The political gapMarch 27, 2012
Dr Maleeha Lodhi
The country marked Pakistan Day at another critical moment in its history when many questions about its future remain unanswered. An important question is this: can the country acquire the means to govern itself better by aligning politics with the energy and dynamics of a changing, more urbanised society? Will the gap that has emerged between electoral politics and a transformed social landscape be closed to deliver a more ‘functional’ polity?
Pakistan can either remain trapped in a quagmire of weak governance, politics-as-usual, economic stagnation and crumbling public services. Or it can take advantage of changes underway in society to chart a course of reform and renewal.
Recent years have seen the political matrix being transformed by a number of economic and social factors. They include a shift in the centre of economic power (indicated by the falling share of agriculture in national output), a wave of urbanisation, expansion of the middle class, spread of modern communications, greater public awareness brought about by a free and energetic media, and enlargement of civil society. A new era of transparency has been ushered in by unprecedented public access to information and the extensive reach of an independent broadcast media.
All of this is recasting the relationship between citizens and the state and the way people relate to the government and what they expect of it. Political attitudes are being transformed and space opening up for greater public engagement in politics. These factors are unleashing sustained demands for responsive and accountable governance. Members of a more assertive urban middle class are using opportunities created by globalisation and greater ‘connectivity’ in society to demand a bigger political voice and better governance.
But a paradox characterises the political scene and lies at the heart of the country’s predicament today. Representative or electoral politics are lagging behind, not reflecting the changes occurring across much of urban society. This is creating a disconnect between traditional politics and the new social dynamics. Electoral politics based on biradaris, clans and influential families inhabit a world quite different from the one that a more politically conscious, urban Pakistan identifies with or aspires to. While traditional, patronage politics continue by and large to hold sway in the electoral arena, the political ground has been shifting in ways whose implications are still not fully understood.
One symptom of the gap between electoral politics and changing public aspirations is the falling voter turnout. A more politically aware citizenry should be participating in greater numbers in elections. But this is not so. In 2008 the majority of the electorate did not vote even though the polls took place in a politically charged atmosphere following a long period of military rule. Non-voters accounted for as much as 56 per cent of those eligible to cast the ballot.
This trend has held in many by-elections that followed. Although fewer ballots are generally cast in by-elections, the exceedingly low turnout in many (20 per cent in a Lahore constituency in March 2010) denotes a phenomenon that merits more attention. Low and declining voter turnout is particularly surprising when set against other indicators that suggest higher public interest in politics and middle class activism on political issues.
The explanation then seems to lie more in voter disaffection than disinterest in the political process. It also indicates voter rejection of the narrow choice available at the ballot box, which is seen to neither reflect their interests nor their aspirations.
The two major parties have been slow to respond or adapt to the political currents set off by socio-economic changes and the emergence of countervailing forces to traditional centres of power. Whether in their ticketing decisions or their policy platforms, these parties have shown little interest in tapping into and embracing the new social dynamics especially a larger, more educated urban middle class and the youth ‘bulge’. Because these parties are able to muster enough votes to win elections they have little incentive to change themselves or their political game.
This has implications for the credibility of the representative system. If voter turnout for example drops further it will cast doubt on the representative credentials of the ‘winning’ parties. It will denude them of the authority to take effective actions even when they wield power.
There are other reasons too for the gap between the electoral process and citizen involvement. Despite greater urbanisation, rural Pakistan is overrepresented in relation to heavily populated urban centres. This gives undue weightage to rural elites and leaves many urban groups feeling underrepresented, even excluded. Moreover constituency demarcations still reflect the distribution of kinship and biradari groups, especially in the Punjab, in a hangover from the colonial past. As this has suited the major parties the basis of this delimitation has rarely been questioned.
A comprehensive delimitation of parliamentary constituencies (rather than tweaking before elections) is needed to bring the representative system in line with new social and demographic realities. That the country’s last census was held in 1998 is a telling reminder of the ground that has to be covered.
But it is the persisting character of representative politics that increasingly puts it at odds both with changing social and economic dynamics and the needs of most citizens. Society, for the reasons cited above, is changing but the nature and structure of politics is not keeping pace.
Pakistani politics still pivots around patronage and operates principally on the basis of patron-client structures that ties political and electoral activity more to a web of hierarchical relations and obligations rather than to a world of citizens, rights and issues.
Patronage-dominated politics or clientelism rests on working a spoils system rather than responding to the needs of the people. This ensures that electoral politics mostly revolves around an exchange of material favours for political support. Thus electoral competition becomes principally about gaining access and control of state patronage to distribute to supporters.
Such representative politics is geared towards rewarding networks of supporters, not responding to the demands of the broad citizenry. This keeps politics focused on the parochial and stymies thinking about larger national issues. Clientelist politics also encourages rentier behaviour – its beneficiaries live off unearned income from state resources – and of course corrupt practices, which is regarded as ‘acceptable’ by many practitioners of such politics. Nowhere is the tension between this politics and the demands of wider society more evident than in the growing public sentiment against corruption and for an end to the practice of stripping state assets to distribute among supporters of those in power.
Patronage-driven politics is also dysfunctional to the needs of modern governance especially in a country beset by mounting challenges. Because clientelist politics has a patronage not policy focus it is not geared to resolving issues of governance or finding solutions to national problems. Its status quo nature also makes it resistant to any reform. Politics trapped in narrow transactional patterns and structures are inherently unable to promote the welfare of the populace at large. This produces a governance deficit.
If improving the quality of governance is essential for any serious effort to surmount the country’s grave challenges, the gap between politics and a changing society must narrow if not end. This requires the basis of politics to change and move away from the overwhelming preoccupation with patronage towards issue-based concerns.
A newer form of politics must give voice to changing public aspirations, tap the resilience of the people and the energy of the young, represent the growing urban middle class, and above all offer an alternative course to that provided by patronage and hereditary politics – one that leads to merit and professionalism in the management of the country’s affairs.
It is through fundamental electoral, political and economic reform that politics can be aligned to public purpose and the politics of public service encouraged to take hold. This in turn can secure the means for the country to deal effectively with the many problems besetting the nation. The question however is who will spearhead such reforms?
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Unless strengthened, Pakistan is too weak to function as a state in the 21st century. This downslide can be reversed if prompt action is taken.
There is no doubt on the commitment of Pakistanis to their homeland. Despite chronic political instability, failed leaderships, and terrorism emanating from US-controlled Afghanistan, more than five thousand ordinary Pakistanis gathered in Karachi on Aug 14 to chant the national anthem and register a world record. On March 23, two thousand young Pakistani men and women used social media to assemble in a Lahore stadium to create the world’s largest painting canvas: a Pakistani flag.
Pakistanis who probably never voted for lack of trust in failed political parties came out in droves last year to attend two of the largest rallies of the year. For the first time there were no paid party activists but real Pakistanis yearning for change.
Most Pakistanis are on a collision course with our failed and militant parties that practice violent politics. Voter turnout in Pakistan is lower than anywhere else in our region. Even Iran’s controlled elections have more Iranians showing up to vote, and more peacefully. Our existing parties practice voter fraud by encouraging the use of fake votes.
Pakistani democracy is a big fraud. We need democracy, the real, nonviolent and civilised one. Our version doesn’t even resemble the one we tried to import: the Westminster version. Where in Britain or Europe can parties do what we have allowed our parties to do here? Our parties can block major roads at will and forcibly shut down entire cities. Their ugly flags and graffiti blot the face of our cities and towns. They can brandish lethal weapons in public, confiscate and burn newspapers in Karachi, cut television cables and isolate Quetta from the rest of the country. Last year, one or two parties killed my colleague Wali Khan Babur, a young television reporter, in a sad attempt to ignite linguistic riots because that’s the only way these parties can flourish. We have supposed ‘leaders’ sitting in exile in Switzerland, planning bombings and targeted killings in our cities, and yet continue to claim to be legitimate politicians and the state refuses to prosecute them.
If not controlled and civilised, our politics will ensure that we lose this century. We have already wasted the first decade of the new century.
And it is getting worse. Powerful Pakistani politicians can throw acid on the faces of their wives, beat a 70-year-old college teacher and break his legs in public, and throw a pregnant young Pakistani woman and her unborn to hungry dogs, and still get away with it. The latest is the despicable action by another failed party that stormed the mausoleum of the leader of our independence movement on March 23 and chanted anti-Pakistan slogans. The guards from our armed forces had no orders to arrest the hooligans or at least expel them from a building revered by millions of our citizens.
No amount of nuclear weapons and large numbers of honest and talented citizens can save us from this kind of militant politics. And these failed parties are not decreasing with time. The opposite is happening. This makes for a strong case for strengthening the federal government and civilian departments so they can control and streamline our failed parties and politics. These civilian departments need to be backed by state force to face the violence of our parties who will violently resist any attempt to clip their wings.
We can do something now or wait to be undone. The choice is ours.
The writer works for Geo. Email: aq@paknationalists. com
Why have an interim set-up?March 29, 2012
THE 20th Amendment to the constitution goes an extra mile to ensure that democratic transition in the coming months is smooth and acceptable to everyone.
It aims to achieve this goal through two means: ensuring that the caretaker government stays non-partisan, and strengthening the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). Most other countries find only the election authorities sufficient to oversee a smooth transition.
Election results are accepted by all and if the ruling party loses, it hands over the reins to the winner without the mediation of any transitional governance structure. Why do we, in the name of a caretaker government, have to witness part-time politicians taking joy rides in cars mounted with flags and given endless opportunities to sermonise on everything under the sun?
Well, that has been the standard practice in the country. Since the 1973 constitution, caretakers were slotted in by the president four times after the premature dismissal of an elected government. On all these occasions, the caretakers were heavily drawn from the opposition, parliamentary or political. The presidents concerned were hell-bent on ensuring that the dismissed governments did not win the polls, and that, in fact, was seen to form the brief mandate of these appointed individuals. On other occasions the transition to the next set-up was directly presided over by Gen Zia in 1985 and Gen Musharraf in 2002.
Two occasions fall out of this pattern: 1977 and 2008. The general election of 1977 was the only one to be organised by a genuinely elected government. The Z.A. Bhutto-led ruling PPP returned with even bigger numbers. The winning party, however, could not survive rigging allegations, subsequent street agitation and palace intrigues. This sorry affair, capitalised on by the army generals, has been projected as an elected government’s inherent inability to produce a legitimate successor and preside over transition.
In the case of the 2008 polls, the establishment’s recipe for transition went wrong, with the caretaker government failing to take care of the interests of its appointing authorities. The transition slipped out of the hands of an authoritarian ruler and in fact was led by the electoral process itself. The change contemplated by the general (Musharraf) sitting in the most powerful of seats didn’t happen. He couldn’t get the party of his choice elected despite having all the state machinery at his command.
This episode should mark the end of the ‘utility’ of caretaker governments. If the failure of 1977 had necessitated a caretaker setup for ‘peaceful’ transition, the upset of 2008 has made it redundant. Don’t we need to improvise upon this wonderful development instead of labouring over how to make an interim set-up really neutral?
This may actually help us bury ghosts from the past. Legislative bodies in the colonial period were a mix of members elected through limited franchise and those handpicked by the Crown. The chosen ones obviously toed the official line and enough of them were stocked in the Houses to help the government meet any popular challenge. These appointees were projected by the Raj as efficient, non-partisan and conscientious; in contrast, those popularly elected were shown as incompetent, unprincipled and troublemakers. That was the colonial strategy to create and promote the perception that persons chosen by the people are inferior to those blessed by the rulers.
The perception was later kept alive, nurtured and used time and again by the authoritarian rulers of our country. The 20th Amendment sections dealing with the caretakers, though passed by a democratically elected parliament, is a sorry manifestation of the same mindset as it trusts an appointed caretaker set-up more than a democratically elected incumbent government besides creating confusion for the role of the caretakers and the ECP.
Legally speaking, the ECP is to preside over the machinery that administers elections and comprises the middle-rung bureaucracy assigned the task of returning officers, presiding officers and others performing security-related duties. The ‘neutral’ caretakers, appointed under the 20th Amendment, can at best ensure that the electoral machinery obeys the ECP. How much power can the caretakers, with a shelf life of just 60 days, wield over this old-hand bureaucracy? Isn’t it simpler and more sensible to make this bureaucracy directly subservient to the ECP instead of asking a temporary set-up to make it obey the ECP?
The ECP as a permanent institution is better placed to extract neutrality and efficiency from the bureaucracy than a naïve team of political apprentices. All it needs to do is to learn to assert itself. The recent case of the ECP disqualifying an MPA-elect is a good omen. The disqualified member belonged to the ruling PPP and the ECP needed no caretaker to make the decision.
The idea of neutral caretakers as a guarantee to a smooth change in government is inherently flawed. Neutrality can never be absolute and there always will be room for losers to blame their losses on the real or perceived bias of caretakers. If the ECP is really empowered over the machinery that administers elections, we don’t need to have a 60-day comic break between two elected governments. Elections can, in fact, be held two months before, instead of after, the expiry of the term of an elected House. An elected government passing on the reins to the next one is a sign of democratic maturity.
The writer works with Punjab Lok Sujag, a research and advocacy group that has a primary interest in understanding governance and democracy.
Pakistan’s voter turnout conundrumBy Ibrahim Khan
March 29, 2012
In a democracy, a citizen’s vote is an empowering right. It is tragic then that in 2008 general elections, voter turnout across Pakistan was a meagre 44.1 per cent. In 2008, Bangladesh had an 87.4 per cent voter turnout in its parliamentary elections. In India’s 2009 general election, voter turnout across the five phases was 59.7 per cent. To make our democracy work, voting is of paramount importance.
In search of an explanation for this anomaly, I analysed voter turnout in each district of Punjab through a simple linear regression model. Using data from the 1998 Census, the 2011 Punjab Development Statistics Report, the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey, the Lights Report of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the 2008 General Election Report, I found interesting and often surprising correlations.
Most tellingly, there is a strong positive correlation between income per capita and voter turnout. In large cities, areas with higher living standards have lower voter turnout. Across Punjab though, this is not the case; in fact, the opposite holds. In 2008, districts with higher levels of income per capita had higher voter turnout. Outside urban centres, economic development drives voter turnout. There is a simple explanation for this trend: regions with proportionally higher levels of income have more at stake during an election.
While income strongly correlates with turnout, literacy rates across districts do not. An area with relatively high literacy is not necessarily going to have high voter turnout. Again, this defies conventional wisdom. It is generally believed that with a higher prevalence of education there is more involvement with the political process. But, puzzlingly, the data say otherwise. There is a potential explanation for this incongruity: the literacy rate statistic is inherently flawed. An individual is considered ‘literate’ if they can read a newspaper and write a simple letter. If turnout was regressed on a statistic of educational quality, perhaps, a stronger correlation would be observable.
Crime per capita in a district is negatively correlated with voter turnout in that district. If a district has high crime per capita, voter turnout is bound to be low in that district. As law and order improves and crime per capita falls, turnout is higher. When voters feel secure, they have more faith in the system and have a greater incentive to turn up on election day.
The number of union councils per capita is positively correlated with voter turnout. If a district has more union councils per capita, that district is more likely to have a higher voter turnout. This is probably because as the number of union councils per capita increases, individual voters have greater interaction with local government officials. With greater interaction, voters are more inclined to vote during a general election.
Diverse sets of factors correlate with voter turnout in Pakistan’s 2008 general election. While it is important to remember the statistician’s mantra of correlation is not causation, each of these factors lends insight into our low turnout. With economic development, we can expect turnout to rise. As law and order improves, voters will be more comfortable at polling stations. As the local government improves, confidence in the political process will heighten and voters will be proud of their right to vote. We often speak about the evolution of democracy, but democracy cannot evolve unless we vote for the right candidates. As my research shows, we are not pushed to vote unless incomes rise, crime rates fall and local governments are strengthened. But none of this is possible if we do not utilise our vote.
It is most disappointing to see low turnout in urban areas where education levels are higher. If we have been privileged with an education, the least we can do is to vote, thereby fulfilling our basic responsibility as citizens of this democracy. We need to lead our country out of this vicious cycle of low turnout and into a better future. Luckily for us, it starts with ticking a box.
The Express Tribune
The game plan
The game plan that the government has been pursuing with single-minded zeal from day one, has now come out in all its glaring and garish details, thanks to the inexhaustible bag of pranks and tricks it has employed to thwart the course of justice in the contempt of court case against PM Gillani before the Supreme Court.
What the PM's counsel Aitzaz Ahsan has been doing is merely following a script that was written long ago, in 2008, to be exact, when the present government took office. Given the extraordinary circumstances in which the PPP stalwarts returned to Pakistan and assumed office after the elections, the party leadership decided early on that the biggest hurdle that it might face would be from the judiciary which could call it to account for its acts of omission and commission, but could also look into its past transgressions.
The PPP government therefore made a conscious decision to adopt a generally hostile and confrontationist attitude towards the judiciary. The first manifestation of this policy line came when the government refused to restore the apex court headed by the CJ Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary. It carried on merrily with the Dogar court until it was forced by the Long March to take the "unpleasant" decision of restoring the superior judiciary suspended by General Musharraf.
When the Supreme Court pronounced its historic judgment invalidating the
National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) under which over 8,000 criminal and corruption cases had been arbitrarily closed, the government's worst fears came true. Following this, it developed a well thought out strategy to frustrate the apex court's efforts to bring the guilty to book. This strategy consisted of delaying, filibustering, stonewalling and sidelining and transferring any honest officers who tried to initiate investigations in obedience to the apex court's orders.
The government ruthlessly pursued this strategy in the case of FIA and NAB officials who, as per the apex court's directives, tried to investigate embezzlement and graft charges against government appointees in the Karachi Steel Mills, National Insurance Corporation, Haj Ministry and other departments.
The most pertinent example of the government's malfeasance has been its dilly dallying in the matter of writing to the Swiss authorities to reopen the money laundering cases involving President Asif Zardari.
It is now more than two years that the case has been hanging fire but the government has obstinately refused to move in the matter on one specious plea after another.
In the beginning, the government delayed matters by creating a smokescreen of bureaucratic procedures involved in drafting, approving and dispatching the letter in question. But when all excuses were exhausted the government came up with the plea of presidential immunity for not carrying out the apex court's order.
The new legal knots and constitutional confusion that Aitzaz Ahsan is trying to create in the contempt of court proceedings against PM Gillani show to what length the government can go in its search for an escape route to avoid writing to the Swiss authorities. Aitzaz first said that the president enjoyed immunity and then turned around to say that the PM did not commit contempt because he was not duly informed by his subordinates and, further, that he was wrongly advised.
Lately, the case has been given a weird new twist. While the prime minister says that he will not write to the Swiss authorities come what may, his counsel Aitzaz has questioned the authority and eligibility of the judges to hear the case. Going beyond, he has even challenged the validity of the contempt law, contending that the Contempt of Court Ordinance 2003 stood void after incorporation of Article 10A in the Constitution through the 18th Constitutional Amendment.
What is all this if not a brazen attempt to obstruct the course of justice through a mishmash of legal technicalities and constitutional interpretations?
Justice is the substance and objective of a civilized society, and law is only a means to that end. It is like missing wood for the trees if one goes on discussing legal points endlessly overlooking the imperatives of doing justice.
The ongoing spectacle is depressing. There can be no democracy without the rule of law and the constitution. But it is unfortunate that a government which does not tire of flaunting its democratic credentials is making a mockery of justice through its continuous and brash defiance of the Supreme Court.
But the charade cannot go on for long. The Supreme Court has shown exemplary patience in the face of extreme provocations by the executive. Perhaps it wants to ensure that it does not appear too harsh and hasty in judging the merits of the case. But a point has been reached where it must come to a decision and pass its final orders. Any further delay in the matter will only go to shake public confidence in the machinery of law and justice.
6 signs of hope in PakistanMarch 30, 2012
1. No military coup d’etat
Despite a weak coalition civilian government, there has been no coup d’état. Shuja Nawaz of the Atlantic Council notes the military has “held back over the last four years, [and is] now gradually stepping back” from the day-to-day political arena.
2. Resurgent judiciary
A resurgent judiciary in Pakistan has emerged as a potent force. In 2007, 2008, and 2009 it played a critical role in driving Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the military dictator, from office. In a country where millions are serfs and villeins and humans are occasionally sold like chattel, the Supreme Court increasingly offers a venue for redress of grievances.
Mr. Nawaz observes, “The Supreme Court is now being seen as a great opportunity for the people of Pakistan to get a voice.”
3. A more moderate Islam
There is even a budding moderating trend on Pakistan’s religious landscape. Hassan Abbas, another Pakistani analyst, recently commented that “there is a renewed effort across Pakistan among … [Muslim] clerics to challenge Al Qaeda and the Taliban.” It manifests itself in a reassertion of a more moderate Islam that preaches that suicide bombings are un-Islamic.
4. Normalization with India
Pakistan’s generals, who have thrived for decades by promoting a perceived threat from India, now seem to realize the greater threat is internal terrorism, not to mention the violent secessionist movement in the province of Baluchistan.
Professor Abbas observed, “Even the military has signed on to the reality of normalization with India because [if] you normalize with India then the Army can deal with the internal militancy.”
5. Growth of news and social media outlets
The proliferation of broadcast media outlets coupled with an explosion of social media like Facebook are further reshaping the landscape. Now everyone is becoming part of the political process, challenging politicians and government institutions, including the Army.
6. A push for ‘good governance’
The entry of Imran Khan, the national cricket hero, into the political election melee could well meet a genuine public craving for change. Ultimately Mr. Khan’s new political movement could even challenge the stagnant two-party system.
But Moeed Yusuf, a Pakistani journalist, says hope hinges on what he calls “good governance”: the ability of the central government to deliver water, guarantee electricity, and develop civil society so that violence – rape and murder – is not the norm. Without this political stability, democracy in Pakistan remains impermanent at best.
Source: Christian Science Monitor
Correlation Between Media’s Political Contents and Voting
Behavior: A Case Study of 2008 Elections in Pakistan
Muhammad Nawaz Mahsud
Ishtiaq Ahmad Choudhry
Dictating to parliamentApril 1, 2012
The government takes pride in having enabled parliament to undertake a review of the Pak-US relations, a vital part of the country’s foreign policy. Till now politicians were not allowed to enter the territory considered by the army as its exclusive preserve. Sen Farhatullah Babar reminded the parliament that the previous political governments had strived to reclaim what was their exclusive turf but failed to do so. A joint session of parliament is now reviewing the new parameters worked out by a parliamentary committee to determine relations between Pakistan and the US.
Is the parliament really free to take decisions? With the extremist organisations threatening the government of mayhem in the country and individual legislators of physical attacks in case they take decisions not liked by the extremists, every member of parliament expresses his views with an eye on the Damocles’ sword hanging over their head. As the killings of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti amply prove, falling foul of the extremist organisations can cost a politician his life.
As a joint session of parliament initiated debate on Tuesday on the Parliamentary Committee on National Security’s (PCNS) recommendations, threats were delivered loudly outside its gates where the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) was holding a rally.
The DPC is an alliance of religious parties and banned extremist outfits working under new names. Its leaders include Maulana Samiul Haq who is sometime referred to as the father of the Taliban movement and former ISI chief Lt Gen (retd) Hamid Gul. The DPC has been allowed to hold meetings all over the country despite the fact that it includes organisations like JUD, the humanitarian wing of the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba and the morbidly anti-Shia ASWJ which is a reincarnation of the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan. Since Jamaat-e-Islami lost all representation in parliament with the departure of Senators Khurshid Ahmad and Ibrahim Khan, the party has started talking of violent agitation.
Is it possible for DPC to parade up and down the country with leaders of banned parties addressing mammoth crowds without a nod from the army? The alliance may not have the army’s support in all that the DPC does but definitely seems to enjoy its tacit approval to rant against the improvement of ties with the US and India. This would constitute another pressure on parliament which would be wary of taking any decision not liked by the army?
After staging several rallies in major cities where fiery speakers opposed reopening of NATO supply routes, the DPC staged a sit-in outside parliament on Tuesday where a joint session was in progress .Its leaders delivered fiery speeches and announced that they would not only reject the parliament’s decision to reopen the supply routes but also forcibly stop the Nato trucks all over the country. In fact, this was the second rally by the DPC in Islamabad after February 22. The meeting held earlier had delivered an identical message. Two of the leaders of banned outfits who were not allowed to enter Islamabad by the local administration in February spoke at the DPC rally this time.
Junior leaders of the DPC were more upfront about what they intended to do if the government took decisions which were not to their liking. On Friday last speaking at a protest rally outside Lahore Press Club, Hafiz Abdul Ghaffar Ropari of Jamiat-e-Ahle Hadith, a component of the DPC, said his workers would bomb any NATO containers that plied through Pakistan. He said the supplies would be stopped regardless of the parliament’s decision.
The militant wing of the extremists, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan has gone a step further. On Sunday, TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told Reuters “If the parliament decides to restore NATO supplies, we will attack parliamentarians and their overlords.”
The threats are already producing the results desired by the extremists. The consensus document formulated by a multi-party parliamentary committee and duly signed by their representatives has suddenly become controversial. The PML(N) and JUI(F) have decided not to support it unless it is amended.
Speaking at a point of order in the joint session of parliament on Tuesday, Fazlur Rehman categorically opposed the reopening of NATO supply route to Afghanistan. He said if recommendations of the PCNS were approved with a majority, it will be the decision of the government and not the parliament. Ch Nisar said that his party would take part in the debate only if the government removed their reservations regarding some clauses. Both had earlier signed the consensus proposals.
The parliamentary committee had submitted its proposals in the last week of January. The parliament has yet not finalised the recommendations. The joint session which started on Tuesday has yet to begin the debate in earnest. The reason why it fails to catch the bull by the horns is known to all.
In yet another attempt at forging consensus, PM Gilani called a meeting of the country’s top leadership on Thursday. This time the military leadership was also roped in. It remains to be seen if the move would provide enough courage to the parliament to move ahead.
The writer is a former academic and a political analyst.
Of pirs and politics
Hussain H Zaidi
Monday, April 02, 2012
As the story goes, a mureed (disciple) of a well-known pir was once told by a friend of him that his pir was a drunkard and therefore didn’t deserve the high esteem in which he was held. Noting that the mureed didn’t believe him, the friend invited him to see for himself. The mureed agreed, but only to prove his friend wrong. Both hid behind the curtain in the pir’s hujra. After some time the pir entered the hujra, took out a bottle of wine and began to drink.
“Didn’t I warn you that your pir was a habitual drinker?” the friend said to the mureed rather reproachfully. “Now that you’ve seen it with your own eyes, you must part ways with him.” “Well, we’ve both seen what you said. But what you fail to see is the fact that the moment the whisky entered the throat of Pir Sahib, it became a holy drink,” the mureed responded.
The above anecdote sums up the high reverence and utter devotion in which pirs are held by their followers in our society. It also makes sense of the request of Aitzaz Ahsan, the counsel for Prime Minister Gilani, to the Supreme Court to take into account the status of his client as a pir and custodian of a shrine while disposing of the contempt of court case against him.
The word “pir” is of Persian origin, meaning an old man. However, the denotative meaning of the word can hardly capture its connotations. In fact, the denotative meaning can be misleading for the reason that a pir need not be an old man. Age aside, a pir is regarded by his followers as an epitome of virtue for whom indulging in some immoral act is as unlikely as it is for a triangle to be a square. Even obviously wicked acts become virtuous and evidently outlandish deeds are looked upon as outstanding when performed by a pir.
The Indian Subcontinent has been remarkable for its mystics, particularly the Sufis. These Sufis, who were men of high character, profound knowledge and plain living, played a powerful role in the propagation of Islam and moral reconstruction of society. However, gradually a class of hereditary pirs emerged, whose only claim to sainthood rested on their being descendents of a saint or custodian of his shrine. Thus, genealogy, instead of character or knowledge, became the basis of being a pir, signalling the decadence of the institution.
A pir is deemed to possess some miraculous power and esoteric knowledge, which can cure any ill and resolve any problem. Be it unemployment or infertility, unrequited love or marriage, migraine or mental illness, the pir has an answer to all. On the other hand, if someone incurs a pir’s wrath, he is believed to have placed himself in a hopeless situation both in this world and in the hereafter. In a word, submission to the pir guarantees success in earthly life and salvation in the life to come.
Among the pirs, the most powerful are the custodians of shrines. These pirs were courted by kings and princes when Muslims ruled India and received large tracts of land. This gave birth to the pir-landlord combination, which persists to this day. In point of fact, feudalism and “pirhood” have much in common. Both believe in uncritical acceptance of the authority and each looks down upon dissent and individualism. Both feudals and pirs deem themselves to be above the law, which should be applied only to ordinary mortals.
The British when they conquered India allowed the pirs, who had a large number of devotees, to retain their estates, in return for the valuable political support that they offered to the Raj. The pirs remained staunch supporters of the British regime and by and large had little sympathy for the movement for the independence of India. It was only when the end of English rule became imminent that they shifted their loyalties. Some of the leading pirs joined the All-India Muslim League and, like the feudals, played a capital role in its landslide victory in the 1946 elections. By joining the League, the pirs ensured the continuation of their privileged position in the new Muslim state.
The pirs supported Gen Ayub Khan in his 1964 presidential race against Miss Fatima Jinnah and made no insignificant contribution to his victory. With the rise of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the pirs, as well as the feudals, switched their loyalties. Both Ayub and Bhutto were forward-looking, secular leaders but both heavily relied on the pirs. Subsequent leaders, including those who were otherwise known for enlightened and liberal views, haven’t lagged behind in their devotion to the pirs.
This brings out a sharp contradiction in Pakistani society, where attempts have been made to set up the edifice of a liberal political system on the pillars of retrogressive institutions and authoritarian values. Democracy, taken as a way of life and not merely an electoral system, can hardly take root in a polity dominated by pirs and feudals and values associated with them.
The writer is a freelance contributor based in Islamabad. Email: email@example.com
Zardari: A Matchless MaverickApril 2, 2012
By Saeed Qureshi
According to certain covert and overt reports, the sky rocketing clout of Babar Awan is now fast plummeting and might have already hit the abyss of ignominy. Here are reports doing the rounds that president Asif Zardari’s disgust or displeasure with a close cohort has reached the pinnacle point and he is even averse to seeing him in party meetings. Of late his name as a special member of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security has been withdrawn and Qamar Zaman Kaira has been appointed in his place.
Babar Awan has not only been the vice chairmen of the PPP but also the frontline lancer to beat back the attacks on the PPP from political adversaries, the press and even the judiciary. But pride hath a fall or more explicitly the higher one goes the steeper one falls, are the clichés that comprehensively portray the emerging situation in regards to Babar Awan’s ongoing pitiable plight.
As ill luck would have it, his downfall started with his seeking exemption from representing himself as a defense witness in support of the Prime Minister Gilani in the Supreme Court on the serious issue of writing a letter to the Swiss authorities for the reopening of the money laundering cases against president Zardari. That ill-fated decision was deemed to be a breach of trust and indeed a betrayal by the president and the prime minister.
The annoyance of the PPP’s high command was so intense that subsequent damage control or the containment of the stupendously harmful fallout became impossible for Awan: an overly blunt, fire-spitting, and as egregiously aggressive in his posturing as presumptuous in his unguarded outpouring.
He suffered from a double jeopardy for his scornful comments against the judiciary when the Supreme Court indefinitely suspended his license to practice law. The Supreme Court further asked the Federal Government to appoint someone else as their lawyer in the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s murder case. Such are tribulations of politics that a high profile celebrity can become an object of indifference and degradation like a swing of pendulum from a dazzling eminence to a murky disgrace.
But that was digression. The subject of my today’s column was to highlight and bring into sharp focus the inimitable genius of President Asif Ali Zardari to browbeat his political contenders in political brinkmanship. He has kept at bay the Nawaz League and despite their stiff adversarial demeanor they cannot effectively move to discredit or dislodge him because of the lurking paranoid of the army’s take over.
The most astounding accomplishment of AAZ is to bridle his two shrewish and unpredictable coalition partners namely ANP and MQM by conceding to their demands howsoever untenable and excessive those might be. But more amazing and perhaps befuddling is the unconditional partnership from the Pakistan Muslim league( Q) whose leaders not long ago would heap all sorts of indignities and loathsome curses on PPP, its founder members, the Bhutto family and the incumbent ruling leadership of the PPP.
Mr. Zardari will not defend a person who declined to defend his prime minister in a court. If he is reputed to be a friend of friends, he is also notorious for going tooth and nail against those who betray or ditch him. The hearsay is that a prominent PPP stalwart Senator Raza Rabbani were also administered the same unpalatable dose of invectives and harsh tongue lashing when he tried to assert himself beyond his permitted stature. Otherwise he is a gentleman and a scholarly figure in his own right.
Coming back to Asif Zardari’s political jugglery and genetically endowed ingenuity to stand his ground and outmaneuver and outflank his contenders.
The several scores of political storms and tornadoes swirling around the power boat of PPP, could have been driven away only by an ingenious and a maverick as Zardari happens to be. His making coalitions and breaking these and then realigning with new political forces to buoy up the head of the PPP above the turbulent water would be written in Pakistan’s history as a craft that was an exclusive preserve of Asif Ali Zardari.
Although he must have been tremendously frustrated by the unending demands of both MQM and ANP which some time are untenable, yet he did not let them off the hook and kept pandering to them with conceding to their demands by readily responding with quick compliance.
He did not bother about JUI’s parting company with the PPP’’s coalition government. Nor did be pamper or went extra mile in case of the PMLN that otherwise was crucial partners in the government. The two major parties together in government could have the ideal paradigm for a stable functioning of the democratic dispensation.
He deliberately created frivolous bottlenecks and went back on his written commitments with them to leave the coalition on their own. In effect, however, he was quite mindful that PMNL as a coalition partner would be a millstone around the neck of PPP all along. He used this second largest party for gaining an absolute consensus for his own election in the parliament and then pushed them away with a slight jerk of his leg.
With consummate shrewdness he has managed to sideline the army’s overbearing role especially that of the military intelligence wing and ISI in the government affairs that they have been playing by open and clandestine dictations. The Osama Ben Laden assassination at Abbottabad proved to be a blessing in disguise and kind of proverbial silver lining for PPP government that further undermined and diluted the influence of the army beyond their military ambit.
He kept every political party in good humor till he was unanimously elected as the President of Pakistan. He kept away the utilization of the army to restore law and order in Karachi and elsewhere in Pakistan despite ubiquitous clamors and louder calls from both public and the politicians. His knack to smile away every adversity that befell and are still on the way is a rare demonstration of his taking the challenges with fortitude, confidence and ease of manners.
The bedrock of his political acumen and approach towards the politicians and also the neighbors of Pakistan can be summed up in one word: reconciliation. No one among the politicians who were in power has exhibited such large-heatedness and patently forgiving postures that have turned out to be amazingly rewarding for PPP government. Apparently he never looked to be provoked or outrageous or retaliatory to the persistent smearing of his character by the press corps, the political rank and file and the cross section of the Pakistani society.
He has remained visibly unmoved, unconcerned and brushed away the vituperation of being the most corrupt president of Pakistan. He is also accused of being an accomplice in the brutal assassination of his wife and circumventing her will or fabricating it to replace her. He seldom takes seriously the accusing fingers pointed at him for his alleged involvement in the murder of Benazir and his brother in law Mir Murtaza Bhutto.
There are such disquieting and nerve-shattering stigmas against him that should have the intensity to knock any one’s brains out. But he has been on the whole tolerant and defiantly embarked upon his chosen path of remaining cool and composed to the extent of being thick-skinned. And that policy of exceptional appeasement has paid dividends to him. This attitude of pervasive accommodation is not applicable to the party cohorts who would betray him. After all he has the Baloch blood running in his veins.
That is the cardinal reason that the PPP government that is sunk up to neck in corruption cesspool and exposed to a host of legal and moral setbacks is still hanging on to power for four years. Mr. Zardari himself is retaining his coveted presidency for more than three years. These are laudable and momentous achievements if judged in the face of the crises that hover round the PPP government and its charlatans from prime minister to an MNA and further down.
So Makhdoom Javed Hashmi brilliantly summed up the entire philosophy of Mr. Zardari’s inimitable politicking style by saying that one needs to be a PhD in understating how Mr. Zardari conducts himself in politics, deflects the poignant challenges, disarms the opponents and emerges unscathed.
The writer is a senior journalist and a former diplomat. He is also a regular contributor to pkarticleshub.com
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