THIS year an alternative discourse dominated the weeks leading up to the middle of August, when, 70 years ago, Pakistan and India became independent. Marking a shift in focus, the public narratives moved away from the traditional recounting of the politics of the leaders in the 1940s to the experiences of the common man whose fate was decided.
This, to me, is a significant development. This people-to-people interaction at the grass roots can eventually pave the way for peace in the region. It may also change the public perception of the events of 1947. Until now, the people of the two countries have been exposed to one-sided accounts of their leaders’ political ‘achievements’ and the ‘deceit’ of the ‘other side’. The new narrative can be termed the ‘people’s history’. It is oral so that more people can be accessed in South Asia. And these are untold stories. Continue reading Time to heal→
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.
IN August, Pakistan will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of its independence. This has understandably spawned a spate of soul searching. It was in abundance at the Karachi Literature Festival. The session titled “Pakistan: a fragile state or resilient nation” focused entirely on the state and didn’t address the issue of resilience at all. The state was held responsible for all the evils that have befallen us.
Unsurprisingly, the speakers concentrated on identifying the villain of the piece that was said to be the ‘state’ — an abstract term. As the discussion proceeded, the state became the “invisible state” and then the “deep state”. The audience clearly understood that these terms referred to the army which has played a central role in determining Pakistan’s destiny. Continue reading Blame rests on ….→
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 FRIEND sent me his greetings on New Year with this verse: “Apnay haathon say dastar sumbhaloon kaisay/ Donon haathon mein kashkol pakar rakha hai.” (How should I hold up my turban when I hold the begging bowl with both my hands?)
The truth of this verse hit me when a news item in this paper reported the proceedings of the Senate recently. The government had come under fire from a PTI member for piling up external and domestic debts to such proportions that servicing them was becoming impossible.
One should not dismiss this as political gimmickry to embarrass the ruling party. After all, which party in Pakistan has even attempted to be self-reliant by adopting austerity as a policy to reduce the government’s dependency on loans? With few parties remaining in office for too long, every ruler spends money with abandon knowing that the chickens will come home to roost when he will not be around to cope with the problem. Continue reading Loss of dignity→
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→
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.
The Obama administration has decided to go slow on its troop withdrawal program in Afghanistan. A substantial American military presence is expected to remain in this strife-stricken country until the end of 2015. President Obama said that this was necessary to make Afghanistan more secure.
However, geopolitics in this region is more complex than the American media make it out to be. Now is the time to set the record straight before a new conflict erupts in the Afghanistan-Pakistan (AfPak) area and ill-conceived explanations are offered to confuse public perceptions. To begin with, Americans should know that many of the wars in Asia have their roots in American geostrategic shenanigans. Continue reading Mind-Boggling Conundrums in the Middle East→
THE Pakistani woman: can she be defined? For that matter can the Pakistani male? Somehow we don’t think that much about defining the Pakistani male – its women are so much more interesting! Pakistani society is stratified and its cultures mixed; yet its male value stereotype is almost constant. Feudal lordling or serf, bureaucratic grandee or babu, urban or rural, whatever the income bracket or professional tag or social exposure, men are convinced they know better than their women – whether they indulge them or control them. They retain the right to intervene be it as wise men or tyrants.
But the Pakistani woman’s attitude to the male in her orbit varies dramatically depending osocial standing. The plane of stratification and the cultural mix make an enormous difference to her mental attitudes and responses. One could say that women are still evolving and the men have evolved – which is a polite way of saying that they are Continue reading The neuter gender→
Once you step out on the streets of Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, it is hard to believe that this is a country that was devastated by war not long ago. My cousin, Rashida, responded to my email from Vietnam, “I am glad you are having a nice stay in Vietnam. My mind still carries the war ravaged scenes of that country of 40 or 50 years ago”. To find remnants of war today one has to go to the War Museum and the Cu Chi tunnel complex. Hanoi, which was bombed during the war, buzzes with life. Amidst restaurants, hotels, shopping plazas and bazaars pretty women and handsome men scurry around. Vietnamese are blessed with good looks and good figures. Men and women both drive motorcycles on roads and highways. Vietnam has the highest number of two-wheelers per capita. Whole families somehow manage to fit on one motorcycle. It is amazing how they can carry an incredible amount of stuff of varying shapes and sizes on a motorcycle. It appears to be their main mode of Continue reading A Visit to Vietnam→