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.

Note on the Disqualification Verdict of the Prime Minister

Source: Reuters/NDTV

And you thought that you would live to see the day when an elected head of government could complete their term.

More than anyone else, it was highly unlikely for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, as much as he was the likeliest candidate to make it.

As much as his political party has been able to consistently win more two-third and clearer majorities than any other political party in the history of Pakistan.

As much as he was the perfect compromise for the people of Punjab between the bureaucratic establishment and a socially conservative and economically liberal tilt toward democratic values.

In many ways, it is an end of an era. Who knows? Just like in the 1990s, we might see Nawaz Sharif contesting the elections again. Though not likely after such a unanimous damning verdict, as absurd as it is. But Nawaz Sharif will remain to be the Prime Minister who initiated the Sunday as weekly holiday and constructed the motorway on his initiative.  And at least it offers a chance to Shahbaz Sharif to become Prime Minister.

One way or the other, the judicial coup of one of the most popularly backed elected government is complete. This is how Prime Minister will be dismissed in the post-military coup era.

Right after the farce of the JIT, which has essentially established the civil and military bureaucracy and intelligence as an extension of the judiciary, was put up by the Supreme Court, the Prime Minister was destined to be ousted.  The judges had already made up their minds. The only noteworthy and far from a substantial conclusion that the JIT had drawn, apart from a list of endless conjectures, was that the Sharif family was living way beyond their means.

In the end, the judgment by Supreme Court about the disqualification simply hinted that it was politically motivated. Even some of the most seasoned political commentators, publication editorials, and senior lawyers are analyzing it as such. There was a time under Iftikhar Chaudhary when you had the impression that the judges hear and judge cases after reading the papers. It seems those times have returned.

In other words, we have again had a mockery of democracy and our Constitution. Now at the hands of its guardians. What a shame.

However, there is little to expect from a Supreme Court that instead of safeguarding people’s right to the free internet, chose to uphold the YouTube ban. The bureaucratic institutions yet again let the people of Pakistan down by attacking democratic institutions and the mandate of the people’s vote.

What is worse though is that people who usually celebrate military coups are jubilant over the dismissal of the Prime Minister like they always are. Without realizing that the verdict has come against the mandate of the vote of the people, even though the grounds for qualification were clearly not of corruption. At least not in the least bit to warrant a lifetime disqualification.

Even though it is the day of thankfulness for the supporters of the PTI, I would neither be rejoicing nor be thankful if such a verdict came for an elected Prime Minister of that party. A part of me also wants Imran Khan to become the Prime Minister so that for once, they can be on the receiving end of this type of “justice.” Sadly, the party has been brainwashed to the degree of cynicism that some of them are even willing to see Imran Khan disqualified, being happy to see only the military rule.

But what do I know? Maybe I am missing the plot here. Maybe this is going to be really good for democracy after all.

Perhaps the judges have only lost their minds, or are being overly honest in their overzealousness of being “Sadik” and “Amin” instead of being malicious on purpose.

For once I hope that my friends on the other side are right and I am wrong.

In all seriousness, I would have no problems in conceding that I am at fault here.

 

But if only that were true.

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.

Keep on Mounting the Pressure on India Over Kashmir

Source: BBC/Getty Images

Source: BBC/Getty Images

The last thing an Indian nationalist wants to talk to you about is Kashmir. It’s because looking the other way when it comes to Kashmir has become the defining factor for the Indian nationalist. And it’s not just Kashmir. From Parveena Ahanger to Soni Sori and Irom Sharmila, there are many voices slapping the brutality of the Indian establishment that are discounted every day.

But don’t get me wrong. This does not imply by any means that the fire inside the Indian nationalist has died. They are ready to come at you harder than ever when the question is asked, especially now with an upper hand in the national politics, but their response would be anything but about Kashmir. It may be about Baluchistan, about radical Islam, about the treatment of minority groups in Pakistan, about what sort of hell Pakistan has become. But hardly ever about the subject under discussion.

Probably the only reason for that is that other than conscientious objectors in India, only the people and the government of Pakistan realize the moral responsibility to speak out about Kashmir for the most part. Despite the allegations and/or possible militant interference. Despite being a country “inspired by terrorism.”

Even the honorable Prime Minister of India, who is the true voice of his most avid followers, had similar answers to offer on Kashmir. Nothing substantial and a lot of embarrassment.

This only goes to show the moral state of the Indian nationalist mind. But more than that, it also gives you an insight into the priority that Kashmiris hold in India. It shows how much Indian nationalists care about the people of their inseparable part, and which worsens the feeling of isolation among Kashmiris.

Source: AP/Dawn

Source: AP/Dawn

There is no doubt that the Kashmiri freedom movement has had overwhelmingly Islamist tilt since the insurgency of the 1980s, backed by the Pakistani establishment. However, since its defeat, the Indian state has not had much to offer to the Kashmiris either. It has failed to win hearts and minds, like so many other border states where Pakistan was not a factor. It’s about time the Indian people realize that the brutality of their establishment is not always about retaliation to Pakistan’s interference.

A war of words on Kashmir, as long as it remains a war of words, is always going to be a losing battle for the Indians because there really is nothing to defend there. The way to hurt an Indian fundamentalist nationalist the most is to target where it hurts the most. Their nationalistic pride.

You cannot possibly defend shooting more than a million pellets aimed right in the eyes of your people. You cannot possibly defend killing dozens of those young protesters. But the plight of the Kashmiri people is far more than just the recent unrest.

Indian Occupied Kashmir is one of the most heavily militarized regions in the world, where thousands have been killed. According to independent observers such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, rape is used as effectively an instrument of war and domination in Kashmir, as well as the impunity with which the security forces act. You don’t have to be an expert to know that Kashmiris in the valley are treated as second class citizens.

Pakistani nationalists display a similar attitude toward Baluchistan, so Prime Minister Modi’s comments about it should be the least of Pakistan’s worries. Again, it is a matter of waking up to the human rights abuses going on in your own backyard. The recent disappearance of journalist Abdul Wahid Baloch is the latest of the unanswered question marks and a very serious one too.

But bringing up Baluchistan as a response to a question about Kashmir and vice versa is only indicative of the lack of interest in even addressing the issue at hand. Such arguments can be expected from twitter trolls, not from the leadership of a country. Though sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference.

Source: Ahmad Kakar/new-pakistan.com

Source: Ahmad Kakar/new-pakistan.com

But it is bad news for the Pakistani dove who wants unconditional peace with India. Modi’s comment potentially offer legitimacy to the argument that Pakistani establishment and nationalists have been making for years. This is particularly counterproductive as the focus toward Taliban and Islamist militants could shift back to India as the primary enemy. But that is not India’s problem. It is Pakistan’s problem, and unfortunately, the warmongers on both sides enable each other.

What the Indian nationalist fails to understand is that not everyone is interested in Kashmir defecting to Pakistan. Not everyone is even interested in the independence of Kashmir, even though these suggestions may seem to be the only relief to the troubled Kashmiri people.

Despite the history, if the Indian government and military start treating Kashmiris with a little more respect, the entire rhetoric about the Kashmir issue could disappear. But the fact remains that neither Kashmiris, nor the rest of the Indians have a remote understanding of each other’s viewpoint and have little in common. The cultural divide between the two makes the problem even worse.

However, whenever the Pakistani stance would move forward to actively support militancy in Kashmir, particularly through Islamist militants, the entire moral side of the argument is sabotaged. It only takes the world’s attention away from India’s brutal treatment of who are supposed to be their own citizens. This is where the support and freedom given to the likes of Hafiz Saeed must be discontinued.

Let’s keep mounting pressure on India when it comes to Kashmir. But it would only work effectively when we officially remain confined to a war of words.

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

Pitfalls of the Two Party System

Source: directionsmedia.net

Source: directionsmedia.net

The American media is never short of opinions expressing shock at the several fringe political movements appearing in the country from time to time.

Over the years, we have seen the emergence of progressive Green Party enthusiasts backing a Ralph Nader presidency in the wake of progressive discontent from the Clinton years, arguably costing the Democrats the 2000 election. We have witnessed the Occupy Wall Street movement standing up to the role of financial corporations in the recession of the 2000s, and ending with the disappointment of more corporate bailouts from the liberal Democrat leadership. And we have seen the rise of the much demonized libertarian-leaning Tea Party movement standing up against the rising taxation and regulatory policies of the progressive Democrats and President Obama. This group has been voicing its dissatisfaction and frustration over a Republican Congress failing to reflect their demands, despite a massive mid-term victory in 2014.

The latest “fringe” wave of the populist anti-immigration sentiment rising ironically with the Presidential campaign of billionaire businessman Donald Trump is yet again shocking the world. Something which absolutely must have no place in the discourse of American politics, which should remain absolutely confined to the Democratic and Republican party.

There is really nothing new about the anti-immigration sentiment. We have seen political parties in Europe winning on the anti-immigration, anti-Euro platform, and some could argue that the recent remarkable voting performance of the UKIP and the ultimate victory of the Conservative Party is one such instance in the very liberal United Kingdom.

Regardless of the morality of this political view, reasonable questions should be asked why it cannot find its due place in the American representative politics. Especially considering the fact that what is painted the anti-immigration stance of the Donald Trump campaign is actually not against immigration, but only for taking strict action against illegal immigration. This is not just a right wing phenomenon, as we have seen such sentiment in the campaign of progressive Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders, who considers open borders a “right wing proposal,” probably referring to the libertarian movement. But there really should be no mentions of any such proposed policy, with the only accepted versions being the official positions of the Democratic and Republican parties.

Any candidate that deviates from the establishment positions is an extremist and must not get the party nomination. Regardless of the fact how many among the general public support those positions. Marijuana legalization, on which the positions of the Libertarian and Green party are pretty clear, is one issue which has garnered overwhelming support from the American public lately. However, on the federal level, both establishment parties oppose the legalization, and are funding the controversial and unpopular war on drugs.

Even for the fans of obstructive government mechanism in the Presidential system of the United States like me, the two party system seems too exclusive for comfort. I am a strong proponent of separating the executive branch from the legislative, as opposed to the blurring lines in the Parliamentary system. However, you cannot help but marvel at the inadequacies of the two party system. Granted that America has a proud two-party political structure, that is apparently as simple as it is complex, but is it truly reflective of the ideological diversity of the country?

The two party system sounds like the sort of absolutist scenario that offers almost unlimited powers to the executive in the Parliamentary system. Either you are for an issue or against it, with no ifs and buts in between. Which does not even make any sense, because on most issues, both parties agree where it matters, and in the recent years, there really has not been any regulation with the exception of the Affordable Healthcare Act that significantly altered the state of affairs in a partisan manner.

Undoubtedly, both Democratic and Republican parties have room for a variety of ideas and positions on various issues. However, the candidates that eventually win nominations for the executive branch often have centrist and moderate views, and opinions which could be referred to be aligned with the establishment positions. This could also be said to be reflective of the moderate and centrist political approach of the people of the United States, but does this notion hold true on every issue?

Of course, there are more than two political parties in the United States, but what if they had the representation in the federal legislature as well? In any case, there really is no reason why a multiparty system should not work in a Presidential system in the United States. It might change the clear role of majority for one party and minority for another. I think it just does not work because the electoral system and media do not offer any margin for it, discouraging independent voters to even consider the option due to the lack of electability. But what if it becomes a possibility one day?

Maybe it would shock the US media less about certain fringe political positions, or unconventional Presidential candidates.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

To Our Generals…

General Kazi and General Zafar (Source: youtube)

The recent days have seen some unusual events. Generals in the dock. That is unusual in a country where generals call all the shots, and who along with the civil bureaucracy are a part of an establishment that makes sure that everything remains in “safe hands”.

I would not really go into a lot of details as far as the background is concerned, but in a nutshell the Supreme Court is trying General Baig and Maj. Gen. Durrani for the Asghar Khan-ISI-IJI case, but even more importantly or maybe not, three retired generals Lt. Gen. Javed Ashraf Kazi, Lt. Gen. Saeed-uz-Zafar and Maj. Gen. Hassan Butt are being questioned by the NAB for the Royal Palm Railways Real Estate Lease scam. Earlier three retired generals were being interrogated by the military in the NLC scam.

Now there is nothing wrong and unusual with committing a mistake, knowingly or unknowingly, and being tried for it. It’s actually business as usual, isn’t it? But there is something special about these gentlemen. Of all these generals, the ones interrogated by NAB in the Railways Real Estate case stole the limelight recently. What is even more inflammatory is that this is a case initiated by the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee of the bloody civilians.

Of course conidering how vigilant our media is, the correspondents from all sorts of news channels ganged around the generals and started asking all sorts of inconvenient questions that are asked of people under scrutiny. Well the most noteworthy part was the way the generals responded to the media. Gen. Kazi told the reporter to “shut up“, while Lt Gen Saeed-uz-Zafar sarcastically and derogatively bestowed his advice to the nation to vote for the transgender leader Almas Bobby for the next elections, even though I would actually like to see them in the legislature. It is hard to say what is the relevance of that recommendation to his case.

Well of course you would not expect them to be used to be questioned like that but nevertheless their response is pretty significant. I don’t really have much to say about it as the rest of the nation and the media are covering it pretty comprehensively anyway. However, I have just one point to add.  I at least want the educated members of the society reading these lines to memorize this event and never forget it.

Now I don’t have any youtube video links at hand right now because the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has blocked youtube over the presence of the trailer of a blasphemous film and for many other obscurantist reasons. How convenient. So you can’t expect media groups to upload these videos on the youtube, though they should anyway. I will surely upload this blog later and share it again to include those video links whenever available, but I have found one from Sama TV News. However, I am sure all those Pakistanis who closely follow the news would have witnesssed these significant comments by our able generals.

What these generals fail to realize is that they are actually telling the entire nation to shut up. Furthermore, while I personally don’t mind seeing transgender MPs in Pakistan, let it be clear that the statement from the honorable General was an insult not only to the civilian leadership of the country but to the nation as well. I wish I could actually recruit transgenders as generals given the kind of people running the Pakistani military.

Given the almost apartheid-like discrimination in the area of civil and military services and facilities, it is no surprise how our generals view the general public that they so proudly claim to defend. Oh wait, it’s the country. And then statements are issued by the military that certain people are conspiring to destroy their morale. Perhaps, but how about some tolerance for reasonable criticism?

I would be be prepared for much more criticism than this if I were undertaking that much responsibility. And there is no need to remind the world of the events in history that demand them to take responsibility.

But thanks for shutting us up, again.

Never forget…