Pakistan’s elections bring hope and uncertainty

By Zubeida Mustafa

Last week’s elections in Pakistan yielded predictable outcomes, which could take the country in an unanticipated direction. Preliminary results announced Friday by the Election Commission of Pakistan give the victory to Tehreek-e-Insaf (also known as the PTI, or Justice Party) of the cricket-star-turned-politician Imran Khan. Although his party missed a clear majority in the National Assembly, it should be able to easily woo a few independents to its side to form a stable government.

If there is an unpredictable factor, it is the reaction of the major mainstream parties after their emergence as the losers, especially the Pakistan Muslim League of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He and his daughter are now in prison after being found guilty of graft in a property case. A multiparty conference of the main losers (in which the Pakistan Peoples Party did not participate) has rejected the results of Wednesday’s voting and demanded new, transparent elections. Will they pay the PTI in its own coin by staging sit-ins to disrupt life in the country, as Imran Khan did in the years following the 2013 elections?

Even prior to last week’s elections, it was widely alleged that the “Miltablishment”—-the country’s military leadership—was creating conditions that improved the prospects of the PTI. Khan is viewed as the darling of the generals. The military establishment’s move to selectively push graft cases against his rivals on the pretext of accountability while turning a blind eye to the wrongdoings of Khan’s cronies was seen as a one-sided attack on the corruption pervasive in Pakistan’s politics.

In the weeks preceding the elections, there were protests from the media as well as from some members of the judiciary against interference from “hidden hands.” What seems to give credence to these charges now is the preliminary statement issued Friday by the EU Election Observation Mission. While praising the Election Commission’s role in the conduct of the polling, the statement categorically said that the “electoral process of 2018 was negatively affected by the political environment.” It spoke of the playing field not being level and of “lack of equality of opportunity” for all contestants.

The U.S. State Department shared the EU observers’ concerns and questioned the fairness of the voting. Pointing out flaws in the elections, the State Department spoke of constraints placed on freedom of expression and on association during the campaign period.

Meanwhile, the PTI’s Khan has promised the people a naya (new) Pakistan. His victory speech, delivered even before the results were officially confirmed, was widely hailed as a statesmanlike and conciliatory piece of oratory.

The 65-year-old prime-minister-to-be said all the right things in a calculatedly correct tone. This was refreshing after the vitriolic outbursts from all sides during the election campaign. Attributing Pakistan’s problems to corruption and the collapse of governance, Khan promised to rebuild all national institutions and root out graft. He assured the nation that he would create a welfare state to lift up the poor and the underprivileged. He promised to try corrupt officials and apply accountability across the board.

This was music to the ears of the people of this country of 208 million, ruled for decades by status-quo forces that have failed to pull most of them out of poverty. But such promises have been made before. The only difference is that the PTI is at the helm for the first time.

What is significant is the refrain one hears from political observers and analysts: We must wait and see whether the promised reform will actually happen. Skeptics are abundant, but the young, savvy and educated who hold privileged positions are euphoric and say the new leadership should be given a chance.

Many people are tired of the turbulence and violence that often occur when political parties stage protests and rallies. Near the end of the campaign for this month’s elections, three suicide bombings killed three candidates and 180 people. Then came another bomb attack on election day, killing 31 people in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan.

What should interest foreign powers is the line the prime minister-elect will take on foreign policy. In his victory speech, Khan spoke about that policy ambiguously. He didn’t mention his views on defense and security, which could have stirred controversy. He was vocal about bringing peace to the region—without saying how he will treat militant elements, some of which he has expressed admiration for in the past.

Khan mentioned his goals regarding six other countries, but he adopted such an unspecific, broad stance that he succeeded in not stepping on any toes, including those of Pakistan’s defense establishment, which is firmly in control of foreign policy. He said he would seek to:

• Strengthen relations with China
• Bring peace in Afghanistan (to help bring peace in Pakistan) and have open borders between the two countries
• Develop mutually beneficial relations with the United States
• Build stronger ties with Iran
• Help Saudi Arabia resolve its internal tensions
• Improve relations with India, if its leadership agrees; end the blame game between Pakistan and India; stop human rights violations in Kashmir.

The speech was a safe statement of intent; it called for no specific commitments that might be controversial. But a closer look at some of Khan’s previous statements shows him to be anti-U.S., to have reservations about China’s economic practices, to be more pro-Saudi Arabia than many Pakistanis would prefer, to be a hard-liner on India, and to have a soft spot for militants—be they in Pakistan, Afghanistan or Kashmir. Weave into this narrative the military’s own concealed agenda and you will be left guessing as to what the future might hold.

Pakistan, especially its army, has had close ties with China since the 1950s. Islamabad and Beijing have provided each other with unequivocal support—military, diplomatic, economic and political. Sino-Pakistan friendship, said to be as high as the Himalayas and as deep as the Indian Ocean, has benefited both nations in their conflicts with India. Pakistan has used its relationship with China to neutralize the U.S. when the need arose. Today, a time when Pakistan is in deep economic crisis, China’s One Belt and One Road initiative, with its promise of $900 billion infrastructure aid for 65 nations, is a boon for Pakistan, which has yet to become self-reliant.

Pakistan’s relations with the U.S. have seen ups and downs since the war in Afghanistan began, but they have never before reached the current low, demonstrated by President Trump’s 2017 announcement of his “fight to win” policy in Afghanistan, a declaration in which he accused Pakistan of providing havens for terrorists. Then, in his first tweet of 2018, Trump said the U.S. “had given it [Pakistan] more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit.”

Trump also strengthened the hawks in the Pakistan army when he invited Pakistan’s historical enemy India to “help us more with Afghanistan.”

Islamabad’s relations with India have worsened since 2008 when terrorists suspected of coming from Pakistan attacked Mumbai. The previously intermittent dialogue between the two countries remains suspended.

Many believe that in the coming months the new government will make compromises to get everyone on the same page. Khan’s ex-wife, Reham Khan, a television presenter, said in an interview that Khan was known for his “U-turns.” Others—with less of a personal history—agree. Najam Sethi, the editor of The Friday Times, a political weekly published from Lahore, wrote, “Imran Khan … is a different kettle of fish. He may have embraced the Miltablishment as a tactical move but sooner rather than later he will begin to challenge the conventional wisdom of the national security state handed down to him. That’s when all bets will be off.”

The only conclusively reassuring feature of these elections is the failure of the numerous candidates from terrorist groups. Not one of them won. That was the people’s verdict.

Source: Truthdig

 

The new mandate

 

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

Election day is over: Homage first to the dead – victims and martyrs of our political and institutional errors – and then thanksgiving for that abiding commitment to home and country apparent in the collective spirit of Pakistan’s people. Provincial governments bicker in the Council of Common Interests; power-accreting centralists fiddle with demographics, delineations and more – yet people in the injured unequal units converge and concur in a quest for good governance and a democratic determination of the way to it. Continue reading The new mandate

Digital dilemmas

By Zubeida Mustafa

EARLIER this year, WHO classified video-gaming as a disorder. It is defined in the draft Eleventh Revision of the International Classification of Diseases as a mental health condition. Understandably, controversy has erupted round this move as many experts believe that sufficient data doesn’t exist to support this drastic diagnosis. Besides, the symptoms defined are too broad to be applied to one particular area of engagement. Thus a person may have a strong preference for any activity that he enjoys to the extent that “he does not stop even if there are negative consequences, the compulsion strains his life, health and relationships” — WHO’s definition of the gaming disorder. Definitely more data is needed. Continue reading Digital dilemmas

Elections and elections

 

by  RifaBy By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

 ON the brink of the 2018 elections, first time voters are probably so caught up in making their own electoral history that they are more liable to be dismissive than mindful of the past. But for older more seasoned voters, sobering recollection of other elections is inevitable.

Elections-1969 foundered on the curious logic of the majority being labelled ‘secessionist’. Bhutto, though also politically guilty, heroically salvaged morale in what was no longer West Pakistan but merely Pakistan. The rebound to ten years of Ayub’s dictatorship was not just a push for democratic rights and the emergence of fresh civil political alternatives. Ambitious politicians had recklessly exacerbated nationalisms and exploited political alienation in pursuit of personal and party empowerment. Continue reading Elections and elections

How children learn

MARIA Montessori, the best educationist the world has ever produced, based her philosophy on her understanding of the human mind. She was Italy’s first woman physician, and derived her knowledge from her study of medicine and more so from her observation of the young children whose education was entrusted to her. In her opinion, children have an inborn capacity to learn from their environment and develop their own cognitive and mental skills. Hence Montessori’s use of the term the ‘absorbent mind’ to describe a young child’s mental growth process.

According to Montessori, the educationist is just required to provide the right environment and a little guidance to the child to allow her to grow at her own pace. Continue reading How children learn

Rape without end

By Zubeida Mustafa

OF all the crimes committed against children — especially the daughters of the poor in Pakistan — the most horrendous is the trafficking of girls. It is more agonising than rape. The sex trade amounts to torture. The girls who are snatched and taken away to be sold into forced prostitution have to live with this hideous evil night after night. Only a few lucky ones manage to escape or are rescued. Continue reading Rape without end

Learning Sindhi

By Zubeida Mustafa

FOR decades, I faced a dilemma. Living in Sindh, I wanted to learn the Sindhi language to enable myself to speak to the people here in their own language. They had welcomed my parents and me when we migrated to this land of the Sufis.

In Karachi, a cosmopolitan city and home to numerous foreign consulates, I could try my hand at French, German and Persian. There are many other languages you can learn in this city. But there was no place where I could go to learn Sindhi. Teaching Sindhi free of charge should have been the job of the Sindh government’s department of culture. But it never cared. Nor does it do so today.

When the language riots of 1972 were followed by the education policy that required every student to study Sindhi and Urdu, irrespective of his or her mother tongue, I was delighted. To me it seemed that in a generation the entire educated youth population of the province of Sindh would be bilingual. To my great disappointment this did not happen. First, the nationalisation of schools — an excellent idea in principle but poorly executed with selfish intent — left our education system in the doldrums. Jobs were doled out to people who did not know how to teach. The enrolment rate never went up sufficiently to realise the dream of ‘education for all’. Secondly, the resultant influx of ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels examinations undermined the already tottering local exam system. That was also a blow to my ‘Sindhi dream’.

But I don’t let my dreams die easily. After repeated nagging by my Sindhi-speaking friends (which included the respected but outspoken PPP leader Ghulam Mustafa Shah, my neighbour at one time) I succeeded earlier this year. I received an email from a wonderful friend — also the writer of the foreword to my book The Tyranny of Language in Education — Dr Ghazala Rahman, the director of Sindh Abhyas Academy at Szabist. She informed me that the academy planned on holding Sindhi-language classes.

There is a need for linguistic interactions to bond people.

In May we completed level 1 — nine of us who made it a point to attend the weekly class for three months. There was absenteeism but not serious enough to disrupt the classes. Ghazala and her associates Sarang and Amin worked hard on designing the course and bearing with our idiosyncrasies.

By no means do I consider myself proficient in the language — I still have a long way to go. But wasn’t it Lao Tzu who said that a journey of a 1,000 miles begins with one step? Some of my classmates picked up the language very well and I am happy to know they are the ones who are working on the ground with the people of Sindh and this linguistic addition will serve them well. But what I found so enriching about this experience was how Ghazala took us through the maze of a language so rich in vocabulary, style, dictum and literary content and, of course, its greatest asset, Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai.

But more than that, we learnt something about the social impact of a language and how every language has its own richness. Ghazala did it by contextualising what she taught us. Even the variations in dialects, usage and accent/pronunciations were sympathetically explained without showing any contempt for the ‘other’.

This approach is so important if linguistic prejudices are not to destroy a society. They characterise not only Pakistan. Most societies have them. These prejudices sometimes go so deep that people speaking the same language but with different accents tend to ridicule those whose speech is not similar to their own. These biases have existed historically. Who wouldn’t remember the language wars between Lucknow and Delhi? But such literary bashing should not spill into everyday life and vitiate people’s social and economic standing.

At a Yale University workshop, some academics looked into the issue of ‘linguistic prejudice’ that is defined as implicit biases against people who speak the same language but with substantial variations. The workshop sought to “expose this phenomenon, describe its social consequences, and propose ways in which teachers and learners can work to neutralise its effects”.

Giving examples, one teacher explained that objectively there is no correct way to speak a language. One form may be prestigious today in a region when it was less prestigious at another time. Besides it needs to be realised that speech variations should not be the basis of assessments of people’s cognitive ability and their moral character. They should not be socioeconomically stigmatised on that count. It is important that public awareness be created about the importance of showing respect for all languages.

Hence, the need for linguistic interactions to bond people. Sadiqa Salahuddin, who was my course mate, summed it up well: “Ghazala should be given the best award for enhancing manifold our love for the land, its people and their language.”

Source: Dawn

Gift of sight

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE exercise in philanthropy about which I write today began 34 years ago. Two successful businessmen who were close friends decided to launch a project in their post-retirement life to serve humanity. Being compassionate, they understood the burden of disease for the poor in terms of financial costs and loss of productivity. Hence they opted for healthcare, which is the most neglected of the services sector in Pakistan. As one of them had lost his vision in one eye, a hospital for eye diseases was their natural choice. Continue reading Gift of sight

Truth and Ethics Are Under Siege in Pakistan’s Media

By Zubeida Mustafa

Truthdig is proud to present this article as part of its Global Voices: Truthdig Women Reporting, a series from a network of female correspondents around the world who have been hailed for their courage in pursuit of truth within their countries and elsewhere. Click here and here for Nisma Chauhan’s coverage of other aspects of Pakistan’s media, produced in conjunction with this story. 

Starting in late March, Pakistan’s biggest television channel, Geo (an Urdu word for Live), was forced off the air for several weeks.

Cable operators, who reportedly shut off Geo, would not disclose on whose orders this had been done. Geo has now been restored, but only after what a Reuters report described as a deal reached with the military that required the channel to alter its political coverage.

This episode created an international furor, which testifies to the growing power of the media in a globalized world. It also suggests that in some countries where the military still calls the shots, the notion of media freedom is only eyewash. Repeated calls by PEMRA (the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority) had failed to get Geo back on the air.In addition to having to skew news under pressure as in the Geo case, the media in Pakistan is not free of flaws itself. On several occasions, Pakistani media outlets have failed to follow simple codes of ethics.

Take the case of the 2011 murder of Salman Taseer, who was the governor of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province. He was shot by his own bodyguard. The reason? A progressive, Taseer had expressed sympathy for Asia Bibi, a Christian woman accused of committing blasphemy. Taseer met with Bibi in the jail where she was detained. He also spoke of the need to amend the blasphemy laws.

Some conservative TV channel anchors stirred up a brouhaha over Taseer’s actions. This proved to be a spark that lit the tinder of prejudice and intolerance encouraged by the right-wing media since the late 1970s when Gen. Zia-ul-Haq seized power in a military coup in Islamabad. He launched an Islamization policy to sustain himself in power, with new blasphemy laws as an important element of that policy.

In 2011, the person who had easy access to Taseer—the man deputized to protect him—pulled the trigger. The assassination was a hate crime promoted by a section of the national media.

That was seven years ago. Today, the situation has further deteriorated. In the free-for-all atmosphere promoted mainly by television in a frenzy to get higher ratings, the major casualty is truth. Anchors, many of whom are not trained journalists, sensationalize news to the extent of presenting baseless reports as verified facts.

Take the recent case of Dr. Shahid Masood, a television commentator and a medical professional by training, who broadcast reports concerning the rape and murder of a 7-year-old child. Masood made outlandish charges against the defendant, Imran Ali, who has now been sentenced to death by the court. Masood’s list of charges against Ali was long—18 in all—and included allegations of the killer being linked to an international child pornography mafia, holding numerous bank accounts in the country and having connections with a federal minister. Mian Saqib Nisar, the chief justice of Pakistan, took notice and ordered investigations into the charges. Every charge was found to be wrong, causing the judge to impose a three-month ban on Masood’s program.

In a sense, these examples of rampant sensationalism reflect what a long way the media in Pakistan has come in the last several decades. The nation has experienced considerable loosening of the government’s grip on the press and the subsequent proliferation of numerous privately owned radio outlets and television channels.

Today the government has one television station, Pakistan Television, and one radio station, Radio Pakistan, but no affiliated newspaper. On the other hand, there are 45 campus radio stations, 140 licensed commercial private FM radio stations and 89 private satellite TV channels. The website of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society lists nearly 458 newspapers and magazines licensed in the country. Not all are being published; in some cases the owners keep their licenses valid to enable them to publish if they so choose.

This unregulated expansion of the media—especially of the electronic media—has had a profound impact on the political and social scene in Pakistan. Technology, particularly the introduction of 24/7 radio and TV, has brought the media within easy reach of the people. Even the remotest areas are connected by radio, and in the countryside you will see TV antennas on many small, dilapidated houses.

The plus side of this change is that the government’s traditionally rigorous control over the media has lessened (although the military still wields power, as evident from the Geo closure). In the past, military governments dominated the press, and the government held a monopoly on the electronic media. Gone are the days when a phone call from the Information Ministry to the newsroom could blank out even the most important news from the newspapers. It was termed “press advice.”

But today’s media freedom has a flip side as well. Any journalist who ventures to disclose the ugly secrets of the powerful must be prepared to face the music. This can take the form of “forced disappearance” by secret agencies or a mysterious death. The more fortunate are simply hounded out of the country. It’s a small wonder Pakistan has earned the dubious reputation of being one of the most dangerous countries  in the world for media workers.

Equally harmful is the insidious damage that some of Pakistan’s media is inflicting on society and the state itself. This reflects the emergence of neoliberal economics, the push toward commercialization and the prioritization of profits. Codes of conduct and sacred principles of journalism, such as truth and fairness, have been thrown to the winds, and commercialism is rife.

Adding to the media failures, some anchors and media owners are politically aligned and use their positions to promote one party or the other. This has muddied the political waters and stoked hatred and mass confusion.

Although the major newspapers still enjoy a degree of credibility and provide in-depth analysis, they cannot compete with the electronic media in the magnitude of their reach. The literacy rate in Pakistan is dismally low at 60 percent, which gives radio and TV pre-eminence over print.

In this bleak scenario, valiant efforts are being made to address the problems. A number of media studies schools have blossomed, and their programs are benefitting many journalists. Among these institutions are CEJ (Centre for Excellence in Journalism) and IoBM (Institute of Business Management), which has a strong media department.

Another endeavor is Uks, a monitoring nongovernmental organization that recently celebrated its 20th birthday. Uks is basically concerned with the coverage of women in the press and television, as well as the number and status of females working in the media. Tasneem Ahmar launched Uks because she was shocked at the poor reporting on women’s issues and at the glaring absence of women in decision-making positions in the media. Through her efforts to support the cause of the quality of journalism.

Source: Truthdig