position to conveniently point fingers at the moment, though they could have mobilized the relief work in a better way.

And with every crisis, ensues a circus of blame and claims.

Which brings to us a quote that another champion of Messianic government has been sharing on its social media pages, endorsed by Islamist thought leaders. The quote is said to be attributed to Caliph Umar I, which has destroyed the concept of government in the minds of our youth forever. Paraphrased:

“If a dog died hungry on the bank of River Euphrates, then I (the Caliph) would be responsible for it.”

There is surely more wisdom in Abid Sher Ali’s quote out of the two.

This is just the manifestation of our tendency to escape personal responsibility and to have an entity to point fingers to. If not God, then the government would do.

No, the government is not responsible for every single death that occurs, and it is not responsible for every dying dog for that matter. It is responsible for guaranteeing freedom and security to its citizens, establishing law and order, infrastructure, public services, and ensuring secure borders. It is also responsible for promoting the welfare of the citizens, but the more it allows people to take care of themselves the better. Let’s just say it is also responsible for running the social security.

But it cannot perform miracles. It cannot effectively run corporations in a profit, especially when it has to carry the labor deadweight along with it. It cannot possibly rescue every single person dying from a heat wave, or drowning in a flood, or getting buried under rubble in an earthquake. It cannot bring corpses to life. It cannot turn water into wine. All it can do is offer emergency relief.

It cannot even manage power production, because really, it is not supposed to and qualified to do so. That’s an entire industry we are talking about and there are more qualified people and enough resources in the private sector to do the job. Maybe keeping the government out of our lives for a change would make things a lot better. How about we ever try that, since we hate paying taxes anyway?

But how would that realize our dream of an Islamic welfare state?

This single quote sums up everything that is wrong with politics in Pakistan.  And it also offers the perfect excuse for Messianic Islamist politics, because that is perfectly the Islamist view that the likes of Jamaat-e-Islami is a proponent of.

And that dog that died on the bank of river Ravi last night is not the fault of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

We Are All Guilty of Tribalism

Source: Dawn/AFP

You can’t help suppressing your anger when seeing hypocrisies such as the concern for the Rohingyas abroad but no love for the Hazaras and Shias locally, and outrage at Israel bombing Gaza, but silence on Saudi air strikes on Yemen, but is any of this surprising in the least bit?

As a matter of fact, you can easily see where they are coming from. The fact of the matter is that we are all guilty of tribalism one way or another.

You hardly notice any outcry when Muslims are massacring other Muslims, but our nation becomes totally protective and defensive when a third party is involved, such as India, Israel or the United States. When that happens, the problem immediately becomes an Ummah problem, and Muslims are lamented to be the perpetual victims.

It’s the same kind of tribalism that united the world against aliens in the hypothetical scenario in the movie The Independence Day, and it is more common than you think it is. After all, non-Muslims are sort of aliens to the Ummah.

Whether it is our reaction to the positions of the leaders and political parties we support, or an issue that we conveniently want to ignore, we choose what to speak out about. And also what to be upset about.

And how could we not?

What sort of a person remains perpetually outraged at every damn single thing on this planet?

I know the walls of many of your facebook and twitter friends look like that. I guess to a great extent my wall looks like that. But still that is not actually the case.

The simple fact of the matter is that we just don’t get upset at everything, at least not as much as we do on others. Because most of the time we would conveniently overlook any problems or wrongdoings from a party that shares our political cause.

We may acknowledge it, but it would hardly make us abandon supporting our party or the side of the cause.

For those of us who lean toward Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif completely ignore if there were a serious power outage crisis throughout Pakistan in the recent days that the government was supposed to fix, considering that the party won a landslide for its promise to solve this very problem.  For those who support the PPP may conveniently overlook the responsibility of the government in providing emergency relief during Sindh famine and heat wave. And so on.

There certainly is no surprise if you see Democrats conveniently overlooking the drone warfare of Obama administration, or if you find Republicans ignore how torture could have been used under the Bush administration. Liberals and conservatives would both gladly overlook the problems in the administrations they support as long as their supported policies are being propelled.

You would find politically devout Sunnis failing to acknowledge the brutal Saudi authoritarianism and the politically devout Shias looking the other way when you mention the Iranian regime trampling on their citizen’s rights.

There is no limit or end to this list. It happens every day, and practically everyone is experiencing it in one way or another. Almost human nature. But it is important to take it in a healthy manner, instead of further freaking out in moralist rage and calling for everyone’s heads.

Nobody is perfect, and we cannot possibly agree with each other on everything. So instead of looking for that perfect Messiah, hell even Imran Khan is not that perfect, we have to learn to live with the people we are stuck with in this world.

To be honest, I cannot say that I am equally outraged by every piece of news of oppression and carnage, and I am not ashamed of that. I am not even sure that is something that you should feel guilty about, because it’s hard to say if even Gandhi experienced such universal human pain. Most of the time, you are going to be more upset about people emotionally closest to you. But as long as your political stance is correct, and you are not supporting any such nonsense as ISIS, I guess you can live with it.

So I do think twice before I criticize people’s support for the Rohingyas, because when we do so, we are kind of doing the same thing we accuse them of.

Though this doesn’t mean that you should stop trying changing people’s minds.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

Why We Need More of Foreign Agenda

Source: APP/Dawn

Source: APP/Dawn

Recently the PML-N led federal government landed itself in yet another mess. The Interior Ministry ordered the closure of the prominent international NGO “Save the Children” and asking its staff to leave the country, but only to reverse the decision sooner than you know. The reason for banning the NGO temporarily was “the anti-state activities” they were allegedly involved in.

Now while the “Save the Children” matter has been taken care of, this just was not enough for the Interior Minister. He said that hundreds of NGOs are violating their charters in Islamabad and under the watch list. Someone else pointed out on TV that hundreds were unregistered.  There is no doubt that every NGO should be registered with the government. Makes perfect sense. But this incident also started a series of morally constipated nationalistic analyses on the national TV about how inherently evil the NGO business is. And how every NGO is absolutely corrupt and conspiring with world powers to destroy Pakistan and implement foreign agenda in the country.

Speaking of which, we should actually be thankful to the foreign NGOs for promoting foreign agenda in Pakistan, because clearly we could use more of it.

If helping children get a decent, rational secular education, better access to clean water and healthcare, and promoting democratic values mean foreign agenda, then certainly we could do with much more of it.

While the political parties and government in Pakistan, including the political party currently in power (since they have regained their monopoly over moral righteousness these days), make high claims about public welfare, they are clearly not touching areas that many of these “anti-state” NGOs are working on. If despite lofty claims, the government is not able to deliver education as a right, then do they blame foreign NGOs to take credit for promoting education in the society?

Why should we worry about the foreign agenda anyway when our own domestic agenda is so lethal.

OK, let me guess.

These foreign NGOs are dangerous because they are promoting education, free speech, and democracy. And that is probably anti-state, so that our children don’t get to learn that having a theocratic and discriminatory constitution is wrong. That could seriously disintegrate the almost perfectly homogeneous ignorance of our almost perfectly homogeneous society.

These foreign NGOs are particularly dangerous because they keep on talking about liberating women and helping them become financially independent. They are also a threat to the society because they keep on talking about legislating to punish violence against women. Because obviously that would shred our family values and honor to pieces.

If our constitution involves excommunicating religious communities, and our law supports provisions for capital punishment on blasphemy, then probably it’s foreign agenda alone that could come to salvage this hopeless mess.

But then again, when our local agenda involves hiding the most wanted terrorist in the world, there is not much to expect, is there?

That’s why we need more foreign NGOs to buy more local people with foreign money.

Let’s admit it as a nation, and there is nothing to be ashamed about it.

We need more of foreign agenda.

This post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

Why Secular Liberals Should Be Thankful for PTI

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

Sounds like a joke, right?

Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf is often criticized on the stance it has been taking on negotiating with the Islamist militants by more liberal and secular segments in the society. A lot of people have also criticized a lot of their tactics in the way they have been carrying out their campaigns, such as sit-in protests. However, despite all their defects, the secular liberals of Pakistan have a good reason to be thankful for the PTI.

PTI is keeping the urban middle class from turning to Jamaat-e-Islami.

And that’s a good thing, considering how quickly the current voting patterns can change. Also considering that a good part of our religious educated folks badly underestimate the ill effects of the imposition of Shariah. So the next time you call them “good-looking Jamaat-e-Islami,” thank your stars that it is. Don’t forget that the party is secular.

An Imran Khan statement was making rounds on the social media in liberal pages that the ideology of the PTI was the closest to the Jamaat-e-Islami. In many ways, it is true. But the ideology of PTI is also close to that of the founding principles of the Pakistan People’s Party, though the latter has thankfully become a much more liberal party ever since Benazir Bhutto took control of its leadership.

Considering how the PPP has weakened in Punjab recently, PTI has become the perfect alternative for anyone who is sick and tired of PML-N. Self-righteous populists tired of corruption and looking for a Messiah are likely to reject lesser Islamic Socialist options such as the PPP.

Constituencies, where the major parties fail to produce a good candidate, are still dominated by independents all over the country, but that does not offer a solution to the question of who would lead the country eventually. Imagine the horror of people making an educated decision of turning to the likes of religious political parties in case of the absence of other viable options, despite their lifestyle completely contrary to their vision.

Regardless of the party that people are voting for, it is amazing to note how much the core message of parties such as the PTI and the PPP resound with the Pakistani urban middle class. Pakistani people, it is safe to say, are Islamic Socialists by ideological inclination, even though what they are by practice is another matter. Many among them are the sort who would like to skip paying taxes, while hoping for unemployment benefits.

But the insatiable appetite for Islamic Socialism as ignited by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, of the Pakistani urban middle class, the torch bearers of hope and change in the society, must be provided for at all costs. Until and unless the area of “Islamic welfare state” is covered in one way or another, even by more economically liberal parties, they would be perceived to be unfit for politics in general. Failure to do so would easily run them down the slope where Jamaat-e-Islami would be waiting with answers. And they don’t have to use logic to convince them.

While there are some people who are very closely ideologically tied to the Jamaat-e-Islami, though it is safe to say that they do not represent a majority of Pakistanis, many do not turn to the party due to other better alternatives. However, we must not be satisfied seeing this pattern. Jamaat-e-Islami is a party with good potential to win seats in the KP and Karachi, and who knows, maybe some day in Punjab too.

If you are the kind of a Pakistani who is reluctant to admit support for Jamaat-e-Islami, but are fundamentalist enough to support Islamic Socialism and Shariah, then you could end up voting for the party any day. However, with more cosmetic options such as the PTI available, you can get the necessary kick of Islamic Socialism out of their fun, mixed-gender concert-like processions, without looking weird to your peers for supporting a bunch of crazy mullahs. Besides, the narrative is just about the same, so you are not missing much out on virtuousness points.

Anything that can prevent the urban religious middle class population of Pakistan to turn toward the Jamaat-e-Islami is useful. Even good. And in this case, PTI is indeed.

One of the reasons it is working is that it has a Messiah to offer, for now. The message has always been around.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Asking the Wrong Question

Source: usnews.com

Source: usnews.com

These days the candidates for the 2016 US Presidential Elections, especially Republicans, are being asked the perfectly wrong question. And I hope we don’t see it as often for the rest of the duration of the campaign.

Knowing what we know now, would you still attack Iraq?

Of course, America has just gotten out of two wearing wars and great sacrifices have been made. So no wonder the public mood is pretty anti-war. And in a perfect isolationist world, rightly so. But ISIS is a threat of the proportions of the Nazis, if not worse, so being an anti-war isolationist with ISIS is not even an option.

The media has been orgasming over Republican Presidential candidate Jeb Bush fumbling the question, as ISIS moved on to take the historic city of Palmyra in Syria and Ramadi in Iraq. The White House responded to the development by assuring they were not losing against ISIS. Actually, the administration had an even more creative explanation of their disaster of a military strategy.

It is remarkably ignorant comment of the US Secretary of Defense  Ash Carter to assume that recent ISIS gains in towns such as Ramadi was due to the “lack of will to fight” of Iraqis. Maybe that could be true for some of the radical Iraqi Sunnis, but what about the United States letting the Kurdish people down, who are very willing to fight and are still fighting singlehandedly?

The Iraqi military is inadequate, and is neither properly equipped, nor trained for fighting the monstrous force of ISIS, which is fighting with sophisticated Western weapons anyway. Even in Senator John McCain’s opinion, the US administration seem to have no strategy to fight ISIS. But then again, he’s just another pissed hawk.

Source: News Corp

Source: News Corp

And leave alone the question of aiding a militia on the ground trying to resist ISIS, something which is apparently against the principles of the White House, they did not even bother taking action to help the unarmed Yazidis. Since then, countless Yazidi women have been forced into sexual slavery.

Apparently, of all the people, Iranians seem to have some moral authority in this issue. Yes, finally I found one. They and their supported Shiite militias are the ones who seem to be resisting ISIS, albeit for their own interest, which is perfectly fine.

But it speaks volumes of the state of morality of the nations around the world, especially the EU, who usually would go to great lengths to threaten dictators like Gaddafi and Assad, but would be largely silent on this issue. The Sunni majority Arab states are completely ignoring this monster, which has already started knocking on their doors.

And to which heading is the moral compass of Pakistan pointing? Surely, we don’t want to stir another hive of bees. But what if the enemy is at the gates?

Where is the international coalition that got together to fight against terrorism? Is dethroning Assad worth destroying the entire Middle East?

So instead of asking the candidates hypothetical questions about what they would have done in terms of invading Iraq 10 years ago, (most of them supported Iraq War anyway, including Hillary Clinton) how about asking them what they have to offer to improve the situation on the ground in Iraq and Syria now. And I am sure this question will come up near the elections.

And if they simply have no solutions to offer, just like the current President, let the voters hear them.

Because it is no doubt that US foreign policy created this mess, whether Bush or Obama, it doesn’t matter.

America should clean the mess up, because apparently no one else will anyway.

A version of this post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Neglected Brat Fighting Back

Source: Dawn/Reuters

Source: Dawn/Reuters

Countries such as Pakistan, being peripheries in the larger theater of global politics, that have unusually large armies and unusually dangerous security concerns, tend to be paranoid. Strategically, they are always on the lookout of how the powers around them are responding to them. Of course, if you put the military leadership itself at the helm of foreign policy, the effect is manifold.

Considering how closely Pakistan has been to the United States in the Cold War years, being in the forefront of the war against Soviet Communism, had made its national security pretty much dependent on the American partnership. After years of dependable war partnership with Republican administrations, Pakistan is now apparently left alone by a fairly long but largely neglecting Democratic administration, pulling out troops, resorting to distant drone warfare, and one that does not give half as much priority to the Pakistani state as it does to India in its strategy for the region. Considering the growing Chinese influence, it only seems to make sense.

Where does this leave Pakistan? In an extremely precarious and insecure state, in terms of survival.

Peripheries are like surviving but perpetually underfed chicks in a jungle full of predators. You have to take care of them to make sure they grow up the way you want.

Pakistan’s recent shift to more authoritarian and undemocratic powers for its primary diplomatic partnerships is suggestive of the vacuum created by the democratic powers perceivably forsaking it. Sadly, with the weakening influence of the democratic powers, and under the influence of China and Saudi Arabia, you could find the already weak democratic values in Pakistan weakening even further. Especially when some people could argue an almost colonial influence of these countries growing in Pakistan, especially the religious influence of the Wahabi monarchy of Saudi Arabia. The recent religious decrees of the federal government and the recent visits of Saudi officials in the wake of the Yemen campaign are but a few signs.

The China Pakistan economic corridor sounds like an ingenious idea for its sheer simplicity, or complexity, and it is almost surprising that it didn’t already happen years ago considering how strong Pakistan China relations have been over decades. Of course, literally lending a good piece of land of your nation and its local opposition, considering the controversial nature of the province it is situated in, are sizable hurdles to the achievement of such an ambitious goal. Something that the Pakistani leadership finally decided to take on, with criticism more focused on provincial rights deprivation than the almost colonial nature of the deal.

There would surely be greater outcry if Pakistan were leasing out a port to a country such as India. But why would Pakistan be offering its port to a country such as India in the first place?

But what minimizes that realization is the tremendous business opportunity of a geographically disadvantaged power hiring you for improved trade efficiency. Even the harshest of critics, as well as the adversaries of the campaign, would not be able to ignore the economic possibilities of this deal. It’s mutually beneficial, right?

However, this step appears to be Pakistan’s own way of angrily reacting to the neglect that it perceived to have been a victim of, probably intended as a message to some powers. For a country that considered itself to be worthy of a civilian nuclear program deal instead of India, and which might have felt wounded getting its F-16s from Jordan than directly from the United States.

But apparently, it is something way deeper and darker than that. It also sends out a message of where the Pakistan’s allegiances would be in the next century. And it’s probably too late for the other interested parties. Perhaps, it is a brat spoiled by the United States itself.

But the bigger question to ask is this. Would the world be a better place with this deal? Would it open more strategic than mere economic opportunities for various parties?

Or maybe if these questions are so hard to ask, is that a side that Pakistan would really want to take for the next century.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Dangerous Estimations

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

A lot of people are shocked at the suspects captured for the murder of Sabeen Mahmud and the Ismaili community bus attack. Though there are many others who are not, whether any links are found with foreign intelligence agencies or not.

Many people are dumbfounded by the idea that graduates of the most prestigious secular educational institutes could be involved in such mindless, fanatic violence. A lot of apologists for religious seminaries are rather delighted that the fingers are being pointed toward students of schools and colleges. What they are completely ignoring is how comprehensively the effects of the teachings of their beloved seminaries and pulpits are engulfing the society. Actually, they should be proud of the results.

If these suspects did indeed commit these crimes, as at least one of them with a relatively “sinful”, affluent background has reportedly confessed, that alone is not evidence of the possibility of fundamentalist indoctrination of college students in our society. We know for a fact that there is a pattern. People living our educational institutions experience it firsthand every day.

The misconception that higher education completely turns you into a rational person that is peaceful in all respects is simply wishful thinking. This only goes to show how vulnerable our youth are to religious indoctrination. And if that is not a problem, they are certainly prone to fall for more stupid ideas at least. For example, killing people for “celebrating Valentine’s Day”, or because they happen to have a different religious sect or leader.

The biggest reason to that is that there is nothing about the technical scientific, though secular, education that shuts down the religious indoctrination on the side. As a matter of fact, technical education such as electrical and chemical engineering can only equip them with the necessary knowledge of executing their terrorist missions. Perhaps it would be realistic to expect college graduates to not to turn to religious fundamentalism, had critical reasoning been a mandatory course, just like Islamic Studies and Pakistan Studies are in the junior grades.

Even that is not a guarantee that people would not fall for religious fundamentalism because you always have the option of not applying what you are studying. An option which can be as effectively exercised as shrugging off evidence that disturbs your worldview.

So when people are making assumptions such as these, they are making two critical errors. They are overestimating the structure of the secular education, which does not necessarily promise strict indoctrination, if any at all, of a system of morality. They are also underestimating the effects of religious indoctrination dedicated to the very goal, and the fears and desires of the human nature that it addresses.

We make such mistakes not only in commenting on certain tragedies and acts of terrorism, but even when we vote. And it is probably the same mistake when we apologize for the acts and beliefs of the more radical of the religious fundamentalists across the globe.

Of course, what is the harm in voting for a religious party? It is not like they are going to bring about a Khomeniesque revolution overnight, are they?

However, reducing the problem of religious fundamentalism among college students to the lack of rational application only undermines the problem. Approaching religious fundamentalism at college should also be seen as a political movement, not too different to any other college union, just like the leftists or right nationalists.

You can adhere to the idea that Sharia, or say Marxism, should be enforced in the country without giving a second thought to what the doctrine actually is. You don’t need to know what the ramifications would be anyway. If you do and still want it, even better. Makes you a better foot soldier for the cause.

Besides, it must be harmless if it is a divinely sanctioned code of governance and lifestyle. We’ll change.

A version of this post was originally published in The Nation blogs.
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