Category Archives: Politics

No, it’s not Pakistan’s “turn”…

Pictured: Not Jinnah Super.

If I hear one more person ask me, in relation to the recent historic uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, when Pakistanis are going to rise up and take their turn in line on the Popular Revolution Ride, I think I might go Hosni on them.

That is to say, I might do some very, very unpleasant things to them.

Events in Egypt (and Tunisia , lest we forget Sidi Bouzid) are yet to fully play out, but what has happened in those countries is nothing short of historic. The popular uprisings, consisting not of political and human rights activists (the bread and butter of any protest, if you will) but of regular people from a diverse array of backgrounds (young, old, Muslim, Christian, rich, poor, devastatingly poor . . even the cats hate Hosni, for Christ’s sake) represent more than just popular discontent with economic policies, but, more significantly, the breaking of fear.

When a million turned out at Tahrir Square, their message was simple: “Mubarak, we are no longer afraid.”

The same was true of Tunisia, an uprising that may have taken its fuel from soaring prices and unreasonably high unemployment, but which was sparked not by poverty, but by a man  not willing to endure insults to his dignity from a government purporting to be his own. It was a tragic, poignant illustration of something that most citizens in Tunisia had felt: a breaking of spirit from constantly being humiliated by government officials and members of the ruling party. A constant reminder not just of their disconnect from power, but of power’s utter disconnect from their humanity.

All of which brings me to the streets of Karachi, Lahore, Sargohda, Kohat or even Chak Shehzad, where I’m in imminent danger of committing a homicide if some well-meaning activist-type points to Tunis, looks up at me with her (or his) big, brown eyes and says, earnestly, “When will we learn?”

Tunisia and Egypt rallied against autocratic dictators who have been in power for, respectively, 27 and 30 years. They rebelled against single-party states where opposition parties are banned and activists disappear into the night if they try and drum up support for uprisings against the existing system. Egypt’s and Tunisia’s systems of government are simply transvestite dictatorships, masquerading as democracies (not that all transvestites masquerade..) because in the current world order, being an outright dictatorship is simply not done. It tends to get one invaded, for one.

Both Zine El Abedine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s former president, and Hosni Mubarak operate states where the security forces are feared and loathed. They operate(d) with impunity, above the law – which would still not have been so bad, if they actually used said impunity for good, as it were, rather than evil. But the security forces did not serve the people, they served their masters – Ben Ali and Mubarak.

And, finally, ala everyone’s favourite Arkansas-governor-turned-philandering-President: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Pakistan, for those who haven’t been paying attention, already has a democracy (a deeply flawed one, in some ways, but at least one that isn’t appearing in drag . . . well, alright, it wears an army-issue brassiere, but aside from that it generally turns up in the right sort of attire). We have an active opposition (some might argue far too active, engaging in populist rhetoric rather than actual policy making), and while the intelligence services do act with impunity, this has been changing (slowly, ever so slowly, with the current Supreme Court bench’s crusade for the ‘disappeared’ being an illustration). And, finally, we have no dictator: only a bit of an idiot who was elected to power constitutionally but two years ago.

Our government is deeply flawed, but in ways that are fundamentally different from the cases of Egypt, Tunisia and even Algeria.

Our economy, though, is in serious trouble, and you’ll get no argument from me on that front. Note, however, that while many will point to all sorts of reasons why the PPP won the 2008 polls, they often tend to forget that the elections actually took place in the middle of the wheat crisis . So, it can be argued, Pakistanis have already had practice at kicking out a government for letting inflation on basic goods run rampant.

So, to put all of this into context, consider this: in order for Pakistan to be Egypt or Tunisia, Zia would have to still be in power.

And I don’t know about you, but neither hell nor high water would have kept me from the streets if that was the case.

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Filed under Middle-East, Musings, Pakistan, Politics

A land of miracles

Pakistan, I keep telling people, is a land of dreams. It’s a country where what’s possible is limited only by your imagination. Where words, in fact, do not just describe reality, they create it.

Take university degrees, for example. According to Nawab Aslam Raisani, Chief Minister of Balochistan, “a degree is a degree, whether real or fake”. Ta-da. There. Crisis averted. He went on to say that regardless of the authenticity of degrees, he will “continue to live in [his] house”. Good to know.

Pictured: A magician. “And for my next trick, watch me make corruption
allegations against all government officials go away . . . Governance is
governance, even if it is corrupt. Presto!” [Picture courtesy APP]

In other news:

– US congresswoman Nita Lowey refuses to give Afghanistan another cent, because she says too much US aid ends up in the pockets of ‘corrupt Afghan officials’. She says she will recommend that no more money is given, other than ‘life-saving humanitarian aid’. Watch this story – it may go nowhere after the subcommittee hearings, of course, but it’s significant, and symptomatic of the growing lack of patience with this nation-building project in Afghanistan.

Another day, another drone. This time it’s near Wana, and interestingly some alleged ‘Punjab Taliban’ and al Qaeda militants were killed. Hm.

– The CS Monitor‘s done a story on how ethnic minorities in Afghanistan are against all this talk about negotiating with the (mainly Pashtun) Taliban. In particular it quotes minority Afghan lawmakers, and anger from public figures about the ouster of Amrullah Saleh, the former Afghan intelligence chief, who was also an ethnic Tajik.

– While we’re talking about negotiations in Afghanistan, US President Obama has made one of his more nonsensical remarks on the matter: he says the talks should be viewed with a mixture of “scepticism and openness”.  So what you’re saying is . . . we should be open to the idea, but not really think it’s going to work? And if that’s the case, how, exactly, are you planning to pull out in June 2011?

– Benazir Bhutto’s name has now been inscribed into law (as the Benazir Income Support Programme Bill 2010). Hardly surprising, considering that this government has inscribed her name into virtually everything else it could get its hands on. I’m just surprised cheeseburgers aren’t now known as Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Burgers.
Now I’m not even entering the debate of whether or not Ms Bhutto was a capable leader – I’m just humbly suggesting that maybe we should spend less time arguing in the National Assembly about chest-thumping on self aggrandizement, and maybe just a little bit more on . . . I don’t know, let’s say . . . governance?

– Finally, thank you Twitter, for letting me know that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif is a massive Messi fan, and that Marvi Memon just killed a lizard with her shoe.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Musings, Pakistan, Politics

Well, we wanted an activist judiciary . . .

This was always going to be a problem, once the principle of an activist judiciary was conceded as being a sound one in Pakistan today. I’m not arguing against the judiciary taking a pro-active role in delivering justice (and forcing the government to deliver governance) to the people, but this comes with the territory: you now have a Lahore High Court, always known for being the most conservative in the country, that’s handing out blanket bans on websites like they were Eidi.

(In other news out of that court, lawyers of a murder accused helped him escape from the court after his bail plea was rejected. What, exactly, is going on over in CJ Khwaja Sharif’s little fiefdom? Apparently senior lawyer Ahsan Bhoon, of marching-with-the-lawyers-and-then-taking-oath-as-a-PCO-judge fame, ‘saved’ the unfortunate policeman who tried to stop them – the lawyers were about to take him to the bar room to ‘teach him a lesson’. I’m guessing that this lesson wasn’t going to be on, say, the finer points of constitutional law . . .)

The question is, after this provisional ban on Google, Yahoo, Bing, Amazon, MSN, Hotmail, Youtube, Islam Exposed and In The Name of Allah, what happens next? The lawyers community of Bahawalpur has already announced that it is going to observe a complete strike on Wednesday . . . . . . against the ‘publication’ of this ‘blasphemous’ material on these websites.

Leave aside, for a moment, the absolutely nonsensical nature of the ban – both because of the fact that it violates basic right to information and because it betrays a complete lack of understanding of how the internet works (even if you agree, for some reason, that ‘objectionable’ material should be banned, banning search engines is a bit like ordering that all of Karachi’s roads should be dynamited because an aunty made an illegal U-turn on Amir Khusro Rd). Let’s talk about getting the ban reversed through legal means.

The only way to do this is to file a constitutional petition in a High Court or the Supreme Court, arguing that the ban is, to put not too fine a point on it, idiotic on every level. Here we run into the trouble I pointed out in my last Op-Ed – will the SC or an HC rule in your favour, because it will be seen to be ‘supporting blasphemy’, a move politically akin in Pakistan to stabbing yourself repeatedly in the heart while simultaneously reading Vogon poetry? Well, we’ll never know if we don’t try – otherwise this country will continue to move incrementally towards the intolerant right. This case, of course, is subtly different from the Facebook case in that it calls for blanket bans of search engines, which do not even host the material that is being found objectionable – it can be argued, therefore, without reference to the acceptability of the material itself.

The way to fight this ban, ultimately, is not just on the Op-Ed pages of  English language newspapers, or in witty comments on Twitter (I plead guilty to the latter), it’s through the processes of government. I’m not based out of Karachi at the moment, but I am willing, if others want to pursue this case, to arrange the drafting of a constitutional petition and to find a Sindh High Court advocate who will argue the case pro bono. Get in touch if you’re interested.

In today’s other news:

– The commander of US forces in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McChrystal, has handed in his resignation after this politically ill-advised profile in Rolling Stone, and its now up to US President Barack Obama to either accept it, or let him stay on. And even though McChrystal, an ex-Ranger known for his gung-ho attitude and the ‘prophet’ of Counterinsurgency (COIN) tactics, called everyone in the White House a bunch of “wimps”, aiming particular snipes at US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry and national security advisor James Jones, he may yet survive this, because Obama needs continuity in Afghan operations. Either way, however, his position is going to be weakened: either fire the general and appoint a new head of operations in a war you’re trying desperately to turn around, or leave him be and undermine your own authority by allowing such comments from your military top brass. Between the devil and  . . well, a gung-ho ex-Ranger. Read Maureen Dowd, Simon Tisdall and Michael Tomasky on the issue to really get to grips with how difficult this choice is going to be for Obama.

Also, I strongly recommend reading the profile itself. As a reporter, it makes me go all tingly.

– On the court front, the LHC is not the only court doing some crazy things. The SHC CJ, Sarmad Jalal Osmany, has apparently asked for, and been granted, funds by the government to fly to the US for surgery. The government is footing the bill for his flights as well as his treatment. Now, I’m sorry that the CJ has dodgy ankles, and from all accounts he’s an excellent and fair judge who tolerates no nonsense in his court, but it is simply not the government’s place to pay for this treatment, particularly after a provincial and federal ban on precisely this sort of thing.
And this is coming a few weeks after the same CJ demanded that he be given an incredibly expensive bullet-proof vehicle. Why? Because the CJ of the Peshawar HC got one.
Dear god, give me strength.

–  Today’s uplifting story of the day: How International Relations Theory can be adapted to deal with a Zombie Apocalypse. Brilliant.

– Today’s completely random Express-Tribune story of the day: Fatima Bhutto says she has moxie, and craves only Justice. That latter reminds me more of this, than this.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Musings, Politics