No Country for Nuance


*Originally posted on the Dawn Blog, posting the unedited version here:

As yet another political crisis brews in Pakistan, political discussion and arguments steam through it.

Emotions are high, and arguments equally heated and intense.

It is often assumed to be the case among Pakistanis that any existing political support must encompass all aspects of a party regardless of personal agreement or disagreement. In other words, support has to be uncritical or it doesn’t fit the definition. If figure, institution or idea has to be supported, all that comprises them has to be backed; and whoever or whatever is to be opposed, must have the hate whole.

This is no country for nuance.

However, the problem is not limited to Pakistan, as Turkish writer and journalist Mustafa Akyol writes on Al-Monitor regarding the discourse on Erdogan in the country:

As Bekir Agirdir, the director of a polling company and a political commentator, noted, it has become impossible to reasonably discuss even Istanbul’s water problem, because Erdogan supporters will deny it, whereas Erdogan opponents will exaggerate it.

With the political turmoil pitting PTI right against the PML-N, any argument seems to define opposition to Imran Khan’s politics as ‘Noora’ support for Nawaz Sharif; and any support for PML-N, the institution of government and the state as support for a corrupt Pakistan. Any acknowledgement of Asif Zardari’s political genius and success of Machiavellian politics is taken as jiyala praise for PPP’s lacklustre performance.

Independent political opinions or thoughts are now refused to be seen without suspicion of political affiliation and loyalty lurking beneath to dictate them; and allegiance is expected to be, as aforementioned, complete, uncritical and whole.

Similarly, the dichotomy of discourse has monstrously grown to swallow all civility.

The bitter and brash assertion and argument of opinions has taken over discussions and conversations completely with derogatory words among which are jahil, noora, noony, anti-Pakistan and beghairat. Relations are publicly souring on social-media platforms and in lounges and drawing rooms, as respect is being trampled by charged political self-righteousness.

Any support for a party must be based on solid, logical reasons and if it indulges in socially, ethically or politically reprehensible pursuits; it must be condemned. Pakistan’s interest, not personality cults, must direct party support.

But in the current atmosphere no word against the holy saints of Raiwind and Bani Gala is brooked.

Social media-user and activist Meera Ceder pertinently points out:

‘Blind following or blind allegiance to anything makes one truly blind. I hate the fact that everything is seen from a black and white lens. Everything is an either or and if you choose to condemn two wrongs then you are “clearly” taking sides. Not everything can or should be seen in binaries.’

It is either this or that, with us or against us, black or white. Binaries are the order of the day.

Socially, any sign of broad-mindedness that challenges redundant conservatism on issues such as female education, attire, careers is characterised as ‘modern’ or ‘liberal’ with negative connotations. Religiously, General Zia’s toxic legacy of Islamization reigns as people consider any interpretation of Islam apart from their own to be heretical. This has been a polarisation that has had bloody effects by physical demonstration in the form of terror groups and extremism having slaughtered 50,000 Pakistanis till now.

The ideological textbook propaganda found in Pak Studies on the creation of Pakistan, its culture and religion does also not help by its distortions of history and the truth. These have been so well-indoctrinated by now that they not only, unfortunately, shape much of Pakistani national and political discourse even today, but any attempt to challenge them is undermined, ignored or thrown to the bin of numerous Pakistani pejoratives that include liberal-fascist, anti-Pakistan, RAW agent etc.

All of this spells our penchant for polarisation.

Polarisation is not merely a disappointing national phenomenon, it is a dangerous one. After all, it is polarisation which breeds intolerance and a parochial mentality by shunning debate and discussion. Being cut off from debate and a diverse range of different and dissimilar views has the effect of intellectual insulation and isolation; plus a lack of respect for opposing opinions. This creates a hostile, suffocating environment for all people to be heard, understood and respect. This might explain why many segments of the nation such as the Baloch, the Pashtuns, and the religious minorities et al are misunderstood. They are either never heard, lent an ear to be heard or their voices are hushed.

Debate, civil argument and discussion are keys to a more pluralistic, open, tolerant society; and the very heart of democracy itself, which is why polarisation is the cancer at the heart of Pakistan.

As the state transitions through challenges, so must the people by developing a pluralistic rather than a polarising environment, discourse and attitude – if Pakistan is ever to move forward.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Published in: on September 27, 2014 at 7:54 am  Comments (2)  
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The Breeze Amid Political Heat


*Originally published in The News.

Since the past one month, the political temperature has been rising by the day. Attacks against the government have grown only to culminate as an intentioned final blow in the form of marches to the capital to unseat the PML-N government.

Imran Khan’s PTI and Tahir-ul-Qadri’s PAT are driving their respective marches and inquilabs.

Any political crisis is inevitably a breeding ground for opportunism, point-scoring, mud-slinging, propaganda, vendettas and agendas. The case hasn’t been dissimilar in Pakistan where the two-seater Chaudhrys of Gujrat, and the lone-parliamentarian Sheikh Rasheed have been hanging on inquilabi coattails.

However, amid the political chaos and uncertainty has been a positive development.

From JI, PPP, JUI-F, ANP to MQM, there has been a perceptible manifestation of political maturity. Having placed their own political agendas, differences and issues on the second rung of priority, they have come together in their advocacy for political dialogue; advice of negotiation, concession, flexibility and reconciliation to the government; and in the process, palpably demonstrated the spirit of democracy.

Publicly speaking on the dangers posed to Pakistan, its nascent democracy and hopes for a democratic future by current developments and the government’s response to them, many notable members and leaders of these parties such as Khurshid Shah, Raza Rabbani, Aitzaz Ahsan, Qamar-uz-Zaman Kaira, Mehmood Achakzai, Hasil Bizenjo, Zahid Khan and Afrasiab Khattak have emerged.

With separate visits made by these parties to the ruling government’s leaders and members, imparting advice and help to them in dealing with the marchers; this political engagement has been a welcome occurrence.

The government’s decision to allow passage to both marches was a prudent abandonment of the jitters and edginess it had been demonstrating by the placement of containers, barriers and other measures that were characteristic of its tendency to overreact and create crises; and making monsters of minions.

In Hamid Mir’s recent show of Capital Talk, Federal Minister Saad Rafique revealed that the government’s decision to allow passage to Tahir-ul-Qadri for his march was reached in consultation with the PPP.

It seems that the parties have learned from their mistakes and the lessons of the past which dictate that political infighting, politicking and the politics of destabilization only benefit and strengthen the forces against democracy at not just their cost but of the country too. 

It is also quite remarkable how JI has emerged as the voice of sanity and sense in the prevailing political chaos; a credit that clearly goes to Siraj-ul-Haq for practising his political leadership responsibly, thereby bringing the party to the forefront of the battle against potential destabilization in Pakistan.

Adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute in America, Arif Rafiq agrees by saying:

 “Siraj-ul-Haq has been playing a solid role despite being in a tricky situation [coalition partner in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa]. They have a long way to go on the rights of women and minorities. But change on that front isn’t impossible.”

Political unity and maturity augurs well for Pakistan.

In the current crisis, it has attempted to function as a conduit between an obstinate opposition party and a sluggish government. Provided success at the end in the form of a deal out of this political pandemonium, this is sure to set a solid precedent as solution to future political tangles. Previously, it was witnessed in the signing of the historic 18th Amendment under the PPP government which effectively defanged the president by removal of the infamous 58(2)b that long stifled Pakistan’s democratic sprouts in the 90s; and enhanced political autonomy – all of which was a stride in Pakistan’s transition to a proper parliamentary republic.

Similar was the case during Tahir-ul-Qadri’s ‘inquilab 2013’ in Islamabad, which was deflated by the PPP government’s shrewd and sensible handling in cooperation with fellow political actors.

The late Eqbal Ahmad wrote in one of his articles that military intervention in politics only ends when ‘the legitimacy of the civilian system of power is established over a period of time.’  However, he went onto reason the unending military intervention and interference in Pakistani politics as, ‘We have been lacking both the political framework and leaders capable of investing the civilian system of government with authority, and taming the warrior class.’

Democratic continuity is the root of this much-needed establishment of legitimacy of the civilian system of power, a cause for which some of the prominent political parties have now been seen to be standing up for amid current political problems through active engagement with the government; PTI and PAT.

Therefore, if it flourishes, this political solidarity, maturity and sagacity can strengthen, empower and invest the civilian system of government with the power, will and dynamism it sorely lacks to face challenges and set Pakistan on the road to prosperity.

Political unity, maturity and sagacity are undoubtedly essential complements to Pakistan’s democratic evolution.

And one hopes they prevail at the end of the current political turmoil; and democracy triumphs.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Published in: on August 20, 2014 at 2:34 pm  Comments (10)  
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Risky Jitters


*Originally published in The Nation.

The Azadi March is all set to commence with PTI’s supporters all geared up to bring down what they believe to be the illegitimate PML-N badshahat. Equally charged are the supporters of Canadian national Tahir-ul-Qadri to bring an inquilab.

Both of these campaigns have one thing in common, and that is the departure of the current regime which has just entered the second year of its five-year term.

Analyses have been pouring in from all quarters of the country anticipating the results of the marches.

It really is, as Ali Aftab Saeed wrote in Dawn recently, that amidst plenty of speculation, none of us are sure whether the government will crumble or survive.

However, the March alone will not define the result.

It will be the interaction between the government and the protesters that will determine what the protests yield.

Numerous areas in Lahore have been blocked by containers, barricades and barbed wires while news of PTI and PAT workers’ has also spread. 400 containers have been installed to cordon off the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Fuel supplies have been suspended. Article 245 has been invoked, and now Section 144 has also been imposed in the capital city, while leaves of the Islamabad Police have been cancelled. The suspension of mobile services is also under consideration.

These have been causes of extreme inconvenience to citizens.

But more alarmingly, the PML-N is once again demonstrating its disappointing tendency to panic and jitter, a characteristic the people would like to discount from a party in its third stint in power; which inevitably has the effect of creating and self-starting crises. What the government, despite being given a democratic mandate to rule, is also demonstrating through such decisions is a posture of intimidation and weakness.

The right of protest is one of the most important constitutional rights; it is one of the many mechanisms within a democracy that checks the government in instances of deviation.  Asha’ar Rehman is right to point out that, and the quote follows: ultimately, the essence of a protest is how sensibly and responsibly it is reacted to by those it is aimed at.

 The flurry of decisions taken by the government is not only reflective of its characteristic edginess but also holds potential for prompting an explosive situation as impediments to the protest; a disquieting  development that will give way to chaos by way of exacerbation of the conflict.

As Ayaz Amir mentions in his recent piece in The News:

‘The PML-N’s fate depends not on the constitution or its mandate.  Its fate depends wholly and solely on the Punjab police and the Islamabad police. If there is even a hint of disorder, the first signs of chaos on the roads in and around Islamabad…that will be the time for the strategic phone call or even something more.’

The PML-N government needs to abandon its current bearing of edginess that is directing its unmeasured response to the scheduled protests and March; and adopt a cautious and sensible approach to the unfolding events.

Rameeza Nizami’s solid piece of advice to the government in her recent editorial must ring louder than ever at this point:

‘To affirm the public’s faith in the democratic process, the government would do well to accommodate protesters rather than creating hurdles. Give them water if they’re thirsty. Provide them shade if they need it. Act like the democratic government worthy of being saved.’

Crackdowns and blockades shall only enrage the spark that threatens to inflame the government, and the future of democracy in Pakistan. The only path out and forward is political engagement, which the government must spearhead by shedding its lassitude and dangerous edginess.

The ominous uncertainty looming over Pakistan right now can only be dispelled if better sense and sensibility prevails on all sides, and eclipses Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri’s extreme demands and obstinacy; and the government’s jitters and delayed political engagement.

Otherwise, all shall be lost.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Published in: on August 18, 2014 at 6:42 pm  Comments (6)  
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At the Cost of Pakistan


*Originally published in Pakistan Today.

Embroiled in a war at home and a plethora of political, economic and national crises, Pakistan is nearing a tumultuous 67th year in existence.

Imran Khan’s initial demands for electoral recounts in particular constituencies have now snowballed into the demand for the departure of the entire PML-N government or badshahat; and mid-term elections that he, once again, expects to sweep.

230636_43698242For many, this transformation of demand indicates Imran Khan coming out for what he has really wanted all along for a government that he refuses to believe was not given to him to lead. All set to head as prime minister, a development he was sure enough to have declared it on national television on Hamid Mir’s show, Khan Sahab’s romantic expectations defied entrenched Pakistani electoral dynamics and intricacies leading to a result he did not anticipate.

In a developing, chaotic and overly-politicised country like Pakistan, there are no doubts that the elections of 2013 were not without irregularities, problems and issues. All of which lends greater gravity to the need for electoral reform.

However, to deem the entire election ‘stolen’ and call for re-elections is to repudiate the will of those who voted for the government. Some of the top electoral rigging claims of PTI have been debunked for political claptrap, most recently done by Zahid F. Ibrahim in his Express Tribune Op-Ed ‘Ten Truths about Electoral Rigging’ which takes each claim and factually counters it.

It is also quite peculiar that, according to the PTI, the entire elections were a dishonest affair with the Election Commission, caretaker government, media, judiciary actively colluding – and it is yet to present evidence and prove how exactly this collusion transpired – to prevent its victory in all of Pakistan; but in KPK. With this in mind, it really does seem to be the case then that the PTI is protesting against winning in the ‘wrong’ province.

A recent video of PTI Deputy Information Secretary Fayyaz Chohan does not only accuse Kayani of rigging; but also goes far to point to an international electoral conspiracy including the USA, UAE, KSA and India.

Popular blog Kala Kawa also writes:

‘That the PTI is demanding mid-term elections on the back of evidence that Election Tribunals have found insufficient speaks solely to the damaging lust for power Imran Khan has found himself in.’Pakistan-Gallup-Nawaz-PPP-PML-N_4-12-2014_144335_lAs evident is the callow approach of the PTI operating under the ‘Azadi March’, which seems to be exactly as Ammar Rashid, an independent researcher and information secretary Awami Workers Party (Islamabad/Rawalpindi), called out to be: PTI standing for little more than making Imran Khan PM at all costsa – equally astounding is the performance of the government in its first year that has largely been characterised by lethargy. The PML-N has come to power at a time when Pakistan is the convergence tip of crises; which does not grant the government the allowance of incompetence and lassitude. With increasingly-unbearable power shortages, huge numbers of the unemployed, persisting poverty, a sluggish economy and fear of a terrorist backlash of Zarb-e-Azb; this is a moment demanding sharp and decisive decisions, policies, works and implementations. The Sharif government must realize that gone are the days when it was till the ballot box that a party had to prove itself; in today’s competitive political environment, it is now beyond the ballot box that parties have to prove themselves with performance; or risk being pounced on by opponents.

With blockades and containers around Lahore, and the decision to invoke Article 245, the government’s panicked response to the planned marches of the PTI and PAT is congruent with its disappointing tendency to overreact and create crises; that it needs to learn to avoid.

Similarly, it is essential for Imran Khan to accept that his expectation of becoming the prime minister was not fulfilled to by the majority of the people as demonstrated by the ground realities which hit him hard in elections. Having broken the shifting political monopoly between the PPP and PML-N, PTI holds immense potential to be potent force of opposition in the parliament, an attacking but constructive role augmenting the democratic plinth in Pakistan; but its present politics of fixation, immaturity and obstinacy are not only destructive for Pakistan’s nascent democracy but for PTI itself.

It needs to channel its potential and power as a formidable political force in Pakistan; as opposition, keeping the government with their socks pulled up all the time; and as the provincial government, focusing its strength and vision in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and practically presenting itself as a plausible alternative to other parties in Pakistan. PTI should focus on developing KPK as a model of its governance; it should compete with the PML-N government through governance, for the last thing Pakistan needs right now is destabilisation.

As Adnan Rasool mentions in his article in Dawn:

‘The way the system works is that the opposition, irrespective of how small it may be, asks the tough questions and projects an alternative ideology, instead of trying to leave the system because of being beaten in the elections. They need to make the government work hard for a reputation.’

Columnist Gul Bukhari raised a pertinent point on Twitter commenting that the Sharifs seem to have lost all interest in governance and adopted a singular programme of reacting to Imran Khan’s relentless pursuit of power.

Protesting is one of the most important constitutional rights, even more significant for the exercise by the opposition; however attempts to topple a democratically-elected government and seeking to sink the system merely because your dominance is denied in it are no rights whatsoever.

The system in Pakistan has problems, Pakistan’s budding democracy has problems, but to set the stage for instability, destabilisation and the Doctrine of Necessity in the pursuit of personal political and party interests is never the solution.

Imran Khan’s bare demand of fresh elections coupled with his obstinacy project a sure stalemate. However, if the government displays political maturity and level-headedness in handling this delicate situation with cautious care and control; if the army stays at the battle front; if other political parties like PPP, JUI-F, JI, ANP and MQM recognize what is at risk and come together in interest of Pakistan and democracy; if better sense prevails, the situation may still be able to be salvaged.

Just last year, Pakistan witnessed the term-completion of a democratically-elected government for the first time in its history. And the Elections were expected to augment this democratic tradition, however ensuing political attitudes inclined towards infighting seem to push Pakistan back into the 90s which was an era of intense tug-of-war, and we all know where that led to.

All at the cost of democracy and Pakistan.

 ~ Hafsa Khawaja

Published in: on August 12, 2014 at 5:36 pm  Comments (14)  
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Zafarullah Khan & the Tragedy of Palestine and Pakistan


*First published in Pakistan Today.

“This is a solemn moment, solemn in the history of the world, in the history of this great —let us hope, at least—great Organization. The United Nations is today on trial. The world is watching and will see how it acquits itself— again, perhaps, not so much from the point of view of whether partition is approved or not approved, but from the point of view of whether any room is to be left for the exercise of honest judgment and conscience in decisions taken upon important questions.”

-Sir Zafarullah Khan’s Address to UN Security Council on the issue of Palestine. (October 7, 1947)

The Gaza death toll is nearing a bloody 1000 as Israeli barbarities continue.

Since the atrocious bombing began, torrents of sympathy and solidarity with Gaza have been released from all quarters all over Pakistan.

And with them, there has been a caustic expression lamenting and bemoaning Pakistan and the Muslim world’s sickly response to the barbarities in Palestine.

However, what has been rendered unknown today is that Pakistan once played a significant role on the international stage.

Born on 6th February 1893 in Sialkot, Chaudhry Zafarullah Khan rose to become a leading politician, diplomat, an international jurist and one of the founding fathers of Pakistan.

The man behind the famous Lahore Resolution, Zafarullah Khan went on to be appointed as Pakistan’s first foreign minister by Muhammad Ali Jinnah in 1947.

Hardly two months after its creation in 1947, he represented Pakistan in the United Nations General Assembly as the head of its delegation and soon emerged as the most excellent spokesperson for the Muslim and the third world.

Through his stupendous championship of such causes, he became a prominent proponent of the advance of the universal values of peace, freedom, liberty, human rights, democracy and justice; as from 1948 to 1954 he represented Pakistan at the Security Council (UN) and outstandingly spoke for the liberation of Algeria, Libya, Northern Ireland, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, Malay, Morocco, Nigeria, Indonesia and occupied Kashmir.

Through his unsurpassed and principled diplomacy, he practically put Pakistan on the map of the world, beyond mere name.

Perhaps, the greatest of the countless incomparable services he rendered was his exemplary advocacy of the cause of Palestine and Kashmir. With brilliant advocacy, including a speech which went on for 7 hours, it was largely Zafarullah Khan’s efforts which materialized into the UN Resolutions on Kashmir.

His promotion of the Palestinian cause garnered enormous appreciation, acknowledgement and reverence from almost all Muslim countries and leaders at that time.

His speech in October, 1947 on Palestine is considered one of the most powerful cases presented for it.

Realizing the lack of national recognition for him, several blogs and publications by his community have sprung up and sought to compensate for it by detailing his life, services and legacy themselves. One such blog post quotes from what it has identified as the editorial of The Statesman, Delhi, dated October 8, 1947:

“For the first time the voice of Pakistan was heard in the counsels of the United Nations on a burning topic of world-wide significance when leader of this country’s delegation, Chaudhry Zafarullah Khan, addressed the United Nations Palestine Committee at Lake Success on Tuesday. It was a telling speech which tore into shreds the specious pleas put forward by the advocates of the partition of Palestine. Chaudhry Zafarullah did not merely indulge in rhetoric when he described the partition plan as `physically and geographically a monstrosity’, he proceeded to prove this by unassailable arguments. Answering the contention that the migration of more Jews into Palestine should be permitted because the Jewish displaced persons desired to go to that country, Pakistan’s spokesman asked whether the Americans would consent to relax or abrogate their own immigration laws if displaced persons of various other nationalities desired to enter the United States and settle there? Would America, he further asked, agree to take in the five million displaced persons of the Punjab if they desired to leave the scene of their suffering and cross over to the United States. We have little doubt that the Arabs will rejoice to find the voice of Pakistan so powerfully raised in the United Nations in defence of their cause. The addition of the independent sovereign state of Pakistan to the comity of free Muslim peoples of the World is already beginning to have its effect on international affairs”.

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King Faisal’s expression of gratitude to Zafarullah Khan for his representation of the Palestinian case at the UN.

Mr. Fadhel Jamali, a late former Foreign Minister of Iraq is also said to have penned in a tribute in Al-Sabah of 10th October, 1985:

 “In fact, it was not possible for any Arab, however capable and competent he may be, to serve the cause of Palestine in a manner in which this distinguished and great man dedicated himself. Mohammad Zafarullah Khan occupies a pre-eminent position in defending the Palestinians in this dispute. We expect from all Arabs and followers of Islam that they will never forget this great Muslim fighter. After Palestine, the services of this man for the independence of Libya also deserves admiration.”

Distinguished British journalist Alan Hart mentions Zafarullah Khan thoughts after the vote on the partition of Palestine, as he reveals in his book ‘Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews, the False Messiah (Volume I)’ to have been a result of bribery and pressure, deeming them to have been the best expression of the feeling of the majority of states.

To date, none have come into sight who could rival the towering statesman; who was honoured and held in the highest esteem by numerous countries, leaders and nations, especially Muslim, honoured by all but his own.

Because of his faith. He was an Ahmadi, and like all, he has been disowned by the state and people.

In a post for All Things Pakistan in 2007, Yasser Latif Hamdani poignantly wrote:

Ironically, today Jinnah’s most trusted lieutenant is not even remembered by the state which owes him so much, including its own founding document.

Today, Sir Zafarullah’s speech on Palestine reads as a tragedy for both Palestine and Pakistan. It resonates as a striking reminder of the injustice inflicted upon the Palestinians, and the injustice Pakistan has inflicted upon itself; the injustice of ignorance, bigotry, prejudice and myopia.

As the saying goes:

“Poor are nations that do not have heroes, but beggared are those who forget them

Published in: on August 3, 2014 at 7:17 pm  Comments (15)  
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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 (6)  
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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 (3)  
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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 (6)  
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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.
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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 (4)  
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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.

_______________

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 (25)  
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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.’

GetInline

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‘).

ishqe-mamnu

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 (6)  
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