MEDIA WATCH -
When it comes to the media, the odds are stacked against the ANP. First, the party, like the PPP, does not appeal to the socio-economic class that the journalists belong to. Second, it is a regional party, where the media does not have too much of a presence. Third, the party, a continuation of the Congress, does not bode well with the Nawa-e-Waqt indoctrinated minds of those occupying senior positions in the media.
That is all well and good. Matters are made inconvenient whenever the ANP shows huge amounts of the stuff heroes are made out of. You see, it is difficult not to be inspired by activists manning the small corner offices of the party, knowing fully well that they are sitting ducks. And not a case of the leadership going into hiding while the foot soldiers bear the brunt too. Almost all the who’s who of the party leadership, and in some cases their family members, have been attacked by the militants. Yet, they continue to keep at it.
So, to segue into the issue at hand: how do the pundits cover such events? One way is to remain objective. But the problem with objectivity is that the ANP is, by strictly objective standards, displaying immense courage, regardless of what one might think of their ideology or their performance in government. A consequence of that is that objective comment turns out to be platitudes and praise.
Given the visceral anti-politician instinct of the commentariat, praising politicians is viewed as a career destroyer by the pundits.
So, some pundits attempt to forcibly tone it down. This can’t be done without introducing a caustic element in the conversation and that is what we saw in Muhammad Mallick’s rather ham-fisted interview of party chief Asfandyar Wali Khan (Dunya News, 15th April.)
But if Mallick seemed insensitive, it was nothing compared to Javed Chaudhry’s crack (Express News, 15th April) at the subject of candidates’ security.
Uncle Sargam began with the usual pissing-from-a-height account that he usually starts with, recalling an incident from Moghul history that – if one was trying really hard, and had swallowed three packets of Ispaghol – was only tangentially relevant to the matter at hand.
But it was the rest of the programme where our man let it rip. Why the government should give you security, he asked the ANP’s Haji Adeel. What have you all done to deserve it?
Flabbergasted as Adeel might have been at a why-are-two-and-two-four question, he still tried to reason with the man. You (Express) have occupied a significant portion of the road (outside their office in the Aabpara Market) in the name of security. But we pay for that security, replies Chaudhry. You mean to say you pay for the road, Adeel asks back incredulously. Yes, we pay the CDA, Chaudhry replies. This is, of course, a lie. But since the last word is the pundits’ and there’s no holding them accountable, false assertions are water under the bridge.
In the US, the principal challenger in presidential elections is provided Secret Service security detail that stays with him till much after he or she concedes defeat. It is the responsibility of the state to provide security to rich and poor candidates alike. Romney got his security despite being a millionaire many, many times over.
By saying candidates should pay for their own security, pundits like Chaudhry are implying only the rich should be in politics. Rehmat Shah Saahil is the ANP’s candidate from NA-35 Malakand. He is a poet extraordinaire whose lyrics for popular songs have made him famous. And, since there isn’t much money in poetry, he is a professional tailor. Javed Chaudhry expected Saahil to pay for his security in the constituency contiguous to the one where Malala Yousufzai was shot.
It is said that the bourgeois class is the biggest impediment to social change. Scratch the populist veneer that the likes of Chaudhry and his other middle-class colleagues have carefully maintained and you’ll see a genuine distaste for the poor to begin with.
Do some political parties share the militants’ doctrine?
The PML-N, JUI-F and JI remain tightlipped over the ongoing attacks on politicians and election gatherings. Shahbaz Sharif has somewhat belatedly reminded the caretakers of their duty to provide security to all. The leadership of the three parties has however consistently refrained from condemning the terrorists. What is the cause behind this highly unusual silence when the ECP, caretaker set up, politicians from various parties including Imran Khan and civil society organisations like HRCP have all condemned the perpetrators in no uncertain terms? Are these parties reluctant to criticise militants on account of some sort of doctrinal affinity with them?
This may be one explanation for the reticence. JUI-F seminaries have contributed to the proliferation of the Taliban. The JI disagrees with the TTP only ‘tactically’ of while sharing its ‘ideals’. Both religious parties want to achieve aims common with the terrorists through parliamentary way. The PML-N has been accused in the past of having a soft corner for the militants, even striking electoral alliances with their legal reincarnations. There was in fact a noticeable slowing down of attacks in Punjab after Shahbaz Sharif’s appeal to the terrorists to spare the province ruled by his party. While the Punjabi Taliban continued to issue statements in the name of their group, the Sharifs denied that any organisation with that name ever existed.
Is the silence caused by a belief that that the losses suffered by PPP and its erstwhile allies would strengthen the position of the PML-N, JUI-F and JI in the elections? This too could be one of the reasons. The PPP has restricted Bilawal from public activities and there is hardly any party front ranker out in the public addressing rallies and gatherings. This is all the more noticeable in Punjab, which has to elect more than half of the National Assembly members and where the PPP had hoped to be able to form the next government. Not that better campaigning would have given Zardari’s party more seats than in 2008 as its image has been badly tarnished by bad performance.
In Sindh, the stronghold of the PPP, the PML-N has allied itself with Pagara’s PML-F. Despite the incumbency factor that would go against the PPP, the party is still likely to emerge as the largest single winner if all its leaders with a feudal-cum-tribal clout continue to remain with it.
The PML-N may be hoping to benefit from ANP’s discomfiture in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. Not that the two have not been bedfellows in the past but now the PML-N has a different strategy in view. That it had recently tried to reach an electoral understanding with JI and JUIF shows it is seeking a different route to power in the province this time. The understanding with the two parties could not be reached on account of the demands considered over excessive by the PML-N leadership but the three could join hands after the polls. Even if the PPP and ANP perform badly this time in the province, the PML-N faces a potent challenge from the PTI. The two religious parties would again prove to be hard bargainers with any of the two seeking their support.
In Karachi, the PML-N hopes to make an entry with the help of the religious parties. As the MQM remains a major competitor in the city, it matters little to the PML-N and its allies if attacks continue on its candidates.
In Balochistan, neither the PPP nor the PML-N have any mass base. The latter pins hopes on the Baloch nationalists while bringing into its fold whatever tribal chiefs are willing to join hands.
There is however a more important reason also behind the PML-N, JUI-F and JI displaying unconcern regarding militant attacks on the secular trio.
The establishment thinks a new type of ruling alliance would be helpful to it in the coming years after the Nato forces leave the area. With the US-led troops out of the region, Pakistan would once again be on its own to deal with the terrorist groups. Whether there is longer civil war in Afghanistan, of which there is a good possibility, or a quick Taliban victory which seems less plausible, the Pakistani militants now operating from their FATA sanctuaries would pose a problem that any government will have to deal with single handedly without foreign support. What is more they would also command a strategic depth in Afghanistan.
When the US had a presence in the region and was helpful to Pakistan, the establishment was content with a government with secular credentials, pro-US leaning and willing to fight the terrorists. With the US troops withdrawn and US funds drying up, the establishment would desire having a government able to negotiate with the TTP when required.
The establishment would have preferred Imran Khan but with the momentum that the PTI leader had created receding over time, it is now looking for other partners. Mian Nawaz Sharif fits the specifications but has a streak that makes him somewhat unreliable. He has a tendency to amass all powers in his hands and in the process take on the military leadership, if needed. But with the JUI-F and JI sitting on one side of Nawaz Sharif and a pro-establishment Pagara on the other, an ideal control mechanism is in place.
As the TTP leadership continues to indulge in terror attacks as a policy of choice, it is also felling the heat in the tribal areas. The Swat valley where the militants had set up their emirate is out of their control. They can still detonate a bomb here and there, albeit after a lot of costly preparations, which explains why they are quite infrequent. Bajaur where the TTP had virtually ended the writ of the state is out of its hands. The agency is more terrorism-free than Peshawar. This has given confidence to Badam Zaree, an independent woman candidate on a general seat, to take part in the elections.
The army has freed most of the Kurrum Agency while it is fighting the terrorists in Khyber’s Tirah valley. There is meanwhile a pressure from the tribal people for peace that led to the recent peace overtures from the TTP. With the US troops gone and there being no excuse for jihad, the pressure from inside the tribes will multiply on the militants.
The establishment has long toyed with the idea of bringing militants into the mainstream. It claims it has done so in the case of Hafiz Saeed and the Difa-e-Pakistan Council. Many challenge the assertion as unrealistic.
The least the establishment wants is to persuade the TTP to stop attacks inside Pakistan and hopes that once parties like the PML-N, JUI-F and JI who are acceptable to the TTP are in power the task would become easier. The way the three parties are acting indicates they are game.
The writer is a political analyst and a former academic.
South Asian states continue to present women as ‘dependants’
The State has often appeared as a central figure through which discourses about South Asian women are created and understood with the passing of time. Women’s identity and positionality within a state is reflected in its policies which either re-affirm or seek to modify societal notions about gender. On many occasions, women’s issues are annexed by wider government policies, presenting women as residual victims in a schema over which they have very little control. The attitude of South Asian states towards women has evolved with changing socio-political regimes such as movements towards secularism, partition along religious lines and the appearance of influential non state actors like feminist groups.
The essentially male political culture of South Asia can be traced back to the Mughal Era when elite masculinity was synonymous with public relationships of power and control-over knowledge, over material commodities and over women. The wall of the Royal harem became symbolic for the separation between the male and female worlds and men exercised power through a literal and bodily rejection of feminine behaviors. However, a close inspection of the early Mughal history reveals the active participation of women in the political and social arena. A striking example of women’s participation in politics is Maham Anga, Emperor Akbar’s fourth prime minister and wet nurse who held charge of the royal household and state administration. Similarly, Emperor Jehangir’s wife Nur Jehan practically ruled over the Kingdom and edicts were issued under her authority. It is interesting to note that Maham Anga’s “manliness became the cause of her undoing” as noted by Mriducchanda Palit in an article titled Powers Behind The Throne as her willful behavior that allowed her to establish control was seen as “aggressive” by the patriarchal state and she was eventually asked to step down. Palit explains that female figures of authority “worked primarily for the benefit of the male figures around whom they orbited,” and “even when they were seated next to the throne… they moved in the shadow of it’s male occupant.”
The configuration of States as patriarchal protectors of women meant that they operated on agendas that promoted the interests of the State as opposed to the actual welfare of women. After the partition of India and Pakistan both states made efforts to recover missing women and restore them to their families. However, the resistance of many women to return to their original families was ignored and their children were treated like ‘war babies,’ presenting the state as “an abductor” forcibly removing adult women from their homes. The recovery of women became entwined with the establishment of India as a responsible and civilized state able to reclaim what was by rights its own, projecting women’s bodies as properties of the State. In addition, the relation of the abducted woman to national honor invested her with the full responsibility of upholding community honor and essentialised her as a helpless victim of a national dispute.
The State’s role as a ‘giver of values’ through drafting/implementation of legislation allows it to regulate gender identities and practices. The constitutional framework in South Asian countries is based upon the varying markers of a distinct national identity such as religion and language. The struggle of the Indian nation to define itself as a secular state in opposition to an Islamic Pakistan, is exemplified by the highly popular Shahbano case whose judgment served to claim “a society of equals between men and women”. The decision of the court for Shahbano to be provided maintenance by her former husband reflected its struggle to thwart the “injustice done to women in all religions” yet it was eclipsed by the larger concern of national integration. Shahbano’s rejection of the court’s decision in favor of Islamic Law goes to show her characterization as a “pawn” through which powerful masculine institutions such played their various games of honor and shame. The specific description of the ‘woman as wife’ in this case shows how states reaffirm the language which describes women in relation to a masculine subject.
The manner in which the State enacts and exercises various policies has a significant impact on the life of women. Structuring Pakistan as an Islamic Republic, with religion as the unifying principle of national identity, allowed the State to promote norms of behavior that controlled female apparel and conduct in the public sphere. Islamisation policies depicted women primarily as wives and mothers, removing them from the visible public sphere which became exclusively masculine. In contrast, Bangladesh came into existence on the basis of a separate Bengali identity and the mannerisms of the women were symbolic of a ‘cultural difference’ which gave them more freedom “to perform in public”. Although political analyst Naila Kabeer argues that while the secular stance taken by the Bengali State provided greater agency for women, she admits that such a policy became a “weapon for Zia’s political ambition.” The insistence of foreign benefactors such as the United Nations provoked Bangladesh to promote women’s welfare, as a result the “number of parliamentary seats reserved for women was doubled to 30” allowing women to actively participate in the political arena. However, there was a gap between “public declaration” and practice apparent in the “gross inadequacy of public sector funding for women’s programmes” (Kabeer 129) suggesting that the government was only using women to gain political capital. Strategies such as reserving seats for women pose a threat as they present a false notion of improved conditions for women, allowing the patriarchal state to exploit women for their own vested interests. Many of the Bangladeshi state’s projects targeted towards women’s rehabilitation have a preoccupation with female virtue reiterating the conservative societal expectations of women.
Legislation on the property rights of women has served as a signifier of the degree of agency and control granted to women within respective states. The opposition of most Congress leaders to the Hindu Code Bill, on the grounds that it subverted “the dependant position,” constructed women as the ‘other’ in the struggle for Indian nationalism. The Hindu Women’s Right to Property Act 1937 did not apply to agricultural land, excluding women from the capitalist economy and reinstating their position as financial dependants. In Nepal, women can only inherit as daughters if unmarried and over thirty five. In some cases, such as Pakistan, the state has taken corrective measures to remove ‘gender disabilities’ in inheritance laws. The position of women’s groups and stances of urban-educated women to demonstrate outside the assembly chambers, speak on public forums and access leadership positions, has largely contributed to the generally improved inheritance rights women enjoy today. The struggle of women’s groups against the laws mandated by the state present the latter as a phallocratic institution lacking female representation.
The emergence of the State as the most constitutive site of contestation for Indian feminists prevents it from being viewed as a neutral actor. The support of patriarchal and upper caste and majoritarian religious interests has allowed it to be constructed as an opponent to marginalized groups such as women. In contests against the state, especially in the case of Phoolan Devi, the bandit queen turned politician, the official discourse excluded gender issues of any significance. The governance of the State by a predominantly male hierarchy, allowed it to depict Phoolan Devi as a “hysterical woman” as opposed to a “successful female outlaw.” The terms of Phoolan Devi’s surrender signified the threat of embarrassment the Indian State faced on being unable to capture her. The paternalistic manner of their dealings symbolized the state’s view of women as unequal opponents, preventing women from subverting stereotypical gender roles.
With the changing global climate of increased public visibility and emancipation, The South Asian states are making efforts to open up different social arenas for women. However, women’s issues often appear as a facade that the state uses to promote its own political or economic agendas. The constitution of the state as a patriarchal protector allows it to regenerate normative ideas about femininity, placing women in traditional private spheres. Despite, the emergence of women in politics and new legislation that grants them greater agency, South Asian states largely operate within a patriarchal discourse that presents women as dependants of powerful masculine institutions.
The writer is a staff member of Pakistan Today and holds a degree from Mount Holyoke College.
Some innovative ideas to resolve the crisis
According to the USAID report on the ‘Causes and Impacts of Power Sector Circular Debt in Pakistan in 2008’, the circular debt was Rs161.21 billion that increased to Rs235.65 billion in 2009. Similarly, circular debt in 2010 increased to Rs365.66 billion and in 2011, this amount swelled to Rs 537.53 billion. During the current fiscal year circular debt increased to Rs872.41 billion.
The report revealed that poor revenue collection from the distribution companies in 2012 added Rs86.90 billion into the circular debt while another Rs72 billion was added due to poor recoveries by HESCO, PESCO, SESCO and QESCO. The USAID report further stated that Rs197 billion were outstanding by private consumers under electricity bills, which was the major reason of current circular debt.
The key to resolving the electricity shortfall issue is the gap in payments to thermal power producers for the purchase of fuel. This happens due to the ever widening gap in payment collection and payment for oil/fuel required. The government has been borrowing money mostly from the domestic sources to fill this gap through various forms. These loans are hurtful to the overall economy and not just the power sector in multiple ways, leading to scarcity of private credit/funds for overall industry to grow.
Loans either in form of direct loans or term certificates are to be paid back in-time along with profit and interest. To payback we need the payments from the final consumer, which are to be collected after consumption and then directed back to DISCOs and then the power producers; who eventually pay this amount to the fuel suppliers or the banks. The collected amounts are not sufficient to cater for payment of both, which eventually leads to power cuts and more borrowing. At the end of calendar year 2012 these loans had surged to almost four to five percent of the GDP.
The payment cycle of the power sector is burdened by the ‘alien’ sharing partner – the loan provider. On the other hand it is impossible to run the thermal power sector without further loans.
Solution: Borrow this money directly from the consumer by giving it incentives and electricity. This may not resolve the issue overnight but it will contribute to smoothening things out.
How can we do this: This can be done through selling advance electricity units to industry and private consumers at lower per unit price. There may be a possibility where purchase of advance units by public sector may also be allowed. As most government-based organizations get their funding in proportion to their share in annual budgets, it becomes irrelevant whether they pay for the year’s utilities at the start of the financial year or at the end. This will also discourage the collection losses incurred to power distribution companies.
Consumers from both the commercial and industrial sector as well as private sector are already spending this money on buying generators and fuel. If load-shedding could be brought down the funds used by individuals and businesses to cater for the high costs of running small domestic and commercial generators will automatically divert to purchase of future units.
Incentive for the high power consumer: The discount on per unit rate is to be based on saving of financial cost by the government and power producers. The schedule discount is correlated to the number of units purchased. Higher number for comparatively longer term unit purchases shall be given higher discount. Another incentive to attract commercial and industrial users is to allow the future units purchased completely deductible from the taxable income of the organization as reinvestment. The income tax payable through electricity bills may also be exempted against the forward purchase units. In this manner the private sector will be more interested in purchase of maximum number of future power units as a cost cutting and tax saving tool.
A detailed study on the comparative effects of the collection through forward purchase and current methodology will unveil the actual monetary gains of the process. However, the financial cost reduction is already evident which is paid by the consumer as well as the producers.
Growth Opportunities: The same model can be replicated for domestic and non-commercial users with a few exemptions of course. The government is already trying to cut down power losses and default in the collection, the forward purchase will also contribute in better collection of these losses. The same tool can also be used in better collection by applying conditional purchase of power units forecasted in developing/ licensing/approvals of new business/ industry/housing schemes etc. A detailed sector-based study is required to determine the exact window for application.
The purchased units can be made transferable through a secured mechanism. This will allow specific interest in purchase and resale of units. However, the resale has to be guarded by strong regulations restricting any artificial inflation.
Factors relating to future power production can be applied in reverse to determine the power sale prices of the advance/ future units. The foreign currency conversion forecast and future hedging too will have to be studied.
The industry can benefit by reduction in the cost of production and better power supply. This will encourage the private sector to invest more and strengthen the economy as well as reduce inflation.
The writer can be reached at: [email protected]
The state is looking the other way
The Awami National Party (ANP) campaign for the upcoming elections is going along the swaggering video statements and escalated bomb attacks by Taliban and nonchalant responses by the other political parties especially those who have been given clearance by the Taliban.
While I was penning these lines, another bomb attack has ripped a corner meeting at Peshawar, killing fifteen including five policemen and injuring ANP’s senior leader Ghulam Ahmad Bilour. The attack was followed by audacious statements by the ANP leadership with discontent over lack of security from the interim government and inevitable series of condemnations by the political leadership.
The complaints about lack of security were responded by Musarrat Qadeem, spokesperson of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, pointing towards the deaths of five policemen in the attack. Also after such incidents there is a repeated argument that suicide attacks cannot be averted. At the end there is an all-pervading sense of helplessness among those at the receiving end who have been left in the lurch with the state looking the other way.
A few months back, the news of a paradigm shift in the military’s approach towards existential threats were proclaimed by different circles. While there was hardly any new thing or fresh approach towards the forces held responsible for internal threats, the internal threat narrative was woven around militant factions having tacit support by the external forces. The new doctrine seems directed more towards the insurgency in Balochistan and the resistance groups fighting the state and less concerned towards the terrorism from ideologically driven religio-fanatics or anti-minorities organizations. At least the action or inaction towards the former and the latter bears witness to this.
The military offensives against Taliban in Malakand and FATA have not led to tapering off of their ability to commit violence except for short intervals of tranquility. The offensives against them were primarily focused over military goals of gaining control of the territories from where Taliban were operating and achievement was measured through the number of casualties inflicted on the militants (killing the foot soldiers and lower cadres mostly) and equipment destroyed or appropriated. But it failed to liquidate their organizational structure and network of terror utilized by them for recruiting, funding, gathering information and planning to attack various targets.
The TTP sought to seize territories to create space for them, replaced the eroded administrative structures with one of their own based on coercive measures and facilitated training grounds to those recruited through their vast network of sister Jihadi groups across the country. After military offensives against them, they lost absolute hold of some territories but still possess the ability to disrupt military or civilian control of larger territories with acts of terror and organized assaults. They commit deliberate violence against civilians in order to obtain religious and ideological objectives. Thus achievement against them should have been measured in terms of acquiring more secure atmosphere for the civilians and preventing economic fallout of these offensives. When measured in these unconventional ways, these offensives did not deliver.
One may object that military liability is to deal with the violent aspects of terrorism only; responsibility to deal with other facets of the dilemma lies with other organs of the state and society as well. But, the problem with a military dominated state of Pakistan is, the whole narrative against terrorism revolves around its perceived geostrategic goals. During the last one year, it has been proven time and again that most of the political parties and religio-political pressure groups have echoed security establishment’s stance needed at the domestic and international level.
It is not needed to go into more detail but a few instances can put some light on this assumption. The Kerry-Lugar bill, the debate post Osama bin Laden fiasco, unilateral calls for “giving peace a chance”, the outrage over Salala attacks, blocking and allowing NATO supplies, parliamentary resolutions, the religious decree against terror attacks ‘exclusively’ in Pakistani territory and response to the Memogate scandal by the largest opposition party, personal interest of its leader Mian Nawaz Sharif, the matter dealt by superior courts and the media role in all these issues are few instances where various organs of the state and political players have sought to attune with the military establishment and harmonized with their positions on different occasions.
With an eye on the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the days of confrontation with Pakistani Taliban seems to be over. Reconciliation is the new mantra to mend ties with the Taliban to get them as backup forces for the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan is advocating a reasonable share for the Afghan Taliban in the upcoming political settlement. The political owners to the anti-Taliban; anti-militancy bids have lost their significance. Security establishment makes or breaks alliances with different political parties and religio-political pressure groups regarding their short term and long term priorities and objectives. It adopts or abandons allies – embracing them at a particular time and ditching them when not needed.
Ali Arqam is a journalist based in Karachi, he can be contacted [email protected] or interacted on twitter @aliarqam
All manner of terrorists, ruffians, thieves, murderers, pillagers and assorted psychopaths are celebrating election season. You should too
Thanks to the march of democracy upon Pakistan, we have been blessed with two consecutive parliaments that have completed their tenures. One of them was a dictator’s parliament and is hence ineligible for any sorts of records, while the other marked the successful return to “proper democracy” that was envisioned by our sage political leaders. But is the current political process truly democratic? The answer, unfortunately, is that the best revenge need not be truly democratic. Just democratic enough to tick all the relevant boxes!
Face it. Over the past two decades, only one of two major political parties has held power: the conglomerated acronyms of the Pakistan People’s Party and the various karmic incarnations of the Pakistan Muslim League. This is not to say that they are the only two parties worth voting for in the country, nor is it a reflection on the quality of their “leadership”. It just means that they have the most effective electioneering infrastructure and they were the most broad-based of the available crop.
To be honest, I have nothing against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Imran. Right before the 2002 elections, I remember a PTV crew approached me and a few friends and asked us who we would vote for. Without missing a beat, I remember saying, “Imran Khan, of course”. Today, I look back on that naïve remark and wonder, why not?
Truth be told, I will never really forgive the PTI for boycotting the 2008 general elections, because then, that uber-annoying slogan that all PTI-wallahs stuff down your throats today would’ve been off the table. I am, of course, referring to the, “Give us a chance, we’re still untested and untainted” mantra. It would’ve been far better for democracy had Imran and his allies jumped into the fray on the 18th of February, 2008 and hoped for the best. That they chose to boycott and deprived their (potential) voters of the chance to vote for a “real” third option is a slight I will not soon forget.
The democratic process, contrary to popular belief, is far more important than democracy itself. Grass-roots representation is the key to ensuring a level political playing-field for all segments of society. As it stands, the current polls seem to be yielding more of the same: sundry electables are being awarded tickets on all sides and the promised “change” is nowhere in sight. Yes, sure, the PTI will point to its youth leaders and the PML-N will point to its sidelining of stalwarts such as Ayaz Amir in the favour of “fresh blood”, but the truth is, this is just more of the same.
The greatest political tragedy of our country is that the democratic process was never allowed to continue, democracy was not allowed to nurture leaders. Today, politics is a kin-based and bankrolled affair. The independents, by and large, do not stand a chance. Opportunists such as Shah Mehmood Qureshi and others who seek to caucus with the winning party post-polling, rather than contest on one predetermined platform, are doing exactly what I would’ve thought they would. The 18th Amendment was a masterstroke of exclusionary politics and the anti-horse trading stipulation will sideline and expose the selfish streak in many-a politician. Our people, however, fail to see through the façade.
Anecdotally, I have heard from many observers that those who have no sustained access to media, mainstream, social or otherwise, are far more informed in their political decisions. I would have to agree. Politics is a constituency-to-constituency game. There is no such thing as national politics, except maybe at the center. Of course, you need leaders with a national vision to run the country, but the process they must follow to rise to the top must be one that is entrenched in – not divorced from – local politics at the grass-roots. The man at the constituency level understands this; the social media pundit from Islamabad is still struggling with the concept.
All manner of terrorists, ruffians, thieves, murderers, pillagers and assorted psychopaths are celebrating election season. You should too. Not because you have a death wish, but because you don’t. Stay home for fear of death and you’ll rue your life for the next five years. You may end up ruing it anyway, but at least if you vote – and that too for a candidate of your choosing, you’ll be able to sleep better at night. The objective of all detractors, no matter what their methods, is to stall, delay or guillotine the electoral process. The more they attack, the more their desperation shows. The only way to defeat them is to stand up to them. We cannot cower at home while these scumbags run amok. The show must go on.
Come election day, every stained thumb is as good as a beaten and bruised terrorist. Remember that.
The writer is a journalist-turned-development consultant. For more incoherence in 140-characters or less, follow @mightyobvious_
A violent act again in a violent nation
I ran the Boston Marathon back in 1968, and, my feet covered with blisters inside my Keds sneakers, dragged across the finish line to meet my waiting uncle at a time of about 3 hours and 40 minutes. It was close enough to the time that the current bombing happened in this year’s race — about four hours from the starting gun — that had I been running it this year, I might still been near enough to the finish line to have heard the blasts.
That really brings home to me the horror of what just happened.
At the same time, I’m reminded that back when I ran my Boston Marathon, which was only weeks after the Viet Cong’s bloody Tet Offensive, we didn’t give a thought to the idea of the Viet Cong bringing their war home to America. Now you have to at least wonder whether this bombing might in some way have been linked to America’s various wars abroad.
We don’t at this point have a clue who was behind this atrocity, but whether it was some foreign terrorist organization, a contingent of Taliban fighters seeking to bring the Afghan War to the US, or a domestic right-wing group protesting abortion, the income tax or the country’s “Kenyan” president, it should be a wake-up call to the nation that our violent national culture and our imperial pretensions will eventually reap us a whirlwind.
A country that goes around blowing up children in Afghanistan by the score, as happened last week in Kundar Province, Afghanistan, that claims for itself the right to kill anyone, anywhere, if the president or his designees in the Pentagon and the CIA decide that person is a threat or an annoyance (and that is willing to kill lots of innocent bystanders, including women and kids, to do it), a country that encourages its police to act like an occupying military force in their jurisdictions, breaking into homes in SWAT gear at dawn, pointing assault rifles in people’s faces, arresting people on trumped-up charges, such a country and its people at some point must realize that such behavior invites a violent response.
This time, it was apparently crudely made IEDs that killed three and tore the limbs from other people innocently participating in or watching a road race. Note, though, that we had never even heard of IEDs until Bush’s and Cheney’s criminal invasion of Iraq. Next time, it could just as easily be a home-made remotely piloted drone aircraft carrying a load of TNT or some other deadly explosive.
The point is you reap what you sow. Violence begets violence.
So America, the most violent country in the world today, lurches from one act of mayhem to another. It really matters little whether the slaughter is caused by a wack-job armed with a few high-capacity-clip automatic pistols or a foreign or domestic terrorist armed with a couple of crude IEDs. The victims are just as dead or maimed either way.
We cannot hope to escape this kind of thing if we go on as we are going.
If the government responds to this latest tragedy by doubling down on its domestic spying campaign, by enhancing police powers, by stepping up its deadly global drone war, and by invading or meddling in more countries abroad, we can expect more and more violent attacks aimed at killing Americans here at home.
I’m especially contemplating the danger of blowback because we learned here in Philadelphia only two weeks ago that the Pentagon has decided to set up a drone piloting base just two miles from my house on the site of the mothballed Willow Grove Naval Air Station. None of the local pols who were effusively praising the announcement, hailing it as a job-creating phenomenon, gave a thought to the reality that this was bringing the front line of the Afghan War to the suburbs of Philly, and that besides putting a bunch of killers in uniform in our midst, it was putting a big bull’s eye right in a suburb full of civilians. (See my article about this in the latest issue of CounterPunch’s new monthly magazine.)
Clearly we need a new approach — one that relies on fostering international peace and cooperation, and that here at home seeks to rekindle some sense of community, and of reverence for the rights and freedoms that many people have died for, but which have over last two decades been whittled away until they are vestigial or barely recognizable.
Maybe too, we Americans could look at the latest carnage in Boston and recognize it as the very thing that our military has been engaged in doing in our name in places like Iraq and Afghanistan — right down to the deliberate and sick timing of a second bomb to blow up people who are coming to the aid of victims of the first bomb, which is the wretched MO of the US bombing and drone strike campaigns along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border.
I’m disgusted by the attack on the Boston Marathon, and whoever did it is truly twisted, but no less twisted are the Pentagon officers and who planned the attack that killed those 10 children in Kundar, or the president who ordered the leveling of the Iraqi city of Fallujah. We Americans are far too selective in our sense of horror and outrage.
It all makes me sick. I’m going out for a run.
Dave Lindorff is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.
Militants threaten peaceful, orderly hustings
Balochistan has 14 general seats in the National Assembly and 51 general seats in the Provincial Assembly. There are additional seats reserved for women and non-Muslims. They can contest for general seats as well. Much interest is being shown in the elections in Balochistan. The caretaker prime minister, who hails from Balochistan, visited Quetta to assure the political parties of peaceful and fair general election with additional security during the election period. The Army Chief also visited Quetta to underline the Army’s interest in peaceful and orderly election.
The politics in Balochistan is fragmented because of diversified competing interests. These include province-based political parties and their factions, nationwide political parties, religious parties and sectarian groups, and powerful tribal chiefs and other influential people. The active role of the federal government and especially the security and intelligence apparatus also influence the political process in Balochistan.
Three province-based political parties had boycotted the February 2008 general elections. These were Balochistan National Party-Mengal Group (BNP-M) led by Sardar Akhtar Mengal, the National Party (NP) led by Dr Abdul Hayee Baloch (it took part in the March 2009 Senate elections), and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party led by Mahmood Khan Achakzai.
These political parties are taking part in the May 2013 elections. Other province-based political parties taking part in the elections are BNP (Awami), Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam Fazlur Rahman (JUI-F), and JUI-Ideological. Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP) faced internal rift after the death of its leader Akbar Khan Bugti in August 2006. It is has gone in three directions: JWP-Talal Bugti group (quite active), JWP-Aali Bugti (nominally active) and JWP-Baramadagh Bugti. The last of the three JWP groups functions as a separatist party from abroad under the title of Baloch Republican Party.
The nationwide parties active in Balochistan include the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Sharif (PML-N), the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-i-Azam (PML-Q) , the Awami National Party (ANP) and Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI). All of them are putting up candidates and some of them are seeking seat adjustments with the political parties of their choice. This strategy does not appear to be working in Balochistan in any significant manner. These parties will be contesting elections against each other. Some independent candidates are also contesting.
The biggest challenge to elections in Balochistan is disorder and violence that has become endemic. The separatist groups based outside of Pakistan resort to violence from time to time and they have threatened to disrupt the elections. Their activists are expected to resort to armed attacks on the candidates and leaders of the parties contesting the election. Religious-sectarian and ethnic violence also exists in Balochistan. The political parties, especially the BNP-M and the NP are raising the issue of the missing persons. A good number of them have been traced and returned but still the issue is not fully resolved. There is a difference on the number of missing persons as given by the political groups and the official circles. The political circles place the main blame on the state intelligence agencies, especially the ISI, for disappearance of people. The BNP-M also raises the issue of discovery of dead bodies in various parts of Balochistan and holds the ISI or what it describes as the gangs of tough people that enjoyed the blessings of the intelligence establishment.
The official circles deny any involvement in kidnapping of people but this does not change the views of the political circles in Balochistan who continue to take a strong exception to the conduct of security and intelligence agencies in Balochistan. The echo of these sentiments can be heard repeatedly in the election campaign. The political parties and leaders are also talking about socio-economic development issues in their constituencies, jobs, how to ensure good governance and the relationship between the federal government and the province in administrative and financial domains. Some parties are also touching on the benefits of major development projects to the people of the province.
Violence or threat thereof is adversely affecting election campaign in Kbyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Karachi which are experiencing target killings and terrorist attacks almost on daily basis. The security agencies are now taking action against criminals and others engaged in violence in Karachi but they have to keep such a pressure on them so as to ensure relatively peaceful elections.
The Tehrik-i-Taliban-i-Pakistan (TTP) has declared the elections to be un-Islamic and threatened to use violence against the PPP, the ANP and the MQM. The defiant posture of the TTP has an impact on electioneering in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and some districts adjoining these areas. Even in the province of Kbyber Pakhtunkhwa, the ANP and the PPP are curtailed in their political activities due to the Taliban threat. The ANP has lost more activists in terrorist attacks than any other political party over the last two years.
The Qaumi Watan Party of Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherapo (limited to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) also faces the threat of the TTP. He survived two attacks in the past. Asfandyar Wali Khan, the chief of the ANP, also survived a suicide attack in the past. Extra-ordinary caution is being used for Bilawal Bhutto, the leader of the PPP. His is not expected to make frequent public appearances.
In the Tribal areas, the candidates are contesting independently or are linked with Islamic parties. The Taliban policy towards the elections is helping the JUI-F and the Jamaat-i-Islami. Many political activists belonging to the ANP and the PPP in some districts adjoining North and South Waziristan have joined the JUI-F for security reasons. No candidate in the tribal areas can afford to alienate the local militants and the TTP.
In Karachi, the ANP is finding itself under pressure from the TTP. The MQM candidates face the TTP threat in urban Sindh. The first death of a candidate took place in Hyderabad on April 11 when an MQM contestant was killed by the TTP. The exclusively election related violence included bombing of a candidate’s election office in Miramshah, North Waziristan, a bomb defused outside a JUIF candidate office in Swabi (KP), two bomb attacks on the ANP candidates on April 14, injuring one in Charsadda (KP) and killing one in Swat.
The armed groups and criminals want to disrupt the election process, at least in some areas. If some major terrorist incident takes place or some top leader is assassinated close to the voting date, it will be difficult to hold elections on May 11.
The writer is an independent political and defence analyst.
The deepest wounds in politics are self-inflicted
At long last we have an Indian Marie Antoinette. The Bourbon queen before the French Revolution of 1789 began to dislocate royal heads from their shoulders, imperiously asked citizens hungry for common bread to eat cake instead. Ajit Pawar’s recipe for Maharashtra’s farmers suffering from the worst drought in decades is not quite as delicious, but it has already earned pride of place in the political thesaurus of memorable insults. There is nothing like bodily fluids to stoke conversation in a thirsty teashop.
Ajit Pawar is no fool; far from it. Why would he taunt stricken farmers who have loyally voted for his party with an analogy one would be loath to suggest in the privacy of a drawing room? No one in his senses tells a public rally, not to mention subsequent multitudes on media that he can do little about falling water levels in dams since peeing into them won’t help.
This sort of intemperate outburst speaks of some deep frustration. What made Ajit Pawar stupid on such an epic scale? As he pointed out, rationally, he could not be blamed for dry skies; he is merely deputy chief minister of Maharashtra, not deputy chief god of Heaven. The reason for this rant lies elsewhere: guilt.
Over the last decade, Ajit Pawar has ripped through a cumulative fund of Rs70,000 crore – yes, you read the figure right – meant for irrigation projects designed to protect the state’s farmers from such vagaries of nature as drought. Much of this money disappeared in the usual dark hole through which cash is siphoned off: project cost escalation. The water saved through the dams that were built did not reach farmers. It was diverted to industries.
This manipulation became news when Pawar’s own Chief Minister Prithviraj Chauhan asked a simple question: what happened? Those with fewer constraints than the CM accused Pawar of corruption. Ajit Pawar sulked and resigned from government. There was a brief media and political flurry, which soon evaporated. Coalition compulsions, the contemporary justification for fiscal appeasement, enabled Ajit Pawar to return to his old office. Story over.
Or not quite. You never know when anxiety, lurking in some shadow of the subconscious, is going to leap up and distort your tongue. The deepest wounds in politics are self-inflicted. When Pawar addressed that rally, he must have seen votes being lost on the face of his audience. Then he lost it.
The pundits of Mumbai are already doing long division on their calculators to assess the political cost of Ajit Pawar’s urine therapy. One measure of the damage can be gauged from the flurry of apologies. Ajit Pawar did not actually hold his ears, put on a dunce cap and stand in the corner, but he did ruefully admit that this was the biggest blunder of his career. Contrition rarely compensates fully for injury; Pawar’s impulsive snarl was thought, regret was very much an afterthought. His dilemma is compounded by the fact that the shadow of this drought falls across party strongholds. Almost 75 percent of uncle and patriarch Sharad Pawar’s constituency, Madha, is affected and there is already talk of destitution suicides. Insensitivity in times of distress is not easily erased from voter memory.
The conventional analysis was, till recently, that even if Congress suffered because of rising prices and corruption in the next general election, Sharad Pawar would minimise his own accountability by some nimble footwork. That certainty has been punctured. It is not beyond repair, but Pawar will require a very long needle and some strong yarn to stitch this one back into shape.
Sharad Pawar does not slip easily in Maharashtra. He has worked hard in his state and been astute in Delhi politics, sliding alongside BJP when Atal Behari Vajpayee was prime minister and standing solidly by Dr Manmohan Singh when fortunes shifted. Parties come and go; Sharad Pawar stays in power forever, thanks to his fine nose, which can smell the wind from afar. But when you have been too long in office you can miss something far closer, the straw piling up, strand by strand, on the camel’s back. An insult can so easily become the last straw.
The French Revolution, like any historic occurrence, offers more than one instructive anecdote. Marie Antoinette’s husband, Louis XVI, who lost his mind long before he lost his head to the guillotine, heard the mobs in July 1789, when Paris stormed the Bastille prison, and asked his courtier Francois Alexander Frederic, duke of Liancourt and grandmaster of the wardrobe, “So what is it? A riot?” The duke replied, doubtless in silken tones, “No sire, it is a revolution.” But Louis’ diary entry for July 14, the day Paris changed the world, consisted of just one word: “Nothing.” The heights of power are not always the best perch for a cool look when anger is sweeping past your door.
The writer is a senior Indian journalist.
And it is not anti-Muslim animus
American public opinion has soured on Egypt, with one-half of all American voters now holding an unfavourable view of that country and its leadership. This was not always the case.
My brother John Zogby and I have been measuring American attitudes toward the Arab World for two decades. For much of that time, Egypt had the highest ratings of any country in the region. In fact, in most years from 1993 until 2010 around 60 per cent of Americans rated Egypt positively. However, in our most recent poll, conducted in March of 2013, only 36 per cent of Americans report having a favourable rating of Egypt, while 48 per cent have an unfavourable view.
This dramatic shift in US opinion is a function of two main factors: concern about the role being played by the Muslim Brotherhood and the American public’s general lack of awareness about Egypt’s contemporary history.
While modern Egypt has been known in the Arab World for its cinema, its comedy and music, and its political and intellectual leadership, the image of the country was never established in the United States. As a result, positive attitudes were “soft” and/or derivative of other factors. Back when Egypt’s ratings were high, in response to the open-ended question “what is the first thought that comes to mind when you hear Egypt?” the overwhelming majority of answers recalled the “pyramids”, “the Sphinx”, and the other “glories of ancient Egypt”. There were also respondents who mentioned the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and the Camp David Accords.
In the early months of the Arab Spring the images of peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators called to mind for many Americans their own civil rights movement or Eastern Europe’s fall of the “Iron Curtain”. After an initial drop in ratings in early 2011, by mid-2011 Egypt’s favourable ratings were back up to 60 per cent. That support has since evaporated. But in the March 2013 poll when we asked for respondent’s “first thought when they hear Egypt”, “pyramids” was still the most frequently mentioned term, now followed closely by “trouble”, “unrest” and the “Muslim Brotherhood”.
In January of 2012, we asked Americans whether or not they were hopeful that the Arab Spring would bring about positive change. By more than two to one they answered in the affirmative. But in the tumultuous year and a half that has followed, Americans have lost that hope. Today, the number of American voters who say they are disappointed with “how the Arab Spring has played out in Egypt” is three times greater than those who say they are still hopeful that positive change will come.
As much as “soft” attitudes are to blame, concern with the Muslim Brotherhood is also a factor in the new negative opinion toward Egypt. Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, is only viewed favourably by 14 per cent of Americans, while over one half have an unfavourable view of Morsi. And by almost three to one Americans rate former President Hosni Mubarak as having been more of a friend and ally of the US than Morsi, the current president.
It is important to note that it is not anti-Muslim animus that drives these numbers, since strong negative views of the Muslim Brotherhood and President Morsi exist even among those Americans who hold a favourable view of Muslims.
There are consequences that result from this change in attitudes. Many Americans now question whether or not the US government can work with a Muslim Brotherhood-led Egypt. They also question whether the U.S. should provide military and civilian aid to Egypt. A majority of Americans also say they worry about the Muslim Brotherhood taking over in other countries, and say that they support actions by other Arab governments to “limit the activity of Muslim Brotherhood branches operating in their countries”.
Another by-product of this negative turn and the general disappointment with the trajectory of the “Arab Spring” has been the public’s embrace of an interesting combination of principles they feel should guide American foreign policy.
For example, when asked whether the US “should support governments, whether they are elected or not, if they work closely with us to promote regional stability and protect our interests” or whether we “should only support democratically elected governments, even if those governments might pursue policies that are hostile to our interests”, by a wide margin of 72 per cent to 17 per cent American voters chose the first approach.
And when asked to choose between providing support “for any government that is democratically elected, even if it is pursuing policies that compromise the rights of minorities in their countries” or “as a condition for US support, we should require that any government, whether it has been elected or not, protect the rights of all their citizens”, by an 85 per cent to 10 per cent margin voters chose the second approach.
Two years ago, I compared Egypt to Broadway, noting that it didn’t matter so much how events played out on other stages across the Arab World because the world would judge the Arab Spring by how it played out in Egypt. We are now two and one-half years into the Arab Spring and the “blush is off the rose”. American’s are disappointed, attitudes toward Egypt have soured, and the public has adopted a less romantic, more “realist” approach to our relations across the Arab World.
The writer is president of Arab American Institute.
In the land of political feudalism
Islamabad boasts its own dynamics. You can be amongst the whirl, whoop, gloom and frenzy of the entire country and suddenly two days in Islamabad and a kind of surreal disconnect descends upon one. This still happens, although Islamabad is no longer ‘five kilometres outside Pakistan’ as was often quoted a decade ago.
For one, in Karachi and elsewhere that I’ve recently been there is this huge clamour of ‘change’ that dominates conversations. Well, here, it’s the opposite. Change, it’s exclaimed, what are you talking about. You stutter and haw while presenting ‘evidence’ that you’ve gathered and conclude emphatically that it’s round the corner. Sorry to disappoint you comes the response; that’s just idealistic stupor. Wham! You come crashing down as what is termed ‘real evidence’ is rolled out in support.
Supposing you had a neighbour for twenty-five years and suddenly they decide to move due to difficulties and the people buying from them are someone deadly opposed to you would you not work at evolving something that could maintain the status quo. Mind you, you’ve had your difficulties. Your dogs have jumped the fence and played hell with their garden. Their servants have slapped yours and vice versa. And most of all you’ve intrigued fiercely against each other. But despite all that, you’ve come to develop a kind of benign camaraderie and are certainly better off together than a nasty new neighbour could ever be.
That’s the case with Zardari and Nawaz. They have been in the same political bed for the last two and a half decades, and fought intensive battles. Why should they be foolish enough to let in a third player while they have the option not to.
They’ve worked together the last five years, creating history in the first parliament to complete its term. No one has been harassed or jailed or threatened. They’ve operated within their respective domains virtually unchallenged. So when push comes to shove why would they make room; it’s pure common sense.
Ok, let’s see who are the happiest folks in the country right now. First would be Gen Kayani. He can do and does whatever he pleases totally unchallenged. He can have his way, though his role in giving full sway to democracy must be admired. Next would be the extended Sharif family. They hold the reins of the richest and most populated province, again virtually unchallenged. Third would be President Zardari, controlling Sindh and the Federation again, no real challenges. What’s a stutter every now and then?
Next comes Altaf Bhai; again unadulterated and unchallenged power. You can go on; adding the Chaudhrys and almost everyone in politics as virtually every party currently enjoys some aspect of political power. Are you going to tell me that these forces will just walk away and allow ‘change’ in? Not unless there is a really major cockup on the part of the key players.
Let us not undermine that the main political parties have a series of elections under their belt, and they know the hows, whys and wherefores on their fingertips. The PPP have been at electioneering since 1971, not to forget ZAB’s significant role in the 1962 elections, and he was in government for four years before that. The Sharifs since 1988; Nawaz in office since 1978, meaning thirty-five years! This is a colossal combined ninety years in office! A rude awakening perhaps, but a reality nevertheless. Pakistani politics has thus been dominated since 1958, of course other than Martial Law.
We talk of ridding the system of feudalism, especially in the three minority provinces, but what we have ignored completely is ‘political feudalism’ which dominates the entire country. If it’s feudalism in Sindh, its biradari in the Punjab and tribal domination in the other two provinces. In the years referred to in the preceding paragraph, three generations and more of certain politically feudal families, Sharifs excluded, have been empowered and consider it their God-given entitlement. Leaders are prone to playing God, never more obvious than while seated in those obsolete, atrocious, opulent golden thrones that are meant to define the difference between them and their subjects playing chorus either seated ‘farshi’ or standing, the fortunate being provided plastic ‘kursis’.
The only time this political feudalism was challenged was in the 1970 elections, historically adjudged as being the fairest of all. If change is to come then that is the only way it will. Look at all the photographs and films of the time, when the roti, kapra, makaan slogan was at its peak there were no golden thrones, there were no Land Cruisers; opulence was non-existent, there was no security, the people felt as ‘one’ with their leader. His message was different; his manifesto was inclusive. He was the deliverer. That it deviated is a different matter. Pakistan is in dire need of another; political feudalism must be shown the door.
Instead, we are strengthening it. For a while one thought that Imran’s PTI would be different. It’s not, in so far as it’s ‘Imran’s PTI’ just as it is PML-N is Nawaz’s or the PPP’s direct link to the Bhutto family proxy AZ. A dispassionate review will reveal no real difference in the eventual wish list of the contesting parties with power being the sole objective. The jargon touted has been heard for decades. So what chance of ‘change’?
For a while the ECP held out some hope. Bad eggs were momentarily weeded out and the inclusion of a column allowing for recording abstention was to be included in the ballot paper. All that has vanished leaving a feeling of despair. That all of that was just sabre rattling or dhundora peetna with no real intentions of actually implementing any of it. It will not be farfetched to believe that in certain instances the negative vote would have been the majority of votes cast.
Let us look at this for a moment. Have those candidates whose appeals have been accepted had judgements overturned for good or will the cases continue and the candidates hauled up even after being elected, if a higher court decides to uphold the judgement handed down initially? In which instance should a court or the ECP not rule that the election of said candidate would be held in abeyance and he/she would not be sworn in until such time as they are fully exonerated? This would be just and fair. Is suo motu intervention possible?
We can criticize the way political parties are run, the mode of governance et al but let us not forget that we as a people can play a great role and eventually ‘change’ is possible only if we empower and authorize it. If we continue to be lemmings, without a philosophy or an ideology reacting hysterically but subjugating ourselves to whatever is happening, no leader on this planet can bring us the deliverance we seek. The people need to galvanize their prowess, I don’t mean just physical prowess, but all the acumen at their command, compelling would-be leaders to accept the fact that they are no longer lemmings, that the leadership will be challenged and repeatedly. Until such time as the people are disciplined, productive and rational, they cannot prevail and the grass will definitely not turn green.
The writer can be contacted at: [email protected]
The challenge of the elections
Notwithstanding the prophecies and misconceived notions of the cynics that nothing will ever change in this land of the pure, the saner elements within the society and the bulk of the intelligentsia is of the considered view that the process of change for the better has already been prodded by the ever vigilant media despite its sporadic indiscretions and propensity to go into an overdrive in violation of the professional codes of conduct and internationally recognised media ethics.
One also feels that the freedom of expression and independent media is the best thing that has ever happened in this country. The culture of accountability and public scrutiny introduced by the media has certainly shaken and dismantled the foundations of the archaic and moth-eaten edifice of politics of graft and entitlement. It is no more possible for the practitioners of traditional politics and the old guard to keep things under wraps and continue indulging in their traditional pursuits with impunity.
In fact the independent media and proactive judiciary represent a formidable combination in the fight against corruption, changing the traditional approaches to politics and setting in motion a culture of day to day accountability. The media unraveling and spotlighting the illegality of the actions of the executive and the reckless corruption in the government organizations and SC making sure that no reported case of corruption and unconstitutional and illegal indiscretions goes unnoticed. Is it not a marked departure from the past and a change that the hapless masses have yearned ever since the inception of Pakistan? It certainly is. It arguably is a sequel to the awareness created by the media that hitherto silent majority has been shaken out of its slumber and is poised to challenge those who have taken this country for a ride over sixty five years of its existence.
It is no more possible for any government or government functionary to escape from the vigilant glare of the media and society for any indiscretion committed by them. The latest example of the role that media is playing in checking this phenomenon is the hype created over the statement of the care-taker interior minister in favour of Nawaz Sharif which led to ECP taking notice of it and writing to the prime minister about the matter. The prime minister took immediate notice of the matter, called the interior minister to explain his conduct and aptly reminded him that the role of the caretaker setup was to create a congenial atmosphere for the ECP to hold free and credible elections and not to indulge in any activity which could create an impression of partiality.
In the wake of the protests by the political parties and defined role of the caretaker setup that action was desirable. One does not know what prompted the interior minister in saying what he did, but I do know for certain that the man did not do it on purpose. Probably he lacks the skills and dexterity of choosing the right words and expressions to put across his views. He has the reputation of an honest and upright police officer and has served in Balochistan for long. He is the right choice as interior minister as he knows the intricacies relating to law and order and security. It is hoped that he will be more discreet in future and concentrate more on the role that he has been entrusted with.
The ensuing elections will not only test the ability and commitment of the ECP to hold free and fair elections but will also be a great challenge for the law enforcing agencies and security outfits in providing a secure environment to the voters to cast their vote and also protecting the political leaders who have security threats from the Taliban and other detractors of democracy, particularly the leaders of MQM, PPP and ANP against whom the former have vowed to act. The incidents of terrorism and target killing of politicians has already started happening and the Taliban have accepted responsibility of carrying out those killings. As the elections draw near, the intensity and frequency of these incidents is likely to increase. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan are the most vulnerable provinces due to the prevailing circumstances where more and strict vigilance will be required.
The credibility of elections will depend on the ability of the caretaker setup in assisting the ECP to hold elections in a fear-free environment that tempts the voters to go to the polling stations to exercise their right of franchise.
The coming elections are significant from more than one aspect, and are billed as a turning point in the history of the country which will determine the future shape of the political landscape and integrity of the country. In the context of process of reconciliation in Balochistan they are perhaps the last opportunity to create conditions for resolving the issues that forced the people to take to the mountains to mount an insurgency. Sardar Akhtar Mengal, the chief of BNP has already returned and announced the participation of his party in the elections. He has also advised the Baloch insurgents to come down from the mountains saying that guns would not resolve any issue.
This change of heart by Mengal is a very positive development. However, he has also expressed some reservations about the sincerity and ability of the authorities to hold free and fair elections and demanded cessation of kidnappings and killings of the Baloch youth to make the election process credible. That indeed is a colossal challenge for the caretaker government, especially the interior minister who is well conversant with the situation in Balochistan.
The writer is an academic.
There’s a long chain of factors that creates such characters
Take the not so humble patwari for example, he who makes strong men wilt like lettuce. Why does this happen?
A patwari (with relevant exceptions) is a dangerous combination of a (very) low paid government official who provides an indispensable service. He is indispensable because he evaluates land for ownership, possession, value, etc, all information necessary for land allocation and tax collection. His time spent in the field surveying and calculating and the ancillary drudgery of photocopying, obtaining documents and records is a time consuming and expensive process, and it is performed by this individual who is officially paid a pittance. This naturally places a patwari in the best position for becoming a necessary evil... an extremely powerful necessary evil.
To get his job done, he has to grease palms at every level, and he with such a meagre salary. Imagine the temptation, and review the opportunities. Why (and how) should he pay for this? So of course, he doesn’t. He makes you pay instead, you, his client, over and under the table. By such means some patwaris manage to employ several persons to help them in their work. Since this is all unofficial, he charges at will, and boundaries are demarcated in favour of the highest bidder. Corruption? You bet.
But is this the patwari’s fault, or the fault of higher officials who never bothered to improve the system, simply because their own capacity to place the highest bid was assured?
Who is unSadiq and unAmeen in that case, and who should be penalised if a patwari is nominated for election, and is pronounced corrupt? Who should be disqualified, the patwari or his bosses higher up the food chain?
It is the same in other instances, such as the un-loveable ‘thanedar’ (once again, with relevant exceptions), an official who is as not provided with the essential expenses for his job and office as the patwari, yet is expected to detain suspects, and the police is expected to patrol the streets; but detainees have to be fed, and patrol vehicles fuelled, and the officials find it hard to subsist on their slender income anyway. The cost of living, remember, is spiralling out of control in Pakistan. So who eventually pays? Guess.
The list goes on to include every kind of wrong in a society brought to its knees morally and financially by a rich and powerful segment of society that does not discharge its dues, both moral and financial. Out goes the education, the healthcare and every other social programme and in comes the desperation and corruption. As before, the trail can be followed right into those air conditioned offices to the fat officials in waistcoats arriving at work in black Pajeros and Land Cruisers around midday.
The interesting question is why these officials never attempted to remove the ridiculous Section 62 and 63 of the constitution while they could. It was probably because: 1) a factor more threatening than loss of office was involved: a loss of life. Any person questioning something with religious overtones as per certain persons’ perception is liable to be killed or charged with blasphemy. Since these Sections contain the words ‘Sadiq’ and ‘Ameen,’ they come under the umbrella of religion in the opinion of those who hasten to cover their heads if the Dalda advertisement is aired in Arabic.
The religious fanatics, in short, are the ones who possess the actual clout in this country. 2) Powerful officials do not feel threatened in any case, used as they are to doing as they wish, whilst allowing others to take the rap. With no accountability and little justice, the butler is always held guilty of the crime, so why make waves? Let all funny clauses remain. 3) They genuinely believe, these guys, just as Musharraf touchingly did (and probably still does) in a fan base that turns out to be a lot leaner than they imagined. That every powerful official loses his teeth as soon as he loses office is lost on such deluded persons. 4) Some people genuinely think that Sadiqs and Ameens can be identified (and clearly labelled with an ‘S’ and an ‘A’) here, in these conditions, by such tribunals, by means of such rules. Here let me own up to finding myself in agreement with our ex Home Minister Mr Malik for the first time in my life, when he said that there is no politician who would fit the requirements laid out in Sections 62 and 63 in this country. But, it is, as Conan O’Brien said, ‘When all else fails, there’s always delusion,’ and there’s plenty of that going around.
I have said it before and I’ll say it again. Conspiracy theorists, take a hike: if there is one single thing that determines the content of television, it is the class that is producing it and the class advertisers intend to see it: the urban middle-class.
This places an immense pressure, whether they are in government or opposition, on centre-left parties like the ANP and the PPP, who attempt to appeal to the working classes. At the moment, the vexed reader, reading this off a paper or a screen in a large urban centre, might say that the reason for hostile reception on TV is that the performance of these parties left much to be desired. True, but even if they had fabulously talented key executives, these parties still wouldn’t have quite cut it on TV. Because their concept of development is distributed and directed towards a particular class. It won’t be a motorway-like shiny toy that gets good press; it would be a subsidy or income support or investment in a power project whose maturation horizon would extend beyond the term of the government itself. None of these things can be captured on film.
Nowhere is this state of affairs more visible than on shows that have a live audience. Since it does not make sense for producers to run around getting representative samples of the public at large, they just let anyone in from the city (Lahore, Karachi or Islamabad) where the studio is based. For youth programmes, they sometimes ask the students of a local college to come in droves to fill the seats up.
Dunya News’ Kamran Shahid is fond of such programmes. There is much cheering, jeering, heckling and, occasionally, catcalling from the audience. And Mr Shahid at times even gives up the pretence of moderating the show and just lets either the guests cut each other open or declares open season on the guests for the audience.
This issue of class division was most apparent on a recent programme of his (On the Front, 13th April, Dunya News.) The audience: youth. The guests: youth leaders. The latter were literally youngsters, not the usual PML-N youth wing leaders like Capt Safdar and Abid Sher Ali and the PTI’s Abrarul Haq.
Though the PML-N and PTI had supporters from amongst the audience, the PPP’s spirited young man had, understandably, a tough crowd on his hands.
The real struggle, then, was between the League and the PTI. The moment I want to highlight is when one of the PTI’s supporters got up and asked the Leaguer about the party’s plan to build five hundred thousand housing units, which were intended to provide employment opportunities for the youth. Are the youth going to build these houses, he asked. Woh ab mistreeon ka kaam karenge? The audience, at least his part of it, lapped it up and placed the onus on representative.
Now, though the PML-N man did field the question well, his answer was that housing units of this scale require engineers, town planners, accountants, management professionals etc. That, he implied, was the employment for the youth that his party was talking about.
Here is the difference. Had it been a PPP plan, their spokesperson wouldn’t have been defensive.
Where did the masons and bricklayers who worked for a pittance to build the house the PTI-loving youngster lived in came from? A portion of that crew would have been much, much younger than him. Does this bespectacled young man, when he is getting the groceries or just hanging about in a market with his friends, notice the daily wagers, pickaxe, spades and shovels in tow, getting ready to go home after a full day’s unsuccessful attempt to find work? Some of these, if you were to give them a culture-fair IQ test, would turn out to be brighter than him.
What, really, is funny when a project gives construction workers work? Or sanitation workers? And this bit about the accompanying white-collar employment opportunities for the youth could have been given by the Leaguer after he had cut the questioner down to size. He had absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.
Both question and response were moulded by the class from where they emerged. As does, I say at the risk of sounding emphatic, most of what you see on TV.
Is Mumlakat-e-Status Quo headed for a new farce?
A friend was willing to wager once the baasat-taraysat circus started — apparently in earnest — that not only nothing would come of it but come the day of swearing-in and you’ll start to have a déjà vu feeling about who has made the final cut at the lower house of Pakistan’s bicameral legislature.
On the strength of available evidence at this point in time, it would be difficult to argue with that — unless an unheralded tsunami wave crashes into the shores of Mumlakat-e-Status Quo — although understandably, it’s a long shot even if the Kaptaan keeps reminding us the situation is reminiscent of the 1992 World Cup campaign where few punters had the heart to back the “Cornered Tigers” but were made to eat their words.
As someone who has long watched games the establishment plays — unsporting, out and out — one was taken aback by the ferocity with which the scrutiny carpet was rolled out. In hindsight, the carpet had deep holes covered with a thin thread barely visible to the naked eye. The Returning Officers gave the impression they were here to “return” the candidates — back home, that is.
We don’t know for sure if the baasat-taraysat-driven drama that defined the scrutiny process was indeed scripted by someone with a cheek. Assuming it was floated to check the national pulse, probably the wrong horse was chosen for target-shooting.
In time, we’ll come to appreciate why it was absurd to lay down Ayaz Amir and for what! Basically, if all of it was indeed scripted, it had weak content and even more flimsy translation, literally!
If the idea was to nix the tried and tested with Returning Officers having a field day in the absence of a mechanism that filtered out individual interpretation of morality to determine a candidate’s eligibility, it was a poor indulgence since it lacked intelligence.
The storm that unleashed following the initial rejection of Ayaz Amir’s papers for an article deemed offensive to Pakistan’s ideology and violative of Islamic injunctions ensured — unwittingly or otherwise — that the roving eye was focused on a very subjective matter that, in practical terms, has very little to do with the merits of a delivering legislator.
Whether it was scripted or not, the damage it did was to take the people’s attention away from what should have been the driving force of the scrutiny process — financial accountability.
In a country where you have any number of interpreters and interpretations of both Islam and what constitutes the ideology of Pakistan — and no dearth of terminators who set upon anyone who dares to differ with their version(s) — it is a needless exercise to set store by.
Short of someone openly propagating against these two articles of the constitution and inciting violence thereof — you’d probably have to be insane to do that — these, in my humble view, should never be the basis of judging a candidate.
Reams of column inches and electronic media space have been used in the past week over the use of baasat-taraysat and its near-impossible implementation thanks to ambiguity riding certain clauses. Almost everyone who has apprehensions over the way it has been used by the Returning Officers has lamented why the parties in parliament did not have the sagacity to have either amended or even altogether scrapped them.
I have no argument over this but realistically speaking, I think even proposing such a measure was fraught with some consequences for the PPP-led coalition. The fact of the matter is that there is huge mistrust between the PPP and PML-N. Even though the PPP would most likely have scrapped it in a jiffy if they could find the support for it, the PML-N has only now wizened to its abuse after the Ayaz Amir shocker.
If the PPP had dared such an ‘adventure’, the self-appointed guardians of faith, their apostles in the media and judiciary would have given the PML-N the perfect opportunity to drive the PPP up the wall and stamp its own guardianship of the constitution for political mileage.
Now that both parties have been at the receiving end of a scare before the tables were eventually turned, they would hopefully shop at the amendment store — made relatively easier if, as widely predicted, the PML-N forms the next government.
However, this still does not cover the scrutiny process in glory. The election tribunals may have set aside the whimsical baasat-taraysat-driven verdicts returned by the Returning Officers but the Election Commission, Returning Officers and election tribunals cannot absolve themselves of the spectacular failure to use the microscope on the financial propriety of the candidates.
To my mind, if this course is not altered by some magic wand now — that being the state of this godforsaken country — it will be this farce that may eventually determine the outcome of the elections unless a tsunami wave becomes the face of retribution.
The list of candidates who have escaped the net on account of their (de)filed tax returns (the tax-to-income figures are the stuff of Ripley’s Believe it or not! in most cases) as well as those who haven’t put a hand in the pocket/purse to look for even spare change is arresting, even if the offenders have not been.
What can you really say about a system which is trigger-happy to ground — ostensibly, over a suspect degree and twice at that — the likes of Jamshed Dasti who is fair game because he doesn’t belong to the Club of Feudal Lords and Industrialists, but easy, like a mistress, on those who do even if they cheat the nation of its wealth all their neta lives.
The writer is Editor Pique Magazine based in Islamabad. He can be reached at [email protected]