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.

The Politics of Shipping Containers

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

A government is supposed to protect the interest of its public. But what to do if it becomes the biggest hurdle in their way?

Now for the uninitiated, the politics of shipping containers probably sounds like manipulating the trade at the port, not that that was never a problem, but these shipping containers are contributing to the economy around a thousand miles from the shore. In the federal capital and in a very different way too.

We had all suffered the consequences of the blockade during the 2014 sit-in protest by PTI and PAT.  Now it is time to brace ourselves again to dread getting out on the roads and to find our way out of the gridlock. The question is, who has the time and money? No matter which side you are on, you would be forced to either stay home or join the political tamasha.

Can you blame the entire problem on the PTI and Sheikh Rasheed protests? Probably you can, because the containers were not there a couple of days ago. But here they are now. Still, they are not put into place by them. The fact of the matter is that the government can possibly handle this situation in another way. Imposing Section 144 is not the solution to every problem.

So I wonder if it is the fault of the protesters or the Federal Interior Ministry itself that people like me cannot go to work when they should be able to on a regular weekday. Of course, we are not fully aware of the reasons why shipping containers are used to block roads, perhaps to block suicide bombing trucks, who knows? But ever since these blockades have started appearing on our roads, the lives of the people of the twin cities have never been the same.

While the party in power uses shipping containers to block access from roads, the one in the opposition would use it as a stage to prolong, if not perpetuate, the misery. PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s recent call to shut down the capital is just one such example, which has already sent the stock market crashing even when the actual sit-in protest has not taken place yet. To add insult to injury, he has decided to challenge the orders from the Islamabad High Court forbidding the shutdown.

The fact of the matter is that the people want to get on with their lives and are sick and tired of the storms of made-up revolutions that our political leaders like to stir in a teacup. Clearly, most of the people reject the politics of shipping containers, something which could even be a threat to our fragile democracy. But like always, this silent majority remains without a voice.

What is even worse is that the government that warns protesters of refraining from interrupting public life is doing all it can to make things miserable for them. This is what the politics in Pakistan have come down to, only to strengthen the ignorant belief that democracy is not fit for a “country like Pakistan.” Whatever that means.

Perhaps we cannot get past the days of tear gas because we have not evolved from rioting and destroying to the peaceful protest that is often met with ridicule in our society. Perhaps we would really attain the ideals that we speak so fondly of when we really start supporting peaceful, liberal democratic values on the ground and learn to respect the democratic process.

Out of all the rights of the people that the government is responsible to uphold, perhaps the most underestimated in Pakistan is the freedom to access. People are simply too willing to give too much for too little. This reflects the way our government thinks and it also offers an insight into our minds as well. This probably means that our days of living in an authoritarian state are not over and neither is the will to resist it. Or if things have improved indeed, we have still not been able to shake off the hangover from our past of dictatorships.

I hope some day our protesters would learn to make their point without blocking roads and that our governments could restore order without taking any lives.

Is it too much to ask?

The post was originally published in The Nation 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.

The Politics of Perpetual Cynical Whining

Source: dawn.com

Source: dawn.com

The recent by-polls in the key Lahore constituency NA-122 that put the membership of Speaker Ayaz Sadiq on the line have resulted in his reelection with a narrow margin. PTI campaigned aggressively targeting the constituency due to rigging elections and have effectively made their mark in the PML-N stronghold.

However, the people’s verdict at the polls is never enough for the PTI leadership. In Imran Khan’s own words, he was happy with the NA-122 elections because of the presence of the military in officiating it. But that statement, other than the fact that it was heavily scrutinized by the media, seemed too good to be true for an election held in Pakistan. Nobody was surprised that briefly after conceding defeat as a moral victory, the PTI leadership was having second thoughts about the transparency of these polls too.

Since apparently nothing is left to blame on the polling officials, the PTI has come up with some obscure PML-N rigging measures that they could not anticipate, and others hardly even understand. Somehow the PML-N managed to throw the PTI votes out “at the last minute.” Because apparently at the last minute, PML-N started handling voter lists instead of the Election Commission.

There is nothing surprising about these allegations, because elections would never be fair until the PTI candidates are elected from all constituencies in the country, even if the voting machines are installed.

PTI has effectively become a political party that thrives on conspiracy theories and paranoia. Just like our nationalistic and Islamic fundamentalists, they would invent weird scenarios as long as their firm beliefs hold true.

It seems that the politics of Imran Khan is now centered on one point alone: electoral rigging. We vaguely remember that it used to be about electoral reform.

Well, PTI is controlling a provincial government. We all know that it is not the case. But this is what we get to hear from the PTI leadership about 9 times out of every 10 appearances they make. This makes you wonder if they are in politics just to keep on campaigning for elections, because it is fun apparently, or to do any serious legislative business.

Nevertheless, citizens must always strive to prevent totalitarian influences in a democracy. Considering the scarce and provincial choices available to the people of Pakistan, especially Punjab, it is of utmost importance to keep the ruling PML-N on their toes by offering the PTI a chance every now and then. It is probably time to stop giving PML-N such sweeping majorities, which they had abused back in the 90s to amend the constitution for the worse. Though, not really sure if that matters much, because lately we have witnessed the trend of people not voting for the legislation they don’t agree with, instead of voting against.

However, the greatest hurdle to a greater PTI victory is the leadership of the party itself. While many of the young voters and the unconditional haters of PML-N have much greater tolerance for such nonsense, the independent voters in the swing constituencies in Punjab would only cringe at the cynicism and constant whining of the PTI leader, to say the least.

Citizens concerned about democracy would only find relief in the PTI giving PML-N a greater challenge, and even such PML-N supporters should not mind seeing defeat in many constituencies. It is important to keep a check on every political party, and the best way to prevent them from becoming complacent is not to get married to them at the ballot.

But the PTI leadership seriously needs to move ahead from its boo-hoo-hooing kindergarten politics and offer the people of Pakistan something serious to consider. That is the “status quo” that needs to change so that any serious reform could be brought about in the legislature. Until that time, they would keep on wondering why they end up losing elections by substantial margins while showing off such large crowd at rallies and events.

 

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

How could the Chairman Savior be wrong?

Source: Reuters/Dawn

Source: Reuters/Dawn

It’s very much understandable that many of the PTI supporters and thought leaders are in denial of the Judicial Commission report on the 2013 general elections, from the very authority that they recognized and demanded for before their utterly ridiculous “sit-in” protest campaign in Islamabad. It’s déjà vu really, because all of us clearly remember how everyone was convinced how perfectly impeccable the person of Justice Fakhruddin Ibrahim would be for the role of Chief Election Commissioner for the 2013 polls, only later to be dismissed and demonized.

Just like the integrity of Justice Ibrahim was questioned after the unfavorable results of the 2013 general elections, the majority of the PTI following is still in denial, if not resorting to condemnation, of the findings of the Election commission. How could it be true if the Chairman Savior said otherwise? Despite the fact that the Chairman Savior Imran Khan reluctantly accepted the findings, the PTI leadership in general is doing nothing to change that impression among the party members. Of course, the people are not to be blamed for this. However, their trait of “questioning everything” would be far more admirable, if they took the trouble of questioning the judgement of their Chairman Savior every now and then.

PTI has created this political narrative of conspiracy theories for traction, cashing in on the miserable mood of the general masses. While it does work pretty well, it also proves to be counterproductive for the democratic process and progress, when the people completely give up any hope in the judicial institutions of the country, and rest all of their hopes in the person of the party Chairman, something which PTI hardly ever discourages.

The larger PTI narrative is worsening the already dying belief of the people in democratic institutions and the judiciary, while trying to enter and reform the same. This is why it is hardly any surprise that you would find so many among the urban middle class who support the party, while fiercely defending their democratic rights, but also resorting to condemn democracy at the same time, considering it “an inappropriate system of governance for Pakistani people.” Never thought I heard anything more insulting to the people of Pakistan. But then again, people who don’t vote for political parties that you side with always appear stupid. Many of such disgruntled supporters would even consider a military takeover than seeing the likes of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in office, which sounds pretty familiar. Leaders such as ally Sheikh Rasheed are the perfect proponents of this view among the public.

I often find it hilarious when I find PTI supporters criticize PML-N for resorting to the “politics of the 90s,” even though many of them were not around to know what that means. But what is worse is that there is no shortage of such seasoned adults among them. It could be true actually in terms of politics of revenge, especially in terms of targeting of the MQM if it qualifies, but I also recall the politics of the 90s to be the politics of the sore loser. Both Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto resorted to juvenile tactics, refusing to accept their failure in general elections, though eventually coming to terms with the facts, but all that changed since the PPP government that formed in 2008. Call it the Zardari factor, if you will. But hard lessons were learned after the Musharraf coup d’etat in 1999.

However, it seems that the baton of the “sore loser” politics from the 90s has been taken up by the PTI, when no one was even around to pass it to them. Are they not the ones who resorted to hijack the entire elected parliament by concocting unrealistic allegations of the kind of rigging that only the state would have pulled off, and that were more like conspiracy theories than anything else? Many of them, by their own admission, turned out to be pure fabrication for political purposes, such as the allegations against the Interim Chief Minister of Punjab.

What needs to be understood here is that there is probably a not-so-thin line between movement for reform and self-defeating, cynical absolutism. This is somewhere even the most otherwise-sane followers of PTI look like losing the plot, and supposedly evil and “illiterate” political parties such as the PML-N end up appearing to be far more reasonable.

However, the critics of the PTI should not forget that the party derives its power from the passion of the people. Sheer passion putting all its force behind a Messianic leader that it blindly trusts, and one that is probably thirsty for a public lynching. Imran Khan could only have dreamed to have such support among whatever following he enjoys. However, it is the measure of a leader as to how they would want to direct this force of passion that they are blessed with.

Toward patient, organized reform through the parliament, or toward destruction, impatience, and chaos, just like the spectacularly failed “sit-in protest” campaign orchestrated in the fall of 2014. Because the direction would surely push many to question the very motives of the Chairman Savior.

It’s about time PTI started realizing and learning from its own mistakes for a change, though it could involve changing their popular narrative.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Why Secular Liberals Should Be Thankful for PTI

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

Sounds like a joke, right?

Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf is often criticized on the stance it has been taking on negotiating with the Islamist militants by more liberal and secular segments in the society. A lot of people have also criticized a lot of their tactics in the way they have been carrying out their campaigns, such as sit-in protests. However, despite all their defects, the secular liberals of Pakistan have a good reason to be thankful for the PTI.

PTI is keeping the urban middle class from turning to Jamaat-e-Islami.

And that’s a good thing, considering how quickly the current voting patterns can change. Also considering that a good part of our religious educated folks badly underestimate the ill effects of the imposition of Shariah. So the next time you call them “good-looking Jamaat-e-Islami,” thank your stars that it is. Don’t forget that the party is secular.

An Imran Khan statement was making rounds on the social media in liberal pages that the ideology of the PTI was the closest to the Jamaat-e-Islami. In many ways, it is true. But the ideology of PTI is also close to that of the founding principles of the Pakistan People’s Party, though the latter has thankfully become a much more liberal party ever since Benazir Bhutto took control of its leadership.

Considering how the PPP has weakened in Punjab recently, PTI has become the perfect alternative for anyone who is sick and tired of PML-N. Self-righteous populists tired of corruption and looking for a Messiah are likely to reject lesser Islamic Socialist options such as the PPP.

Constituencies, where the major parties fail to produce a good candidate, are still dominated by independents all over the country, but that does not offer a solution to the question of who would lead the country eventually. Imagine the horror of people making an educated decision of turning to the likes of religious political parties in case of the absence of other viable options, despite their lifestyle completely contrary to their vision.

Regardless of the party that people are voting for, it is amazing to note how much the core message of parties such as the PTI and the PPP resound with the Pakistani urban middle class. Pakistani people, it is safe to say, are Islamic Socialists by ideological inclination, even though what they are by practice is another matter. Many among them are the sort who would like to skip paying taxes, while hoping for unemployment benefits.

But the insatiable appetite for Islamic Socialism as ignited by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, of the Pakistani urban middle class, the torch bearers of hope and change in the society, must be provided for at all costs. Until and unless the area of “Islamic welfare state” is covered in one way or another, even by more economically liberal parties, they would be perceived to be unfit for politics in general. Failure to do so would easily run them down the slope where Jamaat-e-Islami would be waiting with answers. And they don’t have to use logic to convince them.

While there are some people who are very closely ideologically tied to the Jamaat-e-Islami, though it is safe to say that they do not represent a majority of Pakistanis, many do not turn to the party due to other better alternatives. However, we must not be satisfied seeing this pattern. Jamaat-e-Islami is a party with good potential to win seats in the KP and Karachi, and who knows, maybe some day in Punjab too.

If you are the kind of a Pakistani who is reluctant to admit support for Jamaat-e-Islami, but are fundamentalist enough to support Islamic Socialism and Shariah, then you could end up voting for the party any day. However, with more cosmetic options such as the PTI available, you can get the necessary kick of Islamic Socialism out of their fun, mixed-gender concert-like processions, without looking weird to your peers for supporting a bunch of crazy mullahs. Besides, the narrative is just about the same, so you are not missing much out on virtuousness points.

Anything that can prevent the urban religious middle class population of Pakistan to turn toward the Jamaat-e-Islami is useful. Even good. And in this case, PTI is indeed.

One of the reasons it is working is that it has a Messiah to offer, for now. The message has always been around.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Pakistani Idiot of the Year 2014: Imran Khan

Source: Quora/Amir Qureshi

Source: Quora/Amir Qureshi

Who else but the pied piper leading our children to the mirage of Islamic socialism and the dark and hopeless abyss of a lifestyle of constant whining would be the candidate qualifying for 2014?

He is guilty of putting his personal politics above the national interest and acting like a kindergarten kid and whining like a sore loser and turning almost his entire following to act like him.

His actions for mobilizing the youth and for initiating the debate for electoral reform is heroic, but his ways of pursuing those have been terrible.

He is, among several other populist politicians throughout the history of Pakistan, guilty of converting the masses into a justice-demanding holier-than-though moralist lynch mob, in many ways, like the electronic media they so despise.

He is also guilty of letting his party workers get drawn into the violent storming of state buildings by following the lead of the violent mob of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek on September 1.

Probably looking to get out of the “sit in” (actually series of concert-like campaign party conventions) for a while, he ends the movement abruptly succumbing to public and media pressure, only to lose favor, temporarily, among many in the party. But he only has himself to blame for that.

Though his honesty is exemplary. He shoots himself in the foot by revealing the intelligence memo warning about an attack such as the Peshawar school massacre as early as August 28. But at the same time, puts the military in the spot, so rather heroic again. It really takes an idiot to make a hero, you know.

But he was not alone in this unending race for idiocy. Many others were close behind.

How could we forget a mention of Imam TUQ (AS) aka Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri, who returned to his theatrics to strengthen the faith of an already convinced population of how evil democracy is. Only he knew what he was doing, apparently.

He also deserves a lot of credit for leading his mob into storming the Parliament and the PTV headquarters, and making the nation cry for the use of tear gas on the innocent band of criminals he was leading.

He also deserves appreciation for perfectly demonstrating his vision of the Islamic Welfare State by setting up the “sit-in camp village” outside the Parliament and hiring protesters for welfare stipend. Finally we know what it is going to be like.

People such as Pervez Musharraf, Zaid Hamid, General Hamid Gul and Hafiz Saeed also deserve their due mention for making sure that the TTP does not get its due credit for the Peshawar massacre.

An insulting mention for Maulana Abdul Aziz, who idiotically turned everyone against himself by issuing death threats to the protesters who started with a rather idiotic reason, though for the right cause. He now has anti-terrorism warrant issued against his name and must be immediately arrested.

Another insulting mention for Aamir Liaquat Hussain and his panel of clerics for declaring an already state-declared enemy religious community as the enemy of the state. But for that we also have to revisit the masons of our pillars of faith, because that is pretty much what the faith has become.

Further special mentions for Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed for encouraging the politics of revolutionary violence from Imran Khan’s platform, and especially for the former JI emir Syed Munnawar Hassan, who had his wish coming true of Qital-Fisabeelillah in the Peshawar massacre.

And of course, our Interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar for thinking too hard to make the world a better and safer place. Something that he is obviously incapable of doing.

But in the end, no one comes down so spectacularly, and so pompously as the Mighty Khan. Someone who is so obstinate, so delusional, so self-obsessed, it reminds you of his ideal leaders. Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Islamic Socialism and the Islamic Welfare State have the perfect heir in him.

The Pakistani idiot of the year has to be Imran Khan.

Read about the Pakistani idiot from the last year here.