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?

Losers All

 

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

TO whom would you give the Monumental Stupidity Award? The Sharif camp for offering — if it indeed did offer — the incorruptible Imran Khan a bribe to shut up about PanamaLeaks; or Imran Khan for “disclosing” what can only remain yet another allegation?

It is hard to take up “facts” when they keep varying, but an aspect of the disclosure that intrigues me is that the emissary/go-between is said to be an individual long turned sadiq and ameen— maybe of the kind that turns kundun after having done much personally to feed the fiery flame? Of course such probity implies they can be trusted not to divert the lucre; but what of the moral philosophy that the bribed and the briber are equally heinous? Are middlemen blameless as mere facilitators or do they get it

Continue reading “Losers All”

Enough is enough

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By Zubeida Mustafa

THE turnout at the walk organised last Sunday by Citizens against Weapons (CAW) was heartening. Started in 2014 by some concerned citizens, the campaign is catching on. I had joined them at a rally on an intersection of a busy area in Karachi two years ago. There were then barely 50 protesters. On Sunday, there were 400 or so.

One of them, activist Naeem Sadiq, whose motto is ‘say no to guns’, has been working on this goal for a decade. He and his colleagues want to rid the whole country of guns and the message is gaining adherents as a larger number of people — that does not include our rulers — begin to understand the significance of deweaponisation in ending violence. Continue reading “Enough is enough”

Measuring peace

By Zubeida Mustafa

WE seem to be living in an age when countries are constantly being measured, classified and ranked. The trend was set by the United Nations Development Programme 25 years ago when the Human Development Index was introduced. Many others followed suit as new technologies were developed for gathering and collating data from diverse sources that made the compilation of such indices feasible.

Today, virtually no area of national life has been left without being probed. We have international rankings on education, disease, poverty, corruption, press freedom, gender empowerment, religious freedom, and even happiness. Only recently, the Global Peace Index 2016 (GPI) — a relatively new area to be measured — was released which warns us how wars are taking us down the path of self-destruction.

The GPI, a product of the IEP (Institute of Economics and Peace, London) will not come as a revelation to those who aren’t too focused on statistics. We all know that violence has escalated worldwide. Terrorism is at historical levels; in 2014 alone, it took a toll of 30,000 lives. Battle deaths are at a 25-year high, resulting in the displacement of some 60 million people. This bodes ill for the future of humankind. What is, however, significant is that all countries ranked low by this index are invariably at the bottom of all lists.

How does Pakistan fare? Trailing at 153 out of the 163 states ranked, it has all the negative traits the report warns us against. This is not surprising for we figure equally poorly in all other indices.


The emphasis of ‘positive peace’ is on ensuring society’s security.


The fact is that human life cannot be sliced into segments with one part doing very well and the other being in an appalling state. The abundance of analysis of data we are exposed to proves beyond doubt that one sector of life interacts with another, creating a holistic impact on the entire nation.

Hence policymakers should take the information and its analysis seriously when planning their strategies. Take the GPI for instance. It says that for peace to become a permanent feature in the life of a state there are certain qualities that must be promoted on an ongoing basis. This is termed as ‘positive peace’ which is defined as the “attitudes, institutions and structures” that sustain peaceful societies. These focus on achieving “acceptance of the rights of others”, “low levels of corruption”, “free flow of information” and a “well-functioning government”.

If these features are present the other goals stressed by the GPI — meeting citizens’ needs and resolving their grievances without the use of violence — will be addressed in the normal course of things.

Societies that observe positive peace principles are more “peaceable” and cohesive. We tend to neglect the basic fact that it is the instability and uncertainty in their lives that drives people to violence. Lack of control over one’s life deprives a person of equanimity of mind. Hence the emphasis of ‘positive peace’ is on ensuring safety and security in society. This is possible only if citizens are provided social justice that guarantees their basic rights to health, education, shelter and employment. Inequality is another factor that robs large sections of underprivileged humanity of their self-esteem leaving them angry and humiliated and prone to acting violently. We see this happening in Pakistan all the time.

The state itself is often responsible for denying its people the safety and security that they are entitled to. That is not all. We are also seen as promoting violence by allowing weaponisation in society to go unchecked and not lessening tensions with neighbours. Since its birth the country has never been conflict-free for a long stretch of time. It has seen wars and been in the grip of domestic con­flict basically because of political instability and the failure of our leadership — both civilian and military. Our foreign policy has often been criticised. This, together with the feeble efforts put in for achieving political, economic and social strength, has paved the way for the security establishment to take charge.

A study of the GPI establishes that these factors have been present in abundance in all the countries that are at the tail end of the index. Thus along with Pakistan, four other countries — Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Nigeria — have contributed to 78 per cent of deaths resulting from global terrorism.

There are two other factors that characterise the 11 least peaceful countries in the list. First, all of them have suffered some form of military and political meddling in their affairs by the US that has set the tone of war and peace in the region.

Second, with the exception of three in these 11 countries, all of them have a Muslim majority. It would be instructive for researchers to study the impact of the United States’ presence on peace in distant regions and the link between religion and war.

Source: Dawn

Continue reading “Measuring peace”

Re-configuring the MQM

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By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

guest-contributorOn August 22 the MQM’s almost week-old peaceful rather low-key ‘fast-unto-death’ outside Karachi’s Press Club erupted into obedient frenzy at the urging of its remote-controlling leader, himself safely enshrined in London. That sacred cow of democracy, the media, had the premises of two big-time TV houses—- located a virtual stone’s throw away—- stormed: live.

The Press Club is at once at the commercial, official, industrial and historic heart of Karachi. Sticks and stones breaking bones; baton charges; arson: The impact of the vicious unruly mob was instantly apparent—- panicking people thronging the markets, and obstructing hordes heading home from work. The resultant traffic jam was rapid and extensive. LEAs heading to the rescue were also caught in it. More than a handful badly injured; one dead; another dying: Probably the whole of Pakistan’s TV audience witnessed the rampage vicariously and read tickers of the concern being voiced by the President; PM; military top brass and prominent politicians. The CM, the DG Rangers, officials and functionaries visited the trouble-spot. The interior minister intended phoning officialdom in London, where MQM’s Altaf Hussain has long been a British resident, turned citizen. Continue reading “Re-configuring the MQM”

Poster play

160713-pakistani-poster-By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

guest-contributor NO matter how we love him, our COAS is no poster boy. For one thing, the face as displayed on the July poster comes out rather reminiscent of Saddam—and that is not the right kind of resonance whether the pitch be civil, military or sufiyana.

There was as good as no collective popular reaction to the sentiment the poster so ardently expressed. The ISPR issued a brusque statement of dissociation. The media, however, soldiered on. We the people were soon in possession of the name of the poster-pasting party, said to be duly registered with the ECP more than a year ago. A political party rooting for Bonapartism is the kind of nonsense that only our democratic climate can provide.

Continue reading “Poster play”

Unsilenced voice

By Zubeida Mustafa

JAN 22 was Perween Rahman’s birthday. Had she escaped the assassin’s cruel bullets she would have turned 59. But that was not to be and this devoted social worker, a friend of the poor, was snatched away from us three years ago on March 13, 2013.

Not that she has receded into oblivion. The poor are not ungrateful. Nor have those who feared her mended their ways. OPP-RTI, the organisation she headed, wanted to observe Perween’s birthday and celebrate her life and achievements. Such events help imprint on the public memory the work of selfless and lovable personalities who have made an impact on the lives of those they worked for. Thus alone will many Perweens be born. This is absolutely necessary if this society is to be saved from the avarice of the selfish. Continue reading “Unsilenced voice”

Peace women

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE Tehreek-i-Niswan and Sheema Kermani have always been at the forefront when matters of peace are at stake. Many performances by the Tehreek have been directed at protesting the brutality of violence against and oppression of women. Hence it was quite in keeping with its character that the group convened a ‘peace table’ on Oct 15, at the Karachi Arts Council. Here hundreds of women and also men assembled to reinforce the widely held, but unimplemented, belief that female involvement in peacemaking improves the chances of lasting security.

A landmark resolution (1325) was adopted by the UN Security Council 15 years ago calling for women to be included in decision-making positions at every level of peacemaking. It has so far made a nominal impact. The head of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, admits that globally “women’s participation at peace tables is still symbolic or low”. Continue reading “Peace women”

Sick to the teeth

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

geust-contFortunately, not everyone is sick to the teeth of the democratic process; however, far too many are of the electoral process. Pakistanis have been subjected to ceaseless blustering repetitive electoral campaigning for more than two years.

The last national election took place in 2013. Losers complained: Probably a probe would have revealed some irregularities; but far from a general outcry about extensive rigging there was public relief that the verdict was being respected:

People have unhappy memories of caretaker governments and military intervention precipitated by agitational politics. Does the PTI think that deterrent apprehension has faded?

There has been general acclamation of the electoral transition from one democratically elected government to another. The emphasis has been on the completion of the previous government’s mandated term, The PTI did not set itself apart by rejecting the mandate in its entirety. It contented itself with demanding a probe into a handful of seats. Continue reading “Sick to the teeth”

Arms and the man

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE sense of insecurity that hangs heavy in the air in Karachi is almost palpable. Even when life is following its near normal routine — the jostling crowds, the unruly traffic and the noise — the uneasy feeling persists.

For me this normality is not reassuring. Unpleasant memories of traumatic experiences of yore lie hidden in the subconscious. The sight of an armed guard reminds me of the gun-driven violence that stalks the city. It is the gun that has been held twice to my head to rob me when the day was so beautiful. The last time this happened was a few years ago when my peaceful morning walk was interrupted by three armed youths on a motorbike, out to steal my pedometer — worth not more than Rs100. Everyone I meet has a ‘gun story’ to tell. Continue reading “Arms and the man”