Shame on Pakistan

Source: AFP/geo.tv

It greatly pains me to write these words but I cannot help but express my disappointment in Pakistan in the harshest of words on this day.

You would probably live with this situation (as if we the citizens had a choice?) if things were a bit more balanced and saner at some level somewhere. On one hand, you have a nation content and proud of some of the most discriminatory provisions in the constitution taken as a fair social contract. On the other, you have a group of mullah bandits who have taken the entire nation hostage by emotionally blackmailing them in the name of faith and the love of the Prophet. When you are a Muslim, you are forced to believe their bigotry disguised as passion and love for the Prophet. If you don’t, you are an infidel. A Qadiani sympathizer.

In Pakistan, bigotry has become the highest standard of piety and religiosity.

How can someone with a slightly saner worldview find any hope in a place like this? In a place where perhaps the best strategy to fend off these ills and threats is to remain silent. The November 25 clash between the mullah protesters and the state, ironically two sides of the same coin, is a terrible instance of this fact. What was even worse is that in the face of this blatant religious bigotry, the state, which is supposed to protect the citizens, ends up punishing the citizens for the crimes of a few. In perhaps the first time in my living memory, I have seen the government block the social media, facebook, twitter and youtube, other than the private TV channels just to deal with a riot in Islamabad. This confirmed any misconception that we were living in a democracy of some kind. This needless information blackout is a great stain on the record of the new Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, who is otherwise considered a very forward-looking politician.

Source: Hindustan Times

To add insult to injury, on the world news, the very next story following the sit-in protest crackdown was the US denunciation of the release of Hafiz Saeed, the terrorist leader wanted by India for Mumbai attacks. This was the world’s view of Pakistan on November 25. Even the high ministers and superiors in the echelons of the government are blind to what picture of the country is presented by this state of affairs to the world. Either that or there is nothing in the world that they can do. It is remarkable how they expect foreign entities to even visit Pakistan with this sort of air, let alone invest their capital in it.

Forget foreign investment and the global image, all of these are only more reasons to leave Pakistan for a humane country. All of these are more reasons to stop believing in Pakistan and to stop defending it, rooting for it or supporting it.

November 25 showed Pakistan’s true face to the world. A raving mad and bloodthirsty public infected with Islamic extremism and a draconian, undemocratic government misleading its citizens and enabling their viciousness.

Copy of the concluded compromise agreement

To further humiliate the government, the selectively just military of Pakistan refused to partake in the operation against the Barelvi protesters, terming them “our own people.” The terms on which this protest has ended on November 27 sound humiliating as well with the government succumbing to the demands of the sit-in protesters, which they have been resisting up till that point. Other than the resignation of the accused Law Minister Zahid Hamid, the compromise agreement called for an inquiry to penalize those who had made the amendment in the statement pertaining to the anti-Ahmedi oath. The Islamabad High Court has slammed the military’s role in this negotiation but we have a lot more to be alarmed about this. Wish our judiciary had too. This essentially means that even suggesting to propose an amendment to these draconian theocratic laws could possibly mean prison time if not death sentence, confirming Pakistan as a theocracy like Iran and Saudi Arabia.

November 25 will go down in history as a dark day for the people of Pakistan.

On this day, everyone should be ashamed to be a Pakistani citizen.

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India-Pakistan Conflict: Boycott the Boycott

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

Ah, the season of war is back. Time to deal with completely needless inconveniences because of the bloated egos of the leaderships of the two countries, if you are unfortunate enough to live in one of them.

War hysteria is at an all-time high in recent years in India, especially fueled by the Fuhrer and the warmongering media. Similar roles have been taken up by the military leadership on this side as well as warmongering news anchors on warmongering channels.

In the wake of the national mood, the association of Indian film producers considered it necessary to take action against Pakistani artists from appearing in Indian films. This tells us a lot about the Indian film producers and their version of patriotism.

Now India has been known to do this before and considering that it was not always exactly a fan of free trade and has even had some love for trade protectionism in the past, old habits creeping into the new Indian age of economic freedom is not a surprise.

But what is even worse is that the Pakistani film distributors and theater owners felt the need to emulate the Indian version of patriotism. They have responded by taking off Indian films from Pakistani theaters. I know Pakistanis have been at it before, but is this really the right way to act? Even PEMRA is pressing to eliminate Indian television content in Pakistan and to suspend the guilty TV channels. This is completely nonsensical, especially in the age of the internet.

Regardless of the quality of Indian films, it is a well-known fact that these productions are awfully popular in Pakistan. Has our hate for India really exceeded the love of the free market and freedom of access?

Why do we have to punish the local consumer to make a point about nothing to the Indian producers or the government of India?

And if we say that India started it, then why do we have to act in kind? Are we trying to harm India or our local consumer?

While a good number of both Indian artists and public are maintaining their sanity, sadly their public debate is dominated by people who are inciting an emotional reaction. Likewise, there is no shortage of such idiots on this side of the border.

However, it is easy to see that the India-Pakistan conflict has been reduced to the words and actions of brawling, irresponsible, and mentally impaired high school bullies who don’t know any better but to resort to juvenile antics to score cheap points.

As two of the largest nations of the world, the people must pause and reflect. Have we really lost our minds? Is this who we really are?

Well, apparently. Because it seems like we have been waiting for an opportunity to pounce on each other for quite a while. But in all fairness, you cannot blame the hysteria among the people. The political and military leadership, in both India and Pakistan, need to get their heads examined.

With Pakistan threatening nuclear warfare and India threatening to block Pakistan’s water supply, it is clear that the welfare of the common people is the last thing on their minds. Just imagine countries issuing such threats lecturing others on terrorism.

The ban on the art from across the border by private entities, who we very well know are pressured by government authorities and public opinion shaped by propaganda, are also reflective of the disregard of the public opinion. The regulatory authorities and film business bodies on both sides have only shown how much they regard the audiences. Shameful to say the least.

So should we move ahead likewise and boycott these film producers and theater owners as well? I guess not because that is not who we are, even if their terrible business sense makes them a deserving party.

Let us not respond to a boycott with a boycott.

Let us not respond to a ban with a ban.

If some business entities and government in India have decided to punish their people, why should we react to punish ours?

Pakistan had embraced the free market way earlier in its history than India and must keep that tradition alive. At least the Pakistani people remain very libertarian and pro-free market when it comes to their freedom of access, and will remain so despite the government bans.

The government should get out of their way when it comes to ridiculous regulations. Or the citizens know very well how to go out of their way to get around them.

And let’s face it, many people in Pakistan love Indian movies. So let them watch in peace.

When it comes to the India-Pakistan conflict, let’s boycott the boycott.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Evil Guardians of Islam

Source: presstv.ir

Source: presstv.ir

Muslims of the world could not be more unfortunate to have countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia in charge of their larger political leadership. Not only they are arguably the worst governments in the world, but they have somehow also become the spiritual leaders of the two leading schools of Islam.

Recently both the countries made the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage, controversial by bringing their ongoing political tussle into the sacred ritual. While the Iranian spiritual leader questioned the administrative control of Hajj by the Saudis because of their treatment of pilgrims, which apparently sounds like legitimate criticism, the Saudi side responded in an even worse manner. If you can consider the Grand Mufti the Saudi side.

The Grand Mufti declared that the Iranians are not Muslims. Ah, the “True Islam” problem, here we go again. But it is not as simple as that. His statement was discriminatory and arguably racist since he is implying that an entire nation is predisposed to be hostile toward Islam. Probably the Grand Mufti is confusing Islam with the Saudi Royal family and with the statement has cleared any doubts about him being the official mouthpiece of the Saudi establishment. Something that puts him more in a political than a spiritual role.

The Grand Mufti is a figure who may not be equivalent to the Pope but is at least supposed to be uncontroversial in his appeal to all Muslims. However, you could argue that his figure is one that pilgrims from all over the world revere. Now fortunately or unfortunately, Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh has to step down from delivering his Hajj sermon this year anyway, but for reasons related to his health, not his controversial statement.

But what does this mean for a common Muslim? Perhaps this means that the current Grand Mufti would lose the respect that his office deserves. And if the Grand Mufti would never have a choice but to be the official mouthpiece of the Saudi government, then perhaps it could even mean the loss of respect for the very office for good.

You can only feel sorry for millions of Muslims, who have to go through a lot of pain and even risk their lives to complete this ordeal of a ritual, to be at the mercy of such feuding powers. But that does not change how terrible the Grand Mufti’s statement is. The Iranians have simply won the argument with a battle of words, and the Saudi spiritual leader has simply forfeited his position by rejecting a nationality from a universal religion.

Perhaps the Iranian Supreme Leader is right. With such behavior, the Saudi authorities are disqualifying themselves from being the administrators of the universal ritual of Hajj. Earlier, the Saudi authorities have been accused of banning Yemeni pilgrims from Hajj following the armed conflict between the two countries, which the Saudi government denies.

Before the Ayatollah’s statement, even Iran had banned its citizens to perform Hajj as well out of security and logistic concerns and had blamed Saudis for the crisis. Saudi Arabia had cut off diplomatic ties with Iran earlier this year after protesters in Tehran set the Saudi embassy on fire in protest against the execution of a Shia scholar in Saudi Arabia.

Restricting Muslims from any nation, in word or in action, is a betrayal of the legacy of the Holy Prophet. That legacy should matter to the self-proclaimed guardians of Islam.

Sadly, the Iranian Supreme Leader and the Grand Mufti don’t realize that their irresponsible statements are putting common Muslims in a position where they cannot avoid falling into one belligerent camp against the other. They are forcing them to put in a position where they would end up disrespecting other Muslims whether they perform Hajj or not.

These evil guardians of Islam on both sides of the fence are the part of the problem and the world would be better off without them.

A version of the post was originally published in The Nation blogs

The Right to Gambling and Online Paid Skilled Gaming

Source; profootballspot.com

Source; profootballspot.com

It is always a bad idea to invite the government into the areas of the internet where it is absent to prevent the abuse of regulation. However, avenues that are already eliminated by the government with decades-old theocratic legislation require a corrective intervention. Online gambling and skilled gaming are one such area.

If you are a fan of fantasy sports or are even fond of gambling your hard earned income every now and then, you would have a hard time pursuing such recreational activities in Pakistan. At least at a legal concern or on the internet, unless it happens to be a government sanctioned prize bond scheme or a race course.

Currently, The Prevention of Gambling Act 1977 governs and prohibits such activities in Pakistan with various penalties. The provincial versions of the law were enacted in 1978, while The Public Gambling Act of 1867 under the British law, which it was largely based on, was repealed in Islamabad and Punjab later.

Now there is a good reason why online gambling is banned in many countries. Gambling can be highly addictive and could expose citizens’ capital to great risk of loss.

Nevertheless, despite the risks and dangers involved, it is better to leave it to the citizens to decide about their morals and the disposal of their savings. The best trade-off between freedom and order remains in softening of the Gambling Act to decriminalize and legalize such activity.

There is no doubt that the government should protect citizens from fraudulent practices, eliminate money laundering and prevent organized crime to dominate such activities. This is why legalization of such activities not only offers safe and legal channels for citizens for such recreation due to regulation, but could also help generate considerable public revenue.

Just like every other “moral” issue in Pakistan, you cannot help but notice that the ban on gambling is not without its due share of contradictions, or even hypocrisy. Without going into the embarrassing reasons why, most of us are aware that horse racing is legally protected in Pakistan. Let’s just say that our bureaucracy and feudal class would always make an exception for their lifestyles.

However, thanks to the outdated laws governing anything remotely close to gambling within the boundaries of Pakistan, citizens indulging in the vice are not safe from harassment from the state. This also impacts the online space as betting websites would not open their operations to Pakistan, or even if they do, making transparent financial transactions to such entities would only land you in legal trouble.

Normally, I would hardly advocate the action of legislators as a much needed solution, but repealing is as much their job as enacting new laws. Especially in this case, when the laws in place are such terrible sweeping bans that take away the breathing space from the citizens. If law enforcement authorities were to target civilians, they would even charge citizens under the suspicion of gambling on the possession of dice and cards under the current draconian laws. Countries such as the United Kingdom have modernized their local gambling laws to provide for online gambling. It is about time the rest of the world followed suit.

Prohibiting gambling is one thing, since it is so evil. The taboo against it even sweeps skilled gaming involving financial transactions under the label. Even state attorneys in the United States are insisting on it in the wake of the latest controversies pertaining to insider trading among leading fantasy sports companies. However, bans in states such as New York sound more like prohibiting trading of a commodity due to an instance of financial fraud.

Any sports fan remotely familiar with the activity would know that fantasy sports, while dependent on actual results, rewards calculated risks and the knowledge of the sport. Fans not being able to participate in such paid skilled gaming due to local gambling bans is simply unfortunate.

Pakistani fans, like those in the rest of the civilized world, should be no exceptions when it comes to online skilled gaming. While local fans may not be enthusiastic about NFL or MBL odds, they sure take a keen interest in EPL and cricket related leagues. With the advent of Pakistan Super League, Pakistani cricket fans would be missing a legal means to put their money on their favorite franchises.

The bottom line is that there is no reason why an adult Pakistani should not have access to gambling and skilled gaming, online or offline, whenever they want to entertain themselves. The access to gambling and paid skilled gaming could possibly be considered as a right to the citizens, and when done responsibly can really prove to be a joyful activity.

We have a choice of being blindly morally uptight as usual, or actually make it safer and legal for the citizens to enjoy paid skilled gaming, if not gambling.

A version of the post was published in The Nation blogs.

The Mystery of Openly Operating Banned Religious (Terrorist) Organizations in Pakistan

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

What does the banning of a religious organization really mean?

What is the point of announcing their addition to the list of condemned organizations when there are hardly any curbs on their activities?

It is easy to criticize the Government of Pakistan in this regard, but hardly anyone accounts for the complex problems they have to deal with.

Even if we say that these problems are of their own making, it does not eliminate the need to consider the difficulty of the task at the hands of the government.

They simply just cannot take these banned organizations away from the public.

Or maybe they can.

But this goes to show the sheer force of the religious political groups prevalent, and growing, in Pakistan. A force that is so enormous that even the government of Pakistan and the military are afraid of it. Nobody wants a religious uprising to deal with.

This is what happens when you declare a war against an ideological enemy without convincing the people of your country against it.

It would be understandable to see the anger of the members of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa if their political activities were to become illegal.

Furthermore, the likes of ASWJ would also be seen protesting on the roads if such a decree pertaining to their organization would come into effect.

Of course, we cannot even imagine the day when political parties such as the JI, JUI, ST and MWM are prevented from running in the elections.

But apart from that, it is hard to oppose organizations that you consider heroic.

This is why when it comes to narrative about the local Jihadist organizations, charity must begin at home.

But has there been any active effort to confront such narrative, which is only affirmed on occasions such as the Kashmir Solidarity Day? An otherwise seemingly harmless holiday observed to show moral support for the oppressed Kashmiri people, mixed with vows to liberate them from their oppressors.

Again, from a nationalistic viewpoint, attacking India for any such purposes sounds pretty fair. However, the sad part is that this narrative provides a lot of fodder for these banned militant outfits to feed on.

So probably the state should think twice before giving the narrative around this holiday its blessing. Surely, the holiday can be observed without any belligerent calls to Jihad.

But the general impression remains that a good number of masses in Pakistan views Islamist militant organizations positively and accept their active role in politics.

Merely playing to the galleries would not be sufficient for the federal and provincial governments. Simply adding these militant outfits to the list of “banned organizations” to create an impression on Western powers would not work.

An ideological awakening and education of the masses are required to ensure a gradual social change.

Or at least for the government to be able to enforce the bans that it proposes.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Potential Menace of Islamist Politics

Source: Arif Ali/AFP/Dawn

Source: Arif Ali/AFP/Dawn

For a long time, I have held this rather well meaning but terrible belief that Islamist or religious parties should participate in democracy. Now I must say that I realize the gravity of such disastrous ideas.

Probably the most underestimated factor in democracy is that church and state should be separate. Not only is that fact being undermined in countries with Muslim majority population, but also in some Western and perceivably more democratic nations.

In Pakistan, however, the problem is particularly disturbing. Even though the Jamaat-e-Islami gets very little love at the polling booth, a large number of people agree with their populist Islamist rhetoric. This is a problem when anyone who wants to see democratic value flourishing in a country with such a poor track record in the subject.

Belief in Islamism and the tenets of Islam in general encourage a draconian system of governance and a violent medieval system of justice, contrary to freedom and democracy. If this statement sounds like an Islamophobic sweeping rant, then consider the following statement by former Jamaat-e-Islami Emir Syed Munnawar Hassan.

Syed Munnawar Hassan just called for Qital Fisabeelilah or murder in the name of God in order to fight oppression. While this sounds just like a noble call for the righteous kill from the Bolshevik revolutionary in your high school mate, it is a far more dangerous than militant socialism, or even authoritative conservatism for that matter.

When an Islamist leader calls for something, he or she, pardon me it’s always going to be a he, is always going to invoke the name of God for any action. Since religious people in general and Muslims in particular are conditioned not to question religious authority, they are bound by whatever sort of decree comes down upon them. Their potential for menace is far greater than what most people imagine.

It’s not that Jamaat-e-Islami, or other Islamist and other religious parties for that matter, should be banned for statements such as these. Instances like these only show how dangerous they are. They should be banned anyway because they endorse and promise to enforce undemocratic or religious principles.

I understand the dilemma of our secular politicians allowing the religious parties to live with them. They are afraid of their violent backlash if they are not allowed to maneuver politically.

However, if the Communist Party of Pakistan can be banned for all its undemocratic values, by ironically a military dictator without any violent resistance from them, why should we treat the Jamaat-e-Islami any differently? I would always endorse serious violent crackdown on Islamist parties in case they try rioting or disturbing the peace and quiet of our cities.

Apparently, there is a lot of hope in the Pakistani society as you see great resistance to the political ambitions of Jamaat-e-Islami, a party that is linked to Muslim Brotherhood and has sympathies  for, if not possible connections to, Al Qaeda. You would see the most conservative quarters rejecting JI candidates. A JI candidate has not won a major seat in Punjab or interior Sindh in my living memory.

However, there is no shortage of well meaning and religiously bound idiots who would still endorse Islamic system of governance and Shariah. As if giving up their freedoms would redeem them. A more dangerous breed among them recognizes that only religious parties can truly enforce this system of governance and support Jamaat-e-Islami without holding back.

Just imagine the horror of an Islamist group gaining access to power through a democratic process, when they should actually not even be participating in it. The irony.

So it is a disappointment when I see Information Minister Pervez Rasheed speaking at an anti-Israeli rally held by Jamaat-e-Islami. Or Governor Punjab validating their political forum by offering them a speaking appointment.

We must come to our senses before we end up destroying whatever democracy we have left. We must also understand that democracy must have no room for religious political parties. All the more reason for a secular constitution.

In other words, Jamaat-e-Islami should be banned.

Note: As published in The Nation blog.