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.

Minorities Gasp for Air in a More Undemocratic Pakistan

Source: The Nation

Seventy years since Muhammad Ali Jinnah made his famous August 11 speech about the freedom of religious minorities, Pakistan has become a much darker place than what its founders intended to be. His understanding of the logical consequence of founding Pakistan is astounding to anyone with even a remote understanding of the reasons for a separate state for the Muslim community. However, his words remain to be a beacon of inspiration for those who intend to make the social contract in Pakistan fair and humane, even though in reality it is nothing more than a speech.

The founder of the nation must have been shocked out of his senses seeing the covert military dictatorship that goes on behind democracy. The way the deep state has been censoring and manipulating the electronic media has been so astounding that even mainstream journalists could not resist raising their voices on alternative media sources. While the military and bureaucratic regime of the country has not yet considered social media such a threat, but as we have witnessed a couple of instances before, it is not beyond the Pakistani deep state to deprive its citizens of this modern but basic source of self-expression.

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It is an even greater disgrace, and perhaps a consequence of the authoritarian regime, that the current election was held as a virtual referendum on the discriminatory and undemocratic Second Amendment. The military and the theocratic mullah establishment clearly joined hands against one political party Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), which had taken a relatively secular turn of late. Some Sunni clerics even went so far as to declare voting for the party haraam or forbidden according to Sharia. The two million votes and two Sindh assembly seats for the Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah Pakistan are a testament to the fact.

This is the consequence of establishing a constitution that requires Pakistan to be an Islamic Republic. It is a travesty that in such a country people would even claim that the religious minority citizens have equal rights. And then to maintain that Islam offers the best alternative to secularism. It is because of these faux intellectuals and theocratic bigots that Pakistan is in such a dismal state of civil rights and individual freedom. Relatively more liberal and progressive parties such as the PPP continue to offer representatives from religious minority groups opportunities on general seats but all of this remains meaningless unless constitutional reforms are brought into place. Something that remains impossible due to more nationalist and populist elements coming to power.

People continue to be killed in the name of blasphemy. Forget the minority religions, even members of the majority religion are not safe either. Recently, a Sindhi artist Qutb Rind was pushed from a building in Lahore because of an alleged blasphemy. To my mind, artists such as Rind are indeed minorities in an obscurantist nation blinded by bigotry and religious hate.

I can only be ashamed of being a citizen of such a country where minority communities are treated with such brutality and hang my hand low in shame this independence day.

What a Relief to Have the Caliph Back

Source: AP/Hindustan Times

Imran Khan’s PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf) has come to power for the first time in a general election after about 25 years of its formation. However, for the Pakistani Muslims, it feels like they have their Caliph back after such a long time. At least for the first time since the first term of Nawaz Sharif or the death of General Zia-ul-Haq. For many others, especially the ideologically correct Islamic Socialist, since the death of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Yes, indeed. The Caliph syndrome is back in power again, particularly refreshed for the memory of the people by our Honorable Chief Justice Saqib Nisar. The self-important victory speech of Imran Khan, (which by the way was all about his person more than anything else, as usual) scored really big with the people of Pakistan. It had all the ingredients that they precisely wanted to hear. And it is a lesson for all the people who are going to attempt popular politics in Pakistan. If a leader has just the right charisma, they can captivate the imagination of the people of Pakistan without much effort. Otherwise, this urge is only fulfilled by ordinary people who are put into positions of power by accident just like the current Chief Justice.

Imran Khan’s personal merits and incompetence aside, pretending that Messiah syndrome is not involved in this election will just not be honest. The charisma of this undisputed national hero has always been a factor, inspiring a personality cult and left them wondering why such a person has not been coronated yet.

Like many times before, Imran Khan speaks of transforming Pakistan into a Medina welfare state. Besides the fact that no such welfare state ever existed, the founder of the country Muhammad Ali Jinnah is also alleged to have cited this benchmark for his vision for Pakistan. Turned out his vision remained true to the benchmark in so many other ways. Add the mention of the “dying dog or goat” quote of Caliph Umer I or II and your pitch to the socially conservative Islamic Socialist is complete. Considering how this is how Muslims are traditionally brought up as far as the ideals for governance are concerned, of course, the real world is going to fall short of their expectations. The Jamaat-e-Islami have also been doing this forever but since they are more honest about their intentions to enforce Sharia and lacks anyone who can be remotely referred to as a leader, it just doesn’t work for them. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto won hearts with more or less the same pitch albeit in a more secular manner.

Furthermore, Imran’s most disappointing aspect remains to be his massive ego and his almost unforgivable self-absorption. For the most part of his address, he referred to himself as the one who struggled against the odds to get the PTI here. A lot of people were reminded of the 1992 World Cup Speech which coincidentally completely ignored any mention of his teammates. The infamous “finally I managed to win the world cup” became a mantra that never left his side. But then again, with a person of Imran’s charisma, you can be forgiven to be a little narcissistic.

The success of the PTI is a double-edged sword, primarily because of the impossibly cynical fan base that they have built in their manner of “education” for the last decade. This is a fan base who believe in Imran or bust and probably would not even go out to vote if he is not leading his party. This makes me wonder what the future of PTI will be without Imran Khan and whether a personality cult is worse than dynastic politics or not because the PML-N and PPP followers have Maryam Nawaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to look forward to.

Anyway, my congratulations to the PTI and I am rooting for them to do well and make Pakistan a better and more tolerable place. But I wish they would form the federal government with the PPP, which achieved legislatively more than anyone with the passage of the 18th amendment with a very loosely formed coalition government. However, it wouldn’t be inappropriate to expect much darker things in this term.

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.

A Military At War With Its Own People

Source: ISPR

Perhaps the Pakistan military ran out of RAW agents to target and to showcase to the national media. A few nights ago, the Director General of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the official mouthpiece of the Pakistan military, displayed a chart featuring a bunch of “traitor” bloggers and journalists who they allege to be connected to the enemies of the state.

A good number of these social media activists and bloggers were affiliated with PML-N. A number of other prominent journalists were also “mapped” and presented in a manner as if they are a part of some international cartel. He also went on to insult the tribal cap that Manzoor Pashteen wears as a foreign fabrication. In other words, our military is hellbent to push the dissenters to the fringe and exclude them out of the national discourse. And that is abundantly clear by the media blackout of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement.

Manzoor Pashteen and his trademark cap – Source: niazamana.com

Now, there is a lot of anger we are talking about here. I say this because I have a good idea of how these men think like. The tone with which the DG ISPR was speaking said everything. Obviously, military men like him cannot help but crush the heads of all the traitorous snakes they disapprove of, but in this day and age, it is not that easy. However, the unlawful “disappearances” that the civil society laments continue.

The Foreign Network Blogger Chart – ISPR

Just a day ago, Pakistani-British dual national journalist Gul Bukhari, who currently has an undeniable pro PML-N bias, was mysteriously abducted. It’s really chilling how that happened almost next to the sinister presser by the chief propagandist of the military. Her return to her home the very next day only goes to show that her abductors were anything but any random stalker. It is abundantly clear who her secret stalkers are. Of course, the ISPR denied any responsibility.

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You would wonder what sort of action the secret agencies carry out when they monitor anti-state accounts. The question is whether they act against the bloggers in the form of such abductions? Now, see how Salman Haider, one of the abducted blogger activists replied to journalist Salman Masood’s tweet about the statement from the ISPR.

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To the military and the nationalist patriots, it is nothing but these hideous policies in the name of security that cost people their lives. And people like Lt. Gen. Asif Ghafoor justifies such disgusting tactics by saying that there is no place in Pakistan for traitors. Especially when he has broadened the definition of traitor so liberally. We have a military at war with its own people.

It is almost like the military is openly threatening dissenters, and in my opinion, it is working. Why spoil your comfortable lifestyle and see the inside of a detention center? That too, for a state with a discriminatory constitution and a shameful raison d’être? It’s just not worth it. You are kind of stuck with it now.

But had it been about actively lobbying for Israel or India, or even actively working for a regime change, or being a Hussain Haqqani, it would have been completely different. These days just being an outspoken PML-N could get you in trouble. That has been unheard of, especially for the people of Punjab who have been mostly blind to this side of the Pakistani state.

Whatever was left of democracy in Pakistan is dying a slow, rotting death. The state had never been more threatening to the freedom of press. The role of the military in politics has become even darker than during old school coups as in the terms of Ayub, Yahya, Zia, and Musharraf. Never would you have ever felt more pessimistic about Pakistan and its future.

With a state like this, you don’t need to be paid money to turn against it.

A Wake Up Call for the Interior Minister

Source: Dawn

Ahsan Iqbal is easily one of the most dignified, educated, and well spoken politicians in Pakistan. He is a visionary and has been promoting a progressive economic vision since the earlier terms of PML-N.

He became an unlikely candidate for the position of Interior Minister when the self-righteous Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan, an ultra conservative pro-establishment PML-N dissident, stepped down. When the Prime Minister was also disqualified, the tensions got even more intense and paved way for Ahsan Iqbal’s rise to the powerful but controversial position of becoming the civilian security boss of the country. Many expected that the position will not suit him well, a man of a scholarly background. Especially because it was in this current tenure that the social media was blacked out during a protest for the first time in history in Pakistan.

Back in November, when Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah was occupying the parliament square in Islamabad, the greatest test came of his leadership. His resolutions to the problem drastically failed when due to the unwillingjness of the military, a half backed operation ended up further strengthening the hands of the rogue Labaik Tehreek Ya Rasool Allah, a radical Barelvi political cult whose agenda is to reinforce the laws about the Finality of the Prophethood and to make life further miserable for the already marginalized Ahmedi community of Pakistan. Ahmedis are perceived as a threat by orthodox religious Muslims in Pakistan to the tenet that Prophet Muhammad is the final prophet, even though the Ahmedis respond that they share the same belief.

The recent controversy over the Ahmedi oath for the parliament members sparked the protest in the first place with the blame falling on the , apart from generally on the entire leadership of PML-N. Sunni clerics even issued fatwas that voting for the party was haram or forbidden.

Despite the threat to the party, and some would say that particularly because of it, the PML-N federal government decided to appease the extremist Muslims by making laws about blasphemy and speech even stricter. The Ministry of Interior, as well as the National Counter Terrorism Agency, are running campaigns that openly call for people to hunt for perceived blasphemies in the guise of acting against hate speech. While such narrative has not been started by the Government of Pakistan so proactively, as you can thank the narrative of the local cleric for that, it has emerged with full force as a countering reaction to unpopular speech on social media.

Today, hours ago actually, Ahsan Iqbal was shot at by an angry citizen in a meeting with the constituents in his native Narowal District. Fortunately, the bullet only brushed his arm and his life was spared. The would-be assassin Abid Hussain has been captured and he has confessed to have made an attempt on the Minister’s life because of the “Finality of Prophethood” or “Khatm-e-Nabuwat” issue.  While this complex term may not mean anything to most people, it is the article of faith of the Muslim population, and takes an extreme in the more radical elements of the Barelvi sect that is particularly devotional to the Prophet.

Source: Times of Islamabad

While the Minister has been lucky, all the citizens hunted by the extremists such as his assailant are not so much. Especially when the one putting them to death is the judiciary. The 30 year old blogger who got convicted by the court for just expressing himself was not so lucky. Often people tend to forget how harmful and dangerous these so-called responsible information campaigns are. And it is important to remember that government campaigns calling for reporting blasphemy are as dangerous in creating the mindset that resulted in the attempt on the life of Ahsan Iqbal as the hateful teachings in the mosque.

I wish the Interior Minister will consider this unfortunate event a wake up call. We are very happy that he is safe but it is time that he starts thinking about safeguarding the speech and lives of his citizens. Of course, he can’t fight the atrocious courts in Pakistan but at least he can tone down the explicit witch hunt. Or the same poison that stung him today could get just about any one of us.