The Lesson from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Fall

Source: geo.tv

There are several lessons that could be learned from the fall of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Poor leadership, terrible strategy, abandoning allies, pride, hubris, arrogance, narcissism, myopia, and having the little foresight of the inevitable. However, the most important lesson is meant more for the Pakistani people who seem to be repeating some of the mistakes of the ill-fated triple term Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was brought to prominence during the reign of the mighty General Zia-ul-Haq, arguably the worst military dictator in Pakistan’s history. A reluctant Nawaz Sharif was introduced as the Chief Minister of Punjab, who then rose to power as the leader of establishment-backed Islamic Democratic Alliance in the 1990s against the staunchly anti-establishment liberal visionary Benazir Bhutto.

As Prime Minister Sharif got comfortable in his Jihadi, Islamist social conservative cradle, he would soon attempt to declare himself the “Emir-ul-Momineen.” Who would have thought the one who almost became the Emir-ul-Momineen cannot even qualify as a Sadik and Amin now.

However, he probably never one at heart himself. The trader and entrepreneur in him was always more loyal to productivity and money than religious mirages and made him lean toward peace with India. The secular leader in him switched the national weekly holiday to Sunday from Friday amid protests of his Islamist allies. And perhaps went further to confront the military on counter-productive measures such as the 1998 nuclear tests and certainly the disastrous Kargil War.

Of course, Sharif crossed a lot of limits and does so habitually but you don’t have to do much to fall out of favor with the bureaucratic establishment. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif himself made the mistake of trusting them the third time around while living dangerously throughout his term, surviving rioting protests from PTI and PAT. Of course, you cannot say that he does not realize who his enemy is but you know there is only so much you can do to save yourself or please them.

While the people do not have the luxury to do much about them either, they also consistently make the mistake of taking their ruling bureaucratic tyrants as their saviors. They also consistently make the mistake of rejoicing over their assault on their right to vote. Many of them cannot wait to completely give up all their rights to their bureaucratic overlord whose meritocracy could not have been a fitter fit for the ignorant Pakistani masses who can’t think for themselves.

Nawaz Sharif may as well be history. But the people of Pakistan need to wonder if they can afford any more lapses in their democratic process. They need to wonder if they are willing to relinquish any more of their rights to the security state.

They need to wonder how the bureaucratic machine has not even bothered to promise to deliver free education as in the 18th amendment. They need to wonder how the bureaucratic machine has looked the other way when it comes to a national health insurance program while paying their bills out of public money. They need to wonder how the bureaucratic machine has systematically dismantled the honor of their own voice.

They need to do some serious soul searching.

Because the only ones that the bureaucratic machine cares for are themselves.

And that is the biggest lesson.

 

A version of this post was published in the Dunya blogs.

Bringing down the Sharifs

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

The Panama Leaks are the sort of story that was needed to shake the firm grasp of the Sharif family on the politics of Punjab.

Unlike the uproar in the media and warnings of a protest movement from PTI chairman Imran Khan, I am not convinced that the people of Pakistan are particularly bothered by the revelations in the Panama leaks. To some people, avoiding tax payment is a terrible sin, but let’s admit it, most people in Pakistan hardly believe in paying taxes or trusting the government with their money. Others consider smuggling fair trade. These views may outrage many liberals, but people are free to see the world that way.

Naturally, most businessmen and investors, particularly those who fear their assets would be frozen by a certain state for political reasons, would be attracted to offshore tax havens. Or perhaps they have a genuine desire of paying low taxes. In the past, the Swiss accounts of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari have been a matter of major controversy, and now the offshore assets of the Sharif family have surfaced.

To many people, the crime of the PML-N leaders lying about their offshore assets is far worse than the act of possible tax evasion. They would have to produce clean taxation and remittances records to eliminate the suspicion of any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, such behavior seems more suited to businessmen than the leading political family in a developing nation.

However, what makes the leaders of the PML-N the hypocrites of the highest order is that they have gone to all lengths to demonize the PPP leadership for what they have been obviously doing themselves. 1999 actually taught them a lesson that heads of state not only need a haven for their financial assets but one for political asylum as well.

Instead of freaking out by Panama Leaks, it does not hurt to be optimistic about their aftermath. Personally, I would not like to see the Prime Minister go as long as he ends up clarifying his position, as did Prime Minister David Cameron in Britain. However, if he fails to present a strong case and succumbs to the pressure of the opposition, good riddance.

Some people are also seeing the military intervening as the ultimate solution for accountability as always, but nothing would be more disastrous for the progress of democracy. At least, for the development of the economy and services to the people of Pakistan.

In any event, you cannot ignore the fact that the Sharif brothers have become a bit too comfortable in their almost absolute political power in Punjab. The landslide in the last election stunned the rest of the parties, but their continual abuse of power hardly goes unnoticed as well.

A strong opposition, and ideally alternate terms for different parties, is good for democracy. Historically, Punjab does vote to balance the power between two leading parties, but due to the popular emergence of PTI, the opposition vote has been divided between PTI and PPP.

The PML-N infrastructure projects particularly require continuation of terms, but regardless of whether the party is good for the country, or at least Punjab, they need to be challenged. The PTI and the PPP will probably not find a better opportunity to strike a dent in the formidable wall of the political support of the PML-N in Punjab. In terms of producing electoral results, both the political parties would have to set aside differences and form an alliance in Punjab.

While the metro bus projects have been much the needed mass transit in the urban areas in Punjab, at least the twin cities, they reflect on how executive power is exercised in Pakistan by political governments. PTI and other liberal critics also make sense when they make a case for the lack of government funds in the health sector while such mega projects are being developed.

Opposition parties sense instinctively that something is wrong with this spending pattern, but are not able to make an effective case for some reason.

Unfortunately, the idea of limiting the executive power is not popular in Pakistani politics. As a matter of fact, these very opposition parties, with the possible exception of PPP, would favor more executive power, so that they are able to exercise it when they are in power. After all, elections are about getting things done.

So while we need to address the problem of corruption and tax evasion, the procedures on government spending and the permitted abuse of executive power need to be taken into account as well.

 

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Jinnah, Secular Pakistan & False Heroes

Source: Express Tribune

Source: Express Tribune

Often September 11 is a day when you could find people having a debate about secularism in Pakistan here and there. It is also the 9/11 anniversary, but let’s keep the conversation to secularism.

The death anniversary of founder of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah is considered a moment for this debate, primarily due to a speech he delivered on August 11, 1947.

However, the proponents of Islamic Republic who claim he was not secular do have a point. Ah, Islamic Republic, what an oxymoron.

The day every single secular bone in Mr. Jinnah was dead when he decided to join the cause of the Muslim League.

Call it the bigotry of Hindu leaders or the failure of Indian National Congress to suck up to the unreasonable demands of separate electorate, but that act should sum it up for anyone, if not the disastrous partition of 1947.

Needless deaths. Needless riots. Needless stupidity which has now become synonymous to the Indian people.

The supposedly secular Jinnah, who reportedly got furious over someone calling him the King of Pakistan, was perfectly alright with the dangerous slogan “Pakistan ka matlab kya, La ilaha il Allah” or “What is the meaning of Pakistan? No god but Allah.”

But a lot of people even claim that such slogan was a later invention, and there is no wonder not many would believe them.

And what of the forsaken millions of oppressed Muslim left to suffer at the hands of “Hindu imperialists”, who certainly would be seeing this as an opportunity for revenge for over five centuries of Muslim rule?

At another instance, you find him saying that the state of Pakistan would be an Islamic State modeled after the City State of Medina established by Prophet Muhammad himself. He has also referred to Islam as democracy. I know a lot of people would defend this statement, but this calls for a serious reality check.

In other words, Jinnah was one of the liberal Muslims who deemed the sort of state as the Medina to be a perfectly safe constitution for the non-Muslim community. The sort of liberal Muslims who are under the delusion that Islam provides safety to the non-Muslim communities through its message of universal peace.

Now Pakistani secularists, most of them with the center-left PPP and ANP have a dilemma. How to pitch secularism to an Islamic fundamentalist crowd, raised on admiring the merits of the Caliphate.

Perhaps in the world of cults and personality worshipers, what is missing in Pakistan for the failure of the secular movement is the lack of real heroes. Secular circles are usually seen hailing Jinnah and Bhutto as their leaders and heroes, while they should be the ones in the forefront to criticize them.

Source: ppp.org.pk

Source: ppp.org.pk

Why not openly endorse Jawaharlal Nehru as a secular leader rather than Jinnah, and why not discard an Islamic Socialist like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who signed the Second Amendment?

I know a lot of folks recognize atheist freedom fighter Bhagat Singh as a hero. I am all for choosing Benazir Bhutto as a relatively better secular and surely a liberal leader and I am glad that we have leaders such as Sherry Rehman and Bushra Gohar among us.

Though what is needed is a consensus on secularism. The left should not and must not have a monopoly over this issue. A secular right is badly needed in the sub continent.

But stick with the August 11, 1947 speech by all means to haunt Islamists. I actually respect the man’s acknowledgement of keeping religion separate from the state. However, his actions are hardly coherent with his words.

In any case, rest assured that Jinnah was no secular hero. Primarily, because of his politics under Muslim League as Muslims are not a nation or an ethnic group. It is a religious group and obtaining a state for it would mean giving up the secular cause and taking up a religious one.

As a matter of fact, the Indian Jamaat-e-Islami of the time would have offered some relative sanity if you were a Jinnah follower.

If only we would have the courage to admit that with such an artificially created religious demographic, Pakistan was wired to be an Islamic state from the very beginning. Little else would be expected from a political party thriving on the politics of discrimination and separate electorates.

While my opinion has changed about Muhammad Ali Jinnah over time, my view pertaining to secularism and logical political choices remains the same.

You don’t have to follow someone’s example to do the right thing. Jinnah was a politician, and therefore, his contradictions only make sense.

Just use your brain as secularism is the most reasonable, uncontroversial, universally acceptable and common sense social contract.

In the words of an acquaintance, former civil servant K. M. Cheema, the case for secularism must stand by itself.

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.