Sabeen Mahmud was killed for her liberal views

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

JUST a few weeks ago there was an example of the inter-related fragility of our political-religious equilibrium. The wording of the oath for elected representatives was altered. The drift of reaction was that the reworded version insulated avowal of the finality of prophet-hood.

The previous wording was rapidly restored before cries of heresy and the like gained violent momentum. But the matter gave clerical-conglomerate cause for a rally; and the fact of the cancelled alteration is there to be referred to by those who choose to find Islamic intent deficient in the way persons or parties of their naming practice politics. Continue reading “Fragility”


By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

You cannot exclude the religious factor in Pakistan, whatever you dub the republic and to whatever you ascribe the founding urge. And it can be asserted with equal validity that the secession of East Pakistan and proclamation of Bangladesh demolished the two-nation theory commonly claimed to be the rationale of Pakistan’s creation. Or that the RSS and Modi’s Hindutva confirms it. The communal Hindu-Muslim power struggle is a continuity in the subcontinent’s historical chronicle around which narratives fabricate –- some spontaneous and incremental; others conscious and didactic. They are often supplementary and reactive. Continue reading “Narratives”

Much ado about something


By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

MUCH has been made of the legislative dexterity that allowed Nawaz Sharif to return to being official president of the eponymous PML(N). What leaves anonymous citizens confused is that there are (at least) two starkly different interpretations of that bit of legislation.

One reading has it that the move exposes parliament as a farcical misrepresentation where parliamentarians connive in trampling public interest underfoot and are better circumvented in the cause of the state’s eco-political interests. The other reading is that parliament is to be congratulated for asserting its electorally mandated legislative powers and has embarrassed extra interventionism. It’s a tug of war figuratively speaking right now, but the mandated government and the mandated opposition seem determined to keep on pulling till something snaps.

For the PML (N) this isn’t  corruption, but adherence to parliamentary democratic form.  For the PTI, the party  is almost certainly the only real opposition — the only clean alternative, overwhelmingly beloved by those who eschew political evil. Foe the PTI supporters elections that do not endorse a leader’s popular presumptions and incontestable assumption of the highest office are an electoral nonsense.

We all agree our democratic process is sadly flawed and needs watching and weeding. But we do not all feel it is entirely worthless and best written off when short of the PTI standard. The reckless PTI logic of reworking the existing democratic mandate can take us down the path of judicial politicking and military social regularisation. Having established the parliament as wanting, it need not be beyond our powers to turn it inside out.

Radical departures and experimentation by elements where the only manifest is a carte blanche inevitably create question marks regarding the nature and intent of governance.  In the case of unscheduled or abruptly altered modes of popular reference , questions could be asked about Pakistan’s orientation and direction by friends and enemies.

Our conspiracy theories are hard to dispel as our theorists fight shy of specifics. They rely on portentous innuendo and vague warnings but they can predispose audiences by creating an ambience by using the social media– tweet and tweak. If I were to make so bold as to attempt to deconstruct intangible prefabricated conspiracies; I would discern two distinct genres. One where the components are all indigenous, no matter how varied the forms and combinations and propositions. The other where foreign partners are involved as controllers. They need not necessarily be regarded as rogue in their own contexts but would lack bona fides with us and by definition be subversive.

Political executive power may be experienced as a frivolously delightful end in itself. It can be purposive and sought to serve an agenda. Human nature being what it is, for the less cerebral even the trappings of power may be enticement. And so people can be used without much caring why or how or even without suspecting it. From this point of view it is reassuring to know our intelligence agencies are alert and active. And, from the same point of view, we can also watch out against a tendency to paint them black. True, there is much to be held against them historically, but we must also allow their more virtuous endeavours – especially in an ongoing  operation – cannot be publicised but do exist.

Part of the unsettling media-exacerbated buzz hums about the non-existence or incoherence of foreign policy, a conflicted interior ministry, a politically oriented divisive civil-military friction and divergent goals. Of course this could well be taken as indicative of a systemic failure of governance. Debate surrounding the response to external provocation and insult, excoriate pusillanimity rather than finding wisdom in considered deliberations. Harping on the interior ministry’s over-use or lack of access to its due power; habitually denigrating the motives of those in public office or service, whether intentionally or unintentionally, supplement the thesis of rampaging governmental irresponsibility and incompetence. Security can appear imperiled to a degree that generates popular panic. There is a right to information but there is also a need for editorial judgment.

Politicians appear fools or knaves when they treat crucial issues (reforms in FATA and the problem of religious bigotry) as cannon fodder to blast the government. Are ethnic nationalism, ‘righteous’ rage, mob fury, stoked deliberately or thoughtlessly? Cannot politicians see what the silent majority sees: the common good in using the parliamentary forum and working calmly till the next mandated electoral verdict. Why seek upheaval? Are ‘they’ scared this government may work? And so I come back to a question rather than a theory – who is conspiring with whom?

Imran Khan is said to have said Nawaz Sharif is instigating institutional conflict and inviting martial law so that he appears a victim and is politically resurrected. Poor thinking: Nawaz Sharif already appears victimized. And as for his political resurrection: He is as yet far from politically dead. And yet again, accountability in the public eye at any rate, has already become a witch hunt.

But the significant democratic development – which gives cause to put in a good word for the effects of a decade of the ‘rotten’ democratic system – is that the witch-hunting this time is not conducted by the democratically empowered government. Also, although the former PM has been disqualified his party goes on: not banned, not defunct, but mainstream. Let the next election further clear the waters.

Are the stage hands, props and managers of our political theatre listening?

Whatever lies ahead

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

WHATEVER lies ahead or went before, the IJIC inclusion of Nawaz Sharif’s family’s offshore assets as revealed in the PanamaLeaks, at a fortuitous but blessed moment for the political opposition, has culminated in his local political disqualification.
Diligent digital research yielded other Panama-originated leaks featuring sundry plutocrats – in drips as it were. Indeed an international basket of politicians has been highlighted by the ICIJ, so it doesn’t seem as if Nawaz Sharif was being targeted or a country prioritized for scrutiny by extra-territorial watchdogs. The leak was, however, a veritable tsunami of good luck for Imran Khan who had not been able to achieve his declared and entirely altruistic end of getting the ‘corrupt’ Nawaz to go despite a fiercely sustained battery of charges of election-rigging; state brutality; to say nothing of dharnas, lockdowns, jalsas, rallies and vehicular marches. Continue reading “Whatever lies ahead”

Taking to the streets

PTI street power

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

There is a difference between grass roots and street power.

To start with the MQM. It had the kind of street power that could both empty and fill the streets to considerable effect: Its leverage worked; but it was not admired. The MQM as factionalized –- imploded and exploded –- no longer commands that kind of street power.

Yet, alongside of its waning street power, its grass root political strength is more clearly perceived. Besides its thugs (I choose that word for its wider etymological ethnic resonances) it evidently has a broad constituency that remains loyal to cadres of a well-organized party whose workers stayed in touch with and served and protected the people they represented. The party leadership presently is amorphous even though the founder is unambiguously self-destructed, but the constituency remains. Continue reading “Taking to the streets”

May 12th 2007-17

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

May 12th   2017 is as good as come and gone. As I recall 2007—the year of CJP Iftikhar Chaudhry, for his persona was at once the catalyst and dynamic—that May 12th anniversary marker’s mood-content would be anachronistic today. Its villains and martyrs have squirmed and shifted, and are no longer held firmly within the mould of that year’s context.

Which also indicates its characters are operative: vital and politically relevant, not merely historical.   Continue reading “May 12th 2007-17”

Flipping pages

On the same page?

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

Our country’s history predisposes us to dwell on the tensions of the civil and military relationship and the resultant impact on our politics. Implicit in the spasmodically yet doggedly publicized affaire of Dawn ‘Leaks’ is the underwriting of the thought that the armed forces and the civil government are/may/will be at cross-purposes; or that one or both of these bulwarks of the state may have conflicting currents within them: A more perilously confusing state—domestically and internationally—than the frank impropriety of civil government being subservient to military diktat; or the armed forces blatantly flouting or choosing to act independently of civilian policy’s direction and directives. Continue reading “Flipping pages”

Learning the hard way

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

IT is of course entirely politically incorrect to miss the doctrine of necessity, and still more reprehensible to think wistfully of the Eighth Amendment. I would hate to appear on the side of our uniformly distinguished dictators who (fairly successful in some ways though toxic in others) variously went a-looking for the essence of democracy; an indigenous democracy not overawed by modes as of Parliament and Capitol Hill; or quite humbly a basic democracy; using those very legal implements. But quoi faire? Our democracy flounders like the bat in democratic daylight and finds its wings when fighting the dark of martial law. Continue reading “Learning the hard way”

A hill station in decay

The snow covered Thandiani mountaintop in the background  can no more be seen from a point of one's choice due to buildings like this one.
The snow covered Thandiani mountaintop in the background can no more be seen from a point of one’s choice due to buildings like this one.

By: Nasser Yousaf

guest-contributorAbbottabad. The name sounds romantic. But romantic it is no more. The small hill station, named after its first district administrator, is not even a shadow of its former glory. Sir James Abbott had been so greatly enamoured by the pristine beauty of his place of posting and temporary abode that he wrote an emotional poem in its praise. Continue reading “A hill station in decay”