F Scott Fitzgerald had famously said, “There are no second acts in American lives”. Yet, though not ever so often, a mediocre actor can go on to become president of the United States, indeed one of its greatest ever by most reckonings. But the rest, after that one hit wonder, are condemned to a life so pitiably wretched when the dream of other shots at glory go unrealised. And the rest of their lives are spent to replay the mere semblance of what once was. This desperation can border on the neurotic. This is perhaps why ‘Type A’ personalities end up being manic depressives after their heyday. Does Imran Khan fit the bill of a neurotic so desperately tilting at the windmills for his place in the sun again – a third triumph to eclipse his remarkable two in the realm of cricket and philanthropy, extending it to education? Let’s go back on how he handled his cricket and his philanthropic ventures. And why is it that despite personal charisma and rhetoric that resonates with people he has not been similarly successful in politics? What is it that that made him tick in cricket made him standout tall and majestic even amongst his most outstanding contemporaries? A penchant for hard work, ever learning, ever searching, ever thinking about the game and working at it – making it his single-minded obsession to excel. Despite starting out as a sifarshi, following the coattails of Majid Khan, he soon established himself as an all-rounder par excellence and became the heartthrob of the cricketing world. From thereon, his natural aggression, intuitive spotting of talent and fearlessly backing it, and his own exploits on the field (with his off-field ‘trophies’ only adding to his legend and aura) captaincy and the success he made of it was indeed a piece of cake for him. If he missed out on anything, the irrepressible Javed Miandad and ever reliable Mudassar Nazar, inarguably the most unsung of Pakistan’s cricketing heroes, had the pluck to politely remind him. With such personal attributes and such support to lean on, though he had a few setbacks here and there, mostly one high led to another culminating at the very acme in 1992. In philanthropy and lately in education, Imran has again been outstanding – building much-admired centres of excellence in Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and the Namal University. And to these, he gave his persona and absolute backing but other than providing the lead ensuring that the best professionals ran these institutions, he abdicated. And maybe they are better off because Imran knew his limitations and held himself back. In the backdrop of such remarkable achievements in two realms, nearly 15 years in politics and his scorecard is nothing much to write home about. Just winning his one seat only once from his father’s home town is not much of a record for someone who aspires to change the destiny of his nation – transforming it from a client, rentier state into a proud, self-confident and prosperous one, just as he had in cricket. Imran had his moments, not too many though, but despite his undeniable charisma, making the right kind of noises about corruption and lack of justice, and being indefatigable, he has lacked the natural deftness of a politician. And not realising the virtue of organisation at all tiers that could deliver at the hustings has meant that while Imran has run from pillar to post, PTI has not been able to make much of a mark. And after a decade and a half’s running around, he is so anxious for and fixated with power that he would not hesitate into getting sponsorship from the puppeteers whose political engineering has not bode well for the polity and its growth in this country. Whatever Imran’s camp followers and his many admirers say in his defence, Imran’s recent volte-face on Altaf Hussain and Chaudhry Shujaat does not corroborate with his previous assessment about the two. And the timing of his much-publicised sit-in in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa quite snugly fits in with the anti-drone, anti- no-holds-barred CIA operations in this country of the establishment’s public stance also reflects that he has no qualms about dancing to someone else’s tune as long as this someone else draws enough strength in the form of aligning the right behind him to catapult him to a position of power. But then, despite his being financially incorruptible (no small thing this) where is the difference between him and the rest, whom Imran has over the years treated with such scorn? The writer is Sports and Magazines Editor, Pakistan Today.
I was amazed to read the statement imputed to the DG ISPR that retired ISI officials might have been associated with the events of Mumbai but the ISI was in no way associated with it. The way this statement was presented, it gave the impression that Major General Athar Abbas was admitting the direct involvement of the ISI. When I contacted him to find out the truth, he said that this statement attributed to him by the CNN and IBN was distorted. In reality, he was asked a question about retired army officials and he had desisted from commenting on that. The Indian newspaper The Hindu correctly details his answer in a report by Anita Joshua. Thus, it is evident that CNN and IBN have deliberately attributed this statement to the DG to further the anti-ISI campaign by certain American institutions.
But the more surprising fact was that this statement (which was of an extremely sensitive nature) was printed verbatim by some of our papers even though they had the sources to verify its veracity. The ISI is a special target of the Western media these days. It is our responsibility to check up on the accuracy of reported facts and not become the unwitting transmitters of negative propaganda.
The best acknowledgement for the secret agency of any country is negative propaganda against it. When India levels a new allegation against the ISI to defame or debase it, it should be credit to the ISI’s efficient performance. A few days back, Indian media sources reported the incredulous report that PM Manmohan Singh had directly contacted Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani via secret channels. If we look for the concealed venom in this report, it is quite apparent that it was a botched attempt at painting the General as a headstrong and extremely influential official; the implication being that Pakistan’s democratic system and state machinery are both ineffectual and useless and that the real power lies with General Kayani who is willful enough to independently contact a country with which we have fought many wars and are still on relatively hostile grounds.
Even though this ‘news’ was categorically disavowed by PM Singh’s office itself but the real aim behind the publication of this news had been realised. This ‘news’ is drafted by modern experts of propaganda science who are employed formally by many secret agencies. They have a proper cell within which they operate.
Another fresh news report about the ISI has surfaced from the American wire. It is being claimed that this news is based on WikiLeaks. This WikiLeaks drama is an extremely tangled-up business. Whenever America wants to create a negative perception against a country or an institution, it can turn to this handy bag of magic tricks called WikiLeaks and extract something useful.
The ISI-CIA situation is recent. The ISI expressed its reservation when it saw an unusual number of covert operatives functioning in Pakistan. Raymond Davis crossed all lines when he killed two men in broad daylight and another Pakistani was trampled by the car that came to his aid and the situation was complicated to no end. Questions regarding our own security agencies were raised at home. This no-holds-barred behaviour of American agents enraged the public which created many difficulties for the Government of Pakistan and our security agencies. The way Davis was released amidst all this commotion and public resentment, the US should have been grateful about it. But the reaction of the Americans is dumbfounding. They used this incident as the basis to raise objections against the ISI. The state of affair is now such that any American official who now visits Pakistan has to comment in some way or the other on the ISI.
Recently, we were graced by Mr Mullen and he parroted the same litany as those before him: Your army has contacts with the Haqqani group whose terrorists kill American officials in Afghanistan; finish their strongholds in Pakistan etc. But when making such demands, these Americans forget what they have been upto in Afghanistan for the past decade. The UN declaration that the US used as the basis for invading Afghanistan did not in any way give them the right to prop up a government of their own liking there. Neither did it allow them train the Afghan army to fight foreign insurgents nor did it in anyway give them the right to set up military bases or stay there for ten years. It’s reasonable to ask of the US that if they did not have the capability of dealing with Al-Qaeda within two to four years, then why did they come to Afghanistan? If they themselves couldn’t bring peace to Afghanistan and couldn’t end the resistance against their own forces, what can we do about it? Our claim that the responsibility to secure the Pak-Afghan border is as much theirs as ours falls on deaf ears. If we are unable stop the infiltration of a certain group into Afghanistan, then why don’t they do it themselves?
The truth is that the American occupation of Afghanistan in itself is blatantly unjust and the misuse of power by a superpower. The US lied in the UN about the pretext of invading Afghanistan. Ostensibly, it was to uproot the network of Al-Qaeda but looking at its performance in the past ten years, it seems that this wasn’t even on its priority list. It seems that the top priority of the US was to cement its military occupation of the country.
It was inevitable that there would have been resistance against this military occupation. Pakistan has borne the brunt of it for no reason. We cannot bear the burden of such a long and protracted war and this war has become a bane for our society and economy. Our communication infrastructure worth billions of dollars has undergone unspeakable damage. Thousands of miles of our roads from Karachi to Chaman to Torkhum are cracking under the weight of American containers. These roads weren’t made for such trafficking.
America itself is patronising terrorists that are conducting their activities within Pakistan. And when our security agencies protest against such acts to protect national interest, these agencies are then the targets of campaigns to malign them. This “friendship” with America is fast becoming an onerous burden for Pakistan. The wise course of action would be for America to make it more agreeable for Pakistan to be its friend. Unrelenting and unreasonable demands are not the stuff friendships are made of.
The writer is one of Pakistan’s most widely read columnists.
Rape is not different from any other form of physical violence, except that it targets sexual organs rather than any other, to violate the socially constructed female body. Sexuality is not the object of punishment. The dissenting judge in the Mukhtaran Mai verdict could see she was not raped “for the satisfaction of the lust of the rapist”. There is a misogyny inherent in such separation of parts of the body. The victim has no choice but to see it that way. But when she does, she becomes part of the same misogynist discourse, closing all doors of her own emancipation.
The paradox is that to punish with rape is like to cure, functionally speaking. Both separate parts of the body and want to discipline it. Both require legal proofs that come from hospitals and medical observation. If there are no DNA tests, there is no gang rape.
“The courts have cleaned the blot on Muzaffargarh,” said MNA Jamshed Dasti, remarkably using for his city the same Urdu idiom associated with women perceived to be impure because of sex (consensual or otherwise).
That is one way people are looking at it. A rape in the broader political context – Western influence violating the purity of the land of the pure. At least two veteran newspaper columnists drew parallels to that effect. One said Dr Aafia Siddiqui was enduring more injustice in the US than Mukhtaran Mai was in Pakistan. The other said those protesting against the Mukhtaran Mai verdict should also protest against the US drone attacks.
The case is seen as iconic. In the mediascape, chauvinistic responses to this perceived Western threat have always focused on two points:
1) Financial independence:
Jamshed Dasti said Mukhtaran Mai and the NGOs supporting her had become billionaires. “What was their source of income?” a talk show host asked about Mukhtaran Mai and her family, after making a comment on her travels abroad. His guests asked similar questions about an activist who had criticised the verdict. The host asked why women’s rights advocates make up false stories. “Livelihood!” the guest answered. “How will she earn her livelihood (rozgaar) if such cases are not created?”
2) Visual impurity:
“They get millions of dollars in aid from abroad,” a senior columnist said of women activists. “Most of it is spent on make-up, (araish-e-gaisu-o-rukhsar) and propaganda against Pakistan.” He is worried about the liberals’ “naked (barhana) criticism” of Pakistan’s justice system, using idioms that imply the vulgarity rhetoric. “It seems that their foremost aim is to publicise a disfigured face of Pakistan.”
Critics of the April 21 judgment also iconify the Mukhtaran Mai case. Punishment by the state is more of a deterrence against future disorder, than a revenge for the past offence. If there is no perception of justice in a case that received such popular attention, victims might not be comfortable reporting rapes in future.
“As such, her case has become symbolic of the struggle for women`s rights in Pakistan, and the outrage expressed by human rights groups at the verdict comes as no surprise," Pakistan's top English daily said in its editorial. "The failure to bring Mukhtaran Mai’s attackers to justice, even if doing so would require further investigation, is a bitter pill to swallow.”
But there is some violence of the same kind inherent in this approach.
The choice to wear make up is not politically neutral. To participate in cosmetic, hair or clothing rituals means to agree to discipline one’s own body, to internalise the very power relations that in this case women are trying to undermine.
But the same way, to report violence to modern institutions that pathologise the victim is to participate in the very discourse that that violence was a part of. It is to limit resistance to the conditions enabled by the power that is to be resisted.
The author is a media critic and the News Editor, The Friday Times. He can be reached at email@example.com
Visiting Pakistan and Bangladesh within a span of 14 days is like harking back the 40 years when the two countries separated from each other. Why did it happen? How did it happen? Who was responsible for it? Such an exercise can only be of academic distraction. But it is clear that the disputes between the Bengalis in East Pakistan and those living in West Pakistan had become so acute towards the end of the sixties that their parting of ways had become inevitable.
I was at Islamabad in the end of March and at Dhaka in mid-April. What I have seen in both the countries underlines my earlier belief that the two peoples are different in their thinking and approach. Both are proud to be Muslim. Yet the Islam practised in Bangladesh is liberal and accommodating. The maulvis and mullahs or other demagogues are there. But they do not disturb the rhythm of life which is pluralistic.
Text books in Bangladesh teach history. They do not distort it or preach enmity as the books in Pakistan do. Hindu is not considered an enemy in Bangladesh. Even the liberation war 1971 has been told in a historical perspective without chauvinism and vengeful note. Bengali, the national language which was sought to be replaced by Islamabad with Urdu and ultimately led to the secession of East Pakistan, has given birth to a different culture, tethered to Islam but not to parochialism. Urdu does not figure anywhere, not even taught in schools. Sign boards are mostly in English and at very few places in both the languages.
Dance, music and art are galloping freely. They do not have to conform to a particular way or style. It is an art for the sake of art. Rabindranath Tagore is as much popular and loved as Qazi Nazarul Islam, the poet laureate of Bangladesh. Kathak and Odissi, the two types of dance in Bangladesh, are not discouraged because they have the Hindu orientation. And there is no law of blasphemy, not even a murmur of demand.
Pakistan has many liberals. But they are afraid to speak out and be counted. The assassination of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer and Cultural Minister Shahbaz Bhatti has muffled the voice of critics. Hafiz Sayeed, leader of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, talking in terms of jihad against India makes news. A person like him does not cause even a ripple in Bangladesh. The Jamiat-i-Islami here tries to muddy the water of secularism but without much effect.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has many negative traits. But her relentless fight against communal forces is her positive contribution to the ethos of Bangladesh. The government, unlike at Islamabad, shows no quarters to religious forces meddling in the affairs of the state or society. Founder of Pakistan Qauid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had also advised the Pakistanis to adopt a similar path. But his untimely death changed the course.
Yet the return of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), headed by Khalida Zia, can change the atmosphere. By playing the Islamic card she has made a difference in the past. It may happen again if she assumes power. But the country would not be going back to square one. The Bangladesh society cannot be changed by the fundamentalists, waiting in the wings. The Jamiat elements may come to the fore. Liberalism may get battered but it will stay. I feel the society is vertically divided into two parts, one pro-liberation and the other prone to religious propaganda. Liberalism will triumph ultimately.
Terrorists have no direct or indirect support from the government, something which I cannot say for certain after my recent visit to Pakistan. But then East Pakistan had always more liberal than West Pakistan and was even considered close to Hindus. A Bangladeshi intellectual explained to me how their separation from Pakistan took away from that society liberalism and the sense of accommodation, leaving the country to wallow in extremism and prejudice.
Yet I found a streak of sympathy for Pakistan. I believe that an overwhelming majority in Bangladesh feels that the Pakistanis face a situation which requires understanding and help. Bangladesh has neither forgotten not forgiven the atrocities committed against their nationals in 1971. But that does not stop some nostalgically recalling the period when the two lived together. The younger generation is indifferent, like the youth in India towards Pakistan.
What Islamabad does or does not has little effect on relations between India and Bangladesh. New Delhi is responsible for it. Dhaka has practically done everything which the accord between the two countries laid down. It has given the transit facilities to enable northeastern states to have better and quicker connectivity with the rest of India. Yet the much-publicised loan of $1 billion has not come through.
Indian officials blame the Bangladesh government for not providing the Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) which the banks demand before releasing loan. I have been assured that the DPRs have reached India and that the loan will be released within the next few days.
However, the better news for Bangladesh would be free trade. I have never been able to understand why New Delhi drags its feet when it comes to trade with Bangladesh or, for that matter, Pakistan. Duty free trade with them would make little difference to the imports worth billions of dollars. The two countries can gain from the huge market India has. This would create vested interests in Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Sheikh Hasina is anxiously awaiting the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The signing of Teesta River agreement is expected. But more than that Hasina hopes to shore up her sagging popularity through the agreement and other goodies. I hope she turns out to be correct. But my experience is that India is too squeamish when it comes to dealing with the neighbouring countries. New Delhi is yet to learn the art of diplomacy
The writer is a senior Indian journalist.
The observance of Easter in memory of Jesus’s resurrection passed unnoticed by the majority of the population in Pakistan. What will not be so easily overlooked is an unholy resurrection being carried out in the provincial headquarters of the Punjab province. If the press is to be believed, it appears the government has (again) unveiled ambitious plans for a rail based public transport mega-project for Lahore. While the proposal has been skirting around the table of successive administrations for quite a few years, the last time one looked it had just been announced that the Punjab government had finally succumbed to its indecisiveness and shelved the Mass Transit Project. One even took the time and trouble to comment upon the project’s demise in an earlier column (What Moves Us). And now this. Again.
Leaping long processes in a single bound, our government has not only revived the project but awarded it to the China North Industries Corporation, better known as Norinco in the English speaking world. Although the company website reveals a cute homepage depicting green fields and healthy trees, further research reveals a less wholesome image. Apparently behind a benign name lies an entity best known outside China as a producer of precision strike systems, amphibious assault weapons, long-range weapon systems, anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems, high-effect destruction systems and errr….urban mass transit systems. Regardless of the diversity in their product line, the people of Pakistan don’t deserve more controversial foreign corporations with ulterior motives for doing business.
Information freely available in the public realm reveals that Norinco has earned Uncle Sam’s ire in the past due to their arms dealings which led to sanctions by the Clinton and Bush administrations. One report tells of how Norinco came under investigation after a successful sting dubbed "Operation Dragon Fire." May 1996 saw what was called the largest seizure of fully operational automatic weapons in US history when Customs agents posing as arms traffickers convinced a group of Chinese arms dealers, including three Norinco representatives, that they were in the market to buy guns for drug rings and street gangs. They were instead offered more sophisticated weapons, including hand-held rocket launchers, mortars, anti-aircraft missiles, silenced machine guns and even tanks. According to an affidavit signed by two of the undercover agents involved in the investigation, representatives from Norinco offered to sell urban gangs shoulder-held missile launchers capable of downing a large commercial airliner. Clearly the strength of American institutions may have been successful in catching and punishing Norinco in the United States, but what’s to stop them from flogging weapons to maniacs following violent purposes in Pakistan (and we have several of them) and getting away with it.
Even with the hope that our government can control the errant ways of Norinco, chaos is expected to reign if the project goes through. For one thing, it seems the government has made a mistake in not inviting competitive bids from international infrastructure development companies for such an important and capital intensive project. For a government claiming to pursue such high standards of good governance and transparency, such uncompetitive practices are unbecoming. After having feted several international donors and governments for the construction and operation of a mass transit system, the government now seems to be swinging partners and doing the do-see-do at a most perilous square dance. Have we gotten so tired of our eager friends from the Philippines, Iran, France and South Korea that we must turn to the Chinese to build and operate a mass transit system?
Experts suggest that that Norinco is seeking formal commitments from the Government of the Punjab and the Federal government so that it is in a better position to finance the project. Given the fact that the Light Rail Mass Transit System project already had assurance for full funding for the infrastructure cost of the project from a multilateral donor, pursuing any other course seem counter-productive. It appears that no one really knows the cost at which Norinco will make this financing facility available although the multilateral donor funding would have taken place according to normal infrastructure loan operations.
More uncertainties lurk around the corner for a government that is more interested in ribbon cutting ceremonies and less concerned about the implications of our actions. For example, the proposal by Norinco appears to cut costs of development by preferring to run the system at ground level instead of being vertically elevated. While cost savings may be substantial, no one has asked how a mass transit system operating trains at two minute headway can be at ground level in the middle of a busy public thoroughfare. Apparently nowhere in the world does a mass transit system carrying nearly 30,000 persons per hour per direction sever our road infrastructure and create inequitable partitions amongst society. Such concerns, amongst others, seem not be a priority for the government which has embarked on a course of action which can only come back to haunt us in the future.
The writer is a consultant on public policy.
During the last few weeks a number of articles, some by highly informed columnists have appeared in the newspapers, castigating President Obama for not fulfilling his promise to prevent the Israeli government from construction of new housing settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. As most readers know, construction of houses in the predominantly Arab east Jerusalem has been a policy of each successive Israeli government since its occupation following the 1967 war, particularly by the Zionist Likud party Prime Minister.
The current Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu is even more of a hardliner Zionist than some others before him. Perhaps he sees himself as the modern day Joshua who succeeded Prophet Moses and was the political leader of Israel and commander of Israeli forces which invaded and conquered the city of Jericho and others in the ancient land of Palestine about 1000 years BCE. After the conquest of Jericho and six other cities/towns of the area, he and his army carried out a general massacre of their population including women and children.
However, after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, for which the Christians hold the Jews mainly responsible, they carried out most grievous persecution of the Jews for nearly 2000 years which culminated in pogroms and finally in the holocaust perpetrated against them by Hitler. Thus, historically speaking, the Jews have been both the perpetrators of ethnic cleansing and its victims.
It is therefore, in comprehensible that having been a victim of worst kinds of atrocities for 2000 years, Israelis should do the same to the poor Palestinians. But the Jewish fear and hatred of Muslims goes back to the times of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Most Muslims know the story of Jewish attempt to help the Kuffar of Makkah in their attempt to defeat Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the Muslims of Madina in the Battle of Khandaq (Trenches).
However, since the state of Israel was established in 1948 by Zionist Jews, it has grown from strength to strength militarily, economically, politically and diplomatically. Of course, they have received undiluted support from the US administration, both Republican and Democratic, particularly after the 1967 war. A great deal of credit for winning the US support at all levels goes to the Israelis and their lobby in Washington DC. Because until 1956, this influence wasn’t that significant. For instance, in the Suez crises (in which President Eisenhower played a key role in forcing Israel along with France and Britain to withdraw from Egypt and accept the nationalisation of Suez Canal by President Nasser), neither Israel nor its lobby in Washington had gained the blinding influence that they have achieved since the 1967 war.
It is nearly after 43 years that another neutral President has come to power in the US. And while it is true the President Obama has not been able to keep the promises he made to the Arabs and Muslims in his speech in Cairo in 2009, it is not for lack of trying, but because of the fact that the Israeli lobby is so well-entrenched in the US that it will take several Obama’s and their special envoys like George Mitchell to weaken its hold over the hearts and minds of the American public, particularly its congressmen. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that the Americans have begun to change their views about Israel which they no longer regard as a lamb surrounded by a pack of Arab wolves.
Politicians and sections of US media have begun to criticise Israel over the horrible and unwarranted atrocities that it has been committing against Palestinian people for the last 40 years. It has successfully exploited the guilt of Westerners for their atrocities which they committed against the Jews for the last 2000 years. The brutal extermination policy of Hitler against Jews is still a source of great shame for the West.
In these circumstances it is not the fault of the first black American President with a Muslim middle name that he has not been able to deliver on his promises. It is my firm belief that even if there was another Eisenhower in place of Obama, he too would have failed in implementing a policy of even-handedness between Israel and Palestinians-Arabs. Although, the US President is regarded as the most powerful President of the world, it is only in the context of US military and economic power vis-à-vis the rest of the world. Internally, the US President is weaker than the dictators who have ruled in the Arab and Muslim countries for decades without legitimacy and accountability.
I hope that the change that has taken place in Tunisia and Egypt will be followed in other Arab countries, empower their peoples and alter the monopoly of power enjoyed by Israel in the Middle East.
The writer is a former Ambassador of Pakistan.
The Middle East is in turmoil, its political map being rewritten by revolts against the status quo. But in the heart of this region, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, actors, on all sides, appear to be stuck playing out the same stale scenes.
In recent weeks, the US President, the UN Secretary General, and a host of other heads of state have weighed in on the importance of resolving this conflict. But other than to lamely insist that "the parties must return to the negotiating table", no one seems to have an original idea as to how to do it.
There have been on again, off again negotiations for 20 years, all to no avail. With the Palestinians holding no cards and having no leverage, they come to the table more as supplicants, than negotiators. And the Israelis who, for their part, hold all the cards, and declare, in advance, which cards are "off the table"; they do more dictating than negotiating.
The Israelis insist, for example, that they want good faith negotiations, without preconditions. At the same time, they refuse to stop construction in West Bank settlement blocs, which they claim "everyone knows will revert to us in a final peace agreement" and in what they call "Greater Jerusalem" (an illegally annexed land mass that includes a number of Palestinian villages in the heart of the West Bank), claiming that "Jerusalem is our eternal capital" and cannot be negotiated. With the rights of Palestinian refugees and the maintenance of a security zone in the Jordan Valley also termed non-negotiable items, one can only wonder, what do the Israelis mean by "no preconditions”?
And so here we are two and one half years into the Obama Administration's efforts to resolve this matter, and the only creative ideas have come from the Palestinians, the weakest and most vulnerable party to the conflict. On the one hand, Prime Minister Salam Fayyed has successfully reformed Palestinian governance on many levels winning endorsement from international institutions, all of whom now concur that the Palestinians are now prepared for statehood. Fayyed has endorsed other measures aimed at promoting self-reliance and passive resistance to the Israeli occupation. The Prime Minister knows he can't create a state while Palestine is divided, under military rule, and cut off from the outside world. But he is taking the steps to make sure that when Palestinians achieve independence, they are ready for good self-governance.
At the same time, the Palestinian Authority has embarked on a campaign to win international support for their claim to statehood, pledging to go to the United Nations in the fall to seek a resolution recognizing a State of Palestine. While some analysts in the West dismiss this effort as a hollow gesture, insisting that no state can be achieved without negotiations, the Israelis have become mildly hysterical.
This overreaction is as hypocritical as it is downright silly. How, one might ask, can the Israelis and their supporters in the US denounce this Palestinian diplomatic push for recognition as an "unhelpful unilateral act", while ignoring Israel's settlement and annexation program in Jerusalem and the West Bank? And where are the whoops and yells of displeasure when the US Congress initiates its own "unilateral acts" pressuring the President to recognise Israeli "sovereignty over all of Jerusalem", or proposing to cut off UN funding should that body pass a statehood resolution or fail to denounce and rescind the Goldstone report?
And while those who insist that no UN resolution can, by itself, create a state (since the US can still veto a formal acceptance in the Security Council), are right, why deny the Palestinians their right to a vote on recognition? And why is all this creating such hysteria both in Israel and among its supporters in the U.S? Is it that they just don't want to see a vote, or is it that they can't bear to lose a vote or fear just losing control of the discussion?
In any case, with the September UN session fast approaching, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is preparing another grand appearance in Washington, in an effort to win the one and only vote he feels he needs to block international pressure. Concerned that President Obama may soon present his own plan laying out a US framework for an Israeli-Palestinian peace, Netanyahu has wrangled an invitation to address the US Congress. It is expected that he will attempt to preempt the President by unveiling his own proposal, which from all indications will amount to no more than an agreement to take the minimum steps he should have taken and refused to take 15 years ago when he rejected the Oslo process. While this will surely be seen by Palestinians and most of the world as "too little, too late", it will no doubt win the Prime Minister thunderous applause in Congress.
The question remains, assuming that Netanyahu will emerge victorious in Congress, what will and can the US President do in response? He can preempt the Israelis by delivering his own speech before Netanyahu arrives in Washington, laying down firm markers on outcomes and steps to be taken to achieve peace. But this will only be effective if the outline includes the sanctions that will be incurred should the parties fail to take the required steps. Here the President has limited leverage, since Congress will most likely not support any cuts in aid or other punitive acts against Israel.
Recognizing this weakness in the US position, the President could decide to get out of the way and let the UN have its say by letting the General Assembly vote and declare Palestine a state, and then allowing the measure to pass in the Security Council. At that point Israel can be found to be in violation of international law since it is occupying, annexing and illegally settling on the territory of a member state. And the Palestinians will be free to take their case to other, more impartial, international bodies.
If the US can't do more than it has done to date, then doing nothing, and letting Israel face the music in the fall might be the smartest thing it can do.
The writer is President of the Arab-American Institute.
The general elections may still be away but the battle for the control of the province of Punjab has started. This province has more population than that of all the other provinces taken together, giving it the highest number of seats in the National Assembly, the lower house of the parliament. Any political party wishing to rule at the federal level singly or in partnership with other parties must demonstrate strong electoral performance in Punjab. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Group is currently ruling Punjab. It wants to sustain its commanding position at the provincial level and get more seats to claim power at the federal level after the next general elections. This objective cannot be achieved without securing an overwhelming electoral triumph in the Punjab by reducing the seats of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam Group. The PML(N) needs to perform excellently in Punjab because it has a very weak position in other provinces. If it gets over two-thirds National Assembly seats in the Punjab, it stands a chance to build a coalition with smaller political parties from other provinces and independent members to assume power at the federal level. The recent developments in Punjab appear to make the PML(N) task quite difficult. It is expected to continue as a credible political force in the Punjab but it is not likely to sweep Punjab to the extent that it realises the dream of ruling Lahore and Islamabad simultaneously. The PML(N) faces three sets of challenges: the rise of Islamic parties and groups; confrontation with the PPP; and the PPP’s shrewd policy of coalition building with other political parties, especially the PML(Q). The Jamaat-e-Islami and the Tehrik-e-Insaf did not contest the 2008 general elections. Therefore, it was relatively easy for the PML(N) to get more votes from Islamist and political far right circles in the Punjab. Now, as these two political parties are going to contest the next general election, the pro-Jamaat people and sympathisers of Imran Khan are expected to vote for their parties. There is an additional problem. The religious elements that were generally favourably disposed towards the PML(N) in the past have now created their own political formation i.e. the Sunni Tehrik. They have also created a joint forum under the title of the Sunni Ittehad Council with a number of other Islamic groups against the backdrop of the blasphemy law and the Raymond Davis issue. Traditionally, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa stayed away from Pakistan’s domestic politics but it has now become quite active with reference to the above issues. Some of these groups, especially the Sunni Tehrik and the Sunni Ittehad Council, have indicated their desire to get into the electoral fray. All this will increase competition for the PML(N) to attract voters from the political right-of-centre to far-right and Islamic circles. Second, the PML(N) decision to push out the PPP members of the Punjab cabinet has created an unnecessary headache for the PML(N) government because the two parties are now confronting each other inside the Punjab Assembly and elsewhere. The PPP’s strategy of winning over other parties and especially the PML(Q) is understandable because this extends the support base of the federal government, facilitating the passage of the forthcoming national budget which the PML(N) wants to contest. The PPP and the PML(Q) can join together to build pressure on their common adversary i.e. the PML(N). The access to power enables the PML(Q) to get “tasks” done in their political strongholds which will in turn help them to perform better in the next elections. This will also dissuade some, if not all, members of the Like-minded faction from forging close linkages with the PML(N). The PML(N) will adopt a harder-than-ever disposition towards the PPP and the PML(Q) to upstage their cooperation. The recent decision of Senator Ishaq Dar to quit as the Deputy Chairman of the Parliamentary Commission on Implementation of the 18th Constitutional Amendment is a part of the new strategy of non-cooperation and confrontation for building pressure on the PPP. Another change in the PML(N) is the adoption of more Islamic and anti-US policy in order to neutralise the bid of other Islamic parties to wean away its voters. This includes Shahbaz Sharif’s efforts to distance his government from the exit of Raymond Davis from Pakistan, bitter criticism of drone attacks, the threat to stage a long march to Islamabad if drone attacks do not stop, and the call to defy US pressure. The PML(N) will continue to maintain an ambiguous position on terrorism in Pakistan and its sources. The battle for the control of the Punjab is expected to intensify because the competing interests have increased. The PML(N) faces the danger of being isolated as the PPP tries to win over other political parties, and the Islamic groups endeavour to play a more autonomous role in the Punjab. The demand by some political parties for new provinces has placed the PML(N) in a difficult position because its initial response was negative towards such demands. The PML(N) is now building counter pressure on its political adversaries. It is expected to take on the PPP in the forthcoming budget session in the parliament. If the PML(N) can embarrass the PPP-led federal government for poor governance, it faces the similar criticism in the Punjab. The PPP is striving hard to develop active cooperation with other political parties to strengthen its position in the budget session and over-ride the PML(N) opposition. The federal government is also working hard to obtain additional funding from the US under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act and the Coalition Support Fund. The other sources are the IMF and investors from the Gulf States. If it is able to mobilise these sources, it will be able to present a reasonable budget. The PML(N)’s bid to become more Islamic than Islamic parties is an attempt to protect its Islamic and political-right vote in Punjab but this strategy further weakens its position in other provinces. It also alienates the military that is looking for greater domestic political support for its counter-insurgency efforts and wants to sustain the US-Pakistan relations despite the current strains. The PML(N)’s Islamist and far-right political stance also cautions Western powers. The battle for Punjab cannot be fought in isolation from the rest of Pakistan and the global context. The writer is an independent political and defence analyst.
They should just rename our country to Ostrich-istan, given the way we chose to deal with all of our problems. Never before has a human, bird or any other feather-brained creature demonstrated more foolhardiness than was displayed by our military establishment in the aftermath of Admiral Mike Mullen’s outburst against the ISI. And if it wasn’t for those pesky Vienna conventions, we could’ve picked him up for questioning too.
“But that’s no way to treat a friend,” you might be tempted to say. I would agree wholeheartedly and offer to help you make things right with another disillusioned comrade of ours. You may agree to righting the wrongs in principle, but wait till you hear the name. An ism-e-grami as multi-syllabic as Sirajuddin Haqqani may well force even the most Buddhist of peaceniks to change his or her tune and turn into a fire-breathing dragon, chanting ceaselessly the words, “Must kill man with Double-Q in his name!”
Up until a couple of years ago, the most popular Haqqani (in Pakistan and on the search engines) was Pakistan’s sorcerer in Washington, Mr Hussain Haqqani. However, as the tide of the battle in Afghanistan has turned, so too has the media attention switched from the diplomatically-impaired ambassador of fake goodwill to the far more affable and TV-friendly Sirajuddin. To his credit, this youngish leader of misguided militants and other daring fighters is far more level-headed than the medieval brute Hakeemullah. But that is, by no stretch of the imagination, much of a compliment to Sirajuddin’s bloated ego.
A tragic Oedipal figure at best, this fun-loving fop shot to prominence when his father Jalaluddin – a seasoned veteran of many wars with the Russians and a former minister in the Taliban government that ruled Afghanistan up until 2002 – transferred to him the command of a vast group of over-zealous guerrillas that operate in the border areas between Pakistan and that other country to the Northwest. This is the same Jalaluddin that US Congressman and Tom Hanks-look-alike Charlie Wilson referred to as “goodness personified”. So much for first impressions.
If the Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Rosenberg is to be believed, Haqqani Jr was a stylish youth more interested in growing his hair long than waging a long war. However, it is said that under his (question)able guidance, the Haqqani Network – a subsidiary of the fiendish Indian Cartoon Network that is famous for dubbing all my childhood memories into pedestrian pig-Hindi – has “widened the use of gun, grenade and suicide bomb attacks” in Afghanistan. He is the one (dis)credited with the daring attack on a CIA base in Afghanistan that is said to have put a major dent in the US’ drone campaign in and over Afghanistan. His greatest hits also include the daring attack on government installations, a luxury hotel in Kabul as well as a direct (albeit unsuccessful) hit on top Afghan con-man Hamid Karzai. Obviously, the man has taste and only attacks places with less than three Michelin stars. However, his approval ratings took a nosedive when his men botched the Karzai job, and he’s been struggling to make up lost ground ever since.
For Pakistan in general and the ISI in particular, the Haqqani Network has remained a perennial ‘friend in deed’, lending themselves to our purposes whenever the outcome has suited both our interests. Much like the Kashmiri mujahideen we (don’t) routinely gave a leg-up over the Line of Control Freaks, the Haqqanis have been on our Eid card mailing list longer than the Bangladeshis. We have given them (in the past, and under US supervision) guns, money and shelter; in return receiving a heady mix of drugs and rock n’ roll jihad, as well as a guarantee that the Indians will not be allowed to remain wherever the Haqqanis may roam.
Currently, however, this arrangement has been compromised. This was ostensibly made possible due to the austerity drive in place today. Where, in the past, we would’ve dispatched greeting cards and other instructions to the network via Pakistan Post, we are now forced to send them e-cards. These electronic transmissions can be intercepted, scanned, analysed and misconstrued by the CIA, MI6, Mossad and a host of unintelligent agencies. They, no doubt, have tipped off the Americans, who are now putting more and more pressure on Pakistan to do their dirty work. This is evidenced by the steep rise in the ranks of US officials visiting Pakistan. If this keeps up, the CEO of Halliburton or even the President of China (the People’s Republic owns over half of all US Treasury Bonds) may well find themselves in Islamabad, trying to talk some sense into a bunch of ostriches who’ve got their heads buried so far down that even if they do come up for air, the sand in their ears will prevent them from hearing anything they don’t want to. Welcome to Ostrich-istan!
Most of our public schools are not delivering the quality of education we would like them to deliver. Parental preferences for private schooling, if they can afford it, high drop out rates in public schools, and poor performance on tests are all strong indicators of the desperate situation. In addition, millions of children are still out of schools. It is no comfort for anyone that low-fee private schools also deliver a marginally better quality. Simply put, if Pakistan is to have a future in the comity of nations, our education system needs to be improved significantly, and in any such scheme, whatever the size of the private sector, public schools will play a big role.
But there are very serious incentive compatibility and organisational issues in the public sector system. Teachers are hired through patronage-client networks and draw support from and owe allegiance to local politicians. They are posted, transferred, promoted, rewarded and punished on that basis. Why should they be bothered about showing up or teaching or having any enthusiasm for the job? For the richer segments, who do not send their children to public schools, and especially the local politicians, local schools are a way of getting employment for some of their constituents (teachers and other school staff). Most bureaucrats also feel the need to please local and provincial level politicians and other notables. So how can incentives be aligned for teaching and delivering quality or even being enthusiastic about teaching?
Public schools teachers are ‘used’ as a labour force available for any large-scale job that needs to be done. They are involved in election duty, vaccination duties, polio drives, census duty, flood duty etc. Only two days ago when we visited a public school in Sindh the head-teacher was out due to ‘census duty’ and the teachers, taking advantage, had let the children go home at around 11:30 am. Teaching is a full time occupation. Apart from six hours of class time, teachers need time to prepare lesson plans, grade class work and keep the classroom ready for lessons. How can the state deploy teachers elsewhere, and so regularly, and still hope to achieve quality in teaching?
The head-teachers, supposed to organise teaching in a school, its delivery and quality, complain that they have little or no power to hold teachers accountable. They can cajole and plead but not do much else. Teachers complain that head-teachers act as ‘gods’ and if more power was given to them, it would spell disaster. Neither the teacher nor head-teacher is responsible to the parents or students or the communities they work in. The roles of SMCs/PTCs and other such bodies is marginal if any. If enrolments are low, children drop out or do not perform well, there are few or no consequences for teachers or head-teachers. Clearly they should not bother about these things then.
Teachers and head-teachers agree on one thing though: there is too much ‘political interference’ in schools and teaching. My contention is that since public schools are being used as a patronage mechanism, this is not a surprise at all. What is surprising is that even those who come through sifarish complain of political interference.
Teachers complain that their opinions are not taken into account in any policy changes, even curricular and pedagogical ones. They are not treated as an important stakeholder and hence they have no ownership of any policy changes. For example, Punjab government decided to move to English as a medium of instruction without any consultations with teachers and without an appreciation of whether teachers can do it or not. Now teachers are forcing students to ‘rote’ learn things in English. Similarly, when new training programmes are designed, teachers are just told what experts have come up with, rather than having teachers as co-designers of new trainings.
There are, of course, plenty of issues related to poor infrastructure provision and paucity of resources spent in/on public schools and their importance should not be underestimated, but since here we are focusing on issues of incentives, we need not talk of these.
The main issue is of structuring reform in these conditions. This is a major mechanism design issue. The people who are in control of setting incentives and benefitting from them do not stand to benefit from good delivery of education. They actually benefit from using the public education system as a patronage mechanism, for rewarding their supporters/constituents with jobs/postings and in return getting support. How can reform, for improving quality of education take place in such conditions?
Elements of reform have to include making parents and communities more central to the accountability and monitoring/evaluation process. It has to have buy-in of teachers or it has to have the power to move teachers’ actions in the desired direction. The accountability of government officials at the local level and local representatives, to the local people, has to be strengthened. Incentive alignment also requires better monitoring of outcomes and process and linkage of reward/punishment, for teachers and all involved, to these. This last has to be done very carefully as there is plenty of research that shows that blind emulation of incentives from the private sector, for sectors that involve significant externalities, incomplete and asymmetric markets, can be very counterproductive. But these design issues can be left for later articles.
Education sector needs reform, and the key reform is the one needed in the public sector education system. Without successful reform in the public sector, we cannot fix the education system, and without that, it is hard to see us developing sustainably, socially, politically, or economically. But reform of public sector poses a very tricky mechanism design issue. The people who are setting the incentives have no interest in seeing schools give good education, rather, they are using these as patronage systems and/or do not send their children to it. But those who depend on the system are not enfranchised enough to demand and/or force change. How do we introduce change in such a system? What is the entry point? Maybe Article 25A and legal challenges for its implementation, and/or the occasion of the next election can be used as a means to induce the state to take the demand for reform seriously.
The writer is an Associate Professor of Economics at LUMS (currently on leave) and a Senior Advisor at Open Society Foundation (OSF). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The cleaning lady grunted in annoyance at a recalcitrant tissue. She swung the broom behind her returning the tissue to her small pile of dirt, and then very carefully swept all the rubbish into a dustpan, leaving the floor behind her pristine.
I watched and wished that tissues were issues, and that we could make a clean sweep of all Pakistan’s problems and throw them out just like this, all the issues together, not leaving any rubbish behind.
There is not a single problem facing Pakistan, which is rather like Mirza Ghalib’s statement about not liking mangoes, so let’s rephrase that: there are many different problems facing Pakistan. It is simplistic to say that if only education was more widespread in this country, these problems would go away, although that would help. But while we strive to set up schools to provide this education, there are attitudes ingrained in our society, like dust grains in every crevice of finely carved furniture that are impossible to remove without stripping the wood.
Violence is now a reflex, and every kind of human rights violation finds a home in this country. Torture, domestic and other violence, deaths in custody and as a result of military action, child abuse, disappearances...
Much of the above can be traced to emotive response to religion. In an interview with Dr Moid Pirzada, the scholar Javed Ghamdi (who has been forced to leave the country because of his views) said that until the people of the subcontinent learn to react unemotionally to religion, we will not be able to rid ourselves of the violence that pervades the region.
Other reasons include tradition and custom such as the custom of karo kari (‘honour’ killing), of keeping women incarcerated in the home, or the paleontological jirga system which has so recently been manifestly upheld by our Judiciary in the case against Mukhtaran Mai’s rapists. And let’s not forget the feudals, let us never forget the feudals in whose interests it is to keep all these problems alive.
A combination of habitual violence, bigoted and emotional religious response and barbaric customs is what causes schools to be blown up as fast as they are built.
On the other hand, whatever the reason behind suicide bombings in Pakistan is, it could not be religious. No religion, however bigoted it is, could kill those at prayer or innocent persons. Yet those who pull the strings use puppets for their ends, boys as young as fifteen steeped in religious fervor, burning with misbegotten zeal, indoctrinated into accepting such solutions as a route to paradise. Which of us does not possess a relative going through ‘a phase’ at that age, for whom everything is black and white, whose blood runs hot and fires a yearning for acts of heroism? It is these striplings who blow themselves up, or as in the case of a young lad recently who injured himself grievously, do not quite succeed in doing so.
There are the stultifying attitudes towards wealth and self-aggrandisement, and the resultant corruption and the stranglehold of the rich and powerful over not just the poor, but over institutions such as the judiciary and the police. It was noted by the Transparency International that a major cause of corruption in Pakistan was the lack of accountability. It said that lower court judges were pressured by superior court judges with regards to legal decisions and that lower courts remained corrupt, inefficient, and subject to pressure from prominent wealthy, religious, and political figures. In addition there is government involvement in judicial appointments, which increases government control over the court system.
All the while there is the poverty, the mind boggling, crippling poverty which results from all of the above, that contributes to many of the ills.
It has to be a concerted effort, a grass roots movement that will carry leaders along with the people, and sweep issues right out the door in one huge all encompassing move. The people of Pakistan may be patient and used to adversity, but there will surely come a day very soon when verdicts such as those acquitting five of the six persons involved in Mukhtaran Mai’s rape case will bring about a severe backlash.
Public reaction prior and post Pakistan’s semi-final game in the World Cup was an indication of the desperate need of the people of Pakistan for a shred of pride in their country. The fact that some people actually attempted to kill themselves in the aftermath is ominous.
It is not necessary for a huge event to act as a galvanising force. It takes but a straw to break a camel’s back, however, those riding the camel are too busy wielding the whip to understand this. I think my cleaning lady would make a better politician. At least she tries to sweep clean, and most times she succeeds.
Jamshed Dasti, elected twice in the space of 2 years, I was told, had visited flood-affected areas on numerous occasions. The surprising part was not that the MNA had showed up but that villagers were so effusive in their praise of a man they had not even voted for in the by-election. His humble background and his near-meteoric rise in the political system (from union councilor to MNA in just under 9 years) has intrigued analysts and researchers, and on the other hand, his use of a fake degree coupled with his thuggish outlook, captured the imagination of the urban middle class for a completely different set of reasons. As a commoner, he, in one skewed sense, symbolises the innate middle class desire of having a non-elite parliament. A parliament that would, because of its class proximity to a wider segment of society, be more responsive and accountable. Despite ticking this particular box, Jamshed Dasti is still a much-derided figure, largely as a consequence of the ‘fraud’ he committed. Even if urbanites manage to look beyond the degree rhetoric, and that in itself is rare, his popularity is often dismissed as nothing more than the sentiment of a peasant’s imagination. You see, the peasant, no matter what he does, is simply acting on the pulses of a much inferior brain. When he used to vote for Ghulam Mustafa Khar or Nawabzada Iftikhar Ahmed Khan, he was being a pliant serf. When he decided to get rid of him by voting for a commoner, he was being swayed by the vagaries of emotive populism. It seems that no matter what a village dweller does, he neither has the capacity to think rationally (in the modern urban sense), and neither does he exercise any manner of control over his mind, body, or environment. There were two examples, from my trip to Muzaffargarh confirming that out of all widely held perceptions in our urban landscape, nothing is as outdated and static as the one just mentioned. The first was related to a villager’s analysis of the exercise of power, especially in his own context. Right after the floods wreaked havoc in the district, Jamshed Dasti visited nearly every basti in his constituency and promised that he would try his level best to obtain utility bill relief for flood affected areas. MEPCO, on the other hand, was in no mood to agree to Dasti’s demands. I asked the villager if he was unhappy at the false promises the MNA had made, to which he simply answered that Dasti wanted to help us, he even visited the MEPCO office several times, but the hakoomat wouldn’t let him. ‘But isn’t Dasti part of the hakoomat?’ ‘Bhai, Dasti is a political worker. The real hakim is the officer. When he wants things done, they get done. When he wants to drag his feet, nothing in the world can move him.’ The difference between state and government is something that requires a degree of awareness that most people I know don’t even possess. The locus of power, especially in areas where social capital is dispersed amongst several groups, will always lie with the bureaucracy and other non-representative authorities. The fact that a villager could quite clearly see that his representative was being blocked by the state apparatus certainly goes a long way in addressing the accusation of illiterate irrationality so often thrown his way. The second example was related to the response of small-scale farmers across the country in the aftermath of the flood. Sometime in October, when in normal circumstances wheat crop plantation would be in full swing, the Food and Agriculture Organization announced that Pakistan could face severe food scarcity in the summer months. Their assumption was that the government and the humanitarian community would be unable to clear sufficient acreage in time for plantation. About two weeks ago, the federal government announced that a 25 million ton bumper crop was expected in the next month. The illiterate, irrational farmer, upon hearing of a higher wheat support price, set about clearing the fields himself. As late as end November, reports were coming in that farmers were still carrying out late rabi cropping using a variety of fertiliser and seed combinations. Beyond simple agriculture practice, the money received from the first tranche of the Watan Cards, as well as the BISP, was utilised to purchase both seed and fertiliser stock as well as pay off agriculture rent (theka). As a combination of these two factors, wheat area under cultivation saw an increase of nearly 2 percent from last year, despite the fact that water was still standing in many parts of South Punjab and Sindh as late as December. “Simpletons” across the country, through nothing less than a complete understanding of markets, agriculture, and their socio-political position in society, both as individuals, and as a member of larger collectives, have ensured that we urbanites have food on our tables in the coming months. The level of self-awareness now found in villages and small towns across the country is neither stuck in the 19th century, nor is it the product of ‘rural irrationality’. It is this dynamic and projected self-awareness that has sent Jamshed Dasti to the National Assembly, and I have little doubt, given the continuation of the democratic process, that it will assert itself even more strongly in the coming years. The writer works in the social sector and blogs at http://recycled-thought.blogspot.com. Write to him at email@example.com
The people of Middle East and North Africa are in a rebellious mood. Their anger has already overthrown the rulers of Tunisia and Egypt. The surviving regimes are tottering. Gaddafi is battling out a civil war in Libya. There have been massive protests against the Yemini leader. Violent demonstrations have been reported in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Syria. There are speculations that this rebellious wave may spread to the Muslim populations in south and south-east Asia. The causes attributed to this popular upsurge seem quite genuine: alarming rates of unemployment among the youth; lack of freedom of expression; oppressive nature of regimes; and failure on the part of the incumbent rulers to fulfill the expectations of their peoples. There can be no defence of these hereditary and autocratic regimes; however, the most important question that is being ignored is that if these rulers fall as a result of the turmoil, who will replace them? What is the use of removing a ‘bad’ ruler if there is no ‘good’ replacement? What is the point of sacrificing blood when there will be no real change in spite of the regime change? The examples of Tunisia and Egypt are in front of us. Several weeks have passed since the rulers in these countries were forced to quit but has anything really changed there? The ones who have replaced them are almost unknown entities with no credentials whatsoever as popular leaders with any known program or philosophy as to how differently they will rule from their ‘hated’ predecessors? Isn’t it ironic that while the world wildly supports the demonstrators against the incumbent autocrats, it does not even know, who, the leaders among these tens of thousands of protesters are, that will occupy the helm of affairs to translate the popular aspirations into some form of reality? This situation clearly shows that there is a crisis of leadership in the Arab world. In fact, this malaise afflicts the entire Muslim world. Let’s try to understand the gravity of this crisis of leadership. A few years back, Akbar S Ahmed, a leading authority on contemporary Islam, with the support of the American University, Brookings Institution and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life conducted a survey in four countries of the Middle East and North Africa (Qatar, Jordan, Turkey and Syria), two of South Asia (Pakistan and India) and two of the Far East (Indonesia and Malaysia), visiting universities, madrassahs, mosques and cultural centres to understand what the Muslims thought about themselves and the world at large. I’ll just restrict to some of the findings of that survey that are related to the choice of leaders available as role models to the Muslims. These choices may not fully hold good, today, yet these do reflect the thinking of the people. While Muslims generally harp that they all belong to the ‘ummah’, they have failed to develop a consensus as to who can be their undisputed role model leader. In fact, their preferences of leadership models are region-specific, which, at times, run counter to one another. For some Muslims, the role models are Maulana Yousef Qaradawi, Maulana Maududi and Hassan Al Banna while for others political figures such as Ahmadinejad, Yasser Arafat, Hasan Nasrallah and Khomeini are the role models. Still for others, the role models to be followed are Sami Yusuf (an Iranian British singer and songwriter), Yusuf Islam, Amr Khaled and Hamza Yusuf (an American convert to Islam). The most important figure that enjoyed the support of 45 to 60% of the Arab world was Amr Khaled (an Egyptian television preacher). A country-wise analysis will crystallise this dilemma further. In Syria, Amr Khaled was most popular followed by scholars and religious figures such as Ahmed Kuftaro (the former Grand mufti of Syria) and the preacher Muhammad Habash. In Jordan, over 60% supported Amr Khaled followed by scholarly Tariq Al Sweidan. Interestingly, Hezbollah’s leader Hasan Nasrallah enjoyed more support in Jordan than the Jordanian ruler King Abdullah II. For Qataris, the top role models were the religious figures of Yousef Qaradawi and Amr Khaled. These were followed by other religious personalities such as Tariq Sweidan, Sheikh Al Sudais (the Imam of the Grand Mosque) and Hasan Nasrallah. In Turkey, 45% supported Fethullah Gulen followed by Said Nursi. The most liked figure in Indonesia was Abdullah Gymanster(a televangelist). In Malaysia, the top choice was Mahathir Mohammad (35%) followed by Yousef Qaradawi (25%). The response in Pakistan was also quite divided with 25% supporting Mahathir Mohammad followed by Yasser Arafat and Ahmadinejad (14% each) and Abdul Sattar Edhi (10%). Another figure that was looked upon as a role model in every country surveyed was Osama bin Laden enjoying highest support in Indonesia (25%). The survey also revealed a general feeling of apathy and disenchantment with the present crop of Muslim leaders because 30% respondents in Turkey and 16% in Pakistan clearly stated that they did not have a contemporary role model. What can be inferred from such a scenario? At best, the Muslim world is divided; at worst, it has no leader that enjoys the consensus of ‘ummah’. Even after a passage of fourteen centuries, the ‘ummah’ has failed to learn a simple lesson: united we stand; divided we fall. On top of it, the figures that comparatively enjoy more support than the others are either preachers or religious scholars and there is no statesman or politician, who can lead the 1.5 billion Muslims. Moreover, quite a few role models are no more in this world and the ones living have neither figured prominently in the Arab protests nor have they staked their claim in the ongoing power struggle. Being popular role models means nothing unless they translate their popularity into political power backed by some political organisation with a well thought-out plan of action. Till that happens, the prospects for the Arab ‘revolutions’ remain rather bleak. This popular wave will either degenerate into anarchy and chaos or will simply be hijacked by the surrogates of the dethroned rulers as has happened in Tunisia and Egypt, and the whole idea of ‘change’ will remain a mirage in the political deserts of Mideast, at least, in the foreseeable future. The writer is an academic and journalist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This isn’t meant to be a Bhutto rhapsody but that does not detract from the sway he held over Pakistan as a leader in his life time and his enduring legacy. Fourth of April, 1979. I still remember the day of this country’s great misfortune as a 4th grader in Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital, where my father served as a diplomat in the Pakistan High Commission. I had an exam paper early in the day before rushing to the cricket stadium where a Pakistan team had dropped by to play a friendly on its return from Australia against the Lankans, who were yet to get Test status. The visitors boasted some of the finest stars in the game and it seemed the entire cricket-mad island nation had converged to see the likes of Imran, Zaheer, Javed, Majid, Sarfraz, Bari, Mushtaq and Sikander in action. The stadium was filled with cacophony of fans enjoying every moment of the game but a little past noon, an inexplicable silence descended on the ground. We soon knew why. Some news hawkers had entered the stadium with a special one-page supplement announcing, in a banner headline, the execution of “Ali Bhutto” — as the-then prime minister was fondly called in Sri Lanka. I soon got the drift of the iconic status Bhutto enjoyed in a land of serene beauty far away from the maddening frenzy of a despotic regime in my own. I would learn how a lawyer fan of Bhutto, who lived in the vicinity of our Colombo residence, went on a hunger strike of sorts — didn’t eat for two days — upon learning the fate of the “Third World statesman” as his like believed Bhutto was. Thirty-two years after his execution following a highly controversial conviction over charges of abetment to murder of a political opponent, Bhutto continues to prick our conscience. The country’s first popularly elected prime minister did not get justice in life because “two swords cannot be kept in the same scabbard”. The reference is to military despot General Ziaul Haq, who overthrew his benefactor — some irony given that Bhutto had chosen Zia to be the army chief over and above the heads of several senior generals — and hanged him following a trial that was particularly noted for its bizarre manipulation. The 1974 murder of Nawab Muhammad Ahmed Khan, a dissident of Bhutto’s People’s Party, was used in 1977 when Zia toppled Bhutto as the ground for the PPP leader’s physical elimination for the simple reason that the military ruler felt he could not survive Bhutto’s return to power in a popular election that he promised but conveniently, reneged on. Former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who attended the trial, wrote: “The prosecution’s case was based entirely on several witnesses who were detained until they confessed, who changed and expanded their confessions and testimony with each reiteration, who contradicted themselves and each other, who, except for Masood Mahmood... were relating what others said, whose testimony led to four different theories of what happened, absolutely uncorroborated by an eyewitness, direct evidence, or physical evidence.” Masood, the director-general of the Federal Security Force, was imprisoned for two months by Zia before he took the stand against Bhutto. Maulvi Mushtaq, the judge presiding over the trial, was a compulsive Bhutto-hater, and drew perverse pleasure from humiliating the object of his ire — even going to the extent of rewriting what was said in court by Bhutto! Judges sympathetic to the merit of Bhutto’s argument were replaced, and in one particularly obvious instance, the hearing was delayed to wait out the retirement of a judge, who disputed the merit of the charges brought on by the prosecution. Cut to the chase, a reference made to the Supreme Court by President Asif Zardari early this month to set aside a “historic wrong” is keeping everyone busy. However, not everyone is convinced that it is necessarily borne out of conviction. In fact, critics accuse Zardari of flogging a “dead horse” only to take the heat off his own continuing case in the apex court on account of the much reviled NRO and, by implication, to cast the “morality” and “uprightness” of the judiciary’s role — even if it is removed from the current lot — in negative light. The criticism has stuck because — in the mother of all ironies — the man chosen to defend the reference, Babar Awan, a former Zia acolyte, is a close confidante of the president and historically hated for distributing sweets when Bhutto was hanged! But that’s just the gift Zardari and his man are made off — just when their detractors think they have their man, he pulls a rabbit out of the hat. Small wonder Javed Hashmi admitted last week his inability to read Zardari, saying he needed to do “a PhD” to unlearn the craft. Regardless, it won’t hurt to set history right in the ZAB case. The writer is a newspaper editor based in Islamabad. He can be reached at email@example.com
My cellular network could not have been Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s network of choice during the days they occupied Swat because it doesn’t work in the bloody mountains. The network that I subscribe to raises the slogan of ‘Connecting People’. But it is not always good to do that, especially if the people you connect are planting Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) on the roadside. That is at least one moral dilemma avoided. Dilemmas can be a good thing for they make you think. And thinking is useful, especially before you start uttering bafflingly inane praise for the Pakistani ‘establishment’. Over the past few weeks, I have been disgusted to read of people praising the Army chief for not interfering with the ‘political process’. When people in a country start being grateful for someone not subverting the constitution, you know that we live in odd times. More ironic is the latest wave of articles with people commending the Army Chief for ‘taking a stand’ against the drone attacks. Right then! Once you are done coughing to get over what I just said, try absorbing it. My first question is this: since when did someone who has the final say in most matters (regardless of expertise) need to take a stand? The Army high command exerts a nauseatingly powerful influence on whatever this country does. Therefore, the generals do not become heroes by dictating policy or by trying to save some bearded fanatics putatively providing ‘strategic depth’. They are not taking a stand against anyone by acting on a whim and being intransigent with the Americans. When they started, drone attacks could not have taken place without the assenting of the Army. If you think otherwise, you really are naïve and confronting truths is not for you. Please stop reading and if I ever write for a ‘Sunday mag’, we can meet again. Since the PPP government took office, the media has largely ignored the role/power of the Army and has raised fingers at the politicians for allowing an alleged ‘violation of this country’s sovereignty’. There is no doubt that the politicians did not do a good job of selling the idea of drone attacks. Personally I think there is a very good case for allowing US drone attacks. But glaring is the fact that the Army high command never accepted its role in allowing the drone attacks and now seems to be enjoying the right-wing wrath hurled at the PPP. There is a word for it, schadenfreude; pleasure felt at another’s misfortune. The Army high command is not being naïve when it refuses to accept uncomfortable truths; it is being clever. And we need to make them realise that we are not dim-wits. Concomitantly, we need to question the reasons why drone attacks are suddenly being opposed by the Army. Has the ISI developed human rights related concerns that it was lacking before? It seems highly unlikely. Our military’s links with jihadists need to be questioned and brought to light. If you have read your Ahmad Rashid, you would be worried. Instead of dismissing America’s concerns we must engage with them. Our sovereignty has been violated innumerable times with a militant Wahabi mindset exported from Saudi Arabia along with petro-dollar Islam. I have always seen the drone attacks as a tacit agreement between two sovereign nations and hence legitimate. Unpopular (because the rationale is misunderstood) but legitimate. The world has legitimate concerns about terror brewing here. And our military has clearly not been able to deal with terrorists’ sanctuaries that continue to thrive. In such a context, drone attacks make a lot of sense. Even the militants have given interviews saying that drones threaten them the most. Those who claim to have a problem with collateral damage caused by drones need to answer why do they not raise their voices when our own Army carries out operations the details of which we are never told or which we can never verify. In 2007, our military created a huge issue after a Madrassah in Bajaur was bombed by a drone. Newspapers here claimed that more than 80 children had been killed. Al-Jazeera later aired footage clearly showing that the Madrassah was a training camp for terrorists. No media outlet here aired that video. Now our military high command is telling us that drone attacks convert people to terrorism and disrupt the fight against terror. Is this how myopic we have become? It is a mind-set that we are fighting; a particular distorted version of Islam that we need to correct from within. This violent brand of militant Islam has opposed nationalism, leaders struggling for independence, USA etc. The tools that Islamic militants use for propaganda and recruitment keep changing. Can anyone argue with a straight face that if Pakistani drones launched strikes, the militants would stop recruiting young minds? Pakistani drones will not stop mad mullahs from training suicide bombers. But Pakistani drones could mean a safer world for some of the mad mullahs; those our military protects. Now there is a question we need to raise. That is the violation of our rights and trust that we need to be worried about, not US drones. The writer is a Barrister of Lincoln’s Inn and practices in Lahore. He has a special interest in Anti-trust / Competition law. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org