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.

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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.

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.

Stranded in the Land of the Free

Source: Time Magazine/Getty/Mashable

When people look up to America, they see a standard of freedom unparalleled anywhere in the world. This is still true. And there is only one reason for that. The liberal ideas that America has represented for more than 150 years as well as its Constitution. I was about to write law but the recently highlighted events, which may have gone on for a good number of years until DACA was put into action: Child separation from the detained migrants on the US-Mexico border. Thousands of little children from Central America and other parts of the world are stranded there among complete strangers, especially the ones who are brutal to them. The trauma is unimaginable. To many, the policy was escalated, if not initiated by the administration of President Trump by removing DACA, and worsened by the law enforcement headed by hardliner Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had the nerve to justify the policy with the Bible.

Only a day ago, President Trump has signed an executive order to end the separation policy, only to leave doubts about the possible indefinite detention of the migrant families. And especially about the status of families already separated by ICE. Why did Trump sign this executive order when he is playing to his base by toughening the immigration measures to a zero-tolerance policy? Just to make himself look good in front of the American people. Republican Senators like Lindsey Graham think that the administration did not think this policy through, which is most likely the case in reality, given the erratic track record of Trump’s administration.

Another idea that became a casualty of this administration is the idea of liberal free trade and globalization. President Trump’s refusal to sign the communique at the G7 Summit earlier this month, perhaps a victory for American Nationalism and isolationism in his eyes, was nothing short of a disaster for the liberal world. The President has already pulled out of Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The very ideas that the United States has championed since the fall of the Third Reich are being challenged in the most heartless manner, especially when it comes to migrants. Of course, there is no monopoly of ideas in a democracy and there is as much room for populism in public debate as there is for liberal globalization. However, the impact of such weakness among the ranks of liberal powers can be felt around the world, especially by the people who are striving and struggling to promote liberal ideas in their own backyards.

The rise of authoritarian conservative governments around the world is already a cause for concern. However, if you see a collapse of liberal ideas in a political entity such as the United States, then things seem even darker. While the Trump administration has also given a cause for optimism with the historic summit with North Korea, its unpredictable and hardline authoritarian and populist stances leave you more pessimistic about the future.

Let us just hope that the worst from the administration is not yet to come.

The Gaza Riot Killings and A New Hamas

Source: roseauinternational.net

Hamas has come a long way ever since it first emerged as a militant challenge to Israel. You could argue that it is no longer a knee-jerk extremist antisemitic party, at least for a public show, whose only priority is to eliminate the Jewish people and destroy Israel. The organization is already recognized by many around the world as a legitimate Palestinian representative regime, despite Israel’s insistence about its status as a terrorist organization as it is recognized by the United States government at least.

However, Hamas has probably figured for the first time that sending rockets into Israel is not working when it adopted the Gaza border encampment protests initiated by a popular independent civilian resistance movement in March 2018. They won the war of optics against Israel this time around.

Now, this kind of protest is not Hamas’ style, which has openly preached war and destruction of Israel with vividly anti-Semitic expression. However, it did manage to adopt and influence the non-partisan call of protests from Ahmed Abu Artema, the inspiration behind the Gaza border protests, a critic of borders such as the one between Gaza Strip and Israel, he is demanding the right of Palestinians to visit their ancestral territories now occupied by Israel.

On May 14, 2018, the Trump administration took special care to coincide the day of the inauguration of the US Embassy in Jerusalem with the Independence Day of Israel. It is also curious that the very same day was the bloodiest in years for Palestinians, with more than fifty casualties at the border including an infant due to tear gas. However, it is important to note that such protests have never taken place between Gazan Palestinians and Israelis either.

Like the 1980s Intifada, Israel has always been clueless on how to deal with a homegrown riot. They knew how to deal with a foreign threatening army and have always pushed one back successfully, but have always made a mess when the threat came from home. That same confusion always raises its head when Israel deals with the protesters in West Bank and Gaza Strip. Yasser Arafat had figured it out after years of violent resistance and it seemed on this occasion, Hamas has figured it out too. They had the decency to figure that the occasion of the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital deserves better than rockets flying into Israel and making the state gather sympathy on a day when it was already a villain in the eyes of most people.

It is cruel to attribute the genuine grievances of the Palestinian people to a political ploy of Hamas. It is unfair to undermine the suffocation in the Gaza blockade as well as the humanitarian crisis the lack of access has brought about. However, it is also impossible to keep Hamas out of the picture, as it is impossible to keep tribal biases out fo the debate. With the resurgence of antisemitism around the world, especially Europe, Israel is more important and relevant than ever before.

Interestingly, Israel does not leisurely kill Gazan Palestinians every other day, that too, with such brutality and indiscriminately. But according to the Israeli side, a violent reaction was incited especially due to arson attempts by the protesters who had set fields on fire on the Israeli side through fire kites, Unlike the impression among Israeli nationalists, most of the world does not really care about their version of the story but fortunately for them, they barely care about the Palestinians either.

But where Israel has totally lost the respect of the International community and attracted condemnations in the United Nations when its action turned from brutal to criminal with the killings of Palestinian journalists. Even in the United States, very few people were actively defending the Israeli actions on this occasion, Israeli born actress Natalie Portman being a prominent critic who had declined a prize back home. Even in Tel Aviv, hundreds of protesters condemned the killings of protesters on the border despite the recent low tolerance for Palestinian security risks in recent years. The country’s top liberal publication Haaretz, which I take as the conscience of the nation, continuously criticized the extreme action taken by its government and pointed out how the Gaza withdrawal does not absolve Israel of its responsibility.

But it does not absolve Hamas of its reckless actions either.

Considering how tribal the Israel-Palestine conflict is, the defense will never be conditional by morality, only survival.

Just a day ago, Hamas fired a barrage of its trademark rockets into Israel, most of which were neutralized by the Iron Dome of course, but also ended up injuring a number of Israelis. So you think to yourself, has Hamas returned to their old ways? According to Israeli nationalists, they never left their ways and the protests were just a new twist to their violence. And if they returned to self-defense, then where was it when their people were getting killed at the border by the enemy?

But a sad reality that is apparently lost on both sides lusting for an old city is that humanity always becomes the casualty in the war between these two parties.

Can’t Gazan Palestinian not even protest the misery they have been enduring without rejected as Hamas by Israelis? And can’t they separate their identities from the extremism of Hamas leadership?

I wish we reach a time in the Middle East politics when for both sides the lives of their people become more important than Jerusalem.

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.

The Calls for Revolution in Lahore and State Censorship

Source: Dawn

We are living in fascinating times.

Never before a civil rights movement that is about something as fundamental as the demands for the recognition of the Pashtuns of the tribal areas has emerged on this scale. To add insult to the injury of the authoritarian state which does not recognize the legitimacy of the movement, the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement decided to hold their congregation in Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab, the majority ethnic province the population of which traditionally makes up most of the bureaucratic establishment that runs the Pakistani state.

While Pakistan has a long way to go in terms of democracy, few would have thought that the kind of draconian measures that were imposed during Zia’s term would still be around. Especially when another dictator Pervez Musharraf, who had started imagining himself an elected leader after his sham referendum. But after that period of euphoric media freedom the likes of which the people of Pakistan had never seen before, who would have thought that you would see absolute control of speech on TV and censored, deleted newspaper articles.

After Express Tribune censoring the articles from New York Times about blasphemy years ago and more recently Mohammad Hanif’s article criticizing the military establishment for its covert support to the Islamist militants, a new phenomenon is underway. Published newspaper articles going missing.

Renowned journalists, analysts, and columnists are being prevented from writing about the Pashtun

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One such article by Khan Zaman Kakar was deleted by The News, which was later shared on his profile by Ahmed Waqas Goraya. Nobody wants to hear anyone calling the PTM a non-violent movement. Especially when the state is so responsive and cooperative to Mullahs threatening violence and rioting to fulfill their demands.

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Apart from an organized defamation movement against the movement of Manzoor Pashteen, accusing it of collusion with enemy countries, the mainstream media is deliberately blocking all mention and all news.

Very few in Pakistan know that the City District Government of Lahore, working under the domain of Government of Punjab, released sewage water in the ground near Lakshmi Chowk in Lahore where the congregation had to take place. The movement workers had to get rid of the flooding on their own to make the event possible.

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If this were not enough, the state resorted to arresting the leadership of the political movement ahead of the rally and after it. You could argue that it is a blatant violation of the Constitution but we can only thank our stars that the government did not shut twitter and facebook down. The crackdown on the TLYRA Protest in Islamabad on November 26 last time has shown us that the government can even go to that limit when twitter and facebook saw a temporary blackout. Sadly, our Supreme Court and judicial activist Chief Justice would remain silent on these constitutional violations.

But who will know about these constitutional violations when no one is going to learn about them? And when the press will be prevented from covering such news?

Yes, press censorship is back in full flow and the freedom of press is dead.