To understand the dynamics of our present cultural conflicts we need to go back to General Zia’s way of playing politics. His commitment to a self-interpreted Pakistan ideology and his martial power in super-imposing it on his subjects –- for that is what citizens become in a dictatorship –- had a profoundly disruptive impact.
He controversialised religion, making it into an instrument for repression and domination. Thus, legislation in the cloak of Islamisation haunts us in the blasphemy laws and Hudood Ordinance. Selected religious bodies and clerics gained a new voice, latent with intrusive powers, to guide public morality and personal conduct. He formulated distinctions between shura and parliament which often took the form of a dissociation from or incompatibility with “westernis ed” political and social practice and inevitably enhanced bigotry. Continue reading “Culture agonistic”
LOCALLY we are hearing rather a lot about what PMs in truer democracies than ours did after getting not-so-honourable mentions in PanamaLeaks. In Greenland (or was it Iceland? Do a Google) the impugned prime minister resigned. In that hallowed parliamentary prototype Great Britain, the PM’s public and parliamentary response after a Panama reference to family embarrassed him has been exemplary, as Nawaz Sharif’s challengers love to remind. Maybe our PM has other role models. Our Youth Bulge electoral segment may not know that even before the internet, in Great Britain’s truly salubrious democratic clime, the Iron Lady’s Dennis was not allowed to menace once the veil was lifted on his delinquencies. He went right off the island if not offshore (Mummy stayed in office). Continue reading “Wanted: truer democracy”
IT is time we stopped taking the easier choice of setting out to scrap a faulty political setup and system and focused on laboring to better it: That means allowing it to function and, in that very process, rectifying its deficiencies. For what is the innovative alternative?
We have tried both parliamentary and presidential democratic modes. We have undergone four varieties of military dictatorship. We have framed and discarded more than one constitution. We have journeyed from centralising West Pakistan’s provinces into one unit, into the mysterious provincial autonomy of the Eighteenth Amendment to the 1973 constitution. Continue reading “Change: at all costs?”
Taking the assassination of Benazir Bhutto as a watershed, in what direction has the traumatized PPP travelled? One could say it parted ways from both its own realities and national ones. Playing upon the deep-seated tradition of deference to the dead and intense emotional rebound to the political tragedy, her successors rapidly recast the dynamically minded Benazir into a figurehead of persecuted martyrdom.
The process facilitated the PPP’s emergent leader in personally securing party control and subsequently obtaining and retaining executive and legislative leadership.
It is now political blasphemy for the party hierarchy not to pay unthinking homage to voices that speak with oracular authority from what has become the Bhutto-Zardari shrine. The tragic irony is that this idolization is sounding a death-knell for the uniquely vital mainstream national party: Continue reading “After the assassination”
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”
ALL of a sudden, Pakistan’s official circles seem to be awakening to the importance of education for the development of the country. But their newfound enthusiasm can be quite daunting especially when there is no change in the establishment’s views on ‘ideologising’ the entire spectrum of learning.
Hence it was news to me when I learnt that five years after devolution under the 18th Amendment, it has been realised that the New Education Policy of 2009 is no longer implementable. Another policy will now be framed collectively by all the provinces. In order to respect the autonomy of the federating units, the Inter-Provincial Education Ministers Conference has been inducted into the process. Since last year, six meetings have been held. One cannot vouch for the full participation of all the provinces in the policymaking process, especially Sindh given its irregular attendance in IPEMC meetings. Officials are optimistic that the policy will be framed by the end of this year and implemented in 2016. Continue reading “Learning from CLF”
Fortunately, 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”
August 14, is traditionally a day for rejoicing, much fanfare, military parades, display of firepower and nukes. Symbolically, the patriotic chest thumping and feet stomping at the Wagah border between the erstwhile “traditional enemies” touch a feverish pitch as hysterical crowds on either side cheer their highly charged and battle ready soldiers, hoisting their national flags amid fierce expressions in a crescendo of sloganeering at sunset – the climax of the existential confrontation refuses to ease or ebb with time, despite the epoch making history that has transformed the greater part of our world.
Perhaps we are condemned by history or by geopolitics, or both, keeping us embroiled in a state of perpetual confrontation as other regions have prospered and progressed and long buried the hatchet of hate. Meanwhile, both India and Pakistan are competing in exclusion and exploitation of their respective population, as their state policy inch towards nihilism.
Our media feeds us news-shockers and pop intellectual celebrity responses to the latest political sin of omission or commission on a daily basis. The storm of noise obscures (perhaps unintendedly) that the root problem for national authorities in Karachi is the approach to Bilawal House and the PPP: How different can it remain from the approach already taken to 90 and the MQM? Thorny difficulties arise when handling principled and pragmatic aspects of the matter, whether deterrent authority dons a political velvet glove or shows a military iron hand.
The nettle will have to be plucked though, for Karachi truly is a cosmopolitan city: Its populace might not count for much other than statistically, but what happens there and to it has high visibility. Continue reading “Handle with care”
Ethnic politics, dynastic politics, and perhaps most ill-advised of them all – cultist politics.
But it would be false to identify Bhutto himself as the trail-blazer of Bhutto-ism: He was no cultist. Bhutto-ism could become a cult because of what Bhutto actually achieved and signified despite his catastrophic flaws. He founded a political party that reoriented national politics and revitalized the democratic grammar Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s basic democracy had rubbished. Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party had a meaningfully persuasive popular ideology. Unfortunately he betrayed its democratic manifest: Once empowered, he sought the mode of a one-party state. Pakistanis were too pluralistic to accept that; but long after his death the party infrastructure he constructed remains viable. Continue reading “Wily Politics”