The Election Day Post: Inching Toward Democracy

Source: Reuters/The Financial Times

Democracy is a very difficult ideal to pursue in Pakistan. And one that is much needed to because of many of even its urban educated people being completely oblivious to its aspects that ensure fundamental rights. However, they are well aware of their right to exercise their vote. They realize the importance of their voice and using that strong . And probably the older generation and rural population are more aware of this right than the cynical and disillusioned urban educated class with all their privilege.

With the presence of a bureaucratic deep state that undermines elected officials at each stage and propagating against them to the general public, we are about to witness the second consecutive civilian administration transferring power in Pakistan’s history. This election was sadly seen as a civil war between those who are for and against state establishment elements. Depending on tonight’s election results, we will supposedly get a referendum on the Panama verdicts and the prison sentence of the Sharifs. But let it be PML-N, PTI or PPP, the good news is that we are inching ahead with our democracy. And I hope that if the PTI wins, it makes a coalition government with the PPP and emphasize on collaboration instead of excluding dissenting elements.

Despite all the measures that the so-called “caretaker administration” and the judiciary have taken to undermine the incumbent PML-N for the anti-establishment stances taken by Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz, the results of this election should be unanimously accepted. Despite all the arrests of PML-N workers on the night that Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz unexpectedly returned to Pakistan to accept their prison sentence, despite the midnight sentence against Hanif Abbasi, despite the official orders to curb the coverage of PML-N campaigns, despite all the delayed voting processes, the results of the elections must be unanimously accepted. Despite the widespread reports of military backed engineering echoed all across international media, it is important for us to unanimously accept the results of this election.

That is the best way forward for us, despite the fact that we have never seen darker and more sinister censorship from the military and bureaucratic establishment in Pakistani politics and media in decades. The silver lining is that a leader from Punjab has taken a stand against the military establishment and for the first time in the history of the country, voices of dissent and resistance have risen from the heartland of the military establishment.

This resistance for a better democracy must not go down. It is the way to a fairer, secular, and more democratic constitution.

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Hameed Haroon’s Case Against Media Censorship in Pakistan

Source: BBC

The pro-military nationalist and PTI trolls, which are effectively the same team now, have been trumpeting how comprehensively Hameed Haroon was ripped apart for his anti-establishment viewpoint, oblivious of the fact that hard line of questioning is the format of the show. Even some journalists were disappointed by his performance. But I cannot imagine why. There really was nothing about the interview that was not properly handled by him. I have shared the video in this post and clearly, all of them and I are watching completely different shows.

There are a few things to say about the content of the show and the way Hameed Haroon covered it. Other than the disingenuous questioning representing the supposed viewpoint of the nationalistic elements that Stephen Sackur had to come up with to keep up with the format of the show, Haroon used self-restraint for the most part. What the critics of his performance on the show are forgetting is that he could have been far more direct and blunt in his criticism of the military than he was. This was because he was obviously mindful of the fact that he was representing Pakistan on an international media forum.

But it is his duty to the people and journalism in Pakistan to present the case for preserving democracy and freedom of the press in the country. And when his media group is one of the primary victims, he is indeed rightful to make the case against the military imposed censorship. Furthermore, I am very glad he brought up that ridiculous chart that the DG ISPR had put up in his press conference as if to send a message that the bloggers were a criminal cartel or a terrorist group. What about his army of paid trolls? As for the question of Dawn favoring Nawaz Sharif, which any regular reader of the center-left leaning paper knows is simply not true, comes out only of op-ed pieces criticizing the unfair targeting of this political figure by the state establishment, not their reporting.

There is no doubt that Hameed Haroon could have been more articulate than he actually was, Obviously, in my humble opinion, while he is the perfect man to speak on the subject, on the question of evidence for military meddling in the media, he failed to bring up the dozens of journalists killed over a period of five odd years in Pakistan, as well as dozens, if not hundreds more. I am sure the journalists expressing their disappointment must be upset at things of that nature. Everything documented a bit too well by the international media. That is already incriminating evidence against the military intelligence thugs hard at work at curbing dissenting journalism in the name of national security. That is enough evidence you need.

But more than that, more than presenting hard evidence which sounds so cold, it is a matter of experience. It is about the shit we are dealing with every single day. The abduction of Gul Bukhari is not a myth. The harassment of Taha Siddiqui is not a concoction. Nobody made up the story of Umer Cheema picked up by the agencies, tortured, and had his head and eyebrows shaved. Hamid Mir actually got shot by a bullet and Saleem Shahzad paid for his doing his job with his life. A simple Google search will offer you all the evidence you are looking for.

Probably journalists in Pakistan are getting more than they bargained for. They should probably quit their jobs and start selling Pakistani flags and prayer mats to make a living to appease the nationalists at home.

Doubling Down on the Judicial Coup

Source: Dawn/White Star

Perhaps the judicial bureaucracy had not done enough to ensure a comprehensive ousting of the PML-N leader, they came up with another strike. The judicial coup was completed by the indictment and sentencing of the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and curiously enough, his political heir Maryam Nawaz, who has started to play the defiant Benazir lately. The essentially political verdict statement, like the one of his disqualification, was standing on shaky grounds, to say the least. Especially for targeting Maryam Nawaz so heavily. Also, considering how the same judiciary is allowing General Musharraf to contest elections and has allowed the bail to controversial cop Rao Anwar in an extrajudicial killing case.

All the pieces are falling in place, as the “minus-two” understanding between the state establishment and PML-N leadership rule out any chance of an administration that resists the established order. This involves Shahbaz Sharif, the incumbent Chief Minister Punjab, leading the party and becoming the Prime Minister if PML-N wins. It’s just an insurance policy considering how Imran Khan’s huge ego could get in his way when it comes to submitting to their will, unlike in the case of his newly adopted wife-mistress. However, never have we seen PML-N candidates abandon their party tickets like we are seeing now… all because of pressure from the one that is not to be named.

For the military establishment, it does not matter what signal these measures send to the world. Their global reputation they have never cared about. Their policies despite the FATF grey-list development is a testament to that. The Election Commission’s clearance of fundamentalist religious parties, especially Hafiz Saeed’s Milli Muslim League, is a testament to that. However, it is their reputation among the Pakistani people that matters, especially in urban Punjab. It is an uprising in the heartland that it cannot afford.

For the first time in Pakistan’s history, their reputation among the people of Punjab has been shaken. Before the clash with the PML-N, Punjabis used to issue certificates of patriotism and treason to Bengalis, Sindhis, Baluchs, and Pashtuns. Since Maryam Nawaz, Punjabi leadership has become a national security threat for the first time. But will the most popular political leadership of the country, the recipient of more votes than probably any entity in the history of Pakistan, going to inspire the people enough to get them out on the streets?

Not likely. Punjab has been traditionally politically dormant but never has the order been shaken in this manner. The recent confrontation is probably a reason enough to forgive Nawaz Sharif for seeking the patronage of a military dictator to launch his career. At least why blame Maryam for it?

But the real threat to the perpetuity of democracy remains to be the citizens who stand firmly behind the state bureaucratic establishment. Once we recognize the judicial coups and stop celebrating coups, we may inch closer to democracy.

Sharif and Netanyahu: One Handshake I Would Like to See Making News

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

I just came across a post from the Israeli Prime Minister on social media reporting on his interaction with the leaders of the world, including the Indian Prime Minister, in the recent Paris Climate Change Conference. Just imagine for a second the awkwardness of the Israeli and Pakistani leaders completely ignoring each other’s existence during the leader summit. Maybe it would take more than climate change to unite the nations of the world.

During the conference, two handshakes made news, only suggestive of how bad things are between those nations: The one between PM Nawaz Sharif and PM Narendra Modi, and the other involving PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. But one handshake that I would have liked to see making news would be between Pakistani Prime Minster Sharif and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

This only takes you to the idiotic foreign policy Pakistan, and a number of other Muslim majority countries, mostly Arab, have been maintaining toward Israel. There is hardly any doubt that Pakistan has been losing a tremendous opportunity for decades by not building its relations with Israel, despite being aligned with the Western alliance that both are part of, including the Gulf Arab states. Let it be issues like defense and security or trade and educational exchanges, the opportunities offered by the diplomatic relations would be unlimited. But only if the people of Pakistan open their minds to them and drop old prejudices for a while, if not for good.

What is even worse is that due to the diplomatic vacuum in the region for Israel, its partnership with India, Pakistan’s primary rival, has been strengthening manifold on the defense front. Pakistanis have the option to keep on whining about how the Jewish people are the sworn enemies of Muslims and are colluding with Hindus against them. Or they could try joining forces with Israel themselves. If the Israelis are being hostile, have the Pakistanis given them a chance to be friends? Even once? Actually, Pakistan’s defense interests are more aligned with Israel than ever with common threats in the region.

We need to understand that the diplomatic boycott of Israel is not just an expression of political hostility, it stems out of antisemitism. We certainly should know better than that. Now that even some Gulf states are opening new diplomatic avenues with Israel, and Arab League members proposing recognizing Israel in a peace plan, Pakistan certainly does not need to be bound by any obligation to them.

Furthermore, since Pakistan’s beef with Israel, as is the case with other Muslim majority countries, is the occupation of Jerusalem, diplomatic relations would put them in a far better position for negotiating peace. Besides, the priority of peace for the Middle East should be the independence and recognition of a sovereign Palestinian state and the protection of the rights of the people rather than pursuing a religious crusade.

Building relations with Israel would be a step forward to improving tolerance and acceptance among the people of Pakistan, who have been conditioned to riot at the very mention of Israel. Pakistan needs to expand its horizons for a brighter future and must not restrict itself with the false obligations of being a Muslim majority state. We need to interact in a saner manner with the global community and the current civilian leadership is capable of bringing about the required results.

It is time to break our shackles and embrace the policy of friendship and cooperation instead of insisting on bigotry, boycott and hate.

It is time to establish relations with Israel and recognize its right to exist.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Curse of Messianic Government: Big Claims Mean Big Responsibilities

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

Let’s face it.

Pakistani people’s concept about the government is all over the place. Probably the supposedly illiterate rural population is more sensible and realistic in its expectations of the government than the idealistic and educated urban demographic that lives in a fantasy world.

However, there is nothing wrong with expecting that the government should help its citizens and make their lives easier. It is supposed to. After all, what else is the purpose of a government?

But surely there are limits to it. Especially when everyone agrees that the government is controlled by a bunch of incompetent jerks, who also happen to be corrupt and the biggest thieves in the world, by the way.

The government is not really some superhero entity like Flash or Superman that would instantly fly over to prevent a traffic accident from occurring. As a matter of fact, it is also not Batman and would even not be able to prevent your commonplace mugging on the street. It can improve the policing, improve law and order, but not necessarily stop a crime from occurring in real time. It is just not in its power, as much as you would like to think otherwise.

And frankly, for people who make laws, this entity takes way too much responsibility on its shoulders. Certainly more than it can ever come close to carrying. Surely, they should look after policy concerning everything, but what’s their business with running corporations?

Frankly, we would be much better off if the government was out of the business of generating power for the most part and left it to the free market. That way, at least we would be getting the product in full that we are paying for. However, let’s go with the argument that it is a public utility, and the government needs to oversee every step of the way from its production to delivery, and that it needs to be subsidized for the lower income groups. Which brings us to our politicians.

Our politicians, even the supposedly more conservative ones of them, absolutely have no intention in explaining this as an ideological point during their campaigns. They would keep on bombarding the people with more Messianic claims, more Messianic promises, and they would simply promise miracles and no less. And that’s what gets them elected in this country, believe it or not. Because people love Messiahs over here, which is ironic because Imran Khan lost. But who knows, he may win next time.

PML-N was also elected for its claims of turning around the power crisis in Pakistan, which it has failed to do so as yet, because let’s face it, the government has no concrete solutions to offer. The best thing about that party is that it is apparently the only major pro-privatization party in the legislature at the moment, but it is throwing the same old public control crap at the people as solutions. In part, you cannot blame them for the audience they have to play to.

But with big claims, come big responsibilities.

The government has made the claim to deliver the goods of the public utilities, and the goods it must deliver. And on a low price too, as promised. So it must produce something with the money it does not have, and then sell it at a loss.

But if it is not possible, then can they please stop making the claims?

So that is why the government is responsible for failing to produce power and supply it to Karachi, worsening the conditions in the middle of the worst heat wave this region has ever seen, leading to over a thousand deaths. Not because it was something that the government was supposed to do, but because they had made that claim.

The Sindh government of the champions of public ownership and Messianic Islamic Socialism, the PPP, failed on the same account. But thankfully, they are in more of a position to conveniently point fingers at the moment, though they could have mobilized the relief work in a better way.

And with every crisis, ensues a circus of blame and claims.

Which brings to us a quote that another champion of Messianic government has been sharing on its social media pages, endorsed by Islamist thought leaders. The quote is said to be attributed to Caliph Umar I, which has destroyed the concept of government in the minds of our youth forever. Paraphrased:

“If a dog died hungry on the bank of River Euphrates, then I (the Caliph) would be responsible for it.”

There is surely more wisdom in Abid Sher Ali’s quote out of the two.

This is just the manifestation of our tendency to escape personal responsibility and to have an entity to point fingers to. If not God, then the government would do.

No, the government is not responsible for every single death that occurs, and it is not responsible for every dying dog for that matter. It is responsible for guaranteeing freedom and security to its citizens, establishing law and order, infrastructure, public services, and ensuring secure borders. It is also responsible for promoting the welfare of the citizens, but the more it allows people to take care of themselves the better. Let’s just say it is also responsible for running the social security.

But it cannot perform miracles. It cannot effectively run corporations in a profit, especially when it has to carry the labor deadweight along with it. It cannot possibly rescue every single person dying from a heat wave, or drowning in a flood, or getting buried under rubble in an earthquake. It cannot bring corpses to life. It cannot turn water into wine. All it can do is offer emergency relief.

It cannot even manage power production, because really, it is not supposed to and qualified to do so. That’s an entire industry we are talking about and there are more qualified people and enough resources in the private sector to do the job. Maybe keeping the government out of our lives for a change would make things a lot better. How about we ever try that, since we hate paying taxes anyway?

But how would that realize our dream of an Islamic welfare state?

This single quote sums up everything that is wrong with politics in Pakistan.  And it also offers the perfect excuse for Messianic Islamist politics, because that is perfectly the Islamist view that the likes of Jamaat-e-Islami is a proponent of.

And that dog that died on the bank of river Ravi last night is not the fault of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

My Pakistani Person of the Year 2013: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif

Source: geo.tv

Source: geo.tv

For reasons right and wrong, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is my Pakistani Person of the Year for 2013.

He has taken office after a massive victory in the May 2013 elections in which people, of the Punjab at least, have clearly voted for economy ahead of any other issue. And his party PML-N had heavily relied on promises of economic prosperity in its election campaign too. Since government is the sole provider of many utilities, it was just a change of subscription from the same source.

While his party, like every other party in Pakistan, believes in big government and big spending and has to offer its fair share of idiotic socialistic election stunts, it still happens to be the best hope for greater economic liberalization in Pakistan.

Perhaps, another hope is its conservative sister PML-Q, which may or may not vote to support many economic reforms out of political rivalry, while PPP and PTI could oppose based on their ideology. It is a shame that both parties have parted ways on anything but issues, and it is mostly Nawaz Sharif’s fault.

To be fair to the Prime Minister, he has inherited a financial wreck from the PPP led coalition government, which doubled the total debt in its term ending in 2012-13. So it is hardly a surprise that the PML-N government is desperate to finance the state any way it can and adding on further debt.

However, Pakistanis have grown sick of excuses and passing on the blame to the predecessor. The PML-N government will have to make tough decisions and it partially seems headed that way as well, at least in terms of reducing the size of the government. But it could damage the economy to some extent in its own right by irresponsible spending.

At the same time, Nawaz Sharif is far from perfect. He has a reputation of a democratically elected dictator, whose second term legacy is still crippling democracy in Pakistan. His party tolerates Islamic fundamentalism, though there is no other way to win an election in Punjab, and he almost became the Emir-ul-Momineen.

I can never forgive his 14th amendment and never will. But if you still look at him with hopeful eyes, it tells you of how bad things are. Perhaps he is the wrong choice, but I am not liberal, or idiotic, enough to think someone else would be a better choice at this point. I didn’t vote for his party, but would have voted for him had the Prime Ministerial ballot been there.

There is this fool’s hope of keeping your fingers crossed that he has learned something from the second term mistakes. And so far, he has not managed to offend my sensitivities.

Given the usual election cycles in Pakistan, most people are likely to vote for a more populist and pro-socialist government in 2018 in any case. While PML-N can compensate its loss of reputation with its trademark wasteful infrastructural and welfare stunts, even though it could either carry out those schemes or control inflation effectively without widening the deficit, it should at least do the needful about the economy on the larger scale in the mean time. Regardless of the cost.

If PML-N is able to privatize major departments currently administered or influenced by the government, especially PIA  and the Steel Mills, and partially at least, it would leave government with a productive legacy.

I would rather have much lesser government control in the oil and power market as well, though this is harder to achieve. The privatization is the easiest measure and would go a long way in the improvement of the economy and standard of living of Pakistanis.

But he has just rejected a recommendation of OGRA to increase oil prices. I don’t even mind the continuous subsidies if either the size of the government is drastically reduced or the income tax revenue is drastically increased. Failing to make one of the two unpopular decisions would mean continuing the same old disaster.

You cannot have big government without a lot of taxes and cannot expect government to look after every single aspect of the economy without paying taxes. Pakistani people do not seem to understand this.

Most Pakistanis are under the impression that a “good government” can solve all their problems. To them, a “good government” should be like a messiah that would come to their rescue. Can you blame them?

But this is why there is an excess supply of messiahs in Pakistani politics.

This is why you have MPs walking out of the legislature all the time, including PML-N, whenever oil and power prices are increased, so that the government can further subsidize these commodities.

This is why you have parties restoring laid off employees in ancient history with pay and benefits in retrospect at the taxpayer’s expense and call it a fulfilled promise.

And this is precisely why Nawaz Sharif is the best man to lead the country at the moment, until we can find someone better and less messianic. At the moment, only he is really able to bring about the changes that the Pakistani economy actually requires. He could fail, but his direction does not look too bad.

We can put off whatever political correctness we are missing right now to a later year.

My Pakistani person of the year for 2012 was Malala Yousafzai.

Happy New Year.

Rejecting the Candidate Running from Multiple Constituencies

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

Alright this is no good reason to reject a candidate’s party in any way. But it seems good enough for the people of Peshawar.

It seems good enough to me at least. But only when it comes to the candidate.

While I totally respect the decision of the people of Peshawar to elect Ghulam Muhammad Bilour on the National Assembly seat vacated by Imran Khan because of his victory from two other constituencies, people have been getting offended for all sorts of moral reasons.

But the people of the NA-1 constituency of Peshawar have made their voices heard. They probably voted for Imran Khan, not the PTI. Surprisingly, similar results surfaced in Imran’s native Mianwali. I bet many of the original general elections voters never returned.

So what is the positive out of the August 22 by-elections? That people have rejected the party or substitutes of the candidates running for more than one constituencies.

This also happened in a seat vacated by the independent candidate Jamshed Dasti in Muzaffargarh and Shazia Marri has won the seat from Sanghar which she lost earlier in the general elections like Bilour.

I think if all the people start deciding to boycott voting for candidates who run from multiple constituencies, perhaps our politicians could be convinced to change this ridiculous rule from the electoral constitution. Of course, if the people choose to do so.

Take Javed Hasmi’s example. He ran from NA-55 in Rawalpindi and beat Sheikh Rasheed in the 2008 elections and won his seat from Multan as well. He later vacated the Rawalpindi seat which was taken by Malik Shakeel Awan of PML-N. In 2013, he ran from NA-48 Islamabad and again vacated the seat for his other win in Multan.

Politicians such as Javed Hashmi, Imran Khan, Shahbaz Sharif and Nawaz Sharif have made a habit running from multiple constituencies, it seems.

I know it is perfectly legal for these candidates to do so, but I have a problem with it. It unnecessarily results in by-elections that everyone can do without, which only ends up wasting public money. In NA-54, the PML-N candidate Malik Abrar ran for both national and provincial assemblies at the same time in 2008 and won both offices. At least that can be avoided.

Personally, given the political structure in Pakistan, I’d rather vote for someone local. Someone who actually lives in the constituency. But this does not mean that educated and reasonable people like Asad Umer should not be given a chance if they run from another constituency, and he won from the NA-48 seat vacated by Javed Hashmi.

However, I am familiar that all these political heavyweights are too insecure to take the chance of running from just one constituency, though people like Chaudhary Shujaat, Sheikh Rasheed and Amin Faheem can do that, and this is what justifies this rule. But I would really like to see this rule go, among so many others.

But then again, that’s just me.