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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Pakistan’s Turn to the Dark Side

Source: ARY News

Source: ARY News

If the recent foreign policy developments for Pakistan did not have you worried, then it is time for serious reflection. Ever since President George W. Bush left office, you can feel a distance between Washington and Islamabad. The differences between the two countries were particularly seen at their worst when Pakistan decided to carry out nuclear tests in 1998 during the term of the Clinton administration.

While Pakistan and China have always had very strong ties since the 1970s, but nothing like the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has ever been seen before. It promises great prosperity for the future, but skeptics see it as yet another neo-colonial scheme in the region which could bring more harm than good. Not to mention the control it could possibly offer to the Chinese authorities in Gwadar.

Of course, the irony is not lost on the Pakistani left progressives and former communists who have been struggling against the military establishment since the 1950s. They recall how Afghan Jihad was mobilized by Pakistani military and masterminded by American National Security experts, out of fears of Soviets reaching the shores of the Persian Gulf. They also recall the harsh bans they had to endure during the Cold War years.

But let’s face it. The CPEC is too grand to be said no to. The magnitude of the project is so grand that even India would have agreed to it, had it been a primary beneficiary. The fact that Pakistan is turning to partners other than the United States and Great Britain for its economic and trade development sounds perfectly fine. Though you can’t help but wonder if the economic development comes at the cost of military alliances and other illegible footnotes.

Especially since the killing of Osama Ben Laden at the hands of US Navy Seals in Abbottabad, a humiliating episode for the Pakistani state, Pakistan’s position in the Western alliance has never been more precarious. The difference of interest between Washington and Islamabad on military action against certain militant groups in Afghanistan and within Pakistan have even worsened the tensions in the Obama years.

With the gulf of military cooperation apparently widening with a more disinterested US administration, Pakistan is apparently seeking new avenues with more sinister powers. On the surface, it was a welcome development that President Zardari paid a rare visit to Moscow in 2011 and that for the very first time, the Russian military participated in joint military exercises with Pakistan on Pakistani soil. Such an occurrence would have been unimaginable in the 1980s.

There is only one problem. Vladimir Putin and his open intimidation of the Western world. Not only that, his close association with Iran and the brutal Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad. At a time when Aleppo has become the greatest battlefield for the conscience of the world, it may not be the best time to favor Russia over the Western world. So let’s just hope the military exercise is just a harmless affair of two old rivals on the road to friendship.

Probably it has been a long while that Pakistani nationalist commentators have been dreaming of Pakistani statesmen standing up to the US authorities on an equal standing. Even though we have had a tradition of strong diplomatic figures from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Abdullah Hussain Haroon. So you could expect that Senator Mushahid Hussein Syed’s recent comment at a Washington think tank about the United States no longer being the superpower of the world would see much appreciation.

The only problem is that the statement of the Prime Minister’s envoy could be tantamount to an needless provocation. It could work all very well in terms of harnessing diplomatic leverage and probably it would be unwise not to make soft threats, but if behavior such as this is overdone, it could surely affect Pakistan’s future with the Western world.

Furthermore, it is important to choose your words. Not sure how calling the United States “a declining power” is so flattering, no matter what your objectives are. It has only been a slight sign of Pakistan drifting away from and slipping into the Chinese and Russian camp, other than the usual cockiness of Senator Mushahid Hussain, who is free to get carried away after retirement as much as he wants. It is just that the China-Russia camp does not offer the best of values in human civilization.

It is only a fair point to make that it takes two to tango. Perhaps the United States does not require the partnership of Pakistan as it used to during the twentieth century or perhaps it is sick and tired of nurturing the Pakistani military without the satisfactory fulfillment of its objectives. However, the United States still favors Pakistan enough with its more traditional and liberal politicians largely refraining from supporting a Liberty Caucus resolution in the Congress to declare Pakistan a terrorist state.

Even though the situation is far from being apocalyptic, the direction Pakistan is heading is certainly not that bright. There is nothing wrong in stating that we are living in a multi-polar world today, neither is there any harm in pursuing trade and commerce ties with the likes of China and Russia. But it would be wise not to burn bridges with long-time allies, whose values and humanitarian record we need to identify with more than authoritarian powers.

On the other hand, Pakistan’s greatest strategic concern India has been significantly improving its diplomatic standing in the West, even reaching out to Israel, since the fall of the Soviet Union. At the same time, India has not been alienating rival China and old ally Russia in its pursuit toward a freer and more vibrant economy and strong defense. Pakistan surely needs to take its diplomatic lessons from its bitter rival, despite India’s petulant insistence to isolate Pakistan diplomatically. At least the missed diplomatic opportunity with Israel cannot be emphasized enough.

As citizens, we can only hope for Pakistan to pursue more liberal and democratic policies and to stand with global forces representing such values than otherwise.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Where is the Ideological Defense of Privatization?

Source: channel24.pk

Source: channel24.pk

In Pakistan, the intellectual superiority of the center left is almost taken for granted. The legacy of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is considered a holy cow without which the idea of democracy could not have existed in the country and without which the middle class could not have possibly existed. Of course, in order to achieve these much necessary goals, it was necessary to nationalize some industries and to initiate others a la Soviet Union. Ah, what a wonderful place Soviet Pakistan would have been, oozing with social justice and equal opportunity misery.

Why blame the center left political workers for their passionate ideological beliefs from high school years? It is misguided criticism. These are merely political positions after all. Our civil and military bureaucratic philosopher-kings are great believers and pushers of these opioid myths themselves. The only difference is that unlike the well meaning socialist political workers who seriously want to change the world for the better, they want and extort welfare for their own ruling class. This has been the story of the Pakistani welfare state for six odd decades.

In the tradition of the allure of the distant social welfare state, which happens to be as elusive as the Jannat-ul-Firdaus itself, the people of Pakistan continue to be hooked on myths about the role of the government in their lives. It’s more like a theory of everything in terms of solutions. Somehow these stories always help enable the establishment and expansion of bureaucratic agencies, even at the cost of avoidable billions on the debit side of all sorts of financial statements. However, only a diabolical neo-liberal without a conscience could dare question these excesses and stand by wasteful luxury urban mass transit projects at the same time.

Many of us would have thought so, but members of PML-N are certainly not made of any such material. Supposed to be center right fiscal conservatives, because you have to label the other side with something, they are nothing of the kind. Pretty much like their opposition. They probably far outspend any other liberal or center left parties who have ever had the chance to present a fiscal budget. They also pretty much don’t care about the national debt. They are happy to add on external debt as much as possible, not that anything is wrong with that, probably because they can actually get hold of the money from international donors for a change.

What the heartless part of this very heartless political party does get right about governance, and let’s not even get into the economy, is their alleged commitment to Privatization. An evil word that brings out the Che Guevara in every sophomoric philosopher in Pakistan. Releasing schools of red herring, pun intended, about the slippery slope of crony capitalist takeover and rants about selling off the law enforcement. How dare you speak of selling our mother’s jewelry to crony capitalist burglars? Especially if they happen to be Arab or Jewish.

In a country with army generals and civil bureaucrats constantly aspiring and conspiring to become business tycoons, who can blame them for being so cynically skeptical? It’s simply common sense. This is why it is indeed important to appreciate their opposition to privatization to national liabilities such as the PIA and the Steel Mills. This is why I am such a fan of the bicameral legislature. For political parties such as the PPP, it is the last thread of relevance that they are hanging by.

Nevertheless, substantial ideological opposition to the intellectually bankrupt center left political parties is almost absent in Pakistan. The slightly-right-to-the-center-of-left PML-N has managed to win repeatedly in Punjab on the basis of perceived performance, but they would hardly stand up to them because most of them don’t even believe in privatization themselves. Primarily disciplined by the autocratic Sharif brothers, most of them would be jumping up and down the Constitution Avenue if the opposition party were proposing similar terms when set loose.

It would be such a relief that instead of defending their pathetic departmental record as a solution, (you have to pander to the voters) they would try explaining that the government simply does not have business running some corporations. Also, nationalizing industries is not how you prevent crony capitalist monopolies, it is how you ensure them. This bit of ideological purity could have been ignored if the corporations in question were not such living pictures of the failure of government administration. Even most apologists for nationalization agree on remedial action and the impossibility, if not the irresponsibility, of their sustenance.

This brings us to the question of our public unions who make a living out of blackmailing the hard earned money of the taxpayer. Institutions which are ensured and protected by the corrupt idea of nationalized corporations. There is a reason why the deadwood freaks out at the very mention of private sector because they know they would run out of financiers of their incompetence. They would also miss patron politicians like Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari reinstating employees laid off decades back, with benefits. Political hiring and political firing. Sounds like a plan for eternity.

Of course, the forever held hostage taxpayer is obviously not able to offer much resistance to the similar excesses by the military state capitalism complex, and is bound to hope for some change promised by the “right wing” majority federal government. Probably because they seem to be the only ones agreeing to do something about it. However, the good folks at the PIA and their regressive center left allies are at it again resisting the privatization of their corporation on life support, as is their democratic right.

This is where the PML-N government needs to ignore the much misguided popular opinion in Pakistan and stand up to the public unions. No harm in threatening to fire them, instead of firing at their chests, and actually acting on it unless they get their act together and return to work on reasonable terms. Otherwise, the taxpayer does not owe them any obligations to support their per-hour loss that runs in hundreds and thousands of US dollars. Otherwise, someone would prescribe disinfectants for this parasite-infested body sooner or later.

It is time to grow a spine, kill public unions, completely privatize PIA and stop taking every word from the center left as gospel.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Why Secular Liberals Should Be Thankful for PTI

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

Sounds like a joke, right?

Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf is often criticized on the stance it has been taking on negotiating with the Islamist militants by more liberal and secular segments in the society. A lot of people have also criticized a lot of their tactics in the way they have been carrying out their campaigns, such as sit-in protests. However, despite all their defects, the secular liberals of Pakistan have a good reason to be thankful for the PTI.

PTI is keeping the urban middle class from turning to Jamaat-e-Islami.

And that’s a good thing, considering how quickly the current voting patterns can change. Also considering that a good part of our religious educated folks badly underestimate the ill effects of the imposition of Shariah. So the next time you call them “good-looking Jamaat-e-Islami,” thank your stars that it is. Don’t forget that the party is secular.

An Imran Khan statement was making rounds on the social media in liberal pages that the ideology of the PTI was the closest to the Jamaat-e-Islami. In many ways, it is true. But the ideology of PTI is also close to that of the founding principles of the Pakistan People’s Party, though the latter has thankfully become a much more liberal party ever since Benazir Bhutto took control of its leadership.

Considering how the PPP has weakened in Punjab recently, PTI has become the perfect alternative for anyone who is sick and tired of PML-N. Self-righteous populists tired of corruption and looking for a Messiah are likely to reject lesser Islamic Socialist options such as the PPP.

Constituencies, where the major parties fail to produce a good candidate, are still dominated by independents all over the country, but that does not offer a solution to the question of who would lead the country eventually. Imagine the horror of people making an educated decision of turning to the likes of religious political parties in case of the absence of other viable options, despite their lifestyle completely contrary to their vision.

Regardless of the party that people are voting for, it is amazing to note how much the core message of parties such as the PTI and the PPP resound with the Pakistani urban middle class. Pakistani people, it is safe to say, are Islamic Socialists by ideological inclination, even though what they are by practice is another matter. Many among them are the sort who would like to skip paying taxes, while hoping for unemployment benefits.

But the insatiable appetite for Islamic Socialism as ignited by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, of the Pakistani urban middle class, the torch bearers of hope and change in the society, must be provided for at all costs. Until and unless the area of “Islamic welfare state” is covered in one way or another, even by more economically liberal parties, they would be perceived to be unfit for politics in general. Failure to do so would easily run them down the slope where Jamaat-e-Islami would be waiting with answers. And they don’t have to use logic to convince them.

While there are some people who are very closely ideologically tied to the Jamaat-e-Islami, though it is safe to say that they do not represent a majority of Pakistanis, many do not turn to the party due to other better alternatives. However, we must not be satisfied seeing this pattern. Jamaat-e-Islami is a party with good potential to win seats in the KP and Karachi, and who knows, maybe some day in Punjab too.

If you are the kind of a Pakistani who is reluctant to admit support for Jamaat-e-Islami, but are fundamentalist enough to support Islamic Socialism and Shariah, then you could end up voting for the party any day. However, with more cosmetic options such as the PTI available, you can get the necessary kick of Islamic Socialism out of their fun, mixed-gender concert-like processions, without looking weird to your peers for supporting a bunch of crazy mullahs. Besides, the narrative is just about the same, so you are not missing much out on virtuousness points.

Anything that can prevent the urban religious middle class population of Pakistan to turn toward the Jamaat-e-Islami is useful. Even good. And in this case, PTI is indeed.

One of the reasons it is working is that it has a Messiah to offer, for now. The message has always been around.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Amendment of Excommunication

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

It has been 40 years since the passage of the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Probably this is a one of a kind legislation in the history of the world, at least up till that time. The provision declared Ahmedi Muslim or Ahmediyya sect (also commonly referred to Qadianis), whichever is correct, as Non-Muslims.

This would be a great shock for any Ahmedi citizen living in Pakistan, and considering it is a largely Punjabi sect, many of them did too and still do consider themselves Muslims living in Pakistan today. It would also be a great matter of interest to a Muslim, particularly those eager to see this provision passed, with the religious political leaders instrumental in its realization.

However, for someone who is not interested in either of these groups, other than that they are the citizens of this country, there is a reason why it still is a matter of great concern. It is a matter of great concern for anyone interested in secularism because it is a provision of law respecting the establishment of a religion, or at least favoring one unnecessarily.

Apparently, the provision only seems to be just another jolly good case of casting one religious cult out of the broader circle of a larger faith, but it is much more than that in this case. In this context, this excommunication pretty much means legalization of social condemnation, leading to trivializing of their persecution.

In the 21st century Pakistan, the Ahmedis almost enjoy pretty much the same social popularity and the citizenship status that the Jews enjoyed in the Third Reich. The only difference, perhaps, is concentration camps. And of course, the Holocaust.

To someone who wants a secular constitution in place, eliminating and prohibiting any religious law, the Second Amendment is a disgrace.

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

It is an understatement to claim that it was put into effect as an act of appeasement of the religious clerics such as Abul A’ala Maududi, whose support was necessary to unite the country under the then Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. This provision seems to have the blessing of the supposedly secular bureaucratic establishment of the state to this day.

But it is important to make another point here. Our commitment to and sympathy for any religious group should be for their civil rights and free exercise of religion, which must not include intrusion on private rights. For any further approval as members of the society, they would have to remain out of political roles in public life and the law as much as possible as a religious community.

Now just as giving a state under the control of Sunnis and Shias can produce such disastrous results, it would not be wise to trust a group such as the Ahmedis to involve religion into politics and state affairs. Only strictly sticking to the secular principles would guarantee the right solution instead of taking sectarian sides.

What a religion decides about another is none of the business of the state, as long as it does not involve the violation of personal freedom of even a single individual.

This is precisely why the Second Amendment is wrong and should be repealed.

Regardless of what mainstream Muslims and Ahmedi Muslims may think of the excommunication affair.

Jinnah, Secular Pakistan & False Heroes

Source: Express Tribune

Source: Express Tribune

Often September 11 is a day when you could find people having a debate about secularism in Pakistan here and there. It is also the 9/11 anniversary, but let’s keep the conversation to secularism.

The death anniversary of founder of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah is considered a moment for this debate, primarily due to a speech he delivered on August 11, 1947.

However, the proponents of Islamic Republic who claim he was not secular do have a point. Ah, Islamic Republic, what an oxymoron.

The day every single secular bone in Mr. Jinnah was dead when he decided to join the cause of the Muslim League.

Call it the bigotry of Hindu leaders or the failure of Indian National Congress to suck up to the unreasonable demands of separate electorate, but that act should sum it up for anyone, if not the disastrous partition of 1947.

Needless deaths. Needless riots. Needless stupidity which has now become synonymous to the Indian people.

The supposedly secular Jinnah, who reportedly got furious over someone calling him the King of Pakistan, was perfectly alright with the dangerous slogan “Pakistan ka matlab kya, La ilaha il Allah” or “What is the meaning of Pakistan? No god but Allah.”

But a lot of people even claim that such slogan was a later invention, and there is no wonder not many would believe them.

And what of the forsaken millions of oppressed Muslim left to suffer at the hands of “Hindu imperialists”, who certainly would be seeing this as an opportunity for revenge for over five centuries of Muslim rule?

At another instance, you find him saying that the state of Pakistan would be an Islamic State modeled after the City State of Medina established by Prophet Muhammad himself. He has also referred to Islam as democracy. I know a lot of people would defend this statement, but this calls for a serious reality check.

In other words, Jinnah was one of the liberal Muslims who deemed the sort of state as the Medina to be a perfectly safe constitution for the non-Muslim community. The sort of liberal Muslims who are under the delusion that Islam provides safety to the non-Muslim communities through its message of universal peace.

Now Pakistani secularists, most of them with the center-left PPP and ANP have a dilemma. How to pitch secularism to an Islamic fundamentalist crowd, raised on admiring the merits of the Caliphate.

Perhaps in the world of cults and personality worshipers, what is missing in Pakistan for the failure of the secular movement is the lack of real heroes. Secular circles are usually seen hailing Jinnah and Bhutto as their leaders and heroes, while they should be the ones in the forefront to criticize them.

Source: ppp.org.pk

Source: ppp.org.pk

Why not openly endorse Jawaharlal Nehru as a secular leader rather than Jinnah, and why not discard an Islamic Socialist like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who signed the Second Amendment?

I know a lot of folks recognize atheist freedom fighter Bhagat Singh as a hero. I am all for choosing Benazir Bhutto as a relatively better secular and surely a liberal leader and I am glad that we have leaders such as Sherry Rehman and Bushra Gohar among us.

Though what is needed is a consensus on secularism. The left should not and must not have a monopoly over this issue. A secular right is badly needed in the sub continent.

But stick with the August 11, 1947 speech by all means to haunt Islamists. I actually respect the man’s acknowledgement of keeping religion separate from the state. However, his actions are hardly coherent with his words.

In any case, rest assured that Jinnah was no secular hero. Primarily, because of his politics under Muslim League as Muslims are not a nation or an ethnic group. It is a religious group and obtaining a state for it would mean giving up the secular cause and taking up a religious one.

As a matter of fact, the Indian Jamaat-e-Islami of the time would have offered some relative sanity if you were a Jinnah follower.

If only we would have the courage to admit that with such an artificially created religious demographic, Pakistan was wired to be an Islamic state from the very beginning. Little else would be expected from a political party thriving on the politics of discrimination and separate electorates.

While my opinion has changed about Muhammad Ali Jinnah over time, my view pertaining to secularism and logical political choices remains the same.

You don’t have to follow someone’s example to do the right thing. Jinnah was a politician, and therefore, his contradictions only make sense.

Just use your brain as secularism is the most reasonable, uncontroversial, universally acceptable and common sense social contract.

In the words of an acquaintance, former civil servant K. M. Cheema, the case for secularism must stand by itself.

Faiz’s Word – Dare to Speak the Truth

One of my very good friends, Ahmad Jamal Saeed, who lives in Lahore, the city of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, is a great fan of this revolutionary poet. He shared this link earlier, which is probably his greatest tribute to the people who dare to speak the truth against tyranny and are tried for it.

A tribute to people like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Faiz Ahmed Faiz himself. And yes, to the late Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer too, who recited his uncle’s revolutionary verse in a press conference about the Blasphemy Law before he was murdered.

To all the Soldiers of Truth.

Update: A very good translation found at Aligarians.com

Let’s go today to the bazaar in chains

The tearful eye, the noisy spirit, are not enough.

The accusaion of the hidden love is not enough.

Let’s go today to the bazaar in chains.

Let’s go with hands waving, intoxicated, dancing.

Let’s go with dust on our heads, blood on our sleeves,

Let’s go to the city our love lives in

Everyone is watching

The city’s ruler, the general populace

The unhappy morning,

The day with no purpose

The arrow of accusation

The stone of abuse

Who else beside us is their intimate friend?

Who now in our beloved’s city is still pure?

Who now is worthy of the executioner’s hand?

Pick up the burden of the heart, let us go heartbroken ones.

We are the ones who have to be murdered again, my friends