An All Too Familiar Face of Accountability

Source: BBC Urdu

Pakistan is a unique country in terms of governance and politics. Not everything is as it seems and you can often have a hard time discerning who is really at the helm of policy. The case with accountability is not any different. It is often used as a moralizing political tool than a dispenser of justice.

Ever since the office of the Prime Minister was created in Pakistan, the civil and military bureaucrats have been busy inventing excuses to dismiss it. And whether they have not been creative enough in coming up with those excuses, they most certainly have been effective in the ultimate objective.

Ever since General Pervez Musharraf resigned as President, it seems that the coup-ready military of Pakistan has changed its decades-old strategy. It apparently has realized that explicitly taking over the government in Pakistan is either not good for its image internationally or does not garner enough support at home. So now they prefer to move the strings from behind the curtain.

The Pakistani people have been fed a singular dimension of accountability. That the elected office holders or the politicians are the embodiment of all the corruption in the government, while the civil and military bureaucracy is the most efficient machinery in existence. Not only that, they are also the most suitable entities to hold the politicians accountable.

Ever since the revelation of the Panama Papers with the mention of the offshore companies of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, we are seeing the familiar face of accountability surface. As it came as a welcome relief after the drama around electoral rigging died out. And as before, when the military lies dormant, the judiciary plays its part to be the entity ready to stage a soft coup as in the case of Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani. The very tone used by judges, in this case, speaks volumes of their intent. It may or may not materialize, but the way the wind has been blowing is unmistakable.

At least for moral reasons, there have been calls for the Prime Minister to step down. Apart from not qualifying on the mystical constitutional standards of “Sadiq” and “Amin”, there is hardly any reason to until a definite proof of money laundering is produced on his person, as opposed to the conjectures listed by the JIT. But if the Prime Minister does not step down, it would be interesting to see how far his opponents go to bring about his demise. In that case, it is probably better for his purpose to play the victimization card.

However, where his governing achievement surpasses most other parties, his poor political leadership is costing him dearly. The problem with the PML-N has always been that it mistakes its heavy mandate as a carte blanche to alienate political stakeholders around the country. Of course, the incurably cynical PTI is on a saboteur mission to take democracy down with themselves but the rest of the parties can at least listen to the majority party and come to its rescue in case of bureaucratic threats.

What the PML-N does not realize is that its overwhelming majority that it takes for its strength is its greatest weakness. Because it has always been targeted by the bureaucratic establishment for such powerful popular support that no other party has enjoyed over three decades. The way it has been targeted is evident from all three terms of Prime Minister Sharif.

Unfortunately, there are elements in our civil and military bureaucracy, as well as the intelligence community, who do not want democracy to flourish in Pakistan. Not only do they not believe in democracy as a system of government, they strongly resent any hint of power in the hands of the public. The bureaucratic rule has been presented as a solution for the Pakistani people since independence and sadly, a good number of people buy into this narrative surviving since colonial times. And who better to hold the politicians accountable than bureaucrats, as evident from the JIT, which has now rendered military intelligence as an extension of the judicial branch.

Nobody has bothered questioning why the JIT has officially become an extension of the Supreme Court. Nobody has bothered questioning why the range of investigation has been extended beyond the revelations of the papers. Nobody has bothered asking why military intelligence officials are investigating the first family. And above all, nobody has bothered questioning why in Pakistan a panel of judges can undo the mandate of the people instead of impeachment by elected officials.

Of course, accountability should be a part of a strong democratic system. And a fragile democracy is hardly any excuse to forego the crimes of the political class. However, it would have been far easier to trust the high office of judiciary and bureaucracy in Pakistan had they enjoyed a cleaner political track record.

So, who is going to hold who accountable?

Well, let’s start from the politicians again. Now and forever.

 

The post was originally published in the Dunya Blogs.
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Time to Ban the Jamaat-e-Islami’s Young Fascist Goons Nationwide

Source: Babar Shah/PPI

Jamaat-e-Islami is a political organization which appears to rule the hearts and minds of a majority of urban people in Pakistan despite their dismal electoral performance. This statement would be heartening for a supporter of the Islamist party still struggling to make a dent in the secular wall of Punjab and Sindh.

One of the reasons to demonstrate that is the complete lack of checks and control over their band of young fascist goons, the Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT). Any given elected civilian government and even the military establishment are heavily under the influence of their ideological supremacy. They promise to establish Sharia in Pakistan despite having already influenced the theocratic elements in the Pakistani constitution. This is other words means that we are a work in progress to reach the excellence of the Islamic State (in Iraq and Syria).

The IJT are in the news again for disrupting a cultural event in the public educational institution Punjab University held by a secular Pashtun student organization PSF. This obviously resulted in a clash that has seen many injured and the environment of calm and peace destroyed for thousands of students in Lahore. Yes, this is Punjab we are talking about.

This is not for the first time of course and it surely would not be the last. Just a simple internet search about news related to them should suffice. Exhibit A.

I wish it would be the last straw that would have us say that enough is enough.

The pioneers of violence in student politics and the prime factors resulting in the creation of counter fascist (not counter-fascist) secular movements like APMSO, the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (Islamic Student Organization) has remained a menacing force in politics in Pakistan. The Islami Jamiat Talaba pretending to be representative of a democratic party and democratic values, always resort to violence for a reason. Because they actually work on a theocratic logic (which is never democratic) and are trained to silence everyone that holds a different world view. Because that is just the way religion works.

Also, it is about time we stop buying the same arguments about the alleged democracy of their mothership, the Jamaat-e-Islami, because that is precisely how they work as well. At least they promise Sharia in their manifesto in addition to what we have in Pakistan. Their so-called democratic process of electing an Emir is the biggest farce you are ever going to see.

Offering us the worst of the both worlds, the IJT is a mixture of toxic Islamist ideology and second hand anger fueled by misplaced male hormones, a trait they share with their secular brethren. This group of goons, just like the undemocratic party they represent, should be immediately banned from participating in politics nationwide in educational institutes at least. And there are valid reasons why.

Ask yourself this question honestly. How many times have you heard the activists of Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba have disrupted cultural and educational activities? While I know that the secular and progressive student unions do not have a clean sheet to offer as well and I am not a fan, there is simply no parallel when it comes to the history the Jamiat enjoys. And that too, completely unchecked. Even in the overwhelmingly theological International Islamic University Islamabad, the organization (which enjoys a complete totalitarian control there) has been known to disrupt mixed gender conferences in its relatively and nominally secular business school.

I know a lot of my friends would disagree and I would understand, but I was relieved that student unions were banned by military dictators during my days in college. Because that offered the students some peace due to the break in regular violence. Still in those days, the Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT) enjoyed unchecked influence not only in institutions heavily funded by Muslim majority Gulf states but also in various public secular institutions like the Punjab University.

They had always been a major force in the Karachi University at least. They introduced weapons and violence in the politics of Karachi under the secure guidance of our state which kickstarted the shitstorm the city is in today. But even that is a smaller and long forgotten crime in comparison to the good work they are doing every day.

The biggest reason to ban the Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT) is simply the fascist, authoritarian, and totalitarian ideology they are poisoning the minds of our youth with. They abuse the freedoms offered by the democratic process to push their theocratic agenda and aim to make Pakistan a far more frightening state than Iran or Saudi Arabia.

I know a lot of people would jump to attack this piece as endorsing undemocratic ideas but sadly the IJT and their sympathizers do not know the first thing about democracy. Yes, even the political party of Adolf Hitler won a popular vote election and then suspended democracy. So, just having an election is not democracy, unfortunately.

Like other authoritarians such as Communists, fascists and Nazis, the Jamaat-e-Islami, IJT, and their ideology are the very anti-thesis of democracy, make no doubt about it.

I know the title of this piece is kind of ridiculous because any time to ban the IJT nationwide is good and it should have been done long ago.

And of course, whenever a ban on student unions is indeed put in place, the solution is to punish everyone for their crimes.

Because why discriminate against totalitarian theocrats?

Thanks to them, we have a theocratic constitution anyway.

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.

 

Brutality Defining Justice

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

When justice needs to be served, how much is enough?

How much should be done to undo the wrong that has been committed and to relieve the wronged?

How much should the severity of the punishment be to inflict the same degree of pain that the victim of the crime suffered?

Is an eye for an eye enough? Or do we need to go beyond that to ensure that we have perfectly balanced the pans of the scale of justice?

How much torture would suffice the necessary urge for revenge?

Well, it’s hard to answer. Because every person has different needs and standards when it comes to revenge. But you do need a close-to-objective standard to establish a state-level punishment that would satisfy a mass audience.

So what could be the most potent standard?

Thankfully, there are systems of governance in the world that have just the answer.

Be as brutal as you possibly can be.

Sadly, gone are the days of medieval torture in Europe and even the Electric Chair has been outlawed in the most conservative states in the US.

But not to worry, there is plenty of other help.

Shariah Law punishment is alive and well, and growing healthy by the day.

Perhaps not everyone is chopping off everyone’s hand, but the intent is commendable.

Saudi Arabia recently beheaded another Pakistani for smuggling heroin. Well, the bastard certainly deserved that. That ought to teach those drug dealers a lesson.

But before you cry Islamophobia, well, it’s not the only guiding principle. there are a lot of guidelines in the secular law around the world, which can be just as illuminating.

Take China’s brutal punishment of Liu Xiaobao for an example. Is speaking your mind treason? And is treason even a crime?

Or perhaps take a few examples from the civilized world?

US citizen Jonathan Pollard is still in prison for spying for Israel in the United States. Could someone explain to me what has Private Manning done to deserve, how many, 35 years in prison. Or even how the terrorist financier Afia Siddiqui could probably survive 86 years of confinement, even though she has not apparently directly killed a single man. Or maybe Shakeel Afridi’s sentence.

But then again, isn’t our Blasphemy Law a by-product of the civilized world?

Oh, but that was the British Empire. Apologies.

Forget even that. What did private property destroyer Gullu Butt actually do to deserve 11 years in prison? Seriously, I would like to know.

We are probably just a bunch of self-righteous passive-aggressive closet sadists who thrive on publicly humiliating and killing one of our own. Which sounds more like symptoms of some sort of mass moralistic psychopathy. And in order to hide that instinct of ours, we have created the label of justice. Because we are not brave enough to apologize for our dark side.

And oh, swift justice. Isn’t that what Ambassador Zafar Hilaly recently quoted on Capital TV to hint why people loved the Sufi Muhammad regime in Swat so much. But he won’t recall it now. It was in the heat of the moment.

And then there is the news and opinion media to serve this very purpose. To satisfy our insatiable appetite and lust for punishing and humiliating someone. Like these cannibals and necrophiliacs.

But why bring local politics in.

Anyway, let’s go for more recent, safer examples.

Source: Golara Sajadian/AFP/Huffington Post

Source: Golara Sajadian/AFP/Huffington Post

Take Reyhaneh Jabbari for instance.

The poor woman killed someone who was about to rape her, which actually doesn’t make her an angel, but she did it in self defense. You never know if the rapist is going to not kill you, and prevention of rape is a right after all. So violence for violence, as per the eye-for-an-eye rule, is perfectly justified.

But no, she did something so terrible. The Iranians had to hang her despite all the Western propaganda. So they did. End of story.

But then again, she committed a murder. Numerous others are publicly hanged in Iran, with their executions seen in live media broadcast. According to many of my social conservative friends, this is the best form of punishment to help deter crime.

Let’s see the other extremity too.

Unlike her, somebody like Mukhtaran Mai survived a gang rape, which by the way, was ordered by a village judicial council or jirga to address another grievance. And dozens of women like her undergo that rather weird form of punishment.

Or maybe another, which involves calling for castration for rape. Death for rape. You know, folks back in India could be as brutal and heartless as the vigilante mobs and other brutal penalizing authorities.

Well, I can’t say I hold the moral high ground here. I definitely don’t. Following the brutal murder of a young girl after her gang rape in a bus in New Delhi, I felt the same way. But I do realize, I was wrong and probably not any better than the rapists.

Maybe I am as barbaric when push comes to shove. I support shooting at violent rioters to prevent killings and damage to private property anyway. And ironically, oppose capital punishment.

But my personal hypocrisies are secondary here. I could believe in private revenge, like a million superheroes, or I may not, but it’s setting a moral example for state governance is what matters here, doesn’t it?

Having said that, I still support, as in Jabbari’s case, killing for self defense, and even in theory and in part, the apparently savage Stand Your Ground laws in the United States, despite their discriminatory application, which demands abuse reviews and possible amends. It’s not a perfect world if you are looking for justice.

There are a lot of liberal folks in Pakistan who wanted to put Mumtaz Qadri to death. Recall him? The same guy who killed Governor Taseer because of his criticism of yet another barbaric guiding principle, the Blasphemy Law.

I am one of those who are against capital punishment for Mumtaz Qadri. I even think that the blood money laws, if not coerced, are among the better parts of Islam.

But probably a lot of folks would blame people like me for the death of a British blasphemer in Rawalpindi’s Adiyala Jail after the incarcerated Mumtaz Qadri incited his murder in religious zeal. He actually believes that shit.

I’d take them seriously, but we have a lot worse problems to deal with.

Because half of people in Pakistan want the country to look like this.

And this is what the other half wants.

And Justice has been served.

Happy Halloween.

The Gravity of Religious Threat

Source: Pakistan Today

Source: Pakistan Today

We often hear our confused youth cry about the absence of real democratic values in the society. According to them, democracy is impossible to achieve the widespread corruption and oligarchical influences.

They are very right. But not only do they forget this fundamental problem preventing democracy to flourish in Pakistan, they insist on denying it and vehemently defend it.

That problem remains to be theocratic influence on Pakistani law and constitution.

But then again, they would denounce democracy in the very next breath, because then they declare that their goal is not democracy, because its values are impossible to achieve under a democratic setup. Only free and fair elections under a dictatorship can resolve the dilemma.

Sadly, the problem is far more serious than they think.

The danger of religious influence on the law is so grave that no one is safe from it.

The latest evidence of that is that some folks have filed a petition of blasphemy against the Leader of the Opposition from PPP, Khurshid Ahmed Shah.

 If a blasphemy case can be filed against one of the most powerful people in Pakistani politics, who is safe?

Is it safe to assume that MQM is behind it? Hope not. But if true, this would be coming from what is supposed to be one of the more liberal parties of Pakistan, who should ideally work to suspend these laws. Just for saying that the word “muhajir” or “immigrant” is derogatory. But of course, that easily qualifies to abuse the Prophet and his companions who migrated to Medina from Mecca.

Now obviously, it is a different matter altogether whether Khurshid Shah would actually be charged with the allegation. Because that depends on his position and the sort of people he offended.

However, it is important to emphasize the theocratic influences on the law and the constitution as the biggest hurdle to democracy, because tools such as the blasphemy law are used to shut anyone up, from a common citizen to the most powerful cable networks and politicians.

 And all you need is just a figment of doubt in the mind of the petitioner that a blasphemy has been committed.

Should not that be a part of the status quo that we should be struggling to change?

It’s rather ridiculous that you have to explain it so explicitly to some people, but here goes.

Democracy will not work until freedom of speech is ensured.

There will be no free speech as long as blasphemy law is in the books.

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.

We Win or No Democracy

Source: AP/Indian Express

Source: AP/Indian Express

The current political crisis in Pakistan is a case of dangerous and deluded impostors posing as saviors and false prophets, playing with the hopes of children.

We have a political group in our country which is willing to accept democracy only if it manages to win an election. It is willing to accept the function of a state if only it submits to their dictates.

And if not, then the democratic system they so disapprove of must go in favor of military rule, or even mob rule, no matter if nearly 60% of the population voted for it.

They would rather see the military rule established, then see this corrupt, unjust democracy exist.

In other words, a considerable number of people in this country need babysitting. Actually, babies are easier to manage.

It is a world of well meaning idiots who believe that the eschatological Messiah has arrived, and no one else has the right to rule. Like followers of a cult’s true prophet, they would bow their heads to every demand he makes.

It is a world of delusional moralists who would cite fundamental rights to justify their excesses as they would selectively invoke Islam and Hadith, while otherwise having contempt for democracy.

It is a world of audacious cynics whose day would not pass without making a dozen jests about the futility of democracy and the rule of law.

It is a world of self-righteous patriots who would gladly jump to shout treason and would justify insulting and storming the symbols of the state.

It is a world in which there is no room for dissent.

Yet their struggle must go on for true democracy, which is as elusive as the cryptic true Islam that they follow. One that is being  perpetually misinterpreted.

Their struggle must go on until the demands from their beloved leader are met, in the exact order and no matter how unreasonable they sound.

But the protest must go on till true justice is served.

Until this air conditioned populist revolution is brought about.

Until the ultimate act of salvation is attained.

Until the Mighty Imran Khan becomes the Prime Minister.

And the President, and the Chief Justice, and the Caretaker, and the Emir, and the Law.