To Support Maulana’s Azadi March or Not

Source: geo.tv

Life throws some tough dilemmas your way. As if your everyday moral questions were not enough, history brought people to a crossroads which surely disturbed them in one way or the other. And sometimes the choices you make tell a lot about where you stand. Especially if they happen to be Pakistanis who are secular liberals and anti-establishment.

To support Maulana’s Azadi March or not.

There are many secular leftists who have simply rejected the idea of a Maulana vehicle being an ideal platform for the promotion of democracy. The likes of the Awami Workers Party and Jibran Nasir, who are always proactive on social issues, chose not to support the march because of the religious card, bigotry against Ahmedis, and the exclusion of women from the platform, something which Marvi Sirmed also pointed out.

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Most of the pro-establishment and/or pro-status quo or pro-Imran Khan liberals completely reject the notion of the Azadi March because it is being led by a religious party or because of the “religious card.” The religious card here particularly being focus on preserving the finality of Prophethood or Khatm-e-Nabuwat, a fancy name of the anti-Ahmedi movement in Pakistan, and against attempts to amend the blasphemy law. Many of these critics agree that anti-establishment liberals are compromising their principles by cheering for Maulana’s march.

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Other anti-establishment center-left and right liberals, especially those sympathetic to the current cause of PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif and the emerging anti-establishment leadership of Maryam Nawaz, are not playing so safe. They are fully behind the march and even taking jabs at those sitting out citing the religious card, including the pro-establishment liberals who are subtly supporting the Imran Khan administration.

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The politically incorrect Gul Bukhari is, of course, all for the march and disappointment at the PML-N for their half-hearted support.

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The PTM has distanced itself from the march citing its impact of perpetuating an “obsolete system of government,” albeit supporting their right to protest. PML-N and PPP, meanwhile, are partially participating and avoiding the march for some mysterious reasons only known to them.

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Many anti-establishment seculars tend to agree but acknowledge at the back of their minds that some kind of resistance needs to be offered to the current government.

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There have been no shortages of false comparisons with the Khomeini-led revolution in Iran to discredit the march and even dismissals mentioning that it is no Hong Kong or Beirut protest. Indeed this march is neither. But surely, it has been facing a media blackout which has become the characteristic of the Bajwa-Imran regime. These visuals were nowhere to be seen on national TV.

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As of today, the Awami National Party, which is as secular a party as they come in Pakistan, Another secular nationalist party Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP) of Mehmood Khan Achakzai had joined the march right from the start in Karachi on October 27.

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The Maulana’s caravans might enter Islamabad any hour now and the procession which was supposed to happen today has been delayed until Friday afternoon prayers, partially because of the Rahimyar Khan train tragedy.

It is clear that Maulana’s party does not see this march as a mission to enforce Sharia in the country, as much as some people trying to make it sound like that. It is indeed not directed against the military but it does channel some of the frustration of the public against the Imran Khan administration, if not against the Bajwa-Imran regime. It may occasionally mention the selectors but it is surely not against them.

So are you supporting the March too? I am not “supporting” a Mulllah’s party either but I sure as well don’t mind it is happening. And pretty much agree with all its objectives other than “protecting the Islamic provisions of the constitution.” If the capital can be paralyzed for the good part of the year for discrediting a legitimately elected government and for rigging allegations for four constituencies, it can surely be shut down for locking up the entire opposition and almost killing a three-times elected Prime Minister. And the latter is my biggest reason to march against the current administration.

The only problem is that the agenda of this march barely mentions that.

The Televised Slow Killing of Another National Leader

Source: samaa,tv

Pakistan has a history of getting rid of its democratically elected leaders in a manner that is both torturous to them and to their supporters. From Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Akbar Bugti and from Murtaza Bhutto to Benazir Bhutto, there is a long history of the Pakistani deep state establishment influencing the demise of popular leaders. These days, another national leader is being killed slowly and his demise is being televised all across the nation. The only three times Prime Minister in the history of the country, Mian Nawaz Sharif.

The government has been resorting to the petty measures of denying the former Prime Minister proper medical care for several weeks, as promised in Imran Khan’s speech in a Washington D. C. rally, until his situation brought him on the verge of death. He was denied bail repeatedly despite recommendations from his doctors. A patient of heart disease, his level of blood platelets fell to a critical level. Even his kidneys are said to be affected of late and he has been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder. Foul play is not being dismissed as an explanation for his condition.

On the other hand, President Asif Ali Zardari is also being held despite his worsening condition in terms of his cardiac health. His family is being prevented to see him. Former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is being held on frivolous allegations by NAB and was kept with the death row prisoners. The controversial and corrupt National Accountability Bureau, which was perhaps established to target political victims, remains to be the central body behind the inhuman treatment of national leaders who have not abrogated the constitution or committed treason, unlike their leniency for the former dictator Pervez Musharraf.

Meanwhile, the silence of his supporters and the people of Punjab for a man who has done so much in their service has been deafeningly loud. What is perhaps even worse is the attitude of his brother and current Opposition Leader and former Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the party leaders in his camp who remain silent on his dismal condition. These leaders, which include Former Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal and Former Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif, are still rooting for making up with the military and finding a way back into the cozy corridors of power that the Punjab politicians are so used to.

So leaders such as Ahsan Iqbal can bother to hold Kashmir Rallies to please the national security establishment but they will not take it to the streets for the health and safety of his leader. All he could ask for was prayers for his leader on the deathbed, with passively outraging about the brutal measures of the current administration. The PML-N loyalists should never forget how these leaders have behaved in these circumstances when Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz Sharif are being incarcerated for political reasons.

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But more than anything, it is the callousness and the indifference of the people of Punjab which hurts the most. They have betrayed yet another political leader who stood up for democracy and civilian supremacy in Pakistan. You would expect that there would be streets erupting with protestors in solidarity with Nawaz Sharif, angry at the kind of abuse he is being subjected to in the prison by the Punjab government.

Had Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman not announced his “Azadi March” against the government, the agenda of which does not even mention the political arrests of the opposition leadership, there would be no protests against the current government. The secular opposition is disappointing who would not even come out on the streets with their leadership on the verge of death and for ceding space to Islamist parties such as the JUI-F.

Nawaz Sharif’s situation has become stable since the scare on October 22 but he is still on his deathbed. Maryam had said much earlier that the government will be responsible if anything happened to Nawaz Sharif. But she can add her uncle’s name and her party leadership to the list of his killers.

The courts finally granted him temporary bail as a desperate measure. His daughter Maryam is still being prevented to see him. And people like Firdaus Ashiq Awan are still making fun of someone struggling for his life.

This is the price of public service in Pakistan.

The Security of Harmein Al-Sharifein Excuse

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

The parliament just voted down the possibility of sending out troops to assist Saudi Arabia to bomb the hell out of Yemen, and like always, pretty unanimously too. Well, almost. And to make things even more fun, a top UAE diplomat came out with a blatant and open threat about the consequences for the half-hearted vows and the lack of substance in its friendship with the Arab world. An interesting turn of events.

A lot of people see this as an issue which is pretty black and white in terms of its morality. In my view, things are not as straightforward as that. There is evil on both sides, especially if you refer to the Iran-Saudi conflict and take Yemen out of it altogether. The only moral problems are the violation of the sovereignty of Yemen, which apparently does not even matter anymore, and obviously the loss of innocent civilian lives. But I take that is the least of our problems at the moment as well.

However, my criticism has nothing to do with the morality of the action of sending the troops or not. Either way, this is going to be a diplomatic mess, with a question of which party you can afford to offend less. Personally, I feel you should not stir a hive of bees if your legs cannot carry you far enough to escape the swarm. But this is actually about the morality of why you would want to send the troops.

So you genuinely believe that Pakistani troops should be sent for the Saudi campaign, then stop lying to the Pakistani people. Now that is something on the morality of which pretty much everybody can agree, no matter on which side of the camp you find yourself. OK, maybe not.

But let’s try again. It’s not like the Iranians are taking over the Kaa’ba again. How about instead of offering the reason of the security of the sacred sites in Saudi Arabia, you try pitching the restoration of the deposed Yemeni regime as the objective. Now one way or another, this sounds like a far more legitimate reason for intervention, and coincidentally this is what the military intervention is really going to be all about anyway. Why is that so hard to explain? It’s about defeating the Houthi rebels, which are allegedly backed by some country which is apparently the only one upset by the Saudi bombing.

So whatever you want to do, please stop invoking the security of Harmein-al-Sharifein for crying out loud. The religious parties such as the Jamaat-e-Islami, JUD and the JUI(F) just held a conference dedicated to the Security of Harmein Al-Sharifein, or in other words, for endorsing the Saudi bombings in Yemen. This only goes to show how much religion is used by our politicians to blackmail the sensitivities of the masses.

Now ironically, these are the same political parties who protested against the Gaza bombings by Israel, but are not only silent over the killings in Yemen, the images of which starkly resemble the former, but even vocally support it. Because apparently Yemeni people are less important than the people of Gaza, or maybe because the killer is not an infidel this time around. And as it turns out, comparing the Yemen bombings with Gaza bombings is not much of a case of apples and oranges anyway. The only difference is that Israel was bombing Gaza for far more legitimate reasons and to respond to a more immediate threat.

Now speaking of Israel, don’t you think our state uses the security of Harmein Al-Sharifein excuse just like the American hawks use the security of Israel for warmongering in the Middle East? This may be a false equivalence, but the similarity is that politicians on both sides have succeeded to develop mass consensus on these issues to use military force and consider it an integral part of their national security.

Again, there is nothing wrong with that either. But invoking this sacred reason for justifying military action for worldly political ambitions of another country certainly sounds like a bit of a moral problem.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

The Condemned Heroes of Pakistan’s Democracy

Source: Dawn.com/White Star

Source: Dawn.com/White Star

We often find our political experts singing praises of the responsibility which political party leaders such as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Zardari have shown in coming together over issues. While there is no denying that Pakistani politicians have certainly learned their lessons as far as preventing the suspension of the constitution is concerned, the kind of consensus that we have been seeing of late is hardly doing democracy any favors.

Some would say that veteran politician Raza Rabbani has proved to be a great hero for democracy for speaking his mind about voting against his conscience during the passage of the 21st amendment in the Senate. He is certainly a hero for democracy, but hardly for simply shedding tears when his constituents waited for him to do the right thing, at least in his view. In the end, it was his vote that would have made a difference, albeit at the cost of the seat of Chairman Senate.

But the heroes that I am talking about are the ones who are condemned and cornered by their parties and are pressured every election season to follow the party leadership. No one is opposing a little whipping every now and then, but when the Prime Minister writes to the Election Commission for suspending the membership of an MPA for voting for the Senator of another party, you know that things have gone too far. Similar is the case for constitutional amendments preventing voting against party liners.

People such as Javed Naseem of the PTI, who has been thrown out of the party for issuing dissenting statements against the alleged corruption of the party leadership (treatment of own medicine), and Wajihuzzaman of PML-N, both from the KP Provincial Assembly, are lone warriors for the fight of the rights of the individual legislator. Same goes for many more individual MPs, such as Jamshed Dasti, breaking away from their political parties for whatever reasons they had to give.

The greatest damage that the party leaders are doing to the very fragile democracy in Pakistan is to try blocking individual vote of dissent in party lines in the name of preventing corruption. Just the very mention of the expression “horse trading” triggers a knee jerk reaction from the media and the people alike, limiting the individual delegate’s choice and influence. We must remember that the claims and allegations of corruption are not its proof, and a politician who switches parties is not necessarily corrupt. The need of discouraging “horse trading” stems more out of political parties protecting their investment than looking after the interest of the people or penalizing corruption.

The greatest example of such suppression of individual legislators could be witnessed in the recently concluded Senate elections. Even though all parties try blocking independent voting within their rank and file, two have been at the forefront for proposing amendments to the Senate election procedure. PML-N and PTI were all for changing secret ballot to open show of hands, only to be blocked by the PPP & JUI-F.

While there is no harm at all in open voting, it is also important to understand the motives of the political parties supporting the proposed 22nd amendment. This is probably to discourage what little hope individual MPs have to vote for the candidate of their choice, even if they are not from the same party. What our party leaders are now happy with is the absolute consensus for passing controversial constitutional amendments and electing the Senate Chairman unopposed, as long as their orders are obeyed. Party discipline.

Actually secret ballot hardly even matters as dissenting members of the legislature are pressurized by their parties already. However, open voting works well in legislative systems where members are not threatened with suspension for voting as per their will.

In Pakistan, the entire purpose that it would serve for now would be helping the media figure out which Senators from other parties voted for Shibly Faraz, the PTI candidate for the position of Deputy Chairman Senate, over Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, the cleric backed by the consensus of secular parties.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

Post-Traumatic Stress Governance

Source: Dawn News

Source: Dawn News

The way constitutional amendments are passed in Pakistan makes you marvel at the degree of national unity we enjoy.

You would probably never see such unity among any nation in the world.

Despite speaking passionately against the ruling, not a single MP or Senator dared casting a vote against the constitution. Some even voted against their conscience.

It’s good to know that some politicians in this country take up the constitution seriously enough to consider it a matter of guilty conscience.

But the question remains. Why was not a single vote cast in the opposition of the passage of the constitutional amendment?

Why did the JI and the JUI-F boycott the voting session instead of casting a more effective nay? Did they not betray their loyal voters?

There is no doubt about the fact that the 21st constitutional amendment is a resounding insult to the judicial branch of government in Pakistan. A legally sanctioned statement making fun of its perceived inability to dispense the elusive commodity known as justice. No one is bothered.

Despite the gravity of the situation, let’s concentrate on the silver lining in this dark thunderstorm. Maybe, the government has finally made up its mind to eradicate terrorism from the country, despite all the cynical skepticism.

What if the military courts really would deliver the kind of “swift justice” that the people of this country have been waiting for? Hopefully, not the kind of swift justice that the Taliban are known for.

But why have a trial in the first place?

Or maybe there is hope because Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman believes that the bill for the constitutional amendment reflects secular thinking for linking religion with terrorism. Finally, our parliament ended up doing something secular. Though he is unaware that even many secularists are worried about that too.

Perhaps, the way constitution can be altered in Pakistan offers some distant hope for the secularists. Who knows, some day, some compromising situation would bring all the politicians together and make them all unanimously vote to remove the Islamic provisions from the constitution.

All we need is stirring a little sense of urgency for that.

Now that the constitution has been altered pretty drastically, you can only wonder what happened.

What changed so drastically after the Peshawar massacre that it required bringing about such drastic changes to the way the state worked?

How did the terrorists manage to change the way our government works? A lot of people are perplexed about the way the government, all the political parties and the military have reacted.

To others, disappointed that the civil courts keep on releasing or delaying indicting suspect terrorists, the sudden change came as a sigh of relief. This might deliver some justice, finally.

Yet harsher critics merely saw the recent government legislation using the Peshawar school attack as an excuse for imposing undemocratic constitutional measures.

Let’s just blame their destruction of the constitution on their post-traumatic stress symptoms, instead of deliberate intent to sabotage.

But let’s not take the overzealousness of our administrators for malice.

Let us judge actions instead of the intentions.

Though for some, that would make the case even worse.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Voting By Candidate

Source: thekooza.com

Source: thekooza.com

I have grown up hearing that you should always vote for the party and the ideology. Well, it makes sense too because with more seats, the party would possibly gain a majority and the people who remotely share a fraction of your political world view could become decision makers. But does that mean you should turn a blind eye to the candidates?

But thanks to our parliamentary system, this voting approach has a severe drawback. Particularly for undecided voters and particularly for people who are not voting for ideology. I guess there would be a lot of educated voters in the upcoming 2013 general elections in this regard.

To most people, the general elections for National and Provincial Assembly representatives are a substitute for Presidential or Prime Ministerial elections. They vote for Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan or Asif Zardari, rather than considering the candidates. Probably it is the same for the rest of the parties too.

I am even told by many that they would vote for a pole if it runs for the party or the leader of their choice. Others would vote for fly-over bridges and construction and development projects, which is a somewhat better approach, But obviously hardly anyone concentrates on their legislative stance and ability.

A lot of people vote for the legislature candidates as if they were voting for a councilor or a mayor, and that is the value they get in the end. But probably it is not their fault. We have a terrible parliamentary system prevalent in this country which only lets people vote for their representatives, but not for their Senators, Governors, Chief Ministers, Presidents or even Prime Ministers.

Furthermore, the 5 year term of a government is ridiculously long. I can hardly think of any better system than the bicameral US Presidential system which has 2 year terms for the representatives, though a long term of 6 years for the senators. But it is an electoral system which allows the US people to elect all of their representatives and even mayors directly. The parliamentary system seems autocratic in comparison.

Now they have even worsened this terrible electoral system in the 18th Amendment to the 1973 Constitution during the last term by introducing and unanimously voting for the Article 63 (A) about disqualificaiton on the grounds of defection. It is an article which requires every member of the legislature to vote according to the party lines or have their membership terminated.

How undemocratic is that. I actually find its passage hard to believe, and our politicians have the audacity of incessantly boasting about it. I can’t imagine a democracy without individual freedom and liberty.

How is this for treason to democratic values? At least it goes to show that there is no respect for individual freedom and individual opinion in Pakistan. Then why worry if the message is reflected at the grassroots?

This clearly goes to show that democracy has “not been able to work” in Pakistan because several provisions in the constitution are not democratic in the first place.

But when voting for a party is thrust upon you as a moral responsibility, you are hardly worried about factors such as these.

But when I look at a candidate, and I imagine whether I would want him or her to represent my constituency or not, I would really find myself responsible for the sake of spending public money the right way to assign the right person to the job. Well at least they must be able to read and understand the constitution, even if that means voting for a candidate who would get a total of 63 votes. I am mentioning that figure for a reason.

Malik Ibrar Campaigning - Source: Official facebook Page

PML (N) Candidate – Malik Ibrar Campaigning – Source: Official facebook Page

PPP Candidate Zamurd Khan campaigning - Source: pakistanleaders.com.pk

PPP Candidate Zamurd Khan campaigning – Source: pakistanleaders.com.pk

PTI Candidate Hina Manzoor Campaigning - Source Official facebook Page

PTI Candidate Hina Manzoor Campaigning – Source Official facebook Page

I need to vote in the NA-54 constituency where the major contenders are the incumbent Malik Ibrar Ahmed of PML-N, Zamurd Khan of PPP and Hina Manzoor of PTI, apart from other members from the JI, JUI (F), MQM, ANP and independent ones which are not expected to get much votes, like always. The candidates for the PP-10 Punjab Assembly constituency are much worse and picking the right canddiate would be an easier task there.

While I largely find myself undecided over the current constitutional and electoral mess, I would surely vote and I would try to vote by candidates. I am not saying there is anything wrong to vote by parties. Do so by all means. But I believe that evaluating the candidates is just as important.

While I am disechanted by the last parliament for unanimously voting for the controversial clause about Article 63 (A) in the 18th amendment, by the same rationale, I could just as well vote for just about any candidate not elected to the last parliament term.

But is that really the answer? Because provided our brilliant parliamentary system, any member you vote for would simply vote on party lines, regardless of what they want and how terrible the party stance is. Slavery could never have been abolished in the United States if they had such a constitutional provision. This largely destroys the purpose of voting for choosing the legislator for your constituency, because you are actually choosing no one, as rightly pointed out by some in my family.

I wish I could possibly not vote for gangs, because this is what political parties wearing the most civilized and democratic façade are acting like. And it is such a shame. Sadly, it is behavior like this that extremists and undemocratic forces like the Taliban would like to see, which in the end means that you have no choice but to stick to “lesser evils.”

That is why we need to criticize the autocratic legislation of our political parties loudly and clearly more than ever before if we are to ensure the establishment of true democratic values and principles in this country. But I know I must vote to send out a strong and clear message to those who do not want me and all of you to.

But it’s all really confusing and I would rather like to wait till May 11 to make up my mind.

Till then, I’d rather vote for the person I’d hire.