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Old Tuesday, February 11, 2014
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Too good to miss
Pakistan is unlikely to meet most of the targets of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 due to misplace priorities
By Naseer Memon

A recently issued report “Pakistan Millennium Development Goals Report 2013” has revealed that Pakistan is set to miss most of the MDG targets. The report has been issued by the Planning Commission of Pakistan with the support of UNDP. The previous MDG Report issued in 2010 also indicated the same trend on key targets of MDGs. Situation has remained almost stagnant over the past three years.

According to the report, out of 33 targets, the country could achieve only three, it is on-track on seven targets and the progress on 23 targets is reported as off-track. Except for the goal No 7 “Ensuring Environmental Sustainability”, Pakistan seems less likely to achieve the remaining six goals.

Some of the key indicators showing off-track progress include prevalence of underweight children under five years of age, proportion of population below minimum level of dietary energy consumption, net primary enrolment ration, literacy rate, share of women in wage employment, under-5 mortality rate, infant mortality rate, proportion of fully immunised children, lady health workers’ coverage, proportion of births attended by skilled birth attendants, prevention of malaria and tuberculosis and forest cover. All these vital indicators targets are the key indicators of human development. The report clearly indicates that Pakistan is trailing behind on the agenda of human security.

Under MDG-1, Pakistan aims to halve the proportion of people living below the poverty line, to achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, and to halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger. According to official claims, the percentage of population below the poverty line has fallen from 34.5 per cent in 2001/02 to 12.4 per cent in 2010/11. Hence Pakistan is on track to achieve this target.

Skyrocketing inflation, persistent economic stagnation, tumbling foreign investment and a series of natural disasters could actually have pushed a large number of people below poverty line yet the official report claims decline in poverty incidence. Similar claims of decline in poverty were made during Gen. Musharraf’s era and the same were contradicted by Dr Pervez Tahir, the then Chief Economist. Presently, Benazir Income Support Programme is being cited as a major contributing factor to reducing poverty.
Skyrocketing inflation, persistent economic stagnation, tumbling foreign investment and a series of natural disasters could actually have pushed a large number of people below poverty line yet the official report claims decline in poverty incidence.

Malnutrition, measured as prevalence of underweight children under-5 years of age, decreased from 40 per cent in 1990/91 to 31.5 per cent in 2011/12, but is still far off the MDG target of less than 20 per cent. With two out of three targets off-track, the country is unlikely to achieve MDG-1.

Under the MDG-2, Pakistan targets 100 per cent primary school enrolment, 100 per cent completion of education from grades 1-5 and an 88 per cent literacy rate. Corresponding current status is 57 per cent and 50 per cent respectively. The country is thus off-track on all three targets, and therefore not likely to achieve MDG-2.

MDG-3 aims to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education by 2005, and in all levels of education by 2015. Although gender parity in education has improved for primary education, secondary education and youth literacy, it still falls short of the MDG targets set for 2015. The share of women in non-agriculture wage employment is 10.45 per cent in 2010/11, which is short of the 14 per cent target. There has been considerable progress on increasing women’s representation in legislative bodies. Except for this, Pakistan lags behind in remaining four targets and therefore unlikely to meet MDG 3.

MDG-4 aims at reducing the under-five child mortality (U5MR) by two-thirds. Under-five morality declined from 117 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990/91 to 89 deaths in 2012/13; and the infant mortality rate in this period from 102 to 74 deaths per 1,000 live births. However, both are still short of the MDG targets of 52 and 40 deaths per 1,000 live births respectively.

The coverage for fully immunized children increased from 75 to 80 per cent and of measles immunization from 80 to 81 per cent in this period, yet both are still short of the target of above 90 per cent coverage. Pakistan was able to achieve the MDG target for reducing to less than 10 per cent the proportion of children under five who suffered from diarrhea. However, another target of Lady Health Worker’s coverage stood at 83 per cent against the target of 100 per cent. Pakistan is off-track on five out of six indicators and hence unlikely to attain MDG-4.

Under MDG-5, Pakistan intends to reduce the maternal mortality rate (MMR) by three-quarters. MMR has been reduced to 276 per 100,000 births but it is still much higher than the target of 140. Similarly, contraceptive usage has almost tripled (up to 35.4 per cent) yet still less than 55 per cent. Proportion of births attended by skilled birth attendants stood at 52.1 per cent and antenatal consultations have more than quadrupled (up to 68 per cent) since 1990/91. However both targets are below the committed levels of over 90 and 100 per cent. The total fertility rate at 3.8 remains considerably higher than the target of 2.1. Underperforming on four targets, Pakistan is off track and therefore unlikely to achieve MDG-5.

MDG-6 strives to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS and the incidence of malaria and other major diseases. Pakistan has achieved target of detection and cure of TB and it is on track to reduce HIV prevalence among pregnant women. However, it trails behind on the targets of reducing proportion of population facing malaria risk and incidence of TB. Against the target of reducing 75 per cent population at malaria risk, Pakistan has achieved only 40 per cent. Similarly, TB incidence stood at 230 per 1000 people against the target of 45. Pakistan is off-track on three out of five indicators and, therefore, unlikely to achieve MDG-6.

Of the seven MDG-7 indicators, Pakistan is on track to achieve four. These include protecting areas for wildlife conservation (11.6 per cent against the target of 12 per cent), reducing sulphur content in high speed diesel, improving energy efficiency and improving access to safe drinking water (89 per cent against the target of 93 per cent). However, it is lagging behind on access to sanitation which is currently 72 per cent against the target of 90 per cent. Pakistan has also made progress on increasing forest cover – currently 5.2 per cent – but is still short of the 6 per cent target. Overall, with four out of seven indicators on track, Pakistan is likely to achieve MDG-7. This is the only goal where progress is promising.

Apart from national status of targets, there are glaring inter-provincial and intra-provincial disparities that entail complex political repercussions. For example, proportion of people under poverty in Balochistan is 49.7 per cent, which is much higher than 36.4 per cent of Punjab. Proportion of underweight children stood at close to 40 per cent in Sindh and Balochistan, alarmingly higher than 29.8 per cent underweight children in Punjab.

Similarly, the share of wage-employed women in Balochistan is only 2.32 per cent, outshined by 13.25 per cent in Punjab, followed by 7.33 per cent in Sindh. Infant Mortality Rate in Balochistan is 104 per 1000 live births, which is much higher than 71 per cent in Sindh and 82 per cent in Punjab. Likewise, under-five child mortality in Balochistan is 158 per 1000 live births which is far higher than 104 in Punjab. Balochistan has only 37 per cent fully immunised children compared to 86 per cent in Punjab, 90 per cent in KP and 71 per cent in Sindh. Balochistan also registered 758 mothers dying per 100,000 live births which is three times higher than 227 in Punjab.

Within provinces, disparities between urban and rural areas are also discernible. In Sindh, Karachi ranked number one on eight out of 13 indicators. Hyderabad stood number one on three indicators. In Balochistan, Quetta has been ranked top on five out of 13 indicators. In Punjab, bottom districts under all indicators except one belong to South Punjab.

Gender disparities also prevailed in every sector. For example, the literacy rate is 58 per cent overall, which is highly skewed towards males i.e. 70 per cent of males are literate compared to only 47 per cent of females. The report does not provide sex disaggregated data under various indicators e.g. Infant Mortality Rate and immunization. Apart from such shortcomings, the MDG report is a highly valuable reference for policy makers, civil society, researchers, academicians and funding organisations.

Achieving MSG targets is a matter of political will. The country-managers, since inception, preferred border security over human security, which persistently hemorrhaged scant resources of the country. Annual report 2009-10 “Social Impact of the Security Crisis” of Social Policy and Development Centre reveals that the combined federal and provincial expenditure on security reached Rs800 billion or 4.7 per cent of GDP compared to Rs177 billion or 4.2 per cent of GDP in 2000-01.

The report succinctly explains these misplace priorities as “higher spending on security during war on terror has reduced public spending on social services and caused slowdown in the pace of social development. It appears that Pakistan is unlikely to meet most of the targets of the MDGs by 2015.
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Old Tuesday, February 11, 2014
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“Heritage conservation is a viable strategy for urban regeneration”
Dr Ron van Oers, Vice Director of the World Heritage Institute of Training and Research in the Asia-Pacific region (WHITRAP) talks about urban planning
By Dr Nadeem Omar Tarar

The News on Sunday: In 2012, you published a book “The Historic Urban Landscape — Managing Heritage in an Urban Century” (Wiley-Blackwell, UK). Tell us what is the Historic Urban Landscape?

Dr Ron van Oers: In fact, the book was co-authored with Francesco Bandarin, the former Director of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre in Paris. The Historic Urban Landscape (HUL), codified in the new UNESCO Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape, is an approach to the management of heritage resources in dynamic, constantly changing cities.

In the approach, the urban area is understood as extending beyond the notion of “historic centre” or “district” to include the broader urban context and topographical setting, as well as social and cultural practices and values, economic processes and the intangible dimensions of heritage.

It is based on the recognition and identification of a layering and interconnection of values, which shapes identity and inspires local communities and should be taken as a point of departure in the overall management and further development of the city.

TNS: Why was the Historic Urban Landscape approach developed?

RvO: In reaction to the threat of demolition for urban renewal and development, historic inner cities have often been preserved in isolation without integrating them into the broader context of their urban surroundings. This has resulted in abandonment by their traditional population and loss of identity, wherein once vibrant areas either suffer urban decay and blight, or are well-preserved but devoid of everyday life and traditional values. The new UNESCO Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape provides a set of general principles in support of sustainable urban heritage management that integrates environmental, social and cultural concerns into the planning, design and implementation of urban management programmes.

TNS: How is the Historic Urban Landscape approach applied?

RvO: International research and practice in many parts of the world increasingly shows that heritage conservation is a viable strategy for inner city revitalisation and urban regeneration, and that heritage conservation pays. The Historic Urban Landscape approach proposes a simple six-point ‘Action Plan’ that places local culture and heritage, and the values and meaning they carry, at the heart of the decision-making process.
“UNESCO has provided seed money for the process of inventories and community engagement. Cultural and physical mapping is currently undertaken and the traditional trades of Pindi are being documented.”

Briefly stated, the six steps include a thorough inventory of natural, cultural and community assets, of the values these hold and the vulnerability of these assets to socio-economic pressures and climate change. Then this information should be integrated into a City Development Strategy (CDS), with a prioritisation of policies and programmes for conservation and development, and the establishment of alliances between the public, private and civic sectors to align and coordinate programmatic action.

TNS: You are here in Pakistan to develop together with NCA the Historic Urban Landscape (HUL) approach for Rawalpindi. What can HUL mean for Rawalpindi?

RvO: Rawalpindi is a city with a dense layering of historic and cultural values, primarily expressed through traditions, customs and community practices in the old neighbourhoods with a diverse physical and social fabric. It is remarkable that despite the lack of any formal, large scale planning over the last decades there is still a vibrant functioning core of the city, which given infrastructure deficiencies, traffic congestion and high population density, is based solely on social-cultural capital.

The extent of Pindi’s cultural-historic significance, however, is still poorly understood, let alone recognised, and cultural mapping exercises and surveys are shedding more light on this aspect of Pindi and will de-stygmatise it as ‘just a garrison town’. Subsequently, interventions can be planned and designed in a more heritage-sensitive manner, so this resource can be safeguarded, while additional programmes can be initiated that focus on the sustainable use of cultural heritage assets, enhancing the development potential and resilience of local communities.

TNS: Could you perhaps be a bit more concrete? What type of actions does it promote?

RvO: Safeguarding the built environment should be supported by by-laws and revised planning and building regulations, providing guidance and advice to planners, home owners and developers on the dos and don’ts in the historic city. Special brochures could be developed on the particular heritage buildings to be found in the city, why they are of significance to the identity and character of the city, and how these buildings could be adapted to enhance their utility and value. Next to recognition and support, however, there is a need to institutionalise the rehabilitation efforts stemming from local initiatives into the planning framework, thereby creating an enabling environment.

Furthermore, strategically located monumental buildings such as havelis could be selected for restoration and provision of community-based facilities and services, such as schools, maternity centres, community halls and the like. Open spaces in and around these buildings could be upgraded through tree-planting exercises organised with and by the local communities. The upgrading of technical infrastructure such as paving, sewerage and electric wiring, undertaken by local government departments, should be organised in tandem with the small-scale neighbourhood interventions.

In this way, a significant improvement in the quality of life of local communities can be achieved without a complete overhaul of the physical fabric of the inner city, and by building on the social capital of these neighbourhoods and thereby strengthening it in the process.

TNS: How do you envision the implementation of HUL in Rawalpindi and who is to be involved?

HUL, in recognition of the need to build trust and to relegate ownership, is more about setting in motion a PROCESS than implementing a MODEL, aiming for sustainability in the rehabilitation effort. Critical is that the process receives formal backing and support by politicians, government planners, city officials and international agencies, to name the most important. These should recognise and shoulder the often many grass-roots initiatives and activities already going on in the inner city.

Instead of trying to re-invent the wheel, the most relevant and successful activities will be identified based on current community needs and wishes, and to determine how these can be further strengthened and scaled up, based on the capacities of partners and the availability of donor funding.

UNESCO has provided seed money for the process of inventories and community engagement. Cultural and physical mapping is currently undertaken, the traditional trades of Pindi are being documented on video, interviews are conducted, and heritage buildings are being surveyed by staff and (former) students of NCA.

It is imperative, however, that other partners join in sharing responsibilities, insights and initiatives, which will enhance the effectiveness, impact and sustainability of the effort. The key is to match the demand and supply sides within an integrated framework of policy implementation and programmatic action. HUL is providing for such an integrated framework.

TNS: Besides the implementation of mapping exercises, what is further on the agenda?

RvO: We have organised consultation meetings that served to explain the origin and concept of the HUL approach, to discuss the Rawalpindi project strategy in relation to national and international development agendas, and to exchange insights and ideas for concrete initiatives and partnerships for this project. I’m happy to inform you that several partners have come on board, most notably the District Commissioners Office (DCO), with which we have signed a tripartite Agreement on Strategic Cooperation including NCA and WHITRAP-Shanghai.

The results of these meetings are currently being worked out in a detailed project setup, which will be sent to various international donor agencies for endorsement, participation and/or potential funding. Rawalpindi thereby has been included in a select group of Pilot Cities to implement UNESCO’s Historic Urban Landscape approach, which includes Ballarat in Australia, Varanasi and Hyderabad in India (through cooperation with the World Bank), as well as several cities in China including Shanghai and Suzhou.

I am in discussion with the UNESCO Office in Indonesia to include Jakarta as a Pilot City also. UNESCO’s General Conference has requested to be informed about the countries and cities that are working with this new instrument, about the process and the (preliminary) results. This report will be drafted at the end of 2015 for submission to UNESCO in 2016.
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Old Tuesday, February 11, 2014
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Rise and fall as a discourse of History
Analysis of Abbasids may serve Muslims with a suitable model
By Tahir Kamran

Numerous thinkers of history — from Edward Gibbon to Arnold Toynbee — have engaged with the concept of rise, decline and fall of civilisations.

Although German scholar Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West is equally important, for the purpose of this article we will focus on Gibbon and Toynbee.

Gibbon’s Decline and the Fall of the Roman Empire comprises six volumes, and is a classic, an essential read. And Arnold Toynbee’s The Study of History that runs into 12 volumes is perhaps one of the most extensive works of the 20th century.

Toynbee professed what Richard Evans rightly considers a cyclical theory for history with the concept of the ‘challenge and response’ central to his formulation. He also invokes human agency by propounding another concept of the creative minority and hands over the destiny of the civilisation in the hands of those chosen few constituting that group (creative minority). The great man as the determining factor of history made Toynbee quite a familiar figure for serious practitioners of history in Pakistan.

After experiencing the horrors of the two World Wars (particularly the World War II), Toynbee beat a retreat and sought refuge in religion and, after 1945, he began to profess religion as a regenerative force for the decaying civilisation. But we will return to this point later in the article.

Gibbon, born and bred in ‘the age of reason’ saw the rise of Christianity as the principal catalyst for the decline of the Romans, who previously believed and practised rationality. Thus, the substitution of the ‘rational’ with the ‘irrational’ (Christianity) led them astray and decadence set in. The view latent in Gibbon’s narrative epitomised to the hilt the prevalent discourse punctuated with the ideals of the enlightenment.

Interestingly, I was reminded of the Abbasid period in the Muslim History, the times of Caliph Mamun-ur-Rashid when Mu’tazilite advocated rationality and wielded a lot of influence.

That, of course, was the pinnacle of Muslim civilisation. Those were the days when scholars from all around the world, irrespective of their religion or creed, conglomerated in Bait al Hikamat, an institute meant to create knowledge. Baghdad was then the knowledge centre and the beacon of progress.

However, once Mu’tazilite lost the favour of the Caliph and were decimated mercilessly, the traditionalists barged their way into the central discourse. Doom followed, that subsequently culminated in 1258 when Mongols ransacked Baghdad. Thereafter, various Muslim polities rose and fell but Muslim civilisation merely became a shadow of its previous self.

But, the point worth noting is the significance of the Abbasids as singularly representative of the entire Muslim collectivity. So, it deserves the same scholarly importance that Romans did for Gibbon and Toynbee.

So far, no scholarly effort has ever been undertaken to investigate the decline of the Abbasids that would possibly match the works of these two.

Mughals and Ottomans also set up powerful monarchies but they were parochial in their orientation and texture. Mughals enriched Indian civilisation by giving it Turko-Persian inflection and similarly Ottomans had their own peculiarity in spatial as well as temporal terms.

Back to Gibbon and Toynbee. Despite divergent interpretations regarding the causalities of the decline and fall of civilisation/empire and the difference in analytical categories, (Gibbon takes up the ‘Empire’ as a category whereas Toynbee employs ‘civilisation’ as the social unit for his analysis), both have their discursive engagement with ‘decline’.

It seems pertinent to underline that the ‘empire’ connotes politico-territorial formation which may encompass different socio-cultural streams. So, in the case of the ‘empire’, political is privileged over the social. Besides, the decline and fall of the Roman Empire provided these scholars a prototype after which they formulated their respective though essentially different theories.

Decline and fall of the civilisations as a theme captivated the attention of some of the top historians in the ascendant West, when it had attained civilisational supremacy. They came very close to the prognosis that many Pakistani academics draw while analysing the decline of Muslims.

The prevailing view which is holding Muslims hostage pertaining to their decline in the spatial context of the subcontinent is two pronged — since we have forsaken the path prescribed to us by the Prophet (pbuh), the decline manifested as a retribution of Allah; and Muslim decline was largely caused by the conspiracy hatched by non-Muslims.

Recent researches in History tend to invert both these hypotheses.

In the subcontinent, politically and culturally, Muslims were impregnable during the reigns of Allaudin Khilji and Jalaluddin Akbar. Both were areligious to say the least. All the promulgated policies were subject to political exigencies, therefore, religious and cultural plurality remained latent in the methods of their governance.

Quite conversely, in the 18th century, when religious piety found its resonance among the top and middle echelons of Muslims, social atomisation crept in and sectarian and denominational differences ripped apart the cultural ethos.

Similarly, the second hypothesis too is tenuous — because generally the decay started due to internal contradictions. In the 18th century, the differences between the nobility of Iranian descent and Turanis became so stark that their co-existence became almost impossible. Such friction, coupled with institutional collapse, sealed the fate of the Mughals.

Perhaps, it would not be a good idea for the Pakistani scholars to try to make sense of the Muslim decline in the light of luminaries like Gibbon and Toynbee. Some indepth analysis of Abbasids may serve us with an appropriate model — as Romans did for Gibbon and Toynbee.
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The privatisation of culture
After the slow and reluctant realisation that neither Islam nor the Army are likely to save Pakistan from itself, many from our elite class now invest hope in this abstraction called ‘culture’
By Afiya Shehrbano Zia

An editorial in a self-acclaimed liberal newspaper celebrates the start of the 5th Karachi Literature Festival. It claims that the KLF revives the dying cultural habits of middle class Pakistanis. It laments how in the absence of Pakistani state support, this free-to-all, (predominantly English language, exclusive hotel and text-based) peoples’ event has to be rescued by corporate and foreign embassy sponsorship. On the back page of the same paper, the ongoing Sindh Festival is advertised as a public event to revive pride in our culture. Both festivals promote the idea of public culture as a political instrument and yet, are defined according to a certain market logic.

Clearly, money defines culture and associated class interests. Under the Sindh Festival, the Mohatta mushaira, fashion festival, ghazal night, film festival are priced events. Free access to the beach that we fought for some years ago, is now the venue for a paid Basant event, as is the Baradari for a paid sufi music event a site for which conservationists fought so as to prevent private functions, such as weddings, from being held there.

Then there are the left-over cultural events. Free, low culture events for the masses and priced, high culture ones for the privileged fewer. Art, music, donkey derby, fishing and cricket tournaments may be observed for free. But public sites may be privatised and monetised if done for a ‘higher’ cultural purpose and if organised by the right member of the elite.

Public culture is very different from the privatised lens through which festival organisers in Pakistan see it. That is why the main bent of these events is really a continuation of the latest trend — to privatise everything, including culture. Then it is masked as for the benefit of the people — as if we are all equal consumers.
This notion that all cultural activity is a symbol of a progressive vanguard that resists a barbaric rearguard was a theme mastered by the Musharraf regime. Urban elite latched on to this willingly.

In our current environment, with the virtual death of the social sciences or academic events, in the flood of repeat development conferences and in the successful replacement of a reading culture with a talk show culture, the Karachi Literature Festival makes perfect sense. This is because it masquerades as the intellectual panacea for the cultural ennui Pakistanis are suffering due to the ‘social and security situation’. It is apt that the KLF has become the meta-narrative of ‘literature for a cause’, as it merges several disciplines and lumps them together in this postmodernist merger called the Karachi Literature Festival.

There is nothing wrong with having a big party of intellectuals that is the envy of the collective Defense and Cliftonian drawing rooms but to pretend that this is to promote something called culture, peace or development is to be delusional. It is essentially a corporate event that promotes its multinational sponsors and whose target audience is the bourgeois elite of a city. Make no mistake, this class needs the education (and the capitalist logic of peace to safeguard their interests) but why does such an event pretend to be anything more than that?

Culture as Resistance

After the slow and reluctant realisation that neither Islam nor the Army are likely to save Pakistan from itself, many from our elite class now invest hope in this abstraction called ‘culture’. This is meant to serve as the shield that will protect us from the capture of public, intellectual and economic spaces by the counter-cultural forces represented by an amorphous thing called, ‘Talibanisation’.

This notion of all cultural activity as a symbol of a progressive vanguard resisting a barbaric rearguard was a theme mastered by the Musharraf regime. Pakistan’s urban elite latched on to this willingly. Whenever this myth is challenged, it is dismissed as negativism. In reality, the idea that high culture is political resistance is simply a ploy, to deflect the guilt of the liberals who like to believe they are solving socio-political problems through charity, entertainment or consumerism. This is like the Paris Hilton alternative to solving an economic crisis by shopping even more. This delusion is amplified even more by that oxymoron which multinationals use to bluff local elites all the time — corporate responsibility.

Some years ago, a critic took exception to my critique of the celebration of any cultural activity no matter how elite and narrow as, “intellectual adventurism” on my part. Admittedly, this is the most polite crime one could be accused of and somehow not quite the insult it may have been meant to be. In any case, in the form of a letter to the editor, this is what she wrote in response to my article; “Your whole premise is that KARA [film festival] is a mere cultural activity and has no political resonance. Cultural practices, however trivial, traverse into the political realm…”

I have no idea what that means. Dancing at a private wedding in Karachi is ‘trivial’ but does not “traverse into” and has absolutely nothing to do with the political realm. However, dancing at a private wedding in Kohistan, if captured on video and made public, has deadly political implications. In between these instances, dancing at the Arts Council or at a demonstration at a press club while celebrating women’s day, is an act of political subversion and is not trivial, either in intent or in political terms. Similarly, the holding of a mushaaira or even a book launch in Peshawar is political because of the specific context, site, location and background. Also because of the controversy associated with the author. These are not trivial in intent or goal — they are distinctly political, unlike apolitical cultural activities.

So the letter writer goes on to admit, in a sort of contradictory manner that, “Any cultural acts of resistance are a contextual affair. The context, however, cannot be narrowly defined.” Say what? The context of Kohistan is very specific — can we really compare dancing in Karachi, Kohistan and Swat and argue that we cannot narrow down and distinguish between each context? What qualifies as political resistance in one context does not translate into the same in another. This kind of limited thinking is unfortunately, common. One Pakistani English language novelist spent an evening arguing with me over how drinking alcohol in a defense society drawing room qualified as ‘liberalism’ because of the ‘context’ — that is, given that we are all such prisoners of forced State abstinence.

Ultimately, the letter writer reduced the entire argument down to our intellectuals’ favourite resort — personalisation. She suggested outright that mine was “a personal feud” with the organisers of the film festival and this became the topic of much drawing room gossip thereafter. Death of ideas by Social Exclusion rather than exhausting intellectual engagement is a game that the upper classes excel at. The KLF is the perfect venue for social inclusion of the literary upper class where we surround ourselves with self-congratulations, applause and class camaraderie — maybe some disparagement of state and government but no self-irony, introspection nor debate.

Maybe there is some irony in a festival that is for social butterflies which features a The Diary of a Social Butterfly but that’s probably about the extent of it. There is always some token Indian author but no recollection or representation of our Persian nor Bengali literary historicism.

The public event of Faiz mela struggles for contributions from us, the film festival collapses after Musharraf’s enlightened moderation is replaced by a democratic civilian governance but the literature festivals thrive with considerable foreign investment and multinational sponsorship.

Ironically, many of the moderators and speakers are self-avowed anti-imperialists and critics of such high brow culture yet, they lend legitimacy to such activity that masks itself as progressive activism. On the one hand, Pakistani activists and NGOs are targeted by ‘radical’ commentators and left sympathisers for being collaborators of imperialism because they have transnational linkages and/or, depend on donor funds, yet they are silent over the upright left leaders who actively participate at and lend political legitimacy to such corporate events.

This year the KLF has announced three prizes — the Coca-Cola Best Non-Fiction Book Prize; the Embassy of France Prize for the best English fiction and; a Peace Prize for the book that best promotes peace, regardless of literary worth.

Sufism — The Mickey Mouse Fight Against Taliban

In 2009, Aaker Patel writing for The News wrote this; “The BBC carried a report last month titled ‘Can Pakistan’s Sufi tradition resist the Taliban?’ No, it can’t. Sufism can no more fight the Taliban than Mickey Mouse. Sufism is flight. It is escape. Those of us who have watched the ecstasy unfold at Nizamuddin Awliya and Baba Shah Jamal and a million heretical shrines in India, Hindu and Muslim, know that most of us can only be weekend Sufis. Sufism’s message of wahdat ul-wajood leads us away from doctrine, and that is an intellectual journey.

Sufism cannot fight because it makes no demands, and it has no daily ritual. It also respects Sharia, and can live besides it quite comfortably. The great Chishti Sufis of Delhi were namazis.”

Farooq Sulehria in his excellent article makes a similar argument against the misplaced notion of pluralistic Sufiism and Sufi festivals as the antidote to religious militancy.

In addition to agreeing with Sulehria and Patel, I’ve also maintained that there is no evidence that sufi Islam as coopted by the state, the corporate sector or peaceniks will be any less patriarchal than any other branch of Islam. What is the material base of Sufiism?

Not a member of this club

Sulehria also makes the point that when dictators become discredited, so does the culture that they patronised and this is the process of de-authenticating some cultural expressions.

Right up until the Lawyers’ Movement, collaboration rather than resistance was the liberals’ agenda under Musharraf’s dictatorship. Festivals under his regime were symbolic and literal historical examples of this trend. Of course, they were always cultural activities but not acts of political resistance. Why try to put this false mantle on and redefine them?

The trouble with expanding the realm of politics to include all ‘trivial’ expressions of culture is that it falls to this level then. It dilutes politics itself.

Those who despair of critique and call upon a united stand against the “barbarians at the gate”, like my letter writing critic, have this to say;

“During the Zia era, a political culture gained momentum when like minded people had the clarity of purpose. I’d rather that you use your gift of expression and intellect in a manner that contributes to what I presume to be a common cause.”

This is what our elite dream of — commonality, consensus, conformity, conservatism and a whipped up dollop of cultural cream to top it off. Under the Zia era, culture did not ‘gain momentum’ at all — it was crushed, retarded and buried under censorship and vigilantism. That cultural activities became a vehicle for women to reclaim public space and expression, was because they were motivated by and used it as an act of political resistance.

Despite the courage and contributions of that generation of resistance activists, I maintain that we have not recovered nor expanded our victories. Instead, we have privatised these on every level. Gender rights, cultural activities, intellectual dialogue — all of these have retreated into published reports, conference rooms, drawing rooms, chat rooms, twitter, facebook, private screenings and now, literature festivals by the sea. The hallmark of these events is limited audiences, limited themes, self-appeasement, applause and an insular feel-good sense that we are doing something.

Sure, it’s something. But for whom and what ‘common cause’? The upper class Pakistani public intellectual is really most comfortable in the private sanctuaries of like-minded gatherings. Challenge them to a debate, disagree, critique or ask thorny questions and you are disrupting, being adventurous, deliberately provocative or just plain difficult.

No wonder the KLF has nominated a peace prize for the book that promotes peace. This despite the fact that the most successful revolutions in history have been inspired by revolutionary, not peaceful literature.
"Nay! man is evidence against himself. Though he puts forth his excuses." Holy Qur'an (75:14-15)
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