To Support Maulana’s Azadi March or Not

Source: geo.tv

Life throws some tough dilemmas your way. As if your everyday moral questions were not enough, history brought people to a crossroads which surely disturbed them in one way or the other. And sometimes the choices you make tell a lot about where you stand. Especially if they happen to be Pakistanis who are secular liberals and anti-establishment.

To support Maulana’s Azadi March or not.

There are many secular leftists who have simply rejected the idea of a Maulana vehicle being an ideal platform for the promotion of democracy. The likes of the Awami Workers Party and Jibran Nasir, who are always proactive on social issues, chose not to support the march because of the religious card, bigotry against Ahmedis, and the exclusion of women from the platform, something which Marvi Sirmed also pointed out.

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Most of the pro-establishment and/or pro-status quo or pro-Imran Khan liberals completely reject the notion of the Azadi March because it is being led by a religious party or because of the “religious card.” The religious card here particularly being focus on preserving the finality of Prophethood or Khatm-e-Nabuwat, a fancy name of the anti-Ahmedi movement in Pakistan, and against attempts to amend the blasphemy law. Many of these critics agree that anti-establishment liberals are compromising their principles by cheering for Maulana’s march.

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Other anti-establishment center-left and right liberals, especially those sympathetic to the current cause of PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif and the emerging anti-establishment leadership of Maryam Nawaz, are not playing so safe. They are fully behind the march and even taking jabs at those sitting out citing the religious card, including the pro-establishment liberals who are subtly supporting the Imran Khan administration.

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The politically incorrect Gul Bukhari is, of course, all for the march and disappointment at the PML-N for their half-hearted support.

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The PTM has distanced itself from the march citing its impact of perpetuating an “obsolete system of government,” albeit supporting their right to protest. PML-N and PPP, meanwhile, are partially participating and avoiding the march for some mysterious reasons only known to them.

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Many anti-establishment seculars tend to agree but acknowledge at the back of their minds that some kind of resistance needs to be offered to the current government.

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There have been no shortages of false comparisons with the Khomeini-led revolution in Iran to discredit the march and even dismissals mentioning that it is no Hong Kong or Beirut protest. Indeed this march is neither. But surely, it has been facing a media blackout which has become the characteristic of the Bajwa-Imran regime. These visuals were nowhere to be seen on national TV.

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As of today, the Awami National Party, which is as secular a party as they come in Pakistan, Another secular nationalist party Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP) of Mehmood Khan Achakzai had joined the march right from the start in Karachi on October 27.

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The Maulana’s caravans might enter Islamabad any hour now and the procession which was supposed to happen today has been delayed until Friday afternoon prayers, partially because of the Rahimyar Khan train tragedy.

It is clear that Maulana’s party does not see this march as a mission to enforce Sharia in the country, as much as some people trying to make it sound like that. It is indeed not directed against the military but it does channel some of the frustration of the public against the Imran Khan administration, if not against the Bajwa-Imran regime. It may occasionally mention the selectors but it is surely not against them.

So are you supporting the March too? I am not “supporting” a Mulllah’s party either but I sure as well don’t mind it is happening. And pretty much agree with all its objectives other than “protecting the Islamic provisions of the constitution.” If the capital can be paralyzed for the good part of the year for discrediting a legitimately elected government and for rigging allegations for four constituencies, it can surely be shut down for locking up the entire opposition and almost killing a three-times elected Prime Minister. And the latter is my biggest reason to march against the current administration.

The only problem is that the agenda of this march barely mentions that.

How We Treat Our Heroes

Source: Pakistan Today

The people who are at the helm of communication and authority in Pakistan often seem to be worried about the image of the country. They would go to great lengths to try, devoting all their energies to divert attention from all the bad news about Pakistan.

However, the same people would turn a blind eye when the heroes earning a good name for Pakistan are treated in a horrific manner if they ever differ from the state sanctioned views. Only recently, the way Gulalai Ismail has been treated with her passport confiscated and her name put in Exit Control List is just an example. All because of her support for the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement.

This has been just a glimpse of the greater decay at the heart of the Pakistani democracy. A lot of commentators are saying that they have not witnessed such an assault on free speech even in the days of the Zia regime. Perhaps for the first time ever, armed guards from a security agency violated the sanctity of the Karachi Press Club.

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What is even worse, supposedly the most progressive parties are shutting their most brilliant and outspoken leaders down because they are expressing dissent with the Pakistani establishment. ANP has just recently suspended membership of Afrasiab Khattak and Bushra Gohar. This is what it comes down to when you talk about democracy in Pakistan.

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It probably would not have been half as much disappointing if it was just a case of Pakistani people giving up on democracy. Because unfortunately, that is what has been happening for decades now. Despite all the sacrifices from brave pro-democracy leaders, achieving what people like me cannot even remotely imagine about. What really breaks your heart is that this is how we treat our heroes.

Voting By Candidate

Source: thekooza.com

Source: thekooza.com

I have grown up hearing that you should always vote for the party and the ideology. Well, it makes sense too because with more seats, the party would possibly gain a majority and the people who remotely share a fraction of your political world view could become decision makers. But does that mean you should turn a blind eye to the candidates?

But thanks to our parliamentary system, this voting approach has a severe drawback. Particularly for undecided voters and particularly for people who are not voting for ideology. I guess there would be a lot of educated voters in the upcoming 2013 general elections in this regard.

To most people, the general elections for National and Provincial Assembly representatives are a substitute for Presidential or Prime Ministerial elections. They vote for Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan or Asif Zardari, rather than considering the candidates. Probably it is the same for the rest of the parties too.

I am even told by many that they would vote for a pole if it runs for the party or the leader of their choice. Others would vote for fly-over bridges and construction and development projects, which is a somewhat better approach, But obviously hardly anyone concentrates on their legislative stance and ability.

A lot of people vote for the legislature candidates as if they were voting for a councilor or a mayor, and that is the value they get in the end. But probably it is not their fault. We have a terrible parliamentary system prevalent in this country which only lets people vote for their representatives, but not for their Senators, Governors, Chief Ministers, Presidents or even Prime Ministers.

Furthermore, the 5 year term of a government is ridiculously long. I can hardly think of any better system than the bicameral US Presidential system which has 2 year terms for the representatives, though a long term of 6 years for the senators. But it is an electoral system which allows the US people to elect all of their representatives and even mayors directly. The parliamentary system seems autocratic in comparison.

Now they have even worsened this terrible electoral system in the 18th Amendment to the 1973 Constitution during the last term by introducing and unanimously voting for the Article 63 (A) about disqualificaiton on the grounds of defection. It is an article which requires every member of the legislature to vote according to the party lines or have their membership terminated.

How undemocratic is that. I actually find its passage hard to believe, and our politicians have the audacity of incessantly boasting about it. I can’t imagine a democracy without individual freedom and liberty.

How is this for treason to democratic values? At least it goes to show that there is no respect for individual freedom and individual opinion in Pakistan. Then why worry if the message is reflected at the grassroots?

This clearly goes to show that democracy has “not been able to work” in Pakistan because several provisions in the constitution are not democratic in the first place.

But when voting for a party is thrust upon you as a moral responsibility, you are hardly worried about factors such as these.

But when I look at a candidate, and I imagine whether I would want him or her to represent my constituency or not, I would really find myself responsible for the sake of spending public money the right way to assign the right person to the job. Well at least they must be able to read and understand the constitution, even if that means voting for a candidate who would get a total of 63 votes. I am mentioning that figure for a reason.

Malik Ibrar Campaigning - Source: Official facebook Page

PML (N) Candidate – Malik Ibrar Campaigning – Source: Official facebook Page

PPP Candidate Zamurd Khan campaigning - Source: pakistanleaders.com.pk

PPP Candidate Zamurd Khan campaigning – Source: pakistanleaders.com.pk

PTI Candidate Hina Manzoor Campaigning - Source Official facebook Page

PTI Candidate Hina Manzoor Campaigning – Source Official facebook Page

I need to vote in the NA-54 constituency where the major contenders are the incumbent Malik Ibrar Ahmed of PML-N, Zamurd Khan of PPP and Hina Manzoor of PTI, apart from other members from the JI, JUI (F), MQM, ANP and independent ones which are not expected to get much votes, like always. The candidates for the PP-10 Punjab Assembly constituency are much worse and picking the right canddiate would be an easier task there.

While I largely find myself undecided over the current constitutional and electoral mess, I would surely vote and I would try to vote by candidates. I am not saying there is anything wrong to vote by parties. Do so by all means. But I believe that evaluating the candidates is just as important.

While I am disechanted by the last parliament for unanimously voting for the controversial clause about Article 63 (A) in the 18th amendment, by the same rationale, I could just as well vote for just about any candidate not elected to the last parliament term.

But is that really the answer? Because provided our brilliant parliamentary system, any member you vote for would simply vote on party lines, regardless of what they want and how terrible the party stance is. Slavery could never have been abolished in the United States if they had such a constitutional provision. This largely destroys the purpose of voting for choosing the legislator for your constituency, because you are actually choosing no one, as rightly pointed out by some in my family.

I wish I could possibly not vote for gangs, because this is what political parties wearing the most civilized and democratic façade are acting like. And it is such a shame. Sadly, it is behavior like this that extremists and undemocratic forces like the Taliban would like to see, which in the end means that you have no choice but to stick to “lesser evils.”

That is why we need to criticize the autocratic legislation of our political parties loudly and clearly more than ever before if we are to ensure the establishment of true democratic values and principles in this country. But I know I must vote to send out a strong and clear message to those who do not want me and all of you to.

But it’s all really confusing and I would rather like to wait till May 11 to make up my mind.

Till then, I’d rather vote for the person I’d hire.

A Government of Idiots (Pakistani Idiot of the Year 2012)

Ghulam Bilour (Source: AFP/ET)

So how low a government made up of supposedly progressive parties can go just to win cheap voter sympathy and public support?

I can quote analysts like Ayesha Siddiqa that there are hardly any secular forces in Pakistan. She is absolutely right, because those who are secular are virtually non-existent and are overwhelmed by the center and right forces.

But there are political parties like the ANP who claim to believe in non-violence and secular values, apart from the undying support of a number of their members to Peshawar’s (in)famous declaring-Eid-in-advance Masjid Qasim. Hey, I support their right to celebrate Eid the way they want.

I was very disappointed to see ANP’s very own Ghulam Bilour, who by far is the worst performing minister in the cabinet considering the shambles that the Railways is in, offering a bounty of $ 100,000 to anyone who kills the maker of the blasphemous film “Innocence of Muslims“.

I mean, really?

Before we even go into questioning the moral and legal authority of the minister, who maintains that he has offered the bounty in “personal capacity”, the greatest question to ask is this.

How is Mr. Bilour still holding his office and why the Government of Pakistan and the Awami National Party have not taken any action against the statement?

However, I do respect how he has responded to the news of the Taliban removing his name from their hit list. He was largely ambivalent, saying he could also die of a heart attack.

Nevertheless, I can hardly fathom the incalculable damage that he has done to the reputation of the country around the world. Not that it was very good already, but with such leaders at the helm, who needs enemies?

Source: AFP/ET

The government and the ANP should have taken strict action and should have called for the resignation of Bilour, if they could not agree to sack him. But despite all the clarifications, Bilour is still in charge of the Railways, a department which his administration has pulverized quite literally.

The statement was sensibly rejected by the incumbent Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, but let’s not offer him a clean sheet for that.

It was PM Ashraf’s absurd decision to observe the ridiculous holiday of “Yom-e-Ishq-e-Rasool” on Friday, September 21, 2012, which was an open invitation to the extremists of the country to unleash their wrath on the infrastructure and assets of the cities in Pakistan. The day ended with the loss of billions of rupees with more than 15 death and several injuries.

Source: AP/Dawn

It might sound a little harsh for someone who has lost his wife in such a cruel manner, but you really need to start acting like a head of state when you become one. I am really sorry to say but President Zardari looks like a complete idiot each time he places Benazir Bhutto’s portrait on the rostrum at the UN General Assembly. It was not his first appearance there this year. He has been at it before with the same portrait-displaying obnoxious exhibitionism.

Source: Wall Street Journal

His idiocy was also matched well by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holding up a ridiculous chart which was supposed to tell the world why they have been all a bunch of idiots for not bombing Iran already. The bomb chart was brutally mocked by Israelis and non-Israelis alike shortly afterwards.

Both these props would have worked perfectly for both these gentlemen nevertheless.

What I personally found disgraceful about President Zardari’s speech was calling for an international blasphemy law or some kind of rules allowing UN to take action against alleged blasphemers. While this would sound perfectly sensible to Muslims around the world, I find it to be just another effort to extend censorship measures and to curtail freedom of speech. The Pakistani government, one which claims to uphold democratic and progressive values, has itself banned youtube over the film controversy and should keep its censorship advice for the world to itself.

I have been wondering why not start declaring the Pakistani idiot of the year from now on. We have our winner for the year 2012 already.

His Excellency Ghulam Bilour of ANP.

I can safely put my money on no one surpassing him in the last quarter.

The Pul-e-Jawan Experience: The Pakistan Country Forum Event April 11-12, 2012

Introduction Brief (Source: Furhan Hussain for Pul-e-Jawan)

Pul-e-Jawan is a peace initiative and a discussion forum covering India, Pakistan and Afghanistan peace and security issues. I learned about an event of the forum being organized by Bytes 4 All, an organization dedicated to internet freedom and online privacy in Pakistan, and had a chance to participate. The event that was held on April 11 and April 12, 2012 in Islamabad, covered various aspects of regional peace and security through the participation and opinions of the analyst-turned-Foreign Office advisor Mosharraf Zaidi, analyst and scholar Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa and the representatives of the independent US institutions monitoring aid in Pakistan including Nadia Naviwala of the US Institute of Peace, Danny Cutherell of Center for Global Development and Pakistani-American entrepreneur Awais Khan of American Pakistan Foundation. Indu Nepal briefly joined on live stream from Afghanistan to explain what the Pul-e-Jawan forum was about.

In one of the sessions, Pakistan’s foreign policy strategy was discussed. The most important piece of information was the fact that Pakistan had started engaging with all the ethnic groups in Afghanistan instead of just Pashtuns. Some found it hard to believe but it nevertheless was something positive. Pakistan’s approach of increasing trade with India and other nations was also discussed. A journalist from Waziristan asked about the compensation for the “Pakistani citizens” becoming victims of the war campaigns in the tribal areas from the Pakistani government. It was found that Pakistani government was largely clueless about the idea, let alone the thought of considering those casualties Pakistani citizens. Criticism of the alleged Saudi petrodollars funding terrorism was a positive. We also learned that people of Pakistan did not vote for internet freedom in 2008, causing a momentary outrage but life went on.

Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa’s session was a candid discussion primarily about civil liberties and national security, also including the state of affairs of Pakistan vis-à-vis its neighbors and the war on terror. Most of the discussion revolved around the internal affairs of Pakistan, the role of the military establishment and religious extremism. She discussed how the perceived freedom of Pakistani media was an illusion and how the Pakistani political left has been eradicated out of existence. She talked about how she had been criticized for being anti-military and explained that criticizing military does not mean that you advocate putting it out of existence. The highest point of her talk was when she mentioned that she decided to return to Pakistan since the battle for better civil rights and democracy would be best fought from within the country. She considered the thinking ones a minority in the country and was not as enthusiastic about supporting civil liberties over national security as your average hawk would have thought.

To tell you the truth, I personally had very little interest in listening to the US officials because I am not really thrilled about the subject of aid anyway. It always sounds pretty meaningless to me in terms of politics, but if it can be of help for underprivileged people, great. Also because they would not have had answers to any of the questions that I wanted to ask from anyone coming with US aid proposals and it was therefore absolutely pointless to ask anything. However, a lot of participants were very interested in the discussion and contributed enthusiastically to it. I couldn’t help but observe a few things which I am sure would be making US aid officials and the US government in general sick to their stomachs. I have noticed that some of the participants were literally crucifying the US for the uselessness of the aid initiatives due to the corruption in the Pakistani society and government and yet were complaining that not enough aid was being sent and not utilized on better projects. Now isn’t that unreasonable? What the hell are they supposed to do?

A journalist from Waziristan was talking about the need for investment in the tribal areas as unemployment was turning young men to militancy and probably what we refer to as terrorism. Another friend asked them about the lack of US contribution to Baluchistan. While both the gentlemen were spot on and I cannot recall with certainty if the FATA journalist asked them this particular question, but to answer the general mindset, I cannot understand how aid in itself could end unemployment and create industries in the region, which was actually the aim of some of the questions put to those officials. Perhaps the gentleman from Waziristan was referring to direct foreign investment, so that is what he talked about, it only came as a feedback for the personnel on how aid was really changing their lives. I think this kind of demand should be forwarded to an official of the Government of Pakistan instead of aid monitoring officials. I think it is about time that Pakistanis should realize that it is economic growth instead of the US aid that could really get them anywhere, especially when it comes to earning respect among the nations of the world. At least it will keep their government from being obsessive-compulsive beggars.

The thing that I liked the most about the US officials session was their honesty about the aid process. They admitted that the government processes were slow on the both sides, referring to the Kerry-Lugar Bill, which is actually in jeopardy overPakistan’s shady role in the Osama Ben Laden episode, but maybe not due to the dual nature of Pakistan-America relations. Though I do wonder how the military aid gets processed so quickly. They explained that if an NGO receives too much aid, it is most likely to go corrupt. Cutherell stated that aid will never solve Pakistan’s issues and Pakistanis have to take control of the things themselves. Common sense will tell you that as well, but Pakistanis are hooked to any kind of aid anyway. Too lazy and incompetent to earn money themselves perhaps. Awais Khan was suggesting people to vote in a better way, at which point I was forced to unsuccessfully ask who we should vote for, since I really cannot make up my mind. That was the end of that.

On the second day, MP Bushra Gohar of the ANP spoke about the achievements of the women’s caucus of parliamentarians for better legislation for women’s rights and acting in a united manner beyond party lines. She started the presentation with an ode to the active social role played by Pakistani women in all fields of life with a sentimental montage repeatedly focusing on Benazir Bhutto’s arrival in Pakistan after her self-imposed exile in 2007. The Tina Sani song was instantly criticized for its rather patriarchal lyrics, referring to the Anchal or the Chador, by the witty Tazeen who was interviewing Gohar, since all women do not wear it. Gohar apparently was one step ahead instantly explaining that she had the same problem and that the lyricist had also taken the criticism in a positive light. I personally found the lyrics overly sentimental and somewhat touching, but that’s poetry. Maybe it was the montage. You can check the song and the video for yourself, not that it’s important.

She pointed out how women parliamentarians took an initiative when they were left out of the Constitutional Standing Committee. The rest of the time was spent on defending the position of the Awami National Party on various fronts. She was asked why the tribal areas have been neglected by the ANP Government to which she responded that the FATA has been included in the KP province in the ANP constitution, apparently unlike the Pakistani constitution. She was spot on when she said that FATA has been reduced to a strategic space and its people strategic assets by the Pakistani states and should take a stand for their rights. In my opinion, that is where the polarized Pakistani nation is at one. She also mentioned that she had received death threats and acid attack threats from the Taliban for her views and even for her appearance and attire. Had the pleasure of briefly meeting her, a very intelligent and articulate woman. She is the kind of representative you would want to vote for any day, without getting impressed by her party much.

MP Bushra Gohar at the Pul-e-Jawan event (Source: Furhan Hussain for Pul-e-Jawan)

To my delight, and of everyone else’s if I may take the liberty to say that, Nabiha Meher Sheikh took her time out to conduct an excellent workshop on Critical Thinking and Cognitive Biases. This was important because some of the participants were realizing what biases meant for the very first time, if I may not be considered too biased for stating that. After the initiation, the participants were divided in 5 groups, each required to present and justify a local example of Groupthink. A couple of groups gave the example of the 1971 war, one of the lawyers’ movement and my group gave the example of Pakistani nationalists’ criticism of Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s Oscar winning documentary.

FATA Journalist Ihsan Dawar at the event (Source: Furhan Hussain for Pul-e-Jawan)

The stars of the show and the center of attention among participants remained to be two gentlemen from the beautiful tribal land of Waziristan, which has been abandoned by Pakistan ever since the independence. At least in my books. The radio journalists Ihsan Dawar and Umer Daraz Khan stole the show through their input about the situation in the tribal areas and bombarding all the speakers with stinging questions about the role of Pakistan in the tribal areas. They also gave a pretty hard time to the US officials and enjoyed a fair bit of preference as far as opportunities for questions were concerned, for which I admire the organizers. Gulalai Ismail was another prominent participant who gets my admiration for her Aware Girls project in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Participation of activists from the Hazara community and the Sindhi Hindu community was also something worth noticing and the event encompassed the diversity in Pakistan pretty well.

Before taking my leave of the event, I and my group proposed a new social media campaign idea which would involve online petition messages from the citizens of Pakistan and India to their governments for withdrawing troops from the Siachen glacier in order to end a pointless and bloody conflict, which was causing more deaths due to the horrific living conditions instead of the battle. The campaign is meant to go beyond just being an online petition, as it would constantly pursue the Siachen conflict, as it is often easily forgotten, and would remind India and Pakistan of what they are doing to their people.

All in all, it was a great experience and learned quite a bit from it and made a few friends. Other than that, still trying to develop something a bit more meaningful and constructive out of the experience at the Pul-e-Jawan forum.