IN August, Pakistan will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of its independence. This has understandably spawned a spate of soul searching. It was in abundance at the Karachi Literature Festival. The session titled “Pakistan: a fragile state or resilient nation” focused entirely on the state and didn’t address the issue of resilience at all. The state was held responsible for all the evils that have befallen us.
Unsurprisingly, the speakers concentrated on identifying the villain of the piece that was said to be the ‘state’ — an abstract term. As the discussion proceeded, the state became the “invisible state” and then the “deep state”. The audience clearly understood that these terms referred to the army which has played a central role in determining Pakistan’s destiny. Continue reading Blame rests on ….→
IT is of course entirely politically incorrect to miss the doctrine of necessity, and still more reprehensible to think wistfully of the Eighth Amendment. I would hate to appear on the side of our uniformly distinguished dictators who (fairly successful in some ways though toxic in others) variously went a-looking for the essence of democracy; an indigenous democracy not overawed by modes as of Parliament and Capitol Hill; or quite humbly a basic democracy; using those very legal implements. But quoi faire? Our democracy flounders like the bat in democratic daylight and finds its wings when fighting the dark of martial law. Continue reading Learning the hard way→
A FRIEND sent me his greetings on New Year with this verse: “Apnay haathon say dastar sumbhaloon kaisay/ Donon haathon mein kashkol pakar rakha hai.” (How should I hold up my turban when I hold the begging bowl with both my hands?)
The truth of this verse hit me when a news item in this paper reported the proceedings of the Senate recently. The government had come under fire from a PTI member for piling up external and domestic debts to such proportions that servicing them was becoming impossible.
One should not dismiss this as political gimmickry to embarrass the ruling party. After all, which party in Pakistan has even attempted to be self-reliant by adopting austerity as a policy to reduce the government’s dependency on loans? With few parties remaining in office for too long, every ruler spends money with abandon knowing that the chickens will come home to roost when he will not be around to cope with the problem. Continue reading Loss of dignity→
THE turnout at the walk organised last Sunday by Citizens against Weapons (CAW) was heartening. Started in 2014 by some concerned citizens, the campaign is catching on. I had joined them at a rally on an intersection of a busy area in Karachi two years ago. There were then barely 50 protesters. On Sunday, there were 400 or so.
One of them, activist Naeem Sadiq, whose motto is ‘say no to guns’, has been working on this goal for a decade. He and his colleagues want to rid the whole country of guns and the message is gaining adherents as a larger number of people — that does not include our rulers — begin to understand the significance of deweaponisation in ending violence. Continue reading Enough is enough→
Pakistan’s democracy is an evolutionary process in which representative legislation derived from the popular electoral mandate moves in the direction of better governance. The electorate and the elected learn politically and self-correct. The mandates conferred in 2008 and 2013 may be viewed in that light: Government at the federal centre changed hands each time, and provincial mandates mutated. Tahirul Qadri’s PAT established an irrelevance within the electoral process; while Imran Khan’s PTI registered a significant though scattered national rise, and formed the government in KP. Given the PPP’s decline, Imran’s party emerged as a vibrant third force in the national parliamentary configuration. But the overall electoral outcome left Punjab in the grip of the PML(N) – where Imran tirelessly alleges massive rigging – and denied the PTI a high profile in urban Sindh.
Setting aside what the party may or may not have established about its ability to govern by the standards it demands in others; what example has its oppositional mode offered in terms of federal politics – which — as Pakistan is a federal republic – has acute relevance for each one of its citizens. Continue reading Remember remember ? November→
WE seem to be living in an age when countries are constantly being measured, classified and ranked. The trend was set by the United Nations Development Programme 25 years ago when the Human Development Index was introduced. Many others followed suit as new technologies were developed for gathering and collating data from diverse sources that made the compilation of such indices feasible.
Today, virtually no area of national life has been left without being probed. We have international rankings on education, disease, poverty, corruption, press freedom, gender empowerment, religious freedom, and even happiness. Only recently, the Global Peace Index 2016 (GPI) — a relatively new area to be measured — was released which warns us how wars are taking us down the path of self-destruction. Continue reading Measuring peace→
NO matter how we love him, our COAS is no poster boy. For one thing, the face as displayed on the July poster comes out rather reminiscent of Saddam—and that is not the right kind of resonance whether the pitch be civil, military or sufiyana.
There was as good as no collective popular reaction to the sentiment the poster so ardently expressed. The ISPR issued a brusque statement of dissociation. The media, however, soldiered on. We the people were soon in possession of the name of the poster-pasting party, said to be duly registered with the ECP more than a year ago. A political party rooting for Bonapartism is the kind of nonsense that only our democratic climate can provide.
IT is time we stopped taking the easier choice of setting out to scrap a faulty political setup and system and focused on laboring to better it: That means allowing it to function and, in that very process, rectifying its deficiencies. For what is the innovative alternative?
We have tried both parliamentary and presidential democratic modes. We have undergone four varieties of military dictatorship. We have framed and discarded more than one constitution. We have journeyed from centralising West Pakistan’s provinces into one unit, into the mysterious provincial autonomy of the Eighteenth Amendment to the 1973 constitution. Continue reading Change: at all costs?→
Pakistan has done many stupid things within the rubrics of foreign and domestic policy. And joining a coalition of predominantly Arab states against ‘terrorism’ where the terrorist and the nature of the activity are defined ad lib could prove one of the most regrettable. There is such a thing as rational neutrality, but it seems to be something with which we are non-aligned.
Of course we are financially indebted to Saudi Arabia (the coalition’s convener) more recently and currently than we are indebted to Iran: But that could also be because Iran has been sanctioned out of prosperity; rather the way Saddam’s Iraq was. And the coalition’s focus is on Iran and Shi’ite ‘insurrectionary’ segments or regimes Iran may be sympathising with in the very troubled Middle East and Gulf states. Iran has never taken a side that is overtly or covertly hostile to Pakistan or vice versa. Are we coalescing to create adversaries for ourselves and foster sectarian differentiations? Continue reading An erratic coalition→
THE Tehreek-i-Niswan and Sheema Kermani have always been at the forefront when matters of peace are at stake. Many performances by the Tehreek have been directed at protesting the brutality of violence against and oppression of women. Hence it was quite in keeping with its character that the group convened a ‘peace table’ on Oct 15, at the Karachi Arts Council. Here hundreds of women and also men assembled to reinforce the widely held, but unimplemented, belief that female involvement in peacemaking improves the chances of lasting security.
A landmark resolution (1325) was adopted by the UN Security Council 15 years ago calling for women to be included in decision-making positions at every level of peacemaking. It has so far made a nominal impact. The head of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, admits that globally “women’s participation at peace tables is still symbolic or low”. Continue reading Peace women→