Liberalism in Crisis in Pakistan

Source: Awami Workers Party facebook page (The slogan on banner reads: Progressives Unite!)

With the death of Asma Jahangir, you can find a sense of panic amid the circles of liberals in Pakistan. In a state of social conservatives, where we see the religious fundamentalists with more impunity than ever, liberals seem to be on the retreat.

This probably happens on the death of every prominent Pakistani liberal figure. And there is a good reason for that.

Liberals in Pakistan are in such small numbers that even the departure of a single person can create such a massive blackhole which might not even be filled in a generation. Though it depends on the liberal that has passed. And sadly in the case of Asma Jahangir, it is unusually massive.

Some of my friends such as @BenignDirector are beginning to worry about the future of liberalism in Pakistan and call on all liberals to come together. This, of course, led him to explain the troubling definition of liberalism in Pakistan. He also reflected on the meaning of the word in Pakistan, including the “lifestyle liberals” who would otherwise remain distant from political activism and disapproved of interference from religious social conservatives. It is complicated but I agree with his larger point.

The trouble is that in countries with medieval tribal societies such as Pakistan, just about anyone who thinks about something for themselves can possibly qualify. Now that is a good thing. But considering the conventions of the orthodoxy among nationalist social conservatives, this trait is a dangerous adventure. It is not really as rare as you would like to believe, but considering the conservative “masses,” this small minority becomes a precious perversion to celebrate and one which obviously needs better protection. Outspoken folks like Raza Rumi should remain miles away from the borders of this country.

But liberalism is truly in crisis in Pakistan, no matter the rays of hope would like to identify themselves as liberals or not. To my mind, it has been on a constant decline since the creation of Pakistan among the society that had been manufactured in the new nation state. A great deal of this decline can be attributed to the enlightened higher-ups in the ruling class who preferred separate rules for their echelons and different for the peasants, laborers, and especially those vulnerable at the hands of clerics. These criminals allowed the country to become a constitutional theocracy and eliminated any chance of a functioning electorate.

The 1971 civil war was the only and first major battle for the soul of a liberal democracy in Pakistan. It resulted in the loss of the then larger chunk of the country’s population with the humiliation of our countrymen allying with archenemies India against the immaculately great cause of the creation of a separate homeland for Muslims. Well, wouldn’t you say Pakistan would have been a logical consequence of that? As much as people would like to make it a Bengali-Punjabi-Pashtun-Hindustani war, it was more about secular democracy against a morally bankrupt theocratic authoritarian oligarchy.

Ever since the Pakistani liberals have been cornered, let’s hope not forever, so that another uprising like Mujeeb’s does not show its face. The Rawalpindi conspiracy case being another instance when they could have come close. But the leftists that had emerged in 1950s, perhaps as a reaction to the pro-American autocratic elite, had been completely displaced from their original form. Especially with the ban on the Communist party. Probably a blessing in disguise for liberal scum like myself who have always been dumbfounded by the extreme political choices between the reds and the Jamaatiye (members of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami or Pakistani affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood) but no such option is acceptable when Jamaat-e-Islami roams free. How can they contest elections in a democracy? Then what is the choice but to be a leftist?

Or you could be a “liberal” like the intellectual bureaucracy of Pakistan that fashioned its lifestyle in the manner of Jinnah but asked everybody else to follow Maududi, a Jamaat-e-Islami cleric who was behind the worst Islamic clauses of the atrocious 1973 constitution. These enlightened ones, as mentioned before, would raise toasts in private parties and will ask women of their countries to cover their heads. They fed the elaborate visions of Quranic Apocalypse in Ghazwa-e-Hind to prepare an entire generation of Jehadi soldiers which they had no intention to recruit among their ranks to keep and expand the influence of the state. There really is no end to this disaster which carries on in just like evolution and natural selection.

The crisis in liberalism in Pakistan is that we consider the Jamaat-e-Islami as the solution to offer Islamists an opportunity to participate in mainstream politics so they don’t start blowing themselves and others up. The crisis is that we think that Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah contesting the elections is an improvement from their ridiculous antics in the sit-in protest. The crisis is that raging mullahs can set cities on fire to get what they want but the liberals, whether leaning conservative or progressive, can’t even imagine doing that. The crisis is that we keep confusing Bahria Town with free market capitalism. The crisis is that we think a separate nation state for a single community was a good idea.

So in these state of affairs, yes, I really don’t care about the various political and economic positions as long as they stand for secularism. I will attend the February 24 tribute to Asma Jahangir by the leftist Awami Workers Party, a party that you will find standing for the right issues more often than not, just like I have joined them to protest the killing of Sabeen and Mashaal Khan. I will stand by their side and endure slogans targeted at me for being a traitor-friend of the United States of America. I will still not join it but will cheer for their passionate volunteers and wonder about our dark future and pointless, wasted lives in that surreal moment and what toilets in Pakistani jails would look like.

Anybody who is for secularism is an ally. In Pakistan, you could argue all of them are liberals. Sorry, if you don’t like the label.

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Asma Jahangir: Mourning Pakistan’s Eternal Free Speech Hero

Source: refrl.org

What we had feared for long finally happened this dull Sunday afternoon.

I often used to wonder how in the world Asma Jahangir was alive and well in a country where bloggers are getting abducted for criticizing the establishment and where journalists are getting murdered and attacked in the light of the day. I often used to wonder how this brave lawyer woman can get away with how openly and aggressively she attacked the bureaucratic oligarchy ruling this country.

Perhaps she was a part of that privileged class too but at least she spoke out about those who lacked it. She successfully managed to separate from the filth of the complacent privileged classes (which most of us in Pakistan, at least from urban Punjab, are connected to in way or another) by calling them out on their hypocrisy. She did so by speaking out for the helpless and the unprivileged.

She genuinely spoke out for the cause of democracy and human rights and in the meantime, even confronted politicians from all parties and even judges when she had to. Her fairminded activism earned her the position of the United Nations Rapporteur for Human Rights Council on Iran which magnified her voice on a global scale. Of course, her diplomatic role for the UN which only made a good name for Pakistan was seen as a traitorous act. But enough of the international impact.

She always knew that the real battleground was back at home in Pakistan, where the state of human rights was as abysmal as anywhere in this world. Could have immigrated to a Western country any day.

As unimaginable her death was to her followers and admirers, it only brought to surface the venomous bigotry that she had been fighting her entire life. Widely hailed as the conscience of the nation by several obituaries following her passing, this was how a large section of our urban population was treating someone who stood up for their very rights. Of course, anyone who had a different idea of living their lives other than the prescribed bigoted and suffocating convention in Pakistan is considered an Indian, Israeli or American agent.

Another one of the reasons why she will be so badly missed and has been irreplaceable is that she could say unimaginably brave things and get away with it. But at least she led by example and showed that it could be done. The question really is not what would have happened to another person, it is that nobody else dared to go even close.

In the end, there have been several calls to offer her a state funeral, with the most prominent one made by the Chief Minister Sindh. While the idea sounds great in theory, just imagine for a minute. Wouldn’t it have been the greatest insult to her legacy? Why would a discriminatory state mar the honor of her funeral? Why should the national flag obscure her individuality and her singular message of freedom and human rights for all?

She never needed a certificate of patriotism from anyone.

Source: geo.tv

When you are a hero, even your funeral becomes a symbol of resistance against ignorance.

Unbelievably, her funeral even became an object of conspiracy when orthodox misogynist Muslims condemned those mourning her to mix genders at the funeral prayer. These sort of opinions and the sort she fought all her lives might sound absurd in a parallel universe. But sad enough, they are a fact of life and have undoubtedly outlived Asma Jahangir.

This is why we are mourning the departure of Pakistan’s Eternal Free Speech Hero as we celebrated her life.

May God have mercy on us.

Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and So Many Others

Source: NBC/ABC

What the Harvey Weinstein episode has revealed is that somewhere all men are complicit and are capable of such acts. They are guilty of perpetuating a culture of harassment, which has essentially become a lifestyle of their sexual, egoistic and social inadequacies, or something far worse.

Or perhaps it is just that women, perhaps with more empowered voice than ever since isolated matriarchal cultures, are waking up to challenge the traditional way men have always approached them. By harassing them as predators. And if does not make you guilty to be a straight male, don’t know what will.

In the United States, the discourse over abuse often gets deflected by politics. A lot of shots have been fired between liberals and conservatives about their own respective hypocrisies, considering that Donald Trump is President despite the Billy Bush tape. However, both are guilty of their fair share of cherrypicking either way.

Alright, they thought that Bill Cosby was a special kind of perve, but why was the media more traumatized about Harvey Weinstein than it was about Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes or other Fox News garbage? Because Harvey Weinstein was supposed to be one of us liberals? Because someone like him should not be capable of such things and not surprising that sexists at Fox News could be.

Easily the most cringeworthy of the developments since the Weinstein revelations has been the Quentin Tarantino interview in which he reflects that he probably knew enough to do more than what he did. Which was pretty much nothing. But then again, what do you expect? Tarantino owed his entire career to him.

That is precisely what happened. Women are absolutely right to make this point. For far too long, the voices of women have been overlooked and ignored.

I personally believe that boycotting the “art” or  “body of work” (if you can call it that, that is) if a film director or artist because of his character or misdeeds does not make sense. I am not saying that it is necessarily ridiculous because I respect people for the reasons they take that stance, but the rape and gore in Tarantino and Weinstein films also make you wonder about this episode and how they see the world. Of course, it is easy to take the moral high ground.

Recall the time when Harvey Weinstein was in Howard Stern’s studio three odd years ago in which he vowed never to make a film glorifying guns again being a passionate supporter of the Democratic Party. But of course, he didn’t “stop making films glorifying guns,” if that is even a thing… However, his situation now is a good lesson how filmmakers of all the people should stop making such ridiculous statements and especially a man of Harvey Weinstein’s morals. It only puts their fellow filmmakers in trouble.

With all the problems around the alleged characters of Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, I still think they are filmmaking geniuses and I am not going to stop watching their films.

You cannot say that as a straight male, you cannot help but feel guilty of all these developments. Because perhaps we know deep inside that within us that complicity lies that allowed Weinstein’s crimes to be covered up all these years.  Let it be conservatives on Trump or liberals on Weinstein, don’t forget how complicity is an issue. Furthermore, it is important to see how the divide between men and women go beyond industries, cultures, countries, race, and religion.

This is perhaps one divide which is going to be terribly hard to bridge.

The Brighter Side of President Trump’s First UN Speech

Source: CNBC/Getty Images

Of course, it is President Trump.

He is going to get under your skin and it is hard to ignore whatever he does. He is a foreign policy and public relations embarrassment and just referred to a country called “Nambia” in Africa. Of course, he clearly meant Namibia.

But forget his reckless personal style for a minute and let us focus if there was a brighter side to his speech, his first as the US President at the UN General Assembly.

With the recent trends in American politics, the victory of President Donald Trump itself being the greatest sign, as well as the gains of progressive Senator Bernie Sanders in the Presidential election, isolationism seems to be on the rise. This threatened the American world order globally and also became a point of concern for people who care about freedom and democracy all over the world.

Granted that Trump’s leadership is far from what the world needs in the face of some of the gravest authoritarian threats since the fall of the Soviet Union, still, it could have been a lot worse. Given his campaign rhetoric, it is even a relief that he was there to address the world in the UN General Assembly. Though what he wouldn’t do for some attention?

While he is complaining that the world is not doing enough to repay America for its international duties. he is acknowledging that the world’s problems are his problems. While he is troublingly emphasizing too much on nationalism and sovereignty as the guiding principles for nation states, he is still acknowledging the investment the United States is willing to put in for world peace and prosperity.

He recklessly ended up threatening North Korea with annihilation, something he was condemning them for. Now that is an extreme, but in all his speech, he made one thing clear. His condemnation of Cuba and restoring the embargo could be the most disappointing aspect of his foreign policy legacy, a great achievement of the Obama years.

His speech meant that America still has not lost its internationalism, albeit at a cost of significant influence. His speech meant that Trump is still very much onboard the idea of America caring about its allies around the world. He tried making it clear that it was not about establishing the American Empire of the Bush family, reminding of no territorial gains in recent wars and rejecting the notion of nation-building. Yet he was very much on track of the Republican liberal policy than not.

His position on the Iran Nuclear Deal is pretty much the official position of the Republican Party and the sort of stance that Israel wants to take the United States. Whether this approach will prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon or not is another matter but most certainly, this sends out a stern message to Iran that perhaps their diplomatic achievement was not one after all.

Iran might take a moral high ground after Trump’s speech but the fact remains that it continues to directly threaten b0th Israel and the United States. And Iran getting nuclear weapons will not only be an apocalyptic scenario for the Middle East but the greatest hurdle to regime change in the country, which is one of the most urgent need of the hour for the world and the Iranian people.

In the end, the noteworthy point was that Trump, guided by seasoned generals Mattis and Kelly in his cabinet, is pretty much an interventionist President.

Trump remains to be irresponsible on many global liberal fronts such as free trade and climate change, but perhaps he is not prepared to wash his hands off the world peace situation. If he does not ends up disturbing it himself, that is.

If he does not ends up disturbing it himself, that is.

The Most Important Decision by President Trump to Date

Source: The New York Times

More than a year ago, I had written how important it was for a Republican to win this election. There was only one reason behind it. The foreign and military policies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of course, I did not want someone like Donald Trump to make it to the top.

Even though there are plenty of sane Democrats on that subject around as well and Hillary Clinton could easily be one of them. However, since the charismatic victory of President Barack Obama, elected with a massive anti-war mandate, and the pressure from Bernie Sanders progressives, who knew what direction policy would have taken. After President Obama turning the direction of the hands-on American Empire created by the Bush family and growing threats from China and Russia, American influence is only likely to fall in the coming years.

There has been plenty of areas where Trump has displayed how out of touch he is with American people, as well as how inappropriate his response could be to certain tragedies such as the Charlottesville rally. However, in foreign policy, he stuck to the conventional military wisdom of the Republican leadership.

Sure, he has deviated from the intellectualism of furthering the American Empire that has been the legacy of Bush 41 and Bush 43. This solidifies the notion that President Trump is a part of the same sentiment that got President Obama elected, as different both of them may be to each other. But where both agree is that America should not have invested heavily in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and that America should not be nation-building, a Bush era policy widely condemned as neo-colonialism.

But when I indeed wrote about a Republican winning, the precise person that I had in mind was Jeb Bush. Because he would have continued where Bush 41 and Bush 43 left office. While the execution of the military campaigns was flawed, even criminal, under Bush 43, you could say the intention and idea behind it were noble and well-meaning. But then again, you could not possibly ignore factors like business interests affiliated with the military industrial complex. And then there was all the corruption in the Bush 43 administration.

Of course, lacking in detail, but this speech by President Trump is greatly symbolic. And one that even his nemesis in Senate, Senator John McCain would be proud of, as such a policy speech means that the hard work of the latter has been paid off. At least there is assurance that Afghanistan is not going to prove another Vietnam as the enemies and critics of America so frequently like to quote.

President Trump not only reassured that America is going to maintain its presence in Afghanistan, at least there will be no “hasty withdrawals” as in the case of Iraq, he also addressed irresponsible allies. While Pakistanis have been complaining about his tough talk pushing Pakistan to do more, nobody focused that he also pressed India to play its due contribution. Because like China, you would always find India conveniently shunning its due international affairs responsibilities from the war on terror to relations with Iran. Such brutal clarity from American leadership was much needed after eight years of intellectual ambiguity from President Obama.

It is hard to tell what the future holds for the free world in problem areas such as Afghanistan. However, at least the direction has been set right.

Nevertheless, let us not be too excited to proclaim this as a sign of furthering the American Empire.

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The Deflated Balloon of a Strong Trump Presidency

Source: Independent

After President Obama’s weak reaction to the Russian interference in the Syrian civil war, the Russian annexation of Crimea, the world started wondering about an American leadership on the backfoot. The more hawkish of commentators even saw this as the beginning of the end of the American Empire or at least a President unwilling to further it.

President Obama had his own vision of a multilateral world, which was dovish to the extent that he ended up letting Russia dictate the direction of the Syrian civil war. He was a Wilsonian, albeit one skeptical about American moral superiority, who lacked the will to enforce his vision. A philosopher President who was even skeptical about his own convictions at times. President Obama also failed to follow his own red line for the Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad for carrying out chemical attacks on his own people by opting to deflect the decision to a vote in Congress. It was no wonder that many hawkish elements, many of them Republicans, were looking forward to a Republican Presidency.

However, everything changed with Donald Trump becoming the Republican frontrunner. Clearly, the American voter had a different mood this time around and was not taking anything from leaders making promises of globalization. With all the populist and anti-globalist rhetoric in the air, there was still one lasting factor traditional Republican view that Trump strongly promoted. The destruction of the Islamic State and deposing Bashar Al-Assad as the leader of the regime in power in Syria.

Trump came across as a strongman to many. Someone who would take tougher stances and establish America’s dominance over the world. However, President Trump’s completely spineless attitude toward Russian President Vladimir Putin and especially dealing the ceasefire in Southern Syria destroys the myth of a strong Trump Presidency. Now, we have an American Empire coming to terms with a precarious position in Syria.

The latest is that the Russia has signed an airbase deal with Syria, solidifying the presence of its troops for at least half a century to come. Instead of moving ahead with confronting the Islamic State, getting rid of Assad and confronting Russia, he reached a ceasefire deal for Southwest Syria with Russia. This development only points toward further military disengagement in the region. He does not seem to have any intention to confront the shrinking American influence either, as he too will apparently kneel before the Russian and Chinese aggression. He is more interested in creating an isolationist America than one leading from the front during the terms of Bush 41 and 43. Just because it will get you the votes in today’s political atmosphere.

It should be a great embarrassment to the Republicans for standing with Trump for his atrocious policies. While they are doing it for purely political reasons, they are going to lose the moral high ground that they are used to taking in front of the public. Politicians like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who remain more concerned about the situation in the Middle East, should be particularly alarmed with the manner of the President they are standing by.

To many, the decline of America started with the election of a pompous narcissistic billionaire like Trump. It actually started with President Obama, elected on an anti-Iraq war mandate, withdrawing the United States from the global theater. To withdraw the role of actively policing the world for American values. While polar opposites ideologically and in terms of personality, both were symptomatic and also representative of the extreme polarization and a direction of international disengagement in American politics.

Supposedly someone with a liberal background, Donald Trump is going all out to pander to the hard-right conservative Republican base that has brought him to power. While those issues are going to cause much unrest domestically, his international stances, such as exiting the Paris Environment Treaty, are only going to undo the American moral leadership around the world.

Donald Trump and the politicians of his kind are taking the people of the United States back to the era of isolation and disengagement. They are taking America to the pre-Wilsonian era, which brought about great ideas such as the League of Nations and the United Nations to reality. Unlike the Republican tradition, they will not be the stalwarts of American moral leadership around the world. They are withdrawing America from the leadership of the world and leaving it in the hands of darker powers.

I know it’s still early days for the Trump Presidency, and given his unpredictable nature, anything is possible in the near future. However, the way he has handled the Syrian civil war so far takes out all the air that inflated the image of his leadership.

The post was published in The Nation blogs.

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.