Militants Lose, Militants Gain


*First published in The Nation. Posting the unedited version here:

Pakistan’s momentous decision to battle militants in North Waziristan under the banner of Zarb-e-Azb has struck a decisive hour for the country and nation. However, while the dominant focus has been on the on-ground offensive, remaining aspects of the fight such as the ideological prevalence of the extremist ideology in the state and society, and the implications of the decision have been seemingly blurred into insignificance.

The military operation has come with a large human cost that is generally dehumanized to lump up as Internally Displaced Persons.

Over half a million IDPs have been registered so far, with the numbers expected to swell and exert pressure on the government’s capacity and capability to ease their massive predicament.

Rashida Dohad, programme director at the Omar Asghar Khan Foundation, penned the plight of the fleeing IDPs while explaining the languor nature of response to it in her article in The News titled ‘Displaced, Disowned’:

The state’s ineffective response can be partly attributed to the proverbial high number of cooks that spoil the broth. The federal government authorised the operation, which is being carried out by the military in NWA leading to an exodus of local people from Fata who are taking refuge in the settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

So who is in-charge? At times, all appear busy – the federal government, the military, the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the administration in Fata. More often none assume responsibility, with each blaming the other for the suffering caused to the people of NWA, who are not just displaced, but also disowned.’

But while the Pakistani government’s response to various emergencies and crises has traditionally been slow, sluggish and therefore, often ineffective; this fresh crisis of displacement has given rise to immense ease and access with which extremist and militant organizations are being allowed to operate as relief groups – which can potentially have grave implications.

In a recent report by Taha Siddiqui for Dawn, the troubling development is shed full light on:

‘The FaIah-e-Insaniyat Foundation volunteer quickly serves one IDP after another, and then moves back to the relief camp set up just outside the sports complex — the only one in the vicinity — for a refill. There’s a huge banner which states: “In these tough times, we are standing with you [the IDPs] — Jamaatud Dawa.”

The organisation has over 200 volunteers distributing aid across Bannu, with 25 ambulances on standby. Sarfaraz says they have given out more than 112,000 food packets, and provided medical treatment to over 10,000 patients.

And it is not just JuD that is free to operate in this region. Just half a kilometre before the sports complex, a large banner in blood-red colour bears the name of Masood Azhar, and calls him the Ameer-ul-Mujahideen. The camp, which provides water and medical facilities, also has a queue of people waiting to see the doctor.’

This is not the first time this occurrence has surfaced. When the devastating floods of 2010 wrecked the country, displacing millions, the same extremist and militant organizations stepped up to provide aid as the then-Pakistan People’s Party government stumbled in the effort.

Published on August 23rd 2010, Corey Flintoff’s report on NPR titled ‘In Pakistan, Militants Use Aid to Seek Support’ described a similar situation:

‘There are a lot of reports of extremist groups stepping up to provide aid,” says Molly Kinder, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Global Development, a nonprofit research organization dedicated to reducing poverty.

Kinder, whose work focuses on the effectiveness of U.S. foreign aid, says the government of Pakistan “has clearly lost the war” in terms of winning credit for its relief efforts. “Even if the reports are exaggerated, the extremists have created the impression that they care about ordinary people,” she says.’

The same month, the Daily Beast also reported on Jamaat-ud-Dawah’s proud claim of providing relief to more than 250,000 flood-affectees.

It is in such instances when the government limps to act that such groups find fertile ground to posit themselves as alternatives in front of the people, especially those in need of help, building popular bases of support and converting their ambitions into influence and power; through which they gain the audacity to later pose a challenge to the entire state and society.

As Zarb-e-Azb rages on, it must be realized that it is not just an Operation, it is a war with multiple battles. And while the main front is North Waziristan, it has opened another front within the IDP camps as extremist and militant organizations capitalize the crisis.

It might be the case that Pakistan is supplanting one extremism with another in this hour of crisis as the organizations assert themselves through practical measures, presenting themselves as saviors of the IDPs; winning their sympathy, good-will and trust in contrast to their disillusionment with the government. And later managing to channel the discontent to recruit soldiers and supporters for their perverted causes and twisted ideologies; which one day might acquire enough strength to require another Zarb-e-Azb for its eradication.

360880-IDPsphotofile-1333739202-428-640x480As Rashida Dohad continues in her piece:

‘While the state fidgets or forsakes, dangerous non-state actors are quick to fill the vacuum. Banners displayed in Bannu, claiming that Jamat-ud-Dawa stands by affected people in their hour of need, mock the ban placed on this organisation. Unconcerned, JuD is also reportedly fully engaged with the IDPs.

Their agenda is less visible. What is clear is that the state’s failure to cope is giving them unrestricted access to people who are displaced and distraught – likely earning their trust, contrasting sharply with the anger the IDPs feel towards the government.’

The free and open aid operations by ostensibly ‘banned’ organizations such as JuD truly does jeer at the government’s writ, and cheers at this sort of patronage that they enjoy at the hands of the state.

Moreover, as Defence Minister Khawaja Asif has stated there to be no time-frame for the completion of the Operation, it becomes all the more important to recognize the need to stem the tides of extremism from all sides; one of which might be gaining potency by the initiation of the war and its human costs.

If the government has taken the decision to go to war, it must stand by it and brave to adequately manage its consequences. It does not have the luxury to flail or fail now.

The government must leave no stone unturned in establishing itself as the dominant body spearheading efforts for succouring the IDPs – the people of FATA who have already long suffered under the draconian rule of the FCR, a pressing problem that also must not be ignored by this government if it seeks to ensure the welfare of the people of Pakistan – and tighten its grip on them thereby leaving them little space to substitute for the government in relief and aid work; which, if left unchecked, can yield disastrous implications and consequences.

At the end, the words uttered by Shah Mehmood Qureshi who was the Foreign Minister at the time of the 2010 floods must be repeated:

“If we fail, it could undermine the hard-won gains made by the government in our difficult and painful war against terrorism. We cannot allow this catastrophe to become an opportunity for the terrorists.”

 

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Published in: on July 23, 2014 at 12:51 pm  Comments (1)  
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Zarb-e-Azb and Pakistan’s Other Battles


*First published on Pakistan Today.

The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) released a much-anticipated statement on June 15th 2014 announcing the decision on the directions of the government to launch a comprehensive operation against foreign and local terrorists in North Waziristan; Operation Zarb-e-Azb.

The decision has been largely welcomed by both the segments of the nation which were divided over confrontation with the Taliban: those who, from the very beginning, questioned the logic of negotiation in the face of an expansionist and extremist force; and those who favoured negotiation only to be left disillusioned as the militants refused to cease their assaults on the country, the latest being the Karachi Airport Attack.

army-operationA state of war, as it is now, it is hoped that this would lead Pakistan’s political parties and the government to consider the gravity of the situation and demonstrate sheer seriousness by practicing maturity, sensibility and putting their squabbles aside. The complete opposite of which has been witnessed in Model Town, Lahore in the fight between PAT supporters and the Punjab Police; and Imran Khan’s incessant drive to push forward his rusty political agendas against the government by seemingly unending  jalsas.

The government and other parties must realize that now is not the time for political gimmickry, point-scoring and bickering. While the media should realize that responsible journalism, instead of sensationalism, is the need of the hour.

The government should leave no stone unturned for aiding the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), ensuring their easy transportation and suitable accommodation. It needs to have concrete plans for their rehabilitation, especially since the holy month of Ramzan has begun and the scorching heat is yet to subside. More importantly, the IDP crisis and the government’s sluggish response is being capitalized by several militant and extremist organisations who are stepping up to provide relief and aid to them, which could have potentially grave implications if the state continues limping. The participation of the ordinary people, the civil society and NGOs will also be vital to the efforts for the help and assistance of the IDPs, as has always been.

The Operation against the militants does not only involve our courageous jawans,but this fight demands that the entire nation stands together in this decisive hour.

The late Eqbal Ahmad, whose prophetic warnings (‘the chickens of Jihads’ once sponsored by imperialism and the state are likely to come home to roost’) regarding Pakistan’s future vis-à-vis the policy in Afghanistan during and after the Afghan war were made little use of, penned in an article of his titled ‘What after Strategic Depth?’ published in Dawn on 23rd August 1998:

The domestic costs of Pakistan’s friendly proximity to the Taliban are incalculable and potentially catastrophic. More importantly, the Taliban’s is the most retrograde political movement in the history of Islam. The warlords who proscribe music and sports in Afghanistan, inflict harsh punishments upon men for trimming their beards, flog taxi drivers for carrying women passengers, prevent sick women from being treated by male physicians, banish girls from schools and women from the work-place are not returning Afghanistan to its traditional Islamic way of life as the western media reports sanctimoniously. They are devoid of the ethics, aesthetics, humanism, and Sufi sensibilities of traditional Muslims. To call them “mediaeval” is to insult the age of Hafiz and Saadi, of Rabi’a Basri and Mansur al-Hallaj, of Amir Khusrau and Hazrat Nizamuddin. The Taliban are the expression of a modern disease, symptoms of a social cancer which shall destroy Muslim societies if its growth is not arrested and the disease is not eliminated. It is prone to spreading, and the Taliban will be the most deadly communicators of this cancer if they remain so organically linked to Pakistan’.

Pakistan will have to revise its policies if it wishes to effectively eradicate this cancer for once and for all today. Two contrasting policies, one which advocates a fight against the Taliban (“bad Taliban”) at home while going soft on the Taliban in foreign lands such as Afghanistan (“good Taliban”) in order to extract some sort of advantages is bound to ensure neither peace nor stability in Pakistan and come back to bite us, as it is today.

And while the nation wishes the armed forces success in the Operation, light must be also be shed on an equally important side of the battle: the TTP’s ideological prevalence in our social, religious and political sphere which is far more dangerous, in that it spawns and reproduces the fodder for bloodletting in the form of so-called jihadis which today Zarb-e-Azb is designed to defeat, and even more difficult to destruct.

The hate sermons that often blast from many mosques’ speakers against minorities and certain sects; the dangerous indoctrination that occurs in the madrassah; the open distribution of leaflets, pamphlets and issuance of fatwas that incite murder and hate; the consonance between the mindset of many ordinary Pakistanis and the Taliban regarding minorities, the West, democracy and modernity; a pregnant Farzana Bibi’s stoning in broad daylight; the existence of Taliban apologists and sympathizers in our political arena and their ideological and political patronage of the ancillary warriors of Al-Qaeda such as the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba; a certain High Court Judge planting a proud kiss on Mumtaz Qadri’s face during his trial for the murder of the late Salman Taseer – are all stark testaments to the ideological pervasiveness of the Taliban in Pakistan today.

Humayun Gauher in his article ‘The Enemy Within’ published recently in Pakistan Today says:

‘Finally, the army is launching a mini operation, but only in North Waziristan and perhaps the rest of the tribal areas. Big deal. The terrorists have reached every nook, cranny and neighbourhood of the country, even the houses of the rich and powerful. The operation has to be countrywide if we are to be rid of terrorism once and for all. ‘

Chris Cork also makes a striking point in his op-ed in Express Tribune titled ‘The Jihadi Spring’:

‘Subsequent air strikes are said to have killed many ‘foreign fighters — and that may well be true but it is not the foreign fighters that are the real problem.

That lies far from North Waziristan and is in the seminaries and madrassahs that give support and succour to the men who fight in the mountains. The anonymous compounds that are the rear-echelon for extremist groups. They provide rest and recreation, logistical support, are planning hubs and quite probably arms caches as well. All hiding in plain sight, all well enough known to ‘the authorities’ — and all apparently sleeping easy in their beds today. Which — if this huge operation in the mountains of the North were really about countering terrorism in Pakistan — they should not be.

Terrorism needs to be fought holistically, it is never going to be ‘defeated’ militarily (ask the Afghan Taliban about that one) and as long as the arteries of money and doctrine and patronage flow freely — as they are today — it will always persist.

Today Pakistan faces not a single but multiple threats of militancy, terrorism, extremism, sectarianism and violence, as identified by the government’s National Security Policy of 2014-18, all of which are heads of a single monster; only one of which the state as decided to take on now, to defeat which each would have to be destroyed. And for Pakistan to rid itself of this plague, it is an essential imperative to win both battles against the militant extremists: the one on the ground and the one in the state and society, the ideological front.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Published in: on July 18, 2014 at 1:13 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Real Malala Drama


*Originally published in Pakistan Today.

One would reckon that a shot in the head of a 15-year old girl advocating education against the agenda of barbaric monsters and risking their wrath would shake the nation into unanimously becoming a steel wall of support behind her. Not in Pakistan. Not in a society so deeply divided on issues that invite no second thoughts in most societies.

Malala Yousafzai

The attack on Malala a year ago and her fight of survival was the only phase that saw the Pakistani people raising their hands in prayers for her, yet her subsequent rise has left many seething in ire, leaving others with bad taste in their mouth.

Malala’s nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize and her being the global favorite for the Prize resuscitated the riling against her in her very own country.
And the riling itself, has roots within this society.

Pakistanis, as a people, have been socialized into a society and people that inherently resent recognition, acknowledgement and achievement if earned by anyone apart from themselves. It is disliked and downplayed with passionate disdain.
753848-un-pakistan-youth-malala-yousafzaiEven if it is a 16-year old girl. Jealousy in Pakistan creates a genuine, and otherwise lacking, sense of unity with no bounds of age, class, ethnicity and language. After all, how many of us can boast of having celebrated our 16th birthday by addressing the UN; getting nominated for a Nobel and claiming world-wide recognition and fame?

From decades, Pakistanis are also suffering from a chronic case of the diseased, conspiracy-theory mindset molded on sheer McCarthyism. Indoctrinated by the state textbooks that brim with propaganda; the generation that was schooled reading those and heightened by general ignorance, it has only nourished. The late Ardeshir Cowasjee once penned in a column of his for Dawn that we like to believe Pakistan to be the nucleas of the world. It is this self-constructed myth that misguides the majority to believe the world is engaged in a constant pursuit of conspiracies against the beacon of development, progress, peace and prosperity that Pakistan has always been as is today.
Malala-meets-ObamasMoreover, the conspiracy-theory mindset is used as an instrument to make sense of events and incidents in Pakistan. An unfavorable occurrence, such as Malala’s shooting, and especially if it yields the global stare, is fit to be framed as a conspiracy to ‘malign Pakistan and damage its image’ therefore, naturally, Malala becomes a Western stooge; who has left many of these people confused by being both a Western stooge and meeting the President of the USA and letting him know clearly of her stance against drone attacks and their damage to her country and countrymen. Mind-baffling.

It would perhaps, be beneficial to wake up from this hopeful slumber and see that any image that Pakistan may have had, has crumbled into nothing since a while now; therefore the image-insecurity has no basis to exist either. There is no image for us to maintain. If we are to build one, it will take years because that necessitates creeping out of the narrow conspiracy-theory worldview that rejects any call for us to look within and identify what plagues us, rather than ascribing the plagues to foreign origins, for the correct identification of problems is the first step to fix them. Fixing our problems would build and fix any image that is to stay, as blogger and writer Abdul Majeed Abid describes it: only a country’s reality reflects in its image; a negative reality will produce a negative image.

But what is rather worrying is also the direction of the image-insecurity, which is more alarmed at the coverage and publicity of an unpleasant happening in Pakistan than the happening itself. It is not the attack on Malala that often bothers many, it is the global attention the incident received that concerns them for it highlights the brutality in Pakistan. Even though the fact that this very form of brutality, terrorism, has become Pakistan’s predominant reality should be beyond the grasp of denial for us.

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Remarkably, many of the seemingly educated have been seen to be the most vehement in expression against the respect and admiration being lent to Malala from every corner of the globe as ‘undue‘.
It is at this point that popular blogger Sana Saleem’s argument in a recent blog post of her’s becomes most pertinent:

‘It’s true that not all human rights violations get the attention they deserve, the media industry we have is at best manipulative and heavily politicised. When children that are reported dead in drone strikes or military action do not get the attention they deserve, attention that would call an end to extra judicial murders, we are in the right to be angry. But we are bigoted, hypocritical and self flagellating when we blame the victim of one act of terror for the lack of acknowledgement of the other.’

The reason many urban dwellers can not fathom the fanfare surrounding Malala, lies in their social and geographical locations and situations. As one Twitter-user @pindibuoy commented:
“The urban dwellers can’t get their heads around the barriers the rural girls have to overpower [to attend school].”

Some are merely skeptic of the Western hullabaloo around her, and understandably so. As London-based Turkish writer and academic Ziya Meral tweeted: ‘Malala is inspiring, but really hope there are people who will protect her from consumption by Western media, Hollywood, ‘speaker’ market’.

But mostly, there are those who are just exasperated by the commotion surrounding her, misinterpreting her head-shot as her claim to fame. It has not been the shot in the head which Malala received that thrust her into global popularity and adoration, it is her cause of education; her resolve; her maturity; her pacifism; her determination; her courage and her resilience as both a target and victim of terrorism which makes her nothing less than the spirit of Pakistan in the fight against it. Malala is Pakistan. Honoring her is honoring our fight, our battle.

Malala laughing

The real Malala drama does not have Malala Yousafzai as the central character, it has the people of Pakistan in the main role playing out their entrenched hate, bigotry, misogyny with the props of denialism, conspiracy theories and McCarthyism. The hand that triggered the gun also triggered these social characteristics and foul national features, a part of the wider persisting social phenomena in Pakistan, to play out collectively. The real Malala drama is, but an expose of the Pakistani society and nation itself.

 ~ Hafsa Khawaja

Published in: on October 15, 2013 at 6:59 am  Comments (3)  
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No Time for Knee-Jerk Solutions


*Originally published in The Daily Times.

It has become a routine affair to read and hear headlines announcing the impending or ordered suspensions and dismissals of officers as an answer to lapses of security, administration or general mismanagement these days. More or less the decisions held within them have come to be recognized as an instrument of redress and governance. After the recent incident involving Sikander in Islamabad, the Interior minister also announced that he had ordered the concerned authorities to suspend all those police officials who allowed Zamarud Khan to take such a foolhardy chance and breach the cordon.

But it needs to be asked, are these instant suspensions and dismissals the solution to problems?

The public acceptance of this sort of management of affairs can be attributed to a handful of reasons a prime one being the sentimentality of the Pakistani nation which gives in quicker to emotions of rage, excitement, incitement than to ceding ground to thought and reasoning.
Such decisions in wake of unpleasant occurrences sate public agitation rather rapidly, seeming to be severe deserving penalties, on the face of it, that shall act as preventions of replications in the future.

Similarly, this serves the politicians well too. By ordering such actions and in the context of the public reaction as mentioned above, elected representatives emerge as leaders with a stringent and prompt fashion for imposing discipline and negligence at the expense of the people.
The sensational wrapping of these measures as news by the media only adds to their hollow luster.
SuspendedSplash3
However, a degree of public acceptance of such measures must not blur its nature from being recognized which is but a knee-jerk phenomenon part of the larger system of governance in Pakistan that resorts to cosmetic fixes when confronted with the need to deal with deep-rooted troubles.

Immediate dismissals, suspensions of officials upon notice of a tragedy; dereliction of duties or a  miscarriage of administration is in itself, a miscarriage of governance and administration.                                                               
In his article titled ‘PML-N vs. The Channels of Non-Delivery’ in The News on July 10th 2013, Mosharraf Zaidi excellently highlighted the direction the government needs to adopt if it hopes to succeed in the resolution of the country’s difficulties:

‘If the PML-N is serious about sustaining democracy, it has to deliver sustainable change. To do so, it needs to invest heavily not just in the big-ticket outcomes it needs for re-election, but crucially in the procedural coherence and integrity of government.

5-21-2013_22991_l_TDramatic reforms in the civil service, in local governments, and in public financial management are essential to the outcomes politicians seek.
Without such reforms, any outcomes Pakistani democrats achieve will be difficult to come by – they will be temporary, and they will be unsustainable. In the medium- and long-term, failure to reform Pakistan’s channels of delivery is the single most dangerous threat to Pakistani democracy.’ 

It is therefore, evident and imperative that the problems and shortcomings within Pakistan’s system must be addressed rather than quick fixes to the problems that are their spill-over; structural reforms are needed now more than ever. The recurrence of unfortunate occurrences, either in the shape of the recent collision of a rickshaw with a train or security lapses, all are part of the larger system of structural defects and failures in Pakistan that continue unabated.

The knee-jerk reactions of governance and redressing can act has hasty bandaging of seepages of the system’s weaknesses and loopholes but only perpetuate the cycle that abets it.

The 17 young lives that perished in the school bus tragedy in Gujrat can not be brought back or done justice to by the mere arrest of the driver or the suspension of his license to drive but other lives can be protected from being lost with greater legislation against gas cylinders in vehicles and its effective implementation along with safety regulations.

What is needed instead of or beyond numerous instant dismissals and suspensions is a tightly-timetabled, impartial thorough examination and investigation – even if it shall lead to the same end as the suspensions and dismissals – of the incidents; with a complete account of the contexts of circumstances, people and causes involved. Not only will this course of action aid swift retribution of those found to be responsible but also provide for introspection of the system itself, identification of its faults and options for correction, it shall pave path for sustainable prevention and reform.              

Prevailing structural inertia and incompetence that sprout regrettable and ill-fated incidents can only be dealt with immediate reforms instead of immediate, perennial short-term measures to compensate for these sporadic occurrences that only cause them to appear somewhere else again, and again. And only then can Pakistan be alleviated from the morass it remains bogged down in.

 – Hafsa Khawaja

Published in: on September 20, 2013 at 2:36 pm  Comments (2)  
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Pakistan in Transformation


*This article originally appeared in Muftah.org and has been republished with permission.

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Founded in 1947, Pakistan has traveled a troublesome road.

For approximately thirty-five of its sixty-six years in existence, four different military dictatorships have ruled the country.

Even under civilian rule, the country has been gripped by political instability, with governments subject to intrigues and interventions by Pakistan’s powerful military establishment.

In light of the Arab Spring, many Arab nations have been compared to the country, especially regarding the military’s involvement in politics.

Nevertheless, despite Pakistan’s many challenges, there has been a lack of attention to contemporary developments in the country, which represent nothing less than a silent revolution.

Pakistan is in transformation.

Democratic Political Evolution:

In 2008, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) was elected to office. The civilian government brought an end to the military dictatorship of then Chief of Army Staff General Pervez Musharraf, which had started nearly a decade earlier.

Five years later, in May 2013, Pakistan held its next scheduled round of parliamentary elections, making the PPP the first democratically-elected civilian government in the country’s history to complete its full term.

While this was an important milestone, it was also a bittersweet moment of reflection for ordinary Pakistani citizens.

An excerpt from Omar Waraich’s TIME’s article “Two Cheers for Pakistani Democracy: A Sobering Milestone” may help in explaining these sentiments:

‘Public resentment has been fed by an endless litany of problems: enduring power shortages (up to 18 hours a day at the peak of summer); the failure to curb terrorist attacks, protect religious minorities and formulate a coherent anti-terrorism strategy; a slow and weak response to the floods; sluggish economic growth, a bloated public sector, cresting inflation; and tales of legendary corruption, carving out private fortunes from a treasury to which they scandalously pay little in tax

In the words of Huma Yusuf, a Pakistani policy analyst: “It’s a true milestone that signals an emerging consensus that democracy is the right governing system for Pakistan. There’s a long way yet to go.”

Having suffered greatly under the previous administration, Pakistanis jumped at the opportunity to vote the incumbent PPP government out during the elections held on May 11. Recording an impressive voter turn-out of 55%, the contest set Pakistan on a new path.

The elections were largely peaceful with the EU Mission finding that 90% of polling stations exhibited satisfactory electoral conduct.

Braving security risks, terrorist threats, the sweltering heat of May and an entrenched sense of indifference, the people boldly gave their vote of confidence to democracy. In doing so, they rejected and repudiated perceptions that countries like Pakistan are ‘not ready for democracy’.

An unprecedented feat, the elections marked the peaceful transition from one elected government to another. In the process, these events resulted in a notable win for the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) and Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, the party head and former twice-elected prime minister, was elected prime minister for the third time.

The PML-N is generally seen as a moderate party. Before being ousted by General Pervez Musharraf in the coup of 1999, it was  previously voted into power in 1990 and 1997, and it is, to date, the only party in the history of the country to have a two-thirds majority in parliament.

Since the coup, it has reiterated its commitment to democracy and complete opposition to any undemocratic intervention in Pakistan’s politics and government.

Misconceptions:

A number of misconceptions about Pakistan’s state structure must be clarified to understand the changes currently occurring in the country as well as its democratic, political and social development.

In contrast to popular assumptions, with only one exception, Pakistanis have never elected an Islamist government or been ruled by Islamists. General Zia-ul-Haq, a military dictator without electoral legitimacy who ruled from 1978 until his death in an air crash 1988, is the one aberration.

While religious parties have wielded great power at the grassroots level and mastered the art of populist rhetoric, they have managed to grab only a meager amount of votes in elections.

This might explain the eagerness of religious parties in Pakistan to offer their services to military-run governments, which represent their best chance of sharing in governance processes.

Along with having vital, functioning state institutions, since the 1970s, Pakistan has had a proper, popularly accepted constitution in place, although numerous military interventions in politics have prevented its proper implementation from occurring. In recent years however the activist judiciary and media have resulted in greater accountability towards the ideals the constitution upholds.

In contrast to the gloom and doom that many believe indefinitely prevails in the country, Pakistan today hosts a vibrant, free, and fledgling independent print and electronic media; an active judiciary that respects the importance of the rule of law; an army that has begun to receive scrutiny and that has, at least ostensibly, taken a back-seat in politics; a robust opposition in parliament; and a vigilant network of citizens on social media who generously indulge in the country’s relative freedom of expression.

Pakistanis are also looking forward to the trial of Musharraf, under house arrest since his return this year on charges of deposing and arresting the judiciary in 2007 (in response to which the Movement for the Restoration of the Judiciary, popularly known as the Lawyers’ Movement, which ran from 2007 to 2009). He is also to face justice in connection with the murder of both Benazir Bhutto and the Baloch leader, Akbar Bugti; both cases in which he has been named the prime suspect.

Pakistan is a country that is continually learning the prerequisites for successful democracy: consensus-building, collaboration, dialogue, and inclusiveness.

This developing view can be seen in the country’s eighteenth constitutional amendment. Passed in 2012, the new law curbed the president’s sweeping powers to unilaterally dissolve the parliament, which had caused much havoc in the preceding years.

Population and Social Characteristics:

Pakistan enjoys massive human capital that has heretofore been hindered by political crises and widespread unemployment.

It is home to a population of 190 million people. Seventy million of these individuals are part of the country’s middle class, while 16 million have access to the Internet. 67.1% of Pakistanis are below the age of thirty.

The country is urbanizing at the fastest rate in South Asia. Half the population will live in cities by 2025, up one-third from current figures.

Pakistan has a burgeoning textile industry and immense potential to be an emerging market. It has women who serve both on political and combat frontlines and has produced a Nobel Laureate and two Oscar winners.

Conclusion: A Difficult Country

Yet side by side with these signs of success are the other, alarming aspects of Pakistan’s character.

Today, the country stands at the convergence of many grave social, political, and economic issues. It faces challenges from the dual monstrosity that is terrorism and extremism; an acute imbalance between military-civilian relations; corruption and venality; an economic breakdown; societal decadence; bureaucratic infighting; and hurdles in its geopolitical relations.

Just as the Arab world is in the throes of revolution and rebellion today, Pakistan also seeks a break from its own past, which is riddled with instability, uncertainty, contempt of law, and dictatorial violations of the sanctity and soul of the country.

This year’s democratic transition brings with it the hope that Pakistan will finally close the chapter on its history of military intervention in politics. It also indicates the emergence of a democratic culture in a place where the rule of law had long been subordinate.

Pakistan’s new government may not entirely cure its problems but that these historic elections have occurred is an achievement in itself. Indeed, it represents a much-needed first step in the right direction.

The world should embrace Pakistan as it finally embraces democracy.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Published in: on August 6, 2013 at 10:39 pm  Comments (1)  
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Trial: The Army or Musharraf?


*First published condensed as a letter in The Friday Times and later as a post on Borderline Green.

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The Pakistan of today is a country, state and nation in transformation.

It is home to a budding democracy, a vibrant mainstream and social media, active judiciary, strong army and a civil society in awakening. It is only inevitable therefore that the examination and criticism of pillars of the state follows forth from this.

From elected representatives, ministers, lawyers, judges to media persons, all are subjected to the grilling by the public and the institutions of these groups themselves.

In divergence of this trend, one of the institutions is often mostly, if not always, manages to sidestep such criticism: the Pakistan Army.

The mainstream media has conventionally, cautiously avoided crossing this unwritten-yet-understood red line and has only recently been seen to gather the gut to tread it occasionally.

The influences that have produced this general condition tumble into an evident number.

kayani_ap_670First: the demoralization narrative. Reinforced by General Kiyani himself in a meeting with senior journalists and editors last year, to whom he also conveyed his complaint of media campaigns “damaging the morale of the jawans“, he firmly stated that “unnecessary criticism”, which we are left to interpret for ourselves, dampens the spirits in the ranks. This presents criticism as a risky foray, a tightrope for all criticizing the army to walk.

Then comes the traditional and social background to the issue, Pakistan as a nation has been consistently and constantly, and rightfully so, prodded through a variety of means (Shoaib Mansoor’s Alpha Bravo Charlie or Madam Noor Jehan‘s  ‘Ae puttar hattan tay nayi wikde’, anyone?) to become conscious of the valiance of our soldiers who risk their all today for our tomorrow. This coupled with the first narrative automates public thinking to to conceive it unacceptable to ‘target’ the army and dispirit those belonging to it, serving us day and night.

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The last angle to this, somewhat, a result of the abovementioned, is the entrenched McCarthyism in Pakistani society, which out-rightly assumes that any person criticizing the army belongs to or deserves to belong to the ’fifth column of the enemy’. This has also been fuelled by a cleverly channeled and built image of the army during or as preludes and justifications of military dictatorship, as the sole strongest and reliable institution of the state, especially compared to the ‘incapable’ civilians at the helm, that possess the commitment and power to alleviate Pakistan from its troubles.
In light of this, it is deemed the peak of being ’unpatriotic’ and the height of patriotic insensitivity to have the audacity to criticize the institution that protects us, our country and holds the state together.

Nawaz-Sharif3-480x238The recent declaration of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to try Musharraf under Article 6 of the constitution on the count of treason not only dimmed all concerns regarding the ambiguity of the government regarding the case but also witnessed the unsurprising and coinciding resurgence of the aforementioned features.

An attempt was also made to augment the argument by linking Musharraf’s trial to the sacrifices of Pakistan’s gallant shuhuda.

Social media began to be filled with photos of captions stating how the nation must never forget the ultimate sacrifices of our martyrs which are on the verge of, somehow, being insulted to satiate the personal vengeance of Nawaz Sharif by trying Musharraf; an act that will demean the institution of the army.

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The act of putting up the shield of the shuhada to save the institution of the army from the artillery of criticism and introspection is a shameless stunt that must cease immediately.


It eludes both sense and logic to assert that holding the transgressors within the army or bringing the excesses of the army into the fold of accountability is an affront to the institution and the shuhuda when their existence in the first place fulfills this condition already.

If there is something demeaning for the shuhuda, it is their exploitation to evade the necessary actions needed to counter the actions of those in the army, such as General Musharraf; who not only damaged the dignity of the army, marred the sacrifices of the martyrs’ with their grime but also played havoc with the country.

Pak_Army_177352815If the soldiers are to be disheartened and demoralized then they must be by the decisions of generals like Ayub, Yahya, Zia and Musharraf. For their discontent to be roused by censure of such actors within the army instead of such actors themselves clearly shows a case of misplaced ideas, priorities and focus.

What also remains to be realized is the difference between the gernails who are the focal point of criticism on the military and army, and the jawans, the fearless and selfless foot soldiers who brave the frost of Siachen and the heat at the barracks.

This is not to ignore the transition that the generals themselves have had to this rank from being soldiers themselves, but to distinguish between both is imperative to understand and tolerate the critical discourse on the army. To criticize the army or to speak on the scandals and excess of some gernails is not to degrade our jawans and to shrewdly muddle up the principal difference between the two to shun criticism of the army is unjust.

These elections did not merely mark a democratic and political transition but May 11th formally roared Pakistan‘s desire, with a massive turnout, to set out on the progressive path it is now on. Yet, to fully blossom into a one, democracy must trickle into Pakistani mindsets, public interaction and discourse. Criticism must begin to evolve into constructive and mature within the parameters of a healthy debate that shall, at the end of the day, be beneficial for all of Pakistan. The dogmas of yesterday must be broken and the ‘taboos’ that impose the locks on our lips must be smashed. A principle of equality of accountability must be established in Pakistan, no institution or individual is above the law and there exists no holy cow.

pervez-musharraf2Musharraf’s trial will not be the trial of the army, but a trial of the idea that he represents that has marred the army and charred Pakistan for far too long; an idea of constitutional violations and undemocratic adventures.

If a democratically-elected prime minister can be sent to the gallows, another humiliated and sent into exile then it is only right to place a man who stomped upon the country with his boots to be placed behind bars.
The support of all parties for the decision of the government in Musharraf’s case is a welcome step in the creation of a pulsating democracy in Pakistan.

Indeed Nawaz Sharif is pursuing vengeance on the trial of Musharraf, but not personal, national vengeance.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Postcards from Lahore to Cannes Film Festival


*First posted on Express Tribune Blogs.

“Lahore. The second largest city in Pakistan; the fifth largest city in South Asia and the twenty-sixth largest city in the world but more than that though, this is the place of my parents’ birth and the place they now live in. I lived only once, as a 7-year old, now at the age of 24, I’ve finally got another chance to visit the place of my origins, and recreate the early mementos of my childhood trip: my postcards from Lahore”.

And so begins British-Asian and London-based filmmaker and comedian Aatif Nawaz’s short film ’Postcards from Lahore’ that has come to be the only Pakistani film to be shown at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival 2013.

198104_181968785276253_1559320097_nNarrated by Aatif himself, ‘Postcards from Lahore’ centers not just around a young man traveling 7,000 miles back to his hometown after 17 years to recreate his memories but revisits every shade of color that comes together to make the vibrant composition that is Lahore: be it its rich historical and cultural heritage whose grandeur is redrawn vividly through the anecdotes of 86-year-old Jameel, one of Lahore Fort’s tour guides; a slice of its streets; the warmth of its people; their love for sports and of course, good food!

Aatif’s comedian wit is often heard in his candid commentary as he tours around Lahore, from the city’s fringes to its modern constructional erections that are the numerous shopping malls and plazas.

The documentary also includes tidbits about how the security situation in Pakistan has affected the city and how it is much lamented.

His experience of exploring Lahore and trying to rebond with his roots in ‘Postcards from Lahore’, in Aatif’s own words is “a foreigner’s love-letter to the city of his origins”.

And it truly is a love-letter that exhibit’s every feature of beauty of the beloved city that is the throbbing heart of the country: it’s life, diversity, past, people and culture.

The film was screened at the 2012 Raindance Film Festival, the Pakistani High Commission in the UK and was awarded an Honorable Mention at the Los Angeles Film Festival 2012 among several other honoaray mentions and awards at the festival circuit.

We’re proud of Aatif and congratulate him for the documentary’s success!

‘Postcards from Lahore’ on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/PostcardsFromLahore

Aatif Nawaz can also be followed on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AatifNawaz

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Why I Voted PML-N and the Expectations Now


*Originally posted on Express Tribune Blog, posting the whole version here.

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So the people of Pakistan have finally spoken!

And their votes have surged the PML-N to power once again.

PML-N’s supporters and voters are immeasurably elated, they may not have been as expressive in declarations of their support but they certainly have been expressive and assertive of their support through the ballot box.

I voted for PML-N because I felt it satisfactorily addressed the list of pressing matters that I personally prioritize for Pakistan:

nawaz_1_670-600x3501. The acute civil-military imbalance that characterizes Pakistan’s power disequilibrium is an issue that I view to be not only pressing but whose offshoots are several other troubles in the country. It demands a rectification, and the PML-N has shown the clearest stance in this regard: upholding the rule of civilians; respect for the mandate of elected-representatives; autonomy from the military establishment, its ventures, adventures, forays into the political and policy-making arena. Picking and sticking to such a stance, in my opinion, is the first right step in the direction of its redressing.

2. Their economic and infrastructural focus has always been palpable, and their track record is a testament to that.

M2_Pakistan_3From the M2, setting up of NADRA, dams and power plants, PML-N has delivered in the past in the little time they were given in contrast to their mandate of a total of 10 years in separate stints at the federal government. The Metro Bus system has also been a noteworthy project that can not be denied as not having benefited countless people, regardless of other criticism.

3. It has proven its seriousness towards education. Apart from establishing the outstanding Danish Schools, the Punjab Government’s effective implementation of education reforms all over Punjab, although criminally underreported in Pakistan, yielded remarkable results. 

4.  A specific characteristic that struck me about the party, had been its sense of political maturity and responsibility.  I believe the PML-N displayed judiciousness by allowing the last government to complete its term and not bestowing a crown of political martyrdom and victim hood on its head.

If the PML-N’s role is seen in this regard and context, then it also gets the credit for contributing to the milestone of the first term completion of a democratically-elected government in Pakistan and thus, facilitating the transfer of power from one democratically-elected government to another which these elections were.

Tahir-ul-Qadri4In its continuous display of political sagacity, the PML-N also brought together all opposition parties against the “circus” that Tahir-ul-Qadri put up in Islamabad; a reiteration of the party’s pledge to stand by democratic principles.

PML-N’s leaders also did not reciprocate the mudslinging and potshot-taking initiated by Imran Khan.

5. It is a party that has acknowledged its mistakes regarding Balochistan in the past and is making efforts to rectify those; it has reached out to Baloch leaders and called upon them to contest in the elections.

mengal-sharifBack in September 2012, the PML-N announced its backing to the six-point proposals of Akhtar Mengal in removing the deprivation of the people of Balochistan.

6. One can gauge the interest and dedication of the party for cultural revival by the initiation of projects for the restoration of famous cultural and historical sites and places in Punjab, particularly in Lahore, that many citizens are well-aware of. The beautification of the provincial capital and the opening of the New Lahore Food Street only add more weight to this measure.

7. From Sartaj Aziz, Ishaq Dar, Khawaja Asif to Ahsan Iqbal, PML-N hosts a competent and capable team of veterans that will certainly assist in the implementation of its vision.

8. Lastly, the PML-N is an alternative for me to PPP and PTI, parties that I do not support for a number of reasons.

I was and am conscious and critical of PML-N’s flaws and wrongs, and know that the party I chose for these elections may not be the best. I also know that the aforementioned points I have penned as my reasons to support it may even be or are found in other party’s stances, manifestos and works but the collective existence of all of these in a single party, constituted a reason enough for me to cast my vote for them.

PAKISTAN-UNREST-VOTE-SHARIF

Now that they have been elected as the government, PML-N will understandably under the pressure of its mandate to fulfill its duties and expectations of the nation. It is required that they actualize the roadmap they presented in their manifesto: from economic revival and growth, curbing of terrorism and maintenance of law and order in the country especially in areas where the government’s writ has been blown into smithereens and that are routinely aflame; dealing with the energy crisis; reintegration of FATA into the political and national mainstream; the country-wide implementation of their education reforms of Punjab to promises such as the depoliticizing of sports boards.

PML-N can also rid the influence of the undemocratic forces in Pakistan by assertive democratization of the country which can largely be established through good governance.

Keeping aside the emergence of rigging allegations and controversies surrounding the elections for a moment, there is little doubt that these elections have been a historic one for Pakistan. Being the first transfer of power from one civilian democratically-elected government to another with the highest voter turnout to date; they have been more a victory for democracy than any party in the country.

The single sentiment that has simultaneously surged with the results of the elections has been of hopefulness.

Even if the PML-N was not the pick of a segments of some people, these elections and this government are hoped to be the opening of a new chapter in Pakistan’s tumultuous journey that sees the beginning of every Pakistani basically wants: a better, prosperous and progressive Pakistan.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Published in: on May 16, 2013 at 3:54 pm  Comments (21)  
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Elections in an Uneducated Pakistan?


*First posted on Seedhi Baat.

Voter illiteracy is often considered to be the bane of democracy in a developing country. The perception isn’t any different for Pakistan.

A recent article in International Business Times titled ‘Pakistan’s High Illiteracy Rate Threatens its Fragile Democracy’  said:

‘According to Unesco, only about 56 percent of Pakistani adults are literate — in contrast, South Asian neighbors India and Sri Lanka boast literacy rates of 74 percent and 97 percent, respectively.

Literacy rates in Pakistan are even lower for the rural poor and for women. Unesco estimates that some 70 percent of Pakistan’s rural population is illiterate, with even higher rates for women.

While the illiterate cannot be barred from voting, Saadat Ali Khan, a research associate at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, warned in Pakistan’s Express Tribune newspaper that illiteracy plays into the hands of corrupt politicians who try to win votes on the basis of religious, tribal or ethnic affiliations, rather than on their contributions to the nation.

Indeed, in Pakistan’s rural hinterlands, voters (most of whom are illiterate) often vote for candidates who have paid them off with money or food or promised favors.

“Illiteracy undermines the very foundations of … democracy,” warned Unesco in its report on Pakistan.

“Illiterate citizens inevitably lack in awareness and reasoning skills. How can we expect a voter to make an informed decision when he/she is unable to even read a newspaper? Illiterate voters are easily misled.”

Pakistan, if it holds any faint hopes of solidifying its fragile democracy, will also have to overcome deep-seated cultural values in order to educate all of its people.’

As illustrated by the article, illiterate voters are largely perceived to make unsound judgments at polling stations, casting votes on the basis of biraderi, sects, caste, religion, ethnicity, owing to their state of being unlettered. While it is true that many do vote on these lines, it is important to understand the differentiation between illiterate and uneducated voters, that is frequently muddled up as one.

A voter may be illiterate but not necessarily uneducated.

The literacy of a voter relates to his ability to write and read, the latter relates to his level of information and degree of being informed as a voter.

80761E9F-C9B2-4A40-B863-07812E2E519A_mw1024_n_sEducation and illiteracy are indeed crucial issues that require the imposition of emergency by the state. Indeed literacy, and that which goes beyond reading and writing, coupled with voter education would work as catalysts for the proper functioning of democracy and the betterment of Pakistan.

But currently, the level of awareness of the common man in Pakistan is also evolving.

While there may be a range of factors which have and are contributing to this change, the most notable has been the media.

Certainly illiterate voters are unable to benefit from the print media but presently Pakistan hosts a robust, vibrant, free and independent media in a booming industry. Especially electronic media. It has grown into a force to be reckoned with for both the state, the government and those aspiring to participate in them. Standing at the forefront of presenting expositions and hypocrisy on part of those that seek to rule and govern the nation, the electronic media exercises a mighty influence over the formation of people’s opinions, perceptions, choices, biases and ideas by continuing to impart such information and knowledge.

Pakistan is also home to a nation increasingly owning and using mobile phones and televisions. The increasing usage, availing, penetration and accessibility of technological products and electronic items has connected people to the flow of information transmitted through them.

In a developing country like ours, which is struggling to wriggle out of a siege of deep-rooted structural and cultural detriments, votes are not simply determined by a marriage between free will and choice of an individual. On practical grounds, votes are subject to a range of elements: feudalism, entrenched party loyalties, patriarchy, ignorance, threat of violence and more.

It is believed that illiterate voters are more susceptible to exploitation by the aforementioned factors, but here is where the crux of the argument lies, illiterate but educated voters can avoid exploitation and unsound judgments.

The IBTimes article mentions the instances of illiterate people voting on the promises or provision of food and money, but this hardly results from illiteracy than it does from poverty.

It is unwise to assume illiterate voters wholly lack reasoning sense, they may not be able to read and write, but a degree of generosity must be awarded to the illiterate people in accepting that they do posses basic sense of both reasoning and constructing a direction for their voting. Their can’t be and there isn’t a monopoly of common or basic sense and logic that is independent of formal education.

Being the most affected portion of the class hierarchy, the poor and illiterate have the strongest and greatest desire for shelter, clothes, bread and butter, a square meal and a better future for their children: a prosperous Pakistan.

If they are forced to turn to faulty political choices, it must be reiterated, that it has often more to do with poverty than illiteracy.

Alongside this, it should be acknowledged that there is no such guarantee that formally educated or literate people make the best of political choices through voting. Around the world, many literate and illiterate people alike have often voted in the worst of rulers and governments, and even supported them.

Pakistan+Votes+National+Elections+sZRZOjx8JMYlIt is only through constant and continued democratic procedural cycles of elections that the political choices of people in Pakistan can be matured through experience and information which act as instruments of education for voters.

At the end, it must be realized that the average Pakistani today, regardless of his literacy and illiteracy, is palpably a more educated voter than he or she was years ago. They are more empowered by the vast free, fluid flow of information which exemplifies the age of today. And as illiterate people become educated and more informed voters, things in Pakistan sure are changing and heading in the right direction.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Published in: on May 6, 2013 at 12:27 pm  Comments (4)  
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Death of a Nation


*First posted on Pak Tea House.

Holding in the midst of political, social and economic storms, the Pakistan of today is a an unfortunate illustration of a national bedlam.

Unsurprisingly, death and destruction have now eased into the form of humdrum routinely occurrences for the people. Predictably throwing a cloak of desensitization over them; giving rise to apathy.

A rather common trend that has been nurtured in this environment is the juxtaposition of tragedies for comparisons to exhibit selectivity of people’s reactions and responses.

And it is to question this apathy that many have begun to question concern for and media coverage of a particular unpleasant incident; why one tragedy merits greater outrage or media attention than another. It is rather frequent to see comments on the social media touching upon drone attacks or killings in Karachi to ask why these do not yield as much public concern as other doleful incidents being usually currently shed light on, such as the shooting of Malala Yousafzai or the murder of Shahzeb Khan.

Stalin is to have allegedly said:

‘The death of one man is a tragedy; the death of millions is a statistic.’

Nothing better displays the human propensity of desensitization. The human mind perceives a single death or loss with genuine compassion and sympathy but when it comes to a loss of more lives, it simply can not grasp it with the same rush of emotions. The grip of those emotions loosens with the loss being bigger.

Keith Payne, a social psychologist, notes in an article of his ‘Why is the death of one million a statistic; Why we feel the least when we are needed the most.’ :  

jJoseph Stalin is reputed to have said that the death of one person is a tragedy; the death of one million is a statistic. And Mother Teresa once said, “If I look at the mass I will never act.” When Stalin and Mother Teresa agree on a point, I sit up and pay attention. It turns out that the human tendency to turn away from mass suffering is well documented. Deborah Small and Paul Slovic have termed this phenomenon the collapse of compassion. It’s not simply that as the number of victims goes up, people’s sympathy levels off. No, when the numbers go up, the amount of sympathy people feel goes perversely down.’

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This is not to justify the expansion of apathy in Pakistan, but to merely accentuate the human tendency for it that has ballooned in the country into an even worse phenomenon, of selective apathy and empathy.

An evident outcome of the aforementioned commentary – of pitting one mishap and its casualties against another – has been the polarization which has thrust people into dissimilar angles of this discourse.

One may also ascribe this approach to the Pakistani proclivity for knitting and credulity to believe conspiracy theories; or looking for ulterior motive angles to certain events springing from the importance being attached to them.

There are those who point out how many are unmoved by tragedies which involve perpetrators that claim to be Muslims and will only raise voice when America or some Western state is at this end, and there are those who believe that a certain segment of the Pakistani society is only disturbed when religious minorities or supposedly ’liberal’ causes lie in the very plinth and base of those tragedies.

However, both agree that condemnation and outrage in Pakistan rests on whatever perpetuates one’s narrative or beliefs.

Therefore, there is no uniformity, but selectivity in outrage.

But most importantly, the reason is simple: challenging people’s indifference and nonchalance.

Ironically, this course often tumbles into the same cast that it seeks to break.

As in many instances of comparing two tragic incidents, these attempts to rouse attention or sympathy towards an ignored happening seem to degenerates into diminishing the value of and disregard for the lives lost in the first one, because the entire concept of comparing and contrasting deaths reeks of obscenity.

There is a great deal of truth in the issue of Pakistanis conveniently cherry picking certain appalling occurrences for grieving and clamoring, whilst amplifying the blithe thoughtlessness for other terrible incidents.

See-no-evil,-hear-no-evil,-speak-no-evil

But in reaching a point where we feel pitching tragedies against one another to raise and elicit equal compassion and commiseration for both and by doing so, we have let our collective morality and humanity slip between the cracks and diminish to specks.

Because surely when deaths are made to compete to be mourned, fouled and disregarded heartlessly to be given ascendancy over another, exploited to strengthen personal political arguments, ignored due to indifference and the solemnity they command consigned to oblivion, it signals nothing, but the death of a nation itself.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Published in: on April 7, 2013 at 8:47 am  Comments (4)  

Pakistan Hit by Fever of Turkey’s Popular Cultural Export


*Originally published in Turkey Tribune.

It is 9pm in Pakistan. An estimated thousands sit intently to watch what will unfold in a mansion scenically facing a shore of the Bosphorus, and in lives of the people who dwell in it. A handsome, philandering blonde, his sturdy uncle’s young gorgeous wife, her conniving mother and the mansion’s elegant governess. Characters that have eased into a part of their own lives.

These Pakistanis sit in anticipation of what will unfold in the Ziyagil Mansion. And so was the routine for them since months, until ‘Ishq-e-Mamnuu’ ended last December.

What began as a venture by a new channel last year eventually evolved into a nation-wide mania of ‘Ishq-e-Mamnuu’ (Urdu for ‘Aşk-ı Memnu‘).

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The first of its kind in the country, the UAE-based channel Urdu1 became available in Pakistan in June 2012 by broadcasting two foreign TV dramas dubbed immaculately in Urdu, one Spanish and the other Turkish.The latter’s fresh storyline, cast and their convincing performances set in the ambience of Turkish culture and the picturesque locales of Istanbul, within a matter of months ensconced itself in a large Pakistani urban audience. 

A diverse audience composed by people belonging to both sexes of all ages, occupations, backgrounds, stripes and walks of life. And Toygar Işiklı’s masterly music production only augmented its appeal for them.

During its run on TV, it was not an uncommon sight to see many Pakistanis jestingly meeting each other in the Turkish style of greeting with a peck on each cheek, the two genders swooning over Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ, Beren Saat and Hazal Kaya and women raving about Firdevs Yöreoglu’s and her daughters’ fashion. Hearing ‘Aşk-ı Memnu’s theme music as ringtones and heated discussions on the drama, with the obligatory dental clicking for poor Adnan Ziyagil, in various cafes, lounges, restaurants was an even more ordinary scene.

It was, literally, the talk of the town.

tumblr_m76wxbXjHx1r6nm6ao1_500fsdfConsidering Pakistan’s long-standing cultural, historical, bilateral and exceptional brotherly relations with Turkey, Pakistani interest in the Turkish state and nation is rather natural. Turkey frequently occupies a place in Pakistan’s political discourse; as an ideal political model. Recently, amid the fluttering of Pakistani and Turkish flags all over Lahore and much fanfare and excitement, the provincial government of Punjab inaugrated Pakistan’s first Metro Bus service in the city modeled on the Turkish system of this public transportation. It was also attended by the deputy prime minister of Turkey.

Add to this, the creation of frenzy owed to ‘Aşk-ı Memnu‘ . The massive following of the drama furthered the fascination with Turkey, its people, language and culture. Inevitably causing a shift in people’s travel preferences, wanderlust towards it and a surge in plans for Turkish vacations. It would come as no surprise, if soon Turkish tourism is compelled to welcome eager and swelling Pakistani throngs.

Televised the entire week, ‘Ishq-e-Mamnuu’ propelled the remarkable skyrocketed ratings for the channel, blurring behind well-established rival entertainment channels. This disconcertedness forced them to jointly file a petition in court against the Urdu1. While equally upset were and still are the numerous local producers and veteran drama actors and actresses, openly clamoring for protectionism for the entertainment and drama industry in Pakistan, with direct reference to ‘Ishq-e-Mamnuu’ whose sensational rise has posed a threat to them and their own soaps and TV shows.

50bf1c73654cf-Untitled-2In contrast to this, one notable veteran Adnan Siddiqui, who also played a role alongside Angelina Jolie in the film ‘A Mighty Heart’ , had a different approach and reaction.  Succinctly writing a note on ’Ishq-e-Mamnuu’ which acknowledged it’s attributes, he called on the Pakistani entertainment industry to accept it (the Turkish soap) as ’a production which is a learning mechanism to provide our industry with better quality for work’ and to learn from its causes of swift success to espouse professionalism and up their standards in conformity with international ones.

Presenting and dealing with subjects ranging from alcohol consumption, adultery to abortion under its themes of glamour, deception and betrayal, it came as surprise that it stirred no significant controversy involving conservative groups in Pakistan.

Ask-i-Memnu-Bihter-Behlul-bihter-and-behlul-19813315-766-690The slashing of steamier scenes in ‘Aşk-ı Memnu’ under the scanner and sword of censorship paved the way for its social and cultural acceptance but generally, the soap fuelled attraction and greater want for Turkish TV dramas in Pakistan.

The sudden popularity of actors Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ and Beren Saat in Pakistan along with the striking success of ‘Ishq-e-Mamnuu’ has led to many other entertainment channels following the trend set by Urdu1: with “Asi”, that started during ’Ishq-e-Mamnuu’ to have recently ended and replaced by Menekşe ile Halil” by one channel, andGümüş” now being televised as “Noor” by a separate one.

Urdu1 has also replaced ‘Aşk-ı Memnu’ with the dubbed version of “Fatmagülün suçu ne?” which it proudly calls on its official Facebook page ‘A perfect successor to Ishq-e-Mamnu!’  due to its successful maintenance of the highest ratings amongst other dramas during prime time that the former achieved. It has become apparent that ‘Aşk-ı Memnu’ might just have been to Pakistan what “Gümüş” was to the Arab world: a flare that ignited a boom in dubbed Turkish dramas.

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With Adnan, Bihter, Behlul household names in Pakistan, several other Turkish soaps being shown and the final episode of ‘Aşk-ı Memnu’ having surpassed local blockbusters by garnering record-breaking ratings; Turkey’s current greatest cultural export, which has and continues to captivate millions around the world, should add another country to its map. For Pakistan has been swept, taken and transfixed by the thrilling storm of Turkish dramas!

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Published in: on March 16, 2013 at 9:04 am  Comments (4)  
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Political Expediency & Abetting Extremism in Pakistan


*First published on Borderline Green.

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With the arrival of 2013 and fast-approaching elections scheduled for the year, the political environment in Pakistan is heating up. Recently, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) which is in government presently, announced an alliance with the Sunni Ittehad Council.

ppp-sunni

In view of the political season, this would be seen as a conventional electoral alliance, except that it isn’t.

In early January 2011, Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer, who belonged to Pakistan People’s Party himself, was gunned down in broad daylight by his guard Malik Mumtaz Qadri due to his vehement opposition to the country’s controversial Blasphemy Laws. An incident which intensely polarized the Pakistani society, leaving its fault lines exposed; with the people divided over antipathy to the killing and shockingly, raising justifications for it on religious grounds.

A product of this polarization, the Sunni Ittehad Council, amongst the other hordes, thronged to the court where Qadri was later presented to hail, cheer and garland him. Later, they held rallies in his support.

Despite being small, like all religious parties in Pakistan, the Sunni Ittehad Council has great street power stemming from the country being deeply religious (over 95% in Pakistan are Muslims) and have considerable organizational capacity and ability. Although, for reasons otherwise, this power of the religious parties does not translate into a significant percentage of votes at elections.

In 2001, the Sunni Ittehad Council(SIC) launched a *’Difa-e-Pakistan’ (Defense of Pakistan) campaign that was aimed at creating public awareness against NATO attacks on Pakistan’s border military posts in Mohmand Agency. Also involving participation in a ‘Condemn America Day’.

Despite this, it was revealed after SIC’s support for Qadri that the U.S government had given aid to them in 2009 to plan and organize nationwide rallies, demonstrations and protests against militants, suicide-bombings and terrorist attacks.

A report on the matter says:

A US diplomat said that the embassy had given money to the group to organise the rallies, but that it had since changed direction and leadership. He said it was a one-off grant, and wouldn’t be repeated.

The Ittehad council was formed in 2009 to counter extremism. It groups politicians and clerics from Pakistan’s traditionalist Barelvi Muslim movement, often referred to as theological moderates in the Pakistani context.

Taseer’s assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, is a Barelvi. He claimed he acted to defend the honour of Prophet Mohammed.

At its rallies, the group (Sunni Ittehad Council) maintains its criticism of the Taliban even as it supports Qadri — a seemingly contradictory stance that suggests its leaders may be more interested in harnessing the political support and street power of Barelvis than in genuinely countering militancy.

For many, this indicated that Sunni Ittehad Council’s ardent antagonism towards militancy was somewhat, a dollar-fueled programme or play that they merely executed and orchestrated.

In response to the revelation, the head of the council Sahibzada Fazal Karim said:

This propaganda is being unleashed against us because we are strongly opposed to Western democracy and American policies in the region and in the world.. we are against extremism, but we support Qadri because he did a right thing,”

The Sunni Ittehad Council also strongly denounced any move to grant India the status of Most Favored Nation by Pakistan as means of liberalizing trade between the countries which it is firmly against.

Scholars and clerics from the SIC were part of the Islamic clerics in Pakistan which publicly denounced and even issued a fatwa against the Taliban’s attempt to kill Malala Yousafzai. Many people and skeptics see these occasional stances of theirs as a smokescreen to appear religiously moderate and politically progressive.

What makes this alliance stand out is the popular perception, at home and especially abroad, of the Pakistan People’s Party as a liberal or a relatively liberal party in Pakistan: one that has suffered the losses of many of its members and leaders to the rage of extremism, including its chairperson and the Muslim world‘s first female prime minister, the iconic Benazir Bhutto, due to its liberal and staunchly anti-extremist stances. But the  PPP has continually belied this image with its decisions and reactions to events in this tenure, that astoundingly go uncritically unquestioned by Pakistan’s otherwise vocal intellectuals.

PML ASWJ articleIt is not just the PPP which has formed such an alliance, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz or PML-N is also widely known to be on cordial terms with and to have reached a political consensus over seat adjustments for the upcoming general elections with the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan. The SSP, which resurged by changing its name to ‘Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat’ in order to display organizational differentiation – from the SSP which was banned under Musharraf’s rule – is an extremist and terrorist organization.  Ineffectively banned by the state, it is primarily concerned with thwarting Shia influence in Pakistan. It is the ideological father of the terrorist militant organization, Lashkar-e-Jhangivi which has been responsible for the slaughter of countless Shias in Pakistan.

These are not isolated events of the electoral season.The formation of these reprehensible alliances by two of Pakistan’s largest and most prominent political parties which have enjoyed stints in power are but a microcosm of politics in this South Asian country:

Playing to the gallery of the religious right, exploiting religion, allying with extremist factions for political gain which inevitably leads to appeasing and patronizing them thus, augmenting their growth and emboldening them.

pakelections

These instances of indulgence in political expediency, which reign supreme, have been a potent factor in abetting extremism in Pakistan.

As Pakistan finds itself at a crucial juncture, it is a demand of time that all segments of the state unite to devote themselves, with absolute sincerity, to the battle against extremism and terrorism that has already spilled the blood of over 40,000 innocent Pakistanis and cast the state as a virtual international outcast.

It is mutually exclusive for a party or government which blatantly collaborates and partners with organizations, that are established on the idea of hate and radicalism and promote bigotry, to ever fully commit itself to the war against terrorism and extremism in Pakistan. And that is the last that the country needs today.

_____________________________________________________________

*Not to be confused with ’Difa-e-Pakistan Council’ (Council for the Defense of Pakistan) which is an umbrella coalition of more than 40 Pakistani quasi-political religious parties that advocates closing NATO supply routes to Afghanistan and rejects the Pakistani government decision to grant India most-favored nation status.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Published in: on January 7, 2013 at 6:13 pm  Comments (1)  
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Pakistan’s Political Messiah Fixation


*Originally published in Pakistan Today.

A chapter of a survey released in July 2012 by PEW, spanning six predominantly Muslim countries – Pakistan, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Tunisia – shows that majorities in four of the six states believe that democracy, rather than a strong leader, can best solve their country’s problems.

The country with the most prominent opinion contrary to those of other countries is Pakistan, where preference of a leader over a democratic government is mirrored in the percentages: 61 percent of Pakistanis say their country should rely on a strong leader, while just 31 percent say democracy can better solve national problems.

The expression of favorability towards an individual over a system, be it judicial or governmental, isn’t a new phenomena but a political and cultural approach that has been ingrained in Pakistan.

The plausible notion of a strong leader being the pivot of progress has been made to inflate in importance through over-emphasis in the country, to a magnitude that all remaining requisites for the state’s prosperity are blurred into insignificance by it. That is, potential leaders or figures are deemed the panacea; virtually messiahs.

Although the roots of this precedence remain somewhat obscure, it can be assumed that they lie in the grounds of political culture and history.

A quick glimpse through Pakistan’s tumultuous history would reveal a dearth of stability and continuation of a democratic system, which all the more provides validation to the idea that Pakistan is a developing democracy, not yet a complete democracy.

In February this year, a survey conducted by the Oxford Research International says Libyans would favor a ‘strong leader’ over a democratic government. Commenting on which Oxford University’s Dr Christoph Sahm said the survey suggested Libyans lacked the knowledge of how democracy works.

This applies to Pakistan as well.

This inadequacy of acquaintance with the system of democracy is one of the reasons for the ‘Messiah Mania’ in Pakistan: lack of understanding of how democracy works and interest in it leads to supposing one man can cure the country’s ills all by his existence at the helm.

A developing democracy, as we are, Pakistanis are also terribly disenchanted with the order of democracy itself after what they have seen in this greatly disappointing democratically-elected government’s tenure.

 Sifting through the historical pages of Pakistan’s formation, most Pakistanis evince towards Jinnah single-handedly creating Pakistan in support of this preference (of choosing an individual or leader over a system), forgetting the lapses of decades that have occurred since 1947 and the vortex of change that there has been on the geographical, political, social, regional and national landscapes, which cancel much, if not the entire, basis of comparisons and references of Jinnah.

Pakistan’s political culture has also bred this disposition: with parties centered on dynasties, their histories and scions, politics and governance in Pakistan have been made a play of personalities beyond what they should probably be.

But with the rise of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), it has been proven that the fashioning of this leaning is not exclusive to dynastic and ‘family’ parties such as Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

The Kaptaan’s larger than life persona, charisma of the cricketing days and illustrious background in a sport that is similar to religion in Pakistan’s – along with philanthropy, his shrewd stance that subliminally echoes this mentality (a single honest man can channel change even through a team of ideological turncoats, opportunists and remnants of previous regimes) – has alone bolstered and intensified the idea of a messiah.

A dictatorial history may also explain why nations like Pakistan and Libya would choose a ‘strong leader’ over a democratic government.

A past that has been a witness to and victim of four separate authoritarian military men wheels around the concept of a single omnipotent figure. This has devised the perception of ‘one-man-government’ in peoples’ mind who believe a lone man can cause massive shifts in the country’s fortunes, systems and situations depending on his nature an d intentions (good or bad).

After the death of Czech politician Vaclav Havel and North Korea’s Kim Jong-il, Joshua A Trucker, professor of politics at New York University, pertinently writes in his article on Al-Jazeera English ‘How much do individuals really matter in politics?’

The most pressing question for policymakers now is how likely it is that the course of Czech or North Korean politics will be altered by the death of Havel or Kim. Many important differences exist between the two, not the least of which is that Havel has been out of political power for years now, while Kim (we assume) has been running the country.

However, perhaps the most important difference is the fact that the Czech Republic is an institutionalized democracy while North Korea may be the world’s last totalitarian dictatorship. Therefore, one viable hypothesis would seem to be that there should be less disruption to the Czech Republic’s political trajectory (or any established democracy) due to the death of an important political figure than in a case like North Korea, where power is so centrally wrapped up around one person.”

Professor Trucker’s analysis is the principal point in this matter: power patterns contrast between a totalitarian and democratic governments and countries. Absolute control and authority is always vested in one figure in an autocracy but an individual is weighed by and down by the system in democracy (especially in a parliamentary democracy) with no space for any such ‘messiah’.

Another pressing question arises of this messiah culture that stresses a tremendous amount of reliance on a single figure: what will become of the country with the demise of the leader? Will the system, institutions and nation tumble into chaos? Who will take his place? After all, even messiahs are mortals.

Pakistan will have to take political leaders as they are: humans with flaws, who will have to make compromises, reconciliations and unfavorable decisions in the face of political gridlocks. A politician may possess a fine character and even a vision, but to expect him to actualize it for the country’s good all in his own entirety, unaided of followers, party members, a framework for implementation and a civilized system of governance is outright ludicrous. Which is why critical thought must be lent to all these factors and to make a cult of leadership is wholly nugatory.

Sculpting messianic idols out of political leaders, criticizing whom is to blaspheme and who are unknown to mistakes and over and above any system or principles – and the search for saviors needs to end for Pakistan, for it is an endless and futile one. To pull Pakistan from the precipice it currently staggers at will take more than a leader or a savior, and the population’s sensibilities being held hostage by this mindset that seeks a messiah will certainly not help.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Published in: on October 29, 2012 at 8:47 am  Comments (3)  
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Dissection of a Trivial Argument: Ramadan or Ramzan?


*First published on the Express Tribune Blog.

Since the last few years, the arrival of the holy month brings with itself the ignition of a debate on social media in Pakistan; at the center of which is the usage of words for the month: the Urdu word Ramzan and Arabic word Ramadan.

Some tweets explain better:

“Beena Sarwar @beenasarwar:

You can call the holy month what you want. I’ll use Ramzan, rather than the corporatised, commercialised, Arabised, westernised Ramadan.

Fazeelat Aslam @FazleetAslam

If you’re Pakistani say Ramzan. If you enjoy continuing Zia’s mission and being a lemming, please say Ramadan. #lemmings

AM‏ @delhisultan

@AneelaBabar Today we say use Ramzan, not Ramadan. Tomorrow it will be something else. Where will these social dictates take us? @bdutt

Those on left side of this schism opine that usage of Arabic instead of Urdu words are a constituent of Arabic cultural imperialism and religious rigidity in Pakistan; commenting sarcastically how the country’s name itself should be changed to Al-Bakistan (The Arabic language doesn’t contain ‘P’ in it.)

While those on the right argue for using Arabic words to keep to ‘proper’ religious linguistics or holding onto Pakistan’s Islamic heritage; often ‘correcting’ other’s greeting of Ramzan to Ramdan.

An article in Guardian titled ‘In Pakistan, saying Goodbye can be a religious statement’ on a similar Khuda-Hafiz/Allah-Hafiz issue, says:

‘Until about 10 years ago “Khuda hafiz”, which means “God protect you”, was the phrase commonly used to say goodbye. But, in the past decade, “Khuda hafiz” began to be overtaken by a new term “Allah hafiz.

While languages change and evolve with time, and Pakistan certainly has bigger problems such as corruption and militancy, the alteration has unsettled liberals in Pakistan, who say it reflects a wider change in the country’s cultural landscape.

The promotion of “Allah hafiz” first began in the 1980s under the rule of General Zia-ul-Haq when Pakistan was involved in the US- Saudi-backed jihad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.’

The belief that this ‘religious linguistic propriety’, which included the introduction of ‘Allah Hafiz’ and ‘Ramadan’ in Pakistan’s lingual fashion, began with Zia’s campaign of cultural Islamisation does hold truth. It has inevitably led to these (words, phrases) to be seen symbolic of the infamous General’s Islamification drive or ‘Saudization‘ of Pakistan; which is the cause of many liberals and progressive-minded people objecting to their use today.

Although it is a question of precedence of subjects that needs to be reconsidered by them because Zia’s ideological influence is at its most dangerous when it exists from our madrassas, mindsets to our constitution, not in mere words or phrases.

Despite that, it is important to realize that with the flight of decades; these words became incorporated into the nation’s lingo and style of speaking in a manner that they are now viewed and used as ordinary as any other ones (for most); regardless or unknown of and removed from their background of Islamisation/Arabisation of the linguistic culture. This is particularly true for the young generation of today; that was either born in the 80s or grew up in an age where they were unable to notice the process of lingual transformation that was being attempted through a state-fuelled campaign.

It is questionable whether the application of a few phrases or words cause or be a testament to some ‘rampant Arabisation’ of  Pakistan presently and to assume that all who like using the Arabic word for Ramzan are proponents of degradation of Pakistan’s own, distinct culture, lingual establishment and imposition of an Arab one, is preposterous.

Many use either of the words out of pure personal preference or habit. To be fair, Urdu as a language faces more threat of perishing at the hands of the colonial era inculcated sense of inferiority amongst us which has manifested itself in the ’Angraizi complex’, or the paramount significance that this society grants the English language over Urdu.

On the other hand, to believe that the occasional usage of Arabic words lends one more religiosity or ‘Muslim-ness’ is equally absurd. Those possessing this outlook need to review it, too, because respect for religion rests not in a handful of words but in actions, behaviours and attitudes.

Does addressing Allah as God make one a lesser Muslim?

Intentions behind uttering something and its essence is what matters most; words and expressions may differ.

The aforementioned points, thus, should validate how trifling the apprehensions and perceptions and their basis are for both of the groups. To be so vehemently opposed to the usage of either ‘Ramazan’ or ‘Ramadan’ by any, on the account of the stated views or any other reasons, is irrational and in contrast with good sense.

Let everyone have the freedom and choice to pick their own unit of language up, without forcing or prodding others to conform to each other’s self-defined mediums of ‘appropriate’ expressions.

The people of Pakistan need to stop making a mountain out of this molehill and quit attaching such alarmingly grand nature to it; of cultural foist and religious inaccuracy.

While Pakistan gets mired in troubles of far great and disturbing kind, debate over ’Ramazan’ or ‘Ramadan’, only gives prominence to the penchant amongst this nation with its preoccupation with the trivial.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Published in: on July 27, 2012 at 11:24 am  Comments (3)  
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Pakistan’s ‘Supreme’ Quagmire


*Published on Borderline Green.

After spending 4 years, 2 months and 26 days in office as Pakistan’s 24th Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani was removed from power on 19th June 2012 by an order of the Supreme Court that proved to be crescendo in the on-going stand-off between the government and judiciary.

The background to the case lay in the overturning of the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance in 2009 by the Supreme Court. The Musharraf-issued NRO  basically provided a cover of insulation from being tried and convicted for  politicians and bureaucrats by offering them amnesty in all cases of any crime or corruption that they were involved in or may have committed.

Its dissolution meant that all the cases of the NRO Beneficiaries were now revived; on top of which was President Zardari who faced the Swiss Cases worth $60 milliom. In relation to this, the Supreme Court directed the Prime Minister to write a letter to the Swiss Authorities to commence with the proceedings associated with their reopening; which the PM refused citing the presidential immunity Zardari enjoyed from prosecution. Gilani’s defiance of the order was construed as contempt of court and his disqualification was the result.

The discourse that took Pakistan after the verdict of Gilani’s disqualification and subsequent dismissal, centered not on disagreement about whether cases of corruption against Zardari should be reinstated but on the judiciary’s conduct; which appears to be increasingly engaging in judicial activism, inevitably encroaching upon the parliamentary and political space.

The binaries created by this discourse, on one hand lead to those who support the judiciary’s decisions and those who disapprove of the direction they feel the judiciary has chosen.

Pakistan’s history of chaos and disorder consigned the establishment of accountability to the bin; giving rise to a culture where exploitation, abuse of authority, lawlessness, chaos and a states within the state have thrived.

The country’s two principal organizations: the National Accountability Bureau and the Federal Investigative Agency with the respective aims of ‘the responsibility of elimination of corruption through a holistic approach of awareness, prevention and enforcement’and ‘to serve and assist the nation to get justice through an effective law enforcement’ have been pervaded by a systematic politicization; disabling their organizational and regulative capacity and impeding a proper pursuit of accomplishing the basis of their formation by proffering a virtual immunity and amnesty to those in positions of power from being made answerable and treated accordingly.

In these circumstances, the susceptibility of a certain void of regulatory apparatus for ensuring the accountability of those in government or in power is natural and visible.

After the success of the momentous Movement for the Restoration of the Judiciary, the judiciary emerged to fill this void; an institution with the capability and focus to bring all within the loop (or noose) of justice.

And as news of scandals, scams and stories of personal aggrandizement of this PPP Government and its members kept stacking upon each other; public frustration and desperation waxed.

What followed is a thumping public thirst for accountability, which some see to be slaked by the judiciary’s recent course of actively taking on the government head on and thus, has invited a swarm of petitions to be filed at the Supreme Court that target what is perceived as governmental maladministration and misrule. 

This is where the strand of contention ascends into sight: is the judiciary the right institution for making the government answerable?

Tausif Kamal, an Attorney at Law in Houston pens in his article in Daily Times:

‘The basic function of our SC is to hear, adjudicate and interpret the law on actual cases or disputes between two adversaries that comes before it on appeal. Such appellate jurisdiction and application of law is the court’s primary duty. Its original jurisdiction should be rare and limited to hearing cases between two provinces, or where one province and/or the federal government is a party.’

It is clear, that the primary function of the judiciary isn’t holding the government responsible or keeping the ‘state’s excesses’ in check. The term ‘excesses of the state’ being broad enough to vary and differ between people. Is it one that is defined by the dictates of the law, the popularity and moral standing of the government with the people? And who defines it? How and when is it subject to the suo moto? About which, to quote Tausif Kamal again :

‘Article 184 (3), which incredibly bestows on the apex court almost limitless and unbridled powers of original jurisdiction. Enabling it to adjudicate on its own whim and fancy any matter under the sun in the name of ‘public importance’ or ‘fundamental rights’, it gives rise to the overuse of suo motu.’

To many, Gilani’s removal has been a ‘judicial coup’ with the judiciary greatly overstepping its domain. After all, the three main means of dismissing an individual from the Prime Minister’s secretariat are laid through the Parliament, Election Commission and the people itself which can be availed by the motions of a vote of no-confidence, disqualification and voting in the next elections, respectively.

The debate that the ‘historic’ decision of the Supreme Court has stirred has also provided fodder for debate that revolves around the lengths that the Supreme Court can stride about to oversee the government’s dealings and matters, the suo moto as an instrument for witting or unwitting immersion in judicial activism of sorts (Despite international praise for Pakistan’s higher judiciary, international calls have also been made to form a distinct, fair criteria that guides the use of suo moto) and in current instances of the government’s refusal to obey the judicial orders (regardless of the reasons); the extent that the Lords of the Supreme Court can go to rein in its deviance from compliance and the removal of an elected Prime Minister as a  of the Supreme Court.

Dr. Mohamed Taqi writes:

‘The post-March 2009 judiciary arrived at the helm with a sense of entitlement and populist vigour, which it felt it had earned for inspiring and leading its own restoration movement. Frequent references, in several recent verdicts, by several judges to the Supreme Court of Pakistan to being “the people’s court” rather than a constitutional court indicated that the justices were operating under the influence of what they perceived was popular support received during the restoration movement. The restored judiciary had come to the bench after contracting the messiah complex! The misplaced assumption of being the new saviors has put the judiciary in a unique situation where it has on occasion been at odds with both the civilians and the military and appears to be acting not just as a proxy, at least in its own mind, but a power player.’

By proclaiming itself to be the ‘people’s court’, it is reckoned that it intends to be a representative of the public sentiment rather than, or more than, an exponent and upholder of the law and legal system because to be both is mutually exclusive.

To become the ’true representatives’ of the people is the sole prerogative of the Parliament and the penchant for making assertions of being the ‘real representatives’ of the people by state pillars such as the media and judiciary contravenes to their distinguishable reasons of existence.

Their separate roles, institutional duties and professional ethics command that they remain detached from such populism and matters invalidating their ambition to advocate the people’s will and view. The judiciary and Supreme Court in particular are required to be objective and egalitarian.

The judiciary and dispensation of justice is not governed by vox populi but by the laws and constitution.

By assuming or borrowing the charge of another instituition or organ Pakistan will only be mired into a din of further confusion and conflict in which any possibility of accountability and transparency will be the only casualties; and polarise the state organs that need to be brought together in agreement at present, more than ever, for a stable, democratically-viable Pakistan.

As Babar Sattar says in his must-read article ‘Legal Eye: On Picking Sides’ on this very issue:

‘We need an independent judiciary, a functional parliament, a performing executive, a strong army, an uncensored media and a vibrant civil society. None of this is expendable if Pakistan is to thrive.’

Any espousal of the functions of another institution, for whatever lofty reason and possible short-term relief, hamstring that institution to evolve, shed its failings and ability to develop to overcome its defunctness and shortcomings.

The settlement to this ‘supreme’ quagmire of Pakistan, rests in the exclusive practice of the segregate authority that the state organs are vested with, while strictly dwelling within the confines of their legal, constitutional turfs.

Upon ending, a reported remark by the American Chief Justice Roberts as the US Supreme Court upheld Obama’s Healthcare Law, would sum up the case in Pakistan well:

“It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.”

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Internet Censorship: Why The Lifted Twitter Ban is Serious Matter


Exactly two years since the date on which a ban on Facebook was enforced in Pakistan, Twitter was blocked by Pakistan Telecommunication Authority on orders of the I.T Ministry today.

The ban has just been lifted on orders of the PM.

The given ground for it was the ‘promotion and encouragement to participate in blasphemous contests’ through Twitter.

The first point of argument that arises upon hearing this, is: if such contests are being held by some, how will Pakistan’s suspension of Twitter stop it? How does barring people from any site, accomplish anything, leave alone the discontinuation of the alleged ‘offensive’ content?

It is patent that this is at a complete discord with rationale, thus rendering the whole act futile while assigning the element of sheer foolishness to it.

Second, what kind of ‘blasphemous contests’ were being publicised on Twitter, that those who are logged onto in 24/7 are not aware of, but only PTA was?

And that too, on a site like Twitter where any such controversial or globally or locally ‘trending’ topics immediately come into the cognizance and under the discussions of the millions of users?

In view of these, the reason given by PTA was seen more of a pretext rather than a valid explanation for their action.

Although the ban has been removed now, the situations surrounding the internet and its usage in Pakistan command that its core be taken seriously: internet censorship.

Since the advent of social networking sites, many in Pakistan have found a medium where the relatively great freedom of speech and expression available in the country, could be utilized to have their voice heard.

But the fact that the government and its organizations are vested with the authority to define a broad term like ‘objectionable’, misuse it to cease access to the internet under its cloak, is, to say the least, disconcerting.

Relevantly, taking into account that religion is the most dangerously sensitive pulse of the nation (and the most handiest of cudgels in Pakistani politics) and from 200 million only around 10% to 15% of Pakistanis are on the internet (while the rest are not conscious of what is really present or happening on it), using the guise of religion ( ‘blasphemous, objectionable content’) is the most ‘lucratively’ easy strategy for the puissant to advance their aims.

Especially in a country where there has been a tremendous transformation of the internet as a vent for public outrage, anger and criticism of the legislative, judicial and executive organs of the state, and as a forum for unprecendented critical scrutiny of the Military Establishment and the ISI.

Not to mention, how the internet has revolutionised the transmission of information, knowledge of global political, social or cultural happenings – at a phenomenal rate.

The abovementioned factor, is what usually troubles those ruling a state.

Generally speaking, the reach to all information of the populace is not in their (rulers, the potent) favor for it often ‘endangers’ the status quo or the position maintained by them.

And this leads to decisions that are, to go by the rhetoric, taken to ‘safeguard the public’ (and posed as forms of social control, when they really are government-foisted constraints to preserve the profitable ‘political equilibrium’) as the state jumps to keep up this drumbeat by parading notions of threat of disturbance to the social order.

(In Pakistan, that can be seen by how the alarm on the society’s morality was raised with the abundance of porn sites given as an example to justify banning many and ‘filtering the internet'; a sweep which included many Baloch sites that documented the gruesome, organized massacres in Balochistan and unambiguously naming the uniformed perpetrators while containing the grave disenchantment of the Baloch with Pakistan)

In the case of today’s Twitter ban, which was implemented with such a dubious founding, it all makes the aforementioned concern feel all the more real and reasonable.

Considering the popularity and usage of sites like Twitter and Facebook span continents and billions of people, they are correctly resembled to bridges that link the world; transcending physical borders and geographical separations.

Their incredible reach has established them as a connection between populations all around the world to interact, engage in healthy discussions, clear common misconceptions, express their point of view on a range of  topics and even promote commercial, educational, political and social goals.

And at a time when Pakistan is practically a pariah state, heavily stereotyped and misunderstood and such is the power of the internet in this age, that it has been successfully used as a tool for revolutions; it can not afford  and must resist internet censorship in any form, which not only removes it from availing the benefits that the platform offers, deprive its citizens from their right to freedom of speech, expression and information but also virtually, further isolates Pakistan from the rest of the world.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

* Later published on Express Tribune.

Published in: on May 20, 2012 at 7:16 pm  Comments (7)  
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